The PostBarthian

Karl Barth’s No! to Natural Theology: Secular Parables of the Kingdom

Karl Barth is the most famous (and infamous) opponent of Natural Theology in the world. However, in the final volume of the Church Dogmatics, Barth developed a Natural Theology of his own, that he titled "Secular Parables of the Kingdom" (c.f. CD IV/3.1, §69.2 The Light of Life). Did Barth flip-flop on Natural Revelation in the twilight years of his life? Reactions to Barth's Secular Parables have ranged in a broad spectrum from those who say he completely contradicted what he had opposed for thirty years or more, to those who say his Secular Parables is completely consistent to what Barth had said since the beginning. In what follows is an exploration into Barth's 'No!' to Natural Theology, and an explanation of what Barth meant by "Secular Parables" in this final decisive word on Natural Revelation and Natural Theology.

What is Natural Theology?

Karl Barth said "Natural theology is the doctrine of union of man with God existing outside God's revelation in Jesus Christ." (CD II/1)[1]. It is possible to discern scientific, mathematical and philosophical truths through the study of the natural world, however (according to Barth), knowledge of God may not be ascertained in this way. The natural world is not source of a "Natural Revelation" like a "second Bible" in which anyone may devise a "Natural Theology" independent of God's self-Revelation in Jesus. Therefore, any "Natural Theology" that is based on any "Natural Revelation" apart from the threefold witness of the Word of God, namely Jesus, is strictly rejected by Barth.

"One would think that nothing could be simpler or more obvious than the insight that a theology which makes a great show of guaranteeing the knowability of God apart from grace and therefore from faith, or which thinks and promises that it is able to give such a guarantee—in other words, a "natural" theology—is quite impossible within the Church, and indeed, in such a way that it cannot even be discussed in principle."  Karl Barth, CD II/1 [2]

Natural Theology has many aliases, such as "General Revelation" (in contradistinction from "Special Revelation") or "Common Grace" or "Nature and Grace" and other rubrics; Barth raged against all forms of Natural Theology as such.

A Brief Historical Introduction

In 1932, in the very beginning of the Church Dogmatics (CD I/1 preface), the first thing Barth says is that "so-called natural knowledge of God" (e.g. analogia entis) "is the invention of the antichrist." Barth adamantly taught that there is no knowledge of God apart from the self-revelation of God alone. Any other source of revelation is strictly rejected by Barth as Natural Revelation, and any Natural Theology based on Natural Revelation is likewise rejected by Barth because Barth says there is no such thing as a "theology from below" [3] where knowledge of God may be obtained from observing sticks and stones (as in the natural sciences) or triangles (as in mathematics) or any other name apart from the name above all names "Jesus" (Phil 2:9).

In 1934 (two years after CD I/1), Emil Brunner wrote "Nature and Grace" that allowed for a limited form of Natural Theology, to which Barth wrote a scolding rebuke titled "Nein!" (No!) that even included "An angry introduction." This 1934 Natural Theology correspondence with Brunner, was so vicious that it ended their friendship for the rest of their lives. Many have criticized Barth for this response, however this sacrifice of friendship may have been necessary because Barth's 'No!' to Natural Revelation was intimately connected to his 'No!' to German Christians in Nazi Germany.


German stamp celebrating 50 years since the Barmen Declaration [10]

The Reich Church had called for Hitler's Mein Kampf to be placed next to the Holy Bible as a secondary source of revelation; so Barth's protest against Natural Revelation was also a protest against the Nazi claim to be a revelation of God. Barth protested against all such forms of Natural Revelation (especially the Nazi kind) in his contributions to the Barmen Declaration (1934) which says in "8.12 We reject the false doctrine, as though the church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and truths, as God's revelation."

In 1940, Barth fully expounded his rejection of Natural Revelation, and any Natural Theology built upon it, in the Church Dogmatics: The Doctrine of God, Vol. II/1. (This is the very first volume of the Church Dogmatics that I personally have read and Hans Urs Von Balthasar believed it was the best volume in the entire Church Dogmatics.) In this volume, Barth silences any objection appealing to the 'divine nature' in Romans 1:20, or Psalm 19 or 140, or Job 38-40. Barth's refutation of Natural Revelation stood impregnable.

Karl Barth (1967) [9]

Karl Barth (1967) [9]

However in 1959, almost two decades later, in the final complete volume of the Church Dogmatics: The Doctrine of Reconciliation, Vol. IV/3.1, Barth surprised the world by developing his own Natural Theology that he called the "Secular Parables of the Kingdom" (c.f. CD IV/3.1, §69.2 The Light of Life) because Barth now appeared to affirm substantially what he strongly opposed 25 years prior in his debate with Emil Brunner. Many accused Barth of affirming Natural Revelation in the end, such as Jürgen Moltmann who accused Barth of coming to "the same result" as "his intimate enemy" Emil Brunner in 1934. However, 15 years had past since Nazi Germany was smote in its ruin (as Gandalf might say), so the political situation had changed in post-World War II Germany. CD IV/3.1 was written at a time that Barth could freely add clarifications that were consistent with what he had written since he began the Church Dogmatics I/1 in 1932 without Nazis overhead.

Lastly in 1966 as Brunner laid dying, Barth made an attempt to reconcile with Emil Brunner, by writing him a letter that said: "If he [Brunner] is still alive and it is possible, tell him I commend him to our God. And tell him the time when I thought I should say No to him is long since past, and we all live only by the fact that a great and merciful God speaks his gracious Yes to all of us." Barth's attempt may have been too little too late, but these words may not be ignored.

Secular Parables of the Kingdom

Secular Parables explained in a nutshell

In a 2009 interview, Jurgen Moltmann's provided this helpful summary of Barth's Secular Parables:

"At the end of his Church Dogmatics, he [Karl Barth] developed his own Natural Theology. After the special Christian Theology, there can and must be a theology of nature about the many lights outside of the one light of Christ, and the many words of truth outside of the One Word of the Incarnate of God, which is Christ. But the relationship between the Light which is Christ and the many lights of the world, is like the rear-reflectors [sic] of your car. If you switch on the lights of your car, then you can see the reflectors of the car in front, so the lights in nature are only a reflection of the Light of Christ. They do not illuminate anything by themselves; only as a reflection of the Light of Christ."

—Jürgen Moltmann[4]

The "Secular" in Secular Parables Explained


New Moon (almost) [7]

Karl Barth's Secular Parables of the Kingdom may be described with light metaphors, so by "secular" Barth refers to any "other" light that does not originate from the divine light of God's self-Revelation in Jesus. For example, the Sun illuminates the Solar System in a similar way to how God's self-Revelation enlightens all people (John 1:9 NRSV). However, there are many other lesser lights in the solar system apart from the light of the Sun that shine their light by reflecting the light of the Sun, such as the Moon and planets. These "secular" lights emit no light of their own, and only generate light by reflecting light; or the Evangelist also says "the light shines in the darkness" (John 1:5 RSV). The Full Moon only provides light because it is reflecting the light of the Sun, but when the light of the Sun does not shine upon the moon, it reflects no light and becomes invisible in the darkness (i.e. New Moon). So according to the Secular Parables there is only one divine light in God's self-Revelation, but there are many other lesser lights in Nature that are outside of God's self-Revelation that also reveal the knowledge of God, but only so far as they reflect the light of God.

Barth's "Secular Parables of the Truth" is a Theology of Nature by Reflection (notice how I avoided the contentious term "Natural Theology"); it's background stems from John Calvin's the famous discussion of the knowledge of God in the opening of John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion, and so it's appropriate to use Barth's commentary on Calvin's Catechism to explain how reflection applies to his Secular Parables, and so in the Faith of the ChurchBarth says:

What is the nature of the knowledge of God which is given us in the world? Let us beware now: Man has no possibility to know God "through nature." There is no knowledge of God which was given along with the existence and the essence of the world. We ourselves cannot say: God is in the world here or he is there. But God himself is he who, in the world, gives himself to our knowledge, according as he pleases. We notice with what reservations Calvin speaks of this knowledge the world does not stand witness of God but insofar as God wills it and wherever he wills it. It is not the history of any people which witnesses unto God, but the history of Israel, the Bible and Jesus Christ belong to the world. The world then is a mirror that reflects something found elsewhere, that reflects it insofar as God wills it and wherever God wills it.

Karl Barth, Faith of the Church[5]

Ancient mirrors were often a polished piece of brass, such as this Egyptian bronze mirror (800-100 BCE)

Ancient mirrors were often a polished piece of brass, such as this Egyptian bronze mirror (800-100 BCE) [6], and this explains why Paul said we see things dimly in a mirror (1 Cor 13:12).

Reflections have a tendency to distort the light they are reflecting, such as a house of mirrors or a troubled pond or primitive mirror (1 Cor 13:12 NRSV), so these lesser lights are only valid so far as they materially agree with God's self-Revelation. These lesser lights in nature do not form a second source of light (such as in Natural Theology) like a "second Bible", so they may not be used to correct or replace the self-Revelation of God. If there are signs in sun, moon and stars (Luke 21: 25 NRSV), such as a blood moon (as depicted in the header image), then these are dim reflections that may be Secular Parables so far as they materially agree with God's self-Reflection in Jesus.

But this means that we cannot treat them [Secular Parables] like Holy Scripture, even though as true words they can only confirm and illustrate Holy Scripture, even when in a given time and place a few or many or even the majority in the community are convinced of their truth, they cannot be fixed and canonized as the Word of the Lord. That is, they cannot be regarded and proclaimed as a source and norm of knowledge which is valid at all times, in all places, and for all. And they certainly cannot be collected, and assembled as words of universal authority, and as such laid alongside Scripture as a kind of second Bible. They may be issued and received here and there, yesterday, to-day and to-morrow. But neither individually nor corporately can they be given universal and normative authority as a source of revelation. They themselves are opposed to such a process and avoid such a misuse.

—Karl Barth, CD IV/3.1[12]

The "Parables" in Secular Parables Explained

Unfortunately, Barth's Secular Parables is more complicated than a Natural Theology by 'Reflection' because it doesn't require faith to see the Moon in the sky, but it does require faith to recognize God's self-revelation in the world. This is why Barth utilizes the concept of "parables" to explain his Theology of Nature by Reflection. Jesus used parables in his preaching, so that those who have faith would understand and those who do not have faith (i.e. Pharisees) would not understand (c.f. Matt 13:13).

So what does Barth mean by 'parable' when he says "Secular Parables of the Kingdom"? Barth explains that a parable is based on an ordinary human happening that has no significance of its own, such as when we engage in mundane activities such as going to work, eating a meal, or driving a car. These activities may be observable by anyone, and are not self-revelations of God at all, however they have the capacity to reflect divine self-revelation to people through faith.

In sum, the New Testament parables are as it were the prototype of the order in which there can be other true words alongside the one Word of God, created and determined by it, exactly corresponding to it, fully serving it and therefore enjoying its power and authority. 

—Karl Barth, CD IV/3.1[13]

Barth explains how self-revelation is communicated through natural (or 'secular') parables in the following quotation (n.b. the bold print):


Parable of the Sower [8]

Parables (parabolai) are little stories which it seems anyone might tell of ordinary human happenings. But they are called parables (parabolai) of the Kingdom (basileia), and it is often said expressly that the Kingdom (basileia) is "likened unto" (homoiwthe) these events, or, with an obvious view to this equation, that the events themselves, or the leading characters in them, are "like" the Kingdom (basileia). It is also said that the kingdom in its likeness to these events, or these events in their likeness to the kingdom, can and will be heard by those who have ears to hear, i.e., by those whom it is given to hear (Mark 4:9f.). That is to say, they will hear and receive the equations of likenesses as such, whereas those who are "without" will not perceive and understand what is at issue, namely, the "mystery" of the kingdom. . . . The one true Word of God makes these other words true. Jesus Christ utters, or rather creates, these parables, speaking of the kingdom, of the life, and therefore of Himself, and doing so in stories which it might seem that others could tell, yet which they are unable to do, because His Word alone can equate the kingdom really like them, and makes them like the kingdom in which He tells them, so that the narrative is no mere metaphor but a disclosing yet also concealed revelation

—Karl Barth, CD IV/3.1[14]

Barth's definition of Secular Parables in CD IV/3.1

So now that Barth's conception of 'secular' and 'parable' has been defined, everything explained so far is confirmed with the following quotation form CD IV/3.1 (especially the bold print):

We now turn to the more complicated question of true words which are not spoken in the Bible or the Church, but which have to be regarded as true in relation to the one Word of God, and therefore heard like this Word, and together with it.

Are there really true words, parables of the kingdom, of this very different kind? Does Jesus Christ speak through the medium of such words? The answer is that the community which lives by the one Word of the one Prophet Jesus Christ, and is commissioned and empowered to proclaim this Word of His in the world, not only may but must accept the fact that there are such words and that it must hear them too, notwithstanding its life by this one Word and its commission to preach it.

Naturally, there can be no question of words which say anything different from this one Word, but only of those which do materially say what it says, although from a different source and in another tongue. Should it not be grateful to receive it also from without, in very different human words, in a secular parable, even though it is grounded in and ruled by the biblical, prophetico-apostolic witness to this one Word?  Words of this kind cannot be such as overlook or even lead away from the Bible. They can only be those which, in material agreement with it, illumine, accentuate or explain the biblical witness in a particular time and situation, thus confirming it in the deepest sense by helping to make it sure and concretely evident and certain.

—Karl Barth, CD IV/3.1[15]

Barth provides no examples of Secular Parables

Swiss Reformer, Ulrich Zwingli

Huldrych Zwingli (1484–1531) , Protestant Swiss Reformer [11]

Karl Barth was unwilling to provide any examples of Secular Parables and criticized Zwingli for doing so. This is the shakiest part of Barth's Secular Parables of the Kingdom, because his unwillingness to provide a valid example of his doctrine, calls into question whether he actually does affirm that Secular Parables exist. So Barth's Theology of Nature by Reflection may be nothing more than the smile of the Cheshire Cat, which is the last thing to disappear of this vanishing fictional feline. Opponents of Natural Theology may seize upon Barth's words as follows to assert that Barth has been consistently against Natural Theology and all its derivatives since the very beginning.

In conclusion, it is to be noted that, surprising though it may seem, in our whole development of the problem of these other words we have not adduced a single example, nor quoted a single name, nor mentioned an event or trend or movement, nor referred to a new and singular or common and general phenomenon in political, social, intellectual, academic, artistic, literary, moral or religious life, to which there might be ascribed the character of a true word of this kind. As distinct from Zwingli, who appealed to Hercules, Theseus, Socrates, Cicero and others, we have deliberately refrained from doing this.

—Karl Barth, CD IV/3.1[16]

So does Karl Barth affirm Natural Theology or not?



Nein! Nein! Nein! Barth does not affirm Natural Revelation nor any Natural Theology as follows! And Barth denies that his Secular Parables is engaging in the "the sorry hypothesis of so-called 'natural theology'". God is wholly other, and has only revealed himself in the threefold witness of the Word of God alone. Even if it were demonstrable that Barth's Secular Parables is indeed a Natural Theology, Barth denied that he was doing Natural Theology, and may be proved by CD IV/3.1, §69.2 The Light of Life:

we have no need to appeal either for basis or content to the sorry hypothesis of a so-called "natural theology" (i.e., a knowledge of God given in and with the natural force of reason or to be attained in its exercise). Even if this were theologically meaningful or practicable (which it is not), it could not provide us with what is required. By way of natural theology, apart from the Bible and the Church, there can be attained only abstract impartations concerning God's existence as the Supreme Being and Ruler of all things, and man's responsibility towards Him. But these are not what we have in view. What we have in view are attestations of the self-impartation of the God who acts as Father in the Son by the Holy Spirit, which show themselves to be such by their full agreement with the witness present in Scripture and accepted and proclaimed by the Church, and which can be material tested by and compared with this witness. What we have in view are words which like those of the Bible and the Church can be claimed as "parables of the kingdom."

—Karl Barth, CD IV/3.1[17]

The Question of Science

Karl Barth is not an enemy of Science, and Barth's rejection of Natural Theology is not a rejection of science at all! See my Biologos article on Barth's affirmation of Creation, Science and Evolution. Some Evangelicals today attempt to juxtaposition the Bible against the Natural Sciences, in order to refute the established Scientific Consensus on various things such as Human Evolution because it disagrees with their hermeneutical approach to the Bible. Barth has no interest in any such endeavors and had no such thing in mind when he rejected Natural Theology! Barth lived in 20th century, post-WWII, war-torn Europe, and when he said No! (Nein!) to Natural Theology, he was opposing outside voices, such as the Nazis(!), whom wished to correct the Church's proclamation of Jesus Christ. Science is based on observing the natural world, so it is no threat to Christianity, because it will ultimately confirm Christianity as it observes Creation.

The Scientific Method requires observation of the empirical world, so if the universe did not exist, then there would be nothing to observe, ergo, no science! Barth believes that all mathematics and science are contingent on the existence of the world. Science does not precede the existence of the world, nor is it part of the world's origination (i.e. the event of Creation). Science is observation of the world as it exists according to the Scientific Method. Since, scientific laws are based on observations of the natural world, therefore all scientific laws, theories and hypotheses are contingent upon the existence of an observable cosmos. If the universe did not exist, then there would be nothing to observe in it, and therefore there would be no such thing as science as well.

These [natural and spiritual] laws are not the basis of existence. But with greater or lesser force, clarity and certainty they constantly show themselves to be the forms of its nature. It is not to them that existence owes its distinctive rhythm and contrariety. They can only confirm  the constancy of both in relation to the constancy of their forms. They do not indicate the reality or substance but only the manner of the existence of the created world and the fact that it gives itself to be known and is known. They do not indicate the whole or totality of cosmic existence but only a part, i.e., the existence of creaturely being in certain specific sections and circles.

—Karl Barth, CD IV/3.1[18]

The natural laws are contingent upon the existence of the cosmos, and explain the existence of the cosmos in constancy, but they are secondary and therefore have no existence apart from creation. Barth said in CD III/1, that "Creation is the external basis of the Covenant, and the Covenant is the internal basis of Creation", but this does not mean that science or any natural laws are eternal, but it does mean that Science is an observation of Creation, and linked to it as a reflection of the Creation event. So this then means that the Word of God is the word of the Creator, and it is a word that precedes Creation and brings Creation to life. So the existence of the cosmos is contingent upon the word of God (Psalms 19), and does not depend upon it.

Laws are formulae for the relative necessity of certain objective and subjective processes and sequences. Such relative necessity of certain have already been disclosed and discovered, or will be. They are thus a fact, and with them the formulae. They cannot claim to be more than relative necessities because they relate only to limited spheres of existence, because even in these spheres the reality and substance of existence are presupposed and they can only describe its manner, and finally supremely because it is only in the encounter and converse between intelligible and intelligent cosmos that they can be valid, and this validity is limited and conditioned by the greater or lesser imperfection of the disclosure and discovery and revelation and establishment which take place in this encounter. It is only partially, formally, and above all within the world and the equivocal nature of all its relationships, that they are valid formulae. And it is only as valid in this way that they can claim to be constant and continual words and truths.

—Karl Barth, CD IV/3.1[19]

Science describes the ordinary happenings in nature, so it is may be true so far as it describes the world that materially agrees with the word of God. Science exists to confirm our understanding of the Created world.

They [natural laws] tell us nothing concerning God the Creator and Lord, nor concerning man in his relationship to God. For the Word of God, the revelation of the truth of God and man, is not pronounced by them. But again, this does not mean that we can ignore or despise them in their relative validity. Not all human knowledge, but an important part of it, namely, the so-called exact sciences built on empirical observation and investigation on the one side and mathematical logic on the other, are constituted in virtue of the knowability and in the knowledge of laws. We do not live only, but we do live also, by and with the facts that there are knowledge and technics in this sense, namely, that there are, as relative tenable and usable working hypotheses, these formulae which have partial and formal validity within the world as descriptions of relative necessities, and which really count, and may be counted upon, when they are defined in this way. If not according to "eternal," then certainly according to "brazen" and in their way "great" laws we must "all fulfill the circles of our being".  We must and should. For in them we clearly have to do, if not with the light of God Himself, at least with lights of the world created by Him. 

—Karl Barth, CD IV/3.1[20]

Although Barth was not opposed to Science or controversial theories such as Evolution, many desire that he had developed his Secular Parables further and expounded on places of intersection. Barth mentions Darwin and Darwinian Evolution only a few times in the entire Church Dogmatics. There is room here for more discussion, and Barth's Secular Parables is helpful to demonstrate that Barth's No! to Natural Theology is a Yes! to Science.


Karl Barth opposed Natural Theology until the end of his life. He believed that there is one and only one source for knowledge of God and that is only in God's self-Revelation through the threefold witness of the Word of God, namely in Jesus. Barth denied that there was any other knowledge of God apart from Jesus and he maintained this Nein! to Natural Theology until the end of his life.

Barth's protest against Natural Theology was also a protest against German Christians who wished to place Nazi propaganda besides the Bible as a second Bible of equal authority, and this is what Barth opposed in the Barmen Declaration. Long after the Nazis were defeated, Barth was free to revisit the question of Natural Theology without the fear of surrendering the gospel to the Nazis.

In the final volume of the Church Dogmatics (CD IV/3.1) Barth developed his own Natural Theology that he called "Secular Parables of the Kingdom". Although Barth appears to be backtracking on what he had said 25 years prior in his debates with Emil Brunner, he was not doing so, and remained consistently opposed to Natural Theology, however, now that the Nazis were removed from power, he was able to answer questions and add additional information to what he had written decades before due to relaxed political climate in post-World War II Germany.

Barth's Secular Parables is a Theology of Nature by Reflection. God may not be revealed in Nature, but God's revelation is reflected dimly in Nature, and there are places in Nature outside of God's self-Revelation that materially affirm what is apparent in God's self-Revelation, and these outside sources similar to parables, such that those who do not believe in God's self-Revelation are unable to understand them rightly, and they are lesser sources that may not correct what is revealed in God's self-Revelation.

Barth denied that it was the "so-called sorry hypothesis of Natural Theology", and he saw this doctrine as mutually exclusive from the traditional conception of theologia naturalis. Despite Barth's own assessment of the Secular Parables, it is possible to construe it as a Natural Theology, which is comparable to what Brunner had written in Nature and Grace (1934).

Recommended Reading

The fine folks at DET reminded me that George Hunsinger has a long appendix in his book on How to Read Karl Barth on "Secular Parables of the Truth". So if you wish to learn more about this superic from a trusty Barth scholar, I highly recommend this appendix for further reading.



[^Header] By Tomruen (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

[^1] Barth, Karl, G. W. Bromiley, and Thomas F. Torrance. Church Dogmatics: The Doctrine of God. Vol. II/1. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1975. 168. Print.

[^2] Ibid. 83. Print.




[^6] See page for author [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

[^7] By NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (Flickr: New Moon) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

[^8] By Herrad von Landsberg - Hortus Deliciarum, Public Domain,

[^9] Karl Barth, 1967,

[^10] By Deutsche Bundespost - scanned by NobbiP, Public Domain,

[^11] By Hans Asper - Winterthur Kunstmuseum, Public Domain,

[^12] Barth, Karl, G. W. Bromiley, Thomas F. Torrance, and Frank McCombie. Church Dogmatics: The Doctrine of Reconciliation. Vol. 23. London: T & T Clark, 2009. 127. Print. [133]

[^13] Ibid. 108. Print. [113]

[^14] Ibid. 107. Print. [112]

[^15] Ibid. 110. Print. [114-5]

[^16] Ibid. 129. Print. [135]

[^17] Ibid. 112. Print. [117]

[^18] Ibid. 139-40. Print. [146]

[^19] Ibid. 140. Print. [146-7]

[^20] Ibid. 140. Print. [146-7]


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Have faith in Jesus? John Calvin says you may be predestined to hell!

Is it possible to have faith in Jesus, yet be predestined to hell? John Calvin shockingly says yes! Calvin is the father of Double Predestination, so I expected him to divide the world into the believing Elect and the unbelieving Reprobate (i.e. the non-Elect). Little did I know, Calvin was not so binary and believed reprobates may have faith! Calvin said a man may have a "transitory faith" that is a "temporary . . . awareness of divine love" that is not merely a faith "pretended in words . . . that he did not have in his heart." Calvin admits that reprobates never have "true faith" like the Elect, but "the reprobate are sometimes affected by almost the same feeling as the elect, so that even in their own judgment they do not in any way differ from the elect" (cf. Acts 13:48). It is easy to see why Calvin devotes so much of his Institutes to prove that we may have assurance of salvation! In this post, I will explore what sort of faith people predestined to perdition may possess.

The Parable of the Sower: Pious and Impious Faith

John Calvin used the Parable of the Sower to describe six forms of faith in which the Elect and Reprobate respond to the Word of God (c.f. Calvin's commentary in loc.) The first three pious forms (the hundredfold, sixty-fold, and thirty-fold) signify the true faith of the Elect differentiated by degrees of fruitfulness. The other three impious forms (the rocky soil, thorny ground, and roadside) signify the transitory faith of the Reprobate that is "faith for a time" but "does not penetrates into the heart." Calvin explains the difference between impious transitory faith and pious true faith as follows:

"Although we concede, for the purpose of instruction, that there are divers forms of faith. But, while we wish to show what kind of knowledge of God can exist among the impious—we nevertheless recognize and proclaim that there is only one kind of faith among the pious—as Scripture teaches." (Institutes of the Christian Religion, III.ii.9)

(n.b. The six forms of faith are depicted as corn in the header image, but I doubt Calvin referred to the maize discovered in North America during the Age of Discovery. By "corn", Calvin was likely referring to wheat or barley used in the Ancient Near East.)

The Seed in Stony Soil: Faith for a Time

Calvin uses the seed in the stony soil from the Parable of the Sower to explain how faith may be attributed to reprobates. Calvin says the faith of reprobates is "like a tree not planted deep enough to put down living roots. For some years it may put forth not only blossoms and leaves, but even fruits; nevertheless, it withers after the passage of time." A plant in rocky soil grows between the stones, and may even put forth fruit, but since the plant's roots never penetrate the stones, it dies. Likewise, faith takes life in the stony heart of the reprobates, but since it never penetrates the reprobates heart, it eventually dies as well. Even if the faith of a reprobate bears fruit, this fruit never truly stemmed from that hard hearted person.

In the Institutes (III.ii.8-13), Calvin uses the Parable of the Sower to explain how a person may have faith for a time, and frequently utilizes that seed in the stony soil to illustrate the faith of the reprobates. I found this analogy exceedingly helpful in understanding and explaining how a person may have faith and not be of the Elect.

Calvin explains the relationship between the seed in the stony soil to the transitory faith of the reprobate in this extended quotation:

"It is said that even Simon Magus believed [Acts 8:13], who a little later nevertheless betrayed his unbelief [Acts 8:18]. When he is said to have had faith attributed to him, we do not understand the statement as do some, who hold that he pretended in words a faith that he did not have in his heart. Rather, we consider that, conquered by the majesty of the gospel, he showed a certain sort of faith, and thus recognized Christ to be the author of life and salvation, so that he willingly enlisted under him. In the same way, in the Gospel of Luke they are said to believe for a while [Luke 8:13], in whom the seed of the Word is choked before it bears fruit, or immediately withers and dies even before it takes any root [Luke 8:6-7]."

We do not doubt that such persons, prompted by some taste of the Word, greedily seize upon it, and begin to feel its divine power; so that they impose a false show of faith not only upon the eyes of men but even upon their own minds. For they persuade themselves that the reverence that they show to the Word of God is very piety itself, because they count it no impiety unless there is open and admitted reproach or contempt of his Word. Whatever sort of assent that is, it does not at all penetrate to the heart itself, there to remain fixed. And although it seems sometimes to put down roots, they are not living roots. The human heart has so many crannies where vanity hides, so many holes where falsehood lurks, is so decked out with deceiving hypocrisy, that it often dupes itself. Let those who boast of such shadow-shapes of faith understand that in this respect they are no better than the devils! Surely those of the former class are far inferior to the devils, for they stupidly listen to and understand things the knowledge of which makes even the devils shudder. Yet let those who boast of such [James 2:19]. The others are like the devils in this respect, that whatever feeling touches them ends in dread and dismay.

Institutes III.ii.10


It is a trouble thought that anyone would believe they are justified by faith and ultimately be predestined to hell. If Calvin is right that the reprobates may have faith, how then may anyone have assurance of salvation at all? Calvin believes that if we thoroughly examine ourselves, then assurance may be found. Although Calvin repeatedly declares that the Elect may have assurance of salvation, his argument for assurance is a weakness in his doctrine of Double Predestination. (It's at this point that we look to Karl Barth's Doctrine of Election for a solution.) Here is a quote from Calvin, where he asserts that says we may have assurance of true faith:

"Suppose someone objects that then nothing more remains to believers to assure themselves of their adoption. I reply: although there is a great likeness and affinity between God's elect and those who are given a transitory faith, yet only in the elect does that confidence flourish which Paul extols, that they loudly proclaim Abba, Father [Gal. 4:6; cf. Rom. 8:15]. Therefore, as God regenerates only the elect with incorruptible seed forever [I Peter 1:23] so that the seed of life sown in their hearts may never perish, thus he firmly seals the gift of his adoption in them that it may be steady and sure. But this does not at all hinder that lower working of the Spirit from taking its course even in the reprobate. In the meantime, believers are taught to examine themselves carefully and humbly, lest the confidence of the flesh creep in and replace assurance of faith."

Institutes III.ii.11


How may Calvin's doctrine of Double Predestination be harmonized with the phenomena of Apostasy? Calvin's use of the Parable of the Sower to explain the difference between pious and impious faith is a helpful tool to understand how a person may have faith for a time and then later abandon Christianity. A person predestined to perdition may have a transient faith that hasn't taken root in their hearts, like the seed in the stony soil, and although that faith may produce fruit, it was never a true faith grounded in their heart, in the same way as the plant's roots could not penetrate the stones in the soil. Calvin's affirming that the reprobates may have faith is helpful to explain the commonly met experience of a person who now denies Christianity yet asserts that they once believed in the past. Calvin asserts again and again that those who have true faith may have assurance of it, yet the troubling conclusion remains that we be numbered among the reprobates because we may think we possess true faith that may one day be revealed to be only transitory faith.



  1. Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Ed. John T. McNeill. Trans. Ford Lewis. Battles. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1960. Book III, Chapter ii, Sections 8-13. Print.
  2. Calvin, John. "Commentary on Matthew, Mark, Luke - Volume 2." - Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Trans. William Pringle1. CCEL, 1 June 2005. Web. 07 July 2016. <>.


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Karl Barth’s Flip-Flop on Homosexuality

(Updated on June 6th, 2016: Karl Barth's source letter
has been translated and added as an appendix.)

Karl Barth is infamous for his statements against homosexuality in his Church Dogmatics, Vol. III/4 (CD III/4) where he called it a "malady" and a "physical, psychological and social sickness" and a "phenomena of perversion, decadence and decay" and other colorful phrases. Near the midway point in the Church Dogmatics, there is a small print section of CD III/4 that contains these strong denunciations of homosexuality (quoted below) and is frequently cited to oppose homosexuality today. However, this is not Barth's final word on homosexuality (according to the renown Barth scholar George Hunsinger) because Barth changed his mind on this controversial subject (near the end of his life after abandoning the Church Dogmatics) due to his discussions with medical doctors who provided Barth with modern scientific research on homosexuality that Barth thought should be considered when interpreting the plain sense of the scriptures. First, I will review Barth's No and Yes to Homosexuality.

Karl Barth's infamous rejection of homosexuality in CD III/4

CD III/4 is the final volume in Karl Barth's Doctrine of Creation and is devoted to Ethics—in other words, it explains how Barth's Doctrine of Creation should be applied to the Christian life and it includes many fascinating ethical loci, such as his rejection of capital punishment, and discussion on self-defense, suicide, prayer and marriage. Barth's strongest statements against homosexuality are located here in a small-print paragraph in the middle of a problematic section of CD III/4: §54 Freedom in Fellowship 1. Man and Woman.

Students of Barth have said that Barth's views of women in CD III "needs to be corrected" and "his views of women in volume three are not essential to his project" (for example) and I believe this is justified based on what Barth said about women in this volume. Therefore, I believe that many people who cite this small-print section against homosexuality would at the same time reject Barth's view of Man and Woman that are the foundation of this small-print section. How then shall we cite this small-print section to dismiss homosexuals and yet criticize Barth's opposition to women's rights? At this point, I am unable to resist criticizing Barth as well, because I do not believe that the Church Dogmatics would dwell in the same ivory tower as the Summa Theologica if Charlotte Von Kirschbaum (CVK) had followed the ethical imperatives of CD III/4 and had remained in the proverbial kitchen as CD III/4 directs instead of contributing to the Church Dogmatics as she did. Barth invited CVK to participate in the Church Dogmatics in a time (late 1940's to early 1950's) that women were rarely allowed to do more than secretarial work in seminaries.  So anyone who stands upon this small-print section against homosexuality is stumbling.

For full disclosure, here are Barth's colorful criticisms of homosexuality from the controversial small-print section referenced above:

 These first steps may well be symptoms of the malady called homosexuality. This is the physical, psychological and social sickness, the phenomena of perversion, decadence and decay, which can emerge when man refuses to admit the validity of the divine command in the sense in which we are now considering it. In Rom. 1 Paul connected it with idolatry, with changing the truth of God into a lie, with the adoration of the creature instead of the Creator (Rom 1:25).

"For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: and likewise also the man, leaving the natural use of the women, burned in their lust one towards another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves the recompense of their error which was meet" (Rom 1:26-27).

From the refusal to recognize God there follows the failure to appreciate man, and thus humanity without the fellow-man (CD III/2, p 229ff). And since humanity as fellow-humanity is to be understood in its root as the togetherness of man and woman, as the root of this inhumanity there follows the ideal of a masculinity free from woman and a femininity free from man. And because nature or the Creator of nature will not be trifled with, because the despised fellow-man is still there, because the natural orientation on him is still in force, there follows the corrupt emotional and finally physical desire in which—in a sexual union which is not and cannot be genuine—man thinks that he must seek and can find in man, and woman in woman, a substitute for the despised partner. But there is no sense in reminding man of the command of God only when he is face-to-face with this ultimate consequence, or pointing to the fact of human disobedience only when this malady breaks out openly in these unnatural courses. Naturally the command of God is opposed to these courses. This is almost too obvious to need stating.

It is to be hoped that, in awareness of God's command as also of His forgiving grace, the doctor, the pastor trained in psycho-therapy, and the legislator and judge—for the protection of threaten youth—will put forth their best efforts. But the decisive word of Christian ethics must consist in a warning against entering upon the whole way of life which can only end in the tragedy of concrete homosexuality.

We know that in its early stages it may have an appearance of particular beauty and spirituality, and even be redolent of sanctity. Often it has not been the worst people who have discovered and to some extent practiced it as a sort of wonderful esoteric of personal life. Nor does this malady always manifest itself openly, or when it does so, it obvious or indictable forms. Fear of ultimate consequences can give as little protection in this case, and condemnation may be as feeble a deterrent as the thought of painful consequences in the case of fornication.

What is needed is that the recognition of the divine command should cut sharply across the attractive beginnings. The real perversion takes place, the original decadence and disintegration begins, where man will not see his partner of the opposite sex and therefore the primal form of fellow-man, refusing to hear his question and to make a responsible answer, but trying to be human in himself as sovereign man or woman, rejoicing in himself in self-satisfaction and self-sufficiency. The command of God is opposed to the wonderful esoteric of this beta solitudo [blessed solitude]. For in this supposed discovery of the genuinely human with woman, or as a woman with man. In proportion as he accepts this insight, homosexuality can have no place his life, whether in its more refined or cruder forms. [1]

A small criticism of this very small-print

What then are we to say about these things? (c.f. Rom 8:31) Why has Barth said "natural" so much here and now? Has Barth reverted to a Natural Revelation in this section due to his appeals to "nature or the Creator of nature" and humanity's "natural orientation"? In Barth's magnificent refutation of Natural Revelation in CD II/1, he boldly rejected the appeal to Romans 1:20's use of the word Θειότησ ("divine nature") because it was an hapax legomena (i.e. a word used only once in the bible). Why wasn't Barth as careful in this rejection of homosexuality based on Romans 1 as he was in his rejection of Natural Revelation based on Romans 1? Many have used the plain sense of scripture to assert that the theiotas of Romans 1:20 proved Natural Revelation.  Barth is certainly not affirming a Natural Revelation, but what may we make of Barth's 'natural' arguments without jettisoning CD II/1 (which Hans Urs Von Balthasar considered to be the best volume in the entire Church Dogmatics!) I believe this criticism is not insurmountable (and may be addressed by a loyal Barthian reader) but is worth identifying.

In Barth's defense, his project in CD III/4 titled "fellowship in freedom" is on the right track, despite his missteps due to the time and place where he lived. I don't wish to refute Barth, but only refute those who assert that these comments definitively demonstrate that Barth was opposed to homosexuality.

Barth's change of mind according to George Hunsinger

George Hunsinger is a world renown Karl Barth scholar, and has written several articles on homosexuality such as  There is a Third Way, Thinking Outside the Box: (Part 1/4), (Part 2/4), (Part 3/4), and (Part 4/4)as well as a helpful chapter on the ordination of homosexuals in his book The Eucharist and Ecumenism: Let Us Keep The Feast. Although this is a summary of Barth's Offene Briefe 1945-1968), this summary is essential to the future discussion of homosexuality in the PostBarthian context.

"Thielicke criticizes Karl Barth (and rightly so) for the position he took on homosexuality in Church Dogmatics. However, like many others, Thielicke was unaware that Barth later changed his mind. In light of conversations with medical doctors and psychologists, Barth came to regret that he had characterized homosexuals as lacking in the freedom for fellowship. In the end he, too, found it necessary to interpret the plain sense of Scripture in light of advances in modern knowledge. (Barth and Thielicke, by the way, both played a role in decriminalizing homosexuality in German society.) (Barth, Offene Briefe, 1945-1968, Zurich, 1984, pp. 542-43.)". [2]

UPDATE: June 6th, 2016


As an appendix, I have provided an English translation of Offene Briefe (1945-1968) to substantiate George Hunsinger's quotation. Based on my reading of Hunsinger, in general, he is a reliable witness to untranslated Barthianisms! Therefore, anyone who quotes CD III/4 to oppose homosexuality without mentioning Barth's letter in Offene Briefe (1945-1968) has put forth an irresponsible hermeneutic. Has such a person tried to understand Barth here and now, or are they gathering ammo for an a priori prejudice that which to oppose?

Appendix: Karl Barth's letter

Dr. David Congdon has graciously translated the source letter from Offene Briefe (1945-1968) and has given me permission to share his translation! The original letter was written by Eberhard Busch on behalf of aging Karl Barth who was 82years old at the time. Congdon has provided the German source and translation on his website The Fire and The Rose.

This letter confirms what George Hunsinger said in the quotation above regarding Barth's change of mind on homosexuality later in life. It would have been preferable to have a source that was directly written from Barth's own hand in a publish work. If this raises any doubts, remember that Paul's letter to the Romans was written in the same way by his amanuensis Tertius (c.f. Romans 16:22)

Dear Mr. Italiaander!

Professor Karl Barth took note of your letter on June 10 and is pleased that, in your planned anthology on the issue of homosexuals and their social status and recognition, you thought to give space to his voice.

In fact he has already once expressed himself on this issue (Kirchliche Dogmatik III/4, 1951, 184f.)—though in a sense that probably would not be appropriate and suitable for that section of your anthology. Lest you view the predominantly negative attitude toward homosexual relations in that passage in a false or exaggerated way, the following was briefly mentioned:

1) That one has to understand and appreciate what is expressed there—only incidentally—against the background of the whole context of that passage: a context in which Karl Barth interprets the command of God given to human beings as creatures and in their creatureliness under one of several aspects, namely under the “freedom for community.” For him the original form of interpersonal community (not merely “marital” but all natural community) is the counterpart of man and woman.

2) In this context homosexuality in its essence appeared to him as a form of unfreecommunity—namely, as a behavior in which one closes oneself to and withdraws from one’s freedom for community. But you can be sure that his opinion on this point did not and does not imply as such a license for “defamation,” let alone for the (nonsensical) legal “punishment” of homosexuals (at least insofar as they do not “seduce” or “harass” others). For he does not consider them actually wicked but rather he considers it emotional Pharisaism when, on the one hand, there is a degrading of the articles of the law (though often not carried out to the same degree), but on the other hand in contemptuous whispers people take actions against them or create a hostile environment. By no means!

3) With respect to his former incidental remarks—in view of the changes and new discoveries that have occurred since its writing—Professor Barth is today no longer entirely satisfied and would certainly today write them somewhat differently. One may think, therefore, precisely against the background of the context in which God’s command fundamentally wants to be perceived and followed as “freedom for community,” that—in conversation with doctors and psychologists—one could come to a new evaluation and presentation of the phenomenon.

You would naturally now like to hear this from him. But having endured eighty-two years of all kinds of limitations, he now no longer has the time required for this purpose. They say that he should make use of his remaining strength to work on those themes and tasks that presently appear more important to him. We ask for your kind understanding!

Greetings on his behalf,
Eberhard Busch

German text in: Offene Briefe 1945–1968 (Gesamtausgabe 5.15), 542–43. [3]


[^Header ImageSappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene 1864 Simeon Solomon 1840-1905 Purchased 1980 (Edited)
[^1] Barth, Karl. Ed. G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance. Church Dogmatics III.4: The Doctrine of Creation. Vol. 19. London: T & T Clark, 2010. 159-60. Print. Study Edition. (paragraph and formatting were added for readability)
[^2] Hunsinger, George. "Thinking Outside the Box, Part 4: The Voice of ‘Progressive Traditionalists’." The Presbyterian Outlook. N.p., 13 Mar. 2002. Web. 05 June 2016. <>.
[^3] Congdon, David. "The Fire and the Rose." : Eberhard Busch to Rolf Italiaander, 1968. David Congdon, 06 June 2016. Web. 06 June 2016. <>.

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Bonhoeffer and BioLogos


John Webster has died

According to multiple sources, the great Barthian scholar, John Webster has died. It's a great loss for us all. Webster was the author of Karl Barth (Outstanding Christian Thinkers) and The Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth and many other works. I'm an unashamed Barth fan, but when I heard from J.I. Packer that John Webster was deceived by Karl Barth, that was the moment I realized that Webster was an apex Evangelical theologian that wasn't afraid to love the Church of Christ, even if his reputation was question by Evangelical celebrities! Let us celebrate John Webster's life together in this sad moment.

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Friendship with Karl Barth

Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Friendship

Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Friendship

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was an admirer of Karl Barth and his theology long before they became personal friends. Eberhard Bethge was Bonhoeffer's student, friend and biographer. In Bonhoeffer: A Biography, Bethge provides the following outline of Bonhoeffer's friendship with Karl Barth that he describes as developing through four stages: 1) awareness, 2) meetings, 3) alliance, and 4) new questions.

Stages of FriendshipThe relationship between the two men went through four stages:

1. The phase of Bonhoeffer's one-sided knowledge of Barth through the latter's writings, beginning in 1925. As he eagerly and gratefully absorbed Barth's message during 1927 and 1929, Bonhoeffer directed a number of theological-epistemological questions towards Barth, under the principle of finitum capax infiniti [the finite is capable of the infinite]. Barth did not become familiar with these questions, formulated in Sanctorum Communio and Act and Being, until after Bonhoeffer's death.

2. The period of eagerly sought meetings between 1931 and 1933. Bonhoeffer hoped for Barth's support in his concern for the concrete ethical commands of the church, but did not receive this in the form he desired.

3. The phase of theological differences, accompanied by a very close alliance in church politics. Bonhoeffer attempted to think through the articles of justification and salvation independently of Barth, but he still longed secretly to claim them. Barth had reservations; only after Bonhoeffer's death did [The Cost of] Discipleship receive Barth's special praise.

4. The period of indirect new questions, in the Letters [and Papers] from Prison of 1944. These included, almost incidentally, the ominous term "positivism of revelation," which Barth could not accept and liked least of all in Bonhoeffer's work.

Whatever the implications of Bonhoeffer's criticisms of Barth, throughout these four phases Bonhoeffer viewed these criticisms as coming from within, not without, the Barthian movement. During the bitter period when Barth's former allies deserted him, Bonhoeffer had no desire to be identified with men like [Friedrich] Gogarten or [Emil] Brunner, and he vigorously attacked them. This is evident in the second and third phases of his relationship to Barth. [1]


[^Bonhoeffer Header Image Source] By Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1987-074-16 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de,
[^Barth Header Image Source] KBA_9097_006.jpg. Digital image. Center for Barth Studies. Center for Barth Studies, n.d. Web. 16 May 2016. <>.
[^1] Bethge, Eberhard. Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography. New York: Harper & Row, 1970. 178. Print.

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How Karl Barth Celebrated His Birthdays

Karl Barth (1886-1968) was born May 10th, making today his 130th birthday. To celebrate, I've collected anecdotes from Karl Barth's birthday celebrations from Eberhard Busch's Karl Barth: His Life from Letters and Autobiographical Texts. After the Church Dogmatics were printed, Barth's birthdays were celebrated world wide and in great fanfare, building up to Barth's 80th birthday celebrated on May 8th, 1966 where he received "1000 letters, 50 telegrams, and enough tobacco to keep him for the rest of his life. One slanderous message addressed him as 'a worthless old fellow'" [1] Happy Birthday, Uncle Karl!

Karl Barth stamp celebrating 100 years since his birth

Barth's 50th Birthday:

The book "Theological Articles for Karl Barth's Fiftieth Birthday 1936" . . . contained a bibliography of Barth's work which amounted to 202 items and showed that 'some of my books and other writings have now been translated into all kinds of foreign languages'. Barth also received all kinds of honours at the time, one of which was very curious: 'Enthusiastic friends have managed to give my name to a snow-capped mountain in New Zealand. On cannot ask for more. Yet amidst all this I have remembered that according to the gospel no one can add so much as a cubit to his stature.'

At the same time the anniversary inevitably reminded Barth that he was gradually growing older: for some time he had 'seen the ranks of his contemporaries growing thinner . . . and could already hear behind him the steps of younger ones. Old age is coming nearer and with it what comes at the end of old age--if it does not come suddenly before then.'[2]

Barth's 60th Birthday:

They joined him on 10 May to celebrate his sixtieth birthday with utmost simplicity at the Bleibtreus (Ernst Wolf had also come over from Göttingen). The birthday meal consisted a dish of potatoes and salad—'and it was at least as meaningful and enjoyable as the finest cake at Pilgerstrasse could have been'. He was also delighted to have a birthday letter from England signed by leading churchmen and theologians of all denominations. This was followed by a Festschrift, Reformation Old and New, edited by his theologian friend, Frederick Camfield, which appeared rather late. He also had a Festschrift from the French and French-speaking Swiss, and birthday greetings from the Social Democrats, the trade unions, the Rhine church, and so on. [3]

Barth's 67th Birthday:

On his birthday that summer [of 1953] a flute trio, 'played by two students and our university proctor, who was a master of the viola . . . opened the day in such a festive manner that I asked the artists to repeat the performance (it was, of course, Mozart) the next day in the lecture room to an audience of 120 dogmatic students, with the result that even in this place there was an unusual splendour of light.' [4]

Barth's 70th Birthday:

So 10 May 1956 also began with a service here. Following that, Heinrich Held, the President of the Evangelical Church of Rhineland, gave Barth birthday greetings 'in an unmerited personal eulogy'. Barth spent the afternoon with his family. They performed a short play for him in which Karl Barth, over a hundred years old, arrived at the gates o heaven, delivered his Dogmatics and eagerly asked to see Mozart. Some of his closest friends also took party in this family festival -- all of them were now getting on in years or were already old. Others he would never see again, above all his beloved friends Pierre Maury and Arthur Frey, who had died shortly beforehand. 'Every Wednesday and every Saturday Arthur Frey would telephone me for a long conversation ("Arthur here"); and he was a good and utterly faithful friend to me (and to Lollo)'. This was also true of Maury. . . .

In addition to Antwort there was also a series of further Festschriften from his Basle colleagues, form youn Swiss theologians, from America, from Japan, from Lutheran theologians—and a volume of sermons by Rhineland pastors edited by Martin Rohkrämer. Barth was highly pleased with all these assessments, and with the flood of good wishes, but was bothered by the question 'What would Kierkegaard have said of such an occasion? How does it compare with the New Testament? What will it look like in the light of heaven?' 'The prophets of the Old Testament and the apostles of the New couldn't have seventieth birthdays like this.' [5]

Barth's 74th Birthday:

On 10 May [1959], his seventy-fourth birthday, Barth this time found himself 'on a lightning journey to Fulda—not as a pilgrim to the tomb of St Boniface . . . but for a meeting of German prison chaplains and counselors, who had invited me there for a conversation about the theological problems of this particular sphere of work . . . This journey could not be more than a short diversion, undertaken in the middle of a semester, but in Würzburg we allowed ourselves to be held quite seriously by Tilman Riemenschneider.' [6]

Barth's 75th Birthday:

Barth celebrated his seventy-fifth birthday in May with a group of his closest friends. These were joined by Bishop Jacobi of Oldenburg and Joachim Beckmann from the Rhineland. On this occasion, 'I made my Dutch friend Mikotte fearfully angry by saying that I was waiting for an opponent—but for an opponent who met me on the same ground, at the same length, and got the better of me. For I was well aware of the transitoriness of my work.' 'I never thought that I had the last word in the Church Dogmatics. It is very clear to me that the thing could have been done differently and better on every page.' For the celebrations, 'a collection of my articles was edited by Karl Kupisch in Berline under the remarkable title Der Götze Wackelt (The Idol Totters). When he told me that he wanted to give the book this title, I was first somewhat shocked . . . and told him that everyone would connect it with me! "So he is now seventy-five years old: the idol totters." But he told me that he did not mean it that way. [7]

Barth's 76th Birthday:

He celebrated his seventy-sixth birthday in Richmond—and the students there sang 'For he's a jolly good fellow'. [8]

Barth's 80th Birthday:

[Rudolf] Bultmann wished Barth 'good courage' on his eightieth birthday; this was the last personal word exchanged between them.

As a curtain-raiser to the birthday celebration there was a Mozart concert in St. Martin's church under the direction of Max Gieger. At the official birthday celebration on 9 May, a great many dignitaries were present in addition to Barth's closest theological friends, from Switzerland, East and West Germany, France, Norway (Professor Reidar Hauge), Holland, the USA and the USSR. There were such different people as the politician Gustav Heinemann; the diplomat and historian Hans Bernd Gisevius; the historian Edgar Bonjour; the physicians Fritz Koller, Gerhard Wolf-Heidegger and Paul Kielholz; the corps commander Alfred Ernst; Paul Vogt and Gertrud Kurz (who were involved in 'peace' work); and the von Stockhausens (a husband and wife who were painters, and whom Barth had got to know in Ticino). The Rector of Bonn hung round his neck 'a heavy golden chain which was worn by the same Federal President Heuss (when he was an honorary senator of the University of Bonn) who did not want to have me in Frankfurt that time'). [9]


[^1] Thompson, John. Theology beyond Christendom: Essays on the Centenary of the Birth of Karl Barth, May 10, 1886. Allison Park, PA: Pickwick Publications, 1986. 323. Print.
[^2] Busch, Eberhard. Karl Barth: His Life from Letters and Autobiographical Texts. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1976. 227. Print.
[^3] Ibid. 334.
[^4] Ibid. 395.
[^5] Ibid. 415-7.
[^6] Ibid. 443.
[^7] Ibid. 450-3.
[^8] Ibid. 459.
[^9] Ibid. 477.


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A letter from Hans Küng


Hans Küng is a famous Swiss Catholic theologian and a personal hero of mine, so I was over joyed to receive a personal letter from him yesterday. Küng was a peritus at Vatican II, and is most famous for his criticism of Papal Infallibility in his book Infallible? and for his influence upon the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. He is a priest, an ecumenical professor at Tübingen and is a prolific writer.

Küng turned 88 on March 19th, so wrote to him earlier to wish him happy birthday and thank him for his life work, and then I received this letter in response (see the header image). Küng recently appealed Pope Francis regarding the problem of infallibility that has plagued Küng all these years, and after receiving an encouraging response from the pope, he wrote a statement regarding it, and then included a signed copy of that statement in the letter he sent to me.

Hans Küng has changed the way I understand the Catholic Church through his writings and biography, especially through his books Justification: The Doctrine of Karl Barth and a Catholic Reflectionand The Church (and its companion, Structures of the Church). Through these books I learned about the legacy of Hans Kung and that there is no longer any reason for Catholics and Protestants to remain separated, and whatever disagreements happened in the past, do not apply to the Church today. Karl Barth came to the same conclusion and endorsed Küng's books. Küng helped me understand that the Catholic view of Justification is not synergistic and is compatible with Barth's doctrine of Justification, and he even addressed my concerns about the Council of Trent anathema of salvation by faith alone. Now, I constantly asking myself if I am a schismatic for remaining separated from the Catholics Church after the progress made in Vatican II.

Here is a list of articles I've written about Hans Küng.

Contents of the letter:


To Wyatt, many thanks and kind regards

Hans Küng

The Pope answers Hans Küng

On 9 March, my appeal to Pope Francis to give room to a free, unprejudiced and open-ended discussion on the problem of infallibility appeared in the leading journals of several countries. I was thus overjoyed to receive a personal reply from Pope Francis immediately after Easter. Dated 20 March, it was forwarded to me from the nunciature in Berlin.

In the Pope’s reply, the following points are significant for me:

  • The fact that Pope Francis answered at all and did not let my appeal fall on deaf ears so to speak;
  • The fact that he replied himself and not via his private secretary or the Secretary of State;
  • That he emphasizes the fraternal manner of his Spanish reply by addressing me as
    Lieber Mitbruder (Dear Brother) in German and puts this personal address in italics,
  • That he clearly read the appeal, to which I had attached a Spanish translation, most attentively;
  • That he is highly appreciative of the considerations which had led me to write Volume 5 in which I suggest theologically discussing the different issues which the infallibility dogma raises in the light of Holy Scripture and Tradition with the aim of deepening the constructive dialogue between the “semper reformanda” 21st century Church and the other Christian Churches and post-modern society.

Pope Francis has set no restrictions. He has thus responded to my request to give room to a free discussion on the dogma of infallibility. I think it is now imperative to use this new freedom to push ahead with the clarification of the dogmatic definitions which are a ground for controversy within the Catholic Church and in its relationship to the other Christian Churches.

I could not have foreseen then quite how much new freedom Pope Francis would open up in his Post-Synodal Exhortation Amoris Laetitia. Already in the introduction he declares “that not all doctrinal discussions, moral or pastoral, need to be resolved with interventions of the Magisterium.” He takes issue with “cold bureaucratic morality” and does not want bishops to continue behaving as if they were “arbiters of grace”. He sees the Eucharist not as a reward for the perfect but as “nourishment for the weak”. He repeatedly quotes statements made at the Episcopal Synod or at national bishops’ conferences. Pope Francis no longer wants to be the sole spokesman of the Church.

This is the new spirit that I have always expected from the Magisterium. I am fully convinced that in this new spirit a free, impartial and open-ended discussion of the infallibility dogma, this fateful key question of destiny for the Catholic Church, will be possible. I am deeply grateful to Pope Francis for this new freedom and combine my heartfelt thanks with the expectation that the bishops and theologians will unreservedly adopt this new spirit and join in this task in accordance with the Scriptures and with our great church tradition.

Translation: Christa Pongratz-Lippitt, Vienna


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Karl Barth vs Rudolf Bultmann: Civil War

Karl Barth vs Rudolf Bultmann: Civil War

Karl Barth vs Rudolf Bultmann: Civil War

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Karl Barth says Yes to Creation and Evolution (Expanded Edition)


(This is an expanded edition of an article that was originally published at

Evangelicals today are faced with many hard questions on the doctrine of creation, such as how the biblical creation stories are reconciled with evolutionary science, how to interpret the creation stories in the Bible, and whether there was a historical Adam. Reading Genesis leaves many evangelicals with more questions than answers. Like when the Ethiopian Eunuch was asked, "Do you understand what you are reading?" many evangelicals respond, "How can I, unless someone explains it to me?" (Acts 8:30-31) Why not ask the great Karl Barth to answer these hard questions?

Uncle Karl's evolution letter to his niece Christine

Once upon a time, Karl Barth's grandniece Christine wrote a letter to her 'Uncle Karl' after she was confronted by a Creationist teacher that told her that she must reject evolution. Uncle Karl responded that the biblical creation stories and evolution are like apples and oranges, such that "there can be as little question of harmony between them as of contradiction" and that her teacher should distinguish between them so not to be shut off from both science and the Bible. Barth explains that the biblical creation narratives are poetic witnesses revealing that God has created the heavens and the earth and that evolution is a natural science that uses the scientific hypothesis to explain how the world works by "human observation and research". Anytime a Creationist teacher says that evolution must be rejected to affirm the biblical creation stories, remember this letter and pronounce a loud NEIN! like Uncle Karl:

18 February 1965

Basel, Switzerland

Dear Christine,

. . . Has no one explained to you in your seminar that one can as little compare the biblical creation story with a scientific theory like that of evolution as one can compare, shall we say, an organ and a vacuum-cleaner—that there can be as little question of harmony between them as of contradiction?

The creation story is a witness to the beginning or becoming of all reality distinct from God in the light of God’s later acts and words relating to his people Israel — naturally in the form of a saga or poem. The theory of evolution is an attempt to explain the same reality in its inner nexus — naturally in the form of a scientific hypothesis.

The creation story deals only with the becoming of all things, and therefore with the revelation of God, which is inaccessible to science as such. The theory of evolution deals with that which has become, as it appears to human observation and research and as it invites human interpretation. Thus one’s attitude to the creation story and the theory of evolution can take the form of an either/or only if one shuts oneself off completely either from faith in God’s revelation or from the mind (or opportunity) for scientific understanding.

So tell that teacher concerned that she should distinguish what is to be distinguished and not shut herself off completely from either side. . . .


Uncle Karl [2] 

Who is the great Karl Barth?

Karl Barth (1886-1968) was a Swiss Reformed Protestant and arguably the greatest theologian of the last two centuries. He was a prolific author who is most well known for his commentary on The Epistle to the Romans, the thirteen volume systematic theology titled the Church Dogmatics (CD), the Barmen Declaration that was instrumental to the German Confessing Church during World War II. Pope Pius XII said Barth was “the greatest theologian since Thomas Aquinas.” The Scottish Protestant theologian, T.F. Torrance who knew Barth and was a translator of the Church Dogmatics described Barth as "the great Church Father of Evangelical Christendom, the one genuine Doctor of the universal Church the modern era has known. . . . Only Athanasius, Augustine, Aquinas and Calvin have performed comparable service." (CD IV/4, preface). John D. Godsey, professor emeritus of Wesley Theological Seminary, renowned Bonhoeffer scholar and protege of Barth said: "In him [Barth] a Church Father has walked among us." Love Barth or hate him, his contribution to theology today may not be understated.

Karl Barth on the cover of Time Magazine (July, 1962)

Karl Barth on the cover of Time Magazine (July, 1962). From the personal collection of the author.[3]

Karl Barth's Doctrine of Creation

Karl Barth's Doctrine of Creation is a tome contained in the Church Dogmatics, Vol. III, weighing-in around 2,500 pages and printed in four parts. In a nutshell, Barth's "The Doctrine of Creation" (CD III/1-4) may be summarized as follows:

Church Dogmatics, III/1.) The first part, "The Work of Creation" contains Barth's commentary on the biblical creation stories (Genesis 1-3) formulated under Barth's famous twofold statement: "Creation is the external basis of the covenant. Covenant is the internal basis of the creation."

Church Dogmatics, III/2.) The second part, "The Creature" is one of the best volumes in the entire Church Dogmatics and contains many eye-popping discussions. Barth answers the question, "What is Man?" by pointing to Jesus Christ with the "prodigious index finger" of John the Baptist depicted in the Isenheim altarpiece.

Chapel of Unterlinden Museum with Isenheim altarpiece depicting John the Baptist's "prodigious index finger" pointing at Jesus. [4]

Barth builds his anthropology on the person and work of Jesus Christ, identifying a true human being specifically revealed in Jesus alone who is the Real Man for God. Barth contrasts the Crucified One to Dionysius and explains how Jesus is a human being for others (unlike Nietzsche's Übermensch who is an isolated man for himself alone.)

Barth explains his general anthropology, not by studying the natural sciences, but by studying the phenomena of Man revealed by Jesus, the Man for God. Barth does not conclude that man in general is two parts (dichotomy) or three parts (trichotomy) but rather Barth affirms a dialectic between soul and body: a human being is defined as "the soul of my body and the body of my soul". (A footnote in this section contains the only reference to Charles Darwin and Darwinism in the entire Church Dogmatics, and in it, Barth does not oppose Darwinism, but opposes any Darwinist that denies that true humanity is uniquely revealed in Jesus.) This volume concludes with a [in]famous eschatological section on time vs. eternity that assess Jesus as the lord of time and then compares given time vs. allotted time vs. beginning time vs. ending time.

Barth never finished the Church Dogmatics, and the fifth and final volume was planned with the title the "Doctrine of Redemption" (CD V) and was to be on the topic of Eschatology (Last Things), but Barth abandoned the Church Dogmatics before writing CD V, leaving a great mystery in what Barth might have said in CD V. So, CD III/2, §47 contains Barth's shocking eschatology and a hint at what he might have written in the final volume (but who knows?)

Church Dogmatics, III/3.) The third part, "The Creator and His Creature" contains Barth's Doctrine of Providence (which is an extension of his famous Doctrine of Election in CD II/2. It ends with Barth's Doctrine of Angels (and Demons!)

Church Dogmatics, III/4.) The final part, "The Command of God the Creator" is an ethic of creation. It explains how the theology of Barth's Doctrine of Creation may be applied to life here and now and discusses many ethical loci including Barth's perspective on Marriage, Parenting, Self-Defense, Capital Punishment, Suicide, Vocation, and many other topics.

Karl Barth on interpreting the creation stories in Genesis

Now that we have Barth's Doctrine of Creation described in a nutshell, how are the biblical creation stories in the beginning of Genesis to be interpreted? According to Barth, they are neither mythology nor scientific literature; they are aetiological 'saga' that he defines as "a pre-historical reality of history." This means that the biblical creation stories are based on real events in history, such that something really happened, so that these stories may not be degenerated into legend or conceived inadequately as myth; however, the proto-history in Genesis 1-11 is dissimilar to modern history, and does not communicate verifiable brute facts that may be to used to establish the age of the Earth or its geological past, or refute established scientific theories such as the evolution of humans or other animals.

Barth's definition of saga:

"I am using saga in the sense of an intuitive and poetic picture of a pre-historical reality of history which is enacted once and for all within the confines of time and space. Legend and anecdote are to be regarded as a degenerate form of saga: legend as the depiction in saga form of a concrete individual personality; and anecdote as the sudden illumination in saga form either of a personality of this kind or of a concretely historical situation. If the concept of myth proves inadequate—as is still to be shown—it is obvious that the only concept to describe the biblical history of creation is that of saga." [5]

—Karl Barth

The Babylonian creation stories such as the Enûma Eliš are also saga, according to Barth, and share a 'critical connection' with Genesis such that Genesis had a kind of dependence on them, even if its uncertain whether this was a direct or indirect relationship. The Babylonian creation stories pre-date Genesis, but Genesis shares the same ancient Near East (ANE) cosmology as these creation stories.  This means that Genesis was born from the ANE, and that it accommodates its creation stories to the received cosmology of the ANE. However, we no longer share the cosmology of the ANE, so in order to understand Genesis we must translate or 'demythologize' it, and this means we may not use Genesis to scientifically critique modern cosmology or natural sciences. (Karl Barth's perspective of Genesis has remarkable similarities to recent non-concordist interpreters of Genesis, such as John H. Walton, the author of The Lost World of Genesis One.)

"What we read in Gen 1 and 2 are genuine histories of creation. If there is a connexion with the Babylonian myth or its older sources, it is a critical connexion. Everything is so different that the only choice is either to see in the Jewish rendering a complete caricature of the Babylonian, or in the Babylonian a complete caricature of the Jewish, according to the standpoint adopted."[6]

—Karl Barth

Barth says that the Word of God shares the same genre of saga as the Babylonian epics but these epics do not reveal the Word of God like the Bible. The Word of God is not revealed in the Illiad or any other great work of literature from the ANE or of modern times. Barth rejects all forms of the analogia entis, which sounds like the cousin of the praying mantis or an ominous alien insect from outer-space, but really means that God has chosen to reveal himself through the person and work of Jesus alone as witnessed by the bible and preached by the church. Barth famously expresses this in the following comment from the preface to the first volume of the Church Dogmatics: "Hence I have had no option but to say No at this point. I regard the analogia entis as the invention of Antichrist" [7]

Barth on the Historical Adam: We are all Adam

One of the most controversial questions among Evangelicals, as it relates to science and the Bible, is whether there was a historical Adam. Barth's view of the historical Adam may be summarized by the following ten points:

#1. There are two biblical passages that explicitly refer to Adam: Genesis 2-3 and Romans 5:12-21 (1 Corinthians 15:22,24 may also be considered.)

#2. These passages contain elements of the Saga literary genre that makes scientific paleontology impossible to derive from them, or for polygenism to be excluded, or for specific information about a historical-Adam to be derived from these biblical texts.

#3. Adam has a twofold interpretation: an individual man and a general title for all individuals, such one meaning always includes the other.

#4. Adam is more than a metonymy that refers to humanity in general, he is a first among equals, meaning that he is the first man to rebel in a rebellion that all people have joined.

#5. The fallen state of Adam (man) is not a poison that was passed on to Adam's children or a sexually transmitted disease, but a rebellion that Adam initiated, that all who were around and part of Adam, regardless of physical descent had joined in upon.

#6. This fallen state is the consequence of no single historical act: it is the unavoidable presupposition of all human history. Adam’s rebellion is one act, but all people participate in that act. The ‘Fall’ is the condemnation unto death, pronounced upon all men by God for this act in all human history, such that “by one man's disobedience the many were made sinners” (cf. Romans 5:18-19)

#7. There never was a golden age. There is no point in looking back to one. The first man was immediately the first sinner.

#8. Adam is like the rainbow in relation to Jesus like the sun. Adam is only a reflection of Jesus. The rainbow has no existence independent of the Sun. The rainbow cannot stand against the sun. It does not balance it, and the same is of all people in Adam and the one person of Jesus.

#9. Barth and Calvin teach that the corruption of all mankind in the person of Adam alone did not proceed from ordinary generation (i.e. physical descent from Adam), but from the appointment of God.

#10. No one has to be Adam. We are so freely and on our own responsibility. Although the guilt of Adam is like ours, it is just as little our excuse as our guilt is his.

Here is Karl Barth in his own words on the Historical Adam:

"The Bible gives to this history and to all men in this sense the general title of Adam. Adam is mentioned relatively seldom both in the Old Testament and the New. There are only two passages which treat of him explicitly: Gen 2-3 and Rom 5:12-21 (to which we might add 1 Cor 15:22,45). The meaning of Adam is simply man, and as the bearer of this name which denotes the being and essence of all other men, Adam appears in the Genesis story as the man who owes his existence directly to the creative will and Word and act of God without any human intervention, the man who is to that extent the first man. . . . It is the name of Adam the transgressor which God gives to world-history as a whole. The name of Adam sums up this history as the history of the mankind which God has given up, given up to its pride on account of its pride. . . . It is continually like it. With innumerable variations it constantly repeats it. It constantly re-enacts the little scene in the garden of Eden. There never was a golden age. There is no point in looking back to one. The first man was immediately the first sinner." [8]

—Karl Barth


Karl Barth firmly believed in the threefold witness of the Word of God revealed in the person and work of Jesus Christ as witnessed by the Holy Scriptures and in the preaching of the church. Barth also firmly believes that the scientific consensus on Evolution is within the parameters and limits of the Word of God. The Bible is not a scientific textbook, but does contain the unique revelation of God that is not revealed in any other book or source. So scientists are free to use the scientific method and follow its conclusions and at the same time fully believe with out compromise in Jesus Christ and Christianity. So now is as good of time as ever, to listen to the advice of our 'Uncle Karl' on how to answer these hard questions on the science and the Bible.


  1. Header image: used with permission from the Karl Barth Archiv,
  2. Geoffrey Bromily (trans.), Karl Barth Letters: 1961-1968, #181 (p. 184)
  3. 1962 Time Magazine Cover, personal collection
  4. By vincent desjardins - Alsace, Haut-Rhin, Colmar, Musée d'UnterLinden : Mathias Grünewald, " retable d'Issenheim : la Crucifixion " entre 1512 et 1516., CC BY 2.0,
  5. Barth, Karl. "Church Dogmatics Study Edition 21" Ed. T. F. Torrance and G.W. Bromiley. III.1 The Doctrine of Creation. Trans. G. W. Bromiley. London: T & T Clark, 2010. 81. Print
  6. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, Vol. 3.1, Sections 40-42: The Doctrine of Creation, Study Edition 13London: T & T Clark, 2010. [89]. Print.
  7. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics Vol I.1;
  8. Barth, Karl. Trans. G. W. Bromiley. Church Dogmatics: IV.1 The Doctrine of Reconciliation. Ed. G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance. Vol. 22. London: T & T Clark, 2009. [507-08]. Print. Study Edition.
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