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’.

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