Reminiscences of Karl Barth

On our Facebook page this week, we’ve been featuring quotes from John Godsey’s article “Reminiscences of Karl Barth” published in the Princeton Seminary Bulletin Volume XXIII (2002). You can find the whole article here. Otherwise you can read here on for a number of key passages worth noting.

The year was 1953. It was summertime when I, with my wife and two children, aged seven and eight, arrived in Basel, Switzerland. Fresh from graduation at The Theological School of Drew University, I was on the verge of fulfilling a dream: to study with Karl Barth at the University of Basel! That spring Paul Lehmann, as a visiting professor from Princeton, had taught a course at Drew on “The Theology of Crisis,” which enhanced my growing interest in Barth, and my mentor at Drew, Carl Michalson, had urged me on with these words: “If you want to pursue a doctorate in theology, why not do it with the world’s most outstanding theologian!” I wrote to Barth of my intentions, and he wrote back that, if I came, he would be willing to consider my becoming one of his doctoral candidates. So here I was in Basel, the city familiar to both Erasmus and Calvin, the city where Oecolampadius led the Reformation in the sixteenth century, the city where Karl Barth was born in 1886, and though he had grown up in Bern, the city where Barth had lived since his ouster from Germany by the Nazis in 1935. Basel, the beautiful ancient city in the heart of Europe where three countries meet. Basel, an awe-inspiring combination of medieval charm and modern commerce and industry, divided by the Rhine River into Greater Basel and Lesser Basel, two parts connected by lovely bridges and, at strategic points, by small flat-bottomed boats that ferried passengers from one side to the other and are attached to overhead cables and propelled by the strong current of the river. Basel, with its impressive red-sandstone cathedral, the Munster, built on a high bank overlooking the Rhine, and many other fine churches scattered around the city; its Museum of Fine Arts with its Holbein paintings; its Market Place, with the daily colorful display of flowers and produce; its City Hall with its 16th century clock facing the square and its 17th century murals in its courtyard; its opera and theaters and hotels and train stations, its buses and street-cars and bicycles. Basel, with its peculiar dialect, which only the natives could understand. And, finally, on the hill above the Market Place, the University, built around Peter’s Square (Petersplatz), with its gleaming new main building where Barth lectured — as did his well-known colleagues on the theological faculty: Cullmann, Staehelin, Eichrodt, Baumgartner, van Oyen, Thurneysen, Reicke, Schmidt, Buess, among others, and, on the philosophy faculty, Karl Jaspers and Barth’s younger brother Heinrich.

Upon arrival, I joined a wonderful community of Americans, often with spouses, who were either already pursuing or beginning to pursue doctoral studies at the University. Also working with Barth were John Deschner, Shirley Guthrie, Charles Hall, and Paul van Buren. James Wharton was in Old Testament and Gilbert Thiel in Church History. Coming later but overlapping with me were Jack Bailey, James Cox, Neill Hamilton, and John Yoder. Others who studied in Basel but were not doctoral candidates were Paul (Bud) and Betty Achtemeier, Harold Nebelsick, and Calvin Seerveld, and English speakers from other countries included David Torrance from Scotland, Emilio Castro from Uruguay, and David Bosch and Johannes Lombard from South Africa. Many others on sabbatical leave or studying in other European universities came for short periods of time to hear Barth. And a German student whom you at Princeton know very well was in Basel taking his doctorate under Cullmann while I was there: Karlfried Froehlich!

The big attraction in Basel for all of us, of course, was Karl Barth himself. In 1953 he was sixty-seven years old, but in good health and quite vigorous and productive. Behind him were his tumultuous years in Germany: his teaching at Gottingen, Munster, and Bonn, and his leadership in the Church Struggle during the Nazi period. Behind him was the Second World War, when he did military patrol along the Rhine; it had been over for eight years. Behind him was his address at the founding of the World Council of  Churches at Amsterdam five years previously, and the subsequent debate with Reinhold Niebuhr. We were now in a new era. On the theological scene, Barth was dealing with Bultmann’s proposal to demythologize the New Testament; politically, he was criticizing the West’s attitude toward Russia and its conduct of the Cold War. Barth may have mellowed some with age, but he had lost none of his critical powers. Nor had he lost any of the vital interest in his family or in his parishoners at the Basel jail. And, of course, his lecturing and writing continued apace, as did the smoking of his pipe. Regarding the latter, you may recall Martin Niemoller’s saying about theologians: if you were a liberal, you smoked cigarettes; if you were conservative, you smoked cigars; but if you were a Barthian, you smoked a pipe!

That fall I began attending Barth’s lectures on dogmatics. What was he like as a lecturer? I don’t think I can improve on a description given by Marie Fuerth Sulzbach in a 1954 article in The Christian Century entitled “Karl Barth — A Portrait.” Here is what she wrote:

Four times a week, at four o’clock in the afternoon, some 160 students gather in Dr. Barth’s big, ultramodern classroom at the university. About a quarter past four they begin to stamp their feet on the floor — their traditional method of applause. Walking slowly up to the lecture desk is a big rumpled bear of a man with tousled gray hair and glittering spectacles. Carefully he puts down his worn briefcase, extracts a sheaf of paper and arranges it before him. Carefully he takes off his spectacles and exchanges them for a blacker and heavier pair. Then he begins: “Meine Damen und Herrn …”

For the next hour and a half the students listen to a new section of the great Dogmatics. They are the first in the world to hear it, for Dr. Barth’s lectures are the “growing end” of his work. Each has been dictated to his secretary only that day or the day before. He makes corrections on his manuscript as he lectures, and later, after further corrections, the lecture and its companions are sent to the printer. It takes about three semesters of lectures to make up one volume of the Dogmatics.

This account of Barth’s lectures accords with my memory, except at two points: first, I remember applause being the banging of your knuckles on your desk, the scraping of feet on the floor being a sign of disapproval of something that had been said; and, second, I recall the lectures as lasting one hour rather than an hour and a half. But otherwise, Sulzbach’s description is right on target. During my three years at Basel, from the winter semester of 1953 through the summer semester of 1956, Barth was lecturing on what became Volume IV, Part 2, of the Church Dogmatics , that is, that part of the Doctrine of Reconciliation entitled “Jesus Christ, the Servant as Lord,” and it was obvious that he enjoyed working on this section dealing with sanctification, a doctrine dear to the hearts of theologians in the Reformed tradition. At times Barth spoke with such passion that you thought you were hearing a sermon, and he used facial expressions and gestures to emphasize important points. On a hot day he would take a handkerchief from his pocket and frequently mop his brow. He was in no sense an unapproachable, aloof professor, but one who was outgoing and open to students. He possessed a powerful mind, enormous energy, a sharp wit, and a fine sense of humor. But he seemed not to think too highly of himself. After all, how could he — and still be a disciple of a crucified Lord?

Barth’s weekly teaching schedule was very demanding. In addition to the four lectures on Dogmatics, he held a so-called “Sozietat” for German-speaking students only, a Systematics Seminar, which was limited to about thirty regular participants but open to many more students who sat behind the others and could simply listen and observe, and, finally, a colloquium, held on alternate weeks for English-speaking and French-speaking students. Barth was at his best in these smaller settings: probing, challenging, correcting, and inspiring. He loved the give and take, the argument and debate. But he would abide no nonsense. A German student in a seminar on Schleiermacher tried to curry favor by using Barth’s own arguments against Schleiermacher’s theological position, and Barth cut him off, declaring: “Your first obligation is to read Schleiermacher himself and come to understand him from the inside; only then do you have a right to criticize him.”

Barth’s systematic seminars were held not on the main university campus but in the theological seminar building overlooking the Rhine River. The room he used was adorned with a marble bust of Schleiermacher, so that one could hardly fail to connect the two theologians. Barth conducted his seminars by having one student present a so-called Protokoll, a running account of what had taken place at the previous session, and then another student would present a precis of the reading assignment for the day. After that, the discussion would begin. During my six semesters the subject-matter of the seminars was as follows: (1) Luther’s Writings of 1520; (2) The Christian Hope (the theme of the Evanston Assembly of the World Council of Churches held in the summer of 1954); (3) Luther and the “Schwarmer” (“Enthusiasts” or “Fanatics”); (4) Schleiermacher’s Speeches on Religion (“Reden”); (5) Schleiermacher’s Shorter Theological Writings (“Monologen,” “Weihnachtsfeier,” and “Kurze Darstellung des Theologische Studium”); and (6) The Roman Catholic Doctrine of the Church.

The English-speaking Colloquium held every other Tuesday evening was a special delight because of the intimacy and the language spoken. What began with a few students sitting around the dining room table at Barth’s home on Pilgerstrasse, a few blocks from the University, soon had to be relocated because of the growing number of students, first to the Theological Seminar Building, and then, when Barth had to move from Pilgerstrasse and bought a house a few miles from the University on Bruderholzallee, to a private room in the nearby Bruderholz Restaurant. The new location, high on a hill overlooking the city, was easily accessible by street-car, and the proprietor of the restaurant allowed Barth to hold the Colloquium there so long as everyone bought something to drink: coffee, tea, soft drinks — and on a cold night Barth might have Gliihwein.

The subject-matter of the Colloquium was Barth’s own writings. During my years of participation we covered Volume I, Part One, of the Church Dogmatics , as well as four significant monographs: Church and State, The Christian Community and the Civil Community , The Teaching of the Church Regarding Baptism , and The Christian Understanding of Revelation. One student would prepare a precis of the assigned reading for the session, ending with a few questions to stimulate dialogue. Barth would deal with these questions and then entertain questions from others. If you are interested in the questions and answers, I invite you to read the book Karl Barth’s Table Talk , which was published by John Knox Press in 1963. I will give you one example. A student asked about human freedom. Does freedom mean you can say “yes” and “no” to God? Barth answered:

The decisive point is whether freedom in the Christian sense is identical with the freedom of Hercules: choice between two ways at a crossroad. This is a heathen notion of freedom. Is it freedom to decide for the devil? The only freedom that means something is freedom to be myself as I was created by God. God did not create a neutral creature, but His creature. He placed him in a garden that he might build it up; his freedom is to do that. When man began to discern good and evil, this knowledge was the beginning of sin. Man should not have asked this question about good and evil, but should have remained in true created freedom. We are confused by the political idea of freedom. What is the light in the Statue of Liberty? Freedom to choose good and evil? What light that would be! Light is light and not darkness. If it shines, darkness is done away with , not proposed for choice. Being a slave of Christ means being free.

Barth’s English was not the best, but he managed to communicate well. He had never studied the language in school but had learned it when middle-aged with the help of President John Mackay of Princeton, who on a visit had instructed him in the basics and urged him to practice by reading British mystery novels. His favorite mystery writer was Dorothy Sayers, and when he had to move from Pilgerstrasse he took from his attic a large box of mysteries and offered them to those of us who spoke English as “a gift from above”!

Barth’s new house on Bruderholzallee was more spacious and inviting. When you knocked on the door, you would usually be met by Frau Nelly Barth, a small, soft-spoken woman who would usher you up the stairway, at the top of which on the left was the doorway leading to Barth’s office. On the wall as you ascended were hung sizable pictures of many of the theologians one finds in Barth’s Protestant Theology in the Nineteenth Century , and just inside on the wall of his office were pictures of Calvin and Mozart hung side by side at the same height. Over his desk was Matthias Griinewald’s painting of the crucifixion, with John the Baptist standing below the cross on one side, pointing his bony finger toward the tortured body of Jesus and saying, “He must increase, I must decrease.” Alongside his desk was a record player and many records, mostly of Mozart’s music, which he played morning and evening. It reminded him of the joy of God’s creation.

Barth’s office was lined with books from top to bottom, and in an adjacent office, likewise lined with books, sat Fraulein Charlotte von Kirschbaum, Barth’s research assistant, secretary, and theological companion — the woman who typed almost all of the Church Dogmatics! She had lived in the Barth household since 1929. A warm and friendly and competent woman, she was, in a sense, Barth’s alter-ego, an indispensable confidant, advisor, and friend. She accompanied him to every lecture, seminar, and colloquium, but sat quietly and never entered into any discussion. She was particularly helpful to students by making appointments, providing bibliographical information, and sometimes sitting in on discussions about dissertations. Since Barth did not own a car, she and he rode the street-car to his classes and used the garage in the basement of the house for storage of more books and files. Some of those books, by the way, were about the American Civil War, about which Barth had an intense interest, not only because since a boy he liked to study military strategy and maneuvers, but because he believed the Civil War was the decisive event for understanding America, especially its problem of racism. As he once put it, “The South was never pacified.”

As a doctoral candidate I had several meetings with Barth. Mainly we would discuss matters of my dissertation topic, namely, the theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but sometimes we would talk about incidents in his own life or his views about this or that. I will give you two examples. The first concerns a meeting with Bonhoeffer. Barth had had no contact with Bonhoeffer for several years when in 1941 Bonhoeffer appeared at the Swiss border at Basel and was stopped by the border guards. Bearing a Nazi-endorsed pass, he was headed for Geneva to use his church contacts on behalf of the conspirators against Hitler who were trying to eliminate him and bring the war to an end. Bonhoeffer had become a civilian employee of the Abwehr, the German Military Intelligence Agency in which the conspiracy was centered. Because of their suspicions, the Swiss police would not let Bonhoeffer enter without someone to vouch for him. So Bonhoeffer called Barth and asked him to do so. Barth agreed to vouch for him, but only on the condition that Bonhoeffer visit him on his way back to Germany and explain what he was up to. On his return Bonhoeffer stopped at Barth’s house and told him all about the resistance movement and the plans to overthrow Hitler and make peace with the Allies. Barth told Bonhoeffer that he was not at all happy with the leadership of the military officers in the resistance plan, because he was afraid that, if the coup succeeded, the military might not be willing to relinquish power and set up a democratic government. In that case, the situation might be no better than before. But Bonhoeffer felt that the chance was worth taking. Their frank discussion meant that any doubts that Barth had about his friend Bonhoeffer were totally allayed.

On another occasion, I asked Barth how much of the Barmen Declaration he wrote, and he said that he wrote all of it with the exception of nineteen words added by Hans Asmussen. And then he told me this story. When members of the Lutheran, Reformed, and United churches who were opposed to the Nazification of the church in Germany decided to come together in Barmen on May 29-31, 1934, they appointed three persons to work on a common theological declaration for the meeting. These were Thomas Breit, a Lutheran from Bavaria, Hans Asmussen, a Lutheran from the Old Prussian Union, and Karl Barth, a representative of the Reformed. Breit wrote the other two to meet him at a hotel in Frankfort, where they could work out the declaration together. This they did, and during the morning they outlined the six points they wanted to make and decided on their plan of action. They would eat lunch at the hotel, then each go to his room and work out his own statement concerning the six areas, beginning at 2 and ending at 5 o’clock. Then they would come together at 5 p.m., compare what each had written, and then work out a common statement based on their three contributions.

Lunch arrived, and it was a fairly heavy one, served with wine, and afterwards there was coffee and liqueur and big black cigars. Then they went to their separate rooms. Barth ordered more coffee to be sent to his room and set to work, writing the whole declaration as it now stands, Bible quotations and all, between 2 and 5 (all, that is, except for the nineteen words noted above). At 5 o’clock there was a knock at the door. Asmussen entered and sheepishly explained that he had fallen asleep and slept the whole time. A bit later Breit came and exclaimed, “Oh! I went to sleep!” Both the Germans had lain down for their afternoon nap, a custom in Germany, had overslept, probably because of the wine and liqueur, and came with blank sheets of paper, whereas Barth, not accustomed to the nap, had written the Barmen Declaration! The other two men readily accepted his work, and thus it was that this Swiss Reformed theologian ended up writing the declaration or confession for the most important synod during the church struggle. Sometime later Asmussen made a special trip to Bonn to ask Barth if he could make a small addition to point two, and Barth said, “Sure!” The words, as translated into English, are these: “Through him (Christ) befalls us a joyful deliverance from the godless fetters of this world for a free, grateful service to his creatures.” Barth’s comment on the whole affair was the following: “Church history is probably full of queer incidents like this!”

Three events in 1956 linger in my memory. The first was Barth’s memorial address celebrating the 200th anniversary of the birth of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart on January 27, 1756. Tickets went on sale on January 18th, and the event took place at 10:45 a – m -, January 29th, in the Great Auditorium in the Stadtcasino in downtown Basel. A string quartet playing Mozart’s music entertained an overflowing crowd, and Barth gave a spirited address. His enthusiasm for his subject was evident, and also his delight at being asked to speak on this auspicious occasion. He, a mere theologian, was paying tribute to this world-renowned composer before hundreds of music lovers! Barth submitted the text of his address for inclusion in the Paul Tillich Festschrift, Religion and Culture : Essays in Honor of Paid Tillich. As he commented later,

“. . . the golden sounds and melodies of Mozart’s music have from early times spoken to me not as gospel but as parables of the realm of God’s free grace as revealed in the gospel — and they do so again and again with great spontaneity and directness. Without such music I could not think of that which concerns me personally in both theology and politics.” ( How I Changed My Mind. 72).

The second event occurred not long after the birth of my daughter Gretchen on the first of February. Barth and Frl. von Kirschbaum paid a visit to our apartment to see this latest addition to our family. Gretchen was lying peacefully in her crib. Barth leaned over and looked at her, then turned to me with a twinkle in his eye and asked: “Do you think she has original sin?!” The third event was the great 70th birthday celebration for Barth, which was held in the University’s student affairs house at 7:30 p.m. on May 9th, one day after the actual date of his birthday. In attendance were not only Basel faculty and students, but prominent theological colleagues, former students, and friends from all over Europe. The music of Mozart was played, and a large portrait of Barth was ceremoniously unveiled near the entrance on the first floor of the building. After Barth spoke words of appreciation, the crowd proceeded to the bottom floor which had been turned into a huge banquet hall. Following dinner, several tributes were paid to Barth and a large Festschrift entitled Antwort ( Response ) was presented. It contained seventy responses to Barth’s theological work. Believe it or not, Barth suspended his lectures on Dogmatics during the upcoming summer semester, so that he could write each contributor a personal letter of thanks! We American students wanted to do something typically “American” to mark the occasion, so my wife baked a large cake, which we decorated with seventy candles. At the right moment, we lit the candles and one of us proceeded cautiously up to the head table where Barth was sitting. I have a picture of him blowing out the candles as we sang “Happy Birthday” to an amused Karl Barth! All in all, it was an unforgettable evening!

I have already spoken of Barth’s keen wit and humor, but now let me give you a few examples, some of which were supplied to me by friends.

(1) A graduate student asked Barth: “What is the role of reason in your theology?” Barth answered: “I use it.”

(2) A man on the street who was introduced to Barth asked him if he knew the great theologian. “Know him?” Barth replied, “I shave him every morning! ”

(3) After the service in a parish church where Barth had been preaching one Sunday, he was met at the door by a man who greeted him with these words: “Professor Barth, thank you for your sermon. I’m an astronomer, you know, and as far as I am concerned, the whole of Christianity can be summed up by saying ‘Do unto others as you would have others do unto you’.”

Barth replied: “Well, I am just a humble theologian, and as far as I am concerned the whole of astronomy can be summed up by saying ‘Twinkle, twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are’.”

(4) Asked about his view on temperance, Barth quipped: “One may be a non-smoker, abstainer, and vegetarian, yet be called Adolf Hitler!”

(5) A theological professor from Scandinavia who visited Barth spoke a great deal about sin and the devil. Had Barth sufficiently taken these powers into consideration? After a long discussion, Barth asserted that the matter could be summarized thusly: “We are united in Christ, but not united in the devil.”

(6) When an American doctoral candidate in Old Testament told Barth that Professor Baumgartner had proposed that he write a dissertation on “The Place of Animals in the Old Testament,” Barth said, “I hope you find something nice to say about pigs.” When asked “Why?” Barth replied: “Because I love pork chops!” When the student had finished his research, he told Barth that he was sorry, but he really couldn’t find anything nice to say about pigs. Barth replied: “It’s a pity, but not too bad. My doctor has forbidden me to eat pork any more.”

(7) Sometime before Barth’s 70th birthday celebration, Frl. von Kirschbaum showed me the picture of Barth that was to be used in the Festschrift Antwort. I asked her if I could have a copy, and she said “yes.” On hearing this, Barth turned to me and said, “I just want to remind you of one thing, Herr Godsey: remember the Second Commandment!”

(8) Paul Tillich had been to Bethlehem and stopped off in Basel on the way home to visit his old friend Karl Barth. With great excitement he told Barth of his visit to the Church of the Nativity. He recounted going down into the crypt where there was a silver star, marking the birthplace of Christ. “Karl,” he said, “on that star there is an inscription ‘‘Here the Word of God was made flesh.’ You know, Karl, that sums up the whole of my theology — all except for that ‘here’!” “Ah, Paul,” Barth replied, “that ‘here’ sums up the whole difference between your theology and mine.”

(9) Finally, Barth could joke about his own work, while at the same time making an important point. “The angels laugh at old Karl,” he wrote. “They laugh at him because he tries to grasp the truth about God in a book of Dogmatics. They laugh at the fact that volume follows volume, and each is thicker than the previous one. As they laugh, they say to one another, ‘Look! Here he comes now with his little pushcart full of volumes of the Dogmatics!’ — and they laugh about the persons who write so much about Karl Barth instead of writing about the things he is trying to write about. Truly, the angels laugh.”

Karl Barth — he was truly a remarkable human being! As Bonhoeffer observed after visiting him in Bonn in 1931, “Barth in person is even better than his books.” After my departure from Basel in 1956, I saw him on four more occasions. In June of 1958, with dissertation complete and accepted, I returned to Basel for my oral examinations with Cullmann, Staehelin, and Barth. After these were over, Barth invited me to lunch at his home. We had a delightful luncheon and celebrated the fact that I had passed the exams. Moreover, we were joined by Frau Barth, Frl. von Kirschbaum, and Barth’s theological assistant Hinrich Stoevesant, which made the time even more special. The second time I saw Barth was in Princeton in 1962, when he was on his American tour. I heard his lectures in the Princeton University Chapel, and some of us who had been his students in Basel had an opportunity to visit with him and Frl. von Kirschbaum. Finally, when I was on sabbatical leave in Gottingen during the schoolyear of 1964-65, I visited Barth twice: first, in September of 1964, when I found him ill and in the hospital, and then on June 9, 1965, when I spent over two hours with him alone in his study. He had recovered his health, and we had a wonderful conversation about many things.

In speaking of his illness the previous fall, he reported that his successor at Basel, Heinrich Ott, had had an audience with Pope Paul VI while attending a meeting in Rome, and when learning of Barth’s hospitalization, the Pope said he would pray for him. “Believe it or not,” said Barth, “the next day I was better!” He also reported that he had received a letter from Albert Schweitzer, who had heard of his illness and had sent his condolences — a letter he said touched him deeply. Also, he said that none of his doctors had forbidden him to smoke his pipe, and he was grateful! He quipped, “The pipe burns as always!”

Now that he was feeling well again, Barth said he was enjoying reading the works of some of the younger theologians: Jiingel, Moltmann, Pannenberg, and others. He was also eagerly awaiting the third volume of Bruce Catton’s history of the American Civil War. In relation to the Civil War, he recounted this story. On July 2, 1963, he had participated in the oral examinations of an American doctoral candidate at the University. Because of the date, he couldn’t resist the temptation to test the student’s knowledge of his own heritage. “Do you know what happened in your country 100 years ago today?” he asked. When the student admitted that he didn’t know, Barth said, “Shame on you. It was the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg!”

Barth asked if I noticed anything different about his office, and I observed that he had a new desk and chair. He beamed and asked if I knew the whereabouts of the old ones. I said “no,” and he then told me they were now on display in the library of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary! It seems that Donald G. Miller, President of Pittsburgh Seminary, had visited him in Basel and had asked if his seminary might have the desk and chair Barth had used while writing the Church Dogmatics , explaining that in exchange he would receive new ones. Barth snapped up what he considered to be a good bargain. After showing me the file drawers in the desk and the rollers on his comfortable chair, he said, “These are so much more beautiful than my old ones. I feel like a bank president! Perhaps one could say of me, ‘In his old days he has become modern’.”

I asked Barth if he would write any more volumes of the Church Dogmatics , and he said: “Probably not. After all, I have already written enough for people to read. When people ask me about a 13th volume, I am inclined to ask if they had finished the first twelve!” He compared his unfinished work to the Strasbourg Cathedral, which has only one tower although the plan called for two. “There is a certain merit,” he said, “to an unfinished dogmatics; it points to the eschatological character of theology!”

I left Barth that day, the last time I saw him, with those words on my mind: “the eschatological character of theology.” I could close these reminiscences on the same note, but, instead, I choose to end with some words of Barth about the doctrine of election: two passages from Robert McAfee Brown’s fine introduction to his English translation of Georges Casalis’ Portrait of Karl Barth: Barth asserts that God deals with human beings “not with a natural Therefore, but with a miraculous Nevertheless.” (CD II/2, 315) The sequence is not “Humans are unworthy, therefore God rejects them,” but rather “Humans are unworthy, nevertheless God elects them.” That is why humans can hope, why they can believe, why they can trust in God.

And, finally, this: The gospel is not the mystery of incomprehensible darkness (as it has often been for the orthodox) but the mystery of incomprehensible light. It is not that we see so little of what God has done that we are puzzled, but that in the light of God’s revelation in Christ we see so much of what God has done that we are dazzled.

Karl Barth — a man dazzled by the gospel, dazzling as a witness! A man whose guiding light was the Word of God, who followed the light of that Word with faithfulness and integrity throughout his adult life, and who found his journey as a disciple of Jesus Christ to be sustained by the joyful and comforting presence of God’s grace-filled Spirit. The world is not likely to see another like him!


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