The Christianbook blog has an interview posted with Michael Horton, author of the newly released systematic theology, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the way. In part two of the interview, Horton talks about Barth and how those in the Reformed tradition react to, and engage with Barth’s theology.
Matthew: Do you think the cool reception of Barth by many in the Reformed camp is warranted?
Horton: Barth is his own best interpreter on this. In his Göttingen Dogmatics, he relates how blown away he was by actually reading Calvin and the post-Reformation Reformed theologians.
In many ways, he was inspired in his own program by this period. He had been taught by his liberal professors to dismiss all of this as child’s play, but he found it to be a room filled with treasures. On the other hand, he himself says later that he left hardly any Reformed doctrine standing in its confessional form.
From the doctrine of Scripture to eschatology, Barth used the same terms and categories, but radically revised nearly all of them. I think we’re entering a phase now of more light than heat. There are some terrific critiques of Barth by Reformed evangelicals today that are far more nuanced, informed, and engaging than many of yesteryear.
The reaction against Barth was understandable, especially as many evangelicals were embracing his views as a way of avoiding both fundamentalism and liberalism. However, I get the sense that these days there are more folks who are not fundamentalists, liberals, or Barthians. And that perhaps allows some space for more sympathetically critical analysis.
Matthew: Do you believe he is often misunderstood by more “traditional” Reformed Theologians?
Horton: It depends on which theologian and on what topic. One challenge on our side as conservatives is to assume that we know what someone believes without having to investigate the details. If one believes X, then logically that means he or she must believe Y, and so forth. However, that doesn’t always work and it isn’t really charitable, as we know when we’re accused of believing that human beings aren’t responsible because we believe that God is sovereign.
For example, Barth was not driven by liberalism; in fact, I believe that many of his mistakes were made out of an over-reaction against liberalism. Swinging from romantic-liberal emphasis on God’s immanence, Barth so stressed God’s transcendence that revelation could not be identified directly with any creaturely medium, including Scripture. This even affected his Christology.
If we’re going to critique conclusions, we need to know how they are derived and not just assume that inadequate views of Scripture, for example, are always liberal. Distortions can come from all sorts of different quarters and the “liberal-conservative” way of categorizing things often misses important nuances.