Reading Barth in the morning over coffee is what I had in mind when I started this. The winter sun rising with catastrophic pinks and shining into my kitchen. My mind humming away on the latest pop-ditty the kids are going mad for.
In reality, I have ended up reading Barth at the back of boring introductory philosophy lectures and in a coffeeshop waiting for an interview with Presbytery about my application to be a candidate for ordination. Neither setting was quite as charming and relaxing as the one envisioned.
I did manage to retain some of it though. In Chapter 1 he deals with “The Need for Dogmatic Prolegomena”. Prolegomena is a word I have been repeating syllabically in an effort to learn how to say it. Barth splits with many of his predecessors in this Dogmatics game and casts doubt on the whole need for an introduction.
Explaining your assumptions and outlining your methodologies is all well and good but if you are only doing it to impress the intellectual movers and shakers (read: science) then you are selling the project short before you even begin. Against for example, Brunner, Barth doesn’t think that a project of dogma like the one he is engaging on should be prefaced with a kind of bridge or translatory introduction for the sceptics out there. The Church ought to be confident enough in it’s content- the Revelation of God, regardless of whether that has fallen out of fashion.
And so he says:
There is no dispute about the fact that dogmatics too, together with the Christian Church generally, has to speak all along the line as faith opposing unbelief, and that to that extent all alone the line her language must be apologetic, polemical. But there has never been any effective apologetic and polemic of faith against unbelief that the unintended one (impossible to intend! purely experiential!) which took place when God Himself sided with the witness of faith.
I know now why so many American evangelical Christians initially despised Barth. They were presuppositionalist in their apologetics.
My question is whether or not we can say that Barth’s point holds true on a serious work of systematic theology that deals explicitly and centrally with the Divine Revelation and simultaneously endorse Cornelius Van Til and the presupposition boys in their one-to-one relational evangelism with people who are sceptical about the whole basis of Christianity? Can one do that and still be consistent? Tim Keller is the chief descendant of the Presuppositionalists today and his book Reason For God is one I have already read so many times I feel I can quote large chunks of it. But I am totally and utterly convinced by Barth that “Difference of faith is faith in which we hear unbelief express itself in words” and therefore we cannot begin every discussion of the revealed truth with a special appeal to the mythical “non-believer”.
How do I reconcile the two? Eh? Maybe Barth will answer me. (Maybe he has already and I missed it). Tune in next week to find out.
Your Correspondent, Off to see Liam Neeson pretend to be Bond