Happy 125th Birthday, Uncle Karl!


Today is Karl Barth’s birthday. The pastor of Safenwil, the drafter of the historic Barmen Declaration, and the author of the monumental Church Dogmatics was born this day in 1886, and died on December 10, 1968 (the same day as Thomas Merton).

Love him or hate him, if you take Christian theology seriously, you must read him and deal with him. He first came to the world’s attention with his incendiary commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Romans (Romerbrief, second edition, 1922) which Karl Adams described as falling like “a bomb on the playground of the theologians.” I personally consider Barth’s Romans to be one of the most significant and incandescent Christian writings since the closing of the canon.

I have been a pastor for over thirty years and no sermon preparation was ever complete without checking the index to the Dogmatics to see what Uncle Karl had written about the text under consideration. His exegetical rigor, his mastery of the breadth and depth of the tradition, his grasp of the issues confronting the interpreter, and his unflagging faith in the God whose love is revealed in Jesus Christ make him still a singular figure within the church and its thinkers.

So tonight I will raise a glass to Karl Barth (and put on some Mozart), as I give thanks to God for him and his labors on behalf of the church.