It seems that 20th century Swiss theologian, Karl Barth is all the rage at the moment. Ben Myres at Faith & Theology devotes every other post to something Barthian. So, you might be wondering, what's the fuss all about? Don't worry, you won't have to plough through the massive 4 volume Church Dogmatics to find out - David Sky will give you the low down.
This is important. You have not pronounced his name correctly if you make it rhyme with "laugh". Barth rhymes with "art" or "cart".
Barth (1886-1968) taught theology at a number of German universities, Gottingen, Munster, and Bonn. In the 1930's he opposed Hitler and was dismissed from his post. He returned to Switzerland and taught for the remainder of his career in Basel. In 1919 Barth published his seminal commentary on Romans, where he emphasised the "Godness of God". His major literary work was his massive, four volume Church Dogmatics.
Barth scandalised his admirers by conducting a long term affair with his assistant, Charlotte ("Lollo") von Kirschbaum. He would take "Lollo" on holiday with him, leaving his poor, long suffering wife at home.
Barth reacted against the liberal theology of the likes of Bultmann and found inspiration in the teaching of John Calvin. But Barth's dislike of the historico-critical method of exegesis left him seeming to be ambiguous about the historical basis of Scriptural events. Barth emphasised the revelatory character of events like the resurrection of Christ. At least in his earlier writings, he wasn't so sure about the historicity of the empty tomb.
Barth saw Scripture as a witness to the revelation of God rather than the inscripturated revelation of God in itself. He held that the Bible may become the Word of God to us in a revelatory event, but that Scripture was not the Word of God written. Barth so emphasised Jesus Christ as the revelation of God that he seems to have forgotten that we cannot know Christ apart from the witness of Scripture.
He was ambiguous about using the term "Person" to describe the three in the Trinity. Barth preferred to speak of "modes" within the godhead. He may not be charged with fully blown modalism, but the spectre of unipersonality cannot be entirely avoided. His model of the trinity is God as "revealer, revelation and revealdness". Again, this leaves us doubtful regarding the distinct Personhood of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Barth reformulated Calvin's doctrine of election to teach that God elects himself to save humanity in Christ. This leaves him open to the charge of universalism. If God has chosen to be the Saviour of all humanity in Christ, it is difficult to explain how all will not be saved. Barth's followers battle amongst themselves as to whether or not he was a universalist.
Christ assumed a fallen humanity when he became Man according to Barth. If "fallen" means anything, it means sinful. At the fall, humanity entered a state of sinful rebellion against God. What does this say about the union of the divine and human natures of Christ within the Person of the Son? Did the Son of God express himself through sinful humanity? If Jesus assumed a sinful humanity, he is part of the problem rather than the solution. He came in the likeness of sinful flesh. But we was without sin. He offered himself up without spot to God.
We may be able to learn certain valuable lessons from Karl Barth. But remember, Barth does not rhyme with laugh because his theology contains some seriously bad errors.