Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Blogging with Barth: CD 2.2 §33.1 "Jesus Christ, Electing and Elected" pp. 94-145

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 §33 states: "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."

In paragraph §33 ("The Election of Jesus Christ") and subsection §33.1 ("Jesus Christ, Electing and Elected"), Barth minces no words, and just begins boldly in the heart of the doctrine of election with a reflection on the centrality of Jesus Christ!
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, as 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 fulfilment 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 (94-95).
Barth helps orient and establish the reality of this opening with a beautiful and detailed exegesis of the prologue of John (95-99). If Jesus Christ, the Word of God, can be understood in this way, as the election of God, then that means that election is not some arbitrary concept or exercise by an abstract deity, rather, the doctrine of election means that there is a specific election of Grace by God specifically in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the One in Whom God wills to be gracious.

The doctrine of election has a two-fold reference: to the elector and the elected. In the doctrine of election, Jesus Christ fulfills both these roles in that He is the electing God (subject) and the elected One (object) - a representative for all humanity (103). The fact that Jesus Christ, as God, is the electing God, means that there can be no decretum absolute, which is a common feature of Reformed thought (103-108, note small print). He defends this point, and the conception of Jesus Christ as the electing God and the elected One, in a review of scripture and the Tradition in small print on pp. 108-115. He concludes the small print section in this way:
The election of Jesus Christ is the eternal choice and decision of God. And our first assertion tells us that Jesus Christ is the electing God. We must not ask concerning any other but Him. In no depth of the Godhead shall we encounter any other but Him. There is no such thing as Godhead in itself. Godhead is always the Godhead of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. But the Father is the Father of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Father and the Spirit of Jesus Christ. There is no such thing as a decretum absolutum*. There is no such thing as a will of God apart from the will of Jesus Christ. Thus Jesus Christ is not only the manifestatio and speculum nostrae praedestinationis ['mirror of our predestination']. And He is this not simply in the sense that our election can be known to us and contemplated by us only through His election, as an election which, like His and with His, is made (or not made) by a secret and hidden will of God. On the contrary, Jesus Christ reveals to us our election as an election which is made by Him, by His will which is also the will of God. He tells us that He Himself is the One who elects us. In the very foreground of our existence in history we can and should cleave wholly and with full assurance to Him because in the eternal background of history, in the beginning with God, the only decree which was passed, the only Word which was spoken and which prevails, was the decision which was executed by Him. As we believe in Him and hear His Word and hold fast by His decision, we can know with a certainty which nothing can ever shake that we are the elect of God.
Jesus Christ is elected man. In making this second assertion we are again at one with the traditional teaching. But the christological assertion of tradition tells us no more than that in His humanity Jesus Christ was one of the elect. It was in virtue of His divinity that He was ordained and appointed Lord and Head of all others, the organ and instrument of the whole election of God and the revelation and reflection of the election of those who were elected with Him (115-116).
Barth now moves to further clarify what it means when we say that Jesus Christ is the elected Man - the object of election:
It tells us that before all created reality, before all being and becoming in time, before time itself, in the pre-temporal eternity of God, the eternal divine decision as such has as its object and content the existence of this one created being, the man Jesus of Nazareth, and the work of this man in His life and death, His humiliation and exaltation, His obedience and merit. It tells us further that in and with the existence of this man the eternal divine decision has as its object and content the execution of the divine covenant with man, the salvation of all men. In this function this man is the object of the eternal divine decision and foreordination. Jesus Christ, then, is not merely one of the elect but the elect of God. From the very beginning (from eternity itself), as elected man He does not stand alongside the rest of the elect, but before and above them as the One who is originally and properly the Elect. From the very beginning (from eternity itself), there are no other elect together with or apart from Him, but, as Eph. 1:4 tells us, only “in” Him. “In Him” does not simply mean with Him, together with Him, in His company. Nor does it mean only through Him, by means of that which He as elected man can be and do for them. “In Him” means in His person, in His will, in His own divine choice, in the basic decision of God which He fulfils over against every man. What singles Him out from the rest of the elect, and yet also, and for the first time, unites Him with them, is the fact that as elected man He is also the electing God, electing them in His own humanity. In that He (as God) wills Himself (as man), He also wills them. And so they are elect “in Him,” in and with His own election (116-117).
The insight is this: that in the predestination of the man Jesus we see what predestination is always and everywhere—the acceptance and reception of man only by the free grace of God. Even in the man Jesus there is indeed no merit, no prior and self-sufficient goodness, which can precede His election to divine sonship (118).
Barth suggests that this insight essentially has three implications (highlighted below), which he works out in detail over the course of pages 120-127.
This insight is a true and important one. Yet we cannot say that in the form given to it by the great exponents of the doctrine of election it exhausts or embraces everything that is to be perceived and remembered in relation to this topic. Even as the object of predestination, even as elected man, Jesus Christ must still be understood as truly the beginning of all God’s ways and works. That is the first thing which we have to bring out more clearly in this connexion. The second is that the election of the man Jesus is specifically His election to suffering, and that it is for this reason and in this form that it is the basic act of the divine election of grace. And the third is that we have to see our own election in that of the man Jesus because His election includes ours within itself and because ours is grounded in His. We are elected together with Him in so far as we are elected “in Him,” i.e., through Him who is not merely the object but also and primarily the Subject of the divine election. We must attempt so to think of the reality of the passive election of Christ, of Jesus Christ as the object of the divine predestination, that in all our further discussion of this topic we may turn to good account the insight handed down to us by tradition (120).
Barth now comes to an interesting and longish small print section on the controversy between the supralapsarians and the infralapsarians (127-145). This section closes out 33.1. Let me quote at length from William Klempa's entry on "Supralapsarianism" in the Westminster Handbook to Reformed Theology:
In dispute was the place of the Fall in God's electing purposes. As the term implies (supra "above" or "before," and lapsus "fall"), supralapsarianism affirmed that God decreed both election and reprobation from all eternity without respect to the merits or demerits of persons. It differed from infralapsarianism (infra "below" or "after" and lapsus "fall") which held that in predestination God had in view sinful humanity, of whom God elected some and passed by others. Expressed differently, the object of predestination in supralapsarianism was the human race as not yet created and not yet fallen and in infralapsarianism, the human race as already created and fallen. For infralapsarianism, the temporal sequence of creation, fall, and salvation was also the logical order, while for supralapsarianism, the logical and temporal orders of God's purpose were reversed.
The controversy was subtle and yet theologically significant, fiercely debated but not fundamentally divisive. While infralapsarianism became the dominant confessional position of Reformed churches, theologians such as Theodore Beza, Franciscus Gomarus, Franz Burmann, and William Twisse subscribed to supralapsarianism. At the Synod of Dort, infralapsarians were in the majority, and while the Canons do not exclude supralapsarianism, the bias is in favor of infralapsarianism. The same is true of the Westminster Confession of Faith.
Though both positions were ultimately unsatisfactory - because the connection between election and the fall is inscrutable - supralapsarianism was more consistent, coherent, and comprehensive in scope. It viewed salvation as God's primary purpose, while infralapsarianism was inclined to see salvation as God's reaction to sin, that is, as a kind of emergency measure or redemptive repair work - "Plan B" after "Plan A" had failed. On the other hand, supralapsarianism tended to rationalize sin and evil by viewing them as necessary elements in God's plan, and it was accordingly accused of making God the author of sin. 
Karl Barth sought to overcome their respective difficulties by arguing that supralapsarianism is relatively more nearly correct. If supralapsarianism is liberated from the dangerous presuppositions of an absolute decree and the symmetry of election and reprobation, and the doctrine of election is interpreted Christologically, with Jesus Christ as the true object of predestination, then, according to Barth, supralapsarianism is preferable. So understood, election is solely and totally grace, "the sum of the gospel."
Perhaps Klempa's note about Barth will give us some indication of why Bromiley thought of Barth as a "reconstructed supralapsarian." In Barth's view, supralapsarianism contained the greatest promise for the future. It could only fulfill this promise though it it is reinterpreted Christologically.