Barth, Karl

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Barth, Karl

Karl Barth (bärt), 1886–1968, Swiss Protestant theologian, one of the leading thinkers of 20th-century Protestantism. He helped to found the Confessing Church and his thinking formed the theological framework for the Barmen Declaration. He taught in Germany, where he early opposed the Nazi regime. In 1935 when he refused to take the oath of allegiance to Adolf Hitler, he was retired from his position at the Univ. of Bonn and deported to Switzerland. There he continued to expound his views, known as dialectical theology or theology of the word. Barth's primary object was to lead theology back to the principles of the Reformation (called neo-orthodoxy). For Barth, modern theology with its assent to science, immanent philosophy, and general culture and with its stress on feeling, was marked by indifference to the word of God and to the revelation of God in Jesus, which he thought should be the central concern of theology. In the confrontation between humanity and God, which was Barth's fundamental concern, the word of God and God's revelation in Jesus are the only means God has for Self-revelation; Barth argued that people must listen in an attitude of awe, trust, and obedience. This theological position is also related to those of Emil Brunner, Friedrich Gogarten, and Rudolf Bultmann, although Barth's position is the stricter. Barth's writings include The Epistle to the Romans (tr. 1933), The Word of God and the Word of Man (tr. 1928), Credo (tr. 1936), and Church Dogmatics (Vol. I-IV, tr. 1936–62).

See T. F. Torrance, Karl Barth (1966); R. E. Willis, The Ethics of Karl Barth (1971); E. Busch, Karl Barth (1976); G. W. Bromiley, An Introduction to the Theology of Karl Barth (1981).

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