Barth spent his first lecture by commenting on the nature of evangelical theology, hence the title of the chapter: Commentary. He started by commenting on the word ‘theology’ itself. As it is often the case, we start with definition. Theology is a scientific enterprise in the sense of it seeks “to apprehend a specific object and its environment in the manner directed by the phenomenon itself; they seek to understand it on its own terms and to speak of it along with all the implications of its existence” (p. 3), like any other sciences do.
To rephrase what a friend said to me in a chat, theology confronts a phenomena and tries to explain and respond to it. Again, like any other sciences do. In this sense we say that theology is a science. And, in this case, the phenomena, or the object that it seeks to apprehend, is God. But, “many things can be meant by the word ‘God.’ For this reason, there are many kinds of theologies.” (p. 3) So, what should we do? Should we compare these theologies and prove that our theology is the best theology? Nein!
“The best theology (not to speak of the right one) of the highest, or even the exclusively true and real, God would have the following distinction: it would prove itself . . . by the demonstration of the Spirit and of its power. However, if it should hail and proclaim itself as such, it would by this very fact betray that it certainly is not the one true theology.” (p. 4-5)
Ah, the sweet dialectics of Barth. The best theology would prove itself, but if it proclaim itself as the best theology, it certainly is not the best theology. Ha!
That’s why he would not compare or evaluate theologies. He would just simply describe a particular theology, and the theology which would be introduced here is evangelical theology. As each theology has its own god(s), evangelical theology has its own as well. And it seeks to speak of the God of the Gospel: “This is the God who reveals himself in the Gospel, who himself speaks to men and acts among and upon them. Wherever he becomes the object of human science, both its source and its norm, there is evangelical theology.” (p. 6)
What are the characteristics of evangelical theology, then? Barth identified four characteristics which would clarify the distinctiveness of this particular theology and this particular God whom it seeks to speak of:
- Evangelical theology is modest theology, because “it can expect justice for itself only by the fact that God justifies it. It can give only him and not itself the glory.” (p. 7)
- Evangelical theology is a free science, because “it is a science which joyfully respects the mystery of the freedom of its object and which, in turn, is again and again freed by its object from any dependence on subordinate presuppositions.” (p. 9)
- Evangelical theology is a critical science, because “it is continually exposed to judgment and never relieved of the crisis in which it is placed by its obejct, or, rather to say, by its living subject.” (p. 10)
- Evangelical theology is a happy science, since it is “concerned with Immanuel, God with us!” (p. 12)
Modest, free, critical, happy. And that is evangelical theology, according to Barth.