God With Us (Christoph Barth)

Karl Barth once remarked that if he could be accused of founding a school of Barthians, then at least its membership was limited to his two sons, Markus and Christoph, who were professors of New and Old Testament respectively. Not a bad academic family legacy for a systematic theologian!

Markus Barth (1915-1994) was a pretty well-known scholar, but Christoph Barth (1917‑1986) was more obscure because he published less, and spent much of his career teaching in Indonesia. He lectured in Jakarta and Ambon for many years, and then took a professorship at Mainz, Germany, during which time he put his OT lectures into publishable form. They were published in four volumes (!) in Indonesian between 1970 and 1990. When Barth died, he left his own nearly-complete English translation of the work, and Geoffrey Bromiley was entrusted with the task of condensing it to a single volume. Apparently the longer, Indonesian version included a lot of standard introductory material that Christoph’s widow, Marie‑Claire (also a theological teacher) agreed could be trimmed. The result was the 1991 book God With Us: A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament. I read this book the year Eerdmans published it, and it’s been my favorite OT theology ever since.

It’s fascinating to me that God With Us is not just a document of the Barth family style, or the Biblical theology movement, but also a missionary document, the first Old Testament theology written for the Indonesian people. It was intended “for the use of lay Christians and their pastors within the Indonesian churches.” Christoph Barth wanted to expound the works of God in the Old Testament in such a way that the Indonesian people, at a critical time in their national consciousness, would be able to recognize this same God at work in their midst. In the words of Marie-Claire, Christoph

 intended to write a textbook sharpening his student’s ears, so that in listening to what God had said and done in the past, they would be open to what God’s Spirit says and does now. As a foreigner and as a scholar he refrained from actualizations, yet, being the first author to write an Old Testament theology in Indonesia, he carefully chose words and concepts that might resonate in a society struggling to be a community where people of different backgrounds may live in peace and justice (Foreword, p. viii).

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