Who Was the Real Karl Barth? A Friend or Foe of Evangelicals, or the Progressives and Mainliners?

Who was the real Karl Barth? He’s not someone who would fit in with so called evangelicals, but he’s also not someone who would fit in with mainline or barthpicture2progressive Christians either; at least not in the North American context. Kenneth Oakes sketches Barth’s place this way:

One wonders what Barth’s prospects would be for employment at certain higher education institutions in the US given his acceptance of evolution, his socialism, his unwillingness to speak out against unpopular communist regimes, his suspect doctrine of Scripture, his use of the category of ‘saga’ to exegete the book of Genesis, his acceptance and use of a great deal of historical-critical methods, his universalism, his eschatology, his revisionist doctrinal tendencies, his freedom towards historical confessions, and his unusual personal life. Barth would also most likely encounter hiring difficulties at other institutions given some of his remarks on women, homosexuality, Judaism, Islam, and other religions, his biblicism, and his seemingly exclusivist understanding of revelation and the person and work of Jesus Christ….[1]

Now if you’re not looking to hire Barth, but instead looking for a great theological teacher to learn from then he will be a great resource. There are many things about Barth, as much as I talk about him, that I don’t agree with; Oakes’ sketch hits upon some of the aspects of Barth that that would entail. But his work in the areas of theology proper, Christology, theory of revelation, election, so on and so forth are invaluable; at least it is to me. That said, I still find Thomas F. Torrance to be the guy who constructively appropriates Barth best, and works Barth’s insights, particularly on election, into the tradition of the church in very orthodox ways.

[1] Kenneth Oakes, Karl Barth on Theology&Philosophy (Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 250, n.6.