If nothing else, Karl Barth provides a needful salve for the Christian blogosphere.
The sheer breadth and length of Barth’s Dogmatics could fool you. Despite how much hot air Barth devotes to theology, Barth believes theology’s primary task is to listen.
Listening, for Barth, entails the Church standing as subject under the word which testifies to the Word of God, Jesus Christ. But for Barth, this ‘listening’ is not like listening to the Nixon tapes or to a Taylor Swift mp3. Because the word witnesses to the Living Word, ‘listening’ to what God speaks through scripture is always a listening afresh. Ironically, Barth argues that treating scripture as the words God said (versus the words God uses to say) inescapably risks wandering from God’s word.
Those most beholden to a wooden doctrine of scripture as the (once-for-all) Word of God are those most vulnerable to straying from the word God speaks through scripture today.
§23.1 of the CD in a nutshell:
God speaks in Christ the Logos and the word of scripture which testifies to the Logos, but God speaks still in the word that is the proclamation of the Logos in Church.
That’s Barth’s 3-Fold Form of the Word of God, still a cure for whatever form of conservative or liberal fundamentalism may afflict your faith.
Nevertheless, a part of me (the Thomistic, Wesleyan part) recoils at the way Barth so thoroughly equates obedience to the Word with right speech and right doctrine about God. What’s been a persistent note throughout volume 1 of the CD here becomes a more obvious and dominant theme in §23.1 as Barth turns to the mode of ‘listening.’
Barth goes all in with dogma here:
“the existence of an orderly Church dogmatics is the unfailingly effective and only possible instrument of peace in the church.”
I suspect the equivalency Barth draws between obedience to the Word and right dogmatics about God is why my commitment to re-reading the CD has foundered of late. As opposed to the witness of his life, there’s no sense in this volume of the CD that obedience to the Word entails doing as much as it does dogma.
So maybe Barth’s riff on ‘listening’ here isn’t what the Christian blogosphere- or the Western Church in general- needs to hear at all. Because…
Christians in the West- blue or red, liberal or conservative- are in absolutely zero danger of being regarded as sufficiently zealous for their dogma.
Too many Christians today equate discipleship with possessing the ‘faithful’ position on a given issue. For the most part Christians are known for what or who they’re against- or what or who they’re for- either of which are largely declarations of doctrine and not reflections upon Christian doing.
So maybe Barth’s riff on ‘listening’ here isn’t what the Christian blogosphere- or the Western Church in general- needs to hear because, the truth is, we’re so bad at listening to others.
And each other.
As much as I flinch at the way Barth likens listening to God with right dogma about God, §23.1 has gotten me thinking.
The first centuries of the Church were given to establishing the bounds of correct Christian belief, and for understandable reasons. The ancient Church’s discernment has bequeathed us the creeds, which provide us the contours of ‘orthodoxy.’ The ancient Church’s resultant debates have identified for us heresies, those beliefs which fall beyond our right praise of God.
But the creeds reflect the time and place and uncertainties of the Church which gave them to us.
Is Christ God or man?
Is God One or three?
From whom does the Spirit come?
Reading §23.1 I can’t help but think-
We who are so good at dogma about Jesus but so bad at doing like Jesus could use a creed for our time and place.
One that defines ortho-praxy with the same degree of precision as the Nicene creed unpacks the immanent Trinity.
We could use a new creed that could help us, who are so preoccupied with policing beliefs, name heresies of Christian action with the same sort of specificity the Donatist heresy spelled out wrong belief.
What would an ortho-praxis creed for our place and time and uncertainty look like?
‘….we believe an ungenerous person is not really a Christ-follower…’
What about someone who never actually prays? Or refuses to forgive their ex? Or give up their racism? Can one support state-sponsored execution and still be said to worship the state-executed Jesus? What of sex? Drones? The unborn? War?
Is everything sans ‘belief’ in Christ just up for grabs, left to be shaded according to one’s personal political hue?
What would it look like if the same sort of consensus on praxis was demanded across Christ’s Body that was once demanded on dogma?
Yes, it would take long to hammer out such consensus- it did then.
Yes, it would be painful and costly- it was then.
After all, if Barth’s right, if those beholden to a God spoke in the past perspective risk straying from God’s Living Word, then those of us who don’t think our new place and time and uncertainty might require a new kind of creed risk the very same thing.