42 They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.” - John 4:39-42
As I continue my foray into Church Dogmatics IV, I am deluged by things I want to write about. But something jumped out at me today that both reminded me of the above scripture in John's Gospel and of the Pentecostal emphasis on the need for a personal encounter with God.
In the early pages of the section "The Way of the Son of God into the Far Country" (p.157ff in the T&T Clark Edition), Barth begins his threefold division of redemption that he has just spent 150-plus pages "introducing." For Barth, the incarnate Son of God cannot be abstracted from the event of atonement. The incarnation of the Son is the atonement. But Barth does say that the event of atonement can be examined on three different levels: the God who reconciles, man who is reconciled, and God-and-man in reconciliation. He begins his exploration of the God who reconciles with an examination of how Jesus appears in the New Testament, particularly the Synoptic Gospels.
In the Synoptics,
"He [Jesus] is not simply a better man, a more gifted, a more wise or noble or pious, in short a greater man. But as against all other men and their differences we have in the person of this man One who is their Lord and Lawgiver and Judge." (p.160)Barth goes on,
"The New Testament community does not merely think, but lives and acts in the knowledge and on the presupposition that in this man 'dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily' (Col. 2:9)" (p.160)After spending some time reinforcing this, particularly in his own context, deeply important point, Barth makes some comments that are both very typical of his theology of revelation but also very significant for we Pentecostals who see ourselves as above all a missional community of Christ.
"He is to them [i.e., to the New Testament community] the Christ, the Kyrios, the Son of Man and the Son of God, the One who is absolutely different and exalted, even before they describe Him in this way. And when they do describe Him in this way, they appeal in some sense to Himself - that He Himself continually attests to Himself as such. And in relation to others they count on it happening that they too may accept - not their own representation and appraisal of a man honoured by them - but the Word of Jesus, His self-attestation of His majesty, of his unity with God...
"When the New Testament attests Him to be such, it speaks of His resurrection from the dead. Only secondarily, and in this way, does it speak of the records of it. And in relation to others His witnesses expect that the same Holy Spirit who has revealed this to them will not be silent to others." (pp.162-163, emphasis mine)Within these observations by Barth, the first thing that can be seen is Barth's theology of scripture as a "witness to the Word of God" rather than the Word of God itself (or, himself). The New Testament, for Barth, is the authoritative collection of documents by the community of Jesus' original witnesses. But it is not the Word of God. It is a witness to the Word, and by the Spirit can become the Word of God afresh. But while the text is authoritative, ultimate sovereignty is not in the text but in the God who is witnessed to in the text and who is Lord over the text. The Spirit witnesses to Jesus who shows us the Father. Only God himself can be the Word of God. Only God can reveal God. Revelation is a trinitarian event. And so the Bible becomes the Word of God only in the power of the Spirit of God, and only as it reveals Jesus.
As Pentecostal Christians, we are people of the Spirit. We believe that the Spirit of God is sovereign, active, and powerful. We also believe that salvation is not simply adherence to particular doctrinal formulas or participation in particular sacramental rituals. Doctrine matters, and the sacraments are beginning to be more deeply appreciated, but nothing takes the place of personally encountering Jesus Christ by faith. Like the Samaritans, everyone needs to "hear for themselves" the voice of Christ by the Spirit. And Barth reminds us not only that this is so, but that we can trust Jesus and the Spirit to introduce themselves to those who don't yet know their Lord. He does so, first and foremost, through the Bible, but also through faithful preaching and witnessing. But it is not ultimately us who reveal Jesus. The self-revelation of God only happens when people personally meet this God. And they meet this God when he introduces himself in Christ and by the Spirit.