Sunday, January 16, 2011

Church Dogmatics pp 25-44: the Church Emerging

Here are a few disconnected thoughts puffed and wheezed at the summit of the slight but sheer face of Barth’s prolegomena.

Having established his presuppositions in the previous section, Barth fixes the task before him, namely to overcome Modernity (Pietism) and pre-Vatican II Roman Catholicism in favor of a (miraculous) Evangelische Theologie. The whole forms a scholastic Quodlibet. It is dialectical and masculine. We feel the direct, interested squint of the sportsman. The leaning in and warming to an argument from one who likes nothing better. “If this faith falls” he says, by which we may understand the two forms of faith aforementioned, “so does this interpretation of faith, so too the presupposition of an anthropological prius of faith, and so finally the possibility of prolegomena of this kind” (39)

Barth’s agenda follows in the footsteps of the Reformers by emphasizing the fallenness of humanity and the unmerited grace of God. First, he puts the error in both of these dogmatic emphases at the feet of any definition of faith which finds traction in humanity, in “human possibility” (38). That, he says, cannot be, recalling the doctrine of human depravity. Similarly, the correct definition is one that centers itself not on human possibility or decision, but only (sola) on the free (gratia) revelation of the triune God in the person of Jesus Christ.

Barth’s attitude toward Reformation emphases does not cease there, however. As I’ve said before, he seems to take up Reformation emphases without fear and explore them, twentieth-century feet soldiering about in sixteenth-century boots. The result is a Christologic prolegomena out of which an ecclesiology emerges. Let me just throw this against the wall.

Sacraments: “In, with and under the human question, dogmatics speaks of the divine answer” (12). Barth’s discussion of the necessity of faith for dogmatic work is working with the same tools as form the doctrine that the efficacy of the sacrament is not bound by the worthiness of the priest who administers: “The time has come to go back with a new understanding to pre-Pietist doctrine of the theological habitus in virtue of which the theologian is what he is by the grace of God quite irrespective his greater or lesser likeness to [Kierkegaard’s existential awareness]” (20). Note especially Barth’s trouble with the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation whereby “that which is beyond all human possibilities changes at once into that which is enclosed within the reality of the Church . . . Roman Catholic faith believe this transformation (emphasis mine). . . . It affirms an analogia entis . . . the possibility of applying the secular ‘There is’ to God” (41). This hints at a much more existential sacramental theology perhaps to come.

Community: "The results of earlier dogmatic work, and indeed our own results, are basically no more than signs of its [truth’s] coming. They are simply the results of human effort. As such they are a help to, but also the object of, fresh human effort. . . . Our dogmatic labors can and should be guided by results which are venerable because they are attained in the common knowledge of the Church at a specific time. Such results may be seen in the dogmas enshrined in the creeds. (15)” “To be in the Church . . . is to be called with others by Jesus Christ. To act in the Church is to act in obedience to this call. This obedience to the call of Christ is faith” (13).

Spiritual Disciplines. Prayer as “the attitude without which there can be no dogmatic work” (23). “We do not speak of true prayer if we say ‘must’ instead of ‘can’. According to Romans 8.26ff., the way from ‘can’ to ‘must’ is wrapped in the mystery at the gates of which we here stand” (23-24). Penitence. “Dogmatics must always be undertaken as an act of penitence and obedience” (22). Confession. “There can be success in this work . . . on the basis of divine correspondence to this human attitude: ‘Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief’” (24).

The Great Commission. This is the substance of preaching, the need to test what one preaches, and a warning against apologetics which gives unbelief an ontological hold on the argument that it neither deserves nor has.

Election underlies the entire enterprise. Election is the event. The free work of God. To bind God’s freedom is to bind his election. (And what affect will this have on Barth’s doctrine of baptism?)