Thursday, 10 August 2006

Barth on a budget

Do you want to get acquainted with the thought of Karl Barth, but don’t know where to begin? Do you want to start reading Barth, but are confined by a budget? If so, then this post is for you! (And, more specifically, I’ve written this post in response to a recent request.)

Here are two lists of recommended reading: first, a list of books by Barth, and then a list of books about Barth’s theology.

Books by Barth

Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology: An Introduction
A simple, straightforward, heart-warming discussion of what it means to practise “evangelical theology.”

Karl Barth, Dogmatics in Outline
This shouldn’t be mistaken for a summary of the Church Dogmatics (it is an exposition of the Apostles’ Creed, and it has no specific relationship to the Church Dogmatics). But it’s a very accessible introduction to Barth’s theology, and it contains some remarkably profound chapters (e.g. the chapter on creation).

Karl Barth, The Humanity of God
A modest little book, but a work that is important for understanding Barth’s mature theology and some of the ways in which his theology changed over time.

Karl Barth, Letters, 1961-1968
Barth was a prolific correspondent, and his letters make for delightful and humorous reading. The letters collected here offer unique insight into Barth’s personality, social context and acquaintances. There’s no better way to get a “feel” for Barth’s personality than to read his letters. (This book is out of print, but second-hand copies are readily available.)

Karl Barth, The Göttingen Dogmatics, Vol. 1
One of the best ways to get acquainted with Barth’s thought is to read this volume (based on an early lecture-series from the 1920s), which was Barth’s first attempt at a full-scale dogmatics. Although Barth’s theology matured and developed in many ways, this early work offers a highly accessible, energetic account of some of Barth’s deepest and most radical concerns. (For instance, the chapter on the relationship between theology and preaching is crucial for understanding Barth’s whole theological project.)

Karl Barth, The Doctrine of Reconciliation
This is a cheap and attractive paperback reprint of the first section of Church Dogmatics IV/1 – and it’s one of the best and most beautiful parts of the entire Church Dogmatics. If you want a cheap and easy way to start reading the Church Dogmatics, this is a great way to begin.

Books about Barth

John Webster, Barth
This is by far the best short introduction to Barth. With clarity, conciseness and sharp insight, Webster introduces the main themes of Barth’s theology and summarises important controversies about the interpretation of Barth.

Eberhard Busch, The Great Passion: An Introduction to Karl Barth’s Theology
This is a brilliant introduction written by Barth’s former personal assistant. Busch draws together his unequalled knowledge of Barth’s personal life and his penetrating insight into the themes and structure of Barth’s theology.

John Webster (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth
A first-rate collection of essays by leading scholars and theologians. The only major shortcoming is that there is not enough specific focus on Barth’s biography; but this collection is very helpful for thinking about Barth’s relationship to the contemporary theological discussion.


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