This book (available at a great price here) is an excellent introduction to the thought of Karl Barth from an evangelical perspective. It is courteous, but not afraid to disagree with the man. It acknowledges where we can learn from Barth, but also nails Barth where he’s wrong. I am no expert on Barth, and these essays are not the easiest thing in the world to read. However, for someone who has even a modest theological understanding, these essays will be a good foot in the door. At the very least, it will show the reader where to look further. The contributors are all stellar: David Gibson, Daniel Strange, Henri Blocher, Sebastian Rehnman, Ryan Glomsrud, A.T.B. McGowan, Mark Thompson, Michael Ovey, Garry Williams, Paul Helm, Oliver Crisp, Donald Macleod, and Michael Horton, with the foreword by Carl Trueman. The topics they cover are as follows: Barth’s Christocentric method, logic and theology, historical theology in Barth, covenant theology, election, Scripture, Trinity, atonement, visibility of God, reprobation (with a side look at Edwards), Barth as church theologian, and a general assessment of Barth’s legacy for evangelicalism.
It is difficult to pick a favorite chapter, as all of them have many insights. However, I would have to say that my favorite chapter was Garry Williams on the atonement. It had such an explanatory power as to why Barth thought what he did. For instance, he explains why Barth rejected the idea of the covenant of redemption:
His concern for the centrality of the incarnate Christ is illustrated by his rejection of the Reformed doctrine of the covenant of redemption between the Father and the Son. Barth thinks that this doctrine entails speaking directly of the Logos asarkos, whereas the decree of election should be identified with the incarnate Christ (p. 236).
Williams also has an excellent insight with regard to archetypal/ectypal theological distinctions:
The alternative to a formal separation of elements that are properly united would be a single strand of argument that would at every stage be so integrated as to be unfathomable to the reader. Such ultimate integration, such incomprehensible simplicitas (simplicity), is reserved for the God whom theology describes, and is not available to theology itself. It is proper to theologia archetypa (theology as it is in the mind of God himself) and unattainable by theologia ectypa (theology as it among finite creatures). Further, even if two loci are formally separate for heuristic purposes, one can still be formulated in the light of the other (p. 253).
He says this in the context of describing the limits of full integration, and that earlier descriptions (such as the confessional Reformed tradition) ought thus to be given a more sympathetic reading.
I have to include one other quotation, one of the very best in the book, and one which completely undermines Barth’s doctrine of Scripture. It is in the chapter on Barth as ecclesial theologian:
Barth often warned of the danger of creating a God behind and above his revelation, a God other than Jesus. This was the great service, he would insist, rendered by the homoousion. The One who comes to us in Christ is vere Deus, the whole truth about God. By the same token, however, there can be no other Christ behind and above the Scripture, no word behind the written word, casting the church into doubt, enveloping her in a cloud of uncertainty and raising the possibility that the Christ of Scripture is not the real Christ, or the final Christ. It may indeed be true that we see through a glass, only darkly, But what we see dimly is nevertheless the Eternal Light (p. 342).
Unfortunately, I cannot do justice to the penetrating critiques and appreciation given on almost every page of this book. I can only highly recommend it. I have only one criticism of the book, and that is that Van Til is not treated very well. It might very well be true that Van Til caricatured Barth’s teaching. However, I happen to know that Van Til read through the complete Church Dogmatics in the original German, and he was one of the very few living in America who had done so. It would have been nice to see more than mere assertion that Van Til got it so wrong (Horton and Trueman are much more nuanced than this, of course). But that is a relatively small shortcoming in the overall scope of the book, which I would recommend.