A Testimony About Barth’s Impact, The Free Church, and the Authority of Holy Scripture

Here is something I wrote some time ago, but its spirit or sentiment remains the same for me. If I were to rewrite this post now it would probably wouldn’t sound the same, but the guts of it would still be the same.

As of late, I have been engaging with ideas surrounding ecclesial authority, biblical authority, tradition, sola scriptura, and ecclesiology in general. The reality that comes through to me, once and once again, is that I am simply a Bible believing, Bible reading, Bible fellowshipping Christian.

For many, the above is too naïve or simple; for some, there is a longing or need to be part of a lineage that they perceive as genetic, unbroken, successive, and thus authoritative. I don’t really have this need. Sure, yes, indeed, I want to see myself as part of the body of Christ and God’s people that has stretched the boundaries of salvation history; but I don’t have this need to see God so conflated, so collapsed with His work in His church, in His people, that I need, then, to identify with a group that claims to be the embodiment and concrete reality of this kind of collapse of God (with His authority embedded into this collapsed state of ecclesial affairs). I believe God’s people are everywhere, everywhere where Christ by the Spirit is. I believe the true church of Christ is both visible and invisible; and that the church’s esse or essence is in God’s life of Triune relation itself—and so I don’t think the Church of Jesus Christ (not latter day saints) has an address or country code (like next to the Tiber River in Rome and Vatican City).

And so, given the above, it is probably not very surprising that I am a Free church evangelical. And now this gets even more personal, and less critical (maybe even pious to some). I became a Christian at an early age. I walked with the Lord for years growing up. I became lukewarm out of high school. The Lord got a hold of me through some very hard circumstances a few years out of high school. I began to walk closely with the Lord as a result of the crises that were introduced into my life out of high school (graduated from high school in 1992). And what this meant for me was an obsessive determination to read, read, and reread Scripture (which led to further Bible and theological training in a formal way in the following years to come). And this is still true for me today. I had a real and existential need to be ministered to as a result of the crises that were introduced into my life back in and around 1995. The only thing that brought peace to my mind back then (and still!) was to be ensconced, entrenched, and saturated in Holy Scripture; it was the only place that I could genuinely encounter God’s first Word, Jesus Christ. It was the only place where I could find rest, and hope  in someone who obviously loved me and cared for me beyond measure.

My point in sharing the above is to highlight and deepen a little how I might be understood and perceived. It might explain why I like Karl Barth (and Thomas Torrance) so much. What I have finally found in someone like Karl Barth, is a Protestant and evangelical theologian who provides grammar to my long lost and wandering theological feelings. He provides an imaginative and creative (which are both good things) way to think about God’s Word and scripture, and how these two things (along with the proclaimed ‘Word’) coinhere and relate. Most importantly to me, what Barth affirms, is something that I have known for years and years through my own personal experience; and that is, that Scripture is the primary place where God encounters each one of us in his church, in personal, contradictory (to our own thoughts), comforting, convicting, and even endearing ways. And so Scripture for Barth is the norming norm of his mode of operation as a Christian and theologian; as it is and always will be for me. I don’t need any other authority, any other way, than the authority and the way encountered through the pages of Scripture, in all of its particularity and universality. The church gathers around this reality, the church does not possess this reality (Jesus), but Jesus possesses the church, and inhabits her by the Holy Spirit (by which we inhabit Him, by grace). When we read, hear, and live Scripture together we bear witness to the reality that enlivens each of our steps. I know without this reality, I would be hopelessly lost.

I close now with a quote from Adam Neder on Karl Barth, and Barth’s exemplary appreciation for Holy Scripture as the reality upon which all other churchly thought and decisions must be subordinate:

… while fully conversant with and significantly indebted to the vast resources of the church’s reflection on the person and work of Christ, Barth regarded himself to be primarily accountable to Holy Scripture, not church dogma, and thus asked that his Christology be judged, above all, by its faithfulness to the New Testament presentation of the living Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, one regularly finds Barth justifying a Christological innovation with the argument that the New Testament depiction of Christ requires it (or something like it) and that the older categories are inadequate to bear witness to this or that aspect of his existence. In other words, and quite simply, Barth understood himself to be free to do evangelical theology — free, as he put it, to begin again at the beginning. And this approach, it seems to me, is one that evangelicals have every reason to regard with sympathy rather than suspicion.[1]

 

[1] Adam Neder, History n Harmony: Karl Barth on the Hypostatic Union, eds. McCormack and Anderson, 150.

 

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