Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Reader Response: Church Dogmatics ch III (intro)

Some years back (checks number of years, slightly shocked to find that it's 6 years) I ran a couple of series of posts engaging in a bit more detail than I normally do with some big books.  I looked at Bonhoeffer's Ethics, and chapter VII of Barth's Church Dogmatics, the chapter which looks particularly at the doctrine of election.  I called the series 'Reader Response' to try to highlight that, although I would be attempting to explain what the 'big book' was actually saying, I was also going to include some of my own response to it, and thoughts about how it might inform church, theology, and Christian life today.

I'm going to try to resurrect that concept, albeit with significantly less time for reading at the moment than I had back in the day.  So whereas the previous series was a weekly effort, this one will be more irregular, and might sometimes end up looking at quite small chunks in each post.  We'll see how we go.

I'm going to be reading Church Dogmatics chapter III, which you'd find in volume I/2.  It is Barth's main treatment of the doctrine of Scripture.  Now, if conservative evangelicals know anything about Barth, it is that he is dangerously weak, if not actually heretical, on Scripture and its authority.  I think one of the things that gives this impression is the sheer size of Barth's treatment.  This chapter occupies nearly 300 pages, and is situated in an even larger discussion of the nature of revelation which takes up the whole of volumes I/1 and I/2.  There is a suspicion, I think, that anybody who needs to take this many pages to explain their view of Scripture is probably making things deliberately complex.  After all, doesn't it just boil down to the question of whether it's the Word of God or not?

Interestingly, for Barth that simply isn't the question, or even a question.  He takes it for granted that the dogmatic theologian, standing within and for the church, stands on the acknowledged reality of the word of God in Scripture.  To ask the apologetic question - is the Bible the word of God? - is to remove oneself from this position, if only hypothetically and for the purposes of discussion.  That isn't what Barth thinks he is doing.  For many contemporary evangelicals, the apologetic question is acute, and it is therefore hard to imagine a doctrine of Scripture that does not really engage with it.  But perhaps Barth can push us here to see things we wouldn't otherwise see.

For Barth the question is more 'how is the Bible the word of God?', boiling down into the practical question of what it looks like to live under the authority of the word of God in Scripture.  I hope that over the next few weeks we'll be able to see whether Barth's answers have anything to teach us.

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