Forming moral community: Christian and Ecclesial Existence in the Theology of Karl Barth, 1915-1922
Author(s)Michael David O'Neil
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AbstractThis thesis is an investigation of Karl Barth’s theology in the turbulent and dynamic years of his nascent career: 1915 – 1922, with a special focus on the manner in which he construed Christian and ecclesial existence. The thesis argues that Karl Barth developed his theology with an explicit ecclesial and ethical motive, that is, he developed his theology as a deliberate attempt to shape the ethical life of the church in the context within which he lived and worked. It contends that criticisms suggesting that Barth does not have an ethics are inaccurate assessments of his work, and in fact, that although it is evident that his ethical thought continued to develop throughout his career, major trajectories of Barth’s development are present in germinal form even at this early stage. Following the lead and suggestion of John Webster, the thesis adopts a chronological and exegetical reading of Barth’s work from his initial dispute with his liberal heritage circa 1915 until the publication of the second edition of his commentary on Romans. Materials examined from this period include sermons, lectures, book reviews, personal correspondence and biblical commentaries, with particular care being taken to identify the occasion and historical context within which Barth presented his thought. This reading seeks to uncover and present the development, structure, content and logic of Barth’s own thought, in hope that the central concerns of this thesis will be validated. Examination of these materials has indeed shown that Barth developed his theology with an ecclesio-ethical motive. The significance of this thesis is twofold. First, it contributes to broader understanding of Barth’s theology both in its early development, and with regard to his ecclesiology and ethics. Second, it provides a significant framework and material for contemporary ecclesial reflection on its own identity and mission.