Evangelical Theological Society — Barth, Barth, Barth

Yesterday afternoon I spent three hours listening to papers on Introducing Karl Barth to Evangelicals. This session was built off of Michael Allen’s new Barth reader (which looks like a much needed replacement of the reader by Gollowitzer), and each of the four presenters spent some time talking about benefits and hindrances of interacting with Barth from an evangelical perspective.

First up was Michael Allen himself. He spent some time talking about the current state of evangelical culture and how Barth can be helpful in addressing some of the theological issues that evangelicals are wrestling with. He started by saying that it’s important for evangelicals to be aware of how our presuppositions are so much different from the presuppositions of much of modern theology. Biblical scholars do a good job of checking their presuppositions, understanding the disconnect between 21st century readers and the original biblical authors, but for some reason theologians don’t apply that same caution and realization when they interact with more modern theology. In relation to Barth, what this means is that evangelicals often fail to grasp Barth’s theological setting which means we will fail to understand what he is about and what exactly he is doing. Indeed, “Most of us [evangelicals] read Barth as if he’s playing in the ETS world, and he’s not.” The other money quote from Michael Allen’s presentation: “Barth’s work serves as a bomb on the playground of theologians.”

Next up was Marc Cortez. His paper was titled, “An Evangelical and a Universalist Walk into a Bar” and looked at the question of whether or not Barth was a universalist, and how the supposed ambiguity about Barth’s universalism makes evangelicals uncomfortable. The short answer to the question of whether Barth was a universalist is, in the words of Barth himself, “I am not a universalist.” But, that said, there are still questions with his presentation of election and salvation. Dr. Cortez’s presentation was humourous and conversational. His section headings had titles like:
Four reasons to allow Barth to hang out with you in public and Three reasons to make Barth pick up the tab.

After a short intermission, we then had the last two papers by Matt Jenson on Barth and Ecclesiology, and Keith Johnson on Nature and Grace. These two papers were theologically dense, and I had to focus on listening and was unable to take notes during their presentations. I’m hoping to get copies of these two papers at some point so that I can spend time in deeper engagement and refection.

The big news from this panel session was that starting next year, there will be a specific session devoted to the theology of Karl Barth. This is an exciting development and I look forward to seeing the session grow.