Breaking into Barth?

Recently I was given a copy of Karl Barth and Evangelical Theology (ed. S. W. Chung). In it I found a great quote from Barth on “thy kingdom come” in the Lord’s Prayer:

The prayer which this King himself has laid on the lips of Christians, . . . surpasses . . . all other possibilities of human revolt against disorder, . . . . As Christians call upon God with this petition, they do what is qualitatively more and better than the best that all other movements for the establishment of human righteousness can do, their own efforts included. If only they knew what a task and what power were entrusted to them when as the children of God they are freed and summoned to hasten to their Father with this prayer to him! If only they knew what a debt they incur to him and themselves and the whole world which they have to represent with this petition if they neglect to do this! If only they knew finally with what profoundest rest and joy they can withstand the innner and outer assaults of the course of the world with all the things that are so unseemly and intolerable and monstrous in it, looking ahead to its end and goal, when they do not grow indolent and slothful but persist cheerfully and industriously in the by no means heroic action of praying, “Thy kingdom come.”

Karl Barth, The Christian Life: Church Dogmatics Volume IV, Part 4 Lecture Fragments (tr. G. W. Bromiley; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans), 261.

This quote has piqued my interest. Now, I grew up in Pentecostalism, and I went to Bible college at a Pentecostal school, and now I’ve graduated from a flamingly “Evangelical” seminary. It’s no surprise that Karl Barth has not been a big part of my theological education.

So, here are a few questions for all you Barthians out there:

  • What’s the best way to break into Barth without breaking one’s back?
  • Should I consult an introduction first? If so, which one?
  • Is there any particular writing of Barth’s that I should read first?

I’d appreciate any advice from my small pool of readers.

2 thoughts on “Breaking into Barth?”

  1. Note: I was raised fundamentalist (nearly Pentacostal, without the spiritual emphasis). I’ve also been a NT concentration, not a systematics guy.

    I’ve been doing some heavy research into Barth in the last several months. I blundered in (though with the help of a prof.) simply reading his prolegomena theology of the Word of God — this from CD I/1&2. I started out a bit confused (what’s a ‘dogmatics’ as opposed to a ‘systematic theology’?), but felt an affinity. So I kept studying.

    Several things have helped. First, Eberhard Busch’s biography is excellent, and has contributed to my understanding greatly (and you will note that the introductions all cite Busch to get the inside scoop). Secondly, the Evangelical Theology is nice for its succinct presentation of what he has been saying in the big CD. Thirdly, and wonderfully, exploring Barth’s use of the old dogmaticians from the post-Reformation (and thus reading them on their own terms for my own benefit) has given me the dual insight into Barth and some forgotten theologians. In fact, this last point has been sorely neglected in Barth studies(from what I can tell). Finally, there are the multitude of introductions. I’ve enjoyed anything by Bruce McCormack, as well as Hunsinger’s “How to Read Karl Barth.” Typically the essays are quick to read and helpful, though one must read critically (of course).

    The whole thing is still sinking in for me. All in all, I’ve been mostly imacted by the theological method and purpose of Barth’s CD (as opposed to actual positions). I think that a reappropriation of the practical yet scholarly work of dogmatics could turn evangelicalism (and its individual churches) to a better direction. In fact, one day (after I get my final NT degree) I think I’ll put together a proposal for a capstone course that incorporates the exegetical, theological, and practical concerns of dogmatics, and pitch it to my old seminary.

    Enjoy the Barth!

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