The PostBarthian

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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Karl Barth’s Rejection of the Visible and Invisible Church

invisible-visible-church7Is the Church both visible and invisible? Karl Barth says No! He said the Church is visible, so it is wrong to apply the idea of invisibility to the Church. Since the Reformation, the Church has been commonly proclaimed to be both visible and invisible, and sadly since then there has been an increasing emphasis on the invisibility Church over against the visibility of the Church. Barth recognized that the idea of an invisible Church devalued the Church entirely and silenced its preaching of the gospel. According to Barth, the Church has always been a public uproar by a visible group since the time of the Apostles, and a Church that is not visible, is not the Church!

As a Christian in Nazi Germany, Barth understood that the Church must be a visible light in the world (Matt 5:14-16). Remember that Barth was largely responsible for the Barmen Declaration that was used by the Confessing Churches to publicly oppose German Christians and the Nazi party during World War II. In his 1946 Bonn University lectures in war torn Germany, he spoke this bold and famous denunciation of an invisible Church (printed in his Dogmatics in Outline):

By men assembling here and there in the Holy Spirit there arises here and there a visible Christian congregation. It is best not to apply the idea of invisibility to the Church; we are all inclined to slip away with that in the direction of a civitas platonica or some sort of Cloud-cuckooland, in which the Christians are united inwardly and invisibly, while the visible Church is devalued. In the Apostles' Creed it is not an invisible structure which is intended but a quite visible coming together, which originates with the twelve Apostles. The first congregation was a visible group, which caused a visible public uproar. If the Church has not this visibility, then it is not the Church. Of course each of these congregations has its problems, such as the congregation of Rome, of Jerusalem, etc. The New Testament never presents the Church apart from these problems. At once, the problem of variations in the individual congregation crops up, which may lead to splits. All this belongs to the visibility of the Church, which is the subject matter of the second article. [1]

The origin of the visible and invisible Church

The Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) and other Reformed Confessions distinguished between the visible and invisible Church to communicate that mere membership to any ecclesiastical body does not guarantee salvation because after all justification is by faith alone! The visible vs. invisible Church distinction intended to communicate that there may be false Christians within the Church and many true Christians outside of the Church, or as St. Augustine said "there are many sheep without and many wolves within" (par. City of God). The WCF identifies the Pope as the Antichrist (WCF XXV.VI) as an example of a false Christian in the visible Church (n.b. many modern Churches that conscribe to the WCF have removed this condemnation of the Pope). And, the Protestants excommunicated during the Reformation would naturally be identified as true Christians that were not part of the only visible Church established in that time and place: i.e. the Roman Catholic Church.

"The . . . Church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect . . . The visible Church, which is . . . (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion and of their children" (Westminster Confession of Faith, XXV.VI.I-II)

Thankfully, the stark antithesis between the Roman Catholics and Protestants in the 16th century, no longer exists today, but sadly the antithesis between the visible and invisible Church is starker than ever before. Unfortunately, the elevation of the invisible Church over the visible Church had the unintended and detrimental side effect of undermining the Church's visible presence in the world entirely, and reduced the visible Church to a private matter of individuals that had no public influence.

Separatists and fanatics capitalized on the visible and invisible Church distinction to identify their own sects with the invisible Church and then became vocal antagonists of the visible Church or anyone who did not share their fanatacial beliefs, as such was the case in the New Light vs Old Lights controversies in the Great Awakenings at the beginning of the 18th century in America where fanatical students frequently declared their Christian professors and leaders to be "unconverted".invisible-visible-churchThe idea of a visible and invisible Church had good intentions with the potential of showing great charity towards people outside the visible Church but in the end, the idea collapsed into pessimism and sectarianism and finally devaluation of the Church and the gospel.

Four points against the Visible and Invisible Church

Karl Barth dismantles the Visible and Invisible Church taxonomy in the Church Dogmatics Vol III/4 with these four points: 1) The Church, according to Karl Barth, may not be identified with any nation, territory or country—this is Constantinianism. 2) Nor may the Church be identified with any establishment, institution or denomination whether Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox or otherwise. 3) The Church is not a means to some other end, it is the people of God in service of the coming kingdom. And 4a) the Church may not be divided into two groups of real vs unreal Christians, or useful vs useless Christians or true vs false Christians; and likewise 4b) nor may it be divided into the teaching class vs the listen class, or clergy vs laity.

Barth's Introduction to the Four Points

The following quotations form one continuous quotation from the Church Dogmatics III/4, that I've divided in order to review and comment on each paragraph:

When we put the service of the Christian community at the head of concretions of the active life demanded by the command of God, we make four assumptions which are certainly to be found in the New Testament but which unfortunately are not to be seen so clearly, and sometimes not at all, in what is operative and visible as the Christian Church of a particular tradition and confession. This is not the place for a detailed proof of these assumptions, and therefore we can only mention them in the present context. [2]

Point 1. The Church is not identified with any nation, territory or country

Barth's rejection of the visible and invisible Church isn't a return to Constantinian Christianity, where being a Christian meant being a member of a particular state, civilization or institution at a particular time and place. The Church is not bounded by time or geographical map lines, and extends from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth and ends of the ages (c.f. Matt 28:19-20). The Church is more visible than any civilization that man has ever devised.

We assume that the Christian community or Church is a particular people, and therefore that it neither is nor can be identical with humanity or with a natural or historical segment of humanity, as, for example, a nation or the population of a certain territory or country. We assume that it always represents a distinct antithesis to humanity as naturally and historically fashioned and to all the associated groupings. We thus assume that the numerical equation of Christianity, customary since the time of Constantine, with a supposed Christian West, rests on an error which, although it has not arisen without the permissive guidance of God and therefore to some purpose and profit, is still glaring and fatal, and can only result in the self-deception of the Christian community of Church and the hampering of its service.

Since its Lord is no other than the One who rules over heaven and earth, it is in fact a peculiar people, assembled and to be assembled from all nations, and existing in dispersion among all nations with its special task and service. It is constituted by the imminent kingdom of God and not by any kind of great or small historical dominion. It has not to look to even the highest interests either of humanity or of this or that greater or smaller human group, but in conflict with humanity and all human groups, and for their salvation, it must serve the particular interest which God in Jesus Christ both willed to take, and in His patience will always take, in humanity. It cannot try to be the Church of the people, but only the Church for the people. Only in this sense can it be the "national" Church. [3]

Point 2. The Church is not identified with any establishment or institution

Barth is not dismissing Christian civilizations or any particular Church, but rather he is saying that the Church is visible in all these manifestations and yet not limited to them.

We assume that by the Christian community or Church is not meant an establishment or institution organised along specific lines, but the living people awakened and assembled by Jesus Christ as the Lord for the fulfillment of a specific task.  In obedience to its Lord this people may and must provide itself with particular institutions, rules, regulations and obligations. But these do not constitute the Christian community; they are themselves made by the Christian community. They are always, it is to be hoped, the best possible and yet changeable forms in which the Christian community is active and undertakes to perform its service. The Christian community is active and undertakes to perform its service. The Christian community does not live as these institutions subsist and are maintained and protected. It lives as it discharges its service to the kingdom of God in the changing, standing and falling of institutions. What it has to do must not be determined by its institutions; its institutions must be determined by what it has to do. [4]

Point 3. The Church's existence is not a means to an ends. 

Barth does not believe that the Church is a means to some other ends, but it is a realization here and now of what is to come. In paganism, there's a dream of good times after death, such that we must endure the present trials of life in order to dine in the halls of Valhalla. We have already realized the coming kingdom of God, and this hope isn't wish-fulfillment but a present reality.

We assume that the Christian community or Church is in fact the people which has been constituted and given its commission by Jesus Christ its Lord and therefore by the coming kingdom. Its existence, therefore, is not an end in itself. Even the temporal and eternal reward which it has been promised for fulfilling its commission is something apart. It can and should look forward to this with gladness. But the meaning and purpose of its service do not consist in the receiving of it. Nor does it serve in order to satisfy its religious needs, to practice its piety, to live out its religious emotions, and thus to deepen and enrich its own life and possibly to improve or even transform world conditions. Nor does it serve in order to gain the favor of God and finally to attain to everlasting bliss. It serves because the causa Dei (cause of God) is present in Jesus Christ, and because, come what may and irrespective of the greatness or smallness of the result, it imperiously demands the service of its witness. [5]

Point 4. The Church may not be divided into:
a.) true and false members or b.) into the teachers and listeners

The fourth point may be the most important, and is divided into two sub-points:

We assume that the Christian community or Church is the people which as such is unitedly and therefore in all its members summoned to this service. Two common distinctions are herewith abolished. [6]

The first sub-point is that there are not two Church, a visible and invisible Church, but all belong to both the visible and invisible Church: the Church's membership is not divided into separate groups, but all Christians live under the severe warning that though they are visible, they may be invisible Christians in the end due to sin: it's both/and, instead of either/or.

a.) The first is the recognition, far too readily accepted as self-evident especially in many of the Reformation confessions, that the Christian community comprises many dead as well as living members, i.e., Christians only in appearance. The truth is that not merely some or many but all members of the Christian community stand under the sad possibility that they might not be real Christians, and yet that all and not merely some or many are called from death to life and therefore to the active life of service. It is quite impossible, and we have no authority from the New Testament, to admit into the concept of the Christian community a distinction between real and unreal, useful and useless members. That all are useless but that all are used as such is said to all who are gathered to this people. [7]

The second sub-point expresses a similar rejection of dualism in the Church; there are not two castes in the Church: the teaching and listening Christians.

b.) [The second is this] Again, the distinction is also abolished between a responsible part of the community specially called to the service of the Church and a much larger non-responsible part, i.e. between "clergy" and "laity", office bearers and ordinary Christians. The whole community and therefore all its members are specifically called to this service and are therefore responsible. All are mere "laity" in relation to their Lord, and therefore in truth, yet all are "clergy" in the same relation and therefore in truth. Admittedly, the service is inwardly ordered, so that there are within it different callings, gifts and commissions. Nevertheless, the community is not divided by this ordering into an active part and a passive, a teaching Church and a listening, Christians who have office and those who have not. Strictly, no one has an office; all can and should and may serve; none is ever "off duty." [8]

Conclusion based on 1 Peter 2:9f
Barth concludes this section of the Church Dogmatics with a small-print paragraph that uses 1 Pet. 2:9f as a proof text. Barth is against describing the Church has both visible and invisible, because the Church has always been a visible Church because the idea of invisibility is foreign to the New Testament and the Church has always been a visible Church; so all dualistic conceptualizations as such are rejected. Barth rejects identifying the Church with an invisible and unknowable group of people, but he also rejects identifying the Church with any one particular group of people at any particular time, because the Church is more visible than any visible institution, and all Church are the visible Churches collectively. And within the Church, but also rejects such dualistic schemas, and concludes that there isnt' a divising between the teaching and listening church, because all Christians are both theologians and hearers of the Word of God:

We may compress these four assumptions into the well-known words of 1 Pet 2:9f: "But yet are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light: which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy." We may immediately add to this saying the exposition and application of the threefold office of Jesus Christ given under Qu. 32 of the Heidelberg Catechism: "Why art thou called a Christian? Because through faith I am a member of Christ and partake of His anointing, that I may confess His name, offer myself to Him as a living sacrifice, and with a clear conscience wrestle in this life against sin and the devil, hereafter to reign with Him in eternity over all creatures." If only the Protestant conception of the Church had been worked out and practiced along these lines! [9]

Final Remarks on Universalism

Barth's criticisms of the visible and invisible Church are primarily directed against those who define the invisible Church as smaller subset of the visible Church. However, this discussion precludes the hopeful possibility of the invisible Church having an exceedingly greater populous than the visible Church: e.g. the hope that all people would be included in the invisible Church. Such an affirmation of the invisible Church provides hope for universal salvation, but sadly it is most often used pessimistically to declare the true Church to be a small subset of true believers within the visible Church. The visible vs invisible church is a valuable taxonomy when the invisible church is believed to be a superset of the visible church, especially when the invisible church is optimistically identified as a universal set that includes all humanity or all Creation. If Barth's dismantling of the visible vs invisible church is affirmed, the door to universal salvation is still open, by allowing salvation to be extended to those outside the visible Church. Either way, we have hope that all people will be saved (1 Tim 2:4)!


[^Header Image] Background church imaged is from Bernard Gagnon - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
[^1] Barth, Karl. Dogmatics in Outline. New York: Harper & Row, 1959. 142. Print.
[^2] Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics, Vol III/4. Study Edition 20. London: T & T Clark, 2010. 159. Print. Study Edition.
[^3] Ibid. 159, [488]
[^4] Ibid. 159-60, [488-9]
[^5] Ibid. 160, [489]
[^6] Ibid. 160-1, [489-90]
[^7] Ibid. 160-1, [489-90]
[^8] Ibid. 160-1, [489-90]
[^9] Ibid. 161, [490]


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Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics Original Publication Dates

Karl Barth Church Dogmatics Publication TimelimeKarl Barth's Church Dogmatics was a theological summa published between 1932 and 1967 that spanned 9257 pages.  The English translations lagged many years behind the German original publications, so as an English reader of Barth, I have struggled to find the original publication dates of each volume of the Church Dogmatics. So, I've created the above image to depict the Church Dogmatics volumes with the respective year that each volume was published in the German first edition.

The complete publication information for each volume of the Church Dogmatics may be accessed by the following links:

  1. The Church Dogmatics I/1: The Doctrine of the Word of God,
    Die Kirchliche Dogmatik I/1 : Die Lehre vom Wort Gottes. 1. Halbband,
    1932 (1936 ET), 528 pages
  2. The Church Dogmatics I/2: The Doctrine of the Word of God,
    Die Kirchliche Dogmatik 1/2 : Die Lehre vom Wort Gottes. 2. Halbband,
    1938 (1956 ET), 1012 pages
  3. The Church Dogmatics II/1: The Doctrine of God,
    Die Kirchliche Dogmatik II/1 : Die Lehre von Gott. Teilband 1,
    1940 (1957 ET), 783 pages
  4. The Church Dogmatics II/2: The Doctrine of God,
    Die Kirchliche Dogmatik II/2: Die Lehre von Gott. Teilband 2,
    1942 (1957 ET), 899 pages
  5. The Church Dogmatics III/1: The Doctrine of Creation,
    Die Kirchliche Dogmatik III/1: Die Lehre von der Schöpfung. Teilband 1,
    1945 (1958 ET), 488 pages
  6. The Church Dogmatics III/2: The Doctrine of Creation,
    Die Kirchliche Dogmatik III/2: Die Lehre von der Schöpfung. Teilband 2,
    1948 (1960 ET), 637 pages
  7. The Church Dogmatics III/3: The Doctrine of Creation,
    Die Kirchliche Dogmatik III/3: Die Lehre von der Schöpfung. Teilband 3,
    1950 (1961 ET), 810 pages
  8. The Church Dogmatics III/4: The Doctrine of Creation,
    Die Kirchliche Dogmatik III/4: Die Lehre von der Schöpfung. Teilband 4,
    1951 (1961 ET), 869 pages
  9. The Church Dogmatics IV/1: The Doctrine of Reconciliation,
    Die Kirchliche Dogmatik IV/1: Die Lehre von der Versöhnung. Teilband 1,
    1953 (1956 ET), 896 pages
  10. The Church Dogmatics IV/2: The Doctrine of Reconciliation,
    Die Kirchliche Dogmatik IV/2: Die Lehre von der Versöhnung. Teilband 2,
    1955 (1958 ET), 983 pages
  11. The Church Dogmatics IV/3.1: The Doctrine of Reconciliation,
    Die Kirchliche Dogmatik IV/3.1: Die Lehre von der Versöhnung. Teilband 3.1,
    1959 (1961 ET), 551 pages
  12. The Church Dogmatics IV/3.2: The Doctrine of Reconciliation,
    Die Kirchliche Dogmatik IV/3.2: Die Lehre von der Versöhnung. Teilband 3.2,
    1959 (1962 ET), 554 pages
  13. The Church Dogmatics IV/4: The Doctrine of Reconciliation (fragment),
    Die Kirchliche Dogmatik IV/4: Die Lehre von der Versöhnung. Teilband 4,
    1967 (1969 ET), 247 pages

*ET is English Translation

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The PostBarthian is featured at BioLogos! : Karl Barth says Yes to Creation and Evolution

The PostBarthian is now featured at BioLogos! Click here to read my current article at BioLogos: Karl Barth says Yes to Creation and Evolution. Don't miss it! And, be sure to read the comments.

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Karl Barth’s Letter to Francis Schaeffer

Karl Barth's Letter to Francis Schaeffer (1930)

Karl Barth's Letter to Francis Schaeffer (1950)

Karl Barth wrote the following letter to Francis Schaeffer in 1950 that is similar to his response to Cornelius Van Til and assessment of Billy Graham.

Bergli, Oberrieden, September 3, 1950
Rev. Francis A. Schaeffer
Châlet des Frênes

Dear Mr. Schaeffer!

I acknowledge receipt of your letter from August 28[1], and of your paper "The New Modernism."[2] The same day your friend J. Oliver Buswell wrote to me[3] from New York, enclosing a review (The Bible Today, p.261 s.)[4] "Karl Barth's Theology." I see the things you think of me are approximately of the same kind as those I found in the book of [Cornelius] Van Til on the subject. And I see: you and your friends have chosen to cultivate a type of theology, who consists in a kind of criminology; you are living from the repudiation and discrimination of every and every fellow-creature, whose conception is not-entirely (numerically!) identical with your own views and statements. You are "walking on the solid rock of truth[sic]." We others, poor sinners, are not. I am not. My case has been found out to be hopeless. The jury has spoken, the verdict is proclaimed, the accused has been hanged by the neck till he was dead this very morning.

Well, well! Have it your own way: it is your affair, and in doing, speaking, writing as you do, you may shoulder your own responsibilities. You may repudiate my life-work "as a whole". You may call me names (such as: cheat[..], vague, non-historic, not interested in truth [sic] and so on and on!) You may continue to do your "detective" work in America, in the Netherlands, in Finland and everywhere and decry me as the most dangerous heretic. Why not? Perhaps the Lord has told you to do so.

But why and to what purpose do you wish further conversation? The heretic has been burnt and buried for good. Why on earth will you waste your time (and his time!) with more talk between you and him? Dear sir, you said, that you are feeling yourselves nearer to the "old-modernists" and to the Roman Catholics than to to me and to men like me.  Just as you like! But why then not try the effectiveness of your "apologetics" in some exercises with these "old-modernists" or with these Roman Catholics -- both of whom you will find quit a great lot here in Switzerland and everywhere? Why bother yourselves anymore about the man in Basle, whom you have finished off so splendidly and so totally?

Rejoice, dear Mr. Schaeffer (and you calling yourselves "fundamentalists" all over the world!) Rejoice and go on to believe in your "logics" (as in the fourth article of your creed!) and in yourselves as the only true"bible-believing" people! Shout so loudly as you can! But, pray, allow me, to let you alone. "Conversations" are possible between open-minded people [...]. Your paper and the review of your friend Buswell reveals the fact of your decision to close your window shutters. I do not know how to deal with a man who comes to see and to speak to me in the quality of a detective-inspector or with the behaviour of a missionary who goes to convert a heathen. No, thanks!

Your sincerely[sic]

Excuse my bad English. I am not accustomed to write in your language.

I am sending a copy of this letter to Rev. Buswell!

Dear Mr. Buswell![5]

I have read your review together with the paper of Mr. Schaeffer. Every word in my letter refers also to you. Sorry, but it can not be helped!


Karl Barth[6]

List of related literature (Updated Apr. 7th, 2016):

[^1] Francis Schaeffer's original letter is not extant.

[^2] Francis Schaeffer's "The New Modernism" referenced in the letter but published in the Baptist Bulletin's Jan and Feb 1951 editions. (source:

[^3] J. Oliver Buswell's original letter to Karl Barth on Aug. 28th, 1950 (source:

[^4] J. Oliver Buswell's review of Dogmatics in Outline (source:

[^5] J. Oliver Buswell's response to Barth's letter on Sept 13th, 1950 (source:

[^6] Karl Barth's Letter to Francis Schaeffer (cc'ed to J. Oliver Buswell) on Sept 3, 1950 (source:

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