Barth: theology concerns every one
The question of the relevance of theology for the general public has occupied the attention of this blog recently. As I was reading through the prefaces to Karl Barth’s Römerbrief, I came across the following statement which I think is apposite:
I have never pretended to be anything else [than a theologian]. The point at issue is the kind of theology which is required. Those who urge us to shake ourselves free from theology 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. Is it not preferable that those who venture to speak in public, or to write for the public, should first seek a better understanding of the theme they wish to propound? [Leonhard] Ragaz and his friends reply hurriedly that this proceeds from callous theological pride. But this cannot be granted for one moment. Those who are genuinely convinced that the question is at present trivial must be permitted to go their way. Some of us, however, are persuaded that the question, What are we to say? is an important one, particularly when the majority are prepared at any moment to lift up their voices in the street. 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 some who are not theologians, I shall be especially pleased. For I am altogether persuaded that the matters of which it treats and the questions which it raises do in fact concern every one. I could not make the book more easily intelligible than the subject itself allows. ... If I be not mistake ... we theologians serve the layman best when we refuse to have him especially in mind, and when we simply live of our own, as every honest labourer must do.—Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans, trans. from sixth edition by Edwyn C. Hoskyns (London: Oxford UP, 1968), 4-5.