Ecclesiology, Barth, and Scripture

Things are dovetailing in my mind today.  I have started reading Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics, with two others, one a friend and one a new acquaintance.  We are taking our time so we are now through his discussion of proclamation and its relation to the Word of God and to dogmatics.

As we discussed this portion of the Church Dogmatics, I recognized how Barth was speaking to me differently than when I first picked up the dogmatics in writing an independent study paper for my Religious Studies course in college.  In that paper I was attempting to navigate between a sense of Scripture as Word of God, opposed to the fundamentalists notions of the Scripture as Word of God of those who had taken over the congregation my family and I had been in since I was in Jr. High.  Barth helped articulate my experience and understanding of Scriptures as the Word of God, even as I affirmed their humanity and the historical limitations of the Human Authors.

In this reading of Barth and in our discussion last night, I found a very different experience. Barth is still help in giving articulation to my theology and faith.  The difference is that I found myself defending the Roman Catholic views Barth is criticizing, and at points agreeing with what Barth thinks is wrong headed, but also feeling that at points Barth doesn’t get Roman Catholic theology at least not if it is taken in it’s broad sweep and not just its articulation in the last two centuries. On my first reading of Barth years ago, I was able to give articulation to my faith in following Barth.  Reading the Church Dogmatics I’m finding that my faith is being articulated in my disagreement with Barth.

Even so, his placing proclamation at the center of the church does appeal to me. Though, I can’t see proclamation as being in competition with (or as Barth would say prior to) the Sacraments.  Or I say yes Proclamation but feel that such is not simply spoken, but can be non-verbal (I’m an artist and iconographer, so one shouldn’t be surprised.)

Today I’ve been at the North Park Theological Seminary Symposium on the Theological Interpretation of Scripture. This years theme is Family.  Related to my disjunction with Barth, is that in this a symposium on Scripture and its interpretation, we seem to be facing so far in our sessions the limits of Scripture.  This limit has lead me to wonder  about (at moments out loud) both the history of interpretation in a broad sense, but also the authoritative interpretation of these texts as the Tradition of the Church.  That is I’m questioning if we can hear or even really know how these texts were understood and heard in their original contexts.  Not to say there is no reason to attempt a reconstruction of that, but what is more compelling is the interplay of interpretation across time.

We can’t seem to escape the church, that Scriptures are interpreted overtime, that there is accretion but also that past interpretation retains a certain contemporaneity .  Yet, the Protestant response, and certainly Barth’s response to the history of  interpretation (or Tradition) is not to seek out a continuity, but to emphasize disjunction and interruption which lead to the need for constant re-evaluation.   In the face of this I find myself wanting to say yes to the limits but answer those limits through continuity and seeking the way God is at work in the Church  as the Body of Christ joined to its head through time in the messiness of individual members and groups of individual members, even in Christians failing to live out our being as the Church, the Body of Christ.

This doesn’t quite lead me into the arms of Rome or Orthodoxy, why? I think it is that as is Rome and Orthodoxy don’t quite present me with a sense of proclamation and deep significance of Scripture.  I perhaps am a catholic and ecumenical evangelical, the proclamation of the Gospel and Word of God need to be emphasized, but with out denial or displacement of sacraments and tradition.  It’s a strange place to be.