Don Dayton on Barth and Various Evangelicalisms

In this excerpt, Dayton speaks of a sabbatical he spent in Tübingen, interacting with the German equivalent of those called “evangelicals” in the USA. During this trip he discovered Busch’s book on Barth and Pietism, which helped him find clarity on various aspects of evangelical heritage and Barth’s value as a conversation partner.

Donald W. Dayton, “Foreward,” Karl Barth & the Pietists: The Young Karl Barth’s critique of Pietism & Its Response, Eberhard Busch (Daniel W. Bloesch, trans.; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004): x.
I was used to the typical American distinction between “conservative” and “liberal” theology. [German evangelicals] spoke of the contrast between “academic” (Universitätstheologie) theology and “church” theology (Gemeindetheologie). They took their clues not so much from the fundamentalist-modernist controversy as from the earlier Pietist currents of the seventeenth and eighteenth century as they were reshaped in the nineteenth century into the various Gemeinschaften (“fellowship” groups in the Lutheran national churches) by the ministry of Robert Pearsall Smith…I soon discovered I was in quite a different theological culture, one that actually assumed Kierkegaard was a Christian and took seriously Schleiermacher’s claim to be a “Herrenhutter {the center of the Pietism of Count Zinzendorf} of a higher order.” Such an orientation was unthinkable in American “evangelicalism,” especially in the age of the ascendancy of Francis Schaeffer.

Reflecting on such themes led me to distinguish meanings of the word evangelical that are kept separate in German but collapsed in popular English usage. I began to distinguish the Reformation use of the word (evangelisch) from the eighteenth century use in the awakening tradition of the “evangelical revival” (pietistisch, or rooted in the Theologie der Erweckungsbewegung or Gemeinschaftsbewegung) and even from the modern neo-evangelical use derived from the twentieth century fundamentalist-modernist controversy (evangelikal). Each of these meanings of the word has a separate and different dialogue with Barth.


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