I thought it might be instructive to post some on the differences that inhere between Calvin’s approach to Biblical interpretation, and Barth’s. David Gibson in his book Reading The Decree: Exegesis, Election, and Christology in Calvin and Barth provides a helpful grid for trying to compare and contrast these two virtuosos. He actually borrows, from both Richard Muller and Bruce McCormack, a lense that helps to sharpen our vision for why Calvin’s approach varies from Barth’s, relative to their disparate understandings of election and Christology (and how this then impinges upon their methodological approaches to doing exegesis and theology). In this vein, I thought I would quote a distinction that Muller makes between Calvin’s and Barth’s approaches (as cited by Gibson), and then I thought I would quote a bit of McCormack (as cited by Gibson) to further highlight how Gibson seeks to develop the divergence in approach that inheres between our two famed theologians. Here is Gibson quoting Muller:
In examining the historical differences between [the models for theological systems that we see in Schleiermacher, Schweizer, Thomasius, Ritschl and Barth] and the theological models of past eras, it is necessary, therefore, to distinguish between the soteriological christocentrism of traditional Christian theology, and what can be called the ‘principial’ christocentrism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The former christocentrism consistently places Christ at the historical and at the soteriological center of the work of redemption. In the theology of Calvin and of the Reformed orthodox, such soteriological christocentrism opposes all synergistic and, therefore, anthropocentric approaches to salvation. The latter, a principial christocentrism, may include the monergistic view of salvation, but it will also assume that Christ is the principium cognoscendi theologiae or, in Kickel’s phrase the Erkenntnissgrund of theology. [R. A Muller, After Calvin: Studies in the Development of a Theological Tradition, cited by David Gibson, Reading The Decree, 6]
And then Bruce McCormack on what Muller just described as a ‘principial’ christocentrism (in contrast to Calvin’s soteriological christocentrism):
‘Christocentrism’, in Barth’s case then, refers to the attempt (which characterized his mature theology) to understand every doctrine from a centre in God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ; i.e. from a centre in God’s act of veiling and unveiling in Christ . . . ‘Christocentrism’, for him, was a methodological rule — not an a priori principle, but a rule which is learned through encounter with the God who reveals himself in Christ — in accordance with which one presupposes a particular understanding of God’s Self-revelation in reflecting upon each and every other doctrinal topic, and seeks to interpret those topics in the light of what is already known of Jesus Christ. [Bruce McCormack, Critically Realistic, cited by David Gibson, Reading The Decree, 9]
Here we have a central distinction made by both Muller and McCormack in regards to Calvin’s and Barth’s disparate approaches to exegesis and theological reflection. These are significant methodological departures, one from the other, that as a microcosim serve to illustrate two very different traditions that are at play in biblical exegesis and theology today. David Gibson goes on to constructively appropriate what he here quotes from Muller and McCormack, and labels Calvin’s approach as “soteriological-extensive,” and Barth’s approach as “principial-intensive;” meaning that Calvin’s ‘Christocentrism’ and approach was very much so grounded in salvation history and the landscape provided by the text of Scripture itself. While Barth’s approach, on the other hand, was committed to penetrating deeply into the theo-logical assumptions (or inner-logic) that God’s life in Christ implies about God’s person in eternity which has then been given visibility in the incarnation and salvation history.
So it should become a little clearer what distinguishes the two. Calvin’s questions, in regards to election, Christology, etc. are driven by soteriological questions; “on the ground,” as it were. While Barth’s questions by looking at the incarnation in Christ, making theological inferences about God’s life and election from there; and then working back into the text of Scripture and salvation history with these ‘inner-logical’ theo-logical assumptions as the guiding principles through which Barth then endeavors to interpret the text of Scripture — as if Scripture could get nowhere without this ‘Christocentric’ mode in place (as construed by his dogmatic theological assumptions). So Calvin isn’t necessarily looking for Jesus in every nook and cranny of Scripture, at least not in the principled way that Barth is.
I’m afraid that this is where I am going to have to leave this one. Hopefully this has helped to provide a little more insight into the differences between Calvin and Barth, and furthermore; hopefully this helps illustrate how more traditional exegesis differs from a more modern exegesis that we find in Barth & co.