“The Gospel of God,” According to Barth

Karl Barth

Karl Barth (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Confession: I’ve never read Barth. We talk about him a lot at seminary, and Hope College’s theology students worship and adore the 20th-century Reformed theologian, but I have not read more than a paragraph or two of the man (which, I have learned, is like saying ‘I have only tasted a drop or two of the ocean’).

So, this summer, in an attempt to inspire my blogging, nurture my personal devotions, and develop some more “well-read” brownie points, I have begun reading Barth’s commentary The Epistle to the RomansSo, for the next couple months, expect some short reflections on Romans each day, usually from Barth. I hope these are helpful and encouraging and thought-provoking for you as they are for me, particularly during “Ordinary Time,” when we reflect on and actually practice the Christian life in active obedience because of the good news and new life that is ours in Jesus Christ.

Romans 1:1-7 | “The Author to His Readers”

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,

To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Barth waxes eloquent when he exposits the phrase “the Gospel of God”:

The Gospel is not a religious message to inform mankind of their divinity or to tell them how they may become divine. The Gospel proclaims a God utterly distinct from men. Salvation comes to them from him, because they are, as men, incapable of knowing him, and because they have no right to claim anything from him. The Gospel is not one thing in the midst of other things, to be directly apprehended and comprehended…the Gospel is therefore not an event, nor an experience, nor an emotion–however delicate! Rather, it is the clear and objective perception of what eye hath not seen nor ear heard. Moreover, what it demands of men is more than notice, or understanding, or sympathy. It demands participation, comprehension, co-operation; for it is a communication which presumes faith in the living God, and which creates that which it presumes.

This stirred me. Like the Barmen Declaration‘s litany of “we…declare” — “we reject the false doctrine,” Barth lays out what the Gospel isn’t (religious information, a self-improvement program, self-evident, an event, an experience, an emotion), AND what the Gospel is (proclamation, perception, communication). I find particularly encouraging and important for this season, first, that the Gospel demands of me “participation, comprehension, co-operation;” and second, that the Gospel “presumes faith in the living God, and…creates that which it presumes.” The Gospel creates faith in me; it is not something I work up within myself or find somewhere someday. This faith, which receives the Gospel, then compels me to respond to it actively, energetically. May it be so.

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