Barth, the Task of Theology, and some Queries

I came across this quote in my reading of Vail Palmer’s manuscript on Friends, God and the Bible this morning. It’s Barth cautioning what we carry to the biblical text beforehand, it’s also encouragement to look for the encounter, or what I’ve been referring to as intervention.

Its searching of the Scriptures consists in asking the texts whether and to what extent they might witness to him; however, whether and to what extent they reflect and echo, in their completely humanity, the Word of God is completely unknown beforehand….The Word of God itself, as witnessed to in the Bible, is not immediately obvious in any of its chapters or verses. On the contrary, the truth, of the Word must be sought precisely, in order to be understood in its deep simplicity. Every possible means must be used (Barth 1964:29-30).

One thing that I love about this short quote is the challenge to pursue the Word.

Put in question form we might approach biblical texts with the question, “where is the Word of God being witnessed too within this passage, parable, narrative, poetry, etc. today?”

“We might also ask, what voices, ideas, and language am I bringing to this text, importing on it that may be obstructing its truth?”

Another question I have been asking as I prepare for Sunday’s is, “what does this text tell us about the missio Dei (God’s mission)? And what practices and what kind of community formation is needed in order to embody that mission today?”

“One final question is, what assumptions whether theological or practice-oriented are getting overturned, reversed, or being responded to? Whose assumptions do these belong to, how is it being reversed, and for what reason?”

There are many other questions that can be useful and get carried to the text, these are just a couple I’m holding onto for the moment.

What are your questions?

Published by Wess Daniels

Teacher, author, Quaker, ​and public theologian. Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College.

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