Dear Mr. N.N.,
You very kindly sent me your writing along with an accompanying letter. I thank you for this but I also have to admit quite openly that I took no pleasure in reading it.
As opposed to what you learned from the other side, I have to say that precisely ‘in essentials’ I am not one with you and that I do not expect this publication of yours to have any salutary effect.
Why not? Because I do not detect in your work the slightest trace of what is called in holy scripture the peace of God that passes all understanding.
You say many correct things. But what is correct is not always true. Only what is said kindly is true. You do not speak kindly in a single line.
You utter a powerful No on all possible sides. It is indeed necessary to say No too. But the right No can only be one which derives from and is upheld by an even more powerful Yes. I hear you say only No.
You accuse. That too has to be done. But again, if this is Christian accusation, it has to be enclosed in the promise, in the glad tidings of God’s grace. In you it is naked accusation.
You demand that others repent. Sometimes one must dare to do this. But only he may do so who himself repents and lives in repentance. You preach down from your high horse, righteous amid the unrighteous, pure among the impure..
Dear Mr. N.N., I am in my eighty-third year; I am ahead of you by many years along with their experience of life, and I can only say: It cannot be done as you are trying to do it in your book. A Christian should not speak as you do either to his fellow Christians or to his fellow-men, nor should the church speak thus to the world.
I hope you will not feel dressed down by what I say as you were by that Zurich pastor. I concede that you mean well. But in my serious opinion you must mean well in a better way….
Karl Barth, from a letter to N.N. in Switzerland, in Karl Barth: Letters: 1961-1968 (1981), pp. 328-29.