What, exactly, is the word of God?
I posted the summary below, and I’ve been scrambling about with other things for the past couple days. My apologies on that.
Over on Beginning Barth, Daniel Owens raised the issue of all the “theoretical” stuff that lies behind theology. And I agree with his assessment that where Theology as a discipline can often come up short in its persuasiveness is in the theoretical and/or philosophical underpinnings that don’t work for most normal people, or that might be countered by the next generation’s philosophy du jour.
But I actually think that Barth’s intention here is to move away from a philosophically grounded assessment of the word of God and into something more “tangible” (for lack of a better word).
The point of the small print in §1.5.1 was to distance himself from the idea that there is a way to speak of humanity, an “anthropology”, that accounts for the phenomenon of the word of God. He does not want to start with any “given” such as nature or “cogito ergo sum” or the like. He wants to insist that the only way we know that there is such a thing as the word of God is because God has spoken.
As Barth expands on this in the subsequent section, I think he actually agrees with what Daniel O. said, and where I find myself leaning as well, and shows it when he makes such statements as, “it is the divine reason communicating with the human reason and the divine person with the human person. The utter inconceivability of this event is obvious” (p. 135).
That God would speak to people is inconceivable, and yet it is so.
And we see again how Barth pushes against the idea that the Bible itself is the word of God, whenever it is read or spoken. I confess being of two minds about this.
On the one hand, I do wonder whether, in insisting that the words themselves are not necessarily the word of God, Barth has given due weight to the ways that scripture can be invoked as a constant, as what is true, as what we must heed if we would heed the voice of God.
But on the other, I see that in actual practice the words of the Bible can be and often are treated as any other word. They are not only the words of God but also words spoken by people and can be analyzed and dealt with as such. The Society of Biblical Literature comes to mind–and not necessarily as a bad guy, but simply as a picture of the fact that we often do, and must, wrestle with the words of the Bible as words spoken by particular people.
Two final things.
This section on the word of God is strongly bolted to Barth’s radical Christo-centrism. Jesus as the logos of God is the defining reality by which we know both that God can speak and what that speech is like. Jesus is God’s word.
I have been wary of this in the past, and to a certain extent maintain my reservation. I wonder if the two or so references to Jesus as God’s logos are sufficient to make Jesus the controlling category for “word of God,” when other speech acts seems to occupy much more of the biblical references to God’s word.
And yet, what I like about it is the way that it lays out what the word, then, cannot be: “namely, a fixed sum of revealed propositions which can be systematized like the sections of a corpus law” (137).
Barth is onto something. He recognizes that whatever the word of God is, it is not the right sort of thing to show its most true colors by being stripped of its context, organized according to its logic, and systematized into a theology.
A truly biblical theology is not going to be searching for the propositions that can be handed off to the systematician for ordering. It is going to be telling the story of the God who has spoken in Christ.
Barth has been wrestling with this question for a couple of sections now. And in the reading for this week (§1.5.1-3) he delves into some of the aspects of his theology that push against many of the assumptions of mainstream evangelical Christianity.
The word of God is not equivalent to scripture? No, says Barth, though the word of God has spoken in scripture. But a person may read scripture and not be confronted by the word of God.
The word of God is, ultimately, the logos, the second person of the Trinity. Christ is the word of God as other words are not–or, they are because he is at work and present in them.
The word of God is Christ, and therefore it is not a system nor is it able to be systematized. It is a person.
The word of God remains in God’s power, and confronts us, and so when it does it discloses the divine election. It acts and shows the predestining of God.
Yes, this chapter is a veritable powder-keg.
My reflections on it tomorrow.