It is the 20th of April 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1962
In 1956 Allen Ginsburg proclaimed "I'm obsessed by Time Magazine" in his poem "America." There is a tongue-in-cheek aspect to this line and a reality that by the 1950s and into the 1960s, TIME magazine had a remarkably singular voice in national culture and politics. From the "March of Time" newsreels to the ubiquitous magazine TIME, inc. was a national voice when newspapers were local, and television news was still finding its footing.
Not only was it a national publication, but it also came weekly with a glossy color cover. Being "on the cover" of TIME magazine has held a position in popular culture from the 1920s to the present. A perusal at the cover tells us something about an everyday national conversation at the time.
So, in 1962 who is on the cover of TIME magazine? Looking through the archives, we see 3 Kennedys each get their cover: John, Robert, and young Ted. The new Wall in Berlin got its cover, as did Spaceman John Glenn and his cosmonaut colleagues in the USSR. Tennessee Williams and Joan Baez got covers, as did Jack Nicklaus and Sofia Loren.
And then, on this, the 20th of April in 1962, those who went to get the new TIME magazine may have been surprised to see a portrait of an older man painted with an empty tomb in the background. The banner for this issue (which was released on Good Friday) stated, "The goal of human life is not Death, but Resurrection." In the foreground of this strikingly theological cover, the older man was perhaps the most critical public theologian in the 20th century: Karl Barth.
We've mentioned Barth in passing on many shows throughout the years. Let's start by giving you a couple of big things to know about K.B. and then comment on the remarkable article for the Good Friday edition of the magazine and its comments on his adventures in the United States.
Karl Barth was born in Switzerland in 1888. He came from a long line of pastors in the Reformed/Calvinist tradition. Barth studied under a who's-who of famous German theologians. He served as a pastor and theologian. His Commentary on the Book of Romans gave him enough notoriety to attain a teaching post in Germany. His theology was shaped by, besides the Bible, two things in particular. First was his observance of the horrors of World War I and the inability of the 19th c. Romantic/Enlightenment project to say anything to the horrors of war. The second was watching Hitler ascend to power in Germany and the church's capitulation to the fascist leader.
To oversimplify Barth's theology, his was one of a severe Christo-centrism. The Word of God is not the Bible but the Man Jesus Christ. God is, according to Barth, not interested in the bourgeois materialism of modern liberalism nor the reductionistic fundamentalism of many American Protestants. HIs "Neo-orthodoxy" was an attempt at a kind of middle way between the Scylla of Modernism and the Charybdis of Fundamentalism.
He was on the cover of Time magazine because of his Neo-Orthodoxy and its insistence on a real, not mythical Resurrection. But we also learned several things from the article, such as:
At the age of 75, it was his first-ever trip to the U.S.
He learned English by reading English detective novels
While he was here to lecture, he confessed that seeing the Gettysburg Battlefield was on the top of his to-do list.
He spent time watching Improvisational comedy at Chicago's Second City. In the cast that year were both Del Close and Joan Rivers.
The liberal Reinhold Niebuhr and the conservative Cornelius Van Til commented on Barth's coming to America, and both threw some pretty serious shade in the Swiss theologian's direction.
And were you just a common peruser of the magazine and read this article while in a waiting room, you would likely come across with the thesis of the article, which was that, according to Barth, all our attempts to be "religious" are answered by God with the word "No." But, sending Jesus to live, die and rise again physically was God's way of saying "Yes" to those who have heard His "No" through their religious strivings. Today we remember Barth, and his voice is amplified by Time magazine on Good Friday as the cover story on this the 20th of April 1962.
As you likely know, we are changing the format of this show as we enter our third season this coming May. Instead of the readings we have done for the past two years, we will close at the show with a short quote or reading when appropriate.
When Karl Barth was lecturing in America in 1962, he was asked to summarize the essence of the more than a million words that he had written. Barth's response: "Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so."
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 20th of April 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by Christopher Gillespie, who goes into the supermarket and buys what he wants with his good looks. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis whose emotional life is run by Time Magazine. You can catch us here every day, and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness. And the redemption of all things are true. Everything is going to be ok.