He did so because, as he tells us, his commitment to liberal theology was first and foremost called into question one day in early August of On that day he read a proclamation in support of the war policy of Wilhelm II signed by ninety three German intellectuals. To Barth's horror, almost all his venerated theological teachers were among the names of those who had signed in support of the war.
Barth confesses he suddenly realized that he could no longer follow their theology or ethics. At that moment the theology of the nineteenth century, the theology of Protestant liberalism, came to an end for Barth. Barth characterized the theology he thought must be left behind - a theology identified by figures such as Schleiermacher and Troeltsch - as the attempt to respond to the modern age by underwriting the assumption that Christianity is but an expression of the alleged innate human capacity for the infinite.
From such a perspective, Christianity is understood to be but one particular expression of religion. Such a view of the Christian faith presumed that the primary task of Christian theology is to assure the general acceptance of the Christian faith for the sustaining of the achievements of Western civilization. Barth observed theology so conceived was more interested in man's relationship with God than God's dealings with man. For Barth, however, a theology understood as the realization in one form or another of human self-awareness could have no ground or content other than ourselves: "Faith as the Christian commerce with God could first and last be only the Christian commerce with himself.
Drawing on Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky and Overbeck, as well as his discovery of what he characterized as "the strange new world of the Bible," against the theology of his teachers Barth proclaimed: "God is God. Barth says:. So Barth challenged what he characterized as the accommodated theology of Protestant liberalism, using expressions such as God is "wholly other" who breaks in upon us "perpendicularly from above.
Thus Barth's sobering claim that God is God and we are not means that it can never be the case that we have the means to know God unless God first makes himself known to us. Barth will later acknowledge that his initial reaction against Protestant liberal theology was exaggerated, but any theology committed to clearing the ground for a fresh expression of the Christian faith could not help but sound extreme.
Barth acknowledged that his first salvos against Protestant liberalism seemed to be saying that God is everything and man nothing. Such a God, the God that is wholly other, isolated and set over against man threatens to become the God of the philosophers rather than the God who called Abraham. The majesty of the God of the philosophers might have the contradictory results of confirming the hopelessness of all human activity while offering a new justification of the autonomy of man. Barth wanted neither of these results.
In retrospect, however, Barth confesses that he was wrong exactly where he was right, but at the time he did not know how to carry through with sufficient care the discovery of God's deity. For Barth the decisive breakthrough came with the recognition that:. In short, Barth discovered that it is precisely God's deity which includes and constitutes God's humanity. We are not here dealing with an abstract God - that is, a God whose deity exists separated from man because in Jesus Christ there can be no isolation of man from God or God from man.
In Barth's language:.
- Bible-bashers bashed;
- Male Managers Are More Effective;
- Being Discussed Now.
In Jesus Christ man's freedom is wholly enclosed in the freedom of God. Without the condescension of God there would be no exaltation of man We have no universal deity capable of being reached conceptually, but this concrete deity - real and recognizable in the descent grounded in that sequence and peculiar to the existence of Jesus Christ. I am aware that this all too brief account of Barth's decisive theological turn may seem but a report on esoteric methodological issues in Christian theology. But remember that Barth's discovery of the otherness of God, an otherness intrinsic to God's humanity, was occasioned by his recognition of the failure of the politics and ethics of modern theology in the face of the First World War.
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I think it not accidental, moreover, that Barth was among the first to recognize the character of the politics represented by Hitler. Barth was a person of unusual insight, or as Timothy Gorringe describes him, he was a person of extraordinary vitality who was a profoundly political animal. But his perception of the threat the Nazis represented cannot be separated from his theological turn occasioned by his reaction against his teachers who supported the war.
Gorringe rightly argues in his book Karl Barth: Against Hegemony that Barth never assumed his theology might have political implications because his theology was a politics. That way of putting the matter, that is, "his theology was a politics" is crucial.
The very structure of Barth's Church Dogmatics , Gorringe suggests, with its integration of theology and ethics displayed in his refusal to separate law from gospel, was Barth's way of refusing any distinction between theory and practice.
The politics of the Universal Church and its consequences on religion and politics in Brazil
Hence Barth's Christocentrism meant that his "theology was never a predicate of his politics, but also true that politics is never simply a predicate of his theology. Gorringe's argument that Barth was a political theologian was confirmed in the same year Barth wrote the Barmen Declaration by Barth's response to a challenge by some Americans and English critics that his theology was too abstract and unrelated to actual lives. Barth begins his defence by observing that he is after all "a modern man" who stands in the midst of this age.
Like his questioners he too must live a life not merely in theory but in practice in what he characterizes as the "stormy present. In particular, Barth calls attention to his years as a pastor in which he faced the task of preaching the gospel in the face of secularism. During this time he was confronted with the modern world, but he was also confronted with the modern church.
It was a church, a church of great sincerity and zeal with fervid devotion to deeds of charity, too closely related to the modern world. It was a church that no longer knew God's choice to love the world by what Christians have been given to do in the light of that love - that is, to be witnesses to the treasure that is the gospel.
The problem, according to Barth, is that the church of the pious man, this church of the good man, this church of the moral man, became the church of man. The result was the fusion of Christianity and nationalism. Consequently the modern church is a near relative to the godless modern world. That error, Barth suggests, began two hundred years before the present with Pietism's objections to orthodoxy. In the Reformation, the church heard of God and of Christ, but love was not active. The fatal error was the Christian response: they did not say, let God be even more God and Christ be even more the Christ; but instead, they said lets us improve matters ourselves.
Reverence for the pious man became reverence for the moral man and finally when it was found that man is of so large an importance, it became less important to speak of God, of Christ, of the Holy Spirit. Instead men began to speak of human reason. Barth then directly addresses his questioners - whom he identifies as "friends" - to tell them he is well aware of what is happening and that is exactly why he insists that he must speak of God. He must speak of God because he must begin with the confession, "I am from Germany.
Yet Barth claims he is sure that what has been experienced in Germany - that is, the remarkable apostasy of the church to nationalism - will also be the fate of those who think Barth's theology to be a retreat from political engagement. Thus Barth's challenge to his critics "if you make a start with 'God and Barth quickly recognized such a demon had been let loose in the person of Hitler.
He was able to do so because Hitler's attempt to make Christianity a state religion by creating the German Church meant the free preaching of the Gospel was prohibited. Theological speech and politics were inseparable. It is, therefore, no accident that Barth in the Barmen Declaration challenged the "German Christians" on Christological grounds.
He does so because Barth assumes that Jesus' claim, "I am the way, and the truth, and life; no one comes to the Father, but by me" John Barth writes:. We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and beside this one word of God, still other events and powers, figures and truths, as God's revelation.
If we value Karl Barth's witness, we must acknowledge that the political significance of the church depends on her Christological centre. You may be rightly wondering, if not worried, where all this has gotten us. I should like to be able to say more about where we are now and where we need to go but I am unsure who the "we" or the "us" may be.
I have assumed I should, or perhaps more truthfully, I can only speak from a first person perspective, but hopefully it is one shaped by my Christian identity. Indeed it may be I am more American than Christian and thus tempted to confuse the Christian "we" and the American "we. American presumption is always a problem, but the problem is deeper than my American identity.
It would be a world of economic justice in which everybody had the material basics of existence. And it would be a world of peace and nonviolence. His public activity began after the arrest of his mentor, John the Baptizer, by the Rome-appointed ruler of Galilee Mark Jesus also used political means, most dramatically in two public political demonstrations.
First, his preplanned entry into Jerusalem on a donkey symbolized a kingdom of peace in which the weapons of war would be banished.
This is the political meaning of Good Friday. Of course, Good Friday and Easter have more than a political meaning—but not less. Marcus J. Borg, "Jesus and Politics", n. Borg Professor, Oregon State University. Jesus is presented in the Gospels as a person of extraordinary significance for faith, religion, and history.
First-century Jews held various views on Scripture and practice, but they generally agreed on the centrality of Torah, temple, land, and Israel as the covenant community. The second temple period spans about six hundred years, beginning in the late sixth century BCE and ending with the destruction of the Jerusalem temple by the Romans in 70 CE. Throughout much of this period, Jews lived—and early Judaism developed—under foreign rule. Putting first things first, we have the same opportunity every generation of the church has had before us and will have after us: to stand firm against the current of anxiety and offer hope in the Solid Rock.
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Resist the Lure of Theological Politics
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