“A Certain Carefree and Joyful Confidence”

415fS1T7xfLKarl Barth with a fantastic metaphor for the main problem with 19th century theology:

The key problem arose from the conviction that the guiding principle of theology must be confrontation with the contemporary age . . . Obviously theology has always been to some extent open toward and related to the world. It should be so . . .

Theology, however, went overboard–and this was its weakness–insofar as confrontation with the contemporary age was its decisive and primary concern. This openness to the world meant (1) that through the open windows and doors came so much stimulation for thought and discussion that there was hardly time or love or zeal left for the task to be accomplished within the house itself. With all its energies captivated by the world, 19th-century theology achieved surprisingly little in terms of a new and positive understanding of Christian truth and truths in themselves, a primary necessity at all times.

The winds were enthusiastically welcomed and allowed to enter freely through the outside doors. This meant (2) that not a few doors inside were slammed which should have been kept open as well. Nineteenth-century theology ascribed normative character to the ideas of its environment. Consequently it was forced to make reductions and oversimplifications, to indulge in forgetfulness and carelessness, when it dealt with the exciting and all-important matters of Christian understanding. These developments were bound to threaten, indeed to undermine, both theology and the Church with impoverishment and triviality.

The outside winds brought not merely fresh air, but also notoriously foul air. This meant (3) that fatal errors blew in, were admitted, and made themselves at home. These errors, far from being simply tolerated, enjoyed birthright, even authority. Countereffects to be sure were not lacking, but there was no fundamental agreement about the absolute primacy of the positive tasks of theology in and for the Church, over against the secondary tasks of relating to the various philosophies of the times.

Finally, we miss a certain carefree and joyful confidence in the self-validation of the basic concerns of theology, a trust that the most honest commerce with the world might best be assured when the theologians, unheeding the favors or disfavors of this world, confronted it with the results of theological research carried out for its own sake. It did not enter their minds that respectable dogmatics could be good apologetics.

“Evangelical Theology in the 19th Century” published in The Humanity of God, pp 18, 19-20

 

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