1.1 §5.1-3

Before I being begin this weeks post I have to admit that I forgot that this week (according to Dr. Kirk’s schedule) was almost twice the length as usual. So I was left with the arduous task of quickly reading Barth. I accomplished it, but, the results of my reading were less than desirable.

This reading section from chapter 5 is essentially concerned with the “nature” of the word of God and the “act” of God speaking. Unfortunately for me, Barth seems to have had a bit of a change of heart between the version that I am reading and the first edition. I say ‘unfortunately’ because he takes a lot of “small print” to do battle with a gentleman who apparently took issue with Barth. The ensuing response was, for me, a really good example of why I get nervous around such purely theological readers of the text. Neither Barth or his interlocutor we comprehensible to me, although I am sure I could have comprehended, but I didn’t have time to do research.

For me, theology tends to get overly theoretical, and in my opinion, this is why I shy away from such talk in my own life.

Here is a good example of what I am talking about: “Does God know the future?” I hear people (at school, church, etc.) talk about subjects like these all the time. But really, do we have any clue what God “knows?” Nope. I know, I know, someone will bring up 2Isaiah and use that as proof. But, of course, knowing what is about to happen is not the same as “knowing the future” in the strictest of senses. Just because I tell you that you are about to get wet, right before I throw water on you doesn’t mean I know the future in the same sense as always knowing the Powerball numbers before they are announced.

I said all that to say, this section felt like I was reading a good discussion about something that is purely conjecture. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love conjecture but to attempt to argue authoritatively from it is a bit more than I can stand. Here are two select examples from this section:

“There is no word of God without a physical event.”

“The existence of the world and our existence are in no sense vital to God, not even as the object of His love.”

Now I am not saying that these are statements I disbelieve, but, simply that I do not have any good authoritative reason to adhere to these statements. Barth’s understanding of the Word of God is, I doubt, light-years close to any understanding of said topic in the Scriptures. Of course, one doesn’t have to have the same understanding of the Scriptures but when you diverge from the path you ought to at least acknowledge that you are diverging from the path. I get the strange feeling that he is trying to give the “pure” or “timeless” understanding of the Word of God.

I doubt this. Just like I doubt Inerrantist because they (usually) insist on too much that is conjecture.

I did, though, enjoy his thoughts on the Word of God being an act. This makes sense to me and is helpful in some ways as it allows me to understand why I resist inerrancy. This concept causes the Church to be dependent on God and not on the teachers. But even in this concept he manages to loose me.

He distinguishes between three times that God speaks: 1) In Jesus Christ 2) Apostles and prophets 3) The Church period. Somehow he understands the time of Jesus to include the O.T. (he references John 9). Shockingly, he says that if we abandon this distinction in times then we abandon the word of God itself (147). Well then, there it is, I guess according to Barth I don’t agree with him because I don’t agree with everything he said.

I would like to say, though, that I do agree with the spirit that is trying to speak through him. I do agree God still speaks and that fact relegates the Scriptures to second place when confronted with God’s speaking a ‘fresh’ word to his church.

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4 Responses to 1.1 §5.1-3

  1. davidmdavid says:

    Barth, I am sure, is an indispensable mind, a bulwark to the evangelical, one which helped break down exaggerated forms of church dogma. This said, his mind blows my mind, often. Sometimes I wonder if he is just thinking aloud with his writing…

    Regarding the second conjecture, what is more “vital” than sending your own Son to perform a task? I realize that Barth is saying that, literally, if the cosmos fails then God will not be directly sucked into its entropic vortex of nothingness, but that really isn’t saying much about anything — in fact, it is really inconsiderate and crass. Consider the analogy: it isn’t vital that my spouse exists, and if she dies, well, then I will maintain my own biophysical existence — “my vitals are fine.” Now, would I ever make such a statement to my wife? No, of course not. In other words, some things just go without saying, because to say them creates more problems than it solves.

    • I have to admit that when you said “if he is just thinking aloud when he is writing” it really made me lol.

      As for your second comment — I think your right too. But, on the other hand, according to Barth’s theology, can the cosmos fail without God failing? Maybe, but, it just seems that a lot of the talk is the result of what one feels they have to say. How do we really know that creation doesn’t (or does) complete God in some way?

      Thanks for your comments,

  2. These are some really good thoughts, Daniel. I’ve updated my post with some more of my own. I actually think that the purpose of the small print section is just what you suggest here: getting away from theoretical and embracing the actual: God has spoken in Christ. Here’s the updated post

  3. davidmdavid says:


    Hmmm, perhaps it depends on how you define “failure.”

    I think Barth’s definition of failure would impinge God’s holiness, sucking God in to a deeply marred creation; Barth wasn’t a huge fan of natural theology via Aquinas. But is Barth’s definition of failure in line with the biblical account’s definition of failure as it concerns humans and the history of redemption? Or, do we today have a tendency to conflate failure, not obtaining an intended goal, with flop, an utter failure? If one learns from mistakes or miscommunication, which by definition seems inevitable regarding the nature of relationships, that seems to be wise and good (artistic and skillful).

    The biblical account demonstrates time and time again the seriousness or veracity of the relationship between creation (including humans) and God — even amid sin. The flood account, actually, sets the precedence of God’s being so deeply invested in creation and humans that he is willing enough to change his strategy of redemption in response to human sin (a mistake by God? Maybe not so much if one sees strategy and skill as being artistic in scope): “…I will never again destroy every living creature as I have done” (Gen. 8:21). Even more, this monumental pact/covenant with creation does not come packaged in dissociative, indifferent terms, as we see God envisioning the reversal of his creation in Jer. 4: 19-28 in response to Judah’s disobedience and persistent unfaithfulness. Ultimately this divine ebbing toward a de-creation, though, is weathered; the pact is kept; a new wrinkle emerges in the plot.

    I realize that is argument can be a dangerous one, threatening the realm of God’s knowledge and goodness. It raises questions that are hard to answer. This said, I am not sure if changing ones mind regarding strategy is considered a weakness, a taint on an otherwise benevolent and powerful Creator-God in response to human misuse of power. Instead, this “divine calibration” suggests a real power on humankind’s part, as we are not just answers to a problem which can be sheerly calculated by God. If anything, it seems to be grounds for the ultimate otherwise unthinkable move or “articulation:” giving the Word flesh, as John would put it.

    Doesn’t this make way for not just a dialectical theology but a re-emphasis of the very good physical creation which was wrought in the beginning, and which weathered the arrival of sin, via the image of God founded in Gen. 1:26-28 and reaffirmed in Gen. 5 and 9?

    Does this make sense? Sorry this got so long, I am kind of thinking aloud (hopefully not a la Barth!)…

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