Answering Questions on My Former Dispensationalism and Barth

A commenter here has been corresponding with me via email; he has a few concerns that he would like me to address in regards to my views on eschatology. He was wondering about Karl Barth, and what Barth meant in this quote taken from Barth’s Commentary on Romans (Der Romerbrief):

“Will there ever be an end to all our ceaseless talk about the delay of the Parousia?  How can the coming of that which does not enter in ever be delayed?  The End of which the New Testament speaks is no temporal event… What delays its coming is not the Parousia, but our awakening…” [Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans, 500-01.]

dispytimeFor anyone of you Barthians who read here, if you would like to take a stab at this and inform us exactly what Barth meant; then I would be obliged. André, would like to know if Barth actually believed in a bodily return of Jesus Christ. I have communicated with André that Barth definitely believed in the second coming of Jesus Christ, just as any orthodox Christian must. And that the context for the pretextual quote lifted from Barth above must be his apocalyptic conception of revelation as event; with the notion that when Barth refers to ‘no temporal event’ he is emphasizing the idea that God’s coming in Christ is something happens ever anew and afresh moment by moment through God’s being in becoming as we encounter him in Christ through the primary witness of threefold Word. I know that Barth wanted to get away from thinking in classical linear terms, and instead have us think apocalyptically in regard to God’s life interdicting ours on an ongoing basis in Christ. But I would also posit that for Barth, that this continual in-breaking on the world in Christ is portending of final and proleptic encounter that will be ultimately realized in consummate form. In other words, the fact that God is apocalyptic in his life, and that he does break in on the world presently; only reinforces the idea that God will make a final move of Christian hope wherein these shadowy break-ins of his life in Christ on the world find their orientation from the idea that we will finally participate in the glory that the Son has always shared with the Father in their shared life.

But this isn’t what I really wanted to deal with in this post; André asked me this:

Dear Mr. Grow

Do you expect a “second coming” or “return” of Jesus?
Kind Regards
And this:
I espessialy ask you because of your dispensationalist background.
Wondering how you got out of it and how much you got out of and what you used to fill the gap with.
I affirmed, of course, as an orthodox Christian, that my hope is a bodily return of Jesus Christ as the book of Acts asserts in its first chapter. I am thinking that some Preterists have been influencing André; I don’t know that for sure, but it sounds like a full preterist question.
In regards to responding to his question about my dispensationalism; and how I got out of it (like it was a cult); and how much I got out of it; and what I used to fill the gap with (not sure I understand that point … I’m still waiting for further clarification on that from André).
1) I never sought to “get out” of dispensationalism. I grew up as the son of a Conservative Baptist pastor. I grew up being influenced by the commentaries of H. H. Ironside, and then later by Charles Ryrie, Dwight Pentecost, Lewis Sperry Chafer,  and all of my Multnomah professors (which many of them were graduates of Dallas Theological Seminary). I started out as a classic/revised dispensationalist which saw a hard discontinuity between Israel and the Church, and when I entered undergrad I moved to a progressive dispensationalism which didn’t see a ontological distinction between Israel and the Church; just a functional/economic one instead. I held onto my progressive dispensationalism until about 2010 … so 7 years after I graduated from seminary; and this was really a function of my commitment to a certain kind of hermeneutical theory (the LGH, Literal, Grammatical, Historical). The seeds of a shift started to happen for me in undergrad when I was taking a class called ‘Dispensationalism’; we read a book that had more to do with Covenant theology than amillennialism, but it was used as representative of the amillennialist hermeneutic (it was O. Palmer Robertson’s “Christ and the Covenants”). It was this book that got me thinking about amillennialism as a viable position. After seminary, in and around 2004, I read Kim Riddlebarger’s book ‘A Case for Amillennialism’; his book made me think twice, and even more. Then I read Stanley Grenz’s ‘Millennial Maze’ at a later date, along with Anthony Hoekma’s ‘Bible and the Future’ (or some such title); and I read others, like G.K. Beale’s commentary on Revelation, and I listened to some lectures by amillennialists. None of this by itself converted me to amillennialism, because all of this was given hermeneutical shape by classic Covenant theology. In the mean time, during this time, I had been reading Thomas Torrance, Karl Barth, and others; and they offered me a Christ conditioned hermeneutic. One that emphasized interpreting scripture, like the Old Testament, through a reinterpretation approach in light of Christ’s fulfillment of the promises. And so my hermeneutical rootage shifted from a Literal, Grammatical, Historical approach (which comes out of the Scottish Common Sense movement, and really a kind of rationalist approach that could find some heritage in the History of Religions approach of the German higher critics) to what I like to call a Christ conditioned ‘depth dimension’ (pace Thomas Torrance and Adam Nigh) approach to scripture that sees Christ as the principled and intensive cipher through which Scripture ought to be interpreted (this is given model through the New Testament author’s usage of the Old Testament, for example). Anyway, with all of this background; I had moved from a Progressive Dispensationalism a couple of years ago to a Post Tribulational Historic Premillennial position (which is a non-dispensational premillennial perspective). And then just over a year ago I read Richard Bauckham’s The Theology of the Book of Revelation & The Climax of Prophecy. After I read these books I was pushed over the edge; I became an amillennialist. That said, I could still be a historic premillennialist, in principle; hermeneutically, there really isn’t much difference between the two, except for how they read Revelation 20 and the thousand years passage.
Anyway, that is a short sketch on my history and movement from dispensationalism. That went longer than I had hoped, and so I will have to pick up André’s other questions on this next time.
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13 Responses to Answering Questions on My Former Dispensationalism and Barth

  1. Matt Frost says:

    Sed contra: I do not think that Barth put much stock in the “second coming.” Barth’s eschatology of human life does not rest on a final coming in judgment, but in a standing before God at the end of each life. Similarly, his doctrine of salvation as it proceeds toward redemption does not do so in the work of Christ, but rather in the Spirit at work realizing Christ in and for us. Third, it seems that Paul himslef did not place much stock in the parousia, and that it stands as a coming-in-judgment only in those sources for whom the world is divided into the righteous and the sinners. That is, the parousia in this sense is a Synoptic concern of Matthew and Luke-Acts and the Catholic epistles, and not of Paul.


  2. Matt Frost says:

    Also, the fact that Bobby can say “as any orthodox Christian must” should answer the question of whether he ever left the position, André. His opinion has changed, but for Bobby it is still a central article of the faith, albeit under different systematic understandings of the idea over time. As someone for whom it is not, I tend to be a foil here. 🙂


  3. Bobby Grow says:


    I’m not sure exactly how to take your tone, or attitude; but I’m not hip to it, just so you know! I wasn’t calling out praise for myself, I was curious if I actually had any readers (beyond just prescribers). Lose the attitude with me, or don’t comment here.

    That said. I don’t know that I’d label myself a scholar, per se (maybe in certain areas). I have read quite a bit about Barth, and from Barth; but I definitely wouldn’t label myself a Barth scholar. Matt Frost is a Barth scholar (and I opened this up in this way, this post, because I knew I had Barth scholars who read here … so I did this for your benefit, Andre … again, lose your tone with me, or you won’t be commenting here any further!).

    My pedigree, is was more like a genealogy; so you could know where I was coming from when I proceed to answer you questions further. Again, I don’t know if it is just because English isn’t your first language or what; but your tone is unbecoming, and I don’t like it. So change it or don’t comment, Andre (can I reiterate this enough!?)!


    Thank you for being that Barth scholar to step up to the plate here; I’m sure Andre will appreciate that.

    Of course you know I disagree with you about Paul. And in re. to Barth, let me ask you this: How did Barth imagine that creation itself would be redeemed someday (like in Romans 8). One would think that the Barth’s universalistic predisposition would carry all the way down through an eschaton wherein creation itself would finally stand before God, so to speak, in consummate redemption; no?

    It is a central article of the faith for me, indeed 🙂 . I am quite orthodox still ;-). I can’t imagine how the crooked will ever be made straight until Jesus comes again.


  4. Matt Frost says:

    Bobby, don’t bully your commenters; it’s bad form. Besides, he quite accurately called out that you’re reading yourself into Barth. 🙂

    As to Barth’s universal eschaton, we don’t have it. But we do know that it stands under the work of the Spirit, because the role of reconciliation in Christ is the work of producing a right humanity before God in potentia, and not yet in fact. That last is the doctrine of redemption, which will be the redemption of the cosmos as creature.

    The problem for the parousia is what you mean by it. In 1 Thess, Paul speaks of the parousia, but in no connection to any eschatological judgment. This is the post-apocalyptic new creation, the resurrection of the dead and the kingdom of God in fact upon the earth. Yahweh shall come and dwell with His people again in justice. Romans 8 expresses the same hope. This is the parousia, the deliverance from death and decay, and the revelation of our true life in God.


  5. Matt Frost says:

    What must be understood is that we do stand before God, and that we are being made right. What need never be understood or taken as a necessary doctrine is the particulars of the judgment of God. Especially as they may entail us attributing crookedness to others in partiality to ourselves. None shall be saved in God’s judgment. All shall be saved in God’s mercy. The crooked are made straight, in Paul as in Barth, by the work of the Spirit in us. Notice that Barth speaks of the coming of God as a mistake in terminology in the Romans passage; God is here and has never left. What remains is not for God to come, but only for us to realize that God is here.


  6. Bobby Grow says:


    Who is doing the bullying?

    I don’t think you are understanding my position adequately, per se. From where did you conclude that I connected judgment with the parousia? I do see God’s Yes framing the parousia, but within his Yes there is also his No to unbelief. I understand where you’re coming from (and Barth), but I just think it glosses over the whole picture of scripture. I definitely see the emphasis of the parousia grounded in God’s life in Christ, a life of grace and mercy; but just as the first coming of Christ, I see the second bringing with it a consummate no to the contradiction that sin poses to God’s way in Christ. In other words, I think scripture distinguishes between the sheep and the goat still; this is where I part ways with Barth and his universalistic tendencies. It’s not a matter of attributing righteousness to ourselves over against others; it’s recognizing that some are for Christ and some are not, and we are only for Christ because of the grace of God in Christ to be for him through Christ’s for us for him.

    I think I can agree with the idea that God is here and has never left, and still maintain that this hereness will be a reality that results in a life that is not just one based in faith but sight as Paul communicates. The way Barth leaves this is almost ethereal or abstract; sure God is here, but this is not simply a matter of noetic recognition but according to scripture there is a day set apart wherein this reality which we only see by faith now will become concretized in bodily and particular realization. That we will share in the glory that the Son always has with the Father, and that creation will be what it was always intended to be in the recreation of Christ. There will be a transformation of this present world system and physical biological world to whatever that looks like at the eschaton.

    I don’t see why this has to be an either/or as you present it, Matt. There is a faith/sight dichotomy in Paul’s theology that apparently Barth isn’t pressing so much.


    As you can see, I’m not Barthian, per se. Matt is your man on this front.


  7. Matt Frost says:

    André, as a Lutheran, I was not brought up in a system in which the second coming, however understood, was a matter of primary concern. The article by which the faith of the church stands or falls is the question of whether our justification as sinners has anything at all to do with us, in which case we are lost, or whether we understand that it is entirely handled by God in Christ. I just don’t have any use for the second coming of Christ, short of the Judean understanding I tried to articulate above. The question is, what does it do? Why should the parousia be expected? Why does it deserve central place in the faith, unless it is the fulfillment of that justification in fact, which we only (but really) possess now in trust and hope?


  8. Matt Frost says:

    Bobby, this is the point on which you and I have always been different. 🙂 I understand the desire in scripture, on the part of oppressed communities of faith, for the coming of God’s right order on earth to involve the separation of those who have not trusted correctly in God, and who have persecuted the “true believers.” But I cannot uphold such a position as anything but human doctrine. I can reconcile that with Paul no other way.

    It seems that, amil as you are, and citing parables of judgment as you do, you can still complain when I refer to the second coming and the eschatological judgment in the same breath. Perhaps you could clarify your position on the nature of the parousia?


  9. Matt Frost says:

    André, what I have seen that does what you suggest is the eschatological deferral of justice, preached from the dominant to the subaltern. The demand that you wait to have justice until the end-times, while I have mine now. And that in the meantime, I am not required to work for your justice, and you are not allowed to agitate for it. That is not a concomitant of the doctrine of the final judgment when preached by the subaltern against the dominant context. And this is the context of Matthew, Luke, and 1 Peter, for example, as well as most of 1 and 2 Maccabees.


  10. Matt Frost says:

    This is where I see the difference between a doctrine of the parousia, and the justice that comes with it, that is dissonant with the pursuit of justice in the present, and one that is consonant with the pursuit of present justice.


  11. Matt Frost says:

    The prophets might disagree with you. Strenuously.


  12. Ou that “Barthian” road (maybe not always Barth btw) is endless, and to my mind less biblical in the Judeo-Christian theological sense!


  13. And when He had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the alter the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying “How long O Lord, Holy and True, dost Thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” And white robes were given unto them and it was said unto them that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants, their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.

    Very disturbing that this supporter of the status quo found his way into the Scriptures to pacify the persecuted.

    “Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusion about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions.”

    So you see, getting rid of the 2nd coming is only half of the problem.
    The real freedom fighters against oppression are those who have no hope at all, other than the naturalistic, materialistic hope. So goes your argument.

    God forgive me for judging by the sight of my eyes like you: I also observe (not a theological position, but a personal observation) that those who believe in the soon bodily return of our Lord, by their actions to heal the sick, feed the hungry, clothe the naked and save the oppressed, puts all of the others to shame.


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