. Book Review
Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology an Introduction
By Matthew Daniels
In this Book review I will attempt to express my understanding on Karl Barth’s book, Introduction to Evangelical Theology.
The book’s introduction has Karl Barth traveling across the USA “the New World”. The book to Barth, in his own words is “To render a short account to myself and my contemporaries of what, up to now, I have basically sought, learned, and represented from among all the paths and detours in the field of evangelical Theology”. Barth then goes on to explain that his intentions aren’t. to create an “outline of dogmatics or a comparable summula.” Instead he chose the form of “introduction”. The writing was originally based on lectures, broken down into four sequences.
1.The Place of Theology
The Place of theology starts with the word breathing itself into history, revealing itself through the witnesses of believers becoming a community and then growing in the spirit, taking shape into what the Holy Spirit is doing in all of us.
Barth separates Theology from the science we may use to describe our natural world, Theology for Barth is a very special type of science.
“Theology itself signifies a very special science whose task is to apprehend and understand, and to speak of “God”.” Barth gives great examples about what Theology looks like. Barth explains the word which was spoken into the history of man, as being a living and flowing stream. Evangelical Theology isn’t interested in going after the “truth” as it is, allowing the truth to present itself into the history of man.
Barth is very clear; the science behind Evangelical Theology isn’t to prove but to wait for a response. “Theology itself is a word, a human response. Yet what makes it theology is not its own word or response but the word which it hears and to which it responds”. Evangelical Theology is ultimately God’s spirit working itself into the world without forcing itself into the hearts of man, waiting for a response then moving itself into the community by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Theology Existence Barth express the way ministry and Theology work together. “Evangelical theology is always in history. It takes place in flesh and blood, in the existence and action of a human being, within the theologian” Wonder, concern, commitment, and faith all takes shape in the theologian as he discovers what the God of the Gospels is requiring of him. Barth starts with wonder and is clear that without experiencing the wonderment of the word, you can not truly grasp its truth. “Wonder that is astonished but receptive and desirous to learn”.
“A quite specific astonishment stands at the beginning of every theological perception, inquiry and thought, in fact at the root of every theological word. This astonishment is indispensable if theology is to exist and be perpetually renewed as a modest, free, critical, and happy science”. Barth makes the point that Theology and the “Science” of it should be an exciting experience, not just for the theologian but for the existence of theology itself.
Concern that approaches the theologian, who learns that his involvement in scripture becomes more than just a spectator, rather he becomes a participant in the object that he is studying.
To quote Barth:
“Take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.”
― Karl Barth
Barth takes the stand that existing in this world while trying to grasp the God of the universe, through the study of theology, is impossible without being apart of the world, being concerned for your neighbor, for your community.
Commitment: Barth begins by declaring that wonder and concern are the ingredients that create commitment . Commitment for Barth is a set of principles, laws and standards the theologian must live by in order to fully give himself up to it. It is splendid and beautiful to be assigned a duty by the God of the Gospels who is the object of evangelical theology. It is a method of living to a standard of Laws. Barth see this not as oppressive but freeing, it helps give guidance to explore what Barth calls intellectus fidei. Barth explores this in three steps.
This unity is the work of the living God, a unity that is in diverse forms.
Theology is bound by the law of the word alone. It can’t be bound and twisted by any other law.
“The theologian finds satisfaction when his knowledge, the intellectus fidei, is directed by the object. In this way he becomes and remains a satisfied and pleased man, who also spreads satisfaction and pleasure to the community and world”
Faith is the last lecture in the series of Theology Existence, and ties the three together. No matter where you stand in astonishment and wonder, concern of the world you live in, or the commitment to work it out. Faith is the key ingredient that allows the Christian to stand on a firm foundation.
3.The Threat to Theology
Barth reflects on the danger the theologian may face while studying the ‘science’ of theology. Solitude, Doubt, Temptation and Hope.
Solitude. Barth gives a brief awareness of what the theologian may face while wrestling with the subject. He states that the theologian may find himself at ends with both the people in the world and in the church. “As a rule, the theologian will have to put up with pursuing his subject, in a certain isolation, not only in the so called “world”, but also in the church.” For Barth the questions that we must struggle with while studying the science behind theology will often led us into solitude.
Doubt. In the second reflection Barth makes it clear that doubt, like solitude, should be meet and endured. “The only advice that can be given is the same offered in solitude. To endure and to bear” Barth concludes doubt in three steps.
1. Doubt is a human experience, not a theologian one.
2. “no one should flirt with his unbelief or doubt.”
3. Doubt has its time and place.
Temptation. Barth’s third reflection “God removing himself from the theological work of man” whether its because of the theologian’s lack of discipline to the science of theology, or his irrelevant focus to the text. Barth brings it to a close with the emphasise that temptation is an “element” of the Grace of God.
Hope. This is the last reflection, which ties nicely into the whole lecture. It is a reminder that Solitude, Doubt and Temptation are all worth it in order to grow in a deeper knowledge of God. In fact to endure and bear in the hope that God keeps the theologian going.
Barth’s next and last lecture looks at prayer, study, service, and love.
Prayer is the only connection we find to the source when we are studying the science of theology. Barth suggest that when we make this effort to remove ourselves from. the subject that’s when God becomes clear. In prayer we align ourselves to the work of the creator. Study is the progressive “horizontal direction” , the focus of learning who the creator is. Service is the willingness to do the work that is already being done in the world by the Holy Spirit. Service to Barth is the natural response to who we become once we study the science of theology. Love is the freedom we experience as it is found whenever theology is studied and searched for. Barth makes the connection that as long as you study the science within theology you will always find Love as theology is ultimately Love! It’s the study of God who is in essence Love.
I find Barth’s book to be quite legalistic, while at the same time he is very liberal in some of his thinking, especially in his misology and the church’s involvement in the world. Evangelical Theology gave me a broader understanding on theology as a whole. Although I found some of his writing to be dry at times, it was the content that was refreshing and new for me. I enjoyed reading Barth’s views and will probably come back to it.
By Matthew Daniels