In a previous post, I explained why someone might choose to read through the Church Dogmatics. This brief note is for those who are persuaded that a commitment to read it through over the course of several years will be personally worth the effort. Yet reading the Church Dogmatics is not as simple as hopping on board a train to the next city, but rather more like embarking upon an expedition across a continent. How, then, might one prepare for the journey? Here are a few tips:
- Watch one or more of the following 30-minute videos that introduce Barth’s theology and reply to some common evangelical criticisms.
- Read a short introduction to Barth.
- Read a short essay by Barth.
- Choose a walking companion who knows the trail – a reading guide to the Church Dogmatics – so that you won’t lose the forest for the trees. Reading companions like the following two titles offer insightful overviews of major sections proceeding through the Church Dogmatics. They will help you appreciate the significance of each part without losing sight of the whole:
- Geoffrey Bromiley, Introduction to the Theology of Karl Barth (analytical summary)
- Joseph Mangina, Karl Barth: Theologian of Christian Witness (insightful analysis and context)
If you’re committed to reading the Church Dogmatics, having these two volumes on hand for reference, section-by-section, is a no-brainer.
- Examine the Church Dogmatics: choose your edition of the Church Dogmatics, become familiar with its overall structure, and learn the difference between the large and small print. (If reading every word seems too daunting, then for some sections, in a pinch, you can always skip the small print and/or just rely upon the short discussion in the reading guide.)
- Before trying to read through the entire Church Dogmatics from page 1 to the very end, dip into it in various places, reading several short excerpts on topics of particular interest to you (see Baxter Kruger’s starting point suggestions). Think of these excerpts as dipping one’s toes into a pool to see if the water is warm, before taking the plunge headfirst into deep water. Or, as examining some of the stained glass windows of a major cathedral, which only whets your appetite to view the entire building and comprehend its overall structure. Or, as drilling some pilot wells here and there to prove the vastness of the oil reservoir beneath.
- You’ll need some bookmarks. 🙂
- Choose one or more introductions to Barth which, without being reading guides, nevertheless provide a welcome orientation to Barth’s theology. Examples are the works of Torrance, Hunsinger and Busch included in the short list of Barth intro’s. Think of them not as trail guides walking with you step-by-step (i.e., Bromiley and Mangina), but as ranger-naturalists offering frequent trailhead briefings at various points along the route.
- Find some patient, inquisitive, non-argumentative friends to read through the Church Dogmatics with you.
- Consider the possibility of Reading Barth/CD in a year. This isn’t as crazy a method as it sounds; we think it’s ambitious and humble at the same time.