The Attractions of Christian Metaphysics: Part 3, The Prophetic Capacity

One of Karl Barth's great criticisms of liberal Christianity, and liberal humanism generally, was how it lacked the prophetic resources to stand against Nazi Germany.

The guiding idea behind liberal Christianity is to unpack all the metaphysical and "mythological" material in the Bible in purely humanistic terms. Replace the transcendent with the immanent, the divine with the human, the sacred with the ethical.

But as Barth pointed out, the trouble with liberal Christianity is that if God is just the good then God becomes a cipher for whatever the prevailing culture says is good.  

The biblical term for this conflation is idolatry, making God into our own image.

The evil potential of idolatry is that when human beings turn to the dark side God comes along to legitimate that darkness, or at least stand placidly to the side. This is why liberal theology lacked the prophetic resources to stand against Hitler. Liberal theology reduced God to the Volk (the people, nation and race), and then the Volk went dark side. And the the German church followed.

But God, said Barth, is Wholly Other. God cannot be reduced to the human. God cuts across the Volk.

God's Wholly Otherness creates a prophetic capacity, the prophet's ability to utter a "Thus sayest the Lord!" over against the Volk.

Again, metaphysics. Metaphysics creates prophetic capacity, a place where the prophet can stand above and against the Volk--the nation, the people, the race.

To be sure, one doesn't need to invoke the Hebrew and Christian God to stand as a prophet. But one does need to claim a metaphysical perch, a universal moral perspective that stands above the ethics of a nation, people or race. If a person tries to work within the system they are not a prophet, they are a politician. And while much good and great work can be achieved by politics as usual, there are times when prophets are required. And prophets, by definition, don't work within political systems. Prophets stand outside the system, as a voice crying in the wilderness.

So again, metaphysics.

And one of the great attractions of Christian metaphysics is its Hall of Fame roster of prophets.

From Moses ("Let my people go!") to the prophets of Israel ("Let justice roll down like a river!") to John the Baptist to Jesus.

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