by Professor James S. Stewart
It is an extraordinarily impressive fact that that greatest of theological giants St Paul, whose thoughts range through the universe, embracing in their width and scope and penetration the mysteries of life and death, things present and things to come, stands firmly based on 'the simplicity that is in Christ' (II Cor. 11.3). It is indeed this 'single-hearted devotion to Christ' (as the New English Bible translates it) that underlies both his profound insight into the divine wisdom and his revolutionary understanding of human existence.
Of Paul's greatest twentieth-century exponent, Karl Barth, the same could be said. His productivity has been immense, his horizons all-embracing, his domination of the contemporary theological scene unquestioned. Probably not since Calvin has there appeared a figure of like dimensions; and even those whose interpretation of the faith at many points is radically different have gladly confessed their indebtedness. Distinguished Roman Catholic theologians have listened attentively to this trumpet-toned Protestant voice, and have acknowledged the validity of this consuming quest of the truth. Yet the fact remains that this Colossus of a theologian is basically concerned with simple things; and no one reading Barth can have any doubt that the driving force behind the mighty argument is the man's own single-hearted devotion to Christ. This is what makes the encounter with Barth, even through the printed page, a spiritual experience.
Ever since 1908, when he was ordained to the ministry of the Reformed Church, Barth has been a preacher. Only a theologian who was also a preacher could have written the epoch-making commentary on the Epistle to the Romans which in 1919 heralded a thoroughgoing revolution in biblical exegesis and exposition. Barth's own vivid description of what happened with that book was that it was just as if a man, climbing a church tower by night, should clutch at a rope to save himself from falling : the rope does indeed save him, but it is the bell rope, and the sudden pealing of the church bell through the darkness awakens the whole town.
Even in the monumental Church Dogmatics there are innumerable passages where the preacher in him takes command, and the argument catches fire in the passion of the evangelist. Just how searching and surgical this can be might be illustrated from a passage describing the resistance which the Word of God encounters even within the Church
'The most cunning of all the stratagems which the resisting element in man can use in self-defence against the Word of grace is simply to immunize, to tame and harness. It is politely to take its seat in the pew, cheerfully to don the vestment and mount the pulpit, zealously to make Christian gestures and movements, soberly to produce theology, and in this way, consciously participating in the confession of Jesus Christ, radically to ensure that His prophetic work is halted, that it can do no more injury to itself, let alone to the world. May it not be that this most cunning of all defensive movements is also the most effective?' (Church Dogmatics, IV 3.1. P.259)
This little book on Prayer and Preaching demonstrates wonderfully Barth's characteristic union of simplicity and profundity. Certainly in these pages there is a Word from the Lord for the revitalizing of the Church.
New College Edinburgh JAMES S. STEWART
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