Is Karl Barth Good for Mennonites?—part two

[This is the second of a two-part post—the first part, posted 1/9/11 is here.]

In raising the question, “is Karl Barth good for Mennonites?”, I am trying to be a little playful. I have several friends, as I have mentioned, who are clearly fine Mennonites and also quite favorably inclined towards Karl Barth’s theology. So, in a genuine sense, this question has been answered in the affirmative already.

And there is also a genuine sense in which I am one of the last people who has any business saying who or what is “good for Mennonites.” I retain several important affiliations with Mennonite institutions (church member, ordained minister, college professor), but I have never been in a position to serve as any kind of gate-keeper or boundary definer. I am sure I am further from playing any such role all the time.

However, I do have a serious intent in raising the question. Perhaps if I switch to the less institutionally or ethnically linked term “Anabaptist” I can better get at my interests in writing about Karl Barth. Part of my question is what kind of theology should present-day Anabaptists be trying to articulate (on this question, I have actually written a couple of books and posted several essays [here and here] at my Peace Theology website). And the question after that is how positive a contribution would paying close attention to Karl Barth’s theology make to said articulation.

As I mentioned in my first post, I ask this question about Barth and our theology with genuine sincerity. I have numerous reasons (touched on in that post) for being favorably inclined toward Barth as a theologian and as a human being. But I also have some questions. And so I intend to read the entire Church Dogmatics over the next two years and grapple with my questions about Barth’s thought.

Continue reading “Is Karl Barth Good for Mennonites?—part two”

Is Karl Barth Good for Mennonites?—part one

[This is the first of a two-part post—the second part, posted 1/13/11 is here.]

It seems that everywhere I turn in my theological life, I see Karl Barth. I’m not quite old enough to remember when the great Swiss Protestant theologian died (December 10, 1968, the same day as Thomas Merton). That is, I was alive and sentient in 1968, but as a 14-year old I just didn’t have any contact at all with theology.

Since I discovered theology in the mid-1970s, though, Barth has loomed large. And in the past 35 years his presence seems only to have grown. In recent years, especially, I have friends and acquaintances, even relatives, by the dozen it seems, who are enamored with the thinker many would argue was the greatest Protestant theologian of the 20th century. I guess if Barth truly were the greatest, it would not  be surprising that many would be enamored with his theology!

I can’t say I ever drank deeply from the wells of Barth. However, unlike some of my other theological friends, I have not reacted negatively to what I have read of his or learned about his thought either. In fact, I have for the past 35 years wanted to read more Barth and learn more about his thought because he has always seemed interesting—at times due to who was critiquing him, at times due to who was praising him. But I haven’t quite taken the plunge and really sat down with Barth.

Just recently, for several reasons, I am realizing that if I am going to try to come to terms with Karl Barth’s theology I had better get going. Probably the strongest catalyst for this realization has been my awareness of the attraction many Mennonite thinkers have for Barth. So, that leads to wanting to try to answer the question I ask in the title of this post: “Is Karl Barth good for Mennonites?” Continue reading “Is Karl Barth Good for Mennonites?—part one”