The Possibility of Dogmatics Prolegomena

Epistemology, for Barth, is possible for the Church but it must be careful in doing it. (Who,  besides Barth, ever thought epistemology was dangerous?) He appears to understand a majority of major players in the last 300 of theology to have bought into a party line that claims the world is riding a steady uptick of wickedness and the Church has to engage the world and not retreat into a “Chinese Wall” mentality. This age, the line goes, has bought into radical rationalism and this is so different from other ages that now all of a sudden epistemological prolegomena is a necessity. If the Church does not explore this they will become irrelevant.

I could not help reading the first three or four pages of this section without laughing. Sometimes sarcasm is thinly veiled but that is not the case here. It is not often that I read theological work that has such a disdain for other opposing theological positions. Barth was no fan of Liberalism. He rejects what he just claimed was their position for three reasons: 1) No Scriptural evidence for the “worsening” of the world 2) It exchanges reason for Revelation 3) God’s word is relevant on its own terms.

I must say that he has built himself quite the argument. Who show him to be wrong? He could have said it in one sentence though: God, the flesh and world have never changed and neither should we! If the Church is to take unbelief seriously it has already lost. Atheism, Liberalism, Roman Catholicism etc., for Barth, are battles that cannot be won because their is one thing that the Church cannot question, God’s Word. It is the lifeline of the Church and cannot be diluted in any way. If the Church questions God’s ability and desire to reveal himself they have already forfeited the task of proclamation. Here is a great quote:

Theology is genuinely and effectively apologetic and polemical to the extent that its proper work, which cannot be done except at the heart of the conflict between faith and unbelief, is recognised, empowered and blessed by God as the witness of faith, but not to the extent that it adopts particular forms in which it finally becomes only too clear to the opposing partner that it is either deceiving him whine it proposes to deal with him on the ground of common presuppositions, or that it is not quite sure of its own cause in doing so.

Wow tell us what you really think. Gotta love it when someone calls it like they see it (unless you are the object at which the words are hurled). Barth had no time for complete unbelief but that is not to say he thought that the members of the Church never doubted. Here is his distinction:

The faith which is in conflict with doubt of the truth, with the question of the existence of God, is very different from the faith which asks whether the God whose existence is no problem is gracious or whether man must despair of himself.

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4 Responses to The Possibility of Dogmatics Prolegomena

  1. Thom says:

    This is a fun post, fun because I read this section last night and loved Barth’s masculine confidence just as you did. It isn’t difficult to see why Barth quotes Luther so much, or why Barth includes Luther’s “bats with so much flapping” jibe in the small print. Anyway, it seemed to me that we were finally getting at the lay of the land when it comes to the purpose of the CD. Barth has chosen the ground and now he identifies his interlocutors, Roman Catholicism and Pietistic Modernity. The Pietism he’s talking about is that which informed the theological liberalism of his nineteenth-century teachers–and so he’s carrying forward the critiques that prompted his Romans commentary–but I heard quite a bit which resonated with our own megachurch, interdenominational, melodramatic evangelicalism as well. I wonder how closely these two could be related? Would Barth find denominations which come out of Pietism heretical as well? And Barth does not mention Mormonism or Eastern Orthodoxy.

    • I agree with you when you link Barth’s criticism of Pietism to today’s, “megachurch, interdenominational, melodramatic evangelicalism.” I imagine he would be very vocal against that nonsense. I am ashamed that the Church (at least the American Church) has not taken a stand agains this ‘den of thieves’ they call a movement.

  2. John says:

    Barth makes me laugh sometimes, too, although section 1 did so more than section 2.

    Another aspect of his work that bowls me over is his depiction of the intimate tenderness that Jesus Christ directs towards his people, so that even (perhaps especially) the “high” and abstract things like dogmatic prolegomena have their meaning only in that personal connection: “the place from which the way of dogmatic knowledge is to be seen … can be neither a prior anthropological possibility [something we make] nor a subsequent ecclesiastical reality [something the world completely contains], but only the present moment of the speaking and hearing of Jesus Christ Himself, the divine creation of light in our hearts” [notes in brackets mine].

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