Academic Questions are Sometimes Answered by the Not So Academic

September 23, 2013 — 4 Comments

I happened to find this statement from Karl Barth intriguing and wondered what implications it might have for Christian bloggers. Particularly those who are not theologically trained, yet bring their theological acumen to bear, as they broadside their readers with content so theologically deep that it has the potential to impact even the most qualified.

Speaking in the general zone of theological reflection – I say general zone because they don’t neatly fit – of what we call deliberative theology (questions motivated by experience) and embedded theology (learnt, assumed, taken for granted), Barth writes:

‘It has happened, of course and this was especially true in the age of orthodoxy, that the scientific character of academic dogmatics has had to be vindicated against free-lances. BUT it has also happened that the scientific character of dogmatics has had to be vindicated by free-lances against the dogmatics of the schools. Naturally it cannot be denied that the aversion to the dogmatics of the schools which may be found a little in every age has often rested on enthusiasm of some sort and not on solid Christian insight, that it has had little or nothing to do with the seriousness of the question of dogma, and that it is not, therefore, a sign of scientific concern. BUT it is also impossible to deny that the transition from irregular to regular dogmatics – when perhaps the school has ceased to be aware that it had to serve life, i.e., the Church – has often been accompanied by a decline in the seriousness, vitality and joyfulness of Christian insight, by lameness in the enquiry into dogma, and therefore by a loss of the true scientific character of dogmatics’ (Karl Barth 1936, Church Dogmatics 1.1:278)

Conclusion:

Sometimes academic questions are answered by the seemingly not so academic. For example: if you’re a Christian blogger responsibly writing with, for, about and to the Church (read: The Commonwealth of Christ) don’t give up because you think that you are theologically unqualified.

You may just be providing an objective insight that joins a serious answer to an even more serious question. (and the added bonus is, it appears that Barth would approve!).

Related reading:

Duke, J.O & Stone, H.W 2006 How to think theologically, 2nd Ed. Augsburg Fortress

4 responses to Academic Questions are Sometimes Answered by the Not So Academic

  1. 

    This is a funny post. The funny thing is, I never stopped to think that perhaps I am unqualified from a “theological” perspective…….only from a “writing” perspective. Now that I have my theology unlearnedness (<—is that a word?) to worry about too…..maybe I should call it a day. 😉

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    • 

      hah 🙂 well said. Anna, your writing is fine. It is a blessing to read your work. It presents well and the research, care you take to express that is self-evident. It is always good to consider not just how we write, but the content of what we are writing. I have found that God teaches me through both. I.e.: successes and mistakes. Editing, fact checking and making sure what we publish as Christians is not misleading is a loving thing to do (can I use the phrase wise vulnerability here?). That said I am not suggesting we be overly anxious about this, as in perfectionistic. I am suggesting that the struggle involves a care for truth, not just a quest for it. Besides in my opinion, any theologian/academic/writer who says they don’t struggle here are probably not being completely honest with themselves. My mantra: ‘aim to bless rather than impress’. Peace and grace. Rod.

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  2. 

    Rod, I love this post, and I thank you for the encouragement. I consciously aim to be a populist artist and writer, even as I hope to raise the level of expectation for the consumer in terms of truth, insight, and/or quality. It’s a worthy goal, right?

    Here’s a thought that may interest you, pertaining to your post. I am a lay-member of a “church-planting movement” (not technically a denomination,) that holds the Bible as the ultimate authority, in all matters it touches, including church government. Therefore each church has a plurality of elders leading, all who have been raised up from within each local church body. Formal seminary training is not a requirement, as the qualifications listed in the scriptures are primarily character traits. Consequently we generally have leadership around the world consisting of men of character who have not had their passionate belief in God and His revelation “educated” out of them. It’s one of the distinctives that keeps me in this church.

    I’ll be curious to hear your thoughts on an upcoming post this weekend that (I think) will be entitled, “About the Term ‘Christian,’ & Being ‘Spiritual, Not Religious'”

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    • 

      Thank you Scott. I look forward to reading your post. I have a deep interest in the ecumenical movement and the diversity that such cherishes. Barth places Martin Luther, Christoph Blumhardt and Hermann Friedrich Kohlbrugge (1803-1875) in the ‘irregular dogmatics’ category, while placing Melanchthon and Calvin in the ‘regular dogmatics’ rubric. He even goes as far to say that liberal theologians of the19th Century ‘slept through the phenomena that was Blumhardt and Kohlbrugge’ (279 Christoph Blumhardt’s story is an amazing insight into applied theology from a Pastoral perspective). A noteworthy caveat is that Barth warns against ‘best intentions turning into a golden calf’ (251, Ex.32).So I think that there is a need for humility as the Church-as-Commonwealth, in Christ, guided by the Spirit, works together towards the goal of conversation between Professors and Pastors on many theological issues today. I see too much elitism and lament its presence among theologians.

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