Last night, in my Reformation and Modern Church History class, I spent a good chunk of time on Karl Barth. In particular, I focused in on his doctrine of revelation (from Church Dogmatics 1/2), trying to help my students get beyond the cliched understandings of Barth's view (e.g. "The Bible contains the Word of God"; "The Bible is a record of revelation") and to engage him thoughtfully.
To be sure, there are some real areas of criticism to be made--for example, recourse to "the miracle of faith" to explain how God uses fallible and erroneous Scripture to bring people to encounter God's revelation in Jesus Christ seems just as "supernatural" as believing that God in his freedom could superintend the writing of Scripture so that it is written without errors in the first place. For me, the biblical witness supports this latter view (cf. 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet 1:21, etc.), whereas one would be hard pressed to find biblical support for the former. And there are other criticisms to be made as well (and I made those criticisms for my class).
But as I reflected on all of this, I also made mention of Cornelius Van Til's criticisms of Barth, published in three separate books over almost twenty years. And while Van Til was gifted and brilliant as a thinker, I've always felt that he never really engaged Barth--he kept looking for the "transcendental starting point" in Barth's theology (which he saw to be similiar to Protestant liberalism) and then constructing the logical conclusions from that starting point. Again, this is not to say that Van Til wasn't right in some respects: I, for one, don't think that Barth gets too far away epistemologically from Protestant liberalism (or from the challenges of "modernity" or from the basic correlative strategy of Schleiermacher; but then again, what mainstream "progressive" theologian did?). Yet by not engaging Barth within his own framework of thought, it strikes me that Van Til did Barth and himself a disservice.
Not only this, but Van Til's approach has been typical for most evangelicals in engaging the other. Rather than engaging in a thoughtful and critical dialogue, we all too often default to broadside claims of "heresy." Certainly, there may be errors (e.g. with Barth, his implicit univeralism in his doctrine of election, in CD 2/2, is a major biblical and theological error); but without the patient and graceful engagement of the other, our criticisms and disagreements will only be heard as clanging noise and banging cymbals.
In other words, even critical scholarship--times when we must say, "No, that is an error and I disagree with you"--must have as its goal "love which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1 Timothy 1:5).