Making Sense of Karl Barth

My previous post on Karl Barth was concerned with the historical era in which he lived, his unorthodox three-way marriage, and how that might have softened some of his views.  This post focuses on his theology.  His key point is that religion is the problem.  “Religion is unbelief; religion is a business, one has to say: the business of the godless man.”  (Church Dogmatics, his emphasis)

Religion is at the mercy of society.  Any society.  However, this was particularly true in Nazi Germany, where the church capitulated to the Hitler, allowing him to appoint the chief bishop of the German (Lutheran) church. Barth led an attempt to establish an alternative “confessing church,” but it too capitulated, rejecting converted Jews. 

Scripture and revelation

Religion tames God, fitting him to our current needs.  Barth wants to return to an original experience of God, which is possible only in revelation.  But what he means is not his revelation, or yours, but the revelation that is written of in the scriptures, and testified to by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The Gospel of salvation can only be believed in; it is a matter for faith only. It demands choice. (Barth, Letter) 

Scripture is holy and the Word of God, because by the Holy Spirit it became and will become to the Church a witness to divine revelation. (Barth, Answer)

Barth does not assume that authors of the Gospels were divinely inspired, but he assumes away the vast problems of different interpretations in different ages and cultures.  Barth does not completely reject the historical critical interpretation of the Bible (form and redaction criticism), which looks at the historical circumstances in which the books of the New Testament were written.  For example, redaction (a fancy word for editorial) criticism has found that each of the four Gospels is the work of many men revising the work of their predecessors.  There is no eyewitness testimony.  The first gospel, Mark, was written no earlier than 40 years after the death of Jesus Christ; its attribution to a man named Mark is purely conventional.

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