All posts in “Karl Barth”

“Karl Barth in Plain English” – Table of Contents

Karl Barth in Plain English is now available on Amazon Kindle, and soon in paperback format.

I’m incredibly excited for this book, which has been the product of years of reading and studying Karl Barth. In this book I hope to present a clear and concise overview of Barth’s major ideas; written for beginners, by a beginner.

The book resolves around the eight major ideas I’ve chosen to focus on from Barth’s thought. In between the major chapters on these ideas, I present “Sidebar” chapters and “Sermon” chapters. The sidebar chapters are the clarify a difficult aspect of Barth’s thought, or to engage him with contemporary issues. The sermon chapters include quotes from Barth’s sermons, which I have found helpful in understanding his theology.

Join me on Tuesday, June 13th for a Facebook Live celebration of the book, where I will answer questions, read excerpts, and discuss writing the book!

Here then is the table of contents for my new book:

Introduction

Biography

The Structure of Barth’s Church Dogmatics

CHAPTER 1: Nein! to Natural Theology

SIDEBAR: God’s Humiliation and Natural Theology

SERMON: The Great “But”

CHAPTER 2: The Triune God of Revelation

SERMON: God Without Jesus

SIDEBAR: Mode of Being

CHAPTER 3: The Threefold Word of God

SIDEBAR: Biblical Inerrancy

SERMON: They Bear Witness to Me

CHAPTER 4: There is No Hidden God Behind the Back of Jesus Christ

SIDEBAR: The One Who Loves in Freedom

SIDEBAR: No Hidden Will of God

CHAPTER 5: The God of Election

SERMON: Preaching Election

SIDEBAR: Universalism

CHAPTER 6: Creation and the Covenant

SIDEBAR: Non-Historical History

SERMON: The Fear of the Lord

CHAPTER 7: Reconciliation

SIDEBAR: Limited Atonement and Calvin’s “Horrible Decree”

SERMON: The Divine Life

SERMON: Have You Heard the News?

CHAPTER 8: The Church and Ethics

SERMON: You May

God With Us and For Us: a Closing Reflection

Books to Continue Your Study 


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Come, Holy Spirit: Sermons (by Karl Barth), a Review

Book: Come, Holy Spirit: Sermons by Karl Barth and Eduard Thurneysen (Amazon link)

Publisher: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2009 (Publisher link)

I have a soft spot for reading Karl Barth’s sermons. This is now the fourth collection I’ve read; and while I can’t say it was my favorite (Deliverance to the Captives earns that honor), this book is a fascinating and insightful look into Barth’s early preaching and thinking.

There is an attractive liveliness in Barth’s early work, and this collection is no exception. The translators introduction highlights this well: “These sermons simply proclaim God, but not as a static absolute far removed from the world, not as an immanent essence entangled with the world; they preach the good news of God ‘in action,’ of a living person who is wholly other than the world and yet Creator, Upholder of the universe, Savior and Sanctifier of men…” 1

These sermons were preached shortly after The Epistle to the Romans had its famously devastating effect upon the theological world. It should be no surprise then to learn that these sermons echo many of Barth’s famous remarks in Romans, such as the wholly-otherness of God and the “infinite qualitative distinction” between God and mankind.

This collection, we could say, is the “preached edition” of Barth’s Romans; many of those same themes are here preached in a pastoral manner.

Therefore, we read statements which devastate all our attempts to know God with ourselves at the center of that knowledge, such as this:

It is possible that whenever we utter the word ‘God’ we think of something high, great and beautiful, as a goal or ideal which we have set for ourselves. But fundamentally that would be a weighing of ourselves by ourselves; we ourselves would be our own judges and emancipate or condemn ourselves. But God dwells in a light which no man can approach. Even the highest which we think about Him when measured by His true self is still an illusion. He himself is God. He alone knows it. 2

Barth’s theology is best understood within the context Barth wanted it to be understood in, and in this case that is the context of preaching. I think it would be of great benefit for new readers of Barth’s Romans to also pick up this volume to read alongside it; here Barth the preacher is on full display.

Yet this collection is also chiefly an inspiring set of sermons, which may be read devotionally. There is a pastoral element to each sermon that makes them more than just theology, though they are certainly theological, but go beyond theology into the attempt to proclaim the Word of God.

Here is one of my favorite quotes which highlights this, from the sermon “Good Friday”:

He, too, is in the midst of our misery! Yes, He, too! ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ We know this question, do we not? He, too, was pressed, thronged by all sorts of ghosts which press about us. He, too, was in our state of restlessness. He, too, did not know the way out. … He, too, was in fear and trembling upon a way where at every step the impenetrable darkness beclouded Him. We are not alone; He, too, is there. Is there an uncertainty, a question, a doubt in you that is not also in Christ? He, too, is with us in death, but the living one in the midst of death. In His uncertainty there is certainty, assurance in His doubt, an answer in His question. 3

Summary: Karl Barth’s Come, Holy Spirit is an insight collection of sermons which one might read in connection with The Epistle to the Romans, but also as a devotional, pastoral collection for personal edification.

My thanks to Wipf and Stock Publishers for a digital copy of this book for review. I was under no obligation to offer a positive review, and have presented my honest reflection on this work. 

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Notes:

  1. George W. Richards, Kindle location 60
  2. Kindle location, 364
  3. Kindle location, 1687

God is Love in Himself (Karl Barth CD I/2)

Here’s a wonderful little quote from Karl Barth; enjoy!

“We will now try to give the briefest possible outline of what the love of God is which is the real basis of our love to God, determining its character. One thing is certain, that according to Holy Scripture it has nothing to do with mere sentiment, opinion or feeling. On the contrary, it consists in a definite being, relationship and action. God is love in Himself. Being loved by Him we can, as it were, look into His ‘heart.’ The fact that He loves us means that we can know Him as He is. This is all true. But if this picture-language of ‘the heart of God’ is to have any validity, it can refer only to the being of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It reminds us that God’s love for us is an overwhelming, overflowing, free love. It speaks to us of the miracle of this love. We cannot say anything higher or better of the ‘inwardness of God’ than that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and therefore that He is love in Himself without and before loving us, and without being forced to love us. And we can say this only in the light of the ‘outwardness’ of God to us, the occurrence of His revelation. It is from this that we have to learn what is the real nature of the love of God for us.”

(CD I/2, 377)

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Karl Barth on Separating Christians from Non-Christians

In a moving yet brief portion of Barth’s life from autobiographical texts, compiled and edited by Eberhard Busch, Barth had this to say in response to a question regarding non-Christians attending his lecture on systematic theology:

“Several times during these weeks I was asked, ‘Aren’t you aware that many people at these lectures are not Christians?’ I always laughed and said, ‘It makes no difference to me.’ It would be quite dreadful if the faith of Christians aimed at separating men and cutting them off from each other. It is in fact the strongest motive for bringing men together and uniting them.‘” (pp. 337-8)

This was during Barth’s guest lectures in Bonn, directly following WWII. These lectures were on “Dogmatics in outline, following the Apostles Creed”, and began on May 17th, 1946. These would later became what I consider to be one of the best introductions to Barth’s theology, the book Dogmatics in Outline

Here Barth is candid on the central fact that the gospel is not about splitting humanity up into Christian and non-Christian camps, but about uniting all humanity in Jesus Christ. Just as we have been reconciled to God in Jesus Christ, likewise we must be reconciled to our fellow man in Jesus Christ. This, of course, does not removed the distinction there is between a Christian and a non-Christian, but it absolutely removes the division. Both are sinners saved by grace, both are those for whom Christ died, both are the objects of His eternal love and election in Jesus Christ! We should remember this. Whenever we think to separate ourselves from our non-Christian brothers and sisters and neighbors, we have forgotten the very gospel itself!

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Robert Jenson’s Alpha and Omega: a Review

Book: Alpha and Omega: A Study in the Theology of Karl Barth by Robert W. Jenson (Amazon link)

Publisher: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2002 (Publisher link)

Robert W. Jenson’s book, Alpha and Omega, is an excellently clear, and precise study in the theology of Karl Barth. Jenson asks how it is that the historical event of Jesus’ life might be the decisive reality of our present life, calling this question “the chief problem of modern theology.” (13) Jenson holds Barth’s theology up as a “grandiose and pioneering answer to this challenge [of modern theology].” (16)

With clarity and precision, Jenson examines some of the most difficult aspects of Barth’s thought, including Barth’s doctrine of nothingness, of creation, of election, of salvation, of history, of the incarnation, and of God. The overarching question behind these inquiries is the relationship between Jesus’ historical existence and our present lives, but along the way I found myself attending a masterclass in Barth’s doctrine of election, creation, and providence. I can’t recall reading anything nearly as erudite in secondary literature as Jenson’s presentation.

The three specific questions that Jenson asks of Barth’s theology are as follows. First, “To what end does God rule human history, and what is the course of the history of salvation?” Second, “In what sense does God have a history, and what is the relation between this history and ours? That is how does God guide human history?” Third, “What is the reality to which talk in the Church bears witness?” (17-8)

Of God’s plan for history and the mode of God’s rule in history, Jenson notes that these questions are, for Barth, never asked separately. For Barth, “The coming of Christ to sinners is absolutely determined from all eternity and is the purpose of all that happens.” And furthermore, “Christ’s life, as a movement of God’s eternal will, is itself the basis of its appearance in time.” (113) These for Barth are one of the same proposition, according to Jenson.

In other words, Jenson shows that for Barth, God’s plan for history and His rule in history are one and the same: the life of Jesus Christ. This event is the event of all history and existence, the plan God determined before creation. Jesus’ life is then, for Barth, the central event of all history and of creation. This is the core of Barth’s doctrine of election, that God determined Himself to be God for us in Jesus Christ, to be the God of sinners, to reconcile us to Himself.

The brilliance of this position is shown in how sharply it contrasts with other common presentations. Often the incarnation and salvation of Christ is portrayed as the reaction of God to human sin, placing God in a kind of “hail Mary” position in the face of evil. But Barth reverses the order. If Jesus Christ’s life is the epitome of all history, than this event precedes even the creation of the cosmos. The choice to reconcile human beings to Himself, to become man in Jesus Christ, is an eternal choice in the Triune life of God. Salvation wasn’t an afterthought, God’s coming to us in Jesus Christ was the basis for His act of creation. The difficulties in this position are apparent, but Jenson navigates them masterfully and with clarity.

To the final question, of the reality to which the church bears witness, Jenson turns to Barth’s inclusive Christology. Jenson writes of this reality: “We are what we are in Him. Our existence is ‘virtually accomplished’ in His. In that He has kept the covenant, we have kept the covenant. In that He has obeyed God, we have obeyed God. Our existence is enclosed in His from all eternity. … This history, the history of the man Jesus with God, is our real history.” (132-3)

This inclusive Christology is the reality the church proclaims. The reality of Jesus Christ, who is our obedience, our relationship with God—who is the covenant with God and all humanity—is the proclamation of the church. We proclaim: Look to Christ, here is your history, the basis for your existence as a human, this man with God is all mankind with God! “Our history is participation in Christ’s history.” (136) “Jesus Christ as God and man is the one great history of the eternal covenant between God and man[kind].” (139)

To conclude the book Jenson gives a helpful summary of Barth’s doctrine of election, followed by some final reflections on Barth’s theology. Jenson outlines many areas where he agrees with Barth, but he also offers some insightful criticisms.

Summary:

This book was surprisingly easy to read, written with a clarity often absent from many studies of Barth’s theology. The precision of this study will be of tremendous value to any student of Barth’s thought. Jenson doesn’t dance around the difficult questions, but masterfully navigates through its many challenges. Instead of walking away confused by complex jargon and paradoxical images, I left this book with a better, clearer understanding of Barth’s thought. An excellent book, one I highly recommend.

My thanks to Wipf and Stock Publishers for a digital copy of this book for review. I was under no obligation to offer a positive review, and have presented my honest reflection on this work. 

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The 12 Best Books I Read in 2016

It’s been a great year for reading. My goal this year was to read eighty books, and, to my surprise, I reached that goal in June. I’ve since far surpassed my goal and have read a total of 124 books!

I wanted to list here the books that had the biggest impact on me in 2016 (listed in no particular order). Enjoy!

All is Grace by Brennan Manning [LINK]

This book was deeply moving, and when I finished it I couldn’t hold back the tears in my eyes. Brennan Manning’s story of grace is powerful and immensely inspiring. I hope to revisit this book again soon. My favorite quote:

“My message, unchanged for more than fifty years, is this: God loves you unconditionally, as you are and not as you should be, because nobody is as they should be. It is the message of grace…A grace that pays the eager beaver who works all day long the same wages as the grinning drunk who shows up at ten till five…A grace that hikes up the robe and runs breakneck toward the prodigal reeking of sin and wraps him up and decides to throw a party no ifs, ands, or buts…This grace is indiscriminate compassion. It works without asking anything of us…Grace is sufficient even though we huff and puff with all our might to try to find something or someone it cannot cover. Grace is enough…Jesus is enough.”

Finnegans Wake (Abridged) by James Joyce [LINK]

James Joyce writes with color and flair, with courage and creativity. He is my favorite fiction writer, with Samuel Beckett being a close second. Finnegans Wake is Joyce’s final book, and it is his most difficult yet most brilliant. Joyce, having exhausted the english language with Ulysses, forged a new language for this book, displaying his mastery of many languages including German, French, Italian, and Latin. Beckett once said this book isn’t written at all. It transcends the novel entirely.

 It’s a work of art. I listened to the excellent audio recording by Jim Norton a few times while I read this version. I plan to read the full text in 2017. Here’s a quote from the Anna Livia Plurabelle section:

“Well, you know or don’t you kennet or haven’t I told you every telling has a taling and that’s the he and the she of it. Look, look, the dusk is growing! My branches lofty are taking root. And my cold cher’s gone ashley. Fieluhr? Filou! What age is at? It saon is late. ‘Tis endless now senne eye or erewone last saw Waterhouse’s clogh. They took it asunder, I hurd thum sigh. When will they reassemble it? O, my back, my back, my bach! I’d want to go to Aches-les-Pains. Pingpong! There’s the Belle for Sexaloitez! And Concepta de Send-us-pray! Pang! Wring out the clothes! Wring in the dew! Godavari, vert the showers! And grant thaya grace! Aman.”

(Listen to Joyce read this section here.)

The Annihilation of Hell by Nicholas Ansell [LINK]

I received this book for free in exchange for my review (which you can read here). However, I enjoyed this book so immensely that it is easily one of my favorites this year. It helped me understand the theology of Jürgen Moltmann and appreciate his genius better. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in Moltmann or in universalism generally. Here’s a great quote:

“A universalism of hope, I was thereby suggesting, is neither a dogma nor a ‘nice idea’. Those who, in looking forward to God’s final victory over evil, find themselves looking forward in hope and confidence to a ‘universal’ salvation are convinced of something that others cannot be convinced of unless—or until—they come to share in that hope. In my view, a conviction of this kind, which is pre-theological and pre- doctrinal in character, is legitimate—at least in principle—even if those who hold to it cannot justify it theologically. Moltmann himself captures this pre-theoretical confidence well when he describes his own position as ‘a universalism of hope which is not a doctrine . . . but is a presupposition.’ This is a hope I share and a ‘universalism’ I accept.”

God’s Being in Reconciliation by Adam Johnson [LINK]

This is an excellent study on Karl Barth’s doctrine of atonement. This book has been worth its weight in gold for me while writing my own book on Barth, which is still forthcoming. Johnson argues that Barth’s doctrine of God necessitates a new way for understanding the atonement—not as a one-theory doctrine, but as a feast with multiple interpretations. It is one of the best books I’ve read on Barth. Here’s a great quote:

“A marked lack of energy and excitement overshadows the whole, where a sense of freshness and vigor ought to teem forth resulting from the awareness of these new frameworks for interpreting the work of Christ, the necessity with which we must engage them, and the promise of the definite insights we stand to gain. Adapting an earlier statement of Barth’s, we must ‘magnify the plenitude of the divine being [in reconciliation] by not lingering unduly over any one [standpoint of the atonement] or letting it become the final word or the guiding principle, but by proceeding from one to another, from the second to the third. As we do so, we realize that even if we make a provisional halt at the third, this does not mean that we have spoken the last word’ (CD II/1, 407).”

Stirrings Still by Samuel Beckett [LINK]

This is Beckett’s final work of prose, and it is one of my favorites. It’s a very short book, and I have read it several times through. It is a perfect piece of meditative, minimalist prose, yet it is at once pregnant with meaning and emotion. I first savored this book while enjoying a birthday dram of Laphroaig for my 24th. It was a melancholy and enchanting moment. Here’s a taste:

“Such and much more such the hubbub in his mind so-called till nothing left from deep within but only ever fainter oh to end. No matter how no matter where. Time and grief and self so-called. Oh all to end.”

Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnamable by Samuel Beckett [LINK]

I read this trilogy in January this year, and I read part of it again last month. This is often considered Beckett’s best work, and it’s certainly his most important contribution to the novel. To this I would agree. It’s a fantastic work of fiction for tired of fiction. There’s a lot I could say about the brilliance of what Beckett accomplishes in these three books, but I hope you take my recommendation and read them for yourself. These books are an experience, like Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, more so than they are a book you read and forget. Here’s a sample:

“you must go on, perhaps it’s done already, perhaps they have said me already, perhaps they have carried me to the threshold of my story, before the door that opens on my story, that would surprise me, if it opens, it will be I, it will be the silence, where I am, I don’t know, I’ll never know, in the silence you don’t know, you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.” (The Unnamable)

How to Read Karl Barth by George Hunsinger [LINK]

This book, along with T.F. Torrance’s Karl Barth An Introduction to His Early Theology, were both excellent companions to reading Barth’s CD II/1. But Hunsinger’s book stands out as a brilliant and extremely helpful exploration of the way Barth thinks more than just what he says. If you only read one book on the theology of Karl Barth, read this one.

Church Dogmatics volume II/1 by Karl Barth [LINK]

T.F. Torrance called this volume Barth’s most significant, and after reading it this year I have to agree. Here you’ll find the core ideas behind Barth’s theology: his rejection of natural theology, his dedication to the Word of God, and his insistence upon the fact that God alone reveals Himself. I tweeted and posted hundreds of quotes from this book while I read it, the best of which you can read here.

Water to Wine by Brian Zahnd [LINK]

Reading Brian Zahnd’s story, which was both a theological and spiritual journey, was most of all a comforting experience. His story parallels much of my own journey, and I often related to his rediscovery of the good news and his quest for the heart of the Christian faith. This book is memorable because of how well it was written and how encouraging it is to know I am not alone on the journey. Here’s a quote:

“I had lost my appetite for the mass-produced soda-like Christianity of North America. I wanted vintage wine from old vines. I don’t know exactly how I knew this, but I knew it.”

Re-reading Dubliners and Ulysses by James Joyce [LINK]

I read Joyce’s Dubliners with a book club this year. We met every month to slow digest and discuss his masterful short stories. I also re-read Ulysses during my trip to Ireland for Bloomsday. Both re-reads made me appreciate Joyce more than before. Last year I named Ulysses my favorite fiction book, and this year it again made a significant impact on me. Here’s the first few lines from Ulysses:

“Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. A yellow dressinggown, ungirdled, was sustained gently behind him on the mild morning air. He held the bowl aloft and intoned:

Introibo ad altare Dei.

Halted, he peered down the dark winding stairs and called out coarsely:

—Come up, Kinch! Come up, you fearful jesuit!”

(Fun fact: this last line is the title of my morning alarm!)

Preaching Christ Today by Thomas F. Torrance [LINK]

This book was the inspiration behind my own attempt to preach Christ, Welcome Home: The Good News of JesusThomas Torrance continually inspires me to be more fixated on the incarnation and death of Jesus Christ as the good news for all people, as the announcement worthy of joy and celebration. Here’s a quote:

“If I did not believe in the cross, I could not believe in God. The cross means that, while there is no explanation of evil, God Himself has come into the midst of it in order to take it upon Himself, to triumph over it and deliver us from it.”

The Living God and the Fulness of Life by Jürgen Moltmann [LINK]

And finally, how could I end this reflection without mentioning Moltmann’s new book on the Holy Spirit and the fullness life lived in the Source of all Life. This book inspired me to embrace my humanity and enjoy the simple things, the mundane and the “boring” things, because in these the Spirit of Life is with us and there for us. Here’s a memorable quote:

“Joy is the meaning of human life. Human beings were created in order to have joy in God. They are born in order to have joy in life. This means that the frequent questions—What am I here for? Am I of any use? Can I make myself of any use?—lose their point. There is no purpose and no utilitarian goal for which human life is required. There are no ethical goals or ideal aims with which human life has to justify itself. Life itself is good. Existence is beautiful and to be here is glorious. We live in order to live. …The ‘meaning’ of life cannot be found outside life but in life itself. Life must not be missed as if it were a means to an end.”

Conclusions

Happy New Year, and may you read many great books in 2017!

What were the books you read this year which had the greatest impact on you? Let me know in a comment.

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The Strange and Poor Kingdom of God

God’s kingdom is not like the kingdoms of this world. Jesus made that clear throughout His ministry, most notably in trial before Pilate. His kingdom is in the world, but it is strange and poor, weak and needy, frankly, it is a failed kingdom—in the eyes of the world. That’s because it’s not of this world. Compare the kingdom of God with the great kingdoms of human history and it will always seem like a foolish, powerless kingdom.

Karl Barth writes that the kingdom of God is “from the human point of view an insignificant kingdom, a kingdom hidden like the leaven in three measures of meal (Mt. 13:33), like the treasure in the field (Mt. 13:44), like the grain of mustard-seed which is smaller than all other seeds (Mt. 13:32).” 1 Barth goes on to say that this kingdom cannot be seen from observation, nor can it be proclaimed directly or historically. As such God’s kingdom is deeply concealed in the world, a hidden kingdom.

Jesus Christ came to us in weakness, lowliness, and defeat; and the Christian faith believe that to be God’s power, glory, and victory. As Barth writes, “His power is present to men in the form of weakness, His glory in that of lowliness, His victory in that of defeat.” 2

The incarnation is a potent reminder that God’s kingdom works differently than we expect it to in our human vision of an all powerful God and an all powerful kingdom. God’s kingdom contradicts and redefines all our notions of strength and victory. God’s kingdom is not how we might run the world if we had the chance. And yet, God’s kingdom is the good news our world desperately needs to hear.

This is how God saves the world: not with right handed displays of strength, but with left handed acts of vulnerability, weakness, and defeat; by becoming a frail and insignificant baby, born under the suspicion of infidelity; by suffering a horrendous death on the cross. This was God’s perfect plan for salvation.

God overcomes by giving Himself to being overcome. God redeems by lowering Himself to our unredeemed state. Because, as Gregory the Theologian reminds us, “The unassumed is the unredeemed.”

Oh the mystery and the majesty of Christmas!

May you remember this Christmas season to be weak, to be poor and strange, to be a friend of sinners, to take solidarity with outsiders—because such is the kingdom of God!

During Advent I’ll be sharing many of my favorite books and quotes on the incarnation. Read my Advent book recommendations here, and read more inspiring Christmas quotes and reflections here.

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Notes:

  1. CD IV/2, 167
  2. Ibid.

The Best of #Barth21 – My Favorite Quotes from CD II/1 (Karl Barth)

karl_barth_church_dogmaticsOver the last month I’ve been reading Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics volume II/1 and posting quotes with the hashtag #Barth21 on my Facebook and Twitter pages. I did this once before over the summer when I read Barth’s Epistle to the Romans (you can find the wrap up here). I hope everyone who follows me on social media enjoyed reading these short quotes from Barth’s brilliant volume.

Today as a wrap up I’ll share some of my favorite quotes from this volume. Enjoy! (Direct quotes are in quotations, personal reflections are indicated.)

#Barth21

“Here [in CD II/1] we have the basis upon which the whole of Barth’s teaching rests…” [Editors Preface]

“We can only understand how God is knowable from the way He actually gives Himself to be known.” [Editors Preface]

“The self-knowledge of God is the real and primary essence of all knowledge of God.”

“God never ceases to make continual new beginnings with men [and women].”

Lead us not into temptation…

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“The being of God is either known by grace or it is not known at all.”

The knowledge of God—theology—cannot take place in a vacuum. To know God is to be related to God in obedience and love. [My own personal reflections while reading, #reflections]

“God is known through God and through God alone.”

“When God speaks about Himself, He speaks about the fact that He is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

“God knows Himself… This is the essence and strength of our knowledge of God.”

“Our knowledge of God is derived and secondary. It is effected by grace…”

“It is by the grace of God that God is knowable to us.”

In natural theology “we are not dealing with God but at bottom with ourselves.”

Redemption “means that Jesus Christ is coming again. It means the resurrection of the flesh. It means eternal life…”

“None of the writings of Anselm are ‘apologetic’ in the modern sense of the concept.”

You know you’ve been reading a lot of Karl Barth when a single paragraph is five pages long and that doesn’t surprise you! [#Reflections]

“Man[kind] exists in Jesus Christ and in Him alone, as he also finds God in Jesus Christ and in Him alone.”

“Jesus is the knowability of God on our side…He is the grace of God…and therefore also the knowability of God on God’s side.”

“Our enmity, the enmity in which man as such stands against grace, is expiated and abandoned before God by God Himself.”

“The enmity of man against God is annulled, done away, obliterated.”

“In Jesus Christ God has taken man[kind]’s affairs out of his hands and made them His own affair.”

Christian theology “is wholly and utterly the prisoner of its own theme, namely, the Word of God spoken in Jesus Christ”

§27…

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What is the hiddenness of God?

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God cannot be spiritually appropriated…

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The hiddenness of God “affirms that our cognizance of God does not begin in ourselves.”

“At best, our theology is theologia viatorum [theology ‘on the way’].”

“The Gospel rightly seen and understood is always the victorious Gospel.”

“God is who He is in His works.”

“Subject, predicate and object; the revealer, the act of revelation, the revealed; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

“God exists in His act. God is His own decision. God lives from and by Himself.”

“God is He who, without having to do so, seeks and creates fellowship between Himself and us.”

“[God] does not will to be without us, and He does not will that we should be without Him.”

“God does not exist in solitude but in fellowship.”

“Loving us, God does not give us something, but Himself; and giving us Himself, giving us His Son, He gives us everything.”

“The kingdom of God is not an independent reality… This kingdom cannot in any sense be separated from its King.”

“[God] loves us and the world as He who would still be One who loves without us and without the world.”

“God’s being as He who lives and loves is being in freedom.”

“We cannot get behind God—behind God in His revelation [Jesus Christ]—to try and determine from outside what He is.”

“The fundamental error of the whole earlier doctrine of God is reflected in this arrangement: first God’s being in general, then His Triune nature.”

“Grace is the very essence of the being of God.”

“The impassibility of God cannot in any case mean that it is impossible for Him to feel compassion.”

“God cannot be compared to anyone or anything. He is only like Himself.”

“God’s love is divine as the love which is free.”

“God is simple. …[which means] in all that He is and does, He is wholly and undividedly Himself.”

For Barth, God’s omnipresence doesn’t mean metaphysical “eternity”, but God’s triunity, God’s freedom to be present to another. [#Reflections]

“God can be present to another. This is His freedom. For He is present to Himself.”

“There is nowhere where God is not, but He is not nowhere. …He is always somewhere—seeking man[kind] and there to be sought.”

“There is no non-presence of God in His creation.”

“God is constant.”

“[God’s true] immutability includes rather than excludes life. In a word it is life.”

Because “immutability” often implies an immobile state of death, a state incongruent with the living God, Barth thinks “constancy” is a far better term whenever speaking of God’s being in freedom. [#Reflections]

“By God the world exists in God.”

“In the investigation and knowledge of the constant will and being of God we cannot go behind Jesus Christ.”

“God is ‘immutably’ the One whose reality is seen in His condescension in Jesus Christ… He is not a God who is what He is in a majesty behind this condescension, behind the cross on Golgotha.”

Divine omnipotence ≠ divine omnicausality. [#Reflections]

“God’s love for us does not simply mean that He knows us; it means also that He chooses us.”

“God is His own will, and He wills His own being.”

“Pelagianism and fatalism are alike heathen atavisms in a Christian doctrine of God.”

From the standpoint of the incarnation “we cannot understand God’s eternity as pure timelessness.”

“God is pre-temporal. God is supra-temporal. God is post-temporal.”

God “is in Himself, and therefore to everything outside Himself, relationship, the basis and prototype of all relationship.”

“God is the One who seeks and finds fellowship.”

“God is glorious in such a way that He radiates joy.”

“We can confidently say that [theology] is the most beautiful of all the sciences.”

“The theologian who has no joy in his work is not a theologian at all. Sulky faces, morose thoughts and boring ways of speaking are intolerable in this science.”

“If we deny [the Trinity], we have a God without radiance and without joy (and without humour!); a God without beauty.”

“To believe in Jesus Christ means to become thankful.”

“God gives Himself to the creature. This is His glory revealed in Jesus Christ, and this is therefore the sum of the whole doctrine of God.”


I enjoyed posting these quotes and engaging with readers along the way as I read Barth’s classic volume II/1 from the Church Dogmatics. Thanks everyone for reading, retweeting, and liking these posts!

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Karl Barth on “God is Love”

barth-god-is-loveAs those of you who follow me on either Facebook or Twitter know, I am currently reading Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics volume II/1 and posting some of my favorite quotes along the way with the hashtag #Barth21. I hope you’ve enjoyed following along so far through this magnificent book. I’m about 33% of the way through, so there are still plenty of great quotes to come.

I wanted to share an extended quote I read today in which Barth discusses the being of God as the One who loves. This is a beautiful section, containing many great insights. Enjoy!

(Quotes are from the Hendrickson Publishers 2010 edition. Italics are original; bold is mine.)

Karl Barth on “God is Love”

“God is He who, without having to do so, seeks and creates fellowship between Himself and us.” (273)

[God] wills to be ours, and He wills that we should be His. He wills to belong to us and He wills that we should belong to Him. He does not will to be without us, and He does not will that we should be without Him. He wills certainly to be God and He does not will that we should be God. But He does not will to be God for Himself nor as God to be alone with Himself. He wills as God to be for us and with us who are not God. …He does not will to be Himself in any other way than He is in this relationship. His life, that is, His life in Himself, which is originally and properly the one and only life, leans towards this unity with our life. The blessings of His Godhead are so great that they overflow as blessings to us, who are not God. This is God’s conduct towards us in virtue of His revelation.” (274)

I love this! God is so for the human race that God wills not only to be God in Himself, but, without having to do so, God becomes our God and makes us His people. This is the depths of God’s love for us. These statements come after Barth works through the concept of God’s being in God’s act, of God as the “self-moved” God. Accordingly, who God is towards us is who God is in Himself, God’s act is God’s being. God loving us is therefore not just a part of who God is or a part of what God has done for us, God loving us is who God is, God is this God, the God who wills not to be God without us, who wills us not to be human beings without Him.

From this Barth continues, explaining that God is this way in Himself, that God is not a solitary, or lonely being, but that God is a fellowship in Himself. In other words, that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

“As and before God seeks and creates fellowship with us, He wills and completes this fellowship in Himself. In Himself He does not will to exist for Himself, to exist alone. On the contrary, He is Father, Son and Holy Spirit and therefore alive in His unique being with and for and in another. The unbroken unity of His being, knowledge and will is at the same time an act of deliberation, decision and intercourse. He does not exist in solitude but in fellowship. Therefore what He seeks and creates between Himself and us is in fact nothing else but what He wills and completes and therefore is in Himself. It therefore follows that as He receives us through His Son into His fellowship with Himself, this is the one necessity, salvation, and blessing for us, than which there is no greater blessing—no greater, because God has nothing higher than this to give, namely Himself; because in giving us Himself, He has given us every blessing. We recognize and appreciate this blessing when we describe God’s being more specifically in the statement that He is the One who loves. That He is God—the Godhead of God—consists in the fact that He loves, and it is the expression of His loving that He seeks and creates fellowship with us. It is correct and important in this connexion to say emphatically His loving, i.e., His act as that of the One who loves.” (275)

It is because God is in Himself this fellowship, is in Himself the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that God creates fellowship with us. God’s blessing to us is His giving us the highest good: Himself. It’s because God is this God in Himself that God loves us and creates fellowship with us. God could not love us or have fellowship with us if God were not in Himself love and fellowship, thus God must be this Triune God in the loving fellowship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. A unitarian God, a solitary God, cannot love or be in fellowship with another. Only the Triune God can properly love out of His very being and nature. 1

From this Barth moves to an exegesis of that famous passage in 1 John 4:8, “God is love.” Barth brilliantly notes that the context of this verse gives far more meaning to it than the phrase is often given. We tend to shortchange the idea that God is love when we forget the context this statement comes in. Barth explains:

“The tempting definition that ‘God is love’ seems to have some possible support in 1 Jn. 4:8. But it is a forced exegesis to cite this sentence apart from its context and without the interpretation that is placed on it by its context, and to use it as the basis of a definition. We read in v. 9: ‘In this was manifested the love of God towards us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.’ Again we are told in v. 10 (with a remarkable similarity of prediction): ‘Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.’ And finally in v. 15: In this we have knowledge and faith in the love that God has for us, that we confess ‘that Jesus is the Son of God.’ The love of God, or God as love, is therefore interpreted in 1 Jn. 4 as the completed act of divine loving in sending Jesus Christ.” (275)

We tend to quote the phrase “God is love” and misuse it as a kind of abstract definition we can fulfill. We say God is love but then we define love ourselves, making God into whatever we’d like Him to be. But here Barth insists upon saying that this means, properly, that God has sent Jesus Christ for our sakes. John 3:16 also defines love in this way; that God loves means that God sends His Son for our sakes. God’s love is not an abstract definition we can fill with whatever we want to say, defining it by ourselves. God’s love is God’s definition, and only God can define it, and has, in sending Jesus Christ for our sakes.

Conclusion

In these quotes Barth has brilliantly and beautifully painted a picture of God as the One who loves, the One who wills not to be God without us. This may be one of my new favorite Barth quotes! I hope you’ve enjoyed it as well.

Keep following along with #Barth21 by liking my Facebook page and following me on Twitter. Cheers!

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Notes:

  1. This is a point I bring up in the first chapter of my book, We Belong: Trinitarian Good News. Check it out for more.

4 Traits that Made Karl Barth a Great Theologian (According to T F Torrance)

bundesarchiv_bild_194-1283-23a_wuppertal_evangelische_gesellschaft_jahrestagungYesterday I began reading Thomas F Torrance’s book, Karl Barth: An Introduction to His Early Theology 1910-1931I first read Barth because I had read and enjoyed Torrance, so it’s an understatement to say I’ve been excited to dive in and learn what Torrance has to say about Barth. (So far it’s been a great book.)

Torrance writes of four traits (personal characteristics) which made Barth a great theologian. Today I wanted to repeat these traits to you, as they are all great traits we can learn from. Enjoy!

#1 An Inquisitive Mind

Torrance writes, “Barth has the most searching, questioning mind I have ever known.” 1 This would be apparent to anyone who has ever read, for example, in the Church Dogmatics, the pages upon pages of questions Barth asked. Torrance estimates that if you were to put only the questions asked in the Dogmatics into a book it would fill “hundreds of hundreds of pages.” Barth asked a lot of questions!

But Barth’s ruthless questioning is not the same kind as the questioning other theologians have done, such as the questions found in Paul Tillich’s method of correlation. (More on Barth and Tillich here.) Barth’s questions are a ruthless criticism for the sake of letting the Word of God speak clearly and positively to us. These questions seek to self-critically clear the way for God’s Word to speak.

Torrance writes, “This questioning is forced upon us because face to face with God’s Word we know ourselves to be questioned down to the very roots of our being, and therefore in response to the impact of the Word we are thrown back upon self-criticism, upon a repentant questioning and rethinking of all that we have and are and claim to know.” 2 We ask questions because God’s Word has confronted us to the core of our being. We must ask questions to make a way for the Word of God to speak clearly and positively to us, to rightly hear the content of this Word. These questions seek to remove our presuppositions (or at least limit them).

We ask questions forcefully and ruthlessly, then, not because God is bound to our questions, but because God has confronted us and this demands us to question our reality and make room for the Word of God to speak. This is the sort of questioning which is rooted in a deep humility before the truth of God, a truth which lies beyond our grasp and which meets us only by grace.

#2 A Childlike Willingness to Learn and Listen

Torrance writes, “Barth has an uncanny ability to listen which is accompanied by an astonishing humility and childlikeness in which he is always ready to learn.” 3 Torrance calls this “the secret of Barth’s hermeneutics, whether he is interpreting Holy Scripture or interpreting the thought of another theologian.” 4

Barth listened and listened well to the great theologians of the church, and his critical appreciation of their work always came first and foremost from this place of listening. But this is not only how Barth read other theologians; this is Barth’s method for biblical exegesis.

Torrance notes, “Biblical exegesis takes place therefore in a strenuous disciplined attempt to lay ourselves open to hear the Word of God speaking to us, to read what the Word intends or denotes and to refrain from interrupting it or confusing it with our own speaking, for in faithful exegesis we have to let ourselves be told what we cannot tell ourselves.” 5

This is a lesson we can all apply for reading not only the bible and other theologians, but even Barth’s work, too. Critics like Van Til have always failed in this regard, they have failed to listen to Barth on his own terms. We will always fail to understand the bible, to understand what God is speaking to us in the Word of God, and we will always fail to understand Barth, when we fail to listen.

#3 Creativity

Torrance writes, “Another typical characteristic of Barth which we must give attention is his sheer creative power, his ability to produce something new.” 6 Torrance likens Barth to Beethoven. Beethoven is a shocking composer who often merged together various themes which, at first, seem contradictory, but which ultimately enrich the whole symphony with a multi-faceted kind of beauty. Barth might not like this analogy (he preferred Mozart), but it aptly applies to Barth’s ability to create something shocking and beautiful in his Dogmatics. It takes a creative genius to do what Barth has done in the Church Dogmatics, and I doubt anyone who reads it with the care it demands would fail to see its genius.

Interestingly, Torrance writes here what he considers to be Barth’s main theological theme: “From first to last Barth’s main theme has been the turning of God in utter grace in incredible condescension to man to be man’s God, so that what we are concerned with in the Gospel is the sovereign togetherness of God with man and the exaltation of man to share in the divine life and love.” 7

I like that a lot! If I had to summarize what I have learned the most from Barth, personally and theologically, I couldn’t find a better summary than this.

#4 Joy

Torrance writes, “There is one other aspect of Barth, both as a man and as a theologian, which we must select for mention: his joy and his humour.” 8 One of my favorite quotes from Barth sums up this point well: “The theologian who labors without joy is not a theologian at all. Sulky faces, morose thoughts and boring ways of speaking are intolerable in this field.”

Torrance gives two examples of Barth’s joy and humor. First, he mentions Barth’s love of Mozart, and his elevating him to the status of “church father.” And second, Torrance notes a humorous comment from CD III/2, which says, “What a pity that none of these apologists consider it worthy of mention that man is apparently the only being accustomed to laugh and to smoke.” 9

Beyond these two points, Torrance notes that Barth writes with joy not because he is necessarily a joyful person, but because God is a God of supreme joy. It’s Barth’s doctrine of God, his enjoyment of the beauty and glory of God, which most establishes his joy as a theologian. Torrance calls Barth an exemplary theologian of the frui Deo, of the enjoyment of God. Joy is at the center of his theology, and anyone reading his work will find themselves confronted with the God of infinite joy.

Conclusions

There are a lot of theological insights we can learn from Barth, but Torrance reminds us that we can also learn from from how Barth practically lived and worked out his theology. Barth was not afraid of asking difficult questions, because God has first met us, at the core of our being, and questioned us in Jesus Christ. Barth was humble before the truth, and therefore willing to listen carefully to the testimony of the scriptures and to learn from other theologians. Barth was a creative genius, who worked tirelessly at constructing a new and innovative theology. Barth was a joyful and humorous person, because God is a joyful and humorous God.

In the spirit of Barth’s humanity, joy, and of his love for Mozart, I’ll leave you to enjoy three hours of Mozart’s Sonatas (or however long you want to listen). Cheers!

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Notes:

  1. Torrance, Karl Barth, 19
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid., 21
  4. Ibid., 22
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid., 22-23
  7. Ibid., 23
  8. Ibid.
  9. CD III/2, 83