Of many theologians it is said that their passing marks the end of an epoch. But what is said hyperbolically of others is more literally true of the Swiss theologian, Karl Barth, whose death at the age of 82 removes a figure who has had a decisive and dominant influence on the most important developments of the century. The fact that his last years have been passed in retirement and failing health in no way lessens the significance of his passing.
Barth first came into prominence, and made perhaps his greatest immediate impact on theology, with his Epistle to the Romans at the close of the First World War. In many ways this work was a turning-point. Negatively it blew sky high the older liberalism in which Barth himself had been raised. Even the liberal himself acquired an awareness of being an anachronism as echoes of this great bell penetrated the halls of theological learning. Positively, this significant work helped to bring into fashion again, not merely the Scriptures in terms of content rather than historical circumstance, but the Reformers and many other thinkers whose writings had been neglected or disparaged in the age of liberal ascendancy. Positively again, Barth introduced a new vocabulary, new concepts, and a new bibliography as he engaged in a first and tentative effort at theological reconstruction. For the first two of these three services genuine theology can never cease to remember Barth with gratitude. The third he himself lived in some measure to regret, especially when the ghost of Barth past confronted him in the guise of Bultmann present. Although Barth never did fully return to the views of the Reformers on Scripture and at times seemed to open the door to universalism, yet we are grateful that he ...1
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