Barth on the Holy Spirit

So now that I have Karl Barth’s 14 vol Church Dogmatics (Hendrickson, 2010), I get to put up my own quotes!  🙂

And as a Pentecostal pastor I will naturally open the first volume, peruse it and see that Barth talks quite a bit about the deity, person, and work of the Holy Spirit in his relation to the Trinity (1.1 – p. 448-489).  He talks of the Spirit as ‘God the Redeemer’ and ‘The Eternal Spirit’ – and trust me, there is much there to chew on and think about and especially in relation to his exposition of the Nicaeno-Constatinoplitan Creed.  He even has a section on Acts 2!  🙂

So without further ado, let’s see if we can process the following (which comes under ‘God the Redeemer’):

In both the Old Testament and the New, the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, is very generally God himself to the degree that in an incomprehensibly real way, without on this account being any less God, He can be present to the creature, and in virtue of this presence of His effect the relation of the creature to Himself, and in virtue of this relation to Himself grant the creature life.

The creature needs the Creator to be able to live.  It thus needs the relation to Him.  But it cannot create this relation.  God creates it by by His own presence in the creature and therefore as a relation of Himself to Himself. The Spirit of God is God in his freedom to be present in the creature, and therefore to create this relation, and therefore to be the life of the creature.  And God’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit, especially in revelation, is God Himself to the extent that He can not only come to man but also be in man, and thus open up man and make him capable and ready for Himself, and thus achieve His revelation in him.

Man needs revelation, for he is certainly lost without it.  He thus needs to have revelation become manifest to him, i.e., he himself needs to become open to revelation.  But this is not a possibility of his own.  It can only be God’s own reality when it does happen, and therefore it can lie only in God’s own possibility that it can happen.  It is God’s reality in that God Himself becomes present to man not just externally, not just from above, but also from within, from below, subjectively.

It is thus reality in that He does not merely come to man but encounters Himself from man.  God’s freedom to be present in this way to man, and therefore to bring about this encounter, is the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit in God’s revelation…. The Holy Spirit is not identical with Jesus Christ, with the Son or Word of God (450-451).

Notice Barth states that “the creature needs the Creator to be able to live.”  The Spirit of God is and and was as much part of the creation event as God himself and he his part of the creative work God does in and through our lives even today.

In sum, as Christians, we NEED the Holy Spirit in our lives!! For without him we cannot truly know God or be known by him.  He is, in part, God’s revelation to us and in turn reveals God to us and again, in turn, reveals us to God.  He is also our Lord and Life Giver.  For without him we cannot truly have life – he is our life, our breath, our source.  He us our Sustainer.  He is the Spirit of Life.

Wow, heavy stuff to think about – more Pentecostals need to read Barth!  It will bring some depth to their own oft shallow pneumatology.  The Work of the Spirit is far more than speaking in tongues and things – he is the reason we live, and move, and have our being in Christ.  He us our enabler, our sustainer, our giver of life – the means of how we encounter God and Christ in our hearts and lives.

I think Evangelicals also need to read what Barth has to say about the Holy Spirit – they too can be shallow or lack depth in their own Pneumatology – too often I think an Evangelical view of the Trinity is as Mark Driscoll put it once: Father, Son, and Holy Bible.  It can be tempting, because of the excesses of the Charismatic movement to want to leave out the work of the Spirit or to minimize his work in us to that of simply revealing Christ or pointing us to Christ without recognizing that the Holy Spirit can and does do his own work in us and through us.

While the Spirit does point us to Christ we need to remember Christ isn’t going to be offended if we pursue a life filled with the Spirit and empowered by him – Christ is the giver of the Spirit after all and it was Christ who told us, it is better that I go away so that the Holy Spirit can come.

We all need revelation of God, who he is, how he works and more – and that is only going to come through the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

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5 responses to “Barth on the Holy Spirit

  1. I love your post, Brian. Pentecostals have shallow pneumatology indeed. You know, I think it’s about time for us to talk about ourselves as Pentecostals distinctively, and move into describing ourselves as part of the church as a whole, as Christians. That is to say, I would say we as Christians need the Holy Ghost. This whole thing about “this is what makes us different from the rest of you” is frequently getting treated as less of a distinctive, given the rest of Christianity is opening up to the concept of Spirit Baptism.

    Love the comment you make there that “as Christians, we NEED the Holy Spirit in our lives.” Instead of the frequently used “as Pentecostals, we NEED the Holy Spirit in our lives.”

  2. Brian, Amen.. I glad ya took advantage of the Barth set. And as Barth said, faith is not a wrestling with unbelief, but really the presence of the Holy Spirit Himself! Barth’s theology is certainly flawed (like all human theology), but he knew the Spirit of God is the only depth in a biblical theology. I always learn reading Barth! 🙂

  3. Pingback: Week in Review: 12.18.2010 « Near Emmaus

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