Five Reasons Pentecostals Should Read Karl Barth

  1. Pentecostals should read Barth for the very general reason that he is perhaps the most significant theologian of the twentieth century. To ignore his work is to ignore arguably one of the most influential voices in theology in the last hundred years.
  2. Pentecostals should read Barth because of his radical Christological focus. He finds Jesus inescapable for all theological construction. This should resonate immediately with Pentecostals who are committed to the “Full Gospel” message about Jesus: saving, sanctifying, baptizing in the Spirit, healing, and coming soon as king.
  3. Pentecostals should read Barth because of his intentional pastoral concerns in his writings (Evangelical Theology; Dogmatics in Outline; Church Dogmatics) not to mention the collections of sermons and reflections on prayer. Barth was a pastor and preacher. His concerns were for the lived life of the church. While Barth was not pragmatic and all too many Pentecostals may be, Pentecostals are likewise committed very intentionally to pastoral concerns and churchly life. Here he offers deeper levels of reflection by and for the church.
  4. Pentecostals should read Barth because he was a man committed to careful reflection upon the Scriptures (one may note for example the sheer volume of citations in his final volume of Church Dogmatics on Scripture references that is fashioned for use within the church’s life). Barth’s publications are saturated in the Scriptures and seek always to flow from and back to the Scriptures as faithful witnesses to the God of the Scriptures. One can quibble about his interpretations of the Scriptures, but not about his concern to try to hear them well.
  5. Pentecostals should read Barth because of his language of testimony as a shared feature of his theology and the Pentecostal emphasis on testimony. This is rooted in God being toward us and our responding to him. We confess who he is and what he has done. We testify what we hear and see and experience of the life of God in and among us. Pentecostals might benefit from a more clearly articulated theology of testimony rooted in God’s self-giving love toward us and toward the world.

I offer this list not as in any sense comprehensive for why I contend Pentecostals should read Barth. Further, I can understand and appreciate those who have their emphatic reasons for why they might reject Barth or his writings (some owing to poor early interpreters of Barth, some to professors of their own who simply never spent time with Barth and received a message of danger regarding Barth without themselves reading him, and some for Barth’s life that failed to align with the message he proclaimed).

In the end, I would encourage folks because they will find a friend for their journey who longs to proclaim the God who is always better than our proclamations and who will do all that must be done for our good and for the good of the world He has created.

For those who may be interested (I’d recommend finding a library for access given its cost), there is a new publication out on Karl Barth and Pentecostal Theology (T&T Clark, 2024) written by a stellar lineup of fourteen Pentecostal scholars (check out the list of contributors and their respective chapters in the link above). Sadly, I am not one of them. HA.

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