The latest and fullest discussion of the doctrines of election, ethics, and creation on the part of Barth are contained in:
Die kirchliche Dogmatik. Zweiter Band, Zweiter Halbband. Zollikon-Zürich: Evangelischer Verlag A.G. 1942. X, 899. Sw. Fr. 37:00. Dritter Band, Erster Teil. Zollikon-Zurich: Evangelischer Verlag A.G. 1945. 7, 488. Sw. Fr. 24:00. Barth’s treatment of these subjects is discussed in this appendix.
The doctrine of election, we are told, contains the whole of the gospel in nuce.1 As such it may be summed up in two sentences. The first is, “Jesus Christ is the electing God.” From this any true statement of the doctrine of election must take its start. It is to be substituted for Calvin’s notion of an absolute decree. Scripture knows of no God in Himself4 and “there is no decretum absolutum.”
The second sentence is, “Jesus Christ is the chosen man.” When taken in relationship to the first, this sentence means that election never deals with man in himself and as such (an sich und als solcher). God rejects man as such but He rejects him in Christ. In Christ God loves man in himself and as such.
In thus taking Jesus Christ as the subject and object of election we escape the double mystery of the unknown God and the unknown man of the traditional view. We now realize that the decree of reprobation is penultimate rather than ultimate, that evil has only a shadow form of existence and that as such it is already past.
Surrounding the Christ as the object of election is the inner circle of God’s people (die Gemeinde). And surrounding this inner circle is the larger circle of the world of men in general.
The task of the inner circle of God’s people is to testify of God’s electing grace to men in general. Men should not seek to realize that which has been made inherently impossible for them by the grace of God. It is futile for man to choose for the existence of pure non-being. In choosing for the Satanic possibility of pure non-being, his faith itself is an act in the void. It is nothing. “He chooses as and he chooses what he cannot choose.… He chooses that which in his election of God he made a rejected possibility.” This impossible possibility takes on meaning and reality by means of its sublation in Christ. Man can hate God and be hated of God. But all this is possible only in a negative sense. God’s victorious love is all-encompassing and all-inclusive.
In bringing this message of God’s grace to man the Gemeinde feels its solidarity with the world. As elect only in Christ, God’s people speak to those who with them, even in their most violent hatred of God, are also elect in Christ. In Christ all are brethren. All are destined for participation in God’s glory.
In Barth’s view the doctrine of ethics follows immediately upon that of election. The two are cemented together in the concept of the covenant of grace. As Jesus Christ is the electing God and the chosen man, so He is also the commanding God and the obeying man. Only on this presupposition can the comprehensive claim of God upon men everywhere be fully appreciated. In Christ man has a mandatum concretissimum. In obedience to Christ man is truly free.
Again, as reprobation is reprobation in Christ, so disobedience to God’s command is disobedience in Christ. Judgment is always reconciliation. Accordingly “what God wills of us is the same as that which He wills and has done for us.” “The commandment is the promise of the love of God.”
As Barth’s doctrine of the covenant of grace unites his doctrine of election and his doctrine of ethics so it also unites his entire doctrine of God and that of man. Creation is accordingly said to be the external ground of the covenant.
Jesus Christ is both the noetic bond and the ontological ground of creation. Creation is for the covenant and the covenant is the theme of history.
As covenant history, creation takes place in time, in true or genuine history. Our ordinary calendar time is not true time. It has virtually become non-existent through grace. Through grace men are participants in true, creation time. Accordingly the story of creation is not a record of ordinary history. It is a “pure saga” (reine Sage). Only pure saga can penetrate into and convey the real depth of genuine time. Furthermore, this pure saga must be received by fantasy. Only by fantasy can we understand that all things in creation are directed toward their covenant consummation. God’s creation is the setting of limits to the infinite powers of Chaos. Existence is, therefore, per se, existence for God and in Christ. The negative aspect of reality is a mere passageway to reality properly so called. True self-consciousness is coterminous with Christ-consciousness. This is the best possible world because it is the only possible world. “So then Adam was Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ was Adam.”
The main features of the doctrine of election, of ethics and of creation as set forth in the two books under consideration are now before us. All problems are to be christologically interpreted. When God elects, commands or creates, He makes His covenant with man in Christ. When man believes, obeys or comes into being he accepts God’s covenant of grace.
Basic to an understanding of Barth’s covenantal or christological treatment of the doctrines discussed are his ideas of correlativity and incommensurability. Throughout his various writings Barth has employed the concept of correlativity in order to do away with the notions of “God in Himself” and “man in himself.” For all practical purposes God is nothing but that which He is in His relationship to man and man is nothing but that which he is in relationship to God. Both God and man are wholly exhausted in Christ the mediator between them. If anything exists beyond the Christ it does not concern us. The absolute decree of God, the expression of His sovereign will to man as such and the creation of man as such must therefore be set aside. Thus Barth’s critical idea of correlativity continues to make havoc with the very foundations of historic Christianity.
Based upon this notion of correlativity is that of incommensurability. By means of it Barth seeks to make God’s yes to man more ultimate than His no. Reprobation must be reprobation in Christ. “Jesus Christ is the propelling power given to all men unto eternal life.” In Christ God moves downward with man in utter dereliction and in Christ man moves upward with God into His glory. Because God has in Christ entered into the same process with man the end is victory. Judas “the great sinner of the New Testament”, in whom the principle of reprobation is concentrated, merely represents “the impurity of all the apostles.” Judas is “himself a devil” but even as such he is in the midst of the church.” To be sure, Scripture does not say that Judas was saved. His relationship to Jesus therefore represents “the open situation in preaching.” But Peter too did not wholly love Christ. It is because the elect are also reprobate and as such are elect that Jesus died for them. The salvation of God’s people is in all instances purely eschatological. The figure of Judas is that of a shadow. This shadow is negative light. The divine no of judgment must always be viewed in the light of the divine yes of forgiveness. Hence it is not too bold to speak of an “objective justification of Judas.” We know nothing of hell but only of a triumph over hell. “We know of none whom God has left wholly and finally to himself.”
In attributing to the decretum absolutum the ultimate, and to man as such a secondary, constitutive function in the doctrine of election, orthodoxy has, argues Barth, embraced a hopeless fatalism. For orthodoxy there was an existential system with a fixed number of reprobate as well as a fixed number of elect. The gospel of victorious grace could scarcely break through such a mould. The true gospel must now be brought to light from the double darkness of the hidden God and the unknown man. Only thus do we deal with light that is unapproachable instead of with darkness that is meaningless and arbitrary. Instead of staring at the mysterious decretum absolutum we look with joy into the face of Jesus Christ and the decretum concretum. If mystery still remains it is no longer objectionable. If reprobation remains it remains only as a shadow. Man’s freedom to oppose God is not a genuine, only a negative, possibility. Man’s true freedom, his true choice, is enveloped by Christ’s choice; it is a choice in Christ. If evil remains, it remains only as a shadow. If we are not to speak of a general apokatastasis it remains true that darkness, creation, and sin are penultimate not ultimate. God’s final word for man is grace.
Barth’s attack on the orthodox Protestant position is, it appears, now more vigorous than ever. It is especially historic Reformed theology that forms the citadel under attack. He has deeper reasons than Arminius had for his objection to Calvin’s absolute decree. His reasons are such as the consciousness theologians, together with him, would borrow from Immanuel Kant.
Barth’s “christological” treatment of the various doctrines he discusses dissolves all the differentiations of orthodox Christianity. It dissolves the orthodox Creator-creature distinction on the ground that it speaks of a hidden God and a hidden man. It dissolves therefore the orthodox distinction between revelation to man and the acceptance of revelation by man. It dissolves the orthodox distinction between God who elects and man who is elected. All these differentiations, argues Barth over and over, are meaningless except in Christ. They are meaningless, that is to say, by the standard of Kant’s autonomous man. What is not exhaustively penetrable by the manipulations of formal logic must be regarded as objectionable mystery. The autonomous man takes to himself the power of determining the limits of the practically possible and actual. All this Schleiermacher and Ritschl have also done. They too have followed the Critique of Pure Reason and dealt with historic Christianity accordingly. If the new Modernism differs from the old it differs on the score of thoroughness. Its principle of continuity is still more formal than that of the consciousness theologians. Hence its greater flexibility. Hence its greater capacity for swallowing up all the “contradictions” of the traditional life and world view, and of Scripture alike. It is only a dialecticism of the sort that Barth offers which can negate the negation of its own asserted correlativity and reach incommensurability at last. The God of Roman Catholicism at its best, the God of orthodox Protestantism, but most of all the God of the Calvinist, the freely revealing and freely choosing or rejecting God, has never been more vigorously rejected than by the system of Karl Barth as expressed in these his latest works.
Correlative to this formal principle of continuity is Barth’s principle of discontinuity. Barth is no rationalist of the Cartesian and Leibnizian sort. He is an “irrationalist” of the post-Kantian post-Hegelian, Kierkegaardian sort. He would seek for no individuation by complete description. Man is most of all not what he is, in the last analysis, by virtue of God’s self-contained and self-conscious decree. Man in himself and as such—Barth’s equivalent of Emil Brunner’s “entirely single thing”—is what he is ultimately for no reason at all. He springs from pure possibility. The Chaos element surrounds and pervades him. His mother home is Non-Being.
Yet this realm of pure Non-Being is somehow also the source of the material of true Being. It is the home of the eternal triune God in Himself and especially of the “Father.” By some telescopic technique of Wesensschau, perfected by the furbishing hands of such men as Husserl and Heidegger, Barth is able to tell us of this interchangeability of pure being and pure nonbeing. In rejecting all “existential systems” Barth is able now to legislate even for pure possibility. As a limiting concept the counsel of God, formerly standing for the freedom of the Sovereign God, now stands for the freedom of the would-be sovereign man.
So sovereign is this man that he elects to save or realize himself by means of an ideal, which, borrowing the terminology of folklore, he personifies in Christ. He keeps forever saying to himself that he is a Judas and therefore unreal so far as he is not fully identical with his Christ. So omniscient is this sovereign man that, in spite of the requirements of his own logic of correlativity, he can affirm the permanent and positive apostolate of Judas and the ultimate victory in Christ of every man. In a procedure similar to that of Plato who studied human nature by means of the State in which human nature is “writ large,” Barth solves all problems by means of enlarging the proportions of his own becoming. Together with his God he emerges from Chaos into Christ. Reality, he says to himself, has two aspects, a lower and a higher. When my ideal commands me to be perfect I obey by saying that I am perfect in my ideal. My Christ-consciousness is my self-consciousness. The evil that I do does not exist, for in doing evil I do not exist. Thus does consciousness theology, the theology of the autonomous man, make void the word of God. Feuerbach still smiles.
There is no doubt that Barth is seeking to make the Christian faith diagnostically and redemptively significant for the problems of our day. But on his presuppositions the problem of the day cannot even be correctly formulated and therefore certainly cannot be solved.
The God and man of Barth’s theology are unknown to one another till, in a common process, they become identical with one another and therefore indistinguishable from one another. Thus revelation becomes ventriloquism. The God and man of Barth’s theology are non-existent till, in a common process, they become identical with one another and indistinguishable from one another. Election thus becomes their common aim and task.
Barth seeks to escape what he speaks of as the monism of traditional Reformed theology. But his own position ultimately destroys all difference between God and man by means of process. For him all reality is one stream of Becoming. This is monism with a vengeance.
Barth seeks to escape the mystery involved in the decretum absolutum. But in doing so he surrounds God as well as man with mystery. On his position man must know everything to know anything. No appeal is left to God who knows what man cannot know. And yet the Chaos element is really ultimate. Man can therefore never know anything. Pure knowledge as pure form and pure ignorance as pure matter stand in everlasting antagonism over against one another. As was the case with Hegel’s dialecticism so it is the case with Barth’s that pure being and pure non-being are logically interchangeable. Accordingly, the notion of becoming as proceeding from these two is wholly and ultimately irrational. And Barth’s “faith” becomes mere “will to believe” ˆ la William James. Barth’s ultimate subject of predication is Reality. His attempt to make predication intelligible on such a basis is no more successful than that of idealist logicians in general. In his theology the Christian faith is diagnostically and redemptively irrelevant. The gospel is choked rather than set free.
That Barth’s theology finds its chief object of attack in the Reformed Faith is but natural. In the Reformed Faith the freedom of God, the self-contained God is central to everything. It is this freedom of God that is most directly opposed to the would-be ultimacy or freedom of man, as modern science and philosophy teach or assume it. Barth’s system has neutralized the true freedom of God. He has woven this true freedom of God into a pattern of identity with the freedom of man. Thus the imperatives of God are silenced and the healing streams of grace are swallowed up in the flats of human self-righteousness.
Van Til, C. (1947). The new modernism : An appraisal of the theology of Barth and Brunner
. "First edition ... 1946; second edition ... 1947.". The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company: Philadelphia.