Tag Archives: Books published in 1959

Review: Deliverance to the Captives

Karl Barth (1886–1968) was a Swiss Protestant theologian, known for his involvement in the Confessing Church in Nazi Germany, as well as his commentary on Romans and his multi-volume work of systematic theology, Church Dogmatics.

Deliverance to the Captives (1959; Eng. tr., 1978) is a collection of sermons preached at Basel Prison in Barth’s later life. It is one of several small collections of spoken addresses and prayers by a man much better-known for his theological writings. Though Barth mostly wrote, preaching was no small part of his life-work. Those of his spoken addresses that I can find in English are the following:

  • A Unique Time of God: Karl Barth’s WWI Sermons (2016; sermons preached in 1914)
  • The Early Preaching of Karl Barth (2009; preached 1917–1920)
  • Come Holy Spirit (1933; preached 1920–1924)
  • The Word of God and the Word of Man (1928; lectures given c. 1922)
  • The Word in This World (2019; preached in 1934)
  • Prayer and Preaching (1952; seminars given 1947–1949)
  • Deliverance to the Captives (1978; sermons preached 1954–1959)
  • Call for God: New Sermons from Basel Prison (1967; preached 1959–1964)

Of these, two slender volumes contain Barth’s preaching to the prisoners at Basel Prison from 1954 to 1964: Deliverance to the Captives (German, Den Gefangenen Befreiung) and Call for God (German, Rufe Mich An = Call on Me).

Barth preached at Basel Prison 27 times, usually on holidays such as Christmas or Easter. Those who knew him wrote that he relished these opportunities, and that the prisoners listened with gratitude. He was in his seventies when most of these were preached.

The sermons savor less of academia than many that I have heard on a Sunday. They are fresh and encouraging in their outlook, and they display what Barth himself called his “solidarity” with these prisoners. The sermons are evangelical in tenor and frequently include invitations to trust in Christ.

Themes prominent in his theology come out in the sermons from time to time, but he does not have many theological axes to grind.

The sermon “God’s Good Creation” gives us a brief look at Barth’s theology of creation, based on James 1:17.

“Teach Us To Number Our Days” was the most interesting with respect to theology. It outlines his explanation of the work of the atonement as God’s No to sin and death and God’s Yes to life.

What happened in the death of Jesus did not happen against us, but for us. What took place was not an act of God’s wrath against man. Quite the opposite holds true. Because in the one Jesus God so loved us from all eternity—truly all of us—because he has elected himself to be our dear Father and has elected us to become his dear children whom he wants to save and to draw unto him, therefore he has in the one Jesus written off, rejected, nailed to a cross and killed our old man who, as impressively as he may dwell and spook about in us, is not our true self. God so acted for our own sake. In the death of Jesus he has cleared away, swept out and let go up in flames, smoke and ashes the old man in us, that we may live a life of freedom. That he may himself say to us his divine ‘yes’, valid once for all and unconditionally, to this old companion who has no traffic with our true self, to our old ways and byways, and he did say ‘no’, unmistakably, in the death of Jesus as the substitute for us.

Karl Barth, Deliverance to the Captives, p. 122–123

Review: The Mystery of Suffering

Rating: ★★★★

Author: Hugh Evan Hopkins (1907-1994) was an English preacher, missionary and the author of several books. He was educated at Cambridge and became a member of the Dohnavur Fellowship founded by Amy Carmichael. After six years in India (1931 to 1937), he was sent home for health reasons. He served Inter-Varsity Fellowship, and later went overseas to Kenya (1947 to 1955). He was awarded OBE in 1955 and had a very long and active writing and preaching career before and after his retirement.

Hopkins’ books are listed here because it was difficult to obtain information about them:

  • Henceforth: The Meaning of Christian Discipleship (1942),
  • The Inadequacy of Non-Christian Religion (1944)
  • The Mystery of Suffering (1959)
  • Morning and Evening Prayer (1963)
  • Charles Simeon of Cambridge (1977)
  • Understanding Ourselves: Some Personal Christian Insights into Temperament, Depression, Fear, Inability to Believe and the Mystery of Suffering (1983)
  • Sublime Vagabond: The Life of Joseph Wolff, Missionary Extraordinary (1984)
  • A History of the Church of St. Edward, King & Martyr, Cambridge (1989)

Overview

Hopkins begins by discussing how different world religions have different answers to suffering, and why the Christian answer is the best. This was a unique approach. In looking at this, Hopkins is trying to explain the “link between the sins and the sufferings of the world”. Sin is a general explanation for suffering, but may not always be the personalized explanation (as in a system of karma).

When he moves into the Christian answer, Hopkins seeks to do so in a way that continues to acknowledge that evil is not easily explained away. In the words of N. T. Wright, “Evil is still a four-letter word.” In fact, Hopkins strikes a chord that resonates with N. T. Wright’s Evil and the Justice of God. Both write that we should not treat human suffering as only an intellectual knot to be untied.

We must beware lest familiarity with the existence of suffering in our present age make us insensitive and merely curious.

Hopkins seeks a balance between the fatalistic pat answer that “everything happens for a reason” and the sometimes man-centered answer that says we can “pray ourselves up by our bootstraps” (my idiom, not his). On the fatalistic answer, Hopkins writes that it is common enough to speak of our sufferings as a God-ordained “cross to bear”, but “there is actually nothing in the Bible to suggest that God works in this way” (p. 54).

Hopkins writes that “taking up your cross” means discipleship, not suffering:

Firstly, the cross [Jesus] was speaking about was something to be voluntarily undertaken, and secondly it is an essential part of our Christian discipleship. There is nothing arbitrary about bearing a cross. God does not lay it on one and not on another. Every true Christian should be bearing his cross every day, and doing so by choice and gladly as a sign of his devotion to his Lord. (p. 54)

This does not mean, though, that Christians never suffer, as some have it. Though an Anglican in the 1950s, Hopkins has some awareness of Charismatic healing literature and the idea that God wants to heal all diseases. He tries to explain these in context with other prayers that go unanswered. He concludes that “it is not possible to say that God always wants his children to be insulated from suffering” (p. 75). We should learn this much from Gethsemane: Sometimes suffering is God’s will.

A quotation from P. T. Forsyth is a great explanation of Hopkins’ point in juxtaposing sin and suffering:

The cross of Christ can submerge suffering, and make it a means of salvation, but with sin it can make neither use nor terms; it can only make an end of it. God in Christ is capable of suffering and of transmuting sorrow; but of sin he is incapable [of transforming], and his work is to destroy it. (cited as The Justification of God, p. 138; qtd, on p. 63)

He gives Amy Carmichael, who he worked with, as an example of the right attitude in suffering. Carmichael had lifelong bouts of neuralgia that sometimes left her bed-ridden for long stretches. Hopkins writes that she hated to be referred to as “removed from combat”; rather, she was still in combat in her sick-bed. “Much of the suffering we endure is surely permitted in order to be attacked and overcome.” (p. 57) (Carmichael herself wrote a book on suffering, Rose from Brier.)

In the chapter, “How Can Pain Glorify God?”, Hopkins evinces the choice of Dietrich Bonhoeffer to stay in America as an example of a God-glorifying choice to suffer (p. 106). God invites us to enter the kingdom through many tribulations. and to endure suffering as a soldier. For Hopkins, this is part and parcel of discipleship and mission, and that in itself is part of the explanation of suffering.

To suffer as a Christian means always willing the best for your persecutors. The author remembers kneeling with three Kikuyu men in Kenya and praying for their persecutors, following the examples of Jesus and Stephen. This is another way suffering glorifies God.

Hopkin concludes by contemplating the cross of Jesus Christ. “The Bible makes it clear that the problem of man’s sin, and therefore of his sufferings too, was dealt with on the cross.” (p. 109) If Christ’s suffering can glorify God, so can mine. We don’t explain suffering; we use it as an opportunity to glorify God, and in doing so, we transform it.

Hugh Evan Hopkins is an able and balanced writer with a wealth of experience. I highly recommend this book and look forward to reading others from him.