Do we need 10 volumes of Karl Barth’s Dogmatics?

Karl Barth writes in Church Dogmatics 1.1 The Doctrine of the Word of God, London/New York, T&T Clark, p/b 2004 (1936) p.88

The presupposition which makes proclamation proclamation and therewith makes the Church the Church is the Word of God. This attests itself in Holy Scripture in the word of the prophets and apostles to whom it was originally and once for all spoken by God’s revelation.

This is true but who we worship is not the holy scripture but the Lord of all creation. We believe God has revealed Himself to prophets and apostles, and supremely in Jesus the Messiah who taught his disciples orally. The Scripture writers were inspired by God’s Spirit to trust God and to write down God’s words in the various ways and styles  in which they came to know, believe and trust in God and in Jesus His Son and they also wrote down those experiences and histories and traditions of those who came before them. They wrote within the human world view and understanding of their times as they drew near to God and He inspired them to write.

What they wrote was remembered initially orally and eventually written down either by the them or others and collected and brought together by others again. None of these saints responsible for the final form and translation of the words of Holy Scripture were superhuman and so none of what they spoke and wrote, and what has been collected and translated is necessarily inerrant or even complete e.g. there are gaps in the Old Testament text; there are singular words whose meaning today is uncertain because there is no other context to gauge its meaning; there are passages whose words are known but whose meaning is ambiguous;  there are textual uncertainties because with many available early texts and translations the task of identifying the most likely original text is not an exact science although the methodology is highly developed; in some cases such as the ending of Mark’s Gospel there seems to be a section missing; in some cases of apostolic writing, especially Paul he explicitly states that his view is his own, or is the custom of the churches he founded not from the Lord. Peter’s own writing suggests that sometimes what Paul wrote is hard to understand. In addition the apocalyptic sections of both the Old Testament and the New Testament are highly symbolic and the key to their interpretation although perhaps clear to their first audience is not always completely clear today.

The upshot of all of this is that the Word of God we proclaim is  the triune God who has chosen to reveal Himself in creation and in His incarnate Son and He has given us His Holy Spirit to be with us and to write and know in our hearts his everlasting love and truth. His revelation is indeed in the written word and as the written word says, in the beauty and wonder of HIs created universe evolving over billions of years, and in the power and guidance of His Holy Spirit who inspires and teaches us daily of God’s will for our lives.

So the Bible as we now have it, God’s word to us written down, is not inerrant or to be worshipped. It is inspired by God and early copies of its contents have been remarkably kept for us in almost miraculous ways e.g. the work of Tischendorf and the discovery of the Qumran early texts of the Hebrew Old Testament. We need to take very seriously indeed the words of the Bible for within it we find the very Word of God for our lives on earth. We ignore God’s Word to us in the written word at our peril because we throw away the gift of His Holy Spirit interpreting these words to us. To lose ourselves in mystic meditation can be spiritually rewarding and we must continually seek to draw nearer to God. But we are not just called to be spiritual individuals cultivating our own spiritual health.

We are also called, indeed predestined for a vocation, to be active witnesses of the glory of God, to be a holy priesthood, to bear witness to His revelation so that the light of God’s love can shine brightly and clearly in our lives even though we live in a world laid siege to by powers of evil which exist, which hurt and which destroy lives on earth. There are mysteries here hard for us to understand. Why did God choose Israel and then the first apostolic generation?  We can only say with Job, who are we to question God?  Why does he even allow evil within His creation? The only satisfactory answer to this second question is the genuine freedom God gifted to heavenly beings and to His creation. Which of us would willingly give up our freedom for a robotic existence?

Why is all this so hard that it needs theologians to wrestle with its true meaning? It is clear that each of us has different spiritual gifts and these gifts distributed by the Spirit include teaching, ministering and proclamation. Who of us would like to be without, say for me, C S Lewis, Lesslie Newbigin, Leon Morris, F F Bruce,  Alister McGrath, Peter Adam, John Macquarie, P T Forsyth,Helmut Thielicke, N T Wright or Phillip Yancey? Do we need 10 volumes of Dogmatics from Karl Barth?…I’ll let you know if and when I ever finish reading them!  But  for most of us mere mortals our task is simple…to read, mark and  inwardly digest God’s Word written and in creation, then live faithfully, courageously and trustingly with hope and love and to witness joyfully, truly and appropriately until we indeed can behold God’s glory face to face and ask Him our questions ourselves and then we won’t need Karl Barth to explain it all! But for now..I am finding Karl Barth as helpful and stimulating as I did forty two years ago when I first read   The Doctrine of the Word of God for my London BD studies.

 

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.