To the Word

Reflections on the call to live by the Word of God

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Wednesday, September 01, 2004

The Startling Power of the Word

Lately I’ve been reading some of the writings of Karl Barth. Barth was a Swiss minister and university professor during the early and middle twentieth century. I’m sure you would no more agree with everything the man had to say than I do. His writings on the Word of God, however, are an idol-shattering response to the kind of liberalism that was threatening the church in his day (and still threatens today). Churches in Barth’s day had tried to tame the Word, to use it to justify the status quo of the world. In every age, it seems, human beings use the Bible to find the evidence for what they want to believe and practice anyway.

Barth understood that in the Bible is the very Word of God, yet human sin may keep that truth from penetrating into our hearts. In his essay, “The Strange New World Within the Bible,” Barth wrote:

The Bible gives to every man and to every era such answers to their questions as they deserve. We shall always find in it as much as we seek and no more: high and divine content if it is high and divine content that we seek; transitory and “historical” content, if it is transitory and “historical” content that we seek—nothing whatever, if it is nothing whatever that we seek.

If we dare, however, to seek the Word of God, we shall find that the answer is far higher and bigger than we imagined—bigger and more powerful than we know how to deal with on our own. The Word, in short, is Christ, with his call to die to self and live a new life in Him.

The job of the Christian is not to make the Bible “relevant” to the world in which we live. The Christian, rather, is called to make his or her own heart open to the “strange new world” which the Bible presents. In other words, we do not use the Word as much as we allow the Word to use us, to reshape us. To do that, we have to approach the Bible with faith. The Holy Scriptures, Barth writes, will interpret themselves in spite of all our human limitations. We need only dare to follow this drive, this spirit, this river, to grow out beyond ourselves toward the highest answer. This daring is faith; and we read the Bible rightly, not when we do so with false modesty, restraint, and attempted sobriety, for these are passive qualities, but when we read it in faith. And the invitation to dare and to reach toward the highest, even though we do not deserve it, is the expression of grace in the Bible: the Bible unfolds to us as we are met, guided, drawn on, and made to grow by the grace of God. Amen.

Copyright 2004, New York Avenue Church of Christ


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