Part 5 of 6: A Rebuttal Against “The Institutes of the Christian Religion” In Light of Ultimate Reconciliation

Written By Thomas Perez. November 10, 2010 at 11:13PM. Copyright 2010

Calvin’s 10th and 11th point is only in reference to a rebuttal he had against the Arminian school of thought pertaining to the supposed preposition that some are indeed capable of righteousness before election, therefore guaranteeing such favor. In reference to Calvin’s citation of such, I do agree. However, in reference to the calling into the fold in point 10 , I do not.

Calvin admits that this calling is not all at the same time, but is according to God and how He see’s fit to dispense His grace. But before this we are wandering until we are gathered to the supreme Shepherd, and that in this we are no different from others except that by the special mercy of God; we are kept from rushing to destruction.

As I ponder this, many thoughts come to mind. In admitting that God calls us but not all at the same time is to, in actuality, admit the concept of Universal Reconciliation as handed down by the early Apostolic fathers. In other words while admitting that we all wander in a common desert and in no respect differ from others, Calvin is insinuating non partiality when it comes to the nature of sin and the fallen nature of all men. For indeed “All have sinned and have come short of the glory of God” The question then that thus arises is this; to what extent does the vicarious suffering of Christ cover in this desert of sin and wanderings? Did the death of Christ cover all or just a select few?

Here is an interesting paradox; if we believe Christ died for all and still not all are saved then He is not omnipotent in salvation. If we believe that He died only for a select few (as in the Elect), then He is not omnipotent concerning victory over sin and this desert of wanderings. Some may argue and claim “It is our own freewill that dictates our final destiny.” If that is the case, again; I repeat God is not omnipotent. Others may argue and suggest God chooses whom He will save, while at the same time choosing to neglect the reprobate for all eternity. If this be the case then, then I repeat God is not the ultimate victor in all things created – the stain remains – the double standard still remains. If this is correct, then His holiness is shaken due to the double standard of allowing the negative to exist for all eternity.

If this negativity continues to exist for all eternity as the Calvinist insinuates, then it will be no different as seen in Hinduism, The Vedas, The Upanishads, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Gnosticism, Catharism, Taoism, and full preterism – at least within some circles/sects. Moreover, if this evil continues as seen in the so called eternally irreconcilable damned, then evil has been implied – (Tao-te Ching 2).

While realizing this, we can not, at the same time, deny the authority of the Scriptures when we read passages pertaining to the damned, nor can we deny that evil and good exists. But will evil still exist in those who are considered by some; eternally damned for all time, separated from God for all eternity? I say the heart of the question should focus, not on evil or good per se, but rather to our questions posed above…rather than focusing on what Calvinist’s call ‘Double Predestination,’ perhaps we should focus on the finished work of Christ on the cross in regard to both; the Elect and the Reprobate. The positive and the negative – the good and the evil – the knowledge of both; first condemned and ultimately made alive in Christ in their various orders and various times – as Calvin himself admits. When we shift our focus on Christ as the center of all dualism, then we can not help but ponder the theology or ideology, of another theologian by the name of

Karl Barth, which brings me to…

Calvin’s 12th and 13th prepositions

But before we speak of Barth, I believe it is fair to give the other party a fair say in the matter of Barthian Theology. What do the Calvinist’s say in reference to Karl Barth? According to Curt Daniel…

A. Barth wrote, “The doctrine of election is the sum of the Gospel.” But he denied thefundamental distinctive of Calvinism: “There is no decretum absolutum [absolute decree]. There is no will of God distinct from the will of Jesus Christ.” Bart labels the historic Reformed doctrine of the absolute decree “unchristian” and “anti-Christian”.

B. He further rejected Covenant Theology and the doctrine of the Covenant of Redemption and the Covenant of Works, which he calls mythology and tri-theistic. There is only one covenant and one decree – the election of Jesus Christ. “In its simplest and most comprehensive form, the dogma of predestination…consists in the assertion that the divine predestination is the election of Jesus Christ. “Also, Jesus Christ is the electing God and He is also the elected Man.”

C. Then Barth taught what he called a “Purified Supralapsarianism”. Christ was elected for all men, but He was also reprobated for all men. “The only truly rejected man is His Own Son…He is the Rejected. With Jesus Christ the rejected can only have been rejected. He cannot be rejected any more.” Therefore, all men are both elect and reprobate, but the election of grace wins out. “[God] wills that the rejected man should believe, and as a believer should become an elected reprobate.” There is no equal ultimacy of eternal election and reprobation, nor is it arbitrary. Nor, in a sense, is it even eternal, for that would make it static, not living.

D. Therefore, we ask, how can anybody consider Barth a Calvinist? Yet for some reason, Barth still claimed to be Reformed. Opponents denied this and pointed to Barth’s own words: “I would have preferred to follow Calvin’s doctrine of predestination more closely, instead of departing from it so radically.”(The History and Theology of Calvinism). Moreover, according to Paul Enns, “Barth did not deny the charges that his doctrine of election led to Universalism.” (The Moody Handbook of Theology: Page 563).

In other words, Barth espoused a view of predestination that attempts to circumvent the antithesis between Augustinianism and Pelagianism. In the Barthian scheme, predestination only properly applies to God Himself. Thus, humanity is chosen for salvation in Jesus Christ, at the permanent cost of God’s self-surrendered hiddenness, or transcendence. Thus, the redemption of all mankind is a devoutly hoped-for possibility, but the only inevitability is that God has predestined Himself, in Jesus Christ, to be revealed and given for human salvation.

While the traditional view holds that the choice is the “eternal, hidden decree” of God, an absolute, mysterious and fundamentally inscrutable decision which, though it was a decision of ultimate consequence for the individual human, was fundamentally inaccessible and unknowable to him or her. God chose each person to either be saved or damned based on purposes of the Divine will, and it was impossible to know why God chose some and not others. The Puritans generally believed it was only after a long time of introspection that one could come to know whether God had elected or rejected oneself. Though Calvin himself was wary of probing predestination, and the ability to be assured of that status, (as mentioned in Part 1 of this study), his successor Theodore Beza taught that one could be assured of one’s own salvation.

Barth’s doctrine of election involves a firm rejection of the notion of an eternal, hidden decree. In keeping with his Christo-centric methodology, Barth argues that to ascribe the salvation or damnation of humanity to an abstract absolute decree is to make some part of God more final and definitive than God’s saving act in Jesus Christ. God’s absolute decree, if one may speak of such a thing, is God’s gracious decision to be for humanity in the person of Jesus Christ. Drawing from the earlier Reformed tradition, Barth retains the notion of double predestination but makes Jesus Himself the object of both divine election and reprobation simultaneously; Jesus embodies both God’s election of humanity and God’s rejection of human sin. While some regard this revision of the doctrine of election as an improvement – Campbell, Douglas, The Quest for Paul’s Gospel: A Suggested Strategy (Ediburgh: T&T Clark, 2005). On the Augustinian-Calvinist doctrine of the predestination of individuals, critics, namely Brunner have charged that Barth’s view amounts to a soft Universalism.(Brunner, Emil, The Christian Doctrine of God: Dogmatics: Volume 1, (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1950).

Here is how Van Til explains Barth on election: Van Til, C. (1947). The new modernism: An appraisal of the theology of Barth and Brunner. “First edition 1946; second edition 1947.” Taken From The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company: Philadelphia. But of course this is a Calvinistic rebuttal against Karl Barth. I’m merely being fair to the matter at hand in reference to Barth’s opponents.

The doctrine of election, we are told, contains the whole of the gospel in the nutshell. As such it may be summed up in two sentences. The first is, “Jesus Christ is the electing God.” From this any true statement of the doctrine of election must take its start. It is to be substituted for Calvin’s notion of an absolute decree. Scripture knows of no God in Himself and “there is no decretum absolutum.” The second sentence is, “Jesus Christ is the chosen man.” When taken in relationship to the first, this sentence means that election never deals with man in himself and as such (an sich und als solcher). God rejects man as such but He rejects him in Christ. In Christ God loves man in himself and as such.In thus taking Jesus Christ as the subject and object of election we escape the double mystery of the unknown God and the unknown man of the traditional view.

We now realize that the decree of reprobation is penultimate rather than ultimate, that evil has only a shadow form of existence and that as such it is already past. Surrounding the Christ as the object of election is the inner circle of God’s people (die Gemeinde). And surrounding this inner circle is the larger circle of the world of men in general. The task of the inner circle of God’s people is to testify of God’s electing grace to men in general. Men should not seek to realize that which has been made inherently impossible for them by the grace of God. It is futile for man to choose for the existence of pure non-being. In choosing for the Satanic possibility of pure non-being, his faith itself is an act in the void. It is nothing. “He chooses as and he chooses what he cannot choose. He chooses that which in his election of God he made a rejected possibility.” This impossible possibility takes on meaning and reality by means of its sublation in Christ. Man can hate God and be hated of God. But all this is possible only in a negative sense. God’s victorious love is all-encompassing and all-inclusive.

In bringing this message of God’s grace to man the Gemeinde feels its solidarity with the world. As elect only in Christ, God’s people speak to those who with them, even in their most violent hatred of God, are also elect in Christ. In Christ all are brethren. All are destined for participation in God’s glory. In Barth’s view the doctrine of ethics follows immediately upon that of election. The two are cemented together in the concept of the covenant of grace. As Jesus Christ is the electing God and the chosen man, so He is also the commanding God and the obeying man. Only on this presupposition can the comprehensive claim of God upon men everywhere be fully appreciated. In Christ man has a mandatum concretis simum. In obedience to Christ man is truly free.

Again, as reprobation is reprobation in Christ, so disobedience to God’s command is disobedience in Christ. Judgment is always reconciliation. Accordingly “what God wills of us is the same as that which He wills and has done for us.” “The commandment is the promise of the love of God.”As Barth’s doctrine of the covenant of grace unites his doctrine of election and his doctrine of ethics so it also unites his entire doctrine of God and that of man. Creation is accordingly said to be the external ground of the covenant. Jesus Christ is both the noetic bond and the ontological ground of creation. Creation is for the covenant and the covenant is the theme of history.

As covenant history, creation takes place in time, in true or genuine history. Our ordinary calendar time is not true time. It has virtually become non-existent through grace. Through grace men are participants in true, creation time. Accordingly the story of creation is not a record of ordinary history. It is a “pure saga” (reine Sage). Only pure saga can penetrate into and convey the real depth of genuine time. Furthermore, this pure saga must be received by fantasy. Only by fantasy can we understand that all things in creation are directed toward their covenant consummation. God’s creation is the setting of limits to the infinite powers of Chaos. Existence is, therefore, per se, existence for God and in Christ. The negative aspect of reality is a mere passageway to reality properly so called. True self-consciousness is coterminous with Christ-consciousness. This is the best possible world because it is the only possible world.

The main features of the doctrine of election, of ethics and of creation as set forth in the two books under consideration are now before us. All problems are to be christologically interpreted. When God elects, commands or creates, He makes His covenant with man in Christ. When man believes, obeys or comes into being he accepts God’s covenant of grace.Basic to an understanding of Barth’s covenantal or christological treatment of the doctrines discussed are his ideas of correlativity and incommensurability.

Throughout his various writings Barth has employed the concept of correlativity in order to do away with the notions of “God in Himself” and “man in himself.” For all practical purposes God is nothing but that which He is in His relationship to man and man is nothing but that which he is in relationship to God. Both God and man are wholly exhausted in Christ the mediator between them. If anything exists beyond the Christ it does not concern us. The absolute decree of God, the expression of His sovereign will to man as such and the creation of man as such must therefore be set aside. Thus Barth’s critical idea of correlativity continues to make havoc with the very foundations of historic Christianity.

Based upon this notion of correlativity is that of incommensurability. By means of it Barth seeks to make God’s yes to man more ultimate than His no. Reprobation must be reprobation in Christ. “Jesus Christ is the propelling power given to all men unto eternal life.” In Christ God moves downward with man in utter dereliction and in Christ man moves upward with God into His glory. Because God has in Christ entered into the same process with man the end is victory. Judas “the great sinner of the New Testament”, in whom the principle of reprobation is concentrated, merely represents “the impurity of all the apostles.” Judas is “himself a devil” but even as such he is in the midst of the church.” To be sure, Scripture does not say that Judas was saved. His relationship to Jesus therefore represents “the open situation in preaching.”

But Peter too did not wholly love Christ. It is because the elect are also reprobate and as such are elect that Jesus died for them. The salvation of God’s people is in all instances purely eschatological. The figure of Judas is that of a shadow. This shadow is negative light. The divine no of judgment must always be viewed in the light of the divine yes of forgiveness. Hence it is not too bold to speak of an “objective justification of Judas.” We know nothing of hell but only of a triumph over hell. “We know of none whom God has left wholly and finally to himself.”

In attributing to the decretum absolutum the ultimate, and to man as such a secondary, constitutive function in the doctrine of election, orthodoxy has, argues Barth, embraced a hopeless fatalism. For orthodoxy there was an existential system with a fixed number of reprobate as well as a fixed number of elect. The gospel of victorious grace could scarcely break through such a mould. The true gospel must now be brought to light from the double darkness of the hidden God and the unknown man. Only thus do we deal with light that is unapproachable instead of with darkness that is meaningless and arbitrary.

Instead of staring at the mysterious decretum absolutum we look with joy into the face of Jesus Christ and the decretum concretum. If mystery still remains it is no longer objectionable. If reprobation remains it remains only as a shadow. Man’s freedom to oppose God is not a genuine, only a negative, possibility. Man’s true freedom, his true choice, is enveloped by Christ’s choice; it is a choice in Christ. If evil remains, it remains only as a shadow. If we are not to speak of a general apokatastasis it remains true that darkness, creation, and sin are penultimate not ultimate. God’s final word for man is grace.

Barth’s attack on the orthodox Protestant position is, it appears, now more vigorous than ever. It is especially historic Reformed Theology that forms the citadel under attack. He has deeper reasons than Arminius had for his objection to Calvin’s absolute decree. His reasons are such as the consciousness theologians, together with him, would borrow from Immanuel Kant. Barth’s “christological” treatment of the various doctrines he discusses dissolves all the differentiations of orthodox Christianity. It dissolves the orthodox Creator-creature distinction on the ground that it speaks of a hidden God and a hidden man. It dissolves therefore the orthodox distinction between revelation to man and the acceptance of revelation by man. It dissolves the orthodox distinction between God who elects and man who is elected. All these differentiations, argues Barth over and over, are meaningless except in Christ. They are meaningless, that is to say, by the standard of Kant’s autonomous man. What is not exhaustively penetrable by the manipulations of formal logic must be regarded as objectionable mystery. The autonomous man takes to himself the power of determining the limits of the practically possible and actual. All this Schleiermacher and Ritschl have also done. They too have followed the Critique of Pure Reason and dealt with historic Christianity accordingly.

If the new Modernism differs from the old it differs on the score of thoroughness. Its principle of continuity is still more formal than that of the consciousness theologians. Hence its greater flexibility. Hence its greater capacity for swallowing up all the “contradictions” of the traditional life and world view, and of Scripture alike. It is only a dialecticism of the sort that Barth offers which can negate the negation of its own asserted correlativity and reach incommensurability at last. The God of Roman Catholicism at its best, the God of orthodox Protestantism, but most of all the God of the Calvinist, the freely revealing and freely choosing or rejecting God, has never been more vigorously rejected than by the system of Karl Barth as expressed in these his latest works.

Correlative to this formal principle of continuity is Barth’s principle of discontinuity. Barth is no rationalist of the Cartesian and Leibnizian sort. He is an “irrationalist” of the post-Kantian post – Hegelian, Kierkegaardian sort. He would seek for no individuation by complete description. Man is most of all not what he is, in the last analysis, by virtue of God’s self-contained and self-conscious decree. Man in himself and as such – Barth’s equivalent of Emil Brunner’s “entirely single thing” – is what he is ultimately for no reason at all. He springs from pure possibility. The Chaos element surrounds and pervades him. His mother home is Non-Being. Yet this realm of pure Non-Being is somehow also the source of the material of true Being. It is the home of the eternal God in Himself and especially of the “Father.” By some telescopic technique of Wesensschau, perfected by the furbishing hands of such men as Husserl and Heidegger, Barth is able to tell us of this interchangeability of pure being and pure nonbeing.

In rejecting all “existential systems” Barth is able now to legislate even for pure possibility. As a limiting concept the counsel of God, formerly standing for the freedom of the Sovereign God, now stands for the freedom of the would-be sovereign man. So sovereign is this man that he elects to save or realize himself by means of an ideal, which, borrowing the terminology of folklore, he personifies in Christ. He keeps forever saying to himself that he is a Judas and therefore unreal so far as he is not fully identical with his Christ. So omniscient is this sovereign man that, in spite of the requirements of his own logic of correlativity, he can affirm the permanent and positive apostolate of Judas and the ultimate victory in Christ of every man.

In a procedure similar to that of Plato who studied human nature by means of the State in which human nature is “writ large,” Barth solves all problems by means of enlarging the proportions of his own becoming. Together with his God he emerges from Chaos into Christ. Reality, he says to himself, has two aspects, a lower and a higher. When my ideal commands me to be perfect I obey by saying that I am perfect in my ideal. My Christ-consciousness is my self-consciousness. The evil that I do does not exist, for in doing evil I do not exist. Thus does consciousness theology, the theology of the autonomous man, make void the word of God. Feuerbach still smiles.

There is no doubt that Barth is seeking to make the Christian faith diagnostically and redemptively significant for the problems of our day. But on his presuppositions the problem of the day cannot even be correctly formulated and therefore certainly cannot be solved. The God and man of Barth’s theology are unknown to one another till, in a common process, they become identical with one another and therefore indistinguishable from one another. Thus revelation becomes ventriloquism. The God and man of Barth’s theology are non-existent till, in a common process, they become identical with one another and indistinguishable from one another. Election thus becomes their common aim and task. Barth seeks to escape what he speaks of as the monism of traditional Reformed theology. But his own position ultimately destroys all difference between God and man by means of process. For him all reality is one stream of becoming, similar to the teaching and viewpoints of Preterism. This is monism with a vengeance.

Barth seeks to escape the mystery involved in the decretum absolutum. But in doing so he surrounds God as well as man with mystery. On his position man must know everything to know anything. No appeal is left to God who knows what man cannot know. And yet the Chaos element is really ultimate. Man can therefore never know anything. Pure knowledge as pure form and pure ignorance as pure matter stand in everlasting antagonism over against one another. As was the case with Hegel’s dialecticism so it is the case with Barth’s that pure being and pure non-being are logically interchangeable. Accordingly, the notion of becoming as proceeding from these two is wholly and ultimately irrational. And Barth’s “faith” becomes mere “will to believe.” Barth’s ultimate subject of predication is Reality. His attempt to make predication intelligible on such a basis is no more successful than that of idealist logicians in general. In his theology the Christian faith is diagnostically and redemptively irrelevant. The gospel is choked rather than set free.

That Barth’s theology finds its chief object of attack in the Reformed Faith is but natural. In the Reformed Faith the freedom of God, the self-contained God is central to everything. It is this freedom of God that is most directly opposed to the would-be ultimacy or freedom of man, as modern science and philosophy teach or assume it. Barth’s system has neutralized the true freedom of God. He has woven this true freedom of God into a pattern of identity with the freedom of man. Thus the imperatives of God are silenced and the healing streams of grace are swallowed up in the flats of human self-righteousness.

However, at the same time, upon viewing Barth’s finding’s; a certain sense of purpose can not be overlooked in reference to both the saved and the unsaved. For it is this reason that his findings and conclusions are plat able to the appetite. Therefore what is one to make of all this? What is one to make of the phrase “the damned,” “the evil,” “the elect,” “the good?” Are they truly eternally separated? Is there a distinction between the elect and the good, as alluded to in Part 4? Does such a question even merit justification in asking?

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