Barth the non-Arminian, and the Particularity of each Individual in Salvation

I wanted to briefly highlight something in the theology of Karl Barth offered up by some commentary provided by Tom Greggs. Barth believed individual people had particularity, that they weren’t objectified and swallowed up in the mass (so to speak) of an ostensibly metaphysical humanity; i.e. the humanity of Christ. Instead, as Greggs notes, humans have their own particularity and pipebarthindividuality, particularly in the appropriation of salvation by faith, but only after the work has been done in Christ’s humanity for us (I’m somewhat reading in-between the lines a bit). Here is what Greggs writes on Barth’s theology of the Spirit, salvation, and the particularity of each individual person:

However, one must consider what the place of the Spirit is with regards to the individual for Barth. It is the Spirit through whom Jesus Christ calls an individual sinful person to the community of the Christian faith. The Spirit is thus the one who leads a person to conversion. Barth discusses this theme in his incomplete IV/4, in which he considers how it can happen in time that the one off event of Jesus Christ can become for certain people a renewing event. Barth concludes that this is a work of the Spirit who allows for the ‘here and now’ of each individual person. This work is such that it ‘does not entail the paralysing dismissal or absence of the human spirit, mind, knowledge and will’, but is a work in which the Spirit of God bears witness to the human spirit (as in Rom. 8.16). The Spirit reaches out to the specificity and particularity of each individual human.[1]

Note: some might want to argue that Barth sounds Arminian; that he seems to hold that each individual person has the power to reject or accept the grace of God for themselves based upon some sort of inherit particularity within themselves as human beings (even if that ‘power’ is said to be based upon a prevenient grace provided for by God, a “created grace”); as if human being is an abstract concept. But that would be mistaken! Barth’s theological anthropology knows nothing of what it means to be human in an abstract or non-Christological sense, just the opposite. For Barth, and this is why he avoids the semi-Augustinianism (when it comes to a theological anthropology) of Arminianism, the ground an d history of all human being is found in Christ’s elect humanity for all; as such the choice for salvation has been taken and made for humanity in the archetypal humanity of Jesus Christ. It is this history, this life lived by the Spirit, that the same Spirit, on mission from the humanity of Christ comes bearing gifts to each individual human; a gift that offers the individual person the real life opportunity to participate in the Yes of God in and through the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ, and find the telos and/or purpose for their life in His.

In other words, Barth’s theology here, far from being Arminian, doesn’t really attempt to answer the same types of causal questions that both classical Arminianism and Calvinism does. Barth works from God revealed in Jesus Christ rather than God and the decree[s].

[1] Tom Greggs, Barth, Origen, And Universal Salvation: Restoring Particularity (Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 135-36.

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9 comments

  1. Just my two cents, but regardless of whether or not Gregg’s summary of Barth actually reflects Lutheran theology (I have my doubts), Lutheranism could hardly claim to have a monopoly on the view of the Spirit’s role articulated here.

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  2. Jonathan,

    Yes. And I don’t think this sounds that Lutheran. We can’t generalize Lutheran theology here either; there are differing views among the Lutherans as well. Some more scholastic sounding than others. There’s the whole Finnish interpretation of Luther from Lutherans as well; but they sound more like the Patristics with theosis than Barth here.

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  3. Absolutely. I was thinking a bit more in terms of confessional Lutheran theology as set forth in the Augsburg Confession and the Formula of Concord, but as you rightly note there are differences even among confessional Lutherans. My comment was merely intended to say that even if we grant the underlying premise of Nathanael’s statement (which itself seems to generalize Lutheran thought), it still does not follow that Barth’s position as articulated by Greggs is thereby closer to that than anything else.

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  4. Jonathan, yes, I understand what you’re saying; and even within confessional Lutheranism (which is actually quite scholastic) there is variation. And so my comment was actually aimed back towards Nathanael’s original comment, which you were picking up on as well. And actually what I quoted from Greggs is just a smattering of quotes from Barth put together by Greggs.

    But getting back to my post; I’ve heard many a classical Reformed person state that Barth sounds Arminian when they hear stuff like what I quoted and discussed in my post, and that’s why titled it the way I did.

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  5. I heard the same thing from someone with whom I recently had a conversation after giving him Habets’ article on TFT’s view of election. It’s a fairly common accusation.

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