Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Karl Barth and Evangelical Theology, Part 6: Theological Method

I read the fifth chapter of Karl Barth and Evangelical Theology, "Anthropology," by Henri A.G. Blocher, but to be honest, some of it was over my head and other parts of it I don't have an opinion on, so I don't feel comfortable commenting on it.  Instead, I'm going to make a few comments on the sixth chapter, "Christus Praesens: Barth's Radically Realist Christology and its Necessity for Theological Method."

First, Richardson notes that Barth breaks with propositional understandings of revelation.  You can in this critique of propositionalism see where Lindbeck gets at least part of his critique of cognitive-propositional understandings of religion.

Second, Barth is critical of natural theology.  Richardson notes, "The possibility of the knowledge of God is a naturalized, domesticated, generalized condition which Barth most emphatically rejects" (138).  In other words, Barth is critical of natural theology because when people center their theology upon "general" or "natural revelation," they tend to make God in their own image.  As I will note in a paper that I will turn into a blog series after I finish blogging through this book, Barth is a helpful figure to draw upon in critiquing American civil religion.

Third, while Barth's primary focus is not theological method, but dogmatics, his theological method still shines through.  According to Richardson, Barth's theological method stems from the understanding that when the church listens to the reading of scripture or preaching, they are listening to God speaking in the present.  (This does not mean Barth was unaware of the distance between the original audience and the contemporary church.  Barth instead understood, "The One who was for us 'then' is the One who is for us 'now'" [142].  "Barth's answer is a bridging of historical distance through the actuality of the living Jesus Christ whose resurrection, by the grace of God, provides the reality by which the theological speaks with the Church in confessing 'Jesus lives'--and continues, 'and I with him'" [144]). 

Fourth, in a point similar to the one above, Barth believed that the Spirit aids and illuminates the preacher, theologian, and church in their reading/listening to Scripture.  (As I mentioned in a previous post on this issue, Barth can thus be an extremely helpful figure for the Stone-Campbell Movement as we try and develop a theology of illumination for our context).  Richardson says that for Barth, "Thus, fellowship with the living God is a necessary condition for doing of Christian theology" (145).  Richardson also says of Barth's understanding, "The work of the Holy Spirit is necessary for the work of the theologian since by the activity of the Spirit the theologian is 'kept close to Jesus Christ in true and genuine faith,' and enlivened to speak and write as an expression of gratitude to God" (147).

While Barth's understanding is not politically correct, I find it most convincing.  While there are non-Christians who do historical studies that can help contemporary people better understand the biblical text and while there are non-Christians who can understand and write of what ancient peoples thought, Christian theology is "faith seeking understanding."  I hope in many ways that more theologians, like Hauerwas, will offer critiques of the modern university and focus Christian theology upon the context of the church.

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