Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics: An Introduction and Reader
A New Book by Dr. Michael Allen
The book will be released on May 10, 2012. You can find it on Amazon.
Dr. Michael Allen is an Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology at Knox Theological Seminary in Fort Lauderdale, FL.
A Q&A with Dr. Michael Allen on Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics
1) What are some key themes that readers can anticipate in your next book, Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics: An Introduction and Reader?
The book introduces the student to Barth’s theology by providing snapshots from across his theological work known as the Church Dogmatics. I want students to encounter Barth’s reflections on the central topics for any theology. I also wanted students to gain some familiarity with the way that Barth does theology, so I’ve included excerpts that show his work interpreting the Bible, engaging in debates with important theologians, and addressing ethical issues. Across the various chapters, students will see very clearly that Barth meant to be a faithful theologian within the catholic tradition (engaging not only the Bible but also the creeds, confessions, and doctors of the church) and that he intended to be a faithful witness within the modern context (addressing contemporary questions and modern philosophies with the faith once for all delivered to the saints).
2) While Barth was an accomplished theologian, he was also considered at times very controversial. Why should evangelicals take a second look?
Two reasons. First, Barth is surely the most significant theologian of the modern era, whether Protestant or Roman Catholic. To understand modern theology, one cannot avoid Karl Barth. He is that influential and determinative. Evangelicals live in the modern era and need to understand modern theology; thus, we must understand Barth. Second, Barth is remarkably helpful for evangelicals. While there’s plenty with which we can disagree, Barth has offered some of the most powerful and poignant reflections on doctrine close to the heart of evangelical theology, topics like the character of God, the person of Christ, the mission of the church, and the nature of the Christian life.
3) Why do you label Karl Barth a radical evangelical?
He has an incredibly strong sense of the gratuity of the gospel, and his reflections on a host of topics regarding the Christian life are insistently gospel centered. For example, Barth helps revitalize reflection on doctrines that evangelicals typically forget these days, like the ascension of Christ, a topic rarely discussed together yet absolutely central to the gospel of Jesus. Barth helps us recover classical and Reformational thinking about the ongoing ministry of the ascended Lord. He also describes the work of the Spirit in a relentlessly Christ-centered way, so that his account of Christian spirituality is genuinely Christian. Evangelicals care about the gospel, the Christian life, and the Spirit; Barth helps us think about all these things by looking always to Jesus.
4) What is an unexpected outcome for evangelicals reading the book?
One surprising lesson will be that while many American evangelicals today think of Barth as being less conservative than them (something which is partially true), in his own context of early twentieth-century Germany and Switzerland he tried to move a radically liberal church back into the orthodox faith. When he was appointed a professor of Reformed theology, for example, there was no Reformed confession of faith in the church. It was as though there was no theological voice for classical Reformed theology, and he was beginning from scratch. If we read him against his own context, then, we can see how committed he was to being faithful to the Bible and the gospel. While there are aspects of his theology where I think he doesn’t prove successful, I can nonetheless celebrate the myriad ways that he did so.
5) What can Knox students particularly take away from your new book?
Hopefully students are encouraged by seeing someone gripped by the good news of Christ and relentlessly driven to think through its implications, under the tutelage of Scripture and in the context of the church. As with others – from Augustine to Edwards – the point isn’t that Barth gets everything right. Rather the point is that he helps teach us how to be students of the gospel, to listen well and to drink deeply from the biblical witness and the confessions of the church.
“Embarking on the study of Barth’s Church Dogmatics is no easy matter; this careful selection, with its perceptive introduction and commentaries, is an excellent guide to exploring one of the monumental texts of modern theology.” — John Webster, University of Aberdeen, UK.
“This volume is a welcome resource for both teachers and students of Karl Barth’s theology. Michael Allen’s well-chosen excerpts from the Church Dogmatics are lengthy enough to provide a feel for Barth’s sprawling theological discourse and wide-ranging enough to provide an appreciation of the full scope of his dogmatic thought. The introduction and notes locate Barth’s work within the context of classical and modern divinity and direct readers to the best English-language literature on the Basel theologian. Those who have heretofore feared the prospect of exploring Karl Barth’s massive Church Dogmatics may now take courage thanks to Allen’s able guidance.” — Scott R. Swain, Reformed Theological Seminary, USA.