… They both were Dialectic Theologians. Which means that they both were willing to live with what Analytical or Scholastic Theologians would consider probable if not necessary contradictions internal to certain held theological trajectories and beliefs. George Hunsinger helps us how to appreciate this when he writes of Barth:
[…] A high tolerance for mystery is a hallmark of Barth’s theology—a tolerance which at once separates him from standard modern theologies and unites him with the historic faith of the ecumenical church. His loyalty to the particularities of the biblical witness led him to not shrink from various anomalies as they arose from the subject matter. These anomalies might take the form of unresolved conceptual antitheses, as for example in the doctrine of the Trinity or in the doctrine of the Incarnation. Or they might take the form of discrepancies between eye and ear, as for example in the doctrine of reconciliation, which announces that the world has been reconciled to God, whereas the world as ordinarily observed would seem to be far from being so reconciled. Governed by the particularities of the biblical witness, Barth was inclined to approach such anomalies not by explaining them away, but simply by letting them stand. He was more concerned to avoid premature closure, than to achieve orderly conceptual outcomes. In this sense, the motif of particularism entailed a deep respect for mystery. It was an expression of Barth’s conviction that we walk by faith and not by sight. [George Hunsinger, How to Read Karl Barth: The Shape of His Theology, 44-5 Nook edition]
And then Hunsinger quotes Barth to illustrate his (Hunsinger’s) point in regard to Barth’s particularism and how that worked out for Barth, say in his conception of Divine Freedom:
[I]t is not, then, the rigid presence of a being whose nature we can, so to speak, formulate in this or that principle. God is free to be present with the creature by giving himself and revealing himself to it or by concealing himself and withdrawing from it. God is free to be and operate in the created world wither as unconditioned or as conditioned. God is free to perform his work either within the framework of what we call the laws of nature or outside it in the shape of miracle…. God is free to conceal his divinity from the creature, even to become a creature himself, and free to assume again his Godhead…. God is free to clothe himself with the life of the world in all its glory as with a garment; but free likewise himself to die the death which symbolizes the end of all things earthly, in utter abandonment and darkness…. God is free to be wholly inward to the creature and at the same time as himself wholly outward: totus intra et totus extra and both, of course, as forms of his immanence, of his presence, of the relationship and communion chosen, willed and created by himself between himself and his creation. This is how he meets us in Jesus Christ. His revelation in Jesus Christ embraces all these apparently so diverse and contradictory possibilities. The are all his possibilities. If we deny him any one of them, we are denying Jesus Christ and God himself. [Karl Barth CD II/1, 314-5 cited by George Hunsinger, How to Read Karl Barth, 45 Nook edition]
All of the above, can also be applied to how to read Thomas Torrance (and Torrance has his own nuances, but in general the above can apply). And none of this kind of approach is far from the spirit of John Calvin’s approach as what Charles Partee has labeled as a Confessional approach; here is how Partee describes Calvin’s mode (and read this as if it is in the premodern spirit of what we see evinced in the modern one of Barth and Torrance):
Calvin’s theology is properly concerned for right answers, but his right answers should be understood not as a logically unassailable system of ideas but in terms of their adequacy as a heartfelt confession of faith attempting to protect the mystery of God’s revelation. This confessional nature of theology takes precedence over all its rational truth, not even a system rationally explicating revealed truth. Calvin’s theology is a systematic offering of faithful witness to the truth revealed by God in Jesus Christ. [Charles Partee, The Theology of John Calvin, 31 cited in our edited book (Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church) from chapter 15 co-written by Myk Habets Myself, from Thesis Statement Nine Evangelical Calvinism is a form of dialectical theology.]
It is improper to come to Barth, Torrance (and/or Calvin for that matter), and expect them to fit into a nice and neat scholastic and analytic form of theologizing; they won’t fit, they fear Procrustean beds too much! And they revere the dynamism and personalism (and in this case particuarlism) of God’s Self-revelation in Jesus Christ too much. So while there is actually much less speculation in their approach to doing Revealed Theology (juxtaposed with classical theology), at the same time, this also, given the strict commitment to following the implications of the Incarnation as they impose and give themselves to us under the weight of its own conceptual universe of giveness and the categories therein, Barth and Torrance in particular are unwilling to finish-things-off in a way that certain gaps might be filled in to satisfy our own curiosity.
So I think this is important to keep in mind when approaching Barth, Torrance (and even Calvin). It is true that we can definitely do our work After Barth, After Torrance, After Calvin; but we should bear in mind when doing this, that we are constructively engaging with them, and oft times taking them somewhere where a kind of necessitarian logic might want to take us (even being led by things that Barth and Torrance articulated); and yet, Barth and Torrance resisted such moves themselves (and for the reasons noted above).