Monday, February 11, 2019

Barth's Dogmatics, §3, the Word of God as Criterion of Dogmatics

Beth purchased for me this note paper
the year I turned 30 (1987), which was also the year
I began writing my dissertation on Barth. This volume
of the Dogmatics still contains a few of those
old note pages, used back then as bookmarks.
My blog project for 2019 is to take notes on Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics. My folks purchased
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.

Paragraphs 1 and 2 are the introduction. Paragraph 3 is the first of five sections comprising Church Dogmatics’ chapter 1, “The Word of God as the Criterion of Dogmatics.”

Paragraph 3 is “Church Proclamation as the Material of Dogmatics”: “Talk about Got in the Church seeks to be proclamation to the extent that in the form of preaching and sacrament it is directed to man with the claim and expectation that in accordance with its commission it has to speak to him the Word of God to be heard in faith. Inasmuch as it is a human world in spite of this claim and expectation, it is the material of dogmatics, i.e., of the investigation of its responsibility as measured by the Word of God which it seeks to proclaim.”

In section 1 (pp. 47-71 of the English translation), “Talk About God and Church Proclamation,” Barth notes that “Not all human talk is talk about God,” although it could and should be. But we don’t know humans in our original state, only as fallen and condemned but not redeemed by grace. Because not all human talk is talk of God, including in the church, theology must reflect upon church proclamation as judged and redeemed by the Word of God. Proclamation is like the words of the king spoken through the herald.

It is true that God may speak in other ways than in proclamation and even in non-human speech. But since the church has the special responsibility of proclamation—both preaching and the sacraments—it must serve and always attentive to the Word of God that it (proclamation) aims to tell and share. Modernist theology attends too much to the human experience, while Roman Catholic theology overemphasizes the sacrament and the magisterium. But the Reformers, and now the Protestant churches, emphasize preaching “only as the grace of the strictly personal free Word of God which reaches it goal in the equally personal free hearing of [humans], the hearing of faith, which for its part… can be understood only as grace” (p. 68).

In section 2 (pp. 71-88), Barth notes that proclamation “is always and always will be [the human] word. It is also something more than this and quite different. When and where it pleases God, it is God’s own Word… On this promise depend the claim and the expectation But proclamation both as preaching and sacrament does not cease to be representation, human service” (pp. 71-72). The church has the responsibility to proclaim, knowing that proclamation and the response alike depends upon God alone.

Dogmatics is in turn the work of the Church to criticize and correct its proclamation, and thus dogmatics cannot function without prayer. Thus:

Dogmatics is necessary not as proclamation itself but to evaluation the fallible work of proclamation.
Dogmatics serves proclamation, not as an end in itself, nor as a source of higher knowledge.
Dogmatics serves as an investigation of how best we may speak of God.

As an aside, Barth notes that although hymnals and books of order serve worship and proclamation, seldom do revisions of such materials consult dogmatics (p. 71). As another aside, he notes that social work in the church claims to be proclamation, too, but here, too, dogmatics must evaluate this work (p. 71).

The following three paragraphs take up some of the questions raised by this paragraph 3: “The Word of God in its Threefold Form” (preached, written, and revealed), “The Nature of the Word of God,” and “The Knowability of the Word of God”, and then finally dogmatics as a science.

Arnold Come (see December 8th post), writes of paragraph 3 (p. 89): "The church's speaking about Go includes proclamation, prayer, singing, confession, social action, Christian education, theology. Proclamation in preaching and sacraments uniquely expects human words and acts to be used by God himself as his own word to men. This peculiar kind of speaking creates the church's own inner life and defines its task toward the world. Dogmatics has the secondary task of exposition, investigation, polemic, criticism, and revision in the serve of more authentic proclamation. So dogmatics cannot prescribe the content of preaching, nor is the theologian necessarily a superior man of faith."

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