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Karl Barth: An Introductory Biography for Evangelicals Paperback – September 28, 2017
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— author of Conversations with Barth on Preaching
“Karl Barth, greatest theologian of the modern age, has had a mixed reception from evangelicals. Mark Galli here gives all of us the introduction to Barth that we’ve needed. This book is a wonderful contribution to both a better understanding of Karl Barth and a more fully evangelical practice of the Christian faith.”
— author of The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ
“A gracious, appealing portrait of Barth’s life and thought.”
Kevin J. Vanhoozer
— Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
“Mark Galli wisely chooses to focus on two areas of interest (and continuing controversy) to evangelicals—Barth’s doctrines of revelation and election. Things get especially interesting when Galli uses Barth, a ‘liberal’ theologian, to criticize evangelical overemphasis on subjective experience.”
Leslie Leyland Fields
— author of Crossing the Waters: Following Jesus through the Storms, the Fish, the Doubt, and the Seas
“Galli’s masterful compendium of Barth not only beautifully unveils the best of this theological giant, but it’s a cheat sheet as well on the roots of evangelicalism. Most of all, it stirs and deepens our faith in the very ‘Godness of God.’ Don’t miss this book.”
— founding editor of Education & Culture
“It’s old news by now that evangelical theologians are reading Karl Barth with great appreciation. Not as well known, maybe, is the groundswell of interest in Barth among evangelicals outside the scholarly guild. For these readers, Mark Galli has written a refreshingly concise, warmhearted, and plain-spoken biography of Barth that also serves as an introduction to his theology. Bravo!”
Jeffrey Y. McSwain
— founder of Reality Ministries
“In this warm introduction Mark Galli succinctly captures Barth’s brilliance, his historical importance, and his intoxication with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Without shying away from the universalism question, Galli urges us to consider Barth’s claims and what preaching a Christ-centered gospel with Barth might mean in a pluralistic world.”
John R. Franke
— author of Barth for Armchair Theologians
“Galli’s appreciative but critical posture makes this an ideal starting place for evangelicals (and others) who want to better understand Barth and his ongoing significance for Christian witness in the twenty-first century.”
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Galli paints an overall positive picture, emphasizing Barth’s scriptural, grace-centered outlook and devoting a fair bit of space to his lonely stance against Hitler as a professor at the University of Bonn in the 1930s. Still, he doesn’t overlook areas where Barth might be critiqued—such as his extra-marital relationship with Charlotte von Kirschbaum (more could be said, see Christiane Tietz’s recent article in Theology Today, but Galli charts the main points truthfully), as well as his views on Scripture and the effective scope of Christ’s atonement. Whenever he critiques Barth, Galli also draws lessons from him especially for evangelical readers.
I appreciated the themes in Barth’s life and work on which Galli chose to focus. There are many less enjoyable and more difficult ways to learn about Barth; this book strikes me as perfect for students, pastors, and armchair theologians wanting to get started with him.
* Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of this book by the publisher, but wasn’t obligated to review it.
Barth was morally bankrupt and theologically confused. He has passed this confusion on to others, who think it is a sign of intellectual sophistication to be able to live with the tension of contradictions that cannot be resolved (see p. 54). It is not. It is a sign of lack of familiarity with, or outright rejection of, the teaching of the Bible. Barth's contradictions are entirely synthetic, and fully resolved by reference to the Word of God itself using sound principles of exegesis. This book confuses genius with verbal sleight of hand.
Neither was Barth's stance against Hitler as noble as it might seem. In the first place, he was not German, and so was not susceptible to Hitler's nationalistic propaganda. When it came to communism, by Galli's own admission, Barth failed to exhibit the same penetrating insight. Second, when things got difficult in Germany, Barth simply returned to his home country (with his wife and his mistress), where he wrote letters to members of the confessing church, who were still stuck in Germany, from his perch in Basel.
Has Barth provided a valuable service? Do his works send people to their Bibles as Galli claims (p. xv)? If so, I am unable to understand what is preventing all these people from reading their Bibles without being sent there by Barth.
Regarding salvation, Barth was a universalist (all are saved) who didn't want to take responsibility for his position. Or else he was an indeterminist (we really don't know how election works). Or else he was a modified Calvinistic determinist who allowed for God to act without telling anyone else what he was going to do. It's hard to tell what he thought, exactly. According to the Bible, we are saved by grace, through faith, and only those who persevere in a life of obedient faith obtain eternal life. That IS the gospel, and Barth did not teach it.
On p. 46, Galli states that Barth teaches, "Thus God's revelation of himself in Christ is a revelation of his incomprehensibility, in fact, 'the most complete veiling of his incomprehensibility'!" and refers on p. 53 to the "divine incognito." Compare John 14:8-9. Philip wanted to see the Father. The Lord did not tell Philip the Father would remain veiled in incomprehensibility, he said to Philip, "He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say 'Show us the Father'?"
Galli, in his article, admits that Barth's theological dialectic is inextricably tied to the conflict created by his adulterous lifestyle. Paul also describes, in Romans, a similar state of doing the very thing he does not want to do, but quickly goes on to proclaim that he has been delivered from this deadly state in Christ. Barth's theology remains stuck in the conundrum, which he passes on to his followers. Ironically, Barth's most famous commentary is on the very book that contains the key to the deliverance he never finds.
It makes me wonder how lofty Barth's words would sound if, in this book, or in all the material that has ever been written about him, the word "Barth" were replaced with the phrase "Barth-the-Adulterer." Let's try it out. The words of Thomas F. Torrance quoted on pages x and xi would then be changed to: "Karl Barth-the-Adulterer is the greatest theological genius that has appeared on the scene for centuries." Volume IV of his Church Dogmatics "surely constitutes the most powerful work on the doctrine of atoning reconciliation ever written." Read this way, what exactly are we saying to the world about the state of Christian theology?
A genuine Christian is called to a life of obedient faith. Yes, the Christian will stumble, but if his or her faith is genuine, repentance will follow and the sin will not become a way of life. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 makes it clear that adulterers will not inherit the kingdom of God. It is a test of actions, not of words. Barth had plenty of words, but to what end?
Rationalized immorality. There is nothing new, nothing special, about that.