Why I Am A Universalist, § 5: The Doctrine of God, Part 4: The Doctrine of Election (Section III)
Section III: Jesus Christ, divine election, and predestination
This section does not present any new insights, but it serves to reinforce Barth’s position with respect to his exposition of John 1 and his break from the Reformed tradition which posited God’s absolute decree as a protological decision regarding which individuals would be saved and which would be damned. Against this Barth places the scriptural witness, which stresses that Jesus Christ stands at the center of all God’s actions in time and space. Christ is involved in everything that God does economically, from creation to redemption, but the basis for all this is the election or foreordination of all things to exist in communion with their Creator. This election is embodied in Jesus Christ, in whom the pre-temporal decree and the temporal covenant of grace find their center.
In trying to understand Jesus Christ as the electing God we abandon this tradition [of the decretum absolutum], but we hold fast by Jn. 1.1-2. Jesus Christ was in the beginning with God. He was so not merely in the sense that in view of God’s eternal knowing and willing all things may be said to have been in the beginning with God, in His plan and decree. For these are two separate things: the Son of God in His oneness with the Son of Man, as foreordained from all eternity; and the universe which was created, and universal history which was willed for the sake of this oneness, in their communion with God, as foreordained from all eternity. On the one hand, there is the Word of God by which all things were made, and, on the other, the things fashioned by that Word. On the one hand, there is God’s eternal election of grace, and, on the other, God’s creation, reconciliation and redemption grounded in that election and ordained with reference to it. On the one hand, there is the eternal election which as it concerns man God made within Himself in His pie-temporal eternity, and, on the other, the covenant of grace between God and man whose establishment and fulfilment in time were determined by that election. We can and must say that Jesus Christ was in the beginning with God in the sense that all creation and its history was in God’s plan and decree with God. But He was so not merely in that way. He was also in the beginning with God as “the first-born of every creature” (Col. 1.15), Himself the plan and decree of God, Himself the divine decision with respect to all creation and its history whose content is already determined. All that is embraced and signified in God’s election of grace as His movement towards man, all that results from that election and all that is presupposed in such results—all these are determined and conditioned by the fact that that election is the divine decision whose content is already determined, that Jesus Christ is the divine election of grace. (104)With this next quote we begin our segue into the discussion of individual election. Barth addresses the subject of individual election, but he drastically subordinates it beneath the election of Jesus Christ and the election of the community. Barth’s theology works in concentric circles. The doctrine of revelation works as follows: Jesus is at the center as God’s self-revelation (the incarnate Word of God); the biblical witness is the next circle (the written Word of God); and preaching is the third circle (the spoken Word of God). The doctrine of election is similar: Jesus Christ as electing God and elected man is the center; the elect community of the church is second; and the elected individuals are the third circle. I will skip Barth’s discussion of the community, but of course all of these topics are worth substantially more energy and time than I can give them here. What concerns me now is my overall argument for universalism. Election is not the center of my argument, but it could be. For Barth, election is surely the center. I discuss it here, as he does, under the doctrine of God where it belongs, and I address individual election because it is what most traditionally think of when they hear the words “election” and “predestination.” Thus, it is important that I allow Barth to speak on that subject—especially since there he offers his most clear affirmation of universalism.
What is important, then, about this quote is that Barth allows Jesus Christ to condition all that can and must be said about predestination. And here we see more fully how Barth conceives of individual predestination, now that Christ stands as its center and basis.
In relation to this passive election of Jesus Christ the great exponents of the traditional doctrine of predestination developed an insight which we too must take as our starting-point, because, rightly understood, it contains within itself everything else that must be noted and said in this connexion. The insight is this: that in the predestination of the man Jesus we see what predestination is always and everywhere—the acceptance and reception of man only by the free grace of God. Even in the man Jesus there is indeed no merit, no prior and self-sufficient goodness, which can precede His election to divine sonship. Neither prayer nor the life of faith can command or compel His election. It is by the work of the Word of God, by the Holy Spirit, that He is conceived and born without sin, that He is what He is, the Son of God; by grace alone. And as He became Christ, so we become Christians. As He became our Head, so we become His body and members. As He became the object of our faith, so we become believers in Him. What we have to consider in the elected man Jesus is, then, the destiny of human nature, its exaltation to fellowship with God, and the manner of its participation in this exaltation by the free grace of God. But more, it is in this man that the exaltation itself is revealed and proclaimed. For with His decree concerning this man, God decreed too that this man should be the cause and the instrument of our exaltation. (118; emphasis added)