Barth V. The Barthians On The Central Dogma Reading Of Calvin

Unlike many older Calvin scholars, then, I would not try to understand Calvin in terms of a single thesis in the Institutes such as the glory of God, predestination, providence, or meditating on the future life, then using this as a master principle from which to derive all else.

—Karl Barth, The Theology of John Calvin, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromily (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 116. (HT: Ryan Glomsrud). See “Karl Barth’s Calvin: A Weimar Prophet,” in The Oxford Handbook of Calvinism (forthcoming).

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  1. Who, among the Barthians and students of Barth, interpret Calvin according to a central dogma — be it sovereignty, predestination, glory, etc.? Do any of the Torrances do this? Hunsinger? McCormack? Molnar? Webster?

  2. Although there may be some exceptions, I think that framing this quote from Barth in terms of “Barth vs. the Barthians” seems guilty of making the same kind of caricature and misrepresentation of which Muller accuses those who drive a wedge between “Calvin vs. the Calvinists”.

  3. Maybe the issue in Calvin scholarship is that “Calvinism”, for too many people, remains the doctrine of predestination first, last, and always. This seems to be more a legacy of 18th and 19th century “village polemics” more than anything else.

    • Kickel’s approach replaces the Schweizerian-Schleiermacherian central dogma with a Barthian central dogma and misinterprets both the reformation and orthodoxy accordingly.88 significantly, Barth himself examined the historical materials and found the central dogma theory inapplicable to Reformed orthodox dogmatics.89 (on this and other historical points, such as the relationship of the syllogismus practicus to Calvin’s doctrine of assurance, it would be far more useful to argue” Barth against the Barthians” then “Calvin against the Calvinists”!90

      … the central dogma thesis stands as a more or less suitable description of the theologies of Schleiermacher, Schweizer, Thomasius, Ritschl, and Barth—not of the theologies of the 16th and 17th centuries.

      Richard Muller, After Calvin: Studies in the Development of A Theological Tradition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 97.

  4. Scott,

    I understand the claim in Muller. But I was thinking even more pointedly with reference to contemporary “Barthian” commentators. They don’t particularly read Calvin through a centraldogma. Charles Partee comes closest (but even he doesn’t) when he uses Calvin’s unio cum Christo theology as a Calvinian hermeneutical lens — but he doesn’t do so uncritically, or in the final analysis as a centraldogma, per se.

  5. Calvin being but one cog of the Reformation, albeit a large , important & foundational
    one, who with the other Reformers set about the reformation of the Late Medieval
    tottering Western Catholic church which had corrupted itself in Doctrine, Practice,
    Worship & Piety, were seeking about a root & branch Reformation, which meant
    restoring the whole Counsel of God, thus there cannot be a single defining grand
    narrative, implicit metanarrative or even master narrative, though the Reformers did
    do all there work to the Glory of God, which would probably be the most accurate
    implicit motive!

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