Barth’s High Altitude Bombing Runs

I’ve finished I.1 of Barth’s Church Dogmatics and I’m well into I.2.  So far, my favorite parts have been when Barth aims his guns at the modernists and theological liberals.  It sort of reminds me of the high altitude bombing runs in WWII.  Barth goes over the modernist positions and drops a salvo; some pages later he returns to that position and drops another salvo.  He repeats this process over and over.  By the end of I.1, he hits the target more than once!  And his bombs are so powerful he also hits cults like Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses as well as modern deism and pantheism.

I also have to add that I’m completely annoyed by his doctrine(s) of the Word and revelation.  He writes about three different “forms” of the Word: revelation, Bible, and proclamation.  I think he’s wrong when he distinguishes between these, but I’ll have to save an extended critique until I’ve read more.  He’s tough to pin down because he sort of circles around a topic; he seems to say everything about it which leaves me sometimes thinking he said nothing!

Anyway, here’s one great quote regarding the aforementioned bombing runs (makes me wonder what Barth would say about all the cheesy church choruses that are popular today):

“The ‘fairest Lord Jesus’ of mysticism, the ‘Savior’ of Pietism, Jesus the teacher of wisdom and friend of man in the Enlightenment, Jesus the quintessence of enhanced humanity in Schleiermacher…all this looks at least very dubiously like a profane and sacrilegious intrusion in the Old Testament sense in which it is thought possible to come to terms, as it were, with the presence of God in Christ and to take control of it with the help of certain conceptions deriving from the humanity [of Christ].”

When discussing the Nicene Creed, Barth says that it “is for us the most important record of the dogma of the deity of Christ on the following grounds.”  After naming a few, he turns to liberal Protestantism:

“It [the Nicene Creed] says unequivocally what Liberal Protestantism refuses to listen to, and for that very reason its validity must be recognised absolutely in an Evangelical dogmatics.”

And, of course, Barth says other good things from time to time, like this.

“The Church should fear God and not fear the world.  But only if and as it fears God need it cease to fear the world.”

Stay tuned for another Barth bombing run in the future.

shane lems

3 thoughts on “Barth’s High Altitude Bombing Runs”

  1. Ha- great minds think alike! I once used a very similar analogy to describe Barth in a paper I wrote contrasting his doctrine(s) of scripture with BB Warfield, only I cast Warfield as the bomber- Big, noisy engines plodding and droning along for hours on end flying straight and true come what may until he delivers his payload.

    On the other hand, I see Barth as a renegade ace fighter pilot. You never really know where he’s at or where he’s going. All you know is he’s fast, nimble and aggressive. He packs incredible fire power and his guns are always blazing, but they fire in so many directions that sometimes it’s hard to tell if he is an ally or an enemy. I really want him to be on our side, but he blows so many holes in things we hold near and dear that I’m not really sure.

    Ultimately, he’s much more devastating to the other side than he is to us. He’s like the Swiss Army of theologians- not really on anyone’s side. He’s not a liberal or a conservative, he’s just Barth.

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  2. “On the other hand, I see Barth as a renegade ace fighter pilot. You never really know where he’s at or where he’s going. All you know is he’s fast, nimble and aggressive. He packs incredible fire power and his guns are always blazing, but they fire in so many directions that sometimes it’s hard to tell if he is an ally or an enemy. I really want him to be on our side, but he blows so many holes in things we hold near and dear that I’m not really sure.”

    CW, that’s such a perfect description of him! I guess that’s one of the things that makes him such an interesting person in the history of theology.

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