Let them watch out who proffer some Stoic and Platonic and dialectical Christianity. We have no need for curiosity after Jesus Christ, nor of academic investigation after the gospel.
Far from advocating for non-critical reflection, the above quote from Barth signals the way he sees the doing of Christian theology; he sees it as a principial reality shaped by thinking from the inner-logic of the Gospel, and more, the pattern of Chalcedon’s Christology expressed in the grammar known as the homoousious. Barth sees the doing of theology, even by ecumenical church councils, as only having the capacity to offer proximate and relative stabs at articulating the immense reality revealed in the Gospel itself; the reality of God become human in Jesus Christ (Logos ensarkos). I don’t think critics of Barth’s really appreciate this about him; they don’t appreciate how Barth sees knowledge of God from an eschatological frame, and the theological endeavor, subsequently, as an always already project of the church pressing into and up against her being and reality in Jesus Christ. Bruce McCormack underscores this for us this way:
I say all of this to indicate that even the ecumenical creeds are only provisional statements. They are only relatively binding as definitions of what constitutes “orthodoxy.” Ultimately, orthodox teaching is that which conforms perfectly to the Word of God as attested in Holy Scripture. But given that such perfection is not attainable in this world, it is understandable that Karl Barth should have regarded “Dogma” as an eschatological concept. The “dogmas” (i.e., the teachings formally adopted and promulgated by individual churches) are witnesses to the Dogma and stand in a relation of greater or lesser approximation to it. But they do not attain to it perfectly—hence, the inherent reformability of all “dogmas.” Orthodoxy is not therefore a static, fixed reality; it is a body of teachings which have arisen out of, and belong to, a history which is as yet incomplete and constantly in need of reevaluation.
This doesn’t really seem all that controversial, or it shouldn’t. The classical Reformed have the concept of archetypal/ectypal as a distinction between knowledges of God; the former being God’s self-knowledge, and the latter being the knowledge the church can have of God in the accommodated ways it comes to her through God’s stooping down to us in Christ’s vicarious humanity. The idea of ectypal knowledge itself presupposes that the church can only have a proximate and thus not an absolute or fully settled knowledge of God; in other words, ultimate knowledge of God will only come in the eschaton and in beatific vision (and even then ultimate is relative to the God we are up against in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as Triune and eternal reality).
So if this is the case, for my money, the way Barth approaches church tradition, church councils, so on and so forth is the prudent way. He recognizes that there is an inherent reformability to the church’s knowledge of God, and that the reality of the Gospel itself, as regulative, should be allowed to pollinate over and over again what we might have to come to consider as orthodox doctrine (i.e. Nicaea-Constantinople, Chalcedon). When put this way it doesn’t seem to me that Barth’s approach is really all that radical, at least not when we consider that we purportedly operate from the ‘scripture principle’ as authoritative and the norma normans for how we approach creeds, confessions, and church tradition in general. As Protestants we supposedly are committed to the idea that the reality (res) of Scripture is determinative towards our theologizing, and that we will not foreclose on that reality (because we can’t) by circumscribing the implicates of what Scripture discloses or doesn’t based upon a priori to certain Protestant creeds and confessions. In other words, as Protestants I thought we were committed to Holy Scripture, and the belief that its reality alone is regulative for the theological task.
It is this, I believe, that funds what Barth writes here. He is beginning to develop what he believes theology is, and how it might be ‘scientific’ within the delimited confines provided for by the reality and being of the church itself; i.e. Jesus Christ. And he is picking up where we have been tracing, in regard to the proximate, ectypal , and eschatological character of the Dogmatic and theological task:
Dogmatics as an enquiry presupposes that the true content of Christian talk about God must be known by men. Christian speech must be tested by its conformity to Christ. This conformity is never clear and unambiguous. To the finally and adequately given divine answer there corresponds a human question which can maintain its faithfulness only in unwearied and honest persistence. There corresponds even at the highest point of attainment the open: “Not as though I had already attained.” Dogmatics receives even the standard by which it measures in an act of human appropriation. Hence it has to be enquiry. It knows the light which is intrinsically perfect and reveals everything in a flash. Yet it knows it only in the prism of this act, which, however radically or existentially it may be understood, is still a human act, which in itself is no kind of surety for the correctness of the appropriation in question, which is by nature fallible and therefore stands in need of criticism, of correction, of critical amendment and repetition. For this reason the creaturely form which the revealing action of God assumes in dogmatics is never that of knowledge attained in a flash, which it would have to be to correspond to the divine gift, but a laborious movement from one partial human insight to another with the intention though with guarantee of advance.
The fact that it is in faith that the truth is presupposed to be the known measure of all things means that the truth is in no sense assumed to be to hand. The truth comes, i.e. in the faith in which we begin to know, and cease and begin again. The results of the earlier dogmatic work, and indeed our own results, are basically no more than signs of its coming. They are simply the results of human effort. As such they are a help to, but also the object of, fresh human effort. Dogmatics is possible only as theologia crucis, in the act of obedience which is certain in faith, but which for this very reason is humble, always being thrown back to the beginning and having to make a fresh start. It is not possible as an effortless triumph or an intermittent labour. It always takes place on the narrow way which leads from the enacted revelation to the promised revelation.
Here our way diverges from that of Roman Catholic dogmatics, and we must also enter a caveat against a certain tendency in the older Protestant tradition. Dogmatics is the science of dogma. Only in a subordinate sense, and strictly in conjunction with the primary, is it also the science of dogmas. The task of dogmatics, therefore, is not simply to combine, repeat and transcribe a number of truths of revelation which are already to hand, which have been expressed once and for all, and the wording and meaning of which are authentically defined.
This only too practicable view, by its direct equation of divine ascription and human appropriation in the dogmas, fails to recognise the divine-human character of the being of the Church. The being of the Church is Jesus Christ, and therefore an indissolubly divine-human person, the action of God towards man in distinction from which human appropriation is attested in the dogmas believed by the Church may be very worthy and respectable but can hardly be called infallible and therefore withdrawn from further enquiry whether this is how it should be. The concept of truths of revelation in the sense of Latin propositions given and sealed once for all with divine authority in both wording and meaning is theologically impossible if it is a fact that revelation is true in the free decision of God which was taken once for all in Jesus Christ, that it is thus strictly future for us, and that it must always become true in the Church in the intractable reality of faith. the freely acting God Himself and alone is the truth of revelation. Our dogmatic labours can and should be guided by results which are venerable because they are attained in the common knowledge of the Church at a specific time. Such results may be seen in the dogmas enshrined in the creeds. But at no point should these replace our dogmatic labours in virtue of their authority. Nor can it ever be the real concern of dogmatics merely to assemble, repeat and define the teaching of the Bible.
Exegetical theology investigates biblical teaching as the basis of our talk about God. Dogmatics, too, must constantly keep it in view. But only in God and not for us is the true basis of Christian utterance identical with its true content. Hence dogmatics as such does not ask what the apostles and prophets said but what we must say on the basis of the apostles and prophets. This task is not taken from us because it is first necessary that we should know the biblical basis.
As the Church accepts from Scripture, and with divine authority from Scripture alone, the attestation of its own being as the measure of its utterance, it finds itself challenged to know itself, and therefore even and precisely in face of this foundation of all Christian utterance to ask, with all the seriousness of one who does not yet know, what Christian utterance can and should say to-day.
This is laudable; brilliant even. This seems like it should be common practice and knowledge among Protestant Christians in the main; particularly those of the so called Reformed stripe. And many, even classically Reformed, would claim that they allow Holy Writ to serve as regulative and authoritative for the dogmatic and theological endeavors, but in function these folks actually circumscribe Scripture’s reality by their own Protestant Reformed creeds confessions; with the caveat that such confessions represent the most faithful exegesis and explication of Holy Scripture on the market today. Once this step is made, even though they have a logical-out (i.e. they can assert that all else is subordinate to Scripture), Scripture, and thus Scripture’s reality (i.e. Jesus Christ) is no longer free to be determinative nor regulative for the theological task; instead ‘the most faithful explications of Scripture’ have been given this authority (i.e. Westminster Confession of Faith et al.).
When Barth is delineating how he sees Church Dogma as a kind of science of the Church and her reality (Jesus Christ), he notes this:
In not just resigning the title to others, with all due respect to the classical tradition it makes a necessary protest against a general concept of science which is admittedly pagan. It cannot do any harm even to the most stalwart representatives of this concept, or indeed to the whole university, to be reminded by the presence of the theologian among them that the quasi-religious certainty of their interpretation of the term is not in fact undisputed, that the tradition which commences with the name of Aristotle is only one among others, and that the Christian Church certainly does not number Aristotle among its ancestors.
Again, in principle many contemporary evangelical and Reformed theologians might amen this (if they didn’t think it came from Barth), but then they would go right back to feeding off of Aristotle’s progeny as it has been dumped into the Christian tradition through Thomas, and reified further in the neo-Thomists of the scholastic Reformed tradition (the tradition which most evangelical and Reformed theologians are currently resourcing for the evangelical church in North America and elsewhere).
All that I have shared from Barth in this post, I think, represents what it means to operate in the spirit of the Reformed and evangelical Christian faith. See, I am still an evangelical Christian, I’m not a progressive, a liberal, or outside the bounds of what an evangelical and even Reformed Christian actually is. As a born-and-bred evangelical Christian when I look at the various alternatives, in regard to resourcing and retrieving for the Christian church in the 21st century, I don’t see repristinating the ‘old paths’ as the best way, nor in the evangelical mode of what it indeed means to be an evangelical Christian (in the historic sense of that word). Supposedly evangelicals and the Reformed are committed to the Scripture Principle, and Barth offers a way for Christian Disciples to honor and work from that principle and its reality concentrated in Jesus Christ. He provides the freedom and latitude to correct and criticize what we are all thankful for; i.e. ecumenical creeds and confessions (particularly the ones having to do with theology proper and Christology). He offers a way to see the Dogmatic task as a determination made by the Church’s reality, by Scripture’s reality: Jesus Christ. It’s unfortunate that this way is not the way, by and large, that the Reformed and evangelicals have chosen to go. Instead they have chosen to relegate the regulation of Church dogma to creeds and confessions that themselves are segregated to the point of being untouchable and uncorrectable; since, ostensibly, they are the most faithful elaboration of Holy Scripture’s meaning.
 Karl Barth, CD I/1, 11.
 Bruce L. McCormack, Orthodox and Modern: Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 16.
 Barth, CD I/1, 12-15.
 Ibid., 9.