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.

Related: , , , , , , ,
Comments (16) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Problem:

    “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.”

    Barth has no interest in your “in the end” when it comes to election or reconciliation. No interest at all in a potential futurity of total election. He says “you are elect in Jesus Christ” all in the present tense as an accomplished fact, in the face of which your rejection has been made entirely irrelevant except for its effects on others in the world because of your resulting, morally relevant actions.

    In fact, you cite him saying this, right above:

    “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.”

    The shift you make toward universalism is based on the same kind of problem: you assume election has something to do with “salvation” and a future determination of fate. And so you say:

    “Barth has not yet explained how an individual is elect and may be ultimately condemned in the Final Judgement.”

    But that presumes that election is to an outcome of the kommen-zum-gericht as the third and final form of the Parousia, which is not part of Barth’s doctrine of election at all. Nor is it how election connects to reconciliation as a vocational participation in God’s active reconciliation of all humanity. That’s not what either election or reconciliation are for!

    The whole thrust of the determination of the elect and the rejected, for Barth, is to demonstrate that these two are not appointed as such by God, connected to eternally determined fates, but result only from a human self-determination in the face of the one will and Word of God, to choose God and be apparently elect or to reject God and be apparently rejected. The apparently-elect and apparently-rejected are not so according to God’s determination, but according to their own—which God does not respect. This is where reconciliation comes in, using the same totality-in-spite-of-appearances from election to insist that God is reconciling everyone, actively, all the time.

    If the purely human choice of response to God has no bearing on whether one is subject to reconciliation, it absolutely has no bearing on fate! Faith does not exempt from judgment, nor does rejection decide it against one. The coming in judgment will be upon all, for all have sinned, and it will be the last such moment of a judgment under which all creation has always stood, since the Fall. The question isn’t “how can you be elect and still judged”—read the prophets! The elect are under greater judgment. Election has never been a “get out of jail free” card! The elect have always been subject to condemnation, and it will be no different in the final form of the Parousia with which the world of our sinful arrangements ends.

    You are, to put it succinctly, using classically Reformed concepts of these doctrines as though Barth endorsed them instead of critically rejecting them. Cut that out. Barth is not Calvin-but-optimistic-about-eschatology; Barth actively decides against both Calvin and the Calvinists at many, many points in these doctrines!

    • Matthew, you’ve written me a book in the form of a comment!

      Karl Barth’s election and eschatology are threefold. In CD III/2, there is beginning time, given/allotted time, and ending time. Likewise with CD IV/3.1, teaches a threefold coming of Christ (as you referenced), Jesus has come, is coming, and is to come (you even referenced it but disguised it via the german words you quote). You’re describing Barth as the one who has come, and is coming, but leaving off the “is to come”. Also, you’re describing what I wrote as exclusively futuristic, i.e. only “is to come”, which isn’t what I am saying at all.

      Here’s an example of Barth’s linking of the threefold nature of time and the Parousia in Barth’s letter to Moltmann:

      “Have my concepts of the threefold time [C.D. III, 2, §47.1) and threefold parousia of Jesus Christ [C.D. IV, 3, §69.4) made so little impact on you that you do not even give them critical consideration?”

      So when I said “in the end”, I am referring to the end of my assessment of Barth, not to a futuristic eschatology or future datum on the calendar. Barth is specifically more optimistic because his scope of election includes not a subset of humanity (pace. Calvin) but all humanity, and not to a future time, but too all of time (beginning, allotted, and ending). Barth’s election is not universalist, in the sense that there are individuals who are elect that do not have awareness of their election, and for the scope of those individuals who slip back into non-being or nothingness (or as Barth says are in danger of no longer “having-been”), and in this sense they drop out of existence, and the scope Barth’s “all” are elect applies to a smaller group of individuals in a sense of annihilationism.

      In no way am I arguing that Barth is a Calvinist or reciting Calvinist dogma. He has departed and reconstructed Calvin’s doctrine of election, but it is from Calvin’s doctrine of election that he began his reconstruction, and Calvin is a Church Father to Barth, even when he disagrees. I discussed this before, such as with this quote from Karl Barth:

      “Calvin is a cataract, a primeval forest, a demonic power, something directly down from Himalaya, absolutely Chinese, strange, mythological; I lack completely the means, the suction cups, even to assimilate this phenomenon, not to speak of presenting it adequately. What I receive is only a thin little stream and what I can then give out again is only a yet thinner extract of this little stream. I could gladly and profitably set myself down and spend all the rest of my life just with Calvin. But it is really like this for me at each point of the history”

      So this conclusion you have made about me is completely wrong: “You are, to put it succinctly, using classically Reformed concepts of these doctrines as though Barth endorsed them instead of critically rejecting them. Cut that out. Barth is not Calvin-but-optimistic-about-eschatology; Barth actively decides against both Calvin and the Calvinists at many, many points in these doctrines!”

      Thanks for the tome in response! Great comment, really appreciate your perspective.


      • Doesn’t wash; even without “in the end” meaning what I took it to, you still limit election to a future determination: “might be.” Barth absolutely, clearly indicates that all in fact are elect. There is no future contingency to election for Barth. If you really believe I’m the one insisting on futurity, you’ve profoundly misspoken. In the end, as in the beginning, as right now and at all moments of history, all are elect in Christ. Barth’s election is “universalist” regardless of anyone’s “awareness” of it. It is total, actual, for all regardless of their existence or non-existence at any moment in the history of creation. Dying, if you read as well as you should have, is not passing out of the memory of God. It is not passing out of having-been. That danger is not something God ever threatens; they are in danger of not-having-been because of human use of negation, which God will not allow to threaten God’s own actions. Individuals are not only potentially elect as long as they refrain from undoing their God-given being! God is not annihilationist for Barth, in other words; we are. And only we are. God is provident and gracious, maintaining the creature in being even against us.

        • Matt, you’re speaking more certainly about universalism, than Barth speaks himself. He does refer to the election of all, but doesn’t affirm universalism. It’s a foggy space in his theology. Barth leaves open the possibility for someone to no longer have-been, whether that is looking backwards, now or to the future, it is that condemnation due to sin, that we all live under.

          I’m looking at one aspect of Barth’s election, the person who never has any act of faith, or experience of faith. So there is a future look at the place where barth is hazy, and that is specifically at the end of the age, once time is gone, and God’s eternal life regarding that individual.

          Maybe the challenge your facing, is that you are interpreting my exploration of one part of Barth’s election and then reading what I’m saying as if all of his eschatology is futuristic? It’s not what I’m doing, but something misguided you.

          • Nope. You’re the one who’s got it foggy, and you got it that way because the field is foggy on it. I’m not talking about “universalism” at all here, as a soteriological position. You are, above. I’m only talking about election and reconciliation. Which are not in any way for Barth paths to a universal salvation. They’re absolutely not, and all of the paths to universal salvation that lead from them, making subordinate parts of a larger hierarchy of works of God, are rejected soundly by Barth.

            Barth’s doctrine of election is universal, but it doesn’t imply universalism as an outcome. Barth’s doctrine of reconciliation is universal, but it also doesn’t imply universalism as an outcome.

            The open question, which Barth leaves open by refusing to tie it to these doctrines at all, is how redemption will work for individuals. And it’s a real question, and none of the ways the traditions have gone about it from these loci (or, more broadly, from history) are more than cheats at figuring out what the redemption and fulfillment of the creature will look like relative to the present world in its “lost” time.

            So yes: Barth is unwilling to predict what will happen to the elect as individuals, because all of the elect are in the exact same boat whether they affirm or deny their election. The person who never has faith is not in a special boat by themselves; that is the state of humanity after the Fall, for Barth. But the traditions treat it as a problem of losing faith, as a problem thereby of negating election because they make election depend on faith rather than on God’s absolute decree—even when they make it an absolute decree!

            Every human individual since, every one we care about, is a product of the Fall, a product of our agency as the creature in “lost” time, ordering its worlds in difference from God. And Barth is bound to reject, as a problem, any soteriological position that involves God validating the arrangements of the sinful creature as worthy of redemption. And every universalism he knows does that, as a positive total assertion against partial soteriologies. We’re saving the world. But God is doing something else: redeeming and fulfilling the creature. And that takes its own very special and separate discussion.

            And I hadn’t brought up any of that yet; all I keep telling you is that election and reconciliation are total and unconditional, in the face of a blog post in which you make them conditional because you don’t know where Barth’s eschatology goes, and so you think his doctrine of election is fuzzy as to scope.

            You seem to think, as far as I can tell, that if total election doesn’t produce total reconciliation, which then doesn’t produce total redemption of individuals, then they weren’t elect, or that we can’t say that they were definitely elect because human action might interfere. And I’m telling you that not only does Barth not ever let human action interfere; also, he doesn’t make election in Christ contingent on non-rejection or non-negation. That’s a discussion of a separate locus, which may bear out election, but does not bear upon it.

            • I’d like to avoid the conclusion that that Barth is a Universalist or incoherent in his doctrine of election. I’m answering that the specific case of an individual that is include in a ‘universal’ election that does not result in reconciliation and redemption is a fuzzy edge case becasue it makes election an ineffectual calling. I don’t see how this may be reconciled with Barth’s teaching on vocation in CD IV/3.2, where election and calling (vocation) are inseparably linked. The universal election of all, in the way you describe, is an ineffectual calling, that does not bearing on the individual. It’s a fuzzy area where someone is called by God, but that someone doesnt hear their calling. Barth has not explained this sufficiently, so I believe his fuzziness here has resulted in my own criticisms of it, that I’ve inherited from other who share them as well.

              Barth rejected infant baptism because a sleeping person does not have faith, and he even reminds us of this in his section on vocation and calling in CD IV/3.2, so that is hard to reconcile with a universal. Maybe the call is universal, but somehow there is this mystery of an individual who is finally condemned, and Barth may have had a great answer to this problem, but we do not have his answer, or CD V, where he might have given it to us.

              You’re over emphasis on the election of all, using the vernacular of ‘univeralism’, leads people to hear ineffectual calling. Or a God who speaks that who is not heard.

      • As to the threefold parousia, Wyatt, you caused the problem you wish to attribute to me unduly focusing on the third, future form of the parousia. When you talk about universalism, you talk about universal reconciliation, and you talk about it, again, as future. They’re your verb tenses, and they ground in your (albeit common) assertion that IV.3.2 477-8 is talking about hope for future salvation.

        However, if you paid closer attention to the two paragraphs on vocation and election that you cited from IV.3.2, you might notice that Barth denies Calvin’s implied futurity. For Calvin, election implies possible future vocation, which may be frustrated. For Barth in the next paragraph, disagreeing with Calvin, he insists in the present tense that the elect are called, the called are elect. These things, unlike in Calvin, do not point across time at one another. They are simultaneous, inseparable realities. Election isn’t about the future. Election isn’t dependent on any works of the elect in the meantime. There is no not yet; Barth writes it out! Election, in other words, isn’t part of a soteriological path toward the eschaton.

        Which is why I didn’t talk about the coming in judgment as a form of the parousia until I started complaining about your handling of reconciliation as though it were part of the same linear process toward the eschaton. These are both realities that do not wait; they are actual now. That doesn’t leave off the future; they will also remain true then. But they do not, for Barth, in any way, become true only in the future, or wait in any way upon human action (or self-negation). There is no role for human freedom in either, except as response that may choose to extend and cooperate with the act of God by participating in it.

        • Again, I’m not claiming you are futuristic! I’m saying the opposite, that your describing Barth in a completely realized eschatology, i.e. non-futuristic. I see how people may read Barth that way, especially since the future coming of Christ is part of the threefold coming, and may be seen entirely as present. This seems like a harmonization of Bultmann and Barth. In my opinion there’s a door open to a future in Barth’s theology, and thats why I don’t believe he gave us a final answer, and we never received CD V. Even if Barth’s mind was decided on it, there remains questions on what that decision was.

          • There is a way open: to redemption. It is a separate locus and must be discussed without attempting to relate it hierarchically to election and reconciliation. I’m absolutely interested in affirming a “redemption history” to match “creation history” and world history as the history under the history of the covenant of grace. But Barth separates them. I’m not describing his eschatology at all, because it can’t be described on the basis of election or reconciliation. You have to describe those loci from present history and eternity, and let the future take care of itself under the wholly separate heading of redemption and the fulfillment of the creature.

          • And further: the future coming of Christ is not present. That’s the entire point of Barth’s emphasis on the second form of the parousia! But election and reconciliation do not in any way depend on the third form. They have to do with the incarnation, and with the first and second comings-again: the resurrection and the gift of the Spirit. Election is real from all eternity, real in the act of creation itself. And reconciliation is an event wholly described as being carried out in single event standing by Christ, and in perennial realization in history by the Spirit. Neither of these depend on the coming-in-judgment; in fact, the coming-in-judgment terminates reconciliation. The eschaton separates the history of the covenant of grace and the world history it norms from the future history of redemption and fulfillment, just as the Fall separates the history of creation from the history of the covenant of grace in world history.

          • What you want through that open door in Barth’s theology, in other words, you can have—you just have to go through the door and let it close after you. You can’t bring reconciliation through it with you. You can’t guarantee God’s future actions on the basis of past actions.

            All you get on the other side of that door is whatever God will give, what Barth thinks we have been legitimately given to expect of redemption alone as a future-eschatological act of God with its own history (and moral implications for the creature) separate from the present. It will, whatever it is, be an outworking of election, as creation and reconciliation were. It will not, whatever it is, be a continuation of this history. This history will be entirely judged. Nothing will get through that door without falling entirely under judgment and being condemned for its real failures. It will be redeemed, not for its history or against it, but because God has created it and will fulfill it and give it its final form.

            That, right there, is the problem with asking what election means for the individual and insisting that it means an eschatological outcome for entities of world history after the Fall. That isn’t a comfort we get to provide unambiguously, according to Barth. That isn’t in other words, what election means.

            • In these last three comments, I believe you are beginning to understand what I said in the original post. Barth answers these things separately, and we may need a separate answer from Barth (that he never gave us in CD V), or find the answer by thinking through this topic over and over. That’s why I concluded this way: “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.”

              We haven’t discussed Jesus as reconciler and redeemer before the foundation of the world, i.e. Barth’s supra-supralapsarianism and denial of the logos asarkos. I’m focusing on the one difficult case in Barth’s election. If one area is fuzzy or dimly it, its because his Doctrine of Election has enlightened us so much overall!

  2. If what is wanted is hope for redemption, you can get it from the fact that election is total in spite of rejection, and that reconciliation is total in spite of rejection, and draw the conclusion that redemption will also not be dependent inn any way on rejection or acceptance. But you can’t get the details of Barth’s doctrine of redemption by asserting it as the logical outcome of reconciliation as a process. If you’re going to say that Barth refused to speculate on redemption on the basis of the state of the progress of reconciliation at the eschaton, say that. If you’re going to say that didn’t get around to talking about the scope of redemption, say that. (Though he did, in fact, and it’s scattered throughout the CD.) If you’re going to say that Barth left it entirely up to the will of God, say that. But for the love of Barth and intellectual honesty, don’t come with this coloration of those claims as though Barth leaving it up to the will of God left a window for damnation in eternity as though he hadn’t nailed every such window closed everywhere else in his theology! It puts you in the same league as von Balthasar, who treated CD II as though its gaps could be filled with whatever he wanted.

    No other doctrine in the CD ends with redemption because no other act of God but redemption produces it. Many speak plainly about unpleasant realities, and death, and judgment, but that and what the tradition means by damnation are worlds apart! Talk about redemption by talking about redemption, not election, creation, or reconciliation.

    • Matthew, again, great comment, always appreciate your perspective.

      I’m not claiming that Barth didn’t know, or hadn’t already answered this question. I’m saying the answer isn’t there in his dogmatics due to the way he flip flops on this particular aspect, namely the election of individuals who reject their election. It’s foggy. At times he describes all people as elected already, but othertimes he talks about the future coming of Christ, and vacillates on the “already, not yet”. He leaves a question open, such he begins to reject futuristic “not yet” but then he doesn’t answer the problem. Basically answers it with a question.

      There’s a small print section in CD IV/3, where barth describes an individual who is elect that only rejects his election, and Barth ponders what may be said about this individual. If I can find it again, I’ll share it.

      There’s no intellectual dishonesty in anything I’ve written in the OP. That’s a ridiculous and unsubstantiated charge. If you disagree, that’s fine. If you think Barth has clearly spoken, I invite you to write about it and share it with me. So far, I stand by what I said in full integrity.


      • And I’m saying that he doesn’t “flip flop” on the question. The problem you’re having, and it’s common, is that it’s not a question he’s willing to handle in election or reconciliation, except by pointing beyond those doctrines to redemption as a locus to be handled in its own right. The answers you want don’t belong to the loci you’re working with. And “already/not yet” is causing you special problems in that arena, because for Barth there is no problem with the elect rejecting their election. It only looks like a problem if you assume that the elect must accept. Election for Barth always has this double aspect: those who consent to being elect in faith, who appear elect, and those who reject, who (only) appear reprobate—but they are held together in the one, total election of humanity. It is a paradox—but not an undecided one. It just stands, within history, until we talk about the proper loci, because these are not the proper loci for that discussion. Rubber-stamping the outcomes of historical processes remains too easy a temptation to naturalism if we posit eschatological outcomes there. So Barth won’t.

        As to my demand for intellectual honesty, you aren’t special. You inherited a problem you haven’t adequately questioned. And you inherited it, as I attempted to indicate, from von Balthasar, who was not intellectually honest with himself when he thought that he could import tradition uncritically into the holes he perceived in Barth’s doctrine of election. The main root of this entire “hope” problem, by which we shoehorn damnation back into the picture, is his work.

        If you really want to go after this problem, stop researching God’s gracious acts and casting palls of harmful possibilities after them. Research Barth’s discussions of damnation and judgment directly. You haven’t hit it with the material in CD III, I assure you. Be comprehensive there. Barth didn’t leave the way open for a doctrine of redemption in order to let any of us sneak hell as an act of God back into his work, though you wouldn’t know it from a field saturated across its history with this kind of innuendo. It’s the innuendo that’s intellectually dishonest; the kind of thing you could dispel by looking at it directly, but nobody does the work. Do the work, don’t just stand in the polluted stream casting aspersions at grace as though it might not be enough. You can do it. I’m attempting to do it. Someone needs to succeed at it. It needs to happen.

        • It’s fine to disagree, but intellectual dishonest is fighting words, and accusing my analysis of Barth on this difficult topic as sinful. I cannot take this charge serious, especially as you admit that its a common problem. If anything is wrong, then its you calling me intellectually dishonest!

Leave a comment

No trackbacks yet.