Sunday, July 8, 2007

brief update + Barth post #3...

Ok, it's a been a couple weeks and I know I promised more blogging, but... such is life! :-) I finished my Philosophical Inquiry class at Mars Hill Grad School (no affiliation with the church), taught by Dr. Carl Raschke. It was very enjoyable and I learned quite a bit about several modern/postmodern continental philosophers... I now have to get my assignments done for that class, and in the meantime, I have now started my Philosophical Theology class at Fuller NW, taught by Dr. Dan Stiver.

Our primary focus for this class will be questions of faith vs. reason and the question of evil. I'm excited because these are questions that really intrigue and trouble me, and I am glad to have an opportunity to examine them more closely in an academic setting... always keeping in mind, of course, that what really matters is how ideas can be applied in the real world of pain and doubt. Anyway, I have a two-week vacation from work, which is great, except I'm not really on vacation! haha. But at least I can sleep in a bit later than usual...

Anyway, I wanted to get back to posting about Barth, and so I thought this would be a good time to do just that. So, what follows is a quick recap and some of my thoughts re: Barth's Doctrine of the Word:

Barth views the Christian faith, and indeed all of theology, as nothing other than a direct result of God's revelation; this revelation comes through the three-fold Word of God, which consists of Jesus Christ (the Word incarnate), Scripture (the Word written), and the witness of the Church (the Word proclaimed). Volume 1 of the Dogmatics focuses on Barth's Doctrine of the Word.

Barth begins by reminding us that we must start with God, and not ourselves, in developing Christian theology. This means starting with God's revelation, and not falling into a philosophical system that has an anthropological and/or historical foundation which leads to, as he puts it, "a purely human possibility" of knowing God. So how do we avoid this error? Barth explains that the standard for our knowing must remain "the Word of God revealed as Holy Scripture when it is in the context of embracing the Word of God revealed in Jesus Christ..."

Now, admittedly, this still seems rather vague. Barth points out that God does speak in mystery, and yet, every time God reveals Godself, Barth says that we can know this intellectually, spiritually, personally and purposefully.

The Word, he says, moves from knowledge to acknowledgement, which is a form of deeper knowledge. But acknowledgement is only known through itself, and this occurs through the experience of faith. But, unlike theological "liberalism," this experience must be judged by the three-fold Word.

So, Barth would say something like this: "You claim to have had an experience of God. Has it pointed you to Jesus Christ? Is there anything in your experience that is contrary to Scripture? And does it bear witness to the Word as faithfully preached in the Church, locally, worldwide, and throughout history? If there is a question regarding any of these, we must question the degree to which the experience is a genuine revelation of God's Word.

Barth is quick to point out that there is a difference between what one can speculate, and what one can theologically teach as doctrine. We must focus on the three-fold Word, and if it is ambiguous, it cannot be doctrine. This does not mean there is no room for change, but if there is a case where speculation is gradually seen to be a truer revelation of the three-fold Word, we must be very cautious before we simply jump from speculation to dogma. Such a process is often difficult to ascertain, and in the meantime we must bear witness to Christ as our first priority! And, we must continue to ask for clarity, both as individuals and as the Church.

There is also some vagueness within the three-fold Word itself. Barth is not willing to give priority to one form of the Word over the others. But this seems to contradict his strong Christological focus: Barth himself appears to give priority to the Word incarnate (Jesus Christ). This same dilemma shows up in Barth's approach to the Trinity: He sometimes implies that there is a hierarchical relationship within the Trinity, but he would never have admitted such a view, because he does not want to separate out the immanent (what God is) and economic (what God does) aspects of the Trinity.

My prof. for the class, Bryan Burton, suggests that Barth may have been intentionally vague at these points because he was trying to remain strictly Trinitarian in his theology, which forced him to be rather nuanced in these areas.

Ok, that's it for now...

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