No Decree Behind the Back of Jesus: Barth’s ‘Actual’ Doctrine of Election

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. -Ephesians 1.3-6

The doctrine of election has plagued the Christian churches for centuries; but that is because they haven’t more accurately thought this doctrine from the hypostatic union of God and humanity in the person of Jesus Christ. When a person is able to finally distantiate themself from the speculative hubris that has surrounded this doctrine for so long—one grounded in the optics provided for, primarily, by Aristotelian causation and actus purus (pure being) theology—it is finally possible to think about God’s relation to the world, with humanity as His principal focus, through the Christic lens He has freely ordained for us, for Himself. Once the foreign grammars have been shed all we are left with us what Scripture is left with: Jesus Christ. Karl Barth saw this, particularly with regard to a doctrine of election, more keenly than anybody prior. Following along the impetus provided for him through the work of his French connection, Pierre Maury, Barth launched out in what I would contend was finally a genuinely Protestant and Nicene doctrine of election grounded in the double homoousios Son of man, Jesus Christ. He writes:

2. THE ETERNAL WILL OF GOD IN THE ELECTION OF JESUS CHRIST

Starting from Jn. 1.1, we have laid down and developed two statements concerning the election of Jesus Christ. The first is that Jesus Christ is the electing God. This statement answers the question of the Subject of the eternal election of grace. And the second is that Jesus Christ is elected man. This statement answers the question of the object of the eternal election of grace. Strictly speaking, the whole dogma of predestination is contained in these two statements. Everything else that we have to say about it must consist in the development and application of what is said in these two statements taken together. The statements belong together in a unity which is indissoluble, for both of them speak of the one Jesus Christ, and God and man in Jesus Christ are both Elector and Elect, belonging together in a relationship which cannot be broken and the perfection of which can never be exhausted. In the beginning with God was this One, Jesus Christ. And that is predestination. All that this concept contains and comprehends is to be found originally in Him and must be understood in relation to Him. But already we have gone far enough from the traditional paths to make necessary a most careful explanation of the necessity and scope of the christological basis and starting-point for the doctrine as it is here expanded.

1 We may begin with an epistemological observation. Our thesis is that God’s eternal will is the election of Jesus Christ. At this point we part company with all previous interpretations of the doctrine of predestination. In these the Subject and object of predestination (the electing God and elected man) are determined ultimately by the fact that both quantities are treated as unknown. We may say that the electing God is supreme being who disposes freely according to His own omnipotence, righteousness and mercy. We may say that to Him may be ascribed the lordship over all things, and above all the absolute right and absolute power to determine the destiny of man. But when we say that, then ultimately and fundamentally the electing God is an unknown quantity. On the other hand, we must say that elected man is the man who has come under the eternal good-pleasure of God, the man from whom all eternity God has foreordained to fellowship with Himself. But when we say that, then ultimately and fundamentally elected man is also an unknown quantity. At this point obscurity has undoubtedly enveloped the theories of even the most prominent representatives and exponents of the doctrine of predestination. Indeed, in the most consistently developed forms of the dogma we are told openly that on both sides we have to do, necessarily, with a great mystery. In the sharpest contrast to this view our thesis that the eternal will of God is the election of Jesus Christ means that we deny the existence of any such twofold mystery.1

Jesus, for Barth, is both the electing God (equals subject of election), and elected man (equals object of election). In his subsequent point #1 we see immediately how this, for Barth, impacts a knowledge of God, and humanity (think Calvin). This is why Barth (and Torrance) believe revelation is reconciliation; it flows organically from Barth’s doctrine of election, from his actualism. There is no unknown quantity in Barth’s theology; no potentia absoluta or ordinata; no decree behind the back of Jesus. This is quintessential Barthian theology: in God’s Kingdom in Christ, for Barth, there are no secrets; it is a genuinely revealed Kingdom that comes populated with God’s furniture as that is all shaped by the face (prosopon) of Jesus Christ.

This is what the critics of Barth don’t get. He is simply working within the Nicene frame of cataphatic theology, exhaustively. There is no uncertainty of who God is in Barth’s theology. There is a Divine vulnerability, revealed in God’s humanity and humility in Jesus Christ; but this vulnerability is not an uncertainty, it is simply an aspect of God’s freedom to be with and for and in us. Classical theologies typically operate with speculative thinking as the fund by which they think theology and its verity of implications. This is what Barth’s doctrine of election overcomes as it thinks all things from God’s Self-revelation; thus, bypassing unnecessary “shiny-things” generated by the imaginative machinations of witty ‘theological’ people.

1 Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II/2 §32-33: Study Edition (New York, New York: T&T Clark, 2010), 156. 

 

Barth’s Doctrine of Election: In His Own Words

I am transcribing the following directly from Barth on his doctrine of election. This is the clearest word you will get from him on what his reformulated doctrine of election entails. What you should notice is how it thinks from the patristic homoousion in patterned ways.  

§ 33 

THE ELECTION OF JESUS CHRIST 

The election of grace is the eternal beginning of all the ways and works of God in Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ God in His free grace determines Himself for sinful man and sinful man for Himself. He therefore takes upon Himself the rejection of man with all its consequences, and elects man to participation in His own glory. 

1. JESUS CHRIST, ELECTING AND ELECTED 

Between God and man there stands the person of Jesus Christ, Himself God and Himself man, and so mediating between the two. In Him God reveals Himself to man. In Him man sees and knows God. In Him God stands before man and man stands before God, and is the eternal will of God, and the eternal ordination of man in accordance with this will. In Him God’s plan for man is disclosed, God’s judgment on man fulfilled, God’s deliverance of man accomplished, God’s gift to man present in fulness, God’s claim and promise to man declared. In Him God has joined Himself to man. And so man exists for His sake. It is by Him, Jesus Christ, and for Him and to Him, that the universe is created as a theatre for God’s dealings with man and man’s dealings with God. The being of God is His being, and similarly the being of man is originally His being. And there is nothing that is not from Him and by Him and to Him. He is the Word of God in whose truth everything is disclosed and whose truth cannot be over-reached or conditioned by any other word. He is the decree of God behind and above which there can be no earlier or higher decree and beside which there can be no other, since all others serve only the fulfillment of this decree. He is the beginning of God before which there is no other beginning apart from that of God within Himself. Except, then, for God Himself, nothing can derive from any other source or look back to any other starting-point. He is the election of God before which and without which and beside which God cannot make any other choices. Before Him and without Him and beside Him God does not, then, elect or will anything. And He is the election (and on that account the beginning and the decree and the Word) of the free grace of God. For it is God’s free grace that in Him He elects to be man and to have dealings with man and to join Himself to man. He, Jesus Christ, is the free grace of God as not content simply to remain identical with the inward and eternal being of God, but operating ad extra in the ways and works of God. And for this reason, before Him and above Him and beside Him and apart from Him there is no election, no beginning, no decree, no Word of God. Free grace is the only basis and meaning of all God’s ways and works ad extra. For what extra is there that the ways and works could serve, or necessitate, or evoke? There is no extra except that which is first willed and posited by God in the presupposing of all His ways and works. There is no extra except that which has its basis and meaning as such in the divine election of grace. But Jesus Christ is Himself the divine election of grace. For this reason He is God’s Word, God’s decree and God’s beginning. He is so all-inclusively, comprehending absolutely within Himself all things and everything, enclosing within Himself the autonomy of all other words, decrees and beginnings.1 

So let it be written, so let it be done. 

 

1 Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II/2 §32-33: Study Edition (New York, New York: T&T Clark, 2010), 99-100. 

God’s Free Electing Grace in Christ Concentration

I will simply refer the reader to a post I once wrote with reference to ‘freewill and human agency’ in the salvific reality. That post dovetails, quite nicely, with the post I am setting out to write thusly. In this post, rather than referring to Thomas F. Torrance, Karl Barth’s, greatest and best Anglophone student, we will, indeed, be referring to Barth’s explication of the unconditional nature of God’s grace; with particular reference to that bewitching doctrine known as predestination. The simple point I want to drive home through this writing is that: God’s grace is contingent on nothing else other than God’s freedom to be gracious pro nobis. In other words, I will contend, with Barth’s help, that God’s grace is gratia aliena (alien grace) that is extra nos (outside of us); but that comes to us and transforms us from the inside out with the result that we come to have the capacity to be for God rather than against Him (with a properly Christological conditioning). I want the reader to understand, though, that this grace is just as primal as when ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’ (cf. Gen 1.1). In other words, I want people to think of creation itself as funded by God’s grace, and to understand that even so called ‘nature’ is in fact an aspect of God’s grace to be for and with us rather than outwith us. My hope is that the reader might understand that both the original creation and the re-creation, in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, is ‘all grace, all the way down’; and that there is no abstract or independent notion of ‘nature’ operative in the created order. One implication the reader should take away from this is that sin (and the broader genus of evil) becomes a surd in this sort of schema. That is that the irrationality, but more significantly, the disaffectivity of sin in a world that is funded purely by the inner-life of God’s triune life of covenant-grace makes absolutely no sense. My hope is that as the reader reads the passage from Barth (that I am about to share) that all of these notions will fill their mind’s eye in such a way that they are left in bewilderment by both the un-reality of sin, and the wonderment of God’s superabundant and overflowing graciousness; even as that serves as the fund of His life for all of creation in His election in the Son to be with us as the man from Nazareth. With this prologue in mind, let’s read along with Barth about God’s grace:

The specific proof of this thesis can be introduced connectedly only in and with the doctrine of predestination grounded upon it. Our preliminary concern is to show how right and necessary it is to set up this thesis at the very outset as a kind of working hypothesis.

We may establish first a point which all serious conceptions of the doctrine have in common. They all find the nerve of the doctrine, the peculiar concern which forces them to present and assert it, in the fact that it characterises the grace of God as absolutely free and thereby divine. In electing, God decides according to His good-pleasure, which as such is holy and righteous. And because He who elects is constant and omnipotent and eternal, the good-pleasure by which He decides, and the decision itself, are independent of all other decisions, of all creaturely decisions. His decision precedes every creaturely decision. Over against all creaturely self-determination it is predetermination—prae-destinatioGrace is the divine movement and condescension on the basis of which men belong to God and God to men. Whether offered or received, whether self-revealing and reconciling or apprehended and active in faith, it is God’s dealing, God’s will and God’s work, God’s lordship, God Himself in all His sovereignty. Grace cannot be called forth or constrained by any claim or merit, by any existing or future condition, on the part of the creature. Nor can it be held up or rendered nugatory and ineffective by any contradiction or opposition on the part of the creature.

But in its being and in its operation its necessity is within itself. In face of it there is no place for the self-glorifying or the self-praise of the creature. It comes upon the creature as absolute miracle, and with absolute power and certainty. It can be received by the creature only where there is a recognition of utter weakness and unworthiness, an utter confidence in its might and dignity, and an utter renunciation of wilful self-despair. What the creature cannot claim or appropriate for itself, it cannot of itself renounce when it does partake of it, nor can it even will to deprive itself of it. The decision by which it receives and affirms grace takes place in fulfillment of the prior divine decision. It cannot, then, be asserted over against God as a purely creaturely achievement, nor can it be revoked. As the fulfilment of that prior divine decision, it redounds per se to the praise of the freedom of grace: of its independence both of the majesty and of the misery of our human volition and achievement; of the sovereignty in which it precedes and thus fully over-rules our human volition and achievement. All serious conceptions of the doctrine (more or less exactly and successfully, and with more or less consistency in detail) do at least aim at this recognition; at the freedom of the grace of God. We can put it more simply: They aim at an understanding of grace as grace. For what kind of grace is it that is conditioned and constrained, and not free grace and freely electing grace? What kind of a God is it who in any sense of the term has to be gracious, whose grace is not His own personal and free good-pleasure.[1]

On the negative side, any inkling of any type of Pelagianism, semi-Pelagianism, or synergism is defeated before the creation ever gets started. If creation’s very fund, and humanity as the pinnacle of that creation (as Christ is first humanity as the imago Dei), is begotten by the grace of God, it only follows that all of creation (protology), and subsequent re-creation in the resurrection of Jesus Christ (eschatology) is an event of God’s free choice to be for the creation in the most primal of ways. If we conceive of God’s grace vis-à-vis creation under these terms, a competition between an unconditional grace and autonomous nature never obtains. In other words, as Barth develops elsewhere, if God’s covenant life of grace is the inner-reality of the created order, then notions of an abstract nature or creation always remain in the realm of das Nichtigein the realm of the reprobate of nothingness that evil and darkness in fact are in God’s Kingdom. selah

________________________________________

[1] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II/2 §32-33: Study Edition (New York, New York: T&T Clark, 2010), 17-18.  

God’s Grace ‘All the Way Down’: How God’s Election in Christ Speaks to the Kobe Helicopter Tragedy

How does my personal theology come to bear in moments like the death of my G.O.A.T, Kobe Bryant? My theology emphasizes the grandiosity of God’s Grace as Christ. As such, when I attempt to reflect on Kobe’s eternal destiny, I can think from this grandiose position. Not knowing Kobe personally makes it really hard to know exactly what his spiritual life was. So, I must rely on the reports of him being a serious Catholic Christian. As I somewhat sketched and detailed in my last post, there is latitude, in my view, because of the expansive and personal nature of God’s Grace, for those who are outside my tradition to equally have a saving faith; albeit, these must be within some gambit of the Christian tradition. Again, and as such, it is reasonable and hopeful for me to conclude that Kobe is now in the eternal Joy of the living God; enfolded into the garb of Christ’s mediating humanity. I don’t know where the others on the helicopter with Kobe were at spiritually, save Kobe’s daughter. I do maintain that children automatically enter the presence of Christ upon their ‘untimely’ deaths (I think of aborted children this way as well); which would mean that Gigi Bryant and Alyssa Altobelli (I’ve made an inchoate argument for that here) went immediately into the presence of the risen Christ the moment the helicopter crashed.

The ground of my thinking, in regard to the grandiosity of God’s Grace for us in Christ, comes from my doctrine of election; a doctrine that was first noticed and articulated (at least in the way he does it) by Karl Barth. To summarize Barth’s doctrine of election, in a sort of in nuce way, Tom Greggs writes:

Election’s nature is . . . Gospel. The dialectic evident in Romans remains and can be seen between electing God and elected human in its most extreme form in terms of election and rejection. Humanity continues to need to be rescued by God in its rejection of Him. What is new is that this dialectic is now considered in a wholly Christological way which brings together the Yes and No of God in the simultaneity of the elected and rejected Christ. It is He who demonstrates salvation as its originator and archetype. It is, therefore, in the humanity of the elected Christ that one needs to consider the destiny of human nature.[1]

 Greggs helps us understand what is at stake in God’s choice to be for and with us in Christ in Barth’s Christologically styled doctrine of election. The ‘destiny’ of human nature itself, which bespeaks the way Barth thinks of salvation in ontological terms (albeit not abstractly from the concrete human nature of Jesus Christ), is the very ground and basis upon which all creation and its purpose finds orientation. Here is how Barth intones such things:

This all rests on the fact that from the very first He participates in the divine election; that that election is also His election; that it is He Himself who posits this beginning of all things; that it is He Himself who executes the decision which issues in the establishment of the covenant between God and man; that He too, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, is the electing God. If this is not the case, then in respect of the election, in respect of this primal and basic decision of God, we shall have to pass by Jesus Christ, asking of God the Father, or perhaps of the Holy Spirit, how there can be any disclosure of this decision at all. For where can it ever be disclosed to us except where it is executed? The result will be, of course, that we shall be driven to speculating about a decretum absolutum instead of grasping and affirming in God’s electing the manifest grace of God. And that means that we shall not know into whose hands we are committing ourselves when we believe in the divine predestination. So much depends upon our acknowledgement of the Son, of the Son of God, as the Subject of this predestination, because it is only in the Son that it is revealed to us as the predestination of God, and therefore of the Father and the Holy Spirit, because it is only as we believe in the Son that we can also believe in the Father and the Holy Spirit, and therefore in the one divine election.[2]

These might seem like weighty and technical matters, and they are. But let’s attempt to regroup. The Barth[ian] understanding of divine election—which is the bringing together of divinity and humanity in inseparably related but distinct ways—grounds the outer reality of creation in the inner reality of God’s triune life and choice to be freely with us and for us in Jesus Christ. This means that creation’s ground is God’s Graciousness ‘all the way down’ (as TF Torrance says it).

If the above is the case, as Barth presses, we have no space to ‘speculate’ (i.e. decretum absolutum) about who God is in Himself and for us, and what He is about in the creative process. So, when I attempt to think about Kobe’s eternal destiny, and the others with Kobe, my very first thought as a Christian must be to think that God’s choice has always already been for and with them; rather than against them. If this is so, there is a correspondence of faith available and waiting for each of them, or there was prior to death, wherein they could say Yes to God, from God’s Yes for them in Christ. Not knowing where these folks were at with this choice for God, clearly, it is not really possible to dogmatically state where they all went when they died in the helicopter crash (except for the exceptions already noted). What is possible though is the possibility for hope; hope because creation’s eternal destiny has always been oriented toward Christ rather than away from Him; hope because God has freely chosen to not be humanity’s enemy, but instead, to be its brother, friend, and bridegroom. As such, because of the grandiosity of God’s Grace, there is always room for eternal hope, because God is an eternal God of Grace in Himself and then for us.

True, there are things in this post that are suggestive, but hopefully some sort of gist comes across. Maranatha

[1] Greggs, Barth, Origen, and Universal Salvation, 26.

[2] Barth, CD II/2:111.

‘The Doctrine of election is the sum of the Gospel’: But Not for the classical Calvinist

Classical Calvinism follows in the pattern of Augustine’s conception of election/predestination. JND Kelley (with criticism) describes Augustine’s conception this way:

The problem of predestination has so far only been hinted at. Since grace takes the initiative and apart from it all men form a massa damnata, it is for God to determine which shall receive grace and which shall not. This He has done, Augustine believes on the basis of Scripture, from all eternity. The number of the elect is strictly limited, being neither more nor less than is required to replace the fallen angels. Hence he has to twist the text ‘God wills all men to be saved’ (1 Tim. 2, 4), making it mean that He wills the salvation of all the elect, among whom men of every race and type are represented. God’s choice of those to whom grace is to be given in no way depends on His foreknowledge of their future merits, for whatever good deeds they will do will themselves be the fruit of grace. In so far as His foreknowledge is involved, what He foreknows is what He Himself is going to do. Then how does God decide to justify this man rather than that? There can in the end be no answer to this agonizing question. God has mercy on those whom He wishes to save, and justifies them; He hardens those upon whom He does not wish to have mercy, not offering them grace in conditions in which they are likely to accept it. If this looks like favouritism, we should remember that all are in any case justly condemned, and that if God makes His decision in the light of ‘a secret and, to human calculation, inscrutable justice’. Augustine is therefore prepared to speak of certain people as being predestined to eternal death and damnation; they may include, apparently, decent Christians who have been called and baptized, but to whom the grace of perseverance has not been given. More often, however, he speaks of the predestination of the saints which consists in ‘God’s foreknowledge and preparation of the benefits by which those who are to be delivered are most assuredly delivered’. These alone have the grace of perseverance, and even before they are born they are sons of God and cannot perish.[1]

And Calvin, as an echo of Augustine, writes:

Election–but no reprobation?

Now when human understanding hears these things, its insolence is so irrepressible that it breaks forth into random and immoderate tumult as if at the blast of a battle trumpet. Indeed many, as if they wished to avert a reproach from God, accept election in such terms as to deny that anyone is condemned. But they do this very ignorantly and childishly, since election itself could not stand except as set over against reprobation. God is said to set apart those whom he adopts into salvation; it will be highly absurd to say that others acquire by chance or obtain by their own effort what election alone confers on a few. Therefore, those whom God passes over, he condemns; and this he does for no other reason than that he wills to exclude them from the inheritance which he predestines for his own children. And men’s insolence is unbearable if it refuses to be bridled by God’s Word, which treats of his incomprehensible plan that the angels adore. . . .[2]

We see development in Calvin from Augustine; Calvin has a more active place for the reprobate than Augustine. Even so, Calvin relegates a doctrine of reprobation to the secret will of God, whereas he places election into the revealed will of God (this causes problems for the coherence of Calvin’s doctrine of election, which I critique here).

People might wonder why virtuosos like Augustine, Calvin, and other latterly Reformed thinkers would operate with such a harsh view of God’s relationship to humanity. They might wonder if God is love, then where does the idea of God decreeing that the majority of humanity will be condemned to an eternally hot hell with no way of escape. It comes back to their doctrine of God; where else?! Calvinists, in the main, operate with Aristotelian conception of God. This conception starts its thinking about God from Aristotle’s pure being god, or actual infinite, or unmoved mover. What characterizes this conception of God most is that he is a brute creator God who is shaped by an Almighty power that cannot be challenged. Now, we can affirm that God is Almighty, and that He cannot be challenged. What we cannot affirm is that God is simply a brute Creator who creates, and remains unmoved by His relation to His creation in an abstract sense.

If God is triune love, which He is, then He cannot be thought of arbitrarily; we must think Him in the way He has chosen for us to think Him. He hasn’t chosen that we think Him through apparatus given to the Christian tradition by the philosophers. Instead, He has chosen that we think Him as Father. If God is Father of the Son, and we think Him this way by the comfort of the Holy Spirit, then we cannot think Him in terms provided for by philosophers like Aristotle. But this is what the classical Calvinists would have us do. Richard Muller has identified the roots of classical Calvinism, as that developed in the 16th and 17th centuries, as what he calls: Christian Aristotelianism. Aristotle’s god requires that He remain unmoved by the contingencies of the created reality. When synthesized with Christian soteriology, what this requires is that the Christians have a mechanism in place that keeps God immovable vis-à-vis creation; and the Reformed in particular, as they have adopted this conception of God, developed what is called God’s decretum absolutum (or absolute decree). It is by way of this mechanism that God can relate to the world, in all His brute sovereignty and remain untouched, unmoved by creation. When applied to thinking about election, what this determines is that some will believe in Christ, in keeping with God’s decree, and others will reject Him. The Calvinist claims that if someone who has been chosen by God to eternal salvation could reject God’s choice that they be saved, that God’s sovereignty (His Almighty bruteness) would be flummoxed thus dealing the death of God, so to speak.

We can see the ulterior motive for developing what I consider to be a heinous and anti-Christ doctrine when it comes to thinking about the doctrine of election. Classical Calvinists will defend this doctrine to the death because they know that if they cease affirming God’s power in this way, that the God they consider to be God will cease being the God of the Bible. This is a sad state of affairs, since we know that God has not revealed Himself this way. We know that God has revealed Himself as the Father of the Son/Son of the Father in the sweet fellowship of the Holy Spirit. When we know this about God we can arrive at conclusions like TF Torrance does when he writes:

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.[3]

When we think of election/reprobation the right way, from a proper triune doctrine of God we can arrive at the conclusion that Karl Barth does:

The doctrine of election is the sum of the Gospel because of all words that can be said or heard it is the best: that God elects man; that God is for man too the One who loves in freedom. It is grounded in the knowledge of Jesus Christ because He is both the electing God and the elected man in One. It is part of the doctrine of God because originally God’s election of man is a predestination not merely of man but of Himself. Its function is to bear basic testimony to eternal, free and unchanging grace as the beginning of all the ways and works of God.[4]

 

 

[1] J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, Revised Edition (New York: Harper Collins, 1978), 368-69.

[2] Calvin, Institutes 3.23.1.

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

[4] Barth, CD II/2:1.

God’s Wrath as Father Rather than Judge: The Judge judged in Supralapsarian Prothesis

Following Barth (and Torrance) Evangelical Calvinists, such as myself, work from a Christ conditioned supralapsarian doctrine of election/predestination. That might sound abstract and technical, and it important ways it is; but more importantly it has real life theological and practical implications in regard to who God is in a God/world relation. Cashed out properly, what we can come to see through this is that God’s wrath against sin is not something that must be arbitrarily expiated in order for something to be extinguished in God towards us. Instead it is because of God’s great love and grace that His wrath is kindled, and thus He finds a way in Himself, in the Son, to kill what would threaten the love relationship He desires to have with us. This is the source of God’s wrath; that the ‘very good’ He created in His image, imago Christi, was thrust into a world of ‘disconciliation’ to the point that this relationship with us was lost. Not only was this fellowship lost, but it was ultimately destructive and eternally damning to those who God would have eternal relationship with in the participatio He originally intended for in the creation; one that He brought back in the new-creation of resurrection in Jesus Christ. But this is the sort of theological trajectory a healthy parsing of a supralapsarian election can result in if we are careful to think it through the analogy of Incarnation.

Paul Hinlicky, as he is setting the stage for further development in his own (Lutheran) work, writes the following:

if Jesus Christ is not God’s second thought, an improvisation, as it were, then the wrath of God which God overcomes in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ is anticipated in God’s eternal self-determination to create, redeem, and fulfill the world through the missions of Christ and His Spirit. This thesis agrees with Karl Barth’s Christocentric revision of the doctrine of election on the basis of the Lutheran teaching of the universality of the atonement, as I argued in Paths Not Taken.[1] Here I would add that this grounding of God’s becoming in time in the eternal Trinity’s self-determination issues in the kind of meditation on “God’s Lover for the World” that Bethge placed at the beginning of Bonhoeffer’s posthumous Ethics, taking the word “love” with the connotation of mercy, as laid out above. “Love is the reconciliation of man with God in Jesus Christ. The disunion of men with God, with other men, with the world and with themselves, is at an end. Man’s origin is given back to him. . . . And so love is something which happens to man, something passive, something over which he does not himself dispose. . . . Love means the understanding of the transformation of one’s entire existence by God; it means being drawn into the world as it lives and must live before God and in God. Love, therefore, is not man’s choice, but it is the election of man by God.” As election is election to membership in, and service (Eph. 2:10) on behalf of, the Beloved Community (Eph. 1:3-10), the eternal divine counsel is the starting point for a new kind of Christian “ethics” (before “good and evil”) which Bonhoeffer envisaged, i.e., concrete exploration of a qualitatively new form of life, “being drawn into the world as it lives and must live before God and in God.”[2]

As we read with Hinlicky, if we are attuned to such things, we can read apocalyptic theology between the lines of what he is writing. With his emphasis on ‘Man’s origin given back to him,’ and its passive reception vis-à-vis God, we sense how creational telos is all important in Hinlicky’s thinking; even as that is being riffed on from thinkers like Barth and Luther, not to mention, Bonhoeffer.

It is this reality that I find theologically rich: when we remove ourselves from the forensic frame, in regard to who God is towards and for us, what we end up with is a much richer conception of what in fact this whole plotline of life is about. We come to understand, if we adopt this evangelical framing of God, that God is not an angry despot with bloodlust electing to reprobate particular individuals throughout the annuls of history in order to find this sort of satisfaction. We realize through viewing God in His Self-revelation in Christ that God’s whole candor has always already been to be in deep koinonially-bonded union with us, us His counterpoints in whom He has desired to shower His love upon on in unconditional bounty. God is not first Judge, but Father; and when He is Judge He has freely elected to be the Judge judged in order to restore, but more, to recreate an eternally bountiful relationship wherein His Son is the forever God-human wherein all of creation’s purpose is grounded and actualized as God, in Christ, brings us into union with Him; indeed, as He has brought that union to Himself in the hypostatic union that coinhered and coinheres eternally in the Son. This is the good news, the Evangel that a properly delineated doctrine of election ought to provide for. The evangel requires a grammar, and I think what we have been engaging with in this post presents us with a hopeful grammar that helps us to better appreciate what in fact has been accomplished as we have focused on the Who of the Gospel based in its inner logic.

There is no doubt that God has wrath, and that He is just. But it is important to understand just what in fact defines or frames that. Indeed, it is the frame itself that allows us to comprehend, in intelligible ways, why God is angry to begin with. He isn’t angry because He is a Judge, or as a Judge; He is angry as a Father is angry when their child becomes wayward, when that child gets into a prodigal morass such that they end up in the coral of cob-eating swine. This is the alternative that we have sought to offer in Evangelical Calvinism. What counts as classical theistic or classical Calvinist theology these days offers the other alternative. It presents a view of God that is grounded in a mechanistic decretive understanding of a God who is juridical to the core. He might have love, but only a love that is purchased through a payment made. The view of God we offer, and the one Hinlicky has helpfully highlighted for us, sees God as loving us first that we might love Him.

[1] I finished this book, Paths Not Taken, by Hinlicky, a few months ago. I’d highly recommend it to you the reader. It represents an even more constructive engagement than does the current book by Hinlicky.

[2] Paul R. Hinlicky, Luther and the Beloved Community: A Path for Christian Theology after Christendom (Grand Rapids, Michigan/Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010), 113-14.

The Biblical Doctrine of Election: And Some “Flowery” Engagement

I want to share some quotes from Karl Barth and Tom Greggs. All of these quotes either come from the body or footnotes of my personal chapter for our latest Evangelical Calvinism book (2017). I was prompted to this as I continue to listen to Leighton Flowers. This post, though, will not engage with Flowers directly, but insofar as I offer up an alternative version of Reformed ‘election’ and ‘reprobation’ that he is not targeting, I think he ought to take notice. When Jesus is understood as the genuine center of all theological thought a whole new world opens up in regard to the theological and thus biblical horizons possible for Christian edification. I agree with Flowers that classical Calvinism gives us a rubbish understanding of Holy Scripture and its reality in Jesus Christ; I just think contra Flowers that there is a much better and theological way to understand the implications of the Incarnation of God in Christ and how that gets cashed out in the way we ultimately understand who God is. Let’s hear from Barth and Greggs on the doctrine of election, and then close with some further reflection.

Karl Barth writes,

This all rests on the fact that from the very first He participates in the divine election; that that election is also His election; that it is He Himself who posits this beginning of all things; that it is He Himself who executes the decision which issues in the establishment of the covenant between God and man; that He too, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, is the electing God. If this is not the case, then in respect of the election, in respect of this primal and basic decision of God, we shall have to pass by Jesus Christ, asking of God the Father, or perhaps of the Holy Spirit, how there can be any disclosure of this decision at all. For where can it ever be disclosed to us except where it is executed? The result will be, of course, that we shall be driven to speculating about a decretum absolutum instead of grasping and affirming in God’s electing the manifest grace of God. And that means that we shall not know into whose hands we are committing ourselves when we believe in the divine predestination. So much depends upon our acknowledgement of the Son, of the Son of God, as the Subject of this predestination, because it is only in the Son that it is revealed to us as the predestination of God, and therefore of the Father and the Holy Spirit, because it is only as we believe in the Son that we can also believe in the Father and the Holy Spirit, and therefore in the one divine election.[1]

And Tom Greggs offers commentary on the sort of sentiment we just witnessed in Barth’s reformulation of election, as a Christ concentrated conception:

There is no room for a prior decision of God to create, or elect and condemn before the decision to elect Jesus Christ (no decretum absolutum); instead, Jesus Christ is Himself the ultimate decretum absolutum.[2]

Further:

Election’s nature is . . . Gospel. The dialectic evident in Romans remains and can be seen between electing God and elected human in its most extreme form in terms of election and rejection. Humanity continues to need to be rescued by God in its rejection of Him. What is new is that this dialectic is now considered in a wholly Christological way which brings together the Yes and No of God in the simultaneity of the elected and rejected Christ. It is He who demonstrates salvation as its originator and archetype. It is, therefore, in the humanity of the elected Christ that one needs to consider the destiny of human nature.[3]

Maybe you can infer how I would use these quotes in the chapter I wrote on assurance of salvation. But the most important point I want to highlight, currently, is that in the Barthian reformulation of election the focus is no longer on individual/abstract people scurrying around on the earth, but instead upon the ground of all humanity as that is realized in the archetypal and elect humanity of Jesus Christ. There is a universalizing underneath in the doctrine of election in Barth’s theology, with the result that our focus is not on ourselves, as if we have some sort of inherent value or worth in se; but instead the realization is always present that we find our life and being in extra nos or outside of us, only as that extra enters into us by the gift of God in the grace who is the Christ.

The shift that happens, juxtaposed with a classical double predestinarian view, is that election first and foremost is about a doctrine of God; but a doctrine of God that can never be thought of apart from or abstracted out of His choice to not be God without us. In other words, in this reified doctrine our knowledge of God and selves is contingent always already upon God’s choice to be with us and for us in Christ. This transforms the way we think humanity, for one thing. In other words, we are unable to think about what genuine humanity is without first thinking about humanity in union with God in the Son’s union with us in the vicarious humanity of Christ.

One immediate consequence of this is that the way we think people is no longer from a class structure, or from the psychological vantage point that God loves some and not others (as the classical notion of election/reprobation leaves us with). As such, we are genuinely free to look out at others and recognize a humanity, in full, that God loves; a humanity, no matter how wretched (maybe as we think of ourselves) that is valuable precisely at the point that Jesus is the Yes and not the No for them and us. This is not to suggest that a blind eye is given to the sub-humanity that people continue to live in—because we love the darkness rather than the light—but it is to alert us to the fact, in the Barthian reification, that all people have inherent value, just because God first loved us that we might love Him. It is to recognize that even if people choose to reject the election freely offered to them in Christ, that because that election is not contingent upon their choice, but God’s, they live in suspension from the imago Dei who is the imago Christi (cf. Col. 1.15), and as such continue to have inherent value, and even capacity to say yes to God in correspondence to Jesus’s Yes for them. Here, we can agree with the evangelist that ‘God so loved the world, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.’

With the above noted I think we ought to repent and understand the doctrine of election from Barth’s lights (if we haven’t already). You’ll notice a heavy emphasis on the conciliar nature of Barth’s theologizing. In other words, he isn’t resisting the ecumenical councils of the Church; nein, he is taking them with all seriousness, particularly the Nicene-Constantinopolitan-Chalcedon councils with their respective focuses on Theology Proper and Christology. Herein, for Barth, is the gateway for understanding all things theological. Folks who don’t accept this sort of prolegomenological foray of Barth’s, the one that slavishly restricts its knowledge of God to God’s Self-revelation in Christ, will of course find Barth’s conclusions on election, and everything else, amiss. But I wonder how it is possible to not follow Barth, just at a material level (which of course cannot be separated from the formal). Barth, I think, is following the Evangelist par excellence, John. John, in his Gospel, is the one who has made clear that Christ thought of Himself as the center of the whole cosmos, which includes the canon of Scripture. John is the one who has told is that Jesus alone dwells in the bosom of the Father and has come to exegete Him for us. You can’t get more biblical than this pathway. I think Barth has found something that is central to the reality of the Gospel, as that it is funded most acutely by the Gospel of John.

But I digress, a bit. I commend to you, once again, Barth’s reformulated doctrine of election. No matter what alternative someone commits themselves to, in regard to a doctrine of election, they are all dripping in deep theological commitments. I know Leighton Flowers like to present his approach as a prima facie or ‘straightforward’ “just the text man” sort of way. But the reality is that even Flowers’ approach is just as much a species of theological exegesis as anyone else’s. This is why I am so focused on making sure that we are aware of this, and as a result we seek to work from the best Christian Dogmatic as possible. Barth, in my view, offers the best theological exegetical approach when it comes to a doctrine of election. And if you understand how interlinked this doctrine is with all of Barth’s theological project, you’ll understand why appreciation of him won’t just stop with election; it can’t.

 

[1] Barth, CD II/2:110.

[2] Greggs, Barth, Origen, and Universal Salvation, 25.

 

Using Barth’s Doctrine of Election as a Theologik for Addressing Issues Like Racism, Social Justice, and the Poway Shooter

Barth’s reformulation of the Reformed doctrine of election, a supralapsarian account, is useful for a variety reasons. I wanted to simply read one quote, which should be sufficient, from Barth and his Christ concentrated understanding of double-predestination, and then appeal to this as a way forward for confronting two issues that seemingly are facing the evangelical churches: 1) ‘Racism’ and so called Social Justice, and relatedly, 2) Kinism and the Poway Synagogue shooting. I will only be able to touch upon these issues, but I wanted to open a trajectory for thinking a Christ concentrated doctrine of election towards some concrete and applied issues. Without further ado, here is how Barth conceives of a doctrine of election that is diffuse with Christ all the way down; from beginning to end:

This all rests on the fact that from the very first He participates in the divine election; that that election is also His election; that it is He Himself who posits this beginning of all things; that it is He Himself who executes the decision which issues in the establishment of the covenant between God and man; that He too, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, is the electing God. If this is not the case, then in respect of the election, in respect of this primal and basic decision of God, we shall have to pass by Jesus Christ, asking of God the Father, or perhaps of the Holy Spirit, how there can be any disclosure of this decision at all. For where can it ever be disclosed to us except where it is executed? The result will be, of course, that we shall be driven to speculating about a decretum absolutum instead of grasping and affirming in God’s electing the manifest grace of God. And that means that we shall not know into whose hands we are committing ourselves when we believe in the divine predestination. So much depends upon our acknowledgement of the Son, of the Son of God, as the Subject of this predestination, because it is only in the Son that it is revealed to us as the predestination of God, and therefore of the Father and the Holy Spirit, because it is only as we believe in the Son that we can also believe in the Father and the Holy Spirit, and therefore in the one divine election.[1]

Tom Greggs provides some concise commentary on just what this understanding entails in Barth’s theology:

Election’s nature is . . . Gospel. The dialectic evident in Romans remains and can be seen between electing God and elected human in its most extreme form in terms of election and rejection. Humanity continues to need to be rescued by God in its rejection of Him. What is new is that this dialectic is now considered in a wholly Christological way which brings together the Yes and No of God in the simultaneity of the elected and rejected Christ. It is He who demonstrates salvation as its originator and archetype. It is, therefore, in the humanity of the elected Christ that one needs to consider the destiny of human nature.[2]

In Barth’s framing, as Greggs helps us to understand further, election and reprobation are both fully found in Jesus Christ’s humanity for us. As the eternal Son elects our humanity for Himself, in this electing He assumes our reprobate status as those who need to be re-conciled with God. It is in Christ’s vicarious humanity, according to Barth (and the Bible!), where we are able to think God’s free choice to be for and with us; and to not be God without us. This is Grace!

Barth’s alternative clearly is in contradistinction to what we find in something like the Westminster Confession of Faith’s understanding of election. An understanding grounded in the decretum absolutum that is not by definition grounded in the person of the Son, but instead in God’s arbitrary decree to elect some and reprobate others (whether this is an active or passive decree, in regard to reprobation, is debated among its adherents). This is what we see Barth critiquing above; viz. the idea that we don’t have a concrete expression of God’s choice to be for us in the absolute decree, and thus we are forever turned inward wondering if God has chosen to be for me or against me. What we have in this understanding of election/reprobation is a focus on individual people, rather than on the cosmic Christ. This has consequences when we start to think this outward towards the world ‘out there.’

At a theo-psychological level we are now operating with two classes of people before God; whether we know who they are or not (that does not matter). If we adopt this sort of individualizing notion of election we have an innate belief that God looks at the world of humanity in two ways: one side as the elect who He loves with an efficacious love; and the other, those who He does not ultimately love, and instead seeks to pour out His righteous wrath upon at the Great White Throne Judgment. For the latter there is no hope. They are those who were born in their sins with no way out, and thus will exist and die in a sub-human state. Before God these people are less than human because they are not ultimately able to be united to the only life that is Life, God. We do know that in the end there will be those who will be judged by God at the Great White Throne (cf. Rev 20), but not because they didn’t have a real chance to recognize their need for the living God; it will be because they actively rejected this offer of salvation (and the humanity that is entailed by).

So how does this apply to the two issues I noted at the outset? With reference to Social Justice and Racism, if we adopt Barth’s doctrine of election we will not view the world as a mass of damnation; or as two sets of people. We will not have the notion in mind that some people just are elect and others reprobate. As such, at a psychological level, we will approach the world of humanity as if every person we see and bump into are people who God gave His very life for; and continues to. In this ‘Barthian’ frame we will see people in the way God sees people, as people who are ‘peoplized’ or humanized in and from the humanity of Christ; whether they recognize this or not. If we view the world this way we will not see it as segregated into classes of people. In other words, classism will melt away because we will recognize that there is only one class of human being; the class that is grounded in the only real human who has ever lived: Jesus Christ. We won’t see people in terms of ‘race,’ but instead in terms of God’s gracious love to be their brother, and as such their ‘kin’ (Heb 2–3). We will understand that the Jew of Nazareth has a transcendent ground for His humanity, just as sure as that ground is the eternal Logos of God (cf. anhypostasis/enhypostasis, homoousious). We will recognize from this that all of humanity, just as humanity is derived from Christ’s, is precious in God’s sight whether they are red and yellow, black and white.

The second issue I noted earlier, in regard to Kinism, never gets off the ground in Barth’s reformulated doctrine of election; for some of the reasons we just noted. If the Poway Synagogue shooter had been catechized in Barth’s understanding of election, one where all of humanity is understood as ‘elect’ in and from Christ’s humanity, he would never had the thought that some people are more precious to God than others. If this shooter had been formed with the idea that God gave His life, as a Jew by the way, for the Jew first and then the Gentile, he would have understood that the particularity of anyone’s humanity has a transcendent ground and thus value before God. Presumably under these ideational pressures the shooter never would have had the theological trajectory open to him that he claimed to be thinking from. If the shooter had recognized, at a theological level, that all of humanity are equally ‘kin,’ because we equally derive (whether actively or potentially) our value and humanity from the Kinsman Redeemer of God, Jesus Christ, he may well have never taken the path he did.

There is much more to be said and developed, but maybe this might spark some thinking for you that you may not have had before. There are direct lines between the theologies we adopt, and what they produce in our daily practices and ethics. I do not want to suggest, with particular reference to the Poway shooter, that his understanding of election was the only thing going on in his head. But I do want to draw attention to the idea that he himself declared that he thought he was doing God’s work by killing the reprobate Jews. Is this a misapplication of a well-ordered and articulated doctrine of election from the Westminster perspective? Yes, in a way. But all that I am suggesting is that the doctrine itself asserts that there are some who are eternally special and loved by God, and others who are not. From this, I am further suggesting that at a psychological level, as that then gets cashed out ethically, a person will subconsciously view the world as divided up, at an efficacious level, into two classes of people; but Holy Scripture knows of no such division. If the shooter hadn’t had this notion inculcated into his young mind he never would have viewed the Jewish people he shot as sub-human reprobate individuals for whom Christ did not die. But this is a hard needle to thread. I recognize there were most certainly other problematic ideas informing this guy’s thinking. But I still think that if we don’t consider the real life ramifications this ‘classical’ doctrine of election might have at a psychological-ethical level that we might be missing something very significant. As an aside: One more example we might attach to this is the Apartheid that took place in South Africa under the aegis of Reformed theology and its doctrine of individualized election.

If we think from Christ towards all of humanity we will not be prone to think in dualistic terms about humanity; we will think humanity in unitive ways. If this serves as the psychological-ethical basis from whence we operate in the world, and with others, this will affect our behavior in certain ways. As corollary, as we just noted, if we think of humanity in binary ways (i.e. elect versus reprobate), we will automatically have a category in our thinking that operates with the idea that some humans are lesser than and even sub to others. If we ground what it means to be ‘genuinely human’ in individual people, rather than in God’s humanity in Christ, then we will have a propensity and way to think humanity that does not actualistically see people as ultimately valuable before God; we can only do so hypothetically from our own intellectual resources.

[1] Barth, CD II/2:111.

[2] Tom Greggs, Barth, Origen, And Universal Salvation (Oxford: Oxford University Press,

2009), 26.

Karl Barth’s Reformulated Doctrine of Election, And Its Implications Towards the Way We Speak of Others; Including Donald Trump

I want to share some quotes from Karl Barth and Tom Greggs. All of these quotes either come from the body or footnotes of my personal chapter for our latest Evangelical Calvinism book (2017). I want to share the quotes, comment a little on their material presence, and then offer some sort of reflective application of them for the churches. In other words, the aim of this post is to attempt to take a technical theological locus and show how it has so called ‘practical’ value; say for human relationships, and maybe even political ones.

Karl Barth writes,

This all rests on the fact that from the very first He participates in the divine election; that that election is also His election; that it is He Himself who posits this beginning of all things; that it is He Himself who executes the decision which issues in the establishment of the covenant between God and man; that He too, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, is the electing God. If this is not the case, then in respect of the election, in respect of this primal and basic decision of God, we shall have to pass by Jesus Christ, asking of God the Father, or perhaps of the Holy Spirit, how there can be any disclosure of this decision at all. For where can it ever be disclosed to us except where it is executed? The result will be, of course, that we shall be driven to speculating about a decretum absolutum instead of grasping and affirming in God’s electing the manifest grace of God. And that means that we shall not know into whose hands we are committing ourselves when we believe in the divine predestination. So much depends upon our acknowledgement of the Son, of the Son of God, as the Subject of this predestination, because it is only in the Son that it is revealed to us as the predestination of God, and therefore of the Father and the Holy Spirit, because it is only as we believe in the Son that we can also believe in the Father and the Holy Spirit, and therefore in the one divine election.[1]

And Tom Greggs offers commentary on the sort of sentiment we just witnessed in Barth’s reformulation of election, as a Christ concentrated conception:

There is no room for a prior decision of God to create, or elect and condemn before the decision to elect Jesus Christ (no decretum absolutum); instead, Jesus Christ is Himself the ultimate decretum absolutum.[2]

Further:

Election’s nature is . . . Gospel. The dialectic evident in Romans remains and can be seen between electing God and elected human in its most extreme form in terms of election and rejection. Humanity continues to need to be rescued by God in its rejection of Him. What is new is that this dialectic is now considered in a wholly Christological way which brings together the Yes and No of God in the simultaneity of the elected and rejected Christ. It is He who demonstrates salvation as its originator and archetype. It is, therefore, in the humanity of the elected Christ that one needs to consider the destiny of human nature.[3]

Maybe you can infer how I would use these quotes in the chapter I wrote on assurance of salvation. But the most important point I want to highlight, currently, is that in the Barthian reformulation of election the focus is no longer on individual/abstract people scurrying around on the earth, but instead upon the ground of all humanity as that is realized in the archetypal and elect humanity of Jesus Christ. There is a universalizing underneath in the doctrine of election in Barth’s theology, with the result that our focus is not on ourselves, as if we have some sort of inherent value or worth in se; but instead the realization is always present that we find our life and being in extra nos or outside of us, only as that extra enters into us by the gift of God in the grace who is the Christ.

The shift that happens, juxtaposed with a classical double predestinarian view, is that election first and foremost is about a doctrine of God; but a doctrine of God that can never be thought of apart from or abstracted out of His choice to not be God without us. In other words, in this reified doctrine our knowledge of God and selves is contingent always already upon God’s choice to be with us and for us in Christ. This transforms the way we think humanity, for one thing. In other words, we are unable to think about what genuine humanity is without first thinking about humanity in union with God in the Son’s union with us in the vicarious humanity of Christ.

One immediate consequence of this is that the way we think people is no longer from a class structure, or from the psychological vantage point that God loves some and not others (as the classical notion of election/reprobation leaves us with). As such, we are genuinely free to look out at others and recognize a humanity, in full, that God loves; a humanity, no matter how wretched (maybe as we think of ourselves) that is valuable precisely at the point that Jesus is the Yes and not the No for them and us. This is not to suggest that a blind eye is given to the sub-humanity that people continue to live in—because we love the darkness rather than the light—but it is to alert us to the fact, in the Barthian reification, that all people have inherent value, just because God first loved us that we might love Him. It is to recognize that even if people choose to reject the election freely offered to them in Christ, that because that election is not contingent upon their choice, but God’s, they live in suspension from the imago Dei who is the imago Christi (cf. Col. 1.15), and as such continue to have inherent value, and even capacity to say yes to God in correspondence to Jesus’s Yes for them. Here, we can agree with the evangelist that ‘God so loved the world, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.’

The premise is that there is no person outside the reach/grace of God. A contemporary application of this might be directed Donald Trump’s way. Trump, by many sectors of people, and many Christians in fact, has come to be considered the scum of the earth. He is the target of untold ridicule and vitriolic attack. At base though, it ought to be recognized, that even Trump’s life is encompassed by the life of God in Jesus Christ; which is why we should continuously be praying for him. This is not to suggest that we can’t be critical of Trump’s policies, speech, and other negatives; but it is to suggest that in this critique what should be characteristic is one where we keep on recognizing what God does about Trump. That is, that Trump is valuable to God, as a person. Indeed, that God in Christ pledged His life for Trump’s, and at the very least our rhetoric ought to be seasoned with this reality of Grace; even in our critiques.

I think this represents one possible application of the implications of Barth’s doctrine of election. It ought to cause us to pause in our speech, at the very least. We ought to bear witness to Christ in our speech and act, even when we have people like Trump in front of us, or others we think of in ridiculing ways. We can be critical, like I noted, of Trump’s policies or even personality, but at the same time we can bear in mind that Jesus loves Trump, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. And I’m only using Trump as a symbolic example for anyone else we could fill in the blank with. What Barth’s doctrine of election does to me, in this sense, is it makes me continually cognizant of the fact that I am no different than Trump; or any of my enemies. Without God’s Grace, who is Christ for us, we would all sink into the sub-humanity we were born into. In other words, as Christ is the One for the many, the many come to have that in common; viz. that we are now all grounded in the One humanity of Jesus Christ. This does not mean we have anonymous brothers and sisters in Christ, at a spiritual level, but it does mean at a ‘carnal’ (de jure) level, that we share a universe with every other person who derives their value and worth from the same reality we do—Jesus Christ! This ought to do something in regard to the way we treat others (I’m preaching to myself).

 

[1] Barth, CD II/2:110.

[2] Greggs, Barth, Origen, and Universal Salvation, 25.

[3] Ibid., 26.

Evangelical Calvinism’s Christmas Doctrine of Pre-Destination and Election

In my Bible reading tonight (by the way, I am almost done with my 39th read through of Holy Writ), as I was reading through I Peter, I once again came across the following passage:

“He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.” I Peter 1:20

This is a sort of sine qua non for an Evangelical Calvinist conception of election. The focus for us is grounded from the homoousion, the idea that God became human in the singular person of Jesus Christ; viz. that He became human pro nobis (for us). Along with TF Torrance, Karl Barth, Pierre Maury et al. we see election focused on the vicarious humanity of Christ; a humanity that God the Son, with God the Father, by the Holy Spirit, elected for Himself so that as Irenaeus says ‘we might become what He is’ (by grace, not nature). As the Apostle Peter writes, this ‘election’ or pre-destination was something that was focused on the Son prior to the creation of the world (so a supralapsarianism), rather than (contra ‘classical’ understandings of double predestination) focusing on individual humans who are thought of in abstraction from the humanity of Christ’s.

But the point I want to mostly focus on is that for Evangelical Calvinists election has to do with God’s inner-life, in pre-temporal reality, as a life that chooses to not be God without us, but with us. So, election in this frame, when referring to pre-destination has to do with God’s life in Christ for us, rather than God’s choice of individual people inhabiting the earth; inhabiting in such a way that they can be thought of apart from Christ’s humanity when it comes to the very ground or esse of election. Election for the Evangelical Calvinist, thusly, has to do with God’s pre-temporal choice, and then its historical (via historia) actualization in the Incarnation—so a Christmas conception of predestination and election. Thomas Torrance captures all of this in the following way:

Eternal election becomes temporal event confronting people in Jesus

Once again, we cannot now pursue this further into the doctrine of the church, which is the doctrine of the corporate election moving into history as the body of Christ. But at this point we must look back again at the incarnate life of Jesus Christ in light of the threefold mysterion, prosthesis and koinonia. The eternal prothesis of God has become incarnate in Jesus Christ, has become history. In Jesus Christ, the prothesis became encounter, became decision in the living temporal relations with which we men and women have to do in our interactions with one another. Election is the person of Christ, true God and true man in one person, the union of the Father and the Son in eternal love incarnated in our flesh, and bodied forth among sinners. And so men and women in history, in their temporal actions and relations, in the midst of their temporal choices and decisions, are confronted by the Word made flesh, with the eternal decision of God’s eternal love. In Jesus Christ, therefore, eternal election has become temporal event.

Election is thus not some static act in a still point of eternity. Election is eternal pre-destination, moving out of its eternal prius into time as living act that from moment to moment confronts people in Jesus Christ. This is living act that cannot be abstracted from the person of Christ. On the contrary, here the person and act of Jesus Christ are one. Election is Christ the beloved son of the Father, and the act of election in him is once and for all, a perfectum praesens, an eternal decision that is ever present. God’s eternal decision does not halt or come to rest at any particular point or result, but is dynamic, and ever takes the field in its identity with the living person of Christ. As such election is contemporary with us, acting upon us and acting upon us through our reactions in the personal relations of men and women which it invades and which it sets into crisis. It does that by facing them with the ultimate decision which God has already taken in his love on our behalf and now sets forth in Jesus Christ, but it confronts us with that ultimate decision in such a way that we are summoned in decision before it. What do you think of Christ? Who do people say that I, the Son of Man, am? Who do you say that I am? That is precisely what we see taking place in the whole ministry of Jesus as he penetrated into people’s lives by his compassion, and revelation, and confronted them as the truth in the form of personal being, as election in the form of personal being.

That is the dimension of depth in which we are to see everything that Jesus did and said and was during the three years of his ministry as he pressed toward the cross, and the cross itself we see supremely in its setting in that context of the divine mysterion, prothesis, and koinonia.[1]

Conclusion

You aren’t going to find a more organic or ‘natural’ way of understanding election and predestination than what we are offering in Evangelical Calvinism vis-à-vis our teachers and interlocutors. As you read the New Testament, in particular, you will see this sort of theme emerging over and over again; i.e. the idea that we ‘live through Christ’ (see I Jn), or we have life through union with Christ (see the Apostle Paul’s ‘in Christ’ motif scattered throughout his oeuvre). We can amplify the various examples of this sort of ‘textual’ (versus metaphysical) understanding of election, grounded a posteriori in Christ’s vicarious humanity as it is, as we continue to engage with Holy Scripture in a maximal way. I commend this way of theology and life to you.  

 

[1] Thomas F. Torrance, Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008), 179-80.