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.

3 comments

  1. 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).

    Are you siding with Molnar here over against McCormack?

    Also, just because Molnar believes in “one being” (which he has to, even though his strict divide between the immanent and economic Trinity places him at the very limit of orthodoxy, in my opinion) does not mean that Molnar believes in a single act or decision regarding the relation between God’s being and God’s act of electing. McCormack says that God’s being is defined by God’s act and God’s act defines God’s being. Molnar separates the two into separate events in the life of God, though it remains the “one being” of God. Molnar, I think, is on very shaky ground in terms of Barth’s theology.

    But what do you think?

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  2. David. To be honest, I’m not sure yet where I stand in this debate – both Molnar and McCormack are wanting to say something important. Thus far, I’ve oscillated between the two, reluctant to be forced to go one way at the neglect of the other. I was not really wanting to use my review of Gockel to weigh in on it, so much as situate it within a wider exegesis of Barth’s thinking.

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  3. … in other words, I’m in a prime position to be converted one way or the other if you care to take a shot. :-)

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