Sunday, January 9, 2011

Barth Reading Redux

In a project initiated by Dr. Kirk (, Barth reading schedule here), several bibliobloggers have signed on to a seven year reading project through Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics.  This last Friday was the end of the first reading assignment and saw a number of great posts on CD I.1 § 1. 

I love this synchroblogging project because it allows for a personal reading, then an outlet for reflecting on that reading through a blog, and finally, a chance to read and respond to what others have said. I have found my tour through the other Barth synchroblogs to be highly rewarding, noting things that I may have passed over, sharing frustrations over Barth's style, and finding clarifications on things that I did not understand in my reading of Barth. 

After reflecting on the posts of others, one thing stood out to me that I passed over in my Barth blog post.  I noted this when I first read it, but it escaped my mind when I went to blog.  That is, Barth's threefold division of theology as follows:
"Does Christian utterance derive from Him [Jesus Christ]?  Does it lead to Him? Is it conformable to Him?  None of these questions can be put apart, but each is to be put independently and with all possible force.  Hence, theology as biblical theology is the question of the basis, as practical theology the question of the goal, and as dogmatic theology the question of the content of the distinctive utterance of the church." (CD I.1 pp. 4-5)
Therefore, there are three types of theology.  At the center of each is the reality of God's free gift, namely Jesus Christ.  Yet, while Christ is the center and the true goal of each, each type of theology, biblical, practical, and dogmatic, all have their own spheres.  Biblical dealing with what has been said about Christ in the scripture.  Practical theology dealing with the work of the church, and dogmatic theology dealing with the "distinctive utterance of the church" about Christ.  For, again, as Barth writes,
"Hence dogmatics as such does not ask what the apostles and prophets said but what we must say on the basis of the apostles and prophets." (CD I.1 p. 16)
 I see in this a positive evaluation of biblical exegesis, which is the goal I have set my life to, and also a distinction of dogmatics from biblical exegesis, which is the goal to which Barth in the Church Dogmatics has set himself.  Barth is interested in challenging, reforming, and setting forth the church's distinctive utterance about God.  This is based on, but not identical to biblical exegesis and theology.  It is not merely restating and systematizing what has been said in the Bible, but rather, it is, on the basis of what has been said, formulating what now the church must say about Jesus Christ.

In all of this, typical of Barth, Jesus Christ, and not the Bible, not the utterance of the church, and not the work of the church, is central.  All three, biblical theology, practical theology, and dogmatic theology have as their goal the one true goal of Jesus Christ.  Christ is central, the others are only a means to reaching that ultimate goal. 

I, as a biblical scholar, see the task of biblical exegesis and theology as continually important.  We continue to strive to set forth what "the apostles and prophets" said about Christ.  But, biblical scholars must always be warned, the Bible is not the end.  The Bible is a means to something greater, namely, Jesus Christ.

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