Confessional theology? : a critical analysis of the theology of Karl Barth and its significance for the Belhar confession

Tshaka, Rothney Stok (2011-10)

Thesis (DTh)--Stellenbosch University, 2005.


ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Christian confessions are frequently seen as Christian documents that have nothing to do with the subject of politics. This study endeavours to investigate the relationship between Christian confessions and politics, looking particularly at how the relationship between them has been construed in the theology of Karl Barth, the Barmen Declaration and the Belhar Confession. It concludes that a relationship between confession and politics is unavoidable, yet this relationship is only best comprehended when one looks at it in a confessional manner. A ‘confessional manner’ of reading Karl Barth’s theology is explained. Issues such as the primacy of the Word of God, the church as the subject of theology, the public witness of Christ to the world, the political context in which this theology takes place, as well as the ethical implications which emanates from this theology characterises confessional theology. The usage of the concept “confession” is informed by Barth’s observation that as Christians we are obliged to speak about God, but we are human beings and therefore cannot speak about God in an manner that suggest that God is fully comprehensible. By confining itself not merely to his monumental work – the Church Dogmatics – but also to Barth’s preceding and succeeding works, this research is able to render a detailed illustration of how Barth viewed the relationship of confessions to politics. Chapter 1 establishes the confessional nature of his theology. This chapter traces the most influential people and events that shaped the confessional nature of Barth’s theology. These include Luther, Kant, the Blumhardts, as well as Calvin and the Reformed theology in particular. Chapter 2 investigates whether Barth was true to his 1925 understanding of what constituted a Reformed confession when he was confronted with the need to confess in 1934. The historicity of the Barmen Theological Declaration is explored to illustrate that Barth continued to view theology in a confessional manner. Chapter 3 deals with Barth’s Church Dogmatics, illustrating that Barth never wanted his work to be seen as a complete event, but preferred to see it as a process. It argues that contrary to the 1930s where Barth’s theology insisted on the essence of confessional theology, the entire Church Dogmatics (especially the parts that proceeds the era indicated) should be read as confessional theology. Chapter 4 deals with the Belhar Confession that was adopted in South African in 1986. Admitting that the Belhar Confession was influenced by the theology of Barth, the characteristics of confessional theology are also explored in this Confession. It is argued that many have failed to see the Belhar Confession’s call for embodiment, because they have interpreted this Confession without regard for the new church order. Finally, it is argued that the confessional nature of Belhar allows this Confession to contribute positively to the current democratic dispensation in South Africa. It is admitted that the Belhar Confession is a confession of its time and. It is also argued that a confessional theology can be a suitable theological alternative that can contribute to the current theological deliberations. Additionally a confessional theology can provide a platform of discussing ways in which theology and politics, which remain intertwined, can both exist side by side, without the one dictating to the other.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Christelike belydenisse word dikwels beskou as Christelike verklarings wat geen verband met die politiek het nie. Gevolglik is daar 'n neiging om hierdie dokumente bloot te sien as teologies maar nie polities nie. Hierdie navorsing bespreek dié siening, maar voer aan dat, hoewel hierdie dokumente nie as sodanig polities is nie, ons tog nie die politieke kontekste waaruit hulle voortspruit, kan ignoreer nie. Twee belydenisse word gebruik om hierdie punt te illustreer, naamlik die Barmen Teologiese Verklaring (1934) in Nazi-Duitsland, en die Belharbelydenis (1986) gedurende die apartheidsregering in Suid-Afrika. Die gevolgtrekking van hierdie studie is dat daar in die teologie van Karl Barth én die Belhar Belydenis 'n onvermydelike verhouding tussen die Christelike belydenis en politiek bestaan. Die woord ”belydenis” word hier in verband gebring met Barth se interpretasie van die opdrag om oor God te praat uit hoofde van ons Christelike oortuigings, en ons onvermoë om oor God te praat weens ons menslike feilbaarheid. Hiervolgens is belydende teologie gekant teen neigings om oor God te praat op 'n manier wat voorgee dat God in sy volheid aan ons bekend is. Vyf opsigtelike kenmerke in die teologie van Barth word ondersoek. Hierdie kenmerke illustreer die mate waartoe teologie en politiek aan mekaar verwant is, en dat politiek altyd in Barth se teologie geïmpliseer word. Die studie voer ook aan dat Barth se teologie relevant is omdat dit probeer om die Woord op 'n ander manier te interpreteer na aanleiding van die spesifieke konteks waarbinne daar oor God gepraat word. Die studie beweer verder dat Barth se hele teologie as belydende teologie gelees moet word. Die gevolgtrekking word gemaak dat belydende teologie verskil van “konfessionalisme” en altyd die beliggaming van dít wat bely word, impliseer. Deur hierdie kenmerke van belydende teologie in die teologie van Barth waar te neem, word daar besef dat sy teologie steeds ‘n deurslaggewende rol in ander teologiese kontekste speel. Om hierdie rede word daar aangevoer dat die Belharbelydenis grootliks deur die teologie van Barth beïnvloed is. Die debat oor die Belharbelydenis bring ook belangrike vrae oor die teologiese situasie in Suid-Afrika na vore. Ten slotte word daar aangevoer dat belydende teologie 'n nuttige teologie is wat teologie in die algemeen kan beskerm teen die kloue van “geteologiseerde politiek”. Hierdie teologie kan dus steeds 'n konstruktiewe bydrae tot die huidige teologiese debatte in 'n demokratiese Suid-Afrika lewer.

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