Tag Archives | Karl Barth

Deliverance to the Captives | Karl Barth

The cover of Barth's Deliverance to the CaptivesKarl Barth is a theological giant of the Twentieth Century. His fourteen volume, 9,200 page Church Dogmatics has cemented his legacy. This background is what makes Deliverance to the Captives so interesting. It’s a collection of sermons Barth delivered to “avowedly critical and ‘un-Christian'” (Schwarz in Barth 12) prisoners. Is it possible for Barth to simplify his theology to connect with the every-man?

The answer is a resounding “Yes!” For each message, Barth takes a short snippet of scripture and simply reflects on it. “You Shall Be My People” (60-66) is a good example. In preaching on Leviticus 26:12, “I will walk among you, and will be your God, and you shall be my people,” he simply breaks the passage down into its three statements and shares his thoughts on them.

I was impressed by Barth’s bold humility. He didn’t shy away from the fact that he was preaching to prisoners. In fact, he specifically chose passages like Romans 11:32, “For God has made all men prisoners, that he may have mercy upon all.” He didn’t hesitate to include himself as “prisoner.”

Barth’s messages in Deliverance to the Captives have the power to speak to spiritual and physical captives even today.


Barth, Karl. Deliverance to the Captivesds. Translated by Marguerite Wieser. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1961.

Gilead | Marilynne Robinson

The cover of Gilead by Marilynne RobinsonIf Marilynne Robinson wasn’t a writer, she could have been a therapist. I’ve never encountered a person who is able to so thoroughly understand the deep motivations of another human being as well as her. In Gilead, she writes with the honest voice of an elderly preacher living in the 1950s.

Gilead is the (fictional) memoir of Rev. John Aimes. Recognizing that his heart condition will soon get the better of him, he wrote this book to give his young son a way to understand him after his death. The memoir is filled with stories of his relationships to his family and friends both past and present.

This book resonated with me in a number of ways. As a father, hearing Aimes talk about the little details of his son’s life through the bittersweet lens of his encroaching death was very poignant. Take this reflection, for example:

At this very moment I feel a kind of loving grief for you as you read this, because I do not know you, and because you have grown up fatherless, you poor child, lying on your belly now in the sun with Soapy asleep on the small of your back. You are drawing those terrible little pictures that you will bring me to admire, and which I will admire because I have not the heart to say one word that you might remember against me. (104)

One joy in reading this book was Aimes’ love for theology. He read Barth and Calvin and was able to reflect with both theological depth and pastoral charity. Consider the truth in this passage, where Aimes remembers feeling challenged to save an unbelieving friend:

They want me to defend religion, and they want me to give them “proofs.” I just won’t do it. It only confirms them in their skepticism. But nothing true can be said about God from a posture of defense. (177)

I suppose the most overarching quality the drew me into this book was Rev. Aimes’ honesty. It was almost unsettling read the life of a man who was so honest with himself.

Would that we all could live such examined lives.

—Marilynne Robinson, Gilead (New York: Harper Perennial, 2004).

Grace and Gratitude | Karl Barth

Charis always demands the answer eucharistia (that is, grace always demands the answer of gratitude). Grace and gratitude belong together like heaven and earth. Grace evokes gratitude like the voice and echo. Gratitude follows grace as thunder follows lightning.

—Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 4/1, 4.

Incarnation by Thomas F. Torrance (Introduction)

The cover of Torrance's Incarnation

I did a little math the other day.

The average Canadian life-span is sitting just shy of 80 years. I’m 38. If I keep reading at my current pace of a book or so per week, I’ll be able to consume just over 2,000 books this side of the great divide.

With that thought in mind, I try to choose the books I read more carefully than I used to. Instead of raiding second hand book shops to fill the shelves of my library with interesting spines, I want to know that a book is substantial enough to spend my time on. Incarnation is one of those substantial books.

Thomas F. Torrance

In case you don’t know much about Thomas F. Torrance (1913-2007), here are some of the reasons I’m drawn to him:

  1. Deep Thinker. Torrance studied with Karl Barth at Basel and translated Barth’s Church Dogmatics into English.
  2. Biblical Knowledge. I like to know that a systematic theologian is first a Biblical theologian. Torrance translated Calvin’s entire Commentaries into English.
  3. Trinitarian. Torrance is known as a “Theologian of the Trinity,” yet it has been said that his Christology volumes contain his developed doctrine of God. I’m intrigued.
  4. Service. Torrance served the church as the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland where he worked towards church unity.
  5. Science. One of Torrance’s major fields of study was the dialogue between science and theology.
  6. Academic. Torrance had ample time to refine his Christological understanding as a professor of Christian Dogmatics at New College, Edinburgh for 27 years.

Incarnation: The Book

Incarnation is the first of a two-volume set which comprises Torrance’s Christology lectures to his students at Edinburgh. The lectures were then edited by Robert T. Walker, an Edinburgh trained philosopher and theologian. Walker has unique insight into T. F. Torrance’s thought since he heard the lectures in person and happens to be T. F. Torrance’s nephew.

As you would expect from a systematic theologian, the chapter structure highly detailed, which makes the overall logic of his argument easy to follow. This is good, since the subject matter is quite dense.

As this series of posts continue I’ll be carefully reading, summarizing and interacting with Torrance’s theology. In doing so I hope not only to remember the material, but to integrate it into my own life and ministry.

I welcome any dialogue the online theologs have to offer. Comments are open!

1.0. Preliminary Matters →

Evangelical Theology | Karl Barth

Here’s my first encounter with Karl Barth: I was asked to present a three minute profile of the man to my class in Bible College. I went to the library’s theological dictionary, thinking to find a one or two column profile I could regurgitate in class. It was then that I knew I was out of my league.

Since then I’ve always wanted to read him. He’s touted (for good reason) as one of if not the most influential theologian of the twentieth century. Still, every time I think about buying his Church Dogmatics, I get a nervous flutter in my stomach. 9,000 pages is a serious commitment. Enter: Evangelical Theology.

Near the end of his career, Karl Barth toured the United States and offered a series of seventeen lectures on what constitutes true Evangelical Theology. This book is the text of those lectures. It provided me with a good grasp of the way he thinks without having to wade through the details of theological battles fought in the mid-1900s.

Barth is everything I hoped he would be. His passion shines through on every page. His writing is full of pithy quotable sentences worth spending time thinking about. Most of all, he views theology as a high calling—an important science.

For years I’ve encouraged anyone entering theological study to read Hulmut Thielike’s A Little Exercise for Young Theologians. I now have two books to recommend.

Starting from Scratch | Karl Barth

Theological work cannot be done on any level or in any respect other than by freely granting the free God room to dispose at will over everything that men may already have known, produced, and achieved, and over all the religious, moral, intellectual, spiritual, or divine equipage with which men have traveled.

—Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology, 166-7.

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