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John R. Franke

God Hidden and Wholly Revealed

Karl Barth, postmodernity, and evangelical theology

When future historians look back on the developments in theology over the course of the 20th century, there is little doubt that the name of Karl Barth will tower above the others as the most prominent and influential theologian. Yet, as recently as the beginning of the past decade, George Hunsinger was able to write with justification that although Barth is often acknowledged as the greatest theologian of the century, he has also "achieved the dubious distinction of being habitually honored but not much read."1 This has perhaps been particularly true in the English-speaking world.

Today, however, there is ample evidence of a revival of interest in the study of Barth. Books, articles, and dissertations on Barth's theology appear with great regularity; the Karl Barth Society of North America is flourishing; and the newly established Center for Barth Studies at Princeton Theological Seminary is promoting scholarly and ecclesial engagement with his thought. In the midst of all this activity, John Webster notes that the most important development has been that "Barth is read, and read in extenso."2

At least two reasons account for this resurgence of interest in Barth's thought. The first is simply the concern of historical scholarship to gain a more accurate conception of what Barth was in fact attempting to say in his work. Over the past 25 years, the Swiss edition of Barth's collected writings has made generally available a large quantity of important and previously unpublished material such as lectures, sermons, and letters. Of particular importance are the lecture cycles from the early years of Barth's career as a theology professor. The availability of these writings has led to significant revisions in the standard account of Barth's development, particularly the notion that he abandoned the dialectical thinking characteristic of his early theology. And this, in turn, has suggested new perspectives on the precise contours of Barth's mature theology contained in the Church ...

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