Barth on building the kingdom of God - Not

by Kim on July 26, 2010

Dear N.N.,

Many thanks for your kind letter. But what an obstinate fellow you are! You write that you were very impressed with what I told you last week in the Theological School. And now you manage to put down on paper all that nonsense about the kingdom of God that we must build. Dear N.N., in so doing you do not contradict merely one ‘insight’ but the whole message of the Bible. If you persist in this idea I can only advise you to take up any other career than that of a pastor.

Karl Barth, from a letter to a theological student in Basel, in Karl Barth: Letters: 1961-1968 (1981), p. 283.

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

1

JDVH 07.26.10 at 8:34 pm

Barth was probably annoyed that the other fellow was taking Biblical exegesis seriously…

2

Paul Martin 07.26.10 at 9:39 pm

That is a silly comment JDVH. You betray an ignorance of Barth that even a poor student of his theology like me can perceive. Try harder next time!

3

Paul F. 07.27.10 at 1:51 am

Barth wasn’t an inerrantist, a double-pred, or a host of other non-negotiables for some folk. Hence unintelligible reactions like the first comment.

4

dh 07.27.10 at 5:18 pm

Amen JDVH.

5

dh 07.27.10 at 5:24 pm

When God called the Apostle Paul to start churches wasn’t God calling to help building the Kingdom of God under the power of God? Doesn’t God give individuals within the body of Christ with different giftings to further God’s Kingdom with us within the Body of Christ under the power of the Holy Spirit to do those giftings for Him? If that is the case (which it is), then how can Barth condemn the student?

If we assist God in building the Kingdom of God under the power of God with the particular giftings that God has given as believers it will stand. If we do all that under solely on our own stength alone it will fail.

6

Paul Martin 07.27.10 at 5:43 pm

dh I took you to be more intelligent than to go along with a silly comment implying barth did not take scripture seriously. Even those who take issue with Barth have never made a suggestion as crackers as that. Shame on you!

7

dh 07.27.10 at 6:21 pm

okay, your right Paul. I definitely will retract my “amen JDVH”. I was wrong to say “amen JDVH”. Will you forgive me Paul? I need to be a little more “respectful” then that. I’m not afraid to “eat crow”. :)

With regard to my second response alone and solely alone: What are your thoughts to the questions and comments I presented? I truly am interested in what your honest view is.

8

Tony Buglass 07.27.10 at 7:13 pm

I think the NT emphasis is on God building his Kingdom; the Church is an agent in that, but it is God’s initiative. There is a danger of exaggerating in one direction to an activism which virtually denies salvation by grace through faith by trying to earn it, and in the other direction to a passive pietism. A proper balanced discipleship is active in God’s service, but understands that our service is a response to God’s initiative, rather than God’s blessings being a reward for our work.

9

dh 07.27.10 at 7:36 pm

I appreciate your response and agree to a point. I definitely don’t believe in one “earning” Salvation in ligt of your wonderful statement “Salvation by Grace through Faith”. I think one must look at not only the “Grace” part but also the “through Faith” part. God initiates by making Grace available to all. For one to be part of that Grace one must put their Faith of their entire lives in the Grace made available. God making Salvation available in the first place is the “intiative” as well as the Holy Spirit drawing and softening our hearts to receive the Grace God has has made available to all. Making it available and receiving are two different things.

I will say that in light of as belieivers the responsibility to do all we can to “Sanctify ourselves in the sight of God” by the power of the Holy Spirit not for Salvation but by our desire “because He first loved us” to be as close to God as possible.

I agree with your balance and my response and questions do not deny the balance in anyway but within the caveats mentioned above.

P.S. I tried to word my caveats to accurately portray the proper view of the balance. If you need clarification of my view let me know or have questions regarding specifics withi the caveats listed. :) Great discussion and great “iron sharpening iron” moment. God bless you Tony. :)

10

Kim 07.27.10 at 8:02 pm

The kingdom of God, in the teaching of Jesus, and of Paul, and of the entire NT church, is an eschatological, indeed an apocalyptic concept. The coming of the kingdom is therefore, ipso facto, God’s act and God’s act alone. There is not a shred of biblical evidence that Christians are called to “build” the kingdom of God, and how anyone after Schweitzer and Johannes Weiss on Jesus, let alone more recent Pauline scholars like Ernst Käsemann, J. Louis Martyn, J. Christiaan Beker, and Douglas Campbell could think otherwise shows they are not paying attention. Rather Christians are called to bear witness to the kingdom, in word and deed, and our speech and actions, by grace, may be used by God as signs and parables of the kingdom. (In saying that the idea of “building” the kingdom of God is a nonsense, Barth is not calling the church to quietism, which I guess is what some of you guys are worried about, but only an ignoramus could think such a thing of Barth.) Of course one may speak, quite biblically, of edifying, literally building up, the church. But the church is not the kingdom, and the NT is careful not to conflate the two. We should mind its circumspection. Otherwise fetch the bricks and mortar - willy-nilly, in our presumption, we’ll be building Babel.

11

dh 07.27.10 at 8:55 pm

It is a combination of the two. I agree and what I said doesn’t deny the fact that the Kingdom of God is here as well as will be fulfilled now and in the future all at the same time. God’s Kingdom is God’s act and God’s act alone. However, God has called us to be “part of His Kingdom” and therefore as part of that Kingdom under the power of the Holy Spirit are called to be part of the building of the Kingdom of God that is His act alone. This “building of the Kingdom” is not of bricks or mortar or things made by human hands but God empowering His Believers to further His Kingdom for the Glory of God not our glory.

While it is true the church is not the Kingdom, the church is part of the Kingdom and as part of the Kingdom called to further God’s Kingdom until the ultimate fulfillment at the Second Coming of Christ. So the Kingdom is a now/not yet. We are called to proclaim the Gospel so that others will have the opportunity to enter the Kingdom of God and therefore furhter “His Kingdom” by others being in the Kingdom. As well as those in the Kingdom doing all they can to further the Kingdom with the recognition that God’s Kingdom began approx. 2000 years ago as well.

You can call people “names” all you want. I don’t believe anyone else has called people names.

12

Paul Martin 07.27.10 at 9:53 pm

Dh Of course I forgive you. I often disagree with you but I do not doubt that your heart is well meaning.

I accept the view that God builds the kingdom. Hopefully our hearts and lives point to it. That is a privilege.

13

Paul Martin 07.27.10 at 9:53 pm

Not that you need any forgiveness form me dh!

14

Tony Buglass 07.27.10 at 9:55 pm

To amplify Kim’s point, the Kingdom as eschatological event is “already but not yet” - it is he breaking in now of the future reign of God. Indeed, the English word ‘Kingdom’ is misleading insofar as it suggests a place where the King rules.

The Church is not the Kingdom. The French theologian Alfred Loisy wrote “Jésus annonçait le Royaume, et c’est l’Église qui est venue.” (”Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom, and it was the Church that came.”) It was the mistake of medieval Catholicism to equate Christendom and the Church with the Kingdom on earth. They argued that outside the Church there is no salvation. Well, we can turn that statement around and suggest that if someone is saved they are thereby part of the Church, but there may be little contact with the official Church, which is what the original statement meant. The Spirit blows where he wishes, and is not confined by the organisation of the Church.

As to calling people names - Kim’s use of the word ignoramus is contextually correct: it means an ignorant person, one who doesn’t know. His point was that only someone who has read no Barth could assume that Barth taught quietism. I have read very little Barth, and that was a good number of years ago, so I tread very carefully in this issue, but what I know agrees with Kim.

15

"Grace" 07.27.10 at 10:21 pm

Hi, just came actross this site when looking for the words of a hymn. Some interesting comments!

I haven’t read any of Barth’s writings but can understand where he must be coming from - whether he’s talking about the Kingdom of God or the Church, or both.

Maybe let Scripture speak for itself…

Psalm 127: ?
“1? Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain. ?2? It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.
?3? Lo, sons are a heritage from the Lord…”

Or, as Paul said (Col 1:29):
“…I toil, striving with all the energy which he mightily inspires within me.

Or as Jesus Himself said:
“?4? Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. ?5? I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing”

1 Cor 3
” ?5? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. ?6? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. ?7? So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. ?8? He who plants and he who waters are equal, and each shall receive his wages according to his labor. ?9? For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.
?10? According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and another man is building upon it. Let each man take care how he builds upon it. ?11? For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ…”

[ The Revised Standard Version]

in Him

“Grace”

16

dh 07.27.10 at 10:24 pm

Tony, I never said the Kingdom of God was the church. I only said it was part of the church. To say it is not the church in anyway. Also my statement doesn’t contradict what you said here,”They argued that outside the Church there is no salvation. Well, we can turn that statement around and suggest that if someone is saved they are thereby part of the Church, but there may be little contact with the official Church, which is what the original statement meant. The Spirit blows where he wishes, and is not confined by the organisation of the Church.” I wholeheartedly agree however, when I say “church I mean “Body of Christ”. The Kingdom of God includes the Body of Christ.

With regard to God having a Kingdom, I don’t see it as “misleading”. God DOES rule His Kingdom and His Kingdom is not of this world just like Jesus said. It is also as Believers in us and therefore in the Body of Christ in the Body of Christ. As well as already occurred when Jesus died and rose again. As well includes the Kingdom now as we as Believers do the the things by Faith in Him that God has called us to do for more to enter that Kingdom. AS well as a not yet by the fulfillment of God’s Kingdom at the Second Coming of Christ. So therefore it is all of the above listed. One mustn’t focus on the parts and therefore misunderstand what people are actually thinking when they refer to “Building the Kingdom”.

Nothing of what I have said does not contradict an “already,now and not yet” understanding of God’s Kingdom that I too agree with.

Maybe this whole thing is semantics. I know sometimes theologians get off-track or overgeneralize based on semantics.

17

dh 07.27.10 at 10:26 pm

“I only said it was part of the church.” (Sorry, I just had my lunch)

I only said that the church was part of the Kingdom of God. wheew

THe rest of what I say clarifies that statement.

18

dh 07.27.10 at 10:28 pm

“I accept the view that God builds the kingdom.”

I agree but God calls us to be part of the building of the Kingdom by the power of the Holy Spirit. So I too agree that God builds the Kingdom. However, if we do this under our own strength or without the Glory going to God then all the “building” is like Jesus said “a Kingdom built on the sand”. :)

19

Tony Buglass 07.28.10 at 12:09 am

Slow down, DH. Let’s try again. The points I was trying to make are simple enough:
- The Church is not the Kingdom, and the Kingdom is not the Church. They are not the same thing - that was the medieval heresy, if you like. The Church (ie the Body of Christ) is necessarily part of the Kingdom, the agency by which we are involved in its coming) but they are not the same thing.
- The word ‘Kingdom’ is misleading because it suggests a static or locational concept. The NT Greek word is basileia, which is a dynamic and energetic term: the rule of God, the reign of God; it derives from the Hebrew and Aramaic malkuth-yahweh; it’s about how God rules, not where or when he rules, although it is also about the future reign of God breaking into the present. That is pre-eminently true of the life and ministry of Jesus: he not only taught the basileia tou theou, he embodied it. The Church as the Body of Christ also should embody it, but it is much more than the Church.

Does that help?

20

JDVH 07.28.10 at 1:24 am

Kim, you talk about ‘the kingdom’ being an eschatological event but this is precisely the problem. Barth wrenches this idea of eschatology away from the 1st century mythology to which it belonged. For Paul and Jesus this eschatology is soon to be realised and it will be a cosmic event (as those people you have referenced to have established). Barth sort of preserves the sense that the eschaton will be a cosmic event but in doing this he is forced to pushing the idea of ‘the kingdom coming’ into the future and the result is that the concept becomes rather esoteric.

Barth thus loses the sense that the kingdom is immanent and I cannot see how this can logically result in anything other than quietism.

It is not so much that ‘building the kingdom’ is the correct way of looking at it but that Barth is dishonest in his exegesis and evades its essential meaning in scripture by pushing the kingdom it into some sort of esoteric future.

He is unwilling to ask the difficult questions and so simply falls back on dogmatics and semantics.

21

PamBG 07.28.10 at 11:09 am

The Church is not the Kingdom, and the Kingdom is not the Church.

There seems to be a movement in the US, coming out of Duke Seminary, that aligns the two closely together for a lot of Protestants, including a lot of Methodists. I find this concept difficult. Will, have I got it right or did I miss the point?

22

dh 07.28.10 at 3:50 pm

Tony, I think we agree more than you think. I agree that the Kingdom is not the church. However, I believe the Kingdom includes the church (and church and Body of Christ as you explained is what I adhere to too).

I personally believe Kingdom isn’t misleading. It includes just as you say how He reigns but also Jesus mentions in reference to Believers that His Kingdom is inside us. I agree that Jesus embodied the Kingdom but to a point. However, Jesus said “My Kingdom is not of this world”. So it seems to be way more deeper than how you and I are describing it. It seems to be location(heavenly), on earth(on earth as it is in heaven), past(2000 years ago at Jesus’s death and resurrection), now(as we further God’s Kingdom under the power of the Holy Spirit by having more people in the Kingdom than outside of the Kingdom) and future(at the coming fulfillment at the Second Coming of Christ).
(I might add it is even deeper than that for one can say that since Jesus has always existed before the foundations of the earth, Jesus being God and God not bound by time that Kingdom of God has always been. However, within our diminision to enter the Kingdom one must accept Christ and give their entire lives to Him)

23

Tony Buglass 07.28.10 at 4:54 pm

Nevertheless, DH, the word is misleading in that it makes English-speakers in particular think in locational ways rather than dynamic ways. It would be better to speak of “the rule of God” or “the reign of God” - except of course that we have centuries of habit in the way.

As to what Jesus actually said - well, in Lk.10:9 he says “the Kingdom of God is near you (literally ‘approaching’)”; can it be inside and approaching? He spoke of the Kingdom coming, but also spoke of the Kingdom being “within you” - the Greek is “entos humin” which could mean “inside you” or “among you”. And the “you” in question is plural, so does that make it an individual thing shared, or a community thing shared? “My Kingdom is not of this world” speaks of its character and source, not its current location.

In short, there is a lot more to this than simple proof-texting could ever explain. There are many different windows into the meaning of the reign of God; it is much easier to say what it is not than to define precisely what it is. That is why I suggest that Jesus embodied it - he is the clearest ikon of the Kingdom, in his life and character, its purpose and fulfilment. He is the one handle which will enable us to take hold of something which is bigger and richer than all our definitions, because its nature is defined by being the Kingdom OF GOD.

24

dh 07.28.10 at 5:47 pm

“My Kingdom is not of this world” speaks of its character and source, not its current location.”

I believe Jesus is making reference to heaven that is why in other passages it mentions “The Kingdom of Heaven”. Also the “you” in question is both individual and shared within community as a community of Believers. Also not all people have the “Kingdom” within them. That is why Christ talks about those who are in the Kingdom and those who are not in the Kingdom aka the parable of the 10 virgins.

“…can it be inside and approaching?”

Yes in God’s eyes it can just as Scripture says.

I agree that if one looks solely that individual aspects alone it can get a person “off track” in that the Kingdom of God is way more deeper. However, Scripture shows that it does include all of those things as it mentioned and it isn’t prooftexting to know this truth.

“the Greek is “entos humin” which could mean “inside you” or “among you”. ”

I would say and I hope this illuminates the passage like it did for me as being “both”. “Inside us” by having Christ inside us as Believers and “among us” by having the Holy Spirit or Christ “among us” aka “Where two or three are gathered together in My name there am I in the midst of them.” :) What do you think? I think we both agree that the meaning of this aspect of God is pretty deep but I think we mustn’t miss the all encompassing definition of the Kingdom of God.

25

Kim 07.28.10 at 6:01 pm

I’m waiting, Tony, with bated breath for you to continue the tutorial. ;)

26

JDVH 07.28.10 at 10:13 pm

Kim, you talk about ‘the kingdom’ being an eschatological event but this is precisely the problem. Barth wrenches this idea of eschatology away from the 1st century mythology to which it belonged. For Paul and Jesus this eschatology is soon to be realised and it will be a cosmic event (as those people you have referenced to have established). Barth sort of preserves the sense that the eschaton will be a cosmic event but in doing this he is forced to pushing the idea of ‘the kingdom coming’ into the future and the result is that the concept becomes rather esoteric.

Barth thus loses the sense that the kingdom is immanent and I cannot see how this can logically result in anything other than quietism.

It is not so much that ‘building the kingdom’ is the correct way of looking at it but that Barth is dishonest in his exegesis and evades the difficult yet essential questions which are raised by scripture by pushing the kingdom into some sort of esoteric end of history.

With this issue as with so many others he is unwilling to ask the difficult questions and so simply falls back on dogmatics and semantics.

27

Tony Buglass 07.28.10 at 11:26 pm

DH: ““My Kingdom is not of this world” speaks of its character and source, not its current location.”
I believe Jesus is making reference to heaven that is why in other passages it mentions “The Kingdom of Heaven”.”

Nope. John’s Gospel never refers to the Kingdom Heaven - that’s Matthew’s Jewish circumlocution for “Kingdom of God.” In the framework of John’s Gospel, there is a strong duality between this world and the Kingdom, and this saying reflects that duality and refers to the heavenly character of the rule of God. Jesus is making it clear that it is not a political dominion, otherwise his disciples would be fighting for him (Jn.18:36).

“Also the “you” in question is both individual and shared within community as a community of Believers.”

No, it isn’t. Jesus is talking to a group; the verbs and pronouns in the discussion are all plural. The Kingdom is not about individual spirituality; the individual must make the commitment of faith to belong to it, but the Kingdom to which we belong is a corporate thing, as is the Body of Christ. Far too much of our spirituality and theology has been influenced by patristic Greek individualism and dualism, and is simply not biblical.

““…can it be inside and approaching?”
Yes in God’s eyes it can just as Scripture says.”

Begs the question - is that really a proper reading of what scripture says? Or simple evasion?

(Kim - I’m trying…)

28

Mark Byron 07.29.10 at 5:06 am

Pam, I have seen quite a number of folks in evangelical circles, especially Vineyard churches, that have a concept of the Kingdom of God that loosely overlaps that of the big-c Church but isn’t quite one and the same. “God’s ongoing work” might be how I see that Kingdom at play in lay-speak.

That being said, it is God’s work, but we are doing our part in it. On that point, I’m a bit between the two camps in this thread, but my gut is more on DHs side than Barth’s.

29

dh 07.29.10 at 4:18 pm

Tony, I’m not evading. The fulfillment of the Kingdom of God occurs at the Second Coming of Christ and the Kingdom of God began approx. 2000 yrs at Christ’s death and resurrection.

You also mention John and Matthew. The fact is they are referring to the same thing with two different aspects within that. Therefore there is no “contradiction” as you seem to project but promtes the now/not yet aspect of the Kingdom. With regard to “political Kingdom” I never said it was. Political refers to something “earthly” so I agree.

You say”The Kingdom is not about individual spirituality; the individual must make the commitment of faith to belong to it, but the Kingdom to which we belong is a corporate thing, as is the Body of Christ. ” The fact is to be part of the Body of Christ one must be a Believer. Jesus said “He that has the Son has life. He that has not the Son has not life.” Some people have the Son by receiving Christ others do not. If one is not “alive” then how can one say they are in the “Kingdom of God”? or “If you confess with your mouth the LJ and Believe in your heart that God has risenfrom the dead you shall be saved.” or When Nicodemus asked the questions he stated “You must be Born Again”. While I’m not going overboard on the “individual thing”, the fact is the Body of Christ is a Body of Believers. There is nowhere in Scripture that says one is part of the Body of Christ without being a Believer. One mustn’t look solely at this one passage of Jesus but His entire body of work which state individual as well as the group. I agree one mustn’t focus on the individualism to the detrimate of the group. However, vice versa as well.

Mark, thanks for the support. :)

30

Kim 07.29.10 at 4:31 pm

@ Mark: but my gut is more on DHs side than Barth’s.
Weather report just in: the temperature has fallen below zero in hell, and ice storms have been reported.

@ Tony: (Kim - I’m trying…)
A friend of mine is knocking down a brick wall in his garden. I have taken the liberty to volunteer your head.

31

Tony Buglass 07.29.10 at 4:51 pm

“Therefore there is no “contradiction” as you seem to project but promtes the now/not yet aspect of the Kingdom. With regard to “political Kingdom” I never said it was.”

No you didn’t. That was my comment to give the context of Jesus’ comment in John. But nevertheless you haven’t grasped the point at issue. When Jesus is quoted in John as saying “my Kingdom is not of this world” you say “I believe Jesus is making reference to heaven that is why in other passages it mentions “The Kingdom of Heaven”.” That isn’t the point Jesus is making, nor do Matthew’s references to the Kingdom of Heaven have anything to do with it. This is not about a Kingdom which is in heaven, available as mystical spiritual experience to believers. It is about the reign of God, whose character is not defined by this world’s powers (hence Jesus’ comment to Pilate, who has just mentioned the question of Jesus’ kingship), and which has already begun in Jesus and is among those around him (hence ‘entos humin’ in Lk.17:21). Yes, it will be finally fulfilled at the End, but it is already here and now, and active.

As to the Body of Christ being made up of believers - well, yes. It couldn’t be otherwise. The danger with Western self-understanding is that it is too much based on the individual, and less on the community. That’s the way our minds are programmed. And it is very different from the way the Hebrew mind was programmed, which understood the individual much more as part of the whole community. Of course the person is an individual, and must make the personal response of faith - I’ve already said as much. But any tendency to restrict the Kingdom to individual experience is a heresy to be resisted.

32

dh 07.29.10 at 4:52 pm

Kim, my view is not from some pit in hell.

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