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Reading Karl Barth for the Church

A Guide and Companion

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Leading Barth interpreter Kimlyn Bender provides an introduction to the essence of Barth's theology, emphasizing themes that speak to the concerns of the church, the pastorate, and Christian ministry.

Reading Karl Barth for the Church serves as a companion to the first volume of Barth's Church Dogmatics, offering straightforward help for reading and understanding that work in its entirety. Bender provides a close reading of the first volume, with extended commentary on and discussion of significant themes and arguments of particular relevance to the contemporary church and its life. Written with seminarians in mind and geared to the needs of the church, this guide helps readers develop the skills necessary to read more of Barth's writings. It includes reading schedules (for both the first volume and the complete Church Dogmatics) and discussion questions for individuals and groups. It can be read from cover to cover as an accompanying textbook to Church Dogmatics or serve as a reference work for understanding specific passages.

1. Introduction
2. Dogmatics as a Theological Discipline of the Church (CD §§1-2)
3. Church Proclamation and Dogmatics (CD §3)
4. The Threefold Form of the Word of God (CD §4)
5. The Nature and Knowability of the Word of God (CD §§5-7)
6. The Triune God (CD §§8-12)
7. The Incarnation of the Word (CD §§13-15)
8. The Outpouring of the Holy Spirit (CD §§16-18)
9. Holy Scripture (CD §§19-21)
10. Church Proclamation and Dogmatics Revisited (CD §§22-24)
Conclusion and Commencement


"For those of us who want Karl Barth to be a valued partner in our preaching and ministry, this is the book we've been awaiting. Kimlyn Bender hereby establishes himself as a great interpreter of Barth's theology for the church today. He gives us a grand invitation to dive into the riches of Barth's theology of proclamation and shows us the relevance of Barth's theology for the church today."

Will Willimon, professor of Christian ministry, Duke Divinity School; author of Conversations with Barth on Preaching

"In his close reading of and illuminating commentary on Barth's Church Dogmatics I/1 and I/2, Kimlyn Bender provides masterful exposition of the distinctive themes and patterns of Barth's theology evident in the first volume of his magnum opus and persisting in all later volumes. In addition to skillfully unpacking Barth's understanding of the purpose, method, and content of dogmatics, Bender also underscores the indispensability of sustained theological inquiry in the life and ministry of the church. Reading Karl Barth for the Church will be a valuable resource not only for serious students of Barth's thought but also for many pastors and church teachers, who may wonder whether and why theology really matters."

Daniel L. Migliore, professor emeritus of systematic theology, Princeton Theological Seminary

"We all need guides, especially to great theological literature. Kimlyn Bender provides an excellent resource for reading the first volume of Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics. His focus is on Barth's enduring relevance for serving the faith and life of the church today. Barth's main themes emerge, and we are equipped to identify these as expressed in later volumes of Barth's work. Bender helps us recognize the importance and impact of these themes for the church's ongoing witness to Jesus Christ. Bender is a sure guide for reading Barth. With deep understanding and insight, he shows Barth to be a significant resource for Christian life and ministry."

Donald K. McKim, author of Breakfast with Barth: Daily Devotions and editor of How Karl Barth Changed My Mind

"Poets rightly refuse requests to say what their poems mean. In a similar way Barth's theology cannot be 'explained,' which makes it challenging to write about. But Bender has found a way to help us become better readers of Barth by showing us how Barth's Dogmatics really is a Church Dogmatics. I suspect Barth would have liked Bender's reading, which is high praise."

Stanley Hauerwas, Gilbert T. Rowe Professor Emeritus of Divinity and Law, Duke Divinity School

"Confident that the voice of Karl Barth can reach and teach and theologically form Christians beyond the academy, Kimlyn Bender has put together a very welcoming guidebook to encourage people to read the Church Dogmatics for themselves. Bender is well aware of the obstacles readers will face in doing so; in this book he provides a set of tools to keep new readers out of the ruts of some settled misinterpretations, to find detours around those places where Barth's own idiosyncrasies distract from his main point, and to draw attention to the great things that Barth found in God's revelation."

Fred Sanders, professor of theology, Torrey Honors Institute, Biola University

"Karl Barth is well worth reading, but he can be intimidating to nonscholars, especially students, laity, and even pastors. Yet he wrote Church Dogmatics because he thought theology was meant to serve rather than distract from the church. That is why Barth thought his whole theology was a 'theology for pastors.' What Kimlyn J. Bender provides is a learned yet friendly companion that allows one to engage Barth's crucial first volume of the CD with confidence and care. Moving between Bender and Barth will surely increase understanding for readers, not just in terms of background, but in terms of relevance for today."

Kelly M. Kapic, professor of theological studies, Covenant College

"Kimlyn J. Bender insists, with Karl Barth, that Christian theology is too important to be left to professional theologians in universities and seminaries. Every Christian is commanded to love God with all their mind, as well as all their heart and soul. In Reading Karl Barth for the Church Professor Bender clearly and expertly guides readers through Barth's thought in his response to Christ's command and call. Any church that is in earnest about the need to think clearly and faithfully about God's Word today has much to gain from this book."

Stephen Plant, dean of Trinity Hall, University of Cambridge

"Professor Bender reads deeply, thinks clearly, and writes gracefully. He's a fully reliable guide to Barth."

Cornelius Plantinga Jr., senior research fellow, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship; president emeritus, Calvin Theological Seminary

The Author

  1. Kimlyn J. Bender
    © Baylor University

    Kimlyn J. Bender

    Kimlyn J. Bender (PhD, Princeton Theological Seminary) is professor of Christian theology at George W. Truett Theological Seminary, Baylor University, in Waco, Texas. He has written numerous books, including Reading Karl Barth for the Church,...

    Continue reading about Kimlyn J. Bender


"Bender has created an engaging and instructive supplementary resource to the first volume of Barth's Church Dogmatics (CD). . . . [Bender's] commitment to creating an organized, clear tool is unmatched in the field. Thus, he makes massive strides in bringing Church Dogmatics back to its intended interlocutor, the church. In this way, this volume begins to fill a gap within Barth studies, and opens the door to a renewed interest in Christian doctrine within the church. What's more, it must be noted that Reading Karl Barth for the Church is rather enchanting, mirroring Barth's own work in its capacity to engage. To be sure, both theologians share exceptional writing abilities and a penchant for effectively tackling perplexing ideas. However, those familiar with Barth's verbosity will appreciate Bender's straightforward approach. Students, pastors, and academics alike will be bettered by this work, whether it is read as a companion alongside a study of Church Dogmatics or drawn on as a resource when one is investigating specific topics Barth addresses."

Catherine Tobey,

Reading Religion