Barth on Freedom in the Spirit

Karl Barth was a neo-orthodox thinker who, in response to rampant liberalism, integrated existential thought with Christian theology in order to create a new dynamism in Christian thought and life. His pneumatology emphasizes the Holy Spirit’s role in the individual believer as the source of divine love, hope, and faith. In this week’s readings, I was particularly interested in Barth’s observation that the Spirit is the Christian’s source of freedom or liberty. As Barth puts it, “…the Spirit, working in the ambiance of divine freedom, creates human freedom.” (Barth, Evangelical Theology)

According to Barth, we experience freedom in the Spirit in various ways. First, we are freed from bondage to human religion: “Woe be to us, if from the summits of religion there pours forth nothing but religion! Religion casts us into the deepest of all prisons: it cannot liberate us. Flesh is flesh; and all that takes place within its sphere, every step we undertake towards God, is as such weak. Because of the qualitative distinction between God and man the history of religion, Church History, is weak, utterly weak.” (Barth, The Epistle to the Romans)

Second, “It is that flowing air and moving atmosphere in which men may live, think, and speak wholly and entirely freed from presuppositions.” (Barth, Evangelical Theology) Palma explains this freedom from presuppositions as, “Man’s freedom means liberation from all the presuppositions conditioning and limiting God and himself. It means liberation from every arbitrary presupposition and therefore from himself.” (Robert J. Palma, Karl Barth’s Theology of Culture) Barth is thus comparing the liberty from self with liberty from cultural conditioning and false religious concepts. We experience this liberty to know God free from self-made or socially imposed religious pre-beliefs…God reveals Himself directly to us through His Spirit. I find these concepts by Barth particularly thought-provoking and inspiring.