Theology Thursdays

Posted: January 7, 2010 in Uncategorized

Every year I read through a classic major theological treatise.  A few years ago I plowed my way through Augustine’s City of God.  I recommend it to anyone who with insomnia and an immunity to Ambian! 

John Calvin turned 500 last year, so I worked through the 2 volume Institutes of the Christian Religion but this year I may have bit off more than I can chew by taking on Karl Barth’s massive Church Dogmatics

I have read blocks of Barth before, including The Word of God and the Word of Man, which I really enjoyed, but I have never claimed to fully understand every jot and tittle of the man’s pen.

So, for they are worth, here are a few thoughts on the first 70 or so pages of Dogmatics.

Ironically, Barth opens up his colossal work on theology by warning that we cannot approach the study of God as an academic discipline for “we know Him solely by faith in Jesus Christ.”  Thus, “there is no possibility of dogmatics at all outside the Church.”

Is he right? I think it all depends on how we define “know.”  A secular historian may read the works of scholar N.T. Wright and say, “okay! I agree that to understand Jesus we must understand the worldview of the 1st century Jews and the mindset of individual Jews.  I agree that the New Testament is as reliably accurate as any ancient source. I even agree that it makes no sense to suffer and die for a faked or imagined resurrection.”  Does the secular historian “know” Jesus?

Barth took a lot of criticism for eschewing history as a proper tool for theological study.  Herr Barth writes of his own academic discipline of theology, “If theology allows itself to be called, and calls itself, a “science,” in doing so it declares…that like all other so-called sciences it is a human concern with a definite object of knowledge…”  Is God a “definite object of knowledge”? 

Yet, as Kevin Vanhoozer argues in his important work Is There A Meaning In This Text?  (and N.T. Wright argues in another important work The New Testament and the People of God), objectivity and certainty do not rule out the possibility of knowing truth. We must certainly account for our prejudices and humbly admit that we are not standing on a privileged platform with a god-like view of everything but there are obviously better readings, stronger arguments, etc. that brings us closer to “the truth.”

But, while I side with Vanhoozer and Wright, I am grateful for Barth’s cryptically written reminder that we cannot casually approach the eternal, all-powerful, triune God of the universe the way we approach any other academic exercise.

Now, this is a gross oversimplification of what Barth is doing in the first 70 pages of Dogmatics and there is much more to this but, hey! It’s my blog!

Grace and peace.

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