Sunday, February 19, 2012

Karl Barth on apologetics

the Gospel does not enter into competition with the many attempts to disclose within the known world some more or less unknown and higher forms of existence.... The Gospel is not a truth among other truths. Rather, it sets a question-mark against all truths. The Gospel is not the door but the hinge. The man who apprehends its meaning is removed from all strife, because he is engaged in a strife with the whole, even with existence itself. Anxiety concerning the victory of the Gospel—that is, Christian Apologetics—is meaningless, because the Gospel is the victory by which the world is overcome. … It [the Gospel] does not require representatives with a sense of responsibility, for it is as responsible for those who proclaim it as it is for those to whom it is proclaimed. It is the advocate of both. … God does not need us. Indeed, if He were not God, He would be ashamed of us. We, at any rate, cannot be ashamed of Him.
Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans, 6th Edition, page 35
[This appears in the commentary on Romans 1:16-17].

So was Barth against apologetics? Should we be? I don't think Barth's point is that apologetics is a waste of time or that Christians should not engage it. The real issue is one of perspective and attitude towards apologetics. What are Christians hoping to achieve by engaging in apologetics? A Christian has no need to be ashamed or embarrassed about the Gospel. It is God's power for salvation.

The Trinitarian God does not need our help to decide whether or not he exists! The truth of the Gospel is not determined by social consensus or a cleverly constructed argument. But, evidence and arguments may be used by the Holy Spirit to convict people of truth, righteousness, and judgement.

Christians need not be anxious. Ultimately, on the Last Day, God will clearly reveal to everyone what is true and what is not.


  1. I think you've missed Barth here. Barth was pretty heavily against apologetics- it's not just about an attitude towards apologetics. For Barth, apologetics is putting the cart before the horse.

  2. I would only add that what Barth is pointing to in the quote is that Christians should not come to the world with ready-made answers, but instead with questions. The world as it is is not interested or even asking questions to which we may provide an answer (this is a very Post-Christian world). The church can, however, take up the initiative of asking questions of the world. The church should be asking and living a question mark to the world as it is.

  3. ISTM that Barth is a good Lutheran here: "Reason", as Luther said, "is a whore" - for it can be used to argue for God, but also against Him. If the Gospel were based on human reasoning, it would be no more than one all too human philosophy among a host of others. It can be proclaimed - it cannot be proved true by reason. Nor need it be. God remains true, though all men be found liars. Truth is not in propositions or reasoning, but in Christ.