A Thanksgiving in Vancouver with Barth
As many of you might know, my wife surprised me in multiple ways on father's day this year. I found out I would be a dad (for the third time) via a cryptic card (pictured below). I also received a book that I have been craving for a long, long time.
As many know, it was the pending arrival of Olivia Eve (baby #3) that convinced me and Alaina to go on a vacation apart from our other two offspring. Though the vacation was probably longer (yes, you read that right) than either of us eventually desired, it was an outstanding time to do some much needed reading and theological reflection. The first book on my plate was Karl Barth and American Evangelicalism. My wife, who loves me dearly, has never sought to discourage my infatuation with Karl Barth or his son Markus (from whom our son gets his middle name) and this trip was one of the best times to consume generous sections without interruption. I refused on principal to "review" the book. I just wanted to read and devour some deep theology. Still, I'd be remiss to not give a brief statement: the lectures presented are phenomenal and relevant. That out of the way, here are a couple of the major points I came away with but didn't document well enough.
1. Barth and Evangelicalism stand opposed to me in important ways.
For all of my deep love for Barth, he does hold to an incredibly conversion oriented Christian faith. This concept is incapable of being separated from his doctrine on revelation. For Barth, man coming into contact with the risen Jesus Christ is the basis for Christian faith and ethics. Though I don't dislike Barth's starting point, I am benevolently unhappy with his conclusion. Still, Barth and I would be much closer on the nature of eternal justification (and thus a minimized regeneration/covenant status pre-profession). He still is evangelical in the sense of a conversion and existential elements of faith.
2. Barth would be concerned with the movements within Evangelicalism.
Despite Barth's stripping of the sacraments (another subject all together), he put forth a very firm ecclesiology. It was adamantly not Catholic. It was consistently not Lutheran. It was Reformed only in a historical sense long forgotten. Nevertheless, I was able to learn about some of his concerns via the Oxford Movement of his day. The similarities to modern evangelical movements were fascinating to say the least. In many cases, these cross-denominational movements de-emphasize the local church and thus produces alternatives to the body of Christ as the originating source of evangelical proclamation.
One can certainly see without Barth's criticism some of the trends present in the past couple decades with celebrity pastors, laymen who listen to more sermons online than talk to their elders, and similar things that decouple the average Christian from his local body. This is not to say that movements themselves are evil but that they must never take the place of the local church. Entities like Acts 29 and the multi-site phenom that is/was permitted would have Barth shouting "nein" from the grave.
3. Van Til had no idea what Barth was talking about.
This is something almost any Barth scholar could tell you. In fact, there is a verifiable trail of scholars who have said this but until recently I had not had the chance to actually sit and listen to many of the details. For the most part, I have focused on reading Barth himself and so the chapters Karl Barth and American Evangelicalism dedicated to this subject and the depth of confusion on the part of Van Til was shocking. Ultimately the most important confusion was over revelation in history. Barth himself seems to have acknowledged that he used language that got consumed with misconceptions but Van Til seems to have ignored the message. Van Til would accuse Barth of denying every element of historical reality to Jesus Christ simply because of a philosophical misunderstanding. It was fascinating to read that when Barth and Van Til did finally meet Barth forgave Van Til for the terrible things he had said about him. It was an encounter that both men looked back on with some embarrassment.
4. Christology is all that matters.
Again, any Barthian could have told you this. I could have even told you this. But Barth's Christology is so complicated that I keep learning with each piece of material read. Even conservative Michael Horton participated in this volume with some excellent insights and challenges to Barth's Christocentric tendencies. Barth loved Jesus Christ and there is no element of theology that could escape God as elector and elected in the form of Jesus Christ. Barth placed this event at the front of theology and pertinent time itself. Nothing in history, including creation, could be seen apart from the election of the logos. All of this I could have told you before starting the book but once again I've gotten to look deeper at Barth's theology. Too deep to go here but enough to say Barth's dedication to Christ never fails to impress.