Karl Barth

When leaders fall

David, Nathan, you are the man.jpg

More resignations, more shocking details of a leader in disgrace. Bill Hybels joins John Howard Yoder and Karl Barth in the hall of shame. Few leaders finish well.

The Bible is strong on grace without ever losing sight of the reality and seriousness of sin. Forget the debates on once saved always saved. We can all agree that saving faith perseveres to the end. It is perilous to confess Christ with your lips and set our hearts to deny him in deeds.

We are at war. Jesus laid out the terrain in Mark 13 and Matthew 24. Between his first and second coming the world will be characterized by conflict, natural disasters, wars, false prophets and the ever-present temptation to fall away. The danger is real.

So who makes it through? The ones who in their weakness, cast themselves on him. This world is passing away. Jesus has overcome the world. He led the way as the obedient Son who entrusted himself to his Father and triumphed over sin, death and Satan. His victory is ours.

There was a time in my life when I had no hope left. I wasn’t convinced my life was worth living. I had no strength left. The enemy was using my weakness to bring death and destruction. God had another plan. In my brokenness, I called out to God. I claimed my identity as one hidden in Christ’s death and resurrection. I rebelled against the reality I was experiencing. God is faithful and in his time and in his way he restored me.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians, 

We do not want you to be uninformed … about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead (2 Cor 1:8-9).

Leaders don’t fall because they are not strong enough, they fall because in their weakness they rely on themselves, not the God who raises the dead.

What we can all learn from Karl Barth

Karl Barth

Karl Barth

Karl Barth was the greatest theologian of the 20th century. He was also steadfastly unfaithful to his wife, Nelly.

The affair with his personal assistant, Charlotte von Kirschbaum, lasted decades. He caused great pain to his wife and children by insisting his mistress move into the family home.

Barth had his theological justifications for the affair. Something about the dialectical nature of truth. Proving it's possible to be smart and stupid at the same time. 

For Barth, the Word of God is veiled in the fallible human words of Scripture. The Bible becomes the Word of God only through the subjective revelation of the Spirit.

If you’re smart enough and recognize no higher authority than yourself, you can justify anything. This is the great danger of moving away from radical obedience to the teachings of Jesus and the whole of Scripture. This is the folly of placing ourselves above the authority of God's Word. It's as old as Adam and as current as postmodernism.

Who am I to condemn Karl Barth? The words of Jesus do. He warned of the perils sexual sin. Pluck out your eye! Cut off your hand! Anything is better than facing God's judgment (Matt 5:27-30). If you're living a double life, put it right now.

Sin is serious stuff. It’s the reason he went to the Cross. That’s why the heart of discipleship is learning together to obey what Jesus taught (Matt 28:18-20). There's a price to pay and it's worth it.