I like Barth

Not Simpson (Though him as well), but Karl Barth. I’m even beginning to regret avoiding his theology for my four years as an undergrad (although the truth is that at New College, it’s impossible to avoid Barth if you do any systematics courses). Why do I like him? Because when he writes, you get the impression he’s still working stuff out and it’s the act of getting it on paper that helps it coalesce.

Today’s class was a starter on Barth’s ecclesiology and it focused on the creedal statement, “I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.” That was interesting enough and, in fact, inspired my likely essay for the course. But what was fascinating was a section on who was a ‘true’ Christian. There was the very thorough consideration of all the possible ‘marks’ of a true Christian and ultimately Barth’s deliberations seemed to come down to – “we don’t know”. And his advice? Get on with being a ‘true’ Christian yourself and just assume everyone else you’re concerned about is as well.

He had pretty much the same to say about church disunity. Having utterly savaged the ‘scandal’ of church division he concludes, pretty much, the same sort of thing. As a community of believers, get on with being just that and worry more about your witness to non-believers than trying to get other churches ‘back on track’.

Barth obviously used considerably more words to say that than I have, but it was his way of covering all the possible ‘get-out’ clauses and excuses. It’s fascinating to read a theologian who almost seems happy to stop at the ‘I don’t know’ place and to practically hear his thoughts as he struggles with the implications of where his ideas are going.

2 responses to “I like Barth”

  1. I  liked studying Barth for all the reasons you mention here…  I didn’t  always understand what he was saying or agree with his conclusions but that is the beauty of his theology… it allows you to engage and  to work out where his ideas are going …or where you might take them in 2009. One of my favourite Barth quotes is this one:

    “A good theologian does not live in a house of ideas, principles and methods. He walks through all such buildings and always comes out into the fresh air again. He remains on the way”

  2. Excellent quote and one I can very much identify with. Anyone who knows me, knows I love an argument and if it’s a theological one, so much the better. And I love systematic theology because of the way it has shaped and continues to shape my faith and approaches to scripture. But ultimately and often, I am more than happy to set it all aside and simply acknowledge that God is far bigger than any of our systems and that His grace and love is such that it is utterly inexplicable and all I (we) can do is stand back in awe – breathing in His sweet air.

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