Why I Am A Universalist, § 5: The Doctrine of God, Part 4: The Doctrine of Election (Section I)


Section I: A summary of Barth’s doctrine of election


Accepting Barth’s doctrine of election is not necessary for universalism to be theologically valid, but if one understands what Barth rightly accomplishes through this doctrine, universalism makes even more sense. The central thesis of Barth’s doctrine of election is that election, like revelation, finds its locus not in some abstract decision by God but rather in the concrete embodiment of God’s will in the person of Jesus the Christ. Consequently, any talk of election must find its center in the Son of God who is the one who elects humanity for himself and is himself elected by God to be the savior of the world. In other words, Jesus Christ is both the subject of election (the one who elects) and the object of election (the one elected).

Barth places the doctrine of election in the doctrine of God, because election reveals who God is. Barth can say this because all of God’s acts ad extra reveal who God is ad intra. God is a being-in-act—in which God is what God does—so the immanent Trinity and economic Trinity are identical (and yet remain distinct). But our only sure knowledge of God comes through the incarnation of Jesus Christ, as the Son of God who came to the world “for us and for our salvation.” Jesus Christ, as the Word of God incarnate, is the self-revelation of God, to which Scripture witnesses as the written Word of God. To put these points together, election is revealed to us in and through Jesus Christ alone; in that Jesus as the being of God ad extra reveals the being of the triune God ad intra, we can say that election is an act of God that is rooted in the being of God as the God who elects humanity for Godself and is thus both the electing God and elected human in Jesus Christ. Jesus embodies both sides of the dialectic: in that he is fully God, he is the God who elects humankind by taking on humanity in the hypostatic union; in that he is fully human, he is the man who is elected by God and vicariously represents all humanity in his flesh. To put it in simple terms, the orthodox definition of Jesus as fully God and fully human is the doctrine of election in a nutshell.

The ramification of this christocentric reorientation of election is that individual humans are elect only in Christ. Just as the atonement is not something that occurs apart from Christ’s atoning work in his life, death, and resurrection, so too election is not something that occurs apart from Jesus Christ. Jesus was not just symbolic of the rest of humanity. Instead, just as in atonement our sins were actually taken on by Jesus and thus nailed to the cross, so too we must say that in Jesus all human persons were actually there in his person. Jesus was the one man for many. We often speak of this as the substitutionary atonement—which is indeed true—but it has to begin with election, because election is the primal divine decree that determines that God will be God for us and the humanity will be humanity for God.

It was the major mistake of much classical theology to separate election as a divine decree apart from the concretization of God’s divine will in Jesus Christ. By making election a protological decision—in which God decided prior to creation who would be saved and who would be damned—classical theologians predetermined the extent and efficacy of Christ’s atoning work. They felt justified in doing so because they did not view Jesus as the self-revelation of God—and thus the norm for all knowledge of God—but instead viewed Scripture as a collection of propositional truths. Consequently, if Scripture speaks of an elect people of God, they felt it was proper for them to elaborate a theology of election independent from any other doctrine—independent, even, from the doctrine of God.

Lastly, Barth’s doctrine of election leads him to affirm double predestination or double election. God does indeed reject and elect, damn and save, but both sides of this dialectic occur—or, rather, occurred—in Jesus Christ. Jesus was doubly predestined for rejection and election, for damnation on the cross and eternal life beyond the tomb. Because we are all in Jesus—because God elected all of humanity in the assumption of humanity in the incarnation—we are all involved in what occurs in the person of Jesus. This is what one must affirm in order to hold fast to the substitutionary atonement. Christ is the vicarious mediator for all humanity or else Christ is nothing but a moral exemplar who shows humanity how to earn their righteousness before God. If we rule out the latter—as we must—we are forced to grapple with the implications of Christ’s role as vicar, as mediator, between God and humanity.

In other words, for Barth, election is the ground and foundation for reconciliation. We cannot speak about Jesus Christ as the one who reconciles us to God apart from the work of election which takes place in and through him as the electing God and elected human.

Comments

Halden said…
Good summary of Barth's doctrine of election. I'm in substantial agreement. One question, though. You make a couple of statements about substituionary atonement:

"Instead, just as in atonement our sins were actually taken on by Jesus and thus nailed to the cross, so too we must say that in Jesus all human persons were actually there in his person. sus was the one man for many. We often speak of this as the substitutionary atonement..."

and again:

"Because we are all in Jesus—because God elected all of humanity in the assumption of humanity in the incarnation—we are all involved in what occurs in the person of Jesus. This is what one must affirm in order to hold fast to the substitutionary atonement. "

I'm right on board with the language of "in Jesus" and the fact that all persons are actually present in Christ in his crucifixion and resurrection. However, I wonder how that leads us to substituionary atonement. Does not participation by definition exclude substituion? I suppose it could be viewed dialectically and I think we need to hang onto both the representative, vicarious nature of the work of Christ and our partciation in it through bring united to Christ through the Spirit (I've got Romans 6 in the back of my mind here).

Perhaps a good way to look at it would be through the metaphor of the head and the body which Paul applies to Christ in the church. The head has primacy and centrality, indeed it is the "face" that constitutes the identity of the person, and yet the other members of the body are particiate in and are implicated in the actions of the head. (Here's I'm picking up on the way McFarland uses the distinction in his essay on Jenson and Barth).

At any rate, while I agree with Barth on election in general, I think that the relationship between the vicarious nature of of Christ's atonement and union with Christ. I think T.F. Torrance may have the answer on this question, or at least a large part of it.
D.W. Congdon said…
Actually, I fundamentally reject participation in terms of election and atonement. Following Barth and Jüngel, participation only properly enters the discussion in terms of God bringing us into an analogical-ontological participation in our new creation as creatures who exist ex-centrically. In other words, participation is about passively sharing in who God is — by strict analogy alone, albeit following Jüngel's analogy of advent. If there is any place where participation is excluded, it must be the atonement. We sinful humans simply cannot have any role in this divine event.

I highly recommend the essay by Bruce McCormack on this subject published in a Festschrift for Jüngel, "Participation in God, Yes, Deification, No: Two Modern Protestant Responses to an Ancient Question." I can send it to you if you'd like. He examines what both Barth and Jüngel say on the matter. My answer to the question follows their answers. The main gist is a rejection of any substance ontology and the affirmation of a relational-historical ontological connection between God and humanity in which participation may be actualized while keeping a strict ontological separation between divine and human reality.

I think a penal-substitution theory is best, as long as we insist on ontology and refuse to make it a purely forensic action without ramifications for our being and God's.
D.W. Congdon said…
For the record, I don't much like talk of "union with Christ," though I am quite sympathetic to what Torrance does in speaking of the vicarious humanity of Christ. Torrance needs to employ the idea of "union with Christ," but Barth already has a better solution: the doctrine of election. If God elects humanity in Jesus Christ, then we are already in his person, and thus Jesus acts vicariously on our behalf. We do not need to become united in the 'here and now,' because we are already united in the 'there and then.'

Salvation, or justification, should be viewed as being taken extra nos [outside ourselves], in which we are removed from ourselves so that God may come nearer to us than we are to ourselves. Justification is not a matter of unification but of self-displacement (by God, not by us) in order for ontological re-constitution by God through the Holy Spirit in which our identity is located in Jesus Christ as the imago dei, the new human who re-creates us as new creatures in an analogical relation to the triune Creator.
Halden said…
I have no problem with passive participation, in fact following von Balthasar and Hutter, I maintain that all human participation in God and God's acts are precisely that.

However, I think you have a problem in saying no participation in election and atonement and then saying we are all elect in Christ. How could we be elect "in Christ" if by definition we cannot participate in Christ's election and atonement?

Again, I don't think we in any way atone for our own sins, but that, through being united with Christ by the work of the Spirit (which is a most profoundly passive, indeed pathic particiation) we are united with him in his death and resurrection. It just seems to me that this is fundamental to Paul's language of salvation. The theme of "con-crucifixion and co-resurrection with Christ" (to borrow from von Balthasar) is replete throughout the Pauline corpus.

Also, I fundamentally reject a substantialist ontology as well, and the form of particiation that I advocate for is informed precisely be a relational ontology of personhood (e.g. Gunton and Zizioulas). That's why the question of divinization is not really a probem for me, since that becomes a problematic doctrine when coupled with a substantialist ontology. Take that away and you've pretty much taken the teeth out of theosis.

At any rate, I think it's very problematic to say that "we must say that in Jesus all human persons were actually there in his [Christ's] person" while excluding an account of participation. I don't think penal substitution and the doctrine of election get you out of this problem if you maintain that they aren't forensic. Because if they are ontological, then it seems that being elect "in Christ" entails an ontological statement, rather than merely a legal one, which would make being "in Christ" which sounds like participatory langauge an ontological reality.

In other words, I don't think you can exculde particiation without being forced back into a forensic understanding of the atonement. Also, I don't think penal substitution works in the end because of how it concieves the justice of God as retributive and the fact that the resurrection is rendered pretty unnecessary on the penal model. But that's probably another discussion.

And yes, please send me the McCormack essay. Sounds like a piece I'd want to read.
D.W. Congdon said…
I think I can accept a pathic participation, but I still get uncomfortable with participatory language at all. And I still don't find "union with Christ" language necessary, or all that helpful — considering its present tense rather than past tense emphasis. If you think the language of participation can be properly used of our election in Jesus Christ, then that's fine by me. The problem I see is that participation generally refers to something we do actively in the present, whereas I would like to think of the only active agent as Jesus Christ while we are passive in the present. Does that make sense? I'm not saying you need to agree with it, but I just want to make sure I am speaking clearly.

I'm fine with losing the "penal" aspect of the atonement, just as long as Jesus is truly our substitute. I cannot think of how an appropriately christocentric theology can lose the affirmation that Jesus stands in the place of sinful humanity; he is the one man for many, the God-man who takes on the sins of the world.
WTM said…
Beating up on Torrance, are we? Beware...
D.W. Congdon said…
Disclaimer: Tom Torrance is one of the very best theologians of the 20th century. He has a first-rate mind and a life of rich piety and leadership in the church. I am not fit to carry his copy of the Dogmatics. If I have disagreements with him - and they are minor ones at that - they are deeply appreciative disagreements. I hope, in time, to discuss Torrance's theology in greater depth.
WTM said…
Much better. :-)
Halden said…
I think you're being clear, David. Ang I can see your point about "particiation" sounding like some sort of activity, something we do. How's this for a definition:

When I say that we participate in the Trinitarian life of God thorugh Christ and the Spirit I am affirming that in his self-giving to us in the economy of salvation, God, through Christ establishes a relationship with us that is ontologically constitutive and of such an intimate nature that God's life of Triune communion is shared with us. Thus we partake of the communion that God is in his Triune relations by virtue of his establishing relationship with us by grace through Christ and the Spirit.

Again we are totally passive in the establishment of this relationship and its continued existence if predicates soley on God's action.

Essentially, I see the langauge of particiation as important because it emphasizes the fact that there are not two communions, one human and one divine, but only the communion of Father, Son and Spirit who graciously enter into relationship with creation, thus allowing humanity to share in the life of God.

Here is an excerpt from ‘The Critics of ‘Being as Communion'’, Alan Brown chapter’s in Personhod and the Church: The Theology of John Zizoulas, edited by Douglas Knight, due out at the end of the year. I think it gets at what I'm talking about with particiation and the church.

“Baptism is a new birth in which the human being is newly hypostasised in the mode of being of Jesus Christ. This ontological re-constitution and in-corporation is not, however, a re-constitution and in-corporation into a separated and individualized hypostasis, but rather one into the hypostasis of the one who is the only-begotten of the Father, existing in and only in an absolute perichoretic reciprocity with the Father and the Holy Spirit. As such, the communion of the Church is a participation (an already eschatological participation) in the mode of divine being itself, the mode of catholic, koinonetic love. Consequently, for Zizioulas, it is not possible to ‘project’ the mode of being of the Church onto the divine being, since the mode of being of the Church already is the mode of being of divine being;

For Zizioulas, there are not ‘two communions’, one divine and one human – rather there is one divine communion, in which humans participate, this participation being the ecclesial mode of being that is the Church.”

(This qoute is available at douglasknight.org)
Ron Ballew said…
Wow! this discussion brings back memories of when I was at Fuller and took a clas on Barth with Ray Anderson. After having taught in South Africa for 10 years and now in pastoral ministry I can say from a practical level these questions that are being answered are not being asked!

Post modernism the emergent church etc. simply aren't interested in this debate. On a practical level those churches and denominations that espouse universalism are shrinking so fast they won't be with us in 2 generations. (The average age of the Episcopalian church is over 60)

As much as I love Barth, and I do, many of the questions he answers are of interest only to sem students.
Halden said…
Seeing as how McLaren essentially devoted an entire book in his
"New Kind of Christian" series to the question of universalism, I wouldn't make such sweeping claims about the emerging church's lack of interest in this topic.

And while numbers of denominations espousing universalism may be shrinking (though I've never heard of any denomination that actually held to universalism as a confessional point), many evangelicals are finding themselves espousing universalism these days. Like David and myself.

Also, I don't think it's fair to peg the Episcopals as universalists as a denomniation. That simply isn't the case.

And I do think this question has important implications for our lives, particularly how we concieve the love of God and communicate the message of the gospel. So hopefully more than just a few of us lowly sem students will be interested in this topic.
Chris King said…
This is from Gunton's The Christian Faith on Barth’s doctrine of election:

“The weakness of this position lies in its overrealized eschatology. Not only is reconciliation an eschatological reality, and so something that has not yet been completed; but it is also an interpersonal one. That is to say, to teach that reconciliation has already happened may appear to imply that relations between two estranged parties have been healed in such a way that they are expressly at one. In other words, to give an unqualified account of universal reconciliation is to risk abstraction from actual reconciled relations, for while it may be said of those who have accepted baptism, or have been brought into the sphere of proclaimed and lived reconciliation, that they are reconciled to God, the same cannot be so easily said o those who have not. This however, in no way excludes a theology of the universality of the saving significance of the cross. Paul’s statement that ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself’ (2 Cor. 5:19) implies universality, but not that universal reconciliation has already taken place…On the view adopted here, Jesus does indeed do something for the whole human race; but the perfecting of that complete work continues to depend on its realization in time by the work of the Spirit who brings particular people into the community of the reconciled.”

Is there a distinction in Barth's thought between election and reconciliation, or are they one and the same function? In other words, is Gunton reading Barth correctly here?
D.W. Congdon said…
What Zizioulas loses, though, is the ontological distinction between God and humanity — a distinction that I do not think we can lose. For Zizioulas to conceive of just one divine communion is consonant with the Orthodox emphasis on deification, which I reject. The point of being re-constituted by God is that humanity becomes truly human, not divine. (Bonhoeffer makes that point, as you indicated in your first point on his ethics.)

I think we need to hold on to two communions, because otherwise I do not see how one can maintain the distinction between God and the world. The other big problem I have with the quote is the term "perichoretic reciprocity." As I mentioned to you when we met, this is my problem with Gunton. I just don't think the term "perichoresis" can properly be used of humanity at all. Even as newly created creatures, humanity does not add anything to God's being; we are not inter-penetrating and inter-animating with God's own being. The problem I see is with the word "reciprocity," which implies that we give something back to God that God needs. God acts toward us, and we act reciprocally by acting toward God. In my account, as in Jüngel's, God alone acts and we receive.

Zizioulas's account seems indebted to a kind of a non-asymmetrical, quasi-analogia entis relation between God and humanity. I just don't like speaking of the church as a participation in God's being. That seems like very sloppy theology in which ontology becomes univocal between God and the world, in which there is no sense of becoming "truly human," and in which divinization seems to the overarching theme rather than a proper soteriology that remains ontological but with a very different analogy at work and a proper distinction between Creator and creation.

For the most part, I really like your portrayal of participation, except that I would rather speak of us sharing in the being of Jesus Christ rather than in the triune life. I think the latter is where Zizioulas goes astray.
D.W. Congdon said…
Chris,

I think Gunton is off here, because he does not attend to the distinction in Barth between objective reality and subjective reality. Objectively, i.e., in Christ, we are all reconciled to God by being elected in him and then reconciled through the atoning work of his life, death, and resurrection. Subjectively, however, we are caught in our existential tension between nothingness and God, between the abyss and the reality of Jesus Christ. Here is where the work of the church and the Holy Spirit come into play.

Is Barth's eschatology overrealized? Not if we understand that eschatology finds its basis and foundation in the person and work of Jesus. And not if we remember that the eschaton is still to come, but this eschaton is only possible because of what happened 'there and then.' Barth conceives of the final judgment as the universal revelation of what occurred in Jesus, who was God's indirect or veiled self-revelation. So what was already made true objectively then will be made subjectively and universally known in the eschaton.

In short, Gunton's disagreement is mistaken because he has Barth wrong.
Halden said…
I think that Zizioulas would respond by saying that he does not lose the ontological difference between God and humanity precisely because his ontology is relational. If he had a substantialist ontology, participation of the creatures in the creator would create an ontological problem. However, for Zizioulas the church participates in the Triune life through the meditiation of the persons of Christ and the Spirit, not immediately through the divine substance.

I think, however that positing "two communion" risks making our relationship to God artificial or perhaps reinserting a distinction between the immanent and economic trinity that both of us would reject. If there are two communions, what is the nature of our relationship to God? How can we come to know God as he truly is in his Triune relations? To me it seems self evident that if we are brought into relationship with God and God's being is inherently relational between the Father, Son and Spirit our relationship to God must invlove sharing in the relationality that God is. Otherwise how can we be said to be in relation to him in any meaningful sense?

I agree that the reconsitution of humanity makes us truly human and not into divine persons. We will never become "fourth" identities of the Trinity. However, I think the distinction between humanization and deification can become a false one. It is as if divnity and humanity are somehow determined by negating one another (and both Jungel and Alan Lewis repudiate such ontology). In other words, what if the particiation of humanity in the life of the Trinity is precisely what God intends for humanity? Would not that then be humanization, par excellence?

Also, I don't know if you can claim Jungel in support of your argument that humanity can add nothing to God. You certainly know him better than I do, but I seem to remember him saying that the incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection of Christ all introduce something new, even for God into the divine life. Certainly I would that in any reciprocity between God and humanity it is wholly asymetrical, with God always as the source. Moreover, I don't think reciprocity has to conote that anything we give to God was something that he needed or that the ability of give something to God requires a lack in his being. If God's being is infinite in its trinitarian repleteness, construed in positive rather than negative terms, it would seem that God could recieve from humanity things that are genuniely new without it somehow becoming definitive of his being. God's being is one of superabundance wherein the contribution of that which is other than God is precisely non-competative.

To my thinking the essence of worship and doxology is precisely the attempt to offer something to God as a gift in response to his own infinite giving to us. Ford and Hardy in their book Living in Praise offer a good account how worship is a gift that "perfects perfection" flowing from the overflow of God's superabundant self-giving.

At any rate, I think our positions on this issue are pretty close. You seem to be informed a bit more by some Barthian sensibilities that make you wary of certain kinds of language for describing how humanity is brought into relation to God through Christ which I have picked up largely from von Balthasar.
Ron Ballew said…
Halden says: "And I do think this question has important implications for our lives, particularly how we concieve the love of God and communicate the message of the gospel. So hopefully more than just a few of us lowly sem students will be interested in this topic."

I would say you pretty much proved my point. And if you look at where the growth is it's with the conservatives.

I should clarify this is a western topic of concern. No where when I taught in Africa would this have been an issue.

Barth's concept of universalism is hope, he never taught that it would happen he hoped it would. Again on a practical level like extreme double pre-destination if you hold to this position why be missional?

BTW Anymore I don't know what Maclarens position is, he never seems to take a position.

Episcopals in the US are not universalists in confession, it's that believing the confessions are optional, thus we are witnessing their self destruction. Which saddens me greatly.

My problem today is that I deal with a comgregation on a daily basis that want answers to "their" questions. Why do I have cancer, my daughter was raped. Is God good. Why should I pray, can God heal. It's good to have a good grasp of theology but it doesn't touch most people in the here and now. After 6 years of sem it took me 10 to get to a point where a congregation could understand what the heck I was trying to say!
Weekend Fisher said…
Your recap of Barth's doctrine of election is reasonably close to the doctrine of election I hold (Christ-centered and Christ-based), and (while we're on the subject) reasonably close to historic Lutheran views of election, though not an exact match.

Lots to talk about and where to start.

You say that it was a major mistake of "classical" theology to separate the decree of election from Christ; and the choir said Amen. It is also a further mistake to separate election in Christ from whether Christ is in a person. Yes, I read the part where you said you didn't think that was helpful language or a helpful concept or words to that effect, but I think that to dismiss Christ in us is to dismiss something far, far too important to dismiss, something that cannot be dismissed without the risk of missing the picture.

So to kind of pick up with the comment you made over on Ben's blog, and tying in here where you said you fundamentally reject participation in terms of atonement and in terms of election, I'd say there's the question of timing. If God saves a person and regenerates/recreates him, and that person no longer has even the ability to fall as Adam did, you have Augustinian/Calvinism. If God wants to save a person but has to first find something good enough in that sinner that will reach out to God (with or without help), you have Pelagianism/Arminianism (or semi, if there's some help). If God regenerates someone non-coercively, but still allows that same freedom of the original creation where a fall is possible, people are quick to cry "Pelagian" but I don't see the validity of the charge, that God saving us but allowing a fall would amount to a Pelagian view. What made the fall possible in the first place? Wasn't it the fact that we are in some sense in the image of God? Could any other type of being have fallen? And if we are restored into the image of God, isn't the fall once again an inherent risk? And after God has regenerated us, I really don't see the validity of a charge of Pelagianism when we notice the new life working in us; the new life came after our salvation. We Protestants (esp. non-pietists) seriously need to reclaim a doctrine of spiritual growth and maturity.

I'll have to admit to some impatience with universalism. I'm not aware of a single passage of Scripture that both addresses the last judgment and speaks as if all are actually saved. The hope that all, that anyone, may be saved is valid, since Christ died for all. But to speak as if our salvation does not actually involve us seems a mistake. As surely as election involves God in Christ, so election involves Christ in us. And if Christ is not in us, we have no election, which is in Christ. "Christ in us" is far too major a concept of Scripture to dismiss.

Take care & God bless
Halden said…
Ron:

"My problem today is that I deal with a comgregation on a daily basis that want answers to "their" questions. Why do I have cancer, my daughter was raped. Is God good. Why should I pray, can God heal. It's good to have a good grasp of theology but it doesn't touch most people in the here and now."

I also deal with my congregation on a daily basis and what we struggle together to work towards is seeing how so often "our" questions are wrong in and of themselves. Too often we want God to answer our questions and fit into our agenda. That's precisely why we need theology, to help prevent us from creating God in our image based on our questions or "felt needs."

Now, before you unload on me about how I'll understand one day when I get out the "real world," let me say that in my small congregation we've dealt with every one of those questions you mentioned. We walked with a sister through cancer and death who's faithfulness to the Lord I can only aspire to. In the history of my congregation women have been raped, children and spouses have died, houses have been broken into and different church members held at gunpoint.

However, in all this the point wasn't to ditch theology and figure out how to make God relevant to our issues, but to go deeper into theology, probing who God is and what kind of God is revealed through the cross of Christ. The only weapons we have in the thick of "real life" are the cross and the resurrection. These are theological issues to the nth degree and they are anything but irrelevant.

Now, theology can often become meaningless abstraction as I'm sure we've all experienced. But the answer to bad theology is not to make God relevant to our lives but to strive after good theology that is faithful to the gospel. In that pursuit there are no irrelevant questions.
Ron Ballew said…
Halden,

Agree, you don't get rid of theology just because it's not what you want to hear. (which is a reason why I reject universalism is it scripture or what my culture wants scripture to say).

A strong theology is a must, I'm just leery of our model for training (which I am a product of). From my perspective there needs to be more emphasis on praxis, and good old fashioned mentoring. If sems are re-emphasizing this great. They sure didn't when I was there, or when I taught.

Your point is well taken though.
D.W. Congdon said…
"If God regenerates someone non-coercively, but still allows that same freedom of the original creation where a fall is possible, people are quick to cry "Pelagian" but I don't see the validity of the charge, that God saving us but allowing a fall would amount to a Pelagian view."

WF, I am going to need your help to unpack this statement; tell me if I get this right. What I hear you saying is that God saves the person without that person contributing to her salvation in any way, is that right? Then after her salvation, she is free to screw up or whatever because God allows her that freedom.

The first half is my position, and unless you think Jesus only came and died for a few people, you have to accept universalism on that account. But the second half says that once we are saved we can lose our salvation (by doing something sinful, I suppose) and thus be sent to hell for eternity. This is basically Catholicism or Arminianism (not Pelagianism), because now we are no longer focusing on how one is reconciled to God but on how we stays reconciled to God. I assume you see the difference.

Now you have run into a major problem. It becomes very difficult to see how God's omnipotent grace and holy love can be victorious in the battle with sin and nothingness by rescuing us from the abyss and placing us in a right relation with our Creator in Jesus Christ, and yet be incapable of preserving us in this reconciled state. In other words, how can we play no role in our salvation -- that is, do nothing to help or prevent it -- and yet play a decisive role in whether or not we remain saved? That is a difficulty that I do not believe you will be able to resolve. The only way to remain consistent is to accept Pelagianism and say that we do help in our salvation.

Another problem is that if all are indeed objectively saved in Christ without our participation, then the reality of hell is still negated. The sins in our earthly life perhaps warrant a purgatory period in which we will be cleansed -- the textual evidence for this is significant enough for me to accept this as a valid possibility -- but an eternal hell would mean that we were in fact not saved by God and that our sins have a greater importance than Christ's death. This, by the way, is a major issue that I will bring up again later in my series because this theological faux pas is prevalent throughout American Christianity.

The third major problem -- and this is huge -- is that you have created a God who is all-powerful and all-gracious on one side and then entirely weak and ungracious on the other. In other words, you are allowing God to be God in salvation, but making humanity to be God in perseverance. That's a heresy if there ever was one.

I think I read you rightly. Do you have any responses to this? Can you actually avoid a semi-Pelagian account of salvation and keep an Arminian position on the possibility of losing one's salvation? Can you actually keep God as the center and the basis for our salvation and our hope? What role do you actually see humanity playing? What role do you see God playing?
Weekend Fisher said…
Hi David

I think I should start by thanking you for the insightful questions. Not that we agree, but that iron sharpens iron and so forth, and there may be a few interesting sparks along the way. I appreciate the chance to talk with you. So back to where we left off, and you were discussing omnipotent grace ...

Here's a scandal: in Christ, God chose weakness over omnipotence. If God's "weakness" (self-chosen, self-prescribed) were of no relevance, then why speak of God's weakness being stronger than man's strength? If God wanted his omnipotence to be his leading characteristic, why would he choose weakness to work our salvation?

I think "omnipotent grace" is a category mistake, a contradiction of terms. "Grace" cannot be correctly defined in a vacuum, but only in and through Christ -- which is exactly where we see most clearly that God chose weakness. If we would understand God correctly, and how our justification or condemnation is ordained to work, then we must understand God's choice to work our salvation in weakness, and that God's foolish weakness is wiser than our wisdom and stronger than our strength.

Before we talk about "losing" salvation can we back up and say what "salvation" is? Here's one possible definition for the purpose of this conversation: salvation is being in a "state of grace". Which just moves the definition question over to "grace". How about a working definition of "grace" as a loving fellowship with God through Christ. Do you see how a relational definition of grace makes it impossible for us to be so completely uninvolved as required by universalism? Because grace comes through Christ, we have "grace" (fellowship with God) insofar as we have Christ, and not otherwise. God chose to mediate our salvation through Christ. His will, his strength, his decision, his election: to mediate our salvation through Christ, to have fellowship with us through Christ and not apart from Christ. Which means that if someone throws out Christ, she's thrown out her salvation, by definition.

<< In other words, how can we play no role in our salvation -- that is, do nothing to help or prevent it -- and yet play a decisive role in whether or not we remain saved? >>

I'll repeat one thing before going on: God chose weakness and showed his self-chosen weakness to us in Christ. If we approach thinking about salvation with only a view of God's omnipotence, inevitably the cross of Christ will be missed or misplaced. God saves us without any help from us, thank you very much. But still he has chosen to approach us in weakness and humility. When you see the sovereign king working our salvation, he first rides a donkey and then wears a crown of thorns; he has chosen weakness. There is no "omnipotent grace" or "sovereign grace". God chose for his grace to come in Christ's humiliating death, not in an exercise of glory. God's weakness is an important -- likely necessary -- means to accomplish his goal.

And the end goal of "grace" is fellowship with God; an "acquittal" definition of grace does not adequately cover what God is accomplishing in reconciling the world to himself. Which is the basic outline of the answer but I'll fill in some more details below the next:

<< Another problem is that if all are indeed objectively saved in Christ without our participation ... >>

I'd contest the picture of how salvation works here. Before I mentioned a working definition of salvation that involves restoring fellowship with God. Is fellowship with God one-sided? (Is "one-sided fellowship" a meaningful phrase?) Does the great work of Christ move us from a one-sided relationship (where God does everything) to a two-sided relationship where we love him in return? And if part of the work of Christ is to move us to the point of loving God in return, is this returned love, a result of our restored nature in salvation, rightly criticized in some works-righteousness theological taboo category? If we don't "participate" on that level of having been successfully restored to fellowship with God and the capability of loving him in return, can Christ's great work be said to have succeeded? That is how we can say that salvation is from God alone: it starts out completely one-sided. Still God's intended goal includes that it becomes two-sided genuine fellowship by the end, which is why the whole thing necessarily and inherently involves a chance for us to reject God.

That's another reason why God's choice of weakness in Christ is so vital, why it had to be. Because by the end, we have to be able to trust God in our own weakness in order for fellowship to be restored.

Most of the universalists I've known have a bedrock-level understanding of God's goodness that I would never want to change. I hope you're willing to continue the conversation (even if it's in a "next installment" type of way).

Take care & God bless
D.W. Congdon said…
WF, thanks for the response. Indeed, I hope this can be a sharpening experience. I will be firm but hopefully not unkind.

I need to ask at the start, What are you implying by saying that God chose "weakness" in Jesus Christ? The point of this statement in Paul's letter is that Jesus is "weak" in the eyes of the world. Jesus appears to be lowly and weak and incompetent, but this is only an appearance and not the actual reality. From God's perspective, and from the perspective of faith, Jesus Christ is indeed the power of God — as Paul himself states with clarity. I could cite numerous verses in support of this statement, but I assume you know them already.

You wrote:

If God wanted his omnipotence to be his leading characteristic, why would he choose weakness to work our salvation? I think "omnipotent grace" is a category mistake, a contradiction of terms. "Grace" cannot be correctly defined in a vacuum, but only in and through Christ -- which is exactly where we see most clearly that God chose weakness.

First, God did not choose omnipotence as his leading attribute, and I never said such a thing. I said and will always say that grace defines God. God is love, a love abounding with grace for all creation. Please return to my posts on the attributes of God. You will read there some beautiful statements from Barth on God's grace. I cannot say it any better than he already did.

Second, it is you who has made the major category mistake by thinking that Christ's humiliation and worldly weakness is equatable with the weakness that you and I know, say, after running 8 miles and collapsing in exhaustion. The word "weakness" is not univocal in these two situations. Here again I urge you to read Karl Barth. He makes the brilliant and absolutely essential observation — contrary to how it is typically presented in tradition — that Jesus Christ is in the state of humiliation or obedience as the Son of God, and in the of exaltation as the Son of Man. To put this another, Jesus is the Lord as servant (the Son of God as the humiliated one), but then all is turned around and he is the servant as Lord (the Son of Man raised and exaltated).

The point is that Barth is majestically turning the tradition on its head. Instead of thinking of the incarnation of Christ as his humiliation and utter weakness, we must see this as God's true glory and power, and instead of seeing Christ's resurrection and ascension as simply a glorious act of God (which it is), we must see this as the act of a servant, the one who became weak unto death for our sakes. It is the powerful God who became a servant, and the powerless man Jesus who was exalted above the heavens and at whose name ever knee will bow and every tongue will confess that he is Lord for all eternity.

Third, this is where I really do not understand what you trying to say. You criticize me for defining (all-powerful) grace in a "vacuum" and not out of God's self-revelation in Jesus Christ. But that was precisely what I was doing — or, not I, but great theologians who came before me, most notably Barth. Because in Jesus Christ we have God in the flesh, the triune Creator, Redeemer, and Reconciler come to earth, we must say that grace is not some weak attribute but truly the most marvelous and mysterious perfection of God. God shows God's grace to us in that while we are still sinners, Jesus came to die in our place and on our behalf. This is the most powerful weakness, the most omnipotent grace, the most holy love — because in the "weakness" of Jesus God overcomes the world, in grace God is victorious over sin and death, and in love God judges our sin on the cross to bring us eternal life. This is the Gospel. This is the story that we must proclaim again and again, and no other.

Yes, God chose weakness — God chose to veil Godself in human flesh — but only so that God could be revealed as the God of holy love, of powerful grace, of infinite righteousness and mercy for all humankind. God became weak in appearance in order to overpower what appears to be strong in our eyes: sin, death, the abyss of nothingness that threatens our existence. These were overcome and destroyed in the cross, but only to the eyes of faith. It is never self-evident to the world that the cross is a victory. And that is why the cross is a scandal. It's not a scandal that Jesus was weak; every person on the street will admit that Jesus was, in the end, the weakest person who ever lived. What makes Christianity a scandal is that we confess that our salvation was effected in that self-giving of God on the cross. As believers, we confess that God was stronger than the strength of humans in the offering of the Son on the cross. That is why, if he was not raised, we are to be pitied more than all others.

This is getting long, so I will stop this comment and write another to address the rest of your comment.
D.W. Congdon said…
Definition of salvation: To be in right (re: new) relations with God, with others, and with ourselves. We are re-constituted by the grace of God in salvation so that we no longer exist from and for ourselves, but rather we exist from God and for the world. We find our identity outside ourselves (extra nos) in the true image of God, Jesus Christ, who embodies the grace and love of God.

If this corresponds with your definition of salvation as a "state of grace," then that is great. The point where we both agree is that salvation is relational in nature. Grace is relational; it is not a substance poured into us but a reorganization of our being in terms of our relations to those outside of ourselves, primarily to God. We are agreed, I believe, in affirming all of this.

There are two ways, however, in which you go dangerously astray. (1) First, grace is not the loving fellowship with God, because grace is what bring us into fellowship with God. If grace were fellowship, that would mean we would have to achieve fellowship with God in order to be saved. And while you do not come outright and say this, you clearly imply that this is what you mean when you state: "Do you see how a relational definition of grace makes it impossible for us to be so completely uninvolved as required by universalism?" With that one statement I can unravel the rest of your theology of salvation.

Here is why: A relational definition of grace and salvation does not and cannot mean that our salvation depends upon how well or rightly we relate back to God. The moment you make that move, you have unwittingly affirmed semi-Pelagianism (that dreaded term again). Can you see why? If our ability or act of relating to God "saves us," then we are saving ourselves. Salvation, to be sure, involves us, but only insofar as it has an effect for us and on us; it changes who we are. But we are completely uninvolved in making this a reality. You cannot say that a relation definition of grace requires our involvement in our own salvation. That would be a heresy! Only God saves us. Only God is capable rescuing us from the pit. But in rescuing us, God brings us into a right relation with God, others, and ourselves. Hence the relational definition of salvation.

I only need to point to the grammar of salvation to make my argument. I have said over and over again that we are brought into right relations with God. This is in the passive voice, not the active. We do not bring ourselves into these new and right relations; only God can effect this change in us. God alone saves. We are saved, changed, reoriented, remade, reconstituted, brought into right relations, rescued, pulled up from the abyss. All of these verbs are in the passive voice. The moment you turn one of them into the active voice, you have lost the gospel and entered the realm of heresy. There are only two paths: a passive salvation by God, or a (false) active salvation by ourselves.

"Is fellowship with God one-sided?"

Wrong question. Is fellowship created alone by God? Yes. Does fellowship with God mean that we never respond to God? No. But our response does not effect salvation, but is always and only a response to our already accomplished salvation by God. WF, you cannot reject this and remain orthodox. You cannot say that we participate in our salvation and remain a Christian. You end up becoming a cult in which human acts are the grounds for eternal life, not God's act alone. I am sure you understand this, which is why you then wrote:

"If we don't "participate" on that level of having been successfully restored to fellowship with God and the capability of loving him in return, can Christ's great work be said to have succeeded? That is how we can say that salvation is from God alone: it starts out completely one-sided. Still God's intended goal includes that it becomes two-sided genuine fellowship by the end, which is why the whole thing necessarily and inherently involves a chance for us to reject God."

Can Christ's work be said to have succeeded?? YES!! Absolutely! We must confess that Christ has succeeded, regardless of whether you or I or anyone else ever responds. To make Christ's life, death, and resurrection dependent upon whether or not we respond to God in true faith would make us God! But we are not God. Thank God for that! Jesus did succeed and will always have succeeded even if the Christian church passes out of existence. We have to confess this unless we wish to make our acts determinative for who God is and what God does. Please be careful about asking such questions, because you are drawing precipitously close to saying that God is dependent upon humanity in order to accomplish God's purposes. That is not the God of the Bible.

You are right at the end. All of this presupposes that we are capable of rejecting God in the end. But God does not care about our rejection. Even that was assumed by Jesus and judged on the cross. Our sin of rejection was itself wiped away. We can reject God all we want. But — and herein lies the grandeur and glory of the Gospel — God never rejects us. God may turn away from us and judge us, but these are not separate from the grace, mercy, and love which God pours out upon us through and only through Jesus. Our rejection of God does not force God to reject us; that would be the same error of making us more powerful than God. Our rejection of God is taken on by God in the incarnation of the Son. Our rejection is replaced by affirmation, our sin replaced by obedience, our eternity in hell replaced by an eternity in communion with God — all of this accomplished not in ourselves (impossible!) but only in Jesus Christ, only in the one mediator between God and humanity.

Which brings me back to your discussion of grace. I quote you again:

"Because grace comes through Christ, we have "grace" (fellowship with God) insofar as we have Christ, and not otherwise. God chose to mediate our salvation through Christ. His will, his strength, his decision, his election: to mediate our salvation through Christ, to have fellowship with us through Christ and not apart from Christ. Which means that if someone throws out Christ, she's thrown out her salvation, by definition."
Except that we never "have" grace, just like we never "have" Christ — God is not ours to possess. We must confess precisely the opposite: God has us, we are owned and possessed by God alone. You continually make the serious error of thinking that we are more important and more powerful than God — which must go along with your theology of weakness. What you need is a theology of grace! Grace is not ours to own, but ours in which to participate. We do not have grace, but we are "haved" by God, so to speak.

Thus, we cannot "throw out Christ," meaning that we cannot render Christ's work ineffective. Once again, that places us above God, above the Son, and above the Spirit. We are not above God; we are God's. God may choose to throw out us — and God's freedom means that God always has the prerogative to do this in eternity — but God has revealed Godself in Jesus Christ to be a God who does not throw us out but who remakes us, creates us anew, to be the children of God. What God proclaims in the gospel of Jesus Christ, the word of the cross, is that we are no longer going to be rejected by God but will now belong to God forever as the children of the kingdom. This is the glorious promise of the gospel. Anything less, anything that makes us constitutive of salvation, is a perversion of Christianity.

The point of the doctrine of election is this: we were in Christ, and thus what Jesus Christ accomplished was effective for all humanity, indeed for the whole cosmos. We can do nothing to change what has already been accomplished — "it is finished," Jesus said on the cross. Indeed, it is. Praise be to God that our broken, sinful lives can do absolutely nothing to alter this reality. What we must realize in hearing this story is that we are completely and utterly dependent upon God. All we can do now is worship our infinitely gracious God.
Weekend Fisher said…
Hi again

The risk of carrying on involved theological conversations in comment boxes is that the size limits leave a partial picture; this is plainest in the discussions of grace, fellowship, and timing. Some of the things you mentioned I had "accused" you of were actually just generic things I include in conversations on this subject because, typically, they come up sooner or later. And again some of the things you hold against me are actually things we agree on. For brevity's sake I'll just concentrate on the points that, from my point of view, are the crucial ones:

* First, that God's election of weakness in our salvation is not simply that Jesus died on the cross, or even simply that he took human flesh in the incarnation, both of which obviously can be classified as weak. It's that this weakness in Christ and its effects in the people of the world, mediated by the message of Christ and God's Spirit carried in God's Word, are the totality of what God has chosen to save us. Your view presupposes that Christ is part of some other scheme and that salvation happens essentially as God's decision ex cathedra (if you'll excuse the humor), to which the cross of Christ is added. It's not actually a Christ-based or Christ-centered approach. Granted that there are decisions about our salvation that God makes ex cathedra. The revelation we have is that he decided to save us only in and through our participation in the death and resurrection of Christ. The scandal of the cross goes deeper than the fact that such a shameful thing was an act of God which accomplishes our salvation. The scandal of the cross is also that there isn't some hidden decree to make the cross just a facet of a plan where, really, God acts in omnipotence. The omnipotent view of God is not based on his self-revelation in Christ. This type of universalism repeatedly appeals to omnipotence, and seeks to limit God's election of weakness to something temporary, to isolate it from God's self-revelation in Christ. A theology which is built on omnipotence is a theology which is not built on the foundation of Christ.

* You say that, if a rejection of Christ is possible so that some are ultimately condemned, then it makes man's decision more important than God's. That depends very much on what you think God's original decision was. If God's original decree was to save everybody even if (say) they are deliberately hateful of his mercy to their last breaths, then in that context allowing a rejection would amount to man's decision being more important than God's decision. But if God's original decree was to elect Christ -- and that whosoever believes in him has eternal life, but there is no decree that people should be forced into the "whosoever believes" category -- then a rejection of Christ is itself a possibility allowed by God's decree. In that context, man's rejection is not "more important" than God's decision to act for the world's salvation in Christ; it is part of the allowable outcomes that God decreed when he decided to accomplish our salvation, not based on his sovereignty, but based on participating in our weakness.

* As for grace, fellowship, and participation, we are in agreement up to the point where you say that God brings us passively into a relationship with him, and that God alone accomplishes this. After this we part ways in both directions. First, whether after knowing Christ, our conscious embrace of fellowship with God, and active work towards his purposes, is therefore Pelagian and cultic. Our participation is only Pelagian if it is claimed to happen before we enter a state of grace. I strongly reject a "cultic" label for the fact of our being transformed by God's grace after we have passively received Christ; this would make any non-passivity even after receiving Christ "cultic", and would in effect deny that grace re-estabishes us in the image of God, capable of willing and acting. We also part ways in the other direction, whether after receiving Christ passively, a person's continued rejection of Christ is meaningful or meaningless, whether rejecting Christ is properly classified *only* as sin, or whether it is *also* a rejection of grace by definition, since grace is in Christ. If you maintain that rejecting Christ is not the same as rejecting grace, then that becomes an argument that grace does not come through Christ. Rejecting Christ is not merely a "sin", it is the fall all over again.

Which brings us back to the beginning: whether God chooses to act towards us in omnipotence (where the weakness of the cross of Christ might be scandalous, but at least it's not too major a part of the story! we really know God much better when we aren't look at Christ), or whether God's election really did involve electing to deal with us in weakness, electing to re-establish us in his image, electing to re-establish us only in and through Christ, not in and through omnipotent force.

I'll have to mention I've never understood why universalists argue that none are ultimately lost. To me, it's an interesting logical question, but The Sheep and the Goats and other such passages have answered the question enough for me. To maintain universalism in the face of passages like that is to place our philosophies far above what Christ said when forming a picture of salvation. Christ portrays a judgment of condemnation as both real and just.

Take care & God bless
WF
D.W. Congdon said…
WF,

I had hoped you might turn out to be a worthy conversation partner, but you are simply imposing upon me what you think a universalist is -- by the way, I am not a universalist, I am a Christian. My faith is not universalism; it is Christianity. Just want to make sure you are clear on what kind of person you are talking to.

First, have I ever denied the centrality of the cross? Have I ever said that Jesus' death and resurrection are not at the very center of our faith? You obviously do not know what Jüngel's theology is about, or else you would know that no other theologian in history has so emphasized the importance of the cross as the center of revelation and salvation. I cannot really expect you to know that, but then again, you are massively erroneous in drawing the conclusion that I have some other god in mind than the God who assumed human flesh in the person Jesus and gave himself on the cross as the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Where you drew the conclusion that this is not the God I am speaking about, I have no idea.

What is this "other scheme" that Christ is a part of in my presentation? You are making wild accusations which have no ground in what I actually said. Did you actually read anything that I have posted thus far? Have I not emphasized as much as, if not more than, any theologian that salvation is in Jesus Christ alone? Did you miss that in my last comments? Or were you reading some other guy's blog and then decided to come comment on mine? Furthermore, show me where I ever said that salvation is in some divine decision in which Christ's person and work are marginal? I do not see how you can possibly be talking about my position. Your comments are incoherent and unrelated — or, rather, they are related insofar as you are simply repeating some of the things I already said and then telling me that I never said them or am saying something else. Rubbish!

A "hidden decree"? I think I've figured it out. You think that my version of universalism is basically Calvinistic limited atonement made unlimited. Is that right? In other words, just as God made some pre-temporal decree about who would be saved and who wouldn't be saved, you think that I am arguing that God just made a protological decree that all would be saved. I won't mince words. That's bullshit. I never said that; in fact, I said just the opposite in my post on election, that what Barth does is move election out of a hidden, divine decree and into the subject of christology and the doctrine of the triune God. Of course, you missed the mark even further by thinking that I am basing my argument on election. No! I am not even half-way finished with this series.

On the subject of omnipotence: where do you find me arguing that universalism is based on God's omnipotent power? Where have I said that? In reality, what I have said repeatedly is that universalism is based on God's grace, and nothing less. Grace is the basis of salvation, not some metaphysical omnipotence. I reject a metaphysically-conceived omnipotence in which God has power in every direction. Nein! God's power and grace is "omnipotent" only in relation to God's ability to accomplish and fulfill the covenant of grace. God's power is power-for the covenant, just as God's being is a being-for us and God's freedom is freedom-for us (rather than freedom-from us). But in terms of the covenant, God's grace is capable of overcoming all obstacles, and will overcome all obstacles. God's grace cannot allow anything to stand in the way of the fulfilment of the covenant. God's purposes will not be thwarted. This is the only way to understand "omnipotence," if we choose to use that word. Whenever I have used that word in the past, I have always presupposed this non-metaphysical definition. Do I have a theology built on omnipotence? No, I have a theology built on grace, on the covenant, on the triune God who is love, on the person of Jesus Christ who is the incarnation of God pro nobis and who came in our place to live, die, and be raised again on our behalf. Insofar as all of this requires a God who is free and powerful, then yes, God's omnipotence is involved. But it is not a theology based on omnipotence; it is a theology based on God, the God who is all-powerful, all-righteous, all-loving, all-gracious.

You need to think through your christology. You wrote, "But if God's original decree was to elect Christ..." God did not elect Christ. That's the worst heresy you have presented thus far: it's called tritheism, and it's a pagan religion. God not elect Christ because Christ is God. God elected humanity in Christ. That is, the Logos is co-eternal with God, but in the incarnation the Son elected humanity for himself and took on human flesh in the person of Jesus. What was elected was humanity in the hypostatic union, not Christ. Once you realize this, then the rest of your comment is rendered null and void, because we were all included in the incarnation. The one mediator, Jesus Christ, assumed our fallen humanity and redeemed it in his person. If you reject this mediating role of Jesus, then you might as well pack up your bags and find a new religion.

You wrote: "...it is part of the allowable outcomes that God decreed when he decided to accomplish our salvation, not based on his sovereignty, but based on participating in our weakness."

What are you trying to say? That God participates in our weakness ... and stays there? In other words, God gets down into the pit with us and never gets us out? The God you have created here is a God who condescends into the abyss (so far so good), but then requires our help to get out. In other words, God is powerful enough to assume human flesh and become a man, but God is incapable of actually saving us through the cross; instead, God has to wait for us to believe in Jesus as our Messiah before the cross actually means anything. Hmm ... I smell heresy again.

Next point. You wrote: "I strongly reject a "cultic" label for the fact of our being transformed by God's grace after we have passively received Christ." Whoa, WF, did you just say "passively received Christ"? What I hear there is my position, that we do not nothing for our salvation; we simply receive the gift from God, but our reception of this gift does not make the gift effective. (You may disagree here, but then you really are semi-Pelagian, which I think you actually are deep down inside.)

Okay, so we are passively redeemed by Christ. That's fine. But after taking one step forward you take 15 steps backwards: "whether after receiving Christ passively, a person's continued rejection of Christ is meaningful or meaningless, whether rejecting Christ is properly classified *only* as sin, or whether it is *also* a rejection of grace by definition, since grace is in Christ. If you maintain that rejecting Christ is not the same as rejecting grace, then that becomes an argument that grace does not come through Christ. Rejecting Christ is not merely a 'sin', it is the fall all over again."

We're just back to where we started again. I'll try to be brief about where you go so far wrong:

1. You did not learn what you were supposed to learn from my comments before: our rejection of Christ means nothing because we are not in a position to accept or reject God with any kind of effective power.

2. Again, we cannot reject grace, because grace is not capable of being rejected. Grace overcomes all opposition; it is not a timid mouse that when yelled at goes and hides in a corner. No, grace is nothing less than God himself. Grace is nothing less than the power of re-creation, of creatio ex nihilo. Grace is nothing less than the humiliated and exalted one, Jesus Christ. Grace is not at our mercy; we are at its. We are possessed by grace and never the other way around.

3. How can you say that one receives Christ passively, without any active involvement, and then say that we can actively free ourselves from God by rejecting God's grace? How does this work? It comes in your last statement: it's the fall all over again. So ...

4. You are sadly mistakened if you think that salvation simply places us where Adam was in the garden. Do you have any basis for this at all in Scripture? Have you forgotten Paul's important typology: once we were "in Adam," but now we are "in Christ"? Or have you theologically missed eschatology, which emphasizes that we do not move backwards to original creation but rather forwards to new creation? Or have you forgotten what the imago dei is actually about? You are right that we regain this image in being placed in a right relation with God, but what you have so tragically forgotten is that the image is not ours to lose. The image is not in us, but in Jesus — who replaced Adam. Adam was our representative as the one who lost the image of God. Jesus assumed our broken state and restored the image for us, which we are given when brought into God's grace. But we cannot lose it anymore than Seth could have regained the image after Adam. Both scenarios are ridiculous and must be rejected.

Your entire comment is bogus and not worth the time that I gave it here. You wrote at the end: "I'll have to mention I've never understood why universalists argue that none are ultimately lost. To me, it's an interesting logical question, but The Sheep and the Goats and other such passages have answered the question enough for me." Wrong. It's not an interesting logical question; it's a matter of life or death, literally. Your dismissal of this question shows that you are naive and foolish, and you are unwilling to think carefully about matters that determine who we are and what the purpose of our faith is for this life and the life to come. Furthermore, allowing one passage to determine your answer to the question is indicative of what kind of person you are. You have already answered the question of universalism — and all the questions that it involves — before ever dealing with the material.

From now on I will not bother to answer your comments unless you show a massive change of attitude. Others can respond if they wish.
Patrick McManus said…
David,

you are bang on! You're responses have been stimulating, especially to WF, and they demonstrate, to me at least, that you have spent much time with Barth, but with Webster and McCormack as well (btw, what do you think of Hunsinger's use of agnosticism at this point?...I assume you don't agree since you indeed embrace the label unaversalist). I tend to agree with Hunsinger here and in that sense, I guess I share Ben's worry (I'm not too sure that Ben made too much of that quote...I think Barth rejected the position as a position for good reasons).

I do appreciate the time and the energy that you've spent arguing for your position and I agree on practically every move you've made (after spending some time reading this whole string!). I think that the issue can become pedantic, but you've managed to keep my attention throughout the string and it has been a very enjoyable read.

I would want to push you on the agnosticism bit though...because I think the label ('universalist', that is) is far too freighted to be of any use...and I'm not sure it was only a semantic issue for Barth here!

Blessings,

Patrick McManus
p.s. I wrote all of this before the last two postings...it's obvious David, that your position was not taken seriously...and so I understand the tone of your last post...read some Jüngel before bed, it always calms me down...the Hegel section in God as the Mystery ought to do it :)