Reading Karl Barth

I am finally finding I’m able to read and understand theologian Karl Barth. While painfully slow, I am getting much food for spiritual thought by plowing through sections of his Epistle to the Romans.
I acquired this book some years ago at the Ottawa School of Theology and Spirituality when I attended some evening lectures there before retirement.

I tried reading it several times and got lost in the first few pages. Recently I was reading Romans and decided to consult Barth to see what he had to say on a particular verse. And voila, it worked. I was astounded at what I read there.

First, a word about Romans. Written when he was in Corinth, to the Christians in Rome whom he had never met, it is Paul’s fullest, grandest and most comprehensive statement of the gospel. Many from St. Augustine to Luther came to their fullest faith through the impact of Romans. St. John Chrysostom had Romans read to him aloud once a week. The Church Reformers saw Romans as the key to understanding all scripture.

Karl Barth was a Swiss Reformed theologian who lived all his life in Switzerland from 1886 to 1978. Early on, as a pastor in a small town, he reportedly ran out of material to preach on and decided to study the Book of Romans and write a book about it. The book caused quite a stir across Europe and overseas. Single handedly, Barth managed to reorient theological discussions around Jesus. 

Barth says God choses to reveal himself through the life, death and resurection of Jesus Christ. It is not possible for we men to know God, the unkowable, through our reasoning, intuition, culture or human achievements. Thus Jesus Christ is God revealed. Barth’s theology is known as Revelation Theology because it is sourced directly from the word of God and not from other sources such as by observing nature or  our intellect.

Barth went on to write many other works including his unfinished Church Dogmatics – 9000 pages – one the longest works in all systematic theology! He lectured at Princeton University. Barth’s influence extended well beyond the academic world. He was featured on the cover of Time magazine in 1962. The man in the street was discussing Barth!

I am attracted to him because of his clear focus on the Word of Go and the incredible things he says. His weakness may be verbosity and sometimes reading things into the Bible which are not really there. In future posts I will explore some of his ideas through what I found in the Epistle to the Romans:

  • God is supreme
  • Jesus Christ is God revealed
  • We have a free concience
  • When we realize who God is (the Krisis) we must live our life accordingly e.g. by edifying our neighbours, not judging them which is God’s business
  • Each person who hears the Call of God learns to know God on a personal basis and need not be encombered by religious rules which can be the enemy of faith
  • God’s grace works through us; it is God who chooses us, not we Him
  • Thinking is a biological process presupposed by creation and God and hence cannot really help us to know Him
  • It is only through Jesus Christ that we know anything about God

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