Karl Barth Says ‘Nein’ to Trump (and Grudem and all pro-Trump evangelicals)

So Wayne Grudem is at it again. Apparently it is not sufficient for him to hold and defend a heterodox view on the Trinity. Now following suit with many American evangelicals, he has endorsed Donald Trump as the “morally good choice” in the coming presidential election (original article here). Maybe I should not be so baffled, but I am. One of the things that seems lost on so many pro-Trump Americans is the way in which disconcerting parallels can be discerned between Trump’s rhetoric and that of the National Socialist movement in Germany and the Fascist movement in Italy during in the last century. This might seem exaggerated to some, but as someone who has lived a significant amount of time in Europe, I know that many Europeans understand that hidden underneath the rallying cry to “make America great again” lies an ultimately self-referential, self-aggrandizing politic that is dangerous and toxic.

More disconcerting, however, is the way in which Grudem’s description of Trump as the “morally good choice” seems to lose sight completely of the fact that we as Christians are not called to make ‘morally good choices’ in the sense of some kind of Aristotelian/Thomist view of natural law and morality. It is unnecessary to address Grudem’s article point by point for the simple fact that conspicuously absent is any karl_barthultimate reference to Christ and his gospel. As Christians, we are called to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, a righteousness not reducible or explainable in terms of naturally-understood or universally-affirmed virtues and ethics. As Christians, our citizenship is in heaven, and our ultimately loyalty is to Jesus Christ as Lord and the proclamation of his gospel. Karl Barth provides some helpful theological and historical insight here that we dare not ignore. Barth lived during the period of the National Socialist movement in Germany, and he fiercely opposed the German Christians who had allied themselves with that movement for precisely the reasons that I have highlighted above. Here is a section from a book by Christopher Green who introduces and comments on Barth’s pertinent observations:

Barth describes at some length the National Socialist movement in Germany as a syncretism, an example of what it looks like in practice when the qualitative distinction of God’s action is forgotten. Divine action is only categorically apprehended within the context of a purely “Christian chapel,” which is a house of worship that cannot accept any idolatry. Necromancy is not permitted by God alongside his rule in Jesus Christ, who is the only world-ruler, and this worship is only safeguarded from syncretism by a vigilant “Christian decision”:

And when the building of the National-Socialist temple first began, it was commonly believed that at least in the forecourt there would be a Christian, a German-Christian chapel, and that in that chapel there would be a place and a use for the Bible, and for Jesus and Paul and Luther. But this type of alliance does not usually last long. A decision is required, for we cannot really serve two masters. On the one hand, the Christian chapel, assuming that it does not disappear altogether, will quickly become the cult-centre of the god who is really believed to be the world-ruler. On the other, it will come to be seen, or it will be remembered, that Jesus Christ will not allow Himself to be relegated to the place of a redeemer side by side with whom there may be a world-ruler of quite a different stamp, whether ideal or aesthetic or technical or political. Jesus Christ Himself occupies the position of World-ruler, and side by side with Him there is no room for another—and as this is seen or remembered there will grow up a centre of resistance even within that chapel […] The only thorough and comprehensive and radical safeguard is in the Christian decision. If the supremacy and activity of God is not secured first, the creaturely forces are too strong for such impressions not to be made and such errors not arise. But the supremacy of the activity of God is secured only when the irreversibility of its relationship to all other forces is secured, and this is secured where its qualitative distinction from those forces is secured, and this in turn is secured only when it is secured that it is the power of eternal love. But it is only in the knowledge of the work and revelation of God in Jesus Christ that all this can be perceived to be secure. [CD III/3. p.112]

The threat of religious syncretism creeps in upon us from every side. Only the eternal love of God can sustain us from theological distortion, which always spells political catastrophe and only attempts to wrest the scepter from the hand of God. Therefore, Barth applies a litmus test on the side of the creature for adjudicating whether or not the Word has been successfully received. He asks this as an overriding question: “What will our reaction be” as creatures who receive the Word? The only faithful response on the side of the creature, the only “possible” response, is a prayerful commending of the Word of God in and through the Spirit. If no acknowledgment of Christ is made, the admission of a qualitatively-distinct God is also eliminated. Once this breakdown has taken place, the creature will inevitably envision God’s relation with the world apart from Christ and, thus, apart from the particular way that the true God of providence offers his presence to the world. [1]

What Green and Barth describe, I think, is precisely what is occurring among pro-Trump American evangelicals. It is a politico-religious syncretism that has lost sight of the primacy of Christ in all things. Unless we see Jesus on the throne, then we will always be tempted to construct temples and altars to other gods and other rulers under the guise of ‘morally good choices’. May we repent and truly seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness which disrupts and contradicts all human pretensions.

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[1] Green, C.C., 2011. Doxological Theology: Karl Barth on Divine Providence, Evil, and the Angels J. Webster, I. A. McFarland, & I. Davidson, eds., London; New York: T&T Clark. pp.79-80

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5 Responses to Karl Barth Says ‘Nein’ to Trump (and Grudem and all pro-Trump evangelicals)

  1. Pingback: Grudem, Trump, and Aquinas vs. the Disruptive Grace of the Gospel | REFORMISSIO

  2. Gordon Martin says:

    “The “Holy Spirit Indwelling” makes each of us responsible. No “churchs”/”meetings” required!

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    • Hi Gordon, first I want to thank you for stopping by my blog. I appreciate it! I’m not exactly sure what you are getting at with your comment, but if you mean what I think you mean, then I would have to disagree. I do believe that we are all responsible before God for what we say and do, and that the Holy Spirit’s presence does indeed play a decisive role in this. Yet I also think that Scripture is very clear that the Spirit works primarily in the context of the community of God rather than merely within individuals. While the latter is certainly true, I see Scripture’s emphasis as on the former. An overly individualized reading of the Spirit’s work vis-à-vis our relationship to God and his Word is due more to the influence of Western culture on our thinking than the influence of Scripture. Remember that most of the writings in the Bible were originally addressed not to individuals but to the community of God as a whole (i.e. Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, etc.)

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  3. Jeff D. says:

    National Socialist German Workers party. Nothing like Trump, nothing like conservativism, nothing like constitutional republic, nothing like free market enterprise system.

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