(1886–1968)

The most influential Protestant theologian of the 20th cent; born in Switzerland and became pastor of the village of Safenwil. Here he wrote a commentary on Paul's Epistle to the Romans (1918 and 1921; ET 1933 by E. C. Hoskyns), ‘a bomb dropped on the playground of the theologians’ because it challenged theologies—whether of Pietism or Liberalism—which were in effect projections of human needs and desires, and also any form of Natural Theology which maintained that there can be knowledge of God without divine revelation. In 1921 Barth became Professor of Reformed Theology at Göttingen and later in Bonn, but was obliged to return to Switzerland after refusing to take the obligatory oath of allegiance to Hitler. In 1941, he dispatched a letter to Great Britain in support of its war against Nazi Germany. This appeal was grounded in his faith in the resurrection of Christ and not on the basis of a natural law from which mankind discerns the absolute difference between right and wrong. Barth was not primarily a biblical scholar, but he was not a fundamentalist and recognized the achievements of historical criticism. He held that the final form of a text has a special status as against earlier stages exposed by source criticism; and therefore there could be a post-critical era able to recapture with integrity the sense of joy experienced by readers down the Christian ages of the unmutilated texts. But central to the Church's faith is not so much the Bible as a self-contained text, but rather the gospel which it proclaims. ‘We do the Bible a poor honour, one unwelcome to itself, when we directly identify it with something else, with revelation itself’.