Sunday 11 December 2011

Karl Barth for beginners

No doubt about it, when it comes to theology Charlie Barth was a bit of a genius. Trying to get your head around even a few of his ideas is no mean feat: if you're not careful it has been known to induce migraine, vertigo, religious conversion, or even doctoral studies.

So to help you out, here's a quick colloquial abridgement of Barth's whole theological career:
  • Romans commentary (early 1920s): God judges
  • Göttingen dogmatics (mid 1920s): God speaks
  • Anselm book (1930): God knows
  • Church Dogmatics I (1930s): God gives
  • Church Dogmatics II (1940s): God loves
  • Church Dogmatics III (1940s-50s): God blesses
  • Church Dogmatics IV (1950s-60s): God befriends
  • Church Dogmatics V (never written): God heals 
As you can tell, old Charlie Barth wasn't a fox, he was a hedgehog. He knew only one big thing – that God is God, and that the word "God" is a good word.


Kate said...

Ben! I saw your 'Read more Barthes, you bastards!' button (or something along those lines). Hilarious! Thought, 'Hey, I'd like to . . . ' and then I saw the voluminous offerings and was sore afraid. 'Where to start????' The colloq. abridgements are a marvellous set of little hedgehog footprints: nicely done.

Ben Myers said...

Thanks Kate — and thanks for the phrase "hedgehog footprints". I wish I'd thought of that!

Jrhukari said...

If Barth is a hedgehog, who is a fox, Rowen Williams?

Kevin said...

It's not great English, but for CD 1 I would propose instead "God lords."

Chris E Green said...


Thanks, Ben. I'm just now reading through CD, so all of the "Barth for newbies" material I can get helps!

If possible, would you say a bit about what might've happened to our understanding of the previous volumes if that last volume on divine healing would've been written? I know you think TFT is not a Barthian, so what do you think healing would've meant for the Hedgehog? And what role, if any, do you imagine the sacraments would've come to play in his view of the divine healing economy? Also, what would Barth have said about the eschatological visio dei?

Ben Myers said...

Yes, certainly Rowan Wms! Of course the English are always more likely to be foxes, whereas German-speaking theologians tend to be hedgehogs. But I'd say Schleiermacher would have to be a fox.

David Baruch said...


This is totally off topic, well sort of, its still about Barth. But I was reading an old blog post of yours from 2005. In this post you decided to summarize the entire church dogmatic in one sentence. Of course election got brought up. You qualified your statement by claiming that Barth was not a universalist because his Yes is always a free Yes, therefore it is not universalism. I think I know where you are going with this, but would you be so willing to expound this further.

I wrote a post called suspended universalism:

If you got the time to read it, I wonder if this is similar to what you are talking about. I did not think about this idea of suspended universalism in specific reference to "the freedom of God", but I think it makes sense.



Andy Rowell said...

A nice tweet by Peter Leithart on December 17th I thought readers of this post might enjoy.

"I have a Karl Barth bobble-head on my desk. When I ask him a theological question, he nod-shakes his head dialectically."!/PLeithart/status/148104037634555905

profanefaith said...

I love Jesus. And I love Barth. Working my way through the treasure trove I am able to own thanks to CBD.

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