Telford Work on Barth’s reformulation of the older Reformed doctrine of election

The doctrine of election is the sum of the Gospel because of all the words that can be said or heard it is the best: that God elects man; that God is for man too the One who loves in freedom. It is grounded in the knowledge of Jesus Christ because He is both the electing God and elected man in One. It is part of the doctrine of God because originally God’s election of man is a predestination not merely of man but of Himself. Its function is to bear basic testimony to eternal, free and unchanging grace as the beginning of all the ways and works of God.”

—Karl Barth (CD II/2)

“Barth’s exposition of God’s decrees radically reformulated the older Reformed doctrine of election. A truly theocentric soteriology must arise from the specificity of God’s action in Jesus Christ. The Father proclaims in the Lukan Transfiguration scene, “This is my Son, the one I have elected” (ho eklelegmenos, Luke 9:34). Jesus is the elect one, the one on whom God’s decrees of “Yes” and “No” fall. In God’s eternal decree for fellowship with humanity in his Son, the two accounts are one: The electing God is the elected man. Barth located the doctrine of election not under providence or salvation, as the older infralapsarian and supralapsarian (see note below) positions in Calvinism had, but under his doctrine of God, identifying God’s twofold word of affirmation and negation with the divine Word who would become flesh. All God’s chosen are finally rejected and accepted in him (Eph. 1:4). The countless human narratives of salvation find their coherence only in the metanarrative that centers in Jesus. Election is therefore not a mystery hidden from the gospel of God, but the gospel itself, the Good News “in nuce.” It is God’s eternal will to narrate the cosmic narrative of creation and redemption”.

While not following Barth entirely in the above extract from a journal article ‘Annunciation as Election’ in the Scottish Journal of Theology, 54, 2001, 285-307, Dr Work gives a good summary of Barth’s radical reworking of the classical Reformed doctrine of election:

Dr Telford Work has taught in many places around the world and is Professor of Theology at Westmont College (Montecito, California) formerly the Bible Missionary Institute of Los Angeles founded in 1937.


Supralapsarianism: A Calvinistic view of predestination that maintains that in the “logical order of divine decrees” God decreed the election of some persons and the reprobation of others before allowing the Fall of Adam. Hence the decree of election is “supralapsarian.” In supralapsarianism the emphasis is on God’s predestination of uncreated and unfallen humans rather than on created and fallen humanity (sublapsarianism) or infralapsarianism. Consequently, the supralapsarian view leads to the idea of double predestination: God has chosen to glorify himself by predestining certain persons to eternal life and others to eternal condemnation (S. Grenz, D. Guretzki & C. Fee Nordling, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1999, S. 110).



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