The PostBarthian

Karl Barth vs Rudolf Bultmann: Civil War

Karl Barth vs Rudolf Bultmann: Civil War

Karl Barth vs Rudolf Bultmann: Civil War

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Karl Barth says Yes to Creation and Evolution (Expanded Edition)


(This is an expanded edition of an article that was originally published at

Evangelicals today are faced with many hard questions on the doctrine of creation, such as how the biblical creation stories are reconciled with evolutionary science, how to interpret the creation stories in the Bible, and whether there was a historical Adam. Reading Genesis leaves many evangelicals with more questions than answers. Like when the Ethiopian Eunuch was asked, "Do you understand what you are reading?" many evangelicals respond, "How can I, unless someone explains it to me?" (Acts 8:30-31) Why not ask the great Karl Barth to answer these hard questions?

Uncle Karl's evolution letter to his niece Christine

Once upon a time, Karl Barth's grandniece Christine wrote a letter to her 'Uncle Karl' after she was confronted by a Creationist teacher that told her that she must reject evolution. Uncle Karl responded that the biblical creation stories and evolution are like apples and oranges, such that "there can be as little question of harmony between them as of contradiction" and that her teacher should distinguish between them so not to be shut off from both science and the Bible. Barth explains that the biblical creation narratives are poetic witnesses revealing that God has created the heavens and the earth and that evolution is a natural science that uses the scientific hypothesis to explain how the world works by "human observation and research". Anytime a Creationist teacher says that evolution must be rejected to affirm the biblical creation stories, remember this letter and pronounce a loud NEIN! like Uncle Karl:

18 February 1965

Basel, Switzerland

Dear Christine,

. . . Has no one explained to you in your seminar that one can as little compare the biblical creation story with a scientific theory like that of evolution as one can compare, shall we say, an organ and a vacuum-cleaner—that there can be as little question of harmony between them as of contradiction?

The creation story is a witness to the beginning or becoming of all reality distinct from God in the light of God’s later acts and words relating to his people Israel — naturally in the form of a saga or poem. The theory of evolution is an attempt to explain the same reality in its inner nexus — naturally in the form of a scientific hypothesis.

The creation story deals only with the becoming of all things, and therefore with the revelation of God, which is inaccessible to science as such. The theory of evolution deals with that which has become, as it appears to human observation and research and as it invites human interpretation. Thus one’s attitude to the creation story and the theory of evolution can take the form of an either/or only if one shuts oneself off completely either from faith in God’s revelation or from the mind (or opportunity) for scientific understanding.

So tell that teacher concerned that she should distinguish what is to be distinguished and not shut herself off completely from either side. . . .


Uncle Karl [2] 

Who is the great Karl Barth?

Karl Barth (1886-1968) was a Swiss Reformed Protestant and arguably the greatest theologian of the last two centuries. He was a prolific author who is most well known for his commentary on The Epistle to the Romans, the thirteen volume systematic theology titled the Church Dogmatics (CD), the Barmen Declaration that was instrumental to the German Confessing Church during World War II. Pope Pius XII said Barth was “the greatest theologian since Thomas Aquinas.” The Scottish Protestant theologian, T.F. Torrance who knew Barth and was a translator of the Church Dogmatics described Barth as "the great Church Father of Evangelical Christendom, the one genuine Doctor of the universal Church the modern era has known. . . . Only Athanasius, Augustine, Aquinas and Calvin have performed comparable service." (CD IV/4, preface). John D. Godsey, professor emeritus of Wesley Theological Seminary, renowned Bonhoeffer scholar and protege of Barth said: "In him [Barth] a Church Father has walked among us." Love Barth or hate him, his contribution to theology today may not be understated.

Karl Barth on the cover of Time Magazine (July, 1962)

Karl Barth on the cover of Time Magazine (July, 1962). From the personal collection of the author.[3]

Karl Barth's Doctrine of Creation

Karl Barth's Doctrine of Creation is a tome contained in the Church Dogmatics, Vol. III, weighing-in around 2,500 pages and printed in four parts. In a nutshell, Barth's "The Doctrine of Creation" (CD III/1-4) may be summarized as follows:

Church Dogmatics, III/1.) The first part, "The Work of Creation" contains Barth's commentary on the biblical creation stories (Genesis 1-3) formulated under Barth's famous twofold statement: "Creation is the external basis of the covenant. Covenant is the internal basis of the creation."

Church Dogmatics, III/2.) The second part, "The Creature" is one of the best volumes in the entire Church Dogmatics and contains many eye-popping discussions. Barth answers the question, "What is Man?" by pointing to Jesus Christ with the "prodigious index finger" of John the Baptist depicted in the Isenheim altarpiece.

Chapel of Unterlinden Museum with Isenheim altarpiece depicting John the Baptist's "prodigious index finger" pointing at Jesus. [4]

Barth builds his anthropology on the person and work of Jesus Christ, identifying a true human being specifically revealed in Jesus alone who is the Real Man for God. Barth contrasts the Crucified One to Dionysius and explains how Jesus is a human being for others (unlike Nietzsche's Übermensch who is an isolated man for himself alone.)

Barth explains his general anthropology, not by studying the natural sciences, but by studying the phenomena of Man revealed by Jesus, the Man for God. Barth does not conclude that man in general is two parts (dichotomy) or three parts (trichotomy) but rather Barth affirms a dialectic between soul and body: a human being is defined as "the soul of my body and the body of my soul". (A footnote in this section contains the only reference to Charles Darwin and Darwinism in the entire Church Dogmatics, and in it, Barth does not oppose Darwinism, but opposes any Darwinist that denies that true humanity is uniquely revealed in Jesus.) This volume concludes with a [in]famous eschatological section on time vs. eternity that assess Jesus as the lord of time and then compares given time vs. allotted time vs. beginning time vs. ending time.

Barth never finished the Church Dogmatics, and the fifth and final volume was planned with the title the "Doctrine of Redemption" (CD V) and was to be on the topic of Eschatology (Last Things), but Barth abandoned the Church Dogmatics before writing CD V, leaving a great mystery in what Barth might have said in CD V. So, CD III/2, §47 contains Barth's shocking eschatology and a hint at what he might have written in the final volume (but who knows?)

Church Dogmatics, III/3.) The third part, "The Creator and His Creature" contains Barth's Doctrine of Providence (which is an extension of his famous Doctrine of Election in CD II/2. It ends with Barth's Doctrine of Angels (and Demons!)

Church Dogmatics, III/4.) The final part, "The Command of God the Creator" is an ethic of creation. It explains how the theology of Barth's Doctrine of Creation may be applied to life here and now and discusses many ethical loci including Barth's perspective on Marriage, Parenting, Self-Defense, Capital Punishment, Suicide, Vocation, and many other topics.

Karl Barth on interpreting the creation stories in Genesis

Now that we have Barth's Doctrine of Creation described in a nutshell, how are the biblical creation stories in the beginning of Genesis to be interpreted? According to Barth, they are neither mythology nor scientific literature; they are aetiological 'saga' that he defines as "a pre-historical reality of history." This means that the biblical creation stories are based on real events in history, such that something really happened, so that these stories may not be degenerated into legend or conceived inadequately as myth; however, the proto-history in Genesis 1-11 is dissimilar to modern history, and does not communicate verifiable brute facts that may be to used to establish the age of the Earth or its geological past, or refute established scientific theories such as the evolution of humans or other animals.

Barth's definition of saga:

"I am using saga in the sense of an intuitive and poetic picture of a pre-historical reality of history which is enacted once and for all within the confines of time and space. Legend and anecdote are to be regarded as a degenerate form of saga: legend as the depiction in saga form of a concrete individual personality; and anecdote as the sudden illumination in saga form either of a personality of this kind or of a concretely historical situation. If the concept of myth proves inadequate—as is still to be shown—it is obvious that the only concept to describe the biblical history of creation is that of saga." [5]

—Karl Barth

The Babylonian creation stories such as the Enûma Eliš are also saga, according to Barth, and share a 'critical connection' with Genesis such that Genesis had a kind of dependence on them, even if its uncertain whether this was a direct or indirect relationship. The Babylonian creation stories pre-date Genesis, but Genesis shares the same ancient Near East (ANE) cosmology as these creation stories.  This means that Genesis was born from the ANE, and that it accommodates its creation stories to the received cosmology of the ANE. However, we no longer share the cosmology of the ANE, so in order to understand Genesis we must translate or 'demythologize' it, and this means we may not use Genesis to scientifically critique modern cosmology or natural sciences. (Karl Barth's perspective of Genesis has remarkable similarities to recent non-concordist interpreters of Genesis, such as John H. Walton, the author of The Lost World of Genesis One.)

"What we read in Gen 1 and 2 are genuine histories of creation. If there is a connexion with the Babylonian myth or its older sources, it is a critical connexion. Everything is so different that the only choice is either to see in the Jewish rendering a complete caricature of the Babylonian, or in the Babylonian a complete caricature of the Jewish, according to the standpoint adopted."[6]

—Karl Barth

Barth says that the Word of God shares the same genre of saga as the Babylonian epics but these epics do not reveal the Word of God like the Bible. The Word of God is not revealed in the Illiad or any other great work of literature from the ANE or of modern times. Barth rejects all forms of the analogia entis, which sounds like the cousin of the praying mantis or an ominous alien insect from outer-space, but really means that God has chosen to reveal himself through the person and work of Jesus alone as witnessed by the bible and preached by the church. Barth famously expresses this in the following comment from the preface to the first volume of the Church Dogmatics: "Hence I have had no option but to say No at this point. I regard the analogia entis as the invention of Antichrist" [7]

Barth on the Historical Adam: We are all Adam

One of the most controversial questions among Evangelicals, as it relates to science and the Bible, is whether there was a historical Adam. Barth's view of the historical Adam may be summarized by the following ten points:

#1. There are two biblical passages that explicitly refer to Adam: Genesis 2-3 and Romans 5:12-21 (1 Corinthians 15:22,24 may also be considered.)

#2. These passages contain elements of the Saga literary genre that makes scientific paleontology impossible to derive from them, or for polygenism to be excluded, or for specific information about a historical-Adam to be derived from these biblical texts.

#3. Adam has a twofold interpretation: an individual man and a general title for all individuals, such one meaning always includes the other.

#4. Adam is more than a metonymy that refers to humanity in general, he is a first among equals, meaning that he is the first man to rebel in a rebellion that all people have joined.

#5. The fallen state of Adam (man) is not a poison that was passed on to Adam's children or a sexually transmitted disease, but a rebellion that Adam initiated, that all who were around and part of Adam, regardless of physical descent had joined in upon.

#6. This fallen state is the consequence of no single historical act: it is the unavoidable presupposition of all human history. Adam’s rebellion is one act, but all people participate in that act. The ‘Fall’ is the condemnation unto death, pronounced upon all men by God for this act in all human history, such that “by one man's disobedience the many were made sinners” (cf. Romans 5:18-19)

#7. There never was a golden age. There is no point in looking back to one. The first man was immediately the first sinner.

#8. Adam is like the rainbow in relation to Jesus like the sun. Adam is only a reflection of Jesus. The rainbow has no existence independent of the Sun. The rainbow cannot stand against the sun. It does not balance it, and the same is of all people in Adam and the one person of Jesus.

#9. Barth and Calvin teach that the corruption of all mankind in the person of Adam alone did not proceed from ordinary generation (i.e. physical descent from Adam), but from the appointment of God.

#10. No one has to be Adam. We are so freely and on our own responsibility. Although the guilt of Adam is like ours, it is just as little our excuse as our guilt is his.

Here is Karl Barth in his own words on the Historical Adam:

"The Bible gives to this history and to all men in this sense the general title of Adam. Adam is mentioned relatively seldom both in the Old Testament and the New. There are only two passages which treat of him explicitly: Gen 2-3 and Rom 5:12-21 (to which we might add 1 Cor 15:22,45). The meaning of Adam is simply man, and as the bearer of this name which denotes the being and essence of all other men, Adam appears in the Genesis story as the man who owes his existence directly to the creative will and Word and act of God without any human intervention, the man who is to that extent the first man. . . . It is the name of Adam the transgressor which God gives to world-history as a whole. The name of Adam sums up this history as the history of the mankind which God has given up, given up to its pride on account of its pride. . . . It is continually like it. With innumerable variations it constantly repeats it. It constantly re-enacts the little scene in the garden of Eden. There never was a golden age. There is no point in looking back to one. The first man was immediately the first sinner." [8]

—Karl Barth


Karl Barth firmly believed in the threefold witness of the Word of God revealed in the person and work of Jesus Christ as witnessed by the Holy Scriptures and in the preaching of the church. Barth also firmly believes that the scientific consensus on Evolution is within the parameters and limits of the Word of God. The Bible is not a scientific textbook, but does contain the unique revelation of God that is not revealed in any other book or source. So scientists are free to use the scientific method and follow its conclusions and at the same time fully believe with out compromise in Jesus Christ and Christianity. So now is as good of time as ever, to listen to the advice of our 'Uncle Karl' on how to answer these hard questions on the science and the Bible.


  1. Header image: used with permission from the Karl Barth Archiv,
  2. Geoffrey Bromily (trans.), Karl Barth Letters: 1961-1968, #181 (p. 184)
  3. 1962 Time Magazine Cover, personal collection
  4. By vincent desjardins - Alsace, Haut-Rhin, Colmar, Musée d'UnterLinden : Mathias Grünewald, " retable d'Issenheim : la Crucifixion " entre 1512 et 1516., CC BY 2.0,
  5. Barth, Karl. "Church Dogmatics Study Edition 21" Ed. T. F. Torrance and G.W. Bromiley. III.1 The Doctrine of Creation. Trans. G. W. Bromiley. London: T & T Clark, 2010. 81. Print
  6. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, Vol. 3.1, Sections 40-42: The Doctrine of Creation, Study Edition 13London: T & T Clark, 2010. [89]. Print.
  7. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics Vol I.1;
  8. Barth, Karl. Trans. G. W. Bromiley. Church Dogmatics: IV.1 The Doctrine of Reconciliation. Ed. G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance. Vol. 22. London: T & T Clark, 2009. [507-08]. Print. Study Edition.
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Karl Barth’s Rejection of the Visible and Invisible Church

invisible-visible-church7Is the Church both visible and invisible? Karl Barth says No! He said the Church is visible, so it is wrong to apply the idea of invisibility to the Church. Since the Reformation, the Church has been commonly proclaimed to be both visible and invisible, and sadly since then there has been an increasing emphasis on the invisibility Church over against the visibility of the Church. Barth recognized that the idea of an invisible Church devalued the Church entirely and silenced its preaching of the gospel. According to Barth, the Church has always been a public uproar by a visible group since the time of the Apostles, and a Church that is not visible, is not the Church!

As a Christian in Nazi Germany, Barth understood that the Church must be a visible light in the world (Matt 5:14-16). Remember that Barth was largely responsible for the Barmen Declaration that was used by the Confessing Churches to publicly oppose German Christians and the Nazi party during World War II. In his 1946 Bonn University lectures in war torn Germany, he spoke this bold and famous denunciation of an invisible Church (printed in his Dogmatics in Outline):

By men assembling here and there in the Holy Spirit there arises here and there a visible Christian congregation. It is best not to apply the idea of invisibility to the Church; we are all inclined to slip away with that in the direction of a civitas platonica or some sort of Cloud-cuckooland, in which the Christians are united inwardly and invisibly, while the visible Church is devalued. In the Apostles' Creed it is not an invisible structure which is intended but a quite visible coming together, which originates with the twelve Apostles. The first congregation was a visible group, which caused a visible public uproar. If the Church has not this visibility, then it is not the Church. Of course each of these congregations has its problems, such as the congregation of Rome, of Jerusalem, etc. The New Testament never presents the Church apart from these problems. At once, the problem of variations in the individual congregation crops up, which may lead to splits. All this belongs to the visibility of the Church, which is the subject matter of the second article. [1]

The origin of the visible and invisible Church

The Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) and other Reformed Confessions distinguished between the visible and invisible Church to communicate that mere membership to any ecclesiastical body does not guarantee salvation because after all justification is by faith alone! The visible vs. invisible Church distinction intended to communicate that there may be false Christians within the Church and many true Christians outside of the Church, or as St. Augustine said "there are many sheep without and many wolves within" (par. City of God). The WCF identifies the Pope as the Antichrist (WCF XXV.VI) as an example of a false Christian in the visible Church (n.b. many modern Churches that conscribe to the WCF have removed this condemnation of the Pope). And, the Protestants excommunicated during the Reformation would naturally be identified as true Christians that were not part of the only visible Church established in that time and place: i.e. the Roman Catholic Church.

"The . . . Church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect . . . The visible Church, which is . . . (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion and of their children" (Westminster Confession of Faith, XXV.VI.I-II)

Thankfully, the stark antithesis between the Roman Catholics and Protestants in the 16th century, no longer exists today, but sadly the antithesis between the visible and invisible Church is starker than ever before. Unfortunately, the elevation of the invisible Church over the visible Church had the unintended and detrimental side effect of undermining the Church's visible presence in the world entirely, and reduced the visible Church to a private matter of individuals that had no public influence.

Separatists and fanatics capitalized on the visible and invisible Church distinction to identify their own sects with the invisible Church and then became vocal antagonists of the visible Church or anyone who did not share their fanatacial beliefs, as such was the case in the New Light vs Old Lights controversies in the Great Awakenings at the beginning of the 18th century in America where fanatical students frequently declared their Christian professors and leaders to be "unconverted".invisible-visible-churchThe idea of a visible and invisible Church had good intentions with the potential of showing great charity towards people outside the visible Church but in the end, the idea collapsed into pessimism and sectarianism and finally devaluation of the Church and the gospel.

Four points against the Visible and Invisible Church

Karl Barth dismantles the Visible and Invisible Church taxonomy in the Church Dogmatics Vol III/4 with these four points: 1) The Church, according to Karl Barth, may not be identified with any nation, territory or country—this is Constantinianism. 2) Nor may the Church be identified with any establishment, institution or denomination whether Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox or otherwise. 3) The Church is not a means to some other end, it is the people of God in service of the coming kingdom. And 4a) the Church may not be divided into two groups of real vs unreal Christians, or useful vs useless Christians or true vs false Christians; and likewise 4b) nor may it be divided into the teaching class vs the listen class, or clergy vs laity.

Barth's Introduction to the Four Points

The following quotations form one continuous quotation from the Church Dogmatics III/4, that I've divided in order to review and comment on each paragraph:

When we put the service of the Christian community at the head of concretions of the active life demanded by the command of God, we make four assumptions which are certainly to be found in the New Testament but which unfortunately are not to be seen so clearly, and sometimes not at all, in what is operative and visible as the Christian Church of a particular tradition and confession. This is not the place for a detailed proof of these assumptions, and therefore we can only mention them in the present context. [2]

Point 1. The Church is not identified with any nation, territory or country

Barth's rejection of the visible and invisible Church isn't a return to Constantinian Christianity, where being a Christian meant being a member of a particular state, civilization or institution at a particular time and place. The Church is not bounded by time or geographical map lines, and extends from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth and ends of the ages (c.f. Matt 28:19-20). The Church is more visible than any civilization that man has ever devised.

We assume that the Christian community or Church is a particular people, and therefore that it neither is nor can be identical with humanity or with a natural or historical segment of humanity, as, for example, a nation or the population of a certain territory or country. We assume that it always represents a distinct antithesis to humanity as naturally and historically fashioned and to all the associated groupings. We thus assume that the numerical equation of Christianity, customary since the time of Constantine, with a supposed Christian West, rests on an error which, although it has not arisen without the permissive guidance of God and therefore to some purpose and profit, is still glaring and fatal, and can only result in the self-deception of the Christian community of Church and the hampering of its service.

Since its Lord is no other than the One who rules over heaven and earth, it is in fact a peculiar people, assembled and to be assembled from all nations, and existing in dispersion among all nations with its special task and service. It is constituted by the imminent kingdom of God and not by any kind of great or small historical dominion. It has not to look to even the highest interests either of humanity or of this or that greater or smaller human group, but in conflict with humanity and all human groups, and for their salvation, it must serve the particular interest which God in Jesus Christ both willed to take, and in His patience will always take, in humanity. It cannot try to be the Church of the people, but only the Church for the people. Only in this sense can it be the "national" Church. [3]

Point 2. The Church is not identified with any establishment or institution

Barth is not dismissing Christian civilizations or any particular Church, but rather he is saying that the Church is visible in all these manifestations and yet not limited to them.

We assume that by the Christian community or Church is not meant an establishment or institution organised along specific lines, but the living people awakened and assembled by Jesus Christ as the Lord for the fulfillment of a specific task.  In obedience to its Lord this people may and must provide itself with particular institutions, rules, regulations and obligations. But these do not constitute the Christian community; they are themselves made by the Christian community. They are always, it is to be hoped, the best possible and yet changeable forms in which the Christian community is active and undertakes to perform its service. The Christian community is active and undertakes to perform its service. The Christian community does not live as these institutions subsist and are maintained and protected. It lives as it discharges its service to the kingdom of God in the changing, standing and falling of institutions. What it has to do must not be determined by its institutions; its institutions must be determined by what it has to do. [4]

Point 3. The Church's existence is not a means to an ends. 

Barth does not believe that the Church is a means to some other ends, but it is a realization here and now of what is to come. In paganism, there's a dream of good times after death, such that we must endure the present trials of life in order to dine in the halls of Valhalla. We have already realized the coming kingdom of God, and this hope isn't wish-fulfillment but a present reality.

We assume that the Christian community or Church is in fact the people which has been constituted and given its commission by Jesus Christ its Lord and therefore by the coming kingdom. Its existence, therefore, is not an end in itself. Even the temporal and eternal reward which it has been promised for fulfilling its commission is something apart. It can and should look forward to this with gladness. But the meaning and purpose of its service do not consist in the receiving of it. Nor does it serve in order to satisfy its religious needs, to practice its piety, to live out its religious emotions, and thus to deepen and enrich its own life and possibly to improve or even transform world conditions. Nor does it serve in order to gain the favor of God and finally to attain to everlasting bliss. It serves because the causa Dei (cause of God) is present in Jesus Christ, and because, come what may and irrespective of the greatness or smallness of the result, it imperiously demands the service of its witness. [5]

Point 4. The Church may not be divided into:
a.) true and false members or b.) into the teachers and listeners

The fourth point may be the most important, and is divided into two sub-points:

We assume that the Christian community or Church is the people which as such is unitedly and therefore in all its members summoned to this service. Two common distinctions are herewith abolished. [6]

The first sub-point is that there are not two Church, a visible and invisible Church, but all belong to both the visible and invisible Church: the Church's membership is not divided into separate groups, but all Christians live under the severe warning that though they are visible, they may be invisible Christians in the end due to sin: it's both/and, instead of either/or.

a.) The first is the recognition, far too readily accepted as self-evident especially in many of the Reformation confessions, that the Christian community comprises many dead as well as living members, i.e., Christians only in appearance. The truth is that not merely some or many but all members of the Christian community stand under the sad possibility that they might not be real Christians, and yet that all and not merely some or many are called from death to life and therefore to the active life of service. It is quite impossible, and we have no authority from the New Testament, to admit into the concept of the Christian community a distinction between real and unreal, useful and useless members. That all are useless but that all are used as such is said to all who are gathered to this people. [7]

The second sub-point expresses a similar rejection of dualism in the Church; there are not two castes in the Church: the teaching and listening Christians.

b.) [The second is this] Again, the distinction is also abolished between a responsible part of the community specially called to the service of the Church and a much larger non-responsible part, i.e. between "clergy" and "laity", office bearers and ordinary Christians. The whole community and therefore all its members are specifically called to this service and are therefore responsible. All are mere "laity" in relation to their Lord, and therefore in truth, yet all are "clergy" in the same relation and therefore in truth. Admittedly, the service is inwardly ordered, so that there are within it different callings, gifts and commissions. Nevertheless, the community is not divided by this ordering into an active part and a passive, a teaching Church and a listening, Christians who have office and those who have not. Strictly, no one has an office; all can and should and may serve; none is ever "off duty." [8]

Conclusion based on 1 Peter 2:9f
Barth concludes this section of the Church Dogmatics with a small-print paragraph that uses 1 Pet. 2:9f as a proof text. Barth is against describing the Church has both visible and invisible, because the Church has always been a visible Church because the idea of invisibility is foreign to the New Testament and the Church has always been a visible Church; so all dualistic conceptualizations as such are rejected. Barth rejects identifying the Church with an invisible and unknowable group of people, but he also rejects identifying the Church with any one particular group of people at any particular time, because the Church is more visible than any visible institution, and all Church are the visible Churches collectively. And within the Church, but also rejects such dualistic schemas, and concludes that there isnt' a divising between the teaching and listening church, because all Christians are both theologians and hearers of the Word of God:

We may compress these four assumptions into the well-known words of 1 Pet 2:9f: "But yet are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light: which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy." We may immediately add to this saying the exposition and application of the threefold office of Jesus Christ given under Qu. 32 of the Heidelberg Catechism: "Why art thou called a Christian? Because through faith I am a member of Christ and partake of His anointing, that I may confess His name, offer myself to Him as a living sacrifice, and with a clear conscience wrestle in this life against sin and the devil, hereafter to reign with Him in eternity over all creatures." If only the Protestant conception of the Church had been worked out and practiced along these lines! [9]

Final Remarks on Universalism

Barth's criticisms of the visible and invisible Church are primarily directed against those who define the invisible Church as smaller subset of the visible Church. However, this discussion precludes the hopeful possibility of the invisible Church having an exceedingly greater populous than the visible Church: e.g. the hope that all people would be included in the invisible Church. Such an affirmation of the invisible Church provides hope for universal salvation, but sadly it is most often used pessimistically to declare the true Church to be a small subset of true believers within the visible Church. The visible vs invisible church is a valuable taxonomy when the invisible church is believed to be a superset of the visible church, especially when the invisible church is optimistically identified as a universal set that includes all humanity or all Creation. If Barth's dismantling of the visible vs invisible church is affirmed, the door to universal salvation is still open, by allowing salvation to be extended to those outside the visible Church. Either way, we have hope that all people will be saved (1 Tim 2:4)!


[^Header Image] Background church imaged is from Bernard Gagnon - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
[^1] Barth, Karl. Dogmatics in Outline. New York: Harper & Row, 1959. 142. Print.
[^2] Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics, Vol III/4. Study Edition 20. London: T & T Clark, 2010. 159. Print. Study Edition.
[^3] Ibid. 159, [488]
[^4] Ibid. 159-60, [488-9]
[^5] Ibid. 160, [489]
[^6] Ibid. 160-1, [489-90]
[^7] Ibid. 160-1, [489-90]
[^8] Ibid. 160-1, [489-90]
[^9] Ibid. 161, [490]


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Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics Original Publication Dates

Karl Barth Church Dogmatics Publication TimelimeKarl Barth's Church Dogmatics was a theological summa published between 1932 and 1967 that spanned 9257 pages.  The English translations lagged many years behind the German original publications, so as an English reader of Barth, I have struggled to find the original publication dates of each volume of the Church Dogmatics. So, I've created the above image to depict the Church Dogmatics volumes with the respective year that each volume was published in the German first edition.

The complete publication information for each volume of the Church Dogmatics may be accessed by the following links:

  1. The Church Dogmatics I/1: The Doctrine of the Word of God,
    Die Kirchliche Dogmatik I/1 : Die Lehre vom Wort Gottes. 1. Halbband,
    1932 (1936 ET), 528 pages
  2. The Church Dogmatics I/2: The Doctrine of the Word of God,
    Die Kirchliche Dogmatik 1/2 : Die Lehre vom Wort Gottes. 2. Halbband,
    1938 (1956 ET), 1012 pages
  3. The Church Dogmatics II/1: The Doctrine of God,
    Die Kirchliche Dogmatik II/1 : Die Lehre von Gott. Teilband 1,
    1940 (1957 ET), 783 pages
  4. The Church Dogmatics II/2: The Doctrine of God,
    Die Kirchliche Dogmatik II/2: Die Lehre von Gott. Teilband 2,
    1942 (1957 ET), 899 pages
  5. The Church Dogmatics III/1: The Doctrine of Creation,
    Die Kirchliche Dogmatik III/1: Die Lehre von der Schöpfung. Teilband 1,
    1945 (1958 ET), 488 pages
  6. The Church Dogmatics III/2: The Doctrine of Creation,
    Die Kirchliche Dogmatik III/2: Die Lehre von der Schöpfung. Teilband 2,
    1948 (1960 ET), 637 pages
  7. The Church Dogmatics III/3: The Doctrine of Creation,
    Die Kirchliche Dogmatik III/3: Die Lehre von der Schöpfung. Teilband 3,
    1950 (1961 ET), 810 pages
  8. The Church Dogmatics III/4: The Doctrine of Creation,
    Die Kirchliche Dogmatik III/4: Die Lehre von der Schöpfung. Teilband 4,
    1951 (1961 ET), 869 pages
  9. The Church Dogmatics IV/1: The Doctrine of Reconciliation,
    Die Kirchliche Dogmatik IV/1: Die Lehre von der Versöhnung. Teilband 1,
    1953 (1956 ET), 896 pages
  10. The Church Dogmatics IV/2: The Doctrine of Reconciliation,
    Die Kirchliche Dogmatik IV/2: Die Lehre von der Versöhnung. Teilband 2,
    1955 (1958 ET), 983 pages
  11. The Church Dogmatics IV/3.1: The Doctrine of Reconciliation,
    Die Kirchliche Dogmatik IV/3.1: Die Lehre von der Versöhnung. Teilband 3.1,
    1959 (1961 ET), 551 pages
  12. The Church Dogmatics IV/3.2: The Doctrine of Reconciliation,
    Die Kirchliche Dogmatik IV/3.2: Die Lehre von der Versöhnung. Teilband 3.2,
    1959 (1962 ET), 554 pages
  13. The Church Dogmatics IV/4: The Doctrine of Reconciliation (fragment),
    Die Kirchliche Dogmatik IV/4: Die Lehre von der Versöhnung. Teilband 4,
    1967 (1969 ET), 247 pages

*ET is English Translation

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The PostBarthian is featured at BioLogos! : Karl Barth says Yes to Creation and Evolution

The PostBarthian is now featured at BioLogos! Click here to read my current article at BioLogos: Karl Barth says Yes to Creation and Evolution. Don't miss it! And, be sure to read the comments.

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Karl Barth’s Letter to Francis Schaeffer

Karl Barth's Letter to Francis Schaeffer (1930)

Karl Barth's Letter to Francis Schaeffer (1950)

Karl Barth wrote the following letter to Francis Schaeffer in 1950 that is similar to his response to Cornelius Van Til and assessment of Billy Graham.

Bergli, Oberrieden, September 3, 1950
Rev. Francis A. Schaeffer
Châlet des Frênes

Dear Mr. Schaeffer!

I acknowledge receipt of your letter from August 28[1], and of your paper "The New Modernism."[2] The same day your friend J. Oliver Buswell wrote to me[3] from New York, enclosing a review (The Bible Today, p.261 s.)[4] "Karl Barth's Theology." I see the things you think of me are approximately of the same kind as those I found in the book of [Cornelius] Van Til on the subject. And I see: you and your friends have chosen to cultivate a type of theology, who consists in a kind of criminology; you are living from the repudiation and discrimination of every and every fellow-creature, whose conception is not-entirely (numerically!) identical with your own views and statements. You are "walking on the solid rock of truth[sic]." We others, poor sinners, are not. I am not. My case has been found out to be hopeless. The jury has spoken, the verdict is proclaimed, the accused has been hanged by the neck till he was dead this very morning.

Well, well! Have it your own way: it is your affair, and in doing, speaking, writing as you do, you may shoulder your own responsibilities. You may repudiate my life-work "as a whole". You may call me names (such as: cheat[..], vague, non-historic, not interested in truth [sic] and so on and on!) You may continue to do your "detective" work in America, in the Netherlands, in Finland and everywhere and decry me as the most dangerous heretic. Why not? Perhaps the Lord has told you to do so.

But why and to what purpose do you wish further conversation? The heretic has been burnt and buried for good. Why on earth will you waste your time (and his time!) with more talk between you and him? Dear sir, you said, that you are feeling yourselves nearer to the "old-modernists" and to the Roman Catholics than to to me and to men like me.  Just as you like! But why then not try the effectiveness of your "apologetics" in some exercises with these "old-modernists" or with these Roman Catholics -- both of whom you will find quit a great lot here in Switzerland and everywhere? Why bother yourselves anymore about the man in Basle, whom you have finished off so splendidly and so totally?

Rejoice, dear Mr. Schaeffer (and you calling yourselves "fundamentalists" all over the world!) Rejoice and go on to believe in your "logics" (as in the fourth article of your creed!) and in yourselves as the only true"bible-believing" people! Shout so loudly as you can! But, pray, allow me, to let you alone. "Conversations" are possible between open-minded people [...]. Your paper and the review of your friend Buswell reveals the fact of your decision to close your window shutters. I do not know how to deal with a man who comes to see and to speak to me in the quality of a detective-inspector or with the behaviour of a missionary who goes to convert a heathen. No, thanks!

Your sincerely[sic]

Excuse my bad English. I am not accustomed to write in your language.

I am sending a copy of this letter to Rev. Buswell!

Dear Mr. Buswell![5]

I have read your review together with the paper of Mr. Schaeffer. Every word in my letter refers also to you. Sorry, but it can not be helped!


Karl Barth[6]

List of related literature (Updated Apr. 7th, 2016):

[^1] Francis Schaeffer's original letter is not extant.

[^2] Francis Schaeffer's "The New Modernism" referenced in the letter but published in the Baptist Bulletin's Jan and Feb 1951 editions. (source:

[^3] J. Oliver Buswell's original letter to Karl Barth on Aug. 28th, 1950 (source:

[^4] J. Oliver Buswell's review of Dogmatics in Outline (source:

[^5] J. Oliver Buswell's response to Barth's letter on Sept 13th, 1950 (source:

[^6] Karl Barth's Letter to Francis Schaeffer (cc'ed to J. Oliver Buswell) on Sept 3, 1950 (source:

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Karl Barth: Believing in Demons makes us Demonic

Believing in Demons makes us Demonic (Karl Barth's Demonology) [1]We do not believe in demons or deny their existence,
but we must resolutely disbelieve in demons.

Demons! Those fiery red devils that possess everyone. What is to be made of these evil spirits? Are they in every nook and cranny? Or has the Enlightenment evicted them from the world? Karl Barth's dialectical answer is that "we cannot believe in demons", yet this "cannot consist in questioning their existence." This twofold 'yes and no' answer may cause some to call an exorcist. The either/or of either believing in demons or denying their existence is a lose-lose outcome. When we believe in demons, Barth says, there "is the imminent danger that in so doing we ourselves might become just a little or more than a little demonic" because belief in the Devil and demons is what causes "witch-hunts" to happen (literally and figuratively). Barth says "even today we have no reason to boast that 'we have looked in the face of demons.'" When one believes in demons, one "gazes at the poisonous serpent instead of striking it." Yet denying the existence of demons also empowers them because, "if we ignore demons, they deceive us by concealing their power until we are against constrained to respect and fear them as powers." The correct response to the question of demons is "opposing to them in faith that resolute disbelief." Barth's answer is therefore that we do not believe in demons or deny their existence, but that we disbelieve in demons!


The famous Devil from Codex Gigas [16]

Barth says that the Devil and demons are not fallen angels and "it cannot be said that a real demon has ever been in heaven. . . . the devil was never an angel. He was a murder 'from the beginning.'" Barth says that demons are not in the same "sphere with that of angels", they are related in sharp distinction like that of "as creation and chaos, . . . as kerygma and myth" and that the Devil and demons are not creatures but they exist in the same way as "nothingness" exists as a "negative reflection of biblical Christology and soteriology." We must not fall into a stupid dualism that says if there is a God, Angels and Heaven there must also be a Devil, demons and Hell. And, if there is any relationship, says Barth, it by 'negation'. Barth says demons are not angelic powers but they "are powers indeed, and yet they are only the powers of falsehood. Hence we must not regard them as real powers, or the mimicry with which they make fools of us as reality."  Barth says that it is the power of the gospel (not the Enlightenment) that has "liberated" us from demons by "exorcising" them from the world.

Barth's Demonology is printed as a virtual appendix to Barth's Angelology consisting of about ten pages at the very end of The Church Dogmatics III/3: The Doctrine of Creation in section "§51 The Kingdom of Heaven, The Ambassadors of God and Their Opponents."  This large section 51 on Angelology comes on the heals of Barth's section "§50 God and Nothingness" and it is from the coffer of Barth's doctrine of Nothingness that his conception of the Devil and demons springs! Demons and Nothingness go hand in hand for Barth. However, the brevity of Barth's demonology suggest that his demonology is incomplete, and the rushed conclusion with its loose ends indicate that Barth's demonology is ultimately incomplete and lacking.

Thirteen Barthianisms on Demonology

1. Believing in Demons makes us Demonic

Luther's Study at the Wartburg Castle where he threw an inkwell at the Devil

Martin Luther's Study at the Wartburg Castle where he threw an inkwell at the Devil [17]

When a person becomes consumed by his or her enemy, they become a twisted disciple of their nemesis. Barth keenly observes that those who are obsesses with demons, turn into a little demon themselves! Many great theologians, and most notably the great Martin Luther have been guilty of personifying adversaries into demons, or compressed all opposition and opponents into a unified 'Adversary' in the Devil. (There's a famous legend that Martin Luther once threw an inkwell at the Devil, and if you visit the Wartburg Castle today, you'll be able to see the 'very' stain where the inkwell struck the wall.)

"It has never been good for anyone—including (and particularly) Martin Luther—to look too frequently or lengthily or seriously or systematically at demons (who for Luther were usually compressed into the single figure of the Devil.) It does not make the slightest impression on the demons if we do so, and there is the imminent danger that in so doing we ourselves might become just a little or more than a little demonic." [2]


An image of suspected witches being hanged in England, published in 1655. [18]

2. Demon belief starts Witch-hunts:

The best example of how believing in demons makes us demonic are witch-hunts. Those very people who wish to depose the demons, become demons in the act of deposing demons!

"the doctrine of the Devil and demons became an integral part of the Christian message, and in many cases the part in which Christian preacher and theologians believed they should display their zeal and realism. The result was that all Christianity, even when there were no witch-hunts and the like, acquired a more or less pervasive odour of demonism, becoming something which from this dark chamber seemed to spread abroad, and did actually spread abroad, menace, anxiety, melancholy, oppression, or tragic excitement. And this had the consequence that when in the light of witch-hunts a protest was made against this chamber." [3]

3. Affirming Demons is Denying All Theology:

I often say that "fundamentalism begets atheism", and this is true of believing in demons as well. Barth says that when Christians became infatuated with the Devil and demons, it caused an unintended reaction, like what happened with the Enlightenment, that rejected all spirits (good or bad) and then entirely abandoned theology and belief in Christianity. Believing in demonology therefore causes others to not believe in Christianity!

"And the further consequence [of believing in demons] has been that [. . .] angelology, Christology and Christian theology generally form a whole with a particular demonology, and that this whole has either to be accepted, rejected, or, in the process of a general demythologisation int he name of the modern outlook, reduced to a definite anthropology. It was fatal that at the time of the Enlightenment the way was entered which led from a criticism of demonology to a contesting of theology generally. But it was even more fatal that orthodoxy gave good cause for following this path. " [4]

A Guardian Angel protects from a shoulder demon.

A Guardian Angel protects from a shoulder demon.[19]

4. Angels and Demons are like Kerygma and Myth

Angels and demons have been dualistically paired together since ancient times, but these two spirits are not the same species. Barth firmly believes in angels, and all Christians must affirm the existence of angels, yet denies real being to demons. Angels are like things that exist and demons are like non-existence. We may not deny nothing or chaos. Nothingness is the ground of Barth's Demonology. Whatever nothingness may be, then that is what Demons are as well.

"Angels and demons are related as creation and chaos, as the free grace of God and nothingness, as good and evil, as life and death, . . . , as kerygma and myth. Perhaps the last analysis is best adapted to bring out the matter most sharply". [5]

5. Angels and Demons are not the same species

Likewise, Barth considers it an error to group angels and demons together as the same sort of creature. Demons are a negation of angels, and if there is such a thing as demons, then they exist only as a negation or negative reflection on angelic being, that lack any subsistence of their own.

"We can see at once the similarity of this sphere with that of angels, with the kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven. We can see the reason for the misunderstanding in which it could be thought necessary not merely to contrast but to co-ordinate the two kingdoms, regarding demons not merely as opponents but as relatives and colleagues of angels. . . . Yet this is the very thing which we must never say, but resolutely oppose, in relations to these two kingdoms" [6]

6. Origin of Demons is from God's No to nothingness:

Where did the Devil come from? Barth says the Devil and demons are not created nor creatures, but instead have sprung from Nothingness (for Barth's doctrine of Nothingness, see "§50 God and Nothingness" that precedes his Angelology.) The existence of Nothingness is an enigma, and it is not part of God's good creation, but it only exists as a negation of creation. Nothingness, along with the Devil and demons, came into existence as a negative result of God's act of creating his good creation. So Barth evades all dualism, that posits an eternal part of God and the Devil, and angel and demons. On the other hand, he also evades monism by saying God has not created the Devil or demons, but they are a mysterious result of his good creation. Most theologians fall on this double edged sword, including John Calvin, who believed that the Devil was necessarily created for God's service. Barth explains the origin of the Devil and demons as such:

"What is the origin and nature of the Devil and demons? The only possible answer is that their origin and nature lie in nothingness. . . . In biblical terms we can also describe it as chaos, or darkness, or evil (to the extent that this signifies a power rather than a place) Hades. . . As we cannot deny the peculiar existence of nothingness, we cannot deny their existence. They are null and void, but they are not nothing. . . . Their being is neither that of God nor that of the creature, neither that of heavenly creatures nor that of earthly, for they are neither the one nor the other. They are not divine, but non-divine and anti-divine. . . . God has not created them, and therefore they are not creaturely. They are only as God affirms Himself and the creature and thus pronounces a necessary No. . . . This is all to be said of demons as of nothingness. They are not different from the later. They do not stand apart. They derive from it. They themselves are always nothingness." [7]

Lilith is a night demon referenced in Isaiah 34, was according to legend, Adam's first wife.

Lilith is a night demon referenced in Isaiah 34:14, was according to legend, Adam's first wife. [20]

7. Demons in the Bible are a 'negative reflection on biblical Christology and soteriology':

Barth does not deny the existence of demons throughout the Old and New Testament. He believes that the references to demons are a "negative reflection on biblical Christology and soteriology". Demons arguably do not appear in the Old Testament and the closest parallel is a goat idol (cf. Deut 32:17; Ps 106:37), and in the New Testament, the Devil and demons are frequent characters in the narrative. Barth believes that the existence of devils and demons in the bible means that they are a subject of belief, or that their existence should be denied, but they are relics of a world that has been exorcised by the gospel. The Gospel has defeated all opposition, and this means that any so-called Kingdom of Satan, to remind us the power of the gospel. Much like the powerful words of Gandolf, in The Lord of the Rings, "Until at last, I threw down my enemy and smote his ruin upon the mountainside."

An excellent example of this is the reference to Lilith in Isaiah 34:14. This demon, sometimes translated as a screech owl, is Adam's first wife. An evil female monster of the night that awaits children and tears men apart (cf. other OT demons such as Rahab, Behemoth, Leviathan, etc). These biblical monsters are vanquished foes like Balrog of Moria. We do not believe in these monstrous creatures, or deny their existence, but we disbelieve in them in the proclamation of the gospel!

"This, then, is what Holy Scripture has to tell us concerning demons. It certainly does not say that they do not exist or have no power or do not constitute this threat. It is quite evident that their existence and nature are very definitely taken into account, and it is surprising that this is more expressly the case in the New Testament than the Old. . . . What might be called biblical demonology is in fact only a negative reflection of biblical Christology and soteriology. What is revealed is the kingdom of Satan and his angels as this is already assaulted and mortally threatened, and indeed radically destroyed; demonic being, not in its concealment and therefore powerful, but unmasked and therefore disarmed; not its march and attack and even victory, but its defeat and withdrawal and flight; not an earth and humanity controlled, visited and plagued by demons, but liberated from them; not a world bewitched but exorcised; not a community and Christendom believing in demons but opposing to them in faith that resolute disbelief; in short, the triumph of truth over falsehood." [8]

8. Fallen Angels? Nein!

Are demons fallen angels? Barth says hell no! On the last page of CD III/3, Barth give us a small print section on the question of fallen angels. The 42% of my followers, in a recent poll, said they believed demons were fallen angels, and I suspect these followers will be disappointed with Barth's rushed exegesis of the 'demons are fallen angel' proof-texts. The fascinating point is that Barth says that to think that angels are fallen angels, makes everything we know about angels and demons from the bible unintelligible. Barth expresses this when he says: "And literally all the insights which we have gained concerning the being and ministry of angels, and developed at least concerning the character and activity of demons, are necessarily false if this doctrine is correct." When faced by a verse that prima facie proves that demons are fallen angels, this interpretation must be set asides or left with a question mark, despite how convincing it is in context (and this will make all biblicists shiver).

There are many biblical references that are absent from this hasty summary of the biblical texts. It's as if Barth was uninterested in discussing the topic, and this makes sense because of what Barth has repeatedly said earlier about the grave danger of giving too much attention to demons, because it consequently empowers them. Barth addresses some key verses, and his conclusion of the rest is derivative.

The key proof-text for the Devil being a fallen angel is Isaiah 14:12, and even John Calvin agrees with Karl Barth, that this verse does not refer to the Devil's fall from heaven whatsoever. Calvin says in his commentary on Isaiah 14:12: "The exposition of this passage, which some have given, as if it referred to Satan, has arisen from ignorance; for the context plainly shows that these statements must be understood in reference to the king of the Babylonians."

War in Heaven: The Fallen Angels

War in Heaven: The Fallen Angels[21]

We refer to the view constantly held in ancient and modern times that the demons are 'fallen angels.' At an earlier date this was linked with the saying in Is 14:12 which describes the king of Babylon as the radiant star of the morning (lucifer) cast down from heaven. The remarkable passage in Gen 6:1-14 was related to this verse. Most strongly of all Jude 6 seemed and seems to point in this direction with its mention of angels which did not keep their 'position of authority' (arche) and lost their 'their own habitation' (idion oikatarion). We might also refer to 2 Pet 2:4 with its reference to angels who sinned. But these texts are so uncertain and obscure that it is inadvisable to allow them to push us in this direction. However they may have been expounded, against their exposition along these lines there has to be set the intolerable artificiality with which attempts have been made to use them as a basis for the development of the doctrine of a fall of angels and therefore of an explanation of the existence of the devil and demons. And literally all the insights which we have gained concerning the being and ministry of angels, and developed at least concerning the character and activity of demons, are necessarily false if this doctrine is correct. It is, in fact, one of the bad dreams of the older dogmatics. . . . And on the other hand it cannot be said that a real demon has ever been in heaven. The demons merely act as if they came from heaven. But the devil was never an angel. He was a murder 'from the beginning' (ap arches). He never stood in the truth. No truth was ever in him. He speaks falsehood, and he does so 'of his own' (ek ton idion), because he is a liar and the father of lies. This is how he is described in Jn 8:44, and it agrees with everything else that we are told in the New Testament concerning him and demons. But of angels we must say with Jas 1:17: "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." And reference may also be made to the preceding verse (v. 16): "Do not err, my beloved brethren." [9]

9. Demons are Mimics of Angels:

Barth's dialectical disbelief in demons at times contains belief in demons and at times denial of their existence. If they exist, they are the ominous Kraken's tentacles of the deep and there power stems from powerlessness. Yet, any power the Devil or demons have, is only a dark reflection of the true power of God and his angels. The Devil and demons are apes of God and his Angels. When confronted by these mimics of God and his angels, we must respond in disbelief and say No to this negation.

"We cannot deny but must soberly recognise that in all these things the demons are constantly present and active like the tentacles of an octopus. Fortunately the angels are also present and active. But there can be no doubt that the demons are there too, beings which betray their nature by this fatal 'too'.

Yet it is as well not to consider this without recognising that they are only the powers of falsehood. As falsehood they are really powerful. Indeed, because they are so thorough, because they imitate no less than God and His kingdom and angels, because nothingness always masquerades as the highest and deepest, the first and the last, they are always much more powerful than we expect or concede, and can always turn our defenses or cut off our escape, seizing us at the very point from which we try to resist them or where we try to find refuge from them. They are powers indeed, and yet they are only the powers of falsehood. Hence we must not regard them as real powers, or the mimicry with which they make fools of us as reality." [10]

The Seraphim are often believed to be the highest order of angels, and they are depicted as fiery serpents.

The Seraphim are often believed to be the highest order of angels, and they are depicted as fiery serpents.[22]

10. Demons are a Myth that must be Demythologized and held in resolute disbelief:

Barth describes demons as a myth to be demythologized. A similar comparison is how the creeds say we believe in the life everlasting but they do not say that we believe in hell. Belief has a positive orientation, Barth says, such that when we believe in God and Angels, then we disbelieve in the Devil and demons. Barth also describes this as believing in the truth such that we don't believe the corresponding lie.

"We cannot believe in the devil and demons as we may believe in angels when we believe in God. We have a positive relationship to that in which we believe. But there is no positive relationship to the devil and demons. We cannot ignore them. . . . They are the myth, the myth of all mythologies. Faith in God and His angels involves demythologisation in respect of the devil and demons; but not in the superficial phenomenological sense current to-day . . . The demythologisation which will really hurt them as required cannot consist in questioning their existence. Theological exorcism must be an act of unbelief which is grounded in faith. It must be in a resolute denial that they belong to this exalted company. It must consist in the fact that in the light, . . . they are seen to be a myth, the myth which lurks in all myths, the lie which is the basis of all other lies, so that a positive relationship between them, an attitude of respect and reverence and obedience, is quite impossible" [11]


Snake Handling at an Appalachian Church[23]

11. Admire the poisonous serpent instead of striking it:

In South Appalachia, deadly snakes are handled in churches inspired by Mark 16:18 (KJV) "They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover." In 2014-15, two Holiness pastors in Kentucky died from snake bites after refusing medical treatment. Maybe they died believing that this apocryphal verse was the Word of God, or possibly because they, as Barth said, "gaze[d] at the poisonous serpent, instead of striking it." I don't understand this serpentine phenomena, but Barth is right that we place ourselves in grave danger, when we marvel at the power of demons.

"There has always flourished in Christianity and its theology a supposedly very realistic demonology which has suffered from this lack of a safeguard. It begins with respect instead of aversion, with reverence instead of scorn. It gazes at the poisonous serpent instead of striking it. It moves from the very outset in the secret respect and admiration, or at least in an atmosphere of curiosity, where distaste is the only possible attitude." [12]

12. Denying Demons Exist is a Grave Danger too

Simply denying demons exist, according to Barth, is as great an error as believing in them. It is allowing a problem to remain, instead of facing it. So, ignoring demons is as dangerous as believing in demons.

"There is alternation in this matter. If we ignore demons, they deceive us by concealing their power until we are against constrained to respect and fear them as powers. If we absolutise them, respecting and fearing them as true powers, they have deceived us by concealing their character as falsehood, and it will be only a little while before we try to ignore and are thus deceived by them again." [13]

13. Demons and Science: Medicine, Psychology, Philosophy

Plague Doctor

Plague Doctor with beak filled with herbs to protect from "evil" smells[24]

The Usual Suspects (1995) contained a famous line: "The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist." Barth agrees in so far that Nothingness rejoices that its not noticed, and the Devil and demons are born from Nothingness. However, Barth is not saying that 'demon possession' is a valid medical or psychiatric diagnosis. In scientific terms, Barth's disbelief in demons means that we are constantly demythologizing demons, and removing their power from all the sciences, and this is especially true of medicine and psychology. By the power of the gospel, we may say 'No' to any diagnosis of demon possession, and not allow it the possibility of existence, commanding it into the nothing from which it sprang. And this allows us to say 'Yes' to modern medicine, psychology, politics, philosophy, or any other domain where demons were once believed to have power.

"Nothingness rejoices when it notices it is not noticed, that it is boldly demythologised, that humanity thinks it can tackle its lesser and greater problems with a little morality and medicine and psychology and aesthetics, with progressive politics or occasionally a philosophy of unprecedented novelty—if only its own reality as nothingness remains beautifully undisclosed and intact." [14]

"there is always scope for a new cycle of Enlightenment and demythologisation, for morality, medicine, psychology, aesthetics, politics, philosophy or even piety and religion to take the stage as the true liberators, and for a reassertion of the undisclosed and intact dominion of negated nothingness." [15]


Karl Barth says we must not believe in the Devil and demons, nor ignore their existence, but we must resolutely disbelieve in them. I agree with this dialectical approach, and find it more satisfying than believing in demons or denying their existence. Yet, Apophatic Theology says that as soon as we 'disbelieve in demons' we have 'believed in demons' via negation. So Barth's Demonology is a mode of belief in demons, and that mode is isolated in 'disbelief' alone, and does not allow any other form of belief in demons, and this is challenging because it may not be rationalized. Yet, all the greatest truths of Christianity may not be rationalized either: Trinity, Christology, etc.

My personal opinion is that the Devil and demons are a personification of evil in the world, and that it is appropriate to refer to the Devil and demons, because there are real events of evil and evil forces in action in the world but this does not mean that there are specific embodiment of evil spirits roaming the earth such as the iconic red-horned cartoon with a pitchfork. For example, in Barth's funeral sermon for his son, he referred to 'evil spot at the Fründenhorn where everything happened, also over the grave from which we have just come'. It's more than an anagogic reference to this place being evil. I agree with Barth's refer to the place as evil.

What was lacking in Barth's Demonology is a discussion of how biblical denizens understood their world, because the Ancient Near East was a world where demons were part of the vernacular of that ancient world. Barth does say several times that demons must be demythologized, but I was disappointed that he did not further discuss how this ancient belief in demons translates (or is demythologized) into a post-Enlightenment world. For instance, the New Testament frequently employs demon references and has frequent references to demons speaking and acting, yet this is how all people understood the world in the Ancient Near East. If a person was miraculously healed, it would be most appropriate at that time to speak of exorcism of demons, and this is the best way to communicate what had happened to society at large in the A.N.E. However, today, if a person was miraculously healed, the best way to communicate this event in general is not to say it was an exorcism. In some centuries after Christ, the miracles in the bible were seen as the greatest proofs of the bible's witness, yet in more recent centuries, these same miracles tend to undermine the bible's witness.

Therefore, despite some quid pro quo, Barth is correct in his Demonology such that we do not believe in the Devil or demons nor do we deny their existence, but we must have resolute disbelief in demons in a way that is reminiscent of how in Harry Potter they do not speak the name of Lord Voldemort yet they do incessantly:



^1. Header Image; Painting by Francisco Goya of Saint Francis Borgia performing an exorcism; By User Gerald Farinas on en.wikipedia - Unknown, Public Domain,

^2. Barth, Karl. Doctrine of Creation III/3 §50-51. Study Edition ed. Vol. 18. London: T & T Clark, 2010. 232 [519]. Print. Church Dogmatics.

^3. Ibid. 235 [522]

^4. Ibid. 235 [522]

^5. Ibid. 233 [520]

^6. Ibid. 237 [524]

^7. Ibid. 236 [523]

^8. Ibid. 242 [529-30]

^9. Ibid. 243 [530-1]

^10. Ibid. 240 [528]

^11. Ibid. 234 [521-2]

^12. Ibid. 234 [522]

^13. Ibid. 239 [526-7]

^14. Ibid. 238 [526]

^15. Ibid. 239 [526-7]

^16. By Weaverbard - Own work, CC0,

^17. By Library of CongressCatalog:, Public Domain,

^18. By Unknown. - Published in A New History of Witchcraft by Brooks and Alexander (2007), page 69., Public Domain,

^19. Public Domain,

^20. By John Collier - Own work, Public Domain,

^21. By Hieronymus Bosch (circa 1450–1516) or workshop - The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Public Domain,

^22. By Original uploader was Mirv at en.wikipedia - Transferred from en.wikipedia, Public Domain,

^23. By Russell Lee - This media is available in the holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration, cataloged under the ARC Identifier (National Archives Identifier) 541335. See Commons:Licensing for more information, Public Domain,

^24. By I. Columbina, ad vivum delineavit. Paulus Fürst Excud[i]t. I [or J] Columbina has not, I think, been identified. Paul Fürst (1608–1666) was the publisher, and perhaps also the engraver. - Internet Archive’s copy of Eugen Holländer,Die Karikatur und Satire in der Medizin: Medico-Kunsthistorische Studie von Professor Dr. Eugen Holländer, 2nd edn (Stuttgart:Ferdinand Enke, 1921), fig. 79 (p. 171).Specifically the file diekarikaturunds00holl_0207.jp2 extracted from [174,178,046 bytes] in the folder, Public Domain,


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What May Karl Barth Make of Evangelicals?

D. A. Carson fired fiery arrows at Karl Barth in his interview at The Gospel Coalition (TGC) this week: What Should Evangelicals Make of Karl Barth? Carson is a pinnacle contemporary Evangelical scholar in the Reformed tradition, so I was excited to see him talking about Karl Barth. I was saddened that the title of this interview at TGC was phrased what Evangelicals 'should' believe. Is it a tendency at TGC to claim sole hegemony on orthodoxy? The last person to publish a title containing 'What Christians Should Believe' ('he who shall not be named') ended in tragic controversy. (I wish to place blame on TGC, but Carson is a founding council member of TGC, so I do not know who is at fault here.) To make the first impression worse, the initial question to Carson also betrays an assumed suspicion of Barth: "Quite frankly I find Barth bewildering. On one hand his works seem to be littered with theological question marks, so I am cautious." How may any appreciator of Barth show enthusiasm to such a loaded question? Anyone who does not allow for 'theological question marks' is out of bounds? Isn't all of theology concerned with 'theological question marks'? Who besides the Pope is without theological question marks? As I said, a loaded question for a received audience.

It is true that not all Carson said about Barth was bad, and amongst the backhanded compliments were some better than expected compliments in this interview. (I may be suspicious of Don Carson's comments because I once met Carson almost a decade ago, and when I handed him a copy of his Exegetical Fallacies book to sign, Carson responded condescendingly with raised eyebrows, "Are you sure you are able to understand this?") This interview was not such a sour experience as when I met Carson in person because Carson says in TGC post that despite Barth is both "idolized" by some and "demonized" by others, in his own opinion:  "Karl Barth really was the premier theologian of the twentieth century in terms of volume of writings, profundity of analysis and so on. . . . And so it is sad if knowledgeable pastors don’t make use of Barth, but it is even more sad if they make a wrong use of Barth. Barth has the capacity to say contradictory things without embarrassment." These are not unqualified praises of Barth, yet they are praises, despite the death by a thousand qualifications. I've encountered both of these extremophiles who hate and love Barth and was pleased to hear that Carson identified himself in the camp of those who appreciative of Barth. Sadly, Carson has lots of studying to do before he may one day become a true Barthian!

Carson is familiar with Barth, and I enjoyed his recital of the time Barth admitted to contradictions in his own writings to an inquisitor. Humility is a Christian trait, and Barth frequently said that "God will laugh at my Dogmatics". Why is there such a fear of contradictions? 'To err is human', as they say. So, It's no surprise that Carson's first objection to Barth is Barth's ground breaking doctrine of scripture. Carson says, "It leaves him [Barth] saying things that are sometimes not very well integrated, even when they are wonderfully evocative. And nowhere is this truer than in his treatment of the doctrine of Scripture." Running this quote through babelfish, reveals Carson is adverse to uncertainty in the interpretation of scripture, and he doesn't like that Barth allows for a capacity for error in scripture.

Scripture is written in human words by human witnesses, but Carson advocates a docetic form of inspiration that is unilaterally divine and does not allow for any human uncertainty such that Carson encroaches on a dictation form of inspiration and exemplified in Carson's following comment: "It is easy to imagine that he is essentially an evangelical in the history and tradition of the whole mainstream of the church. But he really isn’t. . . . he wants to integrate both how God gave the Scripture, as Scripture, and how that Scripture is received by human beings, . . . and refuses to separate them."

Carson then seeks to justify himself by appealing to Calvin's doctrine of scripture. Carson says, "By contrast Calvin . . . insists that the Scripture is true . . .  even if nobody accepts it. Whereas . . . in Barth’s thinking that he is uncomfortable talking about the truthfulness and reliability and Spirit inspiration of Scripture simply as Scripture without integrating it." The grave error here is that Calvin allowed for the Scriptures to have a capacity for errors (as Barth also does), that Carson does not allow! Many Calvin scholars agree, such as Wilhelm Niesel, Francois Wendel and many others. So Calvin is not so clearly and certainly on the side of those docetic interpreters of scripture!

Carson then defines orthodoxy according to allegiance to the modern American notion of inerrancy: "The Scripture becomes the Word of God when it is received. . . . Barth does say explicitly that there are concrete errors in Scripture. . . . he [Barth] is really different from the mainstream of the Church of Jesus Christ across the ages in affirming the truthfulness, reliability and inerrancy of Scripture." Is salvation really defined as "In faith alone and adherence to modern American definitions of Inerrancy according to so and so conservative Evangelical"? Are those Christians who do exist in this hegemony outside the scope of salvation?

After these critical comments by Carson, the article includes an anti-Barth book plug. Carson's comments on Barth exceeded my expections, yet still fell short of what I had hoped that a world-class evangelical scholar, such as Carson would say about Barth. I appreciate that Carson is engaging Barth and I hope to see more articles on The Gospel Coalition regarding Karl Barth in the future.

Lastly, it may not be overstated that Carson said many laudable things about Barth that should be repeated, such as "There are many parts of Karl Barth’s writings that are luminescent. They are wonderfully evocative when he speaks of the glory and the greatness and the majesty of God and when he speaks of the importance of Christ." Carson also says, "Barth says many things that shows him affirming the truthfulness of Scripture, the reliability of Scripture, the authority of Scripture and if you take those things at face value, without reference to anything else that he says, then it is easy to imagine that he is essentially an evangelical in the history and tradition of the whole mainstream of the church." I wish these were unqualified praises of Barth, but over all, I believe that Carson is being an example evangelical by learning from others who do not fit in our tidy theological camps and I wish many evangelicals would follow this example by reading and learning from those we disagree. In the end, Carson is talking about Karl Barth with praise, and I give him a thumbs up (with room for improvement.)

For another excellent response to this TGC article, I commend DET's response: Karl Barth, Scripture, D. A. Carson, and the Gospel Coalition

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Karl Barth was a PostCalvinist and not an Evangelical Calvinist

karl-barth-evangelical-calvinist In 1922, Karl Barth loved John Calvin so much that he wrote a letter to his friend Eduard Thurneysen to confess that he could spent the rest of his life with Calvin alone! (♥) This short letter, which I've quoted below, has become so famous that anytime Calvin and Barth are mentioned in the same sentence this letter is referenced. I've seen it happen a half-dozen times this week alone! Barth loved Calvin, but does this make Karl Barth some sort of Evangelical Calvinist? The answer in short is Nein! Yet Barth was a Calvinist in his own way. I will explain, but first read the quote:

Karl Barth's letter to Eduard Thurneysen on June 8, 1922

". . . Eduard, what a business this is and how questionable whether it is quite that. I am definitely not homesick for the pastorate but have only a certain feeling that something thoroughly different should be taking place from what I am able to do here within the narrow limitations imposed upon me by vocation and capacity. The little bit of 'Reformed theology' that I teach is really nothing in comparison to the trumpet blast which needs to be blown in our sick time . . . Calvin is a cataract, a primeval forest, a demonic power, something directly down from Himalaya, absolutely Chinese, strange, mythological; I lack completely the means, the suction cups, even to assimilate this phenomenon, not to speak of presenting it adequately. What I receive is only a thin little stream and what I can then give out again is only a yet thinner extract of this little stream. I could gladly and profitably set myself down and spend all the rest of my life just with Calvin. But it is really like this for me at each point of the history . . . In the next semester there will be the same exercises in Zwingli. But it will always be only a beginning over which I must wring my hands . . . Thus 'teaching office' ==groaning; there can be no talk of "splendor." More than once what I presented at 7 a.m. was not ready until 3-5 a.m."

Barth, Karl, and Eduard Thurneysen. Revolutionary Theology in the Making: Barth-Thurneysen Correspondence, 1914-1925. Richmond: John Knox, 1964. 10. Print.

Karl Barth and John Calvin at Göttingen

Barth's love for Calvin was forged in Göttingen, but they were introduced in Geneva in 1909-10 while Barth was a young pastor at the very same Church that John Calvin had made famous centuries before. Barth had preached from the same pulpit as Calvin. This was long ago, even before Barth had been a pastor in Safenwil.

At the time of this letter, Karl Barth was a young honorary professor at the University of Göttingen (1921-22) lecturing on the Reformers and the Reformed Confessions. According to his biographer Eberhard Busch, Barth was not an expert on the Reformed confessions when he was tasked to teach it. Barth wasn't excited about the subject matter of his lectures at first, and he thought the first question of the Heidelberg Catechism was not very good. This disposition quickly changed as Barth fell in love with the Reformed faith in the midst of his Lutheran faculty and this renaissance in Reformed Theology caused Barth to fall in love with John Calvin in particular and the Reformed Tradition in general, and is easily proved by the myriad of Reformed quotations throughout the Church Dogmatics. Busch describes these events as follows:

"'I can now admit at that time I didn't even have a copy of the Reformed confessions, and I certainly hadn't read them—not to mention all the other terrible gaps in my knowledge.' 'Fortunately it turned out that my theology had become more Reformed, more Calvinistic than I had known, so I could pursue my special confessional task with delight and with a good conscience.' But first of all he had to get on with it. 'In fact it was only in Göttingen that I again familiarized myself with the mysteries of specifically Reformed theology, burning the midnight oil in my struggle over it.' By undertaking this work, Barth became more and more a committed Reformed theologian, and 'slowly but surely became intent on pure Reformed doctrine'.

It was only now that the second, 'more Calvinistic', version of his Romans appeared"

Busch, Eberhard. Karl Barth: His Life from Letters and Autobiographical Texts. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1976. 129. Print.

Barth's influence on Calvin Scholarship

Barth's infatuation with Calvin during his Göttingen period not only made him more "Calvinistic" but also has impacted Calvin scholarship worldwide to this day. One of the most influential Calvin scholars in the last century was Wilhelm Niesel, who was Barth's student during this time at Göttingen, and wrote a highly influential book The Theology of Calvin, which contains this comment about his instruction on Calvin from Barth: 'As Wilhelm Niesel puts it, 'I have sat under [Adolf von] Harnack in Berlin, under Karl Heim in Tubingen and, above all, studied under Karl Barth in Göttingen.'" This work spanned many other excellent works on Calvin by François WendelRonald Wallace, John T. McNeill, Rogers and McKim, Peter Barth, etc.

This new trajectory in Calvin studies, does John Calvin the great service of shaking Calvin from the poor caricature of his theology such as poorly pedaled by the Young Restless and Reformed crowd that shamefully reduces Calvinism to the T.U.L.I.P.  (an English acronym purportedly and recently invented to reduce Calvin and the Synod of Dort to a gross simplification of Double Predestination). Ironically, if being a Calvinist today is defined by allegience to the T.U.L.I.P, then even John Calvin was not a 'Calvinist' as such, because Predestination was not the central doctrine for Calvin. This is expressed well by Bruce McCormack:

It was Wilhelm Niesel, a student of Barth's during his Göttingen period, who first succeeded in marginalizing Calvin's doctrine of predestination vis-a-vis his theology as a whole. In his great work on Calvin's theology in 1938, Niesel noted the then still widespread view that predestination was Calvin's central dogma and observed, "If this be the case, then all that we have so far said is false. Then Calvin's doctrines are not like so many signposts pointing through the far-ranging and complex fields of the Bible to the one incarnate God. It would rather be true to say that Calvin's theology is a system of thoughts about God and human kind preceding from the one thought of the utter dependence of humanity upon God."(23) Niesel's tendency to minimize the importance of Calvin's doctrine of election was given added impetus by François Wendel in 1952.

Bruce L. McCormack, Orthodox and Modern: Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth (Baker Academic, 2008), p48-49

Barth's reconstruction of Calvin's Doctrine of Election

Everything changed after 1922. Barth's writings on Calvin were published in his book The Theology of John Calvin. In this fertile soil of Barth's study of the Reformers and the Reformed Creeds, he went on to revise his 1919 earlier edition of Commentary on Romans (Romans I), and publish in 1922 his famous revised Commentary on Romans (Romans II). The Barth we all know and love was revealed to the world through his Romans II, and this was an epoch in Barth's career that was further advanced by the many volumes of Barth's Church Dogmatics published throughout the rest of his academic career.

Barth's 1922 Calvin-love-letter belonged to the early Barth of Safenwil that was later eclipsed by the mature Barth of the Church Dogmatics. It was Barth's 1920's encounters with Calvin and the Reformed tradition that caused Barth to revised his Romans I, and it was his Romans II that changed Barth's career forever. Barth's opinion of Calvin must not be judged by his 1922 letter, but by the Barth's own reconstruction of Calvin at the apex of his career, most notably expressed in Barth's preface to the Church Dogmatics, Vol. II/2 in 1942:

"To think of the contents of this volume gives me much pleasure, but even greater anxiety. The work has this peculiarity, that in it I have had to leave the framework of theological tradition to a far greater extent than in the first part on the doctrine of God. I would have preferred to follow Calvin's doctrine of predestination much more closely, instead of departing from it so radically. I would have preferred, too, to keep to the beaten tracks when considering the basis of ethics. But I could not and cannot do so. As I let the Bible itself speak to me on these matters, as I meditated upon what I seemed to hear, I was driven irresistibly to reconstruction."

Barth, Karl. Preface. Church Dogmatics: The Doctrine of God II.2. Vol. 10. London: T & T Clark, 2010. N. pag. Print. Study Edition.


Karl Barth deeply loved John Calvin. He loved him when he preached at Calvin's church in Geneva in 1909-10. Barth loved him when he wrote his first Commentary on Romans 1918 (Romans I). Barth loved him when he taught on Calvin at Göttingen in 1922. Barth loved him when he wrote his second Commentary on Romans in 1922 (Romans II). Barth loved him when he wrote his own Doctrine of Election in The Church Dogmatics Vol. II/2. And, Barth loved him through the endless quotations and reflections on Calvin's works throughout his entire career. So Yes, Karl Barth was a Calvinist!

If an Evangelical Calvinist is defined by affirming the T.U.L.I.P., then hell no, Karl Barth was not an Evangelical Calvinist! (But neither was John Calvin!) Barth knew this misrepresentation of Calvin, and that's why he called Calvin a "demonic power" in his 1922 letter. Karl Barth did not affirm John Calvin's doctrine of Double Predestination (and even Calvin admitted it was a horrible and dreadful decree.) Karl Barth utilized and pillaged Calvin's theology, and entirely reconstructed Calvin's doctrine of predestination to his own revolutionary reconstruction of the doctrine of election in The Church Dogmatics, Vol. II/2. But, Barth was able to do so because he stood on the shoulders of the giant named John Calvin. Karl Barth is not an Evangelical Calvinist, but he is one the greatest interpreters and students of John Calvin, and therefore Barth was a PostCalvinist!

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Evangelicals and Evolution: Tearing Down The Wall

Evangelicals and Evolution: Tearing Down the Wall

The brick line between my feet in this photo is the location
where the Berlin Wall once stood and divided east and west Germany.

According to a famous Gallup poll, 42-47% of Americans believe in young-earth creationism (YEC), which the poll describes as the belief that "God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so". The results of this annual poll has remained relatively unchanged for over three decades. According to an analysis of this poll by Biologos, the bad news is that Americans are as strongly opposed to animal evolution as they are to human evolution, but the good news is that "nearly half of Evangelicals see science as working in collaboration with religion." The prognosis is that roughly half of American Evangelicals reject the scientific consensus on evolution and exhibit science denialism.

Why are American Evangelicals so opposed to evolution in particular and science in general? The question is difficult to answer. It's possible that people are misinformed and do not understand how evolution works. Evolution denial may be due to the prevalence of Christian Fundamentalism with its firm Biblical Literalism and Biblical Inerrancy that has mislead many Evangelicals into believing a false dilemma between religious faith and science. I don't wish to rehearse the immorality of science denialism here and now, but the benefits of science are everywhere in modern society. (Many excellent books have been published on the phenomena of American Fundamentalism and I defer to George Marsden's Fundamentalism and American Culture and Mark A. Noll's Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind.)  

The reasons for American Evangelical's disdain for evolution is manifold, however, for those who wrongly believe that Scripture prohibits its acceptance, I've assembled the following reasons why scripture is not opposed to evolution.

The Gallup poll were difficult to believe, so I ran a twitter poll, and the results are consistent with it:



Fifteen Reasons Why Evangelicals
May Embrace Evolution


1. Biblical Cosmology is Ancient Near East cosmology and cannot be translated into modern cosmology

The oldest parts of the Biblical Creation Narratives (such as Genesis ch. 2) originate from the Bronze Age in the Ancient Near East (ANE). The signposts of ANE Cosmology such as the "firmament" (and yes, it is a solid barrier) and the "deep" or "depths", appear not only in the pre-history of Genesis (ch. 1-11), but also throughout the Psalms, Job and the rest of the bible (c.f. Exo 20:4; Psa 19:1; Psa 42:7).

The Bible's ANE cosmology demonstrates that it is an ancient document that originated from antiquity, but this ancient cosmology is in complete opposition to how we know the universe is constructed today. It may come as a surprise that Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said that Genesis contains the scientific naivete of the ancient world in his commentary on Genesis 1:6-10:

"Here we have before us the ancient world picture in all its scientific naïveté. While it would not be advisable to be too mocking and self-assured, in view of the rapid changes in our own knowledge of nature, undoubtedly in this passage the biblical author stands exposed with all the limitations caused by the age in which he lived. The heavens and the seas were not formed in the way he says: we would not escape a very bad conscience if we committed ourselves to any such statement."

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Creation and Temptation. London: S. C. M., 1966. 30. Print.


Ancient "Babylonian map of World" (c. 500 BCE)

The Ancient Near East (ANE) cosmological model has been deciphered from archaeological discoveries such as the Babylonian Map of the World (depicted in the margin), and the creation and flood myths found inscribed on cuneiform tablets and steles. The most famous examples from the ANE creation myths is the Babylonian Enûma Eliš (Enuma Elish).

Peter Enns' Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament has a very helpful chapter, "The Old Testament and Ancient Near East Literature" that contains an excellent summary of the OT's dependency on ANE literature and how this doesn't set aside the OT's inspiration. Peter Enns explains the problem as follows:

". . . what standards can we reasonably expect of the Bible, seeing that it is an ancient Near East document and not a modern one. Are teh early stories in the Old Testament to be judged on the basis of standards of modern historical inquiry and scientific percision, things that ancient peoples were not at all aware? Is it not likely that GOd would have allowed his word to come to the ancient Israelites according to the standards they understood, or are modern standards of truth and error so universal that we should expect premodern cultures to have understood them? The former position is, I feel, better suited for solving the problem. The latter is often an implicit assumption of modern thinkingers, both conservative and liberal Christians, but it is somewhat myopic and should be called into question. What the Bible is must be understood in light of the culture context in which it was given."

Peter Enns

Enns, Peter. Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005. 41. Print.

To demonstrate that Genesis is an ANE document, consider how the two Creation narratives in Genesis exhibits striking similarities to the Babylonian Creation Myth (Enuma Elish). The author Genesis utilized this or very similar ANE Creation Myths, and critiqued them and repurposed them in order to reveal what that author wished to communicate through the received text of Genesis as we know it today. Even though the author of Genesis was critical of his sources, his revelation was still in the vehicle of ANE cosmology and his audience were ancient people who only knew ANE cosmology, and none of this revelation contained scientific knowledge. Karl Barth makes the following statement to explain the relationship between these two Creation tales:

"What we read in Gen 1 and 2 are genuine histories of creation. If there is a connexion with the Babylonian myth or its older sources, it is a critical connexion. Everything is so different that the only choice is either to see in the Jewish rendering a complete caricature of the Babylonian, or in the Babylonian a complete caricature of the Jewish, according to the standpoint adopted."

Karl Barth

Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, Vol. 3.1, Sections 40-42: The Doctrine of Creation, Study Edition 13London: T & T Clark, 2010. [89]. Print.

2. The three-decker cosmology of the Ancient Near East has vanished from the world



The three-tiered universe has vanished from the world. No American Evangelical believes that we could take a space ship to heaven. No one believes that God is literally 'up there' or 'out there' in the sky like was once believed in ANE cosmology. As if God was hiding on the dark side of the moon! Space is an infinite abyss, taking decades for the fastest satellites to reach the Solar Systems's known bounds. American Evangelicals cheered when New Horizons flew by the heart-faced dwarf-planet Pluto, and when the Martian rovers photographed the surface of Mars, and when the collision of the Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet collided with Jupiter.

In the ANE, people imagined a three-decker cosmos: the Earth was a flat disc encased between a subterranean ocean and a celestial ocean. The subterranean ocean was a chaotic abyss below the surface of the Earth (c.f. "depths" or "deep") from which the fountains of the Earth sprang. The celestial ocean along with the sun, moon and stars were suspended in the sky above the Earth by a solid barrier (c.f. "firmament"). Heaven was identified with the tier above, and Hell with the tier below the disc of the Earth.

Bishop J.A.T. Robinson explains this problem this way:

". . . the whole conception of a God 'out there', which has served us so well since the collapse of the three-decker universe, is itself becoming more of a hindrance than a help. In a previous age there came a moment when the three-decker likewise proved an embarrassment, even as a piece of mental furniture. But in this case there was a considerable interval between the time when it ceased to be taken literally as a model of the universe and the time when it ceased to perform a useful function as a metaphor. "

Bishop John Robinson

Robinson, John A. T. Honest to God. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1963. 16. Print.

3. Those who reject evolution today may prove to be modern versions of the people who condemned Galileo.

I've met many American Evangelicals who affirm the Ascension as a literal bodily ascent, but none who believe that Jesus ascended like superman and flew to a particular part of the universe where Heaven is located. These Evangelicals are willing to reject evolution, but none have condemned Galileo. How can this be? Maybe there is cognitive dissonance at play, where Jesus is imagined to travel into the sky until he's out of site, and then something magical happens once he is beyond view in the sky above such that Jesus goes to the Father in a puff of smoke but not to a specific location in the Solar System or somewhere far off in the uncharted Universe? What was the destination of Jesus' ascension? Jesus ascended as the creed says, but not like superhero comic books. Karl Barth provides us with this answer to the Ascension destination dilemma:

"There is no sense in trying to visualize the ascension as a literal event, like going up in a balloon. The achievements of Christian art in this field are amongst its worst perpetrations. But of course this is no reason why they should be used to make the whole things ridiculous. The point of the story is not that when Jesus left His disciples He visibly embarked upon a wonderful journey into space, but that when He left them He entered the side of the created world which was provisionally inaccessible and incomprehensible, that before their eyes He ceased to be[sic] before their eyes. This does not mean, however, that He ceased to be a creature, man."

Karl Barth

Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics Study Edition 16. Ed. T. F. Torrance and G.W. Bromiley. III.2 The Doctrine of Creation. Trans. G. W. Bromiley. London: T & T Clark, 2010. 17-8. Print. [p453-4]

The problem may be due to unwillingness to admit that the Biblical Cosmology is ANE Cosmology, as if the location of heaven had coordinates in the sky that one could fly to. Or it may be due to those who imagine that Biblical Cosmology is revealing a cosmology that is more advanced that modern cosmology, despite all the textual and archaeological evidence to the contrary. Are we to read Genesis in the same way as SEIT scours the sky for higher intelligence? Those who wish to assert the bible's cosmology against modern cosmology should be reminded that the Church has a track record of getting cosmology dreadfully wrong. And, when we are on the wrong side of cosmology, like in the Galileo affair, it is a huge setback for the Christian Christ. Those who reject evolution today may prove to be modern versions of the people who condemned Galileo.

4. The New Testament also affirms ANE cosmology

"Johannes op Patmos Jeroen Bosch" by Hieronymus Bosch (circa 1450–1516) - Web Gallery of Art:   Image  Info about artwork. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons -

"Johannes op Patmos Jeroen Bosch" by Hieronymus Bosch (circa 1450–1516)

The New Testament shares the ANE cosmology of the Old Testament. Rudolf Bultmann summarizes the NT understanding of the world well in his famous introduction of his essay New Testament and Mythology:

"The cosmology of the New Testament is essentially mythical in character. The world is viewed as a three-storied structure, with the earth in the center, the heaven above, and the underworld beneath. Heaven is the abode of God and of celestial beings--the angels. The underworld is hell, the place of torment. Even the earth is more than the scene of natural, everyday events, of the trivial and common task. It is the scene of the supernatural activity of God and his angels on the one hand, and of Satan and his demons on the other. These supernatural forces intervene in the course of nature, and in all men think and will and do. Miracles are by no means rare."

Rudolf Bultmann

Bultmann, Rudolf, Hans Werner Bartsch, and Reginald H. Fuller. Kerygma and Myth; a Theological Debate. "New Testament and Myth." New York: Harper & Row, 1961. 1. Print.

Bultmann is right about NT cosmology. The hallmarks of ANE cosmology are everywhere in the NT. The NT authors speaks often of the "four corners of the earth", or "the ends of the earth", that's consistent with the ANE model of the earth being a flat disk (cf. Mark 13:27; Romans 10:18; and Acts 1:8). They also describes a three storied world (cf. Phil 2:10; Rev 5:3,13). God is located in heaven above, where believers were be "caught up" (cf. 1 thess 4:17; 2 Cor 12:4; Rev 12:5). Hell is in the abyss below the earth. It also speaks of "ascending" or "descending" (cf. 1 Thess 4:16) between the tiers (John 3:13; 6:61f; Eph 4:9f.). Paul speaks of being caught up into heaven (cf. 2 Cor 12:2). Jesus' ascension is described as ascending like superman, and flying through space to heaven above (Acts 1:2,9-11). The NT, like the OT, does not present a competing cosmology to modern science, and it was right for the NT authors to use it to communicate to their audiences, but it is wrong for people today to use it to oppose modern science.

5. Martin Luther and John Calvin used the Bible to condemn Copernicus and Heliocentricism.

The greatest Protestant Reformers, Martin Luther and John Calvin, both condemned Copernicus for teaching that the earth orbits the sun (heliocentricism), and wrongly used the bible to defend the Sun, Moon, and stars orbit the Earth (geocentricism). (Later Protestant Reformers, including Melanchthon, repeated this error too). Eventually, their Protestant successors quietly replaced their Geocentricism with Heliocentricism, and then continued to use the Bible to confront science.

The greated argument for Young-Earth Creationism is Calvin's Doctrine of Creation in his Institutes of the Christian Religion I.xiv. This is the bedrock of Young-Earth Creationism, and contains the most famous and best arguments for six calendar-day Creationism. No matter how convincing Calvin's Doctrine of Creation appears to be, it must not be forgotten that the same John Calvin and Martin Luther also were dreadfully wrong on the structure of the cosmos. Here follows are example quotations from Luther and Calvin to demonstrates this point.

Luther called Copernicus a "fool" and condemned Heliocentricism in his Table Talk. Unfortunately, all the popular English translations of Table Talk admit to deleting Luther's geocentric statements. However, this famous quotation is frequently cited to prove Luther had cosmology wrong, and wrongly used the bible to do so.

"There is talk of a new astrologer who wants to prove that the earth moves and goes around instead of the sky, the sun, the moon, just as if somebody were moving in a carriage or ship might hold that he was sitting still and at rest while the earth and the trees walked and moved. But that is how things are nowadays: when a man wishes to be clever he must needs invent something special, and the way he does it must needs be the best! The fool wants to turn the whole art of astronomy upside-down. However, as Holy Scripture tells us, so did Joshua bid the sun to stand still and not the earth."

Martin Luther

Luther, Martin. Table Talk. Ed. Jaroslav Pelikan, Theodore G. Tappert, and Helmut T. Lehmann. Vol. 54. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1967. Print. Luther's Works.


Martin Luther

Some have said this statement from Table Talk is not reliable because it was recorded by his students over dinner conversations. It's the most famous statement, but not the only example of his believe that the sun, moon, stars, orbited the earth in the dense of fog of the firmament. Here's a quote form his Commentary on Genesis:

"This is indeed is a miraculous work of the divine Majesty that the sun runs its course so accurately and definitively and yet nowhere in the sky departs from the line along which it runs, not even by the breadth of a finger. The wonderful expanse of heavy fog Moses calls the firmament. In this subtle matter the sun and other planets have their course and movement. But who is the Master who can make this soft and tenuous substance so firm and permanent? It is certainly not nature, which cannot do this even in much smaller matters. So it must be the work of Him who spoke to the heavens and this tenuous substance, 'Let there be a firmament!' By this command He renders all things firm, and omnipotently upholds them."

Martin Luther

Luther, Martin. Luther's Commentary on Genesis. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1958. 16. Print.

John Calvin

Also John Calvin repeats the same error as Luther. (See here or more on John Calvin's rejection of Copernicus and Heliocentricism):

"those dreamers who have a spirit of bitterness and contradiction, who reprove everything and prevent the order of nature. We will see some who are so deranged, not only in religion but who in all things reveal their monstrous nature, that they will say that the sun does not move, and that it is the earth which shifts and turns."

John Calvin

John Calvin, "Sermon on 1 Corinthians 10:19-24", Calvini Opera Selecta, Corpus Refomatorum, Vol 49, 677, trans. by Robert White in "Calvin and Copernicus: the Problem Reconsidered", Calvin Theological Journal 15 (1980), p233-243, at 236-237

6. The bible accommodates revelation to the understanding of the primitive man to which it was original revealed in ancient times


Saturn's moon, Titan, is larger than the Earth's moon and has an atmosphere too.

And John Calvin agrees as well, that Genesis is astronomically incorrect and that it presupposes ANE cosmology because its intent was to accomodate the Doctrine of Creation to what the common man understood about the ancient world:

"Moses makes two great luminaries; but astronomers prove, by conclusive reasons that the star of Saturn, which on account of its great distance, appears the least of all, is greater than the moon. Here lies the difference; Moses wrote in a popular style things which without instruction, all ordinary persons, endued with common sense, are able to understand; but astronomers investigate with great labor whatever the sagacity of the human mind can comprehend."

John Calvin

Calvin, John. Trans. John King. Calvin's Commentaries. Genesis Vol. 1. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003. 86. Print. [Gen 1:16]

Many today would be benefited by following Calvin's doctrine of accommodation. Sadly, there are times where Calvin regresses to concordant interpretations of Genesis, such as when he attempts to recast the celestrial oceans of ANE cosmology as the clouds of storm systems (and I believe this is more respectible than the vapor canopy myths of Morris and Whitcomb). Genesis assumes the ANE cosmological module, and reveals the Doctrine of Creation through it in a way that ancient people would understand. It does not reveal scientific knowledge of the cosmos. This is reaffirmed by how the three-decker cosmos is related to the three levels of Noah's ark and other temple imagery such as the courts of the temple in Jerusalem.

7. The Bible does not reveal Scientific Knowledge.

The Scientific Method is a recent development of the modern era in comparison to the Bible that originated two millennia ago. It's an anachronism to expect to receive a competing scientific system from the bible that could be used to oppose any current scientific consensus. This means that the bible was written to people who couldn't understand them in paradigms that wouldnt be understood for many millennia. I've mentioned "concordant" interpretations, and by this, I am referring to anyone who wishes to harmonize the cosmology of Genesis 1 and 2 with modern cosmology. Reading the bible as such demonstrates a misunderstanding of the Bible's intention to speak to its intended audience in a way that that audience would understands. It also presents an anti-science propoganda that is maybe pathological detrimental when consistently applied to a modern societies dependent on science and technology for the necessities of life.

"Some Christians approach the text of Genesis as if it has modern science embedded in it or it dictates what modern science should look like. This approach to the text of Genesis 1 is called "concordism," as it seeks to give a modern scientific explanation for the details of the text. This represents one attempt to "translate" the culture and text for the modern reader. The problem is, we cannot translate their cosmology to our cosmology, nor should we. If we accept Genesis 1 as ancient cosmology, then we need to interpret it as ancient cosmology rather than translate it into modern cosmology. If we try to  turn it into modern cosmology, we are making the text say something it never said. It is not just a case of adding meaning (as more information has become available) it is a case of changing meaning. Since we view the text as authoritative, it is dangerous thing to change the meaning of the text into something it never intended to say."

John H. Walton

Walton, John H. The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009. 16-17. Print.

p.s. John H. Walton affirms "Biblical Inerrancy" too!  And, this same sentiment is expressed in plain terms in Karl Barth's letter to his niece:

"one can as little compare the biblical creation story with a scientific theory like that of evolution as one can compare, shall we say, an organ and a vacuum-cleaner — that there can be as little question of harmony between them as of contradiction? The creation story is a witness to the beginning or becoming of all reality distinct from God in the light of God’s later acts and words relating to his people Israel — naturally in the form of a saga or poem. The theory of evolution is an attempt to explain the same reality in its inner nexus — naturally in the form of a scientific hypothesis. The creation story deals only with the becoming of all things, and therefore with the revelation of God, which is inaccessible to science as such. The theory of evolution deals with that which has become, as it appear to human observation and research and as it invites human interpretation. Thus one’s attitude to the creation story and the theory of evolution can take the form of an either/or only if one shuts oneself off completely either from faith in God’s revelation or from the mind (or opportunity) for scientific understanding."

Karl Barth

Barth, Karl., Geoffrey Bromily (trans.), Karl Barth Letters: 1961-1968, #181 (p. 184)

8. All the early church fathers interpreted Genesis 1-2 allegorically

Has the Church always opposed science? No! Did the great early Church fathers use biblical literalism to oppose the science of their day? No! Basil the Great, Jerome, Irenaeus, and Origen interpreted Genesis allegorically. Augustine wrote a book called "The Literal Meaning of Genesis" that was anything but literal! Here's one example:

Now who is there, pray, possessed of understanding, that will regard the statement as appropriate . . . that the first day, and the second, and the third, in which also both evening and morning are mentioned, existed without sun, and moon, and stars—the first day even without a sky?  And who is found so ignorant as to suppose that God, as if He had been a husbandman, planted trees in paradise, in Eden towards the east, and a tree of life in it, i.e., a visible and palpable tree of wood, so that anyone eating of it with bodily teeth should obtain life, and, eating again of another tree, should come to the knowledge of good and evil?  No one, I think, can doubt that the statement that God walked in the afternoon in paradise, and that Adam lay hid under a tree, is related figuratively in Scripture, that some mystical meaning may be indicated by it. . . . The same style of Scriptural narrative occurs abundantly in the Gospels, as when the devil is said to have placed Jesus on a lofty mountain, that he might show Him from thence all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them.  How could it literally come to pass, either that Jesus should be led up by the devil into a high mountain, or that the latter should show him all the kingdoms of the world (as if they were lyiing beneath his bodily eyes, and adjacent to one mountain), i.e., the king­doms of the Persians, and Scythians, and Indians?)


Origen, First Principles, Book IV. 16 (Greek)

Origen's quote is not uniquely his own, but is consistent with all the early Church's allegorical and christological method to interpreting the scriptures.

9. Genesis is not eye-witness reporting

This may be a sub-point, but an important one, that Genesis is not an eye-witness report like a police report that contains nothing but brute facts. Scholars say that Genesis 1-11 is in the genre of pre-history, and it is entirely anachronistic to read it as if it were reporting modern scientific data. It's a gross error to read the pre-history of Genesis 1-11 as if it could be reproduced in a science lab. Genesis is heavily laden with symbolic phrases, such as how "Methuselah" means "man of the dart" and how Noah's flood occurred the same year that Methuselah died. To read the pre-history of Genesis 1-11 like an eye-witness report, is to set aside all the symbolic meaning that has been revealed in these Scriptures!

Karl Rahner expresses this very well, especially in the following quote from Homisation:

"Negatively it can probably be said quite simply that the account of creation in all its parts is not an 'eye-witness report' of what happened, by someone who was there, whether it be God or Adam who is thought of as the reporter. Or, to express it in more learned fashion, the account of creation does not depict the event which it reports with the actual observable features of its occurrence. Consequently it is not the report of someone who is describing and is in a position to describe a visible event of an historical kind because he was present and saw how it happened. If that were the case, then the figurative trappings and modes of expression which are present would be meaningless there. Nor would a reader expect them, if the occurrence to be reported had its own actual observable historical and therefore at all times intelligible and communicable features and provided the reporter were present at the event. Nor are the figurative modes of expression simply to explained as didactic devices designed to assist a primitive hearer's comprehension, for even to him much could have been differently said without prejudice to his understanding."

Karl Rahner

Karl Rahner, Homisation: The Official Teaching of The Church on Man in Relation to the Scientific Theory of Evolution, pg 34-35

10. A literal reading of Genesis 1-2 makes it impossible to understand

Seventh Day of Creation (from the 1493 Nuremberg Chronicle)

Seventh Day of Creation (1493 Nuremberg Chronicle)

Genesis contains two Creation narratives, and a strictly literal reading of these two accounts makes them impossible to harmonize. The first narrative is Genesis 1:1-2:3 and contains the famous six days of Creation, and the second narrative is considered to be the older account by scholars for the cruder vocabulary and use of the divine name "Yahweh" is Genesis 2:4-25.

The first narrative is more poetic in its presentation and has symbolic redundancies (such as triads), and the second narrative follows are more natural botanical order. The conservative Reformed theologian, Meredith Kline, in his essay, Because It Has Not Rained, explains that a strictly natural read of these accounts according to twenty-four-hour days results in a "ludicrous" interpretation of these two Genesis accounts, and asserts that anyone who entertains such a reading exhibits a "strange blindness".

The results, indeed, approach the ludicrous when it is attempted to synchronize Gen. 2:5 with Genesis 1 interpreted in terms of a week of twenty-four-hour days. On that interpretation, vegetation was created on what we may call "Tuesday". Therefore, the vegetationless situation described in Gen. 2:5 cannot be located later than "Tuesday" morning. Neither can it be located earlier than that for Gen. 2:5 assumes the existence of dry land which does not appear until the "third day". Besides, would it not have been droll to attribute the lack of vegetation to the lack of water either on "Sunday" when the earth itself was quite unfashioned or on "Monday" when there was nothing but water to be seen? Hence the twenty-four-hour day theorist must think of the Almighty as hesitant to put in the plants on "Tuesday" morning because it would not rain until later in the day! (It must of course be supposed that it did rain, or at least that some supply of water was provided, before "Tuesday" was over, for by the end of the day the earth was abounding with that vegetation which according to Gen. 2:5 had hitherto been lacking for want of water.)

How can a serious exegete fail to see that such a reconstruction of a "Tuesday morning" in a literal creation week is completely foreign to the historical perspectives of Gen. 2:5? It is a strange blindness that questions the orthodoxy of all who reject the traditional twenty-four-hour day theory when the truth is that endorsement of that theory is incompatible with belief in the self-consistency of the Scriptures.

Meredith Kline

Meredith Kline, Because It Has Not Rained

11. What genre is Genesis 1-2? The answer is Saga!

Lascaux Cave Paintings

Lascaux Cave Paintings (circa 17,500 BCE).

What genre of literature is Genesis 1 & 2? Is it Myth? Legend? Eye-witness report? Objective history? Karl Barth says that the best answer is "saga", because saga makes Genesis make sense in its historical milieu. Saga roots the narrative in historical events, but doesnt not restrict the Scriptures and prevent them from communication more than purely brute facts like a police report. These pre-history Scriptures present history and an interpreation of history, that is commonly described by the two German words for history: historiche and gistechte

Karl Barth defines "saga" as follows:

"I am using saga in the sense of an intuitive and poetic picture of a pre-historical reality of history which is enacted once and for all within the confines of time and space. Legend and anecdote are to be regarded as a degenerate form of saga: legend as the depiction in saga form of a concrete individual personality; and anecdote as the sudden illumination in saga form either of a personality of this kind or of a concretely historical situation. If the concept of myth proves inadequate—as is still to be shown—it is obvious that the only concept to describe the biblical history of creation is that of saga."

Karl Barth

Barth, Karl. "Church Dogmatics Study Edition 21" Ed. T. F. Torrance and G.W. Bromiley. III.1 The Doctrine of Creation. Trans. G. W. Bromiley. London: T & T Clark, 2010. 81. Print.

12. A century ago, America's greatest theologians embraced evolution including B. B. Warfield and Charles Hodge

Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield's breeding of horses lead him to affirm evolution

The late 18th century and early 19th century was a time when science was embraced by the Church and a time when people believed that everything that could be known would be known (another belief that is abandoned today!) This is exemplified by the embracing of evolution by America's greatest late 19th and early 20th century theologians including "the lion of Princeton" B.B. Warfield and "the Guardian of Orthodoxy" Charles Hodge. The foundation of American Evangelicalism today was build on the foundation of these two men's works, which affirmed evolution! So American Evangelicals disdain for evolution and science has only arisen due to controversies in the last hundred or so years after the sunset of these great American Evangelical luminaries!

B.B. Warfield is the father of Biblical Inerrancy: the very doctrine that prohibits many American Evangelicals today from embracing evolution! If Warfield had not written The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, then there may not have been any controversy over Biblical Inerrancy today, because there would be no such thing as "inerrancy." If inerrancy is a road block for any American Evangelical today, then they must be reminded that the founder of this American made pseudo-dilemma, B.B. Warfield, was also the most famous advocate of evolution, over a hundred years before the scientific consensus of evolution was established! Read this quotation by Warfield on Evolution:

"It should scarcely be passed without remark that Calvin's doctrine of creation is, if we have understood it aright, for all except the souls of men, an evolutionary one. The 'indigested mass', including the 'promise and potency' of all that was yet to be, was called into being by the simple fiat of God. But all that has come into being since - except the souls of men alone - has arisen as a modification of this original world-stuff by means of the interaction of its intrinsic forces. Not these forces apart from God, of course: Calvin is a high theist, that is, supernaturalist, in his ontology of the universe and in his conception of the whole movement of the universe. To him God is the prima causa omnium and that not merely in the sense that all things ultimately - in the world-stuff - owe their existence to God; but in the sense that all the modifications of the world-stuff have taken place under the directly upholding and governing hand of God, and find their account ultimately in His will. But they find their account proximately in 'second causes'; and this is not only evolutionism but pure evolutionism."

B.B. Warfield

B.B. Warfield, "Calvin's Doctrine of Creation"

Mark A. Noll and David Livingstone has compiled all of Warfield's writings on evolution into an indispensable volume: B.B. Warfield: Evolution, Science and Scripture: Selected Writings, which also contains Warfield's essay on Calvin's Doctrine of CreationAnd if you think that Warfield is an anomaly, remember that Charles Hodge affirmed evolution as well!  Why is this important? It demonstrates that the Reformed Church has been on the right track with its doctrine of providence, and how providence is a foundational basis for the patience process of God by which his "mediate Creation" (as Warfield described it) came into being.

Charles Hodge

Charles Hodge also affirmed evolution

If Warfield is not sufficient proof, then know that the same is true for Charles Hodge, "The Guardian of American Orthodoxy". Hodge said this:

"This of course does not imply that the sacred writers were infallible except for the special purpose for which they were employed. They were not imbued with plenary knowledge. As to matters of science, philosophy, and history, they stood on the same level with their contemporaries. They were infallible only as teachers, and when acting as spokesmen of God. Their inspiration no more made them astronomers than it made them agriculturists. Isaiah was infallible in his predictions, although he shared with his countrymen the views then prevalent as to the mechanism of the universe."

Charles Hodge

Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1, p165.

13. The Church is not against Evolution: Protestants and Catholics agree!

The Reformed Church is not the only one to embrace the science of evolution. The Catholic Church is famous for condemning Galileo, but she is not against evolution today! The famous provost for the new Atheists and evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins in an unusual charming moment, has explained this situation well in a very good book on Evolution, The Greatest Show on Earth (despite some occasional and annoying jibjabs at Christians):

"The Archbishop of Canterbury has no problem with evolution nor does the Pope (give or take the odd wobble over the precise paleontological junction when the human soul was injected), nor do educated priests and professors of theology. . . . Bishops and theologians who have attended to evidence for evolution have given up the struggle against it. . . . But, grudgingly in some case, happily in others, thoughtful and rational churchmen and women accept the evidence for evolution. What we must not do is complacently assume that, because bishops and educated clergy accept evolution, so do theri congregations. More than 40 per cent of Americans deny that humans evolved from other animals, and think that we . . . were created within the last 10,000 years."

Richard Dawkins

Dawkins, Richard. The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution. United Kingdom: Free,, Transworld, 2009. 6. Print.

The Catholic position on evolution is the most intriguing to me, because they are the historical church in the West, and all Protestants have descended from Catholics, so we share the same family tree. The Catholic Church is open to a moderate theory of evolution, according to Karl Rahner, and as defined by Humani Generis. The point of controversy for Catholics is whether the body may have developed according to an evolutionary process and the soul was a uniquely created. In Hominisation, Karl Rahner explores the evolutionary questions, and he also has an amazing essay on Monogenism vs Polygenism in his Theological Investigations, Vol. 1. In this quotation, Rahner answers whehther Catholics may affirm evolutionary science:

Display at the Natural History Museum in NYC comparing a human child to a chimpanzee

Display at the Natural History Museum in NYC comparing a human child to a chimpanzee

"Although a moderate theory of evolution is not objected to by the teaching Church at the present time, it does not follow that the theological question is thereby settled and that the whole matter henceforward is a purely scientific one. The immediate creation of the spiritual soul and the substantial unity of man's nature in body and spirit are, of course, Catholic dogmas. Consequently the Christian can only hold a moderate theory of evolution quatenus nempe de humani corporis origine inquirit (in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body), as Humani Generis says (Denzinger 2327). The term moderate evolution might therefore be applied to a theory which simply inquires into the biological reality of man in accordance with the formal object of the biological sciences as defined by their methods and which affirms a real genetic connection between that human biological reality and the animal kingdom, but which also in accordance with the fundamental methodological principles of those sciences, cannot and does not attempt to assert that it has made a statement adequate to the whole reality of man and to the origin of this whole reality."

Karl Rahner

Karl Rahner, Homanisation

14. Historical Adam is an Evangelical Controversy, not a Scriptural Fact

The so-called Historical Adam is a controversy of similar proportions to evolution for American Evangelicals. This controversy could be entirely dismantled if we were to admit that "we all are Adam". Whomever Adam was is obscured by the light of the second Adam, Jesus Christ. Adam refers to all people, and specifically to Jesus who is the redeemer of all. So all the controversies surrounding the so-called historical Adam may be safely set aside and treated in a similar manner to the question of how many angels may dance on the head of a pin. (Maybe if the theologians of ancient past had avoided such secondary debates when the raiders were coming, then the Hagia Sophia might have never become a mosque or museum.) Karl Barth has provided us great relief to this controversy in his scriptural explanation of the Historical Adam:

The Bible gives to this history and to all men in this sense the general title of Adam. Adam is mentioned relatively seldom both in the Old Testament and the New. There are only two passages which treat of him explicitly: Gen 2-3 and Rom 5:12-21 (to which we might add 1 Cor 15:22,45). The meaning of Adam is simply man, and as the bearer of this name which denotes the being and essence of all other men, Adam appears in the Genesis story as the man who owes his existence directly to the creative will and Word and act of God without any human intervention, the man who is to that extent the first man. . . . It is the name of Adam the transgressor which God gives to world-history as a whole. The name of Adam sums up this history as the history of the mankind which God has given up, given up to its pride on account of its pride. . . . It is continually like it. With innumerable variations it constantly repeats it. It constantly re-enacts the little scene in the garden of Eden. There never was a golden age. There is no point in looking back to one. The first man was immediately the first sinner.

Karl Barth

Barth, Karl. Trans. G. W. Bromiley. Church Dogmatics: IV.1 The Doctrine of Reconciliation. Ed. G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance. Vol. 22. London: T & T Clark, 2009. [507-08]. Print. Study Edition.

For those concerned with whether the scriptures allow for mankind to have originated with a single pair (monogenism) or from a group of hominids (polygenism), I highly recommend as a starting point Karl Rahner's essay on "Theological Reflections on Monogenism" in his Theological Investigations, Vol. 1. (Rahner sided with monogenism in this essay, but it is commonly believed that he embraced polygenism later in life). Peter Enns also has an excellent book, The Evolution of Adam, that is equally helpful (and a bit more accessible than Rahner's essay).

15. Evolution ends the human being's godlike position on the Earth

One last helpful point from Moltmann's Ethics of Hope is how evolution de-god's man. Man is no longer a demiurge over the Earth, he has originated from the earth and his life depends on the earth. This is very similar to the opening of the Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin, when he is debating which comes first, the Knowledge of God or Man, and Calvin makes the excellent observation that after man is blinded by looking up for God, he then looks down at the earth, and this allows him to see himself in relationship to God. So our knowledge of God is incomplete without our realization that he has made us from the dust of the ground. Moltmann makes this point in his recent book, The Ethics of Hope:

“If Darwin is right and human beings and apes have a common ancestry, this means the end of the human being’s godlike position. As the Bible says, he is formed of the earth and can fulfil his specific human tasks only within the community of creation. Since we have come to realize that it is the religious-scientific anthropocentricism of modern times which has brought us to the present ecological crisis of nature and human civilization, we no longer see Darwin’s evolutionary theory as an attack on Christian anthropology, but begin to understand that the human being belongs to the same family as other living things on this fruitful earth. That is ultimately also the substance of the covenant with Noah, with which creation begins afresh after the Flood. It is a covenant ‘with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature’ (Gen. 9.9–10). So all living creatures are God’s covenant partners and our covenant partners too.”

Jürgen Moltmann

Moltmann, Jürgen. Ethics of Hope. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2012. 324. Print


Oh, how many controversies might have been avoided, if the bible had been printed with the New Testament before the Old Testament, and if then the Gospel of John might have been the first book of the New Testament. This would have caused Christians everywhere to read John 1 instead of Genesis 1, and I wonder if this alone would have made the world a different place for American Evangelicals who are opposed to evolution specifically and science in general. On the contrary to those who say that Genesis 1 and 2 is the hinge by which the entire bible swings, I respond that such an attitude makes Genesis 1 and 2 a hingeless door that prevents anyone from proceeding through it and further into the bible!

As a final ecumenical word, if the argument that has been presented here is convincing to you, I encourage you to love our American Evangelical brothers and sisters in Christ who do not agree. Raymond E. Brown once gave some excellent advice on how to counteract Christian Fundamentalism, and here is one last quote I leave you with as you go in grace and peace:

"Do not attack fundamentalists as if they were fools or ignorant. Often, biblical literalism is an attitude of self-defensiveness for even extremely intelligent people who have been trapped. They want to preserve their faith in God, and this seems to them the only way. They will understand your attacks on them as an attack on their faith. There can be fundamentalists very well-informed in biblical archaeology and languages. They will have developed apologetic arguments against any nonliteral positions. For example, if one is against evolution, one can argue that God created the world with fossils already in it and, therefore, that the fossil proof for evolution can be dismissed!"

Raymond E. Brown

Brown, Raymond E. 101 Questions and Answers on the Bible. New York: Paulist, 1990. 46-48. Print.

(Note: All images in this post are either from Wikipedia, or from my personal collection.)

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