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).
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.