Was Barth Reformed?

Always Reformed: Essays in Honor of W. Robert GodfreyAmong the Followers of Karl Barth (d. 1968), both evangelical and mainline (and especial Among the Followers of Karl Barth (d. 1968), both evangelical and mainline (and especially among evangelicals in the mainline) it is sometimes assumed that Barth’s theology was and is the true modern manifestation of Calvin’s theology and to the degree Calvin’s theology was its purest expression, of Reformed theology. Not everyone has accepted this dictum.

Almost as soon as Barth’s Romerbrief first appeared (it went through a multiple revisions) there were critics. The early Berkouwer was fairly critical of Barth’s doctrines of Scripture and revelation (though his later views would bend to conform to Barth’s). Machen admired aspects of his work but raised questions. Klaas Schilder rejected Barth’s view of Scripture. Doubtless, the strongest and most thorough and consistent criticisms came from Cornelius Van Til, who denounced Barth as a Modernist in Reformed clothing.

The neo-evangelicals (e.g.Carl F. H. Henry) accepted Van Til’s critique but their children, those baby-boom evangelicals who went to grad school in the 60’s and 70’s did not. One can trace the transition of evangelicalism relative to Barth by following the trajectory of Fuller Seminary. On this, see George Marsden’s terrific history, Reforming Fundamentalism.

There are likely many reasons (e.g., theological, sociological) why boomers became so attracted to Barth, why he became the gold standard of Reformed theology but whatever the reasons, it has become academically perilous to study Barth historically-critically but this is just what Ryan Glomsrud has done. He has published a provocative essay in the just-released volume, Always Reformed: Essays in Honor of W. Robert Godfrey, “Karl Barth and Modern Protestantism: The Radical Impulse.”

Recently Ryan engaged one of the world’s leading Barth scholars, Princeton Seminary’s Bruce McCormack, and the latter has responded. You can read the exchange at the White Horse Inn blog. If you’re interested in Barth and the modern history of Reformed theology you will want to check out Ryan’s response to McCormack and his essay in Always Reformed: Essays in Honor of W. Robert Godfrey.

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