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 This refreshingly accessible introduction to Karl Barth by Mark Galli takes readers on a whirlwind tour of the life and writings of this giant of twentieth-century theology. Galli pays special attention to themes and topics of concern for contemporary evangelicals, who may need Barth’s acute critique as much as early-twentieth-century liberals did—and for surprisingly sim  This refreshingly accessible introduction to Karl Barth by Mark Galli takes readers on a whirlwind tour of the life and writings of this giant of twentieth-century theology. Galli pays special attention to themes and topics of concern for contemporary evangelicals, who may need Barth’s acute critique as much as early-twentieth-century liberals did—and for surprisingly similar reasons.


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 This refreshingly accessible introduction to Karl Barth by Mark Galli takes readers on a whirlwind tour of the life and writings of this giant of twentieth-century theology. Galli pays special attention to themes and topics of concern for contemporary evangelicals, who may need Barth’s acute critique as much as early-twentieth-century liberals did—and for surprisingly sim  This refreshingly accessible introduction to Karl Barth by Mark Galli takes readers on a whirlwind tour of the life and writings of this giant of twentieth-century theology. Galli pays special attention to themes and topics of concern for contemporary evangelicals, who may need Barth’s acute critique as much as early-twentieth-century liberals did—and for surprisingly similar reasons.

30 review for Karl Barth: An Introductory Biography for Evangelicals

  1. 4 out of 5

    David

    Karl Barth is the giant of 20th century’s theology, but among evangelicals he has sometimes been seen as questionable. Growing up evangelical, this was probably my first memory of learning of Barth: something about issues with neo-orthodoxy or whatever. Galli’s book is a biography of Barth targeted towards evangelicals. It is brief, covering his life and the highlights of his theology. Galli argues that evangelicals can learn from Barth and ought not be afraid. Near the end he shows how Barth’s Karl Barth is the giant of 20th century’s theology, but among evangelicals he has sometimes been seen as questionable. Growing up evangelical, this was probably my first memory of learning of Barth: something about issues with neo-orthodoxy or whatever. Galli’s book is a biography of Barth targeted towards evangelicals. It is brief, covering his life and the highlights of his theology. Galli argues that evangelicals can learn from Barth and ought not be afraid. Near the end he shows how Barth’s theology has the potential to carve a path between Arminian and Calvinist evangelicals. Overall, its a fine book to get a basic grasp of Barth’s life and teaching. The primary problem/question I have revolves around the term “evangelical” - what exactly does that even mean anymore? Galli is thinking of evangelicals over against the extremes of liberals and fundamentalists, the sort of middle way that held to orthodox belief (against liberals) while being more open to studying secular ideas and living in the world (against fundamentalists). This is certainly a strong historical definition. But nowadays, at least in America, “evangelicals” (well, white evangelicals) are more defined by their conservative politics than anything else. By Galli’s definition, I am probably still an evangelical, but I shy away from the term. Of course, while discussing Barth’s theology and whether it points to universal reconciliation, he notes “of course” evangelicals will reject that and then gives one brief paragraph where he mentions one verse on judgment (which I guess means hell must last forever?). This seems one of those areas where even the traditional view of evangelical becomes more fundamentalist: must an evangelical hold to the traditional, eternal conscious torment, view of hell? Does this mean Greg Boyd, John Stott and many others who see hell as either conditional and not lasting forever or believe God continues to pursue people till all are redeemed are automatically not evangelicals? Just writing that paragraph reminds me why I, as I said, shy away from that term. Because really, who cares? What difference does it make if you or I or anybody is an “evangelical” or not? I’m far from the review for this book, but I guess, whether you’re an evangelical or not, this is a decent introduction to Barth’s work for any Christian: liberal, progressive, evangelical, fundamentalist, Catholic, Orthodox, etc. etc. etc. If you are interested in Barth, check it out.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Bob

    Summary: An succinct overview of the life and theological relevance of Karl Barth, particularly for contemporary evangelicals. By most estimates, Karl Barth is considered perhaps the greatest theologian of the twentieth century. He commentary on Romans challenged the liberal consensus of his day focusing attention on the sovereignty of God rather than human standpoints. In his insistence on the sovereign initiative of God and Christ's reconciling work, he clashed with Emil Brunner, Rudolph Bultma Summary: An succinct overview of the life and theological relevance of Karl Barth, particularly for contemporary evangelicals. By most estimates, Karl Barth is considered perhaps the greatest theologian of the twentieth century. He commentary on Romans challenged the liberal consensus of his day focusing attention on the sovereignty of God rather than human standpoints. In his insistence on the sovereign initiative of God and Christ's reconciling work, he clashed with Emil Brunner, Rudolph Bultmann, and Paul Tillich. He stood as courageously as Bonhoeffer against Nazi totalitarianism, formulating the Barmen Declaration, and eventually losing his faculty position in Bonn when he could not swear loyalty to Hitler. He lived for the rest of his life an exile in Switzerland. Yet evangelicals have often been uneasy about Barth. From the early opposition of Cornelius Van Til down to present day concerns about Barth's view of scripture and fears of the universalist implications of his soteriology, many evangelicals have wanted to hold Barth at arms length. Mark Galli, as editor in chief of Christianity Today, the flagship publication of evangelicalism, gets that, and yet offers in this slim volume a sketch of Barth's life, and theological work, and what evangelicals might learn and gain from this, even if they retain their reservations. Galli traces the theological development of Barth in the liberal protestant tradition shaped by Schleiermacher and his mentor Adolph von Harnack. He describes the "conversion" of Barth from a young social activist and socialist pastor through his study of Romans, and how the publication of his commentary on Romans rocked the theological world as he reasserted the centrality of God rather than human initiative, and God's gracious action rather than even the best of human religious impulse. We trace his continued theological development as a professor first at Gottingen and then Bonn. Galli shows us both the courageous and human side of Barth. He was one of the first to recognize the dangerous pretensions of Nazism and its insidious foothold in the German Church, and led the resistance to this in the formulation and promulgation of the Barmen Declaration, affirming the precedence of the sovereign God over any human sovereignties and that the church could not relent to political captivity to any ideology. This led to Barth being stripped of his teaching position, and his emigration to Basel, Switzerland, where he spent the remainder of his life.  The human side was what Galli concedes was his "emotional adultery" with Charlotte von Kirschbaum, his research assistant for many years. Despite the strains this placed on his marriage, he was unwilling to break off this relationship, and it seems that Barth and his wife Nelly eventually reached some kind of understanding. Even after Karl's death, Nelly regularly visited Charlotte, an Alzheimer's victim. This may say something of Nelly, about whom I wish Galli might have told us more. It is impossible in a book of this length to adequately summarize the Church Dogmatics. Galli focuses on the two aspects that have often been of concern to evangelicals, and while not removing them as cause for reservation, he points out aspects from which evangelicals might learn. With regard to scripture, he acknowledges the problems of Barth's position of God's authoritatively revealing himself through a fallible scripture, yet he observes Barth's Bible-centered practice, how extensively he cited scripture, and always with a view to it's authority as God's witness, not in criticism of its faults. He also tackles Barth's ideas of "universal reconciliation." He contrasts the Reformers "If you repent and believe, you will be saved" with Barth's "You are saved; therefore believe and repent." He sees in this a position that may have the promise of ending the impasse between Calvinist and Arminian positions, while acknowledging the further work that remains. Finally, Galli takes up what he sees as a fundamental challenge to contemporary evangelicalism. In Barth's unflinching commitment to the initiative of God, he sees a challenge to an evangelicalism at once focused on subjective experience and on human activism in doing good. He sees in these trends a theology not unlike that of Schleiermacher, even while clinging to evangelical affirmations. He trenchantly observes      "The point is not to make a sweeping condemnation of evangelicalism, as if it were the epitome of nineteenth century liberalism. The point is not to look to Barth as our theological savior. The point is to suggest that the theology Barth eventually found bankrupt, and so ardently battled, is a theology we understand and identify with at some level. That we imbibe it unthinkingly is a problem, because as Barth's theology demonstrates, it is an approach that brings with it a host of problems, problems that undermine not only the church's integrity but especially its evangelistic mission" (p. 145). Galli gives us a succinct biography that leaves us much to consider. Would we have Barth's courage to stand against a compromised church and a powerful regime? What place does the "strange world of the Bible" have in shaping our world? How central in our thinking is God's initiative in salvation? In Barth's "no" to the natural theology of Brunner, and nineteenth century liberalism, do we also hear a "no" to our own generation's human pretensions? Galli, a skilled editor, also serves us as a skilled writer, using few words to give us much to consider. ____________________________ Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Michele Morin

    The Life and Theology of Karl Barth It should come as no surprise when a brain that has been marinating for decades in North American evangelical culture has an immediate and visceral response to the names of prominent historical Christians: C.S. Lewis: Green light and heart emojis (but, remember, he did smoke . . .) Francis Schaeffer: Amazing intellect, but too bad about those knickers. Karl Barth: Tornado sirens and a flashing inerrancy and Neo-Orthodoxy warning light! Thanks be to God, we are occa The Life and Theology of Karl Barth It should come as no surprise when a brain that has been marinating for decades in North American evangelical culture has an immediate and visceral response to the names of prominent historical Christians: C.S. Lewis: Green light and heart emojis (but, remember, he did smoke . . .) Francis Schaeffer: Amazing intellect, but too bad about those knickers. Karl Barth: Tornado sirens and a flashing inerrancy and Neo-Orthodoxy warning light! Thanks be to God, we are occasionally given the opportunity to step back from our preconceptions and to look at historical figures through a helpful and forgiving lens. In Karl Barth: An Introductory Biography for Evangelicals, Mark Galli has extended that gift. A Rebel with a Cause Born in Switzerland in 1886, Karl Barth entered the world at a time when liberalism was changing the way Christians worshiped and thought about God. Emphasis on human reason and experience led to a gradual abandonment of the primacy of revelation and to a detour around foundational truths such as the deity of Christ and the fallenness of man. It was not until Barth married and entered the pastorate that he began to question his liberal theological underpinnings. His heart for his working class congregation led him to seek answers in socialism, but when Germany declared war on Russia in 1914, and the falling dominoes led to World War I, Barth’s eyes were opened to significant cracks in the logic of liberalism. “If religious experience could give rise to such divergent and even contradictory conclusions, perhaps it could no longer be relied upon to provide an adequate ground and starting point for theology.” (34) Barth was also a vocal opponent of National Socialism, writing articles that attacked right wing political dogmatism along with letters and pamphlets denouncing the heresy that blood or race had any bearing on church membership or acceptance before God. In 1935, Barth and his family were forced to return to Switzerland where his ministry was based until his death in 1968. The “Godness” of God Barth’s studies led him to conclude that the Bible was a “book not so much about men and women but about God,” (43) and that the only sound basis for our theology is the revelation of Jesus Christ in Scripture. In his career as a pastor, professor, and theologian, he became known for his commentary on Romans and a stalwart teaching of the complete otherness of God. By the time he reached middle age, Barth had become something of a rock star in his theological circles. He was a strong proponent for church life even throughout the chaos of Nazi persecution of the Confessing Church, arguing that “we must not . . .hold ourselves aloof from the church or break up its solidarity; but rather, participating in its responsibility and sharing the guilt of its inevitable failure, we should accept it and cling to it.” (51) Steadfast in Faith–and Steadfast in Adultery? It is difficult to reconcile the utter strangeness of a man who lived in awe of a holy God while subjecting his wife and children to the indignity and inappropriateness of a live-in mistress, but this also was part of the mystery of Karl Barth. His research assistant, Charlotte von Kirschbaur, was a fixture in both his professional life and in his home. In an article written for Christianity Today after the publication of this biography, Mark Galli expressed stunned distaste over the rationale Barth used to justify his moral failure. Barth’s dialectical approach to theology emphasized the contradiction between two truths in order to gain insight into the deep truths about God. For example, Jesus is both God and man. Barth’s stretch of reason was that he and Charlotte “had no choice but to live in this dialectical tension between obeying God’s command about marital fidelity and what felt right to them. ” The ugliness of Barth’s sin is exacerbated by his blatant use of theological arguments to justify it. Barth for Evangelicals Whether we choose to argue that Karl Barth’s theology supported him in poor moral choices or that his theology was terrific and truthful, but he simply failed to live up to its ideals, he is arguably one of the greatest Protestant theologians of the 20th century. One of the most helpful features of Galli’s biography is his familiarity with evangelical culture as he “translated” Barth via two doctrines that are unique to his thinking and examined their usefulness to evangelical teachers and pastors: The Word of God– Barth viewed Scripture as a three-fold reality: the preached Word, the written Word, and the revealed Word, Jesus Christ. This is helpful, but then he goes on to insist that “Scripture is God’s Word in so far as God lets it be His Word. Therefore, the Bible . . . becomes God’s Word” as we hear it.” (111) Evangelicals can join Barth in understanding that the Bible is not a magic book, but does indeed come alive for us through the work of the Spirit. However, his rejection of inerrancy is a problem, especially when he (illogically) sets Scripture as a means of revelation and then says that it contains “historical, scientific, and even theological errors.” (113) Universal Reconciliation– In all the church’s wranglings over election, Barth has distinguished himself by taking a very unique stance, holding that “Christ is both the only one who elects and the only one who is elected.” Therefore, humanity is chosen only in a secondary sense, and all men and women are reconciled to God through the death of His Son. Judgment and pardon are both present in Barth’s soteriology, but pardon for sin “does not depend on one’s response to Christ. . . Instead, total pardon is objectively accomplished in Jesus Christ on behalf of mankind.” This, inevitably leads to universalism, but I appreciated theologian Oliver Crisp’s rendering of Barth’s thinking: “The Reformers say, ‘If you repent and believe, you will be saved,’ while Barth says, ‘You are saved; therefore, believe and repent!'” I see the potential for error, but this helps me to sharpen my own appreciation of what’s going on behind the scenes when someone “prays the sinner’s prayer.” On a visit to the United States during the year I was born, church lore holds that Karl Barth summarized his theology and his life’s work in one simple sentence: “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” It’s likely that this really happened, but it’s unfortunate that Barth could not have found that great love sufficient to enable him to love his wife and his children more than he did. His story becomes a cautionary tale for any of us who teach and study Scripture, for we will never live up to all that we know, but may we find grace to live consistently with the remarkable message of the gospel with all its provision for forgiveness. May we stand before the mirror of the Word with earnest prayer for a searching and a knowing God to reveal our sins and to hold us close to His Truth. Many thanks to William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company for providing a copy of this book.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Wagner Floriani

    Insightful and simple biography. Offers a helpful and sympathetic view of Barth, highlighting important contextual detail into his life and world. Consistently exposes Barth’s similarities with Bonhoeffer, and the evangelical inconsistency of discrediting the former while honoring his contemporary. I would have easily given 5 stars if it had another 100 pages of commentary into his theology and thought. As far as introductions go, I’m really glad to consider this work as a wonderful place to beg Insightful and simple biography. Offers a helpful and sympathetic view of Barth, highlighting important contextual detail into his life and world. Consistently exposes Barth’s similarities with Bonhoeffer, and the evangelical inconsistency of discrediting the former while honoring his contemporary. I would have easily given 5 stars if it had another 100 pages of commentary into his theology and thought. As far as introductions go, I’m really glad to consider this work as a wonderful place to begin exposure to this fascinatingly complex character.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jordan J. Andlovec

    An easy, wonderful introduction to Barth both as a person and as a theologian, one which I hope finds its place into the hands of many Evangelicals. The chapters about the nationalist German Christians and the Barmen Declaration were eye-opening as they carry many parallels to American Evangelicalism today.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Rob Steinbach

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The unique combination of some biography, theology, and evangelical reflection was so good. It was interesting to consider some of the parallels between Barth’s difficult historical moment and ours as well (Barth lived through the Spanish Flu and Hitler) yet he kept on writing and doing ministry! Galli is also a great writer. I was bummed when the book ended.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Tim Hoiland

    Should evangelicals look to Karl Barth for inspiration, instruction, and guidance? To paraphrase Mark Galli, we might say, “Yes, but it’s complicated.” Being only vaguely acquainted with Barth until now, this was a helpful introduction to his consequential life and work.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Allison M

    I thought this was an excellent, readable account of the life and theology of Karl Barth. The book is clear and well-written, yet it was still a long, slow read for me because although I have been a Christian for nine years now, this book is really the first I have read that deals with theology. I have a rough working knowledge of differences between, say, the Church of Scotland and the Free Church but this book talks of Lutherans, Calvinists, Pietism, natural theology, the Reformed Church... it I thought this was an excellent, readable account of the life and theology of Karl Barth. The book is clear and well-written, yet it was still a long, slow read for me because although I have been a Christian for nine years now, this book is really the first I have read that deals with theology. I have a rough working knowledge of differences between, say, the Church of Scotland and the Free Church but this book talks of Lutherans, Calvinists, Pietism, natural theology, the Reformed Church... it was an informative and enjoyable read but for me this was a book I had to read in small chunks, chewing it thoroughly in order to digest it! Other readers who have some theological knowledge might be able to gulp this short biography down quite quickly. One of the main points of interest for me was learning how Barth stood against Nazism even when many in the German church were seduced by it. I recommend this book. I received this ebook free from NetGalley in return for an honest review.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Rogers

    Should have provided a better warning to Evangelicals While I am merely a former Evangelical, I appreciate the effort to speak to my former tribe and tailor a biography for this large group of American Christians. Barth's writing is dense and would scare off most laypeople, so prose more simply written to highlight his theology (appreciate the choice of Scripture and Universal Reconciliation, which have both been very helpful personally) as well as the engaging story of the mistakes of the German Should have provided a better warning to Evangelicals While I am merely a former Evangelical, I appreciate the effort to speak to my former tribe and tailor a biography for this large group of American Christians. Barth's writing is dense and would scare off most laypeople, so prose more simply written to highlight his theology (appreciate the choice of Scripture and Universal Reconciliation, which have both been very helpful personally) as well as the engaging story of the mistakes of the German church as Hitler took power provide winsome and readable entry points. My only criticism is that in the wake of 2016, more commentary was warranted on Evangelical conservatives affinity for authoritarian leaders and yearning for a position of power partnering with the state. Such a pointed modern critique tied back to the excellent historical story of German Christians failings would be a most loving warning.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Barry

    I have no intention to read Barth’s 9000-page “Church Dogmatics,” so in lieu, this will have to do. I almost bumped it up one star just for the last chapter which compares the early 20th century’s Liberal Christianity that Barth set himself against, with today’s Evangelical Christianity. Although different in many ways, both end up focusing too much on our own personal feelings. I love that the author recommends Carey’s “Good News for Anxious Christians” as a corrective — one of my favorite book I have no intention to read Barth’s 9000-page “Church Dogmatics,” so in lieu, this will have to do. I almost bumped it up one star just for the last chapter which compares the early 20th century’s Liberal Christianity that Barth set himself against, with today’s Evangelical Christianity. Although different in many ways, both end up focusing too much on our own personal feelings. I love that the author recommends Carey’s “Good News for Anxious Christians” as a corrective — one of my favorite books (although poorly named) on contemporary church life.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Kerry Buttram

    Barth’s life and theology made more accessible I appreciate the way Mark Galli weaves biographical and formational aspects of Barth’s life in his explanation and interpretation of his work as a theologian and why it matters today. This would be a useful volume to those getting to know Barth for the first time and a refresher for those who have read him for years. Any pastor or ministerial student or theologian in development would profit from this accessible volume.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Joe

    A short book that should provide a great background for understanding the influence and theology of Barth. This book does a good job of mixing his theology with the story of his life, explaining how he went from liberal pastor to the destroyer of liberal theology to the writer of a giant theological corpus. His relentless centering of Christ and the necessity of God's revelation are both challenging and upbuilding, and I plan to read more of Barth to hopefully absorb more of this focus. A short book that should provide a great background for understanding the influence and theology of Barth. This book does a good job of mixing his theology with the story of his life, explaining how he went from liberal pastor to the destroyer of liberal theology to the writer of a giant theological corpus. His relentless centering of Christ and the necessity of God's revelation are both challenging and upbuilding, and I plan to read more of Barth to hopefully absorb more of this focus.

  13. 4 out of 5

    BJ

    A concise look at the life and theology of the noted twentieth century German theologian, Karl Barth. A quick and worthwhile read for anyone looking for a snapshot of this popular modern theologian and the influence of his life and times upon twenty-first century evangelicalism. While there is much to be critical of in his theology and his life, there is plenty to learn from.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Caldwell

    This is nothing more than an introduction to Karl Barth and the historical context in which he did theology. The author it highly dependent on one or two sources making me wonder if I should have just read those. Since I knew little about Barth, this was informative and an easy read. But for the time and money, one might ought to look elsewhere.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Michael Battistone

    Excellent book--very readable and, as described, a great introduction for those who may not be familiar with Barth's life or work. One of the things I most appreciated is Galli's inclusion of an annotated bibliography, which provides some excellent recommendations for additional reading, depending on the particular goals of the reader. This is a book to share with others. Excellent book--very readable and, as described, a great introduction for those who may not be familiar with Barth's life or work. One of the things I most appreciated is Galli's inclusion of an annotated bibliography, which provides some excellent recommendations for additional reading, depending on the particular goals of the reader. This is a book to share with others.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Stephen

    Compelling portrait! First, I really enjoyed this book. It was a pleasure to read. I plan on delving into Barth’s Church Dogmatics because of this book. It really gives you a personal and theological portrait of Barth.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Trevor Morrison

    Easy introduction to Barth's life and theology This book was very easy to follow, and I trust Mark Galli's reputation, so I have come to an appreciation of Barth that I didn't have before. Easy introduction to Barth's life and theology This book was very easy to follow, and I trust Mark Galli's reputation, so I have come to an appreciation of Barth that I didn't have before.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Радостин Марчев

    Кратка, ясна и лека за четене книжка. Чудесно въведение за протестанти, които не са чели нищо от Барт (освен може би няколко цитата извадени от техния контекст), но които смятат, че са достатъчно наясно с неговата личност и богословие.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

    This book is exactly as it presents itself, an introductory guide to the life and theology of Karl Barth. Written by an evangelical for evangelicals...who seem to get nervous whenever they’re around somebody who might not be an evangelical. An enjoyable and helpful read.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan Hatt

    Excellent overview of Barth’s life and thought

  21. 5 out of 5

    Stephen London

    A very readable introduction to Barth. Especially for Evangelicals

  22. 4 out of 5

    Steven Hart

    A bit sloppy, but a good introduction to Barth which covers his life, theology, why he is controversial among Evangelicals, and why he probably should be less so.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Seth

    A good introduction to Barth’s life if you’ve never read him before. Reading was straightforward and included excerpts from his journal and books, Church Dogmatics, and Paul’s letter to the Romans.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Glenn Wishnew III

    Fantastic — highly reccomend. I read it in a single sitting.

  25. 5 out of 5

    vittore paleni

    A basic introduction with a very specific purpose spelled out in the subtitle. If you have read any other introduction on Barth (of which there are many), best skip this one.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Michael Gowin

    Excellent, exceptionally readable introduction to Karl Barth's life and thinking. Excellent, exceptionally readable introduction to Karl Barth's life and thinking.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Sindre

  28. 5 out of 5

    Don Dunnington

  29. 5 out of 5

    Neil Steinwand

  30. 4 out of 5

    C.S. Fritz

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