171 - A Theological Dialogue

A Theological Dialogue
By Karl Barth *

QUESTION: "You said in your third lecture, Professor Barth, that the central content of the Biblical witness is not easy to ascertain but must always be sought after by theology. But have you not been telling us all along that the Word of God is Jesus Christ who is easily identified as the central content of the apostolic kerygma and paradosis? Where, then, is the mystery?"

Answer: "The fact that Jesus Christ is the central content of the Biblical witness is easy to see and easy to state as every student of the Bible knows. And the corresponding confession-'Jesus is Lord'-is also clear and easily understood. Yet that statement or that confession would be by itself void and meaningless. It has to be interpreted and explained. I have been speaking of fides quaerens intellectum (faith seeking for understanding), and the statement and confession about Jesus Christ needs understanding. Jesus Christ is a living person-both in the Bible and in us, for God and for men. So in our relation to him and his relation to us there is a mystery-analogous to our relation with our all-too-human neighbor. And Jesus Christ is the neighbor! So the confession that Jesus is Lord is not so easy after all and involves a task with which we have to deal anew each day if we would understand who and what he is."

Question: "To what extent do you hold that statements about God are either reducible to or deducible from statements about Jesus Christ?"

Answer: "Statements of some kind about God and about man which are made apart from Jesus Christ may be based on more or less interesting and important theories, hypotheses, opinions, speculations. In Jesus Christ, God has spoken for himself (and also man -by God's grace) and not only for theories, hypotheses, opinions, speculations. In order to know about God (and man) we have to listen where God has spoken, and so we have to look at Jesus Christ.


* This is a transcript of a question and answer period held in the Princeton University chapel. The occasion was the final session in connection with the Warfield Lectures given in 1962 by Professor Barth as part of the Sesquicentennial celebration of Princeton Theological Seminary.


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Statements about God (and man) are therefore of necessity indirectly Christological statements."

Question: "In what specific way, Professor Barth, does your theology avoid being Christomonistic?"

Answer: "Sound theology cannot be either dualistic or monistic. The Gospel defies all isms,' including dualism and monism. Sound theology can only be 'unionistic,' uniting God and man. Christomonism (that's an awful catchword!) was invented by an old friend of mine whose name I will not mention. Christomonism would mean that Christ alone is real and that all other men are only apparently real. But that would be in contradiction with what the name of Jesus-Christ means, namely, union between God and man. This union between God and man has not been made only in Jesus Christ but in him as our representative for the benefit of all men. Jesus Christ as God's servant is true God and true man, but at the same time also our servant and the servant of all men. Christomonism is excluded by the very meaning and goal of God's and man's union in Jesus Christ."

Question: "Regin Prenter criticizes your theology for not giving adequate emphasis to creation. He says you let the word significat stand over creation, but never the word est. Would you indicate, then, what you conceive to be the relation between creation and redemption in the Gospel?"

Answer: "These words significat and est in this context are not mine but Regin Prenter's, and it is easy to detect that he is a good Lutheran! The relation between creation and redemption as I understand it is as follows: Creation is not an end in itself but the area and ground of God's great final work of redemption. Calvin said that the world as God created it is the theatrum gloriae Dei, the theater of God's glory. God's glory is what he does in the world, but in order to do what he does, he must have this theater, this place and realm-heaven and earth, creation, the creature, man himself. That's the relation between creation and redemption seen from the side of creation. From the side of redemption, I would say that redemption is the end and goal of God's will for the world and creation. Redemption is God's glory in the realization of his mercy towards his creation and his creature. Creation is the natural ground for redemption, and redemption is the spiritual ground of creation."


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Question: "How can we explain the covenant of God with man analogically, and what type of analogy would you consider appropriate for an evangelical theology?"

Answer: "What is meant in theology by analogy? I would say an analogy is a created picture, an image, which involves both similarity and dissimilarity. In the picture or image-if we have eyes to see-the original is itself mirrored. The 'original' of Scripture is the covenant between God and man-this relation, this story, this happening between God and man. Are there analogies to this central Biblical content? One can only say there are more or less enlightening, more or less adequate analogies. For example, the relation of man and his neighbor is an analogy of God and man in the covenant. This is not my invention for the Bible tells us so! Husband and wife and their togetherness is such an image. They are created together, and in their togetherness they reflect something of the relation between God and man. Man is not God. Certainly not! But in his relation to woman, he reflects-Paul says it, not I something of the glory of Christ and of God himself. Another kind of analogy would be heaven and earth; heaven above, earth below. It is a picture; God is not heaven, and heaven is not God, but this relation is an analogy of the covenant. Another may be the relation between man's soul and body. Why not? And another might be faith and obedience. Faith precedes and comes first, but obedience must follow; they are inseparable and are, as such, a picture or analogy of the covenant. There are many more which may help us to understand, but there is no such analogy which can explain or reveal the original itself unless we already know something of the original, for example, of Jesus Christ. Then we may detect him also in such reflections, such mirroring. Please do not say, 'Now he is going to erect a natural theology.' It has nothing to do with it."

Question: "In the traditional sequence of theology, eschatology comes at the end. If end means telos as well as finis, what would it mean to study the doctrine of the Church and the Christian life, that is, soteriology, from the perspective of Christian hope, that is, eschatology?"

Answer: "Let us remember first an old hermeneutical rule which says that there is no law concerning the sequence of theological topics. You can begin theology anywhere, however you like. We are


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allowed to begin here, or there. Let us hope that we do not do it arbitrarily, but it can be done! Each specific doctrine or topic in theology is to be understood, let us say, as a point on the periphery of a circle, a point which points to the focus and common center. So, you can begin here, or here, or here, and you always have the same subject-matter with which to deal. Each doctrine or topic can be treated and explained adequately if it is clearly such a finger pointing towards the center. The criterion is that a point must point! If we look here, and here, and here but not at the same center, then all is wrong everywhere. As to the concrete question: why not begin with eschatology? It would be possible. The great Schleiermacher in the latter years of his life, as he worked on a revision of his Glaubenslehre, wrote to a friend: 'I have asked myself, why not begin with eschatology?' He didn't, and I wonder what would have happened if Schleiermacher had written his Glaubenslehre beginning with eschatology! It was in his mind to do so. Why not? Systematization is always the enemy of true theology. It is not allowed to make one of the points of theology the center but only a pointer to the center. If we would make eschatology the center and explain everything else from that point, then we would be wrong. That is not allowable. I think the traditional sequence has an advantage because it has no systematic claims. It deals with God, creation, man, sin, and so on, but there is no secret mystery in this sequence. Its advantage lies in its modesty, in its renunciation of being governed by one point in the whole structure, and sensing the advantage of this traditional method, I have followed it myself. I have not chosen to begin with eschatology, or the Church, or the sacraments, or creation, but have simply followed what has been done since the days of Peter Lombard and Thomas Aquinas-this is the line I have followed."

Question: "Does your theology give enough weight to history, to God's work in history and the various manifestations of his redemptive purpose in the historical process? In this connection what do you think of the Heilsgeschichte emphasis in modern theology?"

Answer: "Have I really not given enough weight to history? I think in every one of these lectures which I have given in this place I mentioned the context of God's word as God's work. To speak of God's word as God's work is to speak of the history, the story, the content of the Biblical message and witness. What more? I don't think


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we are invited by the Biblical witness to speak of the general processes of world history, but we must think and speak about that very special, very particular history of reconciliation and of revelation. That history was of course in the context of general world history, but the sacredness of that history is in the fact of God's word becoming flesh. As history of salvation and revelation, it is in one word Heilsgeschichte. The Lord in the flesh, the history of Jesus Christ, together with the foreshadowing promise to Israel and followed by its justification in the Church over against the world-this whole as such can be called Heilsgeschichte. Are we to think of a kind of special history within this history, of a historical process, so to say? Some theologians have thought so. The Dutch theologian Cocceius who was the founder of a big, important school of theology, and also Bengel, thought in terms of events following one another on a line and so this became for them a kind of philosophy of sacred history. I personally cannot follow this way because the history in question is a "history" which not only happened but happens and will happen in all times as the same history. It should not be divided into different steps and phases; it is one history. We are always at one with the prophets of the Old Testament; we are always invited to be witnesses of Christ's presence in this life; and in history we are always called to live in and with them as secondary witnesses."

Question: "To what extent is a Christian culture the goal or fruit of Christian faith?"

Answer: "What is Christian faith? Christian faith means: 'In God We Trust.' You know that phrase? I have learned this beautiful definition, and it is a great thing that in God we trust. We Christians live as members of the people of God in the world. Living in the world-to which we must witness and with which we must live in a responsible way-we trust, having ourselves been entrusted. But to what? Why not say that we are entrusted to cultivate God's wonderful garden-'The Garden State' perhaps? [The motto of the State of New Jersey.] Wherever there are human needs and miseries, obedience and desires, and so on-well, that is the garden of God and we have to cultivate it. I don't like very much the term 'Christian culture'-do you?"

Question: "Would you elucidate how 'evangelical theology' is related to politics? How are eschatology and sanctification related to political action?"


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Answer: "What do we mean when we speak of politics? Politics is an aspect of what we have just called culture. Politics means the human attempt to create and uphold some sort of order and peace in- the world. Even at best, politics will create only some order or some peace, no more. The purpose of politics is to realize in some degree something like a human commonwealth. Now since 'evangelical theology' deals with God's justice (God has revealed the justice of the covenant in Jesus Christ), it confronts all human attempts to create justice, order, peace, and so on with this superior justice. Thus there is an encounter here and to this extent 'evangelical theology' has to do with politics. Now, we also say that Jesus Christ is a King who came once and who will come again. If we look at the fact that he came-we then understand our sanctification. He came; and since he came, we are sanctified for the service of this King. But he will come again-here then we have eschatology. Christians look forward in hope to the new coming of the same King. So from both sides-from sanctification completed in Jesus Christ's death and resurrection on to eschatology or his second coming in glory-Christianity has to do with politics. If Christians serve the King of Kings, then politics is something straightforward. Thus theology is itself political action. There is no theological word, no theological reflection or elucidation, there is no sermon and even no catechism for children which does not imply political meaning and as such enter into the world as a little bit of political reality. You cannot believe in the Kingdom which can and will come without also being a politician. Every Christian is a politician, and the Church proclaiming the Kingdom of Jesus Christ is itself a political reality."

Question: "What is the vocation of 'evangelical theology' in the face of the interest in the unity of the Church today? Would you be so kind as to relate your reply to the Ecumenical Movement and to the forthcoming Ecumenical Council of the Roman Catholic Church?"

Answer: "I would very willingly be 'so kind,' but it is not an easy question to answer! 'Evangelical theology' generally speaking must remind any Church or Church union movements that real Church unity cannot be founded only on mutual understanding and tolerance. Being together in large conferences, greeting one another, this may be very nice, but this is not Church unity. Nor is com-


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promise-for example a compromise between Episcopalian and Presbyterian orders whereby bishops are surrounded by presbyters and presbyters by bishops-real Church union. This can only be realized, and this is what 'evangelical theology' must remind us, by our common movement toward the Head and Lord of the Church. And that would come about only as a result of our common obedience to the Biblical message. I think that reading the Bible together is the most that can be done for Church union! Now, as to the famous Ecumenical Council of the Roman Catholic Church, I am somewhat embarrassed because who knows with what this forthcoming council will be concerned? My impression is that even the Pope himself does not know exactly! How then shall we know? We don't know whether some new decisions or dogmas will be defined. We don't know whether non-Catholics will be invited. So we can only wait and see what will happen next October in Rome. Maybe it will be very interesting, maybe not. But as for now I can't take a stand one way or the other."

Question: "When you first began writing Dogmatics, you called it 'Christian Dogmatics.' Then you changed it to 'Church Dogmatics.' Now you've given these lectures under the title of 'Evangelical Theology.' Do these changes indicate changes in your thinking about the task or place of theology?"

Answer: "Well, let me try to give a thoughtful answer to this question. Here we have a good example of a theologian who is clearly a human being and who lives in time and moves with the time. Why not? It would be a dull sort of theology if I had stayed simply in the 'twenties, or in the 'thirties. No, I must grow old and so here in this question you have an illustration of the movement through which I have gone as a theologian. From 'Christian Dogmatics' to 'Church Dogmatics' and now 'Evangelical Theology'-I ask you to see this movement as one towards a less formal, more material, less abstract, more concrete kind of thinking. I don't know whether I will ever find a fourth way! This certainly is not the last word, but I think for the moment it is a satisfactory word.