Karl Barth on ‘orthodoxy’

Karl Barth, Amsterdam 1948Barth again, this time on ‘orthodoxy’:

‘Orthodoxy doubtless has much to live down, but it has nevertheless a powerful instinct for what is superfluous and what is indispensable. In this it surpasses many of the schools that oppose it. And this, and certainly not the mere habit and mental inertia of the people, is the primary reason why it still continues to be so potent both in cultus and church polity and even in state politics. In this respect it is quite superior … The weakness of orthodoxy is not the supernaturalistic element in the Bible and the dogmas. That is its strength. It is rather the fact that orthodoxy, and we all, so far as we are in our own way dogmaticians, have a way of regarding some objective descriptions of that element – such as even the word “God” for instance – as the element itself … To hold the word “God” or anything else before a man, with the demand that he believe it, is not to speak of God … God by himself is not God. He might be something else. Only the God who reveals himself is God. The God who becomes man is God. But the dogmatist does not speak of this God’. – Karl Barth, The Word of God and the Word of Man, 200–3.

Michael Jinkins on preserving the complexities


‘While orthodoxy has always sought to maintain the deep tensions at the heart of the gospel (such as Jesus Christ, “fully divine, fully human”), and has steadfastly resisted reducing these tensions to simple either/or statements, heresy inevitably loses its hold on one or the other of opposing affirmations that only together can lay claim to the truth, and thereby violates the integrity of the mystery of faith … With some regularity I am told by some church or religion “expert” that lay people demand simple answers, black and white responses to the complicated moral and spiritual issues arising in this fast-paced world. It is more important to be interesting than accurate one expert told me. With considerable regularity I also teach classes and preach in congregations around the country, and the lay persons I meet in these classes not only read magazines and papers like The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, and other print and online media, they not only also run businesses, work in the fields of law and medicine and education, and are apparently able to whistle and walk simultaneously, they also crave a deeper more complex engagement with Christian faith. We don’t have to treat matters of faith dully in order to preserve the complexities, let alone the mysteries, of faith and life. And we certainly don’t have to dumb down our presentation of the gospel and of the gospel’s intersections with life in order to stimulate the interests of our audiences. A friend related a story about advice he received from an expert in Christian publishing. The expert told him that he needed to eliminate the nuances from a piece he had written for a lay audience. My friend responded with something that would drive a hedgehog crazy, but that is music to the ears of every fox: The really important stuff has to be nuanced, or else it isn’t true’. – Michael Jinkins, ‘Down with slogans!’