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The Essential Karl Barth

A Reader and Commentary

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Karl Barth is one of the most influential theologians of the 20th century. His work is considered essential reading for nearly every student of theology. Reading Barth's theology poses a challenge, however, because of the sheer size of his corpus, the complexity of his claims, and the distance between his context and the context of his readers. In this accessible introduction, a respected scholar in Barthian studies offers a one-stop resource on Barth's thought, providing a selection of his most important writings, critical commentary, and detailed introductory and concluding chapters.


1. Introduction: The Life of Karl Barth
Part 1: Barth's Theological Development
2. The Epistle to the Romans
3. The Word of God as the Task of Theology
4. An Answer to Professor Adolf von Harnack
5. The Resurrection of the Dead
6. The Göttingen Dogmatics
7. The Holy Spirit and the Christian Life
8. Preface to Church Dogmatics I/1
9. Farewell
10. The Humanity of God
Part 2: Barth's Church Dogmatics
11. The Task of Dogmatics
12. The Word of God
13. Revelation and Faith
14. The Doctrine of the Trinity
15. The Missions of the Son and the Spirit
16. The Knowledge of God
17. The Reality of God
18. The Doctrine of Election
19. The Election of Jesus Christ
20. God's Decision for the World
21. Covenant and Creation
22. The Covenant Partner of God
23. God and Nothingness
24. God with Us
25. The Obedience of the Son of God
26. The Exaltation of the Son of Man
27. The Glory of the Mediator
28. The Scope of Salvation
29. Christian Community
Part 3: Barth's Political Engagement
30. A Brief Reminiscence of the 1920s
31. Sermon on Romans 15:5-13
32. The Barmen Theological Declaration
33. The Role of Christians in Wartime: A Letter to American Christians
34. The Community of Christians and the Community of Citizens
Conclusion: The Tradition of Karl Barth


"This is the best one-volume anthology of Barth's theology available in English. Barth's writings are thoughtfully selected to cover his early development, his mature theology, and his political development. Keith Johnson's critical commentary is superb. This book will be of great service not only in the classroom but also in the pastor's study and in the hands of any interested reader. It deserves a wide readership wherever there is interest in Karl Barth."

George Hunsinger, McCord Professor of Theology, Princeton Theological Seminary

"This volume offers a delightful and illuminating approach to the theology of Karl Barth, one of the most significant theologians in the Protestant tradition. Johnson serves as a well-equipped and sure-footed guide as he draws the reader gently into key excerpts from Barth's rather daunting and multifaceted corpus of work. Johnson is judicious in his selection of texts, insightful in his introductions, annotations, and explanations, and considered in his rendering of the life and legacy of Barth. The result is a highly impressive achievement, offering an accessible yet informative pathway into the writings of this visionary theologian."

Paul T. Nimmo, King's Chair of Systematic Theology, King's College, University of Aberdeen

"This is an astonishingly helpful book. Keith Johnson's introductions are clear, elegant, and effortlessly learned, and his selection of texts gives readers not only an overview but an actual feel for Barth's thought. The fact that he does all of this in a single volume is a marvel. For anyone who wants to get a grip on the theology of Karl Barth, this is the book to read!"

Kevin W. Hector, associate professor of theology and of the philosophy of religions, University of Chicago Divinity School

"It's a challenge to figure out which texts can best introduce the curious to the complex music of Karl Barth's theology. In The Essential Karl Barth, Keith Johnson has curated and introduced a rich assortment of Barth's writings spanning his career, and Johnson's wise and learned commentary keeps ever in view the contexts in which Barth did his work. An invaluable resource for exploring Barth's theology and his world."

Angela Dienhart Hancock, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

"Keith Johnson has provided a wonderful collection of texts judiciously selected from the voluminous corpus of Barth's works. Each reading is accompanied by excellent introductions and commentary. This volume will no doubt introduce many students to Karl Barth, and it is a marvelous resource for all who would seek to learn more about one of the most important theologians of the twentieth century."

Kimlyn J. Bender, professor of Christian theology, George W. Truett Theological Seminary, Baylor University

The Author

  1. Keith L. Johnson

    Keith L. Johnson

    Keith L. Johnson (PhD, Princeton Theological Seminary) is professor of theology at Wheaton College. He is the author or coeditor of several books, including Theology as Discipleship, T&T Clark Companion to the Doctrine of Sin, fand...

    Continue reading about Keith L. Johnson


"This book is a splendid resource for Barth studies. . . . The book features astutely selected Barth texts as a Reader along with illuminating Commentary by a fine Barth scholar. The effect is to make this an eminently useful anthology of Barth's writings enhanced by critical comments to guide us through the complexities of Barth's thought. . . . Scholars, pastors, students, and all who are interested in Barth's theology will benefit from Johnson's excellent book. His work is informative and accessible, providing an outstanding guide to the intricacies of the incomparable Karl Barth."

Donald K. McKim,

Theology Today

"[A] gem of a book. . . . Johnson tells the reader in his introduction that he wants to capture the drama and the essence of Barth's theology. He wants readers to get to know Barth while recognizing the complexity of Barth's thought. In this he succeeds. Students and readers alike will find this a very useful resource for education and edification."

Amy Marga,

Word & World

"Teachers everywhere . . . owe Keith L. Johnson a debt of gratitude for his new volume, The Essential Karl Barth: A Reader and Commentary, for its career-spanning attention to the nuances and breadth of Barth's work. Rather than simply an updated version of the original reader with Fortress Press, Johnson's work is an entirely original re-visioning, including fresh translations of Barth, some of which are original to this volume. . . . Johnson's book will undoubtedly and rightly become the new standard reference for teachers looking for an entry point into Barth's work for their courses."

Myles Werntz,

Reading Religion

"As a theologian well versed in Barth's theology, Johnson is an assured and informative guide through the tricky terrain, pointing out the key moves Barth makes and explaining the convictions which undergird Barth's claims. . . . Johnson has given those unfamiliar with Barth--and even those familiar with him--a useful resource, one which will undoubtedly prove its value to teachers and students of theology."

Declan Kelly,

Expository Times

"Johnson has produced a valuable resource for readers who are curious about Barth's theology but daunted by its scope and unsure where to begin. He offers an elegant solution to a problem faced by seasoned Barth readers, namely, how to introduce his theology to students, skeptics, and anyone who wonders about Barth's continuing significance for Christian theology."

Ross McGowan Wright,


"A fantastic introduction to Barth."

Casey Chalk,

The American Conservative

"This volume has three merits at least. First, Johnson furnishes abundant and detailed notes throughout the anthology. . . . Second, every selection from Barth's writings has a brief introduction that sets the scene for grasping Barth's theological themes and the trajectory of theological development. . . . Third, the introductory essay ('The Life of Karl Barth') and concluding essay ('The Tradition of Karl Barth') paint the landscape of Barth's theology whereby readers refrain from reading Barth arbitrarily and one-sidedly. In light of these three strengths, this anthology is an outstanding companion to Barth's thoughts and thus highly recommended for those who dedicate themselves to exploring Barth's theology."

Ximian Xu,

Journal of Reformed Theology

"While unreservedly recommended for community, church, seminary, college, and university library collections, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, clergy, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the life and work of Karl Barth, that is compendium is also available in a digital book format."

Wisconsin Bookwatch