Karl Barth on Lectures vs. Conversations

As someone who greatly prefers dialog over discourse, I can only say a hearty amen to Karl Barth’s view of the need for “conversation” in theology.

I believe that the time of long lectures, when someone spoke for an hour and the audience was condemned to sit and listen to whatever they were given is…perhaps over–not ust for me but for everyone. What we need in theology and in the church is–Oh, I don’t want to use that wretched word again– ‘conversations’. What I mean is simply that we should talk together and try to arrive at answers together, instead of someone trying to present something to other people as though the Holy Spirit had dictated it to him in person.”

Quoted in Eberhard Busch, Karl Barth: His Life from Letters and Autobiographical Texts (Wipf & Stock, 1975), 464.



6 Responses to “Karl Barth on Lectures vs. Conversations”

  1. Wes February 26, 2013 at 7:09 pm #

    I begin with a hearty “Amen,” yet cynically wonder “Was this before or after he wrote his 6,000,000 word dogmatics?”

    • Marc Cortez February 27, 2013 at 6:36 am #

      Actually, he did write this toward the end of his life after he’d completed most of the Dogmatics.

      • Wes February 27, 2013 at 8:51 am #

        Yes- my question stems from the thought that possibly he, like “quoheleth” in Ecclesiastes, realized the value of conversational engagement after his life’s work of mostly one-way communicatio (or at least quite a bit of it). I used to think this thought would lead to the death of preaching, but I wholeheartedly agree with your response to HG in terms of both/and. The trick is knowing who is the “rabbi” in the interpretation or conversation because there IS Truth. Fuller taught me that too much dialogue winds up with more questions than answers. This isn’t all bad, but our world is desperate and searching for answers. Conversation is a big piece of the how, Jesus the who, but the what often remains unsettled to the point of apathy – exactly what Satan would love (cf Screwtape).

        Good stuff.

        Thanks, Marc.

  2. Herman Grobler February 26, 2013 at 9:01 pm #

    Marc, I fully agree. Yet my experience is that in a Church service one is confronted with three problems. The first is that most just sit stunned in the pews, not daring to say anything for fear of saying something stupid or too obvious. The second is that one is confronted with the “know-it-all” or the person with a direct link to the Holy Spirit, jumping to the opportunity to quickly set all things right and thereby shut all the others’ mouths for good. The third is a “theological quarrel” between two members each trying to convince the congregation to follow his/her insights. How do you prevent a sermon to be hijacked resulting in commotion that does not build up the congregation or is not to the glory of God?

  3. Marc Cortez February 27, 2013 at 6:41 am #

    I still think there’s a time and place for the one-way kind of communication that most sermons provide. I think we do too much of it, but that doesn’t mean we stop doing it entirely. And, as you point out, the give-and-take of conversation can create some significant challenges in a large group. I run into some of the same dynamics when I teach classes, though, and a lot of it is training people to understand the “etiquette” of being a good conversation partner. I usually do this with a private chat afterward pointing out how what they’re doing actually prevents quality learning both for them and the rest of the group.

  4. private network April 27, 2013 at 4:21 am #

    I like it when individuals get together and share thoughts.
    Great website, stick with it!

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