Karl Barth, the bridge, and the presence of God

By Beth, Aug 1 2018 01:53PM

(This post was originally a discussion board response I wrote in one of my graduate ministry classes. We were discussing Swiss theologian Karl Barth, who has been called "the greatest Protestant theologian of the twentieth century." Indeed, he had much influence on the Church and made a tremendously admirable theological stand against the Nazis.)

Karl Barth – what a puzzlement. Praise God that he faithfully and courageously withstood Hitler, even sacrificing his livelihood for his beliefs!

But here’s where I struggle. In our professor's lecture on Twentieth Century Theologies, he states that Barth believed:

No bridge could be built over the chasm that separated God from humankind. Reason, religion and morality all were signs of idolatry - the dependency upon self rather than God for salvation, which was all of God, and nothing of ourselves.

True, no bridge could be built by humankind that overcame the chasm between humanity and God. But God had already built a bridge long ago which we call “The Ten Commandments.” If the Hebrew people had actually followed them, and if their religious leaders had actually upheld their significance after Moses died, they would have formed the very bridge that humanity needed back to God and His standard of goodness:

Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons' sons;

Specially the day that thou stoodest before the Lord thy God in Horeb, when the Lord said unto me, Gather me the people together, and I will make them hear my words, that they may learn to fear me all the days that they shall live upon the earth, and that they may teach their children.

And ye came near and stood under the mountain; and the mountain burned with fire unto the midst of heaven, with darkness, clouds, and thick darkness.

And the Lord spake unto you out of the midst of the fire: ye heard the voice of the words, but saw no similitude; only ye heard a voice.

And he declared unto you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, even ten commandments; and he wrote them upon two tables of stone.

And the Lord commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and judgments, that ye might do them in the land whither ye go over to possess it.

Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves; for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the Lord spake unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire…


There is NOTHING, no standard of righteousness that even comes close to the Ten Commandments. And it is the foundation of morality. Paul speaks of Gentiles who do right by nature even though they’ve not been taught by the Scriptures. Those people, somehow naturally in touch with God’s moral order and naturally following His commandments (despite their ignorance of His specific ordinances) are righteous in God’s eyes.

Jesus Christ was the embodiment of God’s commandments in human form. As God-in-the-flesh come down to earth, he taught us how to rightly teach and implement those commandments without getting caught up in fleshly legalism and haughtiness, tangled up in commandments of men.

Furthermore, God gave us reason, invites us to reason together with Him. There is nothing inherently idolatrous about reason. It is only when we believe that our human reason supersedes that of the living God that we commit sin.

Barth argues that salvation is “all of God, and nothing of ourselves.” Not so. Though He has the far greater part in our salvation, we partner with God in our salvation by surrendering to our deliverance and submitting ourselves to Him.

After all, we are to be the “Bride of Christ” – as a woman and a bride myself, it really rankles me when some theologians insist that the Bride has no partnership whatsoever with her Husband. Don’t they realize that human marriage is merely an expression of the marriage of Christ and His Bride? That Christ asks for our hand, but that we have to be willing to say yes? And that God values our insights and discussion with Him over the years of our earthly marriage with Him? Goodness sakes, Moses negotiated with God, Jacob wrestled with Him, and they were HEROES of the faith – why do we not think that God wants to hear and consider our thoughts??

The professor states:

Barth led the church back to the Bible. According to him, it was the only means by which human beings could grasp anything about God.

That human beings were not able to grasp God was very evident.

I am a Biblical inerrantist, as I’ve stated here before. I don’t think that there is anything of significance that is incorrect or mistranslated in the Bible. I believe that the authors that the Bible names actually wrote the books for which they are credited. I don’t think it’s been altered or needs any new translation or interpretation.

But I don’t think that humanity is completely unable to grasp truth about God apart from the Bible.

We’re in a pickle now, living in the wickedest generation that ever was (but every generation faces that same pickle as sin continues to degenerate humanity.)

It is so hard to even spot truth at all, that we’d do well to stay close to our Bibles and grab hold of the Word of God and never let go.

But God is all around us. There were/are people without the Word who knew Him when they saw Him. Their stories are sprinkled throughout our Scriptures in the tales of Pharaoh’s daughter, Rahab, the woman and her husband in Shunem who made a home for Elisha, the Good Samaritan, etc. And we learn from the Scriptures that Abraham believed God and followed his judgments and statutes before the Ten Commandments were ever written (by the very Finger of God.)

The Bible is more important the further we secede from truth. But the entirety of God cannot be contained in its pages. God is a Spirit, and His Spirit is wherever someone earnestly looks for Him.

Sep 15 2018 12:10PM by jill

Hey Beth
Good writing.... Hope all is going well for yous... good here. Drop into class sometime and say "hi" It's good to see you progressing with your degree.
God is so very good all the time.

Barth argues that salvation is “all of God, and nothing of ourselves.” Not so. Though He has the far greater part in our salvation, we partner with God in our salvation by surrendering to our deliverance and submitting ourselves to Him.

I like this statement for it is a partnership and God loves it so. I love it so also.
Obedience was the first test and I believe it is the final test. We must feel, see and love the eternal good that sustains life.
God Bless you my friend!!!

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