Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Barth's Dogmatics, §2, the Task of Prolegomena

Back to blogging, after a crazy and busy end of the semester...

My blog project for 2019 is to take notes on Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics. My folks purchased the whole English-language set for me forty years ago, and subsequently I wrote my doctoral dissertation on a portion of Vol. III, part 2. For this blog project, I’ll study the Dogmatics by paragraphs, taking notes. See my December 2, 2018 post for Barth's overall plan for his series.

I’m in Volume 1, part 1, “The Doctrine of the Word of God.”

Paragraph 2 is “The Task of Prolegomena to Dogmatics”: “Prolegomena to dogmatics is our name for the introductory part of dogmatics in which our concern is to understand its particular way of knowledge” (p. 25). Arnold Cone, in his book An Introduction to Barth’s “Dogmatics” for Preachers,” writes of this section, “Dogmatics is the church’s speaking about its speaking, testing the latter’s authenticity against the norm of Jesus Christ. So the first task is to explicate this special way to knowledge in Jesus Christ—not as a bridge to unbelief but as a correction of heresy” (p. 89).

In the section “The Necessity of Dogmatic Prolegomena” (I/1, 25-36), Barth comments that prolegomena to theology has to do with the distinctive way of knowledge of that science. Dogmatic work in each time period is connected to the situation of the Church in that period. Although Emil Brunner, for instance, contests the self-sufficient and self-assuring rationality of the modern spirit that opposes the Word of God, Brunner still affirms a point of contact for God’s revelation, which Barth rejects.

Barth does not believe that “the tragedy of modern godlessness” is “anything out of the ordinary” in church history (p. 28). But still, the task of dogmatics is not apologetics toward the modern situation but the distinctive talk of the Church measured against its standard, the divine revelation. Although dogmatics takes unbelief seriously, Barth does not think that apologetics and polemics are more effective than good dogmatics that is faithful to its standard.

Dogmatics also has to do with heresy. He considers Roman Catholicism in its Counter Reformation form, and also Protestant rationalistic and pietistic Modernism, as heresies, and Evangelical faith be true to faithful dogmatics with awareness of the heresies of these kinds of faith.

In the section “The Possibility of Dogmatic Prolegomena” (pp. 36-44), Barth discusses Modernism—which sees faith and church “as links in a greater nexus of being” (p. 36)—and asks whether this nexus (and the foundational piety of which Schleiermacher writes) is superior to the being of the Church and the divine revelation. Regarding Roman Catholicism, Barth discusses the way divine grace becomes an available relationship in the rites of the church, and the way the analogia entis (analogy of being), which affirms a divine likeness in the world, so that God is the ontological presupposition of faith and knowledge. Both of these, Barth claims, undercuts the freedom of God—“Jesus Christ… the free Lord of [the church’s] existence” (p. 40).

Barth writes that he will not only discuss the doctrine of Holy Scripture, but the doctrine of the Word of God, in order to lay a proper foundation for the dogmatics that follow.

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