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Molnar Election

Molnar Election

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Published by: Michael Gibson on May 21, 2012
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03/15/2013

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Can the Electing God be God without us?Some Implications of Bruce McCormack’s Understanding of Barth’s Doctrine of Election for the Doctrine of the Trinity
Paul D.Molnar, Ph.D., St. John’s University, 8000 Utopia Parkway, Queens,New York 11439, USA
In a recent article
1
Bruce McCormack suggested that dialogue withhim concerning the position he adopted in his
Cambridge Companion
essay
2
could take place only if Barth’s view that Jesus Christ is the subjectof election were taken into account in detail so that the consequencesMcCormack thinks follow from this might be discussed. In this article Iattempt to listen carefully to what McCormack has said and again to whatBarth has said with a view toward genuine dialogue that will focus on theimportant matter of how to understand Jesus Christ as electing God andelected human being in the sense advanced by Barth so that we can see onceagain that the doctrine of election really is the sum of the Gospel.If I understand McCormack’s thesis correctly, it is this: from
CD
II/2onward, Barth finally became a fully fledged “post-metaphysical” theolo-gian. And he did so by making Jesus Christ “rather than ‘the eternalLogos’”
3
the subject of election. McCormack says there is no dispute thatbefore
CD
II/2 Barth held the view that the doctrine of the Trinity logical-ly preceded that of election. But after
CD
II/2 that was no longer the case.In effect then, except for a few anticipatory elements found in
CD
II/1,Barth’s views elaborated in the first volume on the Doctrine of God tendedto show evidence of “classical metaphysics,” especially in parts of Barth’spresentation of the divine perfections. Therefore in McCormack’s mindany refutation of his position must appeal to
CD
II/2 and later or it is irrele-vant. Let us grant this bracketing of the first three volumes of the
CD
justfor the sake of argument, even though I am certain that Barth would nothave wanted to discard what he says there. In support of this judgment, Iwould note that T. F. Torrance, for one, appropriately claimed that
CD
II/1and II/2 together should be seen as the highpoint of the
Church Dogma-tics
.
4
He also said that Barth himself agreed that this was the highpoint of 
1
Bruce
McCormack
, “Seek God where he may be found: a response to Edwin Chr. VanDriel,” in
Scottish Journal of Theology
(hereafter: SJT) 60/1 (2007), 62–79.
2
Bruce
McCormack
, “Grace and being: The role of God’s gracious election in Karl Barth’stheological ontology,” in
The Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth
, ed. by John Webster(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 92–110.
3
McCormack
,
SJT 
(see above, n. 1), 66.
4
SeeThomas F.
Torrance
,
Karl Barth
:
Biblical and Evangelical Theologian
, (Edinburgh: T&TClark, 1990), 124. “I still hold the
Gotteslehre
of 
CD
II.1 & 2 to be the high point of Barth’sNZSTh, 49. Bd., S. 199222DOI 10.1515/NZST.2007.015© Walter de Gruyter 2007
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the
Church Dogmatics
.
5
And while there is much that is superb in thefourth volume, so that Torrance even says it is “the most powerful work onthe doctrine of atoning reconciliation ever written,”
6
Torrance’s observa-tion at least shows that it is important to see
CD
II/1 and II/2 together asexpressing Barth’s understanding of the doctrine of God.
I. Barth’s Later Position on the Divine Freedom
Let me begin my analysis by observing that in the years just before hisdeath in 1968 and thus long after he had written
CD
II/2, Barth was askedabout his depiction of the divine freedom in
CD
I/1 as recorded in GeorgeHunsinger’s summary of the second of two collections of nearly 1,000pages of recorded interviews and conversations with Barth.
7
An interviewerwondered if Barth would “still endorse what he had written back in 1932in the first volume of his dogmatics,” namely, that
God would not be any the less God if he had created no world and no human being. Theexistence of the world and our existence are in no sense necessary to God’s essential being, noteven as the object of his love […] God is not at all lonely even without the world and us. His lovehas its object in himself.
Barth replied: “‘Splendid, isn’t it!’ (p. 286)”. According to Hunsinger,Barth distinguished the doctrines of reconciliation, election and the Trinity“by ranking them”.
Election, he stated, was always election to reconciliation – that is, to justification, sanctifi-cation, and vocation. Therefore, everything in the doctrine of reconciliation was but an explica-tion of the doctrine of election. In turn, the doctrine of election was grounded in somethingbeyond itself. ‘And behind the doctrine of election stands the doctrine of the Trinity. That is theorder. The doctrine of the Trinity, election and then sanctification, etc.’ (p. 293).
8
Paul D. Molnar200
Dogmatics […] That second volume of 
Church Dogmatics
surely ranks with Athanasius,
Con-tra Arianos
, Augustine,
De Trinitate
, St. Thomas,
Summa Theologiae
, and Calvin,
Institutio
,as a supremely great work of Christian Theology.”
5
Torrance
,
Karl Barth
(see above, n. 4), 133.
6
Torrance
,
Karl Barth
(see above, n. 4), 133.
7
Karl
Barth
,
Gespräche
1964–1968, ed.Eberhard Busch (Zürich: Theologischer Verlag, 1997)cited in George
Hunsinger
,
Conversational Theology: The Wit and Wisdom of Karl Barth
,published at the
Center for Barth Studies
, http://www.ptsem.edu/grow/barth/Conversational%20Theology.htm, 7.
8
See also Barth’s important statement that “the true and living God is gracious. He transcendsHimself. He discloses Himself.
He does this first in Himself, and then and on this basis to manin His eternal election and its temporal and historical fulfilment 
,” Karl
Barth
,
Church Dog-matics
, 4 vols. in 13 pts. (hereafter:
CD
and referred to in text). Vol. IV, pt. 3, First Half:
TheDoctrine of Reconciliation
, transl. by G. W.
Bromiley
, ed. by T. F.
Torrance
(Edinburgh:
T. & T. Clark, 1976), 81, emphasis mine. This statement clearly underscores the order
mention-ed here in this interview.
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Here is a statement by Barth himself which clearly does not support thereading of 
CD
II/2 offered by Bruce McCormack, namely, that Barth shouldhave logically reversed the doctrines of election and the Trinity based on hispresentation in
CD
II/2. Barth obviously did not think that he had or shouldhave logically reversed the doctrines of election and the Trinity. Rather, it isapparent that he thought election was a free action of God who is triune asone who loves in freedom from eternity to eternity. And the same thinkingevident in
CD
I/1 where Barth said that God could have been God withoutus but chose not to is embedded deep in
CD
IV/2 where Barth writes:
What is it that God wills when He loves us? He certainly does not will anything for Him-self – for what have we to give Him? But He does not will Himself without us. In all the fullnessof His Godhead, in
which he might well have been satisfied with himself 
, He wills Himself together with us. He wills Himself in fellowship with us (
CD
IV/2, 777, emphasis mine).
9
This thinking also reiterates Barth’s point made in
CD
II/1 that God iswho he is in revelation as the one who seeks and creates fellowship betweenhimself and us “But He is this loving God without us as Father, Son andHoly Spirit, in the freedom of the Lord, who has His life from Himself”(
CD
II/1, 257).There is another important passage from
CD
IV/2 where Barth statesexactly the position McCormack says he abandoned after writing
CD
II/2.It is this:
The triune life of God 
which is free life in the fact that it is Spirit,
is the basis of His wholewill and action
even
ad extra
, as the living act which He directs to us. It is the basis of his
decre-tum et opus ad extra
, of the relationship which He has determined and established with a realitywhich is distinct from Himself and endowed by Him with its own very different and creaturelybeing. It is the basis of the election of man to covenant with Himself; of the determination of theSon to become man, and therefore to fulfil this covenant; of creation; and, in conquest of theopposition and contradiction of the creature and to save it from perdition, of the atonement withits final goal of redemption to eternal life with Himself (
CD
IV/2, 345, some emphases mine).
Here it is evident that for Barth election is the free decision and actionof the triune God and not the ground of his triunity. And Barth does nothave to embrace classical metaphysics to make this assertion because in hisdoctrine of God he never accepted the idea of “being” but only being as the
Can the Electing God be God without us?201
9
It should be noted against those who would appeal to Karl
Barth
,
The Humanity of God 
,transl. by Thomas
Wieser
and John Newton
Thomas
(Richmond, VA: John Knox Press,1968) to say that Barth had changed his thinking and would no longer espouse this view of thedivine freedom that Barth continues to say exactly the same thing: “God’s deity is thus no pri-son in which He can exist only in and for Himself. It is rather His freedom to be in and forHimself but also with and for us […]” (49). Note well: Barth intends to stress both aspects of God’s freedom and not one or the other. Further, Barth said: “Why should God not also beable, as eternal Love, to be sufficient unto Himself? In His life as Father, Son and Holy SpiritHe would in truth be no lonesome, no egotistical God even without man, yes, even without thewhole created universe,” (50). But of course he chose to be with us and for us in that freedomwhich is his alone.
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