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Learning Where to Place One's Hope: The Eschatological Significance of Election in Barth

  • John C. McDowell (a1)


Without creating certain illusions, to which hope could also be added as a moving beyond despair, the early Nietzsche felt one would be resigned to a paralysing, despairing life-denying, nausea. After all, some form of hope is necessary to human existence in order to open otherwise closed avenues towards the future, one that can resist the contemporary loss of certain imaginings of our futures.



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1 The Birth of Tragedy, trans. Kaufrnann, W. (New York: Vintage Books, 1967), 60, 110.

2 See Lynch, W. F., Images of Hope: Imagination as Healer of the Hopeless (London and Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1965), 31f.

3 See Habermas, Jurgen, ‘A Reply to my Critics’ in Thompson, John B. and Held, David (eds), Habermas: Critical Debates (London: Macmillan, 1982), 246f.; Tracy, David, On Naming the Present: Reflections on God, Hermeneutics and Church (London: SCM Press, 1994), 51.

4 See Roberts, Richard, ‘Karl Barth's Doctrine of Time: Its Nature and Implications’, in Karl Barth: Studies of his Theological Method, ed. Sykes, S. W. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979), 88146; ‘The Ideal and the Real in the Theology of Karl Barth’, New Studies in Theology I, eds Sykes, Stephen and Holmes, Derek (London: Duckworth, 1980), 163180.

5 Moltmann, Jurgen, Theology of Hope: On the Ground and Implications of a Christian Eschatology, trans. Leitch, James W. (London: SCM Press, 1967), 57; The Coming of God: Christian Eschatology, trans. Kohl, Margaret (London: SCM Press, 1996), 14. It is this immediacy of the contemporaneous Christ that Roberts perceives as accounting for Barth's apparent theological isolationism and ‘totalitarian’ method, with his ‘dangerously close collusion between his voice and that of God’ [A Theology on its Way (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1991), xv].

6 See Roberts, 1979, 119; cf. CD II/2, 321.

7 CD IV/34, vii.

8 CD II/l, 635.

9 Roberts, 1979, 116, 133; 1980, 173. Cf. CD II/l, 310ff.; 608.

10 CD IV/2, 84.

11 CD II/2, 121. Cf. The Humanity of God, trans. Thomas, John Newton (London: Collins, 1967), 42. From CD 11/1 onwards, the Extra Calvinisticum begins to disappear because of the emphasis on the Word's never being Logos asarhos but eternally Logos ensarkos.

12 CD II/2, 25.

13 Barth denies necessary external passibility to God [CD II/1, 370].

14 Humanity of God, 47.

15 CD 11/1, 616.

16 E.g. CD III/2, 526f., 535f. Owen, H. P., however, understands the concept to be ‘sheer self-contradiction’ [Concepts of Deity (London, 1971), 107; cf. Gunton, Colin, Becoming and Being: The Doctrine of God in Charles Hartshorne and Karl Barth (Oxford: 1978), 179]. Jenson, Robert W., on the other hand, lends too much weight to divine temporality's futurity [God After God: The God of the Past and the God of the Future, Seen in the Work of Karl Barth (Indianapolis/New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1969), 155, 157ff.].

17 See CD 11/1, 611.

18 CD 1/2, 52;III/1, 76.

19 See CD III/2, 464f., 571.

20 CD III/l, 76.

21 Evangelical Theology: An Introduction, trans. Foley, Grover (London: Collins, 1963), 16.

22 CD 11/2, 608. Where eternity particularly differs from temporality is in its simultaneity, or coinherence, of pre-, supra-, and post-temporality [CD II/1, 619].

23 Marshall, Bruce D., ‘A Theology on its Way? Essays on Karl Barth. By Richard H. Roberts [a Review]’, JTS44 (1993), 453458 (457). Roberts recognises, but does not pursue, Barth's connecting eternity and divine freedom [1980, 173].

24 CD 11/1, 619.

25 In his brief discussions of election and eschatology, Thompson, John never makes the connection between them [Christ in Perspective in the Theology of Karl Barth (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1978), chs 8 and 10]. On II/2's importance, see CD II/2, 3, 76f., 91.

26 See Barth, , ‘Foreword’, in Maury, Pierre, Predestination and Other Papers, trans. Hudson, Edwin (London: SCM Press, 1960), 1518 (16).

27 The Word of God and the Word of Man, trans. Horton, Douglas (London: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd., 1928), 196, 216.

28 Barth distinguishes between an ‘unauthorised systematisation’ and ‘authorised systematisation’ [CD 1/2, 868f.], although Sykes understands this to be unconvincing rhetoric (‘in practice’, one should add) [‘Barth on the Centre of Theology’, in Sykes, ed., 1979, 17–54 (46)]. Barth is concerned to avoid an unrevisable and monotonous dogmatic ‘systematisation’ attained through an impersonal Christ-Prinzip, or a priori first principles [CD 1/2, 861].

29 The Göttingen Dogmatics: Instruction in the Christian Religion, Volume 1, trans. Bromiley, Geoffrey W. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990), 445; CD II/2, 76–93. Gunton implies that this theological location undermines complaints about apokastastasis in Barth, [‘Karl Barth's Doctrine of Election as Part of his Doctrine of God’, JTS 25 (1974), 381392 (384 n. 7)]. However, God's self-election precisely functions to ground God's election of creatures, and therefore the apokatastasis question cannot be so simply dismissed. God could freely, i.e. without any external necessity, elect and save all humankind.

30 CD II/2, 168.

31 CD III/2, 132; 50; cf., e.g. II/2, 160f.

32 Brunner, Emil, Dogmatics Volume I: The Christian Doctrine of God, trans. Wyon, Olive (London: Lutterworth Press, 1949), 347. Cf. Berkouwer, G. C., The Triumph of Grace in the Theology of Karl Barth, trans. Boer, H. R. (London: Paternoster Press, 1956), 254; Rosato, Philip J., The Spirit as Lord: The Pneumatology of Karl Barth (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1981), 168.

33 Gunton, 1974, 388.

34 CD III/1, 24; cf. II/2, 164, 185f. Ned Wisnefske's attempt to revive natural theology, when presented as ‘knowledge of nature without God’, is careless [Our Natural Knowledge of God: A Prospect for Natural Theology After Kant and Barth (New York/Bern/Frankfurt am Main/Paris: Peter Lang, 1990), 2]. There simply cannot be any nature without God.

35 Barth, , Credo: A Presentation of the Chief Problems of Dogmatics with Reference to the Apostles' Creed, trans. McNab, James Strathern (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1936), 167.

36 E.g. Göttingen Dogmatics, 155.

37 See, Credo, 121; Dogmatics in Outline, trans. Thomson, G. T. (London: SCM Press, 1949), 131.

38 Webster, John, Barth's Ethics of Reconciliation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 64.

39 Dogmatics in Outline, 133.

40 See Göttingen Dogmatics, 413.

41 CD II/1, 630.

42 See Pannenberg, Wolfhart, Systematic Theology, Volume 3, trans. Bromiley, Geoffrey W. (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1998), 177.

43 CD III/l, 410. Hick's, John evolutionary-eschatology only ‘needs’ God in the sense that, as Creator, he sets the ‘soul-making or person-making process’ in movement and ‘guides’ it through its multiple worlds to completion [Death and Eternal Life (London: Collins, 1976), 408].

44 See Migliore, Daniel L., ‘Karl Barth's First Lectures’, in The Göttingen Dogmatics, xv–lvii (lxiii).

45 CD IV/3.1, 310f.; cf. 1 Timothy 6:16.

46 CD II/l, 621f.

47 CD III/l, 247; cf. 11/1, 261.

48 The Faith of the Church A Commentary on the Apostles Creed According to Calvin's Catechism, trans. Vahanian, Gabriel (London: Collins, 1958), 136f. On body-soul unity, see CD III/2, 366–93.

49 CD III/3, 317.

50 CD III/4, 590.

51 CD III/2, 6.

52 Kerr, Fergus, Immortal Longings: Versions of Transcending Humanity (London: SPCK, 1997), 24.

53 CD III/3, 48. Theologically declaring the goodness of creation is important for a time when Europe was rebuilding from the ravages of war and the horrors of Auschwitz.

54 CD III/l, 243. Cf. CD III/2, 520ff., 524f., 526f. Barth even attributes temporality to humanity's eternal life [CD III/2, 521].

55 Dogmatics in Outline, 154.

56 See Migliore, lix. Cf. CD III/2, 624; IV/3.1, 310f.

57 Credo, 169. Schmitt, Keith Randall misunderstands this passage as suggesting a body-soul separation, whereas Barth claims the opposite [Death and After-Life in the Theologies of Karl Barth and John Hick: A Comparative Study (Amsterdam, 1985), 46].

58 Christmas, trans. Citron, Bernhard (Edinburgh and London: Oliver & Boyd, 1959), 48. Here, however, Barth uses the term ‘ideal’ to describe this eschatological humanity in Christ, whereas he would later more consistently define it as the ‘real’.

59 CD IV/3.1, 310f.

60 Berkouwer fails to appreciate the significance of this distinction, discussing eschatology in relation to death and the form of post-mortem life [ch. VI].

61 Credo, 166.

62 The Resurrection of the Dead, trans. Stenning, H. J. (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1933), 108, 110; cf. 104.

63 Rosato since the ‘as yet incomplete [future is] … essentially open and available’, whereas for Barth, the ‘Absolute Future’ is closed and determined in the sense that it is Christ's fulfilling presence pro and in nobis [165].

64 Karl Barth: Letters, 1961–1968, ed. and trans. Bromiley, Geoffrey W. (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1981), 235.

65 Credo, 118; 1981, 235.

66 See, The Christian Life: Church Dogmatics TV/4, Lecture Fragments, trans. Bromiley, G. W. (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1981), §78.3.

67 CD IV/3.1, 346. Barth's (protological) talk of the kingdom as having come in Christ, but yet to be universally manifested as God's rule over all, parallels Pannenberg's (eschatological) talk of the kingdom of God as the universal rule of God anticipated for all in Jesus [see, e.g. Systematic Theology, Volume 2 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1994), 54ff.; 136ff.].

68 CD IV/3.1, 346. Barth's trinitarianism entails that this christological future is that ‘God alone can be its [i.e. the world's] future’ [CD IV/3.1, 310].

69 CD IV/4, 89.

70 Rahner, Karl, Theological Investigations, 23 volumes (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 19611992), 6:59, 4:342f.; cf. 335.

71 See Migliore, Ix.

72 See Feuerbach, Ludwig, The Essence of Christianity, trans. Eliot, George (New York: Prometheus Books, 1989), 135f., 170ff.

73 Faith of the Church, 40.

74 CD III/2, 144.

75 When Barth speaks of the elect community's being ‘called’ to witness, he intends the service of calling others into that fellowship [see CD H/2, 196f., 415].

76 CD III/l, 247; II/2, 238. Webster shows the error of suggestions that Barth's God stands at humanity's expense [88f.]. On Barth's themes of ‘Personalism’ and ‘Truth as Encounter’, see Hunsinger, George, How to Read Karl Barth: The Shape of His Theology (Oxford, 1991), ch. 6. Hunsinger notes Barth's distinction between ‘external and casual’ and ‘internal and essential’ fellowship [CD TV/1, 757], with Barth's favouring the latter as the act of the heart [174]. On the ‘I-Thou’ encounter between God and humanity, see CD III/2, 245–8.

77 CD IV/I, 47.

78 Barth criticises Brunner's account of human freedom as promoting freedom as neutrality, and choice for or against God [CD III/2, 131].

79 Following Augustine, Barth claims that Christ's life was an offering of absolute gratitude, obedience, and submission before God [CD II/2, 120f.].

80 CD III/1, 97; cf, e.g. II/2, 168f.

81 CD II/2, 177.

82 CD II/2, 510.

83 Webster terms this Barth's ‘moral ontology, an extensive account of the situation in which human agents act’, and the space that they occupy [1].

84 Barth speaks of the ‘autonomous reality’ that God gives to his creatures as ‘the freedom of individual action’ [CD III/3, 87; cf. II2, 178].

85 CD III/1, 109; cf., II/2, 163.

86 Webster recognises that Barth describes, rather than theoretically resolves, the question of the divine agency's relation to the human [45]. Hunsinger describes it as following ‘the Chalcedonian pattern’ [185; cf. CD IV/3, 63], Gunton shows that Barth predicates human freedom analogically from the inner-trinitarian relationality [‘The Triune God and the Freedom of the Creature’, in Karl Barth: Centenary Essays, ed. Sykes, S. W. (Cambridge, 1989), 4668, 50ff.; cf. CD III/2, 16, 50f., 219].

87 CD II/2, 178. Barth strenuously opposes passive and spectatorial models of human subjectivity, based on the neutrality of the thinking and ethical subject before God [CD III/l, 35, 366].

88 CD III/1, 387.

89 CD II/2, 178.

90 CD II/2, 585.

91 Barth is pursuing, in principle at least, the theological implications of the scriptural narratives' descriptions of grace in Christ, rather than any narrative overstraining or peering into the Trinity's script, as Zahrnt implies [112].

92 CD III/2, 196.

93 CD III/l, 364.

94 Barth later shows that, because of its absurdity, the godless forces could be spoken of ‘only in consciously mythological terms’ [The Christian Life, 216].

95 CD 1/2, 398f.; II/2, 170; cf. e.g. The Epistle to the Romans, trans, of 6th edn by Hoskyns, Edwyn C. (Oxford, 1968), 300.

96 It is similarly also referred to as ‘the absurd (irrational) possibility of the absurd (irrational)’, and an ‘ontological impossibility’[CD III/3, 178; III/2, 146].

97 CD III/2, 205.

98 CD II/2, 170.

99 CD III/3, 73f.

100 Hick, John, Evil and the God of Love, 2nd edn (London: Macmillan, 1977), 135; cf. Brown, Colin, ‘Karl Barth's Doctrine of the Creation’, The Churchman 7576 (19611962), 99–105 (102); Ricoeur, Paul, ‘Evil, A Challenge to Philosophy and Theology’, Journal of the American Academy of Religion 53 (1985), 635648 (644); Hendry, George S., ‘Nothing’, Theology Today 39 (19821983), 274289 (284).

101 On one occasion, however, Barth unwittingly appears to imply sin's inevitability in creation [CD II/2, 170]. Hick tentatively claims that Barth maintains the O felix culpa in the sense that evil ‘exists’ in order ‘to make possible the supreme good of redemption’ [1977, 139], However, for Barth, it is creation, and not evil, that exists in order to make redemption possible. Moreover, Barth's is not a ‘problem-oriented approach’ (the incarnate history as a response to sin) [see CD IV/1, 48]; and he never abstractly discusses the question of an incarnation in a sinless world, since creation is sinful, and therefore the incarnation is always placed within that context in a manner reminiscent of Rev. 13:8 [CD II/2, 122; IV/1, 36]. So Barth speaks of the world's reconciliation, resolved in eternity and fulfilled on Calvary [CD IV/2, 314].

102 CD III/3, 302. Accordingly, Barth rejects Schopenhauerian pessimism, and exalts Mozart's recognition of creation's praising its Creator [CD III/l, 335ff.; III/3, 298f.].

103 CD 11/2, 170f.

104 CD III/l, 263f.

105 Barth rejects ‘modern’ theodicies, in which evil and sin is worked into the whole system, becoming necessary and even good [see CD IV/1, 374–87].

106 The Augustinian flavour is furthered in speaking of this negation as ‘really privation’ [CD III/3, 353]. For a discussion of the logic and meaning of the theological and philosophical uses of the word ‘nothing’, see Hendry.

107 CD III/2, 197. Thomas C. Oden accurately claims that disobedience is not ‘freedom being misused, since true freedom for God, self and for neighbour cannot be misused. It can only be put to use or nonuse. Disobedience consists simply in the neglect, ignorance and disregard of true human freedom’ [The Promise of Barth: The Ethics of Freedom (Philadelphia and New York: J. B. Lippincott Co., 1969), 66].

108 See CD IV/3, 177. Berkouwer believes that Barth's ontically realised reconciliation undermines sin's reality [232, 272].

109 Hartwell, Herbert, The Theology of Karl Barth: An Introduction (Duckworth, 1964), 120.

110 Highfield, Ron, Barth and Rahner in Dialogue: Toward an Ecumenical Understanding of Sin and Evil (New York/Bern/Frankfurt am Main/Paris: Peter Lang, 1989), 158.

111 MacKinnon, Donald M., ‘Theology and Redemption’, in justice the True and Only Mercy: Essays on the Life and Theology of Peter Taylor Forsyth, ed. Hart, Trevor A. (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1995), 105109 (109).

112 See, e.g. CD II/2, 177f.

113 CD II/2, 173.

114 Dogmatics in Outline, 130.

115 CD II/2, 125.

116 CD II/2, 173.

117 CD II/1, 274.

118 CD III/2, 136.

119 CD II/l, 619ff.

120 Credo, 162.

121 So Migliore, lxii.

122 Credo, 120.

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Learning Where to Place One's Hope: The Eschatological Significance of Election in Barth

  • John C. McDowell (a1)


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