Saturday, January 29, 2011

Barth I.1 § 3.2

In Church Dogmatics  I.1 § 3.2, Barth continues his discussion of church proclamation, by which he means church preaching and the administration of the sacrament.  For Barth, proclamation is the primary task of the church, the center of its mission.  Yet, this proclamation is a human effort, the words are human and fallible, and therefore there is a need for testing.  Dogmatics is the vehicle of this testing, of making sure that church proclamation conforms to its subject.  As Barth writes,
"Concrete dogma, indeed, is simply the kerygma [preaching] tested, provisionally purified, and reduced to a correct formula by the church." (CD I.1. §3.2 p. 82).
Yet, Barth admits that this testing in dogmatics is in itself a human work, and therefore cannot claim any concrete authority.  Nevertheless, this testing is necessary.

I know that I have been in churches that disdain theology.  They like to go with the Spirit, preach what comes from the heart.  These churches are anti-intellectual, claiming that seeking to think about preaching, to subject it to tests and intellectual rigor, will actually quench the Spirit.  All churches do theology, whether they claim to or not.  The ones that claim not to engage in theology, but follow the spirit, usually proclaim bad theology.  As Barth says,
"The freedom claimed when men think they can and should theologise 'quite untheologically' is the freedom to prattle heretically or in a way that makes for heresy.  There is no room in the church for this freedom." (CD I.1. §3.2 p. 77).
In his pessimistic appraisal of human capability, he claims that there is a necessity for theological testing of church proclamation.  Yet, knowing that this testing is no more infallible than church proclamation, he calls for a continual testing.  The work of dogmatics is never complete.  It must always be undertaken anew.  Dogmatics can never stand on its own as a final word.  It must always be tested again and again.

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