Radical Theology: an Introduction to Karl Barth
Karl Barth is the most influential, and perhaps most polemical, Protestant theologian of the twentieth century. Drawing deeply on Søren Kierkegaard’s fervent view of Christianity, Barth starkly criticizes theologians in the tradition of liberal Protestantism. At the same time, he is known as the “Red Pastor” who cares for the interests of his rural, blue-collar parishioners and rejects the collusion of the Christian faith with bourgeois life. Born in Switzerland and active in Germany, Barth authors the Barmen Declaration, the Confessing Church’s 1934 statement in opposition to Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich. His thirteen-volume work, Church Dogmatics, is a definitive contribution to the field of systematic theology, standing alongside the great works of Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, and Friedrich Schleiermacher in importance. In Church Dogmatics, he enquires into the nature of revelation, and formulates doctrines concerning election, creation, and the person of Christ. How can we understand Karl Barth’s theological project? What drove him, politically and theologically, to attack the assumptions of liberal Christianity; and what are the meaning and implications—religious, political, and ethical—of the “theocentric” point of view he promoted in its stead?
In this course, we will situate Barth in the long tradition of Christian thought, from the apostle Paul and the medieval apologist Anselm of Canterbury to the sixteenth-century Reformer Martin Luther and Barth’s contemporaries, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Paul Tillich. By examining The Epistle to the Romans, Barth’s commentary on the New Testament Book of Romans, we will grapple with the contradictions of the Christ figure, the theological concept of grace, and God’s relation to history. We will then turn to the Church Dogmatics in Outline, an introduction to Barthian theology structured around the Apostles’ Creed. What does it mean to call God Father? How does the Holy Spirit relate to the unity of the universal Church? Engaging the short piece of the Barmen Declaration opens up questions of Jewish-Christian relations as well as Christian nationalism today. What might biblical, theological resources be for resisting assertions of Aryan power in twenty-first century America? Lastly, we will consider the reception of Barth’s ideas in contemporary discourse in areas such as Black, political, and womanist theology.
Course ScheduleMonday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
September 11 — October 09, 2023
4 sessions over 5 weeks
Class will not meet Monday, September 25th.