Christianity is for beginners

The 20th century Reformed theologian, Karl Barth, offers this stunningly true insight about Christian life, distinguishing between being Christian, which puts us at risk of pride and stasis, and becoming Christian, which keeps us humble and growing. Barth relieves me of that inhuman pressure to be an expert, as if such a thing were possible or desirable. I must learn to be content as a beginner. No matter how many steps forward I take in the pilgrimage of faith, I am always returning to the beginning, where renewal happens.

The steadfast love of the Lord . . . [is] new every morning. (Lam. 3:22-23)

The Christian cannot very well become a believing, deadly serious representative of a point of view. Indeed, one can never be a Christian; one can only become one again and again: in the evening of each day rather ashamed of one’s Christianity of that day and on the morning of each new day content that one may again dare to be a Christian—with comfort, with neighbor, with hope, with everything. The Christian church is agreed on one thing: that it consists purely of beginners—and that this is truly a good thing; to become small again, to begin from the beginning, and thus at no point to stand still. That is the unity of right belief. It is a question of faith, because all of that depends on Jesus, who alone is now able to make people into such simple, but happy beginners. It is a question of faith, because it requires a true miracle for people to let themselves be redeemed from the law, from compulsion, from solemnity, and from the evil seriousness of all points of view—even when they adopt one themselves. That is probably why there are so few Christians. This proves nothing against them. It would be terrible if there were only people who believed from a particular point of view. The few Christians have the beautiful task of showing the others that there is also another faith besides the “point-of-view-faith.”

Quoted from Karl Barth, Insights: Karl Barth’s Reflections on the Life of Faith, ed. Eberhard Busch. Source: “Der christliche Standpunkt,” in Unterwegs 2 (1948): 1.


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