The Great Passion

by Kim on November 24, 2009

“To what may we liken [the] distinctive theology [of Karl Barth]? It has a character of its own. To come upon it is like entering a light and roomy and beautiful church with wide-open windows and open doors that invite an entrance and welcome the everyday world…. He was convinced that the church does not serve people aright, or protect them properly against dangers, if in doing so it is diverted from its own worship of God and interrupts it.

“His theology is focused on such worship as the community’s service of God. It is itself an act of worship and service, related to the reformers in the conviction that it is worship in the field of thought. Not by coming up short intellectually! When asked concerning the significance of reason in his theology, he said: ‘I use it.’ Regarding laziness of thought, he said that ’stupidity is also sin.’ Yet theology draws its life from the Holy Spirit, who is ‘an express friend of a healthy human understanding.’ But: the service of God on the field of thought! Theology carries out this worshipful service in that it understands clearly that ‘theology can be performed … only in the act of prayer.’…

“Worship services have good reason to be beautiful. Similarly a theology that combines work and prayer, even though it involves sighing and stammering, will have to be ‘a particularly beautiful science. Indeed, we can confidently say that it is the most beautiful of all sciences…. It is an extreme form of Philistinism to find, or to be able to find, theology distasteful….’

“Barth’s theology does not only query theology regarding its spiritual substance. For all the questioning, theology has its own distinctive quality. Even where it is modern, it repudiates what is coquettishly novel. Even where it stands in the tradition of the church, it plows a new furrow. When speaking about what concerns it deeply, it refrains from subjective emotionality. And yet when it thinks ’strictly objectively,’ it does so with perceptible warmth. It speaks often in an elementary way yet avoids catchwords. It goes into detail at times but steers clear of what is unimportant. It focuses on the singular center of faith yet sees it from different concrete angles. It does not address a detail without keeping the total picture in view. It gets down to the root of things yet keeps in mind the possible and necessary ramifications. It steadfastly puts to scripture the question whether this is how it is, and it does not separate from dogmatics the ethical question: ‘What shall we do?’ It professes a definite knowledge but does not ride certain principles to death, because it is always engaged in a long march forwards, without ever roving around short of breath and purpose. Even in difficult movements of thought it never loses the childlikeness of faith. Starting from faith, it relentlessly seeks insight, enlightenment. It never flees from problems, and it recalls forgotten issues… In addressing its temporal context, his theology was more like the needle of a compass than a weather vane…. He knew that it was tied to the object of its knowledge, and yet it moved in the air of freedom in which it could appropriate the insights even of non-Christians. It distrusted the force of its own logic and asked always whether its efforts of thought might not involve a ‘flight from the living God.’ Nevertheless, it was always sure of its subject mater… Adopting a phrase of Nietzsche, we might call Barth’s theology a ‘joyous science.’”

Eberhard Busch, The Great Passion: An Introduction to Karl Barth’s Theology, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromily, eds. Darrell L. Guder and Judith J. Guder (Grand Rapids / Cambridge: William B. Eerdmans, 2004), pp. 13-15.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }


Swan 11.24.09 at 5:38 pm

This makes me want to read Karl Barth’s theology. Any recommendations where to start?


Richard 11.24.09 at 6:28 pm

That’ll please Kim no end, Swan :) Dare I suggest his “Dogmatics in Outline” as a jumping off place? Kim may have other, perhaps more adventurous, ideas.


Kim 11.24.09 at 9:19 pm

Even better, for starters, I’d suggest the public lectures Barth gave during his only trip to the US in 1962, brought together in Evangelical Theology: An Introduction (1963). Enjoy!


Swan 11.29.09 at 4:16 am

Thanks. Our public library seems to have the Evangelical Theology: An Introduction available! I’ll see what it’s like and whether I should get the German original :)

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