Matthias Gockel on George Hunsinger’s “Reading Karl Barth with Charity”.


In a 2016  review (Modern Theology 32:2 April 2016) of George Hunsinger’s Reading Barth with Charity: A Hermeneutical Proposal (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015),


Matthias Gockel, who teaches Systematic Theology at the University of Basel, Switzerland, tackles the still ‘hot topic’ of the dispute over the doctrines of Election and the Trinity in the theology of Karl Barth (see Michael Dempsey, editor, Trinity and Election in Contemporary Theology, Grand Rapids, MI/Cambridge, UK: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2011). Matthias received his Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary and is the author of Barth and Schleiermacher on the Doctrine of Election (Oxford University Press, 2007).


He has published widely on topics related to 19th and 20th century Protestant theology. Recently, he co-edited, with Martin Leiner, Barth und Schleiermacher. Zur Neubestimmung ihres Verhältnisses (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2015).

This full text is available here:

I highly recommend this review, in which he gives what I think is a fair and balanced response to this somewhat vexed issue around Trinity and Election.

In his essay Harmony without Identity, A Comparison of the Theology of Election in Pierre Maury and Karl Barth in the soon to appear second edition of “Election, Barth and the French Connection”  he says that

“Barth’s revision of the doctrine of election….impacts the doctrine of the Trinity. It implies that the Father is not only the Father of the Son but the Father of Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit is “the Spirit of this Father and the Spirit of Jesus Christ.” KD II/2, 123f.; CD II/2, 115. In a footnote he claimed that “This was raised already more than twenty-five years ago, in an essay that still needs to be addressed by the so-called ‘traditionalist’ interpreters of Barth”: Goebel, Hans Theodor. “Trinitätslehre und Erwählungslehre bei Karl Barth: Eine Problemanzeige.” In Wahrheit und Versöhnung: Theologische und philosophische Beiträge zur Gotteslehre, edited by Dietrich Korsch and Hartmut Ruddies, 147–66. Göttingen: Gerd Mohn, 1989.)

In his review he stated that

“The revisionary character of Barth’s theology comes to the fore in his doctrine of election (CD II/2). The preface announces that here he ‘had to leave the framework of theological tradition to an even greater extent than in the first part of the doctrine of God’ in CD II/1; due to his meditation on the biblical texts he was ‘driven irresistibly to reconstruction’ (II/2, 2, rev.). Barth rejects the traditional idea of a decretum absolutum, or God’s inscrutable will of predestination, and instead builds on the decretum concretum, or God’s eternal will in the election of Jesus Christ. He also revises the concept of double predestination along the lines of his earlier criticism of the idea of two separate groups of persons. He now speaks of God’s two-fold determination of Himself and of humankind, in which God takes upon Himself the death and condemnation of the sinner, while humankind is destined to bear the splendor of God’s glory. God’s gracious election (Gnadenwahl) is identical with Jesus Christ, who is not only the elect human, in whom all other human beings are elected, but also the electing God. ‘We do not have to ask for any other than for him’ (II/2, 115, rev.).

How shall we understand this divine self-determination? Barth’s position is not
always easy to grasp. Clearly, the gracious election specifies not only God’s ‘external’
dealings with creation but also God’s very being. It is an eternal covenant ‘that God,
in regard to humankind, made with Himself in His pre-temporal eternity’ (II/2, 104,
rev.). Is it therefore, in some sense, a constitutive or necessary aspect of God’s being,
and what would this imply for the doctrine of the Trinity, given that Jesus Christ, as
the electing God, chooses not alone ‘but in company with the electing of the Father
and the Holy Spirit’ (II/2, 105)?
Barth himself does not address the question. Some interpreters, including yours
truly, argue that a number of passages, especially but not exclusively from CD II/2
onwards, lend support to a positive answer but others do not and that these statements cannot be harmonized. Others, especially George Hunsinger and Paul D. Molnar, argue that the problem does not exist, since Barth consistently maintains the priority of Trinity over Election”.

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