Dialectical theology – What is it?

"Dialectic" refers to logical reasoning done through examination and discussion of ideas and those that contradict them, for example using paradox to explain an abstract thought. Dialectical theology, introduced by German theologian Karl Barth, focuses on God's transcendence rather than trying to explain God in human terms. According to dialectic theology, God is not knowable by human reason, which only leads to contradictions and thus must be replaced with faith.

Barth, a German pastor, wrote about this first in his 1919 Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans in an effort to stem the drift to liberalism in the church after World War One. Barth focused on human sinfulness under God's judgment. His theology is also termed "crisis theology" or "the theology of crisis" because human depravity compared to the holiness of God meant the world is in danger of God's judgment.

Dialectical theology teaches that religion, with rituals and formal worship rules, is the result of people's best efforts, while faith is the result of God's intervention in humans' lives. God is beyond comprehension; for us to know Him, He must reveal Himself.

Conversely, natural theology teaches that God can be known through His creation and by reasoning. Barth said that natural theology could lead to religious syncretism.

Biblically, it would seem there is truth to both. Consider these two Scriptures:

"For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse" (Romans 1:19–20).

"And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him" (Hebrews 11:6).

God is knowable through nature to some extent, and it also requires faith to know God. Human reason is not useless, but it is far from sufficient. The Christian life is not one of religious ritual, but of active relationship with a personal God who adopts us as His children when we come to faith in Jesus Christ (John 1:12).

Liberal scholars rejected Barth's ideas, and conservative scholars thought he went to unneeded extremes. Even so, Barth's theology affected Protestant thought and he is viewed as one of the most influential theologians of the twentieth century.


Related Truth:

What does transcendent mean? How is God transcendent?

How is God infinite? What does it mean that God is infinite?

The attributes of God, what are they?

Why does God require faith?

How can I come to really know God?


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