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Karl Barth and literalism

10 Mar
Karl Barth

Karl Barth (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Karl Barth said, “I take the Bible too seriously to read it literally.”

Proof-texting, literalism or fundamentalism, the same rose by different names, is not a helpful way to understand Scripture.   Clergy in the LCA, upon ordination, are forced to declare the Scripture as inerrant and infallible.  The alternative is exclusion from ordination, which is hardly an option after many  years of study. Those clergy who are uncomfortable with such narrow thinking are forced to metaphorically cross their fingers while the oath is taken.

About a third of the American populace takes everything the Bible says at face value, reading as they would a history or science textbook.  I don’t read the Bible this way, and can’t imagine doing so. Here are four reasons why: Ref  4 Good Reasons Not to Read the Bible Literally.  (David Lose from Huffington Post)

1) Nowhere does the Bible claim to be inerrant.   … (read more)

2) Reading the Bible literally distorts its witness. … (read more)

3) Most Christians across history have not read the Bible literally. … (read more)

4) Reading the Bible literally undermines a chief confession of the Bible about God.  … (read more)

Perhaps literalism is the biggest sin the LCA needs to confess.  Unless responded to with vigour it may mean that the Church will have virtually disappeared in 50 years time.   According to the current downturn in membership that is not such an absurd proposition.

Women’s ordination will arrive to the LCA.  The alternative is unthinkable. At that time members, leaders and congregations will discover the gentle joy of female pastoral care and begin to apologise for the way they kept women on the margins of the Church.

 

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26 responses to “Karl Barth and literalism

  1. Sandra Wittwer

    March 10, 2013 at 4:16 pm

    May I give voice to the idea that the Ordination of Women into the LCA comes (well, it needs to come NOW) at a time when pastoring needs to be encouraging Christians in their own faith development, their own service, their own engagement with the world around them. In the LCA we are privileged to have pastors whose knowledge of the Scriptures is thorough. The ‘feminine’ nurturing qualities are those, demonstrated most clearly in Jesus’ ministry, which men as well as women will need to guide us, the church, into the future. The Trinitarian God in relationship needs men and women in relationship for the work of the Holy Spirit to bring people to God the Father through the Son. J

     
    • Katie and Martin

      March 10, 2013 at 7:57 pm

      Indeed! When women and men use their complementary skills the possibilities are far greater than when only male communication skills are employed.
      While Christianity will survive, it is not certain that the LCA will – beyond 50 years, so we are called to rethink our presence in this society..

       
  2. Wally Schiller

    March 10, 2013 at 4:35 pm

    Proof-texting is the accusation so often levelled at a person when, upon having been asked to substantiate a position on the basis of Scripture, having given an answer, and that answer is then not liked by the hearer. When such an accusation is levelled in that way, it is the work of Satan.

    Your accusation in this quote:

    “Clergy in the LCA, upon ordination, are forced to declare the Scripture as inerrant and infallible. The alternative is exclusion from ordination, which is hardly an option after many years of study. Those clergy who are uncomfortable with such narrow thinking are forced to metaphorically cross their fingers while the oath is taken.”

    is simply a snide side-swipe at all the pastors of the Church. You have accused every one of them of being dishonest. If that were seriously the case – and it is not – then we have nothing but a dishonest bunch of clergy who deserve to be defrocked. If this is the level upon which the debate in regard to ordination is going to continue, you can be assured that women will never be ordained just for that reason alone.

     
    • Katie and Martin

      March 10, 2013 at 4:44 pm

      That’s just the way it is. Pastors need to hide the fact that their hermeneutic is more sophisticated than tranlsating a text literally. Karl Barth didn’t feel the need to play that game.
      Proof-texting is usually taking something out of context and thus does not help a full, complete understanding of Scripture.

       
      • Wally Schiller

        March 11, 2013 at 1:38 am

        Brilliant side-step!

         
        • Katie and Martin

          March 12, 2013 at 1:28 am

          Proof-texting is an abrogation of textual analysis. It’s interesting that anyone with Biblical training would attempt to justify its use.

           
          • Wally Schiller

            March 12, 2013 at 2:15 am

            A further side-step – how about you face what I said in the first instance in relation to proof-texting. It is called for by those who want to justify their actions in contradiction to the Word of God, and then, when having been forced to answer, it is dismissed in this “holier than thou” fashion. That you should attempt to offset your so-called proof-texting against textual analysis is therefore bazaar! What we need is a far greater acceptance of the Word of God. What we are getting in relation to this issue and the question of homosexuality is an attempt to lessen the place of the Word of God and to get around it.

             
    • Kristen Rosser

      March 11, 2013 at 8:08 am

      Really? The powers that be would refuse to ordain women simply because they don’t like the way they debate it? Right and wrong are superseded by whether women are being “sweet” enough? Wow.

       
  3. Kristen Rosser

    March 12, 2013 at 10:59 am

    Wally Schiller :
    A further side-step – how about you face what I said in the first instance in relation to proof-texting. It is called for by those who want to justify their actions in contradiction to the Word of God, and then, when having been forced to answer, it is dismissed in this “holier than thou” fashion. That you should attempt to offset your so-called proof-texting against textual analysis is therefore bazaar! What we need is a far greater acceptance of the Word of God. What we are getting in relation to this issue and the question of homosexuality is an attempt to lessen the place of the Word of God and to get around it.

    Odd to see this. You accuse them of holier-than-thou behavior while simultaneously asserting that the way you read the text is THE ONLY possible interpretation– that your view of what it means is actually nothing more or less than what God means by it. Then you judge their stance as being an “attempt to lessen the place of the Word of God [by which you mean what you have decided the Bible means] and get around it.” Anyone who takes issue with the way you understand the text is thus much less holy than you. Anyone who considers the way you read it to be proof-texting, has thus become morally deficient. Without ever actually addressing whether your reading is proof-texting or not, you have just done your best to silence any such charge.

    This is what’s known as an “ad hominem attack,” because it attacks the character of those who disagree with you rather than actually addressing the points they are making.

     
    • Wally Schiller

      March 12, 2013 at 8:46 pm

      I’m sorry – but, I really don’t understand all this.

       
      • Kristen Rosser

        March 13, 2013 at 8:04 am

        I’m sorry; it’s hard for me to know how to clarify without knowing exactly what is unclear. In case this helps, I will say that anytime anyone sits down to read a piece of writing — any piece of writing– that was written by someone else, interpretation is happening. There is no such thing as just reading something and having the author’s intent communicated directly to your own mind. When a text is as far removed in time and original culture as the Bible, this is even more true. Martin Luther held that any ordinary person could read the Bible and find out what he/she needed to know for salvation, but even Luther believed that on other matters the Bible was less clear, and that it was possible for someone reading it according to what seems clear to them, to be mistaken as to what a particular text means. The place of women in the church is just such a matter. Therefore to claim that you are simply upholding the “clear Word of God” is a mistaken claim; you are actually upholding what it seems to you to be saying— your interpretation. And then you are treating that interpretation as if IT were the Word of God, and accusing this blog’s authors of attempting to “lessen” and “get around” God’s commands.

        In other words, you’re saying your motives are pure and theirs are impure. This is an attack on them. It would be better to acknowledge that they are simply interpreting it differently than you do, and to leave their motives out of it.

         
        • Wally Schiller

          March 13, 2013 at 1:41 pm

          I think you need to look much more broadly at what has been happening here. Sure, I have expressed strongly my adherence to the Word of God – but, that is not based solely on “me”. It is based on years and years of many things: the position of the church held over centuries, the teachings of the church through many scholars, my own study for ministry, including sitting at the feet of those who now espouse a different position than what they taught me at the time, my years of ministry etc. Now, before that is misinterpreted, it is not putting any of that on the level of the Word of God, nor giving it any place in relation to the importance of the Word. What it is in contrast to is the alternate position, espoused here, which does not have that kind of consensus background. When I used the expression “clear Word of God”, it was perhaps not the best choice for it implies that nothing is unclear in that Word. That is not the point I was making. What is probably more true is that there are clearly accepted positions based on the Word of God which have stood the test of time. Any imputation that this age is suddenly more astute and capable of coming up with new understandings must surely at least be treated with the greatest caution.

          It must also surely be obvious that the greatest attack has come from those espousing a position that is at variance with what has been held. Those who hold to a current position are called upon to substantiate it – then, when they refer to the Word of God, they are accused of “proof-texting” – in other words: the answer is asked for and then abuse is returned for giving it! Damned if you do and damned if you don’t!

          The manner in which “impure” motives have been implied have been numerous, both here and elsewhere, particularly against the President of our Church. The attack on him has been relentless! Yet, I see NO call on that! Furthermore, there has been a very blatant attack on the Word of God by one respondent on this blog – but no objection!!

          When one is forced to defend people, of course it is going to seem “holier than thou” – not to mention the accusation of “proof-texting”. On the latter, I don’t recall ever citing a particular Scripture reference, let alone citing it out of context without due regard to supporting evidence in the rest of Scripture. Yet, when I state a view about the issue of “proof-texting”, it is strenuously avoided.

          The only way to challenge an accepted view of the Word of God is to point our where that position is wrong. You don’t simply attack people for holding to it. Much of what has happened has been just such attack – and when there is attack, there is a need to defend. In the process, that has the ability to get out of hand, and it has happened. The alternative is to withdraw and make no comment. That too evokes attack. The fact is: the position for the ordination of women fails to find Scriptural support and as a consequence, the emphasis has been on any and every other facet in an attempt to persuade people to accept the position. In that sense of side-stepping the Word, I believe my accusation of attempting to “lessen” or “get around” God’s Word is justified. Just one example: The President, Dr Mike Semmler, has stated that the issue in respect of the ordination of women will be decided on the basis of Scripture. That statement has been under severe attack on this blog! Did you raise objection to that attack? I certainly didn’t see it.
          Let the Word of God stand! Let us stand with it and under it, regardless of the world around us with its human emphases on “rights” and everything else.

           
          • krwordgazer

            March 13, 2013 at 8:32 pm

            I’m not a Lutheran and frankly don’t see where the Bible says we are to “ordain” anyone at all– simply acknowledging the Holy Spirit’s gifting of certain people for church leadership seems enough. But honestly, all the talk about the weight of tradition, etc., behind your position makes very little impression on me when the position you’re talking about is, as far as I can see, simply contrary to Jesus’ standard of right and wrong: “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Would you like it if you felt God’s call to ministry and were told it was simply your imagination, because no matter how qualified you were, how able, or how gifted, you were forbidden to serve because you didn’t have a “Y” chromosome? I think this is an issue of simple justice, and that God has permitted the church’s prejudice in this area for 2000 years, and now He’s done.

            As for the question of proof-texting, the real issue is not whether you’re insulted by the charge, but whether the church has actually forbidden women to minister on the basis of three or four texts lifted out of their historical/cultural context and the witness of the rest of Scripture. How long this has been going on is irrelevant. Has it been happening? I’d say the answer is yes.

             
          • Wally Schiller

            March 13, 2013 at 8:54 pm

            I am happy to stand by what I have said despite your unrelated description of it.

             
  4. Chris Donges

    March 12, 2013 at 7:33 pm

    Wally is correct. Parts of the bible are very clear that women should not be ministers. What we have to do is to be honest and accept that sometimes at least the bible is wrong.

     
    • Wally Schiller

      March 12, 2013 at 8:50 pm

      Here too, I really don’t understand this. You are so sure on the first point, yet, your second point undermines your first point entirely. So, you decide on one point that the Bible is wrong, the next person decides another point is wrong and disagrees with your point – and I have to ask: What is the point of the Word of God? Nothing – according to your standard.

       
      • Chris Donges

        March 12, 2013 at 9:14 pm

        There is no ‘word of god’. There is a bible that was written by fallible humans 2000ish years ago that is a starting point for discussion.

         
        • Wally Schiller

          March 12, 2013 at 9:37 pm

          I firmly believe there is the Word of God. I am sorry that you don’t and I pray that at some point you may come to the same belief.

           
          • Chris Donges

            March 12, 2013 at 10:44 pm

            I don’t see any compelling evidence that the bible is the word of god.

            I think I have asked you this before but if you pray and I don’t come to the same belief is that a failing in you, me or god?

             
  5. Katie and Martin

    March 12, 2013 at 11:39 pm

    Wally, our disagreement is over a definition of the Word of God. You would have us accept that any text appearing in the Bible is inherently the Word of God. We hold that mature hermeneutics, used throughout the Christian world to get a full understanding of the text, is a mature and reasonable manner in which to understand what the Word of God is. Your simple approach would dismiss most Christian scholars, including Karl Barth. Our broader approach, using a range of hermeneutical tools, will reveal new revelations in a changing world, in which women are given enormous respect.

     
    • Wally Schiller

      March 13, 2013 at 12:36 am

      You are correct – we have a clear disagreement in respect of the Word of God. But, you are not correct that my understanding “would dismiss most Christian scholars” – a mere sweeping, but very inaccurate statement.

       
      • Katie and Martin

        March 13, 2013 at 1:07 am

        Most scholars would dismiss your defence of proof-texting. Test this statement and talk to some scholars. You won’t find support from ALC, Karl Barth, Hans Kung, Bonhoeffer, … Doubtless you will find support for a different conservative hermeneutic, but there is no room for proof-texting. (Dear Dr Laura https://katieandmartin.wordpress.com/?s=schlessinger)

         
        • Wally Schiller

          March 13, 2013 at 1:37 am

          You keep coming back to your accusation of “proof-texting” – I find that offensive given all that I have said about it and what I have tried to get you to answer. So, how about an answer to that initial comment instead of hiding behind offensive judgments of this kind.

           
          • Katie and Martin

            March 13, 2013 at 2:13 am

            Wally, when discussing theology it is only natural that the suppositions behind the conversation are teased out. If there are different suppositions any conversation will be at cross purposes, like this one.
            While you cling to simple translations, certainly younger people do not. While the Church of your youth may have clung to simple certainties, membership of today is willing to consider the complexities. While your cultural conditioning has women adopting a supportive (non-leading) position, today’s membership embraces women’s existing leadership in society and sees the disparity with the LCA’s current attitude towards women.
            Any comments on the Karl Barth comment?
            A worldview that looks back in time will not survive the current embracing of diversity in society (which includes this Church). Unless those who adopt your position are willing to consider alternative ways of being Church, they are writing themselves out of the future of the LCA.
            While we don’t know which thought you want us to address, we do know that without an agreement on fundamentals the chances of finding common ground are slim.

             
          • Wally Schiller

            March 13, 2013 at 3:39 am

            It clearly doesn’t matter what I say, it is interpreted in ways I can’t even follow. And, you obviously don’t want to go near what I said about “proof-texting” except to throw it at me in judgmental way. And, I guess there is nothing I can do about that sort of method, but I think it proves the point I made. Interesting also that you don’t take issue with some of the other comments that are made here.

             
  6. Wally Schiller

    March 13, 2013 at 3:40 am

    Oh, and as for the Karl Barth comment, I can resonate with some of that – but I wouldn’t stretch it too far.

     

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