Skip to main content


Showing posts from November, 2015

Truth and Unity with Karl Barth

I am enjoying reading Barth’s letters from the final years of his life - Karl Barth: Letters 1961-1968 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1981) - and came across another gem recently. This one concerns the heart of the ecumanical project, and in particular the possibility of closer ties between Reformed Protestantism and the Roman Catholic Church. In a written reply to The Institute of the Sacred Heart of Mary, Belgium, in 1962 Barth thanked the sisters there for their initial contact with him, and their feedback on his own theological work. He then comments on their corrspondence - they must have said something about the importance of loving one another - and he writes,

'You are right to tell me that much of the route to the unity of the church is laid when we come together again in love. Being the friend of many Roman Catholic theologians, I add that I am happy to affirm that in truth as well we have come closer on both sides than could ever have been imagined fifty years ago. One thing …

'...but the greatest of these is charity.' Hunsinger and the Barth-Revisionists

If in some mind-bending moment in the life of the Church of England, I was put in charge of all training for all clergy and lay-ministers, everywhere, I would require that trainee ministers take classes in how to read. I don’t mean remedial English. I mean hermeneutics at its most basic level: how to read and inhabit someone’s argument, thought processes, ideas, and perspective — even, or especially, when you don’t agree with their final verdict. I have sometimes wondered about setting a debate as a final assignment, in which students must opt to argue for a position they cannot stand! The idea is not to increase piety for piety’s sake (though a bit more piety may not always be a bad thing), but rather to increase our ability to dialogue and disagree well, by which I mean in an informed and intelligent way. The latest wrangling in the C of E about sexuality will require exactly this sort of thing (and, so far, it seems to me there has been little attempt to really inhabit and underst…

Brief Admonishment from the Old Man of Basel

In 1961 Karl Barth wrote a letter to one of his theological students, whom he had recently supported in a grant application for funding to study in Edinburgh, to chastise him about his general outlook on life and his attitude to theological study in particular. It’s a short letter in the collection Karl Barth: Letters 1961-1968 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1981), and is anonymised for the sake of the student in question. The most pertinent section of the letter - the bit I’d like all of my students to read (!) - is as follows: ‘Before one can say (or meaningfully ask) anything, one must first listen, and before one can write anything, one must first do proper reading. If you cannot or will not learn this, you had better keep your fingers out of not merely academic theology but theology in general.' The discipines of listening and thinking, reading and seeking to understand, are significant not only for young academics but anyone holding a pastoral office in the Church. They are the ba…