Skip to main content

Biblical Faith, Karl Barth and Natural Theology

       I'm currently working through the Gifford Lectures of James Barr, who is looking at the notion of Natural Theology and asking the question of whether or not the Bible approves of Natural Theology. Prior to reading Barr's Gifford Lectures, I read the Gifford Lectures of Karl Barth. I am happy to say that the conclusions that I came to as I read through Karl Barth are the same conclusions that James Barr comes to in his book.

    At the beginning of his career as an Old Testament Scholar he was sympathetic with the Barthian rejection of Natural Theology, however, in examining the arguments advanced by Barth and Barthian theologians he came to the conclusion that "His exegesis, however we may evaluate it in general, was thus selectively and tendentiously applied, magnifying the elements which fitted with the needs of his theology, and minimizing those which his theology opposed. (Barr, Biblical Faith and Natural Theology, p. 136)". A couple of pages earlier he notes that "Barth's apparent biblical emphasis and rejection of natural theology was in part a matter of appearance rather than of reality. His theology was at bottom a dogmatic-philosophical system, in which the biblical exegetical foundation, however many pages it occupied was logically incidental. (Ibid., p. 131)"

   On the same page he notes a problem with Barth, which is also a problem for Van Til, and presuppositionalism in general. "Revelation was central and must be accepted, but there were no real arguments to be offered why any particular claims to revelation should be believed. (Ibid., p. 131-32)" In other words, we are obligated to simply believe revelation. However, it seems that we are permitted to ask, "which revelation claim?" (i.e. - the Koran, the Jewish interpretation of the Old Testament, The Book of Mormon).

   A further problem, which Barr notes a little bit later in the book is, how does Barth, and, consequently, how do we, know that HIS interpretation of the Bible is the RIGHT interpretation of the Bible? Especially when he claims to be simply espousing the reformed view of theology, and yet, his claims about Natural Theology clash with the claims of John Calvin, and other Calvinists such as Charles Hodge. Who holds the true interpretation of scripture? This same problem seems to apply equally to Van Til and presuppositionalism in general. On the question of Interpretation Barr notes that "the more we stress the importance of interpretation, the more we render probable the influence of something like natural theology. Influenced by the dialectical theology, people have been inclined to think of interpretation as something that followed and expounded the contours of revelation without going in any way outside this narrow channel of thought. Interpretation, seen in this way, not only interprets revelation but interprets it solely by the use of categories which themselves derive from revelation and are internal to it. Some of the peculiar contortions of modern interpretative theory are probably half-conscious attempts to demonstrate this. But it would really be very strange if there was interpretation which used no categories whatever that were external to the material being interpreted. (Ibid., 150)" Barr goes on to show that, as he has already clearly demonstrated in previous chapters, that the Old Testament is chock full of Natural Theology of some sort.

   So far I have been thoroughly enjoying Barr's cautious approach to the question of Divine written revelation, and the notion of Natural Theology.

Popular posts from this blog

How Kant’s Synthesis of Empiricism and Rationalism resulted in Agnosticism

Immanuel Kant, presented with the extreme empiricism of Hume and the extreme rationalism of Liebniz, which he discovered through the writings Wolff, sought to take a middle road between these two extreme philosophical positions. I would submit that Kant’s synthesis of these two views leads to an agnosticism about what Kant called “the thing-in-itself”, and ultimately to the philosophical positions known as Atheism, determinism, and nihilism.


Kant’s Sources
First of all, Kant was influenced by Hume’s empiricism and Newton’s physics. He saw that the physical sciences, in contrast to rationalistic metaphysics, were actually making advances. They were making discoveries, and building a system of knowledge that accurately described the world of our sense perceptions. Rationalistic metaphysics, on the other hand, was floundering amidst the combating systems that the philosophers were erecting. It did not provide new knowledge, and only led to unacceptable conclusions, such as the Absolute Mon…

A Short outline of Charles Taylor's: The Malaise of Modernity

CHARLES TAYLOR’S THE MALAISE OF MODERNITY[1]
            This is simply an outline of Taylor’s basic argument in this short work written by Charles Taylor. The idea of this outline is to help the reader understand the book by providing a simple outline of the basic argument that Taylor is presenting here. The book, which is essentially the manuscript is the fruit of a series of presentations that Taylor made at the Massey Conferences which are hosted by Massey College and Radio-Canada, is divided into 10 chapters. In the first chapter Taylor essentially proposes three causes (recognizing that there may be more) of the Malaise of Modernity: (1) Individualism or the Loss of Sense, (2) The Primacy of Instrumental Reason or the Loss of Ends, and (3) The effect on society and politics in general of the loss of sense to an inauthentic individualism and the domination of instrumental reason, or, the loss of true freedom. Taylor considers the first Malaise in chapters 2 to 8, the second in c…

LEISURE: THE BASIS OF CULTURE – A BOOK REVIEW

Leisure: The Basis of Culture & the Philosophical Act. Josef Pieper. Translated by Alexander Dru. 1963. Reprint, Ignatius Press, 2009. 143 pp. $12.99. ISBN 978-1-58617-256-5.
            This book is composed of two articles written by the German philosopher Josef Pieper. Though the two articles are intimately connected, they form two distinct works; as such, this book review will begin by giving a brief introduction to the works in question, followed by and exposition of each of the works individually. The two articles that are included in this book, Leisure: the Basis of Culture and The Philosophical Act, were both published in 1947, and, as such, were written during the cultural crisis in Germany that followed the Second World War. Not only did Pieper have the cultural crisis in mind when he wrote these articles, but he was also writing in light of the works of the most well-known German philosopher of the time – Martin Heidegger. As such, any reader who is familiar with Heidegg…