In this (final) semester, I wrote an essay exploring whether was Karl Barth's theology a 'political theology'? This question may seem obvious to many, yet what follows is a teaser to its ambivalence:
In the late 1950s a German Methodist bishop, visiting a class at Garrett Theological Seminary, was asked what had been Karl Barth's major contributions to the European churches. The bishop's first answer surprised no one: Barth had helped the European churches to rediscover the Bible. But his second answer — that Barth had done more than anyone else to recall the European churches to their social and political responsibility — amazed the class...
The students immediately challenged the bishop by trotting out all the familiar American stereotypes of Barth. His theology was so "eschatological" that it had no relevance to worldly matters like politics. He so emphasized the ultimate sinfulness of all men before God that he was unable to do justice to the relative differences between men or political systems. For Barth, salvation consisted only of being forgiven by God; it gave no power to live a new life, and thus man could have no hope for improvement in either individual or social affairs. The bishop listened in growing astonishment. In the end he shook his head in bafflement. "You cannot be talking about Karl Barth," he said.(William Hordern, 'Barth as Political Thinker,' in Christian Century, 26 March 1969.)
That's the ambivalent impression of Barth's contemporaries on him when he was still alive. So, what do you think? Was Barth a political theologian?