A Question I Was Asked:

Was Karl Barth "For Inclusivism"?

The question:
'Some guy in the church I used to go to told me, "All you need to know about Karl Barth is he was for inclusivism. Forget him." How about that? Was that fair?'

My Response:
You will have to excuse me because I must confess that I really chuckled when I read this question. There was a whole lot to Karl Barth; he was almost certainly the major theologian of the 20th century and his systematic theology which is called 'Church Dogmatics' is absolutely huge and covers many volumes. So Barth was a very deep thinker to put it mildly, yet this guy writes him off by labelling him in this way. Its a bit like saying, "All you need to know about Adolf Hitler is that he was an animal lover." Apparently Hitler loved dogs but that fact tells you absolutely nothing about him whatsoever. So to make the comment that Barth was for inclusivism and to write him off and dismiss him in that manner is actually ludicrous! Yes, I know we have all heard people make these incredibly sweeping generalisations but I have come to think that we should always challenge them.

Karl Barth (1886-1968) was a neo-orthodox theologian. Basically this school of theology believed that the frankly rather stupid poetic/romantic liberal theologians of the 19th century (such as Adolf von Harnack who lived 18511930 and Ernst Schleiermacher who lived 17681834), had gone too far and that there was a need to get back to some sort of biblically-respecting orthodoxy. They were right. Trouble was they usually approached through the philosophy of existentialism which was all the rage among "deep thinkers" of that era. This was the background of most of these people like Barth, Bultmann, Reinhold and Richard Niebuhr and several others. In theory, they still accepted many of the assumptions of liberal theology (such as the belief that the Bible was full of errors and nobody should try to defend it) so the approach was flawed from the very start. Bultmann soon went off into deep error with his concept of wanting to demytholigise the Bible but others wrote some good and fascinating material at times, though never without flaws.

I personally retain an admiration for Emil Brunner and Karl Barth, and some of their writings are outstanding and highly perceptive but I would not support everything which they wrote. Barth is probably somewhat different because he became more and more biblical and put existentialism behind him. My impression is that he ended up as more or less evangelical, though I know that others would challenge this. Some of his writing is quite beautiful but some parts are unquestionably very difficult to understand and I think that this is why he has often been misrepresented.

I am not going to go into Barth's theology here but I would refer to the article I wrote about him a few years ago which is Here.
Robin A. Brace, May 2008.