Barth on Theological Adversaries

I sincerely believe that my theological world has been made the better from engaging with theologians, professors, books, blogs, and other resources which have challenged me and constrained me. My suggestion is that if you have a theological position which you refuse to test, then it is not a position whatsoever. Further, if you cannot see another’s theological point because of your own, then you have no point. Karl Barth is a genius.

A free theologian* works in communication with other theologians. He grants them the enjoyment of the same freedom with which he is entrusted. Maybe he listens to them and reads their books with only subdued joy, but at least he listens to them and reads them. He knows that the selfsame problems with which he is preoccupied may be seen and dealt with in a way different from his own. Perhaps sincerity forbids him from following or accompanying some of his fellow theologians. Perhaps he is forced to oppose and sharply contradict many, if not most, of his co-workers. He is not afraid of the rabies theologorum. But he refuses to part company with them, not only personally and intellectually but, above all, spiritually, just as he does not want to be dropped by them. He believes in the forgiveness of both his theological sins and theirs, if they are found guilty of some. He will not pose as the detector and judge of their sins. Not yielding one iota where he cannot responsibly do so, he continues to consider the divine and human freedom in store for them. He waits for them and asks them to wait for him. Our sadly lacking yet indispensable theological co-operation depends directly or indirectly on whether or not we are willing to wait for one another, perhaps lamenting, yet smiling with tears in our eyes. Surely in such forbearance we could dispense with the hard bitter, and contemptuous thoughts and statements about each other, with the bittersweet book reviews and the mischievous footnotes we throw at each other, and with whatever works of darkness there are! Is it clear in our minds that the concept of the “theological adversary” is profane and illegitimate?

– Karl Barth, “The Gift of Freedom” in The Humanity of God (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1960), 95-96

*For Barth, remember that “according to truly evangelical teaching the term ‘theologian’ is not confined to the seminary professor, to the theological student or to the minister. It is meant for every Christian who is mindful of the theological task entrusted to the whole Christian congregation, and who is willing and able to share in the common endeavour according to his own talents.” (Ibid., 89)

nothing new under the sun…: Barth on theological adversaries.

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