Essay: Emergent Church and Karl Barth Staw Man Argument – Authority vs. Inerrancy

Essay: The Emergent Church and The Karl Barth Staw Man Argument – Authority vs. Inerrancy

I will try to be short and sweet with this – but it runs contrary to my nature…

This blog is an essay written in response to a blog post regarding Karl Barth and the Emmergent Church with reference to the issue of the inerrancy vs. authority of Scripture. ( If that sound remotely intresting – please read on.

The Source of the Emergent Movement: A reaction to an Abuse of Cultural Disengagement; the darkening prism of gnostic dualism and the Straw Man Argument of Karl Barth as proponent of a Meaningless Scripture: hijacking Barths concern of Inerrancy distracting from Authority


I am of the conviction that the issue with the so called “Emergent Church” is not as much it’s lack of doctrinal base – but rather that it has a certain etiology to it: that it is the result of something else – and that something else, I believe, is Evangelicalism/fundamentalism’s rejection of culture.

Racism is inherently problematic – but one of the worst things about it is that is spawns racism itself: the disorder breeds more of itself – often correspondingly so: the abused become the abusers -this is no doubt both true and adequately manifest, those who work in social services can attest, in a variety of other social evils. When an abuse is exercised – it often results in a corresponding, sometimes equal, yet other times appositionally relational abuse. Patriarchal abuse resulted in feminism, alcohol abuse resulted in prohibition – but I digress… The conservative church has long abused the issue of culture. We – to this day – fight the same fight our early church fathers fought against Gnostic Dualism – that somehow spirit is all good and physical is all bad; when in reality both are potentially fallen – and only one hope exists equally for either: Jesus Christ and His necessarily attendant Cross. The greatest crime of Gnostic Dualism is that it serves as a spectral dampener – it is a faulty prism that selectively blocks out certain colors of the soteriological light that passes through it – so that what is shown through it is not the fullness of light- but rather shades of darkness; which is what truth is when it is separated from its own wholeness. I earnestly believe that the Cross speaks to not just our spirits but also to our physicality’s as well. Both the earth and the spirit realm rejoice at the heralding of our Savior. Job says that in his flesh he shall see God. I believe that the fullness of salvation speaks to the fullness of our compositional state.

That much of the church seems to avoid the issue of culture is an abuse – a Gnostic Dualist assertion that it is best left unconsidered. Carl F.H. Henry reminded us of this in his 1947classic The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism.I believe that out of this lack of consideration – there has arisen those who practice an equally opposite idolatry: rather then an idolatry of the spirit, they practice an idolatry of the physical:whereas the conservative church – or what ever you want to call us (I count myself among their number) – ignores culture/physicality, they preach culture and physicality and snub theology/doctrine/orthodoxy. The whole postmodern movement may well be the result of a modernist abuse.

J. Gresham Machen highlights these issues in his critiques of fundamentalism; which thought he was fundamental in his doctrine- he disliked the fundamentalist label. For those interested in the full list of his contentions, you can read the profile of him, which lists them; overblown pietism and a suspicion of culture are named among them. Machen, I might point out – as hinted above – strongly felt prohibition was unbiblical and a result of a reaction to abuses and not coexistent with sound biblical doctrine, which he unabashedly preached relentlessly to an early grave.

Having stated thus – allow me to further say that I believe that an attempt to tie Barth with the Emergent churches lack of conviction in regards to scriptural inerrancy is a Straw Man Argument. By this I mean that it is a failed comparison that is either purposefully or inadvertently made for express means of merely then tearing it down to say : see there? I tore that bad idea all to pieces!

To prove this point allow me to digress momentarily…

No Modern Leap of Faith and Barth’s concept of an Awesome God: Relying on any aspect of Physicality to trust in God over faith in Christ and the Authority of the Scripture

As I was sitting in a coffee shop earlier this evening, I looked up from my programming endeavors and saw a young lady with a laptop, upon the cover of which was affixed a sticker that said Faith is not faith without the leap. This pretty much sums up my personal belief. Many people sharply criticize the philosophical/theological father of the idea behind the statement: Soren Kierkegaard – but they do that to their own detriment because they often fail to take into account the situation in which Kierkegaard spoke and use it a frame of reference for his ideas. Kierkegaard spoke against a Danish culture – wherein to be Danish was to be a Christian and he scandalized the idea in repeated polemics that emphasized the individuality of faith, and that you could not just accept it – but rather you had to take a leap of faith and make a radical commitment to something that you could not prove but had to nonetheless accept and live out regardless of its apparent foolishness.

Today – we Evangelicals suffer from this same disease. We think that we are Christians because we are Americans. We think that our faith is just something that we are naturally born into or merely choose to just believe in. The fact that we must be scandalized by it – or that it involves an act of faith and a disavowal of our own capabilities – a full surrender to something that requests everything of us and then says it will give it back to us – that we must die to find life- is an idea that is increasingly far removed from our minds.

We do not make the leap of faith – rather we just step over onto something else. We rather enjoy that certain cushion. It is this cushion that Barth spoke out against – and like Kierkegaard, he too must be viewed from within the context of his own situation: the background of liberal Protestant theology that viewed scripture and spiritually as merely a cultural endeavor that could pretty much be thoroughly understood and combined with humanity. Anyone that says that Barth scandalizes the idea of the scripture being important has never read his The Epistle To The Romans, in which he states that he was shaken early in his pastorial years by Romans and forced from mere cultural Christian practice into radical belief. Barth continually emphasized that gulf that exists between the awesomeness of God and the frailty of man. His emphasis on this vast awesomeness is largely lost in modern evangelism emphasis on a God that is carrying us down the beach of life of life (yes, the footprints in the sand poem – there were two sets of footprints then one – why?). Barth’s God is a God that is beyond your ability to conceive of him in His fullness – that every cognitive exercise by which we might understand and perceive God is ultimately futile in communicating the fullness and awesomeness of God. It is in this frame of reference – that his rebellion against his liberal colleagues that he must be heard. Barth wrote a book entitled Nein! (No!) against a fellow theologian Emile Brunner which castigated any notion of Natural Theology; that anything in this world was even remotely capable of portraying or proving any aspect of the full awesomeness of God. Our modern faith teaches that there is no real faith jump involved, natural or spiritual. Barth insisted that you had to take the jump and surrender to a power far beyond any of your abilities to fully comprehend or understand; and that in the end- everything fell short of showing, revealing and demonstrating an engaging God; only through the scripture have we any hope of a revelation of God – only through the revelation of the Scripture through the Holy Ghost do can we see God revealed. As Paul said – we only know in part what we someday shall know in full. Arguments made that Barth attacked scriptural reliance will ring hollow when you read and hear of Barth’s harsh words for any revelation that seeks to assert itself otherwise.

The awesomeness of God – that he is beyond any physical construct within temporal media, and that nor can he be fully and adequately described by it – as well as the necessity for making a faith declaration in the Authority of the Word and its revealed Christ is the true and real foundation for the bone he picked with those who espoused scriptural inerrancy. Barth strongly felt that anything that detracted from a focus on the authority of the Scripture was a distraction (see quote about windows below). In this way he was radically for the authority of the scripture. Today when one talks of Barthinianism – or Barthinistic Theology they use the word Crisis Theology or Dialectic Theology equally and interchangeable – because Barthinian, Crisis, and Dialectic theologies all mean the same thing: the summation of what Barth thought happens: that when you are exposed to the authority of the Word of God, you are either offended or changed – that there can be no indifferent reaction: you must be changed or offended. Barth believed more then anything in the power of living word of God to unforgivingly either radically change or offend the lives of all those who were exposed to it, it was what happened to him when he read Romans as a pastor- hence his being termed a crisis or dialectal theologian: a theologian of offense – the offense of man confronted by the awesomeness of a God beyond any ability to fully comprehend or understand Him.

Inerrancy over Authority? Does Inerrancy Save Your Soul? Nope.

This is why Barth took a dim view of the passion of Biblical inerrancy – scripture in the end was not depended upon science, statistics or culture -it it might speak authoritatively to them as issues, but it’s true weight had everything to do with the innate, inescapable authority of it; that to focus on anything else -was a persuasive but ultimately risky distraction. It has to be said – that somewhere, there is no doubt, a copy of Plato’s Republic, carefully reposed in a museum – the curator of which, being a master of his own field, can with no assurity state it to be inerrant, that all historical and archeological evidence points to the fact that the book has passed through the centuries since it was written completely unadulterated and unchanged. I have no idea if anybody anywhere has ever proven or disproven the inerrancy of Plato’s Republic or any other such work, philosophical, cultural, historic or otherwise. This is of no regard to me in the least. Whether it or anything else ever written at any time is inerrant or not – Plato’s Republic cannot save me from myself or my soul from Hell. It has absolutely nothing to do with my salvation; because inerrant or not -it has not a shred of authority. And it is the authority of the Gospel and the authority of the Gospel alone upon which I can and must hang my soteriological hat. Inerrancy is a scientific term and it detracts from the authority of the same. I can care less if the bible is 100 percent, 99.9 percent or 98.2 percent correctly transcribed through out the centuries. What is important is that within its pages is an authoritative record, one that speaks of a God that stepped out of unimaginable Glory to take on a frail human form that was in turn completely humiliated and broken for me as a price for my sins – and that He did it all gladly to reconcile me, the creature, with Himself, the Creator – that is what I want to hear preached over and over and over again! A bloody Cross – a God who died for me! Not numbers and statistics – and meaningless arguments that never saved a soul. Only the authority of scripture saves! Not the inerrancy!

Inerrancy, an unsatisfactory substitute from the necessary leap of faith, and other useless window-dressings for authority

When we come to faith in Christ through the revelation of His atonement for us, granted us through the mercies of the Holy Spirit’s revelation of the fact upon our minds; we cannot tip our hats toward unbelief or skepticism by placing any cushion outside of the knowledge and belief in the authority of the Word of God which tells us of it. But we are continually trying to do so, and much of the Word of God is composed of ongoing rebukes against doing such tempting things. You cannot make yourself more holy by abstaining from a physicality that you perceive as inherently bad. If you are offended by somebody eating meat – you are not a more mature Christian because of it – you are a weaker brother, rather; because while you are walking in Christ, your vegetarianism is a hindrance to the fullness of your spiritual walk with Christ; you are offended at the liberty that comes with the fullness of Christ. Others embrace ecumenicalism – and find security, not in vegetables, but in titles and formalism. Others find security in legalisms and place them in positions that would no doubt draw Paul’s heaviest firepower against them and their eventual drift towards a Galatianizied Gospel. We cannot offer a sacrifice of – well this is why I believe this to the idol of skepticism and doubt. It deserves no other response other then I believe in the authority of scripture, anything and everything else is merely window-dressing to this central point. We must preach Christ and Christ crucified – revealed to us through an authoritative scripture, one wherein regardless of any perceived issue, we are confronted with it and must either be offended by or changed by it. The awe that is cast upon our hearts, spirits and minds has nothing to do with anything else then that it is real, authoritative, and powerful beyond any mere scientific means to qualify, quantify or explain it. Ultimately – I have no need of any excuse or cushion. You should not either – neither should you expend precious spiritual, emotional, and intellectual energy crafting one. You need no crutch to hold up your faith – and if you have a crutch, then I beg of you to cast it into the flames lest you be found in the end to have relied upon it and not a faith in Christ alone.

In closing this essay I will quote what Wikipedia says about Barth – they pretty much sum up all that I have said about him in regards to the scripture authority vs. scripture inerrancy issue.

“Barth’s dedication to the sole authority and power of the Word of God was illustrated for us while we were in Basel. Barth was engaged in a dispute over the stained glass windows in the Basel Münster. The windows had been removed during World War II for fear they would be destroyed by bombs, and Barth was resisting the attempt to restore them to the church. His contention was that the church did not need portrayals of the gospel story given by stained glass windows. The gospel came to the church only through the Word proclaimed. the incident was typical of Barth’s sole dedication to the Word. ” Elizabeth Achtemeier

“In the confrontation between humanity and God, which was Barth’s fundamental concern, the word of God and God’s revelation in Jesus are the only means God has for Self-revelation; Barth argued that people must listen in an attitude of awe, trust, and obedience.

Such critics regard proclaiming a rigorous Christian theology without basing that theology on a supporting text that is considered to be historically accurate as a separation of theological truth from historical truth; for his part, Barth would have argued that making claims about biblical inerrancy the foundation of theology is to take a foundation other than Jesus Christ, and that our understanding of Scripture’s accuracy and worth can only properly emerge from consideration of what it means for it to be a true witness to the incarnate Word, Jesus. “

Wikipedia information about Karl Barth
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article “Karl Barth”. More from Wikipedia

P.S. If anyone here is reading this from the blog post that inspired it (found at I think that a much more interesting discussion on Barth would be his stance on Justification: that it was Christ who was both elected and rejected on behalf of God. The ins and outs of this position and how it is often misconstrued to make him sound like a universalist would be interesting reading to me. Hey – Ken thanks for inspiring me to write this even if it was expressed in hopefully gracious disagreement with you, keep blogging!

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