Princeton, NJ, June 19, 2012–This week Princeton Theological Seminary’s Center for Barth Studies held a three-day conference attended by 60 participants in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Karl Barth’s only visit to the United States. In 1962, the man that many consider to be most influential theologian of the twentieth century delivered the annual B.B. Warfield Lectures at Princeton Seminary. (Warfield was professor of theology at Princeton from 1887 to 1921 and was considered the last of the great Princeton theologians before the split in 1929 that formed Westminster Seminary and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.) Barth made the trip to America just after his retirement from his professorship at the University of Basel.

karl barthBarth’s visit coincided with the Seminary’s 150 anniversary; this year the Seminary is marking its Bicentennial year.

Barth’s 1962 lectures in Princeton and at the University of Chicago were subsequently published as a book titled Evangelical Theology.

Dr. Bruce McCormick, and a Barth scholar on the Princeton Seminary faculty, opened the conference, which he said “brings together emerging and leading scholars of Karl Barth to think together about his significance for American theology past, present, and future.” Conference speakers included, among others, Dr. Hans-Anton Drewes from the Karl Barth Archive in Basel, Switzerland, and Dr. Daniel Migliore, emeritus professor of theology at Princeton Seminary. Migliore began his remarks by noting that this year marks the 50th anniversary of his joining the Princeton faculty, and of his meeting Barth.

Migliore, who taught Barth’s theology while on the Princeton faculty, said that Barth’s 1962 lectures in Princeton, which became the first five chapters of Evangelical Theology, dealt with the dependence of theology at every point on the freedom of the Holy Spirit. “Barth’s theology was free from all ideological straight jackets,” he said, “and also free from all theological orthodoxies. The watchword of Barth’s theology is God’s freedom, which supports human freedom.”

barth conference 2012In contrasting the theology of Barth and Warfield, Migliore pointed out the different emphases in each, including in their understanding of the Holy Spirit in witness of scripture, in the person and work of Christ, and in the life of the Triune God. In spite of significant differences between the two theologians, he concluded that there is room in Reformed theology for divergence, and for the “stretching of our theological imagination.” He continued, “Both were brothers in the faith, provocative, and huge contributors to the theological conversation. As Karl Barth once said of him and his theological colleague Emile Brunner, [we] are like the elephant and the whale—both God’s creatures but not always able to meet.”

The conference took place over four days (Sunday through Wednesday) and featured eleven speakers, including, in addition to Drewes and Migliore, Dr. Peter Paris, emeritus professor of Christian social ethics at Princeton Seminary, Dr. Jessica DeCou from the University of Chicago Divinity School, Cambria Janae Kaltwasser, doctoral candidate at Princeton Seminary, Dr. Katherine Sonderegger, professor of theology at Virginia Theological Seminary, Dr. Adam Neder, associate professor of theology at Whitworth University, Dr. Kevin Hector, assistant professor of theology and of the philosophy of religions at The University of Chicago Divinity School, David Congdon, doctoral candidate at Princeton Seminary, Dr. Gerald McKenny, professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame, and Dr. George Hunsinger, professor of systematic theology at Princeton Seminary. The conference concluded with a panel discussion on Wednesday afternoon.

Princeton Seminary was established in 1812 by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church as a post-graduate professional school of theology. Currently celebrating its Bicentennial, Princeton is the largest Presbyterian seminary in the country, with more than 500 students in six graduate degree programs.

Pictured from left to right: Kevin W. Hector, Daniel Migliore, Bruce McCormack, Peter Paris, Hans-Anton Drewes, Gerald McKenny, and Clifford Anderson