Church Dogmatics Paraphrase §7, “The Word of God, Dogma and Dogmatics”

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August 19, 2013 by mattwilcoxen

karl_barthKarl Barth, Church Dogmatics §7, “THE WORD OF GOD, DOGMA AND DOGMATICS” (pp. 248-292)

The Problem of Dogmatics (pp. 248-275)

If Christian theology is to be the act of measuring the church’s proclamation against an objective (“concrete”) criterion–the Word of God–it immediately runs up against the problem of where it will find access to this criterion apart from church proclamation. So what is our concrete, objective way of access to the Word of God?

If we will not make a distinction between the church’s proclamation and the Word of God, then we are faced with two options. On the one hand, we can find a criterion for church proclamation in the prevailing culture and philosophy. This was the error of Modern Protestantism. It was an admission that the objective encounter with God had been lost and needed replacing. On the other hand, perhaps we can posit a sort of divine objectivity within the church herself. This was the error of the Roman Catholic church. This leaves them, too, without a genuine objectivity. There is no real encounter with God here.

The answer to the question of the concrete, objective encounter of the church with the Word of God is, well, the Bible. The Bible stands over us as the locus of encounter with God’s Word. However, we cannot prove this; we cannot establish the criteria by which this encounter is measured. If we could, we would establish some sphere within which we could pronounce judgment over the Bible’s validity and authority–immediately setting up an authority higher than that of the Bible. If someone asks us why we accept the Bible as the locus of encounter with the Word of God, we can only answer that the Bible imposes it upon us as such.

Dogmatics for “Evangelical” theologians is something different from what it is for Roman Catholicism, which has traditionally conceived of dogmatics as the systematic exposition of revealed propositions. In this way of thinking, the goal of dogmatics is the extrapolation of propositions. Evangelical dogmatics does not resist propositions or propositional statements, but it does resist the attempt to convert revelation into propositions. Rather, the propositions–the “dogmatics”–must always aim at the truth of revelation (the dogma itself). The dogma is the Kantian noumenon, the dogmatic propositions are the phenomena. The reason for this distinction is because the Word of God is God, and therefore cannot be depersonalized.

There is a specific conception of “truth” that emerges out of this understanding of our dogmatic propositions and their relation to the object–the dogma itself. Since the dogma itself is a specific type of object–a free, divine person–the relation between dogmatic propositions and this object cannot be one of static conceptual isomorphism. Nonetheless, these words can be true, they can correspond, in an event of obedience to the command of this person.

Dogmatics as a Science (pp. 275-287)

Dogmatics is a science in the sense that it answers to its particular object: the Word of God it encounters through the biblical text. Three things are demanded of scientific dogmatics. First, scientific dogmatics must always stay oriented to the object. It cannot spin off into problems of thought that may arise in relation to certain concepts in church proclamation, but have nothing to do with proclamation itself. Second, scientific dogmatics has to be critical and not only expository.  Third, scientific dogmatics must orient itself to the locus of objective encounter–Holy Scripture.

The Problem of Dogmatic Prolegomena (pp. 287-292)

Thus far we have only explored the structural restrictions of Christian theology as “church dogmatics”. This is important, but it is necessary to see what concrete realities have occasioned these restrictions. In other words, it is time to move from the “formal” to the “material”. So in the next section we will have to turn at once to the doctrine of the Trinity, to see how the threefold form of the Word of God is founded upon the triune God.


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