18
Nov
2011

The Critics of Van Til’s Take on Barth

Cornelius Van Til was an early and significant critic of Karl Barth, yet many contemporary Barthians reject his criticism. Several contributions in the recent book Karl Barth and American Evangelicalism contain this sentiment. Today, we spend time discussing this topic with Jim Cassidy with the hope of promoting a better understanding of Van Til’s position.

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14 Responses

  1. Pingback : Christ the Center: The Critics of Van Til's Take of Barth

  2. Despite my entirely different take on this topic, I really enjoyed the discussion and what you guys are doing at the Reformed Forum. Keep up the good work!

    As an Aberdeen grad I might be biased myself, but your initial survey of the Barth studies landscape was entirely too American-centered. McCormack is surely the leading Barth scholar in America (with PTS being the leading center for Barth studies in America), but John Webster has done as much, if not more, academic work on Barth, including:

    Barth’s Moral Theology, Barth’s Ethics of Reconciliation, Barth’s Earlier Theology, Karl Barth (Outstanding Christian Thinkers series), and editor of The Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth, plus a number of volumes in constructive dogmatics which utilize Barth (Word and Church, Confessing God, Holy Scripture, etc.) and editor of The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology. On top of all this, Aberdeen has produced in the last ten years more dissertations on Barth (or related controversies) than any other institution, some of which have been published in T&T Clark Studies in Systematic Theology (monograph series). Interestingly, most of the students at Aberdeen are Americans, with a mix of evangelical backgrounds and mainline Protestant backgrounds.

  3. Kevin, very fair point! In fact, Dr. Webster has been of great benefit to me personally as I have availed myself of his counsel with regard to my own doctoral work. Thanks for the feedback.

  4. As I listened, I thought to myself, “What if there were a denomination whose confession of faith explicitly affirmed Barthian thought? Would orthodox Christian bodies like the OPC recognize that denomination as a sister church, or as a mission field?”

    I think I heard Jim answer the question when he said that Barth’s theology is just as undesirable for true Christians as liberalism or Roman Catholicism.

    What is most striking to hear is that Barth believed that “Jesus Christ” refers to the eternal event, not to Jesus of Nazareth who lived in the first century. I cannot help but wonder if the ‘different Jesus’ of 2 Cor. 11:4 would apply here.

    The disputes get hard to follow after awhile. First we learn about Jesus from the Bible.
    Then we learn about Barth’s take on Jesus.
    Then we learn about Van Til’s take on Barth’s take on Jesus.
    Then we learn about McCormack’s take on Van Til’s take on Barth’s take on Jesus.
    Then we learn about Jim Cassidy’s take on McCormack’s take on Van Til’s take on Barth’s take on Jesus. It’s enough to make you want to go back to reading just the Bible to get your information about Jesus.

    And thankfully, at several points in the program, Jim did point listeners back to true Christian views of Christ and revelation. That was probably the most valuable part of the broadcast.

    I am learning quite a bit. Thanks for these programs, please keep them coming. Maybe a podcast debate between Jim and Kevin Davis (or someone like him) could be done. That would get a lot of listeners, I am sure.

  5. As I listened, I thought, “What if a church or denomination explicitly affirmed Barthian theology in its confession? Should true Christian churches regard such a body as a sister church or as a mission field?”

    I think Jim gave his answer in this episode, calling Barthianism just as undesirable as liberalism or Roman Catholicism.

    What was most striking to hear was that for Barth, “Jesus Christ” refers to the eternal event, and not to the historical Jesus of Nazareth who lived from 0 to 33 A.D. I cannot help but wonder if the ‘different Jesus’ of 2 Corinthians 11:4 would apply here.

    The debate gets difficult to follow after awhile. First we learn about Jesus from the Bible.
    Then we learn about Barth’s view of Jesus.
    Then we learn about Van Til’s view of Barth’s view of Jesus.
    Then we learn about McCormack’s view of Van Til’s view of Barth’s view of Jesus.
    Then we learn about Jim Cassidy’s view of McCormack’s view of Van Til’s view of Barth’s view of Jesus.
    It’s enough to make a person want to get information about Jesus from just the Bible.

    But thankfully, at several points in the broadcast today, Jim did point listeners back to the orthodox view of Jesus and God’s revelation. That was probably the most valuable part of the podcast.

    I am learning a lot. Please keep producing shows like this. I would love to hear a podcast debate between Jim and Kevin, or someone like Kevin. That show would surely get a lot of listeners.

  6. Sorry about the double post. I posted the first one, and it disappeared. I refreshed the page, and my post was nowhere to be seen.

    So I retyped the whole thing from memory and tried again. Looks like this time it ‘took.’

  7. Ben H.

    I remember Dr. John MacArthur say, in reference to Karl Barth, that he doesn’t understand why we are bringing these dead Germans and their theologies back to life. They are dead and forgotten by everyone except a few theologians who occupy podiums in some prestigious seminaries. MacArthur expressed that perhaps it would be more beneficial to the church to leave guys like Barth dead, buried and forgotten. Unless Barth is still a threat to the doctrinal integrity of the church, I think that we may want to direct our efforts on the attacks that are coming from more visible opponents to Christ’s sheep. What do you guys think?

    In terms of having representatives from the Val Til camp at the discussion you mentioned, I thought Michael Horton is an authority on Barth. I remember taking Horton’s Christian Mind class at Westminster Seminary California. Horton spent a significant portion of his lectures during class critiquing Barth. Those of us taking the class considered Barth as Horton’s “whipping boy” because of Horton’s profuse referral to Barthian Theology against the covenental paradigm found in Confessional Reformed Theology.

    Thanks for these shows guys. I learned quite a bit about Karl Barth from your talks.

  8. Hi Ben,

    Good thoughts. The trouble is is that Barth’s theology is once again raising its ugly head, particularly in Reformed and evangelical circles. Which means we must once again assert that his teaching is not orthodoxy in the hopes that we will move beyond him. Though Barth has embedded himself in the history of theology in such a way that no theologian will ever be able to ignore him again. In this way, he stands as a giant like Thomas Aquinas or John Calvin. You can critique Thomas, but you can’t ignore him. The same is the case for Barth.

  9. Pingback : Revelation and History: Cornelius Van Til’s Critique of Karl Barth « Out of Bounds

  10. @Jim Cassidy,

    Darren Sumner has provided a thick critique of your thinking on Barth through Van Til’s eyes; I would like to see you respond to Darren at his post: http://theologyoutofbounds.wordpress.com/2012/01/25/revelation-and-history-cornelius-van-tils-critique-of-karl-barth/ . Based on the current Barth scholarship it seems that your conclusions, based on the scholarship of Van Til’s day (which is bygone now) is no longer viable for folk who are seeking to read Barth through critical eyes; and his eyes no less. Anyway, I thought someone should point you to Darren’s piece; he has really thrown the gauntlet down for those of you who continue to insist that we read Barth through Van Til.

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