Finally, I have braved the thought of trying to pick up Barth again. About every 300 pages I find something I understand… or I think I understand.
I don’t know why I’m trying to pick up Barth again. My life is so crammed full of stuff, this isn’t exactly devotional reading.
But for today, I try to look a bit Barthian, much to the chagrin of certain Lutheran friends of mine who have no time for the man… and you know who you are! 😉
The beauty of what I am reading today in Vol. II.1 (The Doctrine of God) is the realization that God indeed desires to reveal himself to us. We need to push past our misconceptions, and, quite frankly, our own desires to not know God. He longs to reveal himself to us.
Barth has an excursus on creation. In comparing the biblical creation story with the Babylonian creation story, there is a glaring contrast. In the Babylonian story the relation between the gods and humanity is fluid. Man acts, the gods respond. The gods act, man responds.
But in the biblical creation account we find that “God stands out from the very first line as sovereign in relation to everything which is not Himself, as the One who acts not only in and with, but first and foremost towards the world.”
Creation is about God acting first. God made the first move. And in his sight and judgment it was good.
“It is not only created by God but upheld in its created existence and nature by His grace.”
Now, off to the next 300 pages before I can understand something else.
I give thanks today for God who acted toward me first. It is his world, and I’m living in it!
From time to time I attempt to pick Barth back up and see if there is anything I can understand. Occasionally it seems something makes sense. If I get this wrong, please don’t tell me, because this section I read in II.1 is just profound to me as I read it. (Allow me to wallow in my vast ignorance if I’ve read him wrong because how I’m seeing it is making a great impact on me today.)
Barth talks about being bound to God’s Word. We are bound to Christ. It is the Scriptures… but beyond the Scriptures. We are bound to the One who IS the Word of God. If we are bound to his Word, we are to begin with his existence. We are to start with the existence of God because he has made himself clear and certain to us. Barth then discusses with amazing clarity just how God is so certain. There is a certainty in his existence and that is something we can grasp. It is our anchor.
This causes us to be bound to him. We can no longer be without him. For Barth, it is the realization that we don’t want to be without him any more!
“Our own existence stands or falls with the existence of God.”
And just when there is something to grasp about the reality of God, and Barth gives me this certitude for my soul… he rips it away. (Well, not really. He just adds in a paradox.)
But precisely because that is so, precisely because God is He who makes Himself so clear and certain to us, we must now go further and say that He is the One who remains a mystery to us.
Got that? You have certitude… and now you have mystery. You MUST be certain of God… then you get the mystery. Got that?
The fact that we know God is His work and not ours. And the clarity and the certainty in which we know Him are His and not ours.
That is indeed a great mystery, but it a joyful mystery.
I’m going to act like I understand what Barth just said because somehow I think I might be getting what I think he’s saying. (Talk about mystery.)
He is the God who has made himself known to us. In this we rejoice. But the wonder is that we will never really know him as fully as possible. In that, we have a mystery. Yet, in that, we can rejoice.
For Barth, the testimony of Scripture is received when the members of the Church are willing and ready to listen. They want to get into the Scripture and learn it, interpret it, and apply it.
“Correspondingly, we must now say that this testimony cannot be received unless those who accept it are ready and willing themselves to assume the responsibility for its interpretation and application.” (CD, 1.2)
Am I ready to get into the Scriptures and allow the words of life to change me? Am I willing to accept responsibility and actually study the Scriptures?
This is our task. May we be ready!
Confessions of faith are vital for a church. Barth’s position is that all confessions arise out of conflict. This is true. The Nicene Confession arose out of conflict over the deity and humanity of Christ.
Confessions, in Barth’s view, come into a need for revision from time to time because of conflict. Controversies arise and further examination of a part of a confession may be in order.
It consists rather in controversies in which the existing confession of the common faith and therefore the existing exposition and application of Holy Scripture is called in question because the unity of the faith is differently conceived, and there is such different teaching on the basis of the existing unity that the unity is obscured and has to be rediscovered… If the Church wants to preserve its unity, it must give it a more accurate expression…
This may seem to be a good reason explaining why there are so many doggone confessions since the Reformation! However, I don’t always see that as healthy. Sometimes confessions are “refined” because there is a desire to point out the differences and let the differences be a point of division rather than unity. Clarification is sometimes needed, but the more I read the Nicene Creed or Apostles’ Creed, I’m left wondering, “Why do we need MORE detail?”
Sometimes I think we “refine” our confessions because we are looking for points of disagreement. We’re not necessarily looking to unify. We’re looking for reasons to stay a bit divided.
Confessions ARE necessary. But so many of them? I’m not so sure.
Through church history, especially since the Reformation, I am convinced we are only rehashing old problems. We are just doing it with greater speed. (Kind of like our fashion trends these days. Did the 80s styles have to come back SO fast?)
Three voices need to be heard once again, in my view.
1. Soren Kierkegaard.
While I can never pretend to understand all he wrote, and I would probably not agree with all he wrote, I do understand his statement in 1855. He remarked that Christianity no longer existed in Denmark.
We need that voice again. We need someone who will get in the face of every American Christian and say, “Your brand of Christianity is not Christian. It’s not Christ.” Liberal Christians are acting like Democrats and conservative Christians are acting like Republicans. It needs to stop. Seriously.
2. Karl Barth
Again, there is no way I could lay claim to understanding everything Karl Barth said or wrote. I certainly wouldn’t agree with all he wrote. Yet, he stood up in the face of liberal theology and chose to BELIEVE THE BIBLE once again. He actually studied the Scriptures. He took it as truth.
We need that again. I used to think that we needed it in liberal strains of Christianity. After attending Society for Pentecostal Studies, I am convinced we need this call all through the Church in America once again. We have people who teach and preach who really don’t believe the Bible is authoritative. We need a Karl Barth once again who will plunge into Scripture, choose to believe it first, and teach what the Word is saying.
3. William Seymour
The one-eyed African American preacher pushed past all kinds of prejudice in his day to seek the power of the Spirit. He lived in the power of the Spirit and walked in radical love. He allowed racists to preach in his pulpit. He chose to love those who called Azusa Street “the last vomit of Satan.”
We need Pentecostals to be Pentecostal. We need to quit arguing about tongues and start living in the power of the Spirit. We need to be bathed in the radical love of Christ and walk with humility. We are full of ourselves. Preachers preach to show off their skill. We reward churches for their numbers. People aren’t changed. They just come to hear the band. Let’s be honest.
Where are those three voices? I want to hear them again. We need them soon.