Scientific Dogmatics, once again [Blogging through Barth, part 6]

Barth returns to his discussion of dogmatics as a science and his comments are very helpful for thinking through the theological task. Barth says there are three things that are demanded of scientific dogmatics.

1. Scientific dogmatics must focus on Church proclamation as such, not problems that might arise in proximity to concepts in Church proclamation.

Barth’s point here is tied into our earlier discussion of the theological task. The temptation, in Barth’s mind, is that theologians might focus on trying to make Church proclamation conform to other areas or justify Church proclamation by means of other disciplines and methods. Instead, the goal of the Church is to proclaim the good news. Thus, the purpose of scientific dogmatics is to focus on the Church’s proclamation. This leads us to the second point…

2. Scientific dogmatics must devote itself to the correction of Church proclamation.

“Its scientific character consists in unsettling rather than confirming Church proclamation as it meets it in its previous concretions and especially in its present-day concretion.” (281; I.1)

The danger is that the person studying theology will simply want to affirm what the Church says. The result is “a pleasant certification that all is well and can go on as it has been.” (282; I.1) Instead, if dogmatics is to be scientific, then it must be focused on correction. The reason for this is simple: “So long as the Church on earth is a Church of sinners and its proclamation is thus beset by the most serious problems, one can say very definitely that a dogmatics which takes this attitude and produces this result is wrong.” (ibid.)

In doing this, we might begin to think that we are above the Church, for we are correcting the Church’s proclamation. We also might begin to correct with an unrighteous attitude. Here again Barth is helpful: “The only dogmatics to answer the question of this true Church is the one which examines the problematic nature of its own existence, which does not merely aim to say something, but by saying something aims to serve, to help.” (281; I.1; emphasis mine)

3. Scientific dogmatics criticizes Church proclamation in light of the revelation attested in Holy Scripture.

“Dogmatic work stands or falls by whether the standard by which Church proclamation is measured is the revelation attested in Holy Scripture and not a philosophical, ethical, psychological or political theory.” (283; I.1)

Church proclamation is not measured by whether it is in line with the Republican party, whether it supports a certain view of free will, whether it lines up with our ideas of what God should be like, but it is measured by the revelation attested in Holy Scripture. This doesn’t mean we should fool ourselves into thinking that we come to the text or Church proclamation without presuppositions, but we should let revelation be the end goal:

“Now it is obvious that everyone who works at dogmatics works more or less with specific intellectual presuppositions. The only question is whether in addition to these he also knows the sign of the divine promise which is set up in the Church and whether he is able and willing, in a way that admits of no proof, to take this sign so seriously that in this context its direction takes absolute precedence over all the directions he might owe to the humanities. If and so far as this is so, his work is scientific, and if and so far as it is not so, his work is not scientific, no matter how scientific it may be considered from other angles.” (283; I.1)

This does not mean that learning is unimportant though:

“It is quite right–and we are not questioning this here but emphatically underlining it–that an education in the arts and a familiarity with the thinking of the philosopher, psychologist, historian, aesthetician, etc., should be demanded of the dogmatician or the theologian.The dogmatician, too, must think and speak in a particular age and should thus be a man of his age, which also means a man of the past that constitutes his age, i.e.,  an educated man.” (ibid.)

Lest Barth be misunderstood, he makes his point clear:

“Nevertheless, the only element in education that makes him a dogmatician is the one which is not provided in all these other disciplines and which consists in indemonstrable and unassuming attention to the sign of Holy Scripture around which the Church gathers and continually becomes the Church.” (ibid.)


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