Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Neo-Orthodoxy, Karl Barth, and Truth (John 17:1-9)

“Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth” (John 17:17)

One school of thought that tried to deal with the authority of Scripture was neo-orthodoxy. Karl Barth, considered the father of neo-orthodoxy, was the first to challenge the liberal skepticism that rejected the historicity of Scripture. At the center of the neo-orthodox view of Scripture’s authority is revelation and how it relates to truth. While neo-orthodoxy opposed the liberal view that God had not revealed Himself, it also rejected the abstract, prepositional creeds of traditional Christianity. Barth and others wanted to make faith more personal, moving truth from the objective realm to the subjective. Neo-orthodoxy was one reaction to the “cold formulas” of the traditional creeds and statements of faith. Barth maintained that knowing something objectively is not fully grasping the truth; instead, it must be personalized. Emil Brunner commented that truth is an encounter, not a proposition.

This is a classic example of a false dilemma—putting two complementary ideas in opposition. While truth is more than an intellectual assertion, neo-orthodoxy leans too far toward subjectivism. It leaves the interpretation of historical events to the individual. Truth, then, is found in personal interpretation. For example, the Cross no longer satisfies atonement for sinners; it is merely an event that people interpret for themselves. If you think Christ died only as an example, then that’s true for you—that’s what God has revealed to you.

This, of course, is on a collision course with orthodox Christianity. Orthodoxy maintains that God is active in history. Yet, the Bible is not merely a compilation of events, it also includes God’s interpretation of the meaning of those events. The statements of Scripture are inherently true no matter how we respond to them. We are called to be subjectively passionate about objective truth.

Barth said the Bible is not a book of divine revelation but only becomes revelation when the Holy Spirit applies it to each person in a unique way. Orthodoxy agrees that the Spirit is active in illuminating the Scriptures to us, but He does so through the objective truth of the Bible as the very Word of God. The standard of truth, revealed in Scripture, is the same for all people.

Barth said God revealed Himself in events, not in the words of Scripture. What does this do to the meaning of those events? What becomes the standard of truth? Read an historical event in Scripture and then find a passage that interprets that event.