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The Early Preaching of Karl Barth: Fourteen Sermons with Commentary by William H. Willimon 1st Edition

4.7 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0664233679
ISBN-10: 0664233678
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

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.

William H. Willimon is the Presiding Bishop of the Birmingham Area of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church. Recognized as one of the most effective preachers in the English-speaking world, he is the author of several books, including United Methodist Beliefs: A Brief Introduction and The Early Preaching of Karl Barth, both published by WJK.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 190 pages
  • Publisher: Westminster John Knox Press; 1 edition (September 2, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0664233678
  • ISBN-13: 978-0664233679
  • Product Dimensions: 7.5 x 0.4 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #338,744 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
THE EARLY PREACHING OF KARL BARTH: Fourteen Sermons with Commentary by William H. Willimon. By Karl Barth and William H. Willimon. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009. Xvii + 171.

Preaching has changed over the years, whether for the good or ill is difficult to say. In an earlier day, at least as seen from reading sermons by the young Karl Barth, preachers demanded more of the listeners than is normally expected of someone sitting in the pews today. There is less emphasis on the "practical" and more on the "theological."

This book contains fourteen sermons preached by Karl Barth to the people of the small Swiss village of Safenwil between 1917 and 1920. They have been carefully selected by William Willimon, and translated by John E. Wilson. Barth began his pastorate in 1911, but the sermons come from the end of Barth's tenure in the pastorate - just before he left for a teaching post at Gottingen. They also come from an interesting period of European history - from the closing years of World War I through the immediate aftermath. It is a period of transition, marked by the Revolution in Russia - an event that is very much present in Barth's mind and preaching. Both the war and the revolution seem to represent the movement into a new age, where old paradigms no longer hold true.

The sermons represent Barth's period of turning from the liberalism of his theological training. Themes that appear in the Romans commentaries are present as well. As he preaches, his focus is not on anthropology, but Christology. His sermons point to the in breaking of the divine, the wholly other, into the world. His sermons, while not always strictly rooted in the text, seek to be true to the biblical message.
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Format: Paperback
How do you critique Karl Barth, one of the most important theologians of the 20th century, if not modern Western Christianity? You cannot, so I will simply leave this review to the translation and the commentary.

This is the first time that these sermons have appeared in English, and they are each one as powerful as the next. Translated by John E. Wilson, there is none of the translation clatter which might accompany the work. They read as natural in English as they would have been spoken in German. The NRSV has been used, unless Barth's translation is different than the English translation, and Barth's underlining of segments has made it through as italicized words.

What Willimon has done is to assemble Barth's early sermons, those given while he was still a 'country preacher' in Safenwil, Switzerland, into a contemporary commentary on our present society. Barth preached these sermons between 1917 and 1920, when the guns of war thundered across Europe, Socialism was on the rise, and much of the aristocratic structure of European society was being questioned. There was change in the air, and Barth as on the front of it.

In providing commentary, Willimon leaves Barth to his own devices, but reminds us of them. He sets the context for the readers of Barth, trying to bring us along side his listeners. He does set himself, though, as the object of many of Barth's sermons, examining himself in the light of the preacher's words. Sometimes, he admits that he simply has no clue where Barth is coming from - he doesn't offer correction - and at other times, he acknowledges that his 21st century American mind has a lot to do with it. Willimon handles Barth with respect, but not hero-worship.
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This was a pleasant surprise. Weekly sermons preached by a young, earnest, pastor to a rural congregation in a small town in the early 20th Century. Sermons encouraging them to think deeply about the limitations of their imaginations, and the overwhelmingly greater importance of the faithfulness of God.
You have to feel sorry for the farm hands, shop assistants, child minders and school children forming the congregation. They could have had little understanding of whatever their Pastor was rabbiting on about. It would not have been much help to hear these words and then face the mundane problems of real life.
The comments by William Willimon are illuminating. They are not uncritical, but are inclined to be over indulgent to the scholar who bewildered his congregation. Come on, the model preacher who founded the Movement spoke of sheep and coins and farming and fishing and baking. They may not have understood him over much either, but at least he did not string words together that require a University training to start to make sense of them.
The sermons were still a pleasure to read by someone who has never worked with his hands
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