Posts Tagged ‘authority’

My first recollection of Barth being mentioned: as a young man–possibly in Bible college, but I’m not sure–my dad told me that Barth was “a liberal”, which to my ears meant that he was very, very bad and mustn’t be read or listened to. The problem, as I recall, was that my dad thought that Barth didn’t think that the Bible was the word of God. Given the little I know about my dad’s theological and doctrinal leanings, he wasn’t likely to have read much Barth himself, taking second-hand information as fact.

Of course, I’m currently in that situation as well–most of my Barth knowledge is second-hand.

My dad’s claim came to mind again last year during one of Chris Holmes’ “Theological Foundations” classes. In one of the first classes of semester, we discussed the “threefold form of the Word,” which he took from Barth (who in turn took it from Calvin).  It looks like this, in order of importance:

  1. The Incarnate Word (that is, Jesus Christ himself)
  2. The written word (scripture)
  3. The proclaimed word (probably the broadest of the three, in that it includes the tradition and proclamation of the church and its people throughout history)*

This came up in a discussion of theological norms, and I take it that “theological norms” have to do with what is authoritative. If this is right, I can understand how, from my dad’s perspective, Barth might have a suspicious view of scripture. That is, from a fundamentalist/conservative** point of view, which seems to take the notion of sola scriptura much farther than originally intended, scripture is our only authority on matters of faith and doctrine. Bumping the written word to second place in a list delineating authority would understandably seem suspect.

I am, of course, sympathetic to this, because having Jesus as the ultimate authority gets a bit philosophically sticky, since the only representatives of Christ’s authority we have are scripture and the Holy Spirit, and the history of the church is evidence of the fact that Christians often don’t hear either representative very well. (Perhaps Barth will address this in CD.)

Nevertheless, the Christocentrism of Barth/Calvin’s view hit me like a ton of bricks. Even in its mystery and philosophical stickiness, it made a great deal of sense to someone like me, who was (is?) still working his way out of a very “Biblocentric” (as opposed to Christocentric) point of view.

I am only just beginning to understand the influence that Barth has had on the theological and pastoral world. And if his theology is indeed as Christocentric as it appears, well…wonderful!


* According to my notes, this is from volume 1 of CD, so we should run across it relatively soon. (Relatively.)

** To be fair, I think my dad is fundamentalist/conservative only so far as a European can be.

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