Thursday, January 31, 2008

Why is Barth so bad?

I recently read an article by John Morrison: "Scripture as word of God: Evangelical assumption or evangelical question?" Trinity Journal (1999):

Morrison disapproves of Barthian, evangelical attempts to reserve the term "word of God" for Christ, evangelical gestures to talk about scripture as being "a witness to Christ" and so forth. He says, "The theological result is not merely a Scripture that points to the Word of God (Christ), like John the Baptist in the Grunewald altarpiece, nor a Scripture that 'becomes' the Word and which the Word of God breaks through in order to meet us as 'I to Thou,' nor a Scripture that 'brings' or 'conveys' the Word of God to us; nor even a Scripture 'in which' the Word of God can be found somewhere." His conclusion is this:

"Given that Jesus Christ, incarnate, eternal Word of God, is said to be the utterly unique, supreme, objective self-giving of God to be known; that the scriptural data also speak of their own proper status as revelation or Word of God; that Scripture is distinguished from Christ as "witness" to Christ; and, finally, that God's revelation is one because God is one, then we must avoid a flat, blank, undifferentiated identity between Jesus Christ and Scripture as being Word of God in the same sense. We must also avoid dualistic, disjunctive thinking that finally separates Christ the Word and inscripturated Word, as though the latter were actually word of man and at best only functionally Word of God. The need is for unitary, interactive thinking, as reflected in twentieth century physics, which can think after the identity-in-difference inherent in our question.

For example, in Physics and Reality, Einstein accounts for different 'levels' or 'strata' of knowledge in a scientific system arising from natural cognition of ordinary experience. Scientific theory must be brought to 'logical' unity, and finally to a strict 'higher level' of logical unity, as each level of knowledge is related to and grounded in the 'higher' level. In this way, thinking penetrates more and more toward the interior connections of reality. Each level is 'open up' to the next higher level and 'disclosive' down. No level below has its whole truth in itself, but is true as it is interactively related to and 'open up' to the greater refinement at the next higher level. All is grounded finally beyond the contingent in that sufficient reason for the lower contingent order of rationality and intelligibility.

This model has been effectively related to the Nicene homoousion, reflecting unitary, interactive relatedness, identity-in-difference. And so too is such a stratified model reflective of the incarnate Word-inscripturated Word relationship. At the "lower level," historical Scripture is the written, preserved record of revelation, the "derivative" Word of God, by means of inspiration. As such, it stands in, under, of, and from Jesus Christ. Its truth is not simply in itself but, as "open up" unitarily in and under Christ by the Spirit, its truth is ultimately grounded in Christ the ontological Word, i.e., in the Logos, and so finally in the perichoretic relations of the triune Godhead. Then also the inscripturated Word is "disclosive down" and within the present historical space-time situation of humanity. "

There is a footnote in this pericope that points the reader to three works by T. F. Torrance. I decided to look up the reference to The Ground and Grammar of Theology. There Torrance boldly proclaims that this new relational way of thinking has already been achieved by Karl Barth, "when with herculean effort he brought together the ancient emphasis upon the acts of God in his being, and thus integrated in a remarkable way the whole history of Christian thought." (pp. 11-12) Torrance thinks that Barth is the epitome of this kind of thinking. Applied to scripture the relation looks like this:

"And it was in this way that under the creative impact of divine revelation there emerged the unique genre of literature handed down to us in the gospels and epistles of the New Testament upon which God's self-revelation as Father, Son and Holy Spirit has imprinted itself, so that they convey to us proclamation and teaching which are implicitly trinitarian. It is as such that the gospels and epistles continue under God to mediate his revelation to us in history, and to be the canonical vehicles of the living Word of God to mankind. They are to be uniquely revered and interpreted as Holy Scripture inspired by the Holy Spirit in the apostolic foundation of the Church to be the written form whereby the Word of God may be communicated to people in history through the preaching and teaching of the Church in such a way that it continues to generate faith in Jesus Christ and his Gospel...

In recent years, however, the New Testament has too often suffered from hermeneutical methods governed by damaging dualist and analytical epistemologies in which form and being, or structure and substance, have been torn apart, with the result that the gospels and epistles and other books that comprise it become severed from their deep roots in divine revelation and thereby lose the consistene substructure that holds them conceptually and meaninfully together. Here we have sadly breaking through the teaching of the Church once again the epistemological dualism that infected late Patristic, Medieval, and Enlightenment thought and disrupted the doctrine of the Trinity by driving a wedge between the historical and ontological factors or ingredients in God's triune self-revelation through Christ and in the Spirit, so that an understanding of what God is for us is severed from what God is in himself." (T. F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God, One Being Three Persons. [T. & T. Clark Publishers, 2002], 35.)

Morrison warns against separating scripture from Christ, the Word of God, by disallowing the scriptures to be called the Word of God. He claims that it is not necessary to separate the two "words." In other words, theologians who do do it must give a good reason for doing so and in Morrison's article he tries to show that the reasons Barthian evangelicals give are not good ones. Aside from the fact that Morrison seems to be telling Barthian evangelicals that they are not being Barthian enough when it comes to Scripture, I am taken by a telling observation that Morrison makes in the context of an observation that Dan Wallace makes on another occasion. Morrison: "But, again, does this distinction of Christ the Word from Scripture's testimony necessarily alleviate its continuity and nuanced identity with the Word as Word of God? No. Indeed, the Holy Spirit, too, bears witness to Christ."

Dan Wallace relates in Whose Afraid of the Holy Spirit? "One lady in my church facetiously told me, 'I believe in the Trinity: the Father, Son and Holy Bible.' Sadly, too many cessationalists operate as though that were so." (p. 8) He goes on to chide evangelicals for being so hard on Barth's bibliological proposals and not paying more attention to his christocentrism: "[F]or in our zeal to show his deficiencies in his doctrine of the Bible we have become bibliolaters in the process." [This chapter is an address Wallace gave when he was president of the ETS-southwest region.]

Is one of the main reasons why Barth has become the whipping dog of evangelical cessationalists because they need the Bible to be their Holy Spirit?