Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Karl Barth - Raging Against the System(atic Theology)

George Hunsinger summarizes Barth's rejection of systematized theology:

… The idea of a divine determinism or monism posits a kind of “mechanism” and “fatalism” that Barth finds to be characteristic of “metaphysical dogmas” (IV/2, 494). Metaphysical dogmas attempt to “systematize” divine and human actions. They attempt to conceive these actions within a rationally comprehensible explanatory scheme. Within the scheme they attempt to explain how these actions are related. They appeal to a supposedly higher principle or a supposedly higher order which stands above the actions and normalizes them. Above all, they assume that God is accessible to ordinary schemes of explanation. The ontological difference in order between divine and human actions (which for Barth is ineradicable) is conceived as one that can be resolved and removed. Metaphysical dogmas, in other words, derive explanatory schemes from general observations which are then applied to the case of divine and human actions–as if the case of their relatedeness were the instance of a class. These dogmas represent the opposite of everything signified by particularism.
 
In Barth’s theology mechanism and monism are denied, because the possibility of explanatory systematization is denied, and the possibility of this systematization is denied, because it can achieve only a formal or technical coherence at the expense of a truly material coherence. No system can contain all the affirmations found within the cluster of basic doctrinal beliefs. At some point adherence to the system will require a material or doctrinal sacrifice. The charge of determinism or monism accurately perceives that a merely formal concept of the unconditional sovereignty of divine grace would necessarily result in the loss of human freedom. But just what conception of human freedom does the charge suppose is being lost? Is there a neutral or context-independent conception that can simply be taken for granted? Does the charge presupposes that one systematization is to be rejected (determinism or monism), because a better systematization can be found to replace it? Are Pelagianizing tendencies, for example, to be rejected with equal vigor?
 
The rejection of systematization has already been explored in detail. Particularism, as found in Barth’s theology, excludes systematization on principle…"God” dwindles into a “a supreme being”–“a product of our own thinking, a concept and principle and therefore an instrument with the help of which we can master and solve any problem,” including the “problem” of how divine and human actions are related (IV/2, 215)….

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