Saturday, February 21, 2015

Van Til, Evangelicals, and Barth

Below are my initial musings on Karl Barth and American Evangelicalism.

Karl Barth and American Evangelicalism

George Harinck gives a fascinating essay on how Dutch and American Neo-Calvinism reacted to Barth. In doing so, he gives new light on Van Til’s own career.

DG Hart has a fun essay on Evangelicalism’s reading of Van Til’s reading of Barth.  Van Til’s attack on Barth, at least the later ones, was a confessional Presbyterian attack.  As such, it was also an attack on Princeton’s modernism.   This put neo-Evangelicalism in a tough position.  For them, if Van Til offered a good critique of Barth and a defense of inerrancy, fine.  If Van Til seemed to be arguing for Presbyterian Confessionalism, then he can take his quarrel elsewhere.  My own concerns with this essay is that I don’t think neo-Evangelicalism was truly enamored with Barth.  Certainly not when Carl Henry led the movement.  Later neo-evangelicals might have been, but by that time the PCUSA (or what would later  become of it post-1967) had already apostasized.  Simply tagging them as “Barthians” isn’t entirely accurate.

Bruce McCormack responds to Van Til’s reading of Barth.  McCormack said Van Til misread Barth’s use of Kant. For Kant, the a priori forms organize our knowledge; they do not determine it (and so it is not true, per Van Til, that a Kantian couldn’t tell the difference from a snowball and an orange).  In fact, Kant held to an empiricism as to the phenomenal world.

The one strength in Van Til’s reading, however, is that Barth did admit that Hans urs von Balthasar’s position was similar to his own.  If this is true, then it is fatal to Barth’s position. Complicating the matter is that Barth seems to say von Balthasar is correct.  I think, however, that Bruce McCormack’s own reading of the two authors (Karl Barth’s Critically Realistic Dialectical Theology) shows that von Balthasar was wrong, despite Barth’s own views of his own readings.

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