Notes on Church Dogmatics I/2


19, chapter 1 deals with Scripture as a witness to God’s revelation.   Resisting the urge to attack Barth because he “doesn’t believe the Bible is the Word of God,” let’s actually see what he is saying and what it means for our own situation.   A witness to a thing is not the same thing as the thing (and if anyone maintains it is, he or she will have to explain precisely why transubstantiation is wrong). Further if we collapse the sign into the thing signified, is this not a movement towards nominalism?  The sign is pointing beyond itself to the “real.”  If we remove the “sign,” how can we have access to the real?  We are then saying that the “sign” is merely a “name” for the thing signified.  

Before people fear too much, Richard Muller, while perhaps not necessarily endorsing this view, does allude to several Reformed scholastics who said something similar.  

For whatever demerits Barth’s project may have, one cannot help but notice Augustinian themes.  If you attack Barth, then you must continue and attack Augustine.

For Barth the “Word of God” is God.  It is fully God. God doesn’t “hold back” when he gives himself to us in revelation.  There is an indirectness and veiling, to be sure, but it is God’s veiling himself in the medium of human flesh.  Let’s look at the following sentence:

(1)  “The Bible is the Word of God.”

When we say “Bible” we probably mean something like the contents of the canon within a bound book, or some derivative of such (Biblegateway, etc).

We will call the above (1’).  Do you see the problem already?  How can the bound copy of what I have be the eternal God?

(2)  When we say that God isn’t a predicate, we mean that the phrase “Word of God” cannot be a predicate to any creaturely entity.

If God is the predicate or attribute of any creaturely entity, then that entity has become God. Or part of god.   Neither of which is acceptable to Christian theism.

Perhaps there is a way out.

(3) Word of God in Scripture does not always mean the second Person of the Trinity.

This is true.   Let’s survey some of the passages. The “Word” can be:

  • eternally set in the heavens (Ps. 119:89).
  • the Logoi in the order of nature (Ps. 19:1-4).
  • Sown in the ministry of Christ (Mt. 13)
  • That which prevailed in Acts (12:24)

All of the above is the Word of God, but none of it is equated with the Bible.  The “Word of God”, then, to borrow a page from Maximus the Confessor, is the systalic/diastatic movement of the Logos/logoi.

The above verses make (2) rather difficult.   We have to modify the claim that “Word of God” is fully God.

(4) Word of God as God in his self-revelation
(4a) God is the object of his self-revelation.

Chapter 2:  Canon

Barth gives an unusually careful discussion on the nature of canonization.  Surprisingly, given his anti-Roman polemic throughout this series, he faults the position of Luther and Calvin and gives more weight to the role of the church.   However, this can only work when the Church submits to the same revelation.

Towards the end of chapter two he gets into why he doesn’t believe Scripture should be considered “inerrant.” I can’t follow him at this point, though Evangelicals really haven’t reflected hard enough on his concerns.  We believe the Word of God is self-attesting. If we leave the discussion of “self-attesting” in the arena of the Triune God, well and good. Because then self-attestation is truly a triune act, and if you deny it then you deny God.  If we maintain, however, so Barth reasons, that self-attestation is an act of the text of Scripture, then we open ourselves to lots of devastating criticisms by Anchorite traditions.  

Barth tries to play the “Calvin vs. Calvinists” card.  Historically, such a claim is simply false. However, even Richard Muller admits that the epistemology of later 17th century scholastics was such that they really couldn’t avoid the later criticisms of the Enlightenment.

We should be all means reject Barth’s conclusions–at least, if we want to stay in good position in conservative, American churches–but be forewarned that Barth’s position can avoid all the pitfalls facing Evangelicals in their debates with anchorites.   The downside, though, is that it is particularly difficult on Barth’s gloss to say, “Thus saith the Lord.” To Barth’s credit he emphasizes the preaching of the word. However, at this point in Church Dogmatics Barth is not clear on how his view of the Bible can be authoritative for the church.

About J. B. Aitken

Interests include patristics, the role of the soul in the human person, analytic theology, Reformed Scholasticism, Medievalism, Substance Metaphysics
This entry was posted in Book Review, church, theology and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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