We have long passed any sense of searching for truth… or wanting it… in our American culture. We have moved to echo chambers and ideologies. Purity of “doctrine” isn’t something for the Church any more. It’s a new fundamentalism on the left and the right and it’s not just in churches. It’s in the political system.Read more
Seems to be a new backlash about NOT reading Barth. Brian LePort gives a good post linking the recent rantings. A few years ago Barth was back in, mainly, I think, because Christian Books was selling Dogmatics for $99. I snatched that up myself. I think I’ve made it all the way to the… third volume.
Barth is hard. Barth is controversial. I don’t read theologians very well.
One theologian I’ve known very little about but have always enjoyed his writings is Donald Bloesch. I still don’t know very much about him, but near the end of his life he penned his final works of theology which IVP put into the Christian Foundations series. I’ve read a couple of those volumes, along with a couple of other works he had earlier.
The volume on the Church is challenging. As an evangelical, more on the Reformed side, he is pretty adamant about recovering more of an ancient view of the Eucharist. I am finding it refreshing.
He writes that the Church has stepped back from theocentric worship, and part of that loss is due to our lack of focus on sacramental reality.
Baptism is no longer an initiation into the mystical body of Christ through faith and repentance but now an outward profession of belief that certifies our agreement with the precepts of church tradition. Sacraments are no longer signs and means of grace but ordinances of the church that regulate the life of the church. Karl Barth in his earlier years (oh, dear, he mentions THAT MAN!) lamented that the Reformed church had been misunderstood when it created the impression that it was a church bereft of sacraments, even a church inimical to sacraments. P.T. Forsyth in early twentieth-century England astutely perceived, “A Church cannot… live without sacraments, which are ‘essential means’; but still less can it live without sacramental souls, which are also ends in themselves.”
For a Reformed guy, this is something that resonates with me.
I am picking up Barth again, slogging through the second volume (which is actually 1.2). The power of the Word and the Scriptures is key for Barth. The section I am currently working through is incredibly exciting. (No, really. It is.)
The Church is not merely a human institution. This is not “a human polity, monarchical, aristocratic or democratic, in which the discharge of the witness to Jesus Christ committed to it is left to the good pleasure of its members.”
You would think it is exactly that, given the vast range of views on Christ himself sometimes! It seems we just can’t make our minds up about Jesus or the Church or authority or the Spirit… or much of anything.
What we need to remember, Barth contends, is that the Church is created and maintained by the Word of God. It is not a wind up toy that he is now leaving alone. The Word continues to govern the Church. The Word is given to us through the Scriptures. That is the clearest form of how we can truly know the Word.
“To say that Jesus Christ rules the Church is equivalent to saying that Holy Scripture rules the Church.”
The Scriptures exegete Christ. Christ exegetes the Scriptures. The Word confronts us and we need to deal with that confrontation as the Church. Does Jesus rule his Church or not? If so, are we understanding the authority of the Scriptures in our lives?
Our playing around with the authority of Scriptures in the life of the believer gets us into trouble. We need to bring our attention back to the Word of God, and the Scriptures that reveal that Word so clearly to us!
“From a human standpoint the preservation of the Church depends, therefore, on the fact that Scripture is read, assimilated, expounded and applied in the Church, that this happens tirelessly and repeatedly, that the whole way of the Church consists in its striving to hear this concrete witness.” (Karl Barth)
As I continue to wonder if I’m reading Barth correctly, I am struck by his trust of the Church. He is Reformed, so the authority of the Church is not as encompassing as the Catholic view. Still, he believes in the authority of the Church.
Church authority is spiritual authority: in all its forms it rests on the fact that there and here, then and now, two decisions meet in obedience to the Word of God and constitute one of these unities of common confession.
Church authority is not a matter of trusting just one opinion. It is the reasoning together, but trusting the result because it is directed by the Holy Spirit.
This is a difficult concept for modern/post-modern cultures. It is evident from the ultra-conservative to the ultra-liberal wings of Christianity. On the ultra-conservative side we have John MacArthur with his new book on “Slaves” for Christ. His premise is not a bad one, but how he markets the book is terrible. He talks about a “conspiracy theory” to cover up the translation of the word “slave.”
On the ultra-liberal side, well take your pick: Bart Ehrman, a multitude of “emergent” theologians, “Bishop” Spong, et al. The conspiracy is the “cover up” over how the canon was formed in the first place, or something else.
We simply find it hard to trust. It’s our new DNA.
For Barth there is a sense of understanding that the Church is human. There are disagreements. Yet, godly people can reach godly decisions. From the Canon of Scripture to confessions of the Church, discussion takes place and the faith delivered once for all to the saints somehow keeps moving forward.
We wrestle with our confessions from time to time. As Barth points out, sometimes our unity has to be “rediscovered.” So, the Church looks for more accurate ways to express the faith. It’s a process. Yet, we must move forward in trust.
I trust the Church. I trust the Head of the Church. While I chafe at the pragmatism of my denomination, I also trust the faith of the early saints in my movement. I can argue the pragmatism. I trust the faith delivered. It’s what causes me to rejoice in the Church as a local body, and the Church universal. I trust MY church… the local body. I love the Church universal as well.
Trust needs to be re-established. Therefore, I want to make some really odd declarations of trust:
1. In regards to Bible translations, I trust the men and women who work hard to do the best job possible to bring a good translation forward. Over the years I have watched the NIV go from something outdated and frustrating to something I can use. Knowing who is on the translation team, I trust their commitment to the holy Scriptures.
I can settle in on translations because I choose to trust. There may be the disagreements over this word or that verse, but at the heart I find men and women who truly love God and want to do good work.
2. I trust the creeds. These are statements of faith that have been delivered by people who truly want to articulate faith. They had godly hearts and when it was all said and done they could say, “It seemed good to us and the Holy Spirit.”
3. I trust the Body of Christ. I may disagree over methodology, but overall I find people who truly love the Lord. The Body of Christ is beautiful in the diversity of its forms. The unity isn’t found in having a single style of worship. The unity is found in Christ. It’s beautiful to see.
The Church has delivered the faith delivered once for all to the saints down through the centuries. It’s been a rough ride. Yet, here we are. I stand in that stream of trust desiring to move the faith forward to the next generation.
“All the Church need do is just this: After any exegesis propounded in it, even the very best, t has to realise afresh the distinction between text and commentary and to let the text speak again without let or hindrance…” (Barth)
Every once in awhile I actually get something like this and it refreshes me so I can put my nose back in the book and keep plowing.
Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics is on it’s way! I can’t even believe it! Something I have wanted to study for years, now affordable. WOW!
As long as we have our wishes, I notice that CBD is running a HUGE special on Hendrickson’s new release on Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics.
So, if you want to look ahead for me for an early anniversary present, Christmas, birthday, etc., I take checks. 🙂