Maybe like me you have grown weary of what was originally called the Companion Controversy, but because of a recent First Things article by Phillip Cary has been relabeled as the Barth Wars. This controversy first started (in print anyway) when Bruce McCormack, of Princeton Theological Seminary, published an essay in The Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth entitled: Grace and Being: The role of God’s gracious election in Karl Barth’s theological ontology. In this essay he lays out what he believes Barth intended or should have intended by way of his reformulation of Calvin’s doctrine of election, and how that reformulation implicates Barth’s doctrine of God. At base McCormack believes that Barth in Church Dogmatics IV reverses the usual order of things in regard to a doctrine of God. In other words, McCormack believes that election precedes Trinity, which is inverted from classical metaphysical understanding.
But since I want to communicate McCormack’s thesis as clearly as possible in this post (and thus the point of this post), and since I am currently reading Paul Molnar’s book Faith, Freedom and the Spirit: The Economic Trinity in Barth, Torrance and Contemporary Theology, I thought I would quote someone that Molnar is engaging with in his book. Yes, Molnar does engage with McCormack, but more notably he is responding to (and quite militantly) Ben Myers’ critique of Molnar’s reading of Barth (from Molnar’s earlier book). Myers is in company with McCormack, and as such offers a very clear presentation of the points that distinguish McCormack, himself and others from folks like George Hunsinger, Paul Molnar, D. Stephen Long et al (the other side of the Barth coin who read Barth as if he is more of a “classical” or “metaphysical” theologian). So I thought it would be helpful to share how Myers frames this, and as a result we will have a better understanding about what drives the so called ‘Barth Wars’. Here’s Myers (cited by Molnar):
(1) “The second person of the Trinity is a human being—or rather, the divine-human history enacted in Jesus”; (2) The “logos asarkos … represents … ‘some image of God which we have made for ourselves’”; (3) “from all eternity, there is really no ‘second person of the Trinity’, but only the divine-human history of Jesus of Nazareth”; and finally, (4) “God’s deity is constituted—through God’s own eternal decision—by the way God relates to this particular human being.”
This is the conclusion that Myers derives from the McCormack thesis that Barth in CD IV reverses Trinity and election in a doctrine of God; i.e. that God elects his own being (inner life) as Trinity, and that this election is ontologically defined by God’s choice to not be God without us (i.e. humanity), but with us. As such there is no other being of God other than what is revealed in the history and event of God’s life in Jesus Christ; and history itself (as a result of God’s election) becomes ontologically determinative for who God is in an exhaustive manner—the resurrection being a capstone of this determination. Paul Molnar further summarizes this as it relates to Myers’ position; Molnar’s summary comes just after he has described what he believes to be Barth’s view of divine freedom and how that relates to what he thinks Myers, McCormack, et al. are attempting to do in what he believes (along with Hunsinger) is a revisionist reading of Barth’s theology. Here is Molnar on Myers (and company):
The above-cited very traditional statements about the freedom of God’s love in himself and in the incarnation have been questioned recently. For example, relying on Rowan Williams and Bruce McCormack, Benjamin Myers claims that Barth’s doctrine of the Trinity offers not just one doctrine of the Trinity but two. And from this he concludes that “God’s being as God is constituted by God’s self-determined relation to the human Jesus” and ultimately that “Jesus is not merely epistemologically significant [which is Molnar’s position], as the one who makes God known; he is ontologically significant, as the one who (so to speak) makes God God.” All of this follows, he claims, from the fact that Barth’s doctrine of God was radically changed with his doctrine of election in II/2, and that the doctrine of the Trinity that he presented in I/1 was formally based on revelation while the new doctrine presented in IV/1 was based on Jesus Christ as, in his mind, making God to be God! Now, from within any reasonable reading of Barth’s Church Dogmatics, it should be quite obvious that these claims not only obviate God’s freedom for us, but they destroy God’s freedom as eternal Father, Son and Spirit precisely by making God’s essence dependent on the historical existence of the man Jesus.
If it isn’t clear yet, Molnar believes ultimately that Myers, McCormack, et al. collapse God into his creation by making God’s inner-life (in se) contingent upon (in a constituent way) his outer life (ad extra) in the humanity of Christ; furthermore, Molnar believes that christologically this leads to Arian or Adoptionistic heresies.
This is the crux of what drives the Barth Wars; whether God elects for himself to be Triune in the incarnation, or whether because God is Triune and gracious in his antecedent and eternal life he elects, as coordinate with that kind of life, to not be God without us; with the understanding that God could have remained who he was as Triune without electing humanity for Godself in Christ.
Hopefully, if you have been wondering about the Barth Wars, that this makes things a little more clear (maybe I have muddied it further, I hope not). I mentioned in the beginning of this post how this was originally termed as the Companion Controversy, but I think it has legitimately expanded into what has now been called the Barth Wars; primarily because it isn’t just McCormack and Hunsinger anymore (which was where the original rift was here in North American English speaking Barth studies), but with lines drawn and castles being built, folks have started to take sides (and I do think this is primarily a North American English speaking battle – as I recall Barth scholar Darren Sumner noted somewhere that this battle is not present in German Barth studies [they simply take the McCormack view as the only possible read], but is just here in the States for the most part).
 Paul D. Molnar, Faith, Freedom and the Spirit: The Economic Trinity in Barth, Torrance and Contemporary Theology (Downer Groves, Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 2015), 141-42.
 Ibid., 134-35 [brackets mine].