My seminar on Karl Barth is reading through his Church Dogmatics, II/1, and two passages meant something to me that I wanted to share with you.
1. “We must treat unbelief seriously. Only one thing can be treated more seriously than unbelief; and that is faith itself—or rather, the real God in whom faith believes. …When faith takes itself seriously, who has place or freedom for this apparent assimilation, for this game with unbelief? Who is it who really has to stoop down at this point? Not one man to another, a believer to an unbeliever, as all natural theology fatally but inevitably supposes. He who stoops down to the level of us all, both believers and unbelievers, is the real God alone, in His grace and mercy” (95).
Sometimes I am told that emergent leaders, despite their unorthodox theology, should be applauded because they are able to reach people who would never read folks like me. I concede that may be so, but what are these leaders reaching them with? Karl Barth, emergent’s favorite (though I suspect mostly unread) theologian, reminds us that the necessary stooping is from God to us rather than from us to each other. We don’t need to excise the offensive parts of the gospel to “reach” others, for the longest leap has already occurred when God reached down to us.
2. “But this openness in itself and as such is still not that readiness. Taken simply as it stands, and therefore as it is described as the openness of man, it may equally well be accompanied by man’s complete closedness against the readiness of God. Indeed, we must say straight out that simply as such, simply as the openness of man, it is in fact always accompanied by this complete closedness” (130).
Barth reminds us that even our openness to God, “in itself and as such,” is a form of closedness. Professed humility can be an excuse to arrogantly disregard the clear teaching of Scripture on salvation and sexuality as merely one possible interpretation. Repentance can be another avenue for pride—look how sorry I am, surely God is pleased with me. We must remember that, as Barth says, we always play the “needy man” before God. Let us begin every prayer, sermon, and good deed with the awareness that the only thing we bring to the table is our closed rejection of God and his will. Any openness and obedience is his doing, not ours.