Tickle your ears with the Good News!

Not impressed by liberal theology
Not impressed by liberal theology

Are you tired, run-down, listless? Do you poop out at parties? Well, I’ve got the inspiration you need! A couple of fellow bloggers have posted several audio lectures by T. F. Torrance and Karl Barth, delivered at Princeton Seminary and provided by Princeton for free:

Thomas F. Torrance Audio Lectures

Karl Barth 1962 Warfield Lectures

The Barth lectures are from his only visit to the states and are available in print: the much-beloved Evangelical Theology: An Introduction. The audio for Barth’s American lectures are already available in a 1963 vinyl LP set, now published as a CD set by Wipf and Stock. A friend of mine gave me the audio files to this, so I have briefly compared the two sets of audio.

There are a few differences. The audio quality is a little clearer on the LP/CD set; the Princeton audio is a bit muffled but still clear enough. More importantly, the LP/CD set includes all five lectures published in Evangelical Theology (chapters 1-5), whereas the Princeton audio (above) has four lectures. It is missing “The Word” lecture, which is chapter 2 in the book. Otherwise, the content for the four appears to be identical, but the Q/A is different. Also, the Princeton set has the audio for “Karl Barth Meets the Students of Princeton Seminary.” So, my guess is that the LP/CD set is the audio from the University of Chicago, since Barth gave the same lectures at both places…and he also visited Union Seminary in Richmond, VA, but I don’t know if he gave the same lectures there (probably so). Anyway, I thought that some of y’all may be interested in knowing the differences between the two sets of audio. Feel free to offer any corrections in the comments.



    • That’s a good question and not asked enough. In Barth’s context, liberal theology is the mainline Protestant theology that preceded him, especially Ritschl and Harnack. I don’t have a simple definition, but I think that liberal theology would have to be defined in terms of modernity, where theology is constrained to operate “under the conditions of” modern philosophy and general human learning (history, science, anthropology, etc.). Christian doctrines are thereby recast, reinterpreted (or outright rejected, as the case may be) accordingly, depending upon the preferred philosophy — Cartesian, Hegelian, Pragmatist, Logical Positivist, Existentialist, et al., with overlapping lines of influence. This is true for postmodern liberal theology as well, where the “rationalism” and “scientism” of modern liberalism is rejected as hegemonic (and “male”), but it is replaced with deconstruction, Marxian dialectics of power, gender constructivism, narrative postmetaphysics, or whatever else.

      There’s value in all of the above, and nearly everyone is a liberal to some extent. If you think questions from science should be taken seriously, as I do, then you are participating (however modestly) in the liberal project. But if you are frequently critical, as I am, of the way modern/postmodern knowledge dictates the results of theological inquiry, or what is possible for theology today, then you are critical of liberalism to that extent, whatever the extent. There is a spectrum, of course.

      In my humble opinion, Protestants on the whole are terrible at navigating the modern/postmodern terrain. Roman Catholics are far more responsible at doing so, generally speaking. But that’s a topic for another day.

      • “Maximal accommodation to modernity” is one succinct definition I read once. By the same token, fundamentalism would be maximal rejection of modernity. (I think it was Roger Olson – don’t know if he got it elsewhere).

        Sometimes I feel like Catholics do almost everything better than Protestants besides a few theological issues. But unfortunately, those issues are too important to cross over.

      • I like that, though “maximal” would seem to indicate the purest forms of liberalism or fundamentalism, i.e., the most thoroughgoing accommodation or rejection of modernism.

        Protestantism is in a crisis, especially from the perspective of those of us who interpret our faith through a strong theological lens. It is tragically inept at handling modernism, whether it be liberal or conservative evangelical or those who ignore it altogether (megachurchianity, charismatic movements, et al.).

      • I think the crisis in Catholicism is obscured by its centralized authority structure. The Catholic Church in the West has a woeful inability to attract people to the priesthood, and is losing laity in record numbers (this is offset only by the influx of immigrants from traditionally Catholic nations); in the rest of the world, the Catholic Church is losing enormous numbers to Pentecostal/Evangelical churches. Much of this can, in my opinion, be related to its theology, which may be workable for celibate clergy and a few hardcore followers among the laity, but is completely out of touch with great numbers of people in the contemporary world. The appearance of Catholic competence in navigating the waters of modernity/postmodernity is an illusion.

      • The competence that I perceive is in relation to modern philosophy and science — from evolution to gender norms — but this is admittedly a narrow focus of consideration. Regardless, it is there that I see Rome navigating these stormy seas rather well. But you are right to remind us of the bigger picture and the practical matters of spiritual praxis.

        By the way, I don’t see the celibacy discipline lasting much longer. This is an area where Francis could legitimately change things, and I’m a bit surprised that he hasn’t yet. They can follow the EO model of reserving the episcopacy for the celibate.

        In the West at least, average Catholics — including the faithful regulars at every Sunday mass — are already altering the spiritual disciplines of the church. This is most obvious in regard to making confession/penance for sins, as I’ve noted somewhere previously on this blog. Not long ago, the everyday spiritual life of a Catholic involved an accounting of sins and fear of committing mortal sins. Now, you could almost say that the average Catholic is a de facto evangelical.

  1. “If you think questions from science should be taken seriously, as I do, then you are participating (however modestly) in the liberal project.”

    How is this a fair net? Augustine discusses the possibility of antipodes or whether Genesis had a poetical dimension, does this make him a liberal? Or are we so narrowly defining ‘science’ as a modern phenom, found in a particular empirical method? To say we modern, Western, Europeans are the first to practice ‘science’ would be bigotry of the most highest hand kind. I’m not saying that’s what you are saying.

    Isn’t Liberal theology one that takes Kantian epistemological conclusions as the apriori? Maybe that’s too narrow.

    • That’s a good point about Augustine, and other fathers could be adduced as well. That illustrates the relative nature in which we’re using terms like liberal and conservative, so I am thinking entirely within the last two to three centuries. In regard to science, however, there is something new with modern science. Simone Weil, in fact, has some good (if scattered) thoughts in this regard. Ancient science was heavily caught-up in the mystical and spiritual and philosophical, which are all one thing for Weil. She despised modern science, because of its disconnect from the moral and spiritual values and demands of God, resulting in the degradation of man and creation. Of course, she’s not the first or only to say this, indeed many have, but she was the first for me in my early studies. I don’t agree with her full-blown Platonist conception of reality, which probably does undermine genuine scientific advances. But I like her challenge to the established modernity.

      Isn’t Liberal theology one that takes Kantian epistemological conclusions as the apriori? Maybe that’s too narrow.

      Yeah, I would say that is too narrow, unless we lump Kant’s epistemology together with Hegel’s historicism and Spinoza’s monism, then we could catch a rather wide swath of liberalism.

  2. Yes, Science became incredibly narrow from the 18th through the 20th century. But that’s not the fault of empirical method or empirical data collection, but the disastrous metaphysics of Newton. In the mind of many a Western man,the world was closed and mechanistic. We went from a mythologized Pagan vision to a demythologized, atomized Pagan vision.

    I know I’m speaking in broad-brushes.

    But with the advent of Einstein’s scientific break-through (literally), the cursed Newtonian mechanics is vanishing.

    But this ought to be a lesson for the Church. We ought never to be taken captive by the philosophies of this world. Funny enough, the Liberal project (for all its seemed learnedness and professed profundity) was a scramble to seem credible. It’s quite pathetic.

    We need to let the Biblical story blow-out the back of any metaphysic or philosophical diction. It’d be interesting comparing the early Church. How many used Platonic, Stoic, or Ptolemaic diction but altered the meaning? How many took these notions whole sale? How many stayed their hands from it entirely?

    Side-Comment: I think reality could not be boxed under Newtonian mechanics. It’s why the strongest rationalists, of greatest Enlightenment pedigree, became the first to believe in hoaxes of fairies, mermaids, ghosts, and aliens. They so hoped they were wrong. I had a similar experience. Before I knew the Lord, I argued for a closed-world, rationality’s supremacy, and Deism. But at night (literally and metaphorically), I was floored with History Channel shows on Vampires, Zombies, Angels. I so sincerely hoped I was wrong. I was a Eustace from Narnia, waiting to be dragged into a world full of color and life.


    • I flirted with a Deist rationalism during my sophomore year of college, but it didn’t last long. Since discovering Barth and Balthasar and Torrance, I haven’t looked back. Your account of Newton and Einstein is, of course, the same line that Torrance takes. If you look at the audio lectures (above), you will see Torrance engaging with this in several of the lectures, even the ones that purport to be about purely dogmatic material — after all, it was all one (a unified conception of reality) for Torrance as well.

      And, yes, the shallowness of the rationalist/materialist conception is pervasive. In fact, it was my professors and classmates who impressed me the least about this worldview and the underwriting intellectual and moral ratiocination. Compared to someone like Balthasar, they struck me as remarkably incurious and insensitive to the profound dynamics of our existence with one another.

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