Unbelievers: Don’t Take Yourselves Too Seriously; Christians: Stop Taking Unbelief So Seriously

Jason Micheli —  March 6, 2013 — Leave a comment

barthYesterday I posted a reflection on Karl Barth’s disavowal of apologetics, the rational attempt to demonstrate and prove Christianity’s faith claims.

I made the point that for Barth faith is revelation and is always gift. Our own personal faith, therefore, is always gift too. Under those terms then an endeavor like apologetics will always be just that, an endeavor. A work.

Barth argues against doing apologetics on another level in §1.2.

Barth says plainly that Christians should never take ‘unbelief’ too seriously and apologetics does just that in an attempt to convince an unbeliever to faith.

To the extent they take unbelief seriously, Christians fail to take their faith with ‘full seriousness,’ Barth says. In other words, Christians are often guilty of seeming more confident in someone’s lack of belief than they are in the robustness of their own faith. Perhaps subconsciously, the volume and urgency of Christian apologetics reveals our own panic that maybe Christ isn’t Lord after all.

All this for Barth is premised on a simple clause from the Apostles’ Creed:

‘I believe in the forgiveness of sins.’ 

Barth believes the remission of sins by the work of Christ on the Cross:

‘forbids any discussion in which the unbelief of the partner is taken seriously’ (30). 

Lurking behind this bold and seemingly nonsensical assertion is Barth’s understanding of the Cross- an understanding that diverges from popular Catholic and Evangelical views.

For Barth, the Cross was a once-for-all, perfect sacrifice for Sin.

For Barth, Jesus really DID die for the Sin of the world. For you and me and everyone who came before us and everyone after we’ve long since returned to dust.

When it comes to the Cross, there’s no need for a do-over.

You can see already here a view of the Cross that logically leads to the conclusion that all will be saved in the end; in fact, many have accused Barth of ‘soft universalism.’

Before getting hung up on universalism, I think it’s helpful (and refreshing) to focus on how Barth’s notion of the Cross is distinct from rival interpretations.

If you’re Catholic, for example, the Cross wasn’t a once-for-all sacrifice for sin. Instead Christ’s sacrifice must be repeated continually in the Eucharist. Hence, the logical need for the elements to be the actual, physical presence of Christ’s body and blood.

Or, if you’re an evangelical, the logic is still functionally the same even without the bread and wine of the Eucharist. Instead of wafers and wine, you have an altar call or a special prayer in which you invite Jesus into your heart.

In both cases, in both traditions, you need to do something ‘extra’ for the work of Cross to be efficacious.

In both cases, in both traditions, the Cross then is not ‘perfect’ in and of itself.

Barth’s someone who’d read the Greek in Galatians- which can go either way- as saying that we’re justified before God by the faith OF Jesus Christ.

Not our faith in Jesus Christ.

Before you wig out about Barth and call him a heretic or worse, just stop to appreciate what’s he trying to point out:

The world really did change on Good Friday. 

Sin- yours and mine and the power of Sin with a capital S- really was defeated on the Cross. 

No more crosses, his or ours, are necessary. 

And let God in his freedom work out the rest. 

And maybe ultimately that’s what’s scary about Barth.

He actually wants to dare us to love God not out of fear of Hell or hope of Reward but just because he’s…God.

Jason Micheli


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