Karl Barth is far too complex a thinker to quickly describe his theology. In an effort to be concise I am going to try and remain tied to his work Evangelical Theology. Of course, even in doing so I will not summarize everything.
Let me begin with a brief introduction to Evangelical Theology. The book is comprised of several lectures that he gave at the end of his academic career in Basel Switzerland. Some of these lectures were delivered also in the United States. As it is one of his later works it might seem to be a short summary of his earlier work. But Barth denies this instead claiming it as a short account “of what, up to now, I have basically sought, learned, and represented from among all the paths and detours in the field of evangelical theology during my five years as a student, twelve years as a preacher, and subsequent forty years as a professor.”
It has been proposed by some, most notably Hans Urs von Balthasar, that Barth left his dialectical theology behind by the time of the writing of Evangelical Theology and replaced it with a neo-Orthodoxy with a focus on analogy. Dialectical theology of course was a radical challenge to liberal theology of the early nineteenth-century, contained perhaps most famously in his Commentary on Romans. In this approach to theology the world stands in absolute contrast to God, emphasizing God’s sovereignty and his unconstrained choice in redemption through Jesus Christ. The neo-Orthodox strain held out more promise for greater continuity between God and creation and limited the jarring effects of ‘crisis’.
It is always enriching reading Martin Luther and imagining how he would answer the question ‘what is theology?’ His character and imagination are just so rich and deep that it always provides one with some food for thought.
Theology is active!
In an attempt to grasp at this depth using Luther’s own words (conflating for a moment theology and his notion of faith) we could say that for Luther theology “is a living, busy, active, mighty thing.” It is a task impossible for armchair theologians. Instead theology is a call, the call of God in Jesus Christ. To use the language of the 20th century Lutheran martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, theology makes demands of you, it bids you to come and die. Hence, for Luther, theology is not a cartographers map, rather, it is a picture painted with vivid existential strokes and colours.
The term theology can mean a great variety of things. Among these are meanings related to its etymological significance, its uses drawn from before, during and after Christendom, and its academic definition.
What I intend to do on this webpage is to make a home for as many interpretations and meanings given to theology over the years as is possible – from those of individuals and churches to those of the university and religion more broadly.
I have been blessed by so many of these different meanings and I hope you will be blessed by them as well in your journey to study who God is and what we humans have to say about him.