Balthasar. God and Scripture

I thought this quote, while speaking to another issue (Barth and Balthasar’s disagreement over key theological points), is apropos in regards to how Protestant Christians approach the scriptures, interpretively. It is interesting that we can look at the same scriptures, and come to such different conclusions — on certain points of dogma and theological emphasis. This quote from Balthasar (quoting something else, see the biblio info) helps state the reality of this conundrum:

The battle is so serious because neither side can seriously deny that it is really the same object we refer to, but at the same time we can find no way to find unity over its right concept. . .. The dispute is therefore so pressing and urgent because we see the same reality in different ways, even if we dare not say that, by God’s eternal and unfathomable decree, the same reality is looking at us in such different ways. Thus, because we see so differently (aliter), we also end up seeing, at least partially, something different (alia). And thus, the dispute over the How (quale) comes to affect in fundamental ways all the secondary divergences over the What (quantum) . . ..[1]

This principle applies to many situations. Given a concern of mine, on interpretive traditionsthis could be applied to that reality. So, in other words, “How” we understand God (our Doctrine of God), will inestimably, shape “What” our interpretive conclusions will be when we come to the text of scripture. This is so, because if scripture discloses God one way, and we have already conceived Him to be another way; then we most certainly will fail to see Him at all, when we actually try to read scripture. A consequence, if we presuppose a certain schema about God (i.e., that He is the unmoved mover of Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle) that is foreign to the God of the Bible; and then we develop methods of interpretation that are consonant with this preconceived notion, we are most certainly going to be reading “our” God into scripture — instead of reading Him “out” of it.

Scripture is to point us to Someone beyond itself, but if we don’t allow scripture to impose its own categories and objectives upon us; then we are doomed to find that we are only looking at our own reflections as we peer into it as a mirror of “our” souls. If we have a fundamental disagreement on Who God is (in other words, does our metaphysic predetermine who God is before we get to Him in Christ, or do we start with our knowledge of Him at the cross of Christ as the second person of the Trinity), then it is only natural that we will have a fundamental disagreement on how we should read this God off of scripture. Make sense . . .

Certainly, we all, as historic-orthodox Christians believe God is triune; but do we really allow scripture and the Revelation of Christ to shape what that means (and thus follow an interpretive model that places its center (Christ) at the foreground of our interpretive approach); or do we come to scripture, artificially seeking a God who will fit our preconceived notions of what “we” think God should look like (e.g. His “glory,” not foolishness, but “wisdom” per I Cor. 1:17ff). Certainly, nobody is immune to this problem; but I would suggest that much of Protestant Christianity (not just Protestant), especially Classically Reformed-Fundamentalist-Evangelicals (picking on them, because this is my own background), has followed a “method” (or mode) that has caused an articulation of God that is at odds with the one we meet in Christ-at-the-Cross.


[1] Hans Urs Von Balthasar, Die Theologie und die Kirche [Munich: Chr. Kaiser Verlag, 1938]. Collected articles, 1920-1928.

*Post originally posted on August 29th, 2009 at a now defunct blog of mine.


6 thoughts on “Balthasar. God and Scripture

  1. Indeed, Bobby! While it does present a theology, the Bible’s testimony of witness to the experience of people and persons (and even nations) in relation to the living covenant-making and covenant-keeping God, (who elected to reveal himself in actuality to and through Israel’s seed—finally and fully by Yeshua of Nazareth in God’s supreme cruciform revelation of Christ through his death on the cross), is not a theological treatise. The only assumption presumed and stated in Scripture is that this God is “in the beginning” and that this God ultimately and fully reveals himself as he actually is in the triune and cruciform nature of his accommodation of mankind’s universal weakness—through Christ’s death on the cross. This is the sublime nature of the excellence of the eternal God’s cruciform character, stooping for man, even as “resurrection from the dead” is the affirmation of the majesty of God’s own eternal life—life that is the power of his own determined act/work of giving life to the dead. Indeed, biblical theology starts at the foot of the cross of Christ’s death—where time and eternity meet—for and to us.


  2. “God is love”… the very “ground of being”… not assumed on the basis of any starting out from reason; rather this is found only from the starting point of God’s self-revelation in omnipotence…as self-sacrificial love—the crucified Christ on the cross. This (in contrast to classical theology) is the theology of “what God is” rather than “what God is not.”


  3. “… does our metaphysic predetermine who God is before we get to Him in Christ”

    I suppose this is one of the points which constitutes the post-modern position. I.e. all of us come to the scripture and some church tradition and people therein with a fixed amount of nature (genetics) and nurture (familial and secular formation), today labelled as “baggage”. Implicit in the evangelical interpretive tradition is the the Spirit takes all of that baggage and over time normalizes it such that we all are being conformed to the image of Christ and the mind of Christ. This is something I still hold on to though experience with 40 years of small groups of Christians studying the Bible often points in an opposite direction.


  4. @Richard, amen. Without the cross, without God’s accommodation to us in Jesus Christ there would be no access, no way to know the true and living God who alone dwells in immortality and unapproachable light. If He didn’t first speak in our voice, there is no way we could know His.

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  5. @Quistian, yeah, I think we are definitely being conformed into the image of Christ through Scripture reading and mediation, insofar as that event itself pushes up against the One who both contradicts us in our sin, and comforts us in His salvation. I think this dialectic constantly characterizes the reading of Holy Scripture.


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