Friday, June 01, 2012

Karl Barth: Rational vs. Rationalistic

There is a rather well-known story about Karl Barth (well-known within Barth studies, anyway) and reason, although I am unfamiliar with the source (if there is one). When asked about the place of reason in his theology, Barth is purported to have replied: “I use it!”

For whatever reason I decided to read a few pages in CD 1.1 this morning and, coming across the following buried in a fine-print section (as so many of Barth’s best comments are), decided to share it here for whatever you, gentles readers, think it may be worth.

Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 1.1, 296-7:
All dogmatic formulations are rational, and every dogmatic procedure is rational to the degree that in it use is made of general concepts, i.e., of the human ratio. It can be called rationalistic, however, only when we can show that the use is not controlled by the question of dogma, i.e., by subordination to Scripture, but by something else, most probably by the principles of some philosophy. If it is clearly understood that dogmatics generally and necessarily involves rational formulation, a rational formulation which is, of course, related to a completed proof and which takes account of Scripture, then no objection can be taken to logical and grammatical formulae as such, for we fail to see why these should be especially suspect more than certain legal formulae. The only thing is that we must ask whether in a given case they are appropriate to the matter or not, which means, concretely, whether it is an arbitrary anticipation, simplification, or even complication . . . [of] what Holy Scripture tells us.

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3 comments:

Jordan Barrett said...

It sounds like the "I use it" quote comes from John D. Godsey. Or so says this review (see the last line): http://reformedtheology.org/SiteFiles/Fall2006/Review_Hunsinger.html

W. Travis McMaken said...

Thanks for chasing down the citation, Jordan!

Bobby Grow said...

Sweet quote, Travis! It is good to always bear in mind that there is a legitimate distinction to be made between being rational and rationalistic. Anti-intellectuals everywhere, beware!