Friday, February 11, 2011

Thinking about Barth on Schleiermacher and Theological Language

Barth is here discussing Schleiermacher’s Encyclopedia. Emphasis is mine.

Karl Barth, The Theology of Schleiermacher: Lectures at Göttingen, Winter Semester of 1923-24 (Dietrich Ritschl, ed.; Geoffrey W. Bromiley, trans.; Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982): 162.
…Schleiermacher discusses the question of the scientific character of dogmatics. Here he honors…the proof from speculation alongside the proof from the canon. “The strictly didactic expression,” says §213, which the “scientific attitude gives” to dogmatics “is dependent on the prevailing state of the philosophical disciplines,” formally on logic, materially on psychology and ethics. Any philosophy but one that is materialistic, sensualistic, or atheistic can be linked to dogmatics, teaches §214. Hence, according to the philosophy that a dogmatician accepts, there can be different versions of the same doctrine without altering its religious content….[T]here results “a differing expression of the individual doctrines without forgeiture of the original religious affections of the mind which are meant to be represented by the doctrine” (II, 3, §26). Differences of terminology – and this is all that can be meant – can thus give rise to dogmatic controversy only through misunderstanding. On the other hand the formulas of two dogmaticians that academically sound much the same may conceal a very different religious content about which there then has to be dogmatic controversy (Schleiermacher has in mind some statements of Protestant and Roman Catholic dogmatics which sound much alike but whose agreement is only verbal and not material).
A few thoughts:
  1. Dress this up a bit with some more anthropological pizzazz, and apply it to the Protestant / Catholic divide more doggedly than did Schleiermacher, and you’ve got Lindbeck.
  2. While I doubt that I think it for the same reason as Schleiermacher, that bit about no particular philosophy being exclusively suited to communicating Christian theology sounds pretty good to me. I would want to make a bit more clear, however, that Christian theology has the responsibility to critically shape the philosophical terminology it borrows, as well as to develop its own terms and concepts as necessary.
  3. Finally, note that not only can different terminologies convey relatively similar material content, but relatively similar terminologies can convey vastly different material content. It occurs to me that much unreflective reading of Barth gets hung up on these two points – either one likes what Barth says without realizing he means something very different than you do with those words, or one dislikes what Barth says without realizing that he’s saying something very similar to what you want to say, albeit in a very different way.
Thoughts?

3 comments:

Bobby Grow said...

Travis,

I think this might be the way that folks approach Barth on his Bibliology. In other words, I think he might be way more "Evangelical" in the way he views Revelation than many "Evangelicals" believe. In other words, I think his theory of Revelation voices what most "Evangelical Christians" want to believe about Scripture (apart from the side-discussion on inerrancy).

I am thinking of Barth particularly in the way he states things in his "Evangelical Theology."

What do you think?

W. Travis McMaken said...

I think some of Vanhoozer's work goes a long way toward demonstrating that insight.

Bobby Grow said...

Which is why I am having a growing appreciation for Vanhoozer. I'm reading his "Drama" right now.