Karl Barth: ‘A Letter to Japanese Friends’

karl-barth-sketch‘In all circumstances, theology is a beautiful, a joyful task. It may and should be that today also for you. I say this to you after I have tried to study theology for more than fifty years. When I began doing this as a young man, I was often worried and morose in my work. Later, I could see that if one grasps it rightly, one is led by theology to a place that-despite all difficulties and tiresome work that awaits one there-is a bright place. Here with all one’s longing to see “face to face” (I Cor. 13:13) one can live-for oneself and for others. My dear Japanese friends, if you also find yourselves led to this bright place in your theological activity, then you have rightly understood me, and I think that your work also will be a sowing of living seed among both Christians and non-Christians of your land and people.

Theology, however, requires free persons. As a young theologian, I belonged to a “school.” It was not a bad school; I still think gratefully of my former teachers. But I later had to free myself from their school not only because there were some things in their instruction which were not entirely right, but simply because it was a school. And now I would not want the result of my life to be the formation of a new school. I am in the habit here of telling everyone who will listen that I myself in any case am no “Barthian.” The reason is that after having learned some things, I would like to remain free to continue to learn. You understand what I am saying to you: Concern yourself as little as possible with my name! Because there is only one interesting name, whereas the promotion of all other names can only lead to false bonds and can only provoke boring jealousy and obduracy in others. Do not take a single sentence from me untested. Instead, measure each of them by the Word of God who alone is true and who is judge and supreme teacher of us all. You understand me rightly if you allow yourselves to be led by what I say to what the Word of God says. Good theologians do not live in a house of ideas, principles, and methods. They stride through all such houses in order to come out again and again into the open. They remain on the way. They have the distant high mountains and the infinite sea of God before their eyes, and just for that reason and in closest proximity they surely also have their fellow human beings-the good and the evil, the fortunate and the unfortunate, the Christian and the non-Christian, the Eastern and the Western-to whom they may be witnesses in all modesty.

If you want to accompany me further in this joy and freedom, then everything is in order if you want to think in a friendly way on May 10 of the seventy-year-old man in Basel’.

– Karl Barth, Offene Briefe 1945-1968 [Karl Barth Gesamtausgabe, Vol. V]. Cited in Karl Barth, ‘Excerpts From Barth: The Strange New World Within The Bible’, TheolToday 43, no. 3 (1986), 417-8.

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