I am wayward

In a recent post, I said that Barth and Torrance were “the poster boys for wayward anti-confessionalism.” Just to prove my keen powers of observation — and so you know that I’m not making this stuff up — here is the latest post from Dr. Michael A. G. Haykin, professor of church history at Southern:

“Reading Fred Zaspel’s tremendous doctoral thesis on B.B. Warfield and I agree fully with him that it says much that the sesquicentennial of Warfield’s birth—2001—passed virtually unnoticed.  I would agree with Fred that Warfield was the greatest theologian of the twentieth century—much more important in the cause of God than that darling of wayward Evangelicals, Karl Barth!”

Oh my, I am off the straight and narrow. I blame Barth’s winsome prose. The doctrine of election has never been so intoxicating.



  1. What is he talking about, Warfield was brilliant in his context; but more important than Barth and Torrance? Come on, Haykin! I just don’t think these guys “get it!” (guys like Haykin). They don’t get the critique that Barth and TFT offered through “election.”

    • Nope, they don’t get it. In part, this is because they 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 wish devotion to Christ and the truth of the Gospel would trump these “politics,” unfortunately I know that what you’re saying here, Kevin, is true. 😦

      • Kevin,

        You mentioned “proper training and sympathetic engagement” for interacting with Barth / Torrance. Any suggestions from you or your readership on resources for the layperson on how to approach these two theologians. Ways to put them in context? And/or first essays to read by these theologians? Thanks.

        – Mike Cheek

  2. A brief response to the critique that I “have not had the proper training and sympathetic engagement”: 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. I have continued to read Barh on and off over th years. I am not a Barth scholar, but I feel I do know him.

    To take one example of comparison between Warfield and Barth: when the latter reads the Fathers, he frequently reads them wrongly, our of context and with his own agenda. Warfield, partly because of his training as a NT scholar, read the Fathers well, and devotes monographs to their study.

    Then, 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 ecclecial conivctions 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.

    • Dr. Haykins,

      Drawing from my own limited experience, when I hear “fundamentalist Calvinist” I think of someone with, what seems to me, “a rather abstract and severe concept of the sovereignty of God, which can too easily lead to intolerance and lack of love for those from whom we differ.” (To quote from an essay by James Torrance I was reading on the bus into work this morning.

      I have certainly met individuals personally who fit this category. They’re Resurgence guys, what I call “uber Puritans.” They read John Piper, John Owen, Jonathan Edwards and Spurgeon and, yes, Warfield, and they’re angry and their preaching is angry and they seem to want to fight and they might preach for years out of the Pauline corpus without once ever preaching through a Gospel. Which is not to imply that you’re that kind of person. But, based on my personal experience, if I meet someone reading these kind of people again, I am certainly going to keep my guard up until proven otherwise. My encounters with these kind of folk, both personal, and on various blogs, is what got me started re-reading James Torrance (with much profit I might add.) So something good has come of it. – Mike Cheek

  3. Mike,

    These “theologians of the Word” (i.e., early 20th century “neo-orthodox” writers) were working against an epistemological and metaphysical crisis — the fallout of Kant’s rejection of metaphysics, which was adopted by mainline Protestant theology (in various ways), from Schleiermacher to Ritschl to Harnack to Tillich.

    With H. R. Mackintosh and P. T. Forsyth in Britain, E. Y. Mullins in America, and then Emil Brunner and Karl Barth in Switzerland/Germany, we have the first serious, in-depth offensive against this liberal tradition. [Prior to this, confessional critics of the dominant liberal academy were largely, with notable exceptions, on the defensive, resorting to apologetics (or sometimes fideism).] All of the neo-orthodox theologians were trained in the liberal academy (e.g., Forsyth went to Germany to study under Ritschl), which contributes to their incisive critiques, as well as an appreciative appropriation of the liberal attack on metaphysics. Their response was, what I call, an “evangelical metaphysics.” In short, the power of the Word — the revelation of God in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit — creates a metaphysics of its own. Indeed, the Word creates the only metaphysics possible. Apart from this Word, Kant is right and metaphysics is impossible, except for certain moral postulates that never achieve a sure foundation outside of the human will’s self-determination (which Nietzsche correctly saw).

    Thus, the liberals rightly (against the confessional orthodox) accepted the Kantian attack on a philosophical metaphysics but wrongly (against the neo-orthodox) extended this attack to any metaphysics whatsoever. As a result, the liberals rejected the agency of a God “out there” working and revealing himself “here.” Hence, we see the moralism and demythology that plagues this liberal tradition. Instead, the neo-orthodox, in a sense, humbled themselves before the power of the “wholly other” Word, which came in Israel/Christ, and comes now in the Spirit, and resides in His own self-sufficiency apart and above the created order (hence, meta-physics, above-the-physical).

    The best introduction to all of this is to actually read the theologians themselves. They were fully conscious of what they were doing. I highly recommend P. T. Forsyth’s The Problem of Authority (currently published by Wipf & Stock) as an introduction to these issues and the neo-orthodox response. It should be noted that they did not think of themselves as “neo-orthodox” or even as a cohesive “movement.” Barth especially rejected any sort of labeling, in part because of his own eccentric approach (e.g., his vigorous attack on any natural knowledge of God, which nonetheless sort of allows for a natural knowledge of God!).

    Emil Brunner’s The Mediator (which can be found used for a reasonable price) is also a great introduction to this theology of the Word, especially the first two chapters where he positions himself vis-a-vis Schleiermacher and Ritschl, on the one hand, and Protestant orthodoxy, on the other hand. Barth is undoubtedly the greatest of all of these theologians, but because of the esoteric nature of his works and the shifts in his approach, from his more existential-deconstructive early writings to his more positive-constructive writings, he should probably be read after grappling with Forsyth and Brunner. However, Barth, like the others, always remained fairly existential, given his/their critique of scholasticism. I call this “good existentialism” as opposed to the bad existentialism which remains at the level of existentialism, lacking confidence in the new world of God’s re-creation. Barth’s Evangelical Theology: An Introduction is the best and most accessible introduction to this confidence amidst an existential critique of the world.

    • Whew! Thanks for your reply. It is always helpful to get an overview (from the mile high level) such as you have provided, before delving further. – Mike

      • Mike,

        While you’re at it, you might as well read T.F. Torrance’s “Scottish Theology: From John Knox to John McLeod Campbell,” it’s very spendy, which might be prohibitive, but if you can get your hands on it — if you haven’t already — it would be well worth your time.

        There goes Kevin again, recommending more books 😉 .

  4. For any readers of this thread, Dr. Haykin has written a response to my comments over at his blog. Do check it out. Sorry, Mike, for calling you “Mark” in my comment.

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