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What If Karl Barth Was An American Theologian?

June 26, 2012

American theology tends to be of a certain character. On the one hand it is shaped positively by the nation’s cultural values of liberty and self-determination. But, on the other, these and other aspects of the American psyche can be a tarnishing influence. American theology (like its public discourse) can just as easily be callow, reactionary, and self-serving.

So what should a good “American theology” look like?

When Karl Barth visited America in 1962 he was asked what sort of theology he would write were he born in the United States rather than Switzerland:

If I were myself an American citizen and Christian and theologian, then I would try to elaborate a theology of freedom. A theology of freedom from any inferiority complex over-against ‘good old Europe’ from whence you all came (or your fathers [came]). You don’t need to have such an inferiority complex! That is what I have learned these weeks.

Freedom also from a superiority complex, let us say, over-against Asia and Africa. That is a complex without reason.

Then, I may add, freedom from fear — of communism, Russia, inevitable nuclear warfare, and generally speaking from the also forementioned principalities and powers, and so on. Freedom — I like to say a single word — freedom for humanity.

Being an American theologian, I would then look at the Liberty statue in New York Harbor. I have not yet seen that Lady but in pictures. Next week I shall see her in person. That Lady needs certainly a little (or perhaps even a good bit) of demythologization! Nevertheless, maybe she may also be seen and interpreted and understood well as a symbol of a true theology — not of ‘liberty’ but of freedom. It would be thought to be necessary that a theology of freedom — of that freedom to which the Son frees us as his gift [Gal. 5:1; John 8:38] — is the one real human freedom.

My last question for this evening: Will such a specific American theology one day arise?

I hope so.

You owe it to yourself to listen to the original audio (“Panel discussion Chicago”).

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Tim Ross permalink
    June 26, 2012 1:46 pm

    It’s still a pretty apt comment 50 years later! Chalk another one up for Barth…

  2. June 26, 2012 7:06 pm

    Thanks for sharing this link, Darren. The new Karl Barth site you took this from has some really great resource for Barth.

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