You Have to Read the Bible

Yesterday we started a review of Smith’s The Bible Made Impossible, today we return to Barth’s exposition of reading and applying the Bible in the church. Whereas Smith’s contention is that certain evangelical ways of thinking about the Bible make such a Bible, literally, impossible, Barth maintains that God himself has made communication with people possible, and that it is through our taking up the task of reading and interpreting the Scriptures that such a possibility becomes actualized.

In other words, this is Barth’s “The Bible Made Possible” chapter. I have a hunch that it will be more than a little related to Smith’s proposed solution to evangelical biblicism, but only time will tell.

As usual, Barth sets his sights in two different directions and asks his readers to follow him in insisting that the way forward is not a “happy medium,” but instead a robust affirmation of both. Thus, there is a freedom in God’s grace of revelation that must meet with a freedom in human response.

Moreover, this whole bit about our freedom to respond gets worked from both angles. Keeping our engagement with scripture always within the framework of salvation by grace, Barth demands that we neither over-estimate the natural quality of the person who hears and receives the word of God nor underestimate the reality of this experience.

We don’t receive because we are better, nor because we are worse; we are not to take pride in the reception, nor to grow cynical at someone else’s story.

Throughout, the freedom for the word calls us to take seriously that freedom for the word is freedom for the Word who is Jesus Christ, the revelation of God.

At one point I was wondering if Barth was buying into some of the evangelical biblicism that Smith confronts in his book. But after speaking of the clarity and perspicuity of the word of God, Barth then goes on to say, Of course, this perfectly clear word of God is communicated by means of the words of men.

There is always mediation. There is always, therefore, the need to try to understand what was said, and how that saying of then and there must be said now and here if it is to be understood, and if the word of God to which it bears witness can be made known.

We have a job to do: we must participate in the interpretation of the word which is scripture in order that the word which is Jesus might be made known and obeyed. And we must exercise our freedom, under the word of God, to respond in faithful obedience. This response of faithfulness is inseparable from the practice of exegesis.

And, perhaps most importantly, it is not simply that we are free and that we believe. It is faith in Christ that drives and makes possible all appropriation of the biblical text. I might say here that the faith of Christ makes all this possible. Barth draws us back to Golgotha as the place where each of us comes to our own experience of God’s salvation.

As an aside, I’m pretty sure that everyone wrestling with critical scholarship, theological appropriation of the text, and related issues as a Christian should read both volumes of CD 1.

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