McCormack on the Targets of Barth’s 'Romans I'
The targets of Barth’s criticism in Romans I were many and varied. They fell into four major groups: 1. Liberalism – Pietism (i.e. historicism and psychologism – the stress on historical investigation or religious experience as the ground of theology); 2. Idealistic epistemology and ethics; 3. the “Positives” (churchly Christianity or “religion”); and 4. Religious Socialism (center especially in the person of Leonhard Ragaz, though criticism of Hermann Kutter could also be found).
If there is a common thread which joins these four (in the details, quite different) movements, it is the element of individualism. Barth’s new theology represented an assault on a central feature of late nineteenth-century bourgeois culture: the understanding of the human individual as the creative subject of culture and history (and even of her own being and worth). Against the divisive individualism which had given rise to class warfare and world war, Barth posited a divine “universalism”: the God who is complete and whole in Himself prior to all knowledge of Him stands over against the whole of so-called “reality” judging it, condemning all so that He might elect all. Barth’s new theology was fundamentally anti-bourgeois in this sense: in stressing (as he did in Romans I that God and the knowledge of God are never the secure possession of human beings (but must be received anew in each moment), Barth was at the same time attacking a religion which had assimilated itself to the needs of idealistically construed cultural development; a religion which prided itself on being the animating principle for that development. He was attacking a religion which provided bourgeois culture with perhaps its most crucial ideological support.