Thursdays Child

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It would seem to follow.

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He has his doctrine of God, several of them no doubt, and all correct. But that is surely not the point. He really doesn't believe in God, or that there is a God, or that God exists. It is not that he is fashionably against idols or opposed to God as a Being or as part of the world. It is God himself he has trouble with.

Can one stand before God in unbelief? In what sense is such a man "before God"? Faith, or trusting in God, ought to produce some palpable fruits. The theologian may sometimes see these, but never in himself. Something has happened. At the center of his thoughts and meditations is a void, a disappearance, an absence. It is sometimes said that only a wounded physician can heal.

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Other pertinent questions can be raised. Does the theologian go to church? The answer is "no. But now he is facing up to this banal answer to the banal question, and he wills to say "no" openly.

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It used to be otherwise. In the past, the theologian would distinguish between God, Christendom, Christianity and church, so that a different balance of "yes" and "no" could be uttered to each. Now he finds himself equally alienated from each of the realities represented by the four terms, and he says his "no" to each. The quality of the theologian's "no" to the church differs from the impressive, if verbose, debate now being waged by the church's sociological pundits. In this debate the issue is drawn between a kind of strident despair and a grim hope.

The theologian, however, is neither despairing nor hopeful about the church.


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He is not interested, and he no longer has the energy or interest to answer ecclesiastical questions about What the Church Must Do to Revitalize Itself. One can choose his own language here: the theologian does not and can not go to church, he is not interested, he is alienated for a tenser word , he must live outside. He is not thereby a happier man, nor is he a troubled one. He is neither proud nor guilty.


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He has just decided that this is how it has to be, and he has decided to say so. Does our theologian write books in systematic theology? That is, does he sit down and decide that he'd better do a theological book? The answer is a clear "no. If it is any good, he can get quite a few years of professional mileage from it, defending it, clarifying, writing articles on relevant new material. From then on he speaks and writes as he is asked. Editors, ecclesiastics, institutions and other scholars assign him subjects they think he would be interested in. In this way he can get a reputation for being skilled and interested in a field in which he has no interest whatever.

As the years pass, the gulf between what he wants to do and what he does grows wider. His books, if any, are either private love-letters or hate-letters to fellow guild members or lecture series that offer an extra five hundred dollars for publication. Anything serious he manages will probably appear in articles.

What does the theologian read? Does he read religious books in hardcovers?

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Less and less, perhaps not at all, except when he has a free copy for a review or a bibliography to prepare. He has been unable to read books of sermons for a long time, and he has recently found that he practically never reads a book of theology for the sheer fun of it. He reads a lot of paperbacks, articles and reviews.

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Just as less and less theological writing is being put into books, the theological reader is reading fewer and fewer books. One wonders quite seriously if there is any long-range future for hardcover religious book publishing, apart from church materials, reference works and perhaps text books. Is the theologian reading the Bible?

Of course, he is forced into a kind of affable semi-professional relationship with Scripture in his daily work. But what has gone is the rigorous systematic confronting of Scripture, expecting the Word of God to be made manifest when one approaches it with faith or at least with a broken and contrite heart. Perhaps because he is without either faith or the truly contrite heart, the Bible is a strange book that does not come alive to him as it is supposed to.

There are still some pieces of it that come alive, to be sure, although he is not sure why or how: this psalmist, that prophetic call, a piece or two of Job, perhaps even some words of Jesus. The theologian is alienated from the Bible, just as he is alienated from God and the church.

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This alienation may not last. If it doesn't last, fine; if it does last, the theologian will have some piercing questions to ask of himself. But there are wrong ways Karl Barth and right ways to overcome this alienation, and for now he has to be honest with himself, with the God before whom he stands in unbelief, and he must wait. Given this state of affairs, what is this theologian really like?

How does he act? Is he consciously or unconsciously dishonest? What is the relation between his public and private persona? The theologian can be exonerated from certain coarse professional faults: he is not overly ambitious for position or even notice; he is not moving in this direction so that he can be seen by men or because of some special delight he has epater le bourgeoisie. Like all men, he lives in a public and in a private sphere, and like most men he works hard to keep the first from overpowering the second. On his public and professional side he is likely to make use of two different masks.

One is modestly devout, earnest and serious, one which he uses for his teaching and church work. The other is a modestly worldly mask for his non-religious friends and for the forms of their common life. Sometimes he deliberately decides to interchange the masks, and wears the worldly mask for a church talk, a lecture, or even a sermon here or there.

This leads to some harmless fun, and he is careful to see that everybody enjoys himself. Sometimes he dons the devout mask for his worldly friends and their parties, and this too is quite harmless, for his friends understand and sometimes even admire his willingness to stand up for his odd beliefs.

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