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Barth, Karl (1886–1968)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-K004-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved April 18, 2024, from

Article Summary

Karl Barth was the most prominent Protestant theologian of a generation shaken by the traumatic experience of the First World War and concerned with giving Christian theology a new grounding. He took a creative part in the struggle of the German Church against National Socialism, and, after the Second World War, exerted a worldwide influence that reached beyond the bounds of Protestantism. Although influenced at first by Christian socialism, Barth came to repudiate such ‘hyphenated’ versions of Christianity, which, he felt, underemphasize or ignore the otherness of God. There is an infinite qualitative distinction between the divine and the human; the Enlightenment attempt to historicize and secularize revelation was profoundly mistaken. This ‘dialectical theology’ attracted a number of leading theologians in the 1920s. Later, however, Barth felt compelled to close the gap with the divine, and developed a ‘theology of the Word’ to this end. Central to this approach is the concept of the knowledge conferred by faith, which makes theological understanding and rationality possible. It was on the basis of this that Barth constructed his massive Die Kirchliche Dogmatik (Church Dogmatics) (1932–70). In this, he emphasizes the self-expounding nature of Scripture (by contrast with nineteenth-century biblical scholarship, which stressed the need for a historical approach to the text) and the importance of Christ in the understanding of theology and human nature. He was a determined opponent of natural theology, and was critical of the idea that philosophy could complement theology.

Citing this article:
Seban, Jean-Loup. Barth, Karl (1886–1968), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-K004-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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