Karl Barth made the cover of Time magazine on April 20, 1962.

In the 20th century, no man has been a stronger witness to the continuing significance of Christ’s death and Christ’s return than the world’s ranking Protestant theologian, Swiss-born Karl Barth (rhymes with heart). Barth knows that the Gospel accounts of the Resurrection are not coherent, but he refuses to make the mystery more palatable to human reason by suggesting—as did the great 19th century Theologian D. F. Strauss in his Life of Jesus—that the story of the crucifixion is a “myth.” Instead, Barth argues that the subject of this unique event is God, not man; and only God can know the full truth of his own history. Man’s only road to understanding of this divine history is through faith—faith in the reality and truth of what the Evangelists so incoherently describe.

“Do you want to believe in the living Christ?” says Barth. “We may believe in him only if we believe in his corporeal resurrection. This is the content of the New Testament. We are always free to reject it, but not to modify it, nor to pretend that the New Testament tells something else. We may accept or refuse the message, but we may not change it.”

These are fighting words and so very true.

Essentially, Barth is a Christological theologian, whose uniquely modern thought centers around ancient realities: faith, the Bible, the church. He has a philosopher’s knowledge of philosophy, but unlike such contemporaries as Tillich or Bultmann, Barth is wary of restating the dogmas of the church in nontraditional language. His thought is complex, but he nonetheless writes of doctrine in prose that is not far removed from that of the pulpit. Above all he writes of the mysterious history of Christ. Knowledge of God is knowledge of God through Christ. Faith is faith in Christ; the church is the Church of Christ; the Bible is the witness of Christ. Theologian Hans Frei of Yale calls him “a Christ-intoxicated man.”

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