Thursday, May 21, 2015

Blogging with Barth: CD 2.2 §32.1 "The Orientation of the Doctrine [of the Election of Grace]" pp. 3-34

Check here for previous posts in the "Blogging with Barth" series or check here for a detailed reading schedule for the Church Dogmatics with links to the respective posts I've written to accompany each day's reading.

The Leitsatz (thesis statement) for §32 states: "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 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."

In paragraph §32 ("The Problem of a Correct Doctrine of Election") and subsection §32.1 ("The Orientation of the Doctrine"), Barth takes up the election of God.

I found the editor's preface to the Church Dogmatics to be helpful as an introduction to this second half volume. They write:
In the first half-volume of his doctrine of God, Barth expounded God as the One He is in the act of His revelation and the freedom of His love. He showed that God cannot be known in abstracto, but only in the overflow of the divine life to His creature, and therefore in His eternal decision. But this eternal decision demands separate treatment and therefore brings us to this second half-volume. It is God’s decision to elect Himself for fellowship with man, and man for fellowship with Himself. Hence Barth is impelled to consider the doctrine of the divine election and its implied command within the context of the doctrine of God. The election is God’s gracious decision in Jesus Christ to bestow His love on man (ch. 7), and thus to take man into a responsible relation to His own will (ch. 8).
In his doctrine of election Barth emphasises the freedom, mystery and righteousness of God’s predestinating will, but he refuses to find its ultimate ground in a dark and unknown area of the divine will. The election is essentially God’s gracious will to choose us for Himself as revealed and fulfilled in Jesus Christ. His eternal decree and His eternal Word are one and the same, and therefore the ultimate ground of election is identical with the reality of Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ, electing and elect, God has eternally willed to lay hold of man, and fulfilled His will, reconciling man to Himself. Thus election includes the atoning work of Christ as the Elect who bore our rejection, and the doctrine of election is regarded not merely as a part but as the very sum of the Gospel. The sustained exposition of this theme, with its constant reference to Jesus Christ as the basis of the election of the community and the individual, is one of the most original, profound and moving in the whole history of theology (vii).
The editors note in their introduction that there will be a lot of biblical exegetical detail to be considered in this section. This is because Barth will depart in important ways from the Reformers  in the formulation of the doctrine of election and he can only legitimize doing so if he can root his ideas solidly in the witness of scripture. Here's how Barth reflected on this in his introduction:
To think of the contents of this volume gives me much pleasure, but even greater anxiety. The work has this peculiarity, that in it I have had to leave the framework of theological tradition to a far greater extent than in the first part on the doctrine of God. I would have preferred to follow Calvin’s doctrine of predestination much more closely, instead of departing from it so radically. I would have preferred, too, to keep to the beaten tracks when considering the basis of ethics. But I could not and cannot do so. As I let the Bible itself speak to me on these matters, as I meditated upon what I seemed to hear, I was driven irresistibly to reconstruction. And now I cannot but be anxious to see whether I shall be alone in this work, or whether there will be others who will find enlightenment in the basis and scope suggested. It is because of the rather critical nature of the case that I have had to introduce into this half-volume such long expositions of some Old and New Testament passages. For the rest, I have grounds for thinking that to some my meaning will be clearer in these passages than in the main body of the text (x).
Barth contends that election is the sum of the gospel (3), and he characterizes it as God's gracious covenant election in Jesus Christ (7ff.).
It is at once apparent that in the decision by which He institutes, maintains and directs this covenant, in His decision “in Jesus Christ,” God on His side does accomplish something quite definite. He executes this decision in His movement towards man, towards the man Jesus Christ and the people which He represents. And this movement is an act of divine sovereignty (9).
The fact that God makes this movement, the institution of the covenant, the primal decision “in Jesus Christ,” which is the basis and goal of all His works—that is grace (9).
In His election, God in His love elects another to fellowship with Himself. He does this in freedom; He is the One who decides to be eternally loving in Jesus Christ. God acts in His free grace, but he also expects something from his covenant partners. In His very election, the elected one finds a Master and Lord.

Barth contends that, contrary to popular understandings of predestination (which is often double predestination), election should not be understood as one form of predestination (and reprobation as the other). Rather, election is the sum of the gospel.
The election of grace is the sum of the Gospel—we must put it as pointedly as that. But more, the election of grace is the whole of the Gospel, the Gospel in nuce. It is the very essence of all good news. It is as such that it must be understood and evaluated in the Christian Church. God is God in His being as the One who loves in freedom (13-14).
Barth points to the trajectory of the doctrine of election in church history, citing Augustine, Calvin, and Dort. He notes that there are positives about their formulations of the doctrine (in particular, their evangelical emphasis), but also notes their favoring of double predestination, and raises concerns that these formulations are a departure from the biblical witness and actually work against their evangelical emphases (14-18).

Barth notes that all "serious" conceptions of the doctrine of election have three things in common.

First, that the grace of God is absolutely free to do that which He wishes in the doctrine.
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 pre-determination—prae-destinatio. Grace 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 (19).
 Second, this free decision of God has to do with the mystery of God in the election of grace:
All serious conceptions of the doctrine also agree that in this free decision of God we have to do with the mystery of God, i.e., with the divine resolve and decree whose basis is hidden and inscrutable. We were not admitted to the counsel of God as He made His election, nor can we subsequently call Him to give account or to make answer in respect of it. The will of God knows no Wherefore? It is an absolute Therefore, the ultimate Therefore of all. And it is as such that it wills to be known and honoured and obeyed. We resist the very being of this election as an election of grace, as a decision in accordance with the good-pleasure of the holy and righteous, the constant and omnipotent and eternal God; we resist the very being and existence of God Himself, if we raise even a question concerning the purpose and validity of this election, if we do not recognise that any such question is already answered by the fact that it is God who here decides and elects (20-21).
Third, that in the mystery of His freedom, God always does that which is worthy of Himself, meaning God's righteousness in His freedom:
And now we can mention a third point which unites all serious conceptions of the doctrine. To the confession of the mystery of God’s freedom in the election of grace they all quite definitely relate, in some sense as a basis, the confession that in the mystery of His freedom God always does that which is worthy of Himself, i.e., the confession of His righteousness. As we regard the work of God in the election of grace we must always remember Rom. 9:20: “Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God?” We must recognise the sovereignty of God and the inscrutability of His election, respecting the Therefore of it which no Wherefore can circumvent. Yet in so doing—if we really have God before us as the Subject of this work—we honour the source and citadel of all equity and judgment : not merely the wisdom which must silence the objections of our thinking and feeling, as though we were confronted by a brutum factum*—as though all discussion were terminated at this point by force—by a “higher” force, but still by force; but the wisdom before which we can only be silent. We are not bowing before the caprice of a tyrant (21-22).
After articulating these three points, Barth again reminds us of the evangelical nature of the doctrine:
The message of God’s election means always the message of the Yes determined and pronounced by God. Another message can, of course, be given apart from that of God’s election, e.g., the message of the blind election of fate, or of the supposedly most enlightened election of our own judgment. Here we shall be told something quite different from the divine affirmation. But we cannot hear of God’s election without also hearing God’s Yes. If we truly hear, then in face of this election and its meaning it is not possible for us not to be able to hear or obey that Yes, not to will to be amongst those who are affirmed by God. This is not a possibility but an impossibility. It is a turning of the sense of that election into nonsense. It is a descent into the abyss of the divine non-willing and the divine non-electing. Even in such a descent the creature cannot escape God. Even in this abyss it is still in the hands of God, the object of His decision (27).
Barth concludes:
In the light of an evangelical understanding of the election of grace, what is the meaning of the freedom of God in this His work? In His grace God is the One who unconditionally precedes the creature. Man with his decision can only follow (27).
The doctrine of election is the sum of the gospel.