Listening to Scripture and Telling You What I Hear

I came across a great story about Karl Barth. During one of Barth’s seminars in the 1950′s a debate arose among students in the class about his method in Church Dogmatics. This debate, as it was recounted, was heated and lasted for over an hour. During the debate Barth remained silent; he puffed on his pipe, sipped his wine and listened [I wish I could smoke my pipe and sip Pinot  in my classroom!] As the debate was moving into the second hour, it occurred to one of the students that Barth was sitting in the room. Funny how something like this can happen. So the student turned to Barth and posed to him the original question that set off the debate in the first place. Barth didn’t respond immediately. Perhaps a full minute of awkward silence went by before he respond with this:

If I understand what I’m trying to do in the Church Dogmatics, it is to listen to what Scripture is saying and tell you what I hear.

I found this story retold in a footnote (p. 10, n.27) in Richard Burnett’s Karl Barth’s Theological Exegesis(Eerdmans 2004).


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