Recently Karl Barth was seen haunting the halls of a certain eastern seminary. While Barth apparently died in 1968, his spirit has lingered on through his words and his writing and his passion for God and His Kingdom.

Karl was interested in engaging the emerging church conversation, even if posthumously. Sitting at a PC in a student lounge, he was surfing some of the more prominent blog sites when he ran across Scot McKnight’s post of November 2nd. In response to Scot, he quoted from one of his better known works, “Evangelical Theology.” Karl’s comments are in red.

First.. those squarely in the em (emerging movement) are post-rational, denying the ability to prove meta-narratives on rational, independent, objective grounds. In other words, it contends that the only way meta-narratives can be finally persuasive is if one believes the meta-narrative itself. Faith is required for the meta-narrative to be truthful… This is somewhat Augustinian: I believe in order to understand.

“The faith of the community is asked to seek understanding. Faith
seeking understanding, Fides quarens intellectum, is what
theology must embody and represent… Theology says credo, along with
the present-day community and its fathers. But it says credo ut
intelligam,
“I believe in order to understand.” p.43
“In [Israel’s] history He makes Himself known.. God can be called the “truth” only when truth is understood in the Greek sense of the word aletheia.. the event of His self-disclosure.” p.9

Second, those in the em believe in incarnational and contextual living. Truth is relational. The Emerging Movement is an attempt to “do church locally”? in light of the postmodern condition of our world.


“The community does not speak with words alone, but by the very fact of
its existence in the world; by its characteristic attitude to world
problems; and, moreover and especially, by its silent service to all the
weak, handicapped, needy in the world. It speaks, finally, by the simple
fact that it prays for the world…” p.38

Third, the em form of postmodernity operates with a chastened rationality. Here"s why: they know that the Subject (you and I when we are attempting to “know”?) is always involved to one degree or another in knowing the Object (what you and I are trying to “know”?). Humans are limited and fallible ”? every last one of us. Some call this the noetic effects of the Fall.


“Even the most able speech of the most living faith is a human work. And this means that the community can go astray in its proclamation of the Word of God, in its interpretation of the biblical testimony, and finally in its own faith… Every day the community must pray that this may not happen, but it must also do its own share of earnest work toward this goal. This work is theological work.”
“ No dogma or article of the creed can be simply taken over untested by theology form ecclesiastical antiquity; each must be measured, from the very beginning, by the Holy Scripture and the Word of God.”? p.42

Fourth, Absolute Truth can only be predicated of God himself. Sometimes evangelicals affirm that they believe in absolute truth… But, only God is Absolute Truth and all our articulations of truth partake of that Truth but our articulations are not equal to the source. Only God is Absolute Truth and only God can know truth absolutely.


“Theology is neither prophecy nor apostolate. Its relationship to God"s Word cannot be compared to the biblical witnesses, because it can know the Word of God only at secondhand, only in the mirror and echo of the biblical witness.”? p.31
“Theology is modest because its entire logic can only be a human ana-logy to that Word; analogical thought and speech do not claim to be, to say, to contain or to control the original word.” p.17

Fifth, the em"s embrace of chastened rationality is the embrace of our human condition, of our need for humility in what we say, and in the need we have for one another to come to the truth of the gospel. The em believes that only by trusting in God, and by living in the way of Jesus, and by living out as a community of faith, do we strike home to truth. Truth is a relationship to God that is lived out and articulated.


“The community speaks in the surrounding world by the positions it takes, and fails to take, on the political, social, and cultural problems of the world.” p.40
“When a man becomes involved in [theology], its object does not allow him to set himself apart from it or to claim independence and autarchic self-sufficiency.” p.75

Sixth, the em affirms that God"s truth, His most complete word, is to be found in Jesus Christ and in the scriptural witness to Him. They affirm the Scripture as the “script”? for the “theo-drama”? we are summoned to live out in this world. (Kevin Vanhoozer). The Spirit who guides and speaks today is the Spirit who inspires Scripture.


“It was Yahweh’s Word itself, as it was spoken in his history with Israel, which [the prophets] brought to the hearing of their people…[the apostles] proclaimed concretely the one Jesus Christ who had encountered them as the one who he was…”
“Only the Holy Spirit can help a theology that is or has become unspiritual. Only the Spirit can assist theology to become enduringly conscious and aware of the misery of its arbitrary devices of controlling him. Only where the Spirit is sighed, cried, and prayed for does he become present and newly active.” p. 58

Seventh, the em operates with a praxis and orthodoxy model rather than an orthodoxy model: in other words, it believes that orthodoxy is practiced (since truth is ultimately relational) as much as it is articulated. (This is a “both-and”? approach.) This is a needed challenge to the orthodoxy model that often slips into credo as the best expression of the Christian faith. Rather faith is proclaimed by its performance, and performed by proclamation.


“In the life of the Christian community it can never be taken for granted that the community serves the Word of God by all its projects and institutions. The fact may be, instead, that the Word of God is being made to serve the community and its projects and institutions.” p.191

Eighth, the em is smitten by a narrative or story form to theology and less committed to a propositional form of theology. The work of God to redeem us is a narrative of God"s work in the world: the Bible is not so much a systematic theology as it is a story of God"s mighty acts, the history of God"s work with God"s people in God"s world.


“The covenant is the content of the Word of God; and God’s covenant, history, and work with man are the contents of his Word which distinguish it from all other words.” p.20
“Theology responds to that Word spoken in the history of Israel which reaches its culmination in the history of Jesus Christ… the Word of this history is what evangelical theology must always hear, understand, and speak of anew.” p.21

Ninth, the “certainty”? of the em emerges from love and trust of God, from loving Jesus Christ, and from being immersed in the love of the Holy Spirit. I know Jesus died for me not because I can prove it but because I trust God"s work in Jesus Christ. That is the only kind of proof I can offer for love. I love, therefore, I know I love and am loved. This is an experiential and trans-rational knowledge.


“Theology cannot lift itself, as it were, by its own bootstraps, to the level of God; it cannot presuppose anything at all.. It cannot seek to secure its own operation. It is not endowed with a power which the theologian knows and can exploit..” p.51
“No one can become and remain a theologian unless he is compelled again and again to be astonished at himself… who am I to be a theologian? I have finally and profoundly become a man made to wonder at himself by this wonder of God.. I can no longer be released from this confrontation… As a recipient of grace, a man can only become active in gratitude.” p.72-73

Tenth, grace rules for the em because it deprives me of being able to prove God to myself, to others, and to God. Grace tells me that I can only know God by casting aside my own mental arrogance and find Truth in God who is Truth.


“Before [the student of the Word] knows anything at all, he finds himself known by this object and consequently aroused and summoned to knowledge. He is summoned to research because he finds himself searched, to thinking and reflection because he becomes aware that someone thinks of him, to speech because he hears someone speak to him long before he can even stammer..” p.77

3 Comments on Karl Barth on the emerging movement..

  1. Bob says:

    Two quotes come to mind:

    “There is nothing new under the sun.”

    “Creativity is the ability to forget where you first heard something.”

  2. Len says:

    At the same time we need to be digging in these older writings in order to understand our connection to God’s work in history and in order to more accurately test our own direction..

  3. David Porter says:

    As usual Len… you make me want to go out and get some books….

    I gotta ge me some Barth!