Thursday, July 13, 2006

Was Karl Barth a Calvinist?

“One of my professors was the dean of Evangelicalism for many years before he passed away, Dr. Kenneth Kantzer, who was an influential Calvinistic evangelical thinker at the time. He studied under the premier Calvinist of the last century, Karl Barth. I took a class with him on Calvinism, and I did my Master’s thesis on Karl Barth.”

—John Loftus

Karl Barth was in dialogue with Reformed historical theology. He was indebted to Calvinism.

But he was not a Calvinist. His own theological system is a highly eclectic and idiosyncratic synthesis.

For a comparative analysis of Barth by a Dutch-Reformed theology prof. who studied under Barth, cf.

Fred. H. Klooster: The significance of Barth's theology; an appraisal: with special reference to election and reconciliation (Baker 1961).


  1. Interesting that Loftus would say this;
    His thesis for one of his masters was on Karl Barth actually

  2. Oh come on now. Sure there may be a debate about most things, but what motivated Barth was his Calvinism even though he was no conservative. Dr. Feenstra has said that "Barth's whole theology was an attempt to come to grips with Calvinism."

    Now here come the revisionists, and the conservatives who want to distance their theology from Barth as much as possible.

    Let them come. I'm not surprized even coming from a former student of his. Sheesh. Only the ignorant will think this book is the last word on the subject.

  3. Gregory Bolich's book, Karl Barth and Evangelicalism (IVP, 1980) documents how that evangelicals were initially critical of Barth and wanted to distance themselves from his theology whenever they could do so, up until the mid 70's when a new healthy appraisal of his theology began to take place. Sheesh. And you refer us to a book that's basically out of print to show what? It was written in a time where no evangelical dared to have an even-handed approach toward Barth, still coming off the debates over the liberal conservative identifications in the Fundamentals. Sheesh. I think you purposely do this to make me look bad, when you know otherwise. That's disengenuous, and a superior Christian trait, don't you think?

  4. And I'm sorry for slobbering all over you guys with all the "Sheesh"s

  5. Loftus,
    Karl Barth was not a Calvinist. He was a Barthian. yes, he owed a great deal to Calvinism, but in the final analysis, neo-orthodoxy and Calvinism were (are?) different. I suggest R. Tudur Jones' 'Congregationalism in Wales' (2004) for an analysis of the differences in pactice. Ditto D. Densil Morgan 'The Span of the Cross'. And I assure you, Morgan is no evangelical. Yes, Barth sought to apply Calvin in a contemporary context, but was not Calvin attempting to 'come to grips' with Augustine?

    In Wales, at least, Barth's theology was initially welcomed, with a later distancing as the unwelcome emphases became obvious.

  6. John W. Loftus thinks that Karl Barth was a calvinist?! Whoa! Is Loftus on crack or something?

  7. And where is the rebuttal to that post of mine, anyway? Where is it?

  8. You can read it for yourselves here.

  9. John, you may want to take a look at Van Til's assessment of Barth in his Christianity and Barthianism (P&R, republished 2004).

  10. John,

    Well, I was planning to do a systematic rebuttal of your post. But that's before you paid so many visits to my combox.

    I was deeply disillusioned that you would lower yourself to my level by responding to something I wrote. I thought you were better than that!

    So you'll have to give me a little time to get over the gnawing pain of my disappointment.

  11. When I deny that Barth was a Calvinist, that's not a value-judgment. It has nothing to do with whether he's good or bad, liberal or conservative--any more than if I were to deny that Karl Rahner as a Calvinist. It's just a matter of accurate classification.

    Klooster, as a Dutch-Reformed theologian who also studied under Barth, is in a very good position to compare and contrast Reformed theology with Barthian theology.

  12. Jeff I am familiar with that book, I owned it and I read it. It was among the early assessments of Barthianism that I mentioned was critical of Barth.

    Steve, I said I wouldn't lower myself to the level of what I had previously seen here, and I don't think I have. I never said I wouldn't stop visiting or commenting.

    Exegete. The same skills that are used to understand a simple sentence are the same ones we use to understand any sentence.

  13. Is it just me or has no one actually defined a Calvinist and then applied that definition to Barth?

    Personally, I believe John is correct; by most definitions (TULIP, tradition, background, etc.) Barth would be Calvinist (as I consider myself) but not conservative as he pointed out.

    I don't think many on this list understand the history environment Barth was in (with the possible exception of John). My only clarification, and one that I would certainly accept correction from John on, is that it's NOT that "Barth's whole theology was an attempt to come to grips with Calvinism," but that Barth's whole theology was an attempt to come to grips with Kant, from a Calvinist perpective.

    This was not unique to Barth but many from the Dutch tradtion (also) - including Kuyper and Dooeyweerd - who were big influences on VanTil.

  14. Jim, Kierkegaard actually, who was indepted to Hegel as his arch rival who tried to go beyond Kant's writings.