It hasn’t taken many pages of the first book Church Dogmatics to realize that reading Barth will be many different types of education for me. First, in order to understand what he is saying (exegesis) I am going to have to learn, at least in an introductory manner, his partners-in-dialogue (Brunner, Tillman, etc.). Second, even though this is a book in English (a trans.) it is not the English that I have ever read; many a sentence is incomprehensible upon the first reading. (I had the same experience when I first began to read Douglas Campbell but eventually I got used to it.) Finally, many words are used in different ways then I currently use them. I’ll have to be careful about that.
Initially I was a bit taken back by Barth’s definition of dogmatics which I held to be essentially what I know as systematics. He says,
“As a theological discipline dogmatics is the scientific self-examination of the Christian Church with respect to the content of its distinctive talk about God.”
Already I am beginning to see that Barth had a very different view on what dogmatics is, it seems, that he understands this discipline to be more about God than about repackaging the Scriptural teaching about certain doctrines. This distinction though is critical for Barth because from the very beginning he limits the power of dogmatics by saying that it is “talk about God” and not statements about who God is.
This sounds great to my ears because it inserts a huge amount of humility into the process. He is allowing the Church to have a distinct and true perspective on God but, it is only, speech about God. Also, I must admit, I have always concieved dogmatics (systematics?) as being distilled teaching of the Scriptures and not speech about God. So I guess my first question is, “When Barth speaks about dogmatics is he speaking of what we call systematics?”
The other thing that struck me as interesting from the first section is Barth’s assertion that theology is not the only science that can speak (or instruct) about God. Here is the quote,
“theology does not in fact possess special keys to special doors. Nor does it control a basis of knowledge which might not find actualization in other sciences. Nor does it know an object of inquiry necessarily concealed from other sciences. Only by failing to recognize the actualization of revelation, the possibility of grace and therefore its own nature, could it possibly make any such claim.”
Honestly, this assertion startled me, actually, almost jarred me. Now I know Barth has a (rightful) disgust for Natural Theology so how can he say that theology, which is the only science based on Revelation (right?), is not the only science that can “uncover” things about God? Or am I wrong to think that is what he meant by saying, “Nor does it know an object of inquiry necessarily concealed from other sciences?”