Karl Barth, Theological Language, and Gambling with the Commandments

From time to time a book comes along that broadsides me. I am having this experience reading Karl Barth’s ‘Evangelical Theology: An Introduction.’ This is my first taste of Barth, and I’m reeling. Where on earth has he been all my life?

Here’s a taster for you…

The theologian can only have God for himself when he has him continually against himself. And only when he reconciles himself to this can he, for his part, also desire to be for God.

All theology appears reprehensible and, therefore, subject to temptation by God, firstly, to the extent that even if it should all the time not lose sight of the first commandment, it scarcely seems able to avoid weighty transgressions of the second and third commands concerning worship of images and the taking of God’s name in vain. “When words are many, transgression is not lacking” (Proverbs 10:19). Where and when was theology ever untainted by the enormous presumption of treating its positive and negative as well as its critical concepts, along with its linguistic forms and constructions, as identifications of reality instead of as parables? When has theology not attempted to entrap the divine Logos in it analogies, setting these analogies, in fact, on the throne of God, worshipping and proclaiming them or recommending and acclaiming them for worship and proclamation? And where or when was it ever free from the frivolity of treating its indications of God’s work and word in a smooth flow of thoughts and speech, just as though they were roulette chips, which can be tossed on the table of general conversation according to whim or desire, in hopes of winning hard cash? (Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology: An Introduction, p.138)

Wow. Talk about a stark warning to be careful about our speech as theologians (and wannabe theologians like me). I am profoundly grateful that in the mercy of God the language he gives me to speak of him still bears witness to him accurately, if not completely; adequately, if not exhaustively. This will have to be enough for me, but more than that, it even seems to be enough for God! Perhaps then, by the grace of God, our stammering speech is acceptable to him through Christ Jesus.





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