confessions & conversations

Barth, CD I/2, p. 644-646:

If a confession is to stand, everything depends on whether the temptation produced by this counter-pressure (indirectly therefore by its own pressure) is recognised and overcome as such. The temptation naturally consists in the possibility of abandoning the confession. And the basic form of this abandonment is always to deny to ourselves and others the character of the confession as a challenge, question and attack on the world around. Its proclamation is renounced. It is regarded once again only as a theory and collection of propositions. With all the loyalty we might still show it in this immanent character, with all our zeal for the integrity of the theory and statements as such, there is now linked another zeal, to spare our environment the collision on the transcendent character of the confession. And it is this second zeal which - although the confession remains "untouched" - now determines our practical attitude in word and action, in our own initiative and our response to the initiative of our environment. In this practical relationship the confessors no longer stand where they must stand if it really were their confession, that is, in the venture and responsibility of its transcendent character.

Seriously feisty stuff.

Now that they have experienced what it means for its pressure to create counter-pressure, they no longer desire publicity. But this simply means that the confessors have in fact accepted the standpoint of the enemies of the confession. Confession without the desire for publicity, confession without the practical attitude which corresponds to it, is already a confutation of the confession, however "untouched" this may be as a theory and statement, however great may still be their zeal for the maintaining of its immanent character. For what is the meaning and purpose of the hostility and conflict in relation to the confession? As a theory and statement it will not have to suffer attack, whatever may be its content and however definitely it may be maintained and affirmed. As a theory it does not exert any pressure. As a theory it is quite harmless, indeed it is comforting even to those who do not agree with it... But the confession itself has become so much paper. That it is not is the basis of all hostility to the confession, and that it should be is the purpose of the whole attack upon it. We help this attack, we participate most actively in it, when we think that we can retreat in this way. That there is no venture for the confessors means that there is a venture - on the part of the confessors - against the confession. It involves treachery against the confession - pure treachery... It is a great gain, therefore, if this... is soberly recognised for the treachery it is: not merely as surrender, but as agreement and co-operation with the enemy. It is a great gain if to justify it we no longer appeal to humility before the mysteries of God, to which no confession can do justice, or to the love with which we have to spare and carry the weak, or the necessary maintenance of the Church in its existing state, but openly and honestly - and this makes everything else superfluous - to fear of the unexpected or already present counter-pressure. This fear is in fact the temptation which is inevitably bound up with the publicity of a confession.

In essence, Barth distinguishes theological conversation from theological confession, and argues with passion that to reduce a confession to a conversation is theological treachery and results in a confutation of the confession.

I must confess I cannot agree, but would have truly enjoyed a conversation with him on the distinction. I believe that reducing a confession to a conversation might well result in a subsequent confession involving both confessor and opposer in genuine agreement, strengthened further from its original version to include the wisdom that results from honest conversation. Strengthened, not weakened, mind you. I'm not advocating for thin ecumenical gruel masquerading as true confessional substance.

The intensity he calls for in confession is clearly necessary at certain points of our faith, but it's become far too common to make that intensity the norm for all theological debate (and of course, in reaction, to reject that intensity from any theological debate). There are far too many of us declaring "Here I stand, I can do no other" on all sorts of issues that don't matter as much as we imply, or that we really don't understand, or concerning which we haven't really listened to other perspectives. And there are far too many of us staying out of all-in confessional declarations on matters that count, after the respectful and humble listening that Barth advocates.

It seems to me that eventually and at certain points a Barthian confession is absolutely necessary, but provoking hostility with outrageous words ("Farewell...") to self-justify one's position seems silly, and we've seen far too much of that lately.