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Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Here be dragons


One of the interesting features in the continuing development of Joe Tkach's WCG is an emerging infatuation with the theology of Karl Barth. Barth is required reading for a course on Pastoral Theology taught by Russell Duke via ACCM, and the Swiss Reformed theologian seems to be much gushed-about at present by those attempting to gain profile in the Tkach ministry.

Barth was arguably an extremist among Protestants in that he denied that anything could be known about God outside revelation. If you imagine you can find a sense of God in a fantastic sunset or in holding a newborn child, Barth would slap you silly while shrieking NEIN! None other than Martin Luther King expressed reservations about this approach, though in more considered terms:

...Barth proclaims the utter separation of the high God and the world. The two are totally unlike and exclusive. At no point does God touch the external world with its corrupted nature and evil matter. No part of the world is, therefore, a manifestation or revelation of the infinite, majestic Deity. Barth's God is "above us, above space and time..."

King very sensibly takes issue with Barth.

A signal proof that God reveals himself in nature is seen in Psalms 19: "The heavens declare the glory of God, etc." The New Testament writers are even more explicit at this point. According to Paul, man through reason, may have sufficient knowledge of God to render him "inexcusable." This passage, found in the Epistle to the Romans, is practically ignored by Barth. He says: "We know that God is the one whom we do not know and this not-knowing is the problem and origin of our knowing..." (source)

Barth also gave birth to that bizarre idea that Christianity is not a religion. Long before Greg Albrecht turned it into a money making ministry, this giant of Reformed (Calvinist) scholarship had decided to ignore the accepted meaning of religion as something non-sectarian and positive - the sense it's used in James 1 (pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction...) and redefine it. After Barth every world-hating air-headed preacher and his brother would blather something about religion being human idolatry while their particular form of Christianity was something quite different. How convenient.

All our attempts to reach God are defined as religion [by Karl Barth], and against religion stands God's act of revelation. Here began the fight against the use of the word "religion" in theology. (Paul Tillich)

Barth is frequently lauded as the greatest theologian of the last century. A dissenting view might be that he is simply the most over-rated. Certainly he gained great credibility in his opposition to the vile compliance of the German churches to the Nazi regime, but so did many others, some of whom, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, paid with their lives. Barth's opposition was not based on human rights however, but on the rigidities of his theology. Human concerns took a back seat to systematic theology. Paul Tillich notes that it was only when the National Socialists posed a threat to the churches that Barth spoke up. Earlier attacks on Jews and minorities were ignored - a fault that certainly wasn't his alone.

Much of Barth's popularity probably lies in his rejection of liberal theological trends, which caused conservative Protestants of the time not a few ulcers, but beware the cure that is worse than the disease. These days Barth is perhaps seen as the way ahead for WCG to embrace a better quality of evangelicism. Maybe, but maybe not. The internal logic of this kind of dogma is built with little reference to wider concerns of the world at large; after all, the Barthian God is not revealed anywhere except in Christian truth (however that is defined - the great man was not a biblical literalist). Barth may well be a dead end, or even worse, down this road there may well "be dragons."

12 comments:

Unknown said...

>>>One of the interesting features in the continuing development of Joe Tkach's WCG is an emerging infatuation with the theology of Karl Barth. Barth is required reading for a course on Pastoral Theology taught by Russell Duke via ACCM, and the Swiss Reformed theologian seems to be much gushed-about at present by those attempting to gain profile in the Tkach ministry.<<<

My initial reaction to this is that if Joe Tkach approves of his theology, then I want nothing to do with it, as his judgement on other matters has been disastrous.

However Barth's following observation is interesting, and should not be dismissed without careful consideration. Gavin's paraphrase is as follows: "Barth was arguably an extremist among Protestants in that he denied that anything could be known about God outside revelation."

I believe you find that the bible explicitly states that God cannot be known unless he reveals himself to man. I shall return to this with the biblical evidence. But it would be interesting to see how many people, including the self-styled atheists, will cut themselves on the two edged sword of the word, in their futile attempt to comprehend how incomprehensible God is.

Tom

Corky said...

God certainly is incomprehensible and totally unknown as all non-existent entities are.

We know nothing of leprechauns or angels except what has been revealed to us in fairy tales but this is indeed a spirit filled world we live in.

If "God's word" hadn't been closed and canonized by humans, perhaps we could have heard more of his revelation to us? Who decided that God was through speaking anyway?

Perhaps the world is ready for another revelation even better than the Book of Mormon was. Hey, it has a couple million followers, which is quite a lot more than Armstrongism had.

There is no telling what all could have been revealed about leprechauns, unicorns and goblins if the fairy tale canons had not been closed.

That two-edged sword mentioned by "vistaadmin" does indeed cut both ways. One passage in it will say one thing and another will say the opposite, making it very convenient for proof texting, but not very reliable for understanding.

Anonymous said...

To say that the current WCG has a theology AT ALL is a bit of a stretch. Its only purpose is to keep Joe Jr. and his fat and happy pals fat and happy. Their theology, such as it is, amounts to a bunch of excuses to remain in the fold, all compounded upon a shared and, by their own claims, erroneous experience. Let me put it to you this way: a restaurant discovers that it has been serving poison food for years. It decides not to serve it anymore and from now on will stick to hamburgers and the occasional mutton. Not that they have any experience at it, but they would like you to stick with them because you are so adept at surviving their previous poisonings.

An honest WCG or PTM would simply shut its doors. If they were really moved by the Christian spirit, then it is time to liquidate all remaining assets and GIVE THEM BACK to the persons who contributed. Anything less is just sickening and self-serving.

Mark Lax

Anonymous said...

The problems with revelation are numerous. It is somewhat innocuous if the "special" person to whom something is "revealed" keeps the revelations to himself/herself. But, the minute that special person begins to teach his particular revelation, you get into a Herbert W. Armstrong "God's Apostle" type situation.

Also, such revelations can easily be faked! Also, in the final analysis, the revelation is only truly meaningful to the original person to whom a concept or prophecy has been revealed.

Still, with the Bible being so conflicted and confusing, how could anyone begin to understand what the deity or supreme being actually expects of humans without some sort of divine revelation or guidance?

Barth may be on to something here, but once again, extreme caution and a healthy dose of skepticism are required in order for people to keep from being victimized in yet another of the countless variations of religious scamming.

As John Lennon always used to sing, "just gimme some truth".


BB

Anonymous said...

I believe you find that the bible explicitly states that God cannot be known unless he reveals himself to man.

Well, there's "known" and then there's "known." The Scriptures are pretty explicit that God's existence and His attributes -- that He is one, eternal, almighty, omnipresent, and is the creator of all that is -- can be apprehended through the use of natural reason. But to know and believe, for example, that Jesus is both God and Man requires divine revelation.

I think it's not unfair to relate Barth's insistence that God cannot be known at all without revelation to the attitude of the Reformers Luther and Calvin (for instance, Luther's infamous, "Reason is the devil's whore," which is really just another way of saying that reason is capable of showing Luther's beliefs to be erroneous). The Reformed view is that human reason is so wounded by original sin that it is utterly unreliable in matters of the Christian faith -- "faith alone" in this regard means pitting faith against reason. But the human experience is that no one can reason about anything without faith, and that a faith alienated from reason is brittle and empty. By no means do all Protestants take such a dim view of human reason, but I think Barth's theology bears the DNA of the Reformation's dichotomy that pits faith against reason (which is largely responsible for our modern Bible vs. Science controversies). I also think that Barth's theology has certain docetic/gnostic tendencies.

Anonymous said...

Here is the Ambassador College link at ac.ambassador.edu for the classes Gavin is referring to:

Ambassador College

Russell Duke’s Pastoral Theology I Class

PT I

Duke’s Pastoral II

PT II

Class syllabi for resident WCG doctrinal guru John Mckenna and Michael Morrison are also there by clicking on class link.


Stan

Anonymous said...

Karl Barth's Dogmatics in Outline (1959) and The Humanity of God (1960) are two of the required Duke PT textbooks and reports.

Dennis, are you ready to re-enroll? (grin)

Stan

carl said...

Let's see, tkack jr., bankrupts a billion dollar corporation, disinfranchises 100,000 members of a legitimate church, lies about his intents repeatedly, then sells off the church's assessts at pennies on the dollar, moves to an isolated corner in a remote small town, builds himself a new house, and refuses to tell any of the 100,000 or so members where their money is.
He did all the above because he didn't like the personality cult member who owned the church before he inherited it. Now, he has found a new personality cult to follow?

OK! i don't care!

Anonymous said...

Good points, Nelson, except for the part about a "legitimate church." The pre-1995 WCG was as much a fabrication or invention as the post-1995 WCG is.

Anonymous said...

Here's a bit of WCG ministerial blather on the woo hoo of Jesus.
They've come a long way baby...

"Timothy J. Brassell said...
I am always refreshed in the Good news and have awakened to and in it, yet again, in his grace by the beautiful way you have exegeted 1 Peter in the Light of Jesus, Ted! Thanks!

Continue to participate in the Spirit's education of the human race, because you are sharing in it wonderfully in our midst!

One of the most instructive things I have heard about glory so far comes from David Kowalick of Australia. He say's that "glorifying God is simply being who you really are before Him!" I think this is accurate!

Glory is not so much trying to live up to some standard so that God will be pleased with us rather than displeased with us and potentially scratch us off His self-egotistic and demanding moral list.

Glory is more reminiscent of how we use the term when a baby sheds all of its clothes and runs around naked "in all of its GLORY!"

Finally!! In Jesus, a chance to run around in all of our glory, and as we really are in him!! This beats The Garden of Eden anyday!!

Wooooo-Hooooo!!!"

Perhaps a bit of a lesson in the mythology of Eden might help this nudist for Christ.

        AMERICAN KABUKI said...

The perfect theologian for those in love with the words "orthopraxy", "orthodoxy" and "diabolical mimicry".

If they ever saw the hand of God in this world, they never show signs of it.

Tom writes: "However Barth's following observation is interesting, and should not be dismissed without careful consideration."

Why am I not surprised? There's a mindset in Armstrongism that runs deeper than holy days and doctrine.

Its a dualistic mindset that cannot process any sort of nuance.

Its why those of us outside of it all still lump them all together.

People who believe their heart is utterly wicked, can never hear the still small voice of God.

These people forget that scripture was written when people thought the brain lived within the heart, rather than being the metaphorical center of compassion and conscience as we associate it now.

carl said...

right you are Jared, of course i meant that the people felt they were legitimate. the leaders knew differently!