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Barth, Society & the Church

Barth, Society & the Church

Recently I was given a review copy from Fortress Press of Saving Karl Barth. I will have a full review up at some point via GraceForSinners (it is also available here). If you've ever heard the name Karl Barth you'll want to check out the review. The book is not the easiest of reads, it requires substantial background in both theological and philosophical history and terminology.

But that said, I have not been so blessed by a book in a long time. I'm all for encouraging books. I've recently read very edifying books by Andrew Louth and Richard Gaffin. They were true blessings. But they don't hold a candle to the work of Long. Part of this stems from the fact that he is dealing with Karl Barth. Excluding John Calvin no theologian has more greatly affected my mind and attitude toward the Scriptures, Jesus Christ and society than Karl Barth.

Are there more Orthodox individuals? Of course. Are there better exegetes? Certainly. Are there greater example of moral integrity? This goes without saying. Karl Barth was no saint. But neither am I. But where Karl Barth reaches to me is his placement in time and space. Standing before, in and after the atrocities of WWII, Barth remains a pillar of faithfulness to the Scriptures against liberal Protestantism and impotent Lutheranism. His mind for social ethics is sharp. I don't always agree with him but his words are challenging. His language is captivating and his descriptions are all too familiar.

What I have come to believe is that the liberal Christianity of Germany (and the surrounding Europe) has repeated itself in America. The falling away of a true church, the temporary stay in "morality" and ultimate disintegration of society are all playing themselves out currently. And it is with this in mind that a couple quotes from D. Stephen Long's book, a lot of it quoting Barth, stroke me with such fervor. Emphasis Added.

Since the sixteenth century he [Barth] states, “The diastasis between the church and world” meant that the world grew increasingly secular, “turning its back on the Church with which it had contracted that doubtful union in the Middle Ages.” For Barth this shows that the world “was not committed to the Church in any deep sense. . . . What human hands had built they could pull down.” Like Balthasar, however, for Barth this diastasis is no cause for alarm; it is the church’s freedom even as it also poses a temptation.

This new sovereignty poses three temptations for the Church. First, it is tempted to join with “reactionary forces” and seek to reestablish its position of power; second, to “retreat to the reservations of a self-satisfying religiosity, whether in the form of the varied practices of individual piety, renewed or newly discovered liturgics or dogmatic castles in the air;” third, to make compromises and truces "accepting the increasing secularism on an optimistic interpretation, taking it up into its own self-understanding, working away so critically at the Bible, tradition and the creeds as to appear to be in harmony with the progressive spirit of the age, to justify modern man and to offer to the adult world a suitably adult form of Christianity, thus exposing all the more obviously and palpably the alienation of the life of modern man from that of the Church and vice versa."

Barth called on the church to avoid all three temptations.

I can see in our modern church all three of these "temptations" being modeled in the church today. I would love to break down each of these three temptations. I would even like to push back a little, in clarification and qualifications, against the first one. But the thing I'd like to focus on here briefly is this comment,

For Barth this shows that the world “was not committed to the Church in any deep sense. . . . What human hands had built they could pull down.”

For those whom I would refer to as the "true church", who hold fast to the Scriptures and creeds, I would challenge to read this sentence with humility. The church in America fell because American hands built it. This may not have been the case in the beginning. But at some point American humanism and secularism begin to take control of the additions and building. The Scriptures tells us the folly of that (Psalm 127:1).

I think its time to learn from the history that has come before us. The church in America will not stand as long as we build it with our own hands, bible studies and devotional books. 2 Chronicles 7:14 is a popular verse. And I'm calling us to stop praying it for our nation. Pray it for the church. Pray it for your church. Let God build up a church to serve His purpose and let man tear down the church that serves theirs.

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