[1962. More Questions on Barth’s Views (Contributor). Christianity Today 5 Jan.]



It had been hoped that Dr. Karl Barth himself would make some answer to the questions put by Professors Clark, Klooster, and Van Til (July 3, 1961, issue). Owing to pressure of work, however, he was unable to do this. Therefore CHRISTIANITY TODAY has asked Dr. Geoffrey W. Bromiley to suggest some lines of reply from his reading of the Church Dogmatics. It should be remembered, of course, that these are not the express answers of Barth himself, and also that while Dr. Bromiley is one of the translators of Barth’s writings, the arguments here presented are not necessarily to be associated with Dr. Bromiley personally.




1. Was it reasonable for Paul to endure suffering in his ministry (or is it reasonable for us) if all are in Christ and will perhaps be saved anyhow, and if, as Professor Barth says, Feuerbach and secular science are already in the Church?


Dr. Bromiley’s Comment: The answer is twofold. First, Barth does not hold it as authoritative or certain that all will enjoy the benefits of the salvation sufficiently attained for all in Christ. Secondly, knowledge and faith are necessary for this enjoyment, and these come through the ministry of Christians in the power of the Holy Spirit. Hence Christians have a necessary part to play in the prophetic aspect of the work of reconciliation, and no sense of futility need hang over their work and warfare.


Dr. Clark’s Overcomment: Barth is not altogether clear on the matter of universalism. In some places he seems to say that all are saved, whether they know it or not. In this case, a Christian message might comfort some troubled souls for the time being, but inasmuch as it does not determine their future bliss, a missionary is hardly called on to suffer very much in proclaiming a comforting but unessential message.


2. In professor Barth’s Anselm Fides Quaerens Intellectum (English translation, p. 70) we are told that we can never see clearly whether any statement of any theologian is on one or other side of the border between divine simplicity and incredible deception. Does not this make theology—Barth’s included—a waste of time? Does this not make Bultmann’s theology as acceptable as Barth’s?


Dr. Bromiley’s Comment: The statement would seem to demand rather than to refute the work of the dogmatician. Dogmatics is necessary in order that we may make sure that our own statements are on the right side of the border, and in order that we may develop a critical discernment in relation to those of others.


Dr. Clark’s Overcomment: It still seems to me that if we can never distinguish between truth and deception, dogmatics by Barth, Bromiley, or myself is useless.




3. On Geschichte and Historie (a) Has this distinction a biblical basis? (b) How does one distinguish Geschichte which may be the object of Historie from that which may not? (c) Are there two kinds of Geschichte, and if so how do they differ? (d) Could the Cross and the Resurrection be Geschichte even if proved most improbable to Historie? (e) Are the cross and Resurrection datable in the sense of the creeds and orthodox confessions? or only (f) as those who receive them are datable?


Dr. Bromiley’s Comment: The various sub-divisions are best treated as they come, and we may thus reply first to (a) that the basic distinction between history as act (Geschichte) and history as record (Historie) is obviously exemplified in the Bible, but also that the Bible also speaks of acts (e.g. God’s eternal foreordination) which cannot be the object of historical record in the precise scientific sense. This leads us to the further point in answer to (b) that it is the divine or miraculous element in events which, though it may be reliably documented, cannot be described in terms of scientific history. To take a simple example, the empty tomb, or the finding of the empty tomb, might be a proper theme for historical presentation, but the actual rising or raising of Jesus, though it is no less securely a fact, defies the categories of scientific history.

The answer to (c) is more difficult. If it is suggested that some events are more factual than others, this is a notion which cannot be entertained. On the other hand, if the distinction is in terms of the ordinary event patient of scientific explanation and the miraculous which eludes it, a valid difference may be asserted. It should be remembered, however, that when we are dealing with God’s actions in this world, there is always a this worldly aspect, contact or result which brings us into the sphere of Historie. Hence we cannot simply say that some Geschichte is historisch and some is not.

The problem of (d) can hardly be said to arise. In relation to the aspects of the Cross and Resurrection which are open to historical investigation there can be no question of improbability. In relation to the miraculous aspects, for example, the raising of Jesus, Historie is in no position to make a pronouncement, since the act lies outside its scientific sphere of reference. For its own purpose Historie may regard it as improbable, but this has no bearing on its actual occurrence. In other words, the whole method of scientific history presupposes the improbability of miracle, but in relation to God’s dealings this is simply a mark of the limitation of its task. The most that can be said is that if the apostles could be proved to be liars, we could not reasonably speak of the Resurrection as an event. But this hypothesis is itself historically most improbable.

Sections (e) and (f) belong together and may be quickly answered together. The cross and Resurrection are datable in the same sense as all historical events and therefore according to the understanding of the creeds. Their apprehension is a distinct event of its own, not to be confused with the original objective occurrence once for all under Pontius Pilate. Whether or not history can give a scientific account of what took place, the objective occurrence is not in question, and the kerygmatic record of the apostles is both appropriate and authentic.


Dr. Klooster’s Overcomment: It seems to me that Professor Barth must supply additional explanation of the complex distinction between Geschichte and Historie if he wishes to clarify the precise nature of his disagreement with R. Bultmann. I believe that the fundamental ambiguities within the Church Dogmatics remain.

In (a) I asked whether there is a biblical basis for Barth’s distinction between Geschichte and Historie, Bromiley replies that the Bible does distinguish between history as act and history as record. I agree, of course. But Barth’s use of the terms Geschichte and Historie involves much more than this distinction between history as act and as record. Hence Bromiley adds that the Bible also speaks of acts which cannot be the object of historical record in the precise scientific sense. He mentions God’s eternal foreordination. But the foreordination of God is an eternal act of God which does not occur within history. The problem raised by Barth’s distinction concerns just those acts of God which are performed within history. The eternal acts of God are unknown unless they are revealed by God. But the objective datable acts of God in history confront us and require our acknowledgment. By the term Geschichte, however, Barth indicates that the secular historian may legitimately exclude them. Hence my question remains—what biblical basis does the distinction between Geschichte and Historie have? I believe that Barth’s distinction in its full implication conflicts with Scripture. And I believe Bromiley’s answer to question six implies the same.

In (b) the question was how Geschichte which is the object of Historie may be distinguished from that Geschichte which is not the object of Historie. Bromiley correctly responds that according to Barth the miraculous element in events cannot be described in terms of scientific history. On this view the empty tomb may be a proper thee for historical presentation while the rising or raising of Jesus is not. But it is precisely the secular historian’s contention that the miraculous event may be excluded from his science which I would challenge. In the extent that the scientific historian is really secular, his unwillingness to allow for certain miraculous events is but his was of suppressing the revelation of God. The empty tomb is certainly an element in the miraculous event of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And the actual presence of the risen Jesus of Nazareth is as objective and datable as the empty tomb. However the true meaning of this complete event is made known by the revelation of God and the acceptance of this miraculous event and its meaning is possible only through the faith that is engendered by the Holy Spirit. True science will acknowledge this, but the Barthian distinction of Geschichte and Historie allows for the legitimacy of secular science.

This led me to ask in (c) whether there are really two kinds of Geschichte. I believe this is one of the most important facts of the problem. I submit that Barth’s position involves a distinction between two kinds of happenings (Geschichte). Some events have only a temporal and human side, and these the secular scientific historian admits into his historical record. But according to Barth there are also events which have in addition a nontemporal and divine side. With this dualistic view it seems to me that Barth fails to acknowledge that Scripture teaches that the whole of history is under the government of God. Not only certain crucial miraculous events are under God’s control, but all of history is in his sovereign hand. It seems to me that Barth’s view of revelation as well as of providence is involved in his distinction between Geschichte and Historie, and this leads to the questions I have asked. My difficulties arise already in the early pages of Church Dogmatics I/1 where Barth describes his view of science and history. Barth does not challenge the illegitimate claims of secular science. Therefore I was delighted with Bromiley’s concluding comment under question 6 that “we should free ourselves from the tyranny of scientific and rationalistic historicism.”

In (d) I asked whether according to Barth the Cross and the Resurrection can be Geschichte even if impossible to Historie. Although Bromiley replies that this question can hardly be said to arise, I must reply that it arose out of my reading of the Church Dogmatics, I/1, p. 375. There Barth states that the historical judgment that a biblical story was not to be regarded as historical would not affect its revelational significance as Geschichte. My question concerned the possibility of such an historical judgment with respect to the Cross and the Resurrection. Here again I question the assumptions of secular science indicated above.

With respect to (e) and (f) Bromiley asserts that the Cross and the Resurrection are datable in the same sense as all historical events. Again Bromiley correctly adds that the apprehension of such events is a distinct event of its own. However, if the objective occurrence of such events is not in question. I must continue to ask on what biblical grounds the scientific historian may be permitted to exclude them? Is not his rejection of such events a form of the suppression of God’s revelation which is natural to the sinner?

4. On humiliation and exaltation, (a) If these are not successive, can the Cross and Resurrection be datable? (b) If they are not successive, is the Resurrection a “new” event only on a nonchronological sense? (c) Is the Resurrection a true past event or a timeless event manifested and preached in time.


Dr. Bromiley’s Comment: According to the presentation in the Dogmatics, humiliation and exaltation are not successive states but aspects of the same total event of reconciliation. Thus Christ as the Son of God humbles himself in his incarnation and crucifixion, but Christ as the Son of Man displays his kingly glory and is already exalted in these same events. Whether or not this is a true understanding, it has no bearing on the datable succession of the events from the birth of Christ to his ascension. This being so, the second and third parts of the question are irrelevant. The Resurrection is also a new event chronologically, and, though the Risen Christ is raised to the power of endless life, the raising took place once in time no less than the Crucifixion. The concept of a timeless event has no place in an authentic account of the saving work of God in Christ except in the sense that these events are of eternal import.


Dr. Klooster’s Overcomment: Limitations of space do not permit me to pursue this question. If it is true that there is a “datable succession of the events from the birth of Christ to his ascension” for Barth. (though I am not yet convinced of this by evidence from Barth’s writing) there is still a significant difference between Barth and evangelical theologians as to the meaning of these events. This difference shows itself in a remarkable way when he denies that humiliation and exaltation are states of Christ which follow each other in time. Hence a great deal of ambiguity arises because of Barth’s use of these terms. Thus when Barth speaks of the Resurrection as the revelation of Christ’s exaltation, but mentions that this exaltation is already present in the Incarnation. I am still faced with the questions posed. In spite of the response, I do not think these questions irrelevant.


Dr. Van Til’s Questions:


5. If resurrection is an object of expectation as well as recollection (Die kirchliche Dogmatik, 1, 2, p. 128), (a) does this refer to Christ resurrection? If so (b) in what sense is it a datable, objective, past event?


Dr. Bromiley’s Comment: The concepts of expectation and recollection may be applied no less to Christ’s resurrection than to Christ generally in the sense that there is expectation in the Old Testament and recollection in the New. Today we may still speak of expectation (a) of the final manifestation of the risen Lord, and (b) of our resurrection with Christ in consummation of God’s requickening work. But obviously these do not affect the datable factuality of the rising again of Christ from the tomb on the third day.


6. If the Cross and Resurrection as Geschichte are the basis of salvation for all, (a) is this consistent with the orthodox view of their nature as past events? Or (b) is there a connection between this view and the orthodox lack of appreciation for a “biblical universalism,” so that the view must be altered in the interests of “biblical universalism”?

Dr. Bromiley’s Comment: (a) That the Cross and Resurrection are the basis of salvation for all is not inconsistent with their objectivity as past events, since they took place as the substitutionary work of Christ in which One took the place of all and acted for them there and then in a once-for-all event. (b) There would not seem to be any necessary connection between orthodox “particularism” and the orthodox view of the historicity of God’s work. For it must be remembered that orthodox does not dispute the universal sufficiency of Christ’s work and also that there is much orthodoxy which without being universalistic, disclaims a rigid particularism.

The main point at issue concerns the prophetic ministry of Christ through the Spirit as also a part of his reconciling work. If the orthodox view of the historicity of the Cross and Resurrection means that any person may know and behave and prove them merely by the ordinary means of scientific investigation. Barth would dispute this on the ground that they involve miraculous acts of God which as such can be known, believed, and proved only by the further miraculous action of illumination and instruction by the risen Christ through the Holy Ghost.

It should be noted in this whole connection (cf. 3) that Barth tends to use the word Historie in an unduly narrow but common European sense for scientific historiography which by its very nature does not admit the miraculous. His concern is that the miraculous is real event even though it cannot be recorded in terms of this kind of Historie. A question worth asking, however is whether Historie can or should be thus restated. Are not the Gospels Historie even though they reject some of the a priori assumptions of scientific historiography? Do they not give us accurate and reliable accounts of these real facts? May it not be that we should free ourselves from the tyranny of scientific and rationalistic historicism by boldly claiming the Bible, too, as genuine Historie even though it advances data which go beyond the creaturely world? Shall we not avoid the confusions of this whole matter of Geschichte and Historie only when we learn again from Holy Scripture what Historie truly is?


Dr. Van Til’s Overcomment: Permit me to clarify my questions to Barth. Our problem is whether Barth’s rejection of Bultmann’s subjectivism is itself based upon an essentially evangelical view of the death and resurrection of Christ.

Barth says that he has actualized the Incarnation (IV/2, pp. 116 ff.). As the direct consequence of this Barth refuses to speak of the state of Christ’s exaltation as following that of humiliation. Says Barth: “Where and when is He not both humiliated and exalted; already exalted in His humiliation, and humiliated in His exaltation” (IV/1, p. 146). Speaking of Christ Barth says, “whose humiliation detracts nothing and whose exaltation adds nothing” (IV/1, p. 146).

It seems clear then that Barth is not thinking of the resurrection of Christ as happening in time after the Incarnation.

When Barth is asked, “How can humiliation at the same time be exaltation?” (IV/2, p. 120), his reply is that the Resurrection is primarily a matter of Geschichte and that, as such, it happens at every time (dass zu jeder Zeit diese Geschichte geschieht). Barth does, to be sure, speak of the newness of the Resurrection in relation to the death of ChriQst, but this newness is said to be within the Geschichte which takes place at every time.

Quite consistent with this, it would seem. Barth says that our remembrance of the Resurrection is as unique as is the Resurrection itself. Our remembrance of the Resurrection is “expectation of this same time” (Erwartung dieser selben Zeit) (I/2, p. 128). He is speaking of one event which is and must be both remembered and expected.

If Barth were to teach the orthodox view of Christ’s resurrection he would, in effect, deny his basic contention that while history is revelational, revelation is never historical. To think of God’s revelation in the Resurrection as historical would be, on Barth’s view, to give it over to pure relativism. If therefore the atonement is to have an objective foundation it must take place primarily in Geschichte. And Geschichte takes place at every time.

Barth asserts that in the Christ-Event we have the objective foundation for the salvation of all men (IV/1, p. 329). Reconciliation is Geschichte (IV/1, p. 171). It is the most original Geschichte of every man. It is the Geschichte in which God lifts the “creature in the strictest and most perfect sense into unity with His own being” (II/1, p. 354). In the Resurrection all men participate in the glory of God (III/2, p. 760). Thus Christ’s true time takes the place (tritt an die Stelle) of our unauthentic time (I/2, p. 61).

Now it is true that Barth does not teach universalism in an absolute sense. But for him sin is an “ontological impossibility” because of the fact that every man’s primary relation is that of his salvation in Christ. Man’s sin, as taking place in history, is in advance (zum vornherein), borne by Christ. Thus there is, as Dr. Berkouwer has aptly phrased it, on Barth’s view, “no transition from wrath to grace” through Christ in history in Barth’s theology.

It would seem then that Barth’s appeal to the Resurrection as a datable fact cannot be indicated as evidence of any inclination to return to the orthodox position.

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