Church Dogmatics Paraphrase: §1, “The Task of Dogmatics”

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June 27, 2013 by mattwilcoxen

imagesKarl Barth, Church Dogmatics §1, THE TASK OF DOGMATICS (pp.3-24)

The Church, Theology, and Science (pp. 3-11):

Theology is the action of the church. But this action is fallible, and so the church needs a science of critical reflection. This is the function dogmatics serves. Dogmatics measures the church’s being–its action–against the being of Jesus Christ. We may call this aspect of theology “scientific” in the sense that it has a definite object in the being of Jesus Christ, and a definite task in critiquing the church in light of this object. Of course, according to dogmatics, all human knowledge should be concerned with this task in some way, but it is not, and therefore theology remains a distinct discipline.

Dogmatics as an Enquiry (pp. 11-16):

Dogmatics is the task of measuring the church–her language and actions (her being)–by the being of God in Jesus Christ. This presupposes that God can be known. It presupposes that revelation has occurred and that the church grasps this revelation by faith. Revelation produces faith, which is the presupposition of dogmatic enquiry. Permission has been granted to know God.

In addition to the presupposition that the church can know God, dogmatics presupposes that the church must know God. Revelation is given to human beings and therefore it is always the human appropriation of God’s own knowledge. It is necessarily fallible as we appropriate it. As such our knowledge is always in need of correction and repetition. The permission to know God granted in revelation generates a commandment–that we must seek to correlate our appropriation with the gift given.

Dogmatics as an Act of Faith (pp. 17-24)

The permission and commandment inherent to God’s revelation of himself place us into the position of prayerThe permissive self-revelation of God generates the commandment to know God, but the fact that our knowledge can only come through God’s own self-revelatory action means that our fulfillment of the commandment is dependent upon God and not ourselves. We may think about it this way: behind us lies the past revelation of God that has set us in motion as knowers of God. We are searching for future knowledge of God, but the way in which God has been made known to us shows us that the knowledge of God is not readily available to us–it is God’s own knowledge of himself. With the promise of past revelation, and hoping for future revelation, our present endeavors must take the posture of asking, seeking, and knocking.


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