Preface [Blogging through Barth, part 1]

So today I begin reading through Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics. When I quote stuff, I will probably just put the page number and volume, so that set will be the reference point. Even though I only have read the prefaces thus far, it is really great.

“Or shall I merely be astonished at the Philistinism which…fails to see that nor merely the most important but also the most relevant and beautiful problems in dogmatics begin at the very point where the fable of ‘unprofitable scholasticism’ and the slogan about the ‘Greek thinking of the fathers’ persuade us that we ought to stop?” (xiv, I.1)

As someone who is pretty wary of (detached) theory-building, I find this point interesting and I hope he will make good on it.

“The community in and for which I have written it is that of the Church and not a community of theological endeavour.” (xv, I.1)

I find this one interesting because as much as people think they are writing for the Church writ large, it seems to me that many are more concerned about operating within their own theological system. Thus, evangelical authors are writing for an evangelical audience, liberals for a liberal audience, etc. Naturally, this must be done to a certain extent because communication happens in contexts and you must take certain things for granted in order to make a certain argument without writing a multi-volume work, but I think this emphasis is still important and worth hearing today.

“For where is to-day the Evangelical Church which desires to be taken seriously and to confess itself in the sense of the present book?…For I believe that to the very day of judgment we shall wait in vain for an Evangelical Church which takes itself seriously unless we are prepared to attempt in all modesty to take the risk of being such a Church in our own situation and to the best of our ability.” (ibid.)

Here Barth is lamenting the lack of serious doctrine in the church. Personally, I can become very discouraged by looking at the bestselling Christian books, the lack of knowledge, and what seems to be the lack of caring, so I find Barth’s response stimulating.

Writing in 1932, shortly before the rise of the Third Reich that he would oppose, Barth writes,

“I have found by experience that in the last resort the man in the street who is so highly respected by many ecclesiastics and theologians will really take notice of us when we do not worry about what he expects of us but do what we are charged to do.” (xvi, I.1)

He goes on to say that he thinks a proper dogmatics might be more significant for real-world problems like “German liberation than most of the well-meant stuff which even so many theologians think…they can and should supply in relation to these questions and tasks.” (ibid.) Even in his resistance of the Third Reich, Barth continued to believe this. Because if we try to sell a discipline short in the name of some social crisis, we will end up with a disordered discipline and unfounded social action. Here Barth is responding to those who are so tied up in solving the social crisis that they sacrifice proper dogmatics, but it also equally true that we can use doing proper dogmatics as an excuse to not be a prophetic and involved church.

Anyway, that’s all for now. The first section is about the task of theology, which I have been thinking about a lot lately, so maybe I will post something on that next.


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