§19, chapter 1 deals with Scripture as a witness to God’s revelation. Resisting the urge to attack Barth because he “doesn’t believe the Bible is the Word of God,” let’s actually see what he is saying and what it means for our own situation. A witness to a thing is not the same thing as the thing (and if anyone maintains it is, he or she will have to explain precisely why transubstantiation is wrong). Further if we collapse the sign into the thing signified, is this not a movement towards nominalism? The sign is pointing beyond itself to the “real.” If we remove the “sign,” how can we have access to the real? We are then saying that the “sign” is merely a “name” for the thing signified.
Before people fear too much, Richard Muller, while perhaps not necessarily endorsing this view, does allude to several Reformed scholastics who said something similar.
For whatever demerits Barth’s project may have, one cannot help but notice Augustinian themes. If you attack Barth, then you must continue and attack Augustine.
Chapter 2: Canon
Barth gives an unusually careful discussion on the nature of canonization. Surprisingly, given his anti-Roman polemic throughout this series, he faults the position of Luther and Calvin and gives more weight to the role of the church. However, this can only work when the Church submits to the same revelation.
Towards the end of chapter two he gets into why he doesn’t believe Scripture should be considered “inerrant.” I can’t follow him at this point, though Evangelicals really haven’t reflected hard enough on his concerns. We believe the Word of God is self-attesting. If we leave the discussion of “self-attesting” in the arena of the Triune God, well and good. Because then self-attestation is truly a triune act, and if you deny it then you deny God. If we maintain, however, so Barth reasons, that self-attestation is an act of the text of Scripture, then we open ourselves to lots of devastating criticisms by Anchorite traditions.
Barth tries to play the “Calvin vs. Calvinists” card. Historically, such a claim is simply false. However, even Richard Muller admits that the epistemology of later 17th century scholastics was such that they really couldn’t avoid the later criticisms of the Enlightenment.
We should be all means reject Barth’s conclusions–at least, if we want to stay in good position in conservative, American churches–but be forewarned that Barth’s position can avoid all the pitfalls facing Evangelicals in their debates with anchorites. The downside, though, is that it is particularly difficult on Barth’s gloss to say, “Thus saith the Lord.” To Barth’s credit he emphasizes the preaching of the word. However, at this point in Church Dogmatics Barth is not clear on how his view of the Bible can be authoritative for the church.