Those who seek to be the living church of Christ, will learn a lot from Barth’s  high view of the place and power of God’s Written Word.  For him, the Church’s very existence depends upon our willingness to remain grounded in the power of the Bible.

This is what we mean when we call the Bible God’s Word. We confess and acknowledge therewith that the recollection of God’s past revelation, without which the enterprise of Church proclamation would be impossible, is just as much God’s grace and gift as is the actualisation our own proclamation needs. It is not in our own power to make this recollection, not even in the form of our grasping at the Bible. Only when and as the Bible grasps at us, when we are thus reminded, is this recollection achieved.

Here are the main conclusion Barth makes regarding the Word of God and its influence upon the individual Christian and the Church.

  1. Through God’s Written Word, we reconnect with the memories of our true nature and with God as our Creator.
  2. Through God’s Written Word, the Church is reminded that we do not exist for our own, but for something that transcends Church itself–Jesus Christ.
  3. Through God’s Written Word, the Church is reminded that the message we preach began with the prophets, continued through Paul and will last until the end.
  4. Through God’s Written Word, we are reminded that the word we speak today is distinct from Scripture and not equal in authority.
  5. Through God’s Written Word, the Church derives her reason for existence and authority to proclaim the message of Christ.

I will let Barth’s own words amplify the meaning of this last assertion which has some important implications for our post-modern church which all too often tries to exists and find meaning on its own authority.

If, then, apart from the undeniable vitality of the Church itself there stands confronting it a concrete authority with its own vitality, an authority whose pronouncement is not the Church’s dialogue with itself but an address to the Church, and which can have vis-à-vis the Church the position of a free power and therefore of a criterion, then obviously in its writtenness as “Bible”it must be distinguished from and given precedence over the purely spiritual and oral life of ecclesiastical tradition.

I am left to wonder, how has the church made dialogue with Herself, and with culture, more important than dialogue with Scripture?

FOOTNOTES

*All quotes from Karl Barth, Geoffrey William Bromiley and Thomas F. Torrance, Church Dogmatics, Volume I The Doctrine of the Word of God, Part 1, Translation of Die kirchliche Dogmatik.; Each pt. also has special t.p.; Includes indexes., 2d ed., 99-111 (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 2004).

 

Dr. J.R. Miller is a Professor of Applied Theology and Leadership & Dean of Online Learning at Southern California Seminary. Outside work, he is a church planter. Dr. Miller has a diverse educational background and authored multiple books on church history, biblical theology, and Leadership. Joe and his wife Suzanne enjoy the sun and surf with their 3 sons in San Diego, CA.

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