Further Reflection on the Evangelical Theological Society and the State of Evangelical Academia with Reference to Barth as Corrective

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 barthpicture2Evangelical 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.[1]

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!

 

[1] 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.

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26 thoughts on “Further Reflection on the Evangelical Theological Society and the State of Evangelical Academia with Reference to Barth as Corrective

  1. Bobby,

    A few thoughts as a non-Barth-hater.

    1. I think you continually give the impression that with Barth or Torrance, to understand is to agree. So, if someone doesn’t agree with them, they must not have *really* understood them. That’s not really a helpful impression to give in a conversation a) rhetorically, or b) factually.

    2. I think you’re not accounting for the intellectual and historical trends of the last 150 years in some key ways. First, conservatives were concerned with some very specific problems in liberalism. Barth had answers on some, but appeared squishy on some very key ones. I mean, Carl Henry couldn’t get a straight answer out of him whether he believed Jesus rose from the dead as a historical fact. Now, it could be there’s some very complex epistemological/apocalyptic issue going on in Barth that can be parse helpfully. I’m very happy to think that. But isn’t it somewhat understandable for people concerned with liberals denying the resurrection and so for that they couldn’t get an answer out of him?

    3. Even Barthian have a hell of a time trying to figure out and expand what Barth means on a given subject. Take the McCormack/Hunsinger debate. From what I’ve read, I think Hunsinger has the argument–but if McCormack is right, let’s be blunt and say his doctrine of God would be just weird. This is not the only issue in Barth scholarship that’s like this.

    4. Also, have you taken a look at the PC(USA)? I have worked in a conservative PC(USA) church and I’ve seen the history there. A semi-Barthian view of Scripture as adopted in the 1967 confession did not stop the slide of the church into theological liberalism and decline. I don’t think that some version of it can’t be helpful or drawn on in such a way as to avoid that problem, but we can’t act as if conservative Evangelicals are just imagining this failure. Nor is it only a problem in America. I was just talking to a German Evangelical pastor who was telling a very similar story in his own context. In other words, they have some warranted reason for being scared

    5. Some of the recent theologians, certainly at the pop level, drawing on “Barthian” themes for their doctrine of Scripture have been repeating some of the errors and doing the silly, Jesus-v-The Bible thing in support of things like marriage revisionism, Crypto-Marcionism, and so forth. I’m not saying Barth would do that, but that is one stream, one part of the post-Barthian inheritance.

    6. Barth has written a bajillion pages and takes a very long time to understand. And he’s not the only theologian who wrote smart things in the last 100 years.

    7. Finally, many of these post-Reformation, rationalistically-inclined Evangelicals would criticize your views of them as unfair as you take their views of Barth to be.

    So…ya. I’m not saying you can’t love Barth and Torrance, or try to advocate for them. That’s fine. Just don’t be surprised that not everybody doesn’t jump on the bandwagon immediately upon seeing the light.

    Love ya, buddy.

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  2. Derek is right about the PCUSA, and we seem to have similar experiences in that regard, having left the PCUSA myself. However, even though Barth has surely been very influential in the PCUSA since the 1950’s (and influenced the authors of the ’67 confession), we cannot forget that other influences dominated as well, namely the pervasive influence in all of the mainline (the NCC) of Tillich, Niebuhr, and the whole Union-NY faculty (to name one), and eventually liberation theology and feminist theology, plus a strong commitment to mainline biblical scholarship. The PCUSA’s place within the larger currents of mainline Protestantism has much to do with its current malaise, for which Barth actually has a relatively minor role. Those “Barthians” today who have a strong attachment to the mainline are also the ones most likely to push the “radical” strand in Barth’s theology, including avenues into which Barth did not venture or even expressly opposed.

    On a very minor note, Bobby, your citation format can be confusing. You italicized Neder’s chapter as if it were a book and did not cite the book in which it is included, even though you cited the editors. Very odd. Sorry, I can be nitpicky about these things.

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  3. Derek/Others:

    Your comment about Carl Henry reminded me about how, for many Evangelicals, epistemology takes primacy over all other things, including ontology, usually resulting in a type of foundationalism. I have a feeling that Barth might have been elusive with certain people for that reason. I recall elsewhere stumbling on someone who noted that Barth was rather explicit with him about the reality of the resurrection, and his personal frustration with Van Til who held that even if Barth screamed that he believed in the bodily resurrection, he couldn’t because of his presuppositions.

    I wonder if we’re all Kantians now, and Barth was trying to figure out how to get outside of the box. An inerrant Scripture is one way to try and vault out, but questions of hermeneutics raise red flags. There’s an interesting article about Torrance, Ephraim the Syrian (I think?), and critical realism. I might be jumbling things.

    Anyway, I’m with Bobby on this. A kind of paranoid epistemological obsession is not doing anyone any good. Honestly, I think there are much larger problems in American Christianity than Mainline denominations, little of which had to do with Barth. The Mainline is collapsing because the Mainline is trying to keep up with a zeitgeist. When the Zeitgeist was a White, Protestant, triumphant American destiny, the Mainline was booming. Now it’s not. Evangelicals are following a few paces behind. This isn’t an epistemological issue, rather, it’s about the Beast devouring the Whore.

    PS. Kevin on notation: that is what grad school does to your brain. 🙂

    cal

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  4. Derek,

    1) How have I given that impression? That if folks only understood Barth and Torrance they would agree with him? That’s pretty naive isn’t it? I don’t believe that at all. My point about folks reading Barth though through Van Til is not inaccurate; Christianity Today and Carl Henry for that matter had much to do with that type of propagation.

    2) I’m aware of theological trends in the last 150 years. Barth’s response to the historicity of Jesus resurrection is to refer to the sunday school song: “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so …” Beyond that, yeah, his theory of history is intricate (Darren Sumner has an excellent blog post on that!). His understanding of saga is important as well; as Hunsinger emailed me in regard to a post I wrote on that topic, Barth held to concrete historical reality, but instead the emphasis was upon His history rather than “ours.” I’m not naive, Derek, to the history of ideas and development of theological understanding over the last many years; I’ve lived it.

    3) That’s not what is going on with McCormack and Hunsinger in the so called “Barth Wars.” McCormack is taking Barth where he thinks Barth should have gone (in a constructive way). Hunsinger et al is saying that Barth is fine just where he left off. Yes they disagree with each other, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that Barth’s core core doctrines are elusive! That’s pretty much a red herring.

    4) We attend a PCUSA church where the senior pastor was personally mentored by TFT. The other pastors (Geordie Ziegler and Matt Overton) either have studied TFT and Barth in depth and/or attended PTS for seminary. Yes, there is a massive slide in PCUSA right now, but to attribute that to Barth would be kind of non-starting and ridiculous. Folks who follow Barth in PCUSA are typically the evangelicals.

    5)

    6) Yeah, that’s true. But Barth offers a fundamentally different approach to theological method and material conclusions than all of those other guys. His brilliance or the other’s brilliance isn’t what’s at stake, it’s what is concluded theologically that is decisive. That’s why I major on Barth and TFT so much, they offer a radically alternative approach to theological thinking and method that fits way better with evangelical impulses than do those found in post reformation orthodox theology. That’s what is radical. Isn’t just about being a student of Barth or TFT, it’s about the radical point of departure they offer and represent for knowing God!

    7) Derek, you speak to me as if I’m not an evangelical, dyed in the wool. As if I haven’t been growing up in that to one degree or another my whole damn life! I KNOW what they think, I’ve been trained in it myself; you’re not the only one who has attended evangelical schools. I just re-experienced all of that once more at regional ETS (thus this post). I’m not trying to politicize this, how about you don’t either!

    I’m not surprised at all, but I am saddened.

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  5. Kevin,

    Seriously? I actually stole that quote from a very old post of mine. I was tired when I wrote this post, and didn’t feel like updating that biblio. You can probably figure out what book it comes from, if not let me know and I’ll let you know. Now if my I did this all the time with my biblio then your nit picky could be justified, but I don’t, I always follow the CMS.

    And I agree with you about the influences on the PCUSA.

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  6. Cal,

    You’re right. It is an obsession with bottom up theologizing that has entangled evangelical theological thinking. The old Latin heresy as TFT might label it (even if that is based on Harnackian thesis making). But yeah, that’s it. Can that discussion get more nuanced and complex? Yes, but that’s it. It’s a matter of who God is, and who gets to determine who He is. It is a matter of which metaphysics are more heavenly, and which one is more proximate with who God is. Is there room for constructive dialogue somewhere between all of this? Yes. But that does not happen. People like Derek seem to act like they have no problems with Barth, but then go right along, patronizingly, putting Barth down out of the largest part of their mouths.

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  7. Well, I guess I hit a nerve there. I suppose the first point was rather more personal, but all the same, I think with the rest of them, I’m trying to give you various reasons and rationales for why Evangelicals of various stripes haven’t warmly accepted Barth and Torrance into their hearts like you wish they had–reasons that don’t simply reduce to unreflexive rationalism and a failure to *really* read Barth, but only rely on second-hand accounts

    1. I know you don’t hold it explicitly, but the impression is still there from countless conversations we’ve had where people just “don’t get” Barth’s dialectical method, or Torrance’s homoousian hermeneutic, etc.

    2. As I said, I get that there was probably a complex view there–but do you get that your average Evangelical might want a straight answer, like, “Yes, Jesus rose from the dead, truly and historically, but also more than that”? I mean, it’s not just rationalism or some fear about epistemology–it’s about the ontological reality of the gospel.

    3. I’ve done some reading in the Hunsinger-McCormack debate. And I’ve seen reactions to it and I think you’re playing it down a bit. But in any case, it’s just one section where Barth interpretation is a bit dicey.

    4. There are great PCUSA churches. I already stipulated that. And if they stuck with actual Barth and the other factors weren’t there, yes, as I said–it didn’t have to go that. My point about the overall theological association still stands as a historical and social factor.

    5.

    6. I get that you think that. But it takes a lot of buy-in intellectually as well as time-wise to invest yourself in a system that is touted as a total revolution in theology over-and-against much of the theological sources that have historically funded and supported Protestantism in general and Evangelicalism as a whole. There’s just an understandable level of skepticism, right?

    7. I’m not saying that you haven’t lived in Evangelicalism. I’m not trying to politicize this. I’m trying to offer a rationale.

    I suppose that interaction of this sort is not what you were looking for on your reflection. If I’ve jammed up your time, sorry.

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  8. Derek,

    Yes, but I know why they don’t; I didn’t either for years, for the same reasons. What you’re missing in this thread tho is that I’m not wondering *why* evangelicals are not accepting Barth into their heart, my concern is that they won’t even genuinely talk about him with a fellow evangelical who would like to. I can’t even have a legitimate discussion about Barth with academic evangelicals. And you and I are both speaking from our experiences when it comes to evangelicals. Cool that you’ve found evangelicals to genuinely engage with Barth, who are they? I’d like to dialogue with them!

    I’m late for work, I’ll respond further to your other points later tonight.

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  9. Derek, as a contention:

    When you write “As I said, I get that there was probably a complex view there–but do you get that your average Evangelical might want a straight answer, like, “Yes, Jesus rose from the dead, truly and historically, but also more than that”? I mean, it’s not just rationalism or some fear about epistemology–it’s about the ontological reality of the gospel”

    First, why equivocate Carl Henry and the everyman?

    Second, I understand why some person may want a straightforward answer, and there’s a time for it. But sometimes a straightforward answer is dabbling in futility. I get the impression quite a few Christians I meet have no idea what resurrection means, despite their affirmation. So answering a question like “did Jesus rise from the dead?” doesn’t really get at anything.

    I write all of this as someone who is not a Barthian, but frustrated with Evangelicalism’s trenchant stupidity and myopia. You don’t have to respond to any of this, as I am a no-name blogger, but thus it is.

    cal

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  10. Bobby,

    I just saw the other comment about “people like Derek”–ugh. Dude, I’m not playing like I have no problem with him, nor would I ever dare patronize him. I’m saying I like him, but I also get why some people don’t spend the time. And I think critique happens in our conversations more often because you *constantly* spend your time dogging every form of theology that isn’t some Barthian-Torrancian spin-off. When I talk to Barth critics, I spend plenty of time defending him. So there’s a bit of context on that.

    Cal,

    I’m not equivocating Carl Henry with Everyman. Everyman wasn’t really entering into that comment. I’m talking about the Evangelical theologians and pastors who like Carl Henry would love to have a straight answer on the resurrection, but couldn’t seem to get one.

    Second, I think a lot of Christians don’t know what the resurrection means too. But when you’re asking someone who *does* know what it means, that question means quite a lot–everything, in fact. The Apostle Paul seemed to hang quite a lot on it (1 Cor. 15). And that’s true even for those who don’t understand it. Once you explain the concept according to the New Testament, which it’s completely possible to do–the question of whether it happens becomes relevant very quickly for them as well.

    As for Evangelicalism’s “trenchant stupidity and myopia”, there are different kinds of “trenchant stupidity and myopia” in just about every theological stream. Indeed, there’s a kind of blind stupidity that only the very sophisticated can attain to. That’s a form that I think Barth was particularly good at unmasking.

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  11. Derek:

    Then it sounded like equivocating is all. I don’t know all the back-story, but behind a simple “I want a straight answer, yes or no” is a whole host of others things. Why did Carl Henry feel the need to ask Barth? What are the implications of the question? How might what seems constructed as a simple question be a very jagged barb? How might it have been construed given the background of Henry and Barth?

    These are rhetorical questions; I’m not looking for real answers here. The point is that I very much doubt Carl Henry was asking for his own peace or on behalf of another. And yes, the faith is the resurrection, it’s crucial, so to speak.

    At this point, it’s irrelevant if whether you agree with Bobby, I think you’re being dense. What’s the point of a ‘tu quoque’? I’m speaking as an “evangelical” (I’m not exactly sure what that means, but it’s a label I still feel the need to own), and if you didn’t know that, you could just ask me in a comment.

    Even though I don’t always agree with Bobby, I can appreciate his frustration and need to celebrate the freedom he found in a new, yea living, grammar. The major point in “evangelizing metaphysics” is the relativity of it all, and how it points to, and builds, a dynamic relation with Christ.

    Bobby’s not denying any good in the ETS crowd, or trying to conquer it (at least in this post!). It sounds like your kicking dirt in his sand box to make a point to no one in particular.

    cal

    PS. And yeah, I am quite aware every school of thought or movement can have a train of fools. So yes, everyone has problems, no one is perfect, etc etc.

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  12. PPS. By using “relativity” I am not denying any objective knowledge, nor am I appealing to a loosey-goosey sentiment where we can all just get along. I am also not appealing to sheer pragmatism, determined by what “works”.

    What I am saying is that the only “language” that is sanctified is the Word Himself, who is enfleshed. And thus, fidelity is around that, and not whatever zeitgeist is in the aether.

    PPPS. I know the above is still kind of abstract, but I hope my point is clear.

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  13. PPPPS (sorry).

    And even though many places are afflicted with myopia and stupidity, American evangelicalism is a part of the cancer in American society. So my problem is less about the problem Bobby has raised and more deeply about certain socio-political rot that makes it a Babylonian Whore. This is not only American evangelicalism’s problem, and not only that, but as a Christian and an American, it is the problem I must speak to.

    I don’t mean any of the above antagonistically, though there is a general frustration with how the interaction has gone. It’s not personal, but what might be (I’m not decided) a side effect of a liberal education. But before I feel the need to write anymore post-scripts, I’ll end here: it’s not personal, you seem like a pretty solid dude.

    cal

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  14. PPPPPS (uggh):

    When I said Carl Henry above, I used him as a type of many a pastor who felt the need to question Barth on this matter or extract an answer in a public forum.

    Now I am done.

    cal

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  15. “I wonder if we’re all Kantians now, and Barth was trying to figure out how to get outside of the box.” – Cal

    I like that. That is very much what Barth was doing. He knew all of the strategies from within the Kantian box and found them insufficiently self-critical. Barth’s “Word theology” is an attempt to find a norm that is somehow not grounded in ourselves but also not grounded in creaturely objectivity (like history as a norm). That’s a very tricky thing to do. It is basic to the dilemma of Protestantism, having rejected the Church as a norming institution.

    On the citation bit, I did say it was “a very minor” point and “nitpicky.” My only concern was that somebody would try to search for the italicized title, assuming it was a book. I know the book, of course.

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  16. Derek, as you said yourself, in your previous comment, Barth offers a revolutionary or reformulated mode for doing theology. So it would be strange if when interacting with the majority report of evangelical theology that there wouldn’t be some form of critique from a Barth perspective; and that goes both ways, Derek! I’m in a very very small minority; i.e. someone who believes Barth offers a RADICAL way forward, and someone who is also trying to remain evangelical (conservative even). Most people I know from PTS have written me off, and just recently two of them who I’ve “known” for about 10 years just blocked me from both Facebook and Twitter; because I don’t fit into their radical theopolitical and “liberal” way of thinking–so they’ve cut me off. On the other hand I have people in the evangelical world who equally cut me off, and that could be sensed again at this most recent ETS meeting I just attended.

    I’ve never seen you defend Barth, so all I can go off of are the experiences I have had with you online; I would love to see how you defend Barth sometime.

    As far as your response to, Cal, Barth did give an unequivocal response in re to the historicity of the bodily resurrection. The problem is Derek, is that Barth sees God’s history as miracle, pure grace, and thus not accessible to modern historist critical approaches to history. So His history is not identical to our history, yet His history conditions the reality of ours. For Barth to say that Christ’s resurrection is historical is to say that it is more historical than our canons can access; so it remains a matter of faith (but not some abstract faith, but one that is grounded in the faith of Christ for us — so the analogy of faith). Barth’s theory of history resists naturalist conceptions and instead fits into an ordered and Christian dogmatic construal of history and God’s providence. How is that unevangelical? Or how does that lend itself to confusion? It just needs explanation, but usually folks give in to quickly to the fog that socio-culturally surrounds even the mention of Barth’s name in evangelical circles.

    Remember, Derek, you inhabit the dominant trajectory in evangelical theology; I don’t! So yes, sometimes it certainly feels contra mundum for me, and that’s the sense I felt in bodily (versus virtual) form by being at an ETS meeting.

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  17. 1. Derek, again, I don’t believe that that’s the only reason people reject Barth, but the evangelicals that you’re surrounded by are not the normal types (in a good way). I know that KJV, McCall and others there (I suppose DAC) have spent more time with Barth than most evangelical academics; but again, they are rather exceptional. I would continue to maintain that in general most evangelical theologians have not spent any genuine time with Barth, and they reject him based upon caricature more than anything else. Honestly it doesn’t take much to become familiar with his theology in general. There is the Cambridge Companion, and say Michael Allen’s reader on the CD etc. But something keeps most evangelical theologians from even getting that far; that something is what I’m referring to.

    2. I responded to your point about history in my comment above. The irony of your comment is that the Gospel is ontological for Barth (down to the vicarious humanity of Christ). When folks refer to Warfield/Hodge etc there is definitely a rationalist component to that — you know that. And that’s what I’m getting at.

    3. We could point to Calvin scholarship, Luther scholarship etc. There is always internal intramural debates among particular scholars in regard to their chosen scholarship. That doesn’t or shouldn’t be a reason to marginalize a scholar. I’ve responded to the Barth Wars thing, even for *First Things*, I don’t think I’m downplaying it; or I’m offering a more constructive way to approach that.

    4. I don’t agree. As I recall you originally were linking some of the PCUSA slide to Barth’s influence. I think Kevin’s point in that regard is more the case, and Barth has nothing to do with said slide; in fact he could be the brakes (his own life illustrates that i.e. from where he was in Safenwil, to where he went after the Romans commentary).

    6. Okay, but when skepticism becomes cynicism becomes caricature then all I’m saying is: that’s too bad and a total loss!

    7. My issue, Derek, as I said above, is that I’m an evangelical socio-culturally and in mood, but one who thinks that per an always reforming mode and working from the spirit of the Reformed faith, evangelicals have a friend not a foe in Barth/Torrance. But when that friend is considered an enemy to the evangelical faith, it makes it exceedingly hard (like an outlier) to try and co-habitate with evangelicals. If they won’t really give Barth a hearing, or if they do, but through slighted and skeptical lenses he’ll just always remain an enemy; and that then makes people like me who see him as a friend to be more like a theological enemy to much of evangelical scholarship.

    I have ever rarely had genuine engagement with an evangelical scholar who doesn’t think that Barth is just a fad or idiosyncratic thinker who is not relevant to the faith. But I found someone in Barth who actually answered so many of the evangelical questions that classical theism in my view was inept in answering.

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  18. Dante, you appear to have struck a nerve. That was like a food fight on a rainy market day in the town square. Nevertheless, the one who dumped a basket of oranges on your head did have a point: you really do dog every form of theology that is not a Thomas Aquinas spin-off.

    I know that you are bored to tears with disputations about the Sentences, and yearn for just one intelligent conversation about the Summa Theologica. Clearly the book is important to you, and you think that those who have not read it are slouches who waste their time on trivia. But people have their reasons.

    (1) You talk as though to read Aquinas is to agree with him. But his views are so eccentric that I doubt that they could ever be the norm.

    (2) You are neglecting other important developments of the past 150 years, such as the letters of Heloise and Abelard. Aquinas is not the only smart theologian around.

    (3) It can be hard to figure out what Aquinas means on a given topic. Why read anyone who can be interpreted in more than one way? And anyway, Siger of Brabant had a very specific concern to protect the integrity of both theological and philosophical modes of reason.

    (4) The church in Paris is a mess. Some Parisians read some Aquinas. Clearly he was a bad influence.

    (5) Of the 219 propositions condemned by Etienne Tempier, several are from the works of Aquinas. Obviously, he is not a sound theologian.

    (6) Quite apart from his Summa Theologica and Summa Contra Gentiles, Aquinas has written a bajillion pages of commentaries on Aristotle and the scriptures. Why would anyone read all that when they could read Berengarius of Tours?

    (7) Many who do not read Aquinas think that your criticism of them is as unfair as their criticism of him. Rock paper scissors.

    And now you are writing 100 cantos of terza rima about Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven that is based on his works. Don’t you think you are overdoing this Aquinas thing, Dante? Why not read more Peter Lombard like the rest of us?

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  19. Bowman,

    Yes, that’s the perspective we need to maintain. We are in a big discussion with reference to a big God; I actually believe this one God still speaks, even through the modern and post modern periods. This is what I want to rail against, not against, necessarily, post reformation orthodoxy, Thomism etc. But at the end of the day as a good “scholastic” I’m more concerned with material theological reality and truth than I am with where I line up on a continuum of a socio-cultural determined orthodoxy (which is itself a circular way to think) that is limited to the idea that evangelicalism in its most orthodox form can only look to one period in the history of ideas for its theological material and identity. When I say a good “scholastic” here’s what I mean:

    https://growrag.wordpress.com/2013/02/14/a-boring-post-are-evangelical-calvinists-more-scholastic-than-the-scholastics-of-today/

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  20. One more point Derek,

    And I think this is one of the retorts that drives me most crazy; you’ve made it yourself in one of your comments above. The idea that: Barth is too hard to understand unless someone invests their life studies into his theology … so goes the retort. But that just seems to be such a silly way to explain why people don’t try to get their arms around Barth’s thought in an even general way. I mean have you ever tried to access Herman Bavinck’s theology or Richard Muller’s? Or how about John Calvin, Martin Luther, Jacobus Arminius? Maybe Athanasius, or Augustine, or Irenaeus? Or yes, maybe even Peter Lombard, Thomas Aquinas, or John Duns Scotus? That line of thought is so slippery it doesn’t really do anything constructive but reveal your own privilege, as far as who you think is worthwhile for evangelicals (I can’t imagine you are spending so much time and money studying people you don’t think will be good for you and evangelicals you will teach in the days to come — I can’t imagine, Derek, that you don’t think Bavinck isn’t good for evangelicals in the main. Sure maybe not all of his detailed ideas, but the general contours of his thought). Barth, Torrance, et al are just teachers who need to be included in the list that could serve edifying for the body of Christ; both academics and laity.

    I speak from personal experience from influences I received from my evangelical formal education. Barth is demonized (and then as corollary so is TFT), and that demonization comes directly from the work of Cornelius Van Til, and then from Carl Henry who inculcated Van Til’s work into his publication at Christianity Today. That anti-narrative against Barth still has strong reach into the halls of many evangelical institutions, and Van Til’s critique and reading of Barth still remains a central one (just check out the guys at Reformed Forum for example).

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  21. Man, this got crazy. First, you have cal talking about the blight of American Evangelicalism (but it’s nothing personal!), Bowman making this BRILLIANTLY CLEVER AND DEVASTATING parody case on Aquinas, and Bobby calling me on my theological privilege. Where to begin?

    Well, cal, I’m gonna ignore because…ya, there’s just too much going on. And, FWIW, hopefully we run into each other on a calmer thread.

    Bowman–that case might be the beginnings of something decent if I was trying to explain to one of my hard-core Thomist friends why some Evangelicals aren’t as enthusiastic to spend so much time studying him as he wishes they would. As it is, very clever. You only get a 89%, though, because the parody seems to keep missing that I’m not actually making a case that people shouldn’t spend time reading Barth.

    Bobby. You wouldn’t have seen me defending Barth because it’s usually in regular conversations with friends offline and, again, if you’re in the conversation, I usually don’t have to because you’re far better at it. And, thinking on the majority of our conversations, odds are it’s a conversation you’ve started about how much better the Barthian trajectory is that the sad, biblically unfaithful, rationalistic, intellectually-captive, Post-Reformation mode and I’ve gone into defend and critique mode. Which might be a bad on my end.

    Alright, I’m gonna wrap it up here because we’re talking at cross-purposes and different life-experiences. Just know, I didn’t intend to write the initial list as a reason why people shouldn’t *actually* read Barth, or why you’re terrible, etc. I don’t think you’re terrible and I have a shelf full of Barth. I like Barth. I think he’s a friend, not a foe. I was simply jumping in to try to explain why many don’t share the enthusiasm.

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  22. Bobby, it makes perfect sense to ask, as you do, why there is not at least a segment of the mainstream American evangelical community that can speak fluent Barth. A couple years ago, a blogger at TGC listed 18 different movements for ressourcement among evangelicals. Any of these is more work and more edgy than learning to speak enough Barth to order a pizza, ask out a date, or get through a traffic accident.

    Derek, no, the parody is getting Bobby’s central point that only a few theologians have built a comprehensive paradigm able to organize useful theological work, and Barth, as the only Protestant to do so, has an obvious claim on the attention of intelligent evangelicals. In comparison with that, the excuses for ignoring him that you relay sound like a teenager complaining that he just doesn’t have time to clean up his room. Which is not to say your room is the messy one. I like your blog.

    Cal, it came to mind in real time as I was reading, but I am slow typist prone to errrors.

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  23. Derek,

    I’m happy to know that you are more open to Barth than I realized. You’d be happy to know that I’m more open to Post Reformation orthodoxy, and to learn from it in the right ways, than you might realize. You’re different, then, from the evangelicals I have contact with and am referring to.

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