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::: The Sola Fide of Karl Barth ::: Justification by Faith Alone?

Nowhere does Barth sound more like a typical Western Protestant than in his forensic categories for justification (as we have already seen) and his insistence upon what he understands to be the meaning of justification sola fide, yet Barth differs from the Reformers in crucial ways in his understanding of justification.  Perhaps the biggest difference in Barth’s sola fide is that he does not consider the justification of man to be contingent upon faith but rather how man’s relationship to God’s redemption in the twofold divine sentence is “realized.”[1]  Nevertheless, his insistence that faith never be seen as the attainment of merit or the accomplishment of justifying righteousness pervades his discussion of what is meant by faith alone.  Barth makes this point countless times and appears to say it as many ways as he knows how.  He sees this as the point of Paul’s faith-works dichotomy and of Luther’s sola fide.[2] 

There is no instance of the combination δικ. δια την πιστιν. This means that from the standpoint of biblical theology the root is cut of all the later conceptions which tried to attribute to the faith of man a merit for the attainment of justification or co-operation in its fulfillment, or to identify faith, its rise and continuance and inward and outward work with justification. … As a human attitude and action faith stands over against the divine attitude and action described as δικαιουν, without competing with it, or preparing it, or anticipating it, or co-operating with it, let alone being identical with it.  … [Faith as a human work] corresponds on the human side, to his divine justification.  Not because of its intrinsic value.  Not because of its particular virtue, or any particular power of its own.  But because God accepts it as the human work which corresponds to His work … which corresponds to His righteousness.  God recognizes, not that by this action man fulfils a condition or attains something which makes him worthy of the divine pardon … It is the good pleasure of God which singles out from all others this particular human action. … As the doctrine of “justification by faith” (alone) this conception of Paul was rediscovered in the century of the Reformation, and as such it was both attacked and defended.  … “Justification by faith” cannot mean that instead of his customary evil works and in place of all kinds of supposed good works man chooses and accomplishes the work of faith, in this way pardoning and therefore justifying himself. … There is always something wrong and misleading when the faith of a man is referred to as his way of salvation in contrast to his way in wicked works.[3] 

Taking this protestant stance on justification, Barth scathes any understanding that justification is “by” faith precisely because of the particular good qualities of it (even as the gift of God)—faith as notitia (knowledge), assensus (assent of the will) or even fiducia (the heart’s trust) is not what justifies man.[4]  This humble and free despair is what is most important for Barth about faith as it relates to justification. 

There is as little praise of man on the basis of his faith as on that of his works. … For there is as little justification of man “by”—that is to say, by means of—the faith produced by him, by his treading the way of faith, by his achievement of the emotions and thoughts and acts of faith, by his whole consciousness of faith and life of faith, as there is a justification “by” any other works. … If it tried to be this, if man tried to believe with this purpose and intention and claim, then even if his faith was not a “dead” faith, even if it was a most “hearty” faith, even if it was a fiduciary faith most active in love, it would be there supreme and most proper form of his sin as the sin of pride.[5]

For this reason, Barth is not even comfortable speaking of “justifying faith.”[6]  In order to prevent a misunderstanding of faith as contributing anything to man’s justification, Barth attempts to place the importance of faith elsewhere than on notitia, assensus, and fiducia.  Barth would rather speak of faith as consisting “wholly and utterly” in humility because “it is the abdication of vain-glorious man from his vain-glory,” or rather a “radical and total distaste for it.”[7]  Faith is a “despairing of self,” a joyful “humility of obedience,” a “free decision,” and “a comforted despair.”[8]  Because of his denial that man’s justification is dependant upon any human response and is “realized” (not actualized) through faith, Barth’s sola fide is very different from that of any of the Magisterial Reformers.  Even when he is attempting to echo the Reformers teaching that justification is not “by faith alone” because only faith contains the virtuous qualities necessary for being considered just in the eyes of God, he prefers to argue that faith is God’s chosen instrument for “realizing” one’s justification because it is a humble despair of self, not on account of its notitia, assensus, and fiducia. 


 

[1] Ibid., 615.  Carl F. H. Henry includes Barth in a list of modern theologians who deprived faith of it’s cognitive content, thus perverting the doctrine of justification by faith.  Although he admits that later Barth did try to rescue justification by faith from this dilemma, he complains that it was too little too late.  Carl F. H. Henry, “Justification by Ignorance: A Neo-Protestant Motif?” Jounral of the Evangelical Theological Society, vol 13 no 1 (1970): 3-4.  

[2] “Luther’s sola fide: the opposition of faith to all and every work; the two statements (1) that no human work as such either is or includes man’s justification (not even the work of faith as such), but (2) that the believer is actually the man justified by God. … The works to which they referred in this context are the thoughts and words and achievements of sinful man, including the works which he is able and willing and ready to do and produce as such in relation to the revelation of God and in obedience to His Law. … The sola fide does not actually occur in the Pauline texts.  Yet it was not an importation into the texts, but a genuine interpretation of what Paul himself said without using the word sola, when Luther translated Rom 3:28. … [For] if he is not justified by the works of the holy Law of God, but by faith, then obviously he is justified only by faith, by faith alone, sola fide.”  Ibid., 621-22.  Barth marvels that “even Augustine, the only name we can consider, did not understand him as the Reformers did.  He did not understand the principle underlying the Pauline distinction of faith and works. … How could Augustine—and in his wake all Catholic exegesis and dogmatics—possibly have understood justification as a process which is fulfilled in the human subject, allowing it simply to begin with faith and to be completed with the infused grace of love, if he had had before him the contrast of Galatians as it revealed itself afresh to Luther.” Ibid., 623. 

[3] Ibid., 615. 

[4] Barth believes himself to be following the sharp distinction of John Calvin on this point. 

[5] Ibid., 616. 

[6] Ibid., 618. 

[7] Ibid., 618-19.

[8] Ibid., 619.

:: Daniel Dennett vs. Alvin Plantinga :: Debate

Daniel Dennett, associated with the “new athiesm” debates Alvin Plantinga, retired head of the philosophy department at Notre Dame on the question, “Is Religion incompatible with Science?”  Click here to download the debate.

Karl Barth’s Denial of Justification as the chief Article of Soteriology

Sometimes Barth speaks of the unique importance of the doctrine of justification in such a way that one might think he understood its role in theology in much the same way the Reformers did.

There is no part of dogmatics, no locus, where we can treat it lightly.  At every point we are dealing with the one high Gospel.  What we can and must say is that in the doctrine of justification we are dealing with the most pronounced and puzzling form of this transition because we are dealing specifically with the question of its final possibility. … But in the doctrine of justification we have to do with the original centre of this crisis [between holy God and sinful man], and to that extent with its sharpest form, with what we can describe provisionally as the crisis which underlies the whole.  If we find it running through the whole with all kinds of repetitions and variations, at this point where we grapple with the peculiar difficulty of it, it has to be seen and handled as the main theme—the question: How am I to lay hold of a gracious God?[1]

Nevertheless, Barth distinguishes himself from the Western Protestantism of his own day and his contemporary interlocutor Ernst Wolf by allowing the article of justification to be one among many aspects of the gospel, not necessarily the Word of Gospel itself.

There can be no question of disputing the particular function of the doctrine of justification.  And it is also in order that at certain periods and in certain situations, in the face of definite opposition and obscuration, this particular function has been brought out in a particular way, that it has been asserted as the Word of the Gospel, that both offensively and defensively it has been adopted as the theological truth.  There have been times when this has been not  merely legitimate but necessary, when attention has had to be focused on the theology of Galatians and Romans (or more accurately, Rom 1-8). … [e.g. Augustine] … But in theology it is good to look beyond the needs and necessities of the moment, to exercise restraint in a reaction however justified to be constantly aware of the limits of the ruling trend (however true and well-founded it may be).  … In the Church of Jesus Christ this doctrine has not always been the Word of the Gospel, and it would be an act of narrowing and unjust exclusiveness to proclaim and treat it as such. … [I]t relates only to one aspect of the Christian message of reconciliation. … [I]n the true Church of Jesus Christ the formulated recognition and attestation of this truth may withdraw, it may indeed be more or less hidden behind other aspects of the Christian message, without it being right and necessary to draw attention to its absence, to believe that its truth is denied and the unity of the Church is broken.  … The Christology of Paul is more than simply an argument for his doctrine of justification.[2]

Several observations of Church history are set forth by Barth at this juncture to compliment his position and help set this doctrine in perspective.  For example, he raises the point that the early church saw no explicit treatment or emphasis on the doctrine of justification, and the development that took place in the writings of Augustine “was something which belonged specifically to the Western Church.  The East was much less interested in the contrast between sin and grace than in that between death and life, between mortality and immortality.”[3]  He also claims that John Calvin’s thought was controlled and organized by “the development and formation of the Christian life and therefore of sanctification,” and was even “overshadowed” by his doctrine of predestination which “plumbed the matter even further.”[4]  He concludes: “One thing is certain—that if the theology of Calvin has a centre at all it does not lie in the doctrine of justification.”[5] 

Even Martin Luther himself, Barth argued, always had a twofold emphasis in his teaching: one having to do with the once-and-for-all work of Christ and another having to do with the righteousness which is given to man in the Spirit’s work of new birth.[6]  Luther insisted that both justification and sanctification are in need of being properly maintained.  “If either of them is forgotten or neglected in favour of the other, this will inevitably involve the corruption either of faith or of its power and fruit.”[7]   Pointing out that Luther’s own understanding of justification was a theolgia viatorum (being reformed and developed throughout his life), he remarks, “Luthernaism old and new followed the direction of Luther—or at least the older Luther—when, like Calvin and Calvinism, it refused to centre its theology upon the one article of justification.”[8] 

Pietism and Methodism also put their chief emphasis on aspects of reconciliation which Barth argues cannot be subsumed under the narrow category of justification.  Barth’s alternative form of thought was, he hoped, more balanced, a midway between placing too much emphasis and importance on the article of justification on the one hand (as if it were the gospel and to the neglect of other equally important aspects of reconciliation) and relegating it to secondary or marginal status on the other. 

All honour to the question: How can I find a gracious God?  But for too long it has been for Protestantism—at any rate European and especially German Protestantism—the occasion and temptation to a certain narcissism, and a consequent delay in moving in the direction we have just indicated.  The articulus stantis et cadentis acclesiae is not the doctrine of justification as such, but its basis and culmination: the confession of Jesus Christ, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Co. 2:3) … The problem of justification does not need artificially to be absolutised and given a monopoly.[9]        

Alister McGrath speculates that such a demotion of the importance of the doctrine of justification in Barth’s theology results from his “essentially supralapsarian understanding of the Fall” and reflects a broader theological trend: 

 [T]he onset of Reformed orthodoxy saw the starting point for theological speculation shifted from the concrete event of the justification of the sinner in Christ to the divine decrees of election and reprobation. … As a result, justification is accorded a place of low priority in the ordo salutis, in that it is merely the concrete actualization of the prior divine decision of election.  Barth approximates more closely to the theological method of Reformed orthodoxy than to that of Calvin.[10]

Although Barth saw himself in basic agreement with the Reformers, he ultimately believed that the level of importance Luther placed on this doctrine was driven largely by their cultural context.


 

[1] CD IV/1: 520-21.

[2] Ibid., 522-24.

[3] Ibid., 524. 

[4] Ibid., 525. 

[5] Ibid. 

[6] Ibid., 525-26. 

[7] Ibid., 526. 

[8] Ibid., 526-27. 

[9] Ibid., 527-28. 

[10] McGrath, Iustitia Dei, 400. cf. Alister McGrath, “Karl Barth and the articulus iustificationis,” Theologische Zeitschrift, vol 39 (1983): 349-361. 

 

Did Karl Barth Teach Contingent or Necessary Universalism? ::: — :::

In spite of the fact that the depiction of Karl Barth’s doctrine of justification appears implicitly (if not explicitly) to amount to universalism—that all people will ultimately be saved—Barth himself denied that he ever taught any such a doctrine: “I do not teach it (universalism), but I also do not teach it.”[1]  Barth did not deny that the logic of his position appears to lead to universalism.  In fact, he makes several comments on the issue that appear to indicate that he was acutely aware of this dilemma[2] but insisted that the freedom of God prohibits this conclusion. 

As in many other cases, theology must here refrain from drawing logically consistent conclusions from its premises for the sake of its own subject matter.[3]      

Even though theological consistency might seem to lead our thoughts and utterances most clearly in this direction [that is, the direction of universalism], we must not arrogate to ourselves that which can be given and received only as a free gift.[4] 

[Because God controls grace and he is free] we cannot venture the statement that it (the circle [of the redeemed]) must and will finally be coincident with the world of man as such.[5] 

Many, therefore, attempt to interpret Barth in a way consistent with his denial.  Geoffrey W. Bromiley concludes:

At this point Barth bluntly rejects any necessary universalism as “historical metaphysics.” On the other hand, since all is by grace, he will not rule out the possibility of this final enlargement [of the circle of redemption] in Jesus Christ. … Nevertheless, it is not apparent why, in his view, the Holy Spirit in his ministry of calling should not positively fulfil in all individuals the one eternal will of the triune God.  A gap arises here which Barth can finally fill only by an appeal to the divine freedom.[6] 

John Colwell defends the same position with more feisty remarks: “[I]f some of Barth’s critics refuse to take this divine freedom seriously with respect (especially) to Barth’s doctrine of election and consequently suspect him of implicit universalism then that is their problem rather than his and probably says more about them than it says about him.”[7] 

Others, however, are not convinced that Barth can be let off the horns of the dilemma so easily.  Hans Ur von Balthasar, for example, thinks Barth is kidding himself.

Nonetheless, despite these demurrals, Barth’s doctrine of election does not leave much room open for possibility.  There is something inevitable and necessary in his views.  What is definitive in Barth’s thought is grace and blessing, and all reprobation and judgment are merely provisional. … Actually, given his premises, Barth really cannot discuss this issue in any other way.  True, he gives lip service to our inability to survey the full implications of the activity of the Word of God.  He speaks of a healthy “inconsistency” in dogmatics.  But these are mere words, because he has already immured the idea of an all-encompassing redemption in the very groundwork and foundation of his doctrine of creation.”[8]  

Perhaps the most thorough consideration of potential ways Barth’s doctrine might escape the apparent inevitability is found in Oliver Crisp’s article, “On Barth’s Denial of Universalism.”[9]  He makes several observations about Barth’s position.  For example, Barth is not arguing (like traditional Arminianism) for an atonement universal in scope, not effectiveness,[10] nor is he arguing that Christ’s atonement is only potentially effective for all.  Barth argues that the atonement is actually effective for all human agents.[11]  Also, a well recognized point, Barth emphasizes salvation as “knowledge” (through faith) that one is already saved rather than a means by which salvation is appropriated (as in the tradition Reformation formulas).[12]  Whereas the Reformers would say “If you believe [and repent] you will be saved,” Barth is saying, “You are saved, therefore, believe and repent!”[13]  Much of Barth’s writing appears to demonstrate that the free will of man as a potential loop hole in Barth’s thought is not a logical option.  Crisp offers the following remarks from Barth.

[O]n the basis of this decree of His the only truly rejected man is His own Son … so that it can no longer fall on other men or be their concern.  … Their concern is still the suffering of the existence which they have prepared for themselves by their godlessness (in the shadow of that which the One has suffered from them) – and it is bitter enough to have to suffer this existence.  Their concern is still to be aware of the threat of their rejection. But it cannot now be their concern to suffer the execution of this threat, to suffer the eternal damnation which their godlessness deserves.  Their desire and their undertaking are pointless in so far as their only end can be to make them rejected.  And this is the very goal which the godless cannot reach, because it has already been taken away by the eternally decreed offering of the Son of God to suffer in place of the godless, and cannot any longer be their goal.[14] [italics mine]

After concluding that neither a compatibilist nor libertarian view of the free will of man could unloose Barth from this predicament,[15] Crisp specifically addresses the arguments above concerning Barth’s denial on the basis of God’s freedom.

Barth, however, is happy to withhold this requirement of theological consistency, because he deems that such a move would compromise divine freedom … Bettis is even willing to go as far as to say, “Barth does not reject universalism because the future of the pagan is uncertain.  He rejects universalism because the future of all men is uncertain.”  But if this [is] true, then Barth’s attempted way out, via divine freedom, yields a contradiction.  We can express this as follows, using the i-iii propositions stated earlier:

i. Christ’s atonement is universal in scope and efficacy …

ii. Christ is the Elect One and therefore the sole member of the set ‘elect’, in whom all human agents are elected …

iii. Christ is the Elect One whose atonement for the sin of human agents is universal in scope and efficacy, and all human agents are members of the set ‘elect in Christ’.

But what Barth is claiming at this juncture in his argument is something like:

iv. Because God is free, the eschatological destiny of all humanity is uncertain.

The problem is that iv simply does not appear to be consistent with i-iii.  In fact, it seems to contradict i-iii.  One cannot consistently hold both that all humanity have been (derivatively) elected, so that all their sin has been efficaciously atoned for by Christ, and that the soteriological status of all humanity is uncertain.[16]

Thus Crisp concludes that either Barth’s claim to not teach universalism is “disingenuous (he was a universalist), or just plain muddled (his position is not coherent).” He also dismisses a third option—that Barth was unaware that his position logically entailed some form of universalism—the grounds that is seems “unlikely.”[17]  Crisp could have easily argued also on the basis of Barth’s own understanding of God’s freedom, for it is Barth himself who poses the question: “Where do we see the freedom of God more clearly than in the justification of sinful man?”[18]  For these reasons, while some theologians attempt to allow Barth’s denials of teaching universalism to play the decisive role in categorizing his thought (i.e. in answering the question, “Was Barth a universalist?”), others give more weight to the nuances of his actual position in concluding that he was, in fact, a universalist. 


 

[1] Karl Barth.  Cited in Eberhard Jüngel, Karl Barth, A Theological Legacy, trans. Garrett E. Paul (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Westminster Press, 1986), 44-45. 

[2] Crisp humorously coins this as the universal dilemma.  Oliver Crisp, “On Barth’s Denial of Universalism,” in Themelios, vol 29 no 1 (2003): 26. 

[3] Karl Barth.  Cited in Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Theology of Karl Barth, trans. Edward T. Oakes, S.J. (San Francisco, California: Ignatius Press, 1992), 186.

[4] Karl Barth.  Cited in Oliver Crisp, “On Barth’s Denial of Universalism,” 28.  cf. CD IV/3: 477. 

[5] Karl Barth.  Cited in Geoffrey W. Bromiley, An Introduction to the Theology of Karl Barth (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing, 1979), 95. 

[6] Geoffrey W. Bromiley, An Introduction to the Theology of Karl Barth, 95. 

[7] Jon Colwell.  Cited in Crisp, “On Barth’s Denial of Universalism,” 18. 

[8] Hans Ur von Balthasar, The Theology of Karl Barth, 186.  cf. McGrath, The Making of Modern German Christology: 1750-1990, 138. 

[9] Crisp, “On Barth’s Denial of Universalism,” 18-29.  

[10] Ibid., 21.

[11] Ibid., 25. 

[12] Ibid., 21. 

[13] Ibid. 

[14] Karl Barth.  Cited in Crisp, “On Barth’s Denial of Universalism,” 22. cf. CD II/2: 318-19. 

[15] Crisp, “On Barth’s Denial of Universalism,” 23-25.

[16] Ibid., 28-29.  

[17] Ibid., 19.

[18] CD IV/1: 529.  The confusion about Barth’s position can be seen in the field of systematics.  In Erickson’s treatment, for example, he seems to contradict himself about whether or not Barth answers the question of whether all persons are saved.  This is not to say that Barth holds to universal salvation, a subject he deals with very cautiously without ever really committing himself. … There is no absolute difference between the elect and the rejected, the believers and unbelievers, according to Barth, for all have been elected. … Christians from a traditional background might wish to pray open the question of whether the rejected ones who are actually elect are also saved, but Barth will not open that tangled issue.  The church should not take too seriously the unbelief of the rejected ones.  In the ultimate sense, there is no rejection of humanity by God.  God has in Christ chosen rejection for himself, but election for humanity.”  Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, second edition (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 1998), 936.  cf. Geisler, who simply places Barth as “one of the most famous theologians in modern times to embrace universalism” without any hesitancy or clarification.  Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume Three: Sin and Salvation (Bloomington, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers, 2004), 389.      

::: Atheist Propaganda ::: See for Yourself

::: How Barth’s Doctrine of Election Informs His Doctrine of Justification :::

Barth’s understanding of the nature of justification is easy enough to understand—it is nothing more than God’s pardon of man based on Christ’s substituionary work on his behalf.  However, to grasp the unique complexity and idiosyncrasy of his doctrine of justification, one must first understand the broader soteriological context seen in Barth’s doctrine of election.  Barth’s soteriology holds much in common with typical Christian theologies in key respects.  For example, for Barth, the climax of human history is the Christ event—the incarnation, substitutionary death, burial and resurrection of Christ.  This event is both the execution and the revelation of the eternal sentence of God on all mankind in which God establishes his right over against man’s wrong.  However, whereas the early church and Reformation eras largely understood election and reprobation as dividing humanity into two separate groups of people,[1] the reprobate who are eternally damned and the elect who are eternally saved, Barth reduces the sum total of all elect and all reprobate members down to one person: Jesus Christ.  From all eternity, Christ is both the only one who elects and the only one who is elected; he is also the only one chosen for the full measure of the wrath of God against sin and yet, at the same time, he is the only one elected for eternal salvation.  Whatever blessings of election and horrors of reprobation apply to men and women in general, then, must be understood only as derivative in this sense: in this same twofold eternal sentence of God, Christ’s history becomes our own from all eternity.  It is in light of the temporal execution of the divine eternal sentence of Christ as the elect and reprobate one that man’s own justification can be seen like a shadow behind the Christ event.[2]

 

Pardon—by God and therefore unconditionally pronounced and unconditionally valid—that is man’s justification.  In the judgment of God, according to His election and rejection, there is made in the midst of time, and as the central event of all human history, referring to all the men who live both before and after, a decision, a divisive sentence.  Its result—expressed in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ—is the pardon of man.  And this as such is man’s justification, this alone, but with unconditional truth and efficacy, so that apart from it there is no justification, but in it there is the total justification of man.  Whether man hears it, whether he accepts it and lives as one who is pardoned is another question.[3]

 

Pardon, then, is not conditional upon one’s response to the Christ event (i.e. faith).  Rather, total pardon is objectively accomplished in Jesus Christ on behalf of man.[4]  But this rendering of the doctrine of justification does not mean that Barth has no place for the wrath of God in his soteriology.  Although pardon, and all that it accomplishes, should be considered the positive aspect of the divine sentence executed in God’s judgment, the negative aspect of this sentence must always be kept in view, for the two belong together since the one (“the divine election of rejected man”) implies the other (“the divine rejection of the elected man”).[5]  The positive side of this sentence is “goodness, mercy and grace; His decision and pronouncement in man’s favour,” and this is “the work of his redemption.”[6] The negative side of the sentence is God’s judgment “that we are these proud creatures, that I am the man of sin, and that this man of sin and therefore I myself am nailed to the cross and crucified (in the power of the sacrifice and obedience of Jesus Christ in my place), that I am therefore destroyed and replaced, that as the one who has turned to nothingness I am done away in the death of Jesus Christ.”[7] 

In God’s eternal counsel the election of rejected man did not take place without the rejection of elected man: the election of Jesus Christ as our Head and Representative, and therefore our election as those who are represented by Him.  Therefore the positive sense of the sentence executed in that judgment belongs together with the negative.  If Jesus the Crucified lives, and we live in Him and with Him, the sentence of God revealed in His resurrection is valid in Him and therefore us, in that negative sense.  Therefore the knowledge of the grace of God and the comfort which flows from it in this sentence, the knowledge therefore, of its positive sense, is bound up with the fact that in it we do not cease to see ourselves as those who are condemned.[8] 

 

In Christ man is not merely pardoned; he is also condemned and destroyed.  Barth therefore often refers to this divine sentence as including both the Yes and the No of God.  Furthermore, even though both aspects of this sentence apply only to Christ, since Christ was “in our place”[9] on our behalf they also apply derivatively for all mankind.  The scope of Christ’s substitutionary work is universal.

 

There is not one for whose sin and death He did not die, whose sin and death He did not remove and obliterate on the cross, for whom He did not positively do the right, whose right He has not established.  There is not one to whom this was not addressed as his justification in His resurrection from the dead.  There is not one whose man He is not, who is not justified in Him.  There is not one who is justified in any other way than in Him—because it is in Him and only in Him that an end, a bonfire, is made of man’s sin and death, … Again, there is not one who is not adequately and perfectly and finally justified in Him.  There is not one whose sin is not forgiven sin in Him.  There is not one whose peace with God has not been made and does not continue in Him. [italics mine][10]  

 

Although it might sound impossible that either Christ or (derivatively) mankind could be at the same time and in the same senses elect and reprobate, enjoying both the utmost blessings of grace and utmost furies of wrath, Barth understands God’s wrath as a subset of his grace in such a way that the two notions are not contradictory.  Indeed, in the end, the Yes of God is louder than the No of God, for the No of God is only part of the “transition”[11] of man to the Yes of God.  On the one hand, “the righteousness of God means God’s negating and overcoming and taking away and destroying wrong and man as the doer of it.”[12]  On the other hand, because Barth understands the destruction of man taking place in Christ, it does not follow that all of sinful mankind must be eternally damned, for he does not understand this divine retribution the way classical Christian theologies comprehend it. 

 

Do we not have to say that even in the non-willing, the wrath of God expressed in this conflict, even in the terrible “Away with thee” which is pronounced upon the wrong of man and therefore upon man as the doer of it, what rules finally and properly is grace, the divine Yes deeply buried under the divine No, in so far as God’s free address to man is operative even in the No? … [E]ven in the judgment which comes upon man and his wrong God is gracious to man.  The crisis which comes upon man when he encounters the righteousness of God, but in which the grace of God is secretly present and operative, is frequently described in the Bible as chastisement.[13] 

  

Two things are important to note about how Barth understands God’s destroying wrath.  First, it only applies to mankind in general inasmuch as Christ’s history (in which he bore the fury of God’s wrath in our place) becomes our own by the unconditional sentence of God.  This understanding of God’s wrath might be called the imputation of Christ’s damnation to the sinner.  Christ’s destruction, as representing mankind, is our destruction.  For Barth, Christ’s death is the most revealing display of just how serious God’s hatred of sin actually is.  Second, as we have noted, God’s wrath is not what “rules finally and properly,” but it is a means to a greater end—that of God’s grace.  Even in God’s wrath his grace is “secretly present” like the chastisement of a loving father.  Wrath is a form of grace that sustains fellowship with man.[14]  Although the reasoning of Barth is unclear in the matter, he is convinced that if the wrath of God was given full exercise to any given individual without the grace of God as its ultimate end, God would not be truly righteous.    

 

To put it in another way, on the left hand man is the one who because of His wrong is condemned and rejected and abandoned by God, and on the right hand he is the same man as the one who even in his condemnation and rejection and abandonment is still pardoned and maintained by God, being kept for the fulfillment of His will and plan. … And God is righteous in this distinction as such: for satisfaction would not be done to His right if He could only chide on the left hand or only pardon on the right, if He accepted the identification of man with wrong, and was content simply to banish from the world both wrong and the wrongdoer, or if in spite of the wrong which man has done and his identification with it he allowed him to live at the price of not destroying the wrong which man has committed, of recognizing de facto its right to exist.  The righteousness of God would not be God’s righteousness and therefore it would not be true righteousness if it did not proceed on both sides.[15]     

 

Since “even that which God does on the left hand is grace,”[16] wrath must be considered penultimate at most, otherwise the very righteousness of God would be in question. 

Barth is not content to think of justified man as living a dual existence of two mutually exclusive influences—one of sin and one of grace-wrought obedience, for “how then can both be real? … This state of dualism, this static co-existence of two quite different men, can only be the result of a misunderstanding.”[17]  Barth proposes an alternative (which he thinks is the only alternative): rather than understanding man as a mix between the former man and the new man, justified man in the present must be understood as wholly both, but in the future only the latter.  “I was and still am the former man: man as wrongdoer … but I am already and will be the latter man: the man whom God has elected and created for himself … the man who is not unrighteous but righteous before God.”[18]  The conviction that apparently underlies Barth’s insistence that we must never understand justified man to have a dual existence is that “the justification of man by God is an event between God and man, not the static relationship of their being.”[19]  Rather than elucidating what he means by this denial of dual existence, however, Barth’s explanation only seems to further obscure his intentions (at least to this author):

 

The justification of man by God belongs neither to the empirical nor to the ideal world, for God who is at work in it is one God and the Creator of all the visible and invisible reality distinct from Himself which is beyond this contrast. … Again, the justification of man … [is] the being of God and man in a definite movement which cannot be reproduced in two pictures which can be placed alongside and studied together. … As this history the justification of man is a genuine puzzle, unlike that of the dualism which can be caught in that picture.  The justification of man cannot be caught in any picture, not even in moving pictures.  The reason for this is that the man who lives in this history of God with him is not in any sense perceptible to himself.  … [W]e cannot put this too strongly—there can be no self-experience of this drama.  The fact that it is our history which is in train, that we participate in this drama, is something which must be true and actual quite otherwise than in some depth of our own self, and recognizable as the truth quite otherwise than in the contemplation of one of the phenomena which meet us in these depths.[20]

 

Is Barth saying that justification does not happen to man but only for him?  Is he saying that the objective reality of justification is never actually subjectively experienced?  Does this quotation mean that man never perceives Christ’s history as his own in the depths of his own self?  Answers to these questions do not seem obvious.[21]  What is obvious, however, is that by considering Christ as the only true elect and reprobate one, Barth has abandoned the traditional framework of both doctrines (election and reprobation) and argues for a highly eccentric view as the alternative.[22]

NEXT POST :: Barth’s Necessary or Potential Universalism 

 

[1] The exception to this would be the view that God elected a way of salvation, not an actual people, and that people should only be considered elect inasmuch as they follow God’s plan of salvation in Christ. 

 

 

[2] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, eds. G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1956-1985), vol. IV, part 1, 514.

 

[3] CD IV/1: 568.

 

[4] The last statement in the above quotation portrays a way of thinking that will be examined in more detail later in this treatment as we consider the question of whether or not Karl Barth’s doctrine of election and justification imply a doctrine of universal salvation.

 

[5] Ibid., 515.

 

[6] Ibid., 514.

 

 

[7] Ibid., 515.

 

[8] Ibid., 516.

 

[9] Ibid., 514.

 

[10] Ibid., 630.

 

 

[11] Ibid., 516.  “There is no doubt that the unusual difficulty of the doctrine of justification is an indication of its special function.  In it we have to do with the turning, the movement, the transition of the existence of man without God and dead into the existence of man living for God, and therefore before Him and with Him and for Him.” Ibid., 520. 

 

[12] Ibid., 535.

 

[13] Ibid., 537. Barth appears to marshal all the biblical texts on the loving nature of discipline in this passage (e.g. Job 5:17; Ps 62:12; Rev 3:19; Prov 3:11; Heb 12:7ff; 2 Sam 7:14, and many passages from the psalms).   

 

 

[14] “It is not too small a thing for God actually to continue His fellowship with man in the form of wrath which consumes man because of his wrong.” Ibid., 542.

 

[15] Ibid., 541-42.

 

[16] Ibid., 541.

 

 

[17] Ibid., 543.

 

[18] Ibid., 544.

 

[19] Ibid., 545.

 

[20] Ibid., 545-46.

 

 

[21] It is no surprise to this author that the foremost interpreter of Karl Barth’s doctrine of justification entitled his first chapter, “An Alien Language: Is Barth incomprehensible?—Problem of the thought form—Holy Scripture.”  Hans Kung, Justification: The Doctrine of Karl Barth and a Catholic Reflection (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 3-5.

 

[22] Oliver Crisp distinguishes Barth sharply from the Augustinian tradition. Oliver Crisp, “Augustinian Universalism,” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, vol 53 no 3 (2003): 139.  

MacArthur = the “New Fundamentalism”

Recent example of how John MacArthur conveniently fits Scott McKnight’s descriptions of the “new Fundamentalism” or “Neo-Reformed”

In an interview on the “Grace to You” website, Dr. John MacArthur sizes-up the emerging church, and here’s his bottom line: “I think it’s just another form of liberalism.” You can read or download the rest from the website or listen to it below.

MacArthur either does not care or is ignorant of the fact that the Emergent movement is composed of both conservatives (e.g. Mark Driscoll, Dan Patrick, etc.) and liberals (e.g. Tony Jones, Brian McLaren).  Does he not read about a position before he attacks it [?], does he not care [?], or does he actually think that even guys like Mark Driscoll are “liberal”?

:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::HT: Denny Burk

Unconditional Pardon in Christ :: Justification in Karl Barth

If not the most important theologian of the 20th century,[1] the case could be made that Karl Barth was at least one of the foremost Christian theologians of modern times.  His attitude toward scripture and scathing critiques of the classical liberal tradition “marked a watershed in twentieth-century theology.”[2]  His first publication, a commentary on the book of Romans, functioned somewhat like a bombshell on the theological playground of his contemporaries.[3]  His decisive break from the school of classical liberal theology spawned an entirely new school of thought: postliberalism.[4]  Although Barth is criticized as never having actually escaped the Enlightenment framework,[5] the Christomonism (or “Christological concentration”) that makes possible a Christian appreciation of the Barthian tradition argued that the truths revealed in Christ were not merely truths ascertainable through general revelation and therefore Christ reveals new and indispensible truth.[6]  Barth in particular took a Christ-centered approach to theology to such extremes he has been criticized for turning “the whole of theology into Christology.”[7]  Nowhere is this Christocentrism more evident than in Karl Barth’s doctrine of justification.

 

This blog series is an attempt to highlight accurately some of the unique aspects of Karl Barth’s doctrine of justification.  Because Barth himself warns that the theology represented in his Romans commentary is only “the beginning of a development,”[8] while his Church Dogmatics[9] is considered his most mature thought,[10] this study will give its attention to the latter.  The study will be at least 6 posts long, and will attempt to show 1) how Barth’s distinctive doctrine of election informs his articulation of his doctrine of justification, 2) how Barth’s Christocentric outlook enables him to see the wrath of God as only a phase or form of the grace of God, 3) why differences of opinion exist on whether or not he held to a position of ultimate universal salvation, 4) what various arguments Barth employs to defend his position that sola fide is not the articulus stantis et cadentis acclesia ["the doctrine by which the church stands or falls"], 5) in what ways Barth’s version of sola fide is similar to classic Protestant positions and in what ways it is dissimilar, and 6) that Barth’s doctrine of justification has played a prominent role in ecumenical dialogue between Protestants and Catholics. 

 

Next Post :: How Barth’s Doctrine of Election Bears on His Doctrine of Justification


 

[1] “Karl Barth was without doubt the most important Protestant theologian of the twentieth century.  Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, vol 2: The Reformation to the Present Day (New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1985), 362.  Alister E. McGrath is more reserved: “Barth is unquestionably one of the most significant theologians of the twentieth century” [italics mine].  Alister E. McGrath, The Making of Modern German Christology: 1750-1990, second edition (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1984), 123.

 

[2] W. S. Johnson, “Barth, Karl (1886-1968)” in Historical Handbook of Major Biblical Interpreters, ed. Donald K. McKim (Downers Grive, Illinois: Inter Varsity Press, 1998), 433. 

 

[3] Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans, trans. Edwyn C. Hoskyns (London: Oxford University Press, 1968). 

 

[4] B. E. Benson, “Postliberal Theology,” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, second edition, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2001), 937.  McGrath, The Making of Modern German Christology: 1750-1990, second edition, 123-152, 220. 

 

[5] “Barth’s own theology may be regarded, at least in part, as a reaction against the anthropocentricity of the liberal school – a reaction particularly evident in his inversion of the liberal understanding of God and humanity as epistemic object and subject respectively.  Yet Barth has essentially inverted the liberal theology without fundamentally altering its frame of reference.  As such, he may be regarded as indirectly – perhaps even unintentionally – perpetuating the theological interests and concerns of the liberal school, particularly the question of how God may be known.”  Alister McGrath, Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification, third edition (Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 398.

 

[6] McGrath, The Making of Modern German Christology: 1750-1990, second edition, 131, 220.

 

[7] McGrath, Iustitia Dei, 401.

 

[8] Barth, The Epistle to the Romans, vi.  Barth even goes so far as to say, “When, however, I look back at the book, it seems to have been written by another man to meet a situation belonging to a past epoch.”  Ibid.

 

[9] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, trans. G. Bromiley et al. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1956-75).

 

[10] David Ford even considers Volume IV of Church Dogmatics in particular—the volume we will be focusing on—as “the crowning  achievement of Barth’s mature theology.”  David Ford, “Barth, Karl (1886-1968)” in The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Modern Christian Thought, ed. Alister McGrath (Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers Inc., 1993), 32. 

::: The Zwingli Prayer :::

The following comes from Dr. Gregg Allison’s forthcoming book, Introduction to Historical Theology in the chapter entitled, “The Interpretation of Scripture.”

Beginning in July, 1525, every day (except Fridays and Sundays) at 7:00a.m. (summer) or 8:00 a.m. (winter), all the pastors and theological students in Zurich met in the cathedral for an hour of intense exegesis and interpretation of Scripture (based on the Greek or Hebrew and Latin versions). Zwingli opened each meeting with this prayer: 

“Almighty, eternal and merciful God, whose Word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path, open and illuminate our minds, that we may purely and perfectly understand your Word and that our lives may be conformed to what we have rightly understood, that in nothing we may be displeasing unto your majesty, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

-Zwingli 

Welcome to Our World … Where Police Get Away With Brutality

Only every now and then is it caught on tape.

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