Friday, April 2, 2021

Barth and Schleiemacher: Two Roads Diverge

In September 1922, Swiss-born Karl Barth (1886-1968) gave an address, “The Problem of Ethics Today,” to a group of pastors in the western German city of Wiesbaden. In it, he mentioned Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834) who, like Barth, was a Reformed theologian but who, unlike Barth, was a significant contributor to modern liberal theology. Barth summarized Schleiemacher’s contribution in this way:

With all due respect to the genius shown in his work, I can not consider Schleiermacher a good teacher in the realm of theology because, so far as I can see, he is disastrously dim-sighted in regard to the fact that man as man is not only in need but beyond all hope[195] of saving himself; that the whole of so-called religion, not least the Christian religion, shares in this need, and that one can not speak of God simply by speaking of man in a loud voice (195-6).

By 1922, Barth found himself bound on a road less traveled than Schleiemacher’s; a more difficult one which stretched back through Soren Kierkegaard, John Calvin, Martin Luther, and the apostle Paul to Jeremiah.

The negation and loneliness of the life of Jeremiah in contrast to that of the kings, princes, people, priest, and prophets [like Hananiah] of Judah—the keen and unremitting opposition of Paul to religion as it was exemplified in Judaism—Luther’s break, not with the impiety, but with the piety of the Middle Ages—Kierkegaard’s attack on Christianity—all are characteristic of a certain[196] way of speaking of God which Schleiermacher never arrived at (196-7).

Source: Karl Barth, The Word of God and the Word of Man, trans. Douglas Horton (Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith, 1978), 134-5.


Copyright © 2021 by Steven Farsaci. 
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