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Karl Barth, Friend in Theology

February 9, 2009
Karl Barth

Karl Barth

Evangelicals are familiar with Rick Warren’s mantra that the purpose of life is not about you.  In a culture as self-centered as postmodern 21st century America, it is disheartening that such a simple and almost cliche message like Warren’s is so foreign to our mental sensibilities.  Yet, the fact that The Purpose Driven Life has sold over 25 million copies should remind us that our culture still needs to hear the message that life, indeed, is not ultimately about us but about God.  If Warren’s simple message can have such an impact upon evangelical culture, then surely the richness of Karl Barth’s robust doctrine of divine sovereignty should find fertile soil among evangelicals.

Evangelicalism as a movement has struggled to define its public identity in recent decades.  Within its own ranks, open-theism has gradually undermined the evangelical voice regarding the prominence of the sovereignty and transcendence of God.  The Evangelicals and Catholics Together statement has blurred the lines of division between Rome and the Reformation.  And the Evangelical Theological Society continues to debate the sufficiency and parameters of its doctrinal statement, which in its current state addresses in two mere sentences only the doctrines of biblical inerrancy and the Trinity.

Although Barth may not be ideal for defining all the parameters of evangelical doctrine, his God-centeredness is a breath of theological fresh air to the evangelical movement.  For Barth, the goal of evangelical theology must be the service of God.  At the essence of theological motivation is the motivation that God alone be glorified.  The theologian must view himself as a servant to the God whose Word he studies.  Whereas open-theism and extreme forms of Arminianism threaten to undermine God’s sovereignty, Barth calls the Church back to a definite confession of God’s authority over all things.  Barth also avoids any danger of hyper-Calvinism, calling the community of faith to practice spiritual disciplines which reflect the believer’s role as a servant before an omnipotent and omniscient God.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Matt permalink
    February 10, 2009 11:09 pm

    Adam,

    Thanks for pointing out this way in which Barth can help us as contemporary evangelicals. I find the same thing to be true about other figures from the history of the church. What first struck me about Augustine’s Confessions, and which continues to move me to this day, is his radical God-centeredness. Such a theme desperately needs to be heard today.

    Matt

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