I have just finished reading 350 pages of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics. That would feel like an accomplishment were it not for the fact that the entire work weighs out at 9000 pages. So after the past week or so of slugging through Volume VI, Part 1, Sections 57 through 59, I have read less than %4 of Dogmatics.
It was like wading in a thick, dense, soupy mass of the Gospel. Really, that is the image that comes to mind. The prose is tough to follow. The logic sprawls and spirals all over the place. But everything is seeped and soaked in the wonder, shock, and glory of the Gospel. Christ’s undoing of sin’s undoing of humanity, the great Yes of God to our desperate plight, the aching dark of the cross and the awkward surprise at the empty tomb… these realities of our confession are explored in strange heights and depths. Though reading Barth has been hard intellectual work, I found myself at certain moments reading with the alertness of a hungry soul in need of a divine word to strengthen and challenge. I was not disappointed.
My evangelical intellectual upbringing has instilled within me a sense of dread and suspicion when it comes to 20th century German theologians. Some of this is well-founded, of course. But even though Barth is controversial in some aspects, I have to say that reading “The Way of the Son of God into the Far Country,” “The Judge Judged in Our Place,” and “The Verdict of the Father” was like reading sophisticated—yet heartfelt—doxology rather than dry, theological palaver. It is the reading of a preeminent pastor-theologian whose vocational disposition was that of a wide-eyed child spelunking and hiking in theological chasms and peaks that most of us are content to simply know are out there somewhere should an overly-interested explorer want to take up the trailhead.
I will keep following Barth along those high and deep paths, as I have maturity in mind and heart to do so. I hope to expand the measly %4….
Any other Barth-readers out there? What makes him controversial? What about his work and life has challenged or helped you? Curious….