We continue with the next chapter of Barth’s Evangelical Theology: The Witness.
The domain of evangelical theology is the Word of God, the Word which is spoken in the history of Israel and the history of Jesus Christ which fulfills the former. But we need “a more precise determination of the place of evangelical theology.” (p. 26) And this more precise domain took place in a group of human beings who “enjoy a special and singular, indeed a unique, position in their relation to the Word of God. . . they are called directly by the Word to be its hearers, and they are appointed for its communication and verification to other men.” (p. 26) They are the biblical witnesses of the Word, “the prophetic men of the Old Testament and the apostolic men of the New.” (p. 26) The concrete concern of evangelical theology, then, is the Logos of God in their witness, i.e., the Scriptures.
What kind of witness, then, that we witness in their witness?
- The prophetic men of the Old Testament witnessed YHWH’s action in the history of Israel, his action as father, king, lawgiver, and judge.
- They heard YHWH’s commands, judgments, and threats as well as his promises – not confirmations of their own religious, moral, or political preferences, or their optimistic or pessimistic views, opinions, and postulates! (therein lies an example of Barth’s disdain of natural theology, liberalism, conservatism, and any religion alike — we are always judged).
- What they heard is the sovereign voice of the God of the covenant: “Thus says the Lord.”
- They heard, and they spoke (naturally, within the limits and horizon of his time, its problems, culture, and language), and they wrote.
- And what they wrote were recognized as authentic, trustworthy, and authoritative testimonies to the Word of God (much better than to use ‘inerrant’, a negative word to define a phenomena). Authentic, trustworthy (I always love this word!), and authoritative. And note the key phrase: testimonies to the Word of God.
- Then, we need to focus our attention on the goal of the history of Israel, on the prophetic (looking ahead) Word spoken in this history, on the history of Jesus Christ as it is witnessed by the apostolic men of the New Testament.
- They heard, and not only heard; they heard, saw, and touched the fulfillment of the covenant.
- And this fulfillment was the Lord who as a servant lived, suffered, and died in the place of the disobedient.
- And by this Lord, Lord Jesus, the apostles were sent out into the world in order to attest to all men that Jesus is the Word of God.
- They heard, they spoke, and they wrote.
- And their testimonies, fixed in writing and handed down, relate the history of Jesus Christ and proved itself authentic, original, faithful, and authoritative.
- Finally, they also acknowledge the Old Testament canon to be the testimony to the one Word of God as the New Testament canon (again, note the key phrase: the testimony to the Word).
How then is evangelical theology to this biblical witness to the Word of God?
- It shares with the biblical prophecy and apostolate a common concern for human response to the divine Word.
- At the same time, theology is neither prophecy nor apostolate, because it can know the Word of God only at second hand, only in the mirror and echo of the biblical witness (which knows the Word of God at first hand).
- The position of theology can in no wise be exalted above that of the biblical witness.
- Once and for all, theology has its position beneath that of the biblical witness.
- The peg on which all theology hangs is acquaintance with the God of the Gospel, and this acquaintance is never to be taken for granted.
- Theology confronts in Holy Scriptures an exteremely polyphonic, not a monotonous, testimony to the work and word of God.
- Finally, it responds to the Logos of God when it endeavors to hear and speak of him always anew on the basis of his self-disclosure in the Scriptures. The open, candid question about this Word is what theology brings to the Bible. The question is: “How do you tell it to the man on the street?”