“Deprivation and hope”

December 10, 2010

Swiss Reformed theologian Karl Barth, who, among many other things, led the “Confessing Church” movement in Germany to resist Hitler and Nazism, died on this date in 1968. He mailed their Barmen Declaration to Hitler personally.

I haven’t read much Barth, but I’ve made my way through about half of his landmark Epistle to the Romans. Ostensibly a commentary on Paul’s letter published in the 1920s, his Epistle is dense and difficult and utterly unlike any commentary you’ve ever read. He approaches Romans as if the apostle Paul wrote this letter yesterday—as if it’s as relevant to us as the most urgent headline in this morning’s paper.

Frankly, it kicks my butt. At times, however, his prose sings like poetry, as in the following excerpt from his commentary on Romans 1:16: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”

In this passage, Barth is following a theological course known as via negativa:  we can only know God by what God is not. Whatever we are, God is something else entirely. Our temptation—the Church’s temptation—is to constantly make God into our own image. We too often worship what Barth calls elsewhere in this book the “Not-God”—a terrible kind of idolatry.

See if you can at least catch a sense of the spirit of the thing. His writing is a bit like riding a roller-coaster—lots of twists and turns, so hold on tight.

One Response to ““Deprivation and hope””

  1. Paul Wallace Says:

    Thanks for this, Brent. Barth (as you know) kicks my butt also. In the best possible way.

    It’s really good to be in conversation with you.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: