Ethics and Dogmatics

Ok, so I knew this would happen: rag Barth for saying that the church’s highest calling is dogmatics, bemoan how this enables evangelicals’ lack of engagement in substantive issues of praxis and… lo! the next section talks about the inseparability of dogmatics and ethics.

Here, Barth is (perhaps too singularly) focused on the problem of dividing out ethics from theology, folks who strive to construct ethics as a separate enterprise from theology altogether. The idea that makes Barth so uncomfortable is that we might know enough in and of ourselves to construct ideas of ethics on “universal norms” or even natural law rather than the revealed word of God.

So Barth contends that all Dogmatics is received and spoken and enacted, that all church dogmatics is inherently ethical; it is not only a matter of thinking and speaking, but of doing.

Why is Dogmatics inherently ethical?

A reality which is conceived and presented in such a way that it does not affect or claim men or awaken them to responsibility or redeem them, i.e., a theoretical reality, cannot possibly be the reality of the Word of God, no matter how great may be the richness of its content or the profundity of its conception. Dogmatics has no option: it has to be ethics as well.

The refusal to allow us to merely speak is laudable. But I’m not entirely sure I buy the notion that dogmatics is sufficiently broad, that “Word of God” is even sufficiently broad, to encompass practice as well.

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