§1.3.2-1.4.1: Do Our Beliefs Change to Reflect the Culture? Should They?

Jason Micheli —  March 19, 2013 — Leave a comment

barthIn §1.3.2-1.4.1 Barth distinguishes the relationship between preaching and dogmatics.

Where Barth uses the word ‘preaching’ I’d substitute worship and/or the life of faith. 

Where Barth uses the word ‘dogmatics’ I’d substitute Christian doctrine or beliefs.

For Barth, the purpose of doctrine is descriptive not pre or proscriptive.

Our beliefs follow after our worship and life of faith.

Doctrine is reflecting on what we do as Christians. Doctrine attempts to articulate what is often ineffable about Christian faith- what do we mean by ‘This is my body, broken for you…’ or what are we doing when we serve the poor. Doctrine reflects on the practices that make up our life of faith in the light of scripture.

This is a very different starting point an understanding of theology that simply parrots doctrinal assertions- fundamentals- irrespective of the history, texts, practices and lives of the Christians living out those beliefs.

Because doctrine is descriptive not pre or proscriptive, Christian doctrine is not immutable.

Our beliefs change.

That’s not to say, for instance, that we can turn around and no longer believe in the resurrection. It is to suggest, however, that how Christians understand and articulate the resurrection changes from period to period and culture to culture.

Any honest reading of Christian history bears out the truth of this point.

The doctrine of the atonement is a prime example of a Christian belief that has gotten incarnated in distinct ways throughout Christian history.

The most common atonement theory, penal substitution, owes its origin to and would not be comprehensible apart from the Lord-Vassal relationship of Medieval Feudalism. 

Doctrine is not immutable. Beliefs- or the way they’re understood and applied- change.

Therefore, the task of theology, of reflecting on our faith, never ends. It’s always a process, which is another reason Barth never finished his CD.

Without jettisoning the ways and wisdom of the past, the Church, must always strive to express its faith to the people of its own time and culture and time.

At the same time, however, Barth argues that Christian belief not be made answerable to the demands, values or standards of a given culture.

This is the balance Barth wants the Church to walk.

While the Church cannot express its beliefs according to the cultural demands of science, philosophy and art, the Church, in attempting to articulate its beliefs for its time and place, must respect its culture enough be able to communicate across disciplines.

Contextualizing our faith to speak to and reflect our cultural location is inevitable. It’s hubris to think otherwise.

Here are some slides I showed a few weeks ago to our church-planting group, illustrating how historically the Church’s cultural situation has influenced how it understood and expressed it’s faith:

Satellite Session 4

Jason Micheli


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