Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Blogging with Barth: CD 1.2 §22.2 "Pure Doctrine as the Problem of Dogmatics" pp. 758-782

The Leitsatz (thesis statement) for §22 states: "The Word of God is God Himself in the proclamation of the Church of Jesus Christ. In so far as God gives the Church the commission to speak about Him, and the Church discharges this commission, it is God Himself who declares His revelation in His witnesses. The proclamation of the Church is pure doctrine when the human word spoken in it in confirmation of the biblical witness to revelation offers and creates obedience to the Word of God. Because this is its essential character, function and duty, the word of the Church preacher is the special and immediate object of dogmatic activity."

In section §22 ("The Mission of the Church") and in subsection §22.2 ("Pure Doctrine as the Problem of Dogmatics"), Barth takes up the special concern of the role of dogmatics in our human speaking and teaching (preaching or proclamation). As such, he begins with a reflection on what Christian preaching is - and begins articulating what the human requirements of human preaching need to be if in fact that preaching will be the Word of God. First, it must have a goal and it must examine itself for correctness:
Christian preaching is speaking about God in the name of Jesus Christ. It is a human activity like any other. It is not only that. It has its own special necessity and its own special promise, in virtue of which it is a work of God, indeed the Word of God Himself; and this no less than His revelation in Jesus Christ and its attestation in Holy Scripture. Its life as a human activity derives (objectively) from the fact that this work of God takes place within it, and (subjectively) from the fact that members of the Church believe in this promise. But it is a human activity. Its essential character, principles and problems can be described like those of any other human activity. Like any other it can be performed thoroughly or superficially, conscientiously or carelessly, well or badly. We have seen that the Church’s commission and therefore the promise of God’s own presence and action themselves imply a total claim made upon the member of the Church. This means, therefore, that what he says about God is subjected to a norm and receives an appointed goal. It means that he is faced with the question of the correctness of his action. The promise of the miracle of God’s grace cannot exempt him from facing up to this question. Even if grace is grace, miracle miracle and venture venture, even in recollection and expectation, even in the very presence of divine action, man is still man, and although by the divine promise he is relieved of anxiety about the success, justification and sanctification of his action, he is not relieved of responsibility for it. He himself, man, is called to the ministry of preaching. He has the promise of divine grace and miracle—but he is really called. He cannot retreat into the audience from which he can watch comfortably the operation of the grace and miracle of the work which God Himself performs. He and his action, and his human speech about God, are required to be the stage for this work. If this implies, as we have seen, a judgment, and indeed a radical judgment upon his action, it also implies that his action receives a certain definite aim by which it must be measured, and within the scope of which it must run its course. Therefore just because Christian preaching is not merely a human action but also the selfproclamation of the Word of God, a problem arises which we have to tackle seriously and intelligently—the problem of the place of the human action within this self-proclamation, the problem of Christian preaching in so far as it is a human activity comparable with other human activities (758-759).
Furthermore, for human preaching to be the Word of God, it must bear a responsibility towards God and act in the service of what God Himself will and does do.
If the assumption is valid that when the Church speaks of God God Himself will and does speak of Himself, then this human action as such is confronted by a definite task. It will have to be an action in the service of what God Himself will and does do. And we shall have to take the term service quite strictly. Neither as a whole nor in detail can there be any autonomous goal. Nor can the form and method of the action be a matter for the independent decision of those taking part. A minister in the ministerium verbi divini* is not in the least comparable, for example, with a subordinate officer in the army, or a civil servant or the head of a business department, who, in the measures he takes and the method by which he proceeds, has to bear a part of the responsibility, and to that extent take independent action and decisions. If the sovereignty of God is to be served, we obviously cannot establish in face of it any such subordinate centres of human control (759-760).  
Further, one must labor in preaching to articulate something "pure" - to articulate the true teaching that God intends (though note the important caveat), with the aim that the hearers of this word will hear God speak:
What does it mean when we say: “Pure doctrine as the problem of Christian preaching”? (761). 
Doctrinal instruction means always the impartation of something just as we have received it, and in such a way that in relation both to right reception and right communication the one who instructs is responsible not only to himself and the object, but also to all those who have to receive this same thing and impart it (761).
But what is the meaning of doctrine in this connexion? What is the doctrine of the Gospel, of the Word of God? One thing is clear. By our use of this concept to characterise the service of the Church’s preaching, we express a qualification. Even pure doctrine is not in itself the same thing as what God does when He speaks His Word. Doctrine as such cannot be the endowment of the hearer with the Holy Ghost. It cannot be his awakening to faith or even his maintenance and advance therein. It cannot be his conversion. Doctrine as such cannot bring in Jesus Christ. It cannot exhibit or build His Kingdom. It cannot bring about the event of fellowship between God and man as a living reality. If we expect these things from it, we expect too much from it, and perhaps in consequence we expect too little (762).
Doctrine means teaching, instruction, edification, institutio. It is this function which Christian preaching has to perform. But its instruction is intended for the man called to hear the Word of God. And its task is to instruct him in hearing the Word of God. We remember, of course, that to speak God’s Word, and cause it to be heard, is and remains God’s concern. It is entrusted to the Church. The Church is engaged in this ministry. It has the duty of preaching in human words the Word of God. It is therefore true that in the performance of this duty human words become the Word of God Himself. But we still cannot say intelligently, if it is a question of understanding the task of these human words as a human task, that in this ministry man has to declare to others the Word of God, to instruct others in the Word of God. For this is the content of the divine promise. Therefore it cannot as such be the content of the human task. It cannot be a description of what man has actually to do. In the performance of this task man can and must attempt to interpret revelation, or concretely the biblical witness of revelation, in the form of a testimony to its truth given to him as his own. Therefore, because what he himself does can as such only be an attempt, it will point beyond itself. When he turns to his hearers and desires to be heard by them, his concern will not be that they should hear himself, the human speaker, but that they should hear Him whose witness the human speaker is. The aim of his discourse will be that others together with him should hear God speak, that they should, as it were, be his fellow pupils in the school of God, or more exactly, the school of Holy Scripture. All that he says about God will be informed and determined by his own hearing of the Word of God (763). 
Like a window, it must be a transparent word; or like a mirror, a reflecting word. The more it repudiates and rejects anything which might intervene as a third element between God’s Word and the human hearer, the less it obtrudes itself in its own solidity between God and the hearer, the more it is positively an indication, pointer and compulsion to hearing the Word of God itself, and negatively a hushing of all the possible notes of false idolatry and human exaltation—the better it will be. And this is just what is to be understood by purity of doctrine (764).
Finally, Barth reminds us, it is only the fact that God speaks within human proclamation, that human proclamation can be truly pure. Nonetheless, we labor towards this purity, while trusting in God's grace. And this is the role of dogmatics, to labor after this purity, as much as is possible:
We have now reached the point where the task of dogmatics again comes under consideration. It is in concreto the effort and concern of the Church for the purity of its doctrine. Its problem is essentially the problem of Christian preaching (766).
And vice versa, Herr Barth. Both are concerned one with another. But why just dogmatics as a check on the purity of human proclamation? Why not theology as a whole (which he characterizes as a compilation of biblical theology, dogmatic theology, and practical theology)? It's because, like preaching, the central task of theology - dogmatics - contra biblical theology and practical theology - is the pivot in which one moves from exposition (biblical theology) to application (practical theology). Just as in preaching one moves from biblical theology to practical theology, the movement in theology between these two points is dogmatics:
At this point we might quite justifiably speak of theology as such and as a whole, that is, of the unity of biblical, dogmatic and practical theology. And in this unity there is certainly no question of precedence. Yet there is in it, as in the Holy Trinity, and not as a sum of the whole, a concrete centre which is constituted by dogmatics. In biblical theology it is a question of the foundation, in practical theology a question of the form, but in dogmatic theology—in the transition from the one to the other—a question of the content of Church preaching, its agreement with the revelation attested in Scripture. These three theological tasks are completely, or almost completely, implicated in each other, so that none can be even correctly seen and defined without the other. Yet the distinction between them arises inevitably from the practical application of the distinction which has compelled our attention in the doctrine of freedom under the Word (§ 21): observation (explicatio), assimilation (applicatio) and between the two the transition formed by reflection on the Word spoken to us in the biblical witness to revelation. We have seen how the true decision with regard to the right hearing of the Word of God in the Church is made in this reflection. To this reflection corresponds dogmatics, as the theological task which along with exegetical and practical theology is laid upon the Church in its mission and proclamation. But reflection does not take place in the void. It takes place at the central, transitional point between explicatio and applicatio, between the sensus and the usus scripturae. In the same way, dogmatics arises only at the central and transitional point between exegetical and practical theology. But it is at this central and transitional point between the question of the origin and that of the method of Christian proclamation that there obviously emerges the really critical theological question, that of its actual content. When the Church asks this question, when it submits to the critical inquiry concerning what it preaches and will preach—honestly and without prejudice, as though it does not yet know what it has to preach—its concern is for the purity of its doctrine (in so far as men can concern themselves in this matter), and therefore for the right fulfilment of the service incumbent upon it. How can it put this question of content without realising that the only source from which it can learn the answer is Holy Scripture? How, then, can there be dogmatics unless exegesis not only precedes but is included in it? And, again, how can this question be asked except in view of the proclamation laid upon the Church? How, then, can there be dogmatics unless practical theology, too, not only follows but is already included in it? All the same, it is here that we obviously find ourselves at the central point of the path leading from the one to the other, and therefore at the real centre of theology as a whole (766-767).
Barth moves now to remind us that pure doctrine is an event, it is dynamic, it is not static. It is achieved as a gift of the Holy Spirit (ah Barth, wheels within wheels, here we go around again!):
Next, we must emphasise the fact that in dogmatics it is really a question of the fulfilment of a task. If by the grace of the Word of God it happens that the human word of Christian preaching is pure doctrine, it does not happen in a static situation, but as an action of faith and obedience, an action of the Holy Ghost in the Church. Pure doctrine is a deed, not a thing—not even a matter of thoughts and words. Therefore pure doctrine is not identical with any existing text—whether it is that of specific theological formulæ, or that of a specific theological system; or that of the Church’s creed, or even the text of the Bible. Pure doctrine is an event.
Pure doctrine as the fulfilment of the promise given to Church proclamation is an event. It is the event of the grace of the Word of God and of the obedience of faith created by this grace. It is a divine gift which is only given to the Church as it is both given to it and received by it. Here, too, it is impossible to abstract the divine reality of the Holy Spirit from the prayer for the Holy Spirit in which it is acknowledged and accepted as a divine reality (768).
Barth detects a freedom (positive) and a danger (negative) in dogmatics. Not being confronted directly by either scripture or church, it can become something altogether problematic, which history has demonstrated.
The special task of dogmatics implies that it is the place where, as nowhere else, theology comes into its own. But this situation has a two-edged character of which we ought to be aware. We have said that the work of dogmatics arises at the middle point between that of exegetical and that of practical theology. This means, on the one hand, that theology can exercise itself at this point in a certain security and independence, which is not self-evident elsewhere, but peculiar to it by reason of this middle position. Behind it theology has Holy Scripture as witness to revelation, and its attestation in the earlier confessions and knowledge of the Church. Before it, it has the Church and its activity of proclamation. Thus placed, theology can reveal, unfold and shape itself in dogmatics as a characteristic branch of knowledge. It can do so all the more, the more strictly it stands in this twofold relation and avails itself of the fact that here it is held, nourished and protected in this twofold way. When it asks concerning the content of the Church’s proclamation in this sphere and framework, it is confronted by a whole world of problems, each of which is so rich and fruitful because we cannot seriously treat a single one of them without immediately having to treat the one central problem in a new and special way; for there is no real periphery, but each peripheral point immediately becomes another centre. And the details, too, form themselves automatically into a whole, the unity of which we do not merely surmise but also perceive, and then again merely surmise and fail to perceive. And, again, the more definitely we are placed within this sphere and framework, the more conversant we become with the details as such and with their cosmic totality as such: the more reason there is to be astounded, on the one hand, at the complete freedom with which we can work in every question of method, order or sequence of thought, apparently according to the peculiar disposition and talents of each individual worker, and, on the other hand, at the utter impossibility of arbitrariness either in approach or in the basic design, which the very nature of the thing determines. To engage in theology seriously means—and this in proportion to the seriousness with which the task is undertaken—to awaken as a theologian to scientific self-consciousness (773).
But at this point a further question arises, for as dogmatics effects the transition from the Bible to preaching, and constitutes it by its own human reflection, it provides the occasion, as we have already seen in § 21, on which the question of the relation between theology and philosophy becomes a burning issue. Is it not inevitable that at this point, where it seems that theology is no longer thinking and speaking exegetically and not yet practically, philosophy will present itself with instruction how critical and systematic thought is to be carried on in this process of transition? Is it not inevitable that in its suggestions—the suggestions which the theologian makes to himself in his capacity as a philosopher—the significant fact will again emerge that it is in dogmatics that the theologian can most easily lay an unauthorised emphasis on self? This is the classical point for the invasion of alien powers, the injection of metaphysical systems which are secretly in conflict with the Bible and the Church. And where this has taken place, it has only separated the Bible and the Church, and after lending to dogmatics a certain false independence, it has caused its disintegration and that of theology generally, at first inwardly and very soon outwardly as well. If the complaints about the aloofness and abstraction of dogmatics from life are justified, if in this matter man is more concerned about himself than his subject, then the reason or the effect will almost always be found in some such interpenetration. We must note again that there is a real source of danger at this point. When theology, as it were, snatches away the biblical word in order to press it into the framework of a scheme of thought which it has already prepared and regards as absolute, and to pass it on in this form to the preaching of the Church, then no matter what the scheme may be, the evil has already been committed, that is, the corruption of doctrine, which it is the task of theology, and of dogmatics at this middle point of theology, to prevent. The keeper himself has opened the gate to the enemy (774).
Barth then moves towards a close with a description of the proper task of dogmatics.

First, there is the hearing of the word of proclamation: "Even the work of dogmatics can begin only with the hearing of the Word of God, and indeed the hearing of it in the proclamation of the Church. It, too, proceeds from the expectation and the claim which this proclamation arouses, that the human word which is heard may be not only man’s word, but God’s own Word" (775).

Second, there is praying: "If dogmatics is particularly concerned with the work which from the Church point of view must be done in order that its divine worship may be divine worship not merely in form and appearance but in reality, then it cannot be sufficiently emphasised that this work cannot be properly done except in so far as the dogmatic theologian both assigns to prayer a much more important place in the solution of the problems confronting him, and also himself participates in the prayer of the Church for the correctness of its liturgy and the purity of its doctrine" (776).

Third, asking whether what has been done and proclaimed is important and crucial and being done rightly: "All the questions of dogmatics have fundamentally the same direction. The purity of doctrine is the issue, and therefore it is a question whether the words, the phrases, the sequences of thought, the logical construction of Christian preaching have or have not the quality of serving the Word of God and becoming transparent for it. We have to emphasise that it is the words, phrases, sequences of thought and logical construction which are our concern here. It is not, therefore, a question whether something has been omitted in Christian preaching. It is much rather a question whether something has been done in it, but rightly done" (777-778).

Barth concludes this way, with a final comment about the task of dogmatics, and with the two questions which dogmatics will always address itself:
The task of dogmatics consists generally in a critical examination of its material, which means in fact of these key-words and basic outlines of the Church’s speech about God. To examine does not mean to reject. It means to take up, in order to test, or weigh, or measure. Its purpose is to see whether the matter to be tested is what it promises to be and really should be. Dogmatics tests the Church’s speech about God, in order to find out whether as man’s word it is fitted to serve the Word of God. It considers it in the light of the promise that its essential character, order and task are to serve the Word of God and so to be pure doctrine. It does not allow the changing situation in which it stands, and the confusing multiplicity of its meaning and expression, to mislead it into supposing that the Church’s speech about God is not worth examining. But, again, it will not wrongly suppose that, because in its reality and its apparent unity this speech would prefer not to be exposed to criticism, it therefore does not need it. About the fulfilment of this criticism we shall have to speak in the last two sections of this chapter. Obviously, an examination of this kind cannot be carried out arbitrarily. As we have seen, the danger is not ruled out that a bad examination of the Church’s preaching and therefore bad dogmatics may do more harm than good to preaching. Therefore there is every reason that dogmatics should prove itself to be competent for this task, examining itself first in regard to the method to which it must subject itself if it is to be a good examination and good dogmatics. And if in this preliminary self-examination it is a question of measuring and weighing, it is clear what the questions which dogmatics must first of all put to itself should be: (1) the question concerning the criterion or standard with which it is to conduct its examination; and (2) the question concerning the right use of this criterion and standard. We can call the first the question of the dogmatic norm, the second that of dogmatic thinking. The dogmatic norm is the objective possibility, dogmatic thinking the subjective possibility of the Church’s proclamation, of which the reality is the Word of God itself" (781).