Jim West, Karl Barth and Apologetics

Recently, Jim West posted on his blog something about Barth on ‘Apologetics.’ The fact that West puts apologetics in quotes gives us an idea of what he (not just Barth) thinks about apologetics. In the post he quotes Karl Barth:

Apologetics is something of which I am deeply suspicious, something alien to me in all its forms, and therefore also in this reductionist approach.

I do not question West’s knowledge of Barth. Nor do I claim to be a Barth scholar, although I have been reading through Church Dogmatics and so am not completely ignorant.

West concludes:

Evangelicals who claim affinity to Barth who nevertheless bow at the altar of the apologetic enterprise understand neither Barth nor apologetics. They are like people who – while eating strawberry ice cream – proclaim their dislike of strawberries.

While many Evangelicals may not understand Barth (I’m not convinced that even Barth understood Barth), it is a stretch to say that Evangelicals do not understand apologetics. I doubt West understands apologetics.

Did Barth agree with apologetics? Not the way he defined it. Barth understood apologetics as trying to prove the existence of God through natural revelation. He understood that as seeking a false god rather than the God of the Bible. Barth would probably hate much of what William Lane Craig does.

However, reading through Church Dogmatics, I see Barth doing apologetics all the time (although he would never call it that). Barth confronts what he considers to be false doctrines and with biblical evidence he gives his reasons for why they are wrong and he is right. That is apologetics as much as natural theology.

I believe this post is more about what Jim West thinks about apologetics than what Karl Barth thinks. Even using the phrase “bow at the altar of the apologetic enterprise” tells you how he feels.

The irony is that West is an apologist. He has certain theological and academic beliefs that he regularly defends and argues for. What he would disagree with is the set of beliefs that Evangelicals defend. Of course he is free to do that. He just needs to realize that he is doing the same thing in his own way.

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