Q&A: Neo-Orthodoxy and a Special Bible

Neo-Orthodoxy and a Special Bible

Question

While trying to explain the neo-orthodox (NO) understanding of scripture to a friend, I realized that I'm still confused about the whole matter. I understand that they believe: (a) scripture is a imperfect witness to the divine acts of God; (b) Christ is the only true word of God; (c) divine, infallible truth cannot be expressed in propositional form; and (d) God chooses to use scripture as a tool that sometimes communicates the word of God (thus a NO preacher always says "listen for the word of God" not "listen to the word of God" before reading scripture).

My question is: according to a NO, what is the difference between scripture and other fallible witnesses? Why do NO still value scripture? Do they believe that God has chosen scripture for the special purpose of hearing from him?

Answer

You've asked a good question! Barth would probably answer that Scripture is (1) the original source of the Gospel of Christ, the original "witness," and therefore (2) the instrument that God has used over the centuries to bring people in touch with him. One of the slogans of the NO view of Scripture is that Scripture is "witness and instrument."

Now in NO, it is not NECESSARY that God work through Scripture. He can savingly encounter people through a telephone book, or even a nonverbal medium. But he has chosen regularly to use the Scriptures, not as a means of conveying propositional truth, but as a way of conveying divine grace.
Barth does understand that Scripture plays an important role in the teaching of Scripture. That is, there is in Scripture a doctrine of Scripture. He does expound 2 Tim. 3:16-17, for example, at length (misunderstanding it, of course!). So I guess for him the doctrine of Scripture is important in the same way that any other doctrine is. But of course his disdain for "propositional truth" has the effect of mitigating the importance of all doctrines.

But the fact that there is such a thing as a "doctrine of Scripture" elevates the Bible above other books.

Yes, I know he is using the propositional truth of the Scriptures to corroborate his nonpropositional view of revelation. That isn't fully consistent. Why should the propositional teaching of Scripture matter to Barth? But it does, somehow.


Answer by Dr. John M. Frame

Dr. John M. Frame is Professor of Systematic Theology and Philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, FL.