Donald Bloesch

Mysterium Tremendum et Fascinans: God’s Triune Love in Christ Even Reaches into Hell

God loves you so utterly and completely that he has given himself for you in Jesus Christ his beloved Son, and has thereby pledged his very being as God for your salvation. In Jesus Christ God has actualised his unconditional love for you in your human nature in such a once for all way, that he cannot go back upon it without undoing the Incarnation and the Cross and thereby denying himself. Jesus Christ died for you precisely because you are sinful and utterly unworthy of him, and has thereby already made you his own before and apart from your ever believing in him. He has bound you to himself by his love in a way that he will never let you go, for even if you refuse him and damn yourself in hell his love will never cease. Therefore, repent and believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour.[1]Thomas F. Torrance

With Barth I hold that through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross and his glorious resurrection from the grave the human situation has been irrevocably altered. The powers of sin, death, and hell have been decisively vanquished, though they continue to resist the advance of the kingdom of God through the power of the lie. All people of, irrespective of their moral and spiritual state, are claimed for the kingdom, but only some respond in faith and obedience. Christ has reconciled and justified the whole human race but in principle (de jure), not in fact (de facto) except for those who believe. All are heirs to the kingdom, but not all become members of the church of Christ. The treasure in the field is there for all, but only those benefit who give up everything to attain it (Mt 13:44). The gates of the prison in which we find ourselves are now open, but only those who rise up and walk through these gates to freedom are truly free. . . . Predestination is not something finalized in the past but something realized in the present and consummated in the future. We can resist and deny our predestination, but we cannot permanently thwart the stream of God’s irresistable grace. We will ultimately be brought into submission, though not necessarily into salvation. Yet predestination means life even though we may choose death. Predestination does not necessarily eventuate in fellowship with Christ, but it does mean that every person is brought into inescapable relatedness to Christ.[2]Donald Bloesch

It is the tension, the dialectical paradox communicated in the sentiments presented both by T.F. Torrance and Donald Bloesch that I find inescapable relative to the reality and implication of the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ (Logos ensarkos). As Karl Barth might say the ‘humanity of God’ is such that because of his great love he was willing to be the humbled God that we might be the exalted humanity in Jesus Christ. It is this reality that Torrance and Bloesch find so compelling, and what they cannot shake in regard to the eternal reach of the Incarnation; a reach and always already event in Jesus Christ that reaches into hell itself. It reaches so far that it snatches each of us out of the fire, at least for all ‘who will’ by the Holy Spirit and out of the vicarious yes for us in Jesus’ mediatorial repose before the Father. And yet, as Torrance and Bloesch both note, not all people will ultimately repent and turn to what is theirs in Christ; the election of God. Even so, God’s reach remains. Humanity cannot escape God’s presence, they cannot escape the orientation of God’s love for them in Jesus Christ; even if that is ultimately the bench of their judgment. What remains though, is that even for those who choose to live in their sub-human state, eternally separated from God in themselves, God has chosen to never be fully separated from them in Christ; even if that means he’s their Judge. Indeed, he is the Judge Judged for them, for us, but for those who won’t; they continue and will continue to stand on the shadow side of the cross and grave of God in Jesus Christ. Yet God’s love in Christ remains all pervasive, for even if we make our bed in hell he is there according to the Psalmist.

What I am trying to emphasize is God’s love; it remains, somehow, mysteriously so, in the cavernous waste lands of hell itself. Does this mean there is a way out of that waste land for those who find themselves there in the eschaton? Not according to Scripture. But what the theo-drama of God’s triune life requires is that all of this be chastened by the fact that God is eternally and personally triune love in his inner-life. It is this life from whence he freely chose to so identify with his creation, with humanity, that he tied his Godness to it; he freely chose to not be God without us but with us, Immanuel. This holds true for all humanity, even if the many choose to repudiate what God is for them, he will never repudiate who he has become for them in Christ. It is this reality that tempers even hell. It is deeply mysterious; the mysterium tremendum et fascinans (‘fearful and fascinating mystery’). It is hard to fathom exactly how this can be so, but it is.

[1] T. F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ, 94.

[2] Donald Bloesch, Jesus Christ: Savior & Lord, 169.

 

The Vicarious Faith Ethic

This post is intended to highlight something of a lacuna in my own research and personal development over the last many years; that is in the discipline of Christian ethics. I have somewhat been neglecting this area, as far as my readings go, and so I have been reliant upon my exposure to ethics (as a discipline) way back in seminary (I graduated in 2003), and back into undergrad (I graduated in 2001). When I left seminary I would have told you I followed what my mentor and now former prof Ron Frost called Faith Ethics which was based upon Frost’s constructive development of Affective Theology, and attendant anthropology. Faith ethics repudiates decision-based or cognitivist based constructs of ethics, it repudiates natural-law based ethics, and instead operates more contextually as it places its ethical activity in relation to Christ and the other, and before self. This verse from Romans 14 was pivotal for the foundation of ‘Faith Ethics’:

 23 But those who have doubts are condemned if they eat, because they do not act from faith; for whatever does not proceed from faithis sin. Romans 14:23

So the ground of this ethic sought to place itself within the relationship that inheres between the human agent and the divine agent; in contrast to naturalist or cognitivist based ethics. The ‘faith ethic’ was more concerned with the reception of the new heart of the New Covenant (see II Cor. 3), and as such operated out of a mode that emphasized union with Christ theology; a participationist relation between the human agent and God. And so moral values, in a faith ethic were not something intrinsically available to human agents by way of reflection upon nature (as if nature is imbued with the ‘moral goods’), or based upon decision-making actions determined by the virtual and moral self (so conceived); but for the faith ethic, ethics are something that are extrinsic to the human agent, and thus fully dependent upon what is revealed. It is within a community who as corollary finds its reality from what is revealed (the Christian church) wherein this kind of faith ethic can be cultivated within the drama of everyday life.

That said, I think a faith ethic, while commendable, and something that I would claim to adhere to needs some further qualification. I agree that an ethical construct ought to be understood as something that is extrinsic, revelationally-based, etc.; but I think the faith ethic needs a little more in terms of its theo-anthropology, and getting passed what Thomas Torrance has called the Latin Heresy. In other words, instead of positing a dualism between God and humanity, the faith ethic needs to be grounded in a theological anthropology that operates from the center of God’s revealed life in Jesus Christ. And so a properly construed ‘faith ethic’ would seek to find its ground and basis for conceiving of moral values in its lively connection, by the Holy Spirit, to Jesus Christ as Lord. So the church does not become the ground of determining moral value, but the church’s Lord does; the church only participates in and from the morality it gains by being in relationship with the only one who is good, who is God.

With the aforementioned noted, how would I describe my tentative ethical position (tentative, because like I said, this represents somewhat of a lacuna for me, which is in the process of being de-lacunaized)? I would integrate the faith ethic into my understanding, but with a desire to better and more theologically ground that in a Christ-concentration that emphasizes that the moral self can be found nowhere else but in union with the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ. What best proximates this for me, with the options before me, is what Donald Bloesch calls Evangelical Contextualism (which is based in Divine Command Theory, but more of a mixed deontological theory qualified by a proper eschatological provenance–which I would have to try and explain later). Here is how Bloesch describes this position, and who he identifies with this position:

[E]vangelical contexualism [is] associated in our time with such luminaries as Karl Barth, Emil Brunner, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Helmut Thielicke, and Jacques Ellul. It has an unmistakable continuity with the Reformation, Pietism, and Puritanism….

This position is evangelical because it is based on the gospel and the law illumined by the gospel. It is biblical because the gospel and the law comprise the central content of Holy Scripture, the primary source of our knowledge of divine revelation. It is contextual because the ethical decision is made in the context of the fellowship of faith (koinonia), and it is related to the context of personal and social need. Its method is from the gospel through the church to the cultural situation.

The indefeasible criterion in this type of ethics is not the divine ordering in nature (as in Gustafson), nor the law of love (as in Reinhold Niebuhr), nor simply the spirit of love (as in the older liberalism), nor love with reason (as in situationalism). Instead, it is the divine commandment, which unites love and truth. This commandment also signifies the union of law and gospel, the divine imperative and the divine promise.

Our ultimate appeal is not to general principles (as in natural law ethics) but to the personal address of God as we hear this in and through the gospel proclamation. Karl Barth put it well: “General moral truths … do not have … no matter what their derivation, the force of the true command, for in them the decisive choice between concrete possibilities is still according to what seems best to us.” Nevertheless, we acknowledge the normative role of the Decalogue and the Sermon on the Mount, which give us some indication of the will of God for our particular period in history.

Our norm is derived neither from the cultural and historical situation nor from common human experience but from the living Word of God, Jesus Christ. It is therefore an extrinsic norm, one that transcends human subjectivity as well as cultural relativity. It is an absolute norm, but it is made available to us through the historical witness that constitutes Holy Scripture.

Although it is absolute in origin, it is concrete and specific in its thrust. It is always related to the actual situation in which we find ourselves. Its focus is never on an abstract ideal but always on the concrete good.

For the evangelical contextualist, the way of the cross is most adequately represented by agape rather than by eros or philia (brotherly love). Agape involves the denial of the self for the good of the neighbor. It ipso facto excludes both self-aggrandizement (as in power ethics) and self-sanctification (as in mysticism). The emphasis is on sacrificial service rather than mutual support (as is fraternalism). The focus is on vicarious identification rather than paternalistic benevolence (as in humanitarianism). The religion of the cross is characterized not by securing of the self from harm but by the forgetting of the self in love.[1]

Bloesch captures, pretty well, where I would situate myself[2]; although I would like to nuance it from an even more direct perspective that grounds its reality as an ethical option within a theological specter. In other words, I think, as I already underscored, that a theology of union with Christ, and an anthropology governed by the vicarious humanity of Christ within a participationist frame are very important towards placing the sources of this ethical theory within the realm of God’s Triune life and relationship. And this then eludes the problems presented by both natural-law and cognivitist theories, respectively, as moral values are not understood to be things derivable from nature (simpliciter), nor a humanity in abstraction (cognivitist) from its ground in Jesus Christ’s vicarious humanity. Vicarious faith, then, is what shapes the moral values within an evangelical contexutalist model, and avers the temptation of immanentizing ethics in an absolute nature (creation), or absolute self; but instead finds its shape from the absolute life of God revealed and continuously exegeted for us (Jn. 1.18), by the Holy Spirit (Jn. 14–17). And we as moral agents in this scheme, are continuously and being transformed from glory to glory (II Cor. 3.18), as we fellowship (koinonia) with God, and with each other in holy communion.

In closing, what a qualified evangelical contextualist ethical construct will not do (because it is not cognivitist based) is reduce ethics to a cluster of culturally induced ethical dilemmas (i.e. abortion, homosexuality, death penalty, etc.); nor will it reduce ethics to a universally accessible set of ethical norms (because it is not naturalist). What it will do is recognize that there are no genuine ethics unless they are provided for by God’s holy life, given to us in the cruciform shape of God’s life in Christ, and known by us, by the Spirit, by the faith of God in Jesus Christ. From within this frame we will act as moral agents, moment by moment, as we live from God’s life given to us, moment by moment by the grace of God in Jesus Christ.[3]

 

 

[1]Donald G. Bloesch, “Evangelical Contextualism,” in Readings In Christian Ethics, Volume 1: Theory and Method, eds. David K. Clark and Robert V. Rakestraw (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1994), 157-58.

[2] I have read a forthcoming essay by Myk Habets that fits with my consideration very well; Myk places ethical thinking within the realm of theosis.

[3] I am obviously assuming a theological realist positionwhich then by mutual implication provides a morally realist trajectory for the ethical agents considered.

As far as sources for ethical consideration, Holy Scripture has been ear-marked, but only within a proper understanding of Scripture’s ontology within a properly construed Christian Dogmatic ordering of things which is given its best rendering, in my opinion, by John Webster in his book The Domain Of The Word: Scripture and Theological Reason (Great Britain: T&T Clark, A Continuum Imprint, 2012). Here is an example:

Countering the hegemony of pure nature in bibliology and heremeutics requires appeal to the Christian doctrine of God, and thus of God’s providential ordering of human speech and reason. Within the divine economy, the value of the natural properties of texts, and of the skills and operations of readers, does not consist in their self-sufficiency but in their appointment as creaturely auxiliaries through which God administers healing to wasted and ignorant sinners. What more may be said of this economy of revelation and redemption of which Scripture is a function? (p. 6)

For Your Advent Reading and Consideration: Bloesch on Jesus and the Incarnation

I have been really trying to read christological things this month, primarily because of Advent season, and also because I always like to try and read christological things (including the Bible) 😉 . And so in this vain let me adoration.jpgoffer you a quote from evangelical theologian, Donald Bloesch. He is a good mix of Barth, classical stuff, and his mentor, Scottish theologian, P. T. Forsyth. Here is what he writes just after surveying various conceptions (mostly modern) and ways into christological articulation; he is offering his view within the boundaries of classical orthodox Christology, but he does so through his own constructive and situated twist. He writes:

The human nature of Jesus is subordinate to his divine nature. This subordination does not mean the cancellation of humanity but the realization of true humanity. True freedom lies in perfect submission (Rom 6). God dwells and acts not in the appearance of a man but in a man with real flesh and blood. It is God himself who acts and speaks in and through this earthen vessel. Quoting Isaiah 63:9, Cyril of Alexandria insisted that “it was not an elder, nor an angel, but the Lord himself who saved us, not by an alien death or by the mediation of an ordinary man, but by his very own blood.”

I affirm the sinlessness of Jesus because he was filled with the Holy Spirit from his conception. True humanity is the humanity as designed and created by God—the humanity that lives in perfect conformity with the will of God. Fallen humanity represents a corruption of humanity, a spurious humanity. Christ took upon himself human corruption though he lived as a person victorious over sin and corruption (cf. Heb 4:15). He experienced temptation but always rose above it. Because of the purity of his commitment, temptation could find no lodging in his being (as in the case of sinful mortals).

To be truly human does imply being limited, and Jesus was limited as a human being. He could have erred because of his kenosis or self-emptying, but he never swerved from the truth because of his union with divinity. He was vulnerable to error, but he did not stumble into error.

We do not yet exist in communion with Christ simply by the knowledge that God was present in the historical Jesus. We must be awakened to faith in the living Christ if his incarnation is to be salvific for us. In Luther’s words, “You do not yet have Christ, even though you know that he is God and man. You truly have Him only when you believe that this altogether pure and innocent Person has been granted to you by the Father as your High Priest and Redeemer.”

The incarnation was not limited to the earthly life of Jesus, but Christ continues to exist in incarnate form because his humanity was resurrected. This is why we can speak of a permanent incarnation. As Baillie says, “If we believe in the Incarnation, we cannot possibly say that Jesus ceased to be human when He departed from this world.” This belief in the continuing or permanent incarnation is reflected in the Westminster Shorter Catechism: He “being the eternal Son of God, became man, and so was, and continueth to be, God and man in two distinct natures and one person forever.”

We may speak of an extension of the incarnation not in the sense that the church is the incarnation but that all members of the church are related mystically to its Head, who alone is the Incarnate One. Through the power of the Spirit of God we who believe participate in the one incarnation, but we do not replicate the incarnation. We are indwelt by the Spirit of Christ, but we do not ourselves become the Christ. We are servants and emissaries of the Word but not re-presentations of the Word. [Donald G. Bloesch, Jesus Christ: Saviour & Lord (Downers Grove, Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 1997), 73-4.]

Some good precise thinking on Jesus. What I like to do with this kind of stuff is to concentrate or compress it even more into the depth dimension of God’s life in Christ. In other words, Bloesch is offering a confessional statement about his own beliefs on Jesus (rooted in the history of Christian ideas and development, and Scripture), that invites us, invites me to move further into the implications of what it means for the humanity of Christ and the divinity of Godself to be united together into the singular person, Jesus of Nazareth. It causes me to reflect further on what this implies for me as a human being to be in relation with God, and how that works through union with Christ. It makes me ponder further about the heavenly/Priestly/Kingly session of Jesus in his embodied incarnate form as he sits at the right hand of the Father; this makes me wonder about what it means for all of the pleroma or plenitude of God to be present in Jesus, who now sits over all of creation, principalities and powers. It reorients the way I approach my drive to work this evening, and my time at work for the next 8 hours; it provides deep perspective for me that others around me might not have in regard to human significance, and why it matters if we do a good job, or not while at work.

There are all kinds of rich things to think about in light of the advent of Jesus Christ.

Comparing Calvin & Barth on Election: Bloesch

*Repost on John Calvin number two. 

Donald Bloesch writes:

It is interesting to compare Calvin and Barth on this subject. Calvin too sees Christ as the Mediator even before his condescension in human form. He too sees Jesus Christ as containing within himself everything that will be ours in a future redemption. He too believes that Christ had accomplished everything necessary for our salvation, that his sacrifice was definitive and complete. He can even declare that in the death of Christ we have “the complete fulfillment of salvation” and that we “have been born anew” through the resurrection of Christ. Both theologians understand divine election to precede the decision of faith and even the fall of man; yet Calvin is more emphatic than Barth that God’s electing grace will invariably give rise to faith. In Calvin’s view those who benefit from the election and atonement of Christ are the elect people of God, the community of the faithful. For Barth the benefits of the atonement extend to all, though not all apprehend or perceive. For Calvin, Christ is the mediator of the eternal decree of election; whereas for Barth, Christ is both the Elector and the Elected One, who includes within himself the totality of mankind. For Calvin, predestination realizes its goal only in the response of faith; whereas for Barth, predestination has reached its goal in Jesus Christ, though its reality and efficacy are not yet manifest in all those who belong to him. For Calvin, personal faith is the instrument or means by which divine election and justification are effected in the lives of men; for Barth, faith is more properly a revelatory sign and consequence of our election and salvation. Although Calvin seeks to make predestination correlative with faith, both men betray a decidedly objectivistic bent, since the decree of predestination is enacted and completed in the eternal counsel of God, though they both insist that what has been decreed must be worked out and made manifest in history. Barth in trying to underline the dynamic character of predestination can even say that though it is a “completed work . . . it is not an exhausted work, a work which is behind us. On the contrary, it is a work which still takes place in all its fullness today.”

While both theologians maintain that the Christian can have assurance of his election and salvation, Barth’s position that we can be certain only of Christ’s faithfulness to us but not of our faithfulness to Christ tends to conflict with the Calvinist doctrine of eternal security. Barth would never say, however, that people can fall out of the sphere of God’s grace and goodness, though he does affirm the ever-present but incomprehensible possibility of fall away from the path marked out by grace.

The crucial difference between the two men is that Calvin adheres to particular election and redemption while Barth affirms the universality and all-inclusiveness of the electing and reconciling work of God. The doctrine of “limited atonement,” a hallmark of Calvinist orthodoxy, is definitely contradicted by Barth, and here can be seen his affinity to Luther and Wesley. In Calvin all is of grace, but grace is not for all. In Luther and Wesley all is of grace and grace is for all, but not all are for grace. In Barth grace is the source of all creaturely being and goes out to all, but every man is set against grace. Yet every man is caught up in the movement of grace even in the case where there is continued opposition to Christ. At the same time those who defy grace are claimed by grace and remain objects of grace despite their contumacy and folly. The act of turning away from grace is for Barth impossible and it would seem an impermanent condition, since no man can escape from or overturn the all-embracing love and grace of a sovereign God. (Donald Bloesch, “Jesus Is Victor!: Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Salvation,” 70-71)

 

EC Election and Donald Bloesch, Very Similar in Orientation

**Repost, this post represents kind of a stepping stone to where I’ve come in my current understanding of election and predestination; my current view has certainly been sharpened as I’ve interacted with TF Torrance, and by the help that Myk Habets has offered through some of his essays and most recently published book on “Theosis in the Theology of Thomas Torrance.” Anyway I thought this post would be interesting since it basically offers the general trajectory of an EC view of election, albeit in rudimentary and general form.**

I am going to provide three posts in a row on Karl Barth’s view of election; all three are second hand commentary, either describing his view, and/or synthesizing his view with a little critique thrown in for good measure.

Here at TEC, I am an advocate for Barth’s framing of election (but not without some helpful nuancing provided by the Scot’s Confession; which I have been introduced to through T. F. Torrance — I will be talking about this in much more detail, probably in my next postings [I will be appealing to an article by Myk Habets to make some of my points]), and thus I think this is important to describe in order for you to know where I am coming from. Some folks who I think fit within the “Evangelical Calvinist” camp (like Ron Frost), follow a more classically framed view of election (i.e. from the infralapsarian and hypothetical universalist side of things); I will have to try and nuance why I think some of these folks still fit within the “Evangelical” camp, at a later date.

You may want to read Holmes introduction first (before this one):

Holmes on Barth’s Election

then come back to this one or my other posting for the day.

—————–

Here is a good reflection and assimilation of Barth’s view on the extent of the atonement (and other things):

With Barth I hold that through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross and his glorious resurrection from the grave the human situation has been irrevocably altered. The powers of sin, death, and hell have been decisively vanquished, though they continue to resist the advance of the kingdom of God through the power of the lie. All people of, irrespective of their moral and spiritual state, are claimed for the kingdom, but only some respond in faith and obedience. Christ has reconciled and justified the whole human race but in principle (de jure), not in fact (de facto) except for those who believe. All are heirs to the kingdom, but not all become members of the church of Christ. The treasure in the field is there for all, but only those benefit who give up everything to attain it (Mt 13:44). The gates of the prison in which we find ourselves are now open, but only those who rise up and walk through these gates to freedom are truly free.

. . . Predestination is not something finalized in the past but something realized in the present and consummated in the future. We can resist and deny our predestination, but we cannot permanently thwart the stream of God’s irresistable grace. We will ultimately be brought into submission, though not necessarily into salvation. Yet predestination means life even though we may choose death. Predestination does not necessarily eventuate in fellowship with Christ, but it does mean that every person is brought into inescapable relatedness to Christ. . . . (Donald Bloesch,” Jesus Christ: Savior & Lord, 169)

Just a few points. This view on election, the extent of the atonement, and predestination certainly spins the classical understanding of such things; and I think ‘spins’ it in a way that is much more faithful to the ‘evangelical’ categories found in scripture. It makes Jesus the center of election and reprobation. It assumes that Jesus is ‘real humanity’, both in its ‘reprobate’ state, as well as its ‘elect’. Jesus becomes man’s “reprobation” at the cross, as He also becomes the “elect” at the resurrection (and logically before). All humanity, in this view is ‘elect’, objectively, as they are represented by what Christ did for all of them at the cross; now ‘elect’ humanity must choose to recognize their new status as reconciled through Christ unto the Father by the Holy Spirit (see II Cor. 5), or not!

This kind of thinking runs counter to framing the election/reprobation discussion around particular people, instead it focuses on THE GOD-MAN, JESUS CHRIST!

Re-thinking Election, In "Evangelical Calvinist" ways

I am going to provide three posts in a row on Karl Barth’s view of election; all three are second hand commentary, either describing his view, and/or synthesizing his view with a little critique thrown in for good measure.

Here at TEC, I am an advocate for Barth’s framing of election (but not without some helpful nuancing provided by the Scot’s Confession; which I have been introduced to through T. F. Torrance — I will be talking about this in much more detail, probably in my next postings [I will be appealing to an article by Myk Habets to make some of my points]), and thus I think this is important to describe in order for you to know where I am coming from. Some folks who I think fit within the “Evangelical Calvinist” camp (like Ron Frost), follow a more classically framed view of election (i.e. from the infralapsarian and hypothetical universalist side of things); I will have to try and nuance why I think some of these folks still fit within the “Evangelical” camp, at a later date.

You may want to read Holmes introduction first (before this one):

Holmes on Barth’s Election

then come back to this one or my other posting for the day.

—————–

Here is a good reflection and assimilation of Barth’s view on the extent of the atonement (and other things):

With Barth I hold that through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross and his glorious resurrection from the grave the human situation has been irrevocably altered. The powers of sin, death, and hell have been decisively vanquished, though they continue to resist the advance of the kingdom of God through the power of the lie. All people of, irrespective of their moral and spiritual state, are claimed for the kingdom, but only some respond in faith and obedience. Christ has reconciled and justified the whole human race but in principle (de jure), not in fact (de facto) except for those who believe. All are heirs to the kingdom, but not all become members of the church of Christ. The treasure in the field is there for all, but only those benefit who give up everything to attain it (Mt 13:44). The gates of the prison in which we find ourselves are now open, but only those who rise up and walk through these gates to freedom are truly free.

. . . Predestination is not something finalized in the past but something realized in the present and consummated in the future. We can resist and deny our predestination, but we cannot permanently thwart the stream of God’s irresistable grace. We will ultimately be brought into submission, though not necessarily into salvation. Yet predestination means life even though we may choose death. Predestination does not necessarily eventuate in fellowship with Christ, but it does mean that every person is brought into inescapable relatedness to Christ. . . . (Donald Bloesch,” Jesus Christ: Savior & Lord, 169)

Just a few points. This view on election, the extent of the atonement, and predestination certainly spins the classical understanding of such things; and I think ‘spins’ it in a way that is much more faithful to the ‘evangelical’ categories found in scripture. It makes Jesus the center of election and reprobation. It assumes that Jesus is ‘real humanity’, both in its ‘reprobate’ state, as well as its ‘elect’. Jesus becomes man’s “reprobation” at the cross, as He also becomes the “elect” at the resurrection (and logically before). All humanity, in this view is ‘elect’, objectively, as they are represented by what Christ did for all of them at the cross; now ‘elect’ humanity must choose to recognize their new status as reconciled through Christ unto the Father by the Holy Spirit (see II Cor. 5), or not!

This kind of thinking runs counter to framing the election/reprobation discussion around particular people, instead it focuses on THE GOD-MAN, JESUS CHRIST!

Comparing Karl Barth and John Calvin, On Election

Donald Bloesch says:

It is interesting to compare Calvin and Barth on this subject. Calvin too sees Christ as the Mediator even before his condescension in human form. He too sees Jesus Christ as containing within himself everything that will be ours in a future redemption. He too believes that Christ had accomplished everything necessary for our salvation, that his sacrifice was definitive and complete. He can even declare that in the death of Christ we have “the complete fulfillment of salvation” and that we “have been born anew” through the resurrection of Christ. Both theologians understand divine election to precede the decision of faith and even the fall of man; yet Calvin is more emphatic than Barth that God’s electing grace will invariably give rise to faith. In Calvin’s view those who benefit from the election and atonement of Christ are the elect people of God, the community of the faithful. For Barth the benefits of the atonement extend to all, though not all apprehend or perceive. For Calvin, Christ is the mediator of the eternal decree of election; whereas for Barth, Christ is both the Elector and the Elected One, who includes within himself the totality of mankind. For Calvin, predestination realizes its goal only in the response of faith; whereas for Barth, predestination has reached its goal in Jesus Christ, though its reality and efficacy are not yet manifest in all those who belong to him. For Calvin, personal faith is the instrument or means by which divine election and justification are effected in the lives of men; for Barth, faith is more properly a revelatory sign and consequence of our election and salvation. Although Calvin seeks to make predestination correlative with faith, both men betray a decidedly objectivistic bent, since the decree of predestination is enacted and completed in the eternal counsel of God, though they both insist that what has been decreed must be worked out and made manifest in history. Barth in trying to underline the dynamic character of predestination can even say that though it is a “completed work . . . it is not an exhausted work, a work which is behind us. On the contrary, it is a work which still takes place in all its fullness today.”

While both theologians maintain that the Christian can have assurance of his election and salvation, Barth’s position that we can be certain only of Christ’s faithfulness to us but not of our faithfulness to Christ tends to conflict with the Calvinist doctrine of eternal security. Barth would never say, however, that people can fall out of the sphere of God’s grace and goodness, though he does affirm the ever-present but incomprehensible possibility of fall away from the path marked out by grace.

The crucial difference between the two men is that Calvin adheres to particular election and redemption while Barth affirms the universality and all-inclusiveness of the electing and reconciling work of God. The doctrine of “limited atonement,” a hallmark of Calvinist orthodoxy, is definitely contradicted by Barth, and here can be seen his affinity to Luther and Wesley. In Calvin all is of grace, but grace is not for all. In Luther and Wesley all is of grace and grace is for all, but not all are for grace. In Barth grace is the source of all creaturely being and goes out to all, but every man is set against grace. Yet every man is caught up in the movement of grace even in the case where there is continued opposition to Christ. At the same time those who defy grace are claimed by grace and remain objects of grace despite their contumacy and folly. The act of turning away from grace is for Barth impossible and it would seem an impermanent condition, since no man can escape from or overturn the all-embracing love and grace of a sovereign God. (Donald Bloesch, “Jesus Is Victor!: Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Salvation,” 70-71)