” Election, Barth and the French Connection” and the writings of Pierre Maury – their relevance for us today

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Some recent works that are closely linked to the content of ‘Barth, Election and the French Connection’ are: Dempsey, Trinity and Election in Contemporary Theology, 2011, Eerdmans; McCormack, Karl Barth and American Evangelicalism, 2011, Eerdmans; Hesselink, Calvin’s Theology and its reception, disputes, developments and possibilities, Westminster John Knox Press, 2012; Mc Cormack, Engaging the Doctrine of God, Contemporary Protestant Perspectives, Baker Academic and Rutherford House, 2008; Gibson, Reading the decree, Exegesis, Election and Christology in Calvin and Barth, Continuum, 2009; McDonald, Re-imaging election, divine election as representing God to others and others to God, Eerdmans, 2010.

We need, as Barth expressed it in many different ways, to ‘start afresh’ and continually ‘reframe’ or ‘restate’ our theology i.e. to start again at the beginning. Maury gave a huge impetus to Barth’s thinking as far as election is concerned, and his stimulation of a Christological concentration in Barth steers us away from an obsession with who is in or out i.e. the subjective element of salvation and its effect on humanity. Our focus in our ministry in the church should be Christ.

My overriding concern in bringing this publishing project to completion is that whilst the current debate has been stimulating and Maury’s part in launching Barth in that direction is important, I think we will not help Pastors and Evangelists today if they, as a consequence of engaging with Maury and his contribution to the evolution of Barth’s doctrine of Election, do not become more confident in proclaiming the Gospel today.

Maury was adamant in the posthumous book on Predestination (Labor et Fides, 1957, p60) that we “..must not preach predestination; that would be the worst error; the worst betrayal, I believe, of the Gospel, too. We must preach Jesus Christ, in whom, from everlasting to everlasting, ‘dwells the fulness of God’, and who ‘dwelt among us, Living Word, full of grace and truth’ (John 1.14). We must preach salvation and not damnation, the forgiveness of sin rather than sin, and call our flocks unceasingly to the renewal which daily manifests our new birth, which is a ‘birth of God ‘ (John 1.13). We must learn to proclaim the Man of Sorrows, abandoned, rejected for us, ‘who was delivered up for our offences, and was raised again for our justification’ (Rom. 4.25). And we must dare to do what in spite of his love – because of his love – he so often dared to do: I mean, to speak of the holy wrath of God who is ‘of purer eyes than to behold evil’ (Hab. 1.13), and who ‘is not mocked’ (Gal. 6.7), for It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God’ (Heb. 10.31). As we dare to do all this which does not mean preaching hell, let us remember that, as Jesus did, we cannot but proclaim deliverance from the forces of hell by the victorious Christ”.
  
Maury also said in 1936 “To determine the true link between election and faith, we need to, above all, avoid speaking abstractly of either of these terms. So only one possibility of not focussing on this abstraction is offered to us: the concrete possibility where election and faith join each other, that is to say God and us. God in his anger and in his grace, us in our adoption and in our condemnation, the concrete living possibility, who is called Jesus Christ. Election is election in Christ, faith is faith in Christ.” (Foi et Vie. 1936, p202). Here we see in germ form the overturning of Calvin’s double predestination and the birth of Barth’s reworking of it: in §33 The Election of Jesus Christ The election of grace is the eternal beginning of all the ways and works of God in Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ God in His free grace determines Himself for sinful man and sinful man for Himself. He therefore takes upon Himself the rejection of man with all its consequences, and elects man to participation in His own glory. 

Maury grounds his view of election in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians giving it a very strong Christological focus: “Election is really an election initiated by God that is to say before the foundation of the world, in God’s eternity. Because it is “election in Christ” and by Christ, the One by whom and for whom all things have been made, it is a choice whose origin is elsewhere than in our time, a decision taken outside of all the vicious circles in which we are without end enclosed”. The uniqueness Maury’s contribution is found in this Christocentric grounding of election and seeing election as part of the doctrine of God and not so much as a part of a subjective soteriology. Election, for Maury, is a theological NOT an anthropological doctrine (the title of a chapter in Predestination).

The works translated in this book are an outstanding example of original, biblically grounded exposition in the Reformed theological tradition. Maury seeks to be faithful to Calvin but is not bound by him.

Barth wrote in 1957 a year after Maury’s untimely death that “There were but few who had any idea of the implications of his thesis (Election and Faith) in the course of the years that followed, when preoccupations of a political nature loomed so large that they scarcely left time or energy for theological reflection of this sort. But I remember one person who read the text of that address with the greatest attention- myself! It so happened that in the autumn of the same year, 1936, I had to give a course of lectures on the subject of predestination (in Hungary). Pierre Maury and I had of course often spoken of this problem; nevertheless, his 1936 address at once made a profound impression on me. And when a few years later I had occasion to return to the subject in a wider context, I did not merely refer to Pierre Maury’s pamphlet, but stressed that it ought to be considered as one of the best contributions made towards the understanding of the problem. That is why, as I said at the time (Dogmatics, II/2, pp. 154 f.), Pierre Maury must be ranked with the rare theologians of the past who, because of the Christological basis of their doctrine, seem to me to have remained here on solid ground (such were Athanasius, Augustine, John Knox, and Johannes Coccejus). One can certainly say that it was he who contributed decisively to giving my thoughts on this point their fundamental orientation. Before I read his study, I had met no one who had dealt with the question so freshly and boldly”.

This work will provide a refreshingly new perspective in Barth studies by giving English speaking readers the opportunity to hear what arrested Barth and study Maury’s contribution to perhaps this most important part of the Barthian corpus.

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