Now that I have outlined and compared the theologies of Barth, Grenz, and Macquarrie, I find myself most impressed with aspects of the neo-orthodox and especially the liberal theological traditions. I begin with a brief outline of my disagreements with Grenz, whose evangelical theology is representative of my own background in evangelicalism. After entering college a decade ago and having the opportunity to study other religions, philosophies, the historical-critical study of the bible, and science, I found myself increasingly uncomfortable with the major emphases of evangelical theologies. In the light of religious pluralism, Grenz’s distinctive view of faith as conversion does not resonate with me as it once did. Although I believe that a personal decision to follow Christ is an important aspect of faith, I would also want to nuance what Grenz means by ‘conversion’, which is more exclusivist than I think is warranted. His corresponding evangelical understandings of substitutionary atonement, hell, and divine omnipotence are equally problematic in my view. Lastly, I reject Grenz’s evangelical approach to the Bible in his affirmation of inerrancy. Inerrancy makes theology easier in a sense, but I would argue that we must wrestle with a much more ambiguous text than Grenz wants to admit, making historical-critical work and philosophical hermeneutics more important.
Over the last few years, I have been more engaged with both liberal and post-Barthian theologians like John Cobb, Paul Knitter, Jürgen Moltmann, and Wolfhart Pannenberg. As such, it was not surprising for me to find myself more in agreement with Macquarrie and Barth. Even though I am particularly impressed by the consistency of their methodologies (as different as they certainly are), I have mixed feelings when it comes to the actual details and theological conclusions of their work. I will first reflect on Barth and then conclude with Macquarrie.
To a great extent, I appreciate Barth’s Christocentrism and his emphasis on revelation as being God’s initiative. Furthermore, his soteriological universalism is a great improvement on Grenz’s understanding of hell as eternal conscious torment for unbelievers. However, Barth’s Christocentrism “on steroids” and his foundationalist approach to revelation (which attempts to carve out a ‘safe’ place to do Christian theology) both go too far in my view. I am more open to a view of Christ somewhat like Karl Rahner or Jacques Dupuis articulate, who affirm the wider significance of Christ in a much less exclusivist way.
In many ways, this position puts me closer to Macquarrie than either Grenz or Barth, although I would want to emphasize a more Christocentric definition of faith than he does. Macquarrie argues that Christian theologians must seriously engage other sources of knowledge, such as science and historical-critical scholarship. In a similar way to post-foundationalist theologians, he argues that we need to “explore the borders between theology and other disciplines…in the hope of gaining reciprocal illumination." I agree with his more modest affirmation of the divine initiative in revelation, and also his commitment to the basic ‘symbols’ of the tradition and their reinterpretation as needed. On the other hand, at times I think Macquarrie might fall into a foundationalist trap (though one very different in kind from Barth’s) that results in a bit more skepticism about traditional theological assertions than seem to be necessary.