Around the boab trees

There’s some good reading around at the moment. Here’s a few pieces I’ve enjoyed:

Incarnation Anyway: Arguments for Supralapsarian Christology: A Review

Incarnation Anyway: Arguments for Supralapsarian Christology, by Edwin Christian van Driel. Pp. xii + 194. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008, ISBN 978 0 19 536916 8. £45.

It was the brilliant John Duns Scotus who recalled that ‘God is not in a genus’ (Deus non est in aliquo genere), reminding us that our knowledge of God is impossible in any general sense. Indeed, Christian theology is premised on belief in divine self-disclosure and, moreover, that such disclosure is an act of grace. Duns Scotus also supposed that creation’s purpose and destiny concerns ‘co-lovers’ participating in the Triune life. It was for such that the Word of God became flesh, unveiling for us the causa finalis of our humanity. That this is God’s way for us – even if sin had not come into the human scene – bespeaks the inner meaning of the grace which precedes sin and testifies to the gospel logic of the incarnation.

Supralapsarianism, the subject of Edwin Chr. van Driel’s book Incarnation Anyway (a reworked version of his doctoral dissertation completed at Yale University), is a doctrine whose beginnings reach back at least as far as the twelfth century, even if van Driel’s treatment is concerned with its less hypothetically-speculative nineteenth- and early twentieth-century articulations. The first part of his essay (pp. 9–124) attempts to chart and examine the ways in which supralapsarian christology has been articulated. It does so via a consideration of three forms that the doctrine assumed in its nineteenth-century revival, namely in Friedrich Schleiermacher (‘the first major supralapsarian theologian since the Middle Ages’ (p. 9)), in Isaak August Dorner and in Karl Barth (on whom the most ink is spilt), attempting in each case to attend to the three ways in which God is thought to relate to God’s other – in redemption (Schleiermacher), in creation (Dorner), and in eschatological consummation (Barth). While there are occasions when readers may feel that van Driel constrains his subjects’ thought with a rigid logic foreign to their projects, in each case he attempts to expose the inner logic, coherence and strength of each articulation while not neglecting to draw attention to any weaknesses.

Van Driel argues that the conceptual structures of Schleiermacher’s supralapsarianism is determined both negatively and positively by the notion of absolute dependence and the inferred forms of divine omnipotence. He notes that, for Schleiermacher, sin is not excluded from the scope of divine causality – that God is the author of sin calls for a different locus for sin in the divine decree. God ordains sin in order to make humanity receptive to redemption. This move means that human sin acquires determining and logical priority over the incarnation. Indeed, van Driel outlines how in Schleiermacher’s schema, ‘sin and redemption are essential parts of our relationship to Christ. We need Christ because of our sin, and only because of our sin. If there were another reason why we relate to Christ, God would not have to introduce sin in the divine decree. We are connected to Christ only through his redemptive activity. There is no space for a meaningful relationship with Christ that is not marked by this’ (p. 25). And again: for Schleiermacher, ‘human beings will not be receptive to the divine gifts in Christ unless these gifts address an evil in their lives’ (p. 126). Under van Driel’s examination, the identified ‘fault lines’ in Schleiermacher’s ordo salutis (especially his sympathy with a felix culpa account) widen as the essay proceeds.

For Dorner, the incarnation is the necessary fruit of the divine decision to create ethical persons and of the divine determination that such become ‘full personalities’, a reality only possible in ‘interpersonal interaction with the ethical’ (p. 49). Dorner premises his arguments on the notion that God is a lover of love – the amor amoris – whose passion is to aggrandize the life of love in his other. This twofold surrender (of God to human beings, and of humans to God) is embodied in religion, the divine contribution to which is revelation, the consummation of which is the incarnation. For Dorner, the incarnation is a basic implication of God’s decision to create: ‘Decisive for whether one takes the incarnation to be means or end is what one takes to be the divine motivation behind it. For Dorner, the motivation for incarnation is embedded in the motivation for creation’ (pp. 59–60). This move, van Driel suggests, sponsors an unsatisfactory stepping stone in Dorner’s doctrine of creation and highlights what van Driel considers to be the most troubling and deep-lying ambiguity in Dorner’s supralapsarian christology. He continues:

In [Dorner’s] proposal, it is the necessity of God’s creative act that sets everything else in motion. God’s ethical necessity is expressed in the act of creation; given the nature of the ethical necessity, creation will be brought to consummation; given the same ethical necessity, this will be done by way of incarnation. None of this follows, though, when the act of creation is a contingent act. Of course, it could still be argued that God leads creation to consummation, and that the incarnation is central to consummation. In such a scenario, the governing divine act would not be given with God’s nature, but would be the result of a free act of God’s will. And if creation were embedded in God’s will rather than God’s nature, it would be better to start one’s theological account thereof not at the beginning but at the end of God’s work: What goal had God in mind when God freely called creation into being? What motivated God to create? Systematically this means that the argument for supralapsarian incarnation should not be embedded in the doctrine of creation but in eschatology. (p. 62)

With that note, van Driel turns to Barth’s ‘argument from consummation’, that requisite feature of Barth’s doctrine of election upon which van Driel will construct his own proposals. Van Driel observes how Barth’s supralapsarian christology takes its shape in his actualism. God’s election of Jesus Christ is primal in order, self-giving in nature, gracious in its motivation, creative in its effect, all-inclusive in its scope and supralapsarian in character, and the latter in a twofold sense – in terms of both predestination and christology: ‘Divine predestination is not a first step in a divine response to sin and neither is the incarnation … God’s election of Christ’s human nature is thus the first action in the divine relating to what is not God’ (pp. 67, 68). Again: ‘At the heart of Barth’s supralapsarianism lies … his reading of the biblical narrative as a narrative of election. Election is an eschatological category; and the eschaton is the first in order of the divine decrees. Object and subject of these decrees is Jesus Christ – not the Son as λóγος ασαρκος the preincarnate Word, but the Son as Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word. The incarnation stands thus at the very beginning of God’s relating to what is not God’ (p. 81). From here, van Driel turns to the question of the relationship between epistemology and sin: ‘That God unveils Godself by way of veiling is partly due to our sinfulness, but not wholly. The ontological and epistemic principles that govern divine revelation are not a result of sin, but given with the nature of Creator and creation. Incarnation, as the necessary means of divine self-disclosure, is therefore a supralapsarian event’ (p. 77).

Certainly Barth’s supralapsarian narrative recalls that creation forms the stage for covenant’s story – a story authored in the loving event called triune being, and whose meaning requires both soteriological and eschatological achievement – and that the creation which makes covenant possible does not exist for itself but for the gracious God upon whose will its future and being is contingent. However, according to his evaluation of Barth, van Driel identifies some adverse consequences of Barth’s account. He reserves most ink to attend to a concern regarding creational entropy, that ‘creation, in and by itself, will necessarily lapse into evil’ (p. 85) by ontological necessity. This elicits a helpful discussion by van Driel on time, eternity and history (pp. 111–17), and on the relationship between supralapsarianism and das Nichtige (pp. 118–24).

Building on Barth’s work (which van Driel finds to be the most satisfying of the three accents), van Driel turns in the second part (pp. 125–70) to expand on the notion of eschatological consummation, arguing that the logic of the incarnation is not contingent upon sin in any way (no felix culpa) but points to a divine will for (i) eschatological superabundance, (ii) the beatific vision, and (iii) divine friendship. The first of these attempts at a constructive argument is premised on the relation between the eschaton and the proton of creation, contending that the eschaton births an abundance and richness in intimacy with God and in human transformation which the proton did not know: ‘In Christ we gain more than we lost in Adam’ (p. 151). And because the notion of felix culpa makes such promise contingent upon sin (which by its very nature only alienates us from God), eschatological fulness (the embodiment of which happens in Christ) can only be understood in supralapsarian terms. Van Driel’s second supralapsarian argument directs us to the visio Dei. Here he extends his first argument and defends supralapsarianism on the basis that full enjoyment of the beatific vision for bodily beings requires sensory contact such as we are given sui generis in the incarnation, resurrection and ascension of the human God. Finally, van Driel arrives at the destination to which his entire essay seems directed, namely the notion of friendship with God and that of such a deep kind that the divine availability attested to in the logic of supralapsarian christology is the most compelling. Such friendship, van Driel avers, is not dependent finally on God’s desire to reconcile estranged humanity but rather in the very opposite truth: God’s desire to reconcile estranged humanity finds its origin in the divine will for friendship. The fullest expression of this will is undressed in the incarnation and best attested to in supralapsarian logic. Throughout, van Driel resists concerning himself with the hypothetical situation voiced by the medievals of whether the incarnation would have taken place had humanity not sinned, and concerns himself with ‘Christ as we have him’ (p. 164). He also exploits the tendency (as he sees it) in infralapsarianism to minimize the eschatological dimensions of creation and those inclinations to reduce creation to that which exists, falls and is then redeemed, in favour of an account which witnesses to the divine determination to bring creation to its goal in Jesus Christ apart from any dependency upon a creation-fall-redemption schema.

Against those who would defend some version of felix culpa (and here van Driel names Schleiermacher, Gregory, Milton and Barth), Incarnation Anyway challenges Supralapsarians to ‘explore the meaning of the incarnation, the presence of God among us, as an excellent good in and of itself, and not take refuge in a doctrine of sin to beef up incarnation’s meaning. We do not need the bad to enjoy Christ’ (p. 131). Again: ‘we do not have to preach sin before we can preach Christ; we can preach Christ as the offer of love and friendship with God; and it is thereafter, in the light of that offer of friendship and love, that human beings discover themselves as sinners’ (p. 166).

A final section (pp. 171–5) offers a very brief, but helpful, genealogy of supralapsarianism. Some readers may benefit by reading this section first.

Incarnation Anyway could have been a much better book than it is. Unfortunately, too frequently it reads somewhat like a collation of separate and uneven pieces, not a few of which seem largely unrelated to his subject. It is unclear, also, why van Driel reserves disproportionate space (pp. 90–101) in this forum to continuing his debate with Bruce McCormack. Or why he includes a discussion on ‘more-dimensional reality’ (pp. 167–69). As interesting as both conversations are, as they stand they contribute little to his overall thesis. More substantially, I remain incredulous of van Driel’s articulation of the distinction between incarnation as gift to human nature and that as gift to human persons. He suggests that for those who contend that the Word’s assumption of fallen flesh changes the ontological status of humanity from the inside out then the ‘logic of assumption’ does all the work, and Christ’s over-againstness of our human natures is undermined. While the distinction van Driel identifies remains valid, the inclination to separate them is unfortunate, the description and analysis offered for each is unclear, and the available resources for holding both together in the tradition (not least the Reformed tradition out of which the author speaks) is ignored, even if here the critique of Dorner and Barth finds some traction. Finally, this study most properly belongs to a larger project, as the Bibliographical Appendix indicates, and would have been strengthened significantly had its author attended more fully to the genesis and developments in supralapsarian thought in Rupert of Deutz, Robert Grosseteste, Alexander of Hales, Albert the Great and, perhaps especially, in John Duns Scotus and his theology of election. That said, van Driel’s essay remains a welcome and too-lonely contribution to a topic of great import, and leaves the reader eagerly anticipating more from his pen on this topic, especially in those areas where he offers his own constructive proposals.

Transformation of the Self in the Thought of Friedrich Schleiermacher: A Review

A Review: Transformation of the Self in the Thought of Friedrich Schleiermacher, by Jacqueline Mariña. Pp. x + 270. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008, ISBN 978 0 19 920637 7. £61.

In this study, Jacqueline Mariña, a Professor of Philosophy at Purdue University, seeks to provide an exposition and analysis of the key metaphysical concepts undergirding Friedrich Schleiermacher’s thought regarding moral and spiritual transformation. She does so via an exegesis of the post-Enlightenment and post-Kantian metaphysics upon which the mature Schleiermacher develops his ethics – particularly the notions of self-consciousness and personal identity – and that in sustained conversation with some of the German theologian’s key dialogue partners, principally Kant, but also Spinoza and Leibniz, and, less so, Fichte and Jacobi, and with Platonic and Augustinian metaphysics of the self. Mariña also offers some helpful analyses of the development of Schleiermacher’s thought regarding ethics.

Mariña’s essay has notable merits, principal among them being its defence of Schleiermacher’s overall moral theory as both the cornerstone of his thought and a legitimate entrée for understanding his theology. She understands that Schleiermacher’s ethics are irreversibly engaged with his metaphysics of the absolute and the philosophy of religion. Building on the work of Frederick Beiser, she argues that ethical theory is ‘central to Schleiermacher’s outlook’ and that ‘it is in the sphere of ethics that religion has its ultimate meaning, for the fruit of all true religion lies in its transformative power over the self’ (p. 3). The significance of Schleiermacher’s achievement, Mariña argues, is that by focusing on religious experience and the transcendental conditions of subjectivity, Schleiermacher offers an account of religion unencumbered by reductionism and dogmaticism. Insofar as he does this, Mariña contends, Schleiermacher makes an important contribution to contemporary interreligious dialogue.

Drawing on Schleiermacher’s early essays On Freedom (1790–2), his notes on Kant’s second Critique (1789), the third of his Dialogues on Freedom (1789), and his review of Kant’s Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View (1799), the opening chapter, titled ‘The Philosopher’s Stone’, examines Schleiermacher’s struggle with Kant’s practical philosophy. Mariña notes that while he had some sympathies with Kant’s project, the early Schleiermacher became ‘increasingly dissatisfied with some of the deep philosophical problems posed by the notion of transcendental freedom’ (p. 16).

Chapters Two and Three provide an analysis of two early works (1793–94) by Schleiermacher on Spinoza, namely Spinozism and the Short Presentation of the Spinozistic System. Chapter Two examines Schleiermacher’s claim that there are no genuine individuals, and does so by way of considering Kant’s distinction between noumena and phenomena. Mariña argues that Kant’s analysis of transcendental subjectivity remains an important part of the early Schleiermacher’s thought and informs his decision to abandon Spinozism. She concludes: ‘Despite his familiarity with Kant’s arguments against the possibility of knowledge of the transcendent, in Spinozism Schleiermacher had already come to the conclusion that it is through the transcendental activity of the self that the soul comes into contact with what is genuinely real’ (p. 75). Chapter Three builds on the work undertaken in the previous chapter and considers more deeply issues of personal identity and (in agreement with Kant) our lack of access to a substantial noumenal self.

Mariña then turns to the influence of Leibniz – ‘a poor philosopher [who] from time to time … developed better insights’ (p. 109) – on Schleiermacher’s thought by way of discussion on Schleiermacher’s Monologen (1800) wherein Schleiermacher, playing on Leibniz’s notion of the self as a mirror of the world, envisions transcendentally-free beings expressing themselves into the world. The author recalls Schleiermacher’s appropriation of Kant’s critique of rational psychology and his avouchment that we have no access to knowledge of self as it is in itself. ‘Self-knowledge is only of the empirical self, and this means that the self knows itself only in its relation to that which is different from it and stands outside it. It is, therefore, through the world that the self comes to know itself’ (pp. 110–11). ‘Without the other, there is no knowledge of the self. The person expresses him or herself to the other, and the self as thus expressed is reflected back to the self in the self-consciousness of the other. Loss of the other is therefore a loss of oneself’ (p. 143). This contextualises and anticipates the later discussion on christology, and addresses a foundation of Schleiermacher’s employment of Leibniz’s (and Hegel’s) claim that it is ‘only in relation to a historical individual with a perfect God-consciousness’ that human beings can ‘achieve moral perfection. For only such a one who expresses the divine love perfectly knows the essence of all rational beings as their capacity to express the divine love. Such a one reflects this essence back to them so that they can thereby know themselves as beings that express the divine love’ (p. 144). Clearly, Schleiermacher has moved beyond Kant. The author here identifies key Leibnizian themes that Schleiermacher will develop further in his Dialektik (1814–15) and in Der christliche Glaube (1821–22); particularly the relationship between God and the self, and the self and the world, and the integration that occurs between one’s representation of the world and one’s own desires, and so one’s actions.

In Chapter Five, Schleiermacher’s 1805–06 works, Notes on Ethics, and his Outline of a Critique of Previous Ethical Theories (1803), serve as the basis for exploring the implications of ensouled human nature, and so a reality in which sensuously-conditioned desires can be infused with ethical content. Mariña considers how the teleology of moral action seeks the perfection of this world and not some other. She recognises (in a later chapter) that at the centre of Schleiermacher’s ethics lies the ‘non-transposable character of individuals and historical communities, each of which has a special character determined by a particular historical development’ (p. 168), and that ‘Schleiermacher recognized that not to acknowledge our situatedness can only lead to delusions of absolute knowledge having the most pernicious of consequences’ (p. 176), but unfortunately she does not take up Karl Barth’s suggestion, in The Theology of Schleiermacher, that we know Schleiermacher best when we understand him as a virtuoso of family life, in the society of relatives either of blood or of one’s own choosing (pp. 108–9).

The notion of ensoulment is further developed in Chapter Six, wherein Mariña probes the ensoulment of human nature through reason and through the establishment of community, and in Chapter Seven, ‘Transforming the Self through Christ’, in which the author recalls Schleiermacher’s christology (a subject which ‘encapsulates the whole of his theology’ (p. 187)) in terms of Christ’s own God-consciousness and in terms of Christ’s creating God-consciousness in others, consequently transforming their ethical outlook. Mariña contends that Schleiermacher’s Christ – the one who ‘defines what it means to be human’ (p. 196) – engages in person-forming activity, a work established in the original divine decree and which involves a transformation of ethic. Insofar as he does this, Christ is, in Schleiermacher’s words, ‘the completion of the creation of man’ (cited on p. 196). This means, Mariña contends, that for Schleiermacher, ‘Jesus is no mere teacher of morality, but that what he mediates is a relation to the ground of being and love, and thereby to the transcendental ground of all true religion and ethics’ (p. 197). Moreover, our assimilation into Jesus’ divine life is ‘achieved through the communication of his words and deeds’, both of which are required to effect the divine love in history and shape human self-consciousness and being in the world. ‘The divine love manifest in the life of the historical Jesus brings a new way of envisioning what it means to be a human being, and what it means to be in community’ (p. 219).

The final chapter returns to the challenges of religious pluralism which were broached in the introduction and does so via an analysis of arguments proffered in the 1821 edition of On Religion and in the second edition of Der christliche Glaube. Mariña argues that Schleiermacher’s thought provides a ‘generally coherent account of how it is possible that differing religious traditions are all based on the same experience of the absolute’ (p. 224). She further claims that religious differences are differences only in degree, not in kind. ‘It is because there is a single, fundamental experience to which all the world’s religions are related that there can be meaningful and significant dialogue among them’ (p. 243).

Mariña’s study has a number of strengths. Building upon her already published work on Schleiermacher and Kant, she offers a valuable analysis of several chief sources of Schleiermacher’s thought, and of Schleiermacher’s employment, discarding and development of some of their ideas through various stages of his own theological and philosophical maturation, properly observing the way in which Schleiermacher’s ethics are grounded upon his theological claims, that philosophical ethics is purposely descriptive of how divine causality finds shape in human community through individual persons. Insofar as she does this, Mariña’s essay fills a noticeable gap in the English-speaking literature, and is a welcome complement to works by Richard R. Niebuhr (Schleiermacher on Christ and Religion, 1964), Albert Blackwell (Schleiermacher’s Early Philosophy of Life: Determinism, Freedom, Phantasy, 1982), Brian Gerrish (A Prince of the Church: Schleiermacher and the Beginnings of Modern Theology, 1984), Julia A. Lamm (The Living God: Schleiermacher’s Theological Appropriation of Spinoza, 1996), Catherine L. Kelsey, (Thinking about Christ with Schleiermacher, 2003), and Richard Crouter (Friedrich Schleiermacher: Between Enlightenment and Romanticism, 2005).

Mariña’s argument could have been more persuasive had she attended further to a number of her claims: for example, the claim that Schleiermacher’s proposals concerning transcendental freedom are made at the cost of abandoning determinism. Readers may also be left unsatisfied that Mariña stops short of recounting how the transformation of self with which Schleiermacher is so concerned is effected, and what lay behind the author’s decision to give relatively little attention to Schleiermacher’s more mature ethics (for example, his lectures on philosophical ethics delivered at the University of Berlin between 1812–1830, a period which overlaps Hegel’s time at that same institution, or Schleiermacher’s six Akademieabhandlungen read before the Academy of Sciences between 1819 and 1830) which invite us to consider how language, tradition and institutions inform the moral shape of human being both universally and particularly, and which may have assisted Mariña to provide a more rigorous comparison between Schleiermacher’s early and later ethics and their relation to Schleiermacher’s christology developed in Der christliche Glaube (1821/22, 1830/31) – to which she appropriately turns in her penultimate chapter though fails to develop as fully as her project requires – and particularly the relationship between Jesus’ own God-consciousness, the ethical significance of the hypostatic union, and his mediating to us divine causality. Moreover, Schleiermacher’s privileging of God’s ecclesiological community as that creation of the Spirit with which Jesus’ religiosity is a contemporary reality is disregarded by Mariña. Here, some readers may also take issue that Mariña’s reading of Schleiermacher as positing unmediated moments of the feeling of absolute dependence (a notion which betrays Leibniz’ influence) are offered too independently of Schleiermacher’s careful underscoring of historical, social, theological and cultural contingencies and practices with which much of his philosophical ethics are concerned. Finally, while appropriately situating this project and its value against the backdrop of contemporary challenges posed by various forms of religious (and other) fundamentalism and inter-religious dialogue, the author minimises the obstacles to interreligious dialogue and overplays the profitability that Schleiermacher’s project offers therein.

Few will follow Mariña on every point, and those seeking a particularly transpicuous exposition of Schleiermacher’s thought might well be disappointed, but this remains a valuable essay all the same, and those wishing to engage with Schleiermacher’s abiding significance for ethics will not want to be without it.

Towards a theology of the child: a series

childhoodHere’s my posts so far on a theology of the child in historical perspective. It’s a series that I’ve enjoyed doing and which I’d like to return to at some stage (but not for a wee while).

Friedrich Schleiermacher on Children

schleiermacherFriedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher (1768-1834) is among the most significant Reformed theologians between Calvin and Barth.[1] What constitutes an area of great neglect in his thought, however, is his thinking on children, explored in a number of his writings: Soliloquies (1800), Celebration of Christmas (1806) and Sermons on the Christian Household (1820). He was concerned throughout to explore a number of questions:

  • What is the child?
  • What is the unique spiritual perspective of childhood?
  • Must maturity alienate us from childhood?
  • How might parents best nurture their children and draw out the unique individuality that expresses itself in children?

These kinds of questions were explored against the backdrop of a rise in the importance of the nuclear family as a social institution, and the sharper demarcation between the roll of mothers and fathers – the home, children and emotions were increasingly seen as the domain of mothers, the withdrawal of extended family, etc. More positively, there was greater emphasis on the value of children’s nurture and development through age-appropriate play and education. The period also saw the development of the kindergarten, children’s literature and children’s toys.

More than most theologians, it was Schleiermacher (and later people like Karl Rahner) who believed that children could teach adults, that children – as children – were full human beings and so worthy of respect and dignity. So, in Schleiermacher’s novella The Celebration of Christmas: A Conversation, one of the characters, Agnes, poses a series of important questions:

Is it then the case that the first childish objects of enjoyment must, in fact, be lost that the higher may be gained? May there not be a way of obtaining the latter without letting the former go? Does life then begin with a pure illusion in which there is no truth at all, and nothing enduring? How am I rightly to comprehend this? In the case of the man who has come to reflect upon himself and the world, and who has found God, seeing that this process is not gone through without conflict and warfare, do his joys rest upon the eradication, not merely of what is evil, but of what is blameless? For it is thus we always indicate the childlike, or even the childish, if you will rather so have it.[2]

In 1834, Schleiermacher preached a sermon on Mark 1:13-16. In exegeting v. 15 ['anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it'], he noted:

The peculiar essence of the child is that he is altogether in the moment … The past disappears for him, and of the future he knows nothing – each moment exists only for itself, and this accounts for the blessedness of a soul content in innocence.[3]

This, Schleiermacher believes, is a child’s gift to adults, and it is towards a recovery of precisely this perspective that Jesus has in mind for those who would enter the Kingdom of God – that those who know communion with God might live in the present with no anxiety about past or future. So DeVries on Schleiermacher:

Children remind us of the fact that God created humanity to live simply. They help adults shed their obsession with the complexities of work and public life. Indeed, children draw adults back into the most basic of human relationships.[4]

Charles Blackman, 'Children Playing' (1974)

Charles Blackman, 'Children Playing' (1974)

Celebration of Christmas is a revelation into Schleiermacher’s theology (on many levels) and not least his (overly)-optimistic view of human personhood. It was this that Barth, in his 1923/24 Göttingen lectures on the Theology of Schleiermacher, rightly picked up on, criticising Schleiermacher for positing an anthropology too without regard for an adequate account of the realities of sin, conversion and the in-breaking of the Word of God.

In those lectures, Barth’s reading of Schleiermacher’s ‘Christological Festival Sermons’ (as Barth calls them) spans some 50 pages wherein Barth expresses his usual mixture of appreciation and criticism for the Silesian-born theologian. One place where Barth’s praise for Schleiermacher’s Christmas sermons is noted concerns Schleiermacher’s sermon on Acts 17:30-31 ['In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead']. On this, ‘the most powerful and impressive Christmas sermon that Schleiermacher preached’, Barth comments:

Let us look beyond the narrow sphere of individual life, Schleiermacher asks in the introduction, to the large and universal sphere. It is the Savior of the world whose coming we celebrate. A new world has dawned since the Word became flesh. His appearing was the great turning-point in the whole history of the human race. What is the change whereby the old age and the new may be distinguished? The fact that ignorance of God is no longer overlooked and tolerated by God. Christ’s life was from beginning to end an increasing revelation. The world’s childhood ended with it. Sin is now known and the image of God is evident. Hence judgement passes on all human action, and we ought to rejoice at this. We are now told that he commands everyone everywhere to repent.[5]

DeVries suggests that Barth’s reading of Schleiermacher’s (positive) child-anthropology is not nearly as nuanced as it ought to be. She notes that, for Schleiermacher, children a not perfect and sinless mediators of the higher life and are born with as much potential for sin as for salvation, and that it is the parents’ duty to nurture their children’s ‘higher self-consciousness’ which connect them to the transcendent and also opens their hearts to others.[6]

Rather than follow the formal catechesis that Calvin and Luther had stressed (and which Schleiermacher thought were too impersonal), the Moravian/Pietist-educated Schleiermacher stressed that the Christian home is the ‘first and irreplaceable school of faith’, for only here can children really experience the full range of what Christian faith is about and so come to faith in Christ. Schleiermacher believes that faith is more ‘caught’ than ‘taught’.

Still, he notes that parents can also damage a child in a number of ways:

  1. by failing to take their concerns/interests seriously.
  2. by failing to respond empathetically or appropriately to their emotions.
  3. parents whose own emotional lives are chaotic or unreliable will drive their children into secrecy.
  4. by attempting to live their own dreams/aspirations through children.

Lewis Hine, 'Children playing with Campbell Kid dolls' (1912)

Lewis Hine, 'Children playing with Campbell Kid dolls' (1912)

Schleiermacher also stresses that pastors have a pivotal role to play in children’s faith, among the most important duty of which is informal and personalised catechises where the focus is on leading children to develop, in DeVries words, ‘sound and sophisticated abilities in reading and interpreting scripture. Such instruction might begin with memorizing Bible verses, but it should eventually lead to developing in children a way of thinking (Gedankenerzeugungsprozess) that can be applied to questions or situations that will arise when the catechizing process is over’.[7] In other words it is about helping children to think theologically about all of life. DeVries continues:

Schleiermacher holds high expectations of the catechizing pastor. He states that when children who have been raised in the church lose their faith in adulthood, it is often because they have received poor catechetical instruction. Mindless repetition of correct answers will not sustain faith through the journey to adulthood. Pastors should treat children as fellow seekers who will be no more satisfied with pat answers than adults. If there is a virtue to be developed in the teaching pastor, it is the virtue of humility, for teaching the faith is probably his [sic] most difficult task. Schleiermacher urges his ministry students always to consider their teaching a work in progress, and challenges them to be quick to admit their mistakes.

What children need more than anything else is living faith in Christ. Parents, teachers, and pastors must devote all their energy and enthusiasm to presenting Christ to their children. This is best achieved through the whole of life itself, lived with children. They should feel the love of adults as “reflecting the splendour of eternal love” in Christ. Children who have received the Spirit in baptism and who have been raised within the loving discipline of the Christian community give us reason to hope for the future.[8]


[1] Here I draw heavily upon an essay by Dawn DeVries, ‘”Be Converted and Become as Little Children”: Friedrich Schleiermacher on the Religious Significance of Childhood’ in The Child in Christian Thought (ed. Marcia JoAnn Bunge; Grand Rapids/Cambridge: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2001), 329-49.

[2] Friedrich Schleiermacher, Christmas Eve: A Dialogue on the Celebration of Christmas (trans. W. Hastie; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1890), 33.

[3] Friedrich Schleiermacher, Friedrich Schleiermachers sämmtliche Werke (vol. II/6; Berlin: Georg Reimer, 1834-1864), 71-2.

[4] DeVries, ‘Schleiermacher on the Religious Significance of Childhood’, 341.

[5] Karl Barth, The Theology of Schleiermacher: Lectures at Göttingen, Winter Semester of 1923/24 (ed. Dietrich Ritschl; trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley; Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1982), 72.

[6] See DeVries, ‘Schleiermacher on the Religious Significance of Childhood’, 341-2.

[7] Ibid., 345.

[8] Ibid., 346-7.

Christmas as judgement

adventAs part of my advent journey this year I’ve been reading Schleiermacher’s 1806 novella Christmas Eve: A Dialogue on the Celebration of Christmas (trans. W. Hastie; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1890). It’s a beautiful read, not least because undergirded by Schleiermacher’s enormous respect for childhood as childhood. Like Rahner, Schleiermacher believes that children teach adults, that children - as children – are full human beings and so worthy of all the respect and dignity due to creaturely personhood.

For example, one of the characters in the story (Agnes) poses a series of important questions:

Is it then the case that the first childish objects of enjoyment must, in fact, be lost that the higher may be gained? May there not be a way of obtaining the latter without letting the former go? Does life then begin with a pure illusion in which there is no truth at all, and nothing enduring? How am I rightly to comprehend this? In the case of the man who has come to reflect upon himself and the world, and who has found God, seeing that this process is not gone through without conflict and warfare, do his joys rest upon the eradication, not merely of what is evil, but of what is blameless? For it is thus we always indicate the childlike, or even the childish, if you will rather so have it. (p. 33)

The book is a revelation into Schleiermacher’s – and Barth’s – theology (on many levels) and not least Schleiermacher’s (overly)-optimistic view of human personhood. It was this that Barth, in his 1923/24 Göttingen lectures on the theology of Schleiermacher, rightly picked up on, criticising Schleiermacher for positing an anthropology too without regard for an adequate account of the realities of sin, conversion and the in-breaking of the Word of God.

In those lectures, Barth’s reading of Schleiermacher’s ‘Christological Festival Sermons’ (as Barth calls them) spans some 50 pages wherein Barth expresses his usual mixture of appreciation and criticism for the Silesian-born theologian. One place where Barth’s praise for Schleiermacher’s Christmas sermons is noted concerns Schleiermacher’s sermon on Acts 17:30-31 ['In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead']. On this, ‘the most powerful and impressive Christmas sermon that Schleiermacher preached’, Barth comments:

Let us look beyond the narrow sphere of individual life, Schleiermacher asks in the introduction, to the large and universal sphere. It is the Savior of the world whose coming we celebrate. A new world has dawned since the Word became flesh. His appearing was the great turning-point in the whole history of the human race. What is the change whereby the old age and the new may be distinguished? The fact that ignorance of God is no longer overlooked and tolerated by God. Christ’s life was from beginning to end an increasing revelation. The world’s childhood ended with it. Sin is now known and the image of God is evident. Hence judgement passes on all human action, and we ought to rejoice at this. We are now told that he commands everyone everywhere to repent. [Karl Barth, The Theology of Schleiermacher: Lectures at Göttingen, Winter Semester of 1923/24 (ed. Dietrich Ritschl; trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley; Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1982), 72.]

For the world to have been judged so graciously is indeed the good news that advent dare not dream to hope for.

Still … Maranatha.

Journal of Reformed Theology is out

The latest issue of Journal of Reformed Theology (Volume 2, Number 2, 2008) is out and includes the following articles:

Cornelius van der Kooi, The Appeal to the Inner Testimony of the Spirit, especially in H. Bavinck

Abstract: “The Reformation took-deliberately and freely-its position in the religious subject.” In this article, the argument is made that Bavinck has not formulated a strong position with this statement; but rather, a dubious starting point for Reformed theology. The question is whether this thesis, with its focus on the subject, can still be maintained in this manner within the current ecumenical situation, or whether it is imperative that it be adjusted.

Jason A. Goroncy, ‘That God May Have Mercy Upon All': A Review-Essay of Matthias Gockel’s Barth and Schleiermacher on the Doctrine of Election

Abstract: The doctrine of election lies at the heart of Reformed theology. This essay offers a review of Matthias Gockel’s recent comparison between two of Reformed theology’s greatest voices: that of Friedrich Schleiermacher and Karl Barth. Gockel outlines Schleiermacher’s contribution to the doctrine before turning to consider its modifications in Barth’s work. The advance of these two thinkers on this issue has significant implications for the ongoing questions of universal election and universal salvation. Consequently, the possibility of an apokatastasis panton arises naturally from their theology. This possibility is briefly explored.

Oliver D. Crisp, The Election of Jesus Christ

Abstract: In modern theology the election of Christ is often associated with the work of Karl Barth. In this paper, I offer an alternative account of Christ’s election in dialogue with the Post-Reformation Reformed tradition. It turns out that, contrary to popular belief, there is no single ‘Reformed’ doctrine of election; a range of views has been tolerated in the tradition. I set out one particular construal of the election of Christ that stays within the confessional parameters of Reformed theology, while arguing, contrary to some Reformed divines, that Christ is the cause and foundation of election.

Ad Prosman, A Dutch Response to Nihilism: an Evaluation of K.H. Miskotte’s Interaction with Nietzsche

Abstract: This article discusses the way in which the Dutch theologian K.H. Miskotte interpreted the nihilism of Friedrich Nietzsche. It will be pointed out that religion is the central notion of Miskotte’s approach of Nietzsche. Discussing this theme, it will be necessary to pay attention to the concept of Nietzsche’s nihilism. From there we receive a clearer insight in the interaction between Miskotte and Nietzsche. It is expected that examining nihilism and the interaction with nihilism will be helpful to contextualize theology. The method of Miskotte is attractive because he does not evaluate nihilism in a philosophical manner, but he counters it by the Thora. Belief stands against belief. Nevertheless we can ask whether Miskotte’s concept of religion is adequate enough to tackle the problems we have to deal with in our nihilistic culture. Is Miskotte right when he connects nihilism and religion, and what kind of religion is he connecting with nihilism?

Mechteld Jansen, Indonesian and Moluccan Immigrant Churches in the Netherlands: Missionary History and Challenge

Abstract: As a result of immigration of many Christians from all parts of the world to the Netherlands, about 1,000 ‘immigrant churches’ have been established in the country during the last decades. This paper focuses on two churches in the Netherlands that mainly consist of members of Asian descent: the Gereja Kristen Indonesia Nederlands (GKIN) and the Geredja Indjili Maluku (GIM). Both are Protestant churches that have a history within the Netherlands for many years. Since these churches are not very well-known in the worldwide family of Reformed churches, I will describe their historical and cultural backgrounds quite extensively. This also includes the Dutch missionary involvement with the former Dutch colony of Indonesia. Subsequently, I will turn to their actual situation, and my main question will be how they view and carry out their missionary vocation in Dutch society. In the final section, it will be maintained that these churches do not simply mirror the missionary approach of the Dutch in Indonesia, but they consider themselves partners with other churches in a revised mission in which their own features can be a blessing for the whole Dutch society.

On theological education

In Theological Reflection and Education for Ministry: The Search for Integration in Theology, John Paver observes that the credit for the definitive catergorisation in modern theology and its attendant implications for the training of pastoral ministers lays with Schleiermacher. He writes:

‘… including theology in a research university could be seen as a betrayal of the educational revolution that the research university represented. Schleiermacher had to answer to these objections if theology was to have a place so he added another pole [to the "Berlin" type of theological education] by advocating that theological education should constitute professional education. His argument was partly sociological and partly philosophical-theological. Schleiermacher’s sociological argument was that every human society has sets of practices dealing with bodily, health, social order, and religious needs. These are socially necessary for the well-being of society as a whole and each of these requires properly trained leadership. Schleiermacher’s philosophical-theological argument proposed that religions such as Christianity do not rest on principles, but on a kind of initiation or insightful experience, which can be the subject of philosophical enquiry. hence, Christian theology can be a subject of Wissenschaft enquiry without threat or compromise to Christianity’s integrity or the integrity of the university’. – John E. Paver, Theological Reflection and Education for Ministry: The Search for Integration in Theology (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006), 8.

Paver’s essay is a significant contribution to the ever-burgeoning field of theological education, training for ministry practice, and pastoral supervision as a vehicle for theological reflection. Whether it justifies the £55 price tag is another story, but then that’s what libraries are for.

Colin Gunton’s ‘The Barth Lectures': A Review

Colin E. Gunton, The Barth Lectures (transcribed and edited by Paul H. Brazier; T&T Clark, London/New York, 2007). xxiv + 285 pages. ISBN: 9780567031402.

While he fruitfully enjoyed a life-long engagement with and formation by Karl Barth’s work, produced numerous articles on various aspects of such, and lectured on Barth most years he taught at King’s College London, Colin Gunton never fulfilled his ambition to pen a monograph devoted solely to this his favourite theologian. Had he done so, these lectures (recorded and transcribed almost verbatim by Paul Brazier, complete with charts, diagrams, live-questions and Gunton’s responses) would have served as the basis.

Chapters 1-3 attend to the intellectual, historical and theological background to Barth’s thinking. Beginning with a focus on Enlightenment philosophy as it finds voice in Kant, Schleiermacher and Hegel – all three of whom ‘identified Christianity too closely with modern culture’ (p. 17) – Gunton then turns to Barth’s early theological formation in the nineteenth-century liberalism of Harnack and Herrmann, as well as to some other voices and ideas that impinged on Barth’s theological development – Johann Christoph Blumhardt (who also influenced Moltmann), Albert Schweitzer and Franz Overbeck through whom eschatology was re-confirmed on the theological radar. Barth’s engagement with existentialism (Kierkegaardian and other) and theologies of ‘religion’, ‘crisis’ and ‘dialectics’ are introduced in the second and third lectures, and re-appear subsequently throughout. Certainly, for the Swiss theologian, ‘no road to the eternal world has ever existed except the road of negation’ (p. 33). Thus when Gunton later comes to unpack something of the charge concerning Barth’s ‘irrationality’ through the continuing influence of Der Römerbrief, empiricism, and Barth’s ‘assertive style’, the United Reformed Church minister notes:

The influence of empiricism, especially on the minds of English and American theologians, cannot be dismissed. The English, or to be more pertinent, the Anglican theological mind is shaped by a philosophical tradition that does not find Barth’s approach to theology easy to understand let alone agree with … Part of our intellectual tradition makes it hard for us to understand – particularly an Anglican tradition. Anglicans on the whole like things to be nice and middle way, the via media. And there is not much of the middle way in Karl Barth! … Barth’s assertive style does make it difficult for mild-mannered establishment Anglicans to cope with. (p. 66)

Whether critiquing Augustine, Calvin, Kant, the ‘Absolutely Pagan’ Hegel (p. 17), or the ‘great opponent’ Schleiermacher (p. 15), Gunton repeatedly identifies that the crucial question for the author of the groundbreaking Der Römerbrief remains ‘how much of your intellectual method hangs on something foreign to Christianity?’ (p. 42; cf. pp. 52-3). To this end, Gunton also devotes an entire lecture (pp. 53-63) to Barth’s 1931 work on Anselm, Fides quaerens intellectum, and to the Archbishop’s understanding of the relationship between ‘proof’, ‘reason’ and ‘faith’. He later writes: ‘Barth is a post-Reformation thinker with the rallying cry, by scripture alone and by faith alone! Barth found in the Reformation tradition a conception of theology based on a view of God that is linked with human salvation. The problem for Barth with the Scholastic tradition is that they begin with a rational view of God – a rational idea of God abstracted from human salvation. Barth begins with scripture because the God of scripture is about salvation not philosophical argument’ (p. 69). And on a comparison with Schleiermacher: ‘the problem with beginning with religion is that it is not theological, it can be, it can lead into theology, but in essence it is not: religion is an experiential concept, not a theological concept. Barth wants a theology that is theological right from the very outset. Barth considers that Roman Catholics and Protestants such as Schleiermacher are wrong in thinking that there can be a non-theological basis for theology. Barth is a theologian you see, to the fingernails’ (p. 69).

From Chapter Four onwards, Gunton turns to Barth’s Church Dogmatics, acutely aware that ‘there is nothing as boring as résumés of Barth’s Dogmatics‘ and that ‘the way to get into Barth is to select and to read – read him, there is no substitute!’ (p. 71). Over the next 190 pages, this is precisely what Gunton masterfully helps us do; whether on Barth’s theological prolegomena, his witness to the three-fold Word, trinity, the doctrine of God proper, election, christology, soteriology, ethics and creation, we are all along driven by the only thing of theological interest for Barth, the question ‘Who is the God who makes himself known in Scripture?’ (p. 77). ‘When Barth is at his best’, Gunton writes, ‘he looks at the biblical evidence in detail; when he is weak he tends to evade it’ (p. 119)

A few tastes from ‘5. Barth on the Trinity and the Personal God':

Barth is anti-foundationalist … God’s revelation is self-grounded; it does not have to appeal to anything else beyond itself. Because it is revelation through itself, not in relation to something else, because it is self-contained, lordship means freedom. This is characteristically Barthian: a characteristically Barthian phrase. Lordship means freedom – freedom for God, absolutely central for Barth’s theology. (p. 78)

The basis of all theology lies in the fact that revelation does happen … This revelation is Christological: Jesus Christ is God’s self-unveiling. The Father cannot be unveiled, but the Father reveals through the Son. This is imparted through the Holy Spirit. A little artificial I actually think, but you can see what he is actually trying to do: he is trying to show that inherent in the structure of God’s presence in Jesus Christ is a Trinitarian view of God … The point here is that in Jesus Christ we see the limits, the possibilities of the knowability of God … So Barth in a way is still retaining this dialectical structure: veiling-unveiling, knowability -unknowability, revelation-hiddenness … In the end you have only got paradox … God preserves his privacy. (pp. 79-80)

The logic is that if God is like this in time then because he doesn’t con us, so to speak, he doesn’t pull the wool over our eyes, because he is a revealing God, then that is what God is. So don’t think that the God we meet in Jesus is one God and that the God of eternity is entirely different from Jesus. The God you meet in Jesus is no different from the God you might meet if you were able to have a direct view of eternity. (p. 83)

Barth is against all mathematics in theology – he is against theories and ideas propounded down the centuries by theologians whereby examples are given of the Trinity, where three things make one; Augustine was often doing this, it is pure analogy or an attempt at analogy, which generally fails to offer any theological elucidation … I don’t like Augustine. I think he is the fountainhead of our troubles. (pp. 84, 96)

[Barth] is often accused of modalism, and I think he is near it … I think he is on a bit of a knife-edge myself, but then all theology is on a knife-edge, it is such a difficult discipline. [Barth] wants to do what the Cappadocians did, and Barth thinks he has done it better with this term – ‘modes of being’. Well, I don’t agree with him, but that is the way he puts it. (pp. 88-9)

Theology is our interpretation of God’s self-interpretation. God interprets himself to us, that is what revelation is. Our response is to interpret this faithfully, or as Jüngel would put it, responsibly … We move from faith to understanding. We move from a grateful acceptance of revelation to an attempt to understand as best we may what that revelation means for God and ourselves. And the understanding consists in the fact that we can talk of God as Father, Son and Spirit. It is so obvious that we should, isn’t it! We might talk of God as a tyrannical monad, but the fact that we can talk of God as Father, Son and Spirit is, so to speak, a demonstration after the event that we are making sense, that God is making sense, our theology makes sense. (p. 91)

And from ‘8. Ethics: Church Dogmatics Chapter VIII:

I do think that there is a problem of abstractness because there isn’t really in Barth, I think (and I say this tentatively), I think that there isn’t really in Barth an account of how this relationship between God and the moral agent takes shape. There is not much of a principle of formation. How are people formed so as to take one ethical direction rather than another? Barth is relatively weak in ecclesiology; that is, some account of how ethics are shaped by the community of belief. He is so anxious not to tie God down; that is always his anxiety, not to tie God down. (p. 133)

Throughout, Gunton is rousing his 30-40 mostly MA and PhD students (although the lectures were intended for undergraduates and so leave considerable ground un-traversed and engage minimally with secondary literature) to ‘read as much of the man himself’ not least because ‘the people that write about him are much more boring than he is’ (p. 9; cf. p. 39). In a sense, this is one book to ‘listen to’ more than to ‘read’. At times, it’s a bit like the difference between a live album and a studio version. Not all the notes are spot on, but the energy – filled with a depth of theological and pastoral insight that betray years of wrestling with the things that matter – is all there.

Such wrestling means that whether expounding a key motif in Barth’s theology or fielding questions, Gunton reveals not only a deep indebtedness to Barth’s work, but also points of divergence. He is upfront in the first lecture: ‘Not everyone buys into Barth … I don’t, all the way along the line, as I get older I get more and more dissatisfied with the details of his working out of the faith … over the years I think I have developed a reasonable view of this great man who is thoroughly exciting and particularly, I can guarantee, if you do this course, that you will be a better theologian by the third year, whether or not you agree with him – he is a great man to learn to think theologically with’ (p. 10; see the prefaces to his Theology Through the Theologians and to the second edition of The Promise of Trinitarian Theology). Clearly, Gunton is no clone of Barth. Though mostly unnamed, he draws upon Coleridge, Owen, Zizioulas and Polanyi as allies in order to attain a measure of distance from Barth’s theology (and that of Barth’s student Moltmann), notably on creation, trinitarian personhood (Gunton prefers the Cappadocians), natural revelation, Jesus’ humanity, Christ’s priesthood, the Word’s action as mediator of creation, ecclesiology, and an over-realised eschatology, among other things (see pp. 52, 74, 82, 88-90, 96, 133, 142, 148, 170-1, 186, 200, 212, 227, 236, 250, 253-4, passim). Not alone here, Gunton reserves his strongest criticisms for what he contends is Barth’s weak pneumatology (for which he blames Augustine and the filioque): there is ‘not enough of the Spirit accompanying and empowering Jesus at different stages of his ministry’ (p. 200). Again: ‘the second person of the Trinity is made to do a bit more than he does in Scripture’ (p. 212). Gunton is always cautious and respectful however: Barth ‘never really forgets anything, he is too good a theologian for that. And when you are criticizing Barth it is only a question of where he puts a weight; he never forgets anything, he is too good a man for that’ (p. 171). Even on the Spirit, Gunton suggests that he can only be critical here because of what he has learnt from Barth already: ‘That’s the great thing about Barth: he enables you to do other things that aren’t just Barth but yet are empowered by him. Yes, that’s his greatness’ (p. 200).

While the reformed theologian is ‘too-multi-layered a thinker to have one leading idea’ if there is one, Gunton suggests it is that of covenant: ‘that from eternity God covenants to be the God who elects human beings into relation with himself’ (p. 149), that from eternity the triune God is oriented towards us. Gunton’s chapter on Barth’s revision of God’s election in CD II/2 is an astounding example of his adroitness and élan as a theological educator. Not many teachers could summarise so sufficiently and with such economy (just 12 pages!) what for Barth is the root of all things, ‘creation, atonement, all’ (p. 115), that is, election. Gunton concludes by (over?)-suggesting that Barth’s effort was ‘a huge improvement in the crude determinism of the Augustinian tradition, which did not represent a gracious God. The Augustinian doctrine replaces grace with gratuity: God gratuitously chooses group A and not group B – this is not the God who seeks out the lost [even Judas] and does not reject them’ (p. 121).

This volume is significantly more than merely a course on the theology of the twentieth century’s superlative theologian. It is also a reminder that to read Barth attentively is to be introduced to a broader dogmatic and philosophical tradition. Moreover, it is to be led to do so by one of Britain’s ablest pedagogues. A foreword by Christoph Schwöbel and a warm introduction by Steve Holmes prepare us for one of the freshest introductions to Barth available. Again, we are placed in Professor Gunton’s debt.

Matthias Gockel on Barth and Schleiermacher on the Doctrine of Election: A Review

Here are the links to my 10-part review of Gockel’s book:

Matthias Gockel on Barth and Schleiermacher on the Doctrine of Election: A Review – Part X

In answering the question, ‘Will, then, all people be saved in the end?’, Lutheran scholar Carl Braaten has reminded us that ‘We do not already know the answer. The final answer is stored up in the mystery of God’s own future. All he has let us know in advance is that he will judge the world according to the measure of his grace and love made known in Jesus Christ, which is ultimately greater than the fierceness of his wrath or the hideousness of our sin’. So Barth noted in The Humanity of God, ‘This much is certain, that we have no theological right to set any sort of limits to the loving-kindness of God which has appeared in Jesus Christ. Our theological duty is to see and understand it as being still greater than we had seen before’.

The criticisms and their implications raised by Gockel will no doubt continue to be a point of dispute – a dialectic – among readers of Barth for the foreseeable future. Those with an interest in the debate more generally over universalism would be well served in reading Gockel’s fine book. However, it ought to be noted that those who are already convinced that Schleiermacher’s and (early) Barth’s doctrine of election remains the most tenable proposal will only find further material here to bolster their conviction. To those who remain unconvinced, Gockel offers little argument here to change their mind.

Gockel’s work fills a notable gap in Schleiermacher and Barth studies. While there is, encouragingly, something of a renaissance of interest in Schleiermacher, Gockel’s contribution to our understanding of, and appreciation for, Schleiermacher’s project in general, and his doctrine of election in particular, is thus far unsurpassed. Schleiermacher is not an easy read. Not only is his own terminology inconsistent but his grammar is largely foreign to contemporary readers. Gockel offers us some assistance here. His contribution too regarding Barth’s early thinking on election also serves as a most worthy conversation partner with other contributions in the same area.

The essay is clearly written, avoids stereotypes of Schleiermacher and Barth, and includes a useful bibliography and two indexes. While Gockel offers us a very valuable survey to the thinking of two Protestant giants on a central theme not only in their theology but in the Reformed tradition of which they were both heirs – a valuable task in itself – I would have liked to have seen more critical engagement with these two voices. It may have also been fruitful, for example, to chart how Schleiermacher’s and Barth’s doctrine of election relates to the human response to God’s free grace in baptism, for example, as Barth was already directing us to in IV/4.

These grumbles aside, in what is certainly one of the finest essays to have appeared on Barth in recent years, Gockel models for us the kind of close dogmatic scrutiny that Schleiermacher’s and Barth’s theological contribution both deserves and demands. Those with an interest in systematic theology and the history of doctrine, those with an interest in getting their head (and hearts) around Barth’s much misunderstood doctrine of election, those with an interest in exploring a way forward for overcoming old rifts between Lutherans and Calvinists, and those with an interest in more current debates over universalism, would all be well served by reading Gockel’s book.

Matthias Gockel on Barth and Schleiermacher on the Doctrine of Election: A Review – Part IX

The only two tenable (i.e. biblically and theologically defensible) positions available for the soteriological question are either (i) a robust reaffirmation of limited atonement (the negative side of which includes the possibility of annihilation), or (ii) some form of christological universalism (with various degrees of agnosticism). Barth, of course, was rightly suspicious of ‘isms’, whether universalism or any other -ism, and would not affirm a dogmatic doctrine of universal salvation, although he does join a tradition of both Eastern and Western theologians going back to Origen of Alexandria (185–232), Clement of Alexandria (d. 215), Gregory of Nyssa (335–394?), Ambrose of Milan (337?–397) and Gregory of Nazianzus (329–389) who all affirm a strong hope in universal salvation.

Barth famously concludes IV/3/1 by again urging that we have no good reason why we should be forbidden, or forbid ourselves from an ‘openness to the possibility that in the reality of God and man in Jesus Christ there is contained much more than we might expect’, including the ‘unexpected withdrawal of that final threat’.

If for a moment we accept the unfalsified truth of the reality which even now so forcefully limits the perverted human situation, does it not point plainly in the direction of the work of a truly eternal divine patience and deliverance and therefore of an apokatastasis or universal reconciliation? If we are certainly forbidden to count on this as though we had a claim to it, as though it were not supremely the work of God to which man can have no possible claim, we are surely commanded the more definitely to hope and pray for it as we may do already on this side of this final possibility, i.e., to hope and pray cautiously and yet distinctly that, in spite of everything which may seem quite conclusively to proclaim the opposite, His compassion should not fail, and that in accordance with His mercy which is ‘new every morning’ He ‘will not cast off for ever’ (La. 3:22f., 31).

The creature cannot impose anything upon God because God is sovereign and free. That is why universalism equals the elimination of God’s freedom. But if God in his sovereignty and freedom has revealed himself in his being-in-act – that is, in Jesus Christ – then ought – nay, must – this not have radical implications for all doctrinal issues, and no less this one. We have no reason to presume that God in his total freedom will act other than he has acted in Jesus Christ – full of grace and truth.

Therefore, we may reasonably hope for a full Apokatastasis. Few have expressed this hope more beautifully than the nineteenth century Congregationalist minister, James Baldwin Brown: ‘The love which won the sceptre on Calvary will wield it as a power, waxing ever, waning never, through all the ages; and that the Father will never cease from yearning over the prodigals, and Christ will never cease from seeking the lost, while one knee remains stubborn before the name of Jesus, and one heart is unmastered by His love’. Or consider these words from Thomas Erskine,

I cannot believe that any human being can be beyond the reach of God’s grace and the sanctifying power of His Spirit. And if all are within His reach, is it possible to suppose that He will allow any to remain unsanctified? Is not the love revealed in Jesus Christ a love unlimited, unbounded, which will not leave undone anything which love could desire? It was surely nothing else than the complete and universal triumph of that love which Paul was contemplating when he cried out, ‘Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!

In Jesus Christ, the Triune God has bound humanity to himself in such a way that even if we refuse him and damn ourselves to hell, God in his love will never cease hunting us down. So even if the church cannot affirm the apokatastasis panton, we can hope for it, and pray for it, and stop denying the possibility of it in the grace of God. Hans Urs von Balthasar was right when he said that there is all the difference in the world between believing in the certitude of universal salvation and hoping for it.

Matthias Gockel on Barth and Schleiermacher on the Doctrine of Election: A Review – Part VIII

It is difficult to imagine a more solid basis for an Apokatastasis panton than Barth gives us in his doctrine of election and reprobation. But does Barth’s commitment to divine freedom contradict the centre of his christological revision? Does he ultimately lead us all to a country and then not promise us that we might enter? Gockel, following Janowski, suggests he does, and that the payment for such a commitment threatens to ‘tear open again, though in a modified way, the abyss of the decretum absolutum et horribile (p. 210) – as though God’s Word towards a person might be different from that which he has spoken in Jesus Christ.

While Gockel notes Barth’s denial of an ultimate apokatastasis panton, he joins a pantheon of critiques – sympathetic and otherwise – who see an inconsistency in Barth here. Consider, for example, the critique from Bromiley. As one of the editors (with T. F. Torrance) and principal translators of Barth’s work, few are more familiar with Barth’s corpus and theology than Bromiley. Citing IV/3, § 70.2, Bromiley synopsises Barth view: ‘The lie cannot overthrow the truth, but God may finally condemn the liar to live in it’. Bromiley observes in Barth a ‘trend toward an ultimate universalism’ although acknowledges that, for Barth, ‘universalism in the sense of the salvation of all individuals is not a necessary implicate of Barth’s Christological universalism’. He suggests that Barth’s reservation here is ‘not really adequate’. Gockel identifies the same inconsistently in Barth, a holding back of the full consequences of Barth’s christology. Again, Bromiley notes, ‘God’s manifest purpose in Christ is to save, but under the sovereignty of the Spirit some might not be saved. The question is whether the Christological reference finally helps or matters very much. Is not the ultimate decision still taken apart from the revealed election – that is, not in the prior counsel of the Father but in the inscrutable operation of the Spirit? In other words, the decision regarding individuals is simply removed from the inscrutability of sovereign predetermination to the inscrutability of sovereign calling’.

Matthias Gockel on Barth and Schleiermacher on the Doctrine of Election: A Review – Part VII

Brewing away throughout Gockel’s book, not unoften rearing its head, is the question of universal election and universal salvation. Gockel contends that Barth’s christological revision leads him to abandon his 1936 objection to universalism and affirmation of an eschatological division between the elect and the reprobate. Barth now ‘joins Schleiermacher in leaving open the possibility of a “final opening up and expansion of the circle of election and calling” which may include everyone’ (p. 188). Barth’s reluctance, however, to embrace universalism leads to some pointed challenges by Gockel.

Gockel notes that both Schleiermacher and Barth share a stance coherent with supralapsarianism’s claim that the decree of predestination precedes that of creation and Fall, although they both go further in their assertion that God’s mercy is the decisive criterion not of redemption only but also of predestination. Gockel argues that despite Barth’s ‘own explicit unwillingness to go that far’, that is, to embrace a universal predestination to salvation, his affirmation of universal election ‘implies some form of universal salvation’ (p. 189).

Gockel also contends that Barth’s appeal to God’s freedom is inconsistent with Barth’s own position regarding God’s self-determination to be Immanuel in Jesus Christ. Gockel notes that Barth’s (and Schleiermacher’s) caution on the issue can be partly explained by the fact that ‘any affirmation of universalism would have meant the endorsement of an ecumenical heresy, which could have cost him dearly’ (p. 208). The question, however, remains: How can that which has already been overcome in Jesus Christ ever be undone? How can this impossible possibility remain? Gockel suggests that Schleiermacher is at least more consistent here with his emphasis on the unity of God’s will. With all of Barth’s massively powerful christological revisioning, he, according to Gockel, ‘shied away from certain far-ranging implications’ (p. 205). ‘One should ask’, Gockel suggests, ‘whether a consistent theory of an Apokatastasis, far from presenting a danger or even a threat, might not be a more satisfying option than the claim that the New Testament leaves us with a paradoxical constellation of the “universalism of the divine salvific will” versus the “particularism of judgement”’ (p. 208).

I confess that I sympathise with Barth’s reluctance to embrace with certainty an apokatastasis panton, even while I hold out, with Barth, hope in such a reconciliation. Barth was right to insist that God’s grace is characterised by God’s freedom. This means not only that we must never impose limits on the scope of grace, but also that we must never impose a universalist ‘system’ on grace either. To embrace either option would be to compromise the freedom of grace and also to presume that we can define the precise scope of God’s grace. That is why Barth’s theology of grace incorporates a dialectical protest: he protests both against a system of universalism and against a denial of universalism. The essential point, for Barth, is that God’s grace is completely free; that when God acts in grace it is none other than God himself who acts in freedom. When God comes to us in his grace, therefore, we can be certain that no third party or shadowy motive is twisting his arm. Because of this divine freedom and because of the nature of divine grace as grace, we can neither deny nor affirm, therefore, the possibility of universal salvation. I confess with Abraham, ‘Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?’ (Gen 18:25). Barth writes,

The proclamation of the Church must make allowance for this freedom of grace. Apokatastasis Panton? No, for a grace which automatically would ultimately have to embrace each and every one would certainly not be free grace. It surely would not be God’s grace. But would it be God’s free grace if we could absolutely deny that it could do that? Has Christ been sacrificed only for our sins? Has He not, according to 1 John 2:2, been sacrificed for the whole world? … [Thus] the freedom of grace is preserved on both these sides … Even in the midst of hell, grace would still be grace, and even in the midst of hell it would have to be honored and praised and therefore announced to the other inhabitants of hell. It is not free for nothing, but it is also not grace for nothing. We should certainly not know it if we were of the opinion that we could stop short of announcing it.

Matthias Gockel on Barth and Schleiermacher on the Doctrine of Election: A Review – Part VI

Barth’s concern in his treatment on election is that election should be good news – gospel – or, what Barth calls is another place, ‘joyous news’. Thus does Barth begin his chapter on election in II/2: ‘The doctrine of election is the sum of the Gospel because of all words that can be said or heard it is the best; that God elects man; that God is for man too the One who loves in freedom … Its function is to bear basic testimony to eternal, free and unchanging grace as the beginning of all the ways and works of God’. Here Barth is following Calvin – and, according to Muller, the Reformed tradition more generally at least up until 1650 – who repeatedly stressed that we look to Christ as the assurance of our election. Here Calvin is as adamant as Barth. Where Calvin – and the Reformed tradition – is silent, however, is in how the question of reprobation – the shadow side of election – also relates to Christ. Holmes has suggested that the weakness in Calvin’s account of predestination is not that election is separate from Christ (which, as I have just said, it is not), but that ‘the doctrine of reprobation is detached, Christless and hidden in the unsearchable purposes of God. As such it bears no comparison with the doctrine of election, but remains something less than a Christian doctrine’. Holmes goes on to suggest that Calvin’s shortcoming is not that he reserved an equal stature – a double decree – to God’s ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ in election, but that he has ‘almost no room for the doctrine of reprobation in his account’; ‘the “No” does not really enter his thinking’, thus leading to an asymmetry between the two decrees and so, as Holmes suggests, ‘fails to be gospel’. This contrasts with Barth’s christological theology of reprobation. Holmes helpfully summarises Barth’s position thus:


In willing to be gracious in the particular way God in fact wills to be gracious, the Incarnation of the Divine Son, there is both a ‘Yes’ and a ‘No’, election and reprobation. God elects for humanity life, salvation, forgiveness, hope; for himself he elects death, perdition, even, as the Creed has said, hell. This self-reprobation of God is indeed the primary referent of the doctrine of election, in that God’s determination of himself is formally if not materially more basic than his determination of the creature, and so is considered first by Barth. In the eternal election of grace, which is to say in Jesus Christ, God surrenders his own impassibility, embraces the darkness that he was without – and indeed impervious to – until he willed that it should be otherwise … The apostle put it more succinctly: “He became sin for us.” This is the full content of the divine judgement, of the ‘No’ that is spoken over the evil of the world and of human beings. God elects for himself the consequences of that ‘No’, in saying ‘Yes’ to, that is, in electing, us. That is the whole content of the double decree, the whole content of the ‘Yes’ and the ‘No’ that God pronounces as one word, the whole content the election of grace.

Concerned that his own tradition had at this point replaced Jesus Christ with a decretum absolutum (as there is no Wikipedia reference to the absolutum it must not exist), Barth asked, ‘Is it a fact that there is no other basis of election outside Jesus Christ? Must the doctrine as such be related to this basis and this basis only?’ Because of Jesus Christ, Barth was able to speak of God’s ‘No’ as gospel also.

On the actuality of predestination, Gockel questions how useful Barth’s grammar regarding predestination as a present event is. He suggests that God’s ‘eternally preceding’ decision is ‘the mystery of all historical events’ and that it does not have to imply an ongoingness of the decision itself within history, given God’s predestining election of Jesus Christ. Gockel helpfully suggests that ‘a less actualistic view of predestination could more clearly emphasise the significance of the historical appearance of Jesus Christ and thus dispel the impression that Barth tears apart the “eternal content” and the “temporal form” of election’ (p. 185).

Matthias Gockel on Barth and Schleiermacher on the Doctrine of Election: A Review – Part V

Gockel turns to critically consider the consequences of Barth’s doctrine of election. He identifies six key areas: (1) epistemological implications, (2) the concrete determination of predestination, (3) the issue of double predestination, (4) the actuality of predestination, (5) the question of universal election and universal salvation, and (6) the relation between Israel and the Christian church. I will focus here on (2), (3), (4) and (5).

Regarding the second area, while Barth never intended to drive a wedge between the economy and being of God, Gockel sides with McCormack over against Molnar that this very inconsistency arises within Barth’s own formulation of his doctrine of election: ‘The assumption of a divine will preceding the predestination puts into doubt whether the gracious choice really belongs to God’s “own eternal essence”’ (p. 179). The issue fundamentally concerns whether or not the works of God ad extra (election) are the free overflow of the works of God ad intra (as Molnar suggests) or whether the one eternal will of God is identical with Jesus Christ. Molnar’s reading of Barth’s proposal that God has one being, and that that one being subsists simultaneously in two different forms – the second dependent on the first – which are not separate but rather are a unity-in-distinction and distinction-in-unity, could have been more attended to by Gockel than he does (pp. 179–80).

On the question of double predestination, Gockel rehearses Barth’s conviction that we must speak of Jesus Christ not only in reference to the positive side of election but also in reference to the other side of God’s decree – reprobation. Here, as we shall see below, Barth sets himself apart from the tradition (or at least extends the tradition) and declares that both election and reprobation happen in Jesus Christ. Barth’s doctrine of reprobation is as christological as his doctrine of election. He contends that the God who elected fellowship with humanity also elected our rejection. In electing our rejection, however, ‘He made it his own. He bore it and suffered it with all its most bitter consequences’. Thus in the self-reprobation of Godself in Jesus Christ – the Man justified and the ‘Judge judged in our place’ – humanity recognises not only God’s final ‘Yes’ but also its own reprobation. This self-giving is God’s free choice and entails God’s self-determination and the determination of humanity through a ‘wonderful exchange’ in Jesus Christ. ‘To believe in God’s predestination’, Gockel concludes, ‘means by definition to believe in the non-reprobation of humankind’ (p. 181). As Barth notes, ‘in God’s eternal purpose’ it is not humanity but ‘God Himself who is rejected in His Son’. God’s self-giving in Jesus Christ consists in the fact that he is rejected in our place: ‘Predestination means that from all eternity God has determined upon man’s acquittal at His own cost’. Gockel then raises the question and apparent conflict concerning whether the claim that the Son of God instead of the Son of Man suffered God’s wrath contrasts with Barth’s earlier claim that ‘the elected human being Jesus is the target or “offering” of God’s wrath’. He notes Barth’s own awareness of and answer to this in II/1: ‘Only God Himself could bear God’s wrath. Only God’s mercy was capable of bearing the kind of suffering to which the creature existing in opposition to God is subject. Only God’s mercy could be touched by this suffering in such a way that it knew how to make it its own suffering. And only God’s mercy was strong enough not to perish in this suffering’ (p. 183). As if hell – that is, something of creation – could exhaust the awful shame and scandal of sin.

Matthias Gockel on Barth and Schleiermacher on the Doctrine of Election: A Review – Part IV

In his fifth chapter, entitled ‘Barth’s Christological Revolution’, Gockel turns briefly to Barth’s lectures of 1936 (given at two Reformed seminaries in Hungary) and 1937 (Barth’s Gifford Lectures on the Scots Confession given at the University of Aberdeen), and more substantially to Barth’s Church Dogmatics II/2, where Barth developed his most radical proposal, modifying for a second time his doctrine of election. In the christological revision undertaken in II/2, election no longer refers to the two-fold possibility of faith and unbelief but to the double determination of individual human beings and God’s own being. Barth’s priority: that God sees every human being and also himself in Christ.

Here, Gockel is on the more traversed ground of Barth’s notion that Jesus Christ is both God’s elect himself and the foundation of humanity’s election. Gockel argues that it was not until the 1936 lectures that Barth’s christological revisioning of the doctrine of election first appears; that what happened for and to humanity at Golgotha and was revealed at Easter – though it happened in time – is our eternal election. It is also here that Barth identifies the one will of God in double predestination with Jesus Christ, that is, with God’s own being. ‘Jesus Christ not only reveals but also constitutes God’s gracious choice as the self-determination to be God for His people and the determination of humankind to be the people of God’ (p. 169). As Barth contends, God’s gracious choice is the divine decision made in Jesus Christ, the speculum electionis. It is in and through Jesus Christ that God has actualised his eternal covenant with humanity, God’s eternal election of himself to communion with humanity, and humanity to communion with God. Here Barth distinguishes himself from the disposition in some camps of the Reformed tradition of an insistence on the inscrutableness and invisibility of the divine decrees. In Jesus Christ – the electing God and the elected Man – God’s purposes in election are made manifest to all. Christ is, in Barth’s words, ‘the first and last word to men of the faithfulness of God’ in election. Jesus Christ, therefore, is not merely the channel of God’s one decree, but its source. And he is not merely the one who elects, but he is also the one who elects himself to be the modus operandi by which others are elected.

Matthias Gockel on Barth and Schleiermacher on the Doctrine of Election: A Review – Part III

Barth’s revision of the Reformed doctrine of election is developed further in his so-called Göttingen Dogmatics where he punctuates the teleological ordering of election and reprobation. The real purpose of God’s predestinating act is always election – not rejection – even in rejection. While the reprobation is real as the shadow side of election, it is never God’s final word. God’s final word is Jesus Christ and in him every promise of God finds its ‘Yes’ (2 Cor 1:18–20). ‘Rejection does not take place for its own sake but in revelation of the righteousness of God in order that God’s mercy might be manifested in his election, and in order that in it all, though in this irreversible order, God himself might be known and praised’. In other words, God’s judgement is never divorced from God’s grace and can never be recognised apart from ‘the cross, the judgment, the condemnation in which we stand’; the way of predestination therefore leads us ‘by way of condemnation – indeed, by the way of hell itself – to salvation and life’. We will return to this below in our discussion of Barth’s Church Dogmatics II/2.

Gockel concludes his discussion of Barth’s Göttingen work by surmising that Barth’s doctrine of election ‘becomes more actualistic and less speculative, while still not christocentric’. Also ‘Barth stops short of eschatological universalism, and his consistent emphasis on God’s freedom as well as the assertion that “all are at every moment under the divine Either–Or” should be taken seriously’ (p. 155).

The picture that Gockel paints is that in both the Römerbrief and the Göttingen Dogmatics, Barth has developed a ‘Schleiermacherian reconstruction’ of the doctrine of election by means of the idea of a single divine decree towards life. Although Schleiermacher understands the Creator-creature relationship differently to Barth, they both hold that the single divine decree is to be understood in the context of the historical decision between faith and unbelief. For both of them (at this point), the doctrine of election remains fundamentally theocentric and universal, with a focus on the graced-initiative of the divine act which involves a teleological movement in time from reprobation to election, the former serving the latter, and the latter qualifying the former. Above all, the focus for both theologians is on ‘the predestining God’ rather than ‘individual predestined human beings’ (p. 157). Given this, it is surprising that Gockel introduces his argument with the announcement that it is ‘precisely the anthropocentric outlook of traditional views’ which motivated not only Barth’s but also Schleiermacher’s ‘search for a new approach’ to election (p. 12).

Matthias Gockel on Barth and Schleiermacher on the Doctrine of Election: A Review – Part II

In his Der Römerbrief, Barth raises two objections against the Augustinian formulation, which he regards as ‘a “mythologizing” construction’ (p. 108). First, Barth rejects the notion that predestination can be explained in terms of cause and effect. While the human act of faith happens within a familiar historical context, its origin always lies with God: ‘The act of faith does not occur when a human being has recognized God but when God has recognized a human being’ (p. 108). Barth’s point: ‘God wants to be known through God’. Secondly, Barth discards the attribution of election and reprobation to ‘predetermined quantities of individual persons, since this neglects that God’s eternal predestination is related to humankind as a whole and is not a one-time event but occurs time and again in history when a human being is addressed by God’s Word’ (p. 109). The driving issue here for Barth, as in his whole doctrine of election, is the divine freedom.

For Barth, the key verse for understanding Romans, and Christian theology in general, is 11:32, ‘God enclosed everyone in disobedience, in order to show mercy on everyone’. This verse affirms that the content of God’s predestination is God’s unconditional mercy. More radically, Barth contends that Paul’s claim suggests a modification – though not a rejection – of the notion of double predestination. Double predestination does not require rejection so long as we are clear that it refers to a movement, to the ‘teleology by which God’s salvific act is directed, namely, from reprobation to election’ (p. 113). For Barth, reprobation is never the goal. ‘God’s Yes shines even into the last depth of His No, precisely because the latter is so radical, because it is the divine No’. Reprobation exists therefore ‘only as the shadow of the light of election’.

Gockel contends that there is a distinct echo of Schleiermacher’s doctrine of election in Barth’s own early revision of the doctrine. In Der Römerbrief, Barth accentuates the dialectical unity of God’s decree: ‘God’s reprobation (of the elect) and God’s election (of the reprobate) are “unintuitably one and the same in God”’ (p. 118). Gockel identifies two central aspects concerning the relation between reprobation and election for Barth. First, the possibility of reprobation is overcome eternally in God. Adam’s old world really is surpassed by Christ’s new world. Second, the individual outcome of the two-fold possibility of unbelief and belief is not determined by God before time but rather, in the freedom of God, is the event in which God addresses the creature in time. The content or purpose of such an address is qualified by the ‘turn from reprobation to election’ in God, which expresses the one eternal will of God for humanity. Any duality here of judgement and grace is the duality of God’s unified action, an action which affects all human beings alike, and is determined by God’s redemptive will revealed in Christ’s death and resurrection. The church and the world, therefore, ‘stand under the same promise and the same judgment [which] makes it impossible to conceive them as two separate groups of persons’ (p. 125). Even as early as his Romans commentary, Barth maintained a hopeful universalism grounded in the freedom and love of God leading to the priority of election over reprobation: ‘reprobation has been overcome and absorbed by election’. Christ’s work ‘entails the hope that the duality between faith and history does not preclude the possibility of an eventual restoration of humankind and a return “into the unity with God, which is now and here completely lost”’ (p. 130). Barth’s emphasis here is that the original unity of God and humanity (a notion abandoned in the Göttingen lectures) is not superseded by judgement. Judgement, rather, is practical, leading to a re-union of human and divine righteousness.

Gockel observes that the relationship of the historical appearance of Jesus Christ to the determination of God’s will remains unclear in Barth’s theology, and his emphasis on the original unity leads to similar problems to Schleiermacher’s notion of absolute dependence. Furthermore, when Barth ‘asserts that God’s will is revealed in Jesus Christ who personifies God’s universal faithfulness and righteousness, it remains unclear how the eternal history between God and humankind is related to the history of Jesus Christ’ (p. 131).