Chapter 26 - Routledge


Chapter 26

Neo-orthodoxy: Karl Barth and others

Questions to be addressed in this chapter

1. How was existentialism a precursor to neo-orthodoxy?

2. Who was Karl Barth and why is he considered one of the most important theologians in history?

3. What are the main points of Barth’s neo-orthodox theology?

4. What are some ways that neo-orthodoxy has had a lasting influence?

Søren Kierkegaard: Existentialist and forerunner to neo-orthodoxy

(1813-1855) Danish philosopher/poet who was deeply concerned about the moral laxity of the religious people of


Christian faith is more about subjective passion than doctrine and dogma.

Dogma leads to paradox; real subjective faith confronts individuals with Christ, who must choose for or against him.

Karl Barth: neo-orthodox theologian

(1886-1968) from Reformed Church in Switzerland.

Brought Europe and American theology out of the grip of rationalist Enlightenment thinking.

Pastor and professor in Switzerland.

Central themes of Barth’s neo-orthodoxy

Rejection of liberalism: WW2 destroys the liberal optimism of his professors; return to Reformation principles.

God’s transcendence, human fallenness, divine revelation.

Divine election: Christ is the elected individual, and people could join into this election by following Christ.

Neo-orthodoxy’s lasting influence

Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988) was an influential interpreter of Barth to Catholics.

Emil Brunner (1889-1966).

Reinhold Niebuhr (1893-1971) and his “Christian realism” continue the themes of neo-orthodoxy.

H. Richard Niebuhr’s description of liberal theology of the nineteenth century

“A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through a Christ without a cross” (p. 453).






of main points

The Christian existentialism of Søren Kierkegaard required not a rational systematic account of Christian theology, as with liberalism, but rather an authentic faith manifested in a passionate encounter with the living God in Jesus Christ—a central theme of neo-orthodoxy.

Karl Barth was a Swiss Reformed theologian who turned from liberal theology and brought about a return to orthodoxy—or what is better dubbed neo-orthodoxy or a “theology from above”—in Christian theology.

Some of the central tenets of Barth’s neo-orthodoxy are the rejection of liberal theology, the sovereignty, transcendence and the universal love and grace of God, God’s self-disclosure through the event of

Scripture, and election in Christ.

The influence of Barth’s neo-orthodoxy continued throughout the twentieth century and down to our own day, impacting both Catholic and Protestant theological luminaries.