If Pictures Could Talk: Barth, Schleiermacher & Wilhelm Busch

IMG_20141130_140310I thought I’d share this story from Wilhelm Busch. If not for the humour in it, at least for the novelty of it.

First, though, here’s some necessary contextual background.

Friedrich Schleiermacher (19th Century) is considered the father of liberal theology; a branch of theology challenged by Karl Barth’s neo-orthodoxy.

According to Grenz & Olsen, Schleiermacher, along with Immanuel Kant and Hegel, was one of ‘three shapers of the 19th century…who looked to “feeling; special human experience” for the foundation of theology’[ii]

Barth disagreed with Schleiermacher, later ‘criticising liberal theology for turning the gospel into a religious message that tells humans of their own divinity instead of recognising it as the Word of God…In essence he was calling for a revolution in theological method, a theology “from above” to replace the old, human-centred theology “from below.”’[iii]


‘Schleiermacher was really the exact opposite of Karl Barth. Barth’s theology says that what matters is the objective, the holy God and his great works in Jesus. In Jesus he has revealed himself. In Jesus he has reconciled the world.
These are the objective facts, whose truth does not depend in any way on us. Schleiermacher taught exactly the opposite. He put it like this: ‘Piety is neither knowing nor doing but a certainty of feeling. It is the feeling of total dependence.’
So here everything was based on the subjective, so that the revelation of God in the cross and the resurrection of Jesus almost completely disappeared. And now I hope that the great theologians will forgive me for trying to present such a serious theological problem here in such a simple way.
Yes, may they especially forgive me for having some fun; for I decided to hang the two pictures next to each other on the wall. Then my fathers in the faith would presumably be satisfied, since their way led through the middle between the two. They were convinced that the objective salvation of Golgotha must be grasped in personal life and subjective experience. That was what they taught, and that was how they lived. That was also what I found in the New Testament and believed myself.
As I was standing on a ladder and hanging up the two pictures, I said laughing to my wife, ‘I just wonder which of the two will fall from the wall first. Because I don’t think they can bear being next to each other.’ And what happened? Schleiermacher fell down! One morning his picture had disappeared. It had slipped behind the wall of books.
It was impossible to get it out of there except by moving each book-case.
My friends, all influenced to a greater or lesser extent by Karl Barth, were very pleased with Schleiermacher’s disappearance. Not until my house was almost completely destroyed in a bombing raid in 1943, and I took the rescued library away from the rubble, did the picture of Schleiermacher come to light again.’[i]

Being a book of reflections, as opposed to an auto-biography, one its key features is that it is a collection of short accounts.If you have space on your reading list this Christmas, I recommend adding ‘Christ or Hitler?‘ and then moving through it slowly.

For those interested, here’s my small review on Amazon:

“Puritz provides us English {speaking} monolingualists with invaluable access to a side of Germany during WW1 up until the close of the European theatre in WW2. It is a voice rarely heard. Wilhelm Busch’s first hand accounts of a Confessing Church Pastor are well-ordered and insightful. A must read for Pastors today, and any scholar interested in the Historical context of Christian resistance in Germany during the war. Among many noteworthy comments the most significant takeaway quote from Busch would have to be the challenge he put forth to German youths after the war: “Are you as you should be?”


[i] Busch W. in Puritz, C.  (Trans. Ed). 2013 Christ or Hitler?: Stories from my life and times, by Pastor Wilhelm Busch (1897-1966) Kindle ed. Evangelical Press. (Loc. 2457-2473)

[ii] Grenz, S. & Olsen, R. 1992 20th Century theology: God and the World in a Transitional Age IVP Academic Press, p.25 & p.39

[iii] Ibid, p.67

Recommended further reading:

Friedrich Schleiermacher (dogmatics.wordpress.com )

Karl Barth (dogmatics.wordpress.com )


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