Several years ago, I read a few volumes of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics. During that period of my life I wasn’t sleeping much and I probably read too quickly. Anyhow, I’m trying to just read 10 pages a day now. I’ll eventually finish, or maybe I won’t. Reading the Bible and doing what Jesus says is better, but Barth is useful for preachers because he helps build the habit of comparing the church’s preaching back to Jesus. In other words, he reminds pastors to go back to Jesus and stay on task.
And without further ado:
The criterion of past, future and therefore present Christian utterance is thus the being of the Church, namely, Jesus Christ, God in His gracious revealing and reconciling address to man. Does Christian utterance derive from Him? Does it lead to Him? Is it conformable to Him? None of these questions can be put apart, but each is to be put independently and with all possible force. Hence theology as biblical theology is the question of the basis, as practical theology the question of the goal and as dogmatic theology the question of the content of the distinctive utterance of the Church.
Karl Barth, Geoffrey William Bromiley, and Thomas F. Torrance, Church Dogmatics: The Doctrine of the Word of God, Part 1, vol. 1 (London; New York: T&T Clark, 2004), 4–5.
Barth’s main point here is that the standard for theology is “the being of the Church.” People could easily read that and think, “What the heck?” But he explains himself: Jesus is the being of the church. Thus, the standard for theology is (not immediately) “is it true?” This is because one might have a definition of truth that is false or silly! Instead the standard is, “Is it comformable to, based on, and directed toward Jesus Christ?
Now, don’t get me wrong, I think truth matters for theology. But Barth is making the point that if by “truth” somebody means, “that which is laboratory tested, that which makes me feel good, that which conforms to my worldview” then this question will do no good for theology (but I would add: yet).
Why does this matter? Well, last week I wrote about having Christian mindset. I think that Barth’s writings can help us in this matter. The following questions can help us return to Scripture not merely to be right and not merely to learn right decisions but to learn the right approach to ideas and decisions:
- Is my mindset conformable to Jesus Christ
- Is my mindset based on Jesus Christ?
- Is my mindset directed toward him?
These questions can lead one to a rather ruthless form of repentance from all sorts of idolatries, cowardices, and hardnesses of the heart. So, once again, while speculative theology and practical theology have their place in the Christian life and while the Bible certainly has its place in those things, do not forget to read it in order to have the wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3:14-17).