Dialectical Theology

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Related to Dialectical Theology: neo-orthodox
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Dialectical Theology


(theology of crisis), a leading trend in European Protestant theology during the 1920’s and 1930’s. It was influenced by early German existentialism, which it resembled in its origin as well as basic positions, for example, in the attempt to find support in the writings of S. Kierkegaard.

The profound crisis in European civilization brought about by World War I and its consequences gave impetus to the rise of dialectical theology. The principles of this movement were formulated in 1921–22 in the works of a number of German theologians, including K. Barth, E. Brunner, R. Bultmann, and F. Gogarten. The journal Zwischen den Zeiten, advocating the views of the movement, was established in 1923. The manifesto of dialectical theology was Barth’s book Der Romerbrief (2nd ed., 1922). The founders of dialectical theology established as their basic principle the “dialectical path” to affirmation by means of negation and contradiction. The point of departure of dialectical theology is the futility of all attempts to achieve faith through intellectual speculation or formal worship, that is, through “religion,” which dialectical theology sharply contrasts with “faith.” Religion is the aggregate of hitherto established ways of relating to god, whereas faith is the unforseen meeting with god in history.

Regarding religion as an illusion through which man projects his own image in the guise of god’s image, dialectical theology is prepared to ally itself with the atheistic anthropological views of L. Feuerbach on this point. While it opposes religion as the sum of objectified ideas and actions, dialectical theology affirms belief in a god who is absolutely incommensurable with all that is human. Before such a god, man with all his perfections is compelled to stand with empty hands. God, according to the dialectical theologians, is the “critical negation” of everything, the “utterly unobjectifiable source of the crisis of all objectivity, the judge, and the nonbeing of the world” (K. Barth, Der Romerbrief, Munich, 1922, p. 57). With such premises the position of theology becomes extremely dramatic: it perceives that it is standing between rejected objects and an object-free void and attempts to find a way out of this situation by turning to frankly paradoxical formulations. The position of dialectical theology is close to the philosophical method of M. Heidegger and K. Jaspers.

In historical perspective the doctrine of dialectical theology represents a return to the basic ideas of the initiators of the Reformation—Luther and Calvin. The rejection of religion is the logical culmination of Luther’s rejection of “justification by works.” Dialectical theology thus came out in opposition to 19th-century liberal Protestantism, which was dissolving faith in psychology and religion in the elemental forces of a nonreligious civilization.

The school of dialectical theology declined, above all, because of the political events of the 1930’s; Barth and P. Tillich became prophets of Christian resistance to Hitlerism, but Gogarten joined the pro-Nazi trend of the so-called German Christians. Second, the unstable equilibrium of contradictory tendencies, inherent in dialectical theology, was destroyed: Bultmann proclaimed the “demythologizing” of Christian doctrine; Brunner, in attempting to overcome the nihilistic object-free void of dialectical theology, constructed a new “natural theology” which evoked a sharp response from Barth. An epilogue to the history of dialectical theology was the activity in the USA of R. Niebuhr, who borrowed from his German predecessors their criticism of theological liberalism and social optimism.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Five chapters comprise this study, in which Stayer assesses Luther scholarship before the First World War, Karl Holl and the origin of the Luther Renaissance, dialectical theology and Luther studies, the work of confessional Lutheran theologians at the University of Erlangen, and the transition of the Luther Renaissance as seen in the lives of Emmanuel Hirsch and Erich Vogelsang.
Stayer divides his treatment into five chapters: "Luther Scholarship before the Great War," "Karl Holl and the Origin of the Luther Renaissance," "The Dialectical Theology and Luther Studies," "The Confessional Lutherans at Erlangen," and "The Luther Renaissance in Transition: Emanuel Hirsch and Erich Vogelsang." The theological issues that recur throughout the book, as prominent among these men's concerns, are four: the timing of Luther's "breakthrough" insight concerning the justification by faith; God's wrath and whether His "no" concealed a "yes"; human beings' role, if any, in attaining salvation; and the meaning of Christ's Passion.
He takes up Niebuhr's realism about the persistence of sin in historical advances and his dialectical theology of history, affirms Hromadka's pastoral attention to the culture in which the church finds itself, while being wary of tendencies to uncritical endorsement of that culture; learns from Troeltsch's Case for the influence of religion on society; values Barth's focus on the divine transcendence, while reading him as more attentive to history than his critics aver; and hints at the useability of a Barthian "narrative theology" in the Japanese context.
For example, Martin Rumscheidt's extensive treatment of Bonhoeffer's theological development is particularly valuable both for his lucid history of early twentieth-century German theological education and for his discussion of the influence that Luther scholarship and the emergence of Karl Barth's dialectical theology had on Bonhoeffer's maturation as a theologian.
They deal, in the following order, with Luther scholarship before the First World War (Albrecht Ritschl, Adolf von Harnack); Karl Holl and the origin of the Luther renaissance; the "dialectical theology," particularly that of Karl Barth; the "confessional Lutherans" at Erlangen, specifically Werner Elert and Paul Althaus; and the Luther revival in transition with the theologians Emanuel Hirsch and Erich Vogelsang who readily accepted and defended Hitler and the Nazi regime.
The third section is thematically organized, reviewing Dibelius and the peace question, Dibelius and dialectical theology, and Dibelius and the irreligious.
Using the now generally accepted, though still somewhat misleading, four phases of the Quest (Old Quest/No Quest -- here called the reaction of dialectical theology to the Quest/New Quest/Third Quest), Winter then goes on to trace and examine the appearance and use of the criterion throughout the Quest's history, taking works on Jesus by Bousset, Bultmann, Bornkamm and Charlesworth as representative of the four stages.
Thus in the German "dialectical theology," the gospel was put over against all human culture.
Karl Barth, church father of the 20th century, who simultaneously lauded Schleiermacher's accomplishments as he demolished them with his own dialectical theology; the principal initiator of a postmodern paradigm of theology.
This Arabic term is usually rendered as "dialectical theology." (Taken literally, the term is roughly equivalent to the Greek logos, i.e., word, speech, reasoning, and argument.
Instead, Barth offers a robust homiletic in which theological existence is spiritual resistance to ultimate ideological claims by offering a historical, contextual, and dialectical theology that bridges "heaven and earth," "God and human beings," "God and the community," as well as "the preacher and community" (234).
To its detriment, this discussion is often not very well versed in Luther's dialectical theology of the cross nor always well informed about the "traditional" thinking concerning the atonement that takes all kinds of human sin--especially the cardinal sin of idolatry--as seriously as it takes the mercy of God.