December 2, 2020

Mark Devine on Karl Barth

brth.jpegIn 2001, Southern Seminary Ph.d and Midwestern Seminary theology professor Mark Devine delivered a paper to ETS on evangelicals and Karl Barth. The article is found here, or in pdf from the same site.

At the Fide-o watchblog, I’ve been accused of being a liberal heretic like Karl Barth. Among the comments from Scott Hill and Jason Robertson:

That post was riddled with Barthian Neo-orthodoxy which last time I checked was considered heresy.”

“But in the end, his bibliology is classically liberal in the stream of Barth…”

“I too believe that we should “draw a circle” around those who assert their unorthodox opinions as sound biblical theology == and that happens to be guys like you…. and by the way, guys like Karl Barth…”

For example, his bibliology is Barthian. Barth was loved by the fundamentalists and conservatives… on everything except his bibliology.” (I still have no idea what bibliology is.)

Professor Devine said the following about the occasional evangelical assessment of Barth as neo-orthodox and liberal:

Here I want to address what has become perhaps the most common criticism not so much of Barth, but of neo-orthodoxy, with which Barth tends to be identified. I believe that the term neo-orthodoxy is misleading and virtually useless in comprehending the theology of Karl Barth. In any case, it is often noted that neo-orthodox theologians contend that the revelation of God or the Word of God cannot be identified with Scripture but that the Word or revelation can be found within the scriptures. This view applies to true Protestant Liberals but not to Barth. There is no higher-critical separation of the gospel kernel from the mythological husk in Barth as one finds in the writings of Adolph Von Harnack and Rudolf Bultmann. Barth stands under the Scriptures not beside or above them as the higher critics tended to do. In fact, Barth’s aversion to the pretentions of the higher critics becomes obvious in his decades long correspondence with Bultmann. What is true is that Barth distinguished between the Bible as a human book susceptible to historical investigation and interpretation and the revelation of God itself which the Bible may become according to the working of the Holy Spirit. What did Barth mean by this? What he did not mean is that the Biblical witness depends upon either the internal witness of the Holy Spirit or its reception by man to become true. What he did mean was that genuine understanding of the word of God, genuine reception of the revelation of God always involves “profitable” understanding, or “salvifically efficacious” understanding. Like Calvin before him, when the words only touches the brain, understanding has not been achieved. Only those who encounter salvifically the One to whom the scriptures bear witness can be said to have benefited from revelation. Barth’s conviction that God’s sovereignty extends to knowledge of himself caused him to draw back from statements about the Bible which suggested general access to the revelation God. Ironically, similar concerns related to God’s sovereignty and freedom led Barth to oppose liberal and higher critical views of scripture and inerrancy. For Barth, both views suggested a kind of exalted position of man above the Bible from which the former could deny its authority and the latter could prop it up. What inerrantists in America viewed as a necessary defense of Biblical authority involved, for Barth, an appeal to some imaginary external guarantee in order to secure what the Bible could not lose.