Karl Barth

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Karl Barth
BirthplaceBasel, Switzerland
Theologian, author

Barth, Karl

(bärt), 1886–1968, Swiss Protestant theologian, one of the leading thinkers of 20th-century Protestantism. He helped to found the Confessing ChurchConfessing Church,
Ger. Bekennende Kirche, German Protestant movement. It was founded in 1933 by Martin Niemoeller as the Pastors' Emergency League and was systematically opposed to the Nazi-sponsored German Christian Church.
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 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 BrunnerBrunner, Emil
, 1889–1966, Swiss Protestant theologian. A clear and systematic thinker from the school of dialectical theology, he was a professor of theology at the Univ. of Zürich (1924–53) and Christian Univ., Tokyo (1953–55).
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, Friedrich GogartenGogarten, Friedrich,
1887–1968, German theologian. He was professor of theology at the Univ. of Jena from 1927 until 1933, when he began to teach at the Univ. of Göttingen.
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, 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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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Barth, Karl


Born May 10, 1886, in Basel. Swiss Protestant theologian; one of the founders of so-called dialectical theology.

Barth’s first important work, The Epistle of the Apostle Paul to the Romans (1918), was influenced by the ideas of S. Kierkegaard. It persistently emphasizes the incommensurability of the divine and the human. The objects of revelation and human knowledge are different, and that is why faith is that which dares to waver between “yes” and “no”—the courageous leap into emptiness. In the name of such an understanding of faith, Barth engaged in controversy with liberal Protestantism and Catholic religious rationalism. In addition, Barth energetically demanded social responsibility from the church; he regarded this as the criterion for distinguishing between the “true” church and the “false” church.

In his youth Barth participated in the Christian Socialist movement. In 1933 he emerged as an inspirer of Christian resistance to the Hitler regime. After the Munich Pact of 1938, Barth approved of armed struggle against fascism as a sacred cause. After World War II, Barth criticized cold war policies from the Utopian position of a “third way,” and he openly maintained relations with theological circles in both the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic.


Gesammelte Vorträge, vols. 1–3. Munich, 1928–57.
Die kirchliche Dogmatik, vols. 1–9. Zollikon-Zürich, 1932–55.
Theologische Existent heute. Góttingen, 1955.


Balthasar, H. V. von. K. Barth: Darstellung und Deutung seiner Theologie. Olten, 1951.
Hammer, J. K. Barth. Westminster, 1962.
Machovec, M. Marxismus und dialektische Theologie. Zurich, 1965.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Now, the centrality of Christ and Advaita as the two criteria for viewing the diverse religious forms of humanity would seem to hinder the possibility of a dialogue between a proponent of Radhakrishnan's standpoint and a Barthian. This is particularly so because, as we noted, on the one hand, Radhakrishnan's view that "mystical" experience of nondual realization is at the heart of all religiosity is a very specific interpretation from within Advaitic perspectives, and, on the other hand, the Barthian emphasis that Christian beliefs explicate the structure of the Christian language-game but cannot be demonstrated to be self-evidently true for all would seem to discredit the very attempt to offer arguments in "defense" of Christianity.
(8) At least Dale makes a sincere effort to reach his God; smugly citing an outdated Barthian idea, Roger represents apathy.
Furthermore, the discussion of Barth is valuable in its own right, though it is no doubt unlikely that any Barthian will in practice be persuaded by Barr's arguments.
Boswell also reminds us that, while Updike has been educated and influenced by theologians, we should not necessarily equate his writing with their work-he demonstrates, in fact, how Updike has misread or revised Barthian theology--nor should we "confuse the presence of religious themes in [his] work with evangelical intent" (25).
See Gary Dorrien, Theology Without Weapons: The Barthian Revolt in Modern Theology (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2000).
What is significant for the topic of this article is that this ecumenical pioneer, who was deeply motivated by the search for the visible unity of the church and the church's mission in the world, and whose basic theological formation remained Barthian to the very end, should admit in 1972 that one of the basic questions that faces the future of the ecumenical movement is the issue of "dialogue and mission".
More importantly, however, his types themselves should help in the reassessment of culture-Protestantism which is so easily prone to Barthian caricature.
Selby's thought-provoking study explores the implications of Barthian epistemology for biblical hermeneutics.
In almost Barthian fashion Yagi says that God and human beings are in reality infinitely different, but they may relate functionally.
8 Barthian anthropology, for example, founded on 1 Corinthians 11:3, Colossians 2:9-10, Philippians 2:6-8 and 2 Corinthians 5:21 and on the logic of the biblical creation myth is utterly irrelevant vis-a-vis the African world-view.
It is certainly more sensitive to Rosenzweig's text than the word "religion," to which he could exhibit an almost Barthian antipathy.
It would be easy to dismiss such questions by suggesting that Bonhoeffer's words in the 1930s simply reflected an early Barthian or neo-Orthodox influence which he later moved beyond in his prison letters, an influence that is no longer germane to the present situation in the US.