3 Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.
A little episode occurred in 1962 that I think most theology nerds would really like to have witnessed live. It involved the great Baptist theologian Carl F. H. Henry (at that time the editor of a new magazine, Christianity Today) and the internationally-known and famous Swiss theologian Karl Barth, whose celebrity was at its peak. Owen Strachan recounts what happened in this fascinating exchange.
In the postwar era, Karl Barth was one of Carl F. H. Henry’s most frequently referenced sparring partners. The two men labored in the same task from different theological poles. Both wished to vindicate Christianity as a system of revelation in a century that viewed the Word as outmoded.
Barth, though a churchman, championed what is called the “neoorthodox” position, claiming that the Bible-in-itself was not the Word of God, but became the Word of God through the Spirit’s influence. Henry, though recognizing Barth’s prodigious gifts—he called his writings an “epochal contribution to theology”—sided with the evangelical tradition in identifying the Scripture as the revealed mind of God.
In 1962, the two men had an epochal encounter. Barth came to America from Switzerland for a lecture tour. Henry attended his lectures at the McCormick Divinity School in Chicago and engaged him in the question-and-answer session. The exchange that followed, recounted by Henry in his Confessions, captured the differences between the two theologians.
“The question, Dr. Barth, concerns the historical factuality of the resurrection of Jesus.” I pointed to the press table and noted the presence of leading religion editors or reporters representing United Press, Religious News Service, Washington Post, Washington Star and other media. If these journalists had their present duties in the time of Jesus, I asked, was the resurrection of such a nature that covering some aspect of it would have fallen into their area of responsibility? “Was it news,” I asked, “in the sense that the man in the street understands news?”
Barth became angry. Pointing at me, and recalling my identification, he asked: “Did you say Christianity Today or Christianity Yesterday?” The audience—largely nonevangelical professors and clergy—roared with delight. When countered unexpectedly in this way, one often reaches for a Scripture verse. So I replied, assuredly out of biblical context, “Yesterday, today and forever.”
It is a beautiful little story and one that makes an important point: Christianity, rightly understood, has a doctrinal core that is unchanging. The church’s music may change and some of the external forms and dynamics may change, but the heartbeat of the church and its message—the good news of Jesus Christ—is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
Verse 3 of Jude makes this very point. This verse is profoundly and critically important. It will lay the foundation for the rest of the book.