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: francisschaefferstudies.org)

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

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

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

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

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Comments (20) Trackbacks (2)
  1. Can anyone point to where Schaeffer’s original letter might be posted online?

  2. In short, I’m with Barth on this one, not Buswell, Van Til, or FS, whom I normally support.

  3. I am reluctant to comment since I have not read what Barth, Schaeffer and Buswell wrote on the subject. It will help to know Barth’s understanding of “evolution” was at the time. Even evangelicals differ on the subject of evolution, because the word is used in various ways. (I assume the subject was evolution).

    So, there is even a difference between the young and the old Schaeffer.

  4. Having grown up in a negative atmosphere towards Barth, I decided to find out what the fuss was all about. As a credited course I was required to write a major paper on his work. I did not want to cloud my mind with what others said about him, I read only what he wrote. I came away with a great respect for him, and felt a yearning for people to judge him not on the “Coles notes” versions of his works. I believe he had a great deal to say to the Church of his day, and still does today.

    • Glenn, I had a similar experience. I had read the negative comments towards Barth by Schaeffer and others that didn’t engage with Barth. It wasn’t until I started reading the Church Dogmatics that I had to change my mind. The first volume I read defensively, Churcch Dogmatics II/1 The Doctrine of God, but by the end it had so many eye opening statements. After reading Church Dogmatics II/2, and I/2, I found many answers to evangelical questions that I had struggled with and was hooked from then onwards. So it took some time before I was hooked.

  5. “Since writing the above, I, with four others from this Congress, have visited Karl Barth. He was most gracious; and, of course, most stimulating. In the short time we were with Barth it was not possible to explore all the facets contained in this paper, but its basic approach and conclusions were shown to [be] sound. The basic problem is that of the problem of its nature and its unity. To these men it is not that religious truth and the truth of the natural world are contradictory; but, just as heat can rise and light can descend in the same space without the one interfering with the other, to the New Modernist religious truth and the truth of the natural world pass each other without contact.
    I told professor Barth that I was writing this and asked him if he would like a copy. He said he would, and I will send him one. If I have been unfair in any of the details of the presentation I am sorry. It is my hope, that after professor Barth has read it, that he will give me the privilege of another time with him to discuss these matters further.
    In closing : The end of apologetics is not to slay men with our logic, but to lead them to the true Christ, the Christ of the whole Scriptures. If we are to be used to reach the men who are on this philosophical and theological black sea, we must demonstrate to them the logic of heaven. By that I mean a combination of consistent thinking and consistent living, both conformed to total revelation given by God in the Scriptures. Consistent thinking means having our whole World-view conformed to the Scripture; and consistent living is not only the things we do not do, important as that is, but also the exhibiting of the fact, that we do not just desire to prove men wrong, but that our lives are unreservedly given to the purpose of leading them to our Saviour.”

    Schaeffer, Francis A., “An Examination of The New Modernism.” Baptist Bulletin (1951).

  6. Fantastic letters and discussion. Now I know why my church life has been so pear-shaped. I’ve been a New Modernist all these years without knowing it, tucked in among fundamentalists. I have no idea how it happened.

  7. Thanks Kate! I appreciate the comment

  8. I too came from fundamentalist environment which started my Christian walk off. Good people and gave me a solid start. 40 yrs later in a late night’s sitting I absorbed Barth’s Dogmatics in Outline and things fell only then into place. That God actually desires our constant company. Trust and reliance that in time we’ll come to share that righteousness, that regard for Christ’s Person and awesome respect for the Name. Barth’s insights will do me anytime. LogicIan par example.
    Buswell purposively misunderstands the Master.

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