Thursday, October 28, 2010

Barth, Politics, and Tanner.

"...Just as God is love does not mean love is God, God's kingdom may be the basis for a Christian identification of socialism with it without that implying that socialism on its own merits is to be identified with the kingdom.

This irreversibility is no more than assertion, however, unless one can materially show the way the gospel message suggests of itself something like socialism, unless one can demonstrate that the gospel contains within it definite direction of some sort or other for Christian political decision in particular circumstances. One has to turn one's attention to dogmatics, in short, as the starting point for distinctively Christian political judgments, if the claim of irreversibility is to hold water. And this would seem to be at least one intent of the whole project of the
Church Dogmatics after its aborted start:

I am firmly convinced that, especially in the broad field of politics, we cannot reach the clarifications which are necessary to-day, and on which theology might have a word to say, as indeed it ought to have, without first reaching the comprehensive clarifications in and about theology which are our present concern. I believe that it is expected of the Church and its theology - a world within the world no less than chemistry or the theatre - that it should keep precisely to the rhythm of its own relevant concerns, and thus consider well what are the real needs of the day by which its own programme should be directed [CD I/I, p. xvi.].

Only by proceeding in this way can one prove that Christianity offers on political questions anything more than "the secret power of giving to man the inward capacity to seek and attain the aims and purposes which he has independently chosen" [CD I/2, p. 336]. If the goals, content, and direction of human action are not to appear to be imported from elsewhere for simple Christian ramification, if they are not to seem to be based on an autonomous, and what Barth would judge to be sinful, estimation of our own about how to distinguish good from evil, right from wrong, then the substance of the Christian position on political questions has to be thoroughly grounded theologically."

- Kathryn Tanner, "Barth and the Economy of Grace", Commanding Grace: Studies in Barth's Ethics, 181-182.

This portion of the article is at once very important to understanding the whole and also only stands as introductory remarks; her main argument goes on to critique Barth's appropriation of capitalism (or lack thereof), among other things. She ultimately proceeds to offer a "Christ-centered dogmatic foundation for ethics" (p. 193) specifically in relation to private property and competition.

I found the above excerpt to be incredibly beneficial and refreshing. As a political science major during my time as an undergraduate, I made the conscious decision to temporarily forgo my future in politics in order to attend seminary. My desire was to gain a robust theological education. When I started seminary, I was a church history student. I had no idea what theology was exactly since all I was given in undergraduate were biblical studies, apologetic, philosophy, and brief church history classes. Dogmatics was an unknown word that I associated with men like Sean Hannity. I became a church history major because I was desperate to gain a deeper foundation for my Christian faith. I hoped that understanding the confessions of the Church would provide an identity, new categories, and tools for future political endeavors. After a systematic theology class, I quickly became a theology student. I didn't know what would become of my interest in politics or broader ethical questions for that matter. All I knew was that the only way forward was to be trained theologically. Ironically, my interest in political thought and ethics has decreased considerably. However, I think this has more to do with previous negative experiences in certain circles where such aspects of thought were prominent. I wonder how (and if) my deeply held political and ethical interests will be weaved into my newfound love for dogmatics. But one thing is true - the decision to gain theological literacy has been one the greatest privileges I've ever been given. I only pray that if I do seek to engage political and ethical questions, that I will be a faithful witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

1 comment:

Douglas Dobbins said...

Hey Kaitlyn. Do you know how Tanner relates the gospel to Christian social/political action? It seems like she believes the former is the basis for the latter. If so, does she distinguish which aspects of the gospel should be advocated politically?

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