Sunday, January 23, 2011

Karl Barth on the Virgin Birth

If anyone thinks Barth is an old-school liberal, they really need to read CD I/2.172-202 on the "Miracle of Christmas". I found his criticism of Emil Brunner most amusing [Brunner rejects the virgin birth]. Barth writes: "Brunner's contribution to this matter in his more recent book, Man in Revolt, is so bad that my only possible attitude to it is silence." That is a shalacking!


David Reimer said...

Whether it is a "shalacking" or "shellacking", or whether that isn't better applied to Barth's devastating pronouncements on Brunner's The Mediator which immediately precede his "silence" on Brunner's Man in Revolt, it remains the case that for Barth his insistent affirmation of the Virgin Birth is a theological one, and not "biological": "neither in the New Testament nor in the creed is the doctrine of the Virgin birth a 'biological' explanation," says Barth.

His "biographer", Eberhard Busch, summarized Barth's view this way: "Only in this sense did he ... affirm the virgin birth...: it is not an explanation, but an indication of the mystery of revelation." (Karl Barth, p. 282).

So no, not an "old-school liberal" -- but not the most obvious antipode either!

(IMO, FWIW, YMMV, yada, yada...)

Michael said...

Carl F. H. Henry makes mention of Barth's work, and cautions that while he does have a lot of seeming Orthodox views, they are to be understood within Barth's own system. Apparently Barth distinguishes between "historie" and "geschichte," placing miracles such as the resurrection in the latter, and not the former, which is understood as critical history (essentially Gordon Clark and Richard Niebuhr's criticism of Barth). But Barth is hard to pin on this point. There seems to be some equivocation in his dogmatics in both liberal and conservative directions.

Cf. Henry: "But since [Barth] retained the basic thesis that divine revelation is given to man only in responsive trust, and is never objecctively disclosed in historical events or in natural phenomena, his efforts to vindicate the externality of revelation were less than successful, for he assigned revelation to the stratosphere of superhistory rather than to the realm of universal history investigated by historical research." God, Revelation, and Authority II. 287.

Michael Metts

Frederik Mulder said...

Guys, how about THIS: Barth believed the kerygma to have

“originated in the concrete fact that the disciples saw with their own eyes, heard with their ears, touched with their hands, in space and time, not only the derelication of the Word made flesh [Jesus] hanging on the cross, but also as the glory of the same Word made flesh risen from the dead” (Barth, K., Rudolf Bultmann – An Attempt to Understand Him, (ed.), by Hans-Werner Bartsch, (trans.), by Reginald H. Fuller, Kerygma and Myth. A Theological Debate, Vol. II (London: SPCK, 1972), 110).

Michael said...

Hi Mulder: Again, in Barth's system where divine revelation belongs to history, it is a separate plane of, or distinguished type of history, the kind not open to critical historical investigation. As Henry says, if the resurrection of Jesus from the dead does not belong to the same history as Julius Caesar crossing the rubicon, or other historical events, then Barth's treatment is not as propositional as Fuller would have us believe.

(Sorry for the sharpness of that).

Michael Metts

Michael said...

EDIT: Fuller = Bultmann.