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Calvin and Barth on revelation: An imagined conversation

What do I know but...

CALVIN:  Above all we must recognize that God stoops to reveal Himself.

BARTH:  Above all we must recognize that God stoops to reveal Himself.

CALVIN:  No but it's a stooping revelation.

BARTH:  Yes but it's a stooping revelation.

CALVIN:  But what we see is God in His condescension.

BARTH:  Amen!  We see God in His condescension.

CALVIN:  But we can't know God except that He accommodates Himself to us.

BARTH:  Yes but we do know God as the One who accommodates Himself to us.

CALVIN:  In all humility we cannot presume to know God apart from His condescension.

BARTH:  In all humility we cannot presume that God is any other than the One who condescends.

CALVIN:  No but when He condescends He clothes Himself in a character foreign to Himself. (see here or here)

BARTH:  ... And how do we know that it's foreign to Himself?


By the way, I love em both.  I love Calvin when he sounds like Barth and Barth when he sounds like Calvin.  But on this issue - if I've understood them both (which I may not have!) - I'm with Karl.


14 thoughts on “Calvin and Barth on revelation: An imagined conversation

  1. PRB

    Yes, they are both great, but in our day that wonderful emphasis from Barth is so refreshing. It is the Living God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - who meets us in revelation- all in and through Jesus. Glory to Jesus! When the world is so full of gods, Absolute Beings, Almighty lords, impersonal forces, 'something out there', and even nothing much at all... then it is such wonderful news to know that Jesus is the fullness of God in bodily form.

  2. Matt Frost

    Calvin had so much invested in the clear distinction between God and creature in order to make sense of the incarnation as event—but Barth seems to have room for neither the Calvinistic extra nor the Lutheran infra, emphasizing the action of the Creator, to whom the creation cannot possibly be alien even in its self-imposed alienation from God.

  3. Glen

    Well said Matt. I'm reminded again how central 'the finite cannot contain the infinite' was for Calvin's thought. As opposed to Col 2:9.

    Emily, I think he mainly gets a bad rap because evangelicals view his doctrine of Scripture in isolation from his doctrine of the threefold word (Christ, Scripture and Proclamation). He refuses to see the bible as an end in itself but as a witness to Christ. At the same time - as the second form of the Word (parallel to the second Person of the Trinity) - it is still very much Word from Word and he continually affirms Scripture as God's word. But hearing of Scripture as "witness" makes many evangelicals uncomfortable, It sounds like the liberal position of the bible "containing" God's word. But that's not Barth's point at all. His point is that everything's about *Jesus* and sometimes it's our dearest evanglical shibboleths that can get in the way of that! .

  4. Tim Coomar

    Glen, even before I got to Emily's question I was already thinking the same thing. Do you have anywhere you could direct us to in order to read an slightly expanded version of your defence of Barth?

  5. Glen

    This is more than slightly expanded...

    Basically on preaching you've never read a more conservative homiletic than Barth's. For a start he says his 6 million words of Church Dogmatics are all in the service of preaching. And as for how to preach... You begin at the start of your passage, you finish at the end, you don't look for illustrations, you don't look for introductions, you don't conclude with some moralizing finale, you pray for Christ to be received in the word and you offer them Jesus then sit down.

    As for theology - it's all utterly Christ-centred.

    He's a bit on the modalistic side if you ask me.
    I think his fallen flesh stuff is unfortunate.
    He doesn't close off universalism convincingly.
    And there's that ONE SENTENCE in Dogmatics about the bible being capable of error (which is just the parallel error to the fallen flesh stuff).

    But over all he begins and ends with Jesus in a radically *evangelical* way that puts the vast majority of "evangelicals" to shame.

  6. John B

    And besides, Barth loved Mozart and explained the theology of his music!

    "Whether the angels play only Bach praising God, I am not quite sure. I am sure, however, that en famille they play Mozart." ~Karl Barth

  7. Rich

    I think one of the reasons Bath gets a bad press is that he is such hard work to read. It really is like swimming through treacle at times. Even his shorter books are stodgy.

    As a theologian he is titan, easily of Luther and Calvin's stature. BUT Luther and Calvin were very gifted communicators and Calvin in particular knew how to put stuff together and write with such beauty. Barth has his own beauty, but you need spadefuls of coffee to get through it.

    So it's a lot easier to slag him off and dismiss the whole corpus for one or two errors, than to persevere and be blessed by the vast mine of treasure available. The bad bits stand out so much because the rest is so glorious.

    Lazy people are his naysayers.

    Don't forget that Calvin (sort of) had someone's head cut off, and Luther wrote the vile 'Against the Jews and their lies'. If we gave them the same treatment as most give Barth because of his errors, we'd basically have no theology at all.


  8. Rich

    I sometimes play the "evangelical shibboleth" game. Particularly at... those kinds of conferences... Drop the B-bomb for a giggle.

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