The beast in my lap is Karl Bark, namesake of Karl Barth, the 20th Century Swiss theologian who notably wrote Church DOGmatics. (Sorry, puns should not be allowed in this column. This is serious stuff, right?) I’m rather fond of both Karls; they cause me to think about important stuff.
Last month, for instance, I was honored to talk to the class that introduces prospective members to our church. My chunk had to do with what makes us Presbyterians, theologically speaking. It was more than just a little intimidating to realize five theologians were sitting before me: three seminarians plus Pastor Joel Larson and Jourdan Turner, our Director of Adult Spiritual Formation. And neither Barth nor Bark was there to offer me encouragement.
We welcomed our new members during worship last Sunday. As part of their commissioning they were asked if they would “receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith.” It’s the same constitutional question asked of deacons, elders, and pastors when they’re ordained or installed. It causes me to wonder if we really understand or even care about what those “essential tenets” are, or if they’re something we can live without in the course of our daily lives or weekly worship. Well, I’m not about to go scouring Professor Barth’s multi-volume dogmatik for the answers, but I know from a cursory glance, matters of the Reformed faith were stated on every page I read. And I’m not going to enumerate what I think are the essentials. After all, I’m not a theologian, I’m not a pastor. I’m just a layman with a dogged curiosity about theology that has served me well as I’ve grown in my Christian faith and into my Presbyterianism.
I’m glad to say most of these matters have moved from my head in study to my heart in practice, not that I practice them well. I do believe theology (the study or the knowledge of God) offers us a right understanding of what God’s Word teaches, informed by voices of faithful, lifelong students of scripture, and especially by God’s Spirit.
Finally, I submit that theology is important, and there may be something to what I’ve just written. As I read it back to Karl Bark, he wags his tail. Or maybe he knows he’s about to be fed.