Barth’s “Göttingen Dogmatics (1924-26)”: A Review and Assessment of Volume One -- By: Richard A. Muller

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 56:1 (Spring 1994)
Article: Barth’s “Göttingen Dogmatics (1924-26)”: A Review and Assessment of Volume One
Author: Richard A. Muller


Barth’s “Göttingen Dogmatics (1924-26)”:
A Review and Assessment of Volume One*

Richard A. Muller

* Karl Barth, The Göttingen Dogmatics: Instruction in the Christian Religion, Vol. 1 (ed. Hannelotte Reiffen; trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991; trans. of Unterricht in der christlichen Religion, 1990. lxii, 490. $39.99).

More than two decades after his death, Karl Barth continues to be viewed as one of the most significant theologians of the twentieth century, and his Church Dogmatics remains the grandest dogmatic enterprise of our era. In order to find a Protestant theological system conceived on a comparable scale, one is forced to look to the older dogmatics of Protestant orthodox theologians like the Lutherans, Johann Gerhard, Abraham Calov, and Johannes Quenstedt, or the Reformed, Jerome Zanchi, Johann Heinrich Heidegger, and Bernhardus DeMoor. Granting, moreover, the scale, the importance, and the many decades of its production, an analysis of Barth’s theological development and theological method is of considerable importance to the assessment of Barth’s work. If only for this reason, the appearance of Barth’s earliest and, indeed, only complete essay in the form of theological system has been awaited with considerable anticipation.

The Göttingen Dogmatics belongs to a series of lectures offered by Barth during his years as the Honorary Professor of Reformed Theology at the University of Göttingen (1921–25/26)—lectures never published by Barth. The dogmatics series, the last of the series of lectures delivered by Barth at Göttingen, began in the summer of 1924 with lectures on prolegomena. In the winter of 1924–25, Barth offered the first part of the dogmatics proper, the doctrines of the Word and of God. He followed these lectures with the doctrine of reconciliation in the summer of 1925. In October of 1925 Barth left Göttingen for the University of Münster, where he finished his early dogmatics with lectures on eschatology in the winter of 1925–26.1 The outline clearly adumbrates that of

the Church Dogmatics—including the lectures on eschatology, the topic of the projected but unwritten vol. 5 of the Church Dogmatics.

Although, as the translator comments, the title Göttingen Dogmatics is quite fitting, given both Barth’s academic position and the scale and character of the lectures, Barth had originally entitled his lectures Unterricht in der christlichen ReligionInstruction in the Christian Religion—because the Lutheran faculty of the university had refused to allow the Reform...

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