Karl Barth’s Epistle to the Romans will be a humbling “first read of summer.” Barth’s words here point to the paradoxically beautiful, powerful, demanding, and comically liberating Gospel that is Jesus Christ.
Paul is authorized to deliver—the Gospel of God. He is commissioned to hand over to men something quite new and unprecedented, joyful and good,—the truth of God. Yes, precisely—of God! The Gospel is not a religious message to inform mankind of their divinity or to tell them how they may become divine. The Gospel proclaims a God utterly distinct from men. Salvation comes to them from Him, because they are, as men, incapable of knowing Him, and because they have no right to claim anything from Him. The Gospel is not one thing in the midst of other things, to be directly apprehended and comprehended. The Gospel is the Word of the Primal Origin of all things, the Word which, since it is ever new, must ever be received with fear and trembling. The Gospel is therefore not an event, nor an experience, nor an emotion—however delicate! Rather, it is the clear and objective perception of what eye hath not seen nor ear heard. Moreover, what it demands of men is more than notice, or understanding, or sympathy. It demands participation; for it is a communication which presumes faith in the living God, and which creates that which it presumes. (Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans, 28).