There is No Secret Eternal Will of God, There is Only Jesus

When you read Karl Barth what you get is the usual Reformed lexicon, but with a different theological grammar defining it. In other barthglasseswords you will get words like ‘election’ ‘reprobation’ ‘covenant’ ‘extra Calvinisticum’ and a host of other Reformedisms. In this Reformed mode the most prominent, even dominant Reformed concept that Barth recalibrates through his Christ concentrated hermeneutic is his doctrine of election/reprobation. For Barth it is not as if there is some sort of dark shadow side behind the back of Jesus; for Barth God’s ineffable and Triune life is revealed without remainder in Jesus Christ. When this is applied to a doctrine of election in one aspect of this doctrine in part, (in particular as it applies to the usual questions surrounding election/reprobation like questions flowing from articulating the mechanics of God’s salvation for humanity) we see how all things are enclosed in Christ’s vicarious life for all of humanity.

One of Barth’s earliest commentators and critics was Dutch Reformed theologian G.C. Berkouwer (he wrote a book length treatment and critique of Barth’s theology ever before Barth’s Church Dogmatics had been translated into English, and ever before Barth even finished it to the point that we have it now). Berkouwer wrote this really concise description of Barth’s principial Christ-centered doctrine of election:

Therefore Jesus Christ is in the most absolute sense of the word the decision of God, the decision, namely, to become man. What decree can possibly exist outside of this decision? God’s election in Christ is the beginning of all His works. The electing God is not an abstract highest being with all kinds of qualities by reason of which He elects in an absolute decree of which Christ then later becomes the “executor decreti.” Christ Himself is the decretum concretum, the mode of God’s operation. For this reason, the eternal will of God in Christ is not unknown to us, but is made known in the history of God with man. This is the effulgent light of the overcoming love of God. This is the mystery, not of an abstract sovereignty, but of the “victorious affirmation and love of God for men.” This history is the unique Triumph of Grace and as such the Triumph of the Sovereignty of God.”[1]

Why Does This Matter?

I like to ask this question. How does what Barth is saying help me to know God in Jesus Christ better? I think that is a great question! This is what I have found so revolutionary about Barth, Barth doesn’t really provide us with a normal or classical approach to doing theology (although there are precedents of his approach strewn throughout Patristic theology, and other theologians in the so called ‘classical’ tradition); Barth offers us an approach that attempts to think all of God’s reality from an all encompassing supreme Christ, as if all of creation and its purpose (telos) are only known in and from Christ (see Col. 1.15ff). I have never come across another theologian who offers this stringent type of Christological approach to theology (except in Thomas F. Torrance, Barth’s best English speaking student), and leaving Bible College and Seminary I knew that there was one answer to every theological question (in spite of much of theological education), and that answer is Jesus Christ (the same answer I learned of in Sunday School when just a kid). This is the simplicity and profundity of Barth’s theology; Jesus Christ and an intense focus upon Him in ways that radically present us with a method that isn’t really a method at all, instead it is a person (and that is radical when placed against all other theology prior to Barth’s offering).

So why does all of this matter? Because Jesus matters. Because you can never go wrong if you want to interpret Scripture or live ethically (holily) if your ground and condition is Jesus Christ; if he conditions all that you are from His own life for you. If you are looking for a ‘rule of faith’ then look no further than Jesus, that’s what Barth says. And not just as an abstract part of a broader theological endeavor, but instead as the concentrated point of a concrete theological framework revealed in flesh and blood.

[1] G.C. Berkouwer, The Triumph Of Grace In The Theology Of Karl Barth (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1956), 103.

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3 Responses to There is No Secret Eternal Will of God, There is Only Jesus

  1. Jerome says:

    Simplicity and profundity – indeed! Yep, it is all about Jesus!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. dtkleven says:

    “For Barth it is not as if there is some sort of dark shadow side behind the back of Jesus; for Barth God’s ineffable and Triune life is revealed without remainder in Jesus Christ.”

    Bobby, have you read Hunsinger’s article “What Karl Barth Learned from Martin Luther”? He argues that Barth was highly influenced by Luther’s “Theology of the Cross,” but critiqued his Deus absconditus (“dark shadow side”).

    He concludes:

    “In a way that was foreign to Luther, he integrated the hidden God and the revealed God, making them two different aspects of the one God taken as a whole.”

    I know you like theologia crucis and Barth, but Barth seemed to do T.C. even better than Luther did.



  3. Bobby Grow says:

    I haven’t read that particular essay from Hunsinger on Barth, but have read much from Hunsinger on Barth.

    Yeah, I think Luther still had some nominalism at work in his theology, but he was moving in the right direction away from nominalism. I wrote an article for Christianity Today awhile back that addresses this issue head on:


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