Barth…what about the H?

Those poor Neo-Orthodox theologians. The liberals thought they were conservative -nay- fundie, and the evangelicals thought they were liberal. Barth, being the poster child of the response to rampant Classical Liberalism in Europe during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, was truly a man without a home. His views on revelation irked protestants and liberals alike, alienating him from the former by his less than inspired views on Scripture (which merely becomes the Word of God) and the latter by his utter disdain for any natural revelation (Nein!). It seems as if his views on the subject, which stem from his foundational, essentially properly basic belief in the utter transcendence of God, were elevated to an unhealthy level. Now, I’m not a Barth scholar by any stretch, and I am just now beginning to read some of his stuff (crazy dialectics abound!) but it seems as if his preoccupation with the revelation of God through the Son leaves him little time to consider the Holy Spirit as far as the third person of the trinity is involved in revelation. It’s almost as if he treats the Holy Spirit like that uncle at the reunion that everyone tries to avoid. He sees him, and acknowledges the role of the Spirit in illuminating the Word of God, but doesn’t really acknowledge him at length. Did he consider the presence of the Holy Spirit in creation as being unavailable to us because of said transcendence, like waves of light that are invisible to the human eye? Perhaps some of you who are more knowledgeable in all that is Neo-Orthodoxy could shine some light on the subject. Like I said, I am no Barthian scholar by any stretch, this is just my first impression of him and his views on revelation.

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2 responses to “Barth…what about the H?

  1. Nate Dog…we obviously share in both our appreciation and incomprehensive knowledge of Her Barth. I too have been struck by some of the amazing things he’s said and I too have been taken back by cautions, warnings, and the adivce of wiser men to ‘be careful.’ So with Barth I’m a bit torn, honestly. But I know that both Van Til and John Frame have offered humble, loving, critiques of Barthian theology. I think both men would say that Barthian, swinging too far in the opposite direction of Liberalism, is no less orthodox than its predecessor. I’m not sure about that, but their arguements are very well thought out. Van Til’s book, “Christianity and Barthianism” may be a good place to start. Hope that helps…someone smarter may need to comment as well.

  2. A couple of things:
    1. Don’t start with Van Til. Start by reading George Hunsinger’s How to Read Karl Barth and then read the great man’s CD I.1.
    2. He gets to the Holy Spirit in some important ways when he comes to “The Word of God Written” and to the old formula opera trinitatis ad extra…. He is so focused on the person of Christ and his exclusive position as sole mediator between God and man because of the time and context in which he lived. Since orthodoxy in the West has always said that the Spirit proceeds from both the Son and the Father, Barth is seeking to protect that reality in his construction since the liberals had radically redefined “Spirit”, perhaps far more than they had evacuated “Jesus Christ” of its historical content. All this to say, I think the old man was aware of how it would appear.
    3. Further, Barth is always going to start with and emphasize the particular over against the universal, and thus his arguments begin with Jesus Christ as the full revelation of God to man, the exact imprint of his nature. Yes, the Spirit must open one’s eyes to see that reality from the pages of Scripture, but Barth has to start somewhere, and he chooses Christ. Pretty cool to watch. And because he realizes he is doing this, and because he says everything in CD 8 different ways inter-relatedly, you really can pick up any of the volumes and start reading at a new chapter and get the jist of most of it.

    Obviously, I disagree with Barth in numerous places, but he’ll remain one of my heroes—not just for his theology, but for his heart for God, his church and his fellow Europeans. Anybody who writes like that about Mozart is worth having a beer with (if I didn’t attend a pietistic seminary–wa-waah).

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