The PostBarthian

Dear Karl Barth, What does Election mean to Individuals?

In Karl Barth's Doctrine of Election, Jesus Christ is the only elected individual, and no other individual is elected like Jesus (Act 4:12), but in him (c.f. Eph 1:4) all people are included in his election (1 Cor 15:22). Since Barth was not a Universalist, this syllogism indicates that there may be individuals who are included in Jesus' election that are ultimately condemned in the Final Judgment. So then, it is difficult to answer the question, "What does election mean to individuals?" (especially for those who are ultimately condemned). Does election directly apply to anyone besides Jesus? In this article, I will explore the election of Jesus and other individuals.

Karl Barth's reconstruction of John Calvin's Double Predestination

Karl Barth's Doctrine of Election is a reconstruction of John Calvin's Double Predestination. In order to understand Barth's schema of election, it is helpful to understand the Calvinist tradition from which it spawned. John Calvin began his doctrine of election in God's horrible, dreadful, and absolute decree before the creation of the world, where some people were elected and the rest were rejected. Calvin's view is not good news to all people, because it says to the non-Christian that they are predestined to perdition and there's nothing that may be done about it. Calvin's schema of election was only good news to the elected individuals. Calvinist tradition called the non-elected individuals "reprobates" or the "mass of perdition", and the person and work of Jesus Christ provides no benefits to such individuals, so what purpose is there in preaching Christ crucified to them? (1 Cor 1:23) This preaching is only bad news to these "reprobates".

Barth affirms Calvin's biblical support for Double Predestination, but dismantles Calvin's theory by restricting the scope of election to Jesus alone. According to Barth, Jesus is the sole subject and object of election, such that there is no longer two indiscriminate groups (i.e. the elect and the reprobate), but instead there is one man who is both the only elected one and only rejected one (CD II/2). This means that Jesus was elected to be rejected, specifically in that God sent his one and only son to die on the cross for the sins of the world (John 3:16-17). So Jesus is elected for all and rejected for all, and therefore in his resurrection, "Jesus is Victor" (CD IV/3.2) over all and has become the savior of all the world (1 John 2:2). Barth re-orientated the Doctrine of Election around the good news of the person and work of Jesus Christ for the entire world, so therefore it is no surprise the Barth says that "the doctrine of election is the sum of the gospel":

"The doctrine of election is the sum of the Gospel because of all the words that can be said or heard it is the best: that God elects man; that God is for man too the One who loves in freedom. It is grounded in the knowledge of Jesus Christ because He is both the electing God and elected man in One. It is part of the doctrine of God because originally God's election of man is a predestination not merely of man but of Himself. Its function is to bear basic testimony to eternal, free and unchanging grace as the beginning of all the ways and works of God."

—Karl Barth (CD II/2) [1]

The strength of Karl Barth's Doctrine of Election is that it is good news to all people—not to the elect only (as in Calvin's schema). Centering election on Jesus has been incredibly helpful for me, especially in understanding how election and the person and work of Jesus are correlated. Calvin confessed that the absolute decree was "dreadful" and "horrible" but nevertheless believed it was true. So I still love John Calvin, because he would never call this absolute decree "good news" like some Calvinists today.

(Good News)
Dystopian Gospel
(Bad News)
1. God has elected Jesus alone
2. Jesus is rejected for all
3. Jesus is victor over all
4. Jesus is proclaimed
the savior of all the world
1. God made a horrible
and absolute decree
2. Some people are elected,
the rest are rejected
3. Christians tell Non-Christians
they are predestined to hell
4. No mention of Jesus

The Election of Individuals Who Deny Their Election

Karl Barth's Doctrine of Election allows for the salvation of individuals who deny their own election. This doesn't mean that all people who deny their election will ultimately be saved (as in Universalism), but it does mean that non-Christians who reject Jesus do not understand what they are saying! For those individuals who deny the Christian Faith, Barth explains why they may ultimately be included in the saving work of Jesus Christ as follows:

"The man who is isolated over against God is as such rejected by God. But to be this man can only be by the godless man's own choice. The witness of the community of God to every individual man consists in this: that this choice of the godless man is void; that he belongs eternally to Jesus Christ; that the rejection which he deserves on account of his perverse choice is borne and cancelled by Jesus Christ; and that he is appointed to eternal life with God on the basis of the righteous, divine decision. The promise of his election determines that as a member of the community he himself shall be a bearer of its witness to the whole world. And the revelation of his rejection can only determine him to believe in Jesus Christ as the One by whom it has been borne and cancelled."

—Karl Barth (CD II/2) [2]

Barth's answer is similar to John Calvin's teaching in the Institutes III.21-24 regarding people who were elect but were not converted yet. In the preface to CD II/2, Barth said "I would have preferred to follow Calvin's doctrine of predestination much more closely, instead of departing from it so radically." Barth and Calvin are saying similar things about a person who has not yet realized that they are among the elect. Barth is not an enemy of Calvin, he is simply more optimistic than Calvin, and allows for the hope that all might be elected in the end.

Election, Vocation, and Faithfulness (CD IV/3.2 §70.1)

In the final complete volume of the Church Dogmatics (CD IV/3.2), Barth returned to the question of how election applies to other individuals in a fascinating paragraph that links election to vocation to faithfulness. In the CD IV/3.2 §70 "The Vocation of Man: 1. Man in the Light of Life", Barth explains that election and calling are "indissolubly coordinated". If all people are elected in Jesus, then therefore all people have a specific vocation (i.e. calling) that is determined by their election in Jesus. And the experience of this "calling" (a.k.a. vocation) is linked to faithfulness to Jesus (c.f. Rev 17:14). So the universal scope of Jesus' election has a vocational determination for all people, even if individuals deny this determination, it is nevertheless determinate upon them. This indissoluble link between the election of Jesus and the vocation of all people, means that even when individuals are not faithful to the their vocation, Jesus remains faithful in them (2 Tim 2:13).

The following small-print section in CD IV/3.2, Karl Barth explains how the election of Jesus determines the vocation of all individuals, especially those who believe (1 Tim 4:10):

It is of this that we must think first and supremely in relation to this event. We recall Isa 41:4: "Who hath wrought and done it? (The reference is to the calling of Cyrus to his work of deliverance in the service of the exiled people of God.) He who called to the generations from the beginning, I the Lord, the first, and with the last; I am he." Of the called, i.e., Christians, we have thus to say first of all with Calvin: "Those who approach Christ were already sons of God in his heart, since they had been enemies in him, but because they were foreordained to life, they were given to Christ" (Dei praed, C.R. 8, 292). Within the framework of his understanding of predestination, divorced at the crucial point from Christology, and of the vocation which follows this in time, Calvin could not, of course, speak of an election of all men to a real, true and certain vocation grounded in this election. According to him, not all men are elected in Jesus Christ, and therefore not all are called. Yet the fact remains—and this is our present point—that Calvin did speak plainly of the eternal election of man, or of certain men, as the presuppositions of their vocation and not vice versa, and of the vocation of man, or of certain men, as the historical fulfillment of their election. For him vocation and election are indissolubly coordinated. Election looks forward to the future event of vocation; vocation backward to election.

According to the New Testament norm we cannot speak of either except in this co-ordination. Christian are elect and therefore called. They are called because they are elect. And on the basis of both election and vocation they are holy and faithful. All these descriptions apply to them as Christians. This is intended even in passages in which only one or two or sometimes three are expressly mentioned. If calling and election are not identical, they are never independent but always go together. When in 1 Cor 1:1 and Rom 1:1 Paul calls himself a called apostle, he gives his own exposition by adding in Rom 1:1 set apart for the Gospel of God. He thus traces back his calling to be both a Christian and an apostle to his election. That is why he can say in Gal 1:15 that he was separated from his mother's womb and called by God's grace. According to Rom 8:28 Christians generally are called according to God's prior counsel (according to his purpose). And in the famous catena aurea of Rom 8:30 it is said of them generally that God called those whom He elected, and then that He justified and glorified them. In Rev 17:14 they are described in a single phrase as called and elect and faithful. From the very first (from the beginning) God has elected them to salvation and then called them by the Gospel, according to 2 Thess 2:13. It is not according to their works that God has done the latter, but in accordance with His purpose and the point in the same direction when it says of the called that they are "loved by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ."

—Karl Barth (CD IV/3.2) [3]

The Linchpin of Universalism: Matthew 22:14

In this exploration, Barth has not yet explained how an individual is elect and may be ultimately condemned in the Final Judgement. Barth does not answer this paradoxical question, but in this same small-print section of CD IV/3.2, he dismantles the strongest biblical text used against Univeralism: Matthew 22:14. Barth is not an Universalist, but he hopes that the final decision of God will be that no one is condemned: Barth once famously said, "I do not teach it [Universalism] but I do not not teach it either."[4] In his commentary on Matthew 22:14, Barth demonstrates that the Bible is not clearly opposed to a theology of hope where all people are ultimately saved.

I've saved the best part for last: Karl Barth's exposition of Matthew 22:14. This verse is the "interpretive crux" to the question of Universalism. It is the most famous verse against Universalism in the bible, and read in isolation, it renders Universalism impossible. Barth approaches this verse "many are called but few are chosen" as a paradoxical saying that is in contradiction to the rest of the New Testament that has been introduced by a redactor to the Gospel of Matthew. Other interpreters have suggested that there are two groups among the elect, those elect who are good and noble and the rest, but Barth denies that the New Testament supports such a dichotomy. Barth believes that the best way to understand Matt 22:14 is to imagine that all individuals are elect, but few live out their election.

As for elect individuals who are ultimately rejected, Barth admits that in the case of Judas (alone), we have the only example of an individual who is elected and rejected without any future hope for that individual. Judas is specifically called for his vocation of denying Jesus, that results in his personal apostasy. Barth keenly reminds us that the other disciples denied Jesus like Judas, so we cannot say that Judas is unique in his betray of Jesus. So to affirm that Judas is ultimately condemned, concludes that all the other disciples are likewise condemned for participating in a likewise sinful act! However, Barth admits that it is a possibility that a person, such as Judas, may be an elect individual, yet ultimately be condemned. As soon as Barth acknowledges this problem, he immediately retreats from it. The case of Judas is difficult to understand, and it is no surprise that a forger capitalized upon it and wrote a pseudo-Gospel according to Judas.

The election of Jesus, was for his rejection on the cross, that resulted in the salvation of the world. So we have no example of a person who is elected, that ends tragically in rejection without a future resurrection. Barth provides us a precedent that when confronted with Judas or any individual who denies their election, that we may shrug and say that this is a paradox. So when an individual who denies their election, or a person (such as Judas Iscariot), that is called for the purpose of being rejected, that the best way we may respond is to immediately back way from that situation, and to remain silent, and to not provide an answer.

In my personal opinion, the New Testament provides us two possibilities, in John and Paul's writings we have hope for Universal Reconciliation of all people, but in Mark and Matthew we have a double judgment of some who are saved and the others who are not. New Testament scholars are in agreement that its impossible to harmonize these two threads in the New Testament. So we are forced to a make a theological conclusion whether the New Testament provides us a theology of hope or not. Barth is not opposed to this theological consensus, but his commentary on Matt 22:14 demonstrates that the argument for Double Judgement is not standing on equal foundation as the Universalist passages (c.f. John 3:17; John 6:51; 2 Cor 5:19; Rev 11:15; John 1:29; 1 John 2:2).

Here is what Barth says regarding Matt 22:14 in CD IV/3.2:

A more difficult passage in this connection is Matt 22:14. Jesus has just told the parable of the wedding-feast, and especially the story of the rejection of the man who appeared without a wedding garment. There is then added the independent saying: "Many are called, but few are chosen." The verse forms a interpretive crux, since its most obvious meaning, in analogy to the saying quoted in Plato's Phaedo (69c) about the few real Bacchantes among the many Thyrsus bearers, seems to be in flat contradiction with all the other passages and to speak about a calling which has no election as its presupposition. Among those who rightly thought this contradiction intolerable, and thus could not accept the obvious meaning, R. Seeberg (PRE3 2, 657) took the view that in this passage elect is not a theological term but simply indicates the good and the noble of whom there are unfortunately only too few among those who are called. But if the saying is understood in this way it surely has a foreign ring in the synoptic tradition, and no such distinction between the good and noble and the rest of the called seems to be made anywhere else in the New Testament. Indeed, how could the saying be reconciled with what is said about the called and elect in 1 Cor 1:26f.? A. Schlatter again (Der Evangelist Matthäus, 1929, 640 f.) tried to avoid the contradiction by castigating and rejection as Greek the exposition which would "import into the supra-historical consciousness of God" the choice indicated by the word elect, Jesus and the Evangelist concentrating their attention consistently on history and therefore accepting the fact that the calling of man merely posits a beginning which contains the possibility of both of apostasy and also of preservation, so that election must be separated from vocation. But if this is the case, then the rest of the New Testament is at fault, and especially Paul, who unmistakably speaks of election as a divine purpose and the like. Can we really isolate it from this and link with the story of man's apostasy or preservation? And where in the New Testament, apart perhaps from Judas Iscariot, do we have any example of calling as a beginning which carries within it the apostasy of man?

My own view is that we may and must agree with K. L. Schmidt (Kittel II, 496) in regarding the saying as a paradox. It may thus be freely paraphrased as follows. Many are called, but there will only be few who in following the call will prove worthy of, and act in accordance with, the fact that as the called of God they are His elect, predestined from all eternity for life with Him and for His service. There will only be few who in the words of 2 Pet 1:10 are obedient to their calling and make sure, i.e., validate and confirm, their election. There will only be few who really are what they are as called, namely, elect or Christians. In this case the meaning of the redactor in Matt 22 is this. Like so many, and indeed the majority, the man without the wedding-garment has not been or done what he could and should have been and done when invited by the king to the feast and given like all the rest the robe with which to appear before him. If this is the meaning, the saying itself then points to the fact that both the calling and the underlying election in their co-ordination have and maintain the character of a free act of grace on the side of God and a free decision on that of man. On neither side, therefore, do we have the automatic function of a machine. Both vocation and election are always a free event. It is to be noted in conclusion that if this verse cannot be opposed to all the others in which the co-ordination of vocation and election is so clear and unequivocal, it cannot be adduced, as it often has been, in refutation of the universality of the election which underlies the future calling of all. 

—Karl Barth (CD IV/3.2) [5]


Barth's Doctrine of Election is contained in the Church Dogmatics: The Doctrine of God, Vol. II/2 §32-35, and this includes an entire paragraph to the topic of the "Election of the Individuals" (CD II/2 §35). Barth also discusses the Doctrine of Providence in the CD III/4 that has bearing on this discussion, and he revisits election (as quoted above) in CD IV/3.2. However, we do not finally have an explanation on how an individual may be included in Jesus' election yet be finally rejected.  Barth clarifies his position in CD IV/3.2, but does not provide a definitive answer of how all people are elected in Jesus without necessitating Universalism. This question might have been answered in the hypothetical and unwritten fifth volume of the Church Dogmatics: The Doctrine of Redemption. What is learned from Barth is the election is the sum of the gospel and is about Jesus, and the person and work of Jesus applies to all the world (not only the elected), and that there is hope for all people (not only the elect).

As for Judas Iscariot and other elected individuals that are condemned in the Bible (such as Esau and Ishmael), we may boldly not answer whether they will ultimately join us in eternal life at the last day. There are many things I may have said about the election of the community, of Israel, of the Church and the entire world, that are not said in this post. But, Barth has addressed these things in his Doctrine of Election. To learn more, I highly recommend reading this bookthis book, this books, this book and this book to satiate those questions!

I've explored only one part of Barth's Doctrine of Election: The Election of the Individual; and, there's so much more that may be said about this one part, such as the election of Israel and the history of redemption. There are so many loci to consider (such as the Election of the Community in CD II/2 §34) in the Doctrine of Election, that "if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written" (John 21:25). 


[^Header Image Source]: By Phillip Medhurst - Photo by Harry Kossuth, FAL, [The background image is art depicting the person rejected from the wedding feast for not wearing the appropriate garments in a parable of Jesus.]

[^1] Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics: The Doctrine of God. Vol. II/2. London: T & T Clark, 2010. 3. Print. Study Edition 10.

[^2] Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics: The Doctrine of God. Vol. II/2. London: T & T Clark, 2010. 111. Print. Study Edition 11.

[^3] Eberhard Jungel, Karl Barth a Theological Legacy, Philadelphia: Westminister Press, 1986. 44f.

[^4] Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics: The Doctrine of Reconciliation. Vol. IV/3.2. London: T & T Clark, 2010. 111-12. Print. Study Edition 28. [ET 484-6] [^5] Ibid.

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Karl Barth’s Angry Letter to Helmut Gollwitzer on the Book of Job

In 1959, Karl Barth wrote an exposition of the Book of Job that he divided into four long small-print sections weaved into the end of the Church Dogmatics IV/3.1. Helmut Gollwitzer was Karl Barth's personal assistant in the 1960's after Charlotte Von Kirschbaum became ill. And in 1966, Gollwitzer realized that these small-print sections on Job may be extracted from CD IV/3.1 and read independently, so he edited them into an independent exposition on the Book of Job. Unfortunately, he made a huge mistake, and did not include the fourth and final small-print section on Job by mistake.

Karl Barth received a copy of this book on Job that Gollwitzer had edited and was livid when he saw that the fourth small-print section was missing. Barth was so angry that he wrote back and told Gollwitzer he had committed a "wicked act" and that "irreparable damage . . . has been done" and that he desired to "publicly protest somewhere against this". Gollwitzer rectified the error by publishing the fourth section separately.

Barth's letter to Gollwitzer was published in Karl Barth's Letters: 1961-1968, and I was taken back by how harsh this letter was when I first read it, and was surprised that Barth would write such a letter. However, reading posthumously published letters is similar to reading a person's emails after they had died, and everyone sends an angry email from time to time. I revisited this letter after recently reading Barth's exposition of Job in CD IV/3.1, and realized that he wrote this harsh letter to his close friend and personal assistant, which I had not realized previously. The letter reminds me that world famous theologians are people like everyone else, and everyone writes an angry email from time to time that should never have been sent. This book of Barth's letters is an intimate view into Barth's private life, and demonstrates that my heroes can be arrogant jerks once in a while!

For the sake of background, Barth's exposition on Job appears in four small print sections in CD IV/3.1: According to the older English Translations, part 1 is on pp. 383-388, part 2 is on pp. 398-408, part 3 is on pp. 421-434, and part 4 is on pp. 453-461 (n.b. The T&T Clark Study Edition divides IV/3 into three parts, so §70 is in CD IV/3.2 instead of CD IV/3.1). Here are a few quotes from CD IV/3.1 that provide a glimpse of Barth's exposition on Job: Barth says that in Job "the figure of Jesus Christ as the true Witness unmasking the falsehood of man is delineated in it in distant, faint, fragmentary and even strange yet unmistakable outline"[1]. The beginning (Job 1-2) and end (Job 42), Barth describes as a "folk-story concerning the rich Job who was sorely tried but remained faithful to God and was finally justified and blessed by Him. They constitute the framework for chapters 3-31, which are a poetical account of the speeches of Job and his three friends". And the remaining chapters are later additions constituted of "poetical speeches of Elihu (32-37), the poem of Behemoth and Leviathan attributed to Yahweh in 40-41, parts of 38-39" (etc.) I highly recommend it!

The angry letter that Karl Barth sent to his assistant Helmut Gollwitzer after Barth's exposition of the Book of Job had been published without the fourth and concluding section mistakenly:

To: Helmut Gollwitzer, Berlin
From: Karl Barth, Basel

23 April, 1966

Dear Helmut,

Yesterday evening the parcel arrived with complimentary copies of "our" book on Job. I thank you sincerely for your dedication and for the great amount of work you have done a second time on my behalf. I also admire your skill in seizing on what is important as this comes to light in your introduction and the transitions. Your account of the very different book on Job by Bloch naturally interested me too. But—yes, but! I know, Helmut, that one should not look a gift-horse in the mount. But what if one finds that the gift-horse has only three legs instead of four? You wanted to give people my exposition of Job as such. But where are pp. 522-531 [ET 453-461]; where are my illuminating elucidations of the theology of the three friends?! An able scholar like you could hardly fail to see that the whole point is to be found on these pages. And now you leave them out, although in your version on p. 68 you expressly refer to the fourth time that I turn to the book of Job. And no hint as to the reason for this omission! I really cannot think what reason there could be. Helmut, how could you? Nelly can bear witness that all through our mid-day meal I was complaining about you and your wicked act. And if you were not you, I would publicly protest somewhere against this being regarded as my exposition of Job. I can still only weep quietly at the irreparable damage that has been done.

Well, in spite of it all, in friendship and therefore with warm greetings,


Karl Barth[2]


[^Header Background Image] By Internet Archive Book Images - book page:, No restrictions,

[^1] Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics: The Doctrine of Reconciliation, Vol. IV/3.2. Vol. 28. London: T & T Clark, 2010. 384. Print. Study Edition. [Original ET is CD IV.3.1,  page 384]

[^2] Barth, Karl, Jürgen Fangmeier, Hinrich Stoevesandt, and G. W. Bromiley. Karl Barth Letters, 1961-1968. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1981. 204-05. Print.Letter #210


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Karl Barth’s Rejection of Universalism

Since the stone-ages of Cornelius Van Til until modern times, many have claimed that Karl Barth's theology necessarily concludes universalism or else it is incoherent, as recently exemplified by Oliver Crisp's cavalier statement in his Deviant Calvinism, "that the scope of human salvation envisioned in the theology of Karl Barth either is a species of universalism or comprises several distinct, incompatible strands of doctrine that he does not finally resolve. "[1] Contrary to these Barthian despisers, I do not understand how such a statement maybe justified, considering Barth's plain and understandable explanation at the end of the Church Dogmatics, Vol IV/3.1, especially since this quotation (quoted a length below) is consistent with everything Barth had written since the infancy of the Church Dogmatics. I'm tempted to respond with an equally cavalier (and humorous) statement that this animus towards Barth may be caused by a demon that has gone out of Van Til, wandering the pages of the Church Dogmatics, seeking an affirmation of universalism or evidence of incoherence in the Barth's Doctrine of Election (CD II/2) or elsewhere, but it finds none, so it takes up dwelling in these Barthian Despisers!

Was Karl Barth a Universalist? Nein!

Was Karl Barth a Universalist? The short answer is No. Barth did not self-identify as a universalist, and this is an important point that is frequently ignored. Barth once told a universalist preacher seeking consolation that "I do not believe in universalism, but I do believe in Jesus Christ, reconciler of all."[2] Barth thought that it was nonsensical to believe in "universalism" because our only object of belief is in Jesus Christ, but does not mean that he was merely equivocating with universalism (i.e. affirming it in a hidden way) because Barth explicitly rejected Apocatastasis (or Universal Reconciliation).

Apocatastasis explained

The early Church Father, Origen (c. 185—254 AD) developed a form of Universalism known as Apocatastasis that teaches that God must necessarily save all people at the end of the age, and he based this doctrine on the Greek word apokatastasis from Acts 3:21 (often translated as the "restoration of all things" or "universal reconciliation"). Three centuries after Origen had died, the Fifth Ecumenical Council (553 AD) issued Fifteen Anathamas Against Origen for his doctrine of Apocatastasis, and henceforth, Origen had been branded a heretic. Some Origen scholars believe that these anathemas do not apply to what Origen actually taught, and suggest that his posthumous condemnation was unfair and inaccurate, especially since Origen lived long before any ecumenical council ever commenced.

Additionally, Apocatastasis was not rejected because it taught Universal Reconciliation, it was rejected because it taught the Platonic pre-existence of soul, as exemplified by the first anathema: "#1. If anyone asserts the fabulous pre-existence of souls, and shall assert the monstrous restoration which follows from it: let him be anathema."[3] Other theologians who affirmed Universal Reconciliation but not the pre-existence of the souls were never condemned for their universalism; the most notable examples are Jerome (347—420 AD) and St. Gregory of Nyssa (335—395 AD). So the only form of universalism that was officially declared heretical by the ecumenical councils is the specific form of Apocatastasis that affirms both Universal Reconciliation and the pre-existence of the human soul. There are many forms of Universalism that do not fall within the rubric of Apocatastasis, especially in the Reformed Tradition, such as Amyrauldism and various hopeful universalists that have remained orthodox throughout their lifetime.

Why did Barth reject Universalism?

In the following quotation from CD IV/3.1, Barth explains why he rejects Universal Reconciliation (or Apocatastasis). His reasons are as follows:

1) the teaching that god necessarily must save all individuals undermines the biblical warnings about sin, and nullifies the biblical threats towards sin;

2) God is not obligated to save any sinner, and it is only by his grace that anyone is saved;

3) we do not have assurance or a promise that all people will be saved at the end of the age, so it may not be asserted as such;

4) although universalism may not be affirm, the bible provides us hope that all people will be finally be delivered until salvation at the end of the age.

Karl Barth's Rejection of Universalism (Apocatastasis)

At the end of the Church Dogmatics: The Doctrine of Reconciliation, Vol. IV/3.1 §70, Barth explains his rejection of universalism as follows:

First, if this is not the case, it can only be a matter of the unexpected work of grace and its revelation on which we cannot count but for which we can only hope as an undeserved and inconceivable overflowing of the significant, operation and outreach of the reality of God and man in Jesus Christ. To the man who persistently tries to change the truth into untruth, God does not owe eternal patience and therefore deliverance any more than He does those provisional manifestations. We should be denying or disarming that evil attempt and our own participation in it if, in relation to ourselves or others or all men, we were to permit ourselves to postulate a withdrawal of that threat and in this sense to expect or maintain an apokatastasis or universal reconciliation as the goal and end of all things. No such postulate can be made even though we appeal to the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Even though theological consistency might seem to lead our thoughts and utterances most clearly in this direction, we must not arrogate to ourselves that which can be given and received only as a free gift.

Secondly, there is no good reason why we should forbid ourselves, or be forbidden, openness to the possibility that in the reality of God and man in Jesus Christ there is contained much more than we might expect and therefore the supremely unexpected withdrawal of that final threat, i.e., that in the truth of this reality there might be contained the superabundant promise of the final deliverance of all men. To be more explicit, there is no good reason why we should not be open to this possibility. If for a moment we accept the unfalsified truth of the reality which even now so forcefully limits the perverted human situation, does it not point plainly in the direction of the work of a truly eternal divine patience and deliverance and therefore of an apokatastasis or universal reconciliation? If we are certainly forbidden to count on this as though we had a claim to it, as though it were not supremely the work of God to which man can have no possible claim, we are surely commanded the more definitely to hope and pray for it as we may do already on this side of this final possibility, i.e., to hope and pray cautiously and yet distinctly that, in spite of everything which may seem quite conclusively to proclaim the opposite, His compassion should not fail, and that in accordance with His mercy which is "new every morning" He "will not cast off for ever" (Lam 3:22f,31). [4]


Barth did not identify as a Universalist, and he rejected universalism as an object of belief, and specifically rejected the doctrine of Apocatastasis that taught that God must necessarily save all people in the end of the age, because this nullifies the threat of sin and God's grace in election. However, Barth had hope that God may freely choose to deliver all people in accordance with His mercy at the end of the age.


[^Image Background] By Gustave Doré - Alighieri, Dante; Cary, Henry Francis (ed) (1892) "Canto XXXI" in The Divine Comedy by Dante, Illustrated, Complete, London, Paris & Melbourne: Cassell & Company Retrieved on 13 July 2009., Public Domain,

[^1] Crisp, Oliver. Deviant Calvinism: Broadening Reformed Theology. MN: Fortress, 2014. 155. Print.

[^2]Busch, Eberhard. Karl Barth: His Life from Letters and Autobiographical Texts. Trans. John Bowden. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2015. 394. Print.

[^3] "NPNF2-14. The Seven Ecumenical Councils." Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Christian Classics Ethereal Library, n.d. Web. 18 Aug. 2016. <>.

[^4] Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics: The Doctrine of Reconciliation, Vol. IV/3.2. Vol. 28. London: T & T Clark, 2010. 105-6. Print. Study Edition. [Original ET is CD IV.3.1,  pages 477-8]

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Karl Barth’s Best Ideas [video]

Karl Barth's Best Ideas:

  1. (King) Threefold Word of God: CD I/1, CD I/2 19-21. Scripture as the Witness to the Word of God
  2. (Queen) Karl Barth's Doctrine of Election: The Electing and Elected Jesus Christ: CD II/2, 33. Election is the gospel
  3. (Rook) Barth's No to Natural Revelation: Doctrine of God CD II/1, CD IV/3.1. Barmen Declaration
  4. (Bishop) Creation as exterior basis of the covenant and Covenant as interior basis of creation CD III/1. Creation as Saga. No to the invisible church
  5. (Knight) Karl Barth's Anthropology: Soul of my Body III/2. Christ and Adam
  6. (Pawn) Judge Judged in our Place: Doctrine of Reconciliation: CD IV/1. Covenant - Cocejjus

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Ten things I hate about Karl Barth [video]

Ten things I hate about Karl Barth:

  1. Eschatology: End of Time
  2. Doctrine of Creation Doesn't engage Science
  3. His relationship with CVK and family controversies
  4. Doctrine of Election isn't clear about election of individuals
  5. Doctrine of Man and Women is hard on women:
  6. patriarchal view of Trinity in commanding father and submitting son
  7. Not green enough: Salvation is for humanity only, not nature
  8. Rejection of Infant Baptism: Neo-Zwinglian
  9. Fussy on whether Jesus rose physically or not. Yes&No
  10. Not catholic enough, i.e. Lord's Supper

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Review of Karl Barth’s No to Natural Revelation: Secular Parables of the Kingdom [video]

Review of my article, "Karl Barth's No to Natural Revelation: Secular Parables of the Kingdom"

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Review of Karl Barth and the Achilles’ Heel of the Bible [video]

In this video, I discuss my recent article on Karl Barth and the Achilles' Heel of the Bible.

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Karl Barth on the Achilles’ Heel of the Bible: The Inner Testimony of the Holy Spirit

How may we demonstrate that the Bible truly is a witness to the Word of God? By the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit alone! Karl Barth affirms this famous phrase from John Calvin because the only authority that may demonstrate that the Bible is of divine authority is God himself, and any other proof whether miracles, church history, inerrancy or the like are human judgments that are not sufficient grounds to demonstrate anything is divinely revealed and these "testimonial arguments" are luxuries for those weak in faith but may not be used as a secondary ground to support the Inspiration and Authority of the Bible (contra B.B. Warfield, et al.) David F. Strauss called the inspiration of Scriptures "the Achilles' Heel of the Protestant system", and Karl Barth proudly admits that it is so, because there is no other ground for the authority of the Holy Scriptures apart from this inner testimony of the Holy Spirit.

In this post, I will explain why Barth says that the authority of the Bible may only be established based on the inner testimony of the Spirit, by using selections from the Church Dogmatics: The Word of God, Vol. I/2 (§19 in loc.)

The authority of the Bible is based on a logical circle

How may we know that the Bible is a true witness to the Word of God? Karl Barth's answer is because the Bible says so! Isn't this a circular argument? It absolutely is! And, this logical circle is necessarily so. Only God may guarantee that God has spoke in the Bible, and therefore it is a divine judgment and not a human judgment that determines that the Bible is a true witness to the Word of God. Therefore it is vanity of vanities (Eccl 1:2) to endeavor to prove the bible by the means of Inerrancy, rational cohesion, miracles, church history or any other human judgment because it is a divine judgment alone that determines that the bible is a witness to the Word of God. Barth supports this position with an appeal to the first article of H. Bullinger's 1562 edition of the Second Helvetic Confession in the following quote:

The Bible must be known as the Word of God if it is to be known as the Word of God. The doctrine of Holy Scripture in the Evangelical Church is that this logical circle is the circle of self-asserting, self-attesting truth into which it is equally impossible to enter as it is to emerge from it: the circle of our freedom which as such is also the circle of our capacity. When the Evangelical Churches of the Reformation and later were asked by their Roman adversaries how the divine authority of Scripture could be known and believed by men without being guaranteed by the authority of the Church, the Evangelical theologians gave the hard but only possible answer that the authority of Scripture was grounded only in itself and not in the judgement of men. [1]

Barth provides the following quotes as proof:

. . . the canonical Scriptures . . . have sufficient authority from themselves, not from men. . . . (Conf., helv. post., 1562, Art. 1). We might just as well ask where we can base the distinction of light from darkness, of white from black, of sweet from sour (Calvin, Institi. I, 7, 2). The question of whether the Scriptures or sacred books are the Word of God is unworthy of a Christian man. . . . (J. Wolleb, Chr. theol. comp., 1626, praecog. 7). [2]

There is no 'secondary support' for the Word of God

The most rest assuring argument for the authority of the Holy Scriptures has always been the existence of the Church, however, Barth rejects this argument upfront by turning it upside down. It is not the Church that establishes the Bible but it is the Word of God that establishes the Church.

The Church does not have to accredit it, but again and again it has to be accredited by it. And all that we may adduce on other grounds for the authority of Scripture does not underlie this one ground and its divinity, but at best can be sustained only on the presupposition of this one ground and as pointing to it. [3]

Barth rejects all human arguments from below, because all of these testimonial arguments are flawed for the same reason why all so-called Christian Apologetics are wrong, and that is because divine authority is divinely established alone, and is never established by any human argument, whether rational or historical or what-so-ever:

The 16th century was well acquainted with and even accepted--just as it accepted the authority of the Church under Holy Scripture—an apologetic which came down from the early Church and the Middle Ages, subordinate to but illustrating this one ground: testimonial arguments, human considerations by which it was thought that the divinity of Scripture could later be more or less clearly brought out. Attention was usually drawn to the antiquity of the Bible, its miracles and prophecies, its decisive and victorious role in the Church history. [4]

Calvin's Inner Testimony of the Spirit

John Calvin says that the Bible may only be established by the "inner testimony of the Holy Spirit" and Barth says amen! Calvin explains that the Inner Testimony of the Holy Spirit means that when the Bible is read, the Holy Spirit enlightens the reader with the knowledge that these Scriptures are from the very mouth of God (Institutes I, 7, 5). Calvin's phrase is similar to Barth's phrase that the Bible becomes the Word of God. So it is no surprise that Barth affirms and adopts Calvin's doctrine of the Inner Testimony of the Holy Spirit.

Barth also agreed with Calvin that there are no secondary grounds for the authority of the Bible apart from the inner testimony of the Spirit. Calvin denied that the authority of the Bible is established by any human argument or judgment, but he did permitted these secondary grounds that he called "testimonial arguments" to be used as luxuries by people who were weak in faith. Barth defend's Calvin allowance for testimonial arguments however Barth said this had a disastrous consequence in Calvin's successors whom elevated these testimonial arguments to the primary ground for establishing the authority of the Bible—even above the testimony of the Spirit (c.f. CD I/2 in loc.)

Calvin thought it necessary to devote a whole chapter of the Institutes to these considerations as they throw light on the existence of the Bible (I, 8: Proofs in as far as human reason can support). But he himself calls them secondary support for our weakness and warns us in every possible way against thinking that we can regard and apply them as the grounds of faith: they act stupidly, who want to prove to unbelievers that Scripture is the Word of God, because it cannot be known except by faith (I, 8, 13). The verdict that Scripture is the Word of God is not a human but a divine judgement, and only as such can it be adopted and believed by us (Institutes I, 7, 5). . . .

Unfortunately, Calvin found many later imitators in the enumeration and development of these secondary grounds, but not in his definitely expressed perception of the abysmal difference of these grounds from the one primary and real ground, not in his awareness of the superiority and self-sufficiency of that one ground. The internal witness of the Holy Spirit, on which alone he and the Reformation as a whole based faith in the Bible as the Word of God, at a later date gradually but irresistibly became one ground with others, and the other grounds gained an interest and acquired an importance as though they were, after all, autonomous. [5]

D.F Strauss said this is the Achilles' Heel of the Bible

D. F. Strauss is famous for saying that the doctrine of the Inspiration of the Scriptures is the Achilles' heel of the Protestant system. Barth agrees with Strauss and affirms this conclusion is correct by saying that God alone may testify that the Bible is a true witness to the Word of God, and there is no other human argument that may be advanced to establish it as so. Barth's affirmation of Strauss' phrase is surprising because so many theologians have tried to answer Strauss by establishing a secondary ground for the authority of the Bible rather than embracing the logical circle of its authority. Barth says that Strauss is right to see the inspiration of the Scriptures as the weakest point, but it is precisely at this weakest point where we find its indestructible strength (c.f 2 Cor 12:9-11). (For more on D.F. Strauss, see here and here.)

D. F. Strauss was right to criticize this rule: "Who can now attest the divinity of this witness? Either itself again, which is nobody: or a something, perhaps a feeling or thought in the human spirit—this is the Achilles' heel of the Protestant system"(Die chr. Glaubenslehre, vol. 1, 1840, 136). Indeed, who does not attest the divinity of this witness? What Strauss failed to see is that there is no Protestant "system," but that the Protestant Church and Protestant doctrine has necessarily and gladly to leave his question unanswered, because at its weakest point, where it can only acknowledge and confess, it has all its indestructible strength. [6]


Karl Barth faces the devil, and agrees with John Calvin, that we have no other recourse to defend the authority of the Holy Scriptures by the Inner Testimony of the Holy Spirit alone, and there is no retreat to any secondary ground for the authority of the Bible whether it may be miracles, the victory of Church History, rational cohesiveness, etc.


[^Header Background Image Source] By signed "Ergotimos made me; Kleitias painted me” (Florence Archaeology Museum) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

[^1] Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics, Vol. 1.2, Sections 19-21: The Doctrine of The Word of God. Trans. T. F. Torrance. Vol. 5. London: T & T Clark, 2010. 535-37. Print. Study Edition. (paragraph breaks and indents added for readability, and Latin has been replaced translation in italic text from study edition footnotes).

[^2] Ibid.

[^3] Ibid.

[^4] Ibid.

[^5] Ibid.

[^6] Ibid.

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Karl Barth’s No! to Natural Theology: Secular Parables of the Kingdom

Karl Barth is the most famous (and infamous) opponent of Natural Theology in the world. However, in the final volume of the Church Dogmatics, Barth developed a Natural Theology of his own, that he titled "Secular Parables of the Kingdom" (c.f. CD IV/3.1, §69.2 The Light of Life). Did Barth flip-flop on Natural Revelation in the twilight years of his life? Reactions to Barth's Secular Parables have ranged in a broad spectrum from those who say he completely contradicted what he had opposed for thirty years or more, to those who say his Secular Parables is completely consistent to what Barth had said since the beginning. In what follows is an exploration into Barth's 'No!' to Natural Theology, and an explanation of what Barth meant by "Secular Parables" in this final decisive word on Natural Revelation and Natural Theology.

What is Natural Theology?

Karl Barth said "Natural theology is the doctrine of union of man with God existing outside God's revelation in Jesus Christ." (CD II/1)[1]. It is possible to discern scientific, mathematical and philosophical truths through the study of the natural world, however (according to Barth), knowledge of God may not be ascertained in this way. The natural world is not source of a "Natural Revelation" like a "second Bible" in which anyone may devise a "Natural Theology" independent of God's self-Revelation in Jesus. Therefore, any "Natural Theology" that is based on any "Natural Revelation" apart from the threefold witness of the Word of God, namely Jesus, is strictly rejected by Barth.

"One would think that nothing could be simpler or more obvious than the insight that a theology which makes a great show of guaranteeing the knowability of God apart from grace and therefore from faith, or which thinks and promises that it is able to give such a guarantee—in other words, a "natural" theology—is quite impossible within the Church, and indeed, in such a way that it cannot even be discussed in principle."  Karl Barth, CD II/1 [2]

Natural Theology has many aliases, such as "General Revelation" (in contradistinction from "Special Revelation") or "Common Grace" or "Nature and Grace" and other rubrics; Barth raged against all forms of Natural Theology as such.

A Brief Historical Introduction

In 1932, in the very beginning of the Church Dogmatics (CD I/1 preface), the first thing Barth says is that "so-called natural knowledge of God" (e.g. analogia entis) "is the invention of the antichrist." Barth adamantly taught that there is no knowledge of God apart from the self-revelation of God alone. Any other source of revelation is strictly rejected by Barth as Natural Revelation, and any Natural Theology based on Natural Revelation is likewise rejected by Barth because Barth says there is no such thing as a "theology from below" [3] where knowledge of God may be obtained from observing sticks and stones (as in the natural sciences) or triangles (as in mathematics) or any other name apart from the name above all names "Jesus" (Phil 2:9).

In 1934 (two years after CD I/1), Emil Brunner wrote "Nature and Grace" that allowed for a limited form of Natural Theology, to which Barth wrote a scolding rebuke titled "Nein!" (No!) that even included "An angry introduction." This 1934 Natural Theology correspondence with Brunner, was so vicious that it ended their friendship for the rest of their lives. Many have criticized Barth for this response, however this sacrifice of friendship may have been necessary because Barth's 'No!' to Natural Revelation was intimately connected to his 'No!' to German Christians in Nazi Germany.


German stamp celebrating 50 years since the Barmen Declaration [10]

The Reich Church had called for Hitler's Mein Kampf to be placed next to the Holy Bible as a secondary source of revelation; so Barth's protest against Natural Revelation was also a protest against the Nazi claim to be a revelation of God. Barth protested against all such forms of Natural Revelation (especially the Nazi kind) in his contributions to the Barmen Declaration (1934) which says in "8.12 We reject the false doctrine, as though the church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and truths, as God's revelation."

In 1940, Barth fully expounded his rejection of Natural Revelation, and any Natural Theology built upon it, in the Church Dogmatics: The Doctrine of God, Vol. II/1. (This is the very first volume of the Church Dogmatics that I personally have read and Hans Urs Von Balthasar believed it was the best volume in the entire Church Dogmatics.) In this volume, Barth silences any objection appealing to the 'divine nature' in Romans 1:20, or Psalm 19 or 140, or Job 38-40. Barth's refutation of Natural Revelation stood impregnable.

Karl Barth (1967) [9]

Karl Barth (1967) [9]

However in 1959, almost two decades later, in the final complete volume of the Church Dogmatics: The Doctrine of Reconciliation, Vol. IV/3.1, Barth surprised the world by developing his own Natural Theology that he called the "Secular Parables of the Kingdom" (c.f. CD IV/3.1, §69.2 The Light of Life) because Barth now appeared to affirm substantially what he strongly opposed 25 years prior in his debate with Emil Brunner. Many accused Barth of affirming Natural Revelation in the end, such as Jürgen Moltmann who accused Barth of coming to "the same result" as "his intimate enemy" Emil Brunner in 1934. However, 15 years had past since Nazi Germany was smote in its ruin (as Gandalf might say), so the political situation had changed in post-World War II Germany. CD IV/3.1 was written at a time that Barth could freely add clarifications that were consistent with what he had written since he began the Church Dogmatics I/1 in 1932 without Nazis overhead.

Lastly in 1966 as Brunner laid dying, Barth made an attempt to reconcile with Emil Brunner, by writing him a letter that said: "If he [Brunner] is still alive and it is possible, tell him I commend him to our God. And tell him the time when I thought I should say No to him is long since past, and we all live only by the fact that a great and merciful God speaks his gracious Yes to all of us." Barth's attempt may have been too little too late, but these words may not be ignored.

Secular Parables of the Kingdom

Secular Parables explained in a nutshell

In a 2009 interview, Jurgen Moltmann's provided this helpful summary of Barth's Secular Parables:

"At the end of his Church Dogmatics, he [Karl Barth] developed his own Natural Theology. After the special Christian Theology, there can and must be a theology of nature about the many lights outside of the one light of Christ, and the many words of truth outside of the One Word of the Incarnate of God, which is Christ. But the relationship between the Light which is Christ and the many lights of the world, is like the rear-reflectors [sic] of your car. If you switch on the lights of your car, then you can see the reflectors of the car in front, so the lights in nature are only a reflection of the Light of Christ. They do not illuminate anything by themselves; only as a reflection of the Light of Christ."

—Jürgen Moltmann[4]

The "Secular" in Secular Parables Explained


New Moon (almost) [7]

Karl Barth's Secular Parables of the Kingdom may be described with light metaphors, so by "secular" Barth refers to any "other" light that does not originate from the divine light of God's self-Revelation in Jesus. For example, the Sun illuminates the Solar System in a similar way to how God's self-Revelation enlightens all people (John 1:9 NRSV). However, there are many other lesser lights in the solar system apart from the light of the Sun that shine their light by reflecting the light of the Sun, such as the Moon and planets. These "secular" lights emit no light of their own, and only generate light by reflecting light; or the Evangelist also says "the light shines in the darkness" (John 1:5 RSV). The Full Moon only provides light because it is reflecting the light of the Sun, but when the light of the Sun does not shine upon the moon, it reflects no light and becomes invisible in the darkness (i.e. New Moon). So according to the Secular Parables there is only one divine light in God's self-Revelation, but there are many other lesser lights in Nature that are outside of God's self-Revelation that also reveal the knowledge of God, but only so far as they reflect the light of God.

Barth's "Secular Parables of the Truth" is a Theology of Nature by Reflection (notice how I avoided the contentious term "Natural Theology"); it's background stems from John Calvin's the famous discussion of the knowledge of God in the opening of John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion, and so it's appropriate to use Barth's commentary on Calvin's Catechism to explain how reflection applies to his Secular Parables, and so in the Faith of the ChurchBarth says:

What is the nature of the knowledge of God which is given us in the world? Let us beware now: Man has no possibility to know God "through nature." There is no knowledge of God which was given along with the existence and the essence of the world. We ourselves cannot say: God is in the world here or he is there. But God himself is he who, in the world, gives himself to our knowledge, according as he pleases. We notice with what reservations Calvin speaks of this knowledge the world does not stand witness of God but insofar as God wills it and wherever he wills it. It is not the history of any people which witnesses unto God, but the history of Israel, the Bible and Jesus Christ belong to the world. The world then is a mirror that reflects something found elsewhere, that reflects it insofar as God wills it and wherever God wills it.

Karl Barth, Faith of the Church[5]

Ancient mirrors were often a polished piece of brass, such as this Egyptian bronze mirror (800-100 BCE)

Ancient mirrors were often a polished piece of brass, such as this Egyptian bronze mirror (800-100 BCE) [6], and this explains why Paul said we see things dimly in a mirror (1 Cor 13:12).

Reflections have a tendency to distort the light they are reflecting, such as a house of mirrors or a troubled pond or primitive mirror (1 Cor 13:12 NRSV), so these lesser lights are only valid so far as they materially agree with God's self-Revelation. These lesser lights in nature do not form a second source of light (such as in Natural Theology) like a "second Bible", so they may not be used to correct or replace the self-Revelation of God. If there are signs in sun, moon and stars (Luke 21: 25 NRSV), such as a blood moon (as depicted in the header image), then these are dim reflections that may be Secular Parables so far as they materially agree with God's self-Reflection in Jesus.

But this means that we cannot treat them [Secular Parables] like Holy Scripture, even though as true words they can only confirm and illustrate Holy Scripture, even when in a given time and place a few or many or even the majority in the community are convinced of their truth, they cannot be fixed and canonized as the Word of the Lord. That is, they cannot be regarded and proclaimed as a source and norm of knowledge which is valid at all times, in all places, and for all. And they certainly cannot be collected, and assembled as words of universal authority, and as such laid alongside Scripture as a kind of second Bible. They may be issued and received here and there, yesterday, to-day and to-morrow. But neither individually nor corporately can they be given universal and normative authority as a source of revelation. They themselves are opposed to such a process and avoid such a misuse.

—Karl Barth, CD IV/3.1[12]

The "Parables" in Secular Parables Explained

Unfortunately, Barth's Secular Parables is more complicated than a Natural Theology by 'Reflection' because it doesn't require faith to see the Moon in the sky, but it does require faith to recognize God's self-revelation in the world. This is why Barth utilizes the concept of "parables" to explain his Theology of Nature by Reflection. Jesus used parables in his preaching, so that those who have faith would understand and those who do not have faith (i.e. Pharisees) would not understand (c.f. Matt 13:13).

So what does Barth mean by 'parable' when he says "Secular Parables of the Kingdom"? Barth explains that a parable is based on an ordinary human happening that has no significance of its own, such as when we engage in mundane activities such as going to work, eating a meal, or driving a car. These activities may be observable by anyone, and are not self-revelations of God at all, however they have the capacity to reflect divine self-revelation to people through faith.

In sum, the New Testament parables are as it were the prototype of the order in which there can be other true words alongside the one Word of God, created and determined by it, exactly corresponding to it, fully serving it and therefore enjoying its power and authority. 

—Karl Barth, CD IV/3.1[13]

Barth explains how self-revelation is communicated through natural (or 'secular') parables in the following quotation (n.b. the bold print):


Parable of the Sower [8]

Parables (parabolai) are little stories which it seems anyone might tell of ordinary human happenings. But they are called parables (parabolai) of the Kingdom (basileia), and it is often said expressly that the Kingdom (basileia) is "likened unto" (homoiwthe) these events, or, with an obvious view to this equation, that the events themselves, or the leading characters in them, are "like" the Kingdom (basileia). It is also said that the kingdom in its likeness to these events, or these events in their likeness to the kingdom, can and will be heard by those who have ears to hear, i.e., by those whom it is given to hear (Mark 4:9f.). That is to say, they will hear and receive the equations of likenesses as such, whereas those who are "without" will not perceive and understand what is at issue, namely, the "mystery" of the kingdom. . . . The one true Word of God makes these other words true. Jesus Christ utters, or rather creates, these parables, speaking of the kingdom, of the life, and therefore of Himself, and doing so in stories which it might seem that others could tell, yet which they are unable to do, because His Word alone can equate the kingdom really like them, and makes them like the kingdom in which He tells them, so that the narrative is no mere metaphor but a disclosing yet also concealed revelation

—Karl Barth, CD IV/3.1[14]

Barth's definition of Secular Parables in CD IV/3.1

So now that Barth's conception of 'secular' and 'parable' has been defined, everything explained so far is confirmed with the following quotation form CD IV/3.1 (especially the bold print):

We now turn to the more complicated question of true words which are not spoken in the Bible or the Church, but which have to be regarded as true in relation to the one Word of God, and therefore heard like this Word, and together with it.

Are there really true words, parables of the kingdom, of this very different kind? Does Jesus Christ speak through the medium of such words? The answer is that the community which lives by the one Word of the one Prophet Jesus Christ, and is commissioned and empowered to proclaim this Word of His in the world, not only may but must accept the fact that there are such words and that it must hear them too, notwithstanding its life by this one Word and its commission to preach it.

Naturally, there can be no question of words which say anything different from this one Word, but only of those which do materially say what it says, although from a different source and in another tongue. Should it not be grateful to receive it also from without, in very different human words, in a secular parable, even though it is grounded in and ruled by the biblical, prophetico-apostolic witness to this one Word?  Words of this kind cannot be such as overlook or even lead away from the Bible. They can only be those which, in material agreement with it, illumine, accentuate or explain the biblical witness in a particular time and situation, thus confirming it in the deepest sense by helping to make it sure and concretely evident and certain.

—Karl Barth, CD IV/3.1[15]

Barth provides no examples of Secular Parables

Swiss Reformer, Ulrich Zwingli

Huldrych Zwingli (1484–1531) , Protestant Swiss Reformer [11]

Karl Barth was unwilling to provide any examples of Secular Parables and criticized Zwingli for doing so. This is the shakiest part of Barth's Secular Parables of the Kingdom, because his unwillingness to provide a valid example of his doctrine, calls into question whether he actually does affirm that Secular Parables exist. So Barth's Theology of Nature by Reflection may be nothing more than the smile of the Cheshire Cat, which is the last thing to disappear of this vanishing fictional feline. Opponents of Natural Theology may seize upon Barth's words as follows to assert that Barth has been consistently against Natural Theology and all its derivatives since the very beginning.

In conclusion, it is to be noted that, surprising though it may seem, in our whole development of the problem of these other words we have not adduced a single example, nor quoted a single name, nor mentioned an event or trend or movement, nor referred to a new and singular or common and general phenomenon in political, social, intellectual, academic, artistic, literary, moral or religious life, to which there might be ascribed the character of a true word of this kind. As distinct from Zwingli, who appealed to Hercules, Theseus, Socrates, Cicero and others, we have deliberately refrained from doing this.

—Karl Barth, CD IV/3.1[16]

So does Karl Barth affirm Natural Theology or not?



Nein! Nein! Nein! Barth does not affirm Natural Revelation nor any Natural Theology as follows! And Barth denies that his Secular Parables is engaging in the "the sorry hypothesis of so-called 'natural theology'". God is wholly other, and has only revealed himself in the threefold witness of the Word of God alone. Even if it were demonstrable that Barth's Secular Parables is indeed a Natural Theology, Barth denied that he was doing Natural Theology, and may be proved by CD IV/3.1, §69.2 The Light of Life:

we have no need to appeal either for basis or content to the sorry hypothesis of a so-called "natural theology" (i.e., a knowledge of God given in and with the natural force of reason or to be attained in its exercise). Even if this were theologically meaningful or practicable (which it is not), it could not provide us with what is required. By way of natural theology, apart from the Bible and the Church, there can be attained only abstract impartations concerning God's existence as the Supreme Being and Ruler of all things, and man's responsibility towards Him. But these are not what we have in view. What we have in view are attestations of the self-impartation of the God who acts as Father in the Son by the Holy Spirit, which show themselves to be such by their full agreement with the witness present in Scripture and accepted and proclaimed by the Church, and which can be material tested by and compared with this witness. What we have in view are words which like those of the Bible and the Church can be claimed as "parables of the kingdom."

—Karl Barth, CD IV/3.1[17]

The Question of Science

Karl Barth is not an enemy of Science, and Barth's rejection of Natural Theology is not a rejection of science at all! See my Biologos article on Barth's affirmation of Creation, Science and Evolution. Some Evangelicals today attempt to juxtaposition the Bible against the Natural Sciences, in order to refute the established Scientific Consensus on various things such as Human Evolution because it disagrees with their hermeneutical approach to the Bible. Barth has no interest in any such endeavors and had no such thing in mind when he rejected Natural Theology! Barth lived in 20th century, post-WWII, war-torn Europe, and when he said No! (Nein!) to Natural Theology, he was opposing outside voices, such as the Nazis(!), whom wished to correct the Church's proclamation of Jesus Christ. Science is based on observing the natural world, so it is no threat to Christianity, because it will ultimately confirm Christianity as it observes Creation.

The Scientific Method requires observation of the empirical world, so if the universe did not exist, then there would be nothing to observe, ergo, no science! Barth believes that all mathematics and science are contingent on the existence of the world. Science does not precede the existence of the world, nor is it part of the world's origination (i.e. the event of Creation). Science is observation of the world as it exists according to the Scientific Method. Since, scientific laws are based on observations of the natural world, therefore all scientific laws, theories and hypotheses are contingent upon the existence of an observable cosmos. If the universe did not exist, then there would be nothing to observe in it, and therefore there would be no such thing as science as well.

These [natural and spiritual] laws are not the basis of existence. But with greater or lesser force, clarity and certainty they constantly show themselves to be the forms of its nature. It is not to them that existence owes its distinctive rhythm and contrariety. They can only confirm  the constancy of both in relation to the constancy of their forms. They do not indicate the reality or substance but only the manner of the existence of the created world and the fact that it gives itself to be known and is known. They do not indicate the whole or totality of cosmic existence but only a part, i.e., the existence of creaturely being in certain specific sections and circles.

—Karl Barth, CD IV/3.1[18]

The natural laws are contingent upon the existence of the cosmos, and explain the existence of the cosmos in constancy, but they are secondary and therefore have no existence apart from creation. Barth said in CD III/1, that "Creation is the external basis of the Covenant, and the Covenant is the internal basis of Creation", but this does not mean that science or any natural laws are eternal, but it does mean that Science is an observation of Creation, and linked to it as a reflection of the Creation event. So this then means that the Word of God is the word of the Creator, and it is a word that precedes Creation and brings Creation to life. So the existence of the cosmos is contingent upon the word of God (Psalms 19), and does not depend upon it.

Laws are formulae for the relative necessity of certain objective and subjective processes and sequences. Such relative necessity of certain have already been disclosed and discovered, or will be. They are thus a fact, and with them the formulae. They cannot claim to be more than relative necessities because they relate only to limited spheres of existence, because even in these spheres the reality and substance of existence are presupposed and they can only describe its manner, and finally supremely because it is only in the encounter and converse between intelligible and intelligent cosmos that they can be valid, and this validity is limited and conditioned by the greater or lesser imperfection of the disclosure and discovery and revelation and establishment which take place in this encounter. It is only partially, formally, and above all within the world and the equivocal nature of all its relationships, that they are valid formulae. And it is only as valid in this way that they can claim to be constant and continual words and truths.

—Karl Barth, CD IV/3.1[19]

Science describes the ordinary happenings in nature, so it is may be true so far as it describes the world that materially agrees with the word of God. Science exists to confirm our understanding of the Created world.

They [natural laws] tell us nothing concerning God the Creator and Lord, nor concerning man in his relationship to God. For the Word of God, the revelation of the truth of God and man, is not pronounced by them. But again, this does not mean that we can ignore or despise them in their relative validity. Not all human knowledge, but an important part of it, namely, the so-called exact sciences built on empirical observation and investigation on the one side and mathematical logic on the other, are constituted in virtue of the knowability and in the knowledge of laws. We do not live only, but we do live also, by and with the facts that there are knowledge and technics in this sense, namely, that there are, as relative tenable and usable working hypotheses, these formulae which have partial and formal validity within the world as descriptions of relative necessities, and which really count, and may be counted upon, when they are defined in this way. If not according to "eternal," then certainly according to "brazen" and in their way "great" laws we must "all fulfill the circles of our being".  We must and should. For in them we clearly have to do, if not with the light of God Himself, at least with lights of the world created by Him. 

—Karl Barth, CD IV/3.1[20]

Although Barth was not opposed to Science or controversial theories such as Evolution, many desire that he had developed his Secular Parables further and expounded on places of intersection. Barth mentions Darwin and Darwinian Evolution only a few times in the entire Church Dogmatics. There is room here for more discussion, and Barth's Secular Parables is helpful to demonstrate that Barth's No! to Natural Theology is a Yes! to Science.


Karl Barth opposed Natural Theology until the end of his life. He believed that there is one and only one source for knowledge of God and that is only in God's self-Revelation through the threefold witness of the Word of God, namely in Jesus. Barth denied that there was any other knowledge of God apart from Jesus and he maintained this Nein! to Natural Theology until the end of his life.

Barth's protest against Natural Theology was also a protest against German Christians who wished to place Nazi propaganda besides the Bible as a second Bible of equal authority, and this is what Barth opposed in the Barmen Declaration. Long after the Nazis were defeated, Barth was free to revisit the question of Natural Theology without the fear of surrendering the gospel to the Nazis.

In the final volume of the Church Dogmatics (CD IV/3.1) Barth developed his own Natural Theology that he called "Secular Parables of the Kingdom". Although Barth appears to be backtracking on what he had said 25 years prior in his debates with Emil Brunner, he was not doing so, and remained consistently opposed to Natural Theology, however, now that the Nazis were removed from power, he was able to answer questions and add additional information to what he had written decades before due to relaxed political climate in post-World War II Germany.

Barth's Secular Parables is a Theology of Nature by Reflection. God may not be revealed in Nature, but God's revelation is reflected dimly in Nature, and there are places in Nature outside of God's self-Revelation that materially affirm what is apparent in God's self-Revelation, and these outside sources similar to parables, such that those who do not believe in God's self-Revelation are unable to understand them rightly, and they are lesser sources that may not correct what is revealed in God's self-Revelation.

Barth denied that it was the "so-called sorry hypothesis of Natural Theology", and he saw this doctrine as mutually exclusive from the traditional conception of theologia naturalis. Despite Barth's own assessment of the Secular Parables, it is possible to construe it as a Natural Theology, which is comparable to what Brunner had written in Nature and Grace (1934).

Recommended Reading

The fine folks at DET reminded me that George Hunsinger has a long appendix in his book on How to Read Karl Barth on "Secular Parables of the Truth". So if you wish to learn more about this superic from a trusty Barth scholar, I highly recommend this appendix for further reading.



[^Header] By Tomruen (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

[^1] Barth, Karl, G. W. Bromiley, and Thomas F. Torrance. Church Dogmatics: The Doctrine of God. Vol. II/1. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1975. 168. Print.

[^2] Ibid. 83. Print.




[^6] See page for author [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

[^7] By NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (Flickr: New Moon) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

[^8] By Herrad von Landsberg - Hortus Deliciarum, Public Domain,

[^9] Karl Barth, 1967,

[^10] By Deutsche Bundespost - scanned by NobbiP, Public Domain,

[^11] By Hans Asper - Winterthur Kunstmuseum, Public Domain,

[^12] Barth, Karl, G. W. Bromiley, Thomas F. Torrance, and Frank McCombie. Church Dogmatics: The Doctrine of Reconciliation. Vol. 23. London: T & T Clark, 2009. 127. Print. [133]

[^13] Ibid. 108. Print. [113]

[^14] Ibid. 107. Print. [112]

[^15] Ibid. 110. Print. [114-5]

[^16] Ibid. 129. Print. [135]

[^17] Ibid. 112. Print. [117]

[^18] Ibid. 139-40. Print. [146]

[^19] Ibid. 140. Print. [146-7]

[^20] Ibid. 140. Print. [146-7]


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Have faith in Jesus? John Calvin says you may be predestined to hell!

Is it possible to have faith in Jesus, yet be predestined to hell? John Calvin shockingly says yes! Calvin is the father of Double Predestination, so I expected him to divide the world into the believing Elect and the unbelieving Reprobate (i.e. the non-Elect). Little did I know, Calvin was not so binary and believed reprobates may have faith! Calvin said a man may have a "transitory faith" that is a "temporary . . . awareness of divine love" that is not merely a faith "pretended in words . . . that he did not have in his heart." Calvin admits that reprobates never have "true faith" like the Elect, but "the reprobate are sometimes affected by almost the same feeling as the elect, so that even in their own judgment they do not in any way differ from the elect" (cf. Acts 13:48). It is easy to see why Calvin devotes so much of his Institutes to prove that we may have assurance of salvation! In this post, I will explore what sort of faith people predestined to perdition may possess.

The Parable of the Sower: Pious and Impious Faith

John Calvin used the Parable of the Sower to describe six forms of faith in which the Elect and Reprobate respond to the Word of God (c.f. Calvin's commentary in loc.) The first three pious forms (the hundredfold, sixty-fold, and thirty-fold) signify the true faith of the Elect differentiated by degrees of fruitfulness. The other three impious forms (the rocky soil, thorny ground, and roadside) signify the transitory faith of the Reprobate that is "faith for a time" but "does not penetrates into the heart." Calvin explains the difference between impious transitory faith and pious true faith as follows:

"Although we concede, for the purpose of instruction, that there are divers forms of faith. But, while we wish to show what kind of knowledge of God can exist among the impious—we nevertheless recognize and proclaim that there is only one kind of faith among the pious—as Scripture teaches." (Institutes of the Christian Religion, III.ii.9)

(n.b. The six forms of faith are depicted as corn in the header image, but I doubt Calvin referred to the maize discovered in North America during the Age of Discovery. By "corn", Calvin was likely referring to wheat or barley used in the Ancient Near East.)

The Seed in Stony Soil: Faith for a Time

Calvin uses the seed in the stony soil from the Parable of the Sower to explain how faith may be attributed to reprobates. Calvin says the faith of reprobates is "like a tree not planted deep enough to put down living roots. For some years it may put forth not only blossoms and leaves, but even fruits; nevertheless, it withers after the passage of time." A plant in rocky soil grows between the stones, and may even put forth fruit, but since the plant's roots never penetrate the stones, it dies. Likewise, faith takes life in the stony heart of the reprobates, but since it never penetrates the reprobates heart, it eventually dies as well. Even if the faith of a reprobate bears fruit, this fruit never truly stemmed from that hard hearted person.

In the Institutes (III.ii.8-13), Calvin uses the Parable of the Sower to explain how a person may have faith for a time, and frequently utilizes that seed in the stony soil to illustrate the faith of the reprobates. I found this analogy exceedingly helpful in understanding and explaining how a person may have faith and not be of the Elect.

Calvin explains the relationship between the seed in the stony soil to the transitory faith of the reprobate in this extended quotation:

"It is said that even Simon Magus believed [Acts 8:13], who a little later nevertheless betrayed his unbelief [Acts 8:18]. When he is said to have had faith attributed to him, we do not understand the statement as do some, who hold that he pretended in words a faith that he did not have in his heart. Rather, we consider that, conquered by the majesty of the gospel, he showed a certain sort of faith, and thus recognized Christ to be the author of life and salvation, so that he willingly enlisted under him. In the same way, in the Gospel of Luke they are said to believe for a while [Luke 8:13], in whom the seed of the Word is choked before it bears fruit, or immediately withers and dies even before it takes any root [Luke 8:6-7]."

We do not doubt that such persons, prompted by some taste of the Word, greedily seize upon it, and begin to feel its divine power; so that they impose a false show of faith not only upon the eyes of men but even upon their own minds. For they persuade themselves that the reverence that they show to the Word of God is very piety itself, because they count it no impiety unless there is open and admitted reproach or contempt of his Word. Whatever sort of assent that is, it does not at all penetrate to the heart itself, there to remain fixed. And although it seems sometimes to put down roots, they are not living roots. The human heart has so many crannies where vanity hides, so many holes where falsehood lurks, is so decked out with deceiving hypocrisy, that it often dupes itself. Let those who boast of such shadow-shapes of faith understand that in this respect they are no better than the devils! Surely those of the former class are far inferior to the devils, for they stupidly listen to and understand things the knowledge of which makes even the devils shudder. Yet let those who boast of such [James 2:19]. The others are like the devils in this respect, that whatever feeling touches them ends in dread and dismay.

Institutes III.ii.10


It is a trouble thought that anyone would believe they are justified by faith and ultimately be predestined to hell. If Calvin is right that the reprobates may have faith, how then may anyone have assurance of salvation at all? Calvin believes that if we thoroughly examine ourselves, then assurance may be found. Although Calvin repeatedly declares that the Elect may have assurance of salvation, his argument for assurance is a weakness in his doctrine of Double Predestination. (It's at this point that we look to Karl Barth's Doctrine of Election for a solution.) Here is a quote from Calvin, where he asserts that says we may have assurance of true faith:

"Suppose someone objects that then nothing more remains to believers to assure themselves of their adoption. I reply: although there is a great likeness and affinity between God's elect and those who are given a transitory faith, yet only in the elect does that confidence flourish which Paul extols, that they loudly proclaim Abba, Father [Gal. 4:6; cf. Rom. 8:15]. Therefore, as God regenerates only the elect with incorruptible seed forever [I Peter 1:23] so that the seed of life sown in their hearts may never perish, thus he firmly seals the gift of his adoption in them that it may be steady and sure. But this does not at all hinder that lower working of the Spirit from taking its course even in the reprobate. In the meantime, believers are taught to examine themselves carefully and humbly, lest the confidence of the flesh creep in and replace assurance of faith."

Institutes III.ii.11


How may Calvin's doctrine of Double Predestination be harmonized with the phenomena of Apostasy? Calvin's use of the Parable of the Sower to explain the difference between pious and impious faith is a helpful tool to understand how a person may have faith for a time and then later abandon Christianity. A person predestined to perdition may have a transient faith that hasn't taken root in their hearts, like the seed in the stony soil, and although that faith may produce fruit, it was never a true faith grounded in their heart, in the same way as the plant's roots could not penetrate the stones in the soil. Calvin's affirming that the reprobates may have faith is helpful to explain the commonly met experience of a person who now denies Christianity yet asserts that they once believed in the past. Calvin asserts again and again that those who have true faith may have assurance of it, yet the troubling conclusion remains that we be numbered among the reprobates because we may think we possess true faith that may one day be revealed to be only transitory faith.



  1. Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Ed. John T. McNeill. Trans. Ford Lewis. Battles. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1960. Book III, Chapter ii, Sections 8-13. Print.
  2. Calvin, John. "Commentary on Matthew, Mark, Luke - Volume 2." - Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Trans. William Pringle1. CCEL, 1 June 2005. Web. 07 July 2016. <>.


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