According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Roger Olson: Was Karl Barth a Universalist?

Was Karl Barth a Universalist? A New Look at an Old Question
 
By Roger Olson
March 10, 2013
 
The question of Karl Barth’s universalism has been much debated—even during the Swiss theologian’s lifetime. Several theological critics accused him of teaching the “heresy” of “apokatastasis”—universal reconciliation. Among them were Donald Bloesch (in Jesus Is Victor!), Hans Urs von Balthasar (in The Theology of Karl Barth), G. C. Berkouwer (in The Triumph of Grace in the Theology of Kark Barth) and Emil Brunner (in Dogmatics, Vol. 1). These critics admitted that Barth did not come right out and affirm or embrace apokatastasis, but all argued that it is logically implied by his doctrine of election.
 
Barth anticipated these criticisms and responded to them in Church Dogmatics II/2 in a section specifically devoted to apokatastasis. (The page numbers given here always refer to the T&T Clark edition of CD.) There Barth explicitly denied that he taught it. He stated that in order to protect the freedom of God and the gratuity of divine grace we cannot say that the “circle” of the elect coincides with the world of man as such: “Just as the gracious God does not need to elect or call any single man, so He does not need to elect or call all mankind.” (p. 417) Predictably, however (because Barth was a dialectical thinker), he went on to say that we must also not limit the freedom and grace of God by saying there cannot be a “final opening up and enlargement of the circle of election and calling.” (p. 418)
 
Barth specifically addressed the issue in The Humanity of God (1960). The chapter is based on a lecture Barth delivered to Reformed ministers in 1956. There he asked of his doctrine of election “Does this mean universalism?”[1] His answer can only be called coy. He said “I wish here to make only three short observations, in which one is to detect no position for or against that which passes among us under this term.” First, he declared, “One should not surrender himself in any case to the panic which this word seems to spread abroad, before informing himself exactly concerning its possible sense or non-sense.”[2] Then, second, “One should at least be stimulated by the passage, Colossians 1:19, which admittedly states that God has determined through His Son as His image and as the first-born of the whole Creation to ‘reconcile all things (τά πάντα) to himself,’ to consider whether the concept could not perhaps have a good meaning.”[3]
 
Finally, Barth averred that, one question should for a moment be asked, in view of the “danger” with which one may see this concept [viz., universalism] gradually surrounded. What of the “danger” of the eternally skeptical-critical theologian who is ever and again suspiciously questioning, because fundamentally always legalistic and therefore in the main morosely gloomy? Is not his presence among us currently more threatening than that of the unbecomingly cheerful indifferentism or even antinomianism, to which one with a certain understanding of universalism could in fact deliver himself? This much is certain, that we have no theological right to set any sort of limits to the loving-kindness of God which has appeared in Jesus Christ. Our theological duty is to see and understand it as being still greater than we had seen before.[4]
 
Back to Church Dogmatics. Near the end of the section on apokatastasis in II/2 (which appears in the subsection headed “The Determination of the Elect”) Barth broke decisively with traditional Calvinism (or at least with what usually is understood by that). There he concluded that, in light of New Testament passages such as John 1:9, 1:29, 3:17, 8:12, 9:5, 11:9, and 12:46, “We cannot follow the classical [Reformed] doctrine and make the open number of those who are elect in Jesus Christ into a closed number to which all other men are opposed as if they were rejected. Such an assumption is shattered by the unity of the real and revealed will of God in Jesus Christ.” (p. 422) Clearly, from that statement and many others in CD, Barth denied and rejected “limited atonement.” Whether he affirmed universalism, however, remains unclear if one goes by his stated intentions alone.
 
Here a crucial question arises. Is the critic right to say that a theologian teaches a doctrine that is necessarily, logically implied by his or her explicit statements even if the theologian in question explicitly denies it? Whether Barth explicitly denied universalism is, I think, debatable. However, some of his statements can reasonably be interpreted that way (such as the ones provided above). Still, a crucial question lingers: Did Barth’s theology of grace, and especially of God’s electing grace (“Gottes Gnadenwahl”), necessarily, logically imply universalism? Critics such as “the big four B's,” Brunner, Balthasar, Berkouwer and Brunner, thought so. That was their argument—not that Barth explicitly taught apokatastasis or universalism but that his doctrine of God’s gracious election in Jesus Christ necessarily, logically implies it.
 
After a number of years in which that issue has laid, for the most part, fallow, I will here plow it again. To what purpose? In recent years a new movement called “evangelical Calvinism” has gained ground. Most of these theologians are British and American admirers of the theology of Thomas Torrance, one of Barth’s leading English-speaking followers. (By “admirers” and “followers” I do not mean slavish adherents but theologians who find their primary inspiration in another, in this case Torrance and Barth.) These “evangelical Calvinists” reject limited atonement. Also, some British and American evangelical theologians have flirted with universalism, a few outrightly embracing it, much to the consternation of conservative evangelicals. One example is Gregory MacDonald, the pseudonymous evangelical author of The Evangelical Universalist: The Biblical Hope that God’s Love Will Save Us All (2008). Evangelical philosopher-theologian Thomas Talbot has promoted “evangelical universalism” for many years. Looming large over these relatively new movements within Calvinism and evangelicalism is the shadow of Karl Barth. Without doubt, Barth’s influence on evangelical theology is stronger, and more controversial, than ever.
 
Many evangelical Calvinists (and others) argue that Barth was not a universalist and they point to his explicit denials (such as affirmations of the freedom of God over against the necessity of universal salvation). Many, probably most, universalist evangelicals (their number is greater than most people think) argue that Barth was a universalist on the basis of the logical necessity of universal salvation in his doctrine of God’s gracious election.
 
Laying all my cards on the table up front, so to speak, I will argue here that Barth’s doctrine of God’s gracious election necessarily, logically requires a peculiar kind of universalism. To say the things Barth said about it and then deny universalism was, or would be, a logical contradiction—something that makes any system of thought incoherent and thereby nonsensical. But I will also argue that Barth did not explicitly deny universalism. What he denied was the necessity of universal salvation—that God must save everyone. True, Barth backed away from apokatastasis—a particular heresy that, in early Christian thought, affirmed the ultimate reconciliation of even Satan. He also clearly rejected any idea that God is bound to save everyone if by “bound” one means by some kind of inner necessity in God’s own nature. Nevertheless, I will argue, Barth must have known that his doctrine of election, and his doctrine of reconciliation, inevitably included, by logical necessity, belief in a kind of universal salvation. Thus, Barth was a universalist of his own kind but not necessarily of any other kind. (By the end I will have explained what I mean by “his own kind” of universalism.)
 
A proper place to plunge in, in attempting to make this case, is CD IV/1 The Doctrine of Reconciliation, Part 1. In a section entitled “The Grace of God in Jesus Christ” (included under the larger heading of “The Doctrine of Reconciliation [Survey]”) Barth wrote about “the grace in which God from all eternity has chosen man (all men) in this One [Jesus Christ], in which He has bound Himself to man—before man even existed—in this One.” (p. 91) (The parenthetical phrase “all men” is in Barth’s text; it was not added by me.) He then continued by saying “He, Jesus Christ, is the One who accomplishes the sovereign act in which God has made true and actual in time the decree of His election by making atonement, in which He has introduced the new being of all men.” (pp. 91-92) Then, in “The Three Forms of the Doctrine of Reconciliation,” the Swiss theologian declared about Jesus Christ that “In so far as He was and is and will be very man, the conversion of man to God took place in Him, the turning and therefore the reconciliation of all men, the fulfillment of the covenant.” (p. 132) By “the conversion of man to God” Barth clearly (in terms of the context) meant “all people.”
 
In a section entitled “The Being of Man in Jesus Christ” Barth discussed the distinction between Christians and other human persons (“men”). There he argued that the only difference is “experience and knowledge.” (p. 92) “Christians exist in Him [viz., Jesus Christ]. In practice this is the only thing that we can call their peculiar being.” (p. 92) Some deniers of Barth’s universalism have claimed this statement (and similar ones) as proof that Barth believed only Christians are “saved.” But the immediately following context refutes this: “But they [Christians] do so [exist in Christ] only as examples, as the representatives and predecessors of all other men, of whom so long as their ears and eyes and hearts are not opened we can only say definitely that the same being in Jesus Christ is granted to them and belongs to them in Him.” (p. 92) So, what is the distinction between Christians and other “men?” The context (long paragraph) makes absolutely clear that the difference is not “being saved” versus “not being saved” but knowing and testifying of the “new being of man” in Jesus Christ versus not knowing it. It is epistemological, not ontological.
 
Barth expounded his doctrine of election, which is the locus of his theology many critics claim includes universalism implicitly if not explicitly, primarily in Church Dogmatics II/2. He divided it into several sections beginning with “The Election of Jesus Christ” followed by “The Eternal Will of God in the Election of Jesus Christ.” Barth’s ecclesiastical and theological heritage was Reformed, a tradition that strongly emphasizes God’s sovereignty and is known especially for its strong doctrine of election/predestination. In the background, of course, is John Calvin which is why many English-speakers refer to this tradition as Calvinism. In these sections of CD Barth wrestled with that tradition, sometimes embracing it as correct and sometimes rejecting elements of it. Overall, he called his version of Calvinism “purified supralapsarianism.” (pp. 141-142)
 
Supralapsarianism is, of course, that form of Calvinism that places the decree of God concerning predestination logically prior to the fall. According to supralapsarians, God’s ultimate purpose with regard to humanity is to demonstrate his glory by predestining some (who are not yet created) to heaven and some to hell. The traditional alternative, probably the majority view among Reformed theologians, is infralapsarianism that views the double decree (some to heaven, some to hell) as subordinate to God’s decree to permit the fall. The difference has to do with God’s purposes. Is election/predestination ultimate or penultimate? Barth sides with supralapsarians who say it is ultimate.
 
Perhaps Barth’s most significant alteration to traditional theology, including Reformed, is his “Christological concentration” of the doctrine of election. (Some critics have referred to it “Christomonism,” but Catholic sympathetic critic Balthasar called it a “Christological constriction.”[5]) Barth insisted, repeatedly, that the first and most important election is of Jesus Christ and that it is the first of all God’s ways with regard to humanity:
 
The election of grace is the eternal beginning of all the ways and works of God in Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ God in His free grace determines Himself for sinful man and sinful man for Himself. He therefore takes upon Himself the rejection of man with all its consequences, and elects man to participation in His own glory. (p. 94)
 
Jesus Christ, then, is the original decree of God; it precedes and grounds everything, not only with regard to redemption but also with regard to creation. For Barth, as is well known, creation is the external basis of the covenant, but the covenant is the internal basis of creation. God’s covenant with himself first, and with humanity second, is the reason for creation. That’s supralapsarianism. Barth goes on to “purify” supralapsarianism of elements he deems inconsistent with grace.
 
According to Barth, then, before there was any reality distinct from himself, God determined that the goal and meaning of all his dealings with reality outside himself should be the fact that in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, God would be gracious towards humans, uniting them with him. (p. 101) Thus, “As the subject and object of this choice, Jesus Christ was at the beginning.” (p. 102) He was and is the election of God’s covenant with humanity. Election, then, Barth said, is Jesus Christ. (p. 103) “Jesus Christ is the electing God, and…also the elected man.” (p. 103) (Barth wholeheartedly affirmed the Nicene “truly God, truly human” dogma about Jesus Christ. What is surprising, and non-traditional, is that he denied any “logos asarkos,” not human Logos, Word, Son of God. For him the Trinity is Father, Jesus, and Holy Spirit.) Barth adamantly insisted that the whole doctrine of election/predestination begin, center around, and end with Jesus Christ. What, then, of humans? What of our election? Barth explained:
 
If God elects us too, then it is in and with this election of Jesus Christ, in and with this free act of obedience on the part of the Son. … It is in Him that the eternal election becomes immediately and directly the promise of our own election as it is enacted in time, our calling, our summoning to faith…. (pp. 105-106)
 
Barth realized the contrast with Calvin’s doctrine of election (and that of traditional Calvinism) and reveled in it. He perceived in that doctrine a tendency to assume or even affirm a hidden God behind Jesus Christ, something he believed undermines assurance of God’s love and grace in Jesus Christ. Whether Calvin was a supralapsarian or an infralapsarian (those categories were created after Calvin and both sides claim him) was irrelevant to Barth. For him, any separation between election/predestination and God-for-us in Jesus Christ undermines assurance of salvation. (This is ironic as Calvinists have traditionally argued that their doctrine of double predestination of human persons, some to heaven and some to hell, is the ground of assurance. Barth attempted to turn the tables on them and show that that doctrine, concentrated on God’s selection of specific persons rather than of Jesus Christ, destroys assurance.)
 
According to Barth, then, “All the dubious features of Calvin’s doctrine result from the basic failing that in the last analysis he separates God and Jesus Christ, thinking that what was in the beginning with God must be sought elsewhere than in Jesus Christ.” (p. 111) By “Calvin,” here, Barth meant not just the chief pastor of Geneva but traditional Calvinism in general. For him, only “As we believe in Him and hear His Word and hold fast by His decision, [can] we know with a certainty which nothing can ever shake that we are the elect of God.” (pp. 115-116) For Barth, then, both the subject and object of election/predestination is Jesus Christ, the God-man, who is the second person of the Trinity. What, then, of other human beings? What of so-called double predestination—some to eternal bliss in heaven with God and some to eternal punishment in hell?
 
Barth gradually unfolded his answer to that question about double predestination in “The Election of Jesus Christ.” First, according to him, “Jesus Christ is the elected man.” (p. 116) “This man is the object of the eternal divine decision and foreordination. Jesus Christ, then, is not merely one of the elect but the elect of God.” (p. 116) Yes, others, we, are also elect, but only “in Him.” Not “with Him” or “in His company” or “through Him” or “by means of Him,” but “in Him.” His election is all-inclusive, universally meaningful and efficacious. (p. 117)
 
What singles Him out from the rest of the elect, and yet also, and for the first time, unites Him with them, is the fact that as elected man He is also the electing God, electing them in His own humanity. In that He (as God) wills Himself (as man), He also wills them. And so they are elect “in Him,” in and with His own election. (p. 117)
 
Barth’s motives for this Christological concentration of election are much debated, but surely it had to do with Barth’s allergic fear of any hint of a hidden God behind Jesus Christ. Barth, of course, developed his theology in the context of Nazi Germany and the so-called “German Christian movement” which nearly deified Hitler and Nazi ideology. Barth came to believe that not only natural theology but also any idea of a hidden God behind Jesus Christ gives permission for such idolatrous confusions of God with other “lords” and “masters.”
 
This Christological concentration of Barth’s doctrine of election leads ineluctably, inexorably to universalism. That is my thesis. It is proven by Barth’s inclusion of all human beings in the election of Jesus Christ which does not exclude reprobation. In traditional theology, especially in classical Reformed theology, “reprobation” refers to the condemnation of unrepentant, unbelieving sinners; it is determined by God. In classical Reformed theology, “high, federal Calvinism,” the “reprobate” are predestined to hell by God. Some Reformed theologians have taught that election to salvation and predestination to reprobation are opposite but equivalent decrees of God while others have softened the blow of what Calvin called “the horrible decree” by saying the latter is not a positive decree (like election to salvation) but only God’s passive decision to “pass over” the reprobate. God chooses not to choose them (to salvation). In either case, however, the damned are chosen and condemned by God.
 
Barth would have none of that. But that does not mean he didn’t believe in double predestination; he did. Both election to salvation and predestination to reprobation are concentrated in God’s election of Jesus Christ. No human being, besides Jesus, who is the eternal Son of God, the God-man, is selected by God for condemnation: “The rejection which all men incurred, the wrath of God under which all men lie, the death which all men must die, God in his love for men transfers from all eternity to Him in whom He loves and elects them, and whom He elects at their head and in their place.” (p. 123) Thus, according to Barth, the election of Jesus Christ includes his rejection and all others are elected and rejected in him. (p. 124) Why does God do this? Because he is merciful. In Jesus, then, the divine judge becomes the judged so that sinners are “fully acquitted.” (p. 125)
 
Immediately following those thoughts (in CD II/2) is a long excurses (in fine print) about traditional or “old” Reformed theology, both infra- and supralapsarian. (pp. 134-144) Barth accused it/them of portraying the electing God as a hidden God behind Jesus, which is, for him, the absolute bête noir of theology. Speaking of infralapsarianism and supralapsarianism Barth declared that “Behind both these views…there stands the picture of the absolute God in Himself…not the picture of God in Jesus Christ.” (p. 134) In this excursus, these ten pages of fine but important print, Barth chose to both embrace and criticize supralapsarianism. Of traditional supralapsarianism (and most non-Calvinists would say this applies to infralapsarianism as well) the Swiss theologian warned that “The Supralapsarian God threatens to take on the appearance of a demon, and in the light of this fact we may well understand the horror with which Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Arminians and even many of the Reformed themselves recoiled from the doctrine.” (p. 140) The reason is that this God creates people to damn them for his glory. Nevertheless, Barth went on to create and affirm his own version of supralapsarianism which he called “purified supralapsarianism.” (p. 141)
 
According to Barth, the old supralapsarianism can be “saved” and infralapsarianism “avoided” only by rejecting completely any idea of election as focused on individual human beings other than Jesus. We must, he wrote, remove completely from our minds any thought of an individual purpose in predestination as well as any thought of foreordination as a “rigid and balanced system of election and reprobation.” (p. 143) “In place of these we have to introduce the knowledge of the elect man Jesus Christ as the true object of the divine predestination.” (p. 143) The God of purified supralapsarianism is “the God who loves man.” (p. 142) Because God says yes to “man” in Jesus Christ “It remains to the individual only to grasp the promise which is given in the one Elect, and to seek and find his salvation.” (p. 142)
 
What did Barth mean by that? In what sense must the individual “seek and find his salvation?” Is this some kind of Pelagianism or semi-Pelagianism? Anyone who knows anything about Barth knows that cannot be the case. His meaning is something else entirely. This is exactly the point where many readers of Barth, including astute interpreters and scholars of Barth, get tripped up. Frequently Barth wrote that salvation is something to be sought and found by people, but does that negate universal salvation? I believe not. Careful reading of Barth leads to one and only one possible conclusion—that for him “salvation” has at least two meanings. One is what happened for all people in Jesus Christ, in his election and reprobation, in his incarnation and atoning death, and in his resurrection. It is finished—for everyone. The other is coming to know it and live in the new being of it—which is what makes one a Christian. But, for Barth, being “saved” in the first sense, objectively reconciled, forgiven, justified, is a “done deal” for all people in Jesus Christ whereas being “saved” in the second sense—something to be sought and found—corresponds to actualizing salvation in knowing, living and witnessing. (This distinction was never stated so baldly by Barth, but it is implicit in many parts of CD, especially IV/1, “The Fulfillment of the Broken Covenant” [57:3].)
 
Barth’s universalism of salvation, at least of its objective aspect, was clearly revealed in his discussion of “double predestination” in CD II/2. This does not refer to some dual determination of people, some to eternal salvation and some to eternal damnation. Instead, “In the election of Jesus Christ which is the eternal will of God, God has ascribed to man…election, salvation and life; and to Himself He has ascribed…reprobation, perdition and death.” (p. 163) The “No” of predestination, Barth wrote, is not spoken against human beings other than Jesus Christ who is God himself. This is not, Barth argued, because God willed to overlook or accept humans’ sinfulness but because he willed to bear the penalty for it himself. (p. 166) Because of the Christological concentration of election in Jesus Christ, “the divine predestination as such and per se means faith in the non-rejection of man, or disbelief in his rejection.” (p. 167) “Man,” human beings, are not rejected by God; God himself is rejected in the person of his Son. “Predestination means,” Barth proclaimed, “that from all eternity God has determined upon man’s acquittal at his own cost.” (p. 167)
 
One can only stand back, shake one’s head, and wonder how, in light of these affirmations and assertions, anyone can think Barth believed in anything but universal salvation. And yet many do. Why? Because Barth frequently also said that it is possible for sinners to reject what God has done for them in Jesus Christ. But the question is whether that impossible possibility can be final such that those who reject the grace of God in Jesus Christ, God’s yes to them, can negate it to the point that it is nullified. The answer must be no, they cannot. I return to that later.
 
After discussing election in Jesus Christ, election of Jesus Christ, Barth turned (in CD II/2) to the problem of evil—especially in relation to God’s predestining will. The question is what place evil has in the predestination of God. This is the opening of his discussion of reprobation. Does God will evil or damnation? Barth’s clear answer was no. (pp. 170-171) There is no “leftward election” (to evil or reprobation or hell) in God’s predestination. “We are no longer free, then, to think of God’s eternal election as bifurcating into a rightward and a leftward election. There is a leftward election. But God willed that the object of this election should be Himself and not man.” (p. 172)
 
Whence, then, some people’s obvious, manifest no to God? What is the source of continuing obstinacy, willful rebellion, sin and evil? Certainly not God. However, Barth also adamantly denied “free will” in the sense of any creaturely ability to thwart God’s will. He rejected all forms of synergism—cooperation between God’s will and agency and human beings’ in salvation. (p. 194) “It is God who elects man. Man’s electing of God can come only second. But man’s electing does follow necessarily on the divine electing.” (p. 192) But this just raises the question of the human person’s role to an intense pitch. The way Barth stated the matter seems to imply that humans are passive in being elected and electing (to believe and obey). Can there be any competition between God’s will and the human person’s? Is the sinner able to undo God’s election of him or her by free acts of rebellion? Barth does not yet give in to the “free will defense” and, instead, leaves the question open. For him, sin and evil are impossible possibilities, not abilities. But for our purposes here, attention must be paid closely to the quote above: “Man’s electing does follow necessarily on the divine electing.” If we take that seriously (and what saying of Barth’s would he not want us to take seriously?) that implies universal salvation (in salvation’s first sense of objective reconciliation and justification).
 
Some who object to any interpretation of Barth as a universalist point to the Swiss theologian’s emphasis on corporate election. Also in CD II/2, he wrote about “The Election of the Community” (p. 195) and insisted that election is not about “private persons in the singular.” (p. 196) Rather, “It is these men as a fellowship elected by God in Jesus Christ.” (p. 196) “Ah,” some will say, “see, for Barth election is about the church. The church is the object of election, so those who never join the church in any way, shape or form, are excluded from it.” This is wrong. And the proof is that immediately following that section on corporate election appears “The Election of the Individual.” (p. 306) The previous portion must be interpreted in light of this. Yes, for Barth election was corporate and thus not primarily about “private persons in the singular,” but not to the exclusion of individuals.
The whole dialectic of Barth’s doctrine of salvation is nicely summed up in the large, bold print at the beginning of the section of CD II/2 entitled “The Election of the Individual”:
 
The man who is isolated over against God is as such rejected by God. But to be this man can only be by the godless man’s own choice. The witness of the community of God to every individual man consists in this: that this choice of the godless man is void; that he belongs eternally to Jesus Christ and therefore is not rejected, but elected by God in Jesus Christ; that the rejection which he deserves on account of his pervasive choice is borne and cancelled by Jesus Christ; and that he is appointed to eternal life with God on the basis of the righteous, divine decision. The promise of his election determines that as a member of the community he himself shall be a bearer of its witness to the whole world. And the revelation of his rejection can only determine him to believe in Jesus Christ as the One by whom it has been borne and cancelled. (p. 306)
 
Different commentators have focused on individual portions of that admittedly complicated statement and have sometimes concluded that Barth was not a universalist because he wrote that a person has the choice to reject God and be rejected by God. But that is to ignore the overall thrust of the paragraph which was unfolded by Barth gradually after it.
 
As for the question of individual election, raised by the previous section, Barth here elucidated that individual election is included in the election of Jesus Christ and of the community. (p. 309) There are, Barth wrote, “predestined men” as individuals, but they are “predestined in Jesus Christ and by way of the community. It is individuals who are chosen and not the totality of men.” (p. 313) The mystery deepens. One can only conclude that Barth was striving to avoid any individualistic idea of predestination without losing any sense of individuality in election. But our main concern here is whether Barth believed any individual can finally, fully be lost in perdition. Again, he answered that clearly, if not quite explicitly the way some critics want the answer (viz., “I am a universalist!”) when he declared of the “man” who chooses to live in sinful isolation apart from God and Jesus Christ and the community of God’s people that “He may let go of God, but God does not let go of him. … It is this very man, godless in his negative act, wantonly representing the rejected man, who is the predestinate. … The decision about the nothingness of his negative act has been eternally made in Jesus Christ.” (p. 317) “The only truly rejected man is [God’s] own Son.” (p. 319) “What is laid up for man [including those who attempt to reject God] is eternal life in fellowship with God.” (p. 319) What could be clearer (other than “I am a universalist!”)?
 
Critics who deny Barth’s universalism will probably say that this eternal life in fellowship with God laid up for sinners by God is not actually theirs if they continue to reject it forever. That is, supposedly, the “impossible possibility” that serves as the exception that makes universalism not Barth’s ultimate and final position. That is a possible but unlikely interpretation of what Barth meant. Such critics, who deny Barth’s universalism, point to his admission that “Not everyone who is elected lives as an elect man.” (p. 321) And, “he [the one who rejects his election] needs to hear and believe the promise.” (p. 321) But, once again, context is all important. Right there, where Barth wrote these things, he was striving to distinguish between those whose being is elect and those whose life is lived according to his or her election. About such a person, the person who rejects election, Barth wrote “It is not for his being but for his life as elect that he needs to hear and believe the promise.” (p. 321) In other words, ontologically every human being is elect in Jesus Christ which means, in Barth’s overall doctrine of election, reconciled to God, converted to God, but not everyone lives the life appropriate for an elect person. Then, just in case someone pounces on this distinction to say that the person whose life is inappropriate for election is not saved, Barth said that not living as one of the elect cannot nullify a person’s election because that is grounded in Jesus Christ. (p. 321)
 
Barth argued that a person who fully understands his or her unworthiness for election cannot look upon anyone as rejected by God:
 
The believer cannot possibly confront the unbeliever with the suspicion that the latter is perhaps rejected. For he knows who has borne the merited and inevitable rejection of the godless, his own above all. How can he possibly regard others as perhaps rejected merely because he thinks he knows their unbelief and therefore their godlessness? If he does what becomes of his own faith? What of his own election? (p. 327)
 
That statement, question, and implied answer appears in a lengthy fine print excursus in which Barth wrestled with traditional Calvinist theology’s double predestination—some predestined outside of Jesus Christ. (pp. 325-340) He argued that such a dual divine decree undermines assurance of salvation even for the “elect”—those predestined to salvation. But that is not directly relevant to our argument here. Imbedded in that lengthy excursus are many statements and rhetorical questions pointing to universalism. Of his own doctrine of election solely “in Christ,” Barth wrote “If the divine decree is identical with the election of Jesus Christ, then the task of the chosen community in respect of the many is exclusively of proclaiming the Gospel in which each one is promised his election in Jesus Christ.” (p. 325) To whom do “the many” and “each one” refer? Barth made clear that, for his doctrine of election, there can be no division of humanity into two groups—the “elect” and the “rejected.” (p. 325) Rather, everyone, all of humanity, the “many” must be viewed as determined by God for “the free grace of election” with the result that, because of Jesus Christ, “the kingdom of heaven is opened and hell closed.” (p. 326) But! Critics of the claim that Barth was a universalist will no doubt point to a sentence in this excursus just a little further beyond that. Speaking of the church’s proclamation of God’s electing grace in Jesus Christ, Barth wrote “It necessarily cancels itself out if in any circumstances, even among the ‘many’ in hell, it ceases to be the statement of the divine election of grace.” (p. 326) This is typical of what frustrates attempts to draw out a clear answer from Barth regarding universalism. In a single paragraph he could say that hell is closed and speak of the many in hell.
 
One strategy used by those who deny Barth’s universalism is to admit Barth’s emphasis on the universality of the free grace of election and then say “But God will allow the unbeliever, the person who rejects his or her acceptance by God in Jesus Christ, to continue living the lie forever even in hell.” In other words, hell is the unbeliever’s unreality into eternity. Even though he or she is accepted by God, elected by God in Jesus Christ, God will not force him or her to be in heaven with him. This is something like C. S. Lewis’ vision of hell in The Great Divorce. First, however, the question must be asked if this is not itself a form of universalism? To those who fervently believe in hell as eternal torment and punishment by God, even Lewis’ idea of hell as “the painful refuge” whose door is locked on the inside is a kind of universalism because, from God’s perspective, they are saved, in the sense of forgiven and reconciled, but they just don’t know it or accept it. So even their existence in “hell” is a kind of salvation. God is letting them have their way. Second, the question must be asked whether Barth, with his strong emphasis on God’s sovereignty and humanity’s weakness to thwart God’s will, could countenance such a final outcome for anyone. Theologian Jürgen Moltmann, a student of Barth’s, thought not.[6] But what did Barth think? In that fine print excursus he made a statement that could be interpreted as supporting Moltmann’s view that hell is real but temporal: “The believer cannot possibly recognize in the unbelief of others a final act.” (p. 327) So, one way to interpret Barth is through Lewis and Moltmann: everyone is included in the free grace of God in Jesus Christ, but God will allow those who insist on rejecting their acceptance by God to go to hell, but hell is never final.
 
Unfortunately, Barth was not as clear (or at least explicit) as his student Moltmann. And yet, in the next sections of Church Dogmatics II/2, the Swiss theologian strengthened the implicit universalism of his doctrine of election, that is, that it logically requires universal salvation. The logic of universalism in Barth’s doctrine of election becomes stronger in “The Elect and the Rejected” and even more in “The Determination of the Rejected.” These are very long, very wordy portions of CD. And Barth’s meaning in them is much debated by interpreters. However, the argument here will be that it cannot reasonably be interpreted as anything but universalist, whether that includes a temporal hell or not.
 
In “The Elect and the Rejected” Barth discussed the differences between two groups of people—those who know and live as God’s elected ones in Jesus Christ and those who deny it and live against it:
 
This, then, is how the elect and others differ from one another: the former by witnessing in their lives to the truth, the latter by lying against the same truth. It ought to be clear that to this extent they belong together. The elect are obviously to be found in the sphere of the divine election of grace, in the hand of the one God, under the reign whose beginning and principle are called Jesus Christ. But the others are also to be found there. The former are there in obedience, the latter in disobedience; the former as free children of the household, the latter as forced and refractory slaves; the former under God’s blessing, the latter under His curse. (pp. 346-347)
 
Of the “others” and the “distinction of the elect in Jesus Christ,” Barth wrote that “They do not possess it only in so far as they do not recognize and accept it as their own distinction.” (p. 349) Also, “They can…dishonor the divine election of grace; but they cannot overthrow or overturn it. They cannot prevent God from regarding them as from all eternity He has willed to regard and has actually regarded sinful men in His own Son.” (p. 349) In light of Jesus’ bearing the rejection of God, then, even those who seem to be rejected by God because they dishonor the divine election of grace by their lives of disobedience “can be only potentially rejected.” (p. 349) Did Barth mean, perhaps, that this potential can become actual such that they, those who live in disobedience against God’s election of them in Jesus Christ, might someday be finally rejected by God, tormented in hell forever? Speaking of Jesus Christ, Barth wrote “In view of His election, there is no other rejected but Himself” (p. 353) and “To be genuinely and actually abandoned by God, to be genuinely and actually lost, cannot be their concern, since it is the concern of Jesus Christ.” (p. 352) Finally, to drive the point home, Barth declared that “For all their godlessness, they are unable to restore the perversity for whose removal He surrendered Himself, and so to rekindle the fire of divine wrath which He has borne in this self-sacrifice.” (p. 352)
 
What more or other could Barth have said to make clear his belief in universal salvation? Yes, he could have said “I believe in universal salvation” or “I don’t believe in hell.” Both statements would have been too simplistic, however, which is no doubt why Barth avoided them. He did believe in hell—the torment of denial of the truth about one’s own election in Jesus Christ. And he did not believe in universal salvation—as if God did not pour out his wrath on himself in the person of his Son Jesus Christ.
 
Next, Barth wrote about “The Determination of the Elect” and “The Determination of the Rejected” (in CD II/2, Chapter VII “The Election of God”). Here, if anywhere, we may rightly expect clarification about whether or not some persons will spend eternity in hell, separated from God (as if Barth had not already spoken clearly enough). And, in fact, in the former section he did directly address the doctrine of apokatastasis—universal reconciliation. And he rejected it. Many critics of belief in Barth’s universalism jump on this as proof that he did not affirm universalism. What Barth actually said deserves careful attention and reflection:
 
If we are to respect the freedom of divine grace, we cannot venture the statement that it must and will finally be coincident with the world of man as such (as in the doctrine of the so-called apokatastasis). No such right or necessity can legitimately be deduced. Just as the gracious God does not need or elect or call any single man, so He does not need to elect or call all mankind. His election and calling do not give rise to any historical metaphysics, but only to the necessity of attesting them on the ground that they have taken place in Jesus Christ and His community. But, again, in grateful recognition of the grace of the divine freedom we cannot venture the opposite statement that there cannot and will not be this final opening up and enlargement of the circle of election and calling. (pp. 417-418)
 
Barth’s ultimate word on the subject (viz., apokatastasis) seems to be that “It belongs to God Himself to determine and to know what it means that God was reconciling the world unto Himself (2 Cor. 5:19).” (p. 419)
 
Taken at face value, in a shallow interpretation, these statements may seem to deny universalism. But what was Barth actually denying? Not universal salvation, but any derogation of the freedom of God that would make universal salvation, ultimate reconciliation, something God needs. Our argument here is not that Barth explicitly affirmed universalism but that universalism is necessarily implied by the logic of his doctrine of election. Here we see only Barth backing away from any necessity of it as if God could not do otherwise than save all. That is the fear that held him back from stating universalism as certain fact—that such would lead people to think that God somehow depends on it for his full bliss and satisfaction. No doubt he had in mind church father Origen, who believed and taught that without apokatastasis God would be less than fully God.
 
Nothing in that section (viz., “The Determination of the Elect”) disproves the claim that Barth believed in universal salvation. All it proves is that he did not want to import it into God as necessary.
Next, and finally, Barth took up the question of “The Determination of the Rejected.” Here, if anywhere, one may expect to find Barth’s clearest exposition of his belief about the damnation of the wicked or final salvation of everyone. But, of course, if he had provided it there wouldn’t be debate about this issue among people who have read and studied Barth for years. So we approach the section without too high expectations. Once again, as before, we are looking at the logic of Barth’s doctrine of election to see what it necessarily implies. (Which is not the same as looking for what God must necessarily do. We are not examining God; we are examining Barth’s doctrine.)
 
Barth begins by defining a “rejected man” as one who isolates himself from God by resisting his election as it has taken place in Jesus Christ. God is for him; but he is against God. God is gracious to him; but he is ungrateful to God. God receives him; but he withdraws himself from God. God forgives him his sins; but he repeats them as though they were not forgiven. God releases him from the guilt and punishment of his defection; but he goes on living as Satan’s prisoner. God determines him for blessedness, and His service; but he chooses the joylessness of an existence that accords with his own pride and aims at his own honour. (pp. 449-450)
 
Our concern, of course, is to discover what Barth believed “becomes” of such a one. Will he or she be saved anyway? But hasn’t Barth already answered that here? “God forgives him his sins;” what more could he say? And yet. (There’s always a “yet” in Barth, or so it seems.) The matter is not so easily settled.
 
In the middle of a very long, fine print, excursus about Judas, and whether or not he was converted, Barth seemed to deny apokatastasis:
 
The Church will not then preach an apokatastasis, nor will it preach a powerless grace of Jesus Christ or a wickedness of men which is too powerful for it. But without any weakening of the contrast [between Jesus and Judas], and also without any arbitrary dualism, it will preach the overwhelming power of grace and the weakness of human wickedness in face of it. For this is how the “for” of Jesus and the “against” of Judas undoubtedly confront one another. We may not know whether it led to the conversion of Judas or not, but this is how it always is in the situation of proclamation. The rejected cannot escape this situation and its relation of opposites. (p. 477)
 
Did Barth mean, then, that Judas is an example of someone elected, like all people, in Jesus Christ, but possibly, like some people, bound for eternal hell? Is hell even Barth’s concern here or elsewhere? What should be made of this agnosticism about Judas’ conversion?
 
This “Judas excursus” is extremely dense; it goes on and on for many pages with thousands of words and among them one can find almost anything. What we are seeking, however, is some clear clue about whether Barth thought Judas (as a symbol of the “rejected”) would finally be saved, brought into heavenly fellowship with God, in spite of what Barth admitted was his horrible deed. Speaking of Judas’ apostleship, Barth argued that his betrayal did not and could not nullify it. “The grace of Jesus Christ is too powerful.” (p. 477) With regard to Judas’ ultimate status as either rejected or elected Barth declared that “the rejection of Judas is the rejection which Jesus Christ has borne.” (p. 480) Also, “Nothing else may be expected or conjectured of any rejected than that in his place, by God’s wonderful reversal as it was accomplished in Jesus Christ, an elect will one day stand.” (p. 480) What can that mean other than apokatastasis? The back and forth about Judas in these pages is enough to make anyone’s head spin! And Barth seemed to realize it when he referred to “The paradox in the figure of Judas.” (p. 502)
 
Finally , near the end of the crucial excursus, Barth seemed to take a position vis-à-vis Judas’ status after his suicide. This is what we have been looking for—maybe:
 
The human παραδιδόντες [a term Barth has been using for the rejected that literally means “given or handed over”] exist under the power of the divine παραδουναι [a term Barth has been using for the divine abandonment of the Son by the Father on the cross] accomplished in the death of Jesus Christ, under the power of the proclamation proceeding from it. They exist, as described in 1 Pet. 3:19, like the spirits in prison to whom Christ descended to bring them the kerygma. It is true that they are rejected, spirits in prison, but it is even more true that Christ has entered their prison, that they have become the object of His kerygma, that it is said of them too: “God did not spare his own Son, but delivered him up for us all.” Whatever their future may be, it will take place under the power of the proclamation of this handing-over, in the situation which is not merely kept open by this proclamation, but is kept open in the wholly disparate relationship of the two powers. (pp. 504-505)
 
Is this an affirmation of Lewis’ vision of hell in The Great Divorce? That is certainly one way to interpret it. However, we must remember Barth’s earlier statement that in the place of the rejected person “an elect will one day stand.” (p. 480) That was not said as a hope but as an expectation.
 
All of this is open to various interpretations, but not all interpretations are equally plausible. The only plausible one is that Barth did believe in an eventual emptying of hell, as his student Moltmann openly affirmed. That interpretation best fits all the facts of Barth’s doctrine of election. At the very least we must conclude that Barth believed in universal salvation (of all people, not necessarily Satan) in the sense that all are forgiven, all are elect by God for salvation, all may enter heaven if they will.
 
One question yet to be addressed, that may have some bearing on the matter of Barth’s belief about universal salvation is that of free will. What did Barth believe about power of contrary choice in terms of salvation (or not)? This was one of the reasons Lewis believed in hell; hell was necessary because God would not force people for whom Christ died into heaven. We have here been toying with the idea that Barth believed in hell in a similar way—that hell is only a painful refuge God provides for those who refuse to be with him in fellowship into eternity. However, most Barth interpreters conclude (or assume) that Barth did not believe in free will. In many places throughout CD he seemed to affirm a strict monergism in which humans cannot reject God’s election of them and application of the benefits of Christ’s death to them as forgiven persons.
 
In the middle of the excursus about Judas Barth seemed to affirm this monergism of salvation. “The possibility of…saying No [to the grace of God in Jesus Christ] is taken from him.” (p. 501). Also, with regard to all people and their ability to thwart the will of God for the salvation of all in Jesus Christ: “It is man who is now made powerless in the face of the overwhelming power of Jesus.” (p. 501) Does that mean, then, that humans have no free will? If so, how did sin and evil come about in God’s good creation? Does Barth have a theodicy that does not blame God for sin and evil and all their consequences? Buried in the fine print of this Judas excursus is something surprising. Speaking of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus Barth wrote that “He [Judas] decisively confirmed that the world of men into which God sent His Son is the kingdom of Satan: the kingdom of misused creaturely freedom; the kingdom of enmity to the will and resistance to the work of its Creator.” (italics added for emphasis) (p. 501)
 
Yes, here, anyway, Barth did affirm that the root of sin and evil and all its consequences, the fact that the “world of men” has become “the kingdom of Satan,” is “misused creaturely freedom.” Clearly, it is not in God; God did not will it except to permit it.
 
Our conclusion must be that Barth believed human persons misused their creaturely freedom to bring about sin and evil and all their consequences but cannot misuse it to thwart God’s universal will and intention and power to save everyone. The power of creaturely freedom was strong enough to bring about the fall but it is not strong enough to undo the grace of God toward everyone in Jesus Christ. The remaining question, still possibly an open question, is whether it is powerful enough to keep someone in hell forever. Based on everything Barth says about the power and efficacy of God’s grace, it is difficult to believe that he thought so. Moltmann’s eventual emptying of hell seems to be the logical outcome of Barth’s entire doctrine of election.
 
As mentioned earlier, the “four B's,” Bloesch, Balthasar, Berkouwer and Brunner, all thought Barth’s doctrine of election necessarily implied apokatastasis. Not all accused the master of actually teaching universalism, but they all detected an inner necessity of it in his account of election. Bloesch wrote that in Calvin all is of grace, but grace is not for all. In Luther and Wesley all is of grace and grace is for all, but not all are for grace. In Barth grace is the source of all creaturely being and goes out to all, but every man is set against grace. Yet every man is caught up in the movement of grace even in the case where there is continued opposition to Christ. At the same time those who defy grace are claimed by grace and remain objects of grace despite their contumacy and folly.[7]
 
Balthasar, or “von Balthasar,” Barth’s most astute interpreter by Barth’s own admission, conceded that Barth did not say explicitly that there will be universal redemption in the sense of apokatastasis, but that is clearly built into the very groundwork of his doctrine of election:
 
It is clear from Barth’s presentation of the doctrine of election that universal salvation is not only possible but inevitable. The only definitive reality is grace, and any condemnatory judgment has to be merely provisional. Even God’s malediction is merely the reverse side of his blessing, and his punishment is ultimately a confirmation of His promise. Even in the ultimate judgment of death, man remains a being created and redeemed in the grace of Christ.[8]
 
Berkouwer wrote that he could not but be impressed by the unresolved tension between the “triumph of decisive election” and the “rejection of the doctrine of apokatastasis[9] What Berkouwer meant, in light of the context, is that Barth affirmed both but never resolved how. He simply allowed the tension to stand as a paradox. However, Berkouwer clearly believed Barth leaned more toward the universalism side of the paradox and that the logic of his doctrine of election led inexorably there.
 
Brunner was perhaps the most harsh in his appraisal of Barth’s implicit universalism. In a special appendix to the first volume of his Dogmatics, entitled The Doctrine of God, he accused Barth of being in “absolute opposition, not only to the whole ecclesiastical tradition, but…to the clear teaching of the New Testament.”[10] “How,” he asked, “is it possible for Barth to arrive at such a fundamental perversion of the Christian message of salvation?”[11] Brunner traced Barth’s universalism to his “objectivism” of salvation.[12] (Bloesch did the same in Jesus Is Victor!) According to him, the basic flaw in Barth’s theology is its robbing of the relation between God and humanity of any personal content and its emptying human decision of any real decisiveness. (Brunner was closer to Arminianism than Barth.) Comparing Barth to “extreme Calvinism,” Brunner declared that “in both cases everything has already been decided beforehand, and there remains no room for man to make a real decision.”[13]
 
Bloesch agreed with Brunner. Both had greater sympathy with pietism than Barth. According to Bloesch, he [Barth] will not tolerate any suggestion that salvation must be realized or fulfilled in faith; this is the heresy of Pietism. [Bloesch did not think it a heresy, he was saying Barth rejected it as the “heresy of Pietism.”] Nor is salvation realized or re-presented in the sacraments; this is the heresy of Catholicism. … In Barth’s eyes to contend that God’s saving work in Christ needs to be realized or reenacted in human experience connotes that this work was in some way deficient. The work of salvation is completed, though the plan of salvation is still to be consummated in that all have not been confronted by this work.[14]
 
Brunner’s and Bloesch’s complaint about Barth’s objectivism of salvation and its resulting universalism seems confirmed by this resounding affirmation of Barth’s in CD IV/1:
 
With the divine No and Yes spoken in Jesus Christ the root of human unbelief, the man of sin, is pulled out. In its place there is put the root of faith, the new man of obedience. For this reason unbelief has become an objective, real and ontological impossibility and faith an objective, real and ontological necessity for all men and for every man. [Italics added for emphasis] In the justification of the sinner which has taken place in Jesus Christ these have both become an event which comprehends all men. (p. 747)
 
Did Barth have any place for the subjective, inner decision of faith? Bloesch and Brunner have trouble seeing it in Barth. However, the Swiss theologian clearly affirmed it, but only as the “subjective realization of reconciliation.” (p. 742) No doubt this would not satisfy his critics. Yet, Barth clearly did have a place for the personal decision of faith. The question is, perhaps, how decisive it is with regard to the full realization of reconciliation and justification. About that Barth wrote that reconciliation does not owe anything at all to this human subject and his activity, his faith. … Faith is simply following, following its object. Faith is going a way which is marked out and prepared. Faith does not realize anything new. It does not invent anything. It simply finds that which is already there for the believer and also for the unbeliever. [Italics added for emphasis] It is simply man’s active decision for it, his acceptance of it, his active participation in it. This constitutes the Christian. (p. 742)
 
For Barth, then, faith is simply leaving behind the lie and embracing the truth of one’s election and reconciliation in Jesus Christ. It means no longer being in contradiction with the truth about oneself. And Barth asserted that it is personal. But it does not make one a reconciled person; it only makes one a Christian. In light of everything uncovered here it is safe to say that Bloesch and Brunner are right and wrong. They are right that, for Barth, the personal decision of faith has nothing at all to do with causing one to be a saved person where “saved” means “reconciled with God.” However, they are wrong that Barth had no room for a personal decision of faith insofar as Barth did affirm it as that which causes a person to become a Christian, one who knows and witnesses to his or her reconciliation.
 
But there’s more to it still. As we discovered in our exegesis of Barth’s excursus about Judas in CD II/2, Barth seemed to believe that God will allow a reconciled sinner to go on living the lie, without the knowledge of his or her reconciliation with God, into hell. Perhaps for Barth “hell” is this lie and the living of it. Therefore, insofar as “saved” means living in the joy and blessing of fellowship with God, the personal decision of faith is necessary for salvation.
 
We are coming, then, to the conclusion that the controversy over whether Barth was a universalist or not comes down to a matter of semantics. (Which is not to say it’s unimportant.) Apparently, in spite of some confusing ways of expressing it, Barth believed in at least two distinct senses of being “saved.” One is the objective reconciliation with God extended to all people because of Jesus Christ and his life, death and resurrection. In that sense, because of election and atonement, all are saved. No personal decision of faith is required for it to be ontologically true and real. The other is the subjective fellowship with God enjoyed by those who, through a personal decision of faith, embrace their identity as reconciled persons. Such persons alone are “Christians.” But they alone are not “saved.” At least some, if not all, of those who reject their election and reconciliation, will, in spite of being saved, go to hell, understood either literally as Lewis’ painful refuge after death or figuratively as the lie lived in misery. Even they, however, are “saved” in the objective sense. And, according to Barth, based on the statement quoted earlier, God will continue to proclaim the kerygma to them, apparently with the hope and intention that they will somehow, sometime become saved in both senses.
 
Our thesis and conclusion agrees almost entirely with one of Barth’s most astute German interpreters Walter Kreck in his magisterial Grundentscheidungen in Karl Barths Dogmatik: Zur Diskussion seines Verständnisses von Offenbarung und Erwählung (roughly translated Basic Decisions in Karl Barth’s Dogmatics: Toward a Discussion of his Understanding of Revelation and Election). There, in the middle of an exposition and discussion of Barth’s doctrine of election, Kreck asked whether it leads to apokatastasis. He concluded that Barth did not want to draw that conclusion, but that it seems logically to follow from Barth’s doctrine of election.[15] On the other hand, Kreck also wrote that Barth rejected “speculating” (about ultimate reconciliation) and attempted to hold to the “open situation of proclamation” (in place of a doctrine of apokatastasis).[16] However, what Barth wanted and what Barth logically implied (as necessary) appear to be two different things.
 
The main contribution, if it can be called that, of this research project is that Barth was and was not a universalist. The solution is not sheer paradox, however. He was a universalist in the sense of everyone, all human persons, being reconciled to God, not just as something potential but as something actual from God’s side. He was not a universalist in the sense of believing that everyone, all human persons, will necessarily know and experience that reconciliation automatically, apart from any faith, having fellowship with God now or hereafter. Without doubt, however, he was a hopeful universalist in that second sense of the word.
 
Roger E. Olson
Professor of Theology
George W. Truett Theological Seminary
Baylor University
Waco, TX 76798
 


[1] Karl Barth, The Humanity of God (Richmond, VA: John Knox Press, 1960), 61.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid, 61-62.
[4] Ibid., 62.
[5] Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Theology of Karl Barth, trans., John Drury (New York, Chicago, San Francisco: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971), 170.
[6] Jürgen Moltmann, “In the End, All is God’s: Is Belief in Hell Obsolete?” Sewanee Theological Review 40:2 (1997): 232-234. See also Moltmann, The Coming of God: Christian Eschatology (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1996), 237-255.
[7] Donald G. Bloesch, Jesus Is Victor!: Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Salvation (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1976), 70.
[8], Balthasar, 163.
[9] G. C. Berkouwer, The Triumph of Grace in the Theology of Karl Barth (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1956), 121.
[10] Emil Brunner, Dogmatics I: The Doctrine of God, trans., Olive Wyon (London: Lutterworth Press, 1949), 349.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Ibid., 351.
[14] Bloesch, 108.
[15] Walter Kreck, Grundentscheidungen in Karl Barths Dogmatik: Zur Diskussion seines Verständnisses von Offenbarung und Erwählung (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1978), 213.
[16] Ibid., 214.


 
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
 
 
Response to Critics (of My Essay on Barth’s Universalism)
 

R.E. Slater - Interpreting the Violence of the OT

 
 
 
There is the temptation is to redact the bible and separate the "Actual God of the universe" from the "Textual God of the Israelites" - what one would call a "high view of the bible" as versus a "low view" of the bible. However, as someone who holds to the authority and inspiration of the bible (but not to its inerrancy), that would be to start down the path of textual redactionism which I do not wish to entertain for it is too easy to displace the bible with our own thoughts when thinking about this very difficult subject. In contrast, I would much prefer to study the bible eclectically from both viewpoints beginning with its Ancient Near-Eastern (ANE) setting using historical, anthropological, and literary research, in an attempt to discover just why its ancient texts and scrolls held such fearful and terrible commandments, acts, and attitudes by God and His ancient people. This approach would then utilize some of textual redactionism's tools and methodologies without removing the origin and preservation of divine authorship that subscribes to the high view of Scripture.
 
Consequently, when considering the violent acts of God within the bible upon the ungodly, one might say that we could be reading of Isarel's ancient Semitic beliefs correspondent to their cultural and political dispositions of the time. Not only did Israel have the temptation to replace their God (known as YHWH in the Jewish tongue) with the gods from their surrounding neighbours, but to also follow suit in their laws legally, their government politically, and their warfare militarily, in lockstep with the pagan, polytheistic nations around them. Thus, Israel did as the other nations did, crying out upon their enemies threats filled with violent speech, imprecations, and worse. Forcing the biblical reader today to discern whether the violence found in the OT is actually from God Himself, or from Israel's mis-representation of the God they embraced and believed they were following. So that we must ask, did God actually tell Israel to commit such horrible acts of obscene rape and pillage, butchery and genocide, or was it Israel's imposed understanding of God's commandments as astute observers of the surrounding nation's god's and their commandments? As example, if Assyria's gods took no pity upon Assyria's enemies, why should Israel's God take any pity upon Israel's enemies? At least this may have been the common thinking of the day back then, no less than it is now with ourselves, when facing situational ethics, world politics, and the vagaries of patriotic nationalism.
 
Thus, one approach might be to say that Israel acted like her enemies. An attitude that required God's patient teaching and admonition to His people to not subscribe to in their conduct with each other and the nations before them. However, though this approach is not altogether satisfying, it is not altogether naive as well - by its tacit admission that within Scripture we can, and will find, the cultural, religious, and politicized beliefs of Israel inserted deep within her own texts about the God they embraced and claimed to follow. Which is what is meant by utilizing an historical redactive approach to the Bible. Combining both the high view of Scripture with the low view of Scripture in a hybrid mix of some sort. One that believes Scripture is God's divine revelation, but not necessarily devoid of man's interjections and reassessments. Meaning that, though the people of God would declare God's divine authorship in the composition and preservation of the bible, we also have within this process the attenuation of the Spirit of God cleansing His people from the world's paganisms held in mind, body and spirit. Thus assisting Israel's dedication to YHWH's charters and covenants not by declaration alone, but to YHWH's integrity of purpose and behavior, by helps of His Spirit within and without the Jewish nation.
 
Against the ancient records of Israel's continued failures to hear and obey YHWH, came the requisite tasks of remembering her faith walk with YHWH from the waking dawn to the setting sun. Hence, from generation to generation God tells Israel's leaders and priests, people and peasants, to remember Him. To declare Him to their children. And to their children's children. Through oral legends, stories, and historical accounts. Including not only the stories of spiritual faith and success, but also by stories of failure and unbelief. And from this very fluid, dynamic milieu of charged cultural beliefs and traditions, came the Jewish Scriptures over Israel's many long generations. First by word, song, poem, re-enacted traditions, customs, icons, symbols and religious rites. Then by iron stylus applied to soft clay tablets, parchment pens onto failing scrolls, and a developing body of scribal authorities charged with remembering Israel's walk with God (we call this running narrative by the theological name of "salvation history"). Her tribal holy men we know as priests. And her temple scribes, teachers, and prophets, were spiritually charged with the holy task of preserving God's holy word and acts to Israel's moiling mix of believers and unbelievers. So that when we read the OT we are reading a very long, very old, narrative of God's continuing intercession with His people composed to both the godly and ungodly, the circumcised and uncircumcised, the redeemed and unrepentant, in their faith walk with the God of Israel.
 
Several times over these past many years I have indicated that those generation's beliefs and legends have been modified, or perhaps lost altogether, creating a broken record at best of Israel's account of their walk with God. For didn't Josiah weep when discovering a lost copy of the Jewish bible before setting about to reform Israel of her ungodly paganisms? The miracle is that the Jewish scriptures have been preserved at all (in comparison, think of the many American Indian legends lost in the annuals of time over their many long generations never to be known again). But who can say how many times the oral legends have been added to, or subtracted from, against Israel's lost traditions and moiling mix of contemporary beliefs held within its many past antecedent generations? To me, this is a realistic approach to discerning the theology and teaching of the Bible - that there occurred within the original autographs of the bible later collations and emendations to its text. This is not to say that YHWH was not the Bible's author (the high view). Nor to treat the Bible as simply an ancient human record (the low view). But that in the process of revelation the story of redemption was preserved against cultural adjustments to its teachings (a hybrid view). So that it brings us back to the problem of how to objectively discern Scripture against our own reasonings and thoughts when confronted with commandments and actions within the bible that exhibit very ungodlike actions by YHWH Himself.
 
However, the problem created here is that by following this line of reasoning it becomes admittedly subjective. One that is - and isn't - helpful. And thus requiring our further attention to contemporary archaeological discoveries, as well as to contemporary theological discussions, often composed against our own ideological preferences. Hence, when reading of the violence in the OT, we must ask ourselves if whether God really did say these things, or whether they proceeded from Israel's cultural attitudes, and religious misunderstanding at the time? Certainly it is possible as we see time-and-again in Israel's own history YHWH's prophets preaching against her people's corrupted religion, abominable faith, and wickedness. Or even later in the NT when Jesus comes like an OT prophet of old upon the Jewish establishment of His day to declare the same. However, if God really did say such horrific things, then we must admit the hoary truth that this Christian God must be part monster. Making of Him a dipolar entity ethically and morally split from the God of the NT at the very least. And yet, it is highly doubtful that what was spoken in YHWH's name actually were by the commands of YHWH, but rather by Israel's own deficient understanding of God Himself. At least that is one of the arguments I think we could reasonably entertain without doing injustice to the spirit of divine revelation submitted into the hands of corruptible men.
 
Another approach to understanding the violence in the OT is to use a literary redactive approach. That is, one that concentrates on comparing the stories of the Bible against other, more popular stories of Israel's polytheistic neighbors. Who are themselves committed to various pagan forms of mythology (just as we Americans are today by our movies, games, and novels) such that where Baal is described as terrible, YHWH is described as even more terrible. Where a pagan covenantal treaty is broken and judgment is found to proceed immediately, YHWH's treaty when broken comes with judgments as well, but also with a degree of righteousness, grace, mercy and forgiveness. Where a flood story is remember as despairing and hopeless, another flood story is composed telling of YHWH's divine protection and shelter in times of destruction and woe. Where a creation story attributes birth to the sun and moon, another creation story is written telling of YHWH as creation's origin and purpose. For each legal composition written, each narrative rehearsed, each national act recounted by Israel's neighbours, God gave to Israel their own divine compositions, holy narrative writs, and compelling stories of grace and redemption.
 
Thus, by utilizing comparative literary redactionism, the Bible now becomes more alive within the cultural and political milieus of its day. And similar to scribal/historical/cultural redactionism and accommodation, inserts a reality about the Scriptural passages previous unimposed if simply read naively, or non-historically, without regard to its ANE setting and folklores. To come to the Bible and interject our own flavor of cultural transcriptions is to do the texts of the Bible an injustice. One might call this popular approach a form of epistemological redactionism. Where we, as the current readers of the Bible, force our own presuppositions and attitudes upon the Bible without regard to its setting and text. Many popular theologies have found themselves at the forefront of the church's pulpiteers over the past 2000 years for this very same reason. For how could the barbarity of slavery have been encouraged in the Netherlands, Spain and England, without its teaching of the superiority of a Christian, European, race? Or how could the genocides of the Crusades have been committed without the superimposed belief of justifiable war against the innocent Muslim races of the Middle East? Or how could the cruel and terrible Inquistions have occurred without belief in the majesty of the Catholic Church? Nor the gender inequality endured by women; the bigotry of color, race, ethnicity; or the homophobia found amongst the church today? Don't be so naive as to believe we are above the act of turning the words and phrases of Scripture to our own prejudicial beliefs and purposes. Hence, such derivatives are not of God but from our own sinful hearts, making God guiltless as charged.
 
Another argument laid down besides that of historical and literary redactionism is that of utilizing a Christological approach to the violence found in the OT, albeit one that may be circular in reasoning, admittedly. In this approach we find Jesus acknowledging the God of the OT as His God. One whom He trusted, believed, obeyed, and followed, with his whole heart and life's committal. But Jesus went on to say more than this - that the YHWH of the OT was the same YHWH present within Himself by His incarnate birth. That the God of the OT was Himself, born in the flesh to lead men to salvation and unto the Kingdom of God. Jesus did not say that He was simply infilled, or clothed upon, by the spirit of YHWH, like the prophets and kings of old. But as One who was in the very nature and being as YHWH of the OT (John 1, 1 John 1). Who, in Himself, was YHWH come to man in the flesh. He, who was love, mercy and forgiveness, was one-and-the-same with the God of the OT that was full of fire and judgement, mercy and grace. To these teachings Jesus declared by the Jewish Scriptures YHWH's righteousness,love, mercy and forgiveness to the Jews of His day (which Jewish Scriptures were the only ones extant in Jesus' day. Not until after His death did Jesus' Jewish disciples write down the NT Scriptures many years later as a Jewish follow up to the OT). And further, Jesus illuminated those same Jewish Scriptures with His own original teachings about YHWH through His deeds, ministries, miracles, prayer and teachings, as endowed by the Holy Spirit.
 
And so, it is not enough to simply declare that the God of the OT is a dipolar God quite unlike the God of the NT. For Christianity does not worship two Gods, but one God. Who is one-and-the-same with the God of the OT and the NT by whatever name we know Him. Additionally, we have as our foremost-and-final arbiter Jesus Himself who declared the same. So that, like Jesus, we too recognize that the God of the OT (YHWH) is the same as the God of the NT (Jesus), creating for us a very real problem with the visceral violence we read of in the OT attributed to God's name. In comparison, Jesus and His disciples showed God's love, mercy, grace and forgiveness (even as the OT did in abundance to YHWH's name as well, though I have neglected to mention this as yet!). So that we must ask ourselves then, to what do we attribute these differences things too? Have we over-read the Scriptures with too literal a comprehension? Have we ignored its passages of literary genre to the exclusion of missing the God of those genres? Have we failed to understand what God's Covenant implied to Israel (protection and blessing) when surrounded by godless enemies committed to threats and deprecations, war and bloodshed? That if Israel did not follow God's commands she would suffer at the hands of her own enemies? As you can see, there can be many explanations for the violence spoken of in the OT.
 
So then, to what degree did God in the OT actually eviscerate Israel's brutal enemies everywhere abounding? Was it by their own sinfulness and wickedness? By their faithless disbelief committing them to destruction before the vagaries of this sinful world? By the hands of other faithless nations come for bloodlust and glory? Do we attribute these things to God's ferocious judgments or to the more refined view of God's inability to help redeem the wicked as they sowed whirlwind's of calamitous destruction upon their own heads? And to this, how are we to understand Jesus' command to love one's enemies? To bless them who curse you. To turn the other cheek. To offer cups of cold water to the thirsty? To give aide to those waylaid on the roadside? To what degree do we redact the OT material? Do we uphold it? Do we admit national/personal fear and confusion in the midst of sin and pain and broken biblical treaty? And to what degree do we accord Jesus His own personal redaction of Scripture back towards the contemporary Jewish understanding of His day against its straying elements of simplistic literalism? And, as central argument of all, do we utilize Jesus' depiction of YHWH through Himself as that truer picture of God in the OT. Both His anger and His grace; His judgments and His forgiveness; His terribleness and His beauty? To use the concept of Christology not only as a forward element in Scriptural interpretation prophetically, but as a backwards element of Scriptural interpretation didactically? Or, if we could create another word-image-concept: to utilize the theological idea of Jesus as the measure-and-meter of all of Scripture.
 
That is, through Jesus do we have the right idea of God in the OT. If YHWH appears un-Jesuslike, than we have reason to doubt whether the OT passages truly depicts God as God. Yet, you might ask, what about the warrior image of Jesus as the Lion of Judah come to smite His enemies in the book of Revelation? Certainly the Apostle John seems to depict Jesus in the image of YHWH's judgments and anger. And yet, should we turn those apocalyptic elements around on their head, perhaps the Lion that comes, comes as a Lamb covered in His own sacrificial blood, to the cursed and the damned requiring salvation. That the Armageddon we read of is by man's own doing; his destruction by a corruptible planet corrupted by man; of a universe that is indeterminate in its nature; and of a government and nations heedless of the Creator God, their Redeemer. Where then can be found the beat of drum and dash of sword except in the irony and paradox of the images under the Apostle's pen? And by our own conflicted hearts so warlike and unChristlike in its depositions of survival and glory, pride and ego, storms and loss? As we read forwards of Christ in the OT perhaps we should do the same backwards from the NT of the YHWH we thought we understood but missed. Who declared to Abraham His fidelity and love. Who cut treaty with Abraham using Himself as the propitiating, severed carcass. Who declared blessings and help within a wicked world crying for blood and disorder.
 
For I do not think it is correct to say that in the NT Jesus' commands have come to supersede YHWH's judgments - for then we have two very different Gods. One severe and the other gracious (to put it simply). But perhaps it is more realistically to admit that Israel misunderstood YHWH's laws and commands, and too easily fell from faith to behave just as her neighbours did around her. By interposing her deepest fears of God as a very terrible God who would do to Israel and He would do to her enemies, and worst, if she were not to obey. Or perhaps, doubting YHWH's protection, write of YHWH as a terrible God who would do terrible things to His enemies. Kinda like a small, weak kid saying to a large bully, if you do this to me, my dad will do worse to you. Largely, I think its a dialectic problem lost to us in our scientific, over-rationalizing cultures far removed from the ancient cultures and customs of the OT. For myself, I believe Jesus is the truest illumination of the God of the OT. That this same YHWH then is the same YHWH now come within our midst. To ascribe to God the violence we read of in the OT is to actually ascribe its violence to the sinfulness of our own hearts. That we are a wicked people who do cruel things to one another all in the name of God. And when done, give support to our wickedness by using God's word as support to our guilt and crimes. Nowhere in the NT do we see Jesus, nor His disciples, harm others, rape and pillage, kill or maim, in YHWH's name. The New Covenant cut in Jesus' blood was a sacrificial covenant cut as the same covenant as that of the Abrahamic Covenant, committing us to the Holy Other known to us by many names: King of Peace, loving Lord, Merciful One, Forgiver of my soul, Almighty One, Protector of His children, Benevolent One, and Father of all.
 
Lastly, I would suggest a book by Father Jean-Pierre de Caussade, SJ, entitled Abandonment to Divine Providence. Here we'll find another world than the familiar world we live in today. An ancient world with forgotten customs and traditions, fears and sentiments, give to us some idea of the ancient Near-Eastern world of Israel's day when its people were growing and developing under the Abrahamic covenantal faith in its early days of tribal formation. Or under the Sinaitic (Mosaic) charter's observances in Israel's various stages of nationalism which theologians would describe in short as her "salvation history" under God as a forming, monotheistic people. Whose customs and traditions were fundamentally different from that of her polytheistic neighbors everywhere abounding around them. Becoming a people of God that were godly, Yahwistically-imbued, and culturally sensitised to the movement of God in their lives. Even as the church today is forming under Jesus' charters and observations in varying degrees of redemptive enlightenment and failure. Giving to us Christianity's many transitional forms from the first century until now, as we struggle to embrace what it means to be a people of God. A community of believers. A grace community bearing love and forgiveness. Holding to its trust in God against calamity, disaster, ill-will, harm, and destruction. Witnessing the transition of redemptive movement under the hand of God, and by His Spirit, to a forming kingdom of Light and Life. A kingdom hidden to the world but growing mightily like as a mustard seed. Or like yeast as it leavens out the whole world under the direction and rule of the Redeemer God of the bible. Not by might or by muscle. Not by war and pillage. Nor rape and injustice. But by service and humility, peace and assistance, sacrificial giving and wise justice. Well it has been said that the Church is ever reforming, renewing, reviving, rebirthing, resurrecting. Even now, let it be so once again in declaring to ourselves all that is Jesus, as a risen people unto His blessed name.
 
R.E. Slater
March 13, 2013
 
*For more Articles on this Subject please refer to the sidebars as listed below
 
 
 
 
Peter Enns was interviewed on the Drew Marshall Show
shortly after I wrote my piece referenced at the end
on the violence found in the OT...

 
 
I Have Conquered Canada: My Interview on The Drew Marshall Show
 
by Peter Enns
March 15, 2013
 
The Drew Marshall Show is “Canada’s most listened to spiritual talk show,” though probably not any more: last week they interviewed me.
 
All kidding aside, this was a fun 15 minutes and I hope to be invited back so I can pontificate further on Evangelicalism’s failure to offer a convincing explanatory paradigm, the problem of divine violence in the OT, and perhaps have a chance to dislodge the shoe from my mouth.

 
 



* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
 
 
Some Notes
 
mostly mine own by premeditated arrangement
:)
 
R.E. Slater
March 16, 2013


 
According to Iron Age tribalism, found between 1200 to 500 BC, it was believed that "God's" preferred means of conflict resolution was to slaughter people and wipe them out (sic, Noah and the Flood, Israel's enemies, even Israel herself through her Exiles). This was thought to bring about purity amongst people, and maintain fideism to God.
 
Consequently, the church has kept to old Israel's ancient ways and mindset by burning martyrs at the stake; banning witchcraft by the same; locking away and/or torturing those who differed with the church's "official" attitudes; subjugating people groups in power battles of "might-and-right."
 
Many centuries later, when Jesus came along in the NT, He changes things up and said, "Love your enemies. Pray for them that do evil against you. Don't kill each other. Don't wipe each other out so you can get their property and land. Don't stone those who differ from you, whom you thought has created transgression."
 
In effect, I say unto you "Stay in the tension you live in, and try to get along with each other justly, rightly, fairly, without resorting to murder, killing, and war. This is what God says... And by the way, 'I am God.' So, this is what I'm telling you to do. Not like what your ancient forefathers once thought I had told them to do. Nor by how they explained how I rolled with the universe. But to learn to love one another. To get along with one another. For if you love one another then have you seen God."
 
"Back then, in the OT, they couldn't explain me because they couldn't see any other way other than how they saw it being done around them. But my ways are higher than man's ways so much farther than the East is from the West, and the heavens are higher than the seas. Finally, I had to come to humanity to explain how God rolls through myself. Hopefully to make things absolutely clear how God operates, and what He thinks about people - those that doubt; those that live self-righteously; those that would make a religion out of a living faith of trust and commitment."