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Dogmatics in Outline (SCM Classics) Kindle Edition
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Barth warns against using this text in a Cliff-Notes fashion for the larger work; however, modern reality being what it is, many students and readers will never find the time to explore the larger work, so this is a welcome text. It goes beyond 'Church Dogmatics' in some ways, in that this text (perhaps more than any other of Barth's, or perhaps on a par with his 'Humanity of God') serves as a guide to Barthian thought without the difficulty involved in his weightier works.
'Dogmatics in Outline' has as its backdrop the war-weary European theatre; indeed, these lectures were delivered in the bomb-damaged University of Bonn. If ever there were experiences that would question the love of God and the grace of God toward humanity, the experiences of the few years preceding these lectures would have served as such. Barth takes the experiences of World War II and the Holocaust into full account as he discusses the importance of faith. One of Barth's concerns throughout his career, and certainly in the aftermath of world war, is that moderns have lost the ability to speak in theological and faithful terms. Humanity has a tendency toward idolatry (an idea Barth shares with Tillich), even those who consider themselves orthodox.
Many Christians will readily recognise the overall outline of this Outline -- Barth uses the basic framework of the Apostle's Creed. Indeed, Barth hesitated to publish these lectures, given that he had two other works dealing with the Creed already published; however, it is this collection that stands best in memory. Perhaps it is Barth's method -- rather than reading a lecture, he gave a talk -- that makes this such a powerful work.
Barth begins by describing dogmatics as being a critical science concerned with the Christian church. Science here is not used in the terms of content but rather of intellectual method; like Tillich, Barth wanted the modern world to recapture the sense of necessity and validity of the theological enterprise, and using terminology and methodology made sense in this context. However, almost as soon as Barth described his task in terms of critical science, he gave an extended discourse on faith, in terms of trust, knowledge, and confession. Faith is a decision, Barth claims, that must be credible and comprehensible as well as accountable.
Never leaving aside Barth's key idea of the infinite difference between God and humanity, Barth traces through the statements of the Creed the love and grace of God toward humankind, and our response to that grace. Drawing heavily upon the New Testament texts and the overall history of salvation through the history of ancient Israel, Barth's sensitivity draws God and humanity into close relationship particularly through the person of Jesus Christ, in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, continued in community through the church. The revelation of God, according to Barth, comes solely at God's discretion -- there is nothing we can do to force it, or merit it, but it is given to us all freely in any case, from God's infinite love.
Stanley Hauerwas recommends a yearly re-reading of Barth's 'Dogmatics in Outline' for those of us (which is all of us) 'tempted to forget our strangeness'. The book is not lengthy, and can be read fairly quickly in a few sittings. It is a great text.
Before he begins in earnest, though he gives us an outline of his plan, as well as some very useful discussions on the nature of faith. One must not think, though, that because the book is short that it is straightforward. It's very dense, particularly the early chapters. I think I could re-read the first 30 pages over and over again, get something new out of them every time and yet still not fully grasp the breadth of the vision that Barth was expounding.
As he moves on to look at the various bits of the Apostles' Creed, it does become a bit more accessible. Though that may be because I had, by that time, adjusted my reading to suit the cadences present in the text. In many ways, it is particularly hard for me to summarise what Barth's theology is, because what became clear is how much of an influence he has been on the leaders of the churches I have been a part of. That is, I view my own beliefs as being fairly orthodox and there is very little in this book that is vastly different from the teaching I have largely grown up within baptist, pentecostal and other nonconformist churches. It was then merely a very well-articulated series of sermons in the same vein that I have listened to in each of the last 4 decades.
As I was reading through it, I found myself wondering if his theology was the pinnacle of `pre-critical' thinking. Though there are plenty of theologians before him who have had similar views (I think here of the likes of Augustine, Aquinas, Luther & Calvin), Barth was a contemporary of Bultmann, who is one of the others whose shadow across modern theology cannot be ignored. The other figure I thought of was A.W. Tozer. Though the latter was not as theologically astute as Barth, I sensed a similarity in their approach to, and view of, the bible. Interestingly, though, Barth does not go so far as to make any sort of claim to inerrancy, but he does insist on the bible being front and centre of how we understand the christian faith. Though Bultmann is barely alluded to, there is a distinct air of defiance against Bultmann's school of thinking. For my part, though I would lean towards Barth's point of view, I would pay more attention to biblical criticism than is evidenced here.
Barth warns at the outset that this is meant to be a careful look at what the church should be and be for from the perspective of those who are part of the church. It's not a book I would recommend to a non-christian, that's not the target audience. But for anyone wanting to read a book of pretty solid theology, then this is an excellent place to start.
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