Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Blogging with Barth: CD 2.2 §35.1 "Jesus Christ, the Promise and Its Recipient" pp. 306-340

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 §35 states: "The man who is isolated over against God is as such rejected by God. But to be this man can only be by the godless man’s own choice. The witness of the community of God to every individual man consists in this: that this choice of the godless man is void; that he belongs eternally to Jesus Christ and therefore is not rejected, but elected by God in Jesus Christ; that the rejection which he deserves on account of his perverse choice is borne and cancelled by Jesus Christ; and that he is appointed to eternal life with God on the basis of the righteous, divine decision. The promise of his election determines that as a member of the community he himself shall be a bearer of its witness to the whole world. And the revelation of his rejection can only determine him to believe in Jesus Christ as the One by whom it has been borne and cancelled."

In paragraph §35 ("The Election of the Individual") and subsection §35.1 ("Jesus Christ, the Promise and the Recipient"), Barth turns his attention to the election of the individual. He begins by noting that the doctrine of election has a valid place in theology; in fact, he even notes that, in terms of method, it might have been given the first place, but concludes that it is best discussed in the context of the election of Jesus Christ, for reasons that should already be clear and will become more clear.
The question of the order of treatment of the individual areas of the problem is not of fundamental importance. The selection of this particular order assists the clarification of the antithesis. It would also have been much more difficult to execute and bring out the correction which is necessary in this respect if in agreement with tradition we had begun at the point where we now end. But it cannot be denied that a reversal of the order is intrinsically possible. Indeed, once the correction has been made, it might even be advisable. Following tradition, we could then begin with the election of the individual, proceed in continually ascending circles to the election of Israel and the Church, and conclude with the election of Jesus Christ. The only correction which is basically important is the recognition that the election of the individual must be discussed in the closest possible relation to the election of Jesus Christ and the election of the community of God (309).
One might conclude that because of this point - that the individual should be discussed in closest possible relation to the election of Jesus Christ and the community - that the individual would get crushed in Barth's doctrine of election. This is not the case (311). Election recognizes the individual within humanity as a whole; nonetheless the one person is elected.
Men have an “individuality” in relation to the human group: the family, the nation, the state, society, the total complex of human nature and history—in short, humanity as a whole. The event that stands under the sign of divine predestination does not take place between God and one of these groups, but between God and individual human beings. The “sign” itself—the divine election of grace—already refers to them. This election has been made in Jesus Christ. The community is its necessary medium. But its object (in Jesus Christ, and by way of the community) is individual men: certainly, these individual men in their group relationships, in the callings, obligations, duties, restrictions and potentialities which are given in such relationships; but individuals who are actively responsible in these relationships, and not the groups themselves or any single group (313).
So what does 'individuality' mean in this context? Barth develops this in the following section. Individuality, in terms of the predestined one, is to simply be "forgiven man" (315). This forgiveness in election bring a true and new individuality which comes in union with Jesus Christ (315). The gospel bears witness to this effect and this is the witness of the community, and it is the promise of grace (317ff.). The witness of the community to the elected man who persists in his rejection of God is that grace has come - the grace is for Him even though he persists in living in enmity with God. God takes hold of him, but he might choose to let go of God.
And—so runs the testimony of the community—in Jesus Christ God has known and loved and chosen and drawn eternally to Himself this very man, in his shameful and wretched isolation, implicated in the sinful fall of Adam and enslaved to Adam’s nature. We have said, this very individual. We now say, more precisely, this godless man in his isolation, wantonly rushing into the arms of divine rejection, and therefore suffering it, the very one whose rejection is borne and annulled by Jesus Christ. It is clear that the idea of the “individual,” in this decidedly negative sense of our context, involves the crisis and the limit of all “individualism.” Let the “individual” take warning! He has the power to be isolated and godless. According to the testimony of the community he is even destined to be this. He has gambled away and forfeited the dignity of his individuality, and his title to it, by staking it against God from whom he received it (317-18).
And so the message of the elect community needs to be that there is a promise in Jesus Christ - that the rejecting man is an elect man too, and in his rejection he is making a "perverted choice." The community knows that, on the basis of the decree of God's gracious election the truly rejected man is God's own Son, so no man need be truly rejected. The community knows that God has removed the merited rejection of man in Jesus Christ (319).
The community can only testify to the act and revelation of the divine election of grace. But it cannot possibly withdraw from this testimony. It cannot possibly deliver the message of Jesus Christ without delivering to every man to whom it turns the promise of his election. It must certainly recall the threat of his rejection. But it will do so only for the sake of declaring and stressing the promise. The community has no control over the outcome of this. It cannot determine what man will make of it. But it has just as little competence to distinguish between those who are worthy of this promise and those who are not worthy, loudly proclaiming it in the one case and muffling it in the other. Those who hear and believe it live as God’s elect. The community of God, however, can only proclaim it loudly so that it may be heard and believed. It must be loud indeed, and it must be brought to the ears of those who do not know it yet or any longer, or who do so only in part, in order that they may hear and believe it. To do this is the task of the community in relation to the world and its children. It must not let itself be frightened or shocked by their godlessness. It must not be restrained by any “experiences” from repeatedly bringing the promise of his election to every man, in and with the message of Jesus Christ (320).
So who finally is the 'individual'?
The hearer or reader can fully realise what we are talking about only when he observes that in this final connexion the whole definitive investigation and exposition of the object of predestination transcends all definition and is transformed into a direct summons to himself: Thou art the man! Thou art the object of predestination in this its final connexion! We are talking about thee, nay—we are actually talking to thee when we talk about the individual human person in relationship to the election of Jesus Christ and the community! (323).
And the task of the community is to declare this: thou are the man!
The community does not perform its task properly if it does not perform it in this manner—speaking implicitly or explicitly in the second person. And its task—the bringing of the promise to an individual man in and with the message of Jesus Christ—is not understood if it is not understood in this way; if thou dost not understand it as the promise which concerns thyself and in one way or another demonstrates truth to thyself. Where this is not the case, the election of the “individual” or the “ungodly,” and the election of Jesus Christ Himself, is most certainly not understood. Dogmatics as such—which of itself is neither preaching nor pastoral admonition—can only indicate this final intensification of the doctrine of God’s election of grace. But this indication is absolutely necessary. When we speak in the third person about the “elect” (or about the “rejected”), it is always the second person who is the final meaning and elucidation of what is said (324-325).
Barth closes with a small print excursus which explores the classical Reformed doctrine of individual election. Though he finds points of commonality between his formulation and his own (emphasis on faith in Jesus Christ and grace, insistence on perseverance, and grounding assurance in Jesus Christ, he sees a failure in the classical doctrine of not having developed these themes fully (325-340).