Karl Barth and Eduard Thurneysen – Child Theologians? By Haddon Willmer

Karl Barth and Eduard Thurneysen’s God’s Search for Man (English translation, 1935) is a collection of sermons. The two men were very close and it is fair to assume they went along with each other’s sermons, especially those which were published together. This collection  includes one, by Thurneysen,  called ‘The New Beginning’, on the text of Matthew 18.1-9. It is a piece of child theology.

The sermon begins:

Jesus places children before us.  He uses them as a parable in order to say something decisive to us. Children are people who still stand at the beginning of life…..For them… everything is filled with possibility and promise; life is an open book filled with unwritten pages….

For us (grown-ups) it is too late for almost everything.  We do not have an undeveloped life before us.  On the contrary, we have run ourselves fast into ruts or run our lives into an impasse……we have become fossilized in our vocation, our work…we work as in a treadmill….We are faithful in our married life, but we simply drag it along as though it were a burden…  Still more important, our faults, our failings, our sins…. today we scarcely resist at all. But we groan and suffer.

Is not this the really burdensome feature about growing older, that we are forced to see, in so many ways, that going back again is no longer possible?

But listen!  “Unless you turn and become as little children.”

What does that mean? ….There is such a thing as a new beginning…

[With Jesus] there is this possibility of a new beginning in a life that has already grown old.  We have really said everything that can be said about Jesus when we say that….It means to be an old scarred man, in just such a predicament…one without hope, without possibilities, and then, of a sudden, to face this:  “ Come to me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will revive you!”

Revitalization that comes from Jesus [does not] mean that we must become actual children, childish people…..in many external and internal things we cannot go back again. But in the main thing we can go back…

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