On account of doing a degree and finishing a Masters and maintaining and marriage and working full time in a church plant, I somehow don’t have as much time as I would like for sleep, live Presidential debates, showering or indeed, blogging. But I have made time for Barth and although I must skip a day here and a day there I am on track, less than .1% in, to finish this gargantuan work in five years. Taking a page from the book of my classmates in recent philosophy classes, “I think we can all agree that it is impossible, irrational and anthropologically illogical to even consider me not completing this project and only old-fashioned people would ever think that, know what I mean?”
Philosophy class is often where I read Barth. It’s no fun doing introductory philosophy when you are married to a philosophy researcher in that department. It’s like being forced to spend four hours every week observing people as they fall over on their faces.
Barth is great fun though. I can never predict what is coming next and he keeps highlighting to me just how much we assume. My run of the mill evangelicalism comes with a boatload of pre-suppositions about what direction theology ought to go and in a turn of phrase Barth sends me excitedly scurrying down an alley I never knew existed.
There are a lot of things from the last week that I could quote but I will limit it to this tidbit:
Were Church social work as such meant itself to be proclamation, it could only become propaganda, and not very good propaganda at that.
Here Barth has been discussing what proclamation is. We are called to proclaim and we proclaim when we speak the word of God to convert, to “bring to a decision”. To that extent, youth work is not proclamation since “instruction of youth has to teach, not to convert”. I wonder what Barth would say to the phenomenon of YoungLife? Theology too is not proclamation (although it obviously slips into it sometimes, as anyone who has read Barth will agree). Barth describes theology as “Church instruction of youth on a higher grade”, which is a gloriously humble and practical definition from a man who is sometimes disregarded for his speculative theology.
And by this path Barth ends up calling the slippage into passing off social work as evangelism what it is- bad propaganda. I was chatting with a great wise friend over the weekend who had come across Christians who were literally patting themselves on their back for their “holistic mission”. They had gone into the city centre where they lived and handed out lightbulbs to people, to show them God’s love. Transfarmer’s question which brought the whole thing to a Barthian point was simply, “What was their names?” We can’t pass off good works as loving proclamation because our it is too conflicted to be love and too tame to proclaim.
My (at this point) favourite Barth quote comes in this chapter and refers to the need for theology to be “humble and candid”:
God may speak to us through Russian communism or a flute concerto, a blossoming shrub or a dead dog. We shall do well to listen to Him if He really does so.
Your Correspondent, Helps those who already have the means to help themselves