Monday, May 25, 2015

Blogging with Barth: CD 2.2 §32.3 "The Place of the Doctrine in Dogmatics" pp. 76-93

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 §32.3 ("The Place of the Doctrine in Dogmatics"), Barth explored the proper location for the doctrine of election in dogmatics (or systematic theology). He locates it in the doctrine of God.
It is not at all self-evident that the doctrine of election should occupy in dogmatic enquiry the place here accorded to it. We have given it precedence over all the other individual tenets of the Christian faith relating to the work of God, and placed it in the context of the doctrine of God itself. As far as I know, no previous dogmatician has adopted such a course. We must ask then: Is it really the case that the doctrine of election forms a part of the definition of the Subject of all Christian doctrine? May we and must we deal with it before we deal even with the creation of the world and of man, or before we deal with the work of reconciliation and the end of that work in eternal redemption? We answer this question affirmatively when we maintain of God that in Himself, in the primal and basic decision in which He wills to be and actually is God, in the mystery of what takes place from and to all eternity within Himself, within His triune being, God is none other than the One who in His Son or Word elects Himself, and in and with Himself elects His people. In so far as God not only is love, but loves, in the act of love which determines His whole being God elects (76-77). 
For Barth, we cannot speak of God without speaking of the electing God. He is the God who loves in freedom. But as Barth demonstrates, the Tradition has placed the doctrine of election in other places in dogmatics. Barth reviews six historical arrangements for the doctrine of election, reviewed here:

1) First, election is placed immediately following the doctrine of God. Examples of this include the Westminster Confession (1647) and Irish Articles of Religion (1615) (and other 17th century Reformed theologies).
1. At a first glance it might seem as though we are in agreement with, or approximate very closely to, the arrangement which became to some extent classical in the Reformed orthodoxy of the I7th century. According to that scheme, the doctrine of predestination followed closely upon the doctrine of God, preceding directly the doctrine of creation and the whole remaining content of confession and dogmatics (77).
Our present procedure, however, cannot be identified simply with that followed in this branch of the Reformed tradition. One reason for this is that according to that tradition the main confessional and and dogmatic tenet was not strictly speaking the doctrine of election. It was rather the tenet which took precedence over that of the election—the tenet of the decrees of God in general (78).
We have already stated the reasons why we cannot adopt this line of approach. It takes God in His general relationship with the world as its first datum and understands His electing as one function in this general relationship. As against that, we are commanded by the Bible and our Christian profession to take and to understand first the living God in His electing, in the specific relationship which He has established with man in Jesus Christ. Only from this point can we go on to consider His general relationship with the world and His decretum generale. A further difference between us is that with these theologians, so far as I can see, the doctrine of election was never regarded or treated as an integral part of the doctrine of God (78-79). 
 2) Second, election is placed after the doctrine of creation and providence. For example, Zwingli in his Fidei ratio (1530).
2. All the other methods of arrangement which may now be mentioned have one feature in common. As against the Reformed scheme already referred to, they speak first of creation and providence, and only then, in greater or lesser proximity, of the election. It is plain that with these arrangements we depart increasingly from the order which we ourselves believe to be correct (80).
If we could allow that this arrangement had been determined by some objective consideration, then, as in the case of the classical Reformed sequence, we should have to see in it the correct insight that the work of God (the work of all works!) is not creation, but that which precedes creation both eternally and in effect temporally, the incarnate Word of God, Christ. We ourselves attempted to do justice to this truth by treating the doctrine of the incarnation even earlier, as the central part of the doctrine of the Word of God which introduces all dogmatics. But we must repeat that Christology is more than the doctrine of the incarnation or person of Christ. It is also the doctrine of the work of Christ, His humiliation, His exaltation, His threefold office. And as such it forms the presupposition and substance of our whole doctrine of reconciliation and faith, of justification and sanctification, of the Church and the sacraments. To that extent those who would introduce their Christology at this point might have showed greater perspicacity in their thinking. It is obvious that the doctrine must also be asserted in the place reverently enough allotted to it in this second form of arrangement, i.e., in direct connexion with the doctrine of God and therefore with that of creation. But it can be asserted here only in the form of the doctrine of election, which, if we comprehend it aright, must from its very roots be thought of and developed christologically. Those who advocated this arrangement, however, allowed the Christology to displace the doctrine of election, instead of filling it out and giving it form. The precedence given to Christology might have been justified and illuminating in its effects if the doctrine of election had been grounded upon it and the transition to the doctrine of creation and providence made in that way. But its advocates did not do that. With them the doctrine of election seems to be co-ordinated with that of creation and providence, and even subordinated to it, according to the well-known Thomistic schema. In this decisive relationship the precedence given to Christology was thus rendered ineffective. For this reason, although the arrangement is interesting in itself, it is not one which we are tempted to follow (80-81).
 3) Third, the doctrine of election is related to the doctrine of reconciliation. For example, again, in Zwingli's Fidei ratio and in the 1536 edition of Calvin's Institutes.
3. The specific characteristic of all remaining arrangements is that now the election of grace is quite clearly detached from the doctrine of God and treated after the doctrine of creation and even after that of sin. The result is that it is detached equally clearly from the doctrine of providence, and instead brought into direct connexion with the doctrine of reconciliation. To this doctrine it is in some sort the key, and at every point in its discussion it has to be taken into account. We have this arrangement in its original and basic form when predestination is dealt with quite simply within the context of the doctrine of the Church (81).
In favour of this third arrangement we certainly can and should say this. It is marked out from all others by its direct relationship with the Bible. As we stated in our own introductory observations, in the Bible the concept of election stands decidedly in a direct and indissoluble union with that of the people of God, the people which is called Israel in the Old Testament and the Church in the New. The divine election is the election of and to this people. All the consequences of this election as they concern the relationship between God and man, indeed the relationship itself and as such, are worked out within the framework of the life of this people which is twofold but one and the same. The connexion between the election and the Church is both close and comprehensive, and for this reason constitutive for the whole of Christian doctrine. But because this is so, it is advisable, at any rate when we are attempting a coherent understanding of the whole of Christian doctrine, to consider the election, not when we treat directly and specifically of the Church, but much earlier, when our theme is God Himself as the Creator, Lord and Ruler of this people. It is obvious that before the populus electus there comes the Deus elector. Before the assurance of election, described so finely by Calvin and proper to the true Church or the true humanity gathered into the body of Christ, there stand the mercy and righteousness of the true God who has created and who preserves this true humanity as such, and in whom its assurance has both its ground and Subject. There is no such thing as an assurance of faith apart from the electing God. Assurance of faith is only in the knowledge of the electing God. And it is this fact which at the very least this conception can only too easily obscure (83).
If, in our later treatment of the doctrine of the Church, we are to stand on the firm ground which is none other than the Church’s eternal divine election, and if we are to do full justice to the aim and intention of this third arrangement, then we must begin our consideration of the divine election at a much earlier point, in the doctrine of God Himself as the Lord and foundation of the Church (84).
4) Fourth, the doctrine of election is placed immediately following Christology. For example, in Calvin first draft of the Catechism in 1537.
This was the method chosen by Calvin in the first draft of his Catechism (1537), and later by Peter Martyr in his Loci communes (1576). According to this presentation the doctrine of election brings us, as it were, to the climax of that activity which begins with the gracious God and is completed in sinful man. In it we look backwards from God’s electing and man’s election to Christ Himself, the basis of the salvation which God has wrought. And in it we look forward to the status of the Christian and to the Church where this salvation is applied to and avails for us. I am aware of only one later presentation in which this conception recurs—the dogmatics of a later disciple of Coccejus, Hermann Witsius, De oeconomia foedorum (1693). In the second book of this work Witsius develops the doctrine of the divine origin and the person and work of Christ. In the third he then deals with the doctrine of the economy of personal salvation under the title De foedere Dei cum electis. This is a more extended and detailed treatment of the concepts of Rom. 8:30 and therefore of the election (84).
5) Fifth, the doctrine of election is related to hamartiology, and precedes Christology and soteriology.
5. A second possibility within the sphere of this particular outlook is that of either directly or indirectly conjoining the doctrine of election with that of sin. In this case it will be given precedence over Christology as well as soteriology, occupying the same position in relation to the full doctrine of reconciliation as in the arrangement mentioned under (1) it does in relation to dogmatics as a whole (84).
6) Sixth, the doctrine of election is placed "as the consummation of [the doctrine of] reconciliation."
6. The third possibility within this understanding of the doctrine of election as the key to that of reconciliation is to make the doctrine of election in some degree the consummation of that of reconciliation, introducing it not in the middle or at the beginning, but as the ultimate and decisive word which sheds additional light upon all that has gone before (85).
Barth uses appreciative language to describe these different positions but ultimately will conclude that his proposal is better (obviously). Of his own proposition, that the doctrine of election be rooted in the doctrine of God, Barth says...
When we give to the doctrine the position suggested, it assumes in Church dogmatics its necessary function; the function proper to the concept of election in the biblical testimony to God and to the work and revelation of God. That God elects man, that He determines man for Himself, having first determined Himself for man, is not one moment with others in the prophetic and apostolic testimony. Enclosed within the testimony to God Himself, it is the moment which is the substance and basis of all other moments in that testimony. The biblical witness to God is itself wholly characterised by the fact that this God has determined Himself the Lord of Israel and the Church, and as such the Lord of the universe and man in general. It is for this reason and to this end that He wills the calling of Israel and the Church and the creation of the universe and man. It is only in this self-determination, and in the indestructible order which results from it, that the Bible bears witness to God, and that according to that biblical witness God can be truly known as God. It is, then, only upon the basis of this divine self-determination that, according to this witness, all the works of God are what they are. In this self-determination and only in this self-determination does God will to be known, to be loved and feard, to be believed in and worshipped as Creator, Reconciler and Redeemer. There is no single moment in the biblical witness that must not be understood in the light of it. There is no single moment in this witness that can be understood in the light of anything else, whether out of religious or philosophical caprice or perversity. It is in virtue of this self-determination that God wills to be God solely in Jesus Christ. And it is as such that He is the Lord of Israel and the Church, and as such, and not otherwise, that He is the Creator, Reconciler and Redeemer of the universe and man. But it is with this primal decision of God that the doctrine of election deals (90-91).