The Evangelical Calvinist

"The world was made so that Christ might be born."-David Fergusson

A Response to Roger Olson’s Christianity Today Article on Election and Evangelical Calvinism

Myk Habets, my co-conspirator in Evangelical Calvinism, just alerted me to a piece that famed classical Arminian theologian, Roger Olson just published through Christianity Today’s Global Gospel Project (which I just submitted an article to, mine is on God’s Transcendence/Immanence). We were both pleased, but chagrined to notice that Olson took considerable space (given the relative shortness of the article) to explain his perception PICKWICK_Templateof our Evangelical Calvinism, and in particular (per the topic of the article), how we as Evangelical Calvinists uniquely contribute to the ongoing discussion, amongst Evangelicals, on the doctrine of election. I am going to quote, in full, Olson’s explication of how he conceives of EC’s place in this dialogue (placed as he places us in the midst of his classical Arminian V. the classical Calvinist discussion/debate); and then I will provide some of my initial impressions following (I hope to use what Olson has written as an occasion and opportunity to clarify, once again, what we actually believe about election, and how Olson, and others, continue to mis-read what we are getting at, on multiple fronts—that said, I do appreciate that Olson has included us in this discussion, but he just needs some help in getting us right 😉 ). Here is what Olson wrote of us in the newest installment of Christianity Today’s ongoing Global Gospel Project series:

A third view appears among contemporary evangelical Christians. Whether it leans closer to the classical Calvinist or Arminian doctrine of election is much debated. So-called “evangelical Calvinism” is championed by followers of Scottish theologians Thomas and James Torrance. They, in turn, were influenced by Swiss theologian Karl Barth and, before Barth, by Scottish theologians John McLeod Campbell and P. T. Forsyth. This view has recently been spelled out and defended by 12 leading evangelical theologians in Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church.

According to evangelical Calvinism (something of a misnomer, as all Calvinists consider themselves evangelical in some sense), Christ must be central to election as both its object and its subject. God elects Jesus Christ to be the Savior, and then elects people only “in him.” In Jesus and his cross, God has said, “Yes!” to all people; there is no corresponding divine “No!” If anyone has been elected to salvation, it is because God first elected Jesus Christ and then, by grace, included sinners in that election. If anyone rejects their inclusion in Christ’s election, it is solely because of their inexplicable rejection of the grace God extended to them in Jesus Christ.

The editors of Evangelical Calvinism affirm that “[A]ll are included in Christ’s salvific work, and … salvation is by grace alone and Christ alone.” Election to salvation is good news, because it is not dependent on the frail and faltering free will of sinners, and no one is excluded except those who willfully exclude themselves.

Classical Calvinists and Arminians agree with much in evangelical Calvinism, but both find it inconsistent at certain crucial points. Their main common complaint is that it falls into contradiction. How, they ask, can one affirm the universality of electing grace and deny free will with regard to being elected, while also affirming free will to reject the truth of one’s election? Evangelical Calvinists, on the other hand, find both alternative views of election problematic in that each, in its own way, seems to impugn the goodness of God’s character. [see full article here]

I like the fact that Roger Olson has identified our contribution as a unique voice amongst the other more classical ones; so thank you professor Olson for recognizing our place at the table, I sincerely appreciate that! But let’s be clear about a few things:

We think (Myk Habets and I in particular) that in order for a perceived inconsistency to be avoided that interpreters like Roger Olson must genuinely appreciate our dialectical (Versus analytical) approach that shapes our theological method. Olson continues to try and read us through a classical lens. It is true that much of what we articulate uses classical language (i.e. election/reprobation, predestination, etc.), and so in this sense it is understandable how folk could be confused about how to handle some of our claims. But Roger Olson has actually read our book (and a whole essay/chapter that Myk Habets wrote on an EC understanding of election-reprobation, as well as some Theses that Myk and I wrote in the last chapter that touch on this, as well as other chapters that develop this theme through focusing on the vicarious humanity of Christ, like Jason Goroncy’s chapter), and so it is somewhat perplexing that he isn’t, still, totally appreciating the way we are trying to frame this through the tradition that we are (as he synopizes it in his opening paragraph; i.e. Scottish theologians, Barth, Torrances etc.). Here is just a snippet from Myk’s and my Thesis 9 from the last chapter of our book (co-written by Myk and myself):

Thesis Nine.  Evangelical Calvinism is a form of dialectical theology. 

The systematic theology of Evangelical Calvinism is dialectical in character rather than strictly philosophical or analytical. It is not content to formulate a system of theology whereby Christianity is reduced to timeless, logical truths about God. The God of biblical revelation presents us with logical problems, seeming paradoxes, surprising features which cannot simply be resolved by discursive reason. “Thus, dialectical theology is a protest against rationalistic religion in whatever form it occurs, whether the natural theology of Thomism, a theological liberalism shaped by idealist philosophy or a conservative orthodoxy that reduces theology to logically systematized propositions.”39 Padgett and Wilkins also point out that dialectical theology has two additional tendencies, “a rejection of any philosophical system as normative for theology and a substructure, either implied or explicit, informed by existentialism.”40 [Myk Habets and Bobby Grow, Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church, 439.]

We write more, but this should illustrate my point about the importance of method. Olson continues to not appreciate this salient point, and thus tries to read what we are communicating, in particular on election in his article, through analytical logical causal deterministic ways. Which means that he is trying to read our theology through applying math like rules to it instead of appreciating the fact that we see the ground of theological method and epistemology (how we know) intimately shaped by a personal, dynamic, relational triune God; and we think this has drastic consequences for how we do theology. If God is dynamic then his ways (like in election) cannot, or should not be read through lenses that are tinted with static bland colors.

Anyway, I will be responding further to this article by Olson. Another point that must be appreciated is how we think of human freedom, and where it comes from, and what it means. It has much to do with how we conceive of what grounds humanity in and through the vicarious humanity of Christ; a point which would go along way in dispelling the purported inconsistencies that Olson sees in our approach. Further, Myk and I also qualify how we are using the language of “Evangelical” relative to Calvinist in the introduction of our book (most of that section is done by Myk); Evangelical, for us, is not simply a symbol that signifies alignment with a sociological movement in America (or some such); we see it tied into both formal and material theological substance that again flows from our belief that God is love, triune, and genuinely for all of us, in Christ. These are points that need further clarification, and so I aim to do that in the days to come; stay tuned.


Written by Bobby Grow

January 8, 2013 at 7:05 pm

23 Responses

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  1. I’ve been pondering lately about the prospects of dialectical theology in today’s theological environment. The trends seem to be going in the other direction: toward analytics (Oliver Crisp), a strictly-defined trinitarianism (Stephen Holmes, Lewis Ayres, and many more), and scholasticism in its Catholic variety (Matthew Levering) and Protestant variety (Richard Muller). The drive is toward clarity and precision, and there is a certain impatience with the dialectics of Pascal, Kierkegaard, and Barth…and outright vitriol against the more extreme forms (Moltmann).

    It’s interesting to observe. I have a lot of books that are basically in agreement with your proposal for an Evangelical Calvinism: P. T. Forsyth, John Oman, John Baillie, Donald Baillie, H. R. Mackintosh, Emil Brunner, and later practitioners (Donald Bloesch, Paul K. Jewett, etc.) I’m listing all these names just to remind myself of how dominant this theology once was. But, it was born in a mainline Protestantism that has been on a precipitous decline (or “free fall” is more like it), yet it was a mainline Protestantism that never really listened to these, their most-gifted theologians. Instead, they opted for a bland ecumenism and the social gospel ethos of a generic Protestant mainline, together with a historical-criticism that left little doubt that the Bible is merely a product of the socio-religious imagination of a quaint little tribe called Israel.

    Anyway, I’m just thinking through the trends and the pressures that produce trends. I think the ecclesiastical angle is important to recognize. It may be that the future of dialectical theology is indeed in the free churches, yet its pietism is not exactly a favorable incubator of advanced theological reflection.


    Kevin Davis

    January 8, 2013 at 9:35 pm

  2. Interesting to me, the way Olson misreads both the Federal dialectic and the Evangelical correction of it. He puts you saying “Yes” without any “corresponding divine ‘No!'”, as though the “No” could come second. And then, of course, he goes on in the same paragraph to talk about human rejection. Only an Arminian could make this mistake! Calvinism of both kinds pointedly rejects any such idea of yes-and-then-no. It is always no-and-then-yes. The “No” of God to the Fall is never at any point in question. The “No” of God to sin is never at any point in question. These things are primary in a temporal sense. What is in question is the scope and qualifications of the subsequent (and ultimate) “Yes” of God.

    What must be said, always and everywhere, is that God’s “No” is never a contradiction or limitation of God’s “Yes.” And the “No” never corresponds to the “Yes” in any case; the divine negation is negation of sin and disorder. It corresponds to the disorder of the creation. And the “Yes” also never corresponds to the “No” in any case; the divine affirmation is affirmation of the creature. It corresponds to the being of the creation.

    The dialectic between these two things cannot be understood rightly as a correspondence. There is no dialectical tension in correspondence. It resolves! For some, the answer would be “Yes”; for others, “No.” But this is not the case. The answer for all is “No” in Adam. This is true even for those for whom the answer is also “Yes” in Christ. The dialectic of God’s “No” and God’s “Yes” is about the juxtaposition of these two necessary declarations, both true at the same time. Salvation is always a divine “Nevertheless.”

    But perhaps it takes a Lutheran (and a Barthian) to give that answer. 😉


    Matt Frost

    January 9, 2013 at 5:26 am

  3. Another bit that bothers me: “How, they ask, can one affirm the universality of electing grace and deny free will with regard to being elected, while also affirming free will to reject the truth of one’s election?”

    Again, precisely backwards, in Arminian fashion. But I have to ask, Bobby: do you and Myk really affirm the possibility of rejecting election? Or is this a misunderstanding? If you do, how do you uphold the sovereignty of God’s electing will?

    This is a spot where I’m not even going to pretend to be one of you. Here, I am far too Lutheran! 🙂 To the extent that I understand the position, free will is at the heart of sin. Free will is original and intended for the good of the creature in responsible relationship with God and fellow creatures. Sin is then a privation of this good, a corruption of it in choice apart from God and neighbor. But one must, even in the original state, affirm the limits of the scope of human will and freedom. We were never capable of the divine grace with respect to ourselves. Those decisions simply have never been up to us one way or another. Even the earth-creature, in the moment of its creation, before it had been divided into male and female, had no free will with respect to divine grace.


    Matt Frost

    January 9, 2013 at 8:07 am

  4. (I should have asked: “do the Federal Calvinists really affirm the ability to reject election?”)


    Matt Frost

    January 9, 2013 at 8:26 am

  5. @Kevin,

    Thanks for your thoughts, I agree with you. I do have a question, though; when you write “yet its pietism is not exactly a favorable incubator of advanced theological reflection.” what do you mean?


    Nice reflection on Yes/No … indeed!

    I like your Divine “nevertheless” soteriology … you ought to write a book or start a movement called Evangelical Neverthelessianism … I’d join ;-)!

    As far as your question on the idea that someone could reject their election; I think there is a two-fold double election in play. Such that, all of humanity is ‘carnally’ united to Christ by virtue of his vicarious humanity and his assumption thereof; but then there also must be a note where there are those who say Yes to this election (as Christ did), and thus, like Christ in his humanity for us are in spiritual union now with his elect humanity by the Spirit. What Myk and I think, and I will speak directly for myself, of course, is that as you note in your discussion on dialectic, the focus of election, if Christ conditioned, must be one that when we speak of election focuses on life and the positive Yes made by the Son in our behalf. The shadow side of this, given the characteristics of the archetypical human, Christ, are not given equal development in regard to speaking of reprobation (reprobation in a Christ conditioned view would be, again, grounded in what Christ has taken in the wonderful exchange for us II Cor 5.21). In other words, the primary story line of scripture and God’s life in Christ is one that emphasizes life and resurrection, not death and separation; the latter would be a subsidiary line that is not central to the emphasis of life that we see revealed in Christ.

    Also, I am still thinking about this, and in our second EC volume, which is starting to come together (as far as authors), I will be writing on the Holy Spirit, from both an exegetical and dogmatic vantage point; I will be trying to break new ground on the Spirit’s work relative to human agency, and in particular answering your question (which I only have seminal resource for, by way of theory, now). I hope to turn the work I do for that chapter into the basis of my PhD dissertation :-).

    Ask me to clarify further on this, though, and I’ll try.


    Bobby Grow

    January 9, 2013 at 10:18 pm

  6. Matt,

    From my reading of Barth, he affirms our ability to reject our election. This doesn’t change God’s attitude toward us, but it does inhibit our ability to participate in election/grace. Here is Barth:

    “A ‘rejected’ man is one who isolates himself from God by resisting his election as it has taken place in Jesus Christ. God is for him; but he is against God. God is gracious to him; but he is ungrateful to God. God receives him; but he withdraws himself from God. God forgives him his sins; but he repeats them as though they were not forgiven.” (CD II.2, pp. 449-450)

    “… the rejected man is from the very outset and in all circumstances quite other than the elect. He is the man who is not willed by the almighty, holy and compassionate God. Because God is wise and patient in His non-willing also, he still exists and is not simply annihilated. But although – as the object of the divine non-willing – he exists with the elect, he has no autonomous existence alongside or apart from him. …It is only as the object of the divine non-willing that he exists as a rejected man. Only as such does he share as a rejected man in the grace of creation and providence.” (Ibid., 450)

    Thus, Barth retains the category of the “rejected” (or reprobate) as applicable to particular men, as with Esau, Saul, and Judas. The rejected “still exists and is not simply annihilated.” Somehow, many interpreters of Barth ignore this part of Barth’s doctrine of election. Though, famously, Barth refuses to speculate on the eschatological status of these rejected, as seen in his massive excursus on Judas.

    From a classical (federal) Reformed perspective, Barth has made salvation a matter of our ability to receive or reject our election. Human agency, therefore, becomes a determining factor for whether we participate in election or, contrariwise, in the divine non-willing of rejection. Since Barth has a highly complicated (at least, in my opinion, highly complicated) doctrine of divine providence, God’s omnicausality (without causation?!), the impossible possibility of sin, the nothingness of evil, the non-freedom of sin, and so forth, it is hard to say precisely whether Barth’s doctrine of election is basically semi-Pelagian by having the possibility of rejecting one’s election (of rejecting grace), at least for a time if not eternally. To make things even more confusing, Barth will talk about grace as “irresistible” yet definitely non-coercive and involving the free participation of man in the conditioning of God’s will (as with prayer). So, yeah, it is not surprising that many people find Barth to be frustrating on these matters.


    Kevin Davis

    January 9, 2013 at 10:36 pm

  7. Kevin,

    I agree with you about Barth, and from what I have read from him and of him, like in Hunsinger’s most recent edited book on him (as well as Webster’s book on Barth’s view of human agency). I am somewhere in this matrix as well, but I think there is still more to be said, and I think a robust doctrine of the Spirit could help us (Gunton was onto something here!).

    I’m still curious about what you meant about dialecticism and pietism.


    Bobby Grow

    January 9, 2013 at 10:48 pm

  8. when you write “yet its pietism is not exactly a favorable incubator of advanced theological reflection.” what do you mean?

    Pietism is focused on the affective domain of our relationship with Christ. It is focused on a subjective (feeling-oriented) aesthetics. By contrast, the great schools of theology (Thomist, Calvinist, Barthian) have been notably suspicious of pietism or “enthusiasm” as it was once called. Barth is famously anti-pietist throughout his CD, and this also explains his lifelong dismissal of Anglo-American theology (puritan, evangelical, revivalist, etc.).

    To give some concrete examples, how many serious theological works are being written by pietistic evangelicals (Baptists, charismatics, Wesleyans, nondenoms, pentecostals, Calvary Chapel, Campbellites, and revivalists of all sorts)? Not many names are coming to mind. By contrast, how many serious theological works are being written by Reformed or Thomist/Catholic theologians? The list would be massive: Kevin Vanhoozer, John Webster, Bruce McCormick, Michael Horton, Oliver Crisp, Gilles Emery, and their noble predecessors (Bavinck, Barth, Berkouwer, Torrance, Balthasar)…and that’s just the 20th century. We could also add the serious contributions of the Lutheran dogmatic tradition and certain Anglo-Catholic scholars. This is why kids who grow-up in standard evangelical households in America, of a pietist sort, have a hard time deepening in their faith unless they move onto a tradition with doctrinal depth and seriousness: Reformed, Catholic, Lutheran, and Orthodox.


    Kevin Davis

    January 9, 2013 at 10:58 pm

  9. Kevin, thank you for your clarifications. This is definitely a place where my reading of Romans and Barth’s do not coincide! But, of course, I read Paul’s relation to Israel quite differently.

    And yet, to your citations, what I see in that same area of II.2 is that God has arrogated that status to Jesus Christ and away from all others (348). There are, because of Christ, no truly reprobate. At the later point that you cite, the implicit sogenannte of the quotation marks is deeply relevant! We may reject, but we are not rejected. Barth breaks that logic of reprobation. There are only those aligned, and those not aligned, to God in relationship—but they are in relationship nonetheless, no matter whether they honor or dishonor that relationship, and that relationship is singular from God’s side. None shall escape the “rod of divine wrath,” no matter the nature of their election, but none shall escape being actually in Christ, either. And so in 35.4, the determination of those who reject God is not governed by a second kind of election. The “rejected” are elected in Christ in a recapitulation of the pattern of Israel for the nations. The “rejected” are not like the elect, and are obvious to the elect as other, as ruled by Satan, but Christ became the Rejected One in order that the “rejected” should be so in name only, and not in reality. The impossibility of their existence will be destroyed in the compassionate love of God for them as creatures who shall be reconciled and redeemed.


    Matt Frost

    January 10, 2013 at 2:28 pm

  10. Which means I cannot accept the interpretation that, “[f]rom a classical (federal) Reformed perspective, Barth has made salvation a matter of our ability to receive or reject our election. Human agency, therefore, becomes a determining factor for whether we participate in election or, contrariwise, in the divine non-willing of rejection.” The rejection of God by humanity is the impossibility of sin, it is the non-will of God, and it will be in III.3 the tendency toward nothingness, the undoing of creation, but none of these things receive divine respect! Human agentic participation in election, or likewise rejection of it, is therefore only a matter of temporal concern. It is a matter of whether or not we do what it is we are. It is in no case a matter of not being elected in Christ, and therefore not being subject to God’s work and will in him; it is only a matter of not acting like it—which is the case regardless of one’s alignment to one’s relationship with God. In other words, it is only a matter of ethics, not of eschatology.

    At least, that’s my reading; you’re welcome to contradict me from the text. 🙂 I live in volume III far more than volume II.


    Matt Frost

    January 10, 2013 at 2:36 pm

  11. Bobby, do you mean “Evangelical Lutheranism”? 😉 You’re welcome to join at any time!

    But seriously: what I’ve sketched for Kevin out of Barth on election seems like it offers something like what you express, though not exactly. I can agree that there are in this world two classes: 1) those who are, by the work of the Spirit in them, moved to acceptance and towards obedience in relationship to God because of Christ, and 2) those who are not yet. This is the reality that we look at, and declare double predestination. Which doesn’t make it so!

    After I asked whether we can reject our election, it occurred to me that the right question is whether and how God respects our actions of rejection. Because of course, in sin, we are constantly in revolt (in larger and smaller ways, in every possible direction, in every moment) against the work of God in the world. We agitate for our own autonomy. We reject the fact of our “election,” the fact of our being in Christ—but that doesn’t abrogate the fact of it! It does not cease to be fact that we are in Christ. That lets Barth delve very deeply into the “shadow side,” to the alienation that we call “reprobation” on the assumption that our abandonment of God, and God’s opposition to it, implies God’s abandonment of us. It lets him treat evil as present and real without compromising the total scope of grace in the work of reconciliation and redemption.

    So if I’m going to push you to clarify, it’s going to be on that “subsidiary line” and where it leads.


    Matt Frost

    January 10, 2013 at 4:36 pm

  12. Kevin,

    I’m not really that naive about the history of pietism, but thanks for the refresh ;-). But this isn’t really exactly what I was asking for; nevertheless in the process you answered my more pointed question about what you meant.

    Eberhard Bush’s book: Karl Barth & the Pietists: The Young Karl Barth’s Critique of Pietism and Its Response, which I read quite awhile ago now, identifies a significant distinction between the kind of German/Continental pietism that Barth was responding to (i.e. Schleiermacher et al), and then American/English Pietism that you and I grew up in. I do see quite a bit of relevant critique of both by Barth, but you see a distinction here too, don’t you? As I recall, the pietists of Barth’s milieu were actually representative of the theological liberals that he eventually went after, so to speak (even though they were able to maintain a warm hearted spirituality in light of their rather liberal commitments about scripture, revelation, etc.). This is quite distinct from the kind of pietism that I grew up with, and the tradition that spawned the school where I received my degrees (Multnomah). True, there is a rationalism underneath even American pietism, and this is where Barth’s critique would hold true for his own context of pietism and ours (in America); but then again there is a genuine distinction given the shape that American pietism took in regard to its Fundamentalist moorings. Anyway, my point is that it would be somewhat equivocal to read Barth’s understanding of pietism against the backdrop of what represents pietism for us. And the kind of pietism that Barth was against was actually hyper-intellectual—ironically—and not of the anti-intellectual variety that American pietism has become known for. What do you think?


    Bobby Grow

    January 10, 2013 at 8:17 pm

  13. Matt, I understand what you’re after; I’m still thinking about it beyond a superficial response that I might give you. I am prone to follow Barth, but I am also prone to follow Torrance; who is much more classical (as you know) Calvinist, and thus, I think, less likely to allow for the kind of discussion that Barth does.


    Bobby Grow

    January 10, 2013 at 8:23 pm

  14. Matt,

    And so in 35.4, the determination of those who reject God is not governed by a second kind of election.

    That’s exactly right. This gets us toward the significance of the “proximity” of the reprobate to the elect, which becomes a very important theme for Barth in this section (and operates at key points in his exegesis of Judas). My questions is whether this “rejection” is really temporal, i.e. necessarily temporal, which would make Barth a true universalist. I’ve read Barth’s account of nothingness in vol. III, and I find it rather too inchoate to give us any clear answers on this question (of Barth’s universalism). But, I could certainly be wrong.


    In his lectures on the Reformed confessions, Barth accuses the Westminster divines (and the English Puritan tradition in general) of being too subjective in their concerns, especially over personal assurance of salvation. This desire to “validate” divine revelation within oneself is precisely the same error that Barth detects in continental Pietism and its heritage in Schleiermacher and into the Liberal tradition of his own professors. I think Barth would identify this same genetic trajectory (from Pietism to Liberalism) in the Anglo-American scene, as the revivalism of Edwards led to the liberal New Divinity of the 19th century and the liberalism of, say, the United Church of Christ (the direct heirs to New England congregationalism). As far as I know, Barth did not study this genetic history of New England theology, so I’m conjecturing that he would trace a similar pattern as he traced in Germany. This pattern is, indeed, one of greater rationalism, because it became an imperative for the subject to discover grounds for certainty within himself. Yet, Barth also recognized that pietism on the continent had a conservative contingent that existed alongside the liberal trajectory. These conservatives shunned the rationalism and reductionism of Ritschl and Harnack. Thus, pietism can take a conservative form or a liberal form. Likewise, I would argue that this has been the case in America. Interestingly enough, denominations as divergent as the SBC and the UCC can both claim a significant heritage in revivalism.

    Obviously, I am painting in broad strokes, and lots of qualifications and nuances are necessary. We could easily over-extend our analysis and accuse all of our ills on “feelings,” for example. The different movements of pietism have actually been a necessity for the overall health of Protestantism. The significance of Barth’s critique (and his dogmatic project in general) is that he gives us the means for offering a warning toward a pietism without serious doctrinal reflection and without serious engagement with secular thought. The problem still stands that vast swaths of pietist-formed denominations and movements in America are woefully inept on both of these fronts.

    By the way, I am aware that you know the basics of pietism. I was just offering some definitions to see what you might want to explore or question.


    Kevin Davis

    January 10, 2013 at 9:57 pm

  15. Kevin,

    I agree with you about Barth’s capacity to provide a warning, and more, a constructive and positive alternative to any form that pietism might take; which why as a pietist by birth, essentially, I have found great resource in Barth & co. There are certain aspects, or emphases, or the best of pietism that I have not seen necessary to let go of (like an emphasis on intimate relationship with our God who is Triune Love), but then the idolatry of inward curved self that pietism springs from is the most fundamental part of Barth’s critique that I have found liberating … so to speak.


    Bobby Grow

    January 11, 2013 at 12:54 pm

  16. Kevin, I think that’s exactly the question Barth refused to answer—and would have had to in V because conversion and recreation of life is the work of the Spirit everywhere else. It is the accomplishment subjectively of the justification/election accomplished objectively in Christ. So as far as I see it, that’s the moment where his “I don’t teach universalism, but I don’t not teach it” stance would have had to break toward some more definite explanation of the matter. But where he shades the line in any direction, it always falls toward the expectation of universalism because of Christ. I don’t recall any point at which he affirms its opposite.

    He definitely affirms the dissonance between the rejection of God by humanity on the one hand, and the election of humanity by God on the other, top to bottom throughout the CD. But he also affirms the absolute unitary nature of humanity, and the absolute singularity of eschatological fate in Christ. So the question is, of what significance is the divided existence of humanity in the present time? How important is that distance between the obviously elect, and the apparently not?

    In one of my panels at AAR, there was a paper on Origen and his consideration of universalism, and I think it has remarkable resonance with this problem in Barth. On the one hand, the reality of sin matters, and that reality has consequences. On the other hand, the eschatological purification of the creation results in the salvation of all creatures. But you don’t say this to catechumens, because they might get the idea that ethics is irrelevant. And yet ethics is ultimately irrelevant—just not proximately.

    This is the constant problem of the Reformation traditions—barring the Arminians, of course. We must uphold the assurance of salvation precisely as the motivation toward moral behavior. Freedom rather than fear. We cannot uphold any dependency upon human action, or the thing falls apart. But we are only removing the relevance of ethics for salvation, not its relevance tout court. Bad action still has its consequences, but temporally rather than eternally. At least, for the religious Self. We kept hell around for the Other. And that left us with this unresolved problem, and its inconsistency. We tried to make the Other other by God’s sovereign determination, but we haven’t got the ground for that if we don’t already presuppose it.


    Matt Frost

    January 11, 2013 at 3:01 pm

  17. So you’re a universalist, then, Matt?


    Bobby Grow

    January 11, 2013 at 3:05 pm

  18. […] This post is in that series of posts I recently said I would be writing in response to Roger Olson&#…In this post I want to address a question that not just Olson, but others have been pressing as well. It is this question, here is how Roger Olson asks it: […]


  19. In the fashion expressed above, yes. I can’t hold that there is any such “subsidiary line,” at least not as I understand the problem. Hence my push for you to clarify. I’d be glad to have a respectable position. 🙂


    Matt Frost

    January 11, 2013 at 6:15 pm

  20. I know, Matt … I understand the weight of your position; I could be on the way myself, I don’t know. A true theological actualism could never end up with anything other than a Christian universalism. I’m still looking for a way out though 😉 … I’ll let you know if I find one.


    Bobby Grow

    January 11, 2013 at 6:21 pm

  21. Kevin: “This is why kids who grow-up in standard evangelical households in America, of a pietist sort, have a hard time deepening in their faith unless they move onto a tradition with doctrinal depth and seriousness: Reformed, Catholic, Lutheran, and Orthodox.”
    I’m sorry, you forgot to put a winky smile on the back end of that, because I know your superior humility would not allow you to make such a charge seriously. 😉


    Duane D. Watts

    January 11, 2013 at 6:22 pm

  22. Duane,

    Do you have something substantive to add? This discussion about the obvious strengths and pervasive weaknesses of pietism is one that pastors, scholars, and campus ministers are having. Anyone who has passed many an evangelical on their way to Rome or the East, or outside of the faith altogether, knows the problem. At the same time, in mainline churches (like my own — PCUSA) we need to actually be looking at pietistic evangelicalism to remind us of gospel basics, and I fear that we may be too far gone to learn how we have erred on the other extreme.


    Many thanks for the discussion. I don’t have time to add anything right now, but your articulate comments have helped further clarify my reading of Barth.


    Kevin Davis

    January 12, 2013 at 8:50 am

  23. Nah. We could go tit for tat all day long. I’ve added all of substance I care to for one day.


    Duane D. Watts

    January 12, 2013 at 7:28 pm

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