For the uninitiated, ‘apologetics’ is the fancy word that describes the attempt to rationally account for- and prove- the faith claims of Christianity. Better put, apologists are those who try to convince skeptics and nonbelievers that Christianity is ‘true.’
Think: CS Lewis’ Mere Christianity.
What’s the requisite ingredient for good apologetics?
Surprisingly, it’s not God.
It’s ‘common ground.’
My friend Jesse rightly noted in § 1.1 that it seemed Barth would disavow any sort of rational justification of the faith. Despite being a Baptist, Jesse is evidently a good, perceptive reader.
In §1.2 Barth is convinced that there is no “being” that is a larger category within which to make sense of God. That is, as Stanley Hauerwas likes to quip:
if there’s a larger, universal category of Truth with which everyone can appeal to and agree upon…then you should worship that Category, don’t worship the God of Israel and Jesus Christ.
Put another way, we can’t step outside of the category ‘God’ and rationally evaluate it because ‘God’ is the infinite, overarching category in which we live our incredibly finite lives.
Barth insists, therefore, that we take our own Christian faith as our starting point any time we give an account of our faith. We best explain our Christian language by speaking Christian. The Christian language can only be learned by immersion.
We must never pretend, Barth confesses, that our faith can be cast aside in the effort to find ‘common ground’ with the unbeliever and thereby reason our way to God.
Just as an aside, anyone who’s actually spent time with people of other religious traditions- talking about their religion- will know how elusive is this notion of ‘common perspective’ and thus how naive and dismissive it is to presume such a thing exists.
Maybe Sherlock Holmes could reason his way to the hounds of the Baskervilles but we can never hope to reason our way to cross and resurrection.
No, Barth insists that whenever we slide into apologetics and accept the existence of ‘common ground’ in articulating our faith, we deny that one crucial article of our confession that makes us distinctly who we are:
I believe in the forgiveness of sins.
Barth will not have us engaging the world if it means accepting the terms of a world that doesn’t believe sins have been/can be forgiven.
This is where Barth parts ways with all you Catholics (and Baptists). Barth will have nothing to do with natural theology.
For Barth, Jesus is absolutely singular. Looking to the natural world around us for insights or a path to God is not even a beginning point because its a beginning point that will never end up at Easter.
For Barth, God’s freedom will not allow the event of revelation and of faith to become captive to an institution or rationality.
We believe that God has revealed. That means revelation is the only grounds upon which we think through our faith–either of the church or of the mind.
Sorry, Jesse, but what Barth is doing here is what first made him appealing to me.
Much like how Joel Osteen makes me want to vomit in my mouth, I’ve always believed I’d rather have no answer to a faith question than a shallow, contrived, BS answer in the name of Jesus.
And, let’s admit it, that’s exactly what a lot of apologetics amounts to: backing up the bible by pimping out partial scientific assertions and Natural Philosophy for Dummies.
It’s not just academic for me.
I came to faith against my will at a time when I thought I was the smartest person in the room- okay, I still think I’m the smartest person in the room.
My point is that I should’ve been ripe for an intellectual demonstration of the faith. But it never interested me. I came to faith by….what?….the Holy Spirit?
Whatever you might call it, it left me convinced that when it comes to God, just like any other love, reason is not the road to the heart.
Or to faith.
Stay Tuned Barth Fans: I’ll post more reflections on section 2 later this week.