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The Constant Uneasiness of Theology

Barth’s ruminations on theological method are interesting on multiple levels, not the least of which is the way his thought bears on how we understand the relationship(s) between Christian theology and ideology (critique).

The Church can neither question its proclamation absolutely nor correct it absolutely. It can only exert itself to see how far it is questioned and how far it ought to be corrected. On its human work it can only do again a human work of criticising and correcting. And because this is so, it will be far from thinking that it either wants or is able to rid itself of the attack on its proclamation, the uneasiness which God Himself has prepared for it. (CD I/1, 75-76)

Here Barth makes a supremely important point about the nature of theological thinking: its irreducible contingency. Theology is not and never can be absolute, rather it is a contingent human work. As such it cannot expect to arrive at absolute, necessary, indubitably certitude. Rather the church should not want to escape from its situation of contingency, because it is in this state of constant uneasiness before God that we learn obedience, and that we learn to live in the sort of patience that attunes us to receive God’s own liberating address.

Thus, the church’s theological task, vis a vis ideology is never done. We can never hope to extricate ourselves from ideology, from the need to have our conceptual formulations critiqued and reconstituted. We can inhabit this place of uneasiness, however, precisely, and only because of God’s active faithfulness in Christ who meets us in our contingency and speaks his liberating word of reconciliation and redemption. Only by virtue of God’s own invasive, redeeming, and transfiguring action do we have the hope of passing, in Nate Kerr’s term, from ideology to doxology.


  1. Colin wrote:

    On a tangentially related note, how is your reading program working out?

    Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 11:24 am | Permalink
  2. Halden wrote:

    I’m going to give an update every time a month elapses since the start date. Until then, mum’s the word.

    Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 11:28 am | Permalink
  3. An Anxious Anglican wrote:

    After reading this text, I was moved to wonder whether Rowan Williams is a Barthian. Thoughts?

    Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 11:46 am | Permalink
  4. Halden wrote:

    I wouldn’t say that Williams is a “Barthian” in any straightforward way. But, I will say that the more Barth I read, the more I think the influence runs deep.

    Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 11:51 am | Permalink
  5. kim fabricius wrote:

    The influence of Barth does run deep – e.g.: in Barth’s out-thinking post-Enlightenment theology by being more, not less critical – and liberal! – than liberals themselves; in his theology being public and political, as well as unashamedly kerygmatic and doxological, all the way down; perhaps above all in his deep love for Jesus and joy in the gospel – that’s for starters.

    Of course Williams drank directly from the well of Barth, but his esteemed teacher Donald MacKinnon was an immensely important cup-bearer. There is their tremendous mutual indebtedness to Augustine. Note also the influence of Hegel on both – add Wittgenstein to Williams. Barth’s friend von Balthasar was a big Catholic influence on Williams. The impact of Orthodoxy and the mystical traditions – and “Anglican Identities” (the title of a book by Williams) – and English and Welsh poetry – add meta-Barthian ingredients to the unique Williams mix.

    There is a thesis here waiting to be written …

    Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 2:15 pm | Permalink
  6. Sue wrote:

    Of course all theology is inevitably uneasy because it does not, and in fact can not, deal with the over-whelming fact of death. Or the fact that everything changes moment to moment.

    And it is ALL culture and ideology bound. That is, it is all mounted on, and an extension of, the dominant paradigm that rules in any place and time. The dominant paradigm that has governed the West for several hundred years now, being that of reductionist scientism. Meaning that every minute fraction of our “culture” is patterned by the ideology of scientism, including everything that is usually called religion.

    The only people that ever made any real difference in the history of Spirituality and hence religion and culture altogether, were the illuminated Saints, Yogis, Mystics and Sages–the renegades outside of the temple.

    It is also interesting to note that such people were both extremely rare in Western culture altogether, and more or less unwelcome while they were alive—they were often persecuted.

    Plus no such Illuminated beings have appeared in the West for over 500 years. That is why we are in such deep trouble.

    Thursday, May 28, 2009 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

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