The PostBarthian

Sign of the Gospel: A Post-Barthian Doctrine of Infant Baptism


The Sign of the Gospel: Toward an Evangelical Doctrine of Infant Baptism after Karl Barth by W. Travis McMaken

Karl Barth's rejection of infant baptism is as infamous as it is controversial. Opponents of Barth's doctrine of baptism have defended infant baptism with the historical, covenantal and sacramental arguments, with Oscar Cullmann's Baptism in the New Testament being among the best representatives of these arguments. George Hunsinger recommended to me in a personal correspondence,  W. Travis McMaken's book, The Sign of the Gospel: Toward an Evangelical Doctrine of Infant Baptism after Karl Barth as a post-Barthian solution for affirming infant baptism.

In The Sign of the Gospel, Dr. McMaken begins by assuming that Karl Barth's critique of infant baptism was correct and forges a new path for affirming infant baptism by using Barth against Barth, and therefore he goes through Karl Barth to a new and surprising solution to this ancient debate. McMaken's post-Barthian solution for affirming infant baptism may best be introduced in the following quotation from The Sign of the Gospel:

By way of recapitulation, perhaps the best way to describe my understanding in this volume is with reference to a quotation by Eberhard Jüngel. He claims that Barth's 'doctrine of baptism is . . . not an appendix to the Church Dogmatics, but rather . . . a test-case' such that anyone who 'wants infant baptism should not seek nourishment for the pulpit from Barth's doctrine of election. . . . It is one or the other—one must decide for oneself.' This volume has sought to demonstrate the former aspect of Jüngel's declaration while controverting the second. In other words, it defends two claims.

First, it demonstrates that Barth's doctrine of baptism in CD IV/4, and his rejection of infant baptism in particular, is not a final aberration of his theology but is deeply consistent with his mature theological commitments.

Second, it argues that Barth's theological commitments do not necessarily terminate in this fashion; that is, it is possible to advance a doctrine of baptism that is both consistent with Barth's mature theology and affirms infant baptism as a fitting form of baptismal administration.

McMaken, W. Travis, The Sign of the Gospel: Toward an Evangelical Doctrine of Infant Baptism after Karl Barth, Minneapolis: Fortress, 2013. pg275, Print. (formatting slightly modified)

I am surprised and impressed by The Sign of the Gospel because this book thoroughly defends the Barthian doctrine of baptism, and then moves through it and onward to a post-Barthian doctrine of infant baptism. McMaken demonstrates that there has been a superficial rejection of Karl Barth's arguments against infant baptism, as if the CD IV/4 fragment was only an appendix, rather than a test-case (as the previous quotation described). He has also shown that Markus Barth's works rejecting infant baptism were unjustly ignored or rejected in the same way that Barth's CD IV/4 fragment has been dismissed. (Markus Barth is Karl Barth's eldest son and accomplished theologian).

The Sign of the Gospel also contains excursuses explaining Karl Barth's rejection of the traditional prooftexts for infant baptism, and helpful explanations of Karl Barth's negative assessment of the sacramental and covenantal arguments based on these texts. Instead of these traditional prooftexts, McMaken points to the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 as the post-Barthian scriptural foundation for infant baptism. The Sign of the Gospel was able to explain Karl Barth's scriptural criticism in a way that I did not fully understand the first time I had read Karl Barth's CD IV/4 fragment on baptism. McMaken also demonstrates an excellent ecumenical stance on the doctrine of baptism, where those whom do not administer infant baptism and those whom do, may recognize each other's baptism. Also, I love that this book is titled, The Sign of the Gospel, which is from Calvin's commentary on the Great Commission in Calvin's commentary on the harmony of the gospels. The following second and longer quotation is a helpful overview of the arguments presented so far in The Sign of the Gospel:

I have endeavored in this chapter to construct a doctrine of baptism on the soil of Barth's mature theology where infant baptism is a legitimate form of the gospel proclamation by which the church discharges its missionary task. Although the decision for or against infant baptism must be a contextual one made by each church in its particular time and place, it is an inherently fitting mode of baptismal administration. To make this case, I undertook a reconfiguration of Barth's doctrine of baptism founded on critically assessing how he conceived of baptism's basis. By dismissing Barth's historical conjecture concerning Christian baptism's origin, and recovering the importance of Matthew 28:18-20 on Barthian grounds, I argued that baptism is best understood as a mode of gospel proclamation whereby the church discharges its missionary task, which exists in a close and mutually implicating relation with the church's instructional mode of the gospel proclamation. Jesus' baptism by John retains importance at this point insofar as it provides baptism's content, as well as its dimension of depth in Jesus Christ's saving history. With reference to baptism's goal, I argued that water baptism's primary goal is Spirit baptism and that it is thereby implicated in a stratified multiplicity of goals. The saving history of Jesus Christ grounds this relic complex, extending to the active discipleship of individual human beings that necessarily results from the Spirit's awakening work. I also argued here that the holistic particularity or objective-subjective character of water baptism when conceived as a mode of the church's gospel proclamation helps to make sense of the ethical force with which baptism is deployed in the New Testament. In terms of baptism's meaning, I argued four points.

First, Barth conceives of witness as the mode of the church's mediation, and he believes that the church's mediating witness is given a share in Jesus Christ's self-mediating self-witness in the event of awakening to conversion or, alternatively, Spirit baptism.

Second, how Barth conceives of this participation by the church's witness in Jesus Christ's self-witness is not accurately described by notions of parallel activity or of instrumentality; rather, Barth's far more radical conception of the relation between divine and human activity proposes their paradoxical identity. He arrives at this conception by rejecting the sort of causal thinking that depends on an analogia causalis between divine and human action. Instead of God simply extending his causality through the church's instrumentality or parallel with its activity, Jesus Christ himself encounters particular human beings in and as the church's proclamation.

Third, I understood to reread Barth's doctrine of baptism in order to demonstrate that such a position is not foreign to Church Dogmatics IV/4.

Fourth and finally, I argued that identifying that church's baptismal gospel proclamation as fundamentally an event of epiclesis allows for the church to administer baptism in confident and expectant hope that its prayer for the baptizand's Spirit baptism will be fulfilled, even though the church cannot say how or when that fulfillment will occur.

The doctrine of baptism that I have advanced is open to infant baptism insofar as I have argued that infant baptism is a fitting form of baptismal administration. This mirrors the New Testament witness in neither requiring nor forbidding the practice. Reading Barth against Barth, I argued that the most responsible theological position with reference to the New Testament witness requires that the church make a decision in every time and place concerning whether the baptism of infants is a proper application of the baptismal mode of its gospel proclamation undertaken in service to its missionary task. Further I argued that infant baptism practiced on the bias of the doctrine of baptism I advanced here avoids many of the dangers against which Barth warns.

McMaken, W. Travis, The Sign of the Gospel: Toward an Evangelical Doctrine of Infant Baptism after Karl Barth, Minneapolis: Fortress, 2013. pg273-274, Print. (formatting slightly modified)


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Karl Barth on Jesus Loves Me and Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star

Twinkle, Twinkle, little star.

Twinkle, Twinkle, little star.

In the lore of Karl Barth, are two nursery rhymes that Barth used his great wit to respond to questions.

Jesus Loves Me

According to the best accounts of the incident I have heard (many have taken on weird additions), Karl Barth was at Rockefeller Chapel (really a Gothic cathedral!) on the campus of the University of Chicago during his lecture tour of the U.S. in 1962. After his lecture, during the Q & A time, a student asked Barth if he could summarize his whole life’s work in theology in a sentence. Barth allegedly said something like “Yes, I can. In the words of a song I learned at my mother’s knee: ‘Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” That is the simple, unadorned story. Many tellers have adorned it with additions of their own (in sermons, etc.).

(source: Roger E. Olson, "Did Karl Barth Really Say “Jesus Loves Me, This I Know….?”")

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star

After the service in a parish church where Barth had been preaching one Sunday, he was met at the door by a man who greeted him with these words: "Professor Barth, thank you for your sermon. I'm an astronomer, you know, and as far as I am concerned, the whole of Christianity can be summed up by saying, 'Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.'" Barth replied: "Well, I am just a humble theologian, and as far as I am concerned, the whole of astronomy can be summed up by saying, 'Twinkle, twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are.'"

(source: John D. Godsey, ed. George Hunsinger, "For the Sake of the World: Karl Barth and the Future of Ecclesial Theology")


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Top 10 Inspirational Quotes of Karl Barth


Karl Barth (Old Age), source:

Karl Barth is notoriously difficult to quote. Is this bad? Nein! Karl Barth won the Sigmund Freud Price in 1968 for his literary style. Barth's literary genre may not easily lend to quotations, however the following ubiquitous quotes appear again and again and attributed to Karl Barth. After scouring the internet, the following quotations are the top ten most frequently quoted online. Were these quotations ever spoken by Karl Barth or Pseudo-Karl Barth? You decide!

1. Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.

2. Laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God.

3. Take your Bible and your newspaper and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.

4. To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world

5. The best theology would need no advocates; it would prove itself.

6. Jesus does not give recipes that show the way to God as other teachers of religion do. He is himself the way.

7. Courage is fear that has said its prayers.

8. Preachers should have the bible in one hand and newspapers in the other

9. [To a student] I haven't even read everything I wrote.

10. When the angels sing for God, they sing Bach; when they sing for themselves, they sing Mozart and God eavesdrops

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Karl Barth’s Letter Endorsing Hans Küng’s Justification

Hans Kung and Karl Barth

Hans Kung and Karl Barth

Karl Barth responded to Hans Küng's book, Justification: The Doctrine of Karl Barth and a Catholic Reflection. in the follow letter with this remarkable endorsement of Hans Küng's book! Karl Barth had written in his Church Dogmatics Vol. 4 that only a superficial Protestant would be able to accept the Canons of Trent that condemned Justification By Faith Alone (especially Canon 12.) Yet, in the following letter, Barth changes his position after reading Küng's Justification and declares that he approves of Küng's assessment of the Roman Catholic doctrine of Justification, and Trent was no longer a barrier for him in terms of reconciliation between the separated Churches.

Justification has tremendously influential over the last fifty years. Karl Rahner wrote about Justification in an essay in Theological Investigations Vol. IV, that Karl Barth's approval of Hans Küng's Justification should be accepted despite critics that believed that Barth's Church Dogmatics could not be harmonzedrather than those who say that Barth's Dogmatics is not correctly represented by Küng. Karl Rahner also provides an amazing endorsement of Hans Küng in heological Investigations Vol. IV, when Rahner wrote, "One can be a Catholic and hold this doctrine of justification, which Karl Barth has declared to be the same as his own." Continue reading...

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Hans Küng explains Karl Barth’s Rejections of the Tridentine Teaching on Justification

Barth with his brother Peter, his son Markus and Ernst Wolf in Florence, on a happy trip to Italy in September 1934. In Rome Barth wrote his No!, attacking Emil Brunner, and arguing that 'natural theology' was the chief cause of the present confusion in the church. (source:

In this quotation from Hans Küng's book, Justification: The Doctrine of Karl Barth and a Catholic ReflectionKarl Barth's criticisms of the Council of Trent are presented, and later in the book, Küng responds in an excellent show to Barth's critiques. So much that Barth writes an amazing letter of approval to Küng's book. I previously shared a letter containing a summary of Barth's criticisms of catholicism, but the following quotation gets to the heart of the matter, and that is the question of Justification.

Why are Catholics and Protestants separated brothers and sisters? What is the one issue the divides us all? Is it not, as Martin Luther said, that "justification by faith alone" is the "doctrine by which the church stands or falls"? Marian Dogmas or Papal Infallibility are contentious debates, but Justification is the central doctrine of the Reformation that separates Protestants and Catholics from one another. If it is justification that separates us, what is it specifically about justification that divides the Church?

Küng's Justification is a miraculous answer to our divided Church! In this book, the question of Justification is answered in a way that may unite the global church, and find fulfillment to Jesus' prayer that we would be one as he is one with the Father. Continue reading...

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Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Baptism and Rejection of Infant Baptism

Karl and Nelly Barth with Markus (aged 1) and Franziska (2) in 1916, just as he was beginning work on his commentary on Romans.

Karl and Nelly Barth with Markus (aged 1) and Franziska (2) in 1916, just as he was beginning work on his commentary on Romans. (source:

Karl Barth's rejection of Infant Baptism is infamous, yet gravely misunderstood, because he also rejected rebaptism. Karl Barth was baptized as an infant, and refused to be rebaptized as an adult, even after he had rejected the practice of Infant Baptism. Barth seconded Augustine's affirmation of heretical baptism that improperly performed baptism were to be accepted as true baptism and for this reason, those who have been Infant Baptism likewise should not be rejected or rebaptized. This is an incredibly helpful and ecumenical solution to the pathology of rebaptism in American Evangelical Churches.

I am a Presbyterian and Infant Baptism is a normative practice for me and Barth's rejection of Infant Baptism is problem for me! I've discovered an excellent book, The Sign of the Gospel: Toward and Evangelical Doctrine of Infant Baptism after Karl Barth by W. Travis McMaken to help me sort through Barth's rejection of a baptismal practice I dearly love. Continue reading...

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Jürgen Moltmann on Homosexuality vs Fundamentalists

1024px-Rainbow_flag_breezeIn the 2009 Emergent Village Theological Conversations conference, Jürgen Moltmann made several statements on Homosexuality:

TONY JONES: There's a lot of strife in the American Church, and as I look at it, it almost all boils down to biblical hermeneutic. You may say its about gay marriage, you may say its about whether women should preach, and you may say its about different denominations, and you may peal away the layers andyou get down to 'we just read the bible differently than you do' and different camps all read it differently. You've answered it already, but I just want to hear it reiterated, you are advocated a hermeneutic, a biblical hermeneutic, that is reading what's closest whats closest to Christ, reading a passage as it can be closest to Christ. The next question is, how do you, by what criteria, do you determine what is closest to Christ? In what I appreciate, even in the title of your book, 'Experiences in Theology', you don't discount personal experience in developing that hermeneutic.

JÜRGEN MOLTMANN:Well, my question to some of the Fundamentalists is "Do you really read the bible?" and the second questions is, "Do you really understand what you are reading?" Just to quote the bible on so-called homosexual-persons is wrong because the term does not appear in the original hebrew words, and so I can go on into that debate, but so we should not leave biblical hermeneutics to Fundamentals who only believe in the fifteen fundamentals and not in the rest."

Jurgen Moltmann, 2009 Emergent Village Theological Conversations Conference, session 2, 41h00m

The @Moltmanniac has an additional audio clip/transcript on the topic of homosexuality that is related to this discussion:

Continue reading...

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Jürgen Moltmann on Unfinished Summas and Natural Theology

Unfinished Barcelona Cathedral (Sagrada)

Unfinished Barcelona Cathedral (Sagrada)

Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics is 8,000 pages and unfinished. Thomas Aquinas' great theological system, The Summa Theologica, is unfinished too. All the medieval summas are unfinished in the same way as the medieval summas are unfinished. The post-magesterial reformers of the 16th and 17th century also produced summas during the Protestant Scholasticism period and they are unfinished as well. Why is this? In the following audio clip (and transcript), Jürgen Moltmann answers this question. Completion is an attribute of God, not of Man.

The audio answers a second question of Natural Theology. Karl Barth's Nien to Natural Theology, is among the loudest No's in the history of Theology. Yet, in CD IV/3, Karl Barth finds a hidden Yes to Natural Theology in his No to Email Brunner. Jürgen Moltmann explains how the ecological crisis has driven him to find a secret Yes to Natural Theology in the way that a car's headlights illuminate the reflectors of the car they shine upon.

There two excellent answers by the greatest living theologian are well worth hearing:

Continue reading...

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Jürgen Moltmann on Replacing the Our Father prayer with the Abba Dear Father

In response to a question by Danielle Shroyer, Jürgen Moltmann says that the Lord's Prayer should use the form "Abba, Dear Father" as the opening line, rather than the traditional form, "Our Father, Who Art In Heaven" as found in Matthew's Gospel. The traditional form may be misunderstood as an affirmation of Patriarchalism and as saying God is far away from us and not near and dear to us. Listen to the following audio clip to hear Moltmann explain why.

(download: moltmann-abba-dear-father)

DANIELLE SHROYER: “I really appreciate the way you restructured or helped us to reorient our understanding of the unity of the trinity. Because it seems in Western Theology, when we talk about the Trinity, the numbers sort of mess with us and we try to figure out to be three in one well you were very clearly stating Jesus, ‘I and the father are one’ and not, ‘I and the father are one in the same’. And as a pastor, that’s helpful for me because we’re not a doctrine based church, so when people come and say ‘what do you believe about x’ or ‘what is your statement on this.’ We often say ‘there are lot of different beliefs in our church’ and then they say ‘what holds you together.’ And we say, this unity comes not through our doctrine but the face that we feel that Christ provides a unity far about that, right? So can you talk a little bit more that because for many of us in the room who are pastors who have congregations who disagree on a number of different doctrines, this gift of the unity of the trinity, that doesn’t have to be ‘sameness’ is a really important thing for us.

JÜRGEN MOLTMANN: “Let me first say. Jesus addressed, his God as Abba dear Father. The apostle Paul heard the Abba Prayer in Galatia and in Rome, but after the first century the Abba Prayer disappeared from the Christian congregations and was replaced by “Our Father Who Is In Heaven” with a far distance and with the possible misunderstanding of Patriarchalism where the Father in Heaven and the father in the family, etcetera, and the father of the fatherland, etcetera and etcetera. If we were to reintroduce into our congregations and our personal lives, the abba prayer, we would feel the nearness of Jesus in the moment. So I tried to convince the congregations in Tübingen to reintroduce the Abba prayer and replace the “Our Father In Heaven, Hollowed Be Thy Name”, with “Abba, Dear Father, Hollowed Be Thy Name”, because then you are already in the Trinity, while the Father of the Fatherland and the Father of the Universe is another concept of Fatherhood. And what keeps us together… well, the Trinitarian persons, in their mutual indwelling in their perichoresis are not only three persons, but also three rooms. they give room for indwelling of the other persons in them. So God the Father gives room to Jesus to dwell in him, and he dwells in Jesus. To give room to each other means what we are doing and if we accept other people, open our life and our houses, in love and friendship to them, we give them a life space in which they can breathe freely and reveal themselves, go out of themselves, etcetera, if we give no living space to other people, to exclude them, or to shut them out, or become aggressive, the other people will retire into themselves and become defensive. We all do this, and therefore this room giving to each other, is the best way to respond to the triune god. And perhaps this is what you are doing in your church.

Daniel Shroyer and Jürgen Moltmann, Emergent Village Theological Conversations 2009 Conference, End of Part1,

(original source:

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Jürgen Moltmann at the Emergent Village Theological Conversation in 2009 (audio)

Tony Jones and Jurgen Moltmann

Tony Jones and Jurgen Moltmann at the 2009 Emergent Village Theological Conversations Conference

Tony Jones shared the 2009 Emergent Village Theological Conversations conference with Jürgen Moltmann available online. The following is a mirror of that conference and contains some of the most amazing theology content I've ever encountered in a podcast.

Jürgen Moltmann is the greatest Theologian alive today. He is a German Reformed Theologian who wrote famous titles such as The Crucified God, The Theology of Hope, and The Coming of God and his autobiography, A Broad Place.

Jürgen Moltmann at the 2009 Emergent Village Theological Conversation

Jürgen Moltmann - Preamble (mp3)
Jürgen Moltmann - Part 1 (mp3)
Jürgen Moltmann - Part 2 (mp3)
Jürgen Moltmann - Part 3 (mp3)
Jürgen Moltmann - Part 4 (mp3)
Jürgen Moltmann - Part 5 (mp3)
Jürgen Moltmann - Part 6 (mp3)

For more resources on Jürgen Moltmann, see the

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