It seems like Karl Barth had no place for Christian apologetics (maybe some who are more familiar with his writings can let me know if he continued to hold this view over time). This is what he says concerning the uselessness of apologetics in defending the Gospel (The Epistle to the Romans, 35 commenting on Rom. 1.16-17):
“The Gospel neither requires men to engage in the conflict of religions or the conflict of philosophies, nor does it compel them to hold themselves aloof from these controversies. In announcing the limitation of the known world by another that is unknown, the Gospel does not enter into competition with the many attempts to disclose within the known world some more or less unknown and higher form of existence and to make it accessible to men. The Gospel is not a truth among other truth. Rather, it sets a question-mark against all truths. The Gospel is not the door but the hinge. The man who apprehends its meaning is removed from all strife, because he is engaged in a strife with the whole, even with existence itself. Anxiety concerning the victory of the Gospel—that is, Christian Apologetics—is meaningless, because the Gospel is the victory by which the world is overcome. By the Gospel the whole concrete world is dissolved and established. It does not require representatives with a sense of responsibility, for it is a response for those who proclaim it as it is for those to whom it is proclaimed. It is the advocate of both. Nor is it necessary for the Gospel that Paul should take his stand in the midst of the spiritual cosmopolitanism of Rome; though he can, of course, enter the city without shame, and will enter it as a man who has been consoled by the Gospel. God does not need us. Indeed, if He were not God, He would be ashamed of us. We, at any rate, cannot be ashamed of Him.
So, in essence, the Gospel contains its own internal self-defense. It needs no apologist. What do you think of this? Does the Gospel need apologist?
Something in me was standing up and clapping by the end!
In the past I was fascinated by apologetics but in recent years I have lost nearly all interest. I think there is a place for some…like the resurrection of Jesus….but in the end we must walk by faith. In my mind, apologetics can be an effort to place God into a nice, rational science book, but God cannot fit there.
@Ishta: Glad you like it! What about it resonated with you?
@Matthew: I agree 100%. I think apologetics are more helpful for strengthening the faith of some Christians than they are at converting the skeptic, though I don’t doubt God can use even apologetics in his sovereignty to bring people to a place of faith.
Honestly, I don’t care much for Barth’s words against Christian apologetics. It is helpful for readers to understand the sort of critical scholarship and agnostic atmosphere in which he was responding in his day. Context is everything.
“Faith” is a process that involves spirit, mind, and body. It’s time we stop pitting them against one another. There are two ditches here: anti-intellectualism-blind irrational “leap into the dark” faith vs. critical skepticism divorced from honest spiritual inquiry. We would do well to stay on the road of faith that is a journey of our whole being.
@David: I don’t think Barth is asking us to divorce ourselves from rational inquiry. He just doesn’t deem it necessary for the sake of the gospel. He says at the beginning of the quote that we are not required to engage these controversies nor to keep them aloof.
But where I can see people disagreeing with him is regarding the overall value. Again, I think there is some value for Christians in strengthening their own faith, and God can use apologetics if He will, but the gospel is not dependent upon it.
Some of this may go to Barth’s “Nein” to his position on the natural law. Which would make sense here. Note the debate here between Brunner and Barth, and Brunner who saw at least a sense of natural theology, with the influence of Martin Buber and his acceptance of the Catholic doctrine of analogy, by which a limited knowledge of God may be gained by creation. Though this did not give, like revelation a personal meeting between God and man.
Barth was jettisoning, methodologically, the Modernist/Enlightenment/Rationalist/Schleiermachean project of doing negative theology or the via negativa. He followed what was called positive theology, which gives the reason for his Theory of Revelation; and grounding all of “Revelation” in Jesus. Or, that we start with Jesus as the explanation of who God is (cf. Jn 1.18) vs. “negative” modes wherein we construe (philosophical) versions of who God as by reflecting on the “kind of God” it must have taken to “create” — for example. That’s why Barth, famously is said to be against the analogia entis (or analogy of being) and natural theology; and only believes that theology, Christian theology, can be done with or through the “special” Revelation of Jesus as the ground. Here is Torrance describing Barth’s approach:
So the object under consideration creates its own categories and emphases for its own inquiry. So if we are doing “Christian” theology, then we must start with our object/subject of consideration (like Jesus, the “Self-interpreting Word of God”). This is why I like Barth/Torrance as well. They aren’t talking about a blind Kierkegaardian fiediesm (although he was influential for both, esp. Barth); but a qualified fidieism wherein the source for knowledge of God must, by definition start with His self-Revelation in Christ. If we don’t start there, then we’re no different than the philosophers reflecting from nature; and thus apologetics are, then, considered to be a non-starter. Let me close with a quote from Barth (I have more, so I’m trying to use restraint, since this comment is way too long already 😉 ):
I’m with David, but at the same time, this quote resonated with me when I read it in his Letters to the Romans. There is such thing as liberal progressive apologetics as much as conservative tradition ones.
But as a pacifist, I know that God needs no one to defend God. 😉
I agree with what Barth is saying. I have never had much love for apologetics since I always felt that arguing about faith and belief never seemed very fruitful. If someone’s heart is open to the Gospel then it took God to do so.
Oh and as an aside, Barth had EPIC hair.
It seems that Barth’s point is that God does not need us, not that we should abandon the apologetic task. He points to the transcendence of the gospel, and it’s sufficiency on it’s own, but I don’t think he condemns Paul’s engagement in apologetics. God certainly doesn’t need us, but he has chosen to use us to make his gospel known in the world and even called us to be ready to give the reason for the hope that we have. Apologetics can certainly be abused, by trying to box God, but can also strengthen the faith of the believer or cause the unbeliever to question his beliefs.
I am closer to Brunner than Barth here, Romans 1:19, etc. appears clear that the Judeo-Christian ethic-position must always challenge the culture!
@Fr. Robert: This does seem to be the issue at hand for Barth, especially considering the portion of Scripture where he is doing commentary (Rom. 1.18ff).
@Bobby: Great insight. Do you think that Barth would see any value in apologetics as supplementing theology as long as it is not the starting place which is Christ? Would this relate to presuppositional apologetics at all?
@Rod: What would constitute liberal progressive apologetics? Are you thinking of someone like Ehrman?
@Josh: This is something that many apologist need to recognize and some seem to do so (Ravi Zacharias comes to mind). God is an (the!) active player in bringing people to him.
I appreciated this quote too and see that in some sense there is a meaninglessness to apologetics though I think we still are called to give witness to Jesus both in word and in deed. I think more and more, the role of modern apologetics (in defense of and explaining the gospel) fits better in the context of personal relationships than in random street evangelism contexts (not to say that street evangelism doesn’t have it’s own value…). Given that this is from Barth’s Romans commentary, we do well to remember the gospel “is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes…”
Seeing that Paul and others engaged in some form of apologetics does say something for the value of apologetics. One way their apologetic took shape was in the form of praxis (love one another) as well as in word (what comes to mind is Paul “arguing” with the Jews” and “proving from the Scriptures that Christ is the Messiah”). I think that Paul and others contended for, to use Barth’s words, the Gospel’s victory, and that they did this in demonstration of the power of the Spirit, in the ethic of their lives, and through dialogue with others.
@Brian F.: So you would see apologetics as being more about providing a friend, or an honest inquirer, with more than a brush off of their questions rather than as something to do in an auditorium full of people?
@JohnDave: Interesting insight, though I do wonder if there is a difference between starting from Scripture where we believe God speaks, and from the place where most apologist begin (natural theology, philosophy, etc). The only example that comes to mind may be Paul in Athens, though I still don’t know if this is apologetics. It seems like he used the “bridge” only to get to his gospel proclamation.
@Brian moreso John Dominic Crossan than Ehrman
@Rod Good example.
Yes, Paul is always the Jewish and Graeco-Roman, this “bridge” is his moral place, but yet he also always falls back on the “Spirit”, and the spiritual “Wisdom” of God (1 Cor. 1 & 2), etc.
Yes, I think apologetics are best done at the one on one level when it comes to relationships with unbelievers. Not to say it can’t be done in an auditorium or on a college campus, I just think because relationships are important, that is the best place for these kinds of things to happen – but this is me, not others necessarily.
@Fr. Robert: And may we add that it is the Spirit which provides insight that transcends, yet speaks into, his cultural context?
@Brian F.: I’d agree. In the end even a nice set of good arguments doesn’t capture the gospel like relationship and exemplified love of God.
Yes Brian, I see it that way myself, God is always connected to His creation..and most especially in His Apostolic Men/people and Church…and this reaches to us. The incarnate Christ & Church lives!
Asking if the Gospel needs an apologist is like asking if it needs a preacher. The answer to both is “no,” since the good news is good news whether or not anyone believes it or knows about it. But another question to ask would be, “do people need apologists/apologetics?” I think the answer is yes. Apologetics, at its core, is simply giving a reason for why we believe. This comes in all forms since different people believe for different reasons. Some (like presuppositionalists) begin with God and Scripture. Others (evidentialists) begin with the so-called “classical” proofs for the existence of God. And yet others (who I suspect to be the largest group engaging in apologetics) begin with their experience of the Holy Spirit in their lives (i.e., “I ain’t who I used to be and it’s all thanks to God — that’s why I believe!”). But where I think the point is getting missed is in thinking that the apologetic task is to persuade non-believers to become believers. It isn’t. That’s God’s work, not ours. If apologetics is the means by which God calls an unbeliever to faith then great, but that’s not always the case.
@Nick: Your insight into the broader definition of apologetics is important and it is something that many of us overlook (myself included) when discussing its value. Most of us don’t seem to be thinking of the existential apologetic and maybe not even the presuppositional, but rather the evidential. I think that that may be at what Barth is taking aim.
I think I’ve seen you mention presuppositional as prefered, at least personally. Is this because you see an inherent danger or weakness in evidential?
Even in Athens, Paul “reasoned” with the Jews and the God-fearers. Paul caught the attention of the philosophers because he was “proclaiming” the Gospel, which to me indicates an apologetic against the way of life in darkness. When Paul speaks in the Areopagus, he proclaims the greatness of YHWH against the pagan gods, and appeals to the proof of resurrection. While that may not be modern day apologetics, it seems that would be apologetics.
I think that both apologetics from natural theology has its place and apologetics that begins where God speaks both have their place. Apologetics for me isn’t so much as “defending God” as it is proclaiming the Gospel, and that has to begin somewhere (philosophy, for example).
@JohnDave: It seems like Paul uses two of the method Nick described above: presuppositional and existential. He doesn’t seem obligated to give “proof” of the resurrection other than eye-witness he trusted and his own experience, which is different that trying to go into the ins-and-outs of it philosophically. I still can’t think of anywhere where something like the evidentialist apologetic was used by Paul, unless we count Athens, loosely.
No, I don’t think Barth would be comfortable with presuppositionalism either; that still operates from a rationalist center, wherein “evidence” is still being appealed to for God’s proof of Himself apart from Christ — even though presuppositionalists often say that they presuppose God’s existence etc.; this presupposition is still not grounded in an anthropology that I think Barth would be happy with. I.e. one that is christologically conditioned.
Barth reified the language (along with all kinds of other things, I think Barth should be called the “theologian of reification” 😉 ), that Martin Luther originally used of analogia fidei or the “analogy of faith.” For Barth is means, again that we start our thinking “in Christ.” And for Barth, and an “order of knowledge,” this is not just an epistemological move (so presuppositionalists); but it is an ontological reality. So that reconciliation can be said to be Revelation in Christ. I think Barth’s understanding of election should be borne in mind when trying to consider this. I.e. that “all humanity” in Christ is objectively elect, and therefore “all humanity” in Christ has the capacity, by the Spirit, to “know God”.
I think for Barth, classical apologetics (whether that be evidentialism or presuppositionalism) would suffer the same axe of Barthian reification that classical theism has suffered. In other words, Barth takes a step back from the usual discussion; and side-steps it by presenting what he thinks is more important, which is a doctrine of God, which “presupposes” a positive “Christian” framework — so he’s not trying to “prove” God’s existence before he feels like He can talk about him (which is why paying attention to “Evangelical” systematic theologies and their prolegomena is so important — it illustrates what Barth is seeking to correct for “Christian/Church Theology” [you won’t find the kalam cosmological argument, or the teleological argument for God’s existence in Barth’s theological constructing, for example).
I’m not claiming to be a Barth expert, but I think the above basically captures some basic contours to Barth’s approach that I think are sound.
“So, in essence, the Gospel contains its own internal self-defense. It needs no apologist.” I love Barth’s theology and agree with him to a certain extend. If we defend the Gospel the “truth” of the Gospel becomes as strong as our human argument, but without the human argument, the lesser (secular) argument/truth might triumph.
The Gospel has no requirement of our defense, but in my opinion that’s not the real question. My question is this: do we require apologetics? Surely apologetics can be seen as a form of teaching that helps us define our theology and belief in God in other more relevant ways, in a changing context.
Example: We live in a post-modern age were every fact, even the truth of the Gospel, should be known and understood. In this paradigm faith becomes a system of knowing all truths, while purging oneself of all falsehood. A Christian is degraded to a being that knows more truths than falsehood. This definition of faith and the believer is one that we inherited after the Renascence. Therefore within this context it is crucial that we redefine our faith amidst this post-Renascence paradigm. This redefinition of our faith can surely be described as “defense,” that is very much needed.
All Judeo-Christian theology implies both dogmatics & apologetics, as St. Paul at Mars Hill, etc. And yet it is always really presuppositional to the revelation of God!
Ironically, all of this discussion assumes rationality. Barth and others who advocate such a view need to acknowledge their contradictory premise. Granted the the Gospel is Truth but not at the expense of logic or reason (i.e. logos).
First of all, I have to agree with Nick. We all give reasons for what we believe, including Barth. Barth gives reasons for what he believes about the Gospel and the Bible and God himself and then destroys the ground he is standing on, namely giving reasons. Barth is a classic fideist. But, fideism is ungrounded. It may be internally consistent but it does not connect to reality. Anyone can believe what they want and say I don’t have to be informed by anything else. But it does not make their belief true.
So my biggest complaint, is why does he say this about the Gospel and where does his reasoning come from? And there are two reasons for my objection, one from reason and the second is biblically based. From reason, Barth will automatically have to explain his hermeneutic to understanding the Bible to be teaching something about defending the Gospel,( or not defending it) that is his reasoning and that is an apologetic, he therefore cuts at apologetics and relies on it at the same time. (Though he maybe criticizing someone’s elses version of the role of apologetics) And from scripture, briefly I know Paul said he was put here for the defense of the Gospel (Phil 1:16) and Jude urges to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints (Jud 1:3).
And for what follows much of what I will sight is from Norm Geisler’s Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics p.70-71.
Barth’s system of thought made God unknowable, His God was the God of Kierkegaard.
Barth also came to the conclusion that the Bible is not infallible. Now he either held that by faith or gave an apologetic for why he held that position. Either way, one is indefensible and the other we can show to be a poor argument. It was a gateway through which God worked and chose to reveal Himself, when God chooses to.
Finally when you get this off track (me speaking now) you end up in these places.. back to the Encyclopedia.
“This defective view of Scripture allows virtually no limits to picking and choosing what to believe. Barth accepted the literal physical resurrection of Jesus Christ but also accepted such unorthodox views as universalism, hell as non-existent and affirmed that all will be saved.”
Back my comments, not Geisler’s anymore.
Now I suppose he got these views by using a very poor biblical method, which relies on philosophical methods which Barth didn’t have as much use for as we would have liked to see.
All disciplines have a philosophy that helps support them.
In every discipline there is a Reality to be known. What that reality is-Metaphysics. How we know that reality-Epistemology. How to speak about that reality- Linguistics. And how to interpret that language-Hermeneutics.
I would add to that, justification and defense for each position relies on good apologetics. Theology also uses apologetics to justify every doctrine it teaches.
Clearly, I disagree with Barth and probably because of his poor use of a rational case. Yet, if we follow his lead, I won’t have to defend my position, I just believe it.
Comments are closed.