The Great Passion: An Introduction to Karl Barth's Theology

The Great Passion: An Introduction to Karl Barth's Theology

The Great Passion: An Introduction to Karl Barth's Theology

The Great Passion: An Introduction to Karl Barth's Theology


Widely regarded as the twentieth century's greatest theologian, Karth Barth refocused the task of Christian theology and demonstrated its relevance to every domain of human life, from the spiritual to the social to the political. It is precisely the broad sweep of Barth's theology that makes a book like The Great Passion of such great value -- a succinct yet comprehensive introduction to Barth's entire theological program.

Of the many people who write on the life and thought of Karl Barth, Eberhard Busch is uniquely placed. A world-renowned expert on Barth's theology, he also served as Barth's personal assistant from 1965 to 1968. As Busch explains, one cannot fully understand Barth the theologian apart from understanding Barth the man. In this book he weaves doctrine and biography into a superb presentation of Barth's complete work.

Busch's purpose in this introduction is to guide readers through the main themes of the multivolume Church Dogmatics against the horizon of our own times and problems. In ten sections Busch clearly explains Barth's views on all of the major subject areas of systematic theology: the nature of revelation, Israel and Christology, the Trinity and the doctrine of predestination, the "problem" of religion, gospel and law, creation, salvation, the Holy Spirit, ecclesiology, and eschatology.

A distinctive feature of the book is the way Busch lets Barth speak for himself, often through surprising quotations and paraphrases. Busch also shows how Barth's writing should be read as a dialogue, constantly and consciously engaging other voices past and present, both inside and outside the church. Most important, The Great Passion demonstrates that Barth's thought is still remarkably helpful today.


Some time ago I surveyed a number of recent writings on the work of Karl Barth. What I read about him motivated me to look again at Barth himself, especially since his work has accompanied me on many stations of my own path. When I was a student at Basel in 1959, I attended Barth’s lectures dealing with the early part of volume 4, part 4 of Church Dogmatics. At that time I also devoured volume 4, part 3, which had just appeared in print. I had the impression that the whole work was beginning to speak to me again, demanding my full attention as its distinctive mode of thinking and speaking continued to surprise me. Naturally this new hearing would raise for me a host of questions, many of which have been posed since Barth’s death, and especially in the secondary literature. Unavoidably Barth’s own work could not simply answer these questions, because in his work Barth was asking different questions and addressing other things. Both then and now Barth’s theology raises many questions and has much to say.

As it did then, Barth’s theology confronts us with many edges and points and corners, perhaps in new ways. Trimming these off is not the way to actualize his theology or “continue to work on it.” Similarly, the frictional encounter with it, with the intention of distancing oneself from it and thus assuring oneself of one’s own advance “beyond” his theology, will not necessarily constitute a fruitful encounter with it. Nor will the proclaiming of a new paradigm enable us to protect ourselves against the voice of Barth. This voice is part of the chorus of our predecessors who still have the right to be heard within the contemporary church of Jesus Christ.

We certainly should not forget Barth’s reminder that he did not aim to

1. E. Busch, “Weg and Werk Karl Barths in der neueren Forschung,” Theologische Revue 60 (1995): 273-99, 430-70.

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