Dr. Benjamin Quinn interviews Craig Bartholomew about his and Bruce Ashford’s forthcoming The Doctrine of Creation: A Constructive Kuyperian Approach (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2020).
BQ: You engage quite a lot with Karl Barth and 20th century French thinkers (e.g., Henri de Lubac). Why so much engagement with these authors? Especially, de Lubac?
CB: A good question. I think a distinctive of this volume is our engagement with Scripture throughout. In my early training I was exposed to the work of the Reformed theologian John Murray, who would invariably begin his work with exegesis. That model has stuck with me. Given the current state of biblical studies – with the lingering, fragmenting effect of historical criticism, albeit with its many gifts – doing theology in deep engagement with Scripture is exceptionally hard work. And then so much theology – however good – fails to engage with Scripture.
Not surprisingly, therefore, we are drawn to theologians who engage deeply with Scripture while doing rigorous theology. In this respect Barth towers above other theologians.
Like many Reformed Evangelicals, at seminary I imbibed the view that Barth was liberal and to be avoided. I think this view was mediated to us through Cornelius Van Til’s critique of Barth. It was not until years later that I actually read Barth, and his work blew me away. Almost single-handedly he brought down the liberal theological edifice of his day. And, as his theological system takes hold, he does more, far more, exegesis. In one volume of his Church Dogmatics, for example, there are some one hundred pages of small font, rich theological exegesis of Genesis 1:1-2:4a. Sadly, biblical scholars rarely refer to it, and I am not aware of contemporary Barthians who do similar exegetical work.
Neither Bruce nor I are Barthians. There are substantial areas in which we disagree with him. However, we find him an exhilarating dialogue partner and have learnt so much from him. Indeed, our style of doing theology in this book with small font sections throughout is modelled on his.
Bruce and I are both committed Evangelicals. Bruce is a Southern Baptist and I am an Anglican. It is probably good that we did not try to tackle the doctrine of the church together! We are also Kuyperians. However, we are Christians first and foremost, and part of that “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church” and we revel in the feast that the tradition of the church makes available to us. Our commitment to Christ does not, for us, mean that we can only engage with our fellow Evangelicals, vital as this is. For us it is our very Evangelicalism that opens up a space for the widest engagement with good work wherever we find it. And that certainly includes the best of Catholic theology and philosophy. Ressourcement theologians like de Lubac, Danielou, and Balthasar have long been on my radar screen as important dialogue partners. And, in my opinion, the most exciting Christian philosophy being done today is that of the French Catholic phenomenologists such as Jean-Luc Marion, Jean-Louis Chrétien, Jean-Yves Lacoste and Emmanuel Falque.
Our particular engagement with de Lubac — which is more limited than your question suggests — emerged through Bruce’s exploration of John Milbank’s work and the Radical Orthodoxy movement. Milbank is influenced by de Lubac, and the Ressourcement movement, of which de Lubac was part, developed a fascinating critique of the Aristotelianism of the Thomist tradition, all of which is of great interest to us.
Benjamin Quinn is academic director of the BibleMesh Institute. This interview was first published by the Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics at Tyndale House.