Where did the inspiration for An Explorer’s Guide to Karl Barth come from?
I finished my PhD work on the theology of Karl Barth in 2006. After I published my PhD thesis in 2009, I kept realizing that many things evangelicals have thought about Barth ever since the 1950s were often based on misinformation and hearsay, rather than a close reading of Barth’s own works. I had started a little “FAQ” (frequently asked questions) document some time ago in which I dumped questions that I hoped someday to answer about Karl Barth specifically aimed at an often skeptical evangelical audience. That eventually became a proposal for an introductory textbook which I pitched to InterVarsity Press and which they enthusiastically accepted.
Can you explain a little bit about what the book is about in your own words?
You know those travel guides you can buy at most bookstores when you are planning a vacation to another country? Well, the title of my book was chosen very intentionally with that genre in mind. I intended to write a “tourist” or “explorer’s” handbook that someone could read to get the basics so that they could then explore Barth for themselves. So in the book I try to give the most important, yet basic, information that people need to know as they are working through some of Barth’s works. In the book is give a very brief biography of Barth’s life, a chapter on Frequently asked Questions, an extended glossary of important and unique theological terms he uses or people with whom he interacts, and insight into how best to dive into his massive Church Dogmatics (which is almost 10,000 pages in length!), amongst a bunch of other things. I give a very brief summary of each of the 13 volumes of the Church Dogmatics, and three reading plans for people to work through, depending on how ambitious they are!
Why Karl Barth specifically? Why not another theologian?
It is almost impossible these days to be doing biblical studies or theology and not encounter a discussion about or a citation of Karl Barth, either positively or negatively. There are literally dozens of books and probably hundreds of articles published every year that deal with some aspect of his work. Many have even suggested Barth stands alongside theological greats like Augustine, Luther, Calvin, or Wesley. Now, obviously not everyone views Barth favourably, but most doing scholarship are forced in some way to interact with him whether they wish to or not. So even if you finally don’t agree with Barth on everything (I certainly don’t), if you are doing any kind of biblical interpretation or theological work, it’s pretty certain that you are going to have to deal with him at one time or another.
Why not another theologian? Well, I’m confident there are all kinds of theologians worth introducing, but in my case, it was simply an obvious choice given the extent of work I did on Barth in my PhD studies and how I have continued to read, interpret, and use Barth ever since.
Why is it important for people to understand Barth and his writings?
Actually, I deal with that in chapter 1 entitled, “Why Karl Barth?” I guess you will have to read it!
Seriously, though, I am convinced that it is important for people to understand Barth for at least three reasons. One, Karl Barth continues to be extremely influential amongst biblical scholars and theologians of virtually every denominational stripe. I could list for you virtually any Christian faith tradition that has had scholars and commentators interacting with Barth. This includes Baptists, Anabaptists, Pentecostals, Lutherans, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Catholics, and Orthodox, and everything in between! Two, I am convinced that Barth was a model of what it means not only to believe that the Bible is the authoritative Word of God, but to use the Bible in such a way to demonstrate that commitment to its authority. In fact, I figured out that Barth cites well over half of all Scripture in his Church Dogmatics, and has indirect allusions to hundreds more verses and passages. Although many won’t agree with the way he actually states his doctrine of Scripture, he does uphold and use the Scripture with every intention to uphold it as God’s Word. Three, I love the way Barth sets the person of Jesus Christ front and central to everything he does. He works out everything from the perspective of God’s self-revelation in Jesus by the Spirit (he is also fully Trinitarian!), and he is primarily interested in seeking to explore how theology helps the Church announce the Good News which Jesus embodies and proclaims to us.
How long has this been in the works and what did the process look like?
Well, I submitted the proposal to InterVarsity Press, I believe, in late 2014, had it written by the end of 2015, and worked with my editor through till June 2016 when the project on my end was complete. The bulk of the writing took place, however, between August and November 2016 where I think I wrote something for the book at least six days of every week. For me, writing a bit every day was more important than finding big chunks of time, although I needed some of those, too.
Why are you passionate about theology?
Wow! Great question! How many hours do you have?
Really, there are so many factors, but a few things come to mind. First, I guess I’m passionate about theology because theology is all about the pursuit of the knowledge of God, and that is something of which I never tire. Second, theology excites me because the love of theology and its use in Christian growth and discipleship was modeled by Briercrest faculty who I sat under in my college and seminary days back in the 80s and early 90’s! Here I most specifically mention Rev. Dr. Robert Seale, whom I consider my most important theological father; Mr. Ian Lawson, whose mentorship launched me into the ministry I now engage in; and Mr. Glenn Runnalls, whose modelling of what it means to be a co-learner in theological matters has been influential in how I continue to think about the task of being a theological teacher—as one who learns together with his students.
How did you end up where you are now as a theology professor and scholar/author?
I truly do see what I’m doing as the outworking of God’s calling on my life. When I was younger, I thought God wanted me to be a pastor, and though I did that formally for a few years, I ended up coming back to Briercrest for a Master’s degree and eventually was hired as an instructor of theology. I never expected that, but in many respects, I have never stopped thinking about myself as a pastor, even though my pastoring is to a constantly changing congregation and is sometimes extended even further through my writing. As for writing and scholarship, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Dr. Stanley Grenz (deceased) who was the first one to ask me to be a co-author of a book way back in 1998. I always hope I can encourage young scholars to contribute in the same way that Stan encouraged me.
David Guretzki’s book, An Explorer’s Guide to Karl Barth, is available either from Amazon or directly from the InterVarsity Press website.