Today (well yesterday now as I write this) I attended the Pacific Northwest Regional Evangelical Theological Society’s meeting which was held at my alma mater, Multnomah University. Dr. Karen Jobes was the plenary presenter, and the title of her presentation was: It Is Written: The Septuagint and Our Doctrine of Scripture. She offered some intriguing insights on text critical issues and its impact on evangelical hermeneutics; she used I Peter 2:3-4 and Psalm 34 as a case study. After the plenary we had lunch and then there were break-out sessions where
papers from other presenters were presented. All in all it was an edifying time, and a time of fellowship being surrounded by former classmates and professors, and new friends.
Something dawned on me today in pretty striking fashion; I’ve been learning a new theological language now over these last ten years, as I’ve been reading Karl Barth and Thomas F. Torrance as my steady diet. This struck me sharply in particular because when I attempted to ask a question (in a Q&A session after a paper was presented), and to do so from a Barthian/Torrancean/Athanasian perspective it was as if I was speaking a foreign language; either that, or the person I was asking the question of quickly realized where I was coming from (because he knows me – he’s a former prof), and wanted to shut it down as quickly as possible (which he did). But I’ve come to realize that thinking and doing theology After Barth is not an acceptable mode of theological discourse and engagement within evangelical scholarship; it is dismissed, and I would say even scoffed at. This poses somewhat of a problem for me, because I am not your typical “Barthian.” I am still quite evangelical, and I would say more evangelical when it comes to tapping into the intentions of the best of evangelical theology.
Here’s what I’ve found in Karl Barth and Thomas Torrance; I’ve found teachers who offer an alternative and resourceful mode of theological engagement that offers formal and material theological framework and conclusions that emphasize God as Triune love (versus a decretal god), and a relational understanding (versus legal) that forwards the aims of evangelical theology much better than say Post Reformed Orthodoxy. And yet, Post Reformed Orthodox theology (the theology that was done immediately after say, John Calvin, Martin Luther, et al.) is what is considered the seedbed for conservative evangelical ressourcement! Even Karen Jobes’ discussion on inerrancy explicated the Old Princeton stalwarts on said doctrine: i.e. Warfield and Hodge. I do believe there is fruit to be found by resourcing certain doctrinal contours present in Post Reformed Orthodoxy, but then I also think there are many fruitful things to be found in Modern theology (i.e. Barth, Macintosh, Torrance, et al.). And I actually believe that Barth’s trajectory is more correlative with biblical themes and presentation that is found in Post Reformed Orthodox theology. Why? Because Barth&Torrance offer groundbreaking thinking on such important issues as everything: i.e. doctrine of God, election, theory of revelation, ontology of Scripture, hermeneutics, theological methodology, etc. And yet they are considered, by and large, quacks or idiosyncratic by most evangelical theologians and exegetes.
As an evangelical, who also happens to be substantially Barthian in trajectory and mood, it is as if I am speaking in tongues when I’m with my fellow evangelicals.
Some might respond that this is Barth’s and Torrance’s own fault; that they speak in such an unorthodox or unruly theological tongue that they aren’t worth trying to understand. But my response to that would be: that Barth and Torrance et al. have achieved something that most evangelical theologians have never considered, they have actually been able to evangelize metaphysics. With the result that historic orthodox doctrine has been captured in such a way that Christ is truly at the center, not just by assertion, but by hermeneutical intention in a very intensive way! Like I said earlier, the reason I was attracted to Barth and Torrance was because they offer a weary evangelical soul like myself an alternative to the idea that the only real alternative, theologically, is to become an adherent of classical theism and resource Post Reformed Orthodoxy among other Latin offerings provided by the Western branch of the Christian church. Honestly, without Barth and Torrance, theology would be pretty boring and academic to me. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy historical theology; I absolutely do! It is to say though that I see Barth, Torrance, et al. working from within the best of the spirit of the Reformed faith. Unfortunately around my brethren and sistren this makes me seem like a weirdo, an alien life form speaking in a strange tongue. At the end of the day there isn’t much motivation left to want to say much, because it will be quickly dismissed; at least among evangelicals.
 Bruce McCormack hits an excellent pace on this in his Orthodox and Modern.