Paul among the Evangelicals, §4: Barth on Rom. 5 (4.2)

4.2. Barth’s Partial Affirmation of the Evangelical Position

Barth is certainly critical of some of the underlying assumptions of evangelicals in the debate over universalism, but he is not only critical. He affirms both sides in the debate in at least the following way: in stressing that there is no distinction between individuals before God, Barth does not denigrate the significance of believing in Christ. He recognizes that there is indeed a difference for those who live in faith. Such people, according to Barth, are able to say Yes to their negation. They are those “who hope for, but who do not possess, redemption,” who even “dare to know what God knows.”60 Such people have a radically different perspective:
[W]e believers see the invisible. We see the righteousness of God in His wrath, the risen Christ in the crucified One, life in death, the ‘Yes’ in the ‘No’. We are able to behold at the barrier the place of exit, and in the judgement the Coming Day of Salvation. … The obstacle to our life becomes a stepping-stone to the victory of life. Demolition becomes edification. … We affirm the negation which says that we are creatures, and we see clearly.61
The metaphor of sight is an important one, since throughout his commentary, Barth speaks of the dialectic between time and eternity in terms of visible and invisible. Whereas human belief is visible and historical, “faith and its power is invisible and non-historical.”62 Religion is “a visible and concrete historical fact”; the new world in Christ is “non-concrete, unobservable, and non-historical.”63 For Barth to assert that believers are indeed able to “see clearly,” even to “see the invisible,” is a remarkable affirmation of God’s gift of grace and human reception of this gift.64

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60. Romans, 155.

61. Ibid., 156.

62. Ibid., 152.

63. Ibid., 183, 181.

64. Cf. ibid., 178-79: “He is the God who gives the gift of grace. . . . This gift men are able to receive; and through it they verily reign in life.”