Reading Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics and writing about it is a lot like doing archeology. During the ten months I lived and studied in Jerusalem from 1975 to 1976 I learned about the science of archeology, visited many tels in Israel/Palestine, and participated as a volunteer in an excavation just south of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
Throughout the Holy Land are many mounds called tels beneath which often lie layers of past civilizations. When archeologists first approach a tel that has not been excavated, they will initially dig quadrants in places where they think it is most likely that they will discover hidden structures. Nearly all archeological excavations or “digs” are seasonal, using volunteers only in the summer months. As digs carefully progress, discoveries of physical remains such as coins and pottery are analyzed and compared to known samples. Specialists measure structures, take photographs and make drawings. Others record their findings in meticulous field notes. It is often years before all these findings are assembled in a coherent way and published for the general public to read.
One important rule I learned about archeology is that responsible archeologists will never try to excavate an entire tel. They are aware that technical advances to their science will enable archeologists of the future to do a better job of digging and interpreting their findings.
To me Barth’s massive Church Dogmatics is like an enormous tel. I have made some initial probing excavations with my first attempts to write something meaningful about what I’ve read. Since I began this project on April 8, 2015, I have managed to read at least ten pages of the 14 volume work every day. I began this website about a month later. Now I’m discovering that my reading has far outpaced my writing. It has become apparent that I will not be able to comment on everything I read or even make observation on all the subjects of Barth’s work. So I’ve decided to work like an archeologist and pass over many parts of Church Dogmatics for now with the possibility that I may be able to return to them later when I have a greater understanding of Barth’s theology.
In upcoming posts, I plan to write about the following diverse subjects: Luther, the humorous end of vol.1, Docetism, Ebionitism, Christian music, Barth’s style compared to Zen “koans,” and Mary. Soon I hope to be able to comment on what I read while it is fresh in my mind. I don’t know what I will unearth in Barth’s big tel, but I’m looking forward to the discoveries.