Karl Barth and Radical Politics

Karl Barth and Radical Politics . Edited and translated by George Hunsinger. Westminster Press,1976. $6.45 paperback.

Two years ago (see Post American, January, 1975, pp. 30-31) we noticed the emergence in Germany of a bitter controversy about the interpretation of the theology of Karl Barth -- a controversy that also has the potential to illuminate the experience of the American church. The center of this controversy is the bold new thesis of Friedrich-Wilhelm Marquardt (expressed most fully in Theologie und Sozialismus: Das Beispiel Karl Barths, Chr. Kaiser, 1972). Marquardt’s thesis is that earth’s early involvement in socialist political action and labor union organizing in the second decade of this century was not a false start in the search that culminated in the massive Church Dogmatics, but is actually the key to understanding the whole of Barth’s theology.

Barth remarked toward the end of his career that “I decided for theology because I felt a need to find a better basis for my social action.” The Marquardt thesis radicalizes this statement to argue that Barth’s mature theology (often rejected as biblicist, transcendental, and therefore politically and socially irrelevant) was, in effect, an elaborate construct designed to ground his radically socialist (even anarchist) politics. This thesis is supported not only by documentation of Barth’s socialist commitments at various stages of his life, but also by a highly technical theological argument, claiming that only thus can the particular formulations of Barth’s Christology and “concept of God” be properly understood.

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