One of my favorite books is a collection of quotes entitled, If Ignorance is Bliss, Why Aren’t There More Happy People? It is one of a half-dozen quote books that I have in my library. Why so many? Because I believe in the power of a great quote. I feel Joseph Epstein could have been talking about me when he said, “I am not merely a habitual quoter, but an incorrigible one. I am, I may as well face it, more quotatious than an old stock-market ticker-tape machine, except you can’t unplug me.” Amen to that! But I also believe that what the world needs now is more people who “own” a great quote and know how to use it. A great example of this happened this past Sunday. After Outdoor Church, I was talking to Ken about how much I enjoyed our “bluegrass worship” service (Ken played guitar and Duane played Banjo). Now, I truly enjoy good bluegrass music (at least I do so once or twice a year), but Ken loves it. And I could tell that because right in the middle of our conversation, he slyly dropped this great quote from Harlan Howard: “Bluegrass is just three chords and the truth.” That’s all he needed to say because that was a home run! Here’s the bottom line: All of us need to find “our perfect quote” (or our perfect two or three dozen quotes). Once secured, we need to put that quote in our pocket and then just wait for the right moment; and when the situation is perfect, we need to let it fly. Now, if we want, we can then step back and watch as the other person’s jaw drops, but that step is optional.

But the main reason I love quotes is because they are so fun. In fact, I probably would not have chosen today’s featured artist if it had not been for one particular quote that I found simply delightful. This one quote made me laugh; and as a result, I went looking for more quotes from this individual and found more than enough quotes for your consideration (But, for me, there was one quote that ruled them all. You will have to guess which one it was).

Our previous two blogs showcased quotes from Rabbi Abraham Heschel and the Great Dane, Søren Kierkegaard. Today’s 15 quotes come from the great Swiss-born theologian Karl Barth (his last name is pronounced Bart). While Karl Barth is one of the most influential protestant theologians of the 20th century, he is outside of our tradition; and as a result, we don’t mention him a lot. Another reason we don’t cite him often is because, once, when I introduced a prayer by him, someone mistakenly thought I said Karl Marx. Granted, a lot of people would have a problem if I was leading us in a prayer by Karl Marx (I might even lead the charge), but a lot of people would feel equally frustrated if I was quoting Karl Barth left and right. But there is a lot to like in Karl Barth. Here are some highlights of his career.

  • He broke off from the liberalism of his day and set a new course for orthodoxy in Protestantism.
  • In 1934, while teaching in Bonn, Germany, he penned the Barmen Declaration which argued the church’s allegiance to the God of Jesus made it impossible for Christ followers to give their allegiance to other lords, most notably to Adolf Hitler (as a result, he was forced to leave his post in Bonn).
  • He was a prolific author who published over 600 different works, including a 13-volume, 9300-page work (featuring over 6 million words) entitled, Church Dogmatics.
  • Barth is best known theologically for reorienting all discussion around Jesus and to proclaim that the grace of Christ is the core message of the Bible.

My favorite story about Barth (and I just told this in a sermon two months ago), was when he was asked if he could summarize his vast and complex theology as briefly and succinctly as possible. Barth smiled and then said, “Easily. I would use the words of a song I learned at my mother’s knee: ‘Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.’” See, there is a lot to like about Karl Barth.

Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce to you Karl Barth in 15 quotes. . . .

  1. “To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.”
  2. “I have read many books, but the Bible reads me.”
  3. “It may be that when the angels go about their task praising God, they play only Bach. I am sure, however, that when they are together en famille they play Mozart.”
  4. “It is always the case that when the Christian looks back, he is looking at the forgiveness of sins.”
  5. “People can certainly flee from God (they do so), but they cannot escape Him. . . . They may let go of God, but God does not let go of them.”
  6. “Theological work can be done only in the indissoluble unity of prayer and study. Prayer without study would be empty. Study without prayer would be blind.”
  7. On sin: “Shall we call it our pride or our laziness, or shall we call it the great deceit of life? Let us call it for once the great defiance which turns us again and again into enemies of God and of our fellowmen, even our own selves.”
  8. “All sin has its being and origin in the fact that people want to be their own judge.”
  9. “Laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God.”
  10. “I haven’t even read everything I wrote.”
  11. “In the church of Jesus Christ, there can and should be no non-theologians.”
  12. “When we are at our wit’s end for an answer, then the Holy Spirit can give us one. But how can he give us an answer when we are well supplied with all sorts of answers of our own?”
  13. “The theologian who labors without joy is not a theologian at all.”
  14. “‘Joy’ in Philippians is a defiant ‘Nevertheless!’ that Paul sets like a full stop against the Philippians’ anxiety.”
  15. “The Church should be the place where a word reverberates right into the world.”

Thanks for reading. Now, go ahead and make my day and quote these lines to family, friends and enemies alike!  After all, tomorrow is another quote.