Reconstructing the Doctrine of the Immanent Trinity – Bruce McCormack – Kantzer Lectures in 2011



Below is an extract from Jordan P. Barrett’s summary/overview of Bruce McCormack’s 6th Kantzer lecture given nine years ago in January 2011 entitled “The Processions Contain the Missions: Reconstructing the Doctrine of the Immanent Trinity”  (see below for URLs)

“The second section of McCormack’s lecture turned to Barth’s doctrine of election and his later Christology. McCormack sees his own views on the Trinity as authorized because of Barth’s revision in his doctrine of election; indeed, he suggested that his reading of Barth is prominent in the German literature. Nonetheless, what we can say with certainty is that, for Barth, Jesus Christ is both the subject and object of election. He has chosen reprobation in himself, which means that election and reprobation do not stand in an eternal dualism. God chooses election and reprobation for himself; he takes death into his own life and destroys it. This is what it means to say that Jesus Christ is the object of election. But what does it mean that he is also the subject of election? If the Triune God is in fact one subject, then God is fully himself in all three of his modes of being. He is himself as the one who brings himself forth from himself and he is himself as the one who is brought forth. Thus far, McCormack said that he has not added anything to Barth; but we need to say more. For McCormack, the willing of the Father is itself a generative act. Barth does not affirm one divine subject is subordinate to another. Rather one single subject is fully himself in different modes of being. As such, there is an eternal self-humiliation which is constitutive of God’s second mode of being. Therefore, there is no logos as such in and for himself. But McCormack was quick to note that this does not mean that he rejects the existence of a logos asarkos, for the logos is united to his humanity in time. He does not bring his body down from heaven. The man Jesus is conceived by the Holy Ghost for the union. The logos is asarkos before ensarkos. McCormack noted that he has affirmed a logos incarnandus—the logos who is eternally determined for incarnation but who has yet to be united to the man Jesus. The eternal Word has a determination for incarnation, which is the distinguishing property of God’s second mode of being. The obedience of Jesus is the concrete realization of his identity in eternity. Without the logos asarkos, there can be no distinction between eternity and time and the logos incarnandus and the logos incarnatus. Importantly, the history of Jesus does not constitute the being of God. God constitutes himself in the pre-temporal event of election.”

The prominence of McCormack’s reading of Barth in German literature is mentioned by Matthias Gockel in his essay in “Election, Barth and the French Connection, How Pierre Maury Gave a ‘Decisive Impetus’ to Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Election” entitled Harmony without Identity A Comparison of the Theology of Election in Pierre Maury and Karl Barth pp 146-158. He says that

“Barth’s revision of the doctrine of election also 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.”[1] 

[1]. KD II/2, 123f.; CD II/2, 115.

Gockel gives as an example the work of Hans Theodor Goebel:  “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.

See also on my blog where Matthias engages in this debate in more detail in his review of George Hunsinger’s “Reading Karl Barth with Charity” :

and also where Mark Lindsay engages with an essay of Matthias which I have highlighted in this post –

In the context of my book and the ‘decisive impetus’ that Pierre Maury gave to Barth’s massive reworking of the classic Reformed doctrine of election, Mark Lindsay, in his brilliant historical/systematic overview of this period – Pierre Maury, Karl Barth and the Evolution of Election, p129, points out that when in 1936 Barth read Maury’s seminal lecture “Election and Faith” he

“..heard of a very different type of twofold election from that which he had taught previously—one that located both election and reprobation in Christ himself —Barth was provided with the resources he needed to bring his Christology to its logical conclusion. Bruce McCormack and Matthias Gockel have shown that the full articulation of this logic was not presented until the early 1940s.[1] Nonetheless, the foundations of Barth’s theological reorientation—in which election was grounded Christologically, or, to put it another way, in which Christology became the fountainhead of the knowledge of the electing God—can be traced back to 1936.

In CD II/2, Barth adopts, and takes significantly further, Maury’s conception of election. It is not simply that Jesus Christ is the locus of both election and rejection, although he is indeed that. Maury crystallized for Barth the “particularist” nature of the knowledge of election; that is, that “outside of Christ, we know neither of the electing God, nor of His elect, nor of the act of election.”[2] But Barth went somewhat further, with his Christologically-circumscribed doctrine of election speaking directly, and controversially, to the eternal being of God himself”.

[1]. McCormack, “Seek God,” 263; Gockel, Barth and Schleiermacher, 162 n. 14.

[2]. Maury, “Erwählung und Glaube,” 7.  “Particularism” is one of the four motifs that George Hunsinger uses to construct a hermeneutical framework for interpreting Barth’s theology. See Hunsinger, How to Read Karl Barth, 32–35.

One cannot also neglect to cite the hugely significant work of Eberhard Jüngel’s “Gottes Sein ist im Werden” (1979) in this regard for Bruce McCormack, originally published as “The Doctrine of the Trinity” in 1976, which was later revised and freshly translated in 2004 (Eerdmans) by the late John Webster as “God’s Being Is in Becoming- The Trinitarian Being of God in the Theology of Karl Barth” – see his “Karl Barth’s Historicized Christology: Just How ‘Chalcedonian’ Is It?” in Orthodox and Modern: Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth (Grand Rapids, M: Baker Academic, 2008), 221-2 n. 49. The whole copious footnote is worth reading in the light of this topic but for our purposes here suffice to reproduce what McCormack records as his debt to Jüngel:

This is perhaps the appropriate place to note – with gratitude – the impact which Jüngel’s book has had on my thinking (both as a reader of Barth and with regard to the systematic issues involved). I first read it as a graduate student nearly twenty years ago. Since then I have returned to it again and again, and each time I have been able to learn something new – ways in which my own patterns of thought or speech needed to be corrected, and even the opening up here and there of new horizons of thought which previously eluded me, Truly, this book deserves much greater attention than it has received. Many of the mistakes found in contemporary English-language Barth scholarship might have been avoided if those working in the field had absorbed its lessons.

I note, however, that David Gibson in his essay “Barth on Divine Election” in the recently published Wiley Blackwell Companion to Karl Barth, edited by George Hunsinger and Keith Johnson in vol 1, p56, concludes that

“Debate over Barth’s doctrine of election…is likely to continue and even more likely to dominate the primary way Barth on election is received. It would be unfortunate, however, if several other key aspects of his treatment were not admired and appreciated, just as the critical questions to be asked of his presentation also extend beyond the relationship between election and trinity”.

John McDowell as well sounds a certain note of caution and concern in his AfterwordBeing and Becoming in Gratuity: Barth after Maury in “Election, Barth and the French Connection: How Pierre Maury gave a ‘Decisive Impetus’ to Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Election” p 246 –

“What is clear from McCormack’s proposals is that the specific logic of Barth’s redeveloped account of election requires the use of Barth against Barth, given that the Princeton-based commentator laments that the Swiss theologian refused to consistently apply his radical insights. Of course, this raises questions in its own right. Barth was not renowned for shrinking away from making difficult decisions in the context of the traditions he moved in and of offering unpopular theological reconfigurations. His correspondence with Maury over the implications of criticizing Calvin’s doctrine of predestination is a noteworthy example of his lack of timidity. His unceremonious confrontation with Emil Brunner in print in 1934 is another even more infamous example. Consequently, it needs to be asked what prevented him from effecting a consistent revision of his doctrine of God.[1] Further, assuming that an inconsistency can in fact be conclusively demonstrated, what is there to prevent the logical consistency coming from the other side of the pole? The key is to identify what is theologically at stake for the various disputants, and to appreciate what problems they are trying to solve”.

[1]. More is required at this point than the claim that “To acknowledge the question and its importance might well have forced upon him the necessity of “beginning again at the beginning” in a quite literal sense—which by this point in time (early 1940s) was utterly unthinkable” (McCormack, “Grace and Being,” 103).

You can trawl through and find all the summaries of Bruce’s lectures here: , or watch here:

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