Barth's "Faith as Confession" Discussion Questions
by Jonathan Boyd
Karl Barth's slim volume, Dogmatics in Outline, is a classic theological tour through the Apostles' Creed. In particular, "Faith as Confession" (chap. 4), focuses on what the Creed or any confession of faith means in the realm of decision, responsibility, and action.
Here's how Barth himself summarizes the argument of the chapter: "Christian faith is the decision in which men have the freedom to be publicly responsible for their trust in God's Word and for their knowledge of the truth of Jesus Christ, in the language of the Church, but also in worldly attitudes and above all in their corresponding actions and conduct" (28).
We offer here some discussion questions that we hope will be helpful for individuals or groups delving into "Faith as Confession." Page references refer to this edition: Karl Barth, "Faith as Confession," chap. 4 in Dogmatics in Outline, with a new introduction, trans. G. T. Thompson (New York: Harper & Bros., 1959).
What does Barth mean in saying faith is historical? that God is historical? "Historical" as opposed to what?
He writes that faith "cannot refuse to become public" (29). Do you agree? What about monks? What about the persecuted underground church under totalitarian regimes? What about keeping our beliefs to ourselves?
How does Barth define "confession"? (See p. 30.)
In what kinds of situations is it necessary or at least helpful to speak in "the language of Canaan," the language of the Church?
"Where confession is serious and clear, it must be fundamentally translatable" (32). Into what "languages" do you need to translate your faith, in order to confess your Christianity faithfully? (These might be in your academic work, in your family life, in your hobbies....) How might that look? Brainstorm together a little.
Does Barth say how to guard against relativism? Based on this chapter, what do you guess he'd say to someone objecting that "translating" our faith into worldly language relativizes it?
Barth laments that many people think that "here on earth and in the world other truths hold good" (32). Sound familiar? What are those competing, "other truths" that would silence your confession? How can we recognize them?
Obviously Nazism is an extreme example of an assault on true Christianity (though it was very immediate to Barth when he gave this lecture in Berlin in 1946). Are there comparable challenges we face now in our situation?
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