Friday, February 22, 2013

Karl Barth on the Trinity, Dogma, Scripture, and Revelation

I have read Barth’s CD material on the Trinity before, and I even wrote a paper about it once (a revised version of which is online here). But I have not read it since I owned a copy of CD 1.1, and so I’ve wanted to re-read it and get my copy marked up for easier use. There are some interesting things in there; for instance, the stuff from my previous post on  theology as rational and rationalistic

Take, as another instance, the following excerpt. Barth is here speaking about the relationship of the doctrine of the Trinity to dogma, scripture, and revelation. He expands on what he says here with a small print section that immediately follows, but I won’t go through the trouble of typing that all. You can look it up if you’re interested. It is really good stuff, though. The basic point is that doctrine must be done on the basis of scripture, but that doctrine is always a fundamentally imperfect attempt to say what the biblical text has said in a way that makes sense in our own time. I find it fascinating, and highly significant, that Barth felt the need to make this point with reference to the doctrine of the Trinity given the way that some folk make so much out of (what I consider to be a rather abstract version of) the doctrine. 

Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 1.1, 308. As always, emphasis is mine.
The statement or statements about God’s Trinity cannot claim to be directly identical with the statement about revelation or with revelation itself. The doctrine of the Trinity is an analysis of this statement, i.e., of what it denotes. The doctrine of the Trinity is a work of the Church, a record of its understanding of the statement or of its object, a record of its knowledge of God or of its battle against error and on behalf of the objectivity of its proclamation, a record of its theology and to that degree of its faith, and only to that extent, only indirectly, a record of revelation. The text of the doctrine of the Trinity, whether we have in view one of its dogmatic formulations by the Church, or our own or some other theologic-dogmatic explication of the Church dogma, is not, then, identical with one part of the text of the biblical witness to revelation. The text of the doctrine of the Trinity is at every point related to texts in the biblical witness to revelation. It also contains certain concepts taken from this text. But it does this in the way an interpretation does. That is to say, it translates and exegetes the text. And this means, e.g., that it makes use of other concepts besides those in the original. The result is that it does not just repeat what is there. To explain what is there it sets something new over against what is there. We have in view this difference from revelation and Scripture, which the Church and theology must be aware of in their own work.

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7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Your emphases miss Barth's own. This isn't a fair representation.

The Trinity was foundational to Barth's Church Dogmatics.

W. Travis McMaken said...

"The Trinity was foundational to Barth's Church Dogmatics."

It is unclear to me how this statement contradicts anything that I have written about.

Nathan Maddox said...

Whether we think of it in propositional or grammatical terms, if a Trinitarian dogma is somehow treated as an unquestionable normative force for biblical interpretation or theological work (i.e., a rule of faith), then we are venturing far afield from Barth.

Sure, a conceptual description of the Trinity is foundational to Barth's Dogmatics, but that doesn't mean he believed it was beyond reproof or absolutely necessary for Xn theology for all times and places.

"The doctrine of the Trinity as such is not the Word of God which might tell us. But if there is a ministry to this Word of God, a proclamation which can become the Word of God, and a ministry to this ministry, dogmatics as critical reflection on the proper content of proclamation, then the question as to the subject of revelation, to which the doctrine of the Trinity is an answer, must be the first step in this reflection. Scripture, in which the problem of the doctrine of the Trinity is posed, is always the measure and judge of the solution to the problem. it stands above the dogma of the Church and therefore above the critical reflection to which we let ourselves be led by the dogma of the Church. But all things considered we venture to think that, pending better instruction, this leading is an appropriate one" (I.1:383).

Not to mention, there is simply no timeless dogma, no timeless, conceptual rule of faith. *A* doctrine of the trinity might be foundational to Barth's dogmatics, but doctrines of the trinity are framed and reformed within the concrete material realities in which they are used.


Anonymous said...

You both need to read more Barth before writing.

W. Travis McMaken said...

*chuckles

I would just like to point out that I hold a PhD in systematic theology, was trained by 2 of the 3 top Barth scholars in the English-speaking world, and dissertated on Barth (the book should be out by the end of the year). Your claim is literally absurd.

Nathan Maddox said...

I've read enough by Barth and engaged in enough Barthian scholastic disputationes to know that ad hominem is a most effective rhetorical strategy only when embedded in 13 volumes of constructive theology.

But perhaps you're right: I shouldn't have skipped III.4. I'm guessing that's where Barth's true trinitarianism lies.

Really though, I'd be interested what leads you to think I'm/we're wrong -- and I don't just mean the scope of my reading.

J. Scott Jackson said...

Mr. (or Ms.) Anonymous: In fairness, please produce your identity and credentials.