Just this morning I received an e-mail from a woman who confirms that she heard Karl Barth respond to a student’s question with “Jesus loves me, this I know…” at Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia, in 1962. Her name is LeTourneau and her e-mail is convincing. Of course, as we have already discovered, Barth scholar Martin Rumscheidt says it happened there also.
So now we have two reliable witnesses (three counting Rumscheidt) confirming that the event happened in two places during Barth’s lecture tour in the U.S. in 1962–Richmond and Chicago. What does this mean?
I think it is reasonable to conclude that there was some kind of set up. Whether Barth was in on it or not is impossible to know. But surely someone either set up both incidents (viz., told a student to ask the question and prompted Barth to answer it by quoting the children’s song) or the second one (noticing how successful the first one was in delighting the audience). The one frame cartoon I mentioned in the previous post was not too far off–although it may not have been Barth who set it up.
Why does this matter? It may not to you, of course, but it matters to me because I mentioned the incident in 20th Century Theology (IVP 1992) and I mention it again in my forthcoming book on modern theology (The Journey of Modern Theology: From Reconstruction to Deconstruction). People have told me I was falling for a religious urban legend (what scholars call an “evangelegend”). You may have doubted the veracity of the story. Doubt it no more. However, doubt that it was spontaneous.