Friday, January 7, 2011

Barth I.1 §1

I, like many others (see for others synchroblogging Barth's CD) will be blogging through Barth's Church Dogmatics over the next several years.  Thanks to Dr. Kirk for instigating this activity. 

I start by saying to myself what Bruce McCormack said to me in my second year of seminary, "Keith, you just don't have the mind of a theologian."  At the time I was very put off by this comment, but I have come to see that he was correct.  I have the mind of a biblical scholar, which I have found is very different than the mind of a theologian.  I have little patience for endless abstract concepts and subjects that are mercurial.  Yet, when I read great theologians, even though they frustrate me to no end, I find myself challenged and enlightened in ways that are good for me.  That said, I will pursue a reading of Barth with great humility.

This first week reading was great, and challenging, for me.  I don't particularly like the way that Barth writes (see my post here).  He often circles around an issue while not saying much.  For example, his talk of theology as a science I found obtuse.  He seemed to be saying: theology is a science, but it is unlike any other science, and cannot be subjected to the norms and standards of other sciences.  Yet, he gives no positive definition of what he means by calling theology a science and therefore no justification as to why he insists that theology is a science.  More in theology as science later.

In the second subsection, Barth discusses theology as enquiry and I found this section refreshing.  At times Barth can rise to great linguistic force, and in this section he does so.  Barth writes,
"Christian speech must be tested by its conformity to Christ.  This conformity is never clear and unambiguous.  To the finally and adequately given divine answer there corresponds a human question which can maintain its faithfulness only in unwearied and honest persistence." (CD I.1 p. 13).
 Barth brings up a very good point that the act of dogmatics is never complete, it is always a stretching and striving for completeness, for a full grasp of the truth, but as a human act, it is always incomplete.

Barth follows up this discussion of dogmatics as enquiry with a discussion of dogmatics as an act of faith.  It is in this section that Barth shows his reformed tradition, basing the truth and attainment of dogmatics solely on the will and free act of God.  Only through faith may one stumble upon a true dogmatics.  The theologian may believe, pray, attempt to speak rightly about God, but only through the free act of God is such a faith granted and a true dogmatics achieved. 

I want to return briefly to Barth's discussion of theology as a science.  I do not know, since I could not find a positive definition of science in Barth, why he insists on calling theology a science.  As the 20th century put to lie the claim of pure objectivity in any field, I wonder what use it is to call theology a science.  Theology, as Barth's section on dogmatics as an act of faith demonstrates, is not a disinterested study of a subject.  Rather, it is the pursuit of true discourse about God based on faith.  Why then call it a science?  Is it to bolster the authority of said theology?  Is it to raise theology to a respectable academic study?  Comments? 


  1. Barth claims no a priori, foundational justification for calling theology a "science" but he does offer three practical reasons:
    -to remind theology that it is a human, therefore an incomplete and fallible enterprise
    -to contest any general, "pagan" notion of "science" that leaves God out
    -to include theology among all human seeking after knowledge, from all which God will "redeem" the truth each contains

    Does this help?

    Lee Wyatt

  2. Lee,
    Thanks for the clarification. It is very helpful and I think I understand where Barth is coming from on this now. Thanks again,