Karl Barth on Studying Theology

by Max Andrews

As usual, I’m doing my studies late at night (it’s currently 1:26 AM).  I have an exam in my class on twentieth century theology this week and I was reading Karl Barth’s Evangelical Theology. I read on the role of theology, the task of theology, and the Word (which is quite the task).  I’ve felt quite convicted about not studying as much as I should and I’ve felt like a diluted academic.  Perhaps I’m off, but I have the desire to be studying for hours a day in the fields of science, philosophy, and theology.  For the most part, I’m not near where I want to be academically.  I look at these great intellectuals like Kant, Einstein, and Barth, and I look at where I am and I’m wondering how I’ll ever follow in those footsteps (granted, Kant didn’t publish until he was 57, but still…).

I skipped to Barth’s chapter on Study to get some perspective and motivation.  I certainly found what I was looking for. Barth’s words can be cross-discipline, it’s not only applicable to theology.  So, for students who want to take their academics seriously, heed these brief words.

…No one should study merely in order to pass an examination, to become a pastor, or in order to gain an academic degree.  When properly understood, an examination is a friendly conversation of older students of theology with younger ones, concerning certain themes in which they share a common interest.  The purpose of this conversation is to give younger participants an opportunity to exhibit whether and to what extent they have exerted themselves, and to what extent they appear to give promise of doing so in the future.  The real value of a doctorate, even when earned with the greatest distinction, is totally dependent on the degree to which its recipient has conducted and maintained himself as a learner.  Its worth depends, as well, entirely on the extent to which he further conducts and maintains himself as such.  Only by his qualification as a learner can he show himself qualified to become a teacher.  Whoever studies theology does so because to study it is (quite apart from any personal aims of the student) necessary, good, and beautiful in relationship to the service to which he has been called.  Theology must possess him so completely that he can be concerned with it only in a manner of a studiosus. Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1963), 172.



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