Review: The Early Preaching of Karl Barth: Fourteen Sermons with Commentary by William H. Willimon

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Product Description
WJK is proud to present this special collection of fourteen of Karl Barth’s World War I-era sermons— the only English language collection of Barth sermons preached between 1917 and 1920 when he was a parish pastor in Safenwil, Switzerland. This volume offers a fascinating glimpse into Barth’s interpretation of Scripture during a time of great historical significance. Renowned preacher William H. Willimon provides expert commentary on the theological and homiletical substance of each selection and points to the many ways in which Barth’s early preaching can enrich the work of preachers today.

About the Author
Karl Barth was one of the premier theologians of the twentieth century. He is most widely known for his monumental Church Dogmatics. Among other works, Prayer: 50th Anniversary Edition is published by Westminster John Knox Press.

William H. Willimon is Presiding Bishop of the Birmingham Area of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church. He has been named as one of the Twelve Most Effective Preachers in the English-speaking world.

How do you critique Karl Barth, one of the most important theologians of the 20th century, if not modern Western Christianity? You cannot, so I will simply leave this review to the translation and the commentary.

This is the first time that these sermons have appeared in English, and they are each one as powerful as the next. Translated by John E. Wilson, there is none of the translation clatter which might accompany the work. They read as natural in English as they would have been spoken in German. The NRSV has been used, unless Barth’s translation is different than the English translation, and Barth’s underlining of segments has made it through as italicized words.

What Willimon has done is to assemble Barth’s early sermons, those given while he was still a ‘country preacher’ in Safenwil, Switzerland, into a contemporary commentary on our present society. Barth preached these sermons between 1917 and 1920, when the guns of war thundered across Europe, Socialism was on the rise, and much of the aristocratic structure of European society was being questioned. There was change in the air, and Barth as on the front of it.

In providing commentary, Willimon leaves Barth to his own devices, but reminds us of them. He sets the context for the readers of Barth, trying to bring us along side his listeners. He does set himself, though, as the object of many of Barth’s sermons, examining himself in the light of the preacher’s words. Sometimes, he admits that he simply has no clue where Barth is coming from – he doesn’t offer correction – and at other times, he acknowledges that his 21st century American mind has a lot to do with it. Willimon handles Barth with respect, but not hero-worship.

This book is more than a collection of Barth’s early sermons, but an examination into the ‘youthful irony’ of the man set in a world not unlike our own. It is an instructional book for young preachers, and in finding that Barth can speak volumes on a passage alone, I am left to wonder at my own dereliction of duty in not applying the text more instead of simply rearranging vast portions of the text. Willimon’s commentary provides hard hitting thoughts, and can be used for devotional study in of itself. This book is simply a much, not only for admirers of Barth, but for preachers, ministers, and lay-Christians alike.

I would like to thank WJK for this review copy.

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