Barth for Armchair Theologians
John R. Franke
183 pgs., WJK, 2006
reviewed by Chris L. Rice
I have long desired to offer many of my reading friends an accurate and yet condensed introduction to Karl Barth. John Franke has made Church Dogmatics accessible and inviting, in less than fifty pages! I have read my fair share of introductions to Karl Barth and books about him, including Eberhard Busch’s book Karl Barth: His Life from Letters and Autobiographical Texts. Barth for Armchair Theologians highlighted important changes in Barth’s life in new ways that I hadn’t quite seen before.
One of these is the way in which Barth himself grew and changed with his taught subject matter from his days at Gottingen to Munster to Bonn and then to Basel. I had never quite understood Barth’s study/teaching style so well as when Franke unpacked it in this little book. Chapters four and five present Barth’s theology in development in a fresh and rewarding way that inspires me to read more Barth during these periods. (such as The Gottingen Dogmatics, The Theology of John Calvin)
To me the book slowed way down and got cumbersome when Franke used George Hunsiger’s book How to Read Karl Barth to introduce the difficult patterns in Church Dogmatics (pgs. 108-115). But when Franke gets into each volume himself it is delightful reading! The final chapter “Barth’s Legacy” helps us understand how Barth viewed his own work and the humility with which he allowed it to go unfinished. Barth never viewed his work or Dogmatics properly done as an end within itself. It always serves only as a signpost.
The best thing I can say about this book is that John Franke presents Karl Barth as he truly was and wanted to be known. The work is true to the literature, the history, and the spirit of the man. In a light-hearted, intelligent and inviting way he gives the layman a worthy picture of this servant of the Church.
John R. Franke is scheduled to present a breakout session titled “Karl Barth, the Postmodern Turn, and Evangelical Theology” on June 26, 2007 for the second annual conference on Karl Barth titled “Karl Barth and American Evangelicals: Friends or Foes?”