He started out life conventionally enough: he was born in Basel, Switzerland, the son of Fritz Barth (pronounced “bart”), a professor of New Testament and early church history at Bern, and Anna Sartorius. He studied at some of the best universities: Bern, Berlin, Tübingen, and Marburg. At Berlin he sat under the famous liberals of the day (like historian Adolph von Harnack), most of whom taught an optimistic Christianity that focused not so much on Jesus Christ and the Cross as the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. After serving a Geneva curacy from 1909 to 1911, Barth was appointed to a working-class parish in Switzerland, and in 1913 he married Nell Hoffman, a talented violinist (they eventually had one daughter and four sons). As he pastored, he noted with alarm that Germany was becoming increasingly militaristic and that his former professors were supportive of this. Barth, dismayed with the moral weakness of liberal theology, plunged into a study of the Bible, especially Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. He also visited Moravian preacher Christoph Frederick Blumhardt and came away with an overwhelming conviction about the victorious reality of Christ’s resurrection—which deeply influenced his theology. Out of this emerged his Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (1919). He sounded themes that had been muted in liberal theology. Liberal theology had domesticated God into the patron saint of human institutions and values. Instead, Barth wrote of the “crisis,” that is, God’s judgment under which all the world stood; he pounded on the theme of God’s absolute sovereignty, of his complete freedom in initiating his revelation in Jesus Christ. He spoke dialectically, in paradox, to shock readers into seeing the radicalness of the gospel: “Faith is awe in the presence of the divine incognito; it is the love of God that is aware of the qualitative difference between God and man and God and the world.” The first of six heavily revised editions followed in 1922. It rocked the theological community. Barth later wrote, “AsI look back upon my course, I seem to myself as one who, ascending the dark staircase of a church tower and trying to steady himself, reached for the banister, but got hold of the bell rope instead. To his horror he had then to listen to what the great bell had sounded over him and not over him alone.” Liberal theologians gasped in horror and attacked Barth furiously. But Barth had given that form of liberalism a mortal wound. His theology came to be known as “dialectical theology,” or “the theology of crisis”; it initiated a trend toward neo-orthodoxy in Protestant theology. In 1921 Barth was appointed professor of Reformed theology at the University of Göttingen, and later to chairs at Münster (1925) and Bonn (1930). He published works critiquing nineteenth-century Protestant theology and produced a celebrated study of Anselm. In 1931 he began the first book of his massive Church Dogmatics. It grew year by year out of his class lectures; though incomplete, it eventually filled four volumes in 12 parts, printed with 500 to 700 pages each. Many pastors in the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s, desperate for an antidote to liberalism, eagerly awaited the publication of each book.
Barth fought not just with liberals but allies who challenged some of his extreme conclusions. When Emil Brunner proposed that God revealed himself not just in the Bible but in nature as well (though not in a saving way), Barth replied in 1934 with an article titled, “No! An Answer to Emil Brunner.” Barth believed that such a “natural theology” was the root of the religious syncretism and anti-Semitism of the “German Christians”—those who supported Hitler’s national socialism. By this time, Barth was immersed in the German church struggle. He was a founder of the so-called Confessing Church, which reacted vigorously against the ideology of “blood and soil” and the Nazis’ attempt to create a “German Christian” church. The 1934 Barmen Declaration, largely written by Barth, pitted the revelation of Jesus Christ against the “truth” of Hitler and national socialism: “Jesus Christ…is the one Word of God…. We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and beside this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and truths, as God’s revelation.” When Barth refused to take the oath of unconditional allegiance to the Führer, he was fired. He was offered the chair of theology in his native Basel, however, and from there he continued to champion the causes of the Confessing Church, the Jews, and oppressed people everywhere.
After the war, Barth engaged in controversies regarding baptism (though a Reformed theologian, he rejected infant baptism), hermeneutics, and the demythologizing program of Rudolf Bultmann (which denied the historical nature of Scripture, instead believing it a myth whose meaning could heal spiritual anxiety). Barth also made regular visits to the prison in Basel, and his sermons to the prisoners, Deliverance to the Captives, reveal his unique combination of evangelical passion and social concern that characterized all his life. When asked in 1962 (on his one visit to America) how he would summarize the essence of the millions of words he had published, he replied, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Though Barth made it possible for theologians again to take the Bible seriously, American evangelicals have been skeptical of Barth because he refused to consider the written Word “infallible” (he believed only Jesus was).
Galli, Mark (2010-07-19). 131 Christians Everyone Should Know (pp. 46-48). Holman Reference. Kindle Edition.
“I hope Tash ate the Dwarfs too,” said Eustace. “Little swine.”
“No, he didn’t,” said Lucy. “And don’t be horrid. They’re still here. In fact you can see them from here. And I’ve tried and tried to make friends with them but it’s no use.”
“Friends with them!” cried Eustace. “If you knew how those Dwarfs have been behaving!”
“Oh stop it, Eustace,” said Lucy. “Do come and see them. King Tirian, perhaps you could do something with them.”
“I can feel no great love for Dwarfs today,” said Tirian. “Yet at your asking, Lady, I would do a greater thing than this.”
Lucy led the way and soon they could all see the Dwarfs. They had a very odd look. They weren’t strolling about or enjoying themselves (although the cords with which they had been tied seemed to have vanished) nor were they lying down and having a rest. They were sitting very close together in a little circle facing one another. They never looked round or took any notice of the humans till Lucy and Tirian were almost near enough to touch them. Then the Dwarfs all cocked their heads as if they couldn’t see anyone but were listening hard and trying to guess by the sound what was happening.
“Look out!” said one of them in a surly voice. “Mind where you’re going. Don’t walk into our faces!”
“All right!” said Eustace indignantly. “We’re not blind. We’ve got eyes in our heads.”
“They must be darn good ones if you can see in here,” said the same Dwarf whose name was Diggle.
“In where?” asked Edmund.
“Why you bone-head, in here of course,” said Diggle. “In this pitch-black, poky, smelly little hole of a stable.”
“Are you blind?” said Tirian.
“Ain’t we all blind in the dark!” said Diggle.
“But it isn’t dark, you poor stupid Dwarfs,” said Lucy. “Can’t you see? Look up!
Look round! Can’t you see the sky and the trees and the flowers? Can’t you see me?”
“How in the name of all Humbug can I see what ain’t there? And how can I see you any more than you can see me in this pitch darkness?”
“But I can see you,” said Lucy. “I’ll prove I can see you. You’ve got a pipe in your mouth.”
“Anyone that knows the smell of baccy could tell that,” said Diggle.
“Oh the poor things! This is dreadful,” said Lucy. Then she had an idea. She stooped and picked some wild violets. “Listen, Dwarf,” she said. “Even if your eyes are wrong, perhaps your nose is all right: can you smell that?” She leaned across and held the fresh, damp flowers to Diggle’s ugly nose. But she had to jump back quickly in order to avoid a blow from his hard little fist.
“None of that!” he shouted. “How dare you! What do you mean by shoving a lot of filthy stable-litter in my face? There was a thistle in it too. It’s like your sauce! And who are you, anyway?”
“Earth-man,” said Tirian, “she is the Queen Lucy, sent hither by Aslan out of the deep past. And it is for her sake alone that I, Tirian your lawful King, do not cut all your heads from your shoulders, proved and twice-proved traitors that you are.”
“Well if that doesn’t beat everything!” exclaimed Diggle. “How can you go on talking all that rot? Your wonderful Lion didn’t come and help you, did he? Thought not. And now— even now— when you’ve been beaten and shoved into this black hole, just the same as the rest of us, you’re still at your old game. Starting a new lie! Trying to make us believe we’re none of us shut up, and it ain’t dark, and heaven knows what.”
“There is no black hole, save in your own fancy, fool,” cried Tirian. “Come out of it.” And, leaning forward, he caught Diggle by the belt and the hood and swung him right out of the circle of Dwarfs. But the moment Tirian put him down, Diggle darted back to his place among the others, rubbing his nose and howling:
“Ow! Ow! What d’you do that for! Banging my face against the wall. You’ve nearly broken my nose.” “Oh dear!” said Lucy. “What are we to do for them?”
“Let ‘em alone,” said Eustace: but as he spoke the earth trembled. The sweet air grew suddenly sweeter. A brightness flashed behind them. All turned. Tirian turned last because he was afraid. There stood his heart’s desire, huge and real, the golden Lion, Aslan himself, and already the others were kneeling in a circle round his forepaws and burying their hands and faces in his mane as he stooped his great head to touch them with his tongue. Then he fixed his eyes upon Tirian, and Tirian came near, trembling, and flung himself at the Lion’s feet, and the Lion kissed him and said, “Well done, last of the Kings of Narnia who stood firm at the darkest hour.”
“Aslan,” said Lucy through her tears, “could you— will you— do something for these poor Dwarfs?”
“Dearest,” said Aslan, “I will show you both what I can, and what I cannot, do.” He came close to the Dwarfs and gave a low growl: low, but it set all the air shaking. But the Dwarfs said to one another, “Hear that? That’s the gang at the other end of the stable. Trying to frighten us. They do it with a machine of some kind. Don’t take any notice. They won’t take us in again!”
Aslan raised his head and shook his mane. Instantly a glorious feast appeared on the Dwarfs’ knees: pies and tongues and pigeons and trifles and ices, and each Dwarf had a goblet of good wine in his right hand. But it wasn’t much use. They began eating and drinking greedily enough, but it was clear that they couldn’t taste it properly. They thought they were eating and drinking only the sort of things you might find in a stable. One said he was trying to eat hay and another said he had got a bit of an old turnip and a third said he’d found a raw cabbage leaf. And they raised golden goblets of rich red wine to their lips and said “Ugh! Fancy drinking dirty water out of a trough that a donkey’s been at! Never thought we’d come to this.” But very soon every Dwarf began suspecting that every other Dwarf had found something nicer than he had, and they started grabbing and snatching, and went on to quarreling, till in a few minutes there was a free fight and all the good food was smeared on their faces and clothes or trodden under foot. But when at last they sat down to nurse their black eyes and their bleeding noses, they all said:
“Well, at any rate there’s no Humbug here. We haven’t let anyone take us in. The Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs.”
“You see,” said Aslan. “They will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out. But come, children. I have other work to do.”
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. … Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.” C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
“What Dyson and Tolkien showed me,” he [C.S.Lewis] wrote, “was that if I met the idea of sacrifice in a Pagan story I didn’t mind it all: again, that if I met the idea of a god sacrificing himself to himself I liked it very much and was mysteriously moved by it: again, that the idea of the dying and reviving god similarly moved me provided I met it anywhere except in the Gospels.”
With Tolkien’s help , Jack [Lewis] began to see Christianity in relation to the myths he already loved, began to believe that “the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as others, but with the tremendous difference that it really happened: and one must be content to accept it in the same way, remembering that it is God’s myth where the others are men’s myths: i.e. the Pagan stories are God expressing Himself through the minds of poets, using such images as He found there, while Christianity is expressing Himself through what we call ‘real things’.”
Several years later Tolkien was to develop this argument in his essay “On Fairy Stories” in which he defined the special quality of fairy stories as being the Consolation of the Happy Ending. This quality Tolkien called the eucatastrophe (the “good conclusion”).
“The gospels he [Tolkien] wrote “contain a fairy-story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy stories. They contain many marvels—peculiarly artistic, beautiful and moving: ‘Mythical’ in their perfect, self-contained significance; and among the marvels is the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe…The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in Joy…There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many skeptical men have accepted as true on its own merits… To reject it leads either to sadness or wrath.”
This was the somewhat cerebral process by which Jack made his way to a belief in Christ, “I know very well when, but hardly how, the final step was taken,” he was to write in his autobiography, It happened on a bright, sunny morning in 1931. Warnie (C.S. Lewis’s brother) and Jack visited Whipsnade Zoo, Jack traveling in the sidecar of Warnie’s motorbike. When we set out recalled Jack, “I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo, I did. Yet I had not exactly spent the journey in thought. Nor in great emotion…It was more like when a man, after long sleep, still lying motionless in bed, becomes aware that he is now awake…”