Evangelical Theology – Concern

The two men with whom I share an office have different approaches to movies. One prefers to simply enjoy the experience of watching a movie and therefore gravitates towards the sort of film that seeks to entertain. This is the kind that you can appreciate knowing that the succession of images unfolding on screen is make-believe and therefore doesn’t have much to do with real life. My other officemate tends to prefer a film that tells its story in such a way that it makes demands of him. This is the kind of movie that, while telling another’s story, is actually telling our story. We don’t simply ‘watch’ these sorts of movies, but these stories draw us into them in such a way that we find ourselves as participants. We are invested. They make us think and in doing so they lay claim to us. I’m somewhere between the two. There are times when I like to be challenged and changed, but there are lots of times when the escapist in me simply wants to be ‘entertained’.

What is true about movies can be true for theology as well, and Barth’s chapter on “Concern” is essentially a chapter about being invested. His primary contention is that theology – true theology – will always be of this latter variety. While we might think that one can approach theology with an aloof detachment, simply an object of intellectual inquiry, by virtue of theology’s object (really subject, but that’s another post) one can never remain a neutral observer. In as much as one thinks he or she has maintained an ‘objective’ point of view, then ‘theology’ hasn’t happened. Perhaps it is best to let the man speak for himself…

When a man becomes involved in theological science, its object does not allow him to set himself apart from it or to claim independence and autarchic self-sufficiency. He has become involved in theology, even if his reasons for such involvement may have been very superficial, or, indeed, utterly childish. Certainly, he never knew beforehand what a risk he was taking, and he will certainly never fully grasp this risk. But at any rate he has taken this step. He is a theologian because he finds himself confronted by this object. His heart is much too stubborn and fearful, and his little head much too weak, but he cannot merely dally or skirmish with this object. The consequences can no longer be avoided. This object disturbs him-and not merely from afar, the way a lightning flash on the horizon might disturb one. This object seeks him out and finds him precisely where he Stands, and it is just there that this object has already sought and found him. It met, encountered, and challenged him. It invaded, surprised, and captured him. It assumed control over him. As to himself, the light “dawned” on him, and he was ushered up from the audience to the stage.

Barth seems to recognize some danger in turning this into an individual’s existential experience with God and seeks to head this off by anchoring this thought in “concentric circles” of concern. God’s concern is for the world, the church, and the individual. The individual finds herself encountered by God because she is part of the church and world to which God has chosen to reveal himself. It isn’t that the individual’s experience doesn’t matter, but it matters because she finds herself as part of church and world that God cares about.

And hopefully Barth won’t mind if I reverse the flow of concern. If the theologian finds himself ‘concerned’ with God because God has chosen to move from the largest circle of concern inward – world to individual, then a “captured” theologian is one who isn’t concerned solely with God and even less so by his private theologizing. Rather the “ushered up” theologian is one who necessarily finds his concern with God expressed in his concern for the church and the world.

Or maybe a more Piper-ian way of coming at this would be to say “enjoying God forever” is a far cry from being interested in or amused by God. All that said, one begins with a concern for God. In beginning with a concern for (or thinking about) the church or the world, one will tend to think poorly about both. And yet thinking about God that doesn’t end up leading one to be ‘concerned’ with the church and world hasn’t been true thinking about God.

So… anyone seen a good movie lately?

2 Replies to “Evangelical Theology – Concern”

  1. Taido, great post! I do have a couple of questions here that maybe you can help out with…

    You said, “While we might think that one can approach theology with an aloof detachment, simply an object of intellectual inquiry … one can never remain a neutral observer.” I think you rightly point out that what he is talking about here is true [theo]logy as opposed to that which is not centered on God. But one thing bothered me as I read the chapter…

    Why is it that more “theologians” do not fit the description Barth gives? That is to say that there seem to me to be a great number of theologians (or pastors, or leaders) who have indeed been “confronted by”, “met, encountered, and challenged” by God in a very real way; and yet who have failed to become “concerned” in the sense that Barth explores.

    I guess this goes back to the previous chapter, where Barth was talking about the twin dangers of either “not” being filled with wonder or “no longer” being filled with wonder at considering the object of theology?

    I also recognize that Barth as a Reformed theologian is heavily emphasizing God’s confrontation of the theologian rather than the theologian’s response to that confrontation. But how do we square the fact that there is the possibility of being “confronted” in a real sense by God and yet failing to allow that confrontation to create wonder or concern in us?

    Thanks for “reversing the flow of concern” near the end of your post. That reminded me of what a former pastor of mine used to say – something like this… Through what Jesus has done for us God intends to bring us into the Holy of Holies, into His presence; but once He has us there, we are not to simply stay there and soak in His goodness. Instead, He wants to turn us around and look back out to see what He sees – to look at “our epoch” and “the community”, as it were, from His perspective.


    1. Mark, finally back. Some great reflections here. Yes, there is no doubt that Barth would emphasize the God side of the equation over the man side of it. Particularly with regard to the issue you raise towards the end.

      “how do we square the fact that there is the possibility of being “confronted” in a real sense by God and yet failing to allow that confrontation to create wonder or concern in us?”

      I think his response would simply be, if there isn’t wonder and concern, then they haven’t really been confronted. True confrontation (God’s revelation of Himself) always results in wonder/concern. There is no other way. Now, what counts as ‘true’ confrontation may be open to discussion. Certainly plenty of biblical examples of some kind of God/man encounter that doesn’t result in wonder/concern (worship?), but it only begs the question – how real was that encounter. The questions that orbit around this are two-fold – 1) What about our creaturely condition keeps us from truly encountering God? 2) What about our sinful condition keeps us from the same? In other places, Barth will have plenty to say about both.

      Ok. Looking forward to digging into the next chapter.

      Talk soon 🙂

Leave a Reply