A Case Study in Barth's Doctrine of Election: Prologue

I've recently had an argument with Wyatt over at PostBarthian, and now it's time to put up rather than shut up.

You see, Wyatt undertook to explain how Barth's notion of election in Christ applies to the individual. This is laudable and difficult! Only, he undertook it as though election were the beginning of a process that, continuing in reconciliation, leads onward to redemption as eschatology. Now, where he got such an idea should be obvious; he's agreeing with the field. Ever since McCormack's "Grace and Being" (and in a different form before that, which we owe to von Balthasar), it's been a standard reading of Barth, and the standard method of pursuing Barth's eschatology. It's the same reason the field habitually believes that the fuzzy end of reconciliation, its utter historical indeterminacy, puts Barth's belief in the scope of redemption in question. Put simply: Barth can't be a universalist if history doesn't end well, because if history doesn't end well, the coming in judgment is presumed to involve the damnation of those for whom rejection has been their choice.

Of course, that's not in any way, shape, or form what Barth says! And that's the case, not only (1) because Barth utterly denies human rejection any influence over the choice of God to be for all, and not only (2) because it's intellectually dishonest to insinuate traditionalist shadows on the backsides of every one of Barth's doctrines of economic grace when you could instead go do the research on damnation and judgment as topics in and of themselves, but also (3) because Barth denies all attempts to construct a system of interrelated doctrines that conform to the classical exitus–reditus path from creation to the eschaton through history.

Election doesn't begin the economy; creation does. Reconciliation does in fact bear out election, but so does creation, and so would redemption have, each in their own ways. And the eschaton severs world history, normed as it ought to be by the history of the covenant of grace, from the coming future of redemption and fulfillment just as utterly as the Fall severed it from the prior history of creation. These are separate spheres, three discrete moments that border on one another but do not flow one into another with any reliable continuity. They define each others' boundaries, but reconciliation flows from election and human choice in the Fall, not from creation history, and redemption flows from God as purely as creation itself did.

Ah, but I have to prove all of that. And what's more, I'm having this argument with Wyatt as someone who wants what I also want—to describe the future history of redemption—but who thinks he can get there by the path the field currently accepts. And the problem there, the problem with the field's path before it was ever Wyatt's problem, is that if you go that route and assert redemption as the conclusion to a logical path from election through reconciliation, then the presumed uncertainty that derives from the end of reconciliation in CD IV doesn't just infect redemption. It makes the scope of election itself suspect, as Wyatt has shown. And it does so because, unlike Barth, the traditional through-path views election as in some way to salvation, as a decision God makes about individuals. (For Barth, it is instead God's original decision about Godself, because God has chosen unreservedly to be for us.)

If there are those for whom reconciliation will not finally be true, those that will not finally be reconciled to God and who thus will not be redeemed, were they really elect? And if they were not, and with Barth we hold to the assertion that rejection is not the subject of an eternal decree, that there is no list of the rejected from all eternity, then did not those who are finally reprobate merit their condition? Was it not then a result of their rejection of God? Can we therefore lose our election, for Barth, who on this model would seem otherwise to allow only hope that all will make it through unscathed in the end?

You know my answer is a resounding "Nein!" And maybe you also know that such an answer is all the more appropriate here because letting history determine salvation is a form of naturalism. But what we really need is a case study to show what Barth actually says. And Wyatt has already suggested the most commonly-adduced one: Judas Iscariot, or "Judas the traitor" as Barth habitually calls him. But it's not a simple study by any means, because there isn't a volume of the Church Dogmatics in which Barth failed to mention him in some illustrative fashion. So I have to touch them all, and show the through-line that results from these references in their contexts. And that's going to take a series of posts, so I beg your indulgence as they gradually appear.

In the meantime, you might have a read through this Twitter essay in which I attempt to be more persuasive about my opposition. I'm always up for feedback, and the tweets give great segmentation, so you can respond to individual pieces of the train of thought.

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