Archives For Church Dogmatics

Karl Barth postulated that we must always reckon with the existence of teachers of the Church who exist, but are not presently evident or realised.

Packaged into the latter part of Volume 1.2 of his Church Dogmatics is an intense discourse with neo-protestant and Roman Catholic perspectives on Church authority, biblical exegesis, Revelation and reformation.

Within those pages Barth draws up a critique of the liberal neo-protestant trends (‘excesses’[i]) which included the hero-worship[ii] of the reformers Luther and Calvin, a complete “jettisoning” of tradition by rejecting the church fathers (pre-reformation) as irrelevant and the absolutism of the bible which pushed the view that “Christianity can only be constructed out of the bible alone.” (Barth referencing Gottfried Menken) [iii]

This was a practice, evident in modern Biblicism, which seemingly allowed 19th century neo-protestant theologians to assert a “new” authority. Therefore, allowing them the ability to assert themselves over the bible, as if they were masters of the text[iv].

Barth writes:

‘We need the guidance and correction afforded by the existence of the Church Fathers’[v]

In line with his overarching theme – Barth is advocating a ‘hearing and receiving of the Word of God’, in situ as the recollection and anticipation of its witness to the Revelation of God.For Barth, ‘we are the children of God and must walk as such’.

So far in this discussion I have found a man, a theologian and a Pastor not just looking for balance in the quest to fight back to a ‘unity of confession’[vi] in the church, but also arguing a strong case for it.

Evidence of this is found in Barth’s words from page 616:

A teacher of the Church is the one who in exposition of Holy Scripture has something to say which comes home to us. Many of those whom we no longer hear today will never be heard again. But there are others who, although they are not heard today, will one day be heard.What remains of their authority is in the first instance a memory: the neutral memory of a great name, bound up with facts, relationships, and reactions to them which is also neutral.Their authority is suspended, as it were. It would be a very arbitrary undertaking to try artificially to reassert them.
If they come to life again in the power of Holy Scripture which they are concerned to expound, Scripture itself will see to their authority.We have to reckon with this possibility. We cannot, therefore, ignore such recollections of former authority which have now become neutral. Their hour might suddenly come.Those who are silent might speak again, as according to the confession of the Church they once spoke to their age. The facts and circumstances in relation to which their names and reactions and word were once significant may suddenly return – for there is nothing new under the sun – and the decision which they demand may again be a relevant one.
We have perhaps overlooked something if this has not already happened.
In the modern period the Reformers themselves were for a long time only latent teachers of the Church. And it is to the Church’s good that it has not ceased to give them its attention. (Karl Barth, CD.1.2, 1938)

This is something made more significant by the “gathering storm” surrounding the era in which he wrote it.

Given certain divisive issues within Christian thought and practice in society and politics today, I read this as an encouragement to listen and receive. Not blindly hearing or receiving. Not without question or caution, but with gratitude, decision, appreciation, prayer, critique and respect.

“Those who are silent might speak again and the decision which they demand may again be a relevant one. We have perhaps overlooked something if this has not already happened” (ibid, p.616:1938).

‘For as the rain and snow come down and water the earth making it bring forth life, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.’ (Isaiah 55:10-11, ESV)


References:

[i] Barth, K. 1938 C.D 1.2 Authority in the Church/under the Word Hendrickson Publishers p.605

[ii] Ibid, p.611

[iii] Ibid, p.607

[iv] Ibid, p.609

[v] Ibid, p.609 (see also his statement in p.610: ‘Pure neo-protestantism means a break with the Reformers)

[vi] Ibid, p.603

Image courtesy of [Nuttapong] / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

[Originally published on May 17th, 2014]

kb-quote-cd-2-2-695-rl2016

 

Since reading the above quote, its been lingering in the back of my mind. So much so, that after posting it as a text on both Twitter and Facebook, I felt it needed more airplay. So, to really make it stand out, I decided make it into a bit of a meme.

My initial goal was to finish reading volume 2/2 at the end of last year. I still made significant progress and am nearing the end, but given other priorities that didn’t happen.

The journey through the text, overall, has coincided with some great opportunities to learn more about John Calvin and engage further in the controversial steps Barth took to place Jesus Christ in the centre of Calvin’s doctrine of election and pre-destination; what theologians call, a more definitive Christocentric view of election. Whereby Barth reforms and in doing so rejects the post-Calvin, hyper-Calvinist baggage attached to Calvin’s original intention and notably myopic [to be generous to Calvin, I lean more towards the word “incomplete”] doctrine of election.

For instance: our election is the election of Jesus Christ. This IS God’s electing. God’s will for us, that we should be with Him and He should be with us. As I’ve summed up this in the past, Jesus Christ, is God’s revolt against the disorder of the world.

Jesus represents all of humanity. There is no elite humanity. There is only grace and its command to follow. For all fall short of the glory of God and are raised to righteousness, and eternal life, in Jesus Christ. The distinction between unbeliever and believer remains. This distinction, though, is exactly as it infers, faith in Christ; those who call upon the name of the Lord – grace poured out upon us to empower us towards grateful obedience even in the midst of our ungrateful disobedience – this is the responsibility of our response to the irreversible election that God Himself has already lovingly decided and acted powerfully upon.

I could go on and probably will in a future post, but this, by itself, makes Church Dogmatics 2/2 one of the most interesting works from Barth.

However, while this part has sharpened of my own theological understanding, it’s the latter part of 2/2 that I’ve taken more of a shine to. What I’ve found interesting its Barth’s discussion on theological ethics; what it is; where it begins, and who it begins with. This is one of those specific areas where Barth’s political theology comes into a more obvious light. To justify that, it would require more room to explain it, than the 500 words I’ve aimed it here.

To fully understand what Barth means in the quote posted above, it’s helpful to look at where in his epic, Church Dogmatics, this falls.

Barth is talking about grace being both invitation and imperative, e.g.: Jesus calls us to follow. He goes on to discuss the responsibility of a human response to the grace of God, on the grounds of the Sermon on the mount and its close, affirming relationship with the Ten Commandments.

Ethics & morality as far as the biblical witness goes is grateful obedience; it is at its heart relational; it is lived out response to grace; to what has been done by the God who chooses to be for us. God commits to us, we are not only given the freedom to follow, but are commanded to do so.

It is not an idea that can be misconstrued by humanity and turned into a universal human principle and as such become a puffed up toxic human achievement empty of God.


Source:

Barth, K. 1942 The Command As The Decision Of God; The Definiteness of the Divine Decision, CD 2/2 The Doctrine of God, Hendrickson Publishers

Landed on this quote this morning. Kinda made me smile on the inside.

 

Barth Quote p211 CDII_2

 

Have a great week.

GVL Barth Quote CD II_I p_444Written not long after the beginning of World War II, Barth’s statement, ‘that every genuine proclamation of the Christian faith is a force disturbing to, even destructive of, the advance of religion’, has clout.

Natural Theology is on Barth’s radar. In part because of nominalism and how it was used to subsume Christians into National Socialism. Natural Theology was a slippery slope, that fed into the notion that the Führer knows best; that those in the Fatherland (State) who showed allegiance to anyone other than the Führer were traitors; or worse, heretics.

There could only be ‘Mien Kampf’, the Führer and his prophets. This is different to the sole claim and uniqueness of God,  ‘attested by God, in His revelation [Covenant and Jesus Christ] by prophets and apostles. This means that all so-called or would-be deities and divinities apart from Him lose their character as gods. The faith and worship offered to them cannot be taken seriously. They fade away as idols and nonentities. And so God’s freedom, majesty and sovereignty shine out in His uniqueness […] The decision is reached that this God who chooses us is God alone, and that all other so-called or would-be gods are not what they claim to be.’ (Barth, p.443)

Present in this section is a direct reference to Barth’s historical context. It might be pessimistic to suggest a connection between his time and our own, but I don’t consider it a stretch.

‘It was no mere fabrication when the Early Church was accused by the world around it of atheism, and it would have been wiser for its apologists not to have defended themselves so keenly against this charge.
There is a real basis for the feeling, current to this day, that every genuine proclamation of the Christian faith is a force disturbing to, even destructive of, the advance of religion, its life and richness and peace.
It is bound to be so.
Olympus and Valhalla decrease in population when the message of the God who is the one and only God is really known and believed. The figures of every religious culture are necessarily secularised and recede. They can keep themselves alive only as ideas, symbols and ghosts, and finally as comic figures. And in the end even in this form they sink into oblivion.
No sentence is more dangerous or revolutionary than that God is One and there is no other like Him.
All the permanencies of the world draw their life from ideologies and mythologies, from open or disguised religions, and to this extent from all possible forms of deity and divinity. It was on the truth of the sentence that God is One that the “Third Reich” of Adolf Hitler made shipwreck.
Let this sentence be uttered in such a way that it is heard and grasped, and at once 450 prophets of Ball are always in fear of their lives. There is no more room now for what the recent past called toleration. Beside God there are only His creatures or false gods, and beside faith in Him there are religions only as religions of superstition, error and finally irreligion.
If everything divine is not recognised, sought and honoured as the sole possession of the one God, He is robbed of His honour, and the worship apparently offered to Him is profaned.’
(Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, II/I 1940 p.444)

GnadeBarth’s main starting point in his discussion on the Holiness of Grace, is that the freedom of God is framed by Jesus Christ. [i]

The freedom of God is His love actualised for us in covenant and Christ. E.g.: promise, fulfilment, and promise of future fulfilment.

God’s love and holiness are inseparable characteristics of grace.

On one, rests, ‘love: grace, mercy and patience. On the other, freedom: holiness, righteousness and wisdom.’ (p.352); ‘To say grace is to say the forgiveness of sins; to say holiness, judgement upon sins’ (p.360).

According to Barth, ‘grace shows its power over and against sin. It reckons with it, but does not fear it. It is not limited by it. It overcomes it, triumphing in this opposition and the overcoming of it’ (p.355)

More significantly:

‘Where God is revealed and objective, He is always the gracious God’ (p.356) […] ‘He is so even when He is the God who is denied and hated by us, and therefore provoked against us. He is so even as the God against whom we sin and who therefore judges and punishes us. We know and rightly understand our sin only when we have realised it to be enmity against the grace of God. And we turn from our sin only when we return to the grace of God’ (p.367).

God, in covenant and Christ, reveals himself as both firm and approachable.

What God does comes from who God is[ii]: ‘God makes Himself the gift, offering fellowship to us’ (p.354); ‘Grace is how God loves. This is how He seeks and creates fellowship between Himself and us’ (p.357)

It’s important to Barth that we understand why ‘we may distinguish, but we shall certainly not separate between God’s grace and God’s holiness’ (p.360). Because the ‘holiness of God is not side by side with, but in His grace, and His wrath is not separate from but in His love (p.363). The law which slays and the Gospel which makes alive are interwoven in the most astonishing way: God is as gracious as He is holy and holy as He is gracious’ (p.365)

Through this we can come to understand that ‘only where God’s love is not yet revealed, not yet or no longer, can there be a separation instead of a distinction’ (ibid).

It’s this point that Barth wants to emphasise:

The ‘command then to be Holy as I am Holy[iii], is a not a command by which God urges sinful humanity to secure for themselves a status or merit in His presence. But as God’s command it is quite simply the command to cleave to His grace.’ (p.364)

However,

‘that God is gracious doesn’t mean that He surrenders Himself to the one to whom He is gracious… to accept God’s grace necessarily means, therefore to respect God’s holiness; [His gracious and loving “yes” and “no” – Proverbs 3:12]. It means accepting God’s grace in thankfulness, to be contentedly replenished by it.’ (pp. 361 & 367)

The holiness of God’s Grace is actualised in the act of correction. Any rejection of God’s grace is also a rejection of instruction.

Applied to today, it might serve us to seek out where there might be a separation of holiness from grace?

As Barth suggests, if there is, then, perhaps we’ve created an idol; something other than God.

Grace cut off from God’s holiness is a grace transformed into what we want grace to be. It is nothing other than cheap grace. It denies the reality of Jesus Christ.  Cheap grace is mistaken for being God’s actual grace. It’s transformed into a ‘positive optimism’, tethered together by an unteachable arrogance and blissful ignorance. It’s weak, but sells well. Its future is bleak, but cheap grace is easily reinvented. It’s easily manipulated.

Cheap grace is the master of all disguises. Made up primarily of inoffensive fragments picked out from an offensive grace. God’s Word is sanitised.  As a result, God’s true nature and being is compromised; obscured from us. Even though we are slowly and subtly dragged back into darkness by a Frankenstein of our own making.This new understanding is celebrated as a revolution.

Still, God is not numb to our reality. Barth interprets the mainstay of the Biblical text: Rescue and remedy. God does not and has not abandoned us.

He loves us despite the rejection and counterfeit grace that is confused with real grace.

Examples of this include the “progressive” salesperson, who, sells a new tolerance and yet demonises anyone who questions, challenges or outright opposes them. This is humanity supported by God’s achievement; held firmly by God’s grace, but it is humanity choosing to bathe in the presumed glory of its own independence and sovereignty. The part of modern humanity that is hell-bent on buying and selling others into destruction and despair, because the fear of seeming intolerant or offensive towards our neighbour has hindered us from actually being able to love our neighbour. Which requires both a responsible “yes” and a loving “no.”

Men and women following crowds that proudly claim God’s grace, yet quietly erase God’s holiness and by default His freedom, make it all the more important to hear Barth when he says:

‘The holiness of God’s grace is this: “For whom the Lord loves He corrects; as a Father to a child” (p.361)

Notes:

[i] Pages 351 to 368 of Karl Barth, 1940 Church Dogmatics II/1, Hendrickson Publishers

[ii] Ibid, p.334 ‘The Perfections of God’

[iii] 1 Peter 1:16/Leviticus 20:26

Scouring over some old texts for a litany relevant to epiphany, I landed on this paragraph-of-petitioning from ‘The Book of Common Prayer’:

‘O God, who by the leading of a star did manifest your only-begotten Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may behold your glory face to face; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.'[i]

The phrase ‘lead us’ might not seem like much at first glance, but when we think of Exodus or the Lord’s Prayer the weight of it hits home.

It acknowledges that God lovingly brings us towards Himself.

Bonhoeffer wrote:

‘God’s Land, before your doors open wide
We stand, lost in a dream, no joy denied.
The blessing of the patriarchs we feel already
blowing towards us, full of promise and steady.
God’s Grace, flowing over a free earth,
to a Holy and new people will give birth.
God’s Law will protect both strong and weak
from those who by tyranny and force the mastery seek.
God’s Truth will guide from human learning
and erring people, to faith returning.
God’s Peace will, like strong towers,
hearts, houses, cities protect its powers.
God’s Rest will on his faithful people fall
like a celebration at his call.'[ii]

This is about the God who wills to lead us in freedom.

Karl Barth noted: the one who exists in true freedom ‘does not will to be without us’. His discourse on it is classic Barth, verbose, best understood by a slowly reading of the text, yet worth every slow second spent pondering it.

‘God did not need to speak to us…we evaluate this free and actualized gracious Word  correctly only if we understand it as the reality of the love of the God who does not need us but who does not will to be without us’ [iii]

There is ‘no Word of God without physical act and God’s speak is God’s act ‘ (ibid, 133)…’this is a rational not an irrational event’ (135)…‘We must know God as the one who addresses us in freedom’ (172)…this ‘Lord of speech is also the Lord of hearing. The Lord who gives the Word and also gives faith’ (182), this in turn means that God opens Himself up to the possibility of rejection since ‘a personal gift implies the possibility of its refusal’ (98), but this does not change the fact that ‘the Word of God is God’s claim on Humanity’ (161).

We are listeners, therefore, before ‘the speaking God who spoke then, and speaks now. It is in Jesus Christ that we understand the Word of God as the epitome of God’s grace. This grace means simply that as humans we are no longer left to ourselves but are given into the Hand of God’’ (149-150).

GVL: Leviticus 26:12-13 Epiphany

The arrival and departure of the Magi, led as they were, only reinforces this.

Like them may God ‘Lead us, into his presence, through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with Him and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen!’

 


 

Source:

[i] Church, Episcopal. 2011 The Book of Common Prayer Christian Miracle Foundation Press. Kindle Ed.

[ii] Bonhoeffer, D. 1999 The Death of Moses, Prison Poems (Formerly Voices in the Night) Edwin Robertson (Ed.) Zondervan p.95

[iii] Barth, K. 1936 Church Dogmatics I.1 Hendrickson Publishers (p.140)

Karl Barth Father_husband_Theologian and Preacher

Karl Barth: Father, husband, theologian and preacher. {Source: kbarth.org}

Concluding my notes on Karl Barth’s C.D I/II hasn’t been a simple task.

Part one and part two covered being called to decision. Both addressed Barth’s theology of the Word of God, discussing how in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit, humanity is confronted with freedom, and how we are ultimately orientated towards fellowship with God by His revelation.

Church Dogmatics is translated from German into English. The text can be dense at times and has a tendency to come off a bit long winded. Barth goes to great lengths in order to state and then restate key concepts that could be (and are at times) easily misinterpreted, such as the Freedom of man for God, as it is realised in His revelation and election.

Despite these surface level limitations, the reader is confronted with the need to mine the copious amounts of ‘’gold’’ that can be found. These are rarely one-liners and appear more often than not in paragraphs that are too long to quote. As a result I have had to decide between the great and the good; a painful necessity.

I now appreciate the words of one lecturer who had stated something along these lines: “Barth is un-preachable. His work is great for exegetical questions and theological discussion, but of not much help to the person in the pew – you’re more than likely to leave them bewildered and confused’’

I disagree, however, with the inference which can be drawn from this, and that is that Barth’s Church Dogmatics are only suitable for a “particular” few; as if Barthian theology was for the private sphere because it’s not easy enough for the public to understand. There’s a “special” kind of wrong in this form of academic arrogance.

It is true that one does not just include Barth in a sermon without some consideration for the hearers. There is, as Barth notes, an ‘inseparable difference[i]’ between the ‘the task of dogmatics and the task of proclamation [preaching][ii]’; the former ‘furnishes the latter…because the the hearing Church has to be a teaching Church[iii].’

Nevertheless, during the earlier part of the 20th Century Barth was a preacher, first in Geneva, and then in Safenwil, Switzerland, holding that position for ten years.

Barth’s preaching was theological; perhaps viewed as an attempt at dogmatics in proclamation? Secondly, Church Dogmatics (from what I’ve studied and read so far) is, in sum, the administration and proclamation of the Gospel. (For more on this I highly recommend reading William Willimon’s introduction in ‘The Early Preaching of Karl Barth: Fourteen Sermons)

I/II, ‘The Doctrine of the Word of God’ isn’t any different.

Every fibre of Barth’s work is pointed directly at Jesus Christ. Its contents exist as if they were his own rendition of John’s proclamation: ‘behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the World’ (Matthew, I:29 – to borrow an image from Barth C.D I/I:113).

Some highlights and a brief reflection.

The Holy Spirit, Prayer and the Responsive Sinner

On this Barth writes that:

  • At the focal point of the Church’s action the decisive activity is prayer and gratitude…because it is the decisive activity prayer must take precedence even over exegesis, and in no circumstances must it be suspended’[iv]
  •  ‘To pray is a free act of humanity. Certainly the Holy Spirit intercedes for us in prayer as we ought (Rom.8:26). Nevertheless this does not alter the fact that it is us praying when we pray…When we pray we turn to God with the confession that we are not really capable of doing it, but we also turn to God with the faith that we are invited and authorised to do it…We must remember that prayer is literally the archetypal form of all human acts of freedom[v]

Philosophy and Biblical Interpretation

Barth issues ‘warnings in regards to the use of philosophy.[vi]

Philosophy has to do with the human mode of thought; theology, the Scriptural mode of thought.

Affirming exegesis 101, Barth asserts that we must ‘allow the text to speak for itself’[vii]

This is because ‘everyone has some sort of philosophy i.e., a personal view of a fundamental nature and relationship of things – however popular, aphoristic, irregular and eclectically uncertain. ’[viii]

‘It becomes dangerous when we posit it [philosophy] absolutely over against  Scripture, expecting that by placing it, as it were, on the same high level as scripture, we can use it to control Scripture…Scripture is necessarily distorted – it leads to falsification of Scripture[ix].

Barth’s conclusion.

Barth finishes on four clear points,

First: the ‘sovereignty of the Word of God is unconditional.[x]’ God is God, we are not[xi].

Second:obedient faith…is the exercise of the freedom which granted to us under the Word.[xii]’ Finally, ‘we must speak as God speaks. We cannot do this if we are looking at ourselves instead of at Jesus Christ[xiii]

Third: ‘God exposes humanity as a sinner even as He is gracious to us, we are really only judged by the grace of God[xiv]’ ; ‘because Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, we are transposed into the kingdom of God’s grace. This transformation us to be accepted as fact.[xv]

Lastly,even in the presence of divine action, man is still man, and although by the divine promise he is relieved of anxiety about the success, justification and sanctification if his action, he is not relieved of responsibility for it [xvi]

This includes an in depth breakdown of ‘Pure Doctrine as the Problem of Dogmatics’, ‘The Mission of the Church‘ and ‘Dogmatics as a function of the hearing church.’

For Barth doctrine is akin to discipline and not theory. Meaning that pure doctrine is about ‘teaching, instruction, edification and application – it is a deed; an event, not a thing.[xvii]

Pages 782-796 are full of arguments in favour of the view that ‘dogmatics itself is ethics’[xviii]. Later Barth draws on the importance of the dogmatic task, writing that it is ‘evangelical as understood as the one holy, universal and apostolic Church[xix].’ Here he notes that it is better to refer to Evangelical dogmatics as ‘Church Dogmatics’. Possibly due to misappropriated modern attachments that have made the word “evangelical” a loaded term.

According to Barth ‘there is no such thing as dogmatic tolerance. Where dogmatics exists at all, it exists only with the will to be a Church Dogmatics; dogmatics of the ecumenical Church.[xx]’  Dogmatics is a science.

It is difficult to pick one or two parts of this text that stand out as must reads. If I had to choose from between them my suggestion would be, begin with ‘The outpouring of the Holy Spirit’ and then move onto ‘The Mission of the Church’. These form an introduction of sorts to the contents on the whole.

This mammoth read is an outstanding analysis of the Christian and the Church; their mission, the individual and communal responsibility towards which we are called, aided and freed to participate in. Such as, responding to grace in the light and shadow of God’s revelation in Jesus the Christ.

There is still a more lot to take in. Reading Barth’s work is something of a journey that the reader revisits and is rewarded for doing so.

These three reviews are an important part of that adventure.

‘To engage in theology seriously means to awaken as a theologian to scientific self-consciousness – Exegesis and preaching involves maintaining the ‘tension’[xxi] between ‘practical theology and that of technical advice[xxii]

 


Sources:

[i] Or ‘distinction and unity’ thereof, (p.770)

[ii] Barth, K. 1938 C.D I/II: The Doctrine of The Word of God, Hendrickson Publishers, p.769

[iii] p.770

[iv] p.695

[v] p.698

[vi] p.734-735

[vii] p.726

[viii] p.728

[ix] ‘Every philosophy which is posited absolutely leads to the falsification of Scripture because to posit absolutely what is man’s own and is brought by him to the Word is an act of unbelief which makes impossible the insights of faith and therefore a true interpretation of the Word.’(p.732)

[x] p.739

[xi] p.750

[xii] p.740

[xiii] p.749

[xiv] p.755

[xv] p.756

[xvi] p.758

[xvii] pp. 763 & 768

[xviii] p.793

[xix] p.825

[xx] p.823

[xxi] p.805

[xxii] p.772