My recent comparison of Warfield and Barth was commented on at the blog, “After Existentialism, Light.” Kevin Davis stated my failure to appreciate Barth was because myself, and others like me,
“have not had the proper training and sympathetic engagement with Barth-Torrance required to grasp this new challenge, an evangelical metaphysics. In part, this also has to do with ecclesial politics. Haykin wants a fundamentalist Calvinism as the confessional norm in the SBC, and he’s afraid of any new E. Y. Mullins arising in the SBC and compromising this goal.”
I found these comments somewhat off-target for the following reasons:
I did my PhD at Toronto School of Theology, studying under the Barthian scholar Jacob Jocz, who was a tremendous scholar. I read deeply in Barth, especially his Trinitarianism for my PhD. And I have continued to read Barth on and off over the years. I am not a Barth scholar, but I feel I do know him and appreciate him. But overall neo-orthodoxy has not lived up to its promise. I should also note that I am very appreciative of one of Barth’s colleagues and contemporaries, namely Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whom I have read regularly over the years and deeply appreciate, and whose writings have shaped my thinking in a numer of areas.
Then, to take one example of comparison between Warfield and Barth/Torrance: when the latter read the Fathers, they frequently read them wrongly, out of context and with their own agenda so that the Fathers end up sounding like neo-orthodox before their time. T.F. Torrance’s study of grace in the Apostolic Fathers is very one-sided and fails to aprpeciate texts like the Letter to Diognetus, while his reading of Nazianzen (I am thinking of his article on Greg Naz and Calvin on the Trinity) is accepted by few patristic scholars. Warfield, on the other hand, read the Fathers well, partly because of his training as a NT scholar, and devotes monographs to their study. This rich understanding of historical theology informs his systematic study and forms the subsoil out of which he develops a rich overview of the Christian Faith. My problem with Barth and Torrance is that I find I cannot trust them when they are doing patristics, and that makes me suspicious of their interpretation of holy Scripture.
The very best training for a systematic theologian is being a biblical theologian and/or historical theologian!!
Then, there is the statement my remarks have to “do with ecclesial politics. Haykin wants a fundamentalist Calvinism as the confessional norm in the SBC, and he’s afraid of any new E. Y. Mullins arising in the SBC and compromising this goal.” Let me set the record straight: I am not a fundamentalist–ask my Fundamentalist friends about my ecclesial convictions and they should clarify that pretty quickly. Secondly, I am a Calvinist and I count it a high privilege to teach at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. But I have not been involved in SBC politics, and my remarks about Warfield were theological remarks, hardly political.
And if promotion of a hegemonic fundamentalist Calvinism in the SBC were my goal, it is very curious that Dr Malcolm Yarnell, a critic of Calvinism, was invited two years running no less to speak at the Andrew Fuller Center’s annual conference (this past year he had the prestigious plenary session after the conference banquet).