I’m still neck-deep in my reading of Barth. There has been so much that I’ve wanted to share, but I haven’t been able to come up for air long enough to do so. I stumbled across this paragraph today and was impressed by a number of things. I’ll save my thoughts for after the quote, but first a couple quick mentions to help guide you through. One, this is following a discussion concerning the lack (but not absence) of straight-forward statements concerning Christ’s deity in the New Testament. Two, “dogmatics” is sadly a word freighted with baggage. Barth worked in a different time and place. Maybe substituting “theology” will help to avoid some of negative associations with dogma. Ok, go…

As a rule [affirmation of Jesus’ divnity] is to be found between the lines and inferred by the reader or hearer from what is otherwise said directly or indirectly about the name Jesus Christ. It awaits, as it were, the reader’s or hearer’s own confession. These facts might weigh heavily upon a dogmatics especially eager for as clear, comprehensive and precise an answer to its questions as possible. They cannot surprise us. The New Testament is the instrument of proclamation and witness; it is neither a historical exposition nor a systematic treatise. The modest task of dogmatics it has left to the Church, to us. But it is possible that by the very reserve with which it handles the confession at this central point, it might direct us more forcibly to the twofold statement [that Jesus is the Son of God and the Word of God] as being well-nigh the final import of its utterances. Church Dogmatics (II/1, p.14)

So much goodness here. Both ‘what’ he says and ‘how’ he says it demonstrate why he is so highly regarded. “It awaits, as it were, the reader’s or hearer’s own confession.” Beautiful. Barth is suggesting that the Bible isn’t more explicit concerning Jesus’ divinity because it is meant to be read as an invitation to faith and not simply a book from which we marshal enough evidence to convince ourselves and others of the “facts” about Jesus. At yet, Scripture isn’t left wide open for us to construct our own portrait of Jesus (no matter how much we remain committed to doing so). It is rather by its very “reserve” that one is strongly led to the conclusion that the New Testament writers themselves had. One might complain that if the Author had really wanted to be clear with us, then he should have been more forthright. Barth seems to suggest that the Author was as clear as he needed and wanted to be.

By the way, this isn’t all that uncommon a thing to come across in theological writing today, but this was written over seventy years ago. A man ahead of his time.

Time to dive back in.

3 Replies to “masterful”

  1. I like it! Last week I read and underlined a paragraph in John Stott’s Basic Christianity that resonated with me. The idea it laid out was… While one reads the New Testament, the resurrection story and miraculous birth aren’t there to argue and prove His deity. But they are congruous with His deity.

    There just seems to be a cool paradox here. We reason and work through the bible. But when we stop “having” to be 100% certain, stop seeking only “facts”, and push past feeding our rational minds (but not rejecting rational thought all together) It’s then that we discover what is truly worth pursuing.

    I’m thankful the authors wrote a story and not a textbook.

  2. Good thoughts here, Rob. Yes, faith and certainty do seem to be inherently antithetical.
    Glad you’re reading Basic Christianity. I read it every five years or so and am always grateful for the amount of insight packed in that little book.

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