Election and the God-Man

Blogsphere confessional: I’m over the predestination debate.

Been there. Done that. Committed myself. Realized that the debates makes people jerks/reveals that we are jerks. Pulled out. Don’t care anymore.

In particular, I find discussions of predestination to be theologically thin because they spend so much time in the ether that the story as it actually unfolds fades from view.

Barth, though, invites a reconsideration of predestination with a relentless focus on Jesus Christ, focusing on Jesus Christ himself as the object of God’s election (Dogmatics §33.1) daring me to give it one more try.

The section begins with what appears to be an intentional echo of Ephesians 1, as Barth begins sentence after sentence with “In Him…” Ephesians 1 was Calvin’s go-to text for discussing predestination.

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Barth is acutely aware of the charge of those who, like Roger Olson, assert that the Calvinist’s God is a moral monster. Barth is not only aware of this, he agrees with the critique. To him, the absolute decree of God is the demon produced in predestinarian thought that must be exorcised.

Thus, instead of some “absolute decree,” we are to focus on the Word of God who is Jesus Christ, the one whom God has ordained to bear God’s name. This, says Barth, is the essence of election: in the beginning was the word, and the word was God, and the word became flesh.

Election, in short, is God’s determination “that the goal and meaning of all His dealings with the as yet non-existent universe should be the fact that in His Son He wold be gracious towards man, united Himself with him” (101).

Barth divides his subsequent discussion in two: as God, Jesus Christ elects; as human, Jesus Christ is elected.

This gets to be a mess.

But before we get to the mess, here’s where it’s helpful: it takes the focus of election off of ourselves as responders, and onto Jesus as the Elect One who also faithfully followed God throughout his life.

Now to the mess: Barth has an insufficiently developed understanding of the significance of being human, especially within the story of Israel, and thus ends up placing too much of Jesus’ function as representative and Lord on his divinity.

Here’s a summation of Barth’s concern:

For where can Jesus Christ derive the authority and power to be Lord and Head of all others and how can these others be elected “in Him,” and how can they see their election in Him the first of the elect, and how can they find in His election the assurance of their own, if He is only the object of election and not Himself its Subject, if He is only an elect creature and not primarily and supremely the electing Creator. Obviously in a strict and serious sense we can never say of any creature that other creatures are elect “in it,” that it is their Lord and Head, and that in its election they can and should have assurance of their own.

How can Jesus Christ derive authority and power to be Lord? By being the obedient Davidic and Adamic son whom God appointed to rule over all things–the one who, because he was obedient, was given a name that was not his before!

How can his election be the assurance of our own? Only if his is truly the election of a human being such that other human beings might know that God can choose even those in the likeness of sinful flesh!

In what sense could we be elect in another? Only in the sense that this other is like unto us such that we might bear his image as the renewal of our own!

Even Barth’s desire to ground the story of election more in the story of the God who truly is remains too far removed from the biblical story.

This is so because in turning to election, Barth jumps immediately to the Trinity outside of time rather than the revelation of Jesus as one whose humanity speaks to us about the word of God in time. And this means, not primarily as witness to the God who is beyond time, but showing us in the here and now how God works within a particular earthly story.

Barth is pointing us in the right direction by demanding we focus on Christ, but I’m not sure he’s walked far enough down the road toward he gestures.

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