T. F. Torrance on Karl Barth and the church:

This is where the diastasis comes in in Barth’s diacritical doctrine of the Church. The Church cannot fulfill its function in the hands of God except by being broken, in repentance and suffering and dissolution in the hands of God, but then it is made to point beyond itself and finds its essential life in witness and mission. The tragedy of the Church is that it clutches itself and nurses itself, and regards itself as the prolongation of grace, as the extension of religious experience, and so makes itself into an ex-essential denial of grace and the supernatural kingdom of God. But that is the way that has been taken by neo-Protestantism which has attempted to construct a religion out of the Gospel, and so to set it as one human possibility in the midst of others — but that is precisely to fall from grace. “The Church which sings its triumphs and trams and popularizes and modernizes itself, in order to minister to and satisfy every need except the one; the Church which, in spite of many exposures, is still satisfied with itself, and, like Quicksilver, still seeks and finds its own level; such a Church can never succeed, be it never so zealous, never so active in ridding itself of its failings and blemishes. With or without its offenses, it can never be the Church of God, because it is ignorant of the meaning of repentance [Romerbrief, 370]. (Thomas F. Torrance, “Karl Barth: An Introduction to His Early Theology 1910 — 1931,” 91)

This is very penetrating commentary on Karl Barth by Torrance; and I think very applicable for the American church today. Barth is attacking the anthropocentric foundation of the Christian religion forwarded by figures like Schleiermacher; which based the Christian religion on a pietistic/in Word focused trajectory. Instead of the Christian faith being founded upon a Christological emphasis, Schleiermacher, and others, provided an anthropocentric foundation — this is what Barth is railing against, and rightly so!

If the church does not start with Christ, or grace, then she starts with self, which, by and large is reflective of the American church. She has the same pietistic foundation as Schleiermacher, although not as explicit or as self-conscious, thus her shape is generally pelagian. I think the state of the American church is argument enough for my assertions. She is preoccupied with self, and not preoccupied with Christ. I think she needs to listen to the admonition of Karl Barth, and learn to listen to Christ!

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