Karl Barth: Did his adultery affect his theology?

Karl Barth: Did his adultery affect his theology?

Karl Barth is an interesting creature (a favorite term of his).  He led the German church’s resistance to the Nazi takeover of the Protestant church.  He was removed from his teaching position, and deported from Germany when he refused to sign the loyalty oath to Hitler.  After the war he returned to Germany, where he helped restore the church.  He was the most influential theologian of the twentieth century (though I think I’ve said this about a couple of other theologians).  Barth was on the cover of Time magazine on April 20, 1962.

God as the opposite of man

Barth is best known among theologians for his book on Paul’s Letter to the Romans, and Church Dogmatics.  The latter is over six million words long, in five volumes.  It was incomplete at the time of his death.

Barth was a great critic of liberal theology, the reigning theology of the day.  Liberal theology said that the claims of Christianity must stand in continuity with the highest moral ideals of a culture.  If no continuity exists, the gospel will be morally unintelligible.  Basing Christianity solely on revelation, said Adolf von Harnack, erases the history of Israel and the church (Reader, p 56).

Barth’s opposition to liberal theology is influenced by his own historical experience.  If theology is not rooted in scripture alone, then it’s too easy to move from judging scripture by creaturely needs, as he puts it, to judging scripture by the needs  of the Führer.  It is not difficult to read the history of the German church this way, which ended up accepting a bishop approved by Hitler, and a ban on converted Jews.

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