Writing to a close friend in 1922, Karl Barth (1886-1968) confessed bewilderment at the work of John Calvin, the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformer (see Vol. 3, Ch. 4). “Calvin is a cataract, a primeval forest, a demonic power”, he wrote. “I lack completely the means, the suction cups, even to assimilate this phenomenon, not to speak of presenting it adequately” (Barth 1964: 101). While such ' ourishes of rhetorical creativity may be in short supply at present, comparable reactions to Barth – arguably the greatest Protestant thinker of the twentieth century – are fairly common. Dismay at # nding most interpretive paradigms inadequate; perplexity in face of a prose style accessible, yet stretched to conceptual breakingpoint; astonishment at a ‘Christological concentration’ that inhibits freewheeling speculation, but enables doctrinal innovation on a grand scale: these are common responses among those who come newly to Barth. While few read without sensing a formidable intellect at work, many # nd themselves overcome by the scope and dri" of Barth’s thought.