Friday, May 22, 2015

Blogging with Barth: CD 2.2 §32.2 "The Foundation of the Doctrine [of the Election of Grace]" pp. 34-76

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 §32.2 ("The Foundation of the Doctrine"), Barth takes up the question, "what is the source of the doctrine of predestination?"

Negatively, Barth asserts that there are unsatisfactory sources for the doctrine. These include...

1) A doctrine which is rooted in an existing system of the Tradition, for example the doctrine of predestination which seems so closely allied with 16th and 17th-century Reformed theology.
Consultation of the Bible must mean something more than simply giving a supplementary proof—side by side with the consultation of reason—that the doctrine of the Bible is identical with that of Calvin. Calvinism may be a good and praiseworthy thing from the human standpoint, even if we give to the concept more than its historical sense. But from the standpoint of a strict Christian theology there is no such thing as “Calvinism,” just as there ought never to have been any such thing as “Lutheranism.” (36).
2) A doctrine which only serves some practical purpose, for example, a "pedagogical usefulness" or the "cure of souls."
If we are to understand the doctrine of election rightly, we may not substitute for its foundation what we think must in any case be acknowledged as its didactic value, or its pedagogic usefulness in the cure of souls. We may not set before us this value and usefulness, only, and inevitably, to construct and expound the doctrine in accordance with the usefulness and value which we think ought to be ascribed to it. The order of procedure must be the very opposite. We must enquire into the foundation of the doctrine in the divine revelation quite independently of its value and usefulness, and the doctrine must then be constructed and expounded in accordance with that foundation. Only as that is done will the fact and the extent of its didactic and pedagogic value and usefulness really emerge (37).
3) A doctrine which is rooted in a "datum of experience."
There is a third possibility, more serious than the first two and the more decidedly to be rejected. This is the possibility of basing the doctrine of election upon a datum of experience, presumed or actual. On this view our concern is with what we observe to be the evident contrast between those who through the Church hear the Gospel and those who never have the opportunity to hear it at all; or, again, between those who hear it obediently and with profit, and so to salvation, and those who hear with open hostility, or without any result at all, and so finally to condemnation. How—it is asked—are these facts to be explained? And how especially is it to be explained that there seem to be those who either outwardly or inwardly cannot hear the Gospel? And if this is a fact, what is its bearing on our understanding of the other observation, that there are some who do seem actually to hear the Gospel? To answer this question the Bible is consulted (although only in a secondary capacity), and it is shown that some are elected by God and some rejected. But this raises the further question: Is it right to go to the Bible with a question dictated to us by experience, i.e., with a presupposition which has only an empirical basis, in order then to understand the statements of the Bible as an answer to this question, which means chiefly as a confirmation of the presupposition which underlies the question? (38)
4) A doctrine which is rooted in the concept of God as omnipotent Will (a branch of providence):
Another foundation which must be taken seriously, but all the more carefully avoided, is that which begins with the concept of God as omnipotent Will, governing and irresistibly directing each and every creature according to His own law, and thus disposing also of the salvation and perdition of men (44).
But we must also assert that we do not exhaustively define or describe God when we identify Him with irresistible omnipotence. Indeed, if we make this identification in abstracto, we do not define or describe God at all. Irresistible omnipotence cannot be made the beginning and end of the being of God. And even if we do not make or intend this abstraction, we must still ask whether we understand the election aright if we understand it from the very first within the framework of the presumably superior reality of the divine government of the world, as one specific act of this general divine activity. That it is logically convenient to do this is quite evident. But what we must enquire is whether it is in fact correct to do it; whether we ought not rather to understand the divine government of the world in the light of the divine election of grace. May it not be that we can believe and understand, not merely the election itself, but the fact that God and not a blindly determining and deciding something rules the world, and that the world is really ruled by Him, only when we recognise and proclaim in God the electing God, and as such the Lord, the Subject of that all-comprehensive activity? May it not be that it is as the electing God that He is the Almighty, and not vice versa? (45).
Positively, Barth roots the doctrine of election and its true foundation or source in the biblical witness to the electing God in Jesus Christ.
Who and what is the God who is to be known at the point upon which Holy Scripture concentrates our attention and thoughts? Who and what is the God who rules and feeds His people, creating and maintaining the whole world for its benefit, and guiding it according to His own good-pleasure—according to the good-pleasure of His will as it is directed towards this people? If in this way we ask further concerning the one point upon which, according to Scripture, our attention and thoughts should and must be concentrated, then from first to last the Bible directs us to the name of Jesus Christ. It is in this name that we discern the divine decision in favour of the movement towards this people, the self-determination of God as Lord and Shepherd of this people, and the determination of this people as “his people, and the sheep of his pasture” (Ps. 100:3). (53).
If we listen to what Scripture says concerning man, then at the point where our attention and thoughts are allowed to rest there is revealed an elect man, the elect man, and united in Him and represented by Him an elect people. But just as truly there is revealed at that same point the electing God. The elect One is true man according to God’s self-revelation, and that revelation, being God’s, has the decisive word concerning man too. And once again we must put it the other way: If we would know what election is, what it is to be elected by God, then we must look away from all others, and excluding all side-glances or secondary thoughts we must look only upon the name of Jesus Christ and upon the actual existence and history of the people whose beginning and end are enclosed in the mystery of His name (58-59).