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Remembering Karl Barth

Karl Barth died 41 years ago today.

Here are a few of my favourite quotes from him:

On his own theology:

My whole theology, you see, is fundamentally a theology for parsons. It grew out of my own situation when I had to teach and preach and counsel a little. (From a radio broadcast made shortly before Barth’s death. Quoted from William Willimon, Conversations with Barth on Preaching, Abingdon Press, 2006.)

On the reason for theology:

The normal and central fact with which dogmatics has to do is, very simply, the Church’s Sunday sermon of yesterday and to-morrow, and so it will continue to be.” (Church Dogmatics I/1, p91)

On theological method

Jesus Christ, as he is attested to us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God whom we have to hear, and whom we have to trust and obey in life and in death.  (Article 1 of the Barmen Declaration)


On the bible:

“The Bible says all sorts of things, certainly; but in all this multiplicity and variety, it says in truth only one thing – just this: the name of Jesus Christ… The Bible becomes clear when it is clear that is says this one thing… The Bible remains dark to us if we do not hear in it this sovereign name… Interpretation stands in the service of the clarity which the Bible as God’s Word makes for itself; and we can properly interpret the Bible, in whole or part, only when we perceive and show that what it says is said from the point of view of that… name of Jesus Christ.”  (Church Dogmatics I/2, p720)

At bottom, the Church is in the world only with a book in its hands. We have no other possibility to bear witness except to explain this book.” (God in Action, p107-8)

On creation and covenant

Creation is the outward basis of the covenant and the covenant is the inward basis of creation.  (Church Dogmatics III/1, ch41)

On church:

The essence of the Church is proclamation.  (Homiletics, p40)

On the Christian life:

"Ye shall be witnesses unto me" (Acts 1:8) – this is enough for the one to whom Christ speaks and who has heard Him. Whether strong or weak, willing or unwilling, successful or unsuccessful, the Christian is a witness, irrespective of whether the miracle occurs, or whether it occurs visibly or invisibly. In all circumstances and with the whole of his existence he is a responsible witness of the Word of God. He is called to be this. As such he is set at the side of God in the world, and therefore set over against the world.’ (Church Dogmatics IV/3, p609)

On proofs for God:

Note well: in the whole Bible of the Old and New Testaments not the slightest attempt is ever made to prove God. This attempt has always been made only outside the biblical view of God, and only where it has been forgotten with whom we have to do, when we speak of God. What sort of attempts were they, after all, where the attempt was make to prove a perfect Being alongside imperfect ones? Or from the existence of the world to prove the ordering Power? Or the moral proof of God from the face of man’s conscience? I will not enter into these proofs of God. I don’t know whether you can at once see the humour and the fragility of these proofs. These proofs may avail for the alleged gods; if it were my task to make you acquainted with these allegedly supreme beings, I would occupy myself with the five famous proofs of God. In the Bible there is no such argumentation; the Bible simply speaks of God simply as of One who needs no proof. It speaks of a God who proves Himself on every hand: Here I am, and since I am and live and act it is superfluous that I should be proved. On the basis of this divine self-proof the prophets and apostles speak. In the Christian Church there can be no speaking about God in any other way. God has not the slightest need for our proofs. (Dogmatics in Outline, 38)

On apologetics:

The great danger of apologetics is “the domesticating of revelation… the process of making the Gospel respectable. When the Gospel is offered to man, and he stretches out his hand to receive it and takes it into his hand, an acute danger arises which is greater than the danger that he may not understand it and angrily reject it. The danger is that he may accept it and peacefully and at once make himself its lord and possessor, thus rendering it inoccuous, making that which chooses him something which he himself has chosen, which therefore comes to stand as such alongside all the other things that he can also choose, and therefore control.” (Church Dogmatics II/1, p141)

On assurance (this is perhaps my favourite Barth quote):

“We might imagine the conversation...  The man to whom [the Word of grace is spoken] thinks and says that he is not this new, peaceful, joyful man living in fellowship. He asks leave honestly to admit that he does not know this man, or at least himself as this man.

The Word of grace replies: ‘All honour to your honesty, but my truth transcends it. Allow yourself, therefore, to be told in all truth and on the most solid grounds what you do not know, namely, that you are this man in spite of what you think.’

Man: ‘ You think that I can and should become this man in the course of time? But I do not have sufficient confidence in myself to believe this. Knowing myself, I shall never become this man.’

The Word of grace: ‘You do well not to have confidence in yourself. But the point is not that you can and should become this man. What I am telling you is that, as I know you, you already are.’

Man: ‘I understand that you mean this eschatologically. You are referring to the man I perhaps will be one day in some not very clearly known transfiguration in a distant eternity. If only I had attained to this! And if only I could be certain that even then I should be this new man!’

The Word of grace: ‘You need to understand both yourself and me better than you do. I am not inviting you to speculate about your being in eternity, but to receive and ponder the news that here and now you begin to be the new man, and are already that which you will be eternally.’

Man: ‘How can I accept this news? On what guarantee can I make bold to take is seriously?’

The Word of grace: ‘I, Jesus Christ, am the One who speaks to you. You are what you are in Me, as I will to be in you. Hold fast to Me. I am your guarantee. My boldness is yours. With this boldness dare to be what you are?’

Man: ‘I certainly hear the message, but…’

In this perplexed and startled ‘but’ we see the attack, and who it is that is attacked.” (Church Dogmatics, V/2, p250)

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Do you have a favourite Barth quote?  Why not leave it in comments.

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“My whole theology, you see, is fundamentally a theology for parsons.  It grew out of my own situation when I had to teach and preach and counsel a little.

0 thoughts on “Remembering Karl Barth

  1. Daniel

    It could be: "...the love of God is, in fact, the communion of the Father with the Son, and therefore with the elected man Jesus and therefore with his people, and not in any sense a general divine love for man." (CD II/2, p297)

    Although, as an Independent, I'm also keen on this one, which is too long to post here: http://danielblanche.blogspot.com/2007/10/just-for-fun.html

    And I do love: "Thus the call that we should seek joy is not merely a concession or permission but a command which cannot be lightly regarded by one who has appreciated the divine justification of creation. We need not be ashamed before the holiness of God if we can still laugh and must laugh again, but only if we allow laughter to wither away, and above all if we have relapsed into a sadly ironic smile". (III/1, p371)

  2. Paul Huxley

    I've never read any Barth (at least I'm honest enough to admit it). However, I'll give you a quote that's worthy of any great man...

    "There's room for all God's creatures... right next to the mashed potato".

  3. Gav

    Love your comment Paul.... :-D

    I too havent read Barth.....yet. But my fav out of all the ones above is the one on assurance....good stuff!

  4. Otepoti

    As a by-catch, the internet trawled up this Karl Barth quotation :

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

    Not so profound, maybe, but I'll go with that.

  5. Dave K

    I need to read some more Barth... but these are the ones that have stuck with me ever since I read them....

    As a fan of Mozart and Bach, I like this one:

    "It may be that when the angels go about their task of praising God, they play only Bach. I am sure, however, that when they are together en famille they play Mozart and that then too our dear Lord listens with special pleasure. "

    Although it may not actually be really from him.

    I also like:

    "when we repeat the words, "I believe," which introduce the Creed, we affirm our participation in that history and we confess that we are figures drawn into involvement in that history. The history of Jesus Christ, precisely, that is my history! It is closer to me than the various events of my own life."

    (p. 83, Karl Barth, The Faith of the Church, that's precious truth)

    and

    "It did not enter their minds that respectable dogmatics could be good apologetics."

    (p.18, The Humanity of God, on 19th century theologians)

  6. Hiram

    "Biblical religious history has the distinction of being in its essence, in its inmost character neither religion nor history - not religion but reality, not history but truth, one might say..."

    (p. 66, The Word of God & The Word of Man)

    Honestly, I kinda just randomly picked that one...
    but hey...

    it works, right?

    ;)

    -hiram

  7. Heather

    I have to admit that I'm not really familiar with Barth. But I have appreciated much his of his stuff that I've seen (only very recently)

    The "man and Word" exchange that you posted hits quite close to where I live. And it is both humbling and liberating to be able to see myself there.

    Saving faith leaves no room for that persistent "But.....but...." as it calls into question God's goodness, truthfulness and faithfulness to complete that which He started.

    Ouch.

    But a good "ouch", nonetheless.

  8. The Simple Guy

    Like Heather, I have only recently been introduced to Barth, and it was mainly on this blog.

    However, I was engulfed by this one:

    "The great danger of apologetics is “the domesticating of revelation… the process of making the Gospel respectable. When the Gospel is offered to man, and he stretches out his hand to receive it and takes it into his hand, an acute danger arises which is greater than the danger that he may not understand it and angrily reject it. The danger is that he may accept it and peacefully and at once make himself its lord and possessor, thus rendering it inoccuous, making that which chooses him something which he himself has chosen, which therefore comes to stand as such alongside all the other things that he can also choose, and therefore control.” (Church Dogmatics II/1, p141)

    How absolutely horrifying that I could somehow make myself the lord of my own salvation! Yet so like me. . .

    Craig

  9. David

    My favorite Barth quote comes from his interaction with Carl Henry as recorded in the TSF Bulletin. Dr. Henry describes it below in the May/June 1986 issue:

    When Karl Barth came to America for a few lectures at University of Chicago Divinity School and Princeton Theological Seminary, George Washington University made a belated effort to bring him to the nation's capital. Barth was weary; but he volunteered to come for an hour's question-answer dialogue. The university invited 200 religious leaders to a luncheon honoring Barth, at which guests were invited to stand, identify themselves, and pose a question. A Jesuit scholar from either Catholic University or Georgetown voiced the first question. Aware that the initial queries often set the mood for all subsequent discussion, I asked the next question. Identifying myself as "Carl Henry, editor of Christianity Today" I continued: "The question, Dr. Barth, concerns the historical factuality of the resurrection of Jesus." I pointed to the press table and noted the presence of leading religion editors or reporters representing the United Press, Religious News Service, Washington Post, Washington Star and other media. If these journalists had their present duties in the time of Jesus, I asked, was the resurrection of such a nature that covering some aspect of it would have fallen into their area of responsibility “Was it news," I asked, "in the sense that the man in the street understands news?"
    Barth became angry. Pointing at me, and recalling my identification, he asked: "Did you say Christianity Today or Christianity Yesterday!" The audience—largely non-Evangelical professors and clergy—roared with delight. When encountered unexpectedly in this way, one often reaches for a scripture verse. So I replied, assuredly out of biblical context, "Yesterday, today, and forever." When further laughter subsided, Barth took up the challenge: "And what of the virgin birth? Would the photographers come and take pictures of it?" he asked. Jesus, he continued, appeared only to believers and not to the world. Barth correlated the reality of the resurrection only with personal faith.

    Later, UPI religion reporter Lou Cassels remarked, "We got Barth's 'Nein!'" For Barth, the resurrection of Jesus did not occur in the kind of history accessible to historians.

    TSF Bulletin, May June 1986, p. 19

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