The revelation of God in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is the judging but also reconciling presence of God in the world of human religion, that is, in the realm of man’s attempts to justify and to sanctify himself before a capricious and arbitrary picture of God. The Church is the locus of true religion, so far as through grace it lives by grace.

Barth asserts that the event of Divine revelation can only be understand and expounded through the Scripture.  Revelation, both its reality and possibility, comes to the Church only through the action of God in the person of the Holy Spirit.   It is this encounter with God that has spawned, says Barth, the many religions of the world.  And although Christianity is singular in its message, it is not unique its its encounter with revelation.

So here is where I want to stop and consider what Barth is saying.   It is the first time in reading the Church Dogmatics, that I find myself hard pressed to understand Barth.  Here is the crux of Barth’s assertion regarding revelation and religion.

From this aspect what we call revelation seems necessarily to be only a particular instance of the universal which is called religion. “Christianity” or the “Christian religion” is one predicate for a subject which may have other predicates. It is a species within a genus in which there may be other species. Apart from and alongside Christianity there is Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Shintoism and every kind of animistic, totemistic, ascetic, mystical and prophetic religion. And again, we would have to deny revelation as such if we tried to deny that it is also Christianity, that it has this human aspect, that from this standpoint it can be compared with other human things, that from this standpoint it is singular but certainly not unique. We have to recognise the fact calmly, and calmly think it through. If we are going to know and acknowledge the revelation of God as revelation, then there is this general human element which we cannot avoid or call by any other name. It is always there even apart from Christianity as one specific area of human competence, experience and activity, as one of the worlds within the world of men.*

I understand that Barth, in his later years, became a universalist.  Is this the beginning of that theology?  Is Barth here saying that revelation is evidenced in all religions and therefore all religions have an unique but equally viable revelation of God?  Or is this Barth’s way of saying that all Men are created with the ability to experience God; some are led into a false religion and others into the One Truth of jesus Christ revealed in the New Testament?

So, according to Barth, which is it; Christianity is one option among many or Christianity is one true revelation among many misleading ones?  Or is there something else gong on here I am totally not understanding?

* Karl Barth, Geoffrey William. Bromiley and Thomas F. Torrance, Church Dogmatics, Volume I: The Doctrine of the Word of God, Part 2 (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 2004), 281.

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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