Cornelius Van Til Was Severely Wrong in His Critique of Karl Barth: Gavin Ortlund Say’s So

I just read this really good essay that repudiates Cornelius Van Til’s apparent rebuttal of Karl Barth’s theology. Gavin Ortlund puts Van Til’s critique in perspective, and demonstrates how it should not be taken seriously—cornelius-van-til-01only as a caricature—of Barth’s actual theology. I don’t actually think that Ortlund is a ‘Barthian’, per se, but his essay goes along way in dis-spelling the demonic mist that has surrounded Barth for all too long among his Westminster Theological Seminary-typed critics. Here is how Gavin Ortlund concludes his essay:

I will finish this study by noting two conclusions which do not follow from it, and one which does. First, it does not follow from what I have written here that Van Til’s general contribution to theology should be in any way denigrated. There can be no question of his importance, especially in the realm of apologetics. If it is true, as John Frame has suggested, that Van Til tended to adopt an all or nothing approach toward other thinkers, that is no reason why the same approach should be adopted towards him. Secondly, it does not follow that there is no room for further criticism of Karl Barth’s theology. Barth’s theology may be flawed for reasons different than those given by Van Til, or there may be problems with specific areas of his thought or method.

        What I would suggest from this essay is that interpreters of Barth, especially those in the Van Tilian chain of influence, make greater effort to form their interpretations of Barth through thoughtful and discerning interaction with Barth’s writings. In evangelical circles, and especially in reformed circles in America and Britain, Barth is often regarded with suspicion, dismissed without a reading, summarized with neat but unhelpful slogans, and/or written off as a liberal. All would profit from more careful reading of Barth’s writings, more caution, fairness, and balance in analysis, and a fresh openness to the complexities and nuances of his work.

        This conclusion follows most of all for those who share concerns about Barth, because genuine and vigorous opposition to Barth’s theology is not well served by Van Til’s critique. It may be that part or all of Barth’s theology needs to be rejected, but it should be fairly engaged before it is rejected. Even if one finds, upon one’s own separate reading and reflection, Karl Barth to be the worst heretic in the history of the church – let him nevertheless be denounced for what he is and not something he is not. [read the whole essay: “Wholly Other or Wholly Given Over: What Van Til Missed in his Criticism of Barth,” Presbyterion 35.1 (2009): 35-52]

I commend this to you, you Van Tilian anti-Barthians, in particular :-).

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