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Neo-Orthodox?

by Norman P. Grubb

May-June 1981 Union life Magazine

Q. Are you Neo-Orthodox?

A. It almost makes me laugh to think that such a question could be asked of us ardent Bible-believers! But again I think I know why, though this may have a more personal source.

The term neo-orthodox was coined by the liberal theologians and preachers of Germany when one of their supposed liberal ministers produced his famous Romerbrief. That was Karl Barth’s “Epistle to the Romans.” Because of the shocks of World War I and the unrest in what had been a comparatively peaceful world, and under the strong influence of Kierkegaard, Barth radically changed his liberal position and produced this commentary on Romans, verse by verse. It not only adhered faithfully to the letter as written, but gave to his liberal colleagues an explosive new interpretation of the “wholly other God” (a favourite term of Barth’s). It proclaimed the total revealed gospel of our redemption through his Son, incarnate, crucified, risen and ascended, and so sent hundreds of ministers, with little gospel in their understanding or messages, back to the Christ of the Bible. For Barth, the God of Romans was only approachable through the atoning sacrifice of His Son and the inner witness of the Spirit in response to faith. I have personally received such benefit and insights through Barth’s Romerbrief that I have read it many times. I delight in it, and said so in my autobiography, Once Caught, No Escape.

But is it also a fact that, though I never found it in his Romerbrief, Barth did not believe in the inerrancy of the Scriptures in the same total sense that we do? He admitted the possibility of Scripture containing elements of human thought. And it was this which brought out the new term “neo-orthodoxy.” For this reason, we of the evangelical world have always disassociated ourselves from neo-orthodoxy. Through neo-orthodoxy some liberals came some way back to Scripture truth and to the preaching of Christ in His atoning sacrifice as the only Savior, but they doubted the validity of certain passages of Scripture. As they grew in strength and numbers, it was necessary that we evangelicals make our disagreement known. Strong books were written, such as Van Til’s, exposing the dangers to us Bible-believers of neo-orthodoxy, and that meant naming Barth as the originator. Therefore, I presume the only reason we in Union Life have ever had the new-orthodox label attached to us is that I approve of Barth’s Romerbrief. I have always received great benefits from rescuing valuable babies from soapy bathwater, though I find no soap in that Romans book!