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Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics, Vol.

I: The Doctrine of the Word of God


As a theological discipline, dogmatics is the scientific test to which the Christian Church
puts herself regarding the language about God which is peculiar to her.

1. The Church, Theology, Science.

- The question of truth, with which theology is throughout concerned, is the question as to the
agreement between the language of God peculiar to the Church and the essence of the Church.
The criterion of Christian language, in past and future as well as at the present time, is thus the
essence of the Church, which is Jesus Christ, God in His gracious approach to man in
revelation and reconciliation. Has Christian language its source in Him? Does it lead to Him?
Does it conform to Him? None of these questions can be put without the others, but each in all
its force must be put independently.

2. Dogmatics as an Inquiry.

- Dogmatics as an inquiry presupposes the ascertainability by man of the proper content of

Christian language about God. It makes this presupposition because it believes, in the Church
and with the Church, in Jesus Christ, as the revealing and reconciling approach of God to man.
Language has the proper content, when it conforms to the essence of the Church...
- True, dogmatics receives the measure with which it measures in an act of human appropriation.
Therefore it must be an inquiry. It knows the light that is perfect in itself, that discovers all in a
flash. But it knows it only in the prism of this act, which, however, radically or existentially it
may be regarded, is a human act, offering in itself no sort of surety for the correctness of the
appropriation in question, being rather fallible and therefore itself in need of criticism and
revision, of repeated and ever closer re-testing.
- Truth of revelation is the freely acting God, Himself and quite alone. Results of dogmatic work,
like the dogmas underlying the creeds, which are venerable results, because gained in the
common knowledge of the Church at a definite time, may and should guide our own dogmatic
work, but never replace it at any point in virtue of their authority...
- ...dogmatics as such does not inquiry what the Apostles and Prophets have said, but what we
ourselves must say “on the basis of the Apostles and Prophets.”

3. Dogmatics as an Act of Faith

- ...dogmatics is impossible outside the Church. To be in the Church means to be called upon
with other through Jesus Christ. To act in the Church means to act in obedience to this call. This
obedience to the call of Christ is faith. In faith the judgment of God is acknowledged and His
grace praised. In faith self-testing is necessary in view of responsibility before God. Faith
grasps the promise of being ‘led into all truth’ (John 16:13). Faith knows God. Faith is the
determination of human action by the essence of the Church, that is by Jesus Christ, by the
gracious approach of God to man. In faith and only in faith is human action related to the
essence of the Church, to the revealing and reconciling action of God. Thus dogmatics is only
possible as an act of faith, in the determination of human action by listening, and as obedience
towards Jesus Christ. Without faith it would lack object and meaning; even in the case of the
most adequate technical imitation of what the Church is doing here, even with the most honest
intention of ‘doing what the Church does,’ it would only be an idle speculation without content
of knowledge.
- Now faith is not the sort of determination of human action that man can apply to his action at
will, or that, once received, he can maintain at will. It is rather itself the gracious approach of
God to man, the free personal presence of Jesus Christ in man’s action. Thus we assert that
dogmatics presupposes faith...
- Humanly speaking we say nothing to lighten this difficulty: we but confess the mystery in
which it is grounded, we but repeat the statement that dogmatics is possible only as an act of
faith, when we refer to prayer as the attitude apart from which dogmatic work is impossible.
- Prayer may be the acknowledgment that for all our intentions (indeed, our intentions to pray
too!) nothing has been done. Prayer may be the expression of man’s desire for the will of God.
Prayer may mean that man (“for better or for worse!”) gives the verdict for God and against
himself. Prayer may be man’s answer to the divine hearing of prayer already experienced on the
way, the content of the true faith which we ourselves have not actually taken to ourselves.
The Task of Prolegomena to Dogmatics

Prolegomena to Dogmatics is the name we give to the introductory part of Dogmatics, in

which it is our business to explain its particular path to knowledge.

1. The Need for Dogmatic Prolegomena

- The situation in the Church, which constitutes the area of dogmatic work, is not always the
same...What we are on our guard against now need not have existed always. What was allowed
once, may be forbidden us to-day. And we are forbidden to-day to come to the point in
dogmatics without giving an express and explicit account of the question as to the way to
knowledge. The only question is...on what grounds we feel this restriction and so regard
dogmatic prolegomena as essential.
- [Barth reflects on other modern theological positions which were approached by finding a
“connecting” point to modern culture, it would seem, by defending Christian theology’s right to
exist. Barth then dismisses this approach, having already observed that the ancient theologians
(who were witnessing within a pagan culture) did not seem to view prolegomena as essential.]
- This ground for the necessity of dogmatic prolegomena is to be rejected for three reasons:
- Because the difference presupposed between our own and earlier times cannot be established
theologically. Was there ever a time in which theology was not likewise fundamentally faced
with a comprehensive negation of the revelation believed in by the Church?
- In dogmatics the Church has to measure her language about God by the measure of her own
essence...But her language about God is language of the per se faithless and anti-faith reason of
man. Thus right along the line of dogmatics is the discussion between this reason of man’s and
the revelation believed in by the Church.
- Is dogmatics to be saved from becoming a Chinese puzzle, and its certainly desirable
connection with its unbelieving contemporaries to be secured to it, by the fact that at the very
first step it loses sight of its objective and --authority, please?--turns to the astounding task of
‘smashing the axioms of reason?’...We say, No! Really responsible, up-to-date theological
thought, in genuine rapproachement with its contemporaries, will reveal itself to be such even
to-day (if by God’s grace it is all this!) be refusing to discuss the basis of tis ground, questions
such as whether God is, whether there is such a thing as revelation, etc., but also, however,
unjustified in its action, as it is bound to be any way in this matter, by actually achieving its
own consummation as thought on this ground and by being thereby actually on the spot, as the
witness of faith against unbelief. There is no dispute about the fact that dogmatics too, together
with the Christian Church generally, has to speak all along the line as faith opposing unbelief,
and that to that extent all along the line her language must be apologetic, polemical. But there
has never been any other effective apologetic and polemic of faith against unbelief than the
unintended one (impossible to intend! purely experiential!) which took place when God
Himself sided with the witness of faith.
The Doctrine of the Word of God