Quotable Barth: Our “Paper Pope”

This is how Karl Barth describes the shift towards Biblicism that took place in much of Protestantism after the Reformation:

The Bible was now grounded upon itself apart from the mystery of Christ and the holy Ghost. It became a “paper Pope,” and unlike the living Pope in Rome it was wholly given up into the hands of its interpreters. It was no longer a free and spiritual force, but an instrument of human power. (CD I.2, p 525)

Here is where Barth finds the great sin of Biblicism. Rather than submitting to the Word made flesh revealed in the Bible (i.e. Jesus), we have all-to-often submitted simply to the book, to the Bible. Which ultimately takes the authority away from Christ and places it into the hands of the interpreter of Scripture.

I hope to blog more about Barth and Biblicism in the near future (as Barth will actually be addressing the subject more directly in chapter 20, which I am about to start). Christian Smith’s eye-opening book,  The Bible Made Impossible (which I read in December), is a devastating critique of Biblicism… and actually offers Barth’s Christocentric hermeneutic as as a way forward.

Is the Canon Closed?

Sort of. Not exactly. Or so I take it from Karl Barth.

This is an issue that tends to be taken for granted in most American Evangelical churches…. where a typical doctrinal statement says something about how the “Sixty-six books of the Bible are the inspired and infallible Word of God.” But Barth maintains that throughout church history it has been an open question worth repeated conversation and confirmation.

“In the past there has already been more than one proposal to narrow or broaden the human perception of what ought to count as canonical Scripture, and if the proposals never came to anything they were at least seriously considered. The insight that the concrete form of the Canon is not closed absolutely, but only very relatively, cannot be denied even with a view to the future.” (CD I.2, p 476)

In fact, Luther’s criterion for testing Scripture was whether it “sets forth Christ or not.” And other Reformers (like Calvin and Zwingli) are among those Barth cites as openly engaging the question of the canon (and had reservations about particular books of the Bible). They engaged in a question that many churches today would consider out-of-bounds.

Barth still says that the canon is driven by consensus in the church… and that until consensus changes, “we have steadfastly to accept the force and validity of decisions already taken both in respect of the faith and also of the Canon.” (p. 479) After all, the canon of Scripture wasn’t chosen by the church… it forced itself on the church by it’s own inspiration. But that doesn’t mean that the conversation is to be considered closed.

What say you? What is the canon? Is it to be considered closed? Why? Why not?