Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Karl Barth, d. 10th December 1968

I've never made any secret of the fact that Karl Barth is my theological hero.  It's not just the pipe that I find pleasing (although that is obviously a factor).  I love the way that Barth burst into the context of a liberalism which had more or less collapsed God into humanity, and declared the reality of the God who is other, the God who encounters humanity and each human.  Whereas late 19th and early 20th century theological liberalism had made man - his faith and his religious consciousness - the measure of all things, Barth witnessed to the priority of God over man, and the freedom of God over against man.  Moreover, he was clear throughout that this God who encounters and acts towards us is not an abstract deity, but the God who has revealed himself fully in Jesus Christ.

I did not come to Barth from the context of theological liberalism.  My own background looked to the period of Reformed Orthodoxy for its moorings, and found its theology in the Reformers as read through the lens of the English Puritans.  Within that context, what I have loved about Barth is his insistence that God acts.  There is a danger in Reformed Orthodoxy that an emphasis on the immutability of God renders the deity essentially static.  Whilst of course the pietist edge to that tradition kept the danger at bay in terms of practical religion, it seems to me that it still lurked in the formal theology of the movement.

For Barth, God is not so much the One who is there as the One who comes.  God comes to us in Christ, moves toward us in his Spirit, encounters us in the Scriptural witness.  Barth's God is on the prowl, and this to me fits the Biblical witness in a way that I had not seen in the writings of my own tradition.  And that has an impact on how I think the church should 'be' in this dark world - the people of God who wait for him to come, and the people of God who go in imitation of him.  The church has to live, because God lives.  In Christ, he lives toward us and for us.

Barth's last written words were these: "God is not a God of the dead, but of the living.  In him they all live..."

Amen and amen.

1 comment:

  1. Found this old post as I was reading through some of your posts on Barth, sparked by Letham's module on Scripture.
    I have to say you make an excellent point in identifying a possibly 'static' God in conservative Reformed churches and theology.
    This came out when I was listening to one (very good) Reformed pastor preach on Isaiah. He described Isaiah as 'A vision of human history with a holy God at the centre, a God who steps out and saves people.'It immediately sounded close to the truth but with something lacking...I realised what it was when I remembered Peter Comont preaching the same book but instead saying Isaiah portrays God as "about to act to fulfill his promises to Abraham in surprising and new ways", which is dynamic and has a sense of story and climax about it. You're right that it definitely seems to fit the way the biblical authors speak, too.
    This also comes out in the difference between preaching that focuses on 'lessons' in contrast to preaching that aims to announce and proclaim. Your statement about God's Word existing primarily to be obeyed rather than to be applied fits exactly into this as well.
    I look forward to finally read some of Barth this term and maybe even writing my essay on him!