Barth in Conversation

Volume 1, 1959-1962

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Karl Barth
Editor(s): 
Eberhard Busch
  • Louisville, KY: 
    Westminster John Knox Press
    , November
     2017.
     350 pages.
     $40.00.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9780664264000.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Barth in Conversation, a volume edited by Eberhard Busch, consists of excerpts from Karl Barth’s correspondence between 1959 and 1962. This translation from Barth’s Gesamtausgabe (Collected Works) highlights his humor, candor, and brilliance anew.

Each entry includes an introduction that sets the conversation in context, whether from a news article, press conference, or interview for Time, Newsweek, or the BBC. Readers encounter the same Barth throughout, instinctively answering the questions of seminary students, pastors, and chaplains, and interacting with the principles of Pietism, Catholicism, and Calvinism.

As might be expected, readers often find Barth responding to a concern of universalism, time and time again proclaiming Christ as Lord of all. In the same fashion, we are confronted by Barth’s commitment to the Church and passion for its missionary task. Those within faith communities will find his potent words ringing through their souls as they consider the limits of their evangelistic efforts.

While readers of Barth may get distracted by his demanding theological concepts, this volume does not allow us to forget the political challenges Barth presents. Instead, we are faced with Barth’s explicit and repeated call to active responsibility within our communities, as he takes up the question of nuclear warfare, the purpose of prisons, and even fiscal stewardship when it comes to expenditures like space travel. Attentive readers will even discover Barth’s assessment of the USA and perception of the greatest failure of contemporary Protestantism.

Those familiar with Barth will appreciate how this volume complements his vast theological works, providing greater insight into this incredible theologian’s personality and contributions. Standing in his own lane, Barth critiques both the conservative focus on hell and the devil, as well as liberal ties to Bultmann and the study of philosophy. It seems Barth’s third way was hard fought, after years of grappling with “worldviews and ideas, theologies, and false teachings” (17). He expresses finally being able to breathe “freely” when he finished the Prolegomena to Church Dogmatics, ready to move on to a uniquely positive presentation of God.

This is not a volume for those new to Barth, but it is certainly a welcome addition to the growing field of Barth studies. Readers will feel that strange sense of gratitude and disappointment as they wish there were more “conversations.” It’s the joy of discovering deleted scenes from your favorite television series, only to remember it was cancelled long ago and the actors have moved on. Still, students, pastors, and academics alike will be encouraged by this work, reading it quickly and returning to it often.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Catherine C. Tobey is an Independent Scholar.

Date of Review: 
March 28, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Karl Barth (1886-1968) was professor of theology at the University of Basel, Switzerland. One of the greatest theologians and preachers of the twentieth century, he is best known for his monumental systematic theology, Church Dogmatics.

 

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