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Karl Barth: His life from letters and autobiographical texts Paperback – International Edition, April 26, 2012
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Highly recommended for anyone beginning to study his theology, neo-orthodoxy, reformed theology or a critique against liberal German Christianity.
Barth had a rich life--here are just a few tidbits to whet your appetite. He felt compelled to speak out about issues that concerned him--against natural theology, Nazism, the demonizing communism, nuclear weaponry, and infant baptism. But he also depended on friendships and interaction with others to fuel and guide his passion. As a pastor from age 25 to 35, he struggled with preaching--"the depressing ups and downs" (89) and found some relief at being able to talk about it with his lifelong friend and fellow pastor Eduard Thurneysen (73-74). "We tried to learn our theological ABC all over again, beginning by reading and interpreting the writing of the Old and New Testaments, more thoughtfully than before. And lo and behold, they began to speak to us" (97). After Barth was rumored to have spoken up about a political issue "four of the six members of his church committee resigned" (106). Then Barth was denied a pay raise--he had been working at almost the same salary for 7 years (107). Finally, it was increased but "with 99 dissenting votes" (107). He was considered for two other churches but they did not offer him a position (122-123). Eventually, after Barth's Epistle to the Romans was published, he was offered a professor position--but since he had no dissertation, it was an honorary one in Reformed Theology--to which he admitted he knew little about. "I can now admit that at that time I didn't even have a copy of the Reformed confessions, and I certainly hadn't read them" (129). Often he did not get along that well with other faculty at the schools where he taught. Other faculty were hired to "cancel out" his influence and his successors usually had theological views that were polar opposites to him. His completely rewrote his first attempts at the books Epistle to the Romans and Dogmatics because of his unhappiness with them. He had a female theological assistant and close companion Charlotte von Kirschbaum who was by his side for almost his entire career (from 1928 on) yet he remained married and his wife ended up caring for him in his old age (185-186, 472-473). Barth clashed vehemently and publicly (and usually reconciled personally later on) with all of his theological contemporaries. He loved the music of Mozart; was banned from speaking in public in Nazi Germany (259); helped and criticized the Confessing Church; praised and critiqued Roman Catholicism and John Calvin; regularly preached in a prison; saw Martin Luther King, Jr. and Billy Graham preach; corresponded with popes and even had the current pope Joseph Ratzinger sit in and help answer questions in one of his seminars (485); and enjoyed his four children, 15 grandchildren and 2 great grandchildren.
If you've heard about Karl Barth, read this book--you will then have a much better idea where he is coming from when you read his work.
What I was not particularly aware of was the story of Barth "the man." I knew of his opposition to Hitler, but not the whole story; I knew he was both loved and hated by the Swiss and Germans, but not the reasons. I had no knowledge of his intellecual journey.
Busch's biography answers all of these questions with astounding clarity and remarkably makes himself an unknown person by using primariliy Barth's own words from his writings and letters. This is an achievement that is unsurpassed in the books I have read. Busch is to be commended for a sigularly fascinating and enlightening read.
Read and Enjoy!