“Good” Dogmatics vs “Bad” Dogmatics

Many of us have a low opinion of dogmatics. Dogmatics = dogma = religion = impractical = rigidity and lifelessness. At least, that’s the impression I get half the time when I tell people I really enjoy reading Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics. Why bother? Doesn’t this type of endeavor actually distract us from the mission that we’re “really” supposed to be about?

Absolutely. Or, it can anyways. That’s why Barth provides some criteria for evaluating “good” dogmatics against “bad” dogmatics. And guess what? The good kind ain’t rigid or impractical.

All the conclusions of dogmatics must be intended, accepted and understood as fluid material for further work. None of the results of dogmatics– really none at all — can be important. The only important thing is the activity of the Church, denoted by the results so far attained, in its striving for purity of doctrine. Whatever stimulates, maintains and guides this activity is good dogmatics; whatever checks it, lulling the church into a comfortable sleep, is certainly bad dogmatics, even when the texts it reproduces or itself originates are in themselves excellent. (Barth, CD I.2 p 769) 

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