Barthian Ruminations

As our Schleiermacher Reading Group at WTS is currently reading through Barth’s Church Dogmatics section on Scripture, I have found myself having tremendous sympathies with his views on Scripture. Now, this is pretty scary and uncharted territory for me since I have it ingrained in me to consider Barth a hermeneutical and Christological heretic even though he opposed the theological liberals of his time (who I was also taught to consider heretical).

But I think that just as many of my fears about critical scholarship were unfounded so were my fears about Barth. For instance, he states:

The demand that the Bible should be read and understood and expounded historically is, therefore, obviously justified and can never be taken too seriously. The Bible itself posits this demand: even where it appeals expressly to divine commissionings and promptings, in its actual compostion it is eerywhere a human word, and this human word is obviously intended to be taken seriously and read and understood and expounded as such. To do anything else would be to miss the reality of the Bible and therefore the Bible itself as the witness of revelation. The demand for a “historical” understnading of the Bible necessarily means, in content, that we have to take it for what it undoubtedly is and is meant to be: the human speech uttered by specific men at speciic times in a specific situation, in a specific language and with a specific intention. It emans that the understanding of it has honestly and unreservedly been on which is guided by all these considerations…To the extent that it [the concrete humanity of Scripture] is ignored, it has not been read at all.

What I love about this quotation is that it gets at the heart of what makes the Bible so uncomfortable for both theological conservatives and theological liberals: its historical situatedness. For theological liberals history is unimportant because it cannot be trusted to be accurate, so we tear off the husk of situatedness and grasp the kernel of moral truth behind the history.
For theological conservatives history is too concrete and not “transcendent” or “ontological” enough, so we tear off the husk of situatedness and grasp the kernel of “what the divine author really meant.” We often read the text as though we want to always be getting behind the history rather than seeing the revelation itself as historical. I am not sure as to the implications of this but I do know that it gels much better with what we actually find in Scripture, that it was written by specific individuals, for specific individuals, for specific circumstances. We should probably then be spending our time figuring out how this fact affects our hermeneutic rather than expending all of our energy brushing this fact under the proverbial rug.
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One response to “Barthian Ruminations

  1. These are good words, Jared. You distilled our discussion from today down very well. I’m looking forward to seeing where our reading and discussion will lead.

    FTC

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