In the year 1956 at the 70th anniversary of the famous Swiss theologian Karl Barth, many theologians published articles on the significance of the theology of Barth. That was to be expected, since Barth since 1920 has dominated the field of dogmatic theology in several countries.
Barth started the dialectical theology as the theology of the Word of God together with Thurneyson, Brunner and Bultmann. In 1933 came a deep split in the dialectical movement. Since that time we see divergences between Barth and Brunner, Barth and Bultmann, and so on. Only Thurneyson and Barth have remained theological friends from the beginning.
Barth’s largest work is his Kirchliche Dogmatik, now published in ten big volumes. The work is not yet finished. We still expect, if he will have the opportunity to finish it, two parts of volume IV (reconciliation) and the last volume on the eschatological theme.
In 1956 was published a book of 960 pages, wholly devoted to articles on the person or the work of Barth. The authors were theologians and philosophers from many countries and continents. Several important articles dealt with the doctrine of the image of God in Barth’s theology, his doctrine of preaching, Barth and the Heidelberg Catechism, the laughing Barth, Barth and the Roman Catholic Church and the relation between Gospel and Law. This latter theme does not surprise us in this work, because in recent years this relation has become more and more the central theme in Barth’s own theology. There was criticism exactly on this point from the Lutherans, because Barth talked of the law as the form of the Gospel and was attacked on this point that he had no real and important place for the specific significance of the law. Important also is the article of his friend Thurneyson, who wrote together with him the famous commentary on Paul’s epistle to the Romans in the beginning of the dialectical theology in 1918. Thurneyson writes on the contacts and correspondance between him and Barth in that first time. This was an important article as far as orientation is concerned on the origins of this movement.
It will be interesting for American readers to hear that in this book there is also an article from the pen of Emilio E. Castra on the theological situation in South America and on the theology of Barth. He mentions especially the controversy with Rome and the contradiction between fundamentalism and modernism. It might be interesting to write afterwards more broadly on this article, since not everybody will have the opportunity to read this book of nearly 1000 pages!
The last article I mention is from Gempo Hoshino on the relation of Buddhistic thinking and the theology of Barth. Many readers will be surprised by it. Is there any relation between Christianity and Buddhism? The writer tells us of a large influence of Barth’s ideas in the scientific circles of the largest Buddhistic sect in Japan and he tries to analyze the problem of the point of contract. I don’t know if Barth will be happy with this article; the comparison is, as far as I can see, rather superficial.
Besides this big book several other articles also appeared in connection with Barth’s anniversary. In England was published a book, Studies in Christology. It is not a book on Barth’s theology. But when they gave it to Barth on his visit to England last year, he said that it was the theme he judged the most important. Everybody who reads Barth’s book knows how strong the Christological impact has become on Barth’s theological thinking.
In Switzerland the Theologische Zeitschrift (Basel) devoted two numbers in honor of Barth. Some of the articles handle a special theme of Barth’s theology, the sovereignty of God. Especially important, although it does not concern Barth immediately is the article of Oscar Cullmann, Professor in New Testament in Basel and a colleague of Barth on a very important subject: the of the soul and the resurr dead in the witness of the New Testament. This is a theme discussed in the Western European theology of the last 30 years, especially in connection with the question whether the immortality of the soul is a product of Greek thinking or belongs to the New Testament witness. I have the impression that after a long period of criticism of the doctrine of the intermediate state we are now on the way to rethinking this problem. And the remarkable thing is that this is not originating from an egotistical motive (our human importance) but from the message of the New Testament according to the blessed hope, of which the New Testament is speaking. It will be extremely interesting to follow the discussions when Barth, in his fifth volume, will handle the problems of eschatology. That does not mean that we do not know anything about Barth’s views on eschatology. In my book, The Triumph of Grace in the Theology of Karl Barth, I tried to analyze the eschatological triumph in Barth’s thinking. I know—not only from his books but also from personal encounter—how important he estimates the problems of his last volume to be. They are not only important for theologians but for the whole church of Christ. If there is any point where the discussions of theology touch the church in her faith, it is surely the expectation of the Church, the character of the Christian hope.
The discussions of theology are not to dominate the church. Surely theologians do not have a special privilege for entrance into the kingdom. They also have to listen to the word of the Lord: “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent and hast revealed them unto babes,” (Matthew 11:25). But they are not excluded either if they want to serve the Church of Jesus Christ. In that service, everything becomes important, even difficult problems coming up not out of the depth of our autonomous thinking but out of the unfathomable depth of the word of the Lord.
This review of live spiritual and moral issues debated in the secular and religious press of the day is prepared successively for CHRISTIANITY TODAY by four evangelical scholars: the Rev. Phillip Hughes of England, Prof. William Mueller of the United States, Prof. G. C. Berkouwer of the Netherlands, and Prof. John H. Gerstner of the United States.—ED.
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