While theology in the United States has enjoyed a renewed interest in the theology of Karl Barth, many crucial aspects of his thought have been neglected. I sometimes wonder whether the sort of “Barth exegesis” that its common today tends towards a rather rationalistic sort of scholasticism. Certainly many of the debates about Barth’s theology are crucially important, but sometimes the sort of christological calculus that many employ in Barthian circles tends towards a form of abstraction.
However, there are many books emerging on Barth that deal, in different, complementary ways with Barth’s thought. One such recent book is Paul Chung’s Karl Barth: God’s Word in Action. One of the things that I found most helpful about this book was the way in which it spent time exploring the radical political roots of Barth’s theological thought which precipitated and informed his “dogmatic turn” during his pastorate as Safenwill from 1910-1918. Chung helpfully explores how Barth’s radical politics, including his early socialism shaped his later thought. Chung also explores the much-neglected connection between Barth’s thought, especially in the Romans commentary and Christoph Blumhart, whose radical theology of the kingdom of God indelibly stamped Barth’s theology.
Chung also does some good work exploring what Barth’s theology has to say in regard to the problem of the Jewish-Christian schism, liberation theology, and inter-religious dialogue. All of this is couched in his investigation of how Barth’s radical political theology, centered on the invasive Word of God in Jesus Christ, shapes a particular mode of faithful Christian theopolitics.
I think this is really some of the finest sort of work on Barth coming out these days (and of course it is not a lone example of this by any means). What is needed in Barth scholarship is more intensive work in making connections between Barth’s work and the contemporary theological and cultural situation. No true follower of Barth can be content to simply exposit Barth’s thought. Chung does something important in highlighting the radical politics which undergirds the whole of Barth’s theology. Too few theologians writing on Barth today take his politics with enough seriousness, particularly Barth’s commitment to radical Christian socialism. More engagement with the radical Barth is, in my view, a very necessary thing, and Chung’s book is a good step in the right direction.