Sub-project: Does Election Really Break the CD?

I find myself increasingly frustrated by the view—based on Bruce McCormack's work—that the doctrine of election in CD II.2 redefines Christology and therefore soteriology in ways discontinuous with the preceding three part-volumes, or at least with CD I. It came to a head, for me, in connection with a Twitter disputation we had yesterday regarding the opening to section 18.2 in CD I.2, even though the question of the scope of salvation was (to me) clearly a side issue in discussing the meaning of the text in question. (I have a hunch that my perception of that conversation has much to do with being more instinctively the exegete than the theologian when it comes to translation linguistics. Bible folks feel this way in conversation with non-Bible theologians on a regular basis!)

So, of course, I spent most of the day reading and researching. And attempting to avoid coming off at any future point like Paul Molnar in criticism of McCormack's work—I've done that sort of thing enough in earlier "this doesn't work with my system" naïveté, and it's an approach that frustrates me tremendously when Barth's opponents do it. And I've come to a place from which I can see that the problem isn't what McCormack has correctly seen about Barth's doctrine of election. Clearly there is a "Christological redefinition of election" if we look at Göttingen and Münster as successive predecessors to the Bonn/Basel work that would go into the CD. The question is, does this redefinition really break the CD at II.2, such that the mature Barth whose opinions we are obliged to respect isn't the Barth of the prolegomena and the doctrine of the Word?

In other words, while I'm not totally convinced by everything McCormack has built on this doctrine of election and its connection to divine ontology, is he right to believe that election in CD II.2 is disjunctively novel within the Church Dogmatics? Can what he sees be seen earlier?

More to come, obviously, but for now I'll leave you with a map I drew in the very same section 18 of CD I.2 years ago:
My hunch is that this is a compatible pattern, but feedback is certainly welcome!


  1. My view at present is that CD II/2 represents not a chasm in the middle of the Dogmatics (i.e. a break, suggesting a lack of continuity between what came before and what came after) but rather the mountain peak of the Dogmatics. Everything that came before was gradually sloping upward toward the peak, even if that peak was not always visible from the terrain of volume I.

    This image allows us to affirm the significance, and even the radical nature of Barth's doctrine of election, but without characterizing earlier part-volumes as a false start or throat-clearing that would have had to be revised in light of later developments.

    That said, some reckoning has to be made with the high place Barth himself gave to the Maury lecture and where that fits in with the chronology of the production of these volumes. On the one hand we shouldn't have to conclude that this moment changed everything Barth thought he knew about theology; and on the other hand, we needn't say that Barth had all the important pieces of his theology locked down before he started I/1.

  2. I agree with Darren, basically, I think. I don't think we're forced into an either/or. There are substantial continuities between the Christology of I/2 (and I/1) and that which follows in II/2 and afterward. In my diss -- back in the day -- I argued that the love/freedom motif persists from II/1 onward and that the doctrine of election shows a deepening of that pattern.

  3. I'm inclined toward a similar view, but for me what's not convincing is taking the importance of election (with its direct connection to reconciliation) as a justification for hanging everything else off of it. Yes, clearly the shift in final form of election has something to do with Pierre Maury in Barth's own mind, and he credits that, but Maury is not truly an outside influence in this discussion. He's processing and recycling Barth's (and related) work back to him with value added. But what that shift implies has to be understood within the full context of his development and the shape of the dogmatics as a whole growing organically.

    Did Barth have every piece of the dogmatics in place before he started? Clearly not! Every new semester teaches him as much as it teaches his students, when he tackles a new area. The archivist in me says that Barth is the continuity of his material, in its development. The structures are in place even as they get refined and reshaped by the material, because he's gone through them so many times already.

    Darren, I'll see your mountain peak image and raise you something more cruciform in shape: up through II.2 Barth has been building vertically, from foundations in the present demand for dogmatics through the description of the reality that conditions the present moment in the divine-human relationship. It's all in medias res from a chronological standpoint, theology done for and about the moment in which theology must be done. And when he jumps into creation, it's a real jump. There's no linear march from election into protology as the beginning of the economic loci. There's a flying leap, and an establishment of new foundations for the economic progression of creation, reconciliation, and redemption as linear chronology. That horizontal line produces the context in which the vertical of I.1–II.2 already stood, but the vertical had to be properly described first. Otherwise, presuppositions about the present have a vicious tendency to corrupt both protology and eschatology.

    1. And Scott, I'm perfectly willing to flip that vertical construction image around and recognize that the pattern being reinforced is getting "deeper" as he works over and over it. Like going from light pencil sketch through finished drawing, with some lines getting erased and corrected, but the intended structure at each stage generally getting darker and more fully realized as it also gets embellished.

    2. Hm. This is going to involve me directly in disagreeing with McCormack on election as "the first of the works of God ad extra."

  4. Yeah, I think you're getting at one of the crucial bits of this constructive move. Surely this is a major impetus for Barth to integrate election into the doctrine of God in the first place.


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