On a recent trip to Florida on a BridgeBuilders assignment , I spent an evening with some Methodist brothers who had been reading some of my books and wanted to come down for an evening of conversation. I had a fabulous time! It reminds me all over again that there are great people on this relational journey who serve with great grace among those in more traditional congregations. It does well to remind us all that living outside the box, isn’t about stopping Sunday morning attendance, but living alongside the Resurrected Christ wherever he places us in his family.
One of those brothers had been reading a book of letters by Swiss theologian Karl Barth from the 1960s. I loved what he was saying about it and he made me a copy. This was in response to a seminary professor who wanted to send Dr. Barth some questions on behalf of Christianity Today. Now I haven’t read Karl Barth in years and am not even sure what his particular theological bent was that riled up the evangelicals in the States. So, this is certainly no defense of his theology, but it is celebration of his wisdom for dealing with criticism. Not all who criticize are looking for truth, and you don’t have to fall victim to the ‘orthodoxy’ crowd that it is only interested in proving a point and not growing in the Truth. I thought others of you might enjoy reading some excerpts from it:
Please excuse me and please try to understand that I cannot and will not answer the questions these people put.
To do so in the time requested would in any case be impossible for me…. But even if I had the time and strength, I would not enter into a discussion of the questions proposed.
Such a discussion would have to rest on the primary presupposition that those who ask the questions have read, learned, and pondered the many things I have already said and written about these matters. They have obviously not done this… But I cannot respect the questions of these people from Christianity Today, for they do not focus on the reasons for my statements but on certain foolishly drawn deductions from them. Their questions are thus superficial.
The decisive point, however, is this. The second presupposition of a fruitful discussion between them and me would have to be that we are able to talk on a common plane. But these people have already had their so-called orthodoxy for a long time. They are closed to anything else, will cling to it at all costs, and they can adopt toward me only the role of prosecuting attorneys, trying to establish whether what I represent agrees or disagrees with their orthodoxy, in which I for my part have no interest! None of their questions leaves me with the impression that they want to seek with me the truth that is greater than us all. They take the stance of those who happily possess it already and who hope to enhance their happiness by succeeding in proving to themselves and to the world that I do not share this happiness. Indeed they have long since decided and publicly proclaimed that I am a heretic, possibly the worst heretic of all time. So be it! But they should not expect me to take the trouble to give them the satisfaction of offering explanations which they will simply use to confirm the judgment they have already passed on me.
…These fundamentalists want to eat me up. They have not yet come to a “better mind and attitude” as I once hoped. I can thus give them neither an angry nor a gentle answer but instead no answer at all.
Karl Barth (From Karl Barth, Letters: 1961-1968)
After a few hundred emails, it is pretty easy to tell those people who have serious questions and concerns and want to engage in honest dialog, and those who demand a one-sided conversation to defend their views and mischaracterize mine. I love dialog with the first. I think dear brothers and sisters can disagree about a lot of things and find meaningful and graceful dialog through those differences.
The second, however, act just like Pharisees, always straining at the smallest issue while missing the bigger picture of God’s grace and love. They don’t listen to others but act as prosecutors to prove my knowledge is deficient to theirs. I like Barth’s approach here. You don’t have to engage that conversation, for it will not bear fruit in either life.