Thursday, November 02, 2006

Karl Barth on Mission

Yesterday, as I was watching my wife teaching English in the church, our Burmese Pastor showed me a small book. “You might like this book, I have been reading this and plan to translate this to Burmese in the future” he said. I looked at the little book, it was evidently very old and much dog eared and abused book, the cover was falling apart and pages were yellowish, the font used was from old printing press. However, when I looked at the title I was delighted. It was John D. Godsey's Karl Barth's Table Talk. I never had any of Barth's books although I like to have one badly. I could not afford to buy even a volume of Christian Dogmatics even in paperback edition (if there is such a thing) and I really can't find any Barth's books in bookstores in the Philippines.

Anyway, the little book is about a series of discussions held by Karl Barth for English-speaking students between 1953 to 1956 every other Tuesday in Barth's home in Basel, Switzerland. However, in few years the number of students increased that the venue was eventually moved to a bigger place. The book provides an insightful introduction to his theology and as the book says, an introduction to the great man.

So from time to time, I will post some interesting quote from this little delightful borrowed book. I will start on Barth on mission. When Barth was asked about his understanding of the “Body of Christ” as ontological or metaphorical. The Professor gave a very interesting answer that he relates this to mission works.

It is certainly a metaphor, but a very expansive one. We cannot express this truth without metaphorical language: Christ, the Head; we the Church, His Body. Not everyone is in the Body of Christ. That is clear in the New Testament. The Body is made up of called, hearing, accepting believers. But everyone is a virtual member of the Body. No one is excluded. That is a question of mission. Missionaries must tell people the truth about themselves. Missionaries must believe that Christ died for them: Indians, Chinese, Africans and so on. The missionary approaches not an ontologically different kind of human being, but beings who are, not in the Body, but in the realm of Christ, in the power of His sovereignty. The missionary announces: “Christ is your Lord!” “Mine?” “Yes, yours!” The term “virtually” here is opposed to “actually”. It is not wise to describe actual existence of virtual brothers in Christ. You cannot say any more than that “they are sinners.” However, we should not approach them as sinners, but as virtual brothers. Remember the degree to which we are all only virtual brothers! If we understand our own situation, then we will understand those extra muros.”
To some extent I agree with him. I believe that no human is outside the realm of Christ. Barth believes that all human are not outside the realm of our Lord Jesus Christ although they have different culture and religion. We have to declare that Christ is also their Lord. Treating them as sinners make us appear judgmental and self-righteous. However, treating them as virtual brothers that needs to learn that Christ is also their Lord is more appropriate approach in sharing to them the gospel. Here Barth is oftenly accused of universalism and although it may appear like it, in my understanding it is not so.


Lazarus said...

Thanks for this new perspective! I'll link you up in my blog and will be here more often.

Joey said...

Hi Lazarus,

Thanks also for visiting this blog. And you are more than welcome to visit here and leave comment i'll really appreciate it.

I'll return the favor and will link your blog here.


byron said...

Thanks for this quote Joey - I was trying to work out what Barth thought about the Body of Christ metaphor a few months ago - and this is perfect.

joey said...

You're most welcome Byron, I am glad that my post is of some help. I consider my self as a theology student who is "Barth-deffecient" :-) not because I don't like him, but because I just can't get hold of his important works. So, I'm also getting help from other theobloggers about him.