This section of the dogmatics deals with Barth’s approach to, “the particular point from which [we are] to look, think, and judge in dogmatics” (25) or prolegomena. As I understand it, one of the issues Barth wrestles with here is the proper criterion for correctness of the church’s talk about God.
Barth is concerned about the approach to dogmatic prolegomena that is taken by other modern theologians. The question, “How can we speak of God?” is seen as particularly difficult in the modern situation. The ability to speak about God is not an axiom of the modern world. For modern theologians whom Barth reacts against, this situation creates the necessity of a theological introduction that justifies the church’s speech about God according to the canons of the modern world. Specifically, this situation means that the church’s theology must be rational. Theological prolegomena must be Christian apologetics.
I understand Barth’s disagreement here to be both practical and theological. First, it is practical because there is an inherent problem with using a modern conception of reason as a criterion from theological investigation in order to construct a theology to speak to the modern world. Barth knows all too well that this leads to telling the world what it already knows. In fact, dogmatics “consists in the ‘conflict against the self-assurance of the modern spirit,’ ‘against the rational axiom of the final efficacy of reason.’” (27) His disagreement is theological because the elevation of reason also fails to take account of human sin. Human sin calls in question the ability of humanity to provide a theological criterion that precedes the theological task. The criterion cannot be reason but rather divine revelation.
Barth’s discussion in this section raises questions about how the church should speak to the modern world. Christianity wrestles for relevance in the west in some of the same ways that it did when Barth was writing. The church, both conservative and liberal, attempts to accommodate is message to the modern world. Have these attempts, as Barth states, set up a “Great Wall” between the church and the world? Have they actually made the church irrelevant? Stanley Hauerwas criticizes liberal Protestantism for being irrelevant because, the only thing you have to be in order to be a Christian is be an American (I am paraphrasing here). I don’t know of many non-Christians (or many Christians) who find apologetic arguments for the Christian faith very convincing. The actual gospel gets lost in some of these discussions. In popular evangelicalism, it seems at least, proving the historicity of the bible, how belief in God is ‘logical,’ and creation takes precedence over the issues of sin, the cross, the meaning of the resurrection that are essential to the gospel.
Also, the church is much more aware of its global presence. I have wondered what this aspect of Barth’s theology says to missionaries who search for ‘points of contact’ between the Christianity and the cultures that they strive to bring the gospel. Can Barth’s discussion address this?