Q & As about Karl Barth’s ‘French Connection” – Pierre Maury – how he gave Barth a ‘decisive impetus’ in his monumental reworking of the Doctrine of Election CD II/2

1. Who was Pierre Maury? 

A French Pastor/Theologian and brilliant preacher who served in the French armed forces in both world wars, a larger than life character, who left a huge mark on French Protestantism and the church world-wide. As you read you will discover Maury’s theological friendship with Karl Barth. His personality and influence shine through. Barth credited this amazing man with giving him ‘a decisive impetus’ in his famous reconstruction of the doctrine of election. Many authors have taken into account Pierre Maury’s seminal influence on Barth’s doctrine of election, but in the English speaking world he is often neither known nor appreciated for who he was in his own right, despite the fact that he was awarded honorary doctorates by the universities of Budapest, St Andrews and Chicago.

See this brief overview of his life: http://www.museeprotestant.org/en/notice/pierre-maury-1890-1956-2/

At the beginning of the 1914 war

2. Ever wondered what the connection between election and faith is? 

The story of how an obscure French Theologian, who greatly influenced Karl Barth, may not seem to be a particularly gripping read! This volume throws the spotlight on a paper given at a conference in Geneva in 1936, which has never been translated into English before. In Barth studies much has been made of the significance of Pierre Maury’s paper on ‘Election and faith’. It was hastily thrown together in a couple of days by a very busy Pastor/Preacher. It is astonishing how God can use an address on a thorny issue to stir a brilliant theologian to recast his approach to an issue that has dominated the theological landscape down through the centuries.

3. Pierre Maury asks what is the significance for our destiny of the sovereign precedence of God (the fact that he appears to consider some more important than others). Does this not irrevocably determine that destiny? 

Grapple with this and more questions in this book. You may not find all the answers. After all, who has? In this collection of some of Maury’s addresses and writings we discover what he gave to Barth not just in terms of a fresh insight into a Christological focus in the doctrine of election but to explore how an amazing friendship helped to foster a different approach to what has been described as a “vast dogmatic minefield”. As Daniel Migliore in his Faith Seeking Understanding, (87, Eerdmans, 2004) said “Few doctrines in the history of Christian theology have been as misunderstood and distorted, and few have caused as much controversy and distress, as the doctrine of the eternal decrees of God, or double predestination.” The three works of Pierre Maury in this book are outstanding examples of original, biblically-grounded exposition in the Reformed theological tradition, in which Maury seeks to be faithful to Calvin but is not bound by him.


Helmut Gollwitzer, whom Barth mentored, once echoed similar sentiments. He spoke of there being “no mistaking Barth’s Reformed origin. He never conceals his particular gratitude to the much slandered and misunderstood Calvin. But it would be foolish for this reason to describe him as a Reformed or Calvinistic theologian in the narrower sense. Confessional definiteness does not mean confessional constriction”.

See here a description of Barth’s Calvin lectures as published by Eerdmans: http://www.eerdmans.com/Products/0696/the-theology-of-john-calvin.aspx

Barth said in the preface to CD III/4 that “Confessional traditions exist in order that we may go through them (not once but continually) but not in order that we may return to them and take up our abode in them”.

Maury asks whether God chooses between his creatures. Can we solve this riddle of the universe? 

Maury believed that “It is always difficult and it is also always a formidable task to speak of election, or predestination, or double predestination. It seems that we can only do it in order to defend it or attack it. Around it we see theological disputes, objections, indignations, and mockeries, or knowledgeable constructions of a far too humanly based logic. Concerning this subject, which evokes sovereign freedom, the incomprehensible mystery of God, all human freedoms confront each other, as well as all human wisdoms which assert themselves, and at the end of the day, not the ultimate decision without appeal, of the Lord, but the weak preferences of our reasonings. Considered thus, election is a labyrinth, as Calvin said, a labyrinth with no exit”. Grapple with these issues in this collection of papers from a Pastor/Theologian, who left a huge mark on his generation. The accompanying interpretative essays will also help you engage with the historical, theological, textual and pastoral questions that this question poses in our contemporary setting.

5. Does God have favorites at the expense of others? 

The Bible seems to say so. Pierre Maury says that this subject is strictly the mystery of God, that is the God whom no eye has seen, whom none can see without dying. He also asks ‘what would we be able to say about a subject where it is our elusive reality that is at stake: that is to say, our human destiny, not as we see it, but such as is our lot, our ultimate reality, that which is beyond all explanations and which bears the true name of life or death? We did not give ourselves life nor will we be able to avoid death. We have not chosen to live; we cannot choose to not die. It is therefore not a question here of our choice, the one that we make, but the choice of which we are the object, that which is made (or not made) of us. These are those insurmountable limits, which are imposed on us, which election calls to mind. Because this is about God—and not the idea of God—because this is about us—and not our ideas, our feelings, even our theology—we would not know how to speak of election as just some other interesting topic of discussion. It is never something to satisfy our curiosity. As Calvin said, “The curious will find no way out of the labyrinth, they will only find an occasion for dread or blasphemy.” And he adds that predestination is “a reason to worship, worship of the high wisdom of God more than understanding of things that God wanted to be hidden and of which he has withheld knowledge.”

6. Are there those to whom God does not give preferential treatment? 

Maury believed that we find ourselves in yet another classic impasse. God is not just if he does not treat everyone in the same way, if he does not respect the rights of man, which are the same for all. In other words, what is the significance of rejection, of damnation, in a doctrine of the God of love?



Clifford Green, a native of Sydney, Australia, Emeritus Professor & currently Bonhoeffer Chair Scholar at Union Theological Seminary, New York, in his introduction to Karl Barth, Theologian of Freedom, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 1991, pp31-2 gives an excellent summary of Barth’s eventual reconstruction of the Doctrine of Election in CD II/2.


“Traditional doctrines of predestination (eg those of Augustine and Calvin) involved an inscrutable if not arbitrary divine will, and gave rise to agonising questions. Why did God predestine only certain souls to salvation? Why, as in Calvin, did God predestine some to damnation as well some to salvation? Is grace partial? Is there a conflict between the saving God of grace revealed in Christ and some unrevealed, deep, hidden will of God? Even Calvin himself described his own teaching on predestination as the “horrible decree”.

Barth addresses the problem from the conviction that God is fully revealed in Jesus Christ; there is no hidden ‘remainder’, as it were, no other will and nature of God which is undisclosed or in conflict with what is revealed in Jesus Christ. “There is no greater depth in God’s being and work than that revealed in these happenings and under his name” (CD II/2, 54.) Instead, what is disclosed in him is both the electing God and the elect human being.

Jesus Christ reveals that God is the electing God, and God’s election is grace. The doctrine of election bears witness to “eternal, free and unchanging grace as the beginning of all the ways and works of God” (CD II/2.3). In Christ God chooses humanity in divine loving freedom. Jesus Christ is the elect human being, not only as an individual person but above all as the representative, the head, the personification of all humanity. That is to say, all humanity- and precisely all sinful humanity – is chosen, elect, predestined by God in Jesus Christ. This is Barth’s radical reconstruction of the traditional doctrine of predestination! It is so radical a revision that critics began accusing Barth of teaching universalism, that is, the salvation of everyone. To this Barth replied, first, the passages like Colossians 1:19, do, after all, speak of God reconciling “all things unto himself”; and, second, “there is no theological justification for setting any limits on our side to the friendliness of God towards humanity which appeared in Jesus Christ”.

This does not mean that the note of judgment which was so severe in the traditional doctrine of predestination is ignored by Barth. There is indeed a rejection of sin, there is a No in God’s eternal will; it is the power of God by which the power of evil is overthrown and negated, denying it ultimacy and denying it a future. This No is in the service of God’s Yes, so that there is no ontological dualism, and God’s grace is the beginning and end of all his ways. While the unbelievers’ opposition to God is rejected, even unbelievers are elect no matter if they live as though they were not elect. It is God’s election, not human belief or unbelief, which is fundamental and decisive. This teaching had very practical consequences for Barth personally, leaving him to deal even with hardened atheists as people who, like himself, were elected by God in Jesus Christ”.

Image result for predestination in or out of the kingdom


You can grapple with all these kinds of issues in this volume which is now available in hardback & softcover from Amazon and at a special price direct from Wipf & Stock, who have it in e-book format too.



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