From the pen of Karl Barth, “Insights”

Westminster John Knox just released a great collection of 119 short passages from Barth’s writings,Karl Barth by Oliver Crisp Insights: Karl Barth’s Reflections on the Life of Faith (translated from Eberhard Busch’s Augenblick [2001]).

This little book would make a nice gift for someone you want to give a winsome and easily accessible taste of Barth’s thought.  The excerpts are drawn from across Barth’s corpus including his sermons, ethical writings and, of course, the Church Dogmatics and are organized under broad headings like ‘Confident Courage’, ‘The Christian Life’, and ‘We Will See’. A nice feature of the collection is that each one-page selection is related to a scripture verse, making the book an ideal way to invite Barth into your devotional life. Reader beware: Doing so will surely leave you different than when you began.

One of my favorite selections is on the church entitled “The Upper Hand” and is taken from Barth’s Gespräche 1959-1962. The Scripture verse is Matthew 16:18 – ‘The gates of Hades will not prevail against it.’

In all the world, there is only one possibility fro the church: simply be the church! The church means those who are around Jesus and whom he sees all around him. The church is Jesus’ “circle”: the group around him that in a totalitarian world is nourished solely by word of God. And the more totalitarian the behavior of the world, the freer they are to believe and obey, because Jesus is there and the church stands around him. When it does this, then its existence is possible. Then the church is a bulwark of liberty, even when it is oppressed. Then the church has power and is perhaps the only power that exists in this world ruled by powers. The church has the wonderful opportunity to have the upper hand over the totalitarian world, not with a balled first, but peacefully and happily. The church can also wait, and it knows that it does not wait in vain. The church knows that all of the totalities of the world – which are really false divinities – are lies. Ultimately one cannot be afraid of lies. The truth will out, and in the church, that can be known. The more the church lives in humility and knows that there is also much falsehood in ourselves, the more certainly it can also know that God rules – over the lies in us and over the lies in the world. Then the church can, in all circumstances, do its duty and forbid itself to be anxious about the future. Its future is its Lord (p. 90).

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5 thoughts on “From the pen of Karl Barth, “Insights”

  1. I’m a layman looking for a recommendation on one of Barth’s titles that could best serve as an introduction to his thought. I’ve not read him before and am a neophyte as far as theology is concerned.

    What would you suggest?

  2. I have not read the book Kent is referring to, which sounds like it would be a good “taste” of Barth, but I tend to recommend his Evangelical Theology. It is a great read and he tries to cast a vision for what evangelical theology should be. It is well worth the time and effort.

  3. Antonio, I agree with Kyle. Reading Evangelical Theology would give you a great taste of Barth’s thought on theology if you wanted to read one of Barth’s works from cover to cover. On the other hand, if you want to read something shorter that would give you a sense of his broad interests, engaging writing style and challenging insights the book I reviewed here, Insights, would be a good place to start. Because they are just excerpts, however, you won’t get a full sense for any of the works from which they are taken – in anything, I think it will make you want to read more. Hope that helps.

  4. Great stuff. Thanks for posting this. It’s very timely too as I’ve been thinking about writing a piece on the notion of power in the church. Good ol’ Uncle Karl always puts it so well.

  5. I’ve been a huge Barth fan for a long time, but recently I’ve been a-wondering. Acknowledged him in my last post- and excited to find this blog!

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