“Faith, however, is not a determination of human action which man can give it at will or maintain at will once it is received. On the contrary, it is the gracious address of God to man, the free personal presence of Jesus Christ in his activity.” Pg. 18.
I have never read the opening portion of the Dogmatics, but I found it consistent with the overall tenor of what I know of Barth’s theology. It sounds like how Barth would start up. He begins by distinguishing theology as an academic discipline and its role in “judging the Church’s talk about God.” If the task of theology is the self-examination of the Church’s witness and proclamation, theology cannot only be assessed on the rules of scientific inquiry and observation proposed by the modern academy (He lists them in the small print on page eight). Theology requires a different way of knowing. Theological knowledge requires Christian faith. Faith, for Barth, is not to be understood in as a purely human action or disposition towards God. Barth, describes faith as a gift. Because faith is a gift, God’s action in revealing Godself through Jesus Christ is fundamental not human action. So, knowledge of God (true theology) is not discerned through the best methods of human inquiry or observation, but is a free act of God’s gracious self-revelation. The movement is God to man – not man to God. Barth concludes by stating that, “prayer is the attitude without which there can be no dogmatic work” (23). He goes on to state that, “Prayer can be the recognition that we accomplish nothing by own intentions, even though they be intentions to pray.
Barth’s opening words raise important reminders for those of us who pursue theological education. For Barth, theological truth is not something that can be grasped according devices of our own designs. Humanly speaking arriving at theological truth is impossible. The work that we do in our study (I am thinking particularly about Biblical exegesis) is necessary act of discipleship for Barth. The work of theology says Barth, “demands the intellectual faculties of attentiveness and concentration of understanding and appraisal” (17). But, the criterion that is used to appraise our findings (no matter how good they may be) is human criterion. In other words, it is stuff we made up. Barth’s theme of God’s freedom in God’s self-revelation brings to my mind the importance of theological voices of those not trained in the academy: lay people and those in other disciplines of study. I was reminded of this last year while reading Martin Kähler’s The So-Called Historical Jesus and the Historic Biblical Christ. Kähler was concerned that the “Quest for the Historical Jesus” elevated the discipline of history the so that only those with tools of the trade were able to access the real Jesus. The faith of the believer was determined by the results of historical enquiry. For Barth and Kähler, theological truth is something reveled to by God to the believer or the church. Theology is not the task of the “religious specialists,” as my professor Richard Lints, would say, but the whole church.