The Obscurity of Barthianism -- By: Roy L. Aldrich

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 121:483 (Jul 1964)
Article: The Obscurity of Barthianism
Author: Roy L. Aldrich

The Obscurity of Barthianism

Roy L. Aldrich

[Roy L. Aldrich, President, Detroit Bible College, Detroit, Visiting Bible Lecturer, Dallas Theological Seminary.]

Our idea of an unfair examination question would be to ask a student to explain what Barth means by “similarity” in the following quotation: “It is not a relationship of either parity or disparity, but of similarity. This is what we think and this is what we express as the true knowledge of God, although in faith we still know and remember that everything that we know as ‘similarity’ is not identical with the similarity meant here. Yet we also know and remember, and again in faith, that the similarity meant here is pleased to reflect itself in what we know as similarity and call by this name, so that in our thinking and speaking similarity becomes similar to the similarity posited in the true revelation of God (to which it is, in itself, not similar) and we do not think and speak falsely but rightly when we describe the relationship as one of similarity.”1

This is one sample from a vast theological system saturated with equally unclear propositions and discussions. Critics of Barthianism have noted its obscurity, but have failed to capitalize on this advantage. Surely this is a major weakness. If the science of medicine was as obscure as Barthianism, no physician would dare prescribe or operate. Theology deals with souls and prescribes for eternity. Therefore, perspicuity is a valid test of good theology.

The fuzziness of Barthianism has been re-emphasized by Gordon H. Clark’s recent monograph, Karl Barths Theological Method.2 The purpose of this book is to explain Barth’s method—not his language or semantics. However, one has only to read a page or two to discover that Clark’s major problem seems to be with Barth’s obscurity and lack of rationality.

Gordon H. Clark is professor of philosophy at Butler University, Indianapolis, Indiana. He is an evangelical scholar whose books and articles are well known. His latest book, just mentioned, was selected for distribution to all members of The Evangelical Theological Society. This background is mentioned to show that Clark’s failure to find clarity in Barth’s writings is not due to lack of scholarship.

Professor Clark’s problem with Barth’s language appears on almost every page of his book. The following quotations are typical:

“This sentence is singularly obscure.”3

“There are several perplexitie...

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