[1963. Review of Evangelical Theology by Karl Barth, The Presbyterian Journal 8 May: 21.]
EVANGELICAL THEOLOGY, by Karl Barth. Holt, Rinehart, and Winston. New York. 206 pp. $4.00
Karl Barth, in spite of the fact that his abhorrence of Hitler has blinded him to Communism’s persecution of Jews and Baptists, and the massacres of Hungarians and Tibetans, is a great theologian. His Church Dogmatics is a work of incredible erudition.
But Barth has also written some less technical works, such as The Humanity of God, Deliverance to the Captives (sermons preached in the Basel jail), and Evangelical Theology.
The sermons, in my opinion, are pretty poor, for a jail or for a church service; and Evangelical Theology is a disappointment. It does not explain doctrines such as the Atonement or Justification; but rather spends itself telling us that theology is an important study, should be conducted in prayer, has peculiar spiritual dangers not found in secular employment — and in similar insipid devotional remarks. The great distinctive ideas of the Church Dogmatics are largely absent, or disguised in broad non-specific terminology. There is little in the book with which one could disagree, and little that is of much importance.
Some things count, however, “Human thought and speech cannot be about God, but must be directed toward God … What is essential for human language is to speak of men in the first person and of God in the second person” (p. 164). From that we may conclude that when Peter or Thomas said, “Thou art the Lord Christ,” they were good theologians; but when they told the multitudes “Jesus is Lord,” their words were valueless — as Barth says “unreal.”
In other places Barth disguises his own position. In this book he says the theologians “is neither a president of a seminary … who might claim some authority over the prophets and apostles … Still less is he a high-school teacher authorized to look over their shoulder benevolently or crossly to correct their notebooks” (p. 31). This sounds as though he believes the Bible to be inerrant. But compare this statement with the more forthright assertion in the Church Dogmatics, “The prophets and apostles as such, even in their office, … [were] actually guilty of error in their spoken and written word” (C. D. I 2, pp. 328-329).
If one wishes to learn a little about Barth, I recommend Church Dogmatics. It is a great work. Evangelical Theology is not.
— Gordon H. Clark, Ph.D.