Christian or Church Dogmatics

Reading CD atop Pinnacle Mtn, Arkansas

Church Dogmatics, Volume 1, Part 1 is a revision of Barth’s first offer of dogmatics.  The Doctrine of the Word of God, published in 1927, was the first volume of what was to be Christian Dogmatics in Outline.  In the Preface of the 1932 rewrite, Barth explains why he had “to begin again at the beginning, saying the same thing, but in a very different way” (xi).  He had done something of the same with his Romerbrief (1919, revised 1921), seeking to overturn nineteenth century theological liberalism.  In his own estimation, the first go at dogmatics had not gone far enough and was in need of a revision based upon what he had learned “both historically and materially” (xi) in the intervening years.

Among the changes, Barth mentions …

  1. Church Dogmatics, I,1 is more expansive and thus contains only half the material of the single volume of the first edition.  Barth covers the same ground in two parts rather than one.  His aim is “to make more extensive soundings and lay broader foundations” (xii) in this fuller discussion.
  2. Church Dogmatics includes the feature of “interposed sections in small print” in which Barth explores “biblio-theological presuppositions and the historico-dogmatic and polemical relations” (xii) of text in the larger type.  He suggests that these sections can be skipped, if one is not a ‘gourmet theologian’; and yet, treasures, not to be missed, lie in the smaller font.
  3. Barth shifts from Christian to Church Dogmatics.  With the change, he commits himself “to show that from the very outset dogmatics is not a free science.  It is bound to the sphere of the Church, where alone it is possible and meaningful” (xiii).  As such, theology remains tied and responsible to the Church.
  4. The revision is necessary in order to exclude what might appear as “a foundation, support, or justification in philosophical existentialism” (xiii).  He explains that the first edition opened the possibility of continuing along the path of German Liberal Theology leading to the “destruction of Protestant theology and the Protestant church.”  The revision is meant to expunge any conceivable grounds of continuation along this path.
  5. Barth writes for the sake of the Evangelical Church – “The community in and for which I have written is that of the Church and not a community of theological endeavour” (xv).  He explains that there are programs, theologies, and fashions the Church must oppose, if it is to be the Church in the situation in which it finds itself.

Barth closes his Preface with a brief sketch of the six volumes that are to follow and the admission that it will take “many years to carry out the plan as now envisaged” (xvii).  From this resolute beginning, he labors for over thirty years addressing the Church as the Church with the concern that she not be less than the Church.

Reread, Re-envision

For more than two centuries [Western power] has provided the framework in which the Western churches have understood their world missionary task. To continue to think in the familiar terms is now folly. We are forced to do something that the Western churches have never had to do since the days of their own birth – to discover the form and substance of a missionary church in terms that are valid in a world that has rejected the power and the influence of the Western nations. Missions will no longer work along the stream of expanding Western power. They have to learn to go against the stream. And in this situation we shall find that the New Testament speaks to us much more directly that does the nineteenth century as we learn afresh what it means to bear witness to the gospel from a position not of strength but of weakness.
-Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret[1]

A reframing of missions capable of countering the modernizing tendencies within the mission movement must offer an alternative that is substantial and potent. Such an alternative must come from sources that are more than cultural and religious, especially since these have been implicated in the initiation and justification of Western dominance and control. Surely, if we are to find an alternative, correcting voice, capable of defying the powers that so easily seduce and intoxicate us, we will need to look beyond the familiar to substance that is more than merely political, national, or cultural. Such substance can only be found in Jesus Christ and the scriptures that point to him. Continue reading

Fear this, not that

The Church should fear God and not fear the world.  But only if and as it fears God need it cease to fear the world.  If it does not fear God, then it is not helped at all but genuinely endangered if it fears the world, listens to its oppositions, considers its attitude, and accepts all kinds of responsibilities toward it, no matter how necessary and justified may be the criticism it receives from this quarter. CD, I/1, pp. 73-74

Fear, the most basic and pervasive of human emotions, operates in two modes.  Fear of the first order manifests itself as a strong, unpleasant emotion caused by realized or anticipated danger or dread.  Whether rational or irrational, founded or unfounded, fear in this form is a terror, horror, or panic that captures us and puts everything into question. Continue reading

When the Ground Shakes

On April 5, 2009, Giampaolo Giuliani, a researcher attached to Italy’s National Institute of Nuclear Physics, announced that an earthquake was imminent.  Emissions of higher than usual amounts of radon gas detected at four meters he had placed around his hometown of L’Aquila convinced him that an earthquake of at least a 4.0 magnitude would occur within 48 hours.  Naturally he began warning the people of L’Aquila through the Internet.  Authorities decided he was a contentious crackpot causing unnecessary panic, so they placed him under an injunction that prevented him from issuing public alerts.  Authorities even removed notices he posted on the Internet and threatened him with imprisonment if he reposted or made public announcements.  Restricted in what he could do, Giuliani went house-to-house warning neighbors, friends and family.  Once night came, he, with his immediate family, went to bed fully dressed, prepared to escape the anticipated earthquake and to help those who would survive.  Just before daylight he awoke to a series of violent quakes that were not a 4.0 magnitude but 7.0.  By the end of the day, a total of 308 people had died and 80,000 were left without shelter.[i]

To the inhabitants of L’Aquila, life had appeared stable and safe, calm and certain, and yet forces in the depths of the earth were shifting in opposing directions and tension that had been building for some time suddenly erupted into a massive earthquake.  Surely they thought, ‘How could such a cataclysmic event happen in our town?’ Continue reading

Living Toward a Wider Vista

For those of us who are ministers and leaders in the local church, there is a long list of things that we do.  Included are activities such as preaching and teaching, praying for the distressed and sick, visiting people in the hospital, providing activities for children and students, planning worship, dealing with personnel matters, creating opportunities for fellowship, managing finances, and the list goes on and on.  While good, worthy, and necessary, these ‘must do’s’ can at times become ends in themselves, unless broader and ultimate purposes are kept clearly in view. Continue reading

Reimagining Existence

Conversations concerning the church seem to be increasing, especially when they are about her nature or essence.  This growing discussion, centered on what the church is in herself and what constitutes her nature, evidences an awareness that how the church imagines herself determines most everything else about her – how she acts and reacts, spends her money, organizes her corporate life, interfaces with the wider culture, etc.  So, whether the church defines herself as house, organic, emergent, or aqua does makes a difference. Continue reading

Which Mission? Whose Mission?

The world as we know it is rapidly changing.  Current economic, demographic, technological, and political changes can cause our heads to spin.  Yet, one change that may not be as obvious is that the American context is becoming less and less Christian, especially in the way Christianity has been traditionally understood and followed.  People are asking such questions as “Why bother with church?”  “What has the Christian faith to do with the real problems of life?”  In some quarters, the questions are not as benign.  These people aggressively ask, “Why are Christians so bigoted, narrow-minded, and anti-everything?”  Studies show that while there is a growing interest in matters spiritual, Christianity and the church are increasingly viewed as irrelevant or passé, especially when it comes to our collective lives as Americans.

So, how are Christians to respond to this new reality?  Continue reading


As I am currently reading through term papers, I occasionally come across jewels from students or from teachers of the past.  The following is from a dead teacher, Lesslie Newbigin …

The Church is the pilgrim people of God.  It is on the move – hastening to the ends of the earth to beseech all men to be reconciled to God, and hastening to the end of the time to meet its Lord who will gather all into one.  Therefore the nature of the Church is never to be finally defined in static terms, but only in terms of that to which it is going […]  When the Church ceases to be one, or ceases to be missionary, it contradicts its own nature. Yet the Church is not defined by what it is, but by that End to which it moves.  And the power of the End now works in the Church, the power of the Holy Spirit who is the earnest of the inheritance still to be revealed. (The Household of God, pp. 18-19).

Thank you, Chad.

Finding their Voice

One of the characteristics of modernity, according to Anthony Giddens (The Consequence of Modernity, p. 27), is the rise of “expert systems” of “technical accomplishments or professional expertise that organize large areas of material and social environments in which we live today.”  These systems and experts allow the layperson to trust in the system and the expertise of the professional and thus stand apart from or live without intimate knowledge of huge areas of life.  So, whether the professional is a lawyer, doctor, or counselor, we trust the expert knowledge of that professional without question. Continue reading

Globalized Answers

As moderns, we have the tendency to globalize when it comes answers.  We want to find the one method, the one strategy, or the single solution that will answer every situation, for every location.  We want to find the ‘silver bullet’ or discover the ‘mega-strategy’ that will work whether we are in Los Angeles, Munich, Nairobi or Hong Kong. Continue reading