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Liberalism versus PostliberalismThe Great Divide in Twentieth-Century Theology$
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John Allan Knight

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199969388

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199969388.001.0001

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The Barthian Project in Postliberal Perspective

The Barthian Project in Postliberal Perspective

(p.125) Chapter fiveThe Barthian Project in Postliberal Perspective
Liberalism versus Postliberalism

John Allan Knight

Oxford University Press

This chapter describes Barth’s influence on postliberal theology. It does so by analyzing Hans Frei’s doctoral dissertation, which described Barth’s methodological break with liberal theology. Frei elucidates three themes in Barth, all of which are designed to move Barth’s theological thinking away from its anthropological starting point. First, Barth prioritizes ontology over epistemology. In Barth’s view, one of the things that made liberal theology subject to Feuerbach’s critique was that it began with epistemological considerations, and then refused to make claims that could not meet its epistemic criteria. After the break, Barth insists that theology must begin with ontological affirmations about God, as these affirmations are given in the Incarnation and the testimony to it in the Bible. Second, after the break, Barth insists that theological method must be subordinate to and governed by positive ontological statements about God. This implies that theology cannot be systematic, because Barth believes that all true systematizing will be anthropologically and epistemologically driven. Third, Barth insists that interpretive method must be governed by his methodological commitments and his ontological affirmations about God. All these themes will drive Frei’s later work, as I’ll describe in subsequent chapters.

Keywords:   Barth, epistemology, Frei, Hans, liberal theology, ontology, theological method

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