If you were to ask scholars who the most important theologian of the twentieth century was, some would answer “Karl Barth.” Barth was the most important proponent of neo-orthodoxy during the first half of the twentieth century, and his work continues to influence the church today.
Neo-orthodoxy was a reaction to the Protestant liberalism of the nineteenth century, which denied biblical supernaturalism and defined faith solely as a “feeling of absolute dependence.” The bankruptcy of such views in light of the horrors of two world wars led Barth and others to try to restore the Bible to prominence in the church.
While neo-orthodox theologians take a step in the right direction, they do not go far enough. While neo-orthodoxy does not deny the supernatural character of the Bible, it does deny that its propositions are objective, inerrant truth. Its proponents redefine truth as an “encounter” or an “event.” For the neo-orthodox, the Bible becomes the Word of God when the Holy Spirit uses the words of Scripture to bring us into an encounter with Christ. They say that the Bible as an objective source of propositions is never in and of itself God’s revelation because God only reveals Himself in the events of redemptive history and in His interactions with us today.
The neo-orthodox maintain that passion for Christ comes from a fervent encounter with the living Christ and not from the acceptance of propositional truth. However, this dichotomy between event and proposition is a false one. The Bible never calls us to study its propositions without fervor. As today’s passage teaches, we are to love God with our minds. This involves the study of propositional truth.
Moreover, while God does reveal Himself in the events of redemptive history, these events are not enough by themselves. We also need the authoritative, propositional interpretation of these events. Jesus Christ, the living Word of God revealed Himself in the events of His life and in propositions interpreting those events, (Luke 24:36–49). Without the propositional interpretation of these events, we would never fully understand them (1 John 1:1–4; 5:20).
We do well to remember that true faith is not merely an assent to propositions. It is also a living and active trust in the Lord Jesus. Yet we must never separate these two things, for we cannot truly assent to Scripture’s teaching without trusting in Jesus, nor can we really trust in Jesus without being persuaded by biblical propositions. As you endeavor to defend biblical authority, remember that we do this in order that we might have a firm foundation for trusting in Jesus.