Diller on Barth, Pannenberg, and Fideism
Kevin Diller, Theology’s Epistemological Dilemma: How Karl Barth and Alvin Plantinga Provide a Unified Response (IVP Academic, 2014), 72–73 (italics is original; bold is mine).
Pannenberg determines that Barth’s rejection of an earthbound scientific epistemology must leave Barth hopelessly mired in subjectivism. Pannenberg believes that if human reason and experience are subjugated, only two options remain: subjectivism and fideism. In explicit agreement with the Enlightenment, Pannenberg states that “a ‘positive’ theology of revelation which does not depend on rational argument can rely only on a subjective act of will or an irrational venture of faith.” It is clear, moreover, that for Pannenberg these two alternatives collapse into each other. Both are an indication of wholly arbitrary and irrational positivism that stifles intersubjective dialogue. [Pannenberg cannot] understand Barth’s “from above” as anything other than making an arbitrary human start. For this reason, Pannenberg sees rejecting Barth’s “from above” as crucial for theology “if it does not want to fall into the hopeless and, what is more, self-inflicted isolation of a higher glossolalia, and lead the whole church into this blind alley.” But this conclusion only follows if one rules out a priori that God has acted to give himself in Jesus Christ by the Spirit as the ground of theological knowing. This a priori ban on the givenness of divine revelation is the arbitrary assumption driving Pannenberg’s conclusions. He writes, “Barth’s apparently so lofty objectivity about God and God’s word turns out to rest on no more than the irrational subjectivity of a venture of faith with no justification outside itself.” But dependence on faith becomes fideistic in Pannenberg’s sense only if that faith is an arbitrary human choice. The tables turn dramatically if that faith is the gift of divine self-revelation. Barth would agree that it has no justification outside itself. But what justification could be more secure than God’s own self-attestation? Far from fideistic, this alternative, invisible to Pannenberg . . . , offers what Barth would see as the only escape possible from the ghettos of human reason.It seems to me that perhaps the most basic question is: What do you want or expect theological knowledge to be good for?