Choosing to Become Who You Are: Authority and Freedom in Karl Barth’s Account of Moral Formation

  • Derek Alan Woodard-Lehman


In the wake of Immanuel Kant’s philosophical revolution, modern freedom has been defined as autonomy. As Kant puts it in his 1784 essay, “An Answer to the Question: ‘What Is Enlightenment?’ ” modern freedom requires breaking free from the “self-incurred minority” imposed by traditional forms of authority in order to think for oneself and to live a life of one’s own. Above all else, it requires breaking with the heteronomous and paternalistic authority of the church and religious tradition. This essay develops and defends Karl Barth’s account of Reformed tradition in order to demonstrate that neither the textual authority of scripture and the Confessions, nor the social authority of church, precludes modern freedom. With Barth, it reconceives authority in Reformed tradition as a form of freedom that incorporates Kantian self-legislation and Hegelian mutual recognition. Beyond Barth, it employs this reconception of authority and freedom to illustrate how Reformed practices of pedobaptism and catechism are nothing other than a highly formalized and dramatically ritualized praxis of moral formation meant to bring minors into their majority within the community.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Derek Alan Woodard-Lehman
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Theology and ReligionUniversity of OtagoWellingtonNew Zealand

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