Assessing Barth’s Evangelical Interlocutors

In this final post on Barth’s view of Scripture, I present a critique of the Evangelical interaction with Barth’s theology presented in the previous post. First, however, it is important to deal with the issue of Scripture being witness to the Word of God.

While evangelicals often pay close attention to those particular areas in Barth that deny infallibility and inerrancy, they sometimes fail to note where he affirms Scripture’s authority and infallibility. Morrison writes, 

Barth’s intent is first to emphasize that what Scripture is, is defined by the will of God declared in his act of giving it to the church. This means that where and when Scripture “becomes” the Word of God, it is only “becoming” what it already is. But, second, where and when Scripture does not ‘become’ the Word of God, there God has chosen to provisionally not bear to witness to himself to this or that particular reader.1

What then is to be done with Barth’s statements? While difficult, it must be understood that to comprehend Scripture in its totality is an impossibility, for if it truly is a witness to revelation, then it in turn becomes the very words of God. For Barth, Scripture mirrors Christ’s nature in that He is both true God and true man. Not one or the other, or a mixture of both, but both true God and true man in one person.

This has practical implications that evangelicals must not be afraid of, for if they choose not to accept it, they make themselves guilty of obscurantism. 

Carson and Woodbridge

Carson and Woodbridge’s statements regarding Barth’s logical fallacy concerning the nature of man also warrant further interaction. While their statement is true enough it is important to point out that it is equally false to presume that the God of the universe, in involving humanity, did not intend for Scripture to be fallible in and of itself and that only through encounter make Himself known to His people.

In fact, this follows the biblical model for how God has interacted with humanity throughout the Bible’s own history. When is it ever seen in Scripture that revelation or the truth of God can be revealed apart from his presence?

Moses did not decide to go to Egypt of his own accord thinking it right, God himself commanded him to go from a burning bush (Ex. 3:1-4:17).

Gideon when defeating the Midianites was told that his army was too large, even when at its highest numbers it only numbered in the tens of thousands whereas the Midianite army numbered in the hundreds of thousands. God in fact took more of their number until they stood at 300 men (Judg. 7:1-8).

Why was this done? To bring glory to the Lord! So, why would God use a fallible record as witness to His revelation…because it cannot and will not occur without his help!

And this is not just in dealing with the Holy Spirit’s inspiration at the time of writing but also includes the activity of God in the here and now amongst his people. 

Ramm’s Defense of a “Fallible” Bible

Ramm gives four defenses for an understanding of Scripture as fallible (or at the very least in need of a new definition, as well as reconsidering the word inerrancy as it lacks historical theology authenticity). These four defenses are as follows: the canon was decided upon by human beings; the autographs that are currently unavailable are considered and created on purely human terms and critiques of extant copies and manuscripts; the human decision of how much of the Old Testament is still applicable to the church today; and finally the endless human decisions on the part of the interpreter as they exegete a text.2 

Perhaps the most interesting among all of these is the selection of the canon. Currently there are numerous canons of the biblical text. If Scripture is indeed inerrant, then whose canon is inerrant? Are evangelicals equipped to answer that question? Ramm puts it nicely when he writes, 

To believe that Barth creates problems in his view of Scripture from which evangelicals are free is simply not the case. Every evangelical who interprets Scripture is caught in the web of decision making – human decision-making. There are no divinely given answers to the questions of canon, text, and interpretation of Holy Scripture. It is a venture of grace and scholarship for all of us.3

When evangelical scholars are training their pupils, they stress the importance of proper hermeneutical technique regarding ancient languages, cultures, and philosophies. Not only this but they are also schooled in form, genre, and source criticism, which when left to their own devices can easily wreck an evangelical theology, if not checked by Barth’s understanding of encounter

Language

Another reason inerrancy is not a tenable doctrine is because it denies current understandings of language. Packer attempts to explain how a perfect transcendent God communicates his very being in an entirely verbal and inerrant way. These arguments are less than impressive.

According to Ramm, the disregard for modern language studies and a lack of understanding regarding linguistic communication suggests that perhaps evangelicals have become far too “Hegelian,” in that they attempt to presume some form of a perfect conceptual language.4 This of course is nonsense as anyone (including evangelicals) admits, knowing that not one manuscript or Bible that is currently in our possession is inerrant since none of them are the originals. Therefore, the church is heavily dependent upon the very human work of text criticism and reconstruction of the text through extent copies.

It is worth noting that Barth has also been charged with Kantianism, by Morrison no less.5 However, out of the 40 times Kant is mentioned in Barth’s Church Dogmatics he is thoroughly criticized.6

Barthian Epistemology

One of the common charges against Barth is his alleged philosophical presuppositions. Many have charged Barth with being more of a philosopher than a theologian. Eduard Thurneysen warns those who see Barth as a philosopher, a system builder, or a metaphysician, and not an impassioned interpreter of the Bible, will wind up completely misinterpreting him.7 In fact, in his magnum opus Church Dogmatics, Barth cites Scripture 15,000 times with an estimated 2,000 exegetical expositions, which is more than any other theologian in the history of the church.8

Conclusion

To conclude, the reason that the work of Barth on the Word of God is so important for the evangelical church today is because it is essentially (and practically) where it already stands. In fact, in Beale’s own book he states various explanations of Old Testament texts that would make past theologians adhering to inerrancy, like Hodge and Edwards, call modern inerrantists heretics.

While Barth’s complete understanding of Scripture need not be assimilated, it would be wise for evangelicals as a whole to reexamine their bibliology in light of Barth’s formula. In doing this, evangelicals show themselves willing to reconsider their own doctrines in light of new evidence. While Christian faith surely cannot sway every time a new or novel idea comes around, it is necessary to be sure that preconceived notions regarding epistemology and philosophy have not dimmed the church’s glasses too dark.

This is where Barth’s bibliology truly shines brightest, for according to Barth’s model the church can never be compromised if the Holy Spirit Himself sustains her understanding of God through the Scriptures becoming the Word of God. In this, God is still actively speaking to His people, He is still intimately involved, constantly interacting with us in time and space. Such a prospect is not only biblically consistent with Scripture’s own view of its activity but is also preferred theologically.9 

If God has stopped speaking, stopped revealing, stopped interacting with human persons, then how is the church any different from Israel? How is she indwelt with the very Spirit of God if He, is in fact, absent from her? These questions and many more would need to be settled by evangelicalism before Barth’s model could be completely done away with. 

Thanks to Justin Eimers for contributing these three articles on Barth’s view of Scripture. Please comment below if you wish to engage with his argument or evidence.

See also Part 1 – Karl Barth’s Doctrine of the Word of God and Part 2 – Evangelical Critiques of Barth’s View of Scripture.


Resources referenced in this article available on Logos:

Barth’s Church Dogmatics (T&T Clark, 2004)


John Douglas Morrison, Has God Said? Scripture, the Word of God, and the Crisis of Theological Authority (Pickwick, 2006)


D. A. Carson; John D. Woodbridge, Scripture and Truth (Baker, 1992)


Trinity Journal Volume 20


G.K. Beale, The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism: Responding to New Challenges to Biblical Authority (Crossway, 2008)

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  1. Morrison, Has God Said, 159.
  2. Ramm, After Fundamentalism, 106.
  3. Ibid., 107.
  4. Ibid., 90.
  5. John D. Morrison, “Scripture as Word of God: Evangelical Assumption or Evangelical Question,” Trinity Journal 20, no. 2 (Fall 1999): 183.
  6. Ibid., 34.
  7. Eduard Thurneysen, “Die Anfänge,” In Antwort, 832-414.
  8. Ramm, After Fundamentalism, 34.
  9. The activity of the Spirit dwelling, filling, and empowering the believer has within it the breadth of revelation. Anytime that humanity experiences God it does so at God’s discretion and because of this it says something of who God is.
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Written by
Tavis Bohlinger

Dr. Tavis Bohlinger is Editor-in-Chief of the Logos Academic Blog and Creative Director at Reformation Heritage Books. He holds a PhD from Durham University and writes across multiple genres, including academia, poetry, and screenwriting. He lives in Grand Rapids with his wife and three children.

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10 comments
  • To quote one of my former professors Merrill Unger, to follow the theological logic of Barth is to be “cast into a limitless sea of uncertainty.” If we are to include fallibility subjectivism, and human mental frailty into the mix of Scriptural validity, that is to be cast into just such a turbulence as Unger warns against. As a professor of theology, that is too much of a risk of “rip tide” for evangelical bibliology, conservative theology and for this Biblicist. I will stick to saying it thusly: the Bible is the inerrant, verbally, plenarily inspired Word of God in its entirety.

    • The argument I’ve made and continue to make is that you already exist within that sea of uncertainty. The difference is that you’re failing to recognize that fact while others recognize it and work to navigate it as best as they can. Your argument is philosophical (epistemological to be precise), not textual or theological. The issue for me regarding evangelical bibliology is the complete and total lack of Christology in the mix. For the Christian, every aspect of theology must be centered in and on the person of Jesus. Not in a cursory way like, “Jesus talked about x, y, z event as if it were historical fact, etc” Jesus must be central to our very ideation of what the scriptures are. If He is not, I have a hard time calling it Christian. The uncertainty in all of this shouldn’t make one uneasy if they are securely fixed within a relationship with the living Christ. The only people having difficulty with the concept of scripture as witness to Christ are people who need a book to be their final authority rather than the Spirit of God dwelling within them. The Bible is not the third member of the Godhead…the Holy Spirit is, that is what makes Barth’s concept of witness so riveting. It requires an active relationship with the living God, not one so stagnantly frozen within tradition and religiosity. Barth (and others) require that we move outside of our comfort zones and try to understand God as He has revealed Himself, not as we would like him to be. We can choose a safer path…but to me, that safer path brings about its own dangers in a far more subversive way.

  • Thanks for the great set of blogs and this final part.

    You have reinforced my intent to study Barthes Dogmatics in detail and write a monograph comparing it with the Dutch Reformed confession of faith, canons of Dort, And the Heidelberg Catechisms. Barth did something that most theologians did and unfortunately don’t do. Continue with the reformation arguably started by Luther, Calvin and Zwingli.

    The scriptures as Calvin distinctly separates from the revelation of God and specifically and because it is the Canon will with the exception of the influence of Textual Criticism always remain the same, This is what the Jewish sages call “Written Torah”. That means it remains the only source and authority of all of the other theology discussions, Dogmas, confessions of faith, commentaries and monographs. It is not the Canon that gets “reformed” but our fallible interpretation influenced by the many scientific practices such as Hermeneutics, Source criticism, Literary criticism, form criticism, historical criticism archaeology.

    These commentaries and interpretations, sermons, theological discussions on the scriptures and anything we say about God (The Jewish people call “Oral Torah”), while helping us in or understanding God and ourselves, will never be the reference of the truth. they are merely fallible attempts to interpret and enlighten the scriptures to discover universal truths from an ancient text.

    However, all methodical and therefore scientific approaches, as informed by many theologians and scholars. is deliberately limited and tends to exclude the influence of the Holy Spirit in the process. It is this weakness in our process that Bart addresses in a way.

    We are called to be witnesses, not mere theologians or Scholars When seeking to understand God and his interaction with us and our world, I continuously struggle with my reason, my interpretation of the bible, my confessions of faith, my dogmas etc.. But it all is merely to understand the continuous interaction that God has with me on a daily basis and the formation I get of the truth as it resonates the past with the now and the context of my reality. Guess which part is the infallible part of this dance of love? I.e Faith that seeks understanding, Not understanding that leads to faith, He is our resurrection, not our reason or dead scripture. He is the Word… Hence through Him and only Him, the Bible becomes (is resurrected) more than mere text and therefore the Word of God. It becomes the ultimate authority! And the Word of God, being God, has not, and can never fail us. Trust in God not your interpretation, your confession, your theological presupposition. If you don’t see this, then you are not reading the Scriptures.

    In Conclusion, I see scripture merely as reading a letter from one that loves me, And like all lovers, I return the love and try to read between the lines to see more ( all other writings about the scripture). But unlike having a letter only, I still have the opportunity to interact with the living God, the one that loves me, while reading His letter to me. I hear him speaking to me in that way…Word of God?

    But it is not merely a personal task. Discussions like this, going to listen to a sermon, reading the Bible together and listening to God and others talking about God, Studying and discussing. It all lifts my soul. when I hear a simple alignment between the highly educated and the mere lowly uneducated “Children”, Through these witnesses, I am encouraged, that unlike Eliya, I am not alone. God is with us.

    Thanks again.

  • I would like to respectfully dialogue a little: I do find Barth to be a complicated mind, but I do see at least how Barth could be referred to as Kantian with his similar seperation of the text of the scriptures from the Word of God. This smacks of epistemological dualism transplanted to the Bible.

    It seems like Barth emphasizes the effectual result of the Bible with his view of encounter. He seems so say that the word of God is encountered when it is effectual? But I suppose this hinges on proper Hermeneutics? Am I reading this correctly?

    • Hello Adam,
      Dualism isn’t really Kantian. Even if this were this case I don’t think Barth is pulling from Kant (as stated above every mention of Kant in Barth’s Dogmatics was a thorough criticism of Kant). If there are Kantian overtones (which is possible) I think they’re likely circumstantial, not intentional. Barth is working to follow a textual model whereby God speaks through human beings in spoken word, the written word, and the incarnate word. To understand Barth’s epistemology regarding Scripture it is crucial to understand this concept. Scripture as witness depends on one thing and one thing alone…God’s presence at the moment. If he is present revelation occurs if not then knowledge is gained but understanding and meaning are shallow. This explains well to me why a person who doesn’t know Jesus reads the Bible so differently from those who do. It actually explains a great many things that modern bibliology cannot explain. It requires some serious thinking and we have to be willing to move beyond ourselves and what makes us comfortable. It is a continuous effort in finding the proper balance between the peace of Christ and discomfort when God challenges our thinking.

  • In response to Eimers contention that one who holds to an inerrant Bible lacks in their personal relationship to the Savior is quite an overstep. In addition, his contention that one cannot intimately know the Christ of the Bible without some indefinite “encounter” is contrary to theological reasoning. Jesus told those of his day, and I assume us in our day, that they should search the scriptures, for they testify of HIM. Also, as he walked with the disciples on the road to Emmaus and showed them how the scriptures clearly gave reliable witness to Him in each part of the scriptures. I find it difficult to trade the reliable Word of God for a hopeful encounter based on my experience. Scripture Alone!

    • You’re not really interacting with the critique of evangelical interaction. You’re merely claiming a position and asserting its truth. So let me attempt to go about this in a different manner.

      “In response to Eimers contention that one who holds to an inerrant Bible lacks in their personal relationship to the Savior is quite an overstep.”

      -If that’s what I stated then it would be. It’s not. A person can uphold a belief in an inerrant text and still not place the text in a position it has no place being in. A person can recognize the importance of the Scriptures without making them an idol and or replacement for the Holy Spirit. Folks who feel the need to invalidate the whole of Christian faith if the Bible isn’t understood in their way or by their measure are who I am critiquing here.

      “In addition, his contention that one cannot intimately know the Christ of the Bible without some indefinite “encounter” is contrary to theological reasoning.”

      -Let’s say I am willing to admit this charge (I’m not but that isn’t the crux of the problem with the statement as I see it). While it could be argued that it is contrary to theological reasoning it is not contrary to biblical and textual reasoning. Nor is it contrary to contemporary ideas regarding revelation as articulated by a host of Christian and Jewish scholars that both predate Christ’s birth and come shortly after His death and resurrection. I will gladly admit to the charge of using logic that is contrary to theological reasoning if it makes me consistent with biblical and textual reasoning instead.

      “Jesus told those of his day, and I assume us in our day, that they should search the scriptures, for they testify of HIM. Also, as he walked with the disciples on the road to Emmaus and showed them how the scriptures clearly gave reliable witness to Him in each part of the scriptures.”

      -So this actually proves my point, not refutes it. This tells me you don’t really understand the argument being made throughout the series. Barth believed Scripture as witness was an absolutely central role of an active and healthy bibliology. The issue he had with fundamentalists and liberals alike was their felt need to press the Scriptures (as well as God Himself) into a box it did not belong. To say that the Scriptures aren’t inerrant isn’t to say they aren’t true. It is to say that we must approach the Scriptures with a measure of humility that allows us to be mastered by it instead of us trying to master it. An inerrant text leaves no room for God to move and work within His own people. It puts us right back into the religious position of the Jews during Jesus’ day. None of us can master the text nor be masters of it…we are but students in front of the witness that refuses to bend to our conventions and standards. God is not interested in making His text inerrant so that it fits your conventional idea of truth.

      “I find it difficult to trade the reliable Word of God for a hopeful encounter based on my experience. Scripture Alone!”

      -Reading the text brings encounter. That is the point. It is the vehicle from which encounter drives and the Spirit receives in us as He teaches us. Find one man with an inerrant view of scripture and put him in a room (devoid of encounter) and he will depart a year later a stark raving mad heretic. Out a group of people who trust in the God of the Bible more than in the Bible itself and a year later you will find a group of people strengthen and encouraged in the Lord. If we want to make the same mistake the Jews made we are surely on our way. This series was a call to repentance and a call to humility. Encounter comes through hearing the word preached and reading it written. I am in agreement that it comes no other way…but it does come and it comes in a manner disinterested in meeting our expectations. The scriptures becoming the word of God through encounter does not make the scriptures unnecessary. It just makes the Spirit of the Living God more necessary. That is a far more biblically consistent conception of revelation than current evangelical bibliology. We serving a living, speaking God. Not a dead, silent one…

  • You are recycling a lot of the traditional false dilemmas, cheap shot ad hominems, caricatures, inversions of position, and denials of scriptural statements and concepts by redefinition which have been at the root of the neo-orthodox position from its beginning, i.e. in Barth, Bultmann and others. Several of the ones that jump out from this post and your comments are as follows:

    1. You construct a false dilemma between faith in God and faith that God’s written word is trustworthy and factually true. The latter is a subset of the former, not an opposite to it.

    2. It is improper to completely identify Christ and the Bible to the extent that the Bible’s being divine and human is the same as Christ being divine and human. The difference is that Christ is fully God and fully man at the same time. The Bible, on the other hand, is only divine and human in the sense of being a fixed product of both divine and human activity. It is not a second incarnation. Worse, this parallel is invariably used as is done by you in the context of making the argument that because it is fully human, the Bible must have errors. Under that logic, because Jesus is human, he was not sinless and cannot have the divine perfection in his person. Thus, his death on the cross in our place was in vain. You may or may not also reject what the Bible says about substitutionary atonement, but how does your logic not bring you to this position?

    3. You also said that: “for the Christian, every aspect of theology must be centered in and on the person of Jesus. Not in a cursory way like, “Jesus talked about x, y, z event as if it were historical fact, etc” Jesus must be central to our very ideation of what the scriptures are. If He is not, I have a hard time calling it Christian. The uncertainty in all of this shouldn’t make one uneasy if they are securely fixed within a relationship with the living Christ.” But it is the living Christ who described Himself in the Scriptures, fulfilled the Scriptures, authorized the Scriptures, sent the Spirit to inspire the words of the Scriptures and to bring us to faith, love and understanding by and through the words of the Scriptures and is Lord of the church built by God through this process. You (following the neo-orthodox tradition) set up an amorphous concept of the living Christ for the purpose of exalting it over and denigrating the Biblical specifics of who Christ is and what he does. Thus, it is you and not the people you criticize who are improperly and blasphemously making themselves the master over God here.

    4. The words of Scripture attributed to Christ and his apostles show us how Christ is master of the Scriptures. These are not “cursory”, they are what our God has revealed to all human beings about who he is and what he has done. When you oppose them with an amorphous concept of a “relationship with the living Christ” in order to club your opponents over the head, this is, again, putting yourself over the Scriptures, over God’s word, and over Christ himself. Your relationship to the living Christ is one of disobediently arrogating to yourself of the right to judge his words. That is not a relationship any rational human being should want to have with the actual living Christ. This is a very serious position to be in. I pray for you that you reflect further on what it is that is actually going on in Barth and more crudely in other neo-orthodox writers.

    5. Another false dichotomy is to place the Holy Spirit against the words inspired by the Holy Spirit. What exactly is it that is encountered in the Scriptures other than the words the Holy Spirit placed there and their meaning? This is our encounter with God in the Scriptures. True submission to the Spirit is to humbly bow before and learn from the exact words the Spirit has put there. That is not attempting to make the Spirit unnecessary, that is the way the Spirit gives us to actually have a living relationship with the living God, in faith, prayer, and deed.

    6. While it is true that Barth interacted with Scriptures more than almost any other theologian, and this usually explains what is often so compelling in his writings, at the end of the day, Barth did not put himself under them, but used them as the raw materials of his own artistry.

    7. You state that anyone who does not agree with Barth (and by extension yourself) must then be “obscurantist.” But in reality it is the neo-orthodox who obscure, both in the sense of not fully allowing the truth to be faced and also in the sense of making what is clear into something vague and uncertain. There are historical, theological, and philosophical reasons for doing this; however none of them are valid and justify the neo-orthodox move. Chief of these is probably the desire to retain the psuedo-intellectual respectability of accepting the presuppositions and results of the historical-critical method interpretation of Scriptures while still maintaining a Christian faith that is not reduced to mere ethics. But the historical-critical method in all of its permutations is hopelessly circular, completely unsupported by any actual external evidence, fails to account for the text, denies the real working of the supernatural in history, and thus is worthless and worse than worthless, since it gets in the way of anyone using it from actually reading the Scriptures for what they are saying in the words the Spirit inspired.

    Finally, this is not a new argument, it has been going on for almost a century. Neo-orthodoxy has acted unfortunately for the most part with the emphasis on the neo over and against the orthodoxy. As far as I know, every church body that has adopted neo-orthodoxy has found itself declining, shrinking, and dying over the decades, because it eventually has the effect of cutting the church off from the words of eternal life, and thereby cutting itself off from Christ its head and the Spirit of Christ. Neo-orthodoxy can allow people to hold an inconsistent mediating position with enough saving faith in the actual biblical Christ on an individual basis, but corporately it has always been slow poison for the church. I pray that you may find the way to see clearer spiritually than an intoxication with Karl Barth will allow.

    • “You are recycling a lot of the traditional false dilemmas, cheap shot ad hominems, caricatures, inversions of position, and denials of scriptural statements and concepts by redefinition which have been at the root of the neo-orthodox position from its beginning, i.e., in Barth, Bultmann, and others. Several of the ones that jump out from this post and your comments are as follows:”

      – This is an argument from attestation, not a rebuttal of anything that was actually written. Definitions that are being used are not redefinitions…the redefining occurred when tradition decided to elevate scripture beyond its stature. The purpose of this series is to get you to think outside of yourself and the presuppositions that underpin your etymology. In the end, I make it quite clear that Barth’s formula deserves further treatment, not that it is wholly accurate and correct. Ad hominem requires directing my criticism at a person rather than the idea they are bringing forward. I am not aware where this occurred, so you will need to be more specific as generalities are not helpful where fruitful dialogue is concerned.

      “1. You construct a false dilemma between faith in God and faith that God’s written word is trustworthy and factually true. The latter is a subset of the former, not an opposite to it.”

      – This, in many respects, shows me immediately why you have stated the above. It is because you are not actually hearing the thought being communicated. You are so focused on honing in on what you deem incorrect that you are failing to listen. Our faith in God (if He is real) feeds into our faith in God through the scripture’s testimony. The scriptures themselves are but words that speak of the true Word. That true Word is made manifest through Scripture as a witness to the Word. I am trying to get people to understand that the object of our worship is the person of Jesus and only Jesus. Scripture is a tool used to strengthen and encourage us; however, it is just another book outside of the Spirit’s power. God’s power was not transcribed into the words of Scripture…however those words in becoming necessitate the activity of God to bring about revelation and illumination. This, in a nutshell, is Barth’s main contention and one that we BADLY need to incorporate into our bibliology.

      “2. It is improper to completely identify Christ and the Bible to the extent that the Bible’s being divine and human is the same as Christ is divine and human. The difference is that Christ is fully God and fully man at the same time. On the other hand, the Bible is only divine and human in the sense of being a fixed product of both divine and human activity. It is not a second incarnation. Worse, this parallel is invariably used as is done by you in the context of making the argument that because it is fully human, the Bible must have errors. Under that logic, because Jesus is human, he was not sinless and cannot have the divine perfection in his person. Thus, his death on the cross in our place was in vain. You may or may not reject what the Bible says about substitutionary atonement, but how does your logic not bring you to this position?”

      – While the word written does parallel the Word incarnate, it is not identical to it. Barth’s concept of the three-fold forms of God’s word also comes with varying levels of probable perfection. Barth stated the word preached was the least credible of the three and occurred every time a passage was exposited or written about. The word written was more reliable but still prone to linguistic flavor issue, and perspective shifts from a geographically tied position (we know what the authors know when they wrote it, not necessarily what was). Not only this, but the complete lack of originals and the plethora of manuscripts require human decision making in the text-critical process daily. New evidence changes our thinking on things and sometimes forces us to change. An example of this is the omitted verses in modern translations, an effort to be transparent regarding verses that we do not believe to be original (KJV and NKJV include these verses because of their textual tradition, and they do so at their own peril). The Word incarnate is the only perfect form of revelation because He Himself is the invisible God’s visible image. Humanity affected each phase of the forms differently, where the Word is spoken had the most error, the Scriptures requiring nuance and contextual, literary reading, and Jesus the perfect picture of that which is wholly divine and wholly human. So the reason logic doesn’t take me there is because you’ve misunderstood the point Barth is making.

      “3. You also said that: “for the Christian, every aspect of theology must be centered in and on the person of Jesus. Not in a cursory way like, “Jesus talked about x, y, z event as if it were historical fact, etc.” Jesus must be central to our very ideation of what the scriptures are. If He is not, I have a hard time calling it Christian. The uncertainty in all of this shouldn’t make one uneasy if they are securely fixed within a relationship with the living Christ.” But it is the living Christ who described Himself in the Scriptures, fulfilled the Scriptures, authorized the Scriptures, sent the Spirit to inspire the words of the Scriptures and to bring us to faith, love, and understanding by and through the words of the Scriptures and is Lord of the church built by God through this process. You (following the neo-orthodox tradition) set up an amorphous concept of the living Christ to exalt it over and denigrate the Biblical specifics of who Christ is and what he does. Thus, you and not the people you criticize improperly and blasphemously make themselves the master over God here.”

      – I find this interesting as you don’t really know me or my hermeneutic. I could be a card toting five point Calvinist for all you know. Seeing value in Barth does not relegate one to the position of heretical self-seeker. This only further proves that you were not listening and paying attention when reading the article series. You accused me of ad hominem earlier and then make yourself guilty of the same here. You don’t know me, and this article series is a shallow beginning to understanding my theology let alone my heart for Jesus. It would be wise for you to take a step back, humble yourself, and realize that the above requires a sinful amount of perceived malice. This series is meant to edify and challenge us in the scholarly community to think harder on a difficult topic. Not as some launching point to discredit the Scriptures.

      “4. The words of Scripture attributed to Christ and his apostles show us how Christ is master of the Scriptures. These are not “cursory”, they are what our God has revealed to all human beings about who he is and what he has done. When you oppose them with an amorphous concept of a “relationship with the living Christ” to club your opponents over the head, this is, again, putting yourself over the Scriptures, over God’s word, and Christ himself. Your relationship to the living Christ is one of disobediently arrogating to yourself of the right to judge his words. That is not a relationship any rational human being should want to have with the actual living Christ. This is a dire position to be in. I pray for you that you reflect further on what is actually going on in Barth and more crudely in other neo-orthodox writers.”

      -This is just more ad hominem. Please reread the above…I think you’ve earned it at this point.

      “5. Another false dichotomy is to place the Holy Spirit against the words inspired by the Holy Spirit. What exactly is encountered in the Scriptures other than the words the Holy Spirit placed there and their meaning? This is our encounter with God in the Scriptures. True submission to the Spirit is to humbly bow before and learn from the exact words the Spirit has put there. That is not attempting to make the Spirit unnecessary, that is the way the Spirit gives us to actually have a living relationship with the living God, in faith, prayer, and deed.”

      – This is a false dichotomy of your own making, not one I articulated. If I have not made it plain, I will try to do so here. The Spirit of God is active in the process of reading the Scriptures and properly understanding them. Barth articulates this activity as the Scriptures “becoming” the word of God. This doesn’t mean choosing to place the Spirit in conflict with the text, it is merely pointing out the necessary presence of the Spirit when studying the Scriptures.

      – a quick aside, you write, “True submission to the Spirit is to humbly bow before and learn from the exact words the Spirit has put there.” I will state plainly here that this would require every Christian be a proficient exegete of the Greek and Hebrew texts and an expert on ANE, Hellenistic and Roman idioms. If you are willing to contend this I will agree with your above statement. If not, you make a bold statement and are unwilling to put it into practice within the ecclesial body…which is not good.

      ‘6. While it is true that Barth interacted with Scriptures more than almost any other theologian, and this usually explains what is often so compelling in his writings, at the end of the day, Barth did not put himself under them, but used them as the raw materials of his own artistry.”

      – People who spend the better parts of their lives studying, exegeting, writing, preaching, and expositing normally aren’t interested in putting the very thing they study as something under them. I am not sure what your investment into the scriptures have been. Still, mine has been a decade and a half of academic research and the continued learning under the tutelage of field experts to understand better how to divide the word of truth. I also am not certain how familiar you are with Barth, his background, and his positions in other areas. I think you’ve put the cart before the horse and need to do a copious amount of reading on him and by him before coming to such a conclusion. Judging the character of a man who faithfully served the church and was one of her greatest defenders against enlightenment liberalism surely should earn him more grace than what you are affording him.

      “7. You state that anyone who disagrees with Barth (and by extension yourself) must then be “obscurantist.” But in reality, it is the neo-orthodox who obscure, both in the sense of not fully allowing the truth to be faced and also in the sense of making what is clear into something vague and uncertain. There are historical, theological, and philosophical reasons for doing this; however, none is valid and justifies the neo-orthodox move. Chief of these is probably the desire to retain the pseudo-intellectual respectability of accepting the presuppositions and results of the historical-critical method interpretation of Scriptures while still maintaining the Christian faith that is not reduced to mere ethics. But the historical-critical method in all of its permutations is hopelessly circular, completely unsupported by any actual external evidence, fails to account for the text, denies the real working of the supernatural in history, and thus is worthless and worse than worthless, since it gets in the way of anyone using it from actually reading the Scriptures for what they are saying in the words the Spirit inspired.”

      – The charge of obscurantist is made within a particular context. The context was in accepting the human nature of the Scriptures. The above tirade has nothing to do with what was stated in this series.

      “Finally, this is not a new argument; it has been going on for almost a century. Neo-orthodoxy has acted unfortunately for the most part, emphasizing the neo over and against the orthodoxy. As far as I know, every church body that has adopted neo-orthodoxy has found itself declining, shrinking, and dying over the decades because it eventually has the effect of cutting the church off from the words of eternal life, and thereby cutting itself off from Christ its head and the Spirit of Christ. Neo-orthodoxy can allow people to hold an inconsistent mediating position with enough saving faith in the actual biblical Christ on an individual basis. Still, corporately it has always been a slow poison for the church. I pray that you may find the way to see clearer spiritually than intoxication with Karl Barth will allow.”

      – Making the judgment regarding the truth of a thing based on your measure of success and failure might be the most arrogant thing you’ve written here. Success and failure are not our measures. It is faithfulness and truth. The position of Scripture that I hold to is somewhere between Barth and classical evangelical bibliology. I have no issue stating that the Bible is true in what it affirms. I do have an issue with words like inerrancy for two reasons; 1) it lacks historical ecclesial usage, 2) it lacks intellectual honesty and continuity. This is not a judgment of the Scriptures, but a judgment of how Christians have articulated and defended the Scriptures over the last 200 years. You conflate modern fundamentalism with the Bible, and ultimately that is what I wish to combat through this article series. My only goal is to know Jesus better and to be true in that doing. That requires intellectual honesty and a necessary evaluation of myself and my motivations when dealing with difficult topics such as this one. Within Barth’s context, his approach makes sense. I would challenge you to learn that context and be more gracious in your understanding. I will state plainly here that a wanton need to cling to certain words that not once present themselves within the Biblical text is both troubling and vexing. What is worse is evangelical’s haste in dismissing their brothers and sisters in the faith for pointing such out and challenging all of us to be better, more faithful readers of Scripture.

    • I have a simple question in all of this. How did people relate to God prior to there being any written record in human history? It seems to me that the Bible is a relative newcomer in the long history of mankind. If that is so, then the largest segment of our history would not have had the Bible with which to relate to God. Not only that, but most of the world would never have even had the opportunity to know and relate to God for thousands of years.

      I, for one, do tend to believe that people tend to worship the Bible and systems of theology in place of the living God, confusing the one for the other. Even though the leaders in the churches I attended for years warned against neo-orthodoxy and its adherents, if this is part of what they understand and teach against, then I can say I at least agree with them on this point.

      I am with Justin Elmers in regards to needing to update our view of Scripture, though I cannot claim to be one of sufficient intellect to articulate what that would look like. I applaud MR. Elmers for being brave enough to speak out against the system in a forum such as this.

Written by Tavis Bohlinger
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