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Church Dogmatics §1 Comments

This is cross-posted from our ongoing reading/discussion blog, Reading through Church Dogmatics. I figure I’ll post my summary sections here the day after I post them on the reading group blog so I can index them as we go and maybe it’ll end up being a helpful resource for people interested in the Church Dogmatics.

§1.1 The Church, Theology, Science

Summary: Theology, Barth argues, is the self-examination of the church regarding the content of what it claims about God. Theology, for Barth, is interrogatory, it subjects the church to self-examination in light of the God that the gospel proclaims. As such theology is primarily a self-critical discipline rather than an apologetic, or an attempt to synthesize other human disciplines into a scientific whole. In fact, for Barth, whatever relationship there might be between theology and other human sciences isn’t really that big of a deal. The point is that theology, fundamentally, is about subjecting ourselves to judgment on the basis of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.

Money Quote: “Theology does not in fact possess special keys to special doors. Nor does it control a basis of knowledge which might not find actualisation in other sciences. Nor does it know an object of enquiry necessarily concealed from other sciences. Only by failing to recognise the actualisation of revelation, the possibility of grace and therefore its own nature, could it possibly make any such claim.” (p. 5)

§1.2 Dogmatics as an Enquiry

Summary: First of all, since theology is a form of inquiry, that assumes that the truth about God can in fact be known by human beings. This assumption is made in the act of faith in Jesus Christ who “in His revelation gives Himself to faith” (p. 12) However, this means that Christian talk about God must constantly be tested by its conformity to Christ, an always ambiguous and uncertain enterprise. Ultimately it is “the freely acting God Himself and alone” who is “the truth of revelation” (p. 15-16). All our theological efforts can never be accorded the authority that ultimately belongs to the free and living Lord.

Money Quote: “Dogmatics is possible only as theologia crucis, in the act of obedience which is certain in faith, but which for this very reason is humble, always being thrown back to the beginning and having to make a fresh start. It is not possible as an effortless triumph or intermittent labour. It always takes place on the narrow way which leads from the enacted revelation to the promised revelation.” (p. 14)

§1.3 Dogmatics as an Act of Faith

Summary: Theology is an act of faith. It is undertaken by those who have been called together by Jesus Christ (the church). But faith itself is the “gracious address of God to [hu]man[ity], the free personal presence of Jesus Christ in his activity” (p. 18). As such dogmatics assumes not a human capacity or disposition, but rather depends wholly on the free, gracious, and present action of God in Christ. And thus the church cannot guarantee the possibility of doing dogmatics at all. It should set out to examine itself, interrogate itself, and strive for faithfulness, but it can only do so on the basis of hope, hope that God will be present, active, and will free us up in grace to speak rightly about the truth of the gospel. As such theological work must be understood finally as prayer (p. 23).

Money Quote: “Prayer can be the recognition that we accomplish nothing by our intentions, even though they be intentions to pray. Prayer can be the expression of our human willing of the will of God. Prayer can signify that for good or evil [hu]man[ity]justifies God and not himself. Prayer can be the human answer to the divine hearing already granted, the epitome of the true faith which we cannot assume of ourselves. We do not speak of true prayer if we say ‘must’ instead of ‘can.’” (p. 24)

Edited to add: Also, in the interest of directing conversation to the blog for the reading group, all of my own reflections/provocations will be included only in the original posts at the reading group blog. Over here we’ll just have the summaries and money quotes kept on file for indexing purposes down the road.


  1. Adam Kotsko wrote:

    Fun fact: the term “money quote” derives from the pornographic convention of ending with a “money shot.” (To those who don’t know what it is, I recommend against searching Google to find out.)

    Thursday, January 6, 2011 at 8:57 am | Permalink
  2. saint egregious wrote:

    Oh, yes, Adam, its always fun to try to provoke the ‘Christians’ by pointing out that they write with their trousers down as well as everyone else! But in fact, the phrase ‘money shot’ is not original to porn at all (nor is anything else for that matter, alas!) No, first known usage of the phrase ‘money shot’ belongs to of all sexy subjects, golf! As the king of the miraculous malaprop once said, ‘You can look it up!’

    Thursday, January 6, 2011 at 9:39 am | Permalink
  3. Adam Kotsko wrote:

    It does still seem to be the case that the term is now most associated with porn. I was not suggesting that Halden was thinking of porn the whole time he was reading Barth (if he was, I would suggest some intensive therapy), but just thought it was odd that a summary of Barth would repeatedly use a term so reminiscent of “money shot.”

    Thursday, January 6, 2011 at 10:28 am | Permalink

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