In an essay on doing theology after “Barth” – both today and in his tradition – Dirkie Smit refers to a letter Barth commissioned and then approved to theologians in South East Asia. In this letter, which became his last public letter, Barth, after expressing his genuine surprise that they would find his work to not only be important, but relevant for their challenges and questions, gives what Smit finds to be three words of advice for doing theology “after Barth” – also in South Africa.
For Smit it is interesting that Barth (through his assistant Eberhard Busch) writes of himself in quotation marks. This is important as following “Barth” in South East Asia is different from following him in his own historical context. Smit therefore urges those doing theology in South Africa to rather also write “Barth” in quotation marks …
How then are we to do theology “after Barth”?
Firstly, Smit writes, Barth is convinced that those in different localities are to find their own voice for their specific contexts. They should not merely follow and repeat him. This is why he is so surprised that they found his work to be relevant for them. Precisely because his work was so local and contextual, he doesn’t think that they should go in the same direction in which he went. If they do indeed go in the same direction, he is not sure how far they should go with him, and where they should indeed go further than he was willing or able to go. If they indeed want to do theology “after Barth” – also their theology are to be characterised by a locality and contextuality. In fact, the more local and contextual their theologies will be, the more Christian it will also become. Secondly, writes Smit, doing theology “after Barth” might indeed mean doing theology in line with what he found theology to be all about – of course in their particular locality. Theology, for Barth, was about Jesus Christ. Following “Barth” would have to mean that Jesus Christ remains the content of theology (Ein Christ treibt gute Theologie, wenn er ernstlich bei der Sache ist) – in their localities and contexts. But theology “after Barth” would also have to be joyful. Just no boring theology (Nur keine verdriesslichen Theologen!). Thirdly, Smit writes, doing theology “after Barth” would mean that they take seriously the unity of the church of Jesus Christ (Ihr dort and wir hier sind nur so lange rechte Christen, wie wir alle – in der Offenheit füreinander – zu dem einen Volk Gottes, zu der einen Kirche Jesu Christi, zu der einen Gemeinschaft im Heiligen Geist gehören).
It is in this sense that Theological Conversations wants to become a space where different people of diverse localities and contexts – people part of God’s one people – can joyfully think and rethink who Jesus Christ is for us today. The aim of our website is to create a space where we write not only “Barth”, but all other theologians and Traditions in quotation marks – since we want to theologically converse with our own voices and specific contexts.
Please take part in the conversation by emailing your contributions (whether in Old- and New Testament; History of Historical Theology; Systematic Theology and Ethics; Practical Theology) to us on email@example.com.
Nur keine verdriesslichen Theologen!