I am still processing the experience I had yesterday (I’ve been to multiple ETS meetings over the years) at the Pacific Northwest Region Evangelical Theological Society meeting I attended, which was held at my alma mater’s campus: Multnomah University in Portland, Oregon. I don’t want to overstate things, which I can do, but the impression I left with yesterday, and what remains presently, is one of concern.
My concern comes from the role that, interesting as it may be, that inerrancy plays as determinative towards the identity of the academic evangelicals who make up the body and soul of the Evangelical Theological Society. Inerrancy is a symptom, in my view, of a deeper and prior commitment to either a positivistic rationalism (which is what the original framing of inerrancy comes from), or to a Post-Reformation scholasticism that is typically connected to a conception and doctrine of God that, I would contend, is philosophically contrived in abstraction rather than revelationally encountered in the Self-revelation of God in His Self-interpretation in Jesus Christ (so of course predictably this will come back to two different approaches to theologizing: i.e. the analogia entis [which can be illustrative of a classical theistic approach, but not necessarily definitive], and the analogia fidei/relationis as understood by Karl Barth and after Barth theologians).
Why is it safer for evangelicals to go with post-reformation orthodox theology, and/or Old Princetonian theology (particularly when it comes to their bibliology) rather than with other streams of theological engagement found interspersed all throughout the history of the church, even into the modern period, and into the present? Streams of theological engagement that are committed more to encountering the personal Triune God in Jesus Christ, rather than streams that by piety have the same commitment (post reformed orthodoxy), but in practice, think God from philosophical conventions that start with the knowing theologian, rather than the knowing God who has spoken (Deus dixit) [I generalize]?
For my money the best way to go is to take a resourcing theology of retrieval approach that is free to engage with material theological offerings all throughout church history. But my caveat is that the modern period of the church is included within this, and in some ways might provide better methodological criteria for resourcing the past than the past itself. Indeed, for me (surprise, surprise!), Karl Barth’s (and Thomas Torrance after him) commitment to the reformed scripture principle of sola scriptura and semper reformanda provides the best way forward for evangelical theologians who claim to be committed to the authority of Holy Scripture in their theological engagement and spiritual cultivation and devotion to Jesus Christ. Adam Neder writes of Barth’s approach:
… while fully conversant with and significantly indebted to the vast resources of the church’s reflection on the person and work of Christ, Barth regarded himself to be primarily accountable to Holy Scripture, not church dogma, and thus asked that his Christology be judged, above all, by its faithfulness to the New Testament presentation of the living Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, one regularly finds Barth justifying a Christological innovation with the argument that the New Testament depiction of Christ requires it (or something like it) and that the older categories are inadequate to bear witness to this or that aspect of his existence. In other words, and quite simply, Barth understood himself to be free to do evangelical theology — free, as he put it, to begin again at the beginning. And this approach, it seems to me, is one that evangelicals have every reason to regard with sympathy rather than suspicion.
Why are evangelicals suspicious or even outright antagonistic to Karl Barth? Because Barth, based upon his theory of revelation, rejected the positivistic doctrine of Scripture propounded by the Old Princetonians (i.e. Warfield, Hodge, Machen, et al.)? What is it in Barth that is at odds with evangelical impulses? The irony is, is that most evangelicals would probably reject Barth because they see him as a modern theologian just one-step removed from hated Liberal theology; the sort of theology which inerrancy was constructed to defeat, and stand against as a bulwark. But typically evangelicals only repeat caricatures of Barth (that’s what I used to do), they never really read him themselves (not even the academic evangelicals).
Neder is on the money, and he provides illustration, as he reflects on Barth, of why, as an evangelical theologian myself, I find Barth so appealing. He reflects the best of what evangelicals say they believe in; i.e. a loving Triune God who gave Himself for the other, for the world, in His dearly beloved Son, Jesus Christ. He doesn’t just give me a piety (which post reformation theology has plenty of), but a methodology that actually allows God in Jesus Christ to confront and contradict me as Lord in all of His Self-revealed glory in the face of Jesus Christ! I’ve seen in Barth what I was always taught in sentiment as a young evangelical growing up in the church, and then as an older evangelical being formally trained at an evangelical bible college and seminary; I never saw that sentiment being supported theologically methodologically in the theologies I was offered in most of my educational experience (not all of it!, there were a couple of exceptions in seminary). What Neder states about Barth is absolutely the case in Barth, and in his most prominent English speaking student, Thomas Torrance. Why evangelicals continue to accept the old Van Tillian critique of Karl Barth as a neo-orthodox theologian is beyond me. To write Barth off based upon ignorance and caricature is not Christian; and if what Neder is saying is true about Barth (and it is!), then evangelicals are missing out on a massive help and corrective to their chosen trajectory … that’s too bad!
 Adam Neder, History in Harmony: Karl Barth on the Hypostatic Union, in Bruce McCormack and Clifford Anderson eds., Karl Barth and American Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2011), 150.