What is Theology and Its Work?




Karl Barth, in my judgment, best describes the heart of theology and its work. According to him, theology is

-contextual and conflictual: “theology is expressly an instrument of the ecdesia militans (Church Militant)in the conviction that the Church of a specific time cannot be anything but an ecclesia militans, i.e. the Church of a specific time with its needs and hopes. (CD 1.2, 841)

-communal and missional: “...theology . . . can be put to work in all its elements only in the context of the questioning and answering Christian community and in rigorous service of its commission to all men.” (HG, 63)

-scriptural and critical: Under the rubric of the Hearing Church, theology's role . . .  is to invite "the teaching Church to listen again to the Word of God in the revelation to which the: Scripture testifies" (CD 1.2, 798).

-contested and tempted: After all that has befallen it, church dogmatics will not become "church" again i.e., free from the alien dominion of general truths and free for Christian truth, until it summons up sufficient courage to restore what is specifically Christian knowledge, that of the Trinity and of Christology, to its place at the head of its pronouncements, and to regard and treat it as the foundation of all its other pronouncements. (CD 1.2, 124).

Learning to see the world and church through the lens of God’s triune nature and the incarnation of Jesus Christ, existing in and from the church, for the sake of the world, under the Word of God, and amid all the temptations and struggles of a world intent on domesticating and defeating it, theology plies its humble and human task of seriously reflecting on the church’s presence and practice in the world.

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