Archives For Ecumenism

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)


[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] /

[Originally published on May 17th, 2014]

gresham-collegeEngland’s Gresham College has a series of excellent lectures available for free on YouTube. Two grabbed my attention. Alister McGrath’s, ‘Darwin, Evolution and God: The Present Debates   and Alec Ryrie’s, ‘What Would Jesus Do? Christian Culture Wars in the Modern West.’ 

McGrath’s lecture starts with an overview of Charles Darwin’s journey from The Beagle to the establishment of his theory, and closes with a discussion about Darwinism and religion. My only criticism was that McGrath is a little too generous towards Darwin when discussing Nazism and its social Darwinian foundations.

That was, however, offset by McGrath’s in-depth look at Darwin’s assertions in ”The Decent of Man”.

“Darwin never became an atheist. Although he wrestled with [Protestant] Christianity’s “lack” in dealing with suffering, brought on by the loss of his daughter, Darwin never used evolution as weapon against Christianity. From what we know, Darwin didn’t see a clash between evolution and creation”

In a somewhat related vein, Alec Ryrie’s lecture deals with the paralysing of freedom.

His three primary themes are morality, christian authenticity and the loss of christian identity. All of which are paralysed by politics and pluralism.

Ryrie states that for the West, ‘World War Two was the defining moral event, of the twentieth century.’ For example: the fight against the Axis powers in WW2 was portrayed as a Crusade against evil. This, according to Dwight Eisenhower, was proven true by the horrors found in Dachau and Auschwitz.

This led to a post-war rallying around Judeo-Christianity, the faith of “Christendom”, as being a bulwark against communism, because those who pray the Shema Yisrael and the Lord’s Prayer, saved the West from Nazism [the new modern face and name for evil].

From the mid 1950s up to 1968 something shifted in the West. Ryrie looks to this shift by focusing on the African-American civil rights movement. In these he sees the opportunistic birth of the radical left (Western Marxism), as it took over ownership of the Civil rights movement, and quietly suppressed the movements Christian foundations.

The consequence being a ‘reckless abandonment of institutions‘ and tradition. Adding to this the eventual gagging of the gospel (Jesus Christ) and the disintegration of an openly Christian identity.

The outcome was that ”culture determined the agenda and therefore the church had to go wherever the culture led.” Just as the Church under the thumb of National Socialist Germany had lost it’s identity, was paralysed and painfully divided by conformity, politics and pluralism, the Church in the West today has followed suit.

Christian identity ended up ‘torn’ between political correctness and Christian orthodoxy.

For example: by the late 1970s the religious left had became ‘invisible’. Ryrie presents as evidence the overthrow of the Student Christian Mission (SCM) by Marxists, who,

‘merged a Marxist revolution with the Kingdom of God; seeing Jesus as a political radical.
This was the subsuming of Christian identity into radical politics.’

A theology of Christian liberation, which centres Christ at the heart of social justice, was confused with liberation theology, which surrenders Christ into servitude to the ideology of Marx.

The lecture ends with the example of Buzz Aldrin’s decision to have communion on the moon. Ryrie highlights Aldrin’s regret, where in his 2008 memoir, Aldrin stated, if he did the moon landing all over again, he wouldn’t repeat it, because they went to the moon on behalf of humanity, which includes Jews, Muslims, Hindus and heathen, not just Christians.

Although Aldrin took communion in private, Aldrin is still led to reconsider it. The real reason? He has been taught to view the outworking of his Christian faith as intolerant and bigoted. He has been pressured to feel guilty for living out his Christian faith; coerced into feeling guilty for following Jesus Christ.

Ryrie points to Adlrin’s regret as evidence of the crisis caused by this loss of Christian identity. The  insecurity (lament/shyness/uncertainty) about holding up, with conviction, what is an essential rite of Aldrin’s faith, makes special note of the struggle Christians have in ‘maintaining a [Christian] identity in the midst of pluralism.’

Ryrie’s lecture is full of insight. He inadvertently backs up the quip that the radical Left created the modern Conservative movement.

The radical Left continues to be a divisive force, setting itself up as the Kingdom of God without God in it. Grasping for any cause that will reinvigorate this division to foster recruitment and feed an alternative sense of global community that competes with the Commonwealth of Christ, by attacking its freedom and undermining its legitimacy.

Christianity indistinguishable from the world is subsequently extinguished by the world.

Or perhaps more accurately, Christianity indistinguishable from the world allows itself to be extinguished (at least in public) from the world.

It should be no surprise to us then, that leaders will rise who don’t live up to the Judeo-Christian convictions that are said to have defeated the evils the world faced in the 1940s. It should be no surprise to us then, that once we’ve effectively evicted God from the pubic and private sphere, we end up with leaders who fail to lead outside their own self-interest.

You cannot remove Judeo-Christianity from the West, then think you are right to kick and scream when a leader/s rise who don’t live out Judeo-Christian convictions.

In the end, you’re only getting what you prayed for.


[i] McGrath, A. 2016 ‘Darwin, Evolution and God: The Present Debates Gresham College – [transcript]

[ii] Ryrie, A. 2016 What Would Jesus Do? Christian Culture Wars in the Modern West Gresham College – [transcript]