Review of Karl Barth and Evangelical Theology

karl-barth-and-evangelical-theology-convergences-and-divergencesKarl Barth and Evangelical Theology: Convergences and Divergences, edited by Sung Wook Chung, arrived via Interlibrary Loan, and after reading it, I have some comments about the best essays in this book, and will politely skip over the ones that I graciously that I did not, so to speak, enjoy. The hallmark of this book is Dr. Kevin Vanhoozer's essay, "A Person of the Book? Barth on Authority and Interpretation." I recommend buying this book, even if it were for this essay alone, because I appreciated it so much! Additionally, the essays by Alister E. McGrath, "Karl Barth's Doctrine of Justification from an Evangelical Perspective" and Oliver D. Crisp's essay, "Karl Barth on Creation", were also almost as helpful as Vanhoozer's essay. And one surprisingly good essay, by an Assemblies of God minister, Frank D. Macchia on "The Spirit of God and the Spirit of Life: An Evangelical Response to Karl Barth's Pneumatology" concludes my list of excellent essays in this book. There were many things that helped me in the other essays, however, these four were the most useful, in this order. 

Kevin Vanhoozer: "A Person of the Book? Barth on Authority and Interpretation"

Barth's Doctrine of the Word of God, and how the Bible becomes the Word of God, is explained very well by Vanhoozer in his discussion of the indirect identity theorem that shows how the Bible is objectively the Word of God, even though it is in it's becoming rather than in propositional statements.  I appreciated his assessment of Cornelius Van Til's New Modernism, and how Vanhoozer demonstrated that Barth was not merely repeating Immanuel Kant. And how Vanhoozer also showed the flaws in Carl F. H. Henry's criticisms of Karl Barth. Both Van Til and Henry both soured the mouth of evangelicals to Barth, that only now is being overcome in American Evangelicalism. Vanhoozer wisely says that Evangelicals since then have seen the "dangers of Biblicism" that Henry and Van Til advocated.

I was greatly encouraged to learn that Bernard Ramm had sympathies to Karl Barth and wrote a book, "After Fundamentalism", against the errors Barth tried to overcome, and I've since purchased this book. I had read Ramm's hermeuntics and was helped by him, and my assessment of Ramm has soared since reading this essay. Every day, I learn more and more evangelicals see Barth as the solution to the problems that have kept Americans in the Doldrums of our era. Likewise, Vanhoozer makes similar comments about Donald Bloesch, and how "For Bloesch, the particular diastasis between the words of men and the Word of God is a function of the Spirit's actions: the bible ... is not divine revelation intrinsically, for its revelatory status does not reside in its wording as such but in the Spirit of God, who fills the words with meaning and power." (pg36), and "The Bible is the divinely prepared medium or channel of divine revelation rather than the revelation itself." And how this was a great improvement, if "It was not associated with evangelicals, however, but with Yale Divinity School." (pg37) as with his example about Hans Frei. Vanhoozer's essay summarizes Karl Barth's Doctrine of the Word of God, and how the words of men in scripture have become the Word of God, via indirect identity, and a survey of Barth's writing on the Canon in CD I/2 Section 19.

Two topics that were interesting in this essay, was his analysis of Barth's Commentary on the Empty Tomb, and how Barth saw the statement "Jesus has risen and the tomb is empty" as two separate assertions, where the second may be open to certain demythologization. See Barth's commentary in CD III/2 pg451-3 and CD IV/2 pg144ff. This example was helpful as identifying the difference between Barth's approach to the problematic harmonization of the Passion Narratives in contradistinction to the Biblicism of mainstream Evangelicalism. 

In conclusion, a helpful quotation on illocution, locution, perlocution and interlocution by Vanhoozer:

6.2 Once (and again) upon an illocution

To summarize: the Bible appears to be caught in a doctrinal stand-off between Barth's emphasis on God' sovereign freedom on the one hand and evangelicalism's emphasis on a fixed and authoritative propositional revelation on the other. There is little to be gained, however, by pitting the living Word against the word written. If a house divided against itself cannot stand, how much less can the Word!

I believe that speech-act philosophy can mediate and help move the conversation beyond this theological stalemate. In this regard, it is significant that Barth himself comments that "the personalizing of the concept of the Word of God . . . does not mean its de-verbalizating" and that Barth himself describes revelation as a divine speech-act (Rede-Tat). The notion that the Bible is caught up in divine discourse casts new light both on Scripture's ontology and its role in the economy of divine revelation.

The principal insight of speech act philosophy is that speakers do things in and by speaking. Luther had earlier said something similar: "God's works are his words . . . his doing is identical with his speaking" (opera Dei sunt verba eius . . . idem est facere et dicere Dei). There is thus no reason to oppose persons and propositions: persons do things with words and propositions. Speaking is a form of locution, a matter of making meaningful sounds (or in the case of writing, meaningful signs). An illocution--in saying something (e.g. promising, commanding, stating, greeing, etc.). And a perlocution is what someone does by or through one's locutions and illocutions and refers to the effects of one's speech (e.g., persuading, encouraging, consoling, etc.). It goes without saying that speech acts are also interlocutionary: communicative interactions between persons. In this regard, it is interesting to note that J. L. Austin, the father of speech-act philosophy, lists "making a covenant" as an example of a commissive speech act.

-Kevin Vanhoozer, "A Person of the Book", pg 55-56

Alister E. McGrath: Karl Barth's Doctrine of Justification

McGarth's explanation of Barth's Doctrine of Justification is incredibly simplified in the most helpful way as revealing to man that "You are saved!" as an epistemological revelation. McGrath reminds us that the "articulus uitificationis appears to have been generally regarded sa the articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae, the 'article by which the church stands or falls.'" (pg176). And reminds us that Barth said the hardly any dogmatician has made Justification the center of his Systematic!

There was a helpful assessment of Barth by McGarth on the reformers: "Barth's relationship with both Luther and Calvin is best described as that of 'critical appropriation' rather than 'uncritical assimilation.'" (pg176). Overall, a very helpful essay that plainly and simply explains Barth's view on Justification and how it is different than the Reformed Tradition's dogma form which he works.

Oliver D. Crisp: Karl Barth on Creation

Crisp is excellent at reminding me of the other great Barthian Evangelicals such as John Webster, T.F. Torrance, George Hunsinger, G. W. Bromiley. Three books continually were sourced throughout Karl Barth and Evangelical Theology, these are: T.F. Torrance's "Review of New Modernism: An Appraisal of the Theology of Karl Barth and Emil Brunner" in the Evangelical Quarterly 19 (1947)  and John Webster's "Barth"  and lastly, George Hunsinger's "How to Read Karl Barth".  Crisp's essay outlined four disagreements between Barth and the Reformed Tradition, with Barth's use of saga as a genre being the most notable. 


Overall an excellent book, and very much like a similar book that I recommend for critical readers of Barth, titled, "Engaging with Barth".





Related: , , , , , , , , , , ,
Comments (0) Trackbacks (0)

No comments yet.

Leave a comment

No trackbacks yet.