Barth Reading Group – Year 5!

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I’m planning to carry on with my fifth annual Karl Barth reading group this year for those local to Caronport. I’ve been hosting this group which meets once a week for about 75 minutes to discuss a small portion of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics. (Imagine a group of theological nerds all gathered together at the coffee shop at 7 am on a dark, -30 or -40 degree Saskatchewan winter day for the purpose of talking through a paragraph of Barth’s dense prose…if this doesn’t sound exciting, you probably never will understand!)

The first three years, we worked through volume II.2 (the doctrine of election). Last year we started in on Barth’s doctrine of vocation in volume 3.2–which we will carry on with this year. Our group consists of an interesting mix about 10-15 Briercrest faculty, staff, local area pastors, seminary and college students.

For those in Caronport or area that wish to join the group, we will be having an organizational meeting on Monday September 13 at 11:40 am. The main agenda is to determine the time we will meet. Normally, we have met Friday mornings at 7:00 to 8:15 am. I suspect we will carry that out again this year, but that won’t be confirmed until after September 13. If you have questions, please do contact me! (dguretzki  @  briercrest.ca).

One more thing: Last year I asked several of our pastors (or former or upcoming pastors) to write some thoughts on the value of becoming involved in a local reading group, such as I have been hosting for the past years. In the next few posts, I’ll be posting some of their reflections. If you are a pastor reading this, perhaps these “guest pastor-bloggers” might motivate you to get a reading group of your own together.

Today, I’ll start with thoughts from my own pastor, Dr. Blayne Banting, who is pastor of Caronport Community Church. The questions I asked him (and the others) to reflect on were:

1)    What is the “value” to you of a “theology reading group” (such as the Barth group) as a pastor?

2)    What is the top reason you would give for why a pastor should engage in long-term reading of theology, especially theology that is “unrelated” to the specific preaching and teaching you are doing?

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Pastoral ministry can degenerate into a descending spiral of disconnected tasks designed to put out fires, keep the discontented content and the organizational wheels greased.  Without a ‘time out’ to ponder something beyond the regular rountine, pastors often become pragmatists by default.  Regular participation in reading and discussing the work of a notable theologian is a check and balance on the tyranny of the urgent and the pastoral predisposition toward people-pleasing.  A theology reading group offers disciplined time to interact with others on themes that are foundational to the life of the church.  It offers good, substantive fellowship around matters that matter and it reminds the  pastor of his/her responsibility to be a theologian as well as an administrator, leader, counsellor, preacher and mower of the church lawn. Personally, I value meaningful conversations on issues outside of personal worship style preferences and the other peripheral matters we have made primary in a rather consumeristic church culture.  Besides all of this, which sounds a bit elitist and slightly cranky, I enjoy these times because they serve as ‘gut check’ opportunities where I can measure my pastoral practice against my pastoral theology.  Both of these (i.e. theology and practice) can benefit from what I learn in a theology reading group. The discussions around the table have deepened my understanding and widened my appreciation of varying viewpoints.  I no longer have the excuse to dig my own ruts even deeper. As a result I find participation in a theology reading group an invigorating experience.

The top reason I would offer to pastors encouraging them to join a theology reading group is the opportunity it offers them to reflect on substantive matters of the faith in a collegial environment.

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8 thoughts on “Barth Reading Group – Year 5!

  1. Ashley Moyse

    You may be interested to know that I am starting a Barth reading group this fall in Langley. I hope that it is as successful, engaging and rewarding as yours has been. Of course, we lack one thing here in BC . . . the sense of community that suffering through a Saskatchewan winter solidifies.

      • Ashley Moyse

        since my wife’s career is steadily on the go, we decided to stay put. So, I’ll be “commuting” to Oz once a year (or twice if needed)–I spent some time there already this summer. While off campus, John and I meet regularly on Skype for supervisions. Not an ideal situation, but one that we are working with. My project is coming along though and feedback has been quite encouraging! We still need a chance to chat about it . . .

  2. Samuel

    Hi David

    I’m a pastor in Vancouver and read your blog regularly, and the idea of a theology reading group sounds like a great idea. A couple of questions for you if I could: How would a typical group meeting go? I guess it wouldn’t take too much administration once it gets started?

    Thanks

    Sam

    • Hi Samuel.

      Our group runs on a fairly simple agenda. We choose a volume of Barth’s Dogmatics that we read through together. (This year we are on CD IV.3.2). Each week we agree on the number of pages we will read–sequentially, of course. We usually read somewhere between 5-10 pages a week. Then we gather together for about 1 or 1.5 hours on a Friday morning, we pray together, and then discuss what we are seeing. I will often ask someone to start the discussion, or I will start it myself. When we are done, we pray together once more and go on with our day. Quite simple, but also very enjoyable and enriching!

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