So you say you love John Calvin, Karl Barth, Huldrych Zwingli, John Piper…Whatever. I do not buy it. I say, “Prove it.” Here is Miljenko Bukovic, a Mexican-born newspaper vendor who has spent roughly $4,000 over the past 10 years tattooing his body with sketches of his favorite American actress, Julia Roberts. 82 tatoos. One passionate obsession. So its time to hit your favorite tattoo parlor and see if they can come up with a picture of your favorite theologian, scholar, pastor…
Geoffrey Bromiley: Karl Barth’s view of the activity of the Holy Spirit in the reader of the scripture
G.W. Bromiley, “Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Inspiration,” Journal of the Transactions of the Victoria Institute 87 (1955): 66-80.
“To judge from the recent trend of his writing, it seems certain that he himself would not now be ready to give quite the prominence that he then did to the act of the Holy Spirit in the reader. For after all, events have shown that his safeguards against subjectivism are not really adequate if the dynamic view of inspiration is pressed to its extreme. It is all very well to say that we are dependent on God Himself speaking in His Word, but the fact remains that if inspiration is not complete until it takes place in the individual, then God does not speak unless He speaks to me, and this means in practice that the only real or important act of “inspiration” takes place subjectively in the recipient. For a true objectivity it is necessary to insist that although there has to be the speaking to me, God has in fact already spoken: “men of old spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” It is noteworthy that in his doctrine of the Atonement Barth has swung over almost to the opposite extreme. There has to be an entry into the reconciling work of Christ, but it is still true that reconciliation took place once and for all when Christ died and was raised again from the dead. The reason for this swing is to counter the subjectivist extreme that the atoning death and resurrection of Christ takes place in the true sense, not in history at Golgotha, but inwardly in the individual movement of repentance and faith. But if this very strong objectivism is necessary in relation to the Atonement, it is no less necessary in relation to Holy Scripture. Inspiration is certainly an act of God like reconciliation. But like reconciliation it is an act which has taken place, and the results are still with us in the enduring form of the inspired writings. In the one case as in the other there has to be a personal entry into the act, so that it becomes an act for and to the individual. This can take place only by the Holy Spirit. But the fact remains that the act itself has already taken place. And there can be little doubt that, faced with a thoroughgoing subjectivization, Barth himself would admit the inadequacy of his earlier safeguards and be prepared drastically to alter the balance of his presentation.”
“Faith is the light of time: alone it attains truth without seeing it; it touches what it does not feel, it beholds this world as if it were not there, seeing something quite different to what appears on the surface. Faith is the key to the treasury, the key to the abyss of divine wisdom, the key of the science of God. It is faith that gives the lie to all creation, it is by faith that God reveals and manifests himself in all things. It is faith that divinizes things, which lifts the veil and reveals to us eternal truths.” [Jean-Pierre de Caussade, Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, 51]
I wonder if that is what Karl Barth was reading when he wrote,
“It is the Bible itself, it is the straight inexorable logic of its on-march which drives us out beyond ourselves and invites us, without regard to our worthiness or unworthiness, to reach for the last highest answer, in which all is said that can be said, although we can hardly understand and only stammeringly express it. And the answer is: A new world, the world of God. There is a spirit in the Bible that allows us to stop awhile and play among secondary things as our wont- but presently it begins to press us on; and however we may object that we are only weak, imperfect, and most average folk, it presses us on to the primary fact, whether we will or no. There is a river in the Bible that carries us away, once we have entrusted our destiny to it- away from ourselves to the sea.” [Karl Barth, “The Strange New World within the Bible,” in The Word of God and the Word of Man, 34]
Lest I get attacked by some overzealous Karl Barth groupies, note that this linking is offered with a bit of tongue and cheek, as these two brilliant men separated by time and space saw things through two different conceptual frameworks. What does 17th century Toulouse have to do with 20th century Basel?
Tonight I gave a talk about God’s Lavish and Generous Love. Here are Karl Barth’s thoughts on what Christian notion of love entails…
“Christian love turns to the other purely for the sake of the other. It does not desire it for itself. It loves it simply because it is there as this other, with all its value or lack of value. It loves it freely. But it is more than this turning. In Christian love the loving subject gives to the other, the object of love, that which it has, which is its own, which belongs to it. It does so irrespective of the or claim that it may have to it, or the further use that it might make of it. It does so in confirmation of the freedom in respect of itself which it has in its critical beginning. It does so with radically unlimited liberality. Nor is this liberality confined to that which the loving subject “has.” For in Christian love the loving subject reaches back, as it were, behind itself to that which at the first it denies and from which it turns away, namely, itself: to give itself (for everything would lack if this final thing were lacking); to give itself away; to give up itself to the one to whom it turns for the sake of this object. To do this the loving man has given up control of himself to place himself under the control of the other, the object of his love. He is free to do this. It is in this freedom that the one who loves as a Christian loves. Where this movement is fulfilled in all its aspects, and reaches its goal in this self-giving of the loving subject, there is Christian love. And this movement, together with faith (and hope, etc.) and inseparably and simultaneously fulfilled with them, is the life-act of the Christian both in detail and finally as a whole.” [Church Dogmatics: Selection, 173-174]
“It is thus of the nature of this God to be inscrutable to man. In saying this we naturally mean that in His revealed nature He is thus inscrutable. It is the Deus revelatus who is the Deus absconditus, the God to whom there is no path nor bridge, concerning whom we could not say nor have to say a single word if He did not of His own initiative meet us as Deus revelatus. Only when we have grasped this as the meaning of the Bible do we see the full range of its statement that god reveals Himself, i.e. that He assumed form for our sake. To deny this is to deny revelation itself. But the fact that it is there has distinct significance for our understanding of His self-revealing. It necessarily means that even in the form He assumes when He reveals Himself God is free to reveal Himself or not to reveal Himself. In other words, we can regard His self-unveiling in every instance as His act in which He reveals Himself to a man who is unable to unveil Him, showing Himself indeed in a specific form, but still unveiling Himself.” [Church Dogmatics, vol.1, part 1, p.321]
“By faith we ourselves think what Scripture says to us, and in such a way that we must think it because it has become the determining force of our whole existence. By faith we come to the contemporaneity, homogeneity, and indirect identification of the reader or hearer of Scripture with the witness of revelation. By faith their testimony becomes our responsibility. Faith itself, obedient faith, but faith, and in the last resort obedient faith alone, is the activity which is demanded of us as members of the Church, the exercise of the freedom which is granted to us under the Word.” [Barth, Church Dogmatics I/2, 740]
Mark Wallace writes, “Reflection in Barth is the transition moment between sensus and usus, explicatio and applicatio. The broad picture of the text-world developed in observation is now reflected upon through a particular thought-scheme or schemes to be acted upon in the final moment of appropriation.” This is a moment of theological reflection on the picture painted in the moment of explicatio. Barth quotes Ritschl to highlight the self-evident problem that an interpreter faces in this moment, “As we only hear with our own ears and see with our own eyes, we can apprehend by means only of our own understanding, not of that of another.” According to Barth no self-critical interpreter can avoid the fact that he or she comes to the text with “particular epistemology, logic or ethic.” Does this mean that no theological reflection is possible? Barth claims that it is possible when done with great care and circumspection. In his book Credo Barth explains his approach to theological reflection this way, “I as a theologian, having my language, whatever it may be, go up with that language to an object that meets me in the witness of Holy Scripture. In making this witness my own, I am not free of all philosophy, but at the same time I am not bound to a definite philosophy.” To this we might add a caveat. Barth’s caveat deals with the freedom of the biblical authors to be heard in the context of their epistemological and philosophical structures, “The proper course is…to listen to what the other, using his system of ideas, has to say about the subject itself, i.e., as an exponent of Scripture, and to pass on to criticism only if objections have to be raised on the basis of the subject.”
What might one make of this linking of theology and philosophy in Karl Barth?
“Behind this noetic absoluteness of God there stands decisively His ontic. This is decisive because in God’s revelation it is really a question of His ontic absoluteness, from which His noetic absoluteness inevitably follows. God’s freedom in relation to all that is not God signifies that he is distinct from everything, that He is self-sufficient and independent in relation to it, and that He is so in a peculiar and pre-eminent fashion- as no created being confronts any other. No created beings are in fact so independent of each other that in spite of this relative mutual independence they have not also to some extent a certain mutual interdependence, in the sense that ultimately none of them would have its being and nature apart from its interlocking with the being and nature of all the others. But God confronts all that is in supreme and utter independence, i.e. He would be no less and no different even if they all did not exist or existed differently. God stands at an infinite distance from everything else, not in the finite degree of difference with which created things stand towards each other. If they all have their being and specific nature, God in His freedom has conferred it upon them: not because He was obliged to do so, or because His purpose was influenced by their being and nature, but because their being and nature is conditioned by his being and nature. If they belong to Him and He to them, this dual relationship does not spring from any need on His eternal being. This would remain the same even if there were no such relationship. If there is connexion and relatedness between them and Him, God is who He is in independence of them even in this relatedness. he does not share His being with theirs. He does not enter with them into a higher synthesis. he does not mingle and blend Himself with them. He does not transform Himself into them. Even in his relationship and connexion with them, he remains who He is. He creates and sustains this relationship. Through it He holds sway in an absolute supremacy which is unbroken and uninterrupted in the greatest aspects and also in the smallest. He would be who he is even without this connexion. Every relationship into which God enters with that which is not Himself must be interpreted- however much this may disturb or correct our preconceived ideas of connexion and relationship- as eventuating between two utterly unequal partners, the sheer inequality consisting in the fact that no self-determination of the second partner can influence the first, whereas the self-determination of the first, while not canceling the self-determination of the second, is the sovereign predetermination which precedes it absolutely. [CD II.1 p. 311-312]
I was getting an impression that Brevard Childs was to Karl Barth what Elisha was to Elijah. Then I came upon Childs’ little book Myth and Reality in the Old Testament:
“Barth avoids the dangers of a dualistic concept of history [Geschichte and Historie] by remaining strictly within the Biblical categories. Although he attempts to do justice theologically to history, in practice his history also tends to lose its earth-bound qualities. Barth certainly acknowledges historical criticism, but its findings are consigned merely to formal matters without adding any tangible content to his history. One can seriously question whether Barth has solved the problem of history or merely avoided it.” 
“No bacon and cheese Rösti for you, Brevard,” says Frau Barth.
Richard Burnett’s book Karl Barth’s Theological Exegesis is quickly becoming a must read for anyone trying to understand what in the world Barth was doing when he lit up his pipe and opened up his Bible.
Here is a quick overview of this book. Burnett takes the following quote from Barth as a guide to unlocking his hermeneutical approach, “The following book is an attempt to read the Bible differently than we were generally taught at universities under the dominance of the theology of the 1890s. Question: in what way different? I wish to answer: more in accordance with the subject matter, content, and substance, entering with more attention and love into the meaning of the Bible itself.”  Based on this quote Burnett divides Barth’s hermeneutical principles into four groups:
1.”Sachlicher, inhaltlicher, wesentlicher”: “More in accordance with its subject matter, content, and substance”
2.Entering into the meaning of the Bible
3.With more attention and love
4.The meaning of the Bible itself
To unpack these hermeneutical principles Burnett turns to Barth’s six drafts for his preface to the first edition of his Commentary on the Book of Romans [ Der Römerbrief]. Burnett displays a breadth of knowledge of Barth’s work, but it is his use of these preface drafts that raises questions in my mind. I wonder how useful drafts are to understanding Barth. The struggle that I have is that these were drafts. Barth chose not to use them. He decided against going public with these thoughts. He is dead by now. He cannot explain himself or correct things. Burnett writes, “The preface drafts to the first Römerbrief edition are…significant because they demonstrate not only that Barth had clear, self-conscious hermeneutical convictions from the very beginning, but that he clearly anticipated his contemporaries objections to them.”  How do we know why he chose not to say these things in print? How much of these thoughts he really held to be true and how much of it was him thinking out loud with a blank note pad and a pencil? How much of these drafts is Frau Barth chiding him of being “clumsy, overly humble, and Ragaz-like” ? Where does Eduard Thurneysen stop and Karl Barth begin? Granted we can compare his thoughts in these drafts with Barth’s other writings or read then in conjunction with his correspondence with Thurneysen, but if other writings are to shape what is authentically Barth in these drafts, then what is the purpose of these drafts to start with? So these are random thoughts that are brewing in my head and I am finishing up reading this excellent book…