God Here and Now Book Summary - God Here and Now Book explained in key points
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God Here and Now summary

Karl Barth

Ruminations on the Tenets of Christian Belief

3.8 (152 ratings)
21 mins
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    God Here and Now
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    “God is the wholly other.”

    Let’s start at the beginning. What is theology? 

    Look up the word in a dictionary and you’ll learn that it consists of two parts, both of which are Greek. The first is the noun theos, meaning “God.” Then there’s the suffix, “-logy,” which refers to a body of knowledge. Just as sociology is a body of knowledge about society, theology is a body of knowledge about God. There’s the first part of our answer. 

    But we can dig a bit deeper. The root of that “-logy” suffix is the Greek verb legein, meaning “to speak.” So there’s the second part of the answer: theology is the act of speaking about God. 

    And that’s pretty much how the Swiss theologian Karl Barth – the subject of this Blink – defined it. Theologians, he said, ought to talk about God. Ought, though, presupposes that one can talk about God. As a young man at the beginning of the twentieth century, Barth wasn’t at all sure that was possible. Why not? The long answer is, well, long. Unpacking it will take us to the heart of Barth’s theology – and the end of this Blink. But here’s the short version. 

    God, Barth insists, is der ganz Andere – “the wholly other.” God and humanity are entirely different, and the gap between us and the divine is a vast chasm. Simply put, God is heaven – and we are on Earth. We strive to know God, but God is the great unknown. God is neither a substance we can grasp with our worldly senses nor a metaphysical entity alongside other such entities. God stands outside everything because he is the origin of everything that isn’t God. 

    So where does that leave theology? As Barth saw it, lots of theologians had dodged the all-important question of how flawed humans can talk about a perfect, unknowable God. That dodge usually took one of two forms. They either fell back onto orthodoxy and argued that God was simply knowable through scripture, especially when it was interpreted by experts – theologians. Or they argued that humans had an innate capacity to understand God – a kind of spiritual sixth sense. 

    Barth rejected both those ideas. Scriptural orthodoxy, he thought, had been dealt a fatal blow by the Enlightenment. Of course, scripture was at the center of Christianity, but it wasn’t the hotline to God which many conservative believers claimed it to be. And as for that spiritual sixth sense – well, that suggested that it was humanity which reached out to God. For Barth, that was exactly the wrong way around. We’ll come back to that, though. 

    Let’s start, instead, by taking a closer look at how the Enlightenment challenged traditional Christianity and what Barth made of that challenge. 

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    What is God Here and Now about?

    God Here and Now (1964) is a collection of addresses and essays that explore fundamental tenets of Christianity from a Protestant theologian’s point of view. Covering the gospel, faith, grace, the Bible, the Church, ethics, and humanism, it poses questions on what it means to meet God in today’s world.

    Who should read God Here and Now?

    • People curious about the perspective of a modern Protestant thinker
    • Christians who want to better understand and implement scripture
    • Anyone grappling with questions regarding faith, ethics, or humanism

    About the Author

    Swiss theologian Karl Barth (1886-1968) was one of the most important religious thinkers of the twentieth century. His landmark works include The Epistle to the Romans and his unfinished four-volume Church Dogmatics. He’s also known for coauthoring “The Barmen Declaration” as part of the German Confessing Church – the Protestant group that opposed the Third Reich. Barth’s writings have been translated into multiple languages, and he was featured on the cover of Time magazine in 1962.

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