Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Karl Barth as Ecclesial Theologian

The sort of theology I characterized as "ecclesial theology" in my previous post is epitomized by Karl Barth (1886-1968), the most significant theologian of the twentieth century. This quotation from his Church Dogmatics (originally titled Christian Dogmatics at the outset of the project--the changed title reflects the thoroughly ecclesial character of its contents) expresses well the approach to the theological task I'm advocating here:

"But it is obvious that before I myself make a confession I must myself have heard the confession of the Church, i.e., the confession of the rest of the Church. In my hearing and receiving of the Word of God I cannot separate myself from the Church to which it is addressed. I cannot thrust myself into the debate about a right faith which goes on in the Church without first having listened....If I am to confess my faith generally with the whole Church and in that confession be certain that my faith is the right faith, then I must begin with the community of faith and therefore hear the Church’s confession of faith as it comes to me from other members of the Church. And for that very reason I recognise an authority, a superiority in the Church: namely, that the confession of others who were before me in the Church and are beside me in the Church is superior to my confession if this really is an accounting and responding in relation to my hearing and receiving of the Word of God, if it really is my confession as that of a member of the body of Christ" (CD I/2, p. 589).

Barth's theology has its own shortcomings (everyone's does this side of heaven), and he's by no means the only theologian I can point to as an example of a thoroughly ecclesial theology. In my own Baptist tradition, the three-volume Systematic Theology by James Wm. McClendon, Jr. (1924-2000) fits the bill. But I've probably learned more from Barth about how to listen to the rest of the church en route to doing my own constructive theological work than I have from any other theologian I've read.

1 comment:

  1. (Posted on behalf of Barry Jones by SRH)
    Steve, great quote from KB. Your blog is good motivation to follow the conversation in theology amid the other reading I have to do in biblical studies, especially the style of theology you are proposing. Thanks for the encouragement! BJ