Barthianism . . . .
One of the calmest and most fair criticisms of Dr. K. Barth and his theology that has appeared for some time is contained in the following few paragraphs. It was written by the Rev. C. Norman Bartlett, S.T.D., in an article entitled, “The Preacher and Current Trends in Theology”, in the January 1947 issue of the Moody Monthly.
Usually, if one but so much as mentions the name of Barth or has the courage to quote him, he is in danger of being labelled and classified as a “Modernist”. It is, of course, practically impossible to justly evaluate Barth and his school in a brief article. We believe, however, that the author quoted below has succeeded admirably to give a fair presentation of some essential points. As Dr. Bartlett points out, and even the most vigorous opponents of Barth must admit, Dr. Barth has certainly caused the theological world to “sit up, and take notice”, and, perhaps, even awakened them from a lethargy. Though this is but a purely negative result it is also but the least that can be said. Here follows the brief review:
“Unquestionably the most influential current of thought in the theological world of today is what is variously known as Barthianism, the theology of crisis, dialecticism, and even existentialism. But by whatever name it is labeled, it is a theology that must be reckoned with and understood by the leaders of our churches.
“Writers on this movement have been too prone to take indefensively extreme positions with regard to it, whether by way of advocacy or condemnation. We who are charged with the responsibilities of spiritual leadership dare not give it our blanket endorsement, for despite its gratifying polemic against some of the pet positions of Modernism, it is steeped in presuppositions no less, albeit perhaps more subtly, subversive of tenets basic to our faith.
“In all fairness it must be said that the Barthians are striking major cords that cannot but awaken a glad response in the hearts of conservatives. They are stressing in no uncertain terms the imperative necessity for an objective revelation. Man in his fallen state is hopelessly incapacitated for discovering God for himself; if man is to know God, God must reveal Himself to man. In the Scriptures we have the record not of what man thinks of God, but of what God thinks of man. The Word of God is absolutely authoritative for faith and practise.
“For the Barthians Jesus Christ is God’s personal Word, the super-historical revelation of the Father.
The Jesus of history is valueless and meaningless for faith until He is confessed as the living Christ. Barth even goes so far as to say that liberal theology has given us a Jesus of history at the cost of losing for us the God-Man. Men are saved only by faith in Jesus Christ and not by virtue of anything they themselves have to offer. The doctrine of justification by faith is the center and circumference of Brunner’s theological writings.
“There are four things that Barth wishes to bring back to the Church: (1) the lost wonder of God, (2) the lost sense of sin, (3) the lost doctrine of reconciliation, and (4) the lost doctrine of the kingdom of God. The Church should not seek to build the kingdom of God, but to be a place where the Divine Healer comes to lay (His hand on the sickness of humanity.
“We turn now from the commendable points of strength in Barthianism to grievous errors and defects that call for adverse criticisms. With all its exaltations of the Word of God, the Barthian view of what constitutes the Word of God is far from orthodox. By the Word of God the Barthians mean not the whole Bible (they swallow the destructive conclusions of higher criticism without batting an eye), but rather those passages in the Bible which God uses to bring a man face to face with Himself. There is in the Bible no static traditional Word of God apart from the acting person of God. In short, the “Word” is a variable within the Word, and not a constant commensurate with the whole Word of God.
“The flaws in the Barthian view of the Bible are not far to seek. Ostensibly magnifying the Scriptures, the crisis theologians are really guilty of substituting a selective Bible for the prescriptive Bible of the reformers. If we cannot take the whole Book as the infallible Word of God, by what principles of selection shall we find the “Word” within the Word?
“No, the Bible is not a sort of glorified spiritual cafeteria where we are at liberty to choose the dishes that happen to strike our fancy while we leave the rest to one side. Men will invariably take what flatters their pride and spurn what flattens it.
“Despite these strictures, however, we do well to heed the injunction of the Barthians that we let the Word speak with authority to us. The question may well be asked by each one of us in the presence of God: ‘Do I who warmly contend for the authority of the Word humbly submit to the authority of the Word, not letting what I want the Bible to say to others make me deaf to what it wants to say to me?’
“While heartily subscribing to what Barth and Brunner and other leaders in their school of thought have to say as to the Jesus of history being valueless and meaningless for faith until He is confessed as the living Christ, we cannot but wonder whether they have not greatly under-rated the importance of a thoroughly reliable historical revelation. While words apart from a knowledge of their meaning are unintelligible sounds or marks, who will question their indispensability in the transmission of thought? The fact that the verities of our faith are super-historical and can only be spiritually discerned does not do away with the necessity for a revelation in history that can be relied upon as absolutely trustworthy/’
World Peace and the U. N. O. . . . .
In quite striking contrast to much of what is being written and said on this subject, even in so-called “Reformed” circles, is the following, from the same source quoted above, and written by Captains (S.A.) George I. Beckstorm in an article entitled: “They Perish”.
“It seems that the indigent and deluded world will never concede defeat. A glance backward through the pages of world history will reveal that this entity called human resourcefulness has always claimed a remedy for the ills of humanity.
“At the close of World War I, disarmament was advocated as the positive way to maintain an enduring peace. However, the wheels of so-called human ingenuity continued to revolve through the slush of self-resourcefulness until suddenly World War II exploded the first philosophy, and now we discover that control by force is the recommended solution to this enigma of world amity.
“Today nations great and small are squarely faced with a dilemma of insecurity far greater than at any previous time, because there has been unleashed to mankind that projectile of tremendous fury known as atomic energy.
“Scientists have agreed that the universe could at any moment commit suicide. It has been ascertained that forty million Americans may easily be slaughtered in one air raid.
“Even now as the premonitory specter of World War III is hovering beyond the darkened horizons of this tumultuous globe, we find that “flesh” has once again convened and is formulating new resolutions. We also hear that a new monetary standard is being planned. An equal distribution of consumers’ goods, the “Four Freedoms”, a fair and just economic system for both labor and capital, hospitalization, education for all, and many more propositions are under consideration. These are to be guaranteed to the peoples of the world so as to provide joy, health, knowledge and the justice of an amicable opportunity for everyone.
“All these wonderful and worthy projects are to be accomplished by the United nations—countries such as Great Britain, who failed to achieve these results in India; Russia, whose past iniquities are too fresh in our minds to need repeating; and the United Nations, whose own daily papers are filled with an almost unbelievable record of alarming discontent between labor and capital, vicious crimes, lasciviousness, malice, and utter disregard for moral and spiritual ethics.
“Yet in the face of all this, and hoping against hope, we entreat, ‘Are not these goals possible? Cannot we achieve them?’ The reply can only be an emphatic, ‘No’. There is no hope of establishing a regenerated world on the basis of an unregenerated humanity.
“The world is unmindful of the fact that it is rushing headlong toward unspeakable chaos. It is amazing, but even more pathetic, that rationalizing multitudes have resorted to one panacea after another, ignoring the wickedness of the human heart.”