What if I told you the pastor of your church was retiring, and your church decided upon appointing a man name Carl Bart. Mr. Bart is presently having an extra-marital affair, and on top of this, in his published writings explicitly denounced the inerrancy of Scripture?
You may say, “I am going to have to look for a new church. Heck, we should not even accept him as a member!”
If he was having a homosexual extramarital affair you would likely say, “Man, I’m leaving the PCUSA!”*
So, when I came across an article that said “In Defense of Karl Barth” I made two simple observations:
- Barth likely was not even saved as he was a philanderer.
- This minimizes any contributions he has made in theology, as he did not exhibit the love of Christ.
Simple stuff, right? I mean, wouldn’t we have identical concerns if our church was going to appoint Mr. Bart?
Common sense, not being so common, resulted in personal attacks such as me committing the sin of “reviling,” that I was “unChristian,” and ” I would be more concerned about your spiritual well-being then Barth’s.” The last personal attack was the most concerning one, being that as far as I know I am not committing any conscious, unrepentant sins and I uphold the inerrancy of Scripture.
On the internet, the true “us” comes out. For one, we see people’s hero worship on display. While no one in person would call a man like Carl Bart a hero, Barth was literally given the title. I suppose more due to his celebrity than his theological “contributions.” His defenders actually could not name any of his theological contributions, other than the fact Barth was not as bad as mainstream liberals of his day. When asked to give any specific examples of what he taught, they purposely avoided doing so (perhaps because no one, even Barth himself, probably understands what he taught.)
People have their heroes and sacred cows. You have the James White people that think he could say nothing wrong. There are the John Piper fanboys. Here, there are the Barth-bots. As far as I know, there are no Craig Truglia fans but that’s a good thing. I do not want people uncritically defending every wrong thing I say.
Online, we also have a tendency quickly attack people when we cannot contradict the content of their arguments. Soon, some people start with the death threats. This happened to me once, nine years ago. I turned the other cheek and commended myself to God.
What is wrong about Barth? “Okay,” you might say. “But can’t you understand you went too far when calling Barth’s salvation into question?”
Now, why do I think Barth is in Hell just as much as I think Mr. Bart would go to Hell if he does not repent?
- Now that Barth is dead, and his personal correspondence is readily available, we can say with a degree of certainty that he never repented of an adulterous relationship which by his own admission tore his family apart.
- He rejected the inerrancy of Scripture, which is a heretical doctrine. He waxed on poetically and made doozies such as, “But the vulnerability of the Bible, i.e., its capacity for error, also extends to its religious and theological content.”
The above are not my opinions. They are facts. Now, being the facts do not and cannot bring us into the mind of Barth at any time after his last writings, we cannot be completely sure he did not repent. Even Hitler the microsecond after he pulled the trigger might have had a genuine repentance. However, I am not going to feel bad to make the statement, “Hitler’s in Hell,” because by all appearances he should very well be.
Why spill all this e-ink complaining about Barth-bots?** Here is my main concern: In the defense of their hero, they dangerously reject the necessity of repentance and righteousness in the lives of Christians. One writes, “[Y]our tone are [sic] much more in line with sixteenth-century groups such as Anabaptists and the Catholic humanists than the Reformers themselves.”
Claims such as my detractors and Verduin‘s aside, the Reformers were explicit in teaching that saving faith must have works. Calvin writes:
He says that faith is dead, being by itself, that is, when destitute of good works. We hence conclude that it is indeed no faith, for when dead, it does not properly retain the name. The Sophists plead this expression and say, that some sort of faith is found by itself; but this frivolous caviling is easily refuted; for it is sufficiently evident that the Apostle reasons from what is impossible, as Paul calls an angel anathema, if he attempted to subvert the gospel (Comments on James 2:17).
Luther writes similarly:
We say that justification is effective without works, not that faith is without works. For that faith which lacks fruit is not an efficacious but a feigned faith (see source).
So, when I quote Heb 10:26, 1 Cor 6:9-10, and similar Scriptures to state that Christian must not and cannot live lives of unrepentant sin it should be to our great, mutual concern that “Christians” accuse the idea of being “Catholic” or “You’re teaching faith + works for salvation.” Such believers are perilously close to affirming the condemned statements of Paul’s enemies who would say things such as, “Let us sin so grace may abound.”
Yet, the Scripture says, “This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us” (1 John 3:23).
Barth said he believed in Christ, but he did not believe in the authenticity of the Scripture that reveals Christ to us. He loved the brethren in a general sense (for example, he opposed Hitler), but he was a grossly negligent husband, doing wrong against his sister in Christ. How does the love of God exist in such a man who unrepentantly acts with such hatred against his own wife and family?
Ultimately, Karl Barth is a cautionary tale of how social status, hubris, miseducation (snobby intellectualism and the like), and sinful desire can lead a very intelligent man to justify a bohemian, hedonistic lifestyle. The result? He ruined his own life and those around him.
Christians must affirm the necessity of dying onto ourselves and carrying our cross. Barth did not do this. Let us no justify a man whose actions and teachings are so heinous.***
*It is important for Christians to realize that heterosexual extra-marital affairs are just as heinous to God as homosexual ones. Both merit the death penalty in Leviticus and both are not behaviors of men and women that will inherit the Kingdom of God according to Paul in 1 Cor 6.
**Pardon the term “bots,” because I am writing a blog I sometimes go for click-baity, fun sounding titles. A title such as, “My responses to Barth fans about the bankruptcy of his theology and personal life” does not fit on Google.
***I am not an expert on Barth and will happily be corrected on this. However, his writing style is so confusing and long winded, it is likely none of us normal people can understand him. In fact, it is arguable whether or not Barth himself really could have collected his own thoughts and unequivocally stated what he believed on most subjects. Intellectually, it leads me to question whether he even intended to be understood, or if he preferred to write in a style that appeared impressive but lacked substantive content. And yes, it is possible to be a prolific writer and say little of substance.