Saturday, 20 February 2010

Barth on the Christological centre of the Old and New Testaments

Josh Lim of Reformed Blogging has posted the following quote by Barth which I find very helpful for understanding Childs' own approach to Biblical theology (especially the last bit, which I print in bold). It affirms, once again, Childs' strong Barthian outlook.
As regards handling of Old Testament texts, we maintain that for us the Old Testament is valid only in relation to the New. If the church has declared itself to be the lawful successor of the synagogue, this means that the Old Testament is witness to Christ, before Christ but not without Christ. Each sentence in the Old Testament must be seen in this context. Historical exegesis can and must be done, but at the same time we have to ask whether this exegesis does justice to the context in which the Old and New Testaments stand. Even in a sermon on Judges 6:3 it is possible both insist on the literal sense and also to set one’s sights on Christ. As a wholly Jewish book, the Old Testament is a pointer to Christ. As regards the justification of allegory, we have again to refer to the relation between the Old Testament and the New. In the Old Testament the natural sense is the issue. Preaching must bring out what the Old Testament passage actually says, but in a way that affirms the basic premise on which the church adopted the Old Testament. This does not mean that we will give the passage a second sense — just as we are not to oppose historical and Christian exposition to one another. Instead, we will see that this passage in its immanence points beyond itself. It is a signpost that gives us direction. The Old Testament points forwards, the New Testament points backward, and both point to Christ.[*]
A "signpost that gives us a direction," what a helpful way of thinking of the relation between the literal and spiritual senses.

For a statement by Childs that repeats this: "As a wholly Jewish book, the Old Testament is a pointer to Christ" - go to my post The Task of Jewish/Christian exegesis.

For a quote by Francis Watson on this issue go here.

[*] Karl Barth, Homiletics Translated by Geoffrey W. Bromiley and Donald E. Daniels (Louisville, KY: WJK, 1991) 80-81.


Bacho said...


thanks for the post. For someone who is only now getting into Childs, what would be the best place to start exploring Barth's influence on him?

Phil Sumpter said...

Hi Bacho,

I can't think of any one place in particular. For me it's just a cumulative process of trying to figure out what he thinks and seeing echoes in Barth. Perhaps it would be helpful to read Barth's Introduction to Evangelical Theology and then just read Childs' main works and keep an eye out for conceptual similarities. Though I love Childs' Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, I think his Biblical Theology is his magnum opus. There was actually an article comparing Childs and Barth (which I can't think of right now, I'm sure you'll find it if you search a database), though I didn't find it particularly enlightening.

There is one place that is really explicit: a colloquium on Barth in Yale in the 60's, in which Childs participated. Childs was at first sceptical of Barth (he studied in Basel, where he met Barth, but he actually went there because of Baumgartner). As he developed, he felt that Barth was onto something that historical critical scholarship had overlooked ... Somehow, far Barth, the text of Scripture was able to become a "transparency" onto a greater reality, the reality of, for example, the covenant in and of itself, and not just various human witnesses to the covenant.

Phil Sumpter said...

By the way, great blog! I see we have a lot of similar interests!

Bacho said...

Thanks Phil. Barth is a completely new territory for me. Like most evangelicals I have owned the slim version of his "Dogmatics: Introduction" but have never really read him. I will pick up his book that you recommended.
BTW: Great blog. I have been reading it for a while.

Anonymous said...


Tell me if you disagree, but I think Childs' 'Barthian-ness' is never really explicit in his work though the voice of Barth is present throughout.

Hans Frei and Carl Henry had a debate and I think it was Lindbeck who commented that the words were Frei's but the spirit was Barth's---I think that's applicable to Childs' theology in general.

Phil Sumpter said...

Hi Josh,

couldn't have said it better myself. I said more on this in my latest instalment in our dialogue.

As for how Barthian Frei was, there is some debate on that. Barth was far more into historical criticism than reading Frei would lead us to believe. Childs was to later criticise Frei on this (in his Biblical Theology). I believe there is a book on Frei, Barth, and historical criticism, but I can't remember the details.