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Whitworth professor's new book explores the heart of Karl Barth's theology

July 28, 2009
Adam Neder examines Barth's concept of "participation in Christ"

As a pastor, university professor, and the primary author of the Barmen Declaration, which resisted Nazism in the German Church, Karl Barth was a towering figure in 20th-century theology and church life. He was even once described by Pope Pius XII as the most important theologian since Thomas Aquinas (1225-74).

In his new book, Participation in Christ: An Entry into Karl Barth's 'Church Dogmatics' (Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), Whitworth Associate Professor of Theology Adam Neder offers a fresh perspective on a central theme in Barth's theology. By focusing on the role that participation in Christ played throughout Barth's 13-volume magnum opus, Neder shows that the concept was at the very core of Barth's theology, rather than a peripheral aspect of his thought, as some have believed.

"In more than 9,000 pages, Barth attempted to re-think the whole of Christian doctrine and ethics from a starting point in the person of Jesus Christ," Neder says. "The result is an unusually rewarding work of theology that is also notoriously difficult to understand. Until one develops a feel for the style and content of Barth's prose, reading the Church Dogmatics can be as disorienting as it is exhilarating."

Neder continues, "As I was trying to find a foothold in Barth's argument, I began to notice how often the theme of participation in Christ appears in Church Dogmatics. Eventually I realized that it is part of the fundamental core of Barth's theology, is present in virtually every part of the Church Dogmatics, and that understanding it is essential for understanding the work as a whole. That insight was the key that unlocked the Church Dogmatics for me."

Neder's work has been well received by a number of Barth scholars.

Richard Burnett, professor of systematic theology at Erskine Theological Seminary and author of Karl Barth's Theological Exegesis, says, "Given the enormous importance of the concept of participation in Barth's theology, Neder's work is most welcome. This is a clear, cogent, informative and edifying tour through the Church Dogmatics with no unnecessary detours. Well worth the trip."

Kimlyn Bender, author of Karl Barth's Christological Ecclesiology, highlights the significance of Neder's claim that Barth's doctrine of participation in Christ constitutes a major contribution to the church's understanding of salvation as participation in the being of God.

Bender writes, "Neder demonstrates that while Barth indeed resisted any traditional essentialist notions of deification, he was not adverse to the questions they attempted to address. Barth's own answer was a covenantal, historical understanding of participation in the life of God through union with Christ. This answer is ably set forth and examined by Neder, who illumines the ecumenical promise of Barth's understanding of participation and skillfully dispels common misunderstandings of Barth's theology along the way."

Participation in Christ: An Entry into Karl Barth's 'Church Dogmatics' is available for purchase at the Whitworth bookstore (509-777-4524), and from major bookstores online.

Adam Neder has taught theology at Whitworth since 2004, and was voted most influential male professor by the senior class of 2008. He received his M.Div. and Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary.

Located in Spokane, Wash., Whitworth is a private liberal arts university affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA). The university, which has an enrollment of 2,600 students, offers 53 undergraduate and graduate programs.


Adam Neder, associate professor of theology, Whitworth University, (509) 777-3743 or

Emily Proffitt, public information officer, Whitworth University, (509) 777-4703 or