Evangelicals and Barth

Posted on December 12, 2007

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Bruce McCormack was in town last week, giving us an excellent series of TF Torrance Lectures, and generously making himself endlessly available for conversation. I might attempt a summary of the lectures in the next few days, but one comment for now. He discussed Evangelical reception of Barth a couple of times. This seems a growth field: one book came out last year; one is due next. I didn’t write for any of the books, but found myself wondering as Bruce talked what I would have said if I had been asked. My views on aspects of Barth’s theology are no secret (most of my scattered thoughts on the matter have been published in various places), if rather eccentric (I tend to think he was absolutely right on the Trinity and was at least in danger of making a bit of a mess of election), but my appreciation of Barth is much deeper, and much more basic, than any appreciation of his theology or admiration of his intellect.

There is a tale of Gustav Mahler visiting Niagara Falls. As he stood on the viewing platform at the bottom, assaulted by the sound of the crashing waters just a few metres away, he is reported to have said ‘Ah! Fortissimo at last!’ Coming to Barth in reading theology feels to me a bit like that: right or wrong about this or that, there is nowhere else I know that gives such an overwhelming, continuous, assailing vision of the awesome grace of God cascading endlessly down in the gift of Jesus Christ.

There was a piece in our denominational newspaper, The Baptist Times, last week, I can’t remember the author’s name, examining various recent news stories and finding in them evidence for belief in original sin. Well, I might have chosen different stories, but yes. He went on to ask if we ‘proclaimed human depravity’. My gut reaction, instinctive, strong and immediate, was ‘Of course we don’t! We proclaim Jesus Christ, and look to the day when God will finally have done away with all depravity in Him!’ That reaction, for me, is what I owe to Barth.

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