Reading the Church Dogmatics 11: Theology as Science?

If theology allows itself to be called, and calls itself, a ‘science’, in so doing it declares 1. that like all other so-called sciences it is a human concern with a definite object of knowledge, 2. that like all others it treads a definite and self-consistent path of knowledge, and 3. that like all others it must give an account of this path to itself and to all others who are capable of concern for this object and therefore of treading this path.

Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics I/1, pp. 7–8

Barth asks why ‘theology allows itself to be called, and calls itself, a “science”‘ (7). In the light of my discussions above, the answer seems to be clear. Theology is, on the account he has been giving, a form of discipline – a disciplined handling of intellectual or conceptual content. It is a disciplined investigation of Christian practice insofar as it speaks of God, in the light of the primary criterion to which that practice points – so its object and standards are not necessarily the same as those of other disciplines. Nevertheless, it resembles other sciences simply by being an intellectual discipline.

Barth is also right, however, that ‘there are good grounds’ for theology refraining from calling itself a science (7). Theology’s existence as a discipline is qualified by its existence under judgment – and so (at least in principle!) by a lightness of touch that knows itself to be incapable of securing its ends by its own labours. It is a discipline inherently sceptical of the power of discipline.


This post is part of a series on the opening of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics I/1.

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