Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Karl Barth on writing theology

Time for another post on writing. You often hear the mantra that theology needs to be simple and accessible, addressed to some anonymous general audience. Here's what Karl Barth has to say about this view, in his preface to the second edition of The Epistle to the Romans (pp. 4-5 in the English edition; translation modified):
Those who urge us to shake off theology itself and to think – and more particularly to speak and write – only what is immediately intelligible to the general public seem to me to be suffering from a kind of hysteria and to be entirely without discernment [halte ich für eine durchaus hysterische und unbesonnene Ansicht]. Is it not preferable that those who venture to speak in public, or to write for the public, should first themselves seek a better understanding of their topic? ... I do not want readers of this book to be under any illusions. They must expect nothing but theology. If, in spite of this warning, it should stray into the hands of non-theologians – some of whom I know will understand it better than many theologians – I will count it a great joy. For I am altogether persuaded that its content concerns everyone, since the question it raises is everyone's question. I could not make the book any easier than the subject itself allows.... If I am not mistaken ..., we theologians serve the "laity" best when we refuse to have them especially in mind, and when we simply follow our own course, as every honest labourer must do.
Drawing by nakedpastor.

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