Karl Barth: Man Crush

Hello, kids! We just flew back from a trip to the East Coast for our little brother’s wedding, and let me tell you more than our arms are tired. It was an aggressively secular wedding, among over one hundred remarkably successful Americans, and God was not on the guest list.

Or was It?

We were in a minority of one on the way out and back, since we were trying to understand Karl Barth. And let me tell you, there are certain characters in religious history we here at TGPDotNet find very appealing. One of them is Paul, the relentless apostle most likely to have secret super-powers. Another is Teresa of Avila, the Pamela Anderson of mystics. Then there’s Karl Barth.

Barth was a German Protestant theologian who died just before the Summer of Love, writer of the 13-volume Church Dogmatics, and all around intellectual stud. We admit to a posthumous bromance.

That very, very few of us have heard of Barth says more about a decline in the mainstream cool factor of intellectuals than any kind of fustiness. Most of us know about as much about Barth as we know about George Balanchine, the towering figure – the Stravinsky, Picasso or Einstein – of 20th century ballet choreography. Yes, I’m saying theology is about as stylish as ballet.

Meaning: Very.

There will be more to say about him in time, but I’ll honor the still, small voice inside and spend a moment on one shocking thing I think I learned about Barth in the Dulles International Airport while waiting for our flight to Minneapolis.

Now, Barth reacted violently against the dominant so-called Liberal theology of the 19th century that stressed the importance of personal feeling and intuition in relation to God, as against  the calculating logic of a chilly genius like Kant. What Barth thought was that the Liberals had completed the Enlightenment project of turning God into Man, with a louder voice.

Barth said, famously: Nein!

Since we’re looking for God here, we should define our terms. Barth brings up an option: God is absolutely other than people; there is no point of contact between us. We can not feel or even reason our way to belief. God reveals himself to us through his Word, but that Word is not a guidebook but an event that we encounter, like we’d attend, say, a wedding.

We can’t feel God. We can’t understand It. We can only have faith. Which is:

“. . . the rendering of a knowledge which no man has procured for himself or ever will; which is neither native to him nor accessible to him by way of observation and logical thinking; for which he has no organ and no ability; which he can in fact achieve only in faith; but which is actually consummated in faith; i.e., in the reception of and response to the divine witness.” [CD III 1:3]

Barth gives God all the power.

Reminded me of the Book of Job, Chapter 38, when God loses it: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.”

One outcome for The God Project is that we will cross all human history and discover that we can not understand.



2 responses to “Karl Barth: Man Crush

  1. God was on the guest list and present through our mothers, who both contributed holiness to the ceremony.

  2. Thanks, Fiona – I thought I noticed a certain glow around the mothers’ heads, especially during the hiking song! 🙂

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