Karl Barth on Pentecostalism

From Frank Macchia’s FB page:

A cautious but affirming response to Pentecostalism:

Barth“One could never have enough of Pentecost. This has to do with the Holy Spirit. For this reason, a little Pentecostalism — also again as salt of the earth (cf. Matt. 5:13)– cannot hurt any of us… It is quite necessary that someone draw attention to the fact that we all need the Holy Spirit. When one does that, and then something from Pentecost becomes visible again, how can we say something against it? There is nothing that can be said against it.”

– Karl Barth

(Busch, ed., Gasamtausgabe, Gesprache 1964-68, 430-32)

Someone responded:

A Barthian scholar and friend noted to me that Barth always left room for the surprising work of God, but did so only ‘out of the corner of his eye.’ Maybe that’s what he meant by ‘a little Pentecostalism.’

To which Macchia replied:

I like this corner of his eye. Yes, that is typically Barth. In the larger entry from which the quote was taken, Barth is responding to letters sent to him from David DuPlessis, which praised God for mass successes in Pentecostal crusades in various parts of the world. Barth was turned off by what he saw as a triumphalistic spirit which reminded him of sensationalistic worldly entertainment (He even said, “Das schmeckt mir nach Zirkus oder nach Kino“). But he was able to see past this to the deeper value of Pentecostalism for the churches. The value of the Barthian dialectic was precisely in his capacity to celebrate the essential and vital meaning of a movement like pentecostalism from which he would otherwise and for various reasons feel alienated.

….But he was able to see past this to the deeper value of Pentecostalism for the churches…  well, too bad more haven’t been able or willing to have similar considerations.   Obviously I think Barth’s approach is a good one to take.


Barth quote of the Day

To say that Jesus Christ rules the Church is equivalent to saying that Holy Scripture rules the Church

Karl Barth (CD 1.2).

HT: Pastor Dan

How can Barth say this?  Is Christ equivalent to the Scriptures?  or do the Scriptures merely point to Christ – ruler of the Church?


Dan does go on to write:

The Scriptures exegete Christ. Christ exegetes the Scriptures. The Word confronts us and we need to deal with that confrontation as the Church. Does Jesus rule his Church or not? If so, are we understanding the authority of the Scriptures in our lives?

Our playing around with the authority of Scriptures in the life of the believer gets us into trouble. We need to bring our attention back to the Word of God, and the Scriptures that reveal that Word so clearly to us!

This does help and I agree with him on this – we can all do better in taking the authority of the Scriptures more seriously.

Barth on the deity of the Spirit

Barth has some really good things to say about the Person of the Holy Spirit:

In what has been said we have stated already that according to the testimony of Scripture the Holy Spirit is no less and no other than God Himself, distinct from Him whom Jesus calls His Father, distinct also from Jesus Himself, yet no less than the Father and no less than Jesus, God Himself, altogether God.  (CD 1.1, 459)

notes follow this discussing 2 Cor 3:17, John 4:24; Acts 5:3ff; Mark 3:28,29 where Barth writes: however we may understand it, there could not possibly be a blasphemy against the Holy Ghost which makes man guilty of an unforgivable, eternal sin, if the Spirit were less or something other than God himself.

That not only these and similar verses but the whole New Testament doctrine of the work of the Holy Spirit implies the deity of His essence can properly be contested only if one has first explained away the fact that with its “Iesous Kurios” the New Testament community confessed its faith in Jesus Christ as faith in God Himself.  If the Christ of the New Testament is a demi-god from above or below, then naturally faith in Him becomes a human possibility.  Then, extraordinary though the phenomenon may be, one can show how faith in Him has arisen on certain grounds and presuppositions which we ourselves can perceive and control.  But in this case there is in fact no need for the deity of the Holy Spirit who creates this faith.  On this view the name “Holy Spirit” may very well be a mere name for a particularly profound, serious and vital conviction of truth or experience of conscience, or one may equally well omit it altogether when describing the basis of faith according to the New Testament.  (CD, 1.1, 460).

So, in sum, the Holy Spirit is God and is as much God as the Father and the Son though distinct from them – He is not merely some extention of them but rather, he is his own person. He is not “a mere name for a particularly profound, serious and vital conviction of truth or experience of conscience,” rather, he is God!  God the Spirit.  Our Lord and Life Giver!  The Holy Spirit is not some spooky feeling one gets or the warming of the heart some experience or any thing of any such notion – the Holy Spirit is God and because he is God, he is a person with personality, with a will and a purpose – what is the purpose?  To reveal to us God the Father and God the Son.  To conform us into the image of Jesus Christ.  To work in and through us the will and purposes of the Father for our lives and for his Kingdom in this world.

I guess all this isn’t exactly a newsflash or anything, most of us know and understand the Holy Spirit to be God – but I think we need the reminder now and again – that the Holy Spirit is altogether God.  This is important because I think one tendency in the church at large is the tendency to go the opposite direction of what we see in many a charismatic setting – we don’t want to be all over the top in our pursuit of a life in the Spirit yet, when we go too far the other way, we need to be reminded that we are seriously at risk of leaving out God himself from our pursuit of him!  Strange as it may seem, that can happen.  It is okay to pursue a life in the Spirit – for in so doing, we are pursuing a life in God!

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.

My early Christmas surprise… USPS Edition

I was completely blown away when I went to get the mail today….

whoa, the box was torn….

But the books are fine and dandy!!  🙂

Well, this was a pleasant surprise!  I had asked for the set for Christmas but had figure it just wasn’t going to work out – well, I guess we just became Barthians!  lol!  Plenty of Barth quotes to come, though probably not too many (not over the top).