Note on Barth’s Failure

I’ve noticed a common refrain in those who oppose Barth – it usually falls under one of two categories (which are actually fairly close to each other):

1. Barth capitulated completely to modernity.

2. Barth was a prisoner of modernity and limited modern thinking.

I’ve worked with (2) before, and I’ll quote myself briefly:

‘Barth was a prisoner of his early limited 20th century modern Western thinking…at worst, he had a somewhat unorthodox view of the gospel as a result of of philosophical European upbringing.’

‘This irritates me greatly. There is a vast difference between being a prisoner of X, and thinking that X is a legitimate thing with which and against which one can work. Barth did the latter – he was a modern, who realized that the church couldn’t simply go back to before the modern era had begun, and couldn’t continue to say the same things in the same way as it always had.’ (

Now, regarding Barth’s rejection of classical theism under orders from Modernity (according to the most recent version of this story) – this is just wrong. A great deal of Barth’s thought as right in line with classical theism (as an aside, ‘classical theism’ is a bit of a fuzzy term – it tends to mean ‘Thomism’ nowadays but generally is seen as the main consensus of Christian thought from Chalcedon forward). A lot of the classical categories are modified by Barth (impassibility, for example) and some are rejected more strongly.

What’s at issue here is exactly why Barth rejected what he did. The recent article at FT asserts that it was modernity that caused Barth to reject the classical tradition (which, as I’ve claimed, he didn’t reject out of hand). What led Barth to reject/modify what he did wasn’t the voice of modernity – though modern categories did, in fact, inform his thinking (just as our own culturual categories inform our thinking). Barth did what he did because of profoundly theological convictions. There’s been a lot said on this topic the last couple of days so I won’t rehash it – but Barth’s conclusions are informed by theological concerns, not by a capitulation to modernism. To misunderstand this is to misunderstand Barth completely.

Here’s a roundup of some of the responses:

One thought on “Note on Barth’s Failure

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