Church Dogmatics Paraphrase: §2, “The Task of Prolegomena to Dogmatics”

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June 27, 2013 by mattwilcoxen

imagesKarl Barth, Church Dogmatics §2, “THE TASK OF PROLEGOMENA TO DOGMATICS” (pp.25-44)

The Necessity of Dogmatic Prolegomena (pp.25-36) 

Does a work of dogmatics require a section on prolegomena? Many theologians in the modern era have seen prolegomena as the now essential preparation for the gospel–it cuts down confidence in human reason, and establishes common ground. Barth rejects this. First, there is no basis for assuming that theology is in some fundamentally new situation. Further, this approach abandons the task of dogmatics, which is to ask “what is knowledge of God?” and not “how is knowledge of God possible?” To take up this approach we would be claiming to have finished our real task and to be at leisure to pursue other things. Finally, this approach would give dogmatics a false sense of security–as if somehow it had grounded its own knowledge of God.

An apologetic prolegomena would fight with unbelief on unbelief’s grounds. We cannot take unbelief this seriously! But we can take other forms of Christian faith (Barth mentions Roman Catholic and Modern (liberal) Protestantism) this seriously. Above all, what sets the different forms of Christian faith apart is their differences over the doctrine of revelation. So our task in prolegomena is to clarify our unique starting point–our understanding of where and how God has revealed himself. The whole of dogmatics will depend on this doctrine of revelation.

The Possibility of Dogmatic Prolegomena (pp.36-44)

The question we face is how to give a preliminary understanding of the way of knowledge. The Modern Protestant answer (represented by Schleiermacher and Bultmann) is to locate the way of knowledge in human possibility, historico-psychological possibility, and a theological method. Barth critiques this approach because it assumes a framework of being into which both God and humans can be placed–one other than the place of Jesus Christ. Thus, a theological decision has already been made by the proponents. The Roman Catholic answer is to locate the objective principle of knowledge in Holy Scripture, Church tradition, and the magisterium. The subjective principle of knowledge is the fides catholica. Barth rejects this attempt because it ties Jesus Christ down into a system, no longer allowing him to stand over the Church as her Lord. Barth anticipates his own answer to the way of knowledge. He agrees that knowledge of God takes place in the Church. But the being of the Church is not something immanent to the individuals that make it up. It is the being of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ’s being is that of God–pure act, self-originating, and always free. Revelation is something that comes to us from God–it is God himself–but never becomes our possession.

So Barth reasons that all dogmatic prolegomena already involves theological decisions. There is no possibility for establishing theology on a non-theological basis. All of our knowledge of God comes from God. Even knowledge of the correctness of our knowledge of God must be an event of divine grace. This means that we can only speak of God on the basis of God’s prior speaking to us. So the place dogmatics starts is with the Word of God–the Word of God is rooted in who God is from eternity, and so even in the prolegomena we will be talking about things like Christology, Trinity, etc.


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