Karl Barth, true or false prophet? (2) by Rev S de Marie


Barth on Christ and his atoning suffering

Kamphuis refers to what he has learned from Barth, especially his teaching on the suffering of God and the grace in Christ. He finds this an enriching doctrine. But what does Barth understand by God’s suffering and Christ’s reconciliation?

It is about this subject, in particular, that the ‘later’ Barth wrote after 1953 in his final volume (IV) of his Kirchliche Dogmatik.He wanted to give a whole new form to the old doctrine about Christ (IV/2: 120), doing away with the historical progression from Christ’s humiliation to His exaltation. In fact, for Barth humiliation and exaltation occur simultaneously in Christ, and still keep occurring. Indeed, they even occurred before Christ came to earth!

Barth insisted that the ‘old’ teaching about the Christ, which makes a sharp distinction between past, present and future of Christ’s work, had to be rejected (IV / 2: 122). His doctrine became: through Christ God shares in the state and fate of man; and through Christ man shares in the existence of God. In Christ God lowers himself to the level of rejected man whereby simultaneously (!) man is exalted. In this process God is Himself the subject of reconciliation. According to Barth, we may not say that Christ did the work of reconciliation on the cross as God and man, but: Christ as God and man is the reconciliation. His continuing existence as such is (still) the ever ongoing act of reconciliation (IV / 2: 228).

How far does God go in this process? Barth said: God gives Himself over death. Because God is truly and fully in Christ, God is also equal to rejected man.

What is now the rich grace according to Barth? That in the simultaneous event of humiliation and exaltation of Christ the covenant between God and man is, and is being, fulfilled, and that a complete reconciliation with the world is, and is being, established (IV / 2: 148). According to Barth, God did not reconcile man to Himself through atonement, but: God has in Christ reconciled Himself with man through suffering.

How far is this human philosophy of a suffering God removed from Scripture and the Reformed Confessions! Here God is robbed of His rights and honour!

Contrary to this, our Confession teaches that Christ suffered as a human, which He could do only because He was also God (HC Lord’s Days 5, 6).

If ever there was someone who has portrayed the suffering of Christ as man and God according to Scripture in a penetrating and gripping manner, it is Prof. Dr K. Schilder in his Christus in Zijn lijden (Christ in his suffering). Kamphuis today clearly prefers Barth’s teachings about the suffering of God.

Barth about sin and reconciliation

So far we have heard little about Barth’s vision on Adam, the Fall into sin, and the payment for sin. We know that someone who does not have the right view on Adam and the beginning of the world also loses the view on the Christ as Mediator.

Barth did not accept Genesis 1-3 as historic. He regarded it, including the fall into sin, as a legend. ‘Sin’ was thus for him not associated with a fall into sin, but with the rejection of mercy.[1] For Barth the mercy was that God reconciles Himself in Christ with His creation by way of becoming one with it.

You will understand that this has nothing to do with our guilt and God’s forgiving grace on the basis of Christ’s atonement through satisfaction.

Barth did not speak of a Christ who through His death and resurrection obtained freedom from God’s eternal judgment for people lying under God’s wrath. For Barth Christ’s ‘reconciliation’ resulted in restored unity of God with His creature. Sin, and satisfaction as payment for guilt, have no role to play. This means that in principle each person as creature is already reconciled to God.

Barth did not want to know about elect and reprobate. For him Christ was the only elect and the only reprobate. The church is only a step ahead of the world because it knows that people are reconciled in Christ. This is what she must tell the world. This message therefore does not need a call to repentance. There is no place for a return of Christ with a judgment on the living and the dead. Nor for a resurrection of the dead. Eternal life, according to Barth, means that you may live for ever in the thoughts of God.

In short, this is a philosophy that has come from the human heart itself. A philosophy that violates the Scriptures and robs people of the faith in the Christ of the Scriptures. Barth’s Christ is his own idea.

Much, much more could be mentioned than is possible within the space of this article. But one thing is clear: The doctrine of the ‘later’ Barth, which we have   expressed here, has a devastating effect that directs people away from the true grace in Christ. With Prof. dr. L. Doekes we say: In order to answer a Church enemy of Barth’s capacity it is not fitting to restrict oneself to a smooth and dispassionate explanation; instead it requires a powerful testimony that posits the truth of the Scriptures over against the doctrine of the lie.

B. Kamphuis and G. C. Berkouwer

What we see with Prof. B. Kamphuis is much like what others had to conclude about Prof. G. C. Berkouwer (1903-1996) who, in his younger years, was a Scriptural witness against the metaphors of Dr. Geelkerken, and on that basis took a stand against the teaching of Barth and its related ecumenism. While it placed him and the Reformed Churches (prior to 1944) in an isolated position, this was how they remained faithful to the Lord. In later life, however, Berkouwer succumbed to the opinion that Scripture was time-bound; he cooperated in the abolition of the 1926 synod decision on the clarity of the Scriptures, and declared his adhesion to the report, ‘God with us’. This, in the end, made Berkouwer a ‘bridge builder’ towards Barth and Rome, and a champion of ecumenism. But in that way he dragged the synodical churches further into the quicksand of heresy and false church unity. These connections can be read in the thesis of Dr D. van Keulen Bijbel en dogmatiek (Bible and dogmatics).

The direction taken by B. Kamphuis shows many parallels with that of Berkouwer. Just compare his former position with that of today on how he views Scripture and the teachings of Barth. Related to this is his pioneering role in the National Synod.

We wrote at the beginning of our article that this is not an innocent matter. On the contrary, 2 John 1: 9-11 warns all of us, saying: Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son.  If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds.

There is only one path for Kampen, and in her wake the Gereformeerde Kerken vrijgemaakt (GKv), to tread: the path of true reformation, of return to the truth of God’s Word, as it reveals itself plainly. Meaning that ‘yes’ is really ‘yes’, and ‘no’ is ‘no’. It is the only way in which heresy and false prophecy can again be confronted (Galatians 1: 9). Then the simultaneous ‘it is and it is not’, the ‘yes and no’, can be renounced, and the co-existence of lie and truth be banned.

God’s Word is the only means by which we can hold fast to the true Christ and Him crucified, the Christ of the Scriptures. It will indeed mean isolation, but then a beneficial one. Let us all pray for that kind of reformation.


[1] In Barth’s eyes creation was already sinful from the beginning. The term ‘without form and void’ in Gen. 1: 1 would point to the presence of evil.