Barth’s Doctrine of Election in 100 Words

Since I started blogging a few months ago, I have interacted with various people who have expressed appreciation for my articles but have noted that at times their content can be somewhat technical or complex and thus difficult to fully understand. Although most of my reading and writing lives on a more academic level, my ultimate desire is to make these things – especially what pertains to Evangelical Calvinism – accessible to the average person. I know that Bobby Grow has written some posts with this intention over
on his blog, and I hope to do the same here as well. So with this post I begin a series of sorts, in no particular order and with no definite end in mind other than to put the cookies, so to speak, on the bottom shelf.

With this inaugural post, I would simply like to quote Robert Price who provides a helpful summary, around only 100 words, of Barth’s doctrine of election. While I (or other ECs) may not follow Barth down to every jot and tittle, I think that Price’s synopsis well Printcaptures the main contours that delineate the shape of election in EC. Here’s Price:

According to Barth, it is Christ himself, that is, God the Son as already determined to be incarnate, who is both the subject and the object of election. As the electing God, the subject of election, Christ himself already constitutes God’s reconciling will toward humanity and so elects himself and all of humanity to salvation. And as the elect man, the object not only of election but also of reprobation, Christ himself and Christ alone endures God’s absolute rejection of sinful humanity. Barth thus radically reconfigures the concept of double predestination around Christ himself, rather than around two separate groups of humanity.[1]

Anyone who has read Barth’s treatment of election in Church Dogmatics II/2 will know, of course, that this summary leaves out his extensive development of election in terms of the community of God (Israel and the church) and individuals (the elect and the reprobate). What Price does offer, however, helps us to understand in a concise manner the key insight that underwrites Barth’s (and EC’s) view of election. In a word, it’s all about Jesus Christ who, as the Word made flesh, is both the God who elects and the human who is elected. Since Christ is, according to Colossians 1:15-17, the “firstborn of creation” through whom and for whom “all things were created” and in whom “all things hold together”, we can’t start thinking about election as something that simply happens between God and all humanity. This approach leaves out Christ as the one for whom and in whom all humanity exists in the first place!

Rather, God’s decision to be the God revealed in Jesus Christ as the beginning of all of his ways and works means that election is primarily about God’s choice to be this kind of God, the God who will pursue sinful humanity to the point of the death of his Son. According to Ephesians 1:4, God didn’t elect us to be in Christ, he elected us in Christ. That is to say, in his electing of Christ, God elected us all! It is no wonder that Barth believed that election was simply good news, the best news in fact! God does not will to be God without us but only “Emmanuel”, God with us, in the person of Jesus Christ through whom we have access by the Spirit to the Father. For this reason, we will never understand election unless we firmly fix our eyes on Christ and Christ alone.

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[1] Price, R.B., 2011. Letters of the Divine Word: The Perfections of God in Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics. J. Webster, I. A. McFarland, & I. Davidson, eds., London; New York: T&T Clark. p.6.

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This entry was posted in Bobby Grow, Christology, Election, Evangelical Calvinism, Gospel, Karl Barth, Predestination, Vicarious humanity of Christ. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Barth’s Doctrine of Election in 100 Words

  1. Bobby Grow says:

    Do you want to buy my url too? I actually started a whole blog dedicated to doing this called The Evangelical Calvinist in Plain Language. Remember how I said recently that EC, like of the type that I present on my blog, is unique? Particlalry because of the Frost influence. When I read your blog and see your posts what I see is my blog, my ideas redivivus; to the extent that it is like intellectual theft. There isn’t much I can do about it, I suppose, but at this point I find it quite strange, not flattering.

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    • I’m writing you an email right now.

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    • Bobby, I have expressed many times over my gratitude to and respect for you. I have acknowledged many times on this blog that I have learned much from you. But here I think you presume too much. Despite whatever similarities there may be, unless otherwise noted (and I have been, especially of late, scrupulous in crediting you for anything for which I am indebted to you), the content of my posts are fruit of my own reading and research. You have no doubt directed me to many helpful sources, but the work that I do from those sources is my own.

      I have no desire to buy your url. The idea for ‘EC for everyone’ came not from you but from someone who reads the blog and who requested this very thing. I hesitated at first precisely because I was concerned that it might seem as though I was taking something else from you, but in the end I decided the benefits outweighed the risks. Perhaps I was wrong.

      I would like to suggest that the similarities between many of our posts stem more from our mutual indebtedness to Barth and Torrance (who had already led me to similar critiques and constructive alternatives prior to me ever following your blog) rather than from any ‘intellectual theft’. I am truly sorry if I have given the impression of the latter, for, knowing myself the amount of time and energy I have spent working these ideas out for myself, I can sincerely say that I believe it is the former. I’m not sure you will be convinced, but I hope you can at least consider this as a possibility.

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      • Bobby Grow says:

        You don’t get it, Jonathan! Hopefully my email response will shed further light for you.

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      • Bobby Grow says:

        Jonathan,

        I would like people who read your blog to spend time over at my blog (if they don’t or haven’t), and see if your suggestion holds up. It’s more than ironic that almost all of your blog posts reference (regularly!) the author’s I’ve referenced for years; including Ron Frost (Frost being someone nobody really knows of because he has published so little)! It’s even interesting to scan through your blog posts and see how many of the images and pictures you use are ones that I have used at my blog for years.

        As I noted in my email to you: You’ve tapped the blogging “brand” I’ve spent tireless time and effort developing since 2008; you’ve tapped my network of connections (via Facebook primarily); and you have used all of that to promote yourself and your blog in a way that looks like my blog re-invented (right down to the pictures you use etc.). But then you claim that all of this came to you independent of me or Myk Habets. It is one thing to have a conceptual framework—because you have spent a lot of time with Barth, Torrance, Calvin, and the Fathers—that is similar to ours; it is quite another thing to tap into my “blog-brand” and market yourself, as it were, through me to your own advancement. Further, as I also noted in my email, even if you had similar ideas prior to bumping into my blog, what is unique about what Myk and I have done is to bring all of that together under the resourcing label of Evangelical Calvinism. That is a unique thing, and is a link and idea that Myk and I have developed as a ressourcement. You can do all the research you like, you will never ever find the language of evangelical Calvinism used in quite the same way that Myk and I have deployed that. So that in itself undercuts any idea that you had come up with the idea yourself; i.e. the idea of evangelical Calvinism as it is uniquely shaped by what Myk and I have done with our book[s].

        So when you write something like this:

        I would like to suggest that the similarities between many of our posts stem more from our mutual indebtedness to Barth and Torrance (who had already led me to similar critiques and constructive alternatives prior to me ever following your blog) rather than from any ‘intellectual theft’….

        Not only am I skeptical, but I don’t believe that; not at all! It’s not by chance that someone we both know (and who you haven connection with because of me) wondered publically if somehow we weren’t coordinating our blog posts. Again, all someone has to do is go back and look at all of my archives and it will quickly become clear what’s going on here.

        With all of the above said, I am not disputing that you are a good writer and thinker; my problem is with how you’ve gone about promoting yourself, and the form your blog has taken.

        You’ll have to see the email for the other problems I’m having with your approach vis-a-vis mine.

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      • Bobby Grow says:

        But honestly, Jonathan, it is what it is at this point; so just do what you’re going to do, and I’ll continue to do what I’ve been doing in the theo-blogosphere for the last 11 years. I simply wanted to register one more time, but this time with transparent frankness, my sense of what’s going on here, and some of the reasons why I find it unsavory.

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  2. Jonathan, I can sense your excitement and enthusiasm to share the new understanding that God is walking you through. However, I find this discussion in the comment section on “blog brand” distracting.

    You might want to take a peek at this blog: http://thesurprisinggodblog.gci.org/

    Ted Johnston has been blogging on what you are trying to get across for a long time now. Only at GCI, we prefer to call Trinitarian Incarnational theology what you would call Evangelical Calvinism.

    In fact, a phrase in in your post above: “the God revealed in Jesus Christ” is a title of one of our booklets, which you might want to read.

    I doubt if Ted Johnston would be bothered by this “blog brand thievery” at all. Ask him.

    May the Lord lift his face toward you and give you peace, Brother.

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    • Hi Areola, thanks for commenting! I appreciate hearing your perspective. I am somewhat familiar with GCI, although I have not come across Ted Johnston’s blog, so thanks for providing the link! I will definitely check it out. I have also heard the term ‘Trinitarian Incarnational’ theology, and I like it very much! I think that I may need to start using it periodically. Thanks again for your helpful comments!

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