Barthian Ethics: He Can Negate – But Can He Mandate?
This is an excerpt from my journal, which I kept while studying for a class on Karl Barth. It does not represent my finished thoughts on Barth. Please read my later posts on Barthianism, and especially my paper “The Gospel According to Barth” for my finished thoughts on the topic. If you have an objection or answer to my thoughts here, I would be hugely grateful for your input!
The entire thrust of contemporary Christian ethics seems to be negative. Whole churches, denominations, and Christians will define themselves against certain doctrines and ethical standards: not patriarchal/chauvinist, not sexually repressive, not homophobic, etc. The only positive all-out it seems to be that of friendship to the world: “open to gay/lesbian/bi/queer (GLBQ)”, “open to feminists,” etc.
Can a church really be “biblical,” however, if it teaches nothing that culture does not teach? Perhaps it is true that our society is perfect, and requires no reproof. What is that? You disagree? On what grounds? Not by playing off “conservative” versus “liberal,” for this is basically subjected. We need a voice of authority. We need a stable compass-point, to keep us from being blown around by every wave of doctrine. Where can we find this?
We all agree it is in the Bible.
However, Barth does not seem to be aware that simply saying that we must live in a matter corresponding to our redemption is meaningless. Britney Spears whereas (or wore) a WWJD bracelet: apparently, her message and lifestyle were compatible with her conception of Jesus. And this is precisely wherein is the rub: the fact is that we each construct an (idolatrous!) Jesus of our own imaginations. But, you object, Scriptures correct us!
Do they? Do they really? How many people do you know who are blatantly living in sin, while reading the Bible day by day?
Usually, sins only get dealt with when we are confronted by them. But if you remove the possibility of propositional revelation, you have removed any ability of Christian brothers and sisters from correcting in love the sinful party. Or, put another way, you have gagged Christ.
If I had a dollar for every time somebody said “I can’t ignore Jesus’ clear teaching on ask (usually marriage/sexual ethics) because ‘the Jesus I know wouldn’t have a problem with what I am doing…’ ” I would be a rich man, or at least would have my school debts paid off.
“Christocentricity” Which supersedes Biblical orthodoxy reduces inexorably towards and unaccountable “spirit of prophecy,” such that we are in danger, as Luther accused the Zwikau Prophets of, of “swallowing the Holy Spirit whole, feathers and all!”
Let another way, Barthian ethics seems to lead simply and directly to end a list and unaccountable subjectivity.
In practice, it is likely limited by habits and Christian culture: but who will stem the flood of antinominalism among our youth and new converts without some real, concrete commands of God?