Karl Barth (May 10, 1886 - December 10, 1968) was a Swiss Christian theologian.
Born in Basel, he spent his childhood years in Bern. From 1911 to 1921 he served as a Reformed pastor in the village of Safenwil in the canton Aargau. Later he was professor of theology in Germany. He had to leave Germany in 1935 after he refused to swear allegiance to Adolf Hitler. Barth went back to Switzerland and became professor in Basel.
Barth was originally trained in German Protestant Liberalism under such teachers as Wilhelm Herrmann, but reacted against this theology at the time of the First World War. His reaction was fed by several factors, including his commitment to the German and Swiss Religious Socialist movement surrounding men like Herrmann Kutter, the influence of the Biblical Realism movement surrounding men like Christoph Blumhardt, and the impact of the skeptical philosophy of Franz Overbeck. The most important catalyst was, however, his reaction to the support for the German war aims of most of his liberal teachers. Barth believed that his teachers had been misled by a theology which tied God too closely to the finest, deepest expressions and experiences of cultured human beings, into claiming divine support for a war which they believed was waged in support of that culture, the initial experience of which appeared to increase people's love of and commitment to that culture. In his commentary on The Epistle to the Romans (particularly in the thoroughly re-written second edition of 1922) Barth argued that the God who is revealed in the cross of Jesus Christ challenges and overthrows any attempt to ally God with human cultures, achievements or possessions.
In the decade following the First World War, Barth was linked with a number of other theologians, actually very diverse in outlook, who had reacted against their teachers' liberalism, in a movement known as "Dialectical Theology". Other members of the movement included Rudolf Bultmann, Paul Tillich, Emil Brunner, and Friedrich Gogarten.
In the run-up to the Second World War, Barth was largely responsible for the writing of the Barmen declaration which rejected the influence of Nazism on German Christianity - arguing that the Church's allegiance to the God of Jesus Christ should give it the impetus and resources to resist the influence of other 'lords' - such as the German Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler.
In later life, Barth wrote the massive Church Dogmatics - unfinished at about six million words by his death in 1968. Barth explores the whole of Christian doctrine, where necessary challenging and reinterpreting it so that every part of it points to the radical challenge of Jesus Christ, and the impossibility of tying God to human cultures, achievements or possessions. The work has been deeply influential on German-speaking and English-speaking theologians, and has been partly responsible for a revival of interest in traditional Christian doctrine amongst academic theologians.
"Jesus does not give recipes that show the way to God as other teachers of religion do. He is himself the way."
Writings by Karl Barth
The Epistle to the Romans ISBN 0195002946
The Church Dogmatics ISBN 0567090434