Barth on natural theology

The key to reading Barth is to remember that every word he ever wrote was meant to oppose natural theology (that’s hyperbole, but not by much). When stuck on a difficult passage, ask yourself how it aims to destroy the possibility of natural theology. Answer that question, and you’ll understand what Barth is doing there. Here are some choice quotations from this week’s reading in the Church Dogmatics, II/1.

“In other words, natural theology is no more and no less than the unavoidable theological expression of the fact that in the reality and possibility of man as such an openness for the grace of God and therefore a readiness for the knowability of God in His revelation is not at all evident” (p. 135).

“…the openness of man in itself and as such not only can mean, but in fact and in practice does mean, his closedness for the readiness of God, his own unreadiness, and therefore not the knowability but the unknowability of God” (p. 131).

“The lie against this with which he tries to make light of his lost condition, the lie in which he plays the rich man, is not reality. We have to understand man better than he wants to understand himself; namely, as the man who is really entangled in guilt and really submerged in death” (p. 132).

“He will always be the one who wants to carry everything, even–a very Atlas–the whole world. Under no circumstances will he let himself be carried. Therefore finally and at the deepest level he will always be an enemy of grace and a hater and denier of his real neediness. On that soil and in that atmosphere the growth of natural theology is inevitable” (p. 136).

Barth is at his provocative best when he defends Anselm, the father of the ontological argument, from charges of natural theology. Barth explains, “But the ratio as well as the necessitas of which Anselm speaks is that of the veritas of God, which is for him identical with the divine Word and with the content of the Christian creed. Since he believes it, he wants to know it and prove it…There can be no question of his occupying a position where faith and unbelief have equal rights….He is not the right man to appeal to as the patron saint of natural theology” (p. 92-93).

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