Document: A.D.R. Polman, Modern Thinkers: Barth, Trans. Calvin D. Freeman (USA: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1982).

Excerpt: Karl Barth was born in Basel, Switzerland, in 1886. In 1891 his father, Fritz Barth was appointed professor of New Testament at Berne, so that Karl Barth completed his gymnasium training in Berne and for a few years attended the University there before continuing his studies at Berlin, Tubingen and Marburg where he was influenced especially by the theologians, Wilhelm Hermann and J. Weisz, and by the neo-Kantian philosophers, Cohen and Natorp. For two years after the completion of his academic studies Karl Barth was the assistant of Martin Rade, the director of the well-known periodical, The Christian World, and his short career as a journalist undoubtedly affected the formulation of his later theology. From 1911 until 1921, he was a pastor in the small village of Safenwil in the Swiss canton, Aargau. These were very fruitful years as is clearly seen from the discourses and treatises which are now in The Word of God and Theology and Theology and the Church. And these writings still provide the best introduction to his thought. In particular we would mention: The New World in the Bible, Bible Questions, Need and Promise of Christian Preaching, The Word of God as the Task of Theology, Reformed Doctrine, Its Essence and Task, and Dogmatic Fundamentals with Wilhelm Hermann. It became increasingly clear to him that the only justification for theology lies in its complete obeisance to the word of God. The Reformed fathers had already stated this in a concise manner in the first thesis defended in the debates at Bern in 1528: “The holy, Christian church, of which Christ is the only head, has been born from the word of God, abides therein and obeys not the voice of any other”. God spoke to them therein, and where God speaks, unconditional obedience and surrender are the only proper response.

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