Archeology and Biblical Criticism Part V: Archeology and Neo-Orthodoxy -- By: Joseph P. Free

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 114:454 (Apr 1957)
Article: Archeology and Biblical Criticism Part V: Archeology and Neo-Orthodoxy
Author: Joseph P. Free


Archeology and Biblical Criticism
Part V:
Archeology and Neo-Orthodoxy

Joseph P. Free

[Joseph P. Free is Fred McManus Professor of Bible Archeology and Department Chairman at Wheaton (Illinois) College. His article is fifth in his W. H. Griffith Thomas Memorial Lectureship for 1955 on “Archeology and Biblical Criticism.”]

The term neo-orthodoxy or Barthianism is usually applied to the line of thought developed several years ago by Karl Barth, and adopted by other liberal theologians, including Brunner in Germany and Reinhold Niebuhr and others in America.

Origin and Nature of Neo-orthodoxy

Karl Barth grew up in liberal circles in Germany at the time of the first World War. In his earlier days he realized that the message which Calvin and Luther had preached four hundred years earlier had been efficacious in producing sincere Christians and a vital Christian faith. So Barth began to preach the message of Calvin and Luther, and he found it worked. People came to Christ and the church was filled. Actually Barth did not preach the whole reformation doctrine of Calvin and Luther, but he preached enough of it that striking results were evident.

Unfortunately, in Barth’s thinking he sought to hold to Biblical criticism and at the same time to a theology which at many points approached that of orthodoxy. Since the Bible is the foundation of what Christians believe, the Barthian who accepts Biblical criticism finds himself in the contradictory position of trying to sustain a superstructure of a somewhat conservative theology which rests on a Biblical criticism which removes real authority from the Bible. This leaves

one’s superstructure without real foundation. In the physical world, a superstructure without foundation would fall to the ground immediately. In the theological world, the collapse is just as inevitable, but sometimes less apparent for a time.

Some have pointed out that neo-orthodoxy is really neo-liberalism. Such an observation is very pertinent, for the Barthian who tries to hold to a somewhat orthodox theology and at the same time accepts Biblical criticism has much in common with the liberal who acknowledges the spiritual lessons in the Bible and yet holds wholeheartedly to Biblical criticism. Many Barthians seem to be separated from the full liberal position by an acknowledgment of the supernatural, but they often are rather close to this line of demarcation beyond which lie all shades of old line liberalism.

In more recent years Barth has tended to become more conservative, whereas Brunner now maintains the less conservative position which characterized Bar...

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