«Gottes kräftiger Anspruch» : Die Barmer Theologische Erklärung als reformierter Schlüsseltext

Die sechs Thesen der Barmer Theologischen Erklärung von 1934 gehören zum protestantischen Traditionsgut. Aber wie vital sind sie eigentlich? Die Autorinnen und Autoren dieses Bandes konzentrieren sich auf das reformierte Profil der Barmer Thesen. Was heisst es heute, dass Jesus Christus das eine Wort Gottes ist? Was, ihn als «Gottes kräftigen Anspruch» auf unser ganzes Leben zu bekennen? Warum fehlen die Juden in diesem Text und mit welchen Folgen? Welchen Beitrag leisten die Thesen zur politischen Ethik? Die weltweite Rezeption der Barmer Theologischen Erklärung kommt ebenso zur Sprache wie die brisante Frage, ob und mit welchem Anspruch heute noch bestimmte Glaubenspositionen verworfen werden können. Alle Aspekte kreisen um die zentrale Frage: Warum sollen wir heute «Barmen» noch lesen, diskutieren, bekennen?

TVZ sent a review copy.

The central question which occupies the present volume is a simple one: is the Barmen Declaration still useful?

In an attempt to answer this question, the contributors first describe and discuss the six theses of which the Declaration is comprised (Part 1).  Then a consideration of the Declaration’s biblical and historical contexts is proffered (Part 2).  And then finally the ‘reception history’ (for lack of a better umbrella term) is examined (Part 3).

The volume concludes with an index of biblical texts and a brief bio of the collection’s authors.

The essays here collected were originally papers delivered in Bern at a series of lectures commemorating the 80th anniversary of the Declaration.  Fourteen essays by as many authors cover the topics described above and some of the contributors are ‘super-stars’ in the historical theology field.  These include Gottfried Wilhelm Locher, Peter Opitz, and Peter Winzeler.

A book of this sort will interest many, and since the table of contents is the open window on the volume’s intention, I include a couple of photos of the full TOC (since they aren’t online):

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As can be seen, the essays all cohere around the theme of the work.  They are uniformly well written and very helpful indeed- not only in assessing the ongoing relevance of the Declaration but in setting the text in its historical setting.

I feel quite comfortable in recommending this volume and it isn’t saying too much if I suggest that readers will thoroughly enjoy it.  I did.  It begins with the right tone and carries that tone to the conclusion.  The font is lovely and the several photographs of the Declaration which open the work are very interesting indeed given their marginalia.

And, just on the off chance that readers of this review are not sure of the content of the Barmen Theological Declaration- here it is:

In view of the errors of the “German Christians” and of the present Reich Church Administration, which are ravaging the Church and at the same time also shattering the unity of the German Evangelical Church, we confess the following evangelical truths:

1. “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life; no one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold through the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved.” John 10:1,9

Jesus Christ, as he is attested to us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God whom we have to hear, and whom we have to trust and obey in life and in death.

We reject the false doctrine that the Church could and should recognize as a source of its proclamation, beyond and besides this one Word of God, yet other events, powers, historic figures and truths as God’s revelation.

2. “Jesus Christ has been made wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption for us by God.” 1 Cor. 1:30

As Jesus Christ is God’s comforting pronouncement of the forgiveness of all our sins, so, with equal seriousness, he is also God’s vigorous announcement of his claim upon our whole life. Through him there comes to us joyful liberation from the godless ties of this world for free, grateful service to his creatures.

We reject the false doctrine that there could be areas of our life in which we would not belong to Jesus Christ but to other lords, areas in which we would not need justification and sanctification through him.

3. “Let us, however, speak the truth in love, and in every respect grow into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body is joined together.” Eph. 4:15-16

The Christian Church is the community of brethren in which, in Word and Sacrament, through the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ acts in the present as Lord. With both its faith and its obedience, with both its message and its order, it has to testify in the midst of the sinful world, as the Church of pardoned sinners, that it belongs to him alone and lives and may live by his comfort and under his direction alone, in expectation of his appearing.

We reject the false doctrine that the Church could have permission to hand over the form of its message and of its order to whatever it itself might wish or to the vicissitudes of the prevailing ideological and political convictions of the day.

4. “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to have authority over you must be your servant.” Matt. 20:25-26

The various offices in the Church do not provide a basis for some to exercise authority over others but for the ministry [lit., “service”] with which the whole community has been entrusted and charged to be carried out.

We reject the false doctrine that, apart from this ministry, the Church could, and could have permission to, give itself or allow itself to be given special leaders [Führer] vested with ruling authority.

5. “Fear God. Honor the Emperor.” 1 Pet. 2:17

Scripture tells us that by divine appointment the State, in this still unredeemed world in which also the Church is situated, has the task of maintaining justice and peace, so far as human discernment and human ability make this possible, by means of the threat and use of force. The Church acknowledges with gratitude and reverence toward God the benefit of this, his appointment. It draws attention to God’s Dominion [Reich], God’s commandment and justice, and with these the responsibility of those who rule and those who are ruled. It trusts and obeys the power of the Word, by which God upholds all things.

We reject the false doctrine that beyond its special commission the State should and could become the sole and total order of human life and so fulfil the vocation of the Church as well.

We reject the false doctrine that beyond its special commission the Church should and could take on the nature, tasks and dignity which belong to the State and thus become itself an organ of the State.

6. “See, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matt. 28:20 “God’s Word is not fettered.” 2 Tim. 2:9

The Church’s commission, which is the foundation of its freedom, consists in this: in Christ’s stead, and so in the service of his own Word and work, to deliver all people, through preaching and sacrament, the message of the free grace of God.

We reject the false doctrine that with human vainglory the Church could place the Word and work of the Lord in the service of self-chosen desires, purposes and plans.

The Confessing Synod of the German Evangelical Church declares that it sees in the acknowledgment of these truths and in the rejection of these errors the indispensable theological basis of the German Evangelical Church as a confederation of Confessing Churches. It calls upon all who can stand in solidarity with its Declaration to be mindful of these theological findings in all their decisions concerning Church and State. It appeals to all concerned to return to unity in faith, hope and love.

Verbum Dei manet in aeternum.
The Word of God will last for ever.

The declaration’s final word is true of Scripture, and it may also be true of this important document.  Our volume faithfully informs us of its abiding significance and if history, as they say, repeats itself, we can expect the Declaration to retain its importance for as long as human history continues.