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Portrait Karl Barth

“One of the greatest theologians of this century, Karl Barth, reacted against the idea that theological education should be relegated to an elite class of professional orators. He wrote, ‘Theology is not a private reserve of theologians. It is not a private affair of professors… Nor is it a private affair of pastors…. Theology is a matter for the church…. The term ‘laity’ is one of the worst in the vocabulary of religion and ought to be banished from Christian conversation.’

Concerning the seminary, we might say that Peter Abelard laid the egg and Thomas Aquinas hatched it. Aquinas had the greatest influence on contemporary theological training. In 1879, his work was endorsed by a papal bull as an authentic expression of doctrine to be studied by all students of theology. Aquinas’s main thesis was that God is known through human reason. He ‘preferred the intellect to the heart as the organ for arriving at truth.’ Thus the more highly trained people’s reason and intellect, the better they will know God. Aquinas borrowed this idea from Aristotle. And that is the underlying assumption of many — if not most — contemporary seminaries.

The teaching of the New Testament is that God is Spirit, and as such, He is known by revelation (spiritual insight) to one’s human spirit. Reason and intellect can cause us to know about God. And they help us to communicate what we know. But they fall short in giving us spiritual revelation. The intellect is not the gateway for knowing the Lord deeply. Neither are the emotions. In the words of A. W. Tozer: ‘Divine truth is of the nature of spirit and for that reason can be received only by spiritual revelation…. God’s thoughts belong to the world of spirit, man’s to the world of intellect, and while spirit can embrace intellect, the human intellect can never comprehend spirit…. Man by reason cannot know God; he can only know about God…. Man’s reason is a fine instrument and useful within its field. It was not given as an organ by which to know God.’

In short, extensive Bible knowledge, a high-powered intellect, and razor-sharp reasoning skills do not automatically produce spiritual men and women who know Jesus Christ profoundly and who can impart a life-giving revelation of Him to other. (This, by the way, is the bases of spiritual ministry.) As Blaise Pascal (1632-1662) once put it, ‘It is the heart which percieves God, and not the reason.’…

The Greek philosophers Plato and Socrates taught that knowledge is virtue. Good depends on the extent of one’s knowledge. Hence, the teaching of knowledge is the teaching of virtue.

Herein lies the root and stem of contemporary Christian education. It is built on the Platonic idea that knowledge is the equivalent of moral character. Therein lies the great flaw.”

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From George Barna and Frank Viola’s new book Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices.

The picture above is of Karl Barth. Below: he’s at Princeton with another famous reverend.

Karl Barth and Martin Luther King Jr.