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For all the people who have had an interest in theology, especially in the field of Protestantism, the name Karl Barth will be seen as a light in the perception of the preaching of the gospel. Many of his thoughts expressed in his writings portray edges that offer a point of thought for anyone who reads them. According to Busch, et al (2004, 3), the thoughts of Barth give an insight into the reexamination of Christianity and mostly Protestantism.
In his works, Barth brings in a new position and point of focus as regards Christian theology in all the aspects of human life and domains including the social, economic, and political spheres. In his works, written conversationally, Barth gives his views on the prevalent and basic topics of Christian systematic theology. He touches on areas like Israel and Christology, revelation’s nature, the predestination doctrine, the trinity, gospel in relation to law, religion’s problems, the Holy Spirit, creation, salvation, ecclesiology, and eschatology.
Basing on the fact that Christian life is based on two conflicting sides, Barth had the same insight and that is why he brought out this issue of the desire to do good as conflicting with the other part of the body that wanted to do evil. In addition, his work showed freedom not only to act but also to express his views by writing them down in his own way and point of view.
It is from his refocused and re-conceptualized approach of the Christian views and his actions and their contribution on the Protestant platform that this paper will try to establish exactly why Karl Barth is considered one of the greatest thinkers in the field of theology and how his approach to Christianity affected the established protestant traditions. The paper will finally conclude the topic and point out what I have learned as a writer of this topic.
Before plunging into Barth’s exploits, it is important to understand his nature and approach to life generally. From his life as a child, Barth was a person who believed in himself and always considered himself right at all times. Having been brought up in a purely Christian background, Barth started to acquire radical ideas from Nietzsche making him deviate from his family’s positivism into a more liberal approach to life’s subject.
One conspicuous thing about Barth was his love belief in the two sides of life that always contested and intercrossed each yearning for superiority and dominance. This made him ensure that whenever he was, the portraits of Calvin and Mozart hung at the same level expressing the mentioned stand in his life. Above all, Barth believed in uprightness and truth a reason why he had an interest in trees. In one of his works he wrote that he loved trees because their principal aim was always to be upright (Busch 2004, 6).
One of the verses in the bible that always gave him strength was James 4:17 which said, “When we know what it is right to do, and do not do it, for us it is sin.” This was his basis in all his theological approaches. In addition, he wanted to work through strengthening, beseeching, pressing, and inviting the church to emulate the Baptist by all means. This he did through both encouraging and criticizing (Busch 2004, 7).
The first controversial position of Barth about the church’s point of view was the interpretation of the bible. In his approach, Barth has his focus defined within the teachings and systematic theology as those of the Calvinist reformation. His teachings were puritan and had a strong adherence to sola scriptura and sola fide. To Barth, the only standard to “dogmatic truth and Christian practice” is the bible.
This position was completely in opposition to the church which approached the Holy Scripture with a provision for consensus fidelium and consensus patricum. In his argument, Barth believes that the bible should be read and applied to every generation freshly without being subjected to sectarian traditions as molded by the church authority (Dorrien 1999, 15). This was contrary to the Catholic Church and the Anglican Church that had their teachings impaired by the ecclesiastical practices brought up by the creeds councils and fathers (Chandler 2009, para. 3).
Barth in his argument makes a clear difference between God, the Bible, and the Church. Barth believes that the Bible is the word of God and that no human form is capable of signifying the word of God or conveying the revelation of the word of God. He purports that all church traditions are human ideologies and principles and therefore human constructs. And this is just philosophy whose main aim is making man’s word be God’s word.
Therefore, the view of Barth is the divorce of God’s intentions from human history which has contributed to the formation of ecclesiastical traditions (Dorrien 1999, 87). Barth differs from the 18th Century theologians who have a deep-rooted belief in educational philosophy. At this point in time, the scientific knowledge had taken a better part of theologians who became adherents of the theory of goodness of humanity. This was meant to bring nature to an easier understanding from the human perspective (Barth 2002, 356). The result was the manipulation of theology to fit human reason.
Anthropocentric theology is another aspect of theology that Barth had contributed to. This form of theology took the center stage during the enlightenment and later had its zenith during romanticism. In this theology, absolutism was the center of focus. This school of thought had as its core arguments the self-confidence which manifested itself in the teachings that man had to some extend, an identity between himself and God. This argument later formed the basis of philosophical teachings as most of the states became more and more obsessed with the importance of a human will.
This was enhanced by the growth experienced by science during the 19th Century. It was aimed at making theology friendlier with science. This effort by man to make theology friendlier and more scientific thus brought with it alterations to the real intention of God. With science refuting claims of miracles and the existence of a supernatural being that was not within the visible and felt human experiences. According to Barth the theories of absolutism simply gave a man a lordship role and tried to extinct the issues of mysteries (Barth 2002, 150).
Barth on his part acknowledges the success of the theory on other aspects of human life but according to him, this does not work well within theological circles. In his position, several questions and answers in this field could not be answered by the humanity approach except for the belief in a more powerful authority above the human race.
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Barth has shown in his views of theology the existence of good and bad. He believed that two sides in life tried to compete with each other for dominance and superiority. This was characterized by his love for hanging the picture of Mozart and Calvin at the same level on the wall. This showed that Barth believed that despite the struggle by the theologians to show only the good side of human nature, the truth was that there existed the dark side and there was a competition between these two sides (Barth 2002, 237).
At this point, most of the theologists were trying to avoid touching on the principle of evil. This is characterized by Goethe who accused Kant of having smeared his cloak of philosophy with a “shameful stain of radical evil.” This avoidance of the evil principle was exactly what was taking place during the 18th Century’s “Pelagian” program whose main aim was getting rid of the old ages’ corruptions and evils while trying to promote humanity’s “essential innocence.”
Finally, Barth has a point of view concerning the relationship between the State and Christianity. As pointed out earlier, the ultimate source and standards of Christian faith and practice were purely the word of God and that it should be read based on certain standards. Any addition of context translates to human philosophy and creation (Dorrien 1999, 15). This position contradicts the theological perspectives that existed then. Friedrich Schleiermacher who is also referred to as the provenance of modern theology had his views going against Barth’s position. In his point of view, faith is founded on the knowledge of the immediate awareness of man and his feelings concerning God.
This according to Barth was teaching based on human education and therefore human creation and philosophy. Most of the teachings of Schleiermacher were based on the possibility of peace in nations. According to him, nations could live together in peace because every conflict could be resolved if well approached. Barth feels that these teachings, therefore, subject the church to be answerable to the State. This to Barth is not the way things are supposed to be. The only phenomena that can dictate the beliefs and practices of the church are the word of God.
Barth’s greatest contribution and influence on Protestantism was his refocusing from the usual view of human nature as innocent to the view that human beings have two sides that are competing for dominance. The church learned to realize the dark side and therefore focused on repentance and basing their lives on the word of God as it is given in the bible and not as it is explained by scholars and philosophers who simply are influenced by their human nature.
What I have Learnt
Writing this paper has opened a new understanding of the word of God in me. Although most of my understanding was based on what I had learned from the church, I have come to understand that there is a different perspective that I can approach the gospel. Unlike basing my understanding of the word of God through the church teachings only as I initially, I now know that there could be chances of human manipulation as a result of modernism and other social and economic factors. This marks a tough choice because both have a concrete basis.
On one hand, I could choose to read the word without basing my knowledge on human interpretations and thus avoid contextual manipulations or, base my understanding of the word of God on a normal day-to-day life of man and thus put into consideration the human feelings and nature.
The greatest lesson I have learned is that for me to understand the word of God, it will call for the direction of the Holy Spirit. This is the only way out because using human interpretation can lead to misinterpretation.
In addition, I have learned that the church at some points has failed to acknowledge the real foundation of its existence who is Jesus Christ. It is Jesus who created the church and therefore it is himself who will sustain it. As Busch, et al (2002, 248) explains, that the church has its foundation in Christ and he is the only one that reigns over it. Therefore, the church cannot think for itself instead it should be subjected to Christ’s plan.
As a result, some of the doctrines that the church puts up are completely human conceptions and creations. By no means should the church go beyond the boundaries of the dictates of the word for the sake of embracing modernity? To this extend, I believe that Barth was correct to some point but also, it is difficult to believe in mysteries without putting the immediate human nature and feelings into consideration. This means that the other philosophers were also right.
To some extent, I feel that the threat to the growth and spread of the word of God could be attributed to men themselves. With such deviations and beliefs, some Christians will feel that there is no truth at all. And thus backslide. And finally, I am made to believe that science and religion cannot match. There are points that they have to go in conflict.
Barth, Karl. Protestant Theology in the Nineteenth Century. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2002.
Busch, Eberhard, Darren Guder, Geoffrey Bromiley and Judith Guder. The Great Passion: An Introduction to Karl Barth’s Theology. Michigan: Eardmans, 2004.
Chandler, Canon. “Barthian Neo-Protestantism.” Philorthodox. 2008. Web.
Dorrien, Gary. The Barthian Revolt in Modern Theology. Westminster John Knox Press, 1999.
Hamilton, Barry. “Review of Protestant Theology in the 19th Century.” 2003. Web.
Williams, Rowan. “Not Being Serious: Thomas Merton and Karl Barth.” 2008. Web.