Once an Infidel and Libertine,
A Servant of Slaves in Africa, Was
By the Rich Mercy of our Lords and Saviour,
Preserved, Restored, Pardoned,
And Appointed to Preach the Faith
He Had Long Tried to Destroy.
This post is not intended to be a review of Barth's book, originally published in English translation in 1963. Here, I simply want to reflect on my initial encounter with the Swiss theologian's writings.
I suppose that I first became aware of Barth's theology when I read through much of The Complete Works of Francis A Schaeffer in my early 20's. Schaeffer was critical of Barth's doctrine of Scripture. He also accused Barth of having a scant regard for the historical basis of the Christian faith. These negative early impressions did not exactly inspire me to invest much time studying the theologian. But Karl Barth's thinking has been attracting renewed attention of late. Many theology bloggers cite Barth as an influential figure in their theological development. Ben Myers' Faith & Theology is probably the foremost Barth-inspired blog. See here for my interview with Ben where, amongst other things, we discuss the resurgence of interest in Barth's theology. All this helped to persuade me that I aught to at lest try to read something by the man. I'm certainly not going to devote my life to reading his voluminous Church Dogmatics, but I thought that I'd have a look at this Evangelical Theology.
I'm not altogether sure that I bought the right book, as this is not really an introduction to Barth's teaching on evangelical doctrine. The first section contains some theological discussion. But in the rest of the work, Barth reflects on the challenges of theological existence. When reading the book I tried to keep my mind as unclouded by prejudice as possible. I wanted to give Barth a fair hearing. What I have to say in this post is based simply on my reading of this book.
Studying Evangelical Theology was a rewarding experience. I enjoyed Barth's pacey style and found his arguments stimulating. He defines evangelical theology not in terms of the sixteenth century Confessions but "as that theology which treats the God of the Gospel." (p. 5). In thinking of the place of theology, Barth focuses first of all on the Word of God. This is God's redemptive historical action by which he reveals himself to us in word and deed. In this context Barth discusses God's covenant with Israel, which culminates in the coming of Christ whereby the Word became flesh. Barth's evangelical theology is admirably Christ centered. "This whole Word of God in Christ is the word to which theology must listen and reply." (p. 23).