Karl Barth’s Letter to Diognetus

Letter to DiognetusThe god of the philosophers. A lot of people have beef with this “god.” With good reason too – God cannot come to be known through pure rationality. With that much I agree. I do believe that philosophy has an important role in articulating our theological convictions, but I would never say that philosophical reflection can lead us to true beliefs about our Trinitarian God. Knowledge of God is rooted in God’s revelation of himself. Only God can reveal God and we can known nothing about God unless God has chosen to reveal himself to us. This is the same argument that the author of the Letter to Diognetus makes to Diognetus:

As a matter of fact, before he [Christ] came, what man had any knowledge of God at all?  2Or do you really accept the idle nonsense talked by those plausible philosophers, some of whom asserted that God was fire—the very thing that they are on the point of going to, they call God!—while others claimed that he was water, and others said that he was yet another one of the elements created by God?  3And yet, if any one Of these lines of argument is acceptable, then each and every one of the other creatures could in the same way be shown to be God.  4No, this is just quackery and deceit practiced by wizards.  5No man has ever seen God or made him known, but he has manifested himself… (The Letter to Diognetus 8:1-5)

Christ is God’s word – without Christ there is no knowledge of God – revelation is God’s self-revelation of himself. Christianity is not a human attempt to find God, rather it is founded on God’s revelation of himself, it is founded upon the Word. With this much Karl Barth could agree. Maybe he wrote the letter to Diognetus, because it sure sounds like something he would say. (JK)


Published by cwoznicki

Chris Woznicki is an Assistant Adjunct Professor of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He works as the regional training associate for the Los Angeles region of Young Life.

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