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.

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