Friday 4 August 2006

John Webster: Barth's earlier theology

John B. Webster is one of the finest interpreters of Barth writing in English today. He has published no fewer than six books on Barth, all of them works of the highest importance:

I’ve just finished reading the most recent of these, Barth’s Earlier Theology—and it’s a stunning work which offers profound insight into Barth’s relationship to the Reformed tradition.

Webster performs close readings of four of Barth’s early texts (all of them based on lecture-series from the 1920s): The Theology of Zwingli, The Theology of the Reformed Confessions, The Resurrection of the Dead, and Protestant Theology in the Nineteenth Century. He does not attempt to reduce these texts to generic themes or to questions of Barth’s development, but instead he simply tries “to observe what happens when Barth reads” (p. 7). The result is a penetrating (and refreshingly generous) account, which positively bristles with new insights into Barth’s distinctive manner of practising history, his profound engagement with the Reformed tradition, and the ways in which his later theology remained stamped by those formative years as Professor of Reformed Theology at Göttingen (1921-25).


David Shedden said...

Yes, Ben, thanks for this. Webster is something of a star. His little introduction to Barth (2000,2004) is very good indeed - and the Cambridge companion got me through my Barth paper a couple of years ago.

Do you know when Webster will complete his dogmatic project - I read somewhere he is aiming to publish a dogmatic theology?

Ben Myers said...

Good question, David. According to a recent post on Webster, his dogmatics will be "well underway" within about the next five years. It will definitely be a major event when it's published -- I reckon Webster is one of the best theological thinkers working today.

byron smith said...

Ben, have you met him?

e said...

As I'm sure many of you know Webster's theological grounded-ness is thoroughly demonstrated in his wonderfully pastoral nature. I've been a student of John's for 2 years now at Aberdeen and was completely humbled by the love and thoughtfulness that both he and his wife poured out on my family.

Your blog is sweet Ben--

Jim said...

Well I wouldn't describe you as sweet, Ben, but thanks very much for the notice on the last book of your list. I've requested it of my brother for a birthday gift (which, I might add, rolls around in just a few weeks. There's still time for you to get me something!!!!)

I admire the early Barth MUCH more than the later, adulterating one. ;-)

(Had he never spoken ill of Zwingli, I would let it drop....).

Ben Myers said...

Hi Eze: thanks for this personal insight. No, Byron, I haven't met Webster myself -- although I've read just about everything he's ever written!

Jim: I thought of you immediately when I started reading this book -- I'm sure you would love the chapter on Zwingli. Webster interprets Barth's engagement with Zwingli very sympathetically: he argues that Barth's reading of Zwingli played a formative role in Barth's early movement towards dogmatics, and he suggests some lasting influences and parallels between Zwingli and Barth's later theology.

"[T]hough Zwingli only rarely appears in Barth's writings after 1923, his theology is 'latent' in much of what Barth later thought" (p. 35). In Barth's later theology, "something of Zwingli remained: above all, a deep-seated aversion for some ways of coordinating God and creatures, and an acute awareness of the potential losses entailed by a theology of mediation" (p. 37). And these concerns, of course, are at the very heart of much of Barth's theology!

Michael Westmoreland-White, Ph.D. said...

Webster is indeed an excellent interpreter of Barth, especially of his ethics. I'd also rate Princeton Seminary's George Hunsinger and the Univ. of Cape Town's John de Gruchy as among the best living Barth interpreters. But, then, my own alleged Barthianism is undoubtedly skewed since I discovered Barth through John Howard Yoder and am more Anabaptist than Reformed. Pray for me. :-)

Anonymous said...

'Barth's Moral Theology' was published in North America by Eerdmans -- and was a great deal cheaper than the T&T Clark edition! Does anyone know if any of the other titles were also published by Eerdmans?

Michael Westmoreland-White, Ph.D. said...

"'Barth's Moral Theology' was published in North America by Eerdmans -- and was a great deal cheaper than the T&T Clark edition! Does anyone know if any of the other titles were also published by Eerdmans?"

The easiest way to check this
would be to go to and enter the titles. They'll list all editions, I think.

Jim said...

Ben, thanks very much for that little snippet. Now I REALLY hope my brother got it for me....

Anonymous said...

Anyone know of an annotated Barth bibliography?

David W. Congdon said...

Yes, but it is in German. I work at the Barth Center at Princeton Seminary, and we are currently putting together a complete bibliography in English of every item that has ever been written. Come visit! In the meantime, there is an online database searchable in English, German, and Dutch here. It's not annotated, but it will serve you well for now. I update it on a regular basis.

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