Karl Barth on Theological Work: Prayer and Study

Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology: An Introduction (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1963), 171.
“In prayer, theological work is the inner, spiritual, and vertically directed motion of man; while in study, although similarly external, it runs in a horizontal direction. It is also an intellectual, psychical, and physical, if not fleshly, movement. Theological work can be done only in the indissoluble unity of prayer and study. Prayer without study would be empty. Study without prayer would be blind.”
When one thinks of the relation between prayer and theological study, one is tempted to jump to the conclusion that theologians and seminarians ought to pray more to make their study more beneficial, and one would be right to jump to this conclusion. However, this move is often reflexively made by those who feel superior in prayer and inferior in study. It provides them with a way of relativizing the claims made upon them by rigorous theology and different modes of thinking about God than those with which they are familiar.

However, as Barth shows us, this is only half of the story. For as important as it is for those engaged in theological study to pray, it is equally important for those who pray to engage in theological study. Just as study without prayer is blind, prayer without study is empty. This should be a reminder to those who rest content with their simple understanding of God and Jesus. This simple understanding is important, but it is a distortion if only because (and often not only because) it is only part of the whole.

Let us not forget the ‘indissoluble unity of prayer and study.’ Let those who pray, study – so that they will better know the God to whom and in whose name they pray. Let those who study, pray – so that they might know in a vital and personal way the God whom they examine and about whom they speculate.

UPDATE: While we are on the subject of prayer, check out what iMONK has to say.


Thanks for this reminder. I often feel lacking in both areas. InternetMonk's post was great for me.

I've found that many people who are former prayer-warriors have become much more liturgical as they've gotten older and wiser.

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