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Dialectical Theology

The title used to characterize the theological methodology of Karl Barth,* to distinguish his dogmatic principles from those of the liberal traditions which had reached their climax in F.D.E. Schleiermacher.* The first phase of the Barthian movement was termed the “theology of crisis.” It appeared superficially as a “desperation-theology” born out of disillusionment with World War I, and expressing theologically the historical and cultural pessimism given vogue in Spengler's Decline of the West.

The Dialectical Theology was not, however, just an echo of a tragic historical situation. It was concerned rather with the judgment of God, not in a particular concrete situation, but with the Divine “No” to all human efforts, and especially to the religious search for righteousness. Yet the “No” is not God's only and final word, for it is the very occasion for His “Yes.” This is the true dialectic: God's “No” finding an answer in His “Yes.” God's judgment is, so to speak, the darker side of His grace: the “No” is overcome by the “Yes.” The dialectic finds its resolution in God alone, for the “No” of God's judgment cannot be met by a balancing “Yes,” having its origin and impetus on man's side. “There is no way from us to God, no via negativa, no via dialectica, no via paradoxa” (Barth). Thus almost paradoxically the dialectical apprehension of God transcends every dialectical method.

Dialectical Theology sought its method and principles in the theology of the Reformation, and especially in John Calvin.* Its general thesis was expounded by, among others, H.E. Brunner* and F. Gogarten.* The influence of Dialectical Theology has been extensive, especially in the Reformed Churches in Europe and in the Church of Scotland. The Church of England and the Free Churches of Britain have also been affected.

See bibliography under Barth, Karl.