Are We All Barthians Now?

Are We All Barthians Now?

The reason for this is that man, of himself, cannot really come to the knowledge of the truth. The more man learns by his own effort (by the unaided power of his own mind), the more he faces the unknown. Just as a balloon, when it is blown up, expands in every direction, so does man’s learning bring him face to face with the endless mystery of the wonderful works of God.

Preface

The writings of G.I. Williamson were very influential in my life as a young Christian. His love for Scripture inspired me to receive the teachings of the Holy Bible with an implicit kind of faith.

I continue to recommend his study guide on the Westminster Shorter Catechism to catechumens and was recently reminded of his expert ability to communicate complex theological concepts to readers of all ages.

For example, the Barthian, or Neo-orthodox, view of Scripture is not the easiest thing to explain, but it is essential that Christians understand it. It is a very subtle heresy that starts with one small-but-sinister step: Separating the “text” of God’s Word from the “truth” of God’s Word.

People prove their willingness to do this in a variety of ways, but one of the most common seems to be the church’s increased tolerance for textual variants and contemporary translations.

Whenever someone (like me) complains about a word being deleted or changed, the concern is immediately rejected with the ready response, “It doesn’t ultimately matter because no doctrine is affected.”

Is this the way Reformed Christians now view Scripture? Is the “text” actually expendable so long as “truth” is preserved? If so, then how is this essentially different from Barthianism?

G.I. graciously granted me permission to repost the chapter from his study guide that exposes the error of Barthianism. As you read it, and especially as you come to the illustrations, try to put yourself in “Shorty’s” shoes for a minute or two. Which image best illustrates your view of Scripture? Could it be that we are all Barthians now? I certainly hope not, but sometimes I do wonder.

Christian McShaffrey
Pastor, Five Solas Church

Chapter Two
The WSC Study Guide
By G.I. Williamson

Q. What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him?

A. The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

“If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life…” (Revelation 22:18-19).

Introduction

Strange as it may seem, Jesus once said that God has “hid . . . things from the wise and prudent, and . . . revealed them unto babes” (Luke 10:21). In other words, some of the most intelligent and best-educated people lack true wisdom. And some very simple people who are not well educated have true wisdom.

The reason for this is that man, of himself, cannot really come to the knowledge of the truth. The more man learns by his own effort (by the unaided power of his own mind), the more he faces the unknown. Just as a balloon, when it is blown up, expands in every direction, so does man’s learning bring him face to face with the endless mystery of the wonderful works of God.

For example, new and more powerful telescopes have been invented by men in order that they might study the secrets of the stars. But what has been the result? The result has been this: they now have many millions of new stars to study!

This is one reason why scientific theory is constantly changing. For the more men discover, the more they also discover how much more there is that they do not know. Thus, because men cannot know everything (there is just too much!), they finally get discouraged and realize that they cannot really know anything for sure.

Two Kinds of Revelation

Now the reason for this is that God did not make man to know everything (or, for that matter, anything) by his own power. Only God knows everything, and so, from the beginning, only God could give to man a sure knowledge of anything at all. From the beginning, this knowledge came to man in two ways:

(1) The first way in which God revealed himself is what we call natural revelation.

“The heavens declare the glory of God,” says the Psalmist; “and the firmament sheweth his handywork” (Ps. 19:1). “The invisible things of him [God] from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made” (Rom. 1:20).

(2) The second way in which God revealed himself is what we call special revelation.

For even in paradise God spoke to Adam. Adam had God’s word in addition to his works. Adam, by his study of nature, could know much. But he could not know all. He could not know, for example, what had not yet come to pass. In order to be sure of so “simple” a thing as eating fruit from a tree, it was necessary for him to interpret the “facts of nature” in the “light of God’s word.”

When Adam sinned against God, he rejected God’s word. He acted as if he did not need God to tell him what was right. Instead, he decided to try the so-called “scientific method” (that is, the “trial and error” method of discovering truth. And from that time to this, Adam and all his posterity (except for those who come to salvation through Jesus Christ) have walked in darkness.

This is not because of any “darkness” in God’s revelation. The “light” of God still shines brightly in everything that that God has made. But if man in the beginning (sinless Adam) could not understand the “light” of nature, without the “light” of God’s word, how much more is this true for us! For the only way in which man can be saved from sin is revealed in the Bible alone.

The revelation of God in nature is sufficient to leave men without excuse. It shows them the glory of the true God so that they ought to worship and serve him. But it is only in the Bible that men actually can learn what they must believe (in order to be saved from sin) and do (in order to serve God once more).

The Meaning of “Contained In”

But what does the Catechism mean when it says that “the word of God . . . is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments?” By these words we are to understand that the very words which we find in the Bible are from God. However, in order to understand this clearly, we need to understand the wrong way in which these words (contained in) have been taken.

Since the time that this Catechism was written, clever men have tried to use the same words (“contained in”) with a meaning very different from what is intended by the Catechism.

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