Barth and the Future of Evangelical Theology -- By: Fred H. Klooster

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 47:2 (Fall 1985)
Article: Barth and the Future of Evangelical Theology
Author: Fred H. Klooster

Barth and the Future of Evangelical Theology*

Fred H. Klooster

* Bernard L. Ramm, After Fundamentalism: The Future of Evangelical Theology (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1983. 225. $14.95. Paper, 1984. $9.95).

Harper and Row published Thomas C. Oden’s provocative Agenda for Theology in 1979 and now offers an agenda for evangelical theology from Bernard Ramm. Oden recommended the abandonment of the ideology of “modernity” and a return to the ecumenical consensus of the patristic church as expressed in Scripture and the Ecumenical Councils; Ramm recommends Karl Barth’s theology as a model for evangelicals in coming to grips with the Enlightenment. Oden grants that we can still learn much from Barth but contends that Barth never fully entered into the categories of modernity and remained more premodern or antimodern. Evangelicals may profit more from Oden’s agenda than from Ramm’s, but they will probably find better assistance elsewhere.

As a long-time evangelical Ramm is likely to have considerable impact on some evangelical theologians. The publication of a paper edition a year after the appearance of the hard cover edition indicates its potential. Although Ramm’s theme is provocative, I find the book puzzling. His interpretation of Barth is unconvincing and some of his claims are downright startling. What will the future of evangelical theology be if Ramm’s proposal is adopted? Evangelicals will do well to reflect long and hard before embracing his recommendations.

The book had its beginnings in an embarrassing question raised early in Ramm’s academic career. After a lecture on “American evangelical theology,” a shrewd listener asked him to define that term more precisely. Ramm reports that he then experienced “inward panic” because he suddenly realized that his theology was largely a series of haphazardly related doctrines which he had picked up here and there “like a rag-bag collection” (p. 1). He saw himself as a product of a century-long “orthodox-liberal debate” which “warped evangelical theology.” After that unnerving experience Ramm began

a quest for a viable evangelical theology, a quest that took him through several stages. He began with an investigation of the Enlightenment and its attack on historic Christianity. He was surprised to discover that orthodoxy was shaken by the eighteenth-century Neologians even before the rise of liberalism. In the middle 1940s Ramm chanced on the first English volume of Barth’s Church Dogmatics (hereafter CD). He spent five years in graduate study of philosophy; during that period he read some of Abraham Kuyper’s writings and claims that they “provi...

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