“The equation of God’s Word and God’s Son makes it radically impossible to say anything doctrinaire in understanding the Word of God…[Scripture is not] a fixed sum of revealed propositions which can be systematized like sections of a corpus of law” (CD, 135).
Monday I posted a Barthian response to what I considered John Piper’s inane and antiquated exegesis of 1 Timothy 2’s stipulation against Christian women teaching Christian men. You can read that post here.
Judging from my Inbox, John Piper has fans out there and across everywhere.
Lots of fans, judging from the emails in my inbox, all of which subjected me to a rhetorical spanking.
That’s fine. I dish out. I can take it too.
One email, after taking me to task for being ‘offensive and crude,’ ‘insulting,’ ‘disrespectful to a fellow Christian’ and ‘irresponsible’ for thinking the word ‘johnson’ is appropriate vocabulary for a pastor.
The email concluded by asking:
‘I thought Karl Barth had a high view of scripture?’
For starters, I don’t accept the premise that Barth’s 3-Fold Form of the Word of God constitutes a ‘low view’ of scripture. The doctrine of a literal, infallible Bible is a modern, 19th century doctrine- only a generation older than Barth himself. Biblical infallibility, therefore, should neither be allowed to drive the bus of biblical interpretation nor should it be permitted to stake out what we mean by ‘high view of scripture.’
While refusing to accept the premise, I think a better way to respond to the question is to say that Barth’s (high) view of scripture is predicated upon his still higher view of Jesus Christ as the One Word of God.
For Barth, the manner in which God reveals God’s self in Jesus Christ is the pattern by which God reveals God’s self in the Word written (scripture) and proclaimed (preaching). And that manner of revelation, according to Barth, is characterized primarily by paradox; that is, God reveals God’s self in such a way that even in this revealedness God remains hidden in weakness.
This ‘paradox’ Barth hints at is what we call Christmas.
God’s absolute, perfect, for all time revelation of himself happens in, with and under the ‘veil’ of imperfect, finite human nature.
God’s Word in scripture and proclamation comes to us by way of imperfect, finite, sometimes inadequate human words and testimony.
For Barth, this is the true ‘miracle’ of the Word of God. It requires the grace of God ‘to take flesh’ each and every time scripture is read or proclaimed. Each and every time, says Barth, the miracle of the incarnation gets repeated anew.
And, Barth’s view, this is precisely the flaw in the sort of lawbook literalism exercised by folks like John Piper.
Literalism denies this miracle of the Word of God, this paradox of God being revealed in the flesh.
It denies that God, in the present, uses weak and errant human words to become God’s Word.
Instead, argues Barth, biblical literalists shift the miracle elsewhere, positing “a sinless, flawless text.”
Barth scholar, Trevor Hart, suggests this mistaken shift in miracles is akin to the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary whereby the Word of God (Christ) can’t possibly be revealed to us through sinful humanity.
His mother, Mary, so goes the doctrine, must have been herself free of sin. She must have been ‘immaculately conceived.’
Analogously, literalists can’t possibly believe that God can use flawed, partial human testimony to speak his Word. God’s Word, so goes the doctrine, must be free of sin.
The scandal of Jesus Christ, however, is the selfsame scandal of the Word of God.
God comes to us, veiled in the weakness of humanity.
And the Word of God comes to us veiled by human words.
It only becomes revelation by God’s making it so.
For Barth, the Bible, then, is not a little like the bread we break in the Eucharist.
No one would argue that the bread is already in and of itself a sharing in Christ’s Body. And only Roman Catholics would argue that our ministrations can make it so- there’s no reliable, magical formula.
No, the real presence of the Word in bread or in human words cannot be guaranteed or coerced.
It can only be prayed for and received in faith.
Back to Piper.
It’s not that I advocate picking and choosing which scriptures we’ll deem authoritative and which we’ll toss in the garbage.
Rather, if Barth’s right and the BIble is less like a lawbook and more like the elements in the Eucharist, then what God said (to Timothy) need not necessarily be what God says today to us.
The God who spoke, Barth believes, has the power to speak, using the very same words of scripture, a different Word today.
And that, I admit, is an answer that only begets more questions.
Questions whose responses will have to wait another day.