Schleiermacher & Barth: Friends of Foes?

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Since my first post on Contemporary European views of God, i have been engaged in a fun dialogue with Travis.  He seems to have a thorough knowledge of Barth’s thought, and i have enjoyed dialoguing with him.

During our dialogue, a question came to me.  It seems to me that maybe Barth never really got as far away from Schleiermacher’s immanentism as he hoped.  If for Barth the only true knowledge of God comes through the “acting on” of Christ in a person, and not grounded in an objective sense in the Scriptures, how has he escaped the overly experience focused theology of Schleiermacher?  If true knowledge can only be brought by the risen Christ through the Holy Spirit, than although for Barth God is the “wholly other,” we can only interact with Him relationally in a way analogous to Schleiermacher’s view.

Don’t get me wrong, i think that there is a difference between receiving revelation from Christ than from a feeling of utter dependence.  Nevertheless, i can’t help but wonder if Barth’s complete epistemic disconnect of regarding the knowledge of God from the bible has rendered us to only use more lofty “man-talk” about God, despite his best intentions.

I guess my question to Barthians is this: If our knowledge of God is completely dependent on our experience of Christ acting on us to receive that knowledge, then how can we avoid the subjective “man-talk” in regards to Christ that Barth found so distasteful in Schleiermacher’s theology? 

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5 responses to “Schleiermacher & Barth: Friends of Foes?

  1. I’ve been re-reading this post all day, trying to get my teeth down into it, and I think that I finally have. My response is that if Barth and Schleiermacher are similar in this respect (although you are careful to note fundamental differences as well), it is only because they are members of the same theological ‘family’ and its peculiar way of thinking, that is, both Barth and Schleiermacher seem to me to be playing variations on Calvin’s notion of ‘accommodation.’

    God reveals himself to us within created forms because if it were to be otherwise, it would not be revelation ‘to us.’ God is truly revealed in these forms, but this revelation cannot simply be extrapolated from the forms. Rather, even in this objective revelation, God must present himself to us as revealed even in the midst of hiddenness in these created forms.

    This refers not only to Scripture, but even to the incarnation. Furthermore, the veiled revealedness of the incarnation governs that of Scripture by virtue of the superiority of the hypostatic union.

  2. Consequently, and to more directly answer your question, theology concerns itself with speaking about these forms on the basis of faith. Theology is talk about God in the forms that God has revealed himself as seen through the eyes of faith, which is grounded in recollection of past revelation and in the hope and promise of furture revelation.

    Theology is an entirely human undertaking, governed by the created forms through which God has revealed himself, and it this sense it is man’s talk about God. But, God also makes use of this human talk about God and reveals himself anew through it (this is proclamation strictly speaking). This new instance of revelation (which is really new subjective application of objectively established revelation – Christ does not again become incarnate!) is entirely God’s work, and is nothing that theology can do on its own.

  3. Interesting post. The problem is not with immanentism, if by that word we simply mean “from below.” The difference between Schleiermacher and Barth is in the focal point of our knowledge of God: for Schleiermacher, it is the feeling of absolute dependence which is individual and personal, but for Barth, the focal point is Jesus Christ as the self-revelation of God. Both are human and historical, but Barth’s is thoroughly objective in character; it is something outside ourselves.

    Our knowledge of God, according to Barth, is most definitely not dependent upon “our experience of Christ acting on us.” Our knowledge of God is dependent upon our recognition that we are in Christ, not that Christ is in us (though this of course follows from the former). The central focus is not the human who receives Christ but the Christ who receives humanity.

  4. Congdon,

    Thanks for stopping by. I understand your point about how in Barth’s thought our knowledge of God is “outside ourselves” and is “objective.” I agree with you theoretically.

    The problem i still have is this: From our epistemic vantage point, we have little to nothing to use to “evaluate” whether or not Christ has acted on us or if we have indigestion.

    If our knowledge is based on the fact that we are in Christ, that sounds great, but on the concrete practical level, how does that knowledge help us discern “which voice” is His?

    I can’t see a way out of the practical quagmire that we’re left in here. To say “it is clear that this knowledge is from Christ who i am united to” seems to be naive at best, and at worst lays the groundwork for a militant fundamentalist mentality, this one being based on direct revelation from Christ rather than on the “objective propositionalism” of American Fundalmentalists today. The problem is that you can’t argue against someone’s experience of Christ, unless you have something to evaluate with. I fear that that b/c of Barth’s radical view of transcendence that plays out in a disconnect between himself and the bible, we don’t possess any tools to work with.

    That being said, i’m still excited about the possibilities Barth holds for us today, and i’m open to being shown where i’m misunderstanding. Either way, i am happy to be learning about this great thinker.

  5. The experience operative here is not one which may carry certain content or may not. The experience here is that of hearing the Word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit, and this bring with it definate content, which I have argued includes the affirmation that Jesus is Lord and that in him we have God for a Father.

    This experience of hearing the Word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit bring with it a claim upon our lives that requires obedient response, and it is in the necessity of this obedient response that we are driven to Scripture, which is the authoritative witness to God’s self-revelation as Jesus Christ.

    In these ways, we are not left merely to our experience. Rather, the true experience of faith (hearing the Word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit) brings with it certain content and a certain subjugation to Scripture. Scripture is then the criterion whereby we attempt to discern, with all our human limitation, not Christ’s voice (which reveals itself to us and never comes our possession) but what we are to do on in response to our hearing of his voice.

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