Woke Karl Barth

“If love is the essence and totality of the good demanded of us, how can it be known that we love?”

Karl Barth

We think in groups and live in tribes. It’s hard to believe anything that doesn’t align with a big group of folks. The historical struggle between economic classes is shifting to a conflict between specific identity groups. This is a consequence of the failure of Marxism in practice. I’ve been given a front-row seat to observe that the power in our culture is increasingly concentrated into a few geographic regions that control business, marketing and media. Old ideas are recycled into weapons to gain political power as new groups align to seek their own self-interest. This leaves a lot of us confused as we try to live authentic and peaceful lives in light of constantly changing goalposts.

One way to view history is by teasing out the changes in hopes and fears. All people are constantly trying to be safe and in control of their lives, and some people (generally the *elite* which has been everything from the church to the secular left) are always trying to control others. It is a modern activity to leverage technology and the marketplace of ideas as a means to power. Since the 15th century, Europe has been the source of radical transformation. The shift from pre-Modernity to Modernity ushered in an era of constant change starting with the Italian Renaissance, followed by the growth of Humanism and the Reformation movement. The colonization of the East and the Americas, the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, new nationalistic states and the Industrial Revolution made all this spin faster. However, nothing accelerated things more than technology and the ability to record and share scientific knowledge. (cf Karl Barth, Die Protestantische Theologie im 19. Jahrhundert)

Things looked rosy for America and the West at the start of the 20th century. Scientists performed Miracles. Automobiles, modern factories, new medicines and aircraft gave the news a constant stream of novel wonders to share. Western countries were confident of their superiority as they reached the zenith of their political and economic power. This was coincident with an age where many theologians were optimistically convinced of man’s natural ability to know God and speak about God. They believed theology needed to be as “scientific” as all the other sciences. They were convinced that it would be possible to speak about God in scientific terms, based on the innate qualities of humanity. Human reason, experience, morality and history became the foundation of religious discourse. There were no doubts about our ability to improve and reshape society with the aid of scientific knowledge. Scientists were convinced that unlimited progress would create a better and brighter future for all people. Dreamers were in vogue reading novels such as Jules Verne’s, From the Earth to the Moon (De la terre à la lune), — the story of the Baltimore Gun Club and their attempts to build an enormous space gun which could launch the club’s president and a French poet to the moon.


World War I changed everything. Optimism was replaced by fear, and by the knowledge that science and technology not only facilitated the progress and well-being of humanity, but also the devastation of society and the destruction of humanity. This realization caused a major crisis in European society.

It was this crisis that led to our current discussion of critical race theory, which is an offshoot of critical theories that trace back to intellectuals, academics, and political dissidents dissatisfied with the contemporary socio-economic systems (capitalist, fascist, communist) of the 1930s. The Frankfurt School was an ideological consolation prize for the Marxists of the failed German Revolution of 1918-19, in the same way that Woke Progressivism was a consolation prize for those of the failed Revolution of ‘68. It was originally located at the Institute for Social Research (Institut für Sozialforschung), an attached institute at the Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany. The Institute was founded in 1923 thanks to a donation by Felix Weil with the aim of developing Marxist studies in Germany. After 1933, the Nazis forced its closure, and the Institute was moved to the United States where it found hospitality at Columbia University in New York City. The Frankfurt theorists proposed that social theory was inadequate for explaining the turbulent political factionalism and reactionary politics that arose from 20th century liberal capitalist societies. Criticism of capitalism and of Marxism–Leninism as philosophically inflexible systems of social organization, the School’s critical theory research indicated alternative paths to realizing the social development of a society and a nation.

The academic influence of the critical method is far reaching. Some of the key issues and philosophical preoccupations of the School involve the critique of modernity and capitalist society, the definition of social emancipation, as well as the detection of the pathologies of society.

The legacy of the Frankfurt School is Critical Theory, which is a full-fledged philosophical and sociological movement spread across many universities around the world. Critical Theory provides a specific interpretation of Marxist philosophy with regards to some of its central economic and political notions like commodification, reification, fetishization and critique of mass culture. Marxism led to the Frankfurt School, which led to Critical Theory, followed by Critical Legal Studies, and finally Critical Race Theory. The end result today of all this in the public square is a post-modern struggle between culture and races that emphasizes lived experience over liberal argumentation and truth discovery. When people often talk past each other, they are failing to realize that they operate in wholly different truth systems.

Dudes with Ideas

In emphasizing lived experience over other sources of truth such as science and reason, everything is viewed as a racial power struggle. Philosophically, we trade Kant’s logical system for Foucault’s rejection of the knowability of anything. Marx’s fervent calls for bloody class warfare are replaced with an equally fervent focus on inter-racial dynamics as CRT assumes a priori that racism is present in everything under a doctrine known as “systemic racism.”

Karl Barth thinking and writing

Enter Karl Barth (1886-1968), the local pastor of the small industrial town of Safenwil in the Swiss canton of Aargau. A fascinating fellow, he is no evangelical, but is the father of neo-orthodoxy and crisis theology. He addressed critical theory with a focus on the sinfulness of humanity, God’s absolute transcendence, and the human inability to know God except through revelation. The critical nature of his theology came to be known as “dialectical theology,” or “the theology of crisis.” This initiated a trend toward neo-orthodoxy in Protestant theology. The neo-orthodoxy of Karl Barth reacted strongly against liberal Protestant neglect of historical revelation. He wanted to lead theology away from the influence of modern religious philosophy, with its emphasis on feeling and humanism, and back to the principles of the Reformation and the teachings of the Bible.

Karl Barth presciently used the modern language of Wokeness in his defense of orthodoxy. He defined the entire life of Christian discipleship as people who are continually reawakened – continuous repentance, continuous transformation, continuous renewal. Barth was careful to say that Christians aren’t the people who are awake vs. everybody else who’s asleep. Christians are those who constantly stand in need of reawakening from the sleep of all kinds of errors and “fantasies and falsehoods.” To Barth, we have to be on guard so we don’t fall asleep to what’s true, and what’s coming to us in Jesus’ way of love and peace.

Barth departed from evangelicals in his view that the Bible not as the actual revelation of God but as only the record of that revelation. To Barth, God’s single revelation occurred in Jesus Christ. In short, Barth rejected two main lines of interest in Protestant theology of that time: historical criticism of the Bible and attempt to find justification for religious experience from philosophy and other sources. Barth saw in historical criticism great value on its own level, but it often led Christians to lessen the significance of the testimony of the apostolic community to Jesus as being based on faith and not on history. Theology that uses philosophy is always on the defensive and more anxious to accommodate the Christian faith to others than to pay attention to what the Bible really says.

“The person who knows only his side of the argument knows little of that.” — Karl Barth

Barth stays out of the evangelical camp due to his view of the individual’s role in scriptural interpretation. John Calvin, by contrast, emphasizes the inspiration of Scripture, the text itself being God-breathed, regardless of whether or how believers receive it. Barth prefers to speak of the out-breathing of the Spirit of God in both the text and the believer, thus distancing himself both from the exegesis of Scripture and from the Reformed tradition.

However, Barth is a bold defender of the rights of the individual and for the goodness of self-criticism. One of my favorite Barth stories tells of a letter he received which said Professor Barth, I have discovered the following contradictions in your writings, what do you say about these contradictions? And Barth ostensibly wrote back and said: Well, here are some others. And lists a few more contradictions. Yours faithfully . . . This is a powerful statement of the liberal idea of welcoming self-criticism.

This is in contrast to the anti-liberal idea articulated by critical race theory that race is a political construction that was invented by white people to give themselves power while excluding all other races from it, and racism is the ordinary state of affairs in society, present in all interactions, institutions, and phenomena, and effectively permanent in society. Karl Barth would be a powerful force for dialogue in an age where conservatives have to hide their views while activist groups use well orchestrated pressure to isolate and marginalize non-conformity. 

This is why I find such joy in revisiting Karl Barth. He passes my “coffee test” where I know I would enjoy a sit-down with him. He combines love and grace with an intense pursuit of the truth and then dares to think original thoughts. The fact he doesn’t fit in my American Evangelical tribe is a welcome bonus. I’m pretty sure everything I believe is wrong in some way. Both my orthodox theology, my teleology and my scientific worldview compel me to admit that every tenant I hold should be tested and improved. This is why I love voices that start with grace and end with brilliance. I’m open to change and hunger to learn, but skeptical of political agendas. I’m aware that history is the story of power politics. Oppression is real, but doesn’t belong to one identity. Insight and wisdom are real, but don’t belong to one group. He shares that we are all equally guilty, and equally deserving of grace. Karl Barth preached, wrote and shared his wisdom by inviting others to learn. He and I share the same loves (wisdom, Jesus, learning and talking) and many of the same convictions (that grace and redemption are real, possible and freely available). I’m glad he took to the time to share his thoughts as they are a great comfort in times such as these.

Nginx With Https for Local Development

Testing HTTPs locally is always hard, but I’m against testing on production or even on a remote server.
Things are also complicated by developing in linux as a subsystem on windows via WSL2. I was able to use mkcert to get ssl to work locally.
While I would love to use Let’s Encrypt locally, Let’s Encrypt can’t provide certificates for “localhost” because nobody uniquely owns it. Because of this, they recommend you generate your own certificate, either self-signed or signed by a local root, and trust it in your operating system’s trust store. Then use that certificate in your local web server. They describe this well on their website.

Using certificates from real certificate authorities (CAs) for development can be dangerous or impossible (for hosts like example.test, localhost or, but self-signed certificates cause trust errors. Managing my own CA may be the best solution, but mkcert automatically creates and installs a local CA in the system root store, and generates locally-trusted certificates. I was able to modify my nginx.conf with the my container test environment and open the necessary ports in docker-compose (- 443:443) to get this working just fine.
You can see my working code here on a new git branch.

upstream flask-web {
server flask:5000;

upstream lochagus-web {
server lochagus:8080;

server {
listen 80;
listen [::]:80;

location / {
root /usr/share/nginx/html/;
try_files $uri /index.html;

charset utf-8;
source_charset utf-8;

location /flask {
include /etc/nginx/conf.d/headers.conf;
proxy_pass http://flask-web/;

location /lochagus {
include /etc/nginx/conf.d/headers.conf;
proxy_pass http://lochagus-web/;


server {
listen 443 ssl http2;
listen [::]:443 ssl http2;
server_name tim.test.org;

charset utf-8;
source_charset utf-8;

location / {
root /usr/share/nginx/html/;
try_files $uri /index.html;

location /flask {
include /etc/nginx/conf.d/headers.conf;
proxy_pass http://flask-web/;

location /lochagus {
include /etc/nginx/conf.d/headers.conf;
proxy_pass http://lochagus-web/;

ssl_certificate /etc/nginx/certs/tim.test.org.pem;
ssl_certificate_key /etc/nginx/certs/tim.test.org-key.pem;


Containers Are My Proxy Pass Tutor

I have to build and interact with things to understand them. At MIT, we focused on combination of thought and practical action to solve current and future problems and our motto (mens et manus) combines application (hand) and theory (mind).
By day, I’m leading adoption of containers and automation technologies to drive big changes in enabling software reusability. By night, I’m using containers to teach me new programming languages, interfaces and networking concepts. Last week, I wanted to learn how reverse proxies work and wanted to use containers and some familiar technology express, flask, nginx and docker to help me.
First, I’m sharing this because I wish this existed out there to learn from, so please head to gitlab https://gitlab.com/tim284/nginx_proxy_test and clone this and let me know if you do anything awesome with it.
Because I like Plutarch in general and studying the Battle of Thermopylae in particular, you will notice a theme. (Please, the movie is all cool, but nothing close to reading the Gates of Fire.)


Containers are a solution to the problem of how to get software to run reliably when moved from one computing environment to another. The basic idea is to have the complexity and overhead that you want. Instead of using a full operating system in a virtual machine, you can use the bits you want and need. A container consists of an entire runtime environment: an application, plus all its dependencies, libraries and other binaries, and configuration files needed to run it, bundled into one package. By containerizing the application platform and its dependencies, differences in OS distributions and underlying infrastructure are abstracted away.


I created two express applications, one Flask and one static site. I run the active apps in containers and use nginx reverse proxy to present them. The static HTML page connects through a docker volume. Free Code Camp wrote a nice tutorial that explains this type of setup.
One of the key concepts I had to learn was how networking works in Docker. This seemed like a right of passage I needed to know to work with containers in general. This article helped me a lot.


Complexity continues to increase with continuous new introduction of new programming languages, hardware, architectures, frameworks, and discontinuous interfaces between tools for each lifecycle stage. Containers allow you to focus on what you are building and quickly adapt new technology. Most important, I can quickly change and reuse things to learn a lot quickly. It can be hard to remain a full stack developer, a dad and a business leader. Docker simplifies a lot of things I don’t have time to learn and accelerates my workflow to allow me to experiment and innovate with different tools, application stacks, and deployment environments.
For this experiment, I use docker-compose to pull in images of nginx, flask, express and the redis database.


Nginx is a popular web server (23.21% of sites) that can also be used as a reverse proxy, load balancer, mail proxy and HTTP cache. The software was created by Igor Sysoev and publicly released in 2004. A company of the same name was founded in 2011 to provide support and Nginx Plus paid software. In March 2019, the company was acquired by F5 Networks for $670 million. What a crazy startup idea: take an open source project, improve and support it and start a company (github, Nginx, etc).
Nginx is built to handle many concurrent connections at the same time. It can handle more than 10,000 simultaneous connections with a low memory footprint (~2.5 MB per 10k inactive HTTP keep-alive connections). This makes it ideal for being the point-of-contact for clients. The server can pass requests to any number of backend servers to handle the bulk of the work, which spreads the load across your infrastructure. This design also provides you with flexibility in easily adding backend servers or taking them down as needed for maintenance.
Another instance where an http proxy might be useful is when using an application servers that might not be built to handle requests directly from clients in production environments. Many frameworks include web servers, but most of them are not as robust as servers designed for high performance like Nginx. Putting Nginx in front of these servers can lead to a better experience for users and increased security. This post from Digital Ocean is awesome at explaining all of this.

Reverse Proxy

A proxy means that information is going through a third party, before getting to the location. Why use it? For example, if you don’t want a service to know your IP, you can use a proxy. A proxy is a server that has been set up specifically for this purpose. If the proxy server you are using is located in, for example, Amsterdam, the IP that will be shown to the outside world is the IP from the server in Amsterdam. The only ones who will know your IP are the ones in control of the proxy server.
Proxying in Nginx is accomplished by manipulating a request aimed at the Nginx server and passing it to other servers for the actual processing. The result of the request is passed back to Nginx, which then relays the information to the client. The other servers in this instance can be remote machines, local servers, or even other virtual servers defined within Nginx. The servers that Nginx proxies requests to are known as upstream servers.
A reverse proxy, by contrast, will not mask outgoing connections (you accessing a webserver), it will mask the incoming connections (people accessing your webserver). You simply provide a URL like example.com, and whenever people access that URL, your reverse proxy will take care of where that request goes.
Here I’m using a reverse proxy so I can have services running on a several ports, but I only expose ports 80 and 443, HTTP and HTTPS respectively. All requests will be coming into my network on those two ports, and the reverse proxy will take care of the rest.
Nginx can proxy requests to servers that communicate using the http(s), FastCGI, SCGI, and uwsgi, or memcached protocols through separate sets of directives for each type of proxy. The Nginx instance is responsible for passing on the request and massaging any message components into a format that the upstream server can understand.
My Nginx config below allowed me to proxy_pass to the upstream servers that Docker created.

First, I need some apps to serve content and in order to make sure I’m understanding how to proxy to different services, I use both JavaScript (Express) and Python (Flask).


Express.js, or simply Express, is a back end web application framework for Node.js, released as free and open-source software under the MIT License. It is designed for building web applications and APIs. It has been called the de facto standard server framework for Node.js. I like it because I can create a web application in several lines.

Flask App

Flask is the most minimal python web application framework. My app is bare-bones simple and just returns some basic text.

Static Page

In order to test the most basic feature of nginx, I build a static page.


First I want to see all of my containers running:

➜  proxy_test git:(master) ✗ docker ps
CONTAINER ID   IMAGE                 COMMAND                  CREATED         STATUS         PORTS                                         NAMES
ac83546944da   nginx                 "/docker-entrypoint.…"   5 minutes ago   Up 5 minutes>80/tcp, :::80->80/tcp             proxy_test_webserver_1
36d93cfe4a41   proxy_test_flask      "/bin/sh -c 'python …"   7 hours ago     Up 7 hours>5000/tcp, :::5000->5000/tcp     proxy_test_flask_1
30f29133b42a   proxy_test_lochagus   "docker-entrypoint.s…"   7 hours ago     Up 7 hours>8080/tcp, :::49160->8080/tcp   proxy_test_lochagus_1
0d1a98a27730   proxy_test_leonidas   "docker-entrypoint.s…"   7 hours ago     Up 7 hours>8080/tcp, :::49161->8080/tcp   proxy_test_leonidas_1
4770b2726dfd   redis                 "docker-entrypoint.s…"   7 hours ago     Up 7 hours     6379/tcp                                      proxy_test_redis_1

and, does it work?
curl -i localhost produces my static page. but most important, curl -i localhost/flask produces dynamic content.

HTTP/1.1 200 OK
Server: nginx/1.21.0
Date: Sun, 06 Jun 2021 10:09:03 GMT
Content-Type: text/html; charset=utf-8
Content-Length: 51
Connection: keep-alive

This Compose/Flask demo has been viewed 23 time(s).%

Next Steps

This is just the beginning. Next, I’m going to use gitlab to deploy all of this let’s encrypt to secure all of the traffic and more.