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‘Jesus is victor’: passing the impasse of Barth on universalism

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 April 2007

Tom Greggs
Jesus College, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB5 8BL,


This article examines the question of Karl Barth's stance on universalism. Setting the question within the wealth of contradictory accounts of Barth on this issue, it seeks to find a way through the opposing views represented in the secondary literature. Following a brief examination of the doctrine of election which is the source of the charge of universalism, Barth's response to Berkouwer's The Triumph of Grace in the Theology of Karl Barth will be considered in detail. This passage helps to place Barth's own reaction to the charge of universalism in a broader framework than that of a simple denial or acceptance, and helps to highlight what Barth does and does not reject regarding universalism. It will be argued that it is the replacement of the person of Jesus Christ with a principle, rather than any limitation of the salvific work of God, that Barth rejects in rejecting apokatastasis. Barth's denial of universalism marks a dismissal of the problematic elements associated with the word, not a denial of the ultimate friendliness of Jesus Christ. The radical newness of Barth's own approach to universalism cannot be overemphasized, and marks the means by which one may pass through the impasse of differing accounts of Barth's eschatology.

Research Article
© Scottish Journal of Theology Ltd 2007

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