The Place and Importance of Karl Barth in the Twentieth Century: A Review Essay -- By: Richard A. Muller
WTJ 50:1 (Spring 1988) p. 127
The Place and Importance of Karl Barth in the Twentieth Century: A Review Essay*
Whatever the final verdict of church historians two or three hundred years hence concerning the place of Karl Barth in the history of Christian thought and the extent of his influence in the twentieth century, he was undoubtedly one of the most impressive and commanding theologians of our time. The one hundredth anniversary of Barth’s birth has, quite appropriately, provided an occasion for reflection on Barth’s career, his theology, and his impact on the development of theology in the twentieth century. As already indicated, the extent of his influence cannot yet be assessed: Barth has been dead less than twenty years; the English version of the Church Dogmatics, including the revision of 1/1 and the cumulative index, has been complete for barely ten; and the complete German edition of Barth’s works, including many hitherto unpublished sets of lectures, is not yet finished. It is also the case that the several extant attempts to sketch out the history of theology in the twentieth century and to place major thinkers like Barth in their historical context are, at best, partial and, at worst, utterly unconvincing1 —while the com-
* How Karl Barth Changed My Mind (ed. Donald K. McKim; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986. xii, 186. $9.95, paper); Eberhard Jüngel, Karl Barth: A Theological Legacy (trans. Garrett E. Paul; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1986. 168. $13.95, paper); Theology Beyond Christendom: Essays on the Centenary of the Birth of Karl Barth, May 10, 1886 (ed. John Thompson; Allison Park, Pa.: Pickwick Publications, 1986. x, 350. $36.00, paper); The Way of Theology in Karl Barth: Essays and Comments (ed. H. Martin Rumscheidt; Allison Park, Pa.: Pickwick Publications, 1986. x, 95. $13.90, paper).
WTJ 50:1 (Spring 1988) p. 128
ments on and assessments of Barth’s place in the theological spectrum made by his contemporaries, students, admirers, and opponents are so diverse that they provide no clear direction for a balanced evaluation.
The hundredth anniversary of Barth’s birth has provided, however, an important new impetus toward that assessment. Several collections of essays have appeared in which the authors survey their own encounters with Barth, with his theology, and with its impact on their times. What is significant here is the distinctly post-Barthian character of many of the essays or, in the case of those that are “Barthian,” the implicit and sometimes explicit sense of having stepped through and then beyond Barth’s own formulations into the realm of a Barthian theology after Barth. In other words, the essays consciously look back upon...
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