Wednesday, 15 March 2006

Karl Barth and the Enlightenment

Many scholars have explored Karl Barth’s relationship to the Enlightenment. Barth’s admirers (e.g. T. F. Torrance) have often argued that he entirely repudiated the Enlightenment, while some of his critics (e.g. Bultmann) have argued that Barth simply retreated behind the Enlightenment, back into the theology of Protestant orthodoxy.

But one of the most interesting and most provocative essays on Barth’s relationship to the Enlightenment takes a different approach: the essay is Trutz Rendtorff, “Radikale Autonomie Gottes: Zum Verständnis der Theologie Karl Barths und ihre Folgen,” in Theorie des Christentums (Gütersloh, 1972), pp. 161-81.

Rendtorff argues that Barth built on the Enlightenment’s ideas about human autonomy, but directed these ideas towards God in order to develop a new emphasis on the autonomy of God. Thus, according to Rendtorff, Barth neither rejected the Enlightenment nor retreated behind it, but instead he ushered in “a new Enlightenment”—an Enlightenment whose focus was the “radical autonomy of God.”

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