Donald Bloesch


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.

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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!

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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)