How Karl Barth Might Respond to Richard Muller

Richard Muller critiques Karl Barth (full article here):

As I peruse the Church Dogmatics, I have the consistent experience of excessive verbiage and of ideas that refuse to achieve closure. It is inter­esting and sometimes even instructive to watch a bril­liant mind play with concepts and subject them to intense scrutiny from every conceivable angle. But ‘Barth’s dialectical method, which assumes the impos­IMG_1827sibility of stating divine truth in human words and therefore continually negates and restates its own im­possible formulations, could easily and more instruc­tively have simply stated the problem of formulation between two poles of theological statement—and then passed on to another issue, finally providing the reader with a finished dogmatics in no more than three or four volumes, with no loss of content…

Barth frequently uses his overarching christological principle as a heuristic key to unlocking texts that have, in and of themselves, no clear relation to the person and work of Christ. The result is an incredibly arbitrary and dogmatic exegesis, justified only by the vague conten­tion that it is both “christological” and “theological.”

Karl Barth responds to Richard Muller:

…so far as the confrontation and relationship of God and man, of divine acts and human reactions spoken of in Holy Scripture attest God’s revelation to us, they cannot betoken for theology the kind of object which it can calmly docket along with other objects. On the contrary, if theology is really to correspond to the witness of Holy Scripture, they must give theology its essential forms and they must also determine its methods, for without these it could not be theology. That is to say, unless it takes
account of these, theology could not even perceive its object, not to speak of classifying it with ease or excitement. The very definite KB1Editorder of being which Holy Scripture makes manifest, when in its witness to God’s revelation it confronts and relates God and man, divine facts and human attitudes, enforces an order of knowing corresponding to it. It does not enforce faith. It does not even exclude unbelief. But where it finds faith, it does enforce a basically obedient thought and language. And where it finds faith, it excludes free thought, i.e., thinking which openly or secretly hurries ahead of the previously given object, acts critically toward it by way of selection and distinction, patronising it with its applause or reproach. Correspondingly, it excludes sovereign language, which in the last resort appeals against itself to man’s responsibility. It excludes an arbitrary theology. If there is anything sure in biblical exegesis it is this, that where according to the Bible God’s revelation to man was an event, there is none of that anticipatory thinking or that sovereign language, none of that a priori theology. The prophets and apostles thought and spoke merely as hearers, as hearers of a God who is bound only to His own law and in no sense to any presupposition of man…

The method prescribed for us by Holy Scripture not only assumes that the entelechy of man’s I-ness is not divine in nature but, on the contrary, is in contradiction to the divine nature. It also assumes that God is in no way bound to man, that His revelation is thus an act of His freedom, contradicting man’s contradiction. That is why the language of the prophets and apostles about God’s revelation is not a free, selective and decisive treatment of well-found convictions, but—which is something different—witness. That is, it is an answer to what is spoken to them, and an account of what is heard by them. That is why their order of knowing corresponds to the order of being in which God is the Lord but in which man is God’s creature and servant. That is why their thought and language follow the fact of God’s revelation, freely created and provided by Him. That is also why their interpretation of it is a following after, in which any revolt of man on the ground of any categories of understanding which he brings along with him is out of the question. That is why their conception of what is possible with God is guided absolutely by their conception of what God has really willed and done, and not vice versa.

If the aim of theology is to understand the revelation attested in the Bible, theology as distinguished from all philosophical and historical science of religion will have to adhere to this method quite rigidly…As the approach to the doctrine of the Trinity is affected by the realisation that in order to perceive God’s revelation at all we must follow the order of being in Holy Scripture and first ask about God as the Subject of revelation, so the approach to Christology is affected by the realisation that first we have to put the question of fact, and then the question of interpretation. Or (because interpretation is involved in the question of fact, and nothing but fact is involved in the question of interpretation) we must first understand the reality of Jesus Christ as such, and then by reading from the tablet of this reality, understand the possibility involved in it, the freedom of God, established and maintained in it, to reveal Himself in precisely this reality and not otherwise, and so the unique possibility which we have to respect as divine necessity.

Barth, K., 2004. Church dogmatics I/2: The doctrine of the Word of God, Part 2, London; New York: T&T Clark. pp.5-8.


2 thoughts on “How Karl Barth Might Respond to Richard Muller

  1. Rich constant 4 September 2016 / 06:27

    Pretty neat.
    Well spoken.
    Witness and servant.
    Gospel of the word.
    Brings about atonement because of who God is.
    A Triune God that will bring about and has brought about the restoration of his family as spoken by the servant and the witness.
    Bringing to close the fear of death through the life in the chosen.
    His Messiah lives and brought forth God’s freedom, through Redemption because of the faith that was once for all delivered to the Saints. Romans 3:22

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jonathan Kleis 4 September 2016 / 18:45

      Thanks Rich constant! Good to hear from you.


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