Book Review: The Great Promise by Karl Barth
Author: Karl Barth
Publisher: Wipf & Stock Pub
Reading Level: Leisure
"We do not have to seek God anywhere else but in what he tells us. His omnipotence lives and works in his word. His word creates, governs, and supports us.” (34)
Karl Barth is perhaps the most written about theologian in church history. His theological ideas dominate discussions involving his name. Often forgotten is the fact the Barth was a preacher and lecturer. His theology stemmed from pastoral exegesis that was unique for its time and praised by his students. Prior to his expulsion from Germany in 1935, Barth told his students, “And now the end has come. So listen to my piece of advice: exegesis, exegesis, and yet more exegesis! Keep to the word, to the scripture that has been given to us.”
Barth delivered the lectures on Luke 1 that constitute The Great Promise in 1934 before leaving Germany. This situates the lectures before many of his famous theological developments (e.g. Christology, predestination, revelation). This also places the lectures in the midst of the German turmoil before World War II. Barth’s vision for the church as the proclaimer of Jesus Christ occurs in a dark time. When Barth says, “When the kingdom of God is proclaimed, a sign in the concrete world needs to be set up, something definitive needs to become visible…Why the Church is raised up out of the other earthly things in just such a way cannot be answered. The answer consists in the commands which God issues to the Church” (11) he is not speaking of peaceful times. He is speaking of the church in the midst of dark days.
In the span of four lectures, Barth works through the birth story of John the Baptist culminating with the praise songs of Zachariah and Mary the mother of God. Through these passages and these individuals, Barth emphasizes the glorious miracle of the incarnation, the nature of God’s calling in history, and the church as depicted in the union of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ. Much like Barth’s Romans, The Great Promise reads more like a commentary. Though showing signs of deep theology, the lectures present the best of Barth’s practical exegesis as he works through Advent associated Scriptures.
In conclusion, The Great Promise is an excellent introduction to Barth as a lecturer and an exegete. The lofty prose and long discourses of Barth’s Church Dogmatics are not found here. But the beauty of Barth’s theology is obvious. Direct application to the church and the believer dominate Barth’s lectures. Though the name and format might initially be intimidating, all Christians would benefit from reading these Advent lectures.
[Editor's Note: A multi-post series interacting with Barth's exegesis in The Great Promise can be found here]
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.