”In the great days before the First World War, young Barth, a native of Switzerland, studied with Harnack and Hermann at Berlin and Marburg, served a term as pastor of the German-speaking congregation at Geneva, and in 1911 went to Safenwil, to be pastor of a congregation of farmers and laborers. There the duties of his pastoral office broke down the liberal theology in which he had been trained. Or rather, it broke down his Christian religiousness.
The defining character of liberalism, as Barth came to look back at it, was that it took the Christian religion as its starting point. It began with religion, i.e., with man’s strange propensity to reach beyond himself and beyond the realities which limit his life to a unity and completion which everything in life drives him to seek but does not provide. Then it tried to grasp the faith as a species of this genus. Christianity, said liberalism, is the highest religion. It is the form of religious existence which most appropriately achieves the goal of all religion, continuity of our lives with that beyond our lives which justifies them.
It was not those elements by which we often identify a theology as ’liberal’ against which Barth revolted: alliance with historical-critical biblical study, or dislike of metaphysics. What Barth found to be sand under his feet was a foundation which liberalism shared with all branches of post-reformation Christianity, including confessional and speculative theology and the theologies of the awakening. In one way or another all begin with a phenomenology of human existence, by which religion is established as the necessary center of life. Then it is shown that religion is always appear as some particular religion. Finally, the special character of the Christian religion is analyzed, and some attempt is made to show why it is the best one, or at least the one which history dictates for us. The pattern of theology and piety which collapsed under Barth began by fixing religion as an essential phenomenon of life, and then asked what the coming of Christ had done to and for this. It began by asking after the meaning of life, and then asked how Christ might help achieve this. It began with the story of man-the-seeker, and then looked for Christ’s role in the story.
How this prior insight into the goal and plot of life was obtained varied from school to school. It could be obtained by phenomenological analysis, by speculation, by pondering history, or from the Bible as a source of anthropological and theological information on its own right. But to Barth’s revolt, these variations make no difference—and that he perceived this is not the smallest part of his importance.
In trying to preach and teach in the unrarified air of Safenwil, Barth discovered two things, or rather two sides of one thing. He discovered the complete irrelevance of this religious Christianity for the actual content of most men’s lives, the uselessness of talk of ’the higher things’ or ’authentic existence’ for the problems of working conditions and elementary justice which plagued his congregation. He sat in his study on Sunday morning, watched the people out walking on their day off, and wondered why they should come in and hear him. He discovered, that is, the same thing that religiously enthusiastic young pastors still regularly discover, and turn to clinical work or non-directive counseling or teaching about religion or a nervous breakdown: that he had nothing much to say.
Every Sunday, he had to preach—from a text. So he discovered the second thing: that the Bible is not about man and his religion at all, but about something much harder to understand—God and his coming Kingdom.”
- Jenson, Robert W., 2010: GOD AFTER GOD, The God of the Past and the God of the Future: As Seen in the Work of Karl Barth. (Tidigare utg. 1969) Minneapolis: Fortress Press. S. 5-6