The Apolitical Barth

Karl Barth is often held up as an exemplar of Reformed theology’s commitment to the “lordship of Christ” and political activism.  His protests against the Nazi ideology in Germany is offered as the clearest proof of this.  William Bartley, however, gives a different explanation:

Barth never would have sympathized with Hitler, but one rather doubts that Barth would have gained any notoriety as an anti-Nazi had Hitler not attempted to interfere with the doctrine of the Protestant churches in Germany.  Indeed, had Hitler left the churches to go their own ways, at least doctrinally– had he not imposed his new order on the old religion– it is not inconceivable that Barth would have behaved in a way which would have permitted him even to retain his chair.  But toying with the intellectual tradition of Legarde, Langbehn, and Moeller van den Bruck, Hitler attempted for a time to use the churches as vehicles of a “German-Christian” Nazi ideology.  It was principally this Nazi policy that Barth opposed, and for essentially the same reason that he opposed Protestant liberalism in 1918 and the idea of the “Christian West” after World War II.  According to Barth, it is contrary to the basic commitment of the theologian to the Word of God to allow any cultural ideology or morality, good or bad, to be incorporated into, or blended with, Christian doctrine.  Autonomous Christianity stands alone, in judgment on culture.  The communists, unlike the Nazis, did not attempt to commit this particular sin: frankly atheistic, they were ready to destroy the churches if the opportunity presented itself, but were rarely disposed to create a “Marxist Christianity”.  Barth anticipated that through skillful diplomacy and tact the churches could achieve a viable “live and let live” accommodation with the communists.  In this he may well have been politically naive, but he was utterly consistent– even if one may sense a kind of madness about that very consistent order of priorities.

~The Retreat to Commitment 48-49

This seems to make more sense of Barth’s larger product, holding as he did to the absolute otherness of God and the impossibility of identifying Christianity with any culture.  Barth too, it seems, is among the liberals.

We might even say that held to a spirituality of the Church.

This entry was posted in Karl Barth, two kingdoms by Steven Wedgeworth. Bookmark the permalink.

About Steven Wedgeworth

Steven Wedgeworth is the pastor of Christ Church in Lakeland, FL. He is also a founder and general editor of The Calvinist International. A graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary (Jackson, MS), a full-time minister, and occasional classical school teacher, Steven lives in Lakeland, FL with his wife, son, and daughter.

One thought on “The Apolitical Barth

  1. Helmut Thielicke (a younger contemporary of Barth) gives a good theological/political critique of Barth in his autobiography-Notes from a Wayfarer), p. 66ff.

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