David McGregor: When you become familiar with them, reading the Dogmatics often becomes an occasion for immense spiritual exhilaration.

When you become familiar with them, reading the Dogmatics often becomes an occasion for immense spiritual exhilaration. You will find yourself racing through page after page to get to the end of the section, which always culminates with a profound and wonderful Christological affirmation. I often found myself lifted up in worship while reading Barth’s exposition of the God who says ‘Yes’ to us in Jesus Christ! This is what the Dogmatics is, by the way, – a sustained exposition of the Triune God – i.e. the God who reveals Himself in Jesus Christ to be the Father who freely loves us, and has so from all eternity. This same God is the God who realises in time and history His original purpose for us by reconciling us to Himself in Jesus Christ, who is the Eternal Son, the One who humbled himself to exalt us, who came to be with us so that we could be with Him; and again, this God is the God who comes to dwell in us through the outpouring of His Holy Spirit – the power and presence of His love – and so is the God who in freely loving us frees us to love! The Christian life is therefore ‘Eucharistia’ (thanksgiving and gratitude) in response to ‘Charis’ (grace); it is saying yes to the God who has said Yes to us; it is loving the God who loves us. Wonderful, isn’t it?”

This is what my tutor in theology David McGregor, said to me back in August 2002, when I first started seriously engaging with Karl Barth’s Dogmatics. David was an inspiration.

Karl Barth’s “French Connection” – how Pierre Maury gave a ‘decisive impetus’ to Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Election.

Just after my thirtieth birthday, my wife and I took our three young children to live and work in France during the 1970s and 1980s. There I had the privilege of ministering amongst a large congregation in the university city of Montpellier, and was also involved in outreach to students. I then engaged over several years in church planting and evangelism in the Massif Central region bordering the famous Cevennes mountain ranges and the plateaus of the Grands Causses.[1] Over the years I often had the privilege of listening to some of the finest preachers I have heard in my fifty years of active adult Christian discipleship and ordained ministry. So it is not surprising that I have the greatest respect for the erudition and evangelical warmth of someone like Pierre Maury. While this book is not a biography of Maury, his personality and influence are such strong factors that we cannot but throw the spotlight on this amazing man, who gave such a decisive impetus to Barth in his famous reconstruction of the doctrine of election.[2] While much has been written about the problems raised by this reworking, this book, in the main, seeks to assess it positively.

Having retired from active ordained pastoral ministry at the end of 2012, I was able to continue reading Karl Barth’s rich theology that I had begun to chip away at in 2002, when I engaged in postgraduate studies in ministry. In the intervening years, though absorbed as I was by pastoral demands, I had managed to read much secondary literature, which reframed certain aspects of the theological “grid” to which I was exposed during my time at a ministry training college in the early seventies, which was often wary of the so-called neo-orthodox theologians, who, it was claimed, taught that “the historic, orthodox position with reference to inspiration, revelation, and biblical criticism can no longer be maintained.” This revealed an underlying deep suspicion, typical of the day and still common in our time. Neo-orthodox theologians were described time and again as holding to the idea that the Bible only contained the word of God, and this understanding was seen as a dangerous compromise, an erosion of scripture’s authority. Another critique at that time held that Barth was indebted to and overly influenced by existential philosophers such as Kierkegaard. This assessment tended to pigeon-hole him and consequently dismiss him as not worthy of consideration.[3] Much of what I learned during that time of preparation for pastoral ministry was very helpful and constructive, but subsequently treading a path between what was considered off limits on the one hand and on the other a somewhat rigid approach to Christian revelation, was at times a rocky road. However, on reading Bernard Ramm’s 1983 book After Fundamentalism in the early 2000s, in which he wrote that he had come to the conclusion that “Barth’s theology is a restatement of Reformed theology written in the aftermath of the Enlightenment but not capitulating to it,”[4] I found his cautious yet balanced thinking very persuasive. Like Donald Bloesch in his Jesus is Victor, Ramm had reservations about aspects of Barth’s corpus and took issue at various points, but remained an appreciative critic. It goes without saying that many Evangelicals still have a strained relationship with Barth, but I concur with the irenic attitude of a theologian such as Mark Thompson, who, while also parting company with Barth in some areas, observes that we should engage with him “not as an enemy but as a fellow disciple of Jesus Christ.”[5]

Once anyone begins to engage seriously with Barth’s massive corpus, it demands a herculean effort of time and energy. His work represents a lifetime of hard work and indefatigable single-minded attention to his task.[6] It was during a three week Lenten retreat in 2013 that the link between Barth and Maury and its significance for the doctrine of election came into sharper focus for me, when I focused on reading and summarizing Eberhard Busch’s The Great Passion. However, in the final week I read Bruce McCormack’s Karl Barth’s Critically Realistic Dialectical Theology: Its Genesis and Development, 1909–1936, which challenged the traditional view of the evolution of Barth’s theology from dialectic to analogy espoused in particular by the late Roman Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar.[7] It wasn’t until I had worked my way through all 467 pages of this outstanding piece of historical theology, which the British theologian Graham Ward, Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford, described as a “major intellectual achievement and interpretative act of great courage, in which Barth studies will never remain the same,”[8] that I discovered how significant the contribution of Pierre Maury was. Naturally I was intrigued. I had discovered a French connection in Barth’s theological development!

A major focus of my book’s second edition was still Maury’s famous 1936 paper “Election and Faith”  and on the impact of this paper on Barth’s subsequent reworking of the doctrine of election in Church Dogmatics II/2 (published in 1942),[9] where Maury’s “impressive treatment” of this theme is acknowledged.[10] However, it is important for us in this study, as Suzanne McDonald stated in her foreword, to understand who exactly was Pierre Maury, the man, Karl Barth’s close friend and confidant, the one who was instrumental in introducing Barth’s theology to the church in France in the twentieth century.

Many authors have taken into account Pierre Maury’s seminal influence on Barth’s doctrine of election,[11] 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 in his own time he was awarded honorary doctorates by the universities of Budapest, St Andrews and Chicago. His groundbreaking paper “Election and Faith” gets a mention in the literature, but until the first edition of this work had never been translated into English. Meeting Pierre Maury’s biographer Françoise Florentin-Smyth[12] and some of the Maury family in Paris in September 2013 heightened my sense that here was someone and something that needed to be brought to the attention of a wider readership. Hopefully this work has encouraged more readers to reflect on what it was that Maury 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”![13] The essays that follow the translations of Maury’s works in my book attempted to address some of these issues. Maury’s work merits serious attention on its own, especially as he wrote from the perspective both of a pastor and a preacher, which remained a strong focus of his life up until his untimely and much regretted death. My hope was that pastors and church workers would find inspiration in these extracts from Maury, which are transcripts of addresses that he gave often in the midst of a very busy life. He said that his famous paper on Election and Faith was hastily put together in just two days.[14] They have an immediacy that is often difficult to convey in translation. Many phrases were reworked and retranslated in the secoind edition.[15]

In my book we first encounter Maury in the seminal paper he gave at the Calvinist Congress at Geneva in 1936. This was an initiative of young neo-Calvinists of that time to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the publication of the first edition of Calvin’s Institutio Christianae Religionis (Institutes of the Christian Religion). Then, from a year later we engage with a sermon (“The Ultimate Decision,” 1937), part of a Lenten series (The Great Work of God), preached at the Reformed Church of the Annunciation at Passy, Paris. Lastly we meet Maury as pastor/theologian in a revised translation of his sessions on Predestination to delegates at the Second World Council of Churches Assembly at Evanston, Illinois, in 1954, just two years before his death.

In “Election and Faith” 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 sequences in which we are without end enclosed.

The uniqueness of Maury’s contribution is found in this Christocentric grounding of election, a focus of hot debate in Barthian studies[16] and seeing election as part of the doctrine of God and not so much as part of a subjective soteriology. Election, for Maury, is a theological, not an anthropological, doctrine (as seen in the title of a chapter in Predestination).

These three works of Maury are outstanding examples of original, biblically-grounded exposition in the Reformed theological tradition. Maury seeks to be faithful to Calvin but is not bound by him.

We see the significance of these two orientations in a letter Barth wrote to Pierre Maury on the 21st August 1936 in response to “Election and Faith”:[17]

My dear friend Maury! I have just read, no, worked on your lecture on predestination and I hasten to say how much I approve and admire these pages. I am in the process of doing some research on this subject for the lectures which I have to give in Hungary, so I am at this time competent to pass judgment. I have to admit frankly and without wanting to flatter you, that it is the best presentation on this question that I know, much better than that which I myself gave seven years ago in my Dogmatics course. The direction in which I was seeking—you know my interpretation of Romans 9 to 11—was the same, but you were so right to insist much more energetically on the “in Christ” and the way in which you did it is very clear and revealing and still gives me a fresh line of thought. I will need to take a lot of trouble to attain and to maintain in my Hungarian lectures the high standard where the problem is laid out after your elucubrations and intensive efforts . . . Besides, I wonder if you see clearly enough the enormity of the change of the character and the importance of the doctrine of predestination, if it is understood as on page 216 of your work.[18] Would Calvin recognize himself here or would he not mount proceedings against us similar to what he did with the unfortunate Bolsec? Do you not find it also quite astonishing, that, despite his assertions on the “mirror” etc., his own explanations on the role of Christ in this matter are—different from yours!!—rather thin and obscure: repeated propositions rather than explanations? You are quite right to say that the disagreement is secondary. It is also secondary as far as the question of natural theology is concerned. Only, we should not hide the fact that while being good disciples of the Reformation, we are perhaps moving away, further than our liberal predecessors, from their way of thinking. There really is no “Calvinism”![19]

It needs to be kept in mind that the evolution of Barth’s mature doctrine of election was part of an ongoing conversation that went back many years. Barth recalled this in 1956: “Pierre Maury and I had of course often spoken of this problem.”[20] We have another hint of this in a recent work of Satyaranjan about the great Sri Lankan Methodist preacher D.T. Niles:[21]

In 1935 Niles attended the General Committee of the World Student Christian Federation at Sophia, Bulgaria, as a delegate of the SCM of India, Ceylon and Burma. This marked the beginning of his entry into the ecumenical world outside his native confines and opened doors to meet with the world’s great theologians and spiritual leaders. At Sophia, Niles found a “guru” in Pastor Pierre Maury of France, a spiritual guide who led the Bible study. Niles met Karl Barth, the great theologian, at Basel the same year after the first Missions Conference of the World Student Christian Federation, and asked Barth his opinion of Pierre Maury’s understanding of predestination. Niles later reminisced about Barth’s reply: “He [Karl Barth] underlined the point that Pierre Maury makes, that predestination is a mystery of light and not of darkness, a mystery of grace even when one is speaking about the judgement of God . . . [Pierre Maury] helped me to understand between going to the Bible for answers to questions we ask and approaching the Bible with our answers to the questions it raises. Pierre Maury would say, ‘Only God has the right to ask questions.’” (Niles, Karl Barth, 5, 7, 8).[22]

Another indication of an anterior grappling and ongoing conversation around this issue is also borne out in Barth’s lecture cycle at Göttingen, published as The Theology of the Reformed Confessions, in which he was treating “Reformed doctrine as a whole” and within this broad overview looking at what he called “the positive doctrine of Christianity.” On 21st of June 1923 (fourteen years before his Gifford Lectures of 1937–8)[23] he was focusing on the Scots Confession of 1560:

It is truly regrettable that in the seventeenth century the Scots Confession became obsolete and today only has historical significance . . . We note how clearly the meaning of the doctrine of predestination is handled. This doctrine treats of what God does, not what happens to the human person . . . We see how the unclassical problem of the assurance of salvation, this problem whose very emergence is an indicator of confusion and wrong questions, never commands any attention in this context. That is certainly the best thing that can happen to it. It is my opinion that, because of all of this, the Scots Confession, like a few others, may speak to us as a normative and model confession for our pursuit of the question of the positive doctrine of Christianity.[24]

So it would appear that predestination had been a longstanding topic of conversation between Barth and Maury over many years before 1936, but that Barth himself had seen certain “flaws” that troubled him. He considered, as he was to say in his 1937 Gifford Lectures, that Article Eight of the Scots Confession, “Of Election,”seemed at first sight to be of a purely Christological character, something which he considered to be a noteworthy innovation in the way the subject matter was ordered:

By this arrangement its authors have made it known unambiguously that they wish the whole body of material which is called the doctrine of predestination to be explained through Christology and conversely Christology to be explained with the doctrine of predestination.[25]

He concluded his lecture on God’s Decision and Man’s Election by claiming that

The Scottish confession is right in principle in the position it takes. God’s eternal decree and man’s election and thus the whole of what is called the doctrine of predestination cannot but be misunderstood unless it is understood in its connection with the truth of the divine human nature of Jesus Christ.[26]

~

In my book I included selections from five witnesses, concerning the man that was Pierre Maury. Firstly, Jacques Maury, Pierre’s son, shared his testimony to the impact of this beloved pastor/theologian as an evangelist. Secondly, Gustave Monod, a senior French government official and past Chief of Staff of the Minister of Education and Inspector General of Education gave a moving personal tribute. Thirdly, a much loved and respected fellow French Reformed Minister and theologian Jean Bosc, who with Albert Finet founded the journal Réforme, spoke of Maury’s bi-partisanship in matters theological. Fourthly, Robert Mackie, a contemporary and close collaborator of Pierre Maury, shared his memories in an abbreviated introduction to the original English translation of Predestination. Fifthly, Karl Barth in the same edition just mentioned gave a moving and eloquent testimony to the strength of his friendship with Maury and the enormous respect that the Professor of Basel had for his “never-to-be-forgotten friend.”

Following these tributes, there were three of Pierre Maury’s works. In the chapters that follow these, seven theologians all engaged with Maury and Barth from historical, textual, pastoral, and theological standpoints, and sought to draw conclusions for us in our contemporary setting, sixty to eighty years from their original composition.

In “Pierre Maury, Karl Barth and the Evolution of Election”Mark Lindsay outlined the major aspects of Barth’s articulation of election, describing the political-rhetorical context in which Barth’s reflections on this subject were made. Having written in some detail[27] on Barth’s theology in the light of the Holocaust, he also shows how the particularities of Barth’s doctrine of election stand in self-conscious resistance to the National Socialist war against the Jews.

In “Harmony without Identity: A Comparison of the Theology of Election in Pierre Maury and Karl Barth” Matthias Gockel took a closer look at Maury’s thinking on election in comparison with Barth’s view. He maintained that, despite their principal agreement about the need to put the doctrine on a new Christological basis, minor differences remain. He canvassed a number of subtle changes of the French text in the German translation, which was undertaken by Barth’s confidante Charlotte von Kirschbaum, as well as the most significant translation changes raising the vexed question of interpretation in the task of translation.

John Capper’s paper “Serious Joy of the Ultimate Decision” focused on Maury’s 1937 sermon “Ultimate Decision.” What he found profoundly troubling from a pastoral perspective is that many who hear the good news of the Gospel do not come to know the saving gift of God. Therefore, pondering election and its polarities in predestination is a means of making sense of this reality, and a step to encouraging steadfastness in the lives of the faithful. This points to some connections between the theological and pastoral aspects of both Barth and Maury.

Damon Adams in “Karl Barth & Apokatastasis All’s Well That Ends Well . . . Yes! . . . No?!” cogently suggested, in line with a classical Reformed position, that “attached to Barth’s newly formulated doctrine of election came explanations that have left many a reader of Barth to conclude that he was effectively teaching a form of Christian Universalism.’

However, the last two essays by Leo Stossich “The Human Election of God” and Michael O’Neil “The Light of the Gospel – Election and Proclamation”, took a positive view of what has been described as Barth’s reworking of the Reformed doctrine and classical understanding of election/predestination. Stossich in part draws our attention to the rich theology of the Holy Spirit in Barth and the issue of human freedom and, I would add, the balancing of divine and human agency in the economy of salvation, while O’Neil explored “..the relation between election and proclamation in Barth’s doctrine, in hope of highlighting more explicitly Barth’s pastoral and homiletical orientation.” Does Barth hold together the objective and subjective poles of salvation and is his logic leading in the direction of universalism?[28]

Finally, in a comprehensive concluding afterword, John McDowell developed many rich themes in “Barth after Maury.” He showed that Barth “had not only developed and deepened in his own work that which he appreciated about Maury’s “Election et Foi,” but .. he had pressed this material in all kinds of quite distinctive and theologically rich directions.”

~

It was the great British Methodist preacher W.E. Sangster who reputedly said, “Behind the message, the man.” The five moving tributes that followed gave a sense of what Maury gave to so many. It is not surprising, therefore, that Barth and Maury enjoyed such a unique and significant partnership and friendship, marked by strong mutual respect. This was the hallmark of Maury’s relations with so many. As the book of Proverbs puts it, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Prov 27:17).

The three testimonies and especially the twenty-eight years of correspondence between Pierre Maury and Karl Barth, between 1928 and 1956, reveal an intense friendship of two very different men. This type of friendship calls to mind biblical examples such as David and Jonathan, Daniel and his companions, and Paul and Barnabas, along with the tensions that often existed. Church history, too, is replete with records of people growing and sharing ministry together: Luther and Melanchthon, Calvin and Bucer, and the Wesley brothers. Bernard Reymond recounts the beginnings of this unique friendship:[29]

In the summer of 1931, Maury had already thought of the idea of visiting Barth in Bonn, along with Visser ‘t Hooft.[30] Circumstances obliged them to put off this visit until March 1932. Many years later, Barth himself still vividly remembered that time: “The two of them came to see me at my mother’s house in Bern where I was on holiday. It was of course Pierre who led the discussion. I can still see him before me and feel the fresh air that he brought with him.”[31] From then on the ice had been broken; their letters abundantly bear witness. The reciprocal attraction must have quickly given place to an ever-growing friendship, especially from the moment when they stopped using the more formal vous and adopted the intimate tu, when Barth went to Paris in April 1934. “We understood each other so well,” Barth recalled in his article in 1956 for Réforme. “We were so naturally in agreement on all the great and important things, and yet also so sharply in disagreement on secondary questions, that our coming together could never have become unfruitful or boring. We never wondered what to talk about as we were always so eager to exchange our ideas.”

Willem Visser ‘t Hooft was a name that had been mentioned in connection with Maury and Barth. He said of his own significant friendship with Maury:

Of the men and women with whom I worked over the years none had a deeper influence on me than Pierre Maury . . . For us, as for so many others, Pierre Maury became the pastoral friend and the friendly pastor. He saw my weaknesses and did not spare his criticisms, but he saw more in me than I saw in myself, and so he gave me courage to do things which I would not have done without him . . . This man combined in a unique way the deep passion for the discovery of the great objective divine truth with an equally deep interest in persons and in all manifestations of human life.[32]

Barth’s own testimony concerning what Maury brought to their friendship is striking not just for the intellectual stimulus but for the warmth of his personality. Maury was that kind of person.[33] Joan Chittister has observed that “differences . . . broaden us . . . (and) make us bigger people than we could ever have been had we stayed locked in our tiny little intellectual ghettoes.”[34] Homan and Pratt concur: “Encountering those who are different from ourselves . . . stretches us; it dislocates stiffness and opens us up to new possibilities.”[35] In a discussion of the place of community in the pilgrim life, Eugene Peterson goes further, stating, “We mediate to one another the mysteries of God. We represent to one another the address of God.”[36] John Macmurray, the Scottish philosopher (1891–1976), showed the self in proper existence within a community of relational beings and asserted that “there can be no man until there are at least two men in communication.”[37]

When we consider the interpersonal dynamic of this friendship, we also discover an interesting parallel between Barth’s doctrine of Creation in Church Dogmatics III, the second volume of which appeared three years after the end of the Second World War in May 1948, and Maury’s Lenten sermons of the same year.[38] After volume one of CD III, in which Barth famously integrates creation and redemption, he explores the theme of “being in encounter” in volume two:

Being in encounter consists . . . in the fact that we render mutual assistance in the act of being . . . In the very fact that he lives a man is summoned by his fellow-man. The latter does not wish to be left alone or to his own devices in his action. I cannot represent him. I cannot make his life-task my own. He cannot expect this from me. He must not confuse me with God. And he will certainly have no reason to do so. I must try to help myself, and he will have to do the same. But as he tries to do so, he has the right to expect that I shall be there for him as well as myself, that I shall not ignore him but live with him, that my life will be a support for his, that it will mean comfort, encouragement and alleviation for him.”[39]

So in the same year that Barth’s discussion of the theme of “being in encounter” appeared in print for the first time, one of Maury’s sermons, “To know Jesus Christ is to know man,”expressed concepts markedly similar to Barth’s development of an anthropology developed from a Christologically determined doctrine of creation. For Barth, being in encounter involves human beings looking each other in the eye, where there is mutual speech and hearing, and where we render assistance to each other in the act of being, all of which occurs in reciprocal gladness. Maury declared in his Lenten sermon:

Without Jesus Christ, I am without you. More than that, I am without myself (51) . . . In any event, for Jesus Christ, to be human, is to understand and love what is “the other” (54).

Not only is this similarity of expression interesting as the joining of two great minds but it bolsters Visser ‘t Hooft’s sense that Maury gave him the courage to do things which he would not have done without him. Could not the same be said about Karl Barth? Wolf Krötke, in a discussion of Barth’s anthropology, claims:

If we take seriously the fact that the eternal God has here bound himself with a man, then the history which here takes place is to be understood as a history really grounded in the eternity of God. Barth set this out in an interpretation of the doctrine of election, one of the most genuine accomplishments of his theological thinking, and at the same time a place at which essential decisions about the structure of theological anthropology are taken.[40]

In a subsequent discussion of humanity as co-humanity, he also postulates that

In Barth’s understanding, in the light of faith in Jesus Christ, it is evident that it is no accident that the human creature exists structurally in relations . . . The human person is human only in relation to fellow human beings. Human “existence with fellow humans” is the basic form of humanity in which a person is “the parable of the existence of his creator.”[41]

I would suggest that perhaps the most significant factor in this story of a unique friendship is this interpersonal dynamic of companionship and mutual encouragement. But let Barth have the last word in a letter to Albert Finet, director of the weekly Réforme (Reformation) journal, after Maury’s death:[42]

It was always refreshing for me to be with him (Maury) one or two times every year for several hours or several days. It did not matter where, in Switzerland, or in Paris, sometimes at a conference, in a particularly fruitful way in Amsterdam in 1948 . . . We were great friends. In all likelihood he underestimated what he brought to our friendship. If he learned this or that from me, he never in any way became my student. At an important stage in my theological journey, when I was concerned with the doctrine of election, he gave me a decisive impetus. Very often he led me much further, simply by his questions, his reservations or his objections. He was a legend, when some considered him as my blind partisan. He was too good a Frenchman, and a Christian, to be someone else’s passenger. Besides, I didn’t have either the intention or the capacity to do that with him. Read his writings and his publications and you can see to what degree he thought everything through and expressed and defended it in his own way. And he had such gifts that I never possessed, which I could only admire in him.[43]

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———. The Theology of the Reformed Confessions. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2002.

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Visser ‘t Hooft, W. A. Memoirs. London: SCM, 1973.

Ward, Graham. Review of Karl Barth’s Critically Realistic Dialectical Theology, by Bruce McCormack. Expository Times 107/3 (December 1995) 88–89.


[1]. Any missionary/church worker who has served in France, as I did, particularly in those regions that became bastions of the Reformed faith, such as the Cevennes, cannot remain unmoved by the example of those who stood firm for nearly a hundred years up until the revolution of 1789, during a period which became known as L’Église du desert—“the Church of the wilderness.” In this region many brave men and women were martyred or imprisoned for their faith, particularly after Louis XIV in 1685 revoked the Edict of Nantes, which was an edict of religious tolerance instituted by Louis’ grandfather Henri IV in 1598. From Calvin onwards, French Protestants were forced into exile all over Europe and to the four corners of the earth. The spiritual descendants of those who survived that terrible period of persecution have kept the flame burning. Whilst that era has long passed, it still remains a significant backdrop of the life of Protestantism in France and has left an indelible mark.

[2]. In November 1950 Karl Barth wrote a moving letter to Pierre Maury, which reveals not only how much he esteemed him but also how strong was his emotional attachment to his French friend. “Unforgettable the day that I saw you for the first time with such a strong impression: that face, and what a character, a man whom I love! . . . the expectation of that day has never failed: I have been the reason for many disappointments and caused you many worries . . . But I have always found you to be compelling, remarkable, exasperating (in the best sense of the word) and always faithful to the Cause as well as to your friend with and despite his outrageous thoughts, words and attitudes” (Reymond, Karl Barth, 225, my translation).

[3]. Hunsinger (How to Read Karl Barth, x) in countering various critiques of Barth, seeks a fairer and more adequate response, observing that “reading what the critics have to say of Barth’s theology is usually like looking at an old map, the kind drafted before the dawn of modern cartography in the 18th century. Certain basic aspects of the theology may be present, but the distortion factor is high. Topographic features may be lacking in detail. Whole promontories may be absent or diminished. Monsters, lions, and squash lines may do duty for factual content. The task of responsible criticism presupposes a more reliable depiction of the overall terrain, as well as of the proportional relationships among the various segments, than has usually been the case. A quest for better cartography would seem to be the place to begin.” Nearly ten years later, he also observed that “Barth has set the terms for debate in a field where almost everyone seemed to disagree with him, even though they could not ignore him, and even though, as was also often the case, they had only just begun to understand him, if at all” (Hunsinger, Disruptive Grace, 253). Perhaps he had in mind works such as Van Til’s Christianity and Barthianism, whose critique was far from superficial but rather comprehensive in its scope and in its day had a marked influence, engendering a cautious attitude toward Barthian theology. However, Van Til, while censuring Barth for his many “errors,” respected his scholarship: “The Church Dogmatics is a truly monumental work. In reading it one’s admiration for Barth knows no bounds . . . in the Church Dogmatics we have the ripe fruition of arduous reflection and research” (2).

[4]. Ramm, After Fundamentalism, 14.

[5]. Thompson, Witness to the Word, 196.

[6]. A leading Australian Uniting Church minister friend told me of his visit to Basel many years ago and standing outside Barth’s old home. An elderly gentleman enquired about the purpose of his visit and shared his memory of often seeing the light from Barth’s study in the night hours. He said that he told his sons, “So you want to succeed in your studies? Look at Professor Barth. Follow his example!”

[7]. Balthasar, The Theology of Karl Barth.

[8]. Ward, “Review of Karl Barth’s,” 88–89. 

[9]. Barth wrote in 1956, “At an important stage in my theological journey, when I was concerned with the doctrine of election, he gave me a decisive impetus.” This was part of Barth’s tribute to Maury, in a letter titled Un homme libre (A free man), written to Albert Finet, director of the weekly Réforme (Reformation) journal, 18 Feb 1956 (my translation).

[10]. “The Christological meaning and basis of the doctrine of election have been brought out afresh in our own time, and with an impressive treatment of Jesus Christ as the original and decisive object of the divine election and rejection. This service has been rendered by Pierre Maury in the fine lecture which he gave on Election et Foi at the Congrès international de théologie calviniste in Geneva, 1936 (published in Foi et Vie, April–May 1936, and in German under the title “Erwählung und Glaube” in Theol. Studien, Heft 8, 1940). That Congress dealt exclusively with the problem of predestination, and its records will easily show how instructive was Maury’s contribution, and how it stood out from the other papers, which were interesting historically but in content moved entirely within the circle of the traditional formulations, and were almost hopelessly embarrassed by their difficulties” (Barth, Church Dogmatics II/2, 154–5).

[11]. McCormack, Karl Barth’s Critically Realistic Dialectical Theology, 455–63; Gockel, Barth and Schleiermacher, 158–64; McDonald, Re-imaging Election, 31–37 (“Barthian theology and that of Maury were made to meet each other.”); Maillot, “P. Maury Prédicateur,” 26.

[12]. Florentin-Smyth, Pierre Maury.

[13]. Gunton, Election and Ecclesiology, 220. Similar sentiments are shared by Migliore (Faith Seeking Understanding, 87): “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.” Fernandez-Armesto and Wilson (Reformation, 87) succinctly canvas the dilemma that has confronted theologians down through the centuries: “If the bestowal of grace is absolute, it must be predestined; if the individual soul can neither attract nor resist it, God must be supposed to have made up his mind about it independently of the behaviour of the person saved or condemned.”

[14]. “Between you and me confidentially (and I am not very proud of it) I can tell you that I put together the outline and wrote the text in 2 days! It’s disgraceful. Naturally since then I discover all sorts of things that should have been said and others that I could have been able to develop and put differently” (Reymond, Karl Barth—Pierre Maury, 102).

[15]. I thank Matthias Gockel and Stuart Rochester for their willing input and assistance. For this edition Professor Pierre-Sovann Chauny of the Faculté Jean Calvin, at the Institut de Théologie Protestante et Évangélique (Aix-en-Provence, France) pointed out some errors and omitted phrases in the first edition, which have now been rectified. Garrett Green observed in his preface to his translation of Barth on the topic of religion in CD 1/1 “…translation is as much an art as a science, requiring not only linguistic expertise in two languages but also a sense of style and tone in both” (Green, On Religion, vii).

[16]. This raises the issue of Barth’s “Christomonism,” which H. Richard Niebuhr named “a new unitarianism of the second person of the trinity.” The “Christocentric concentration” in Barth’s whole corpus is reviewed by Henri Blocher (“Karl Barth’s Christocentric Method”), who gives instances of the use of such words as “panchristism” and “Jesucentric” to characterize Barth’s thinking (26–27), and says that “some attempt must be made to sound the strength of its foundations and to probe the durability of its cement and linkages” (43). Berkouwer (in The Triumph of Grace) claims that Barth developed an extreme Christomonism, but Colin Greene (Christology in Cultural Perspective, 288) says that this “would be analogous to an imploding star: the sheer power of the Christological gravitational forces would eventually drag everything into the ‘black hole’ of the eternal person and being of Christ.” However, in striking prose, he believes that it is more accurate to speak of a “Christological prism, where the iridescent light that shines from the person of Christ is refracted through that prism to illuminate the landscape of Christian theology in a way not previously attempted.”

[17]. Reymond, Karl Barth—Pierre Maury, 99–101 (my translation). Reymond, the editor of the correspondence, writes, “This letter from Barth presents a special interest: it gives his warm reaction before a text of Maury, which we know had influenced him, but concerning this we were only aware of the preface that Barth wrote for the posthumous edition of Maury’s study on Predestination (Geneva 1957). Barth took the trouble to write this letter directly in French.”

[18]. The pagination referred to here is in Foi et Vie 1936, where Maury’s study first appeared. Reymond comments, “These are the pages where Maury insisted on the fact that it is Jesus Christ who is at one and the same time both the object of the election and the condemnation of God, different from Calvin, who distinguished between the elect on the one hand and the condemned on the other, independently of Jesus Christ.”

[19]. This was, of course, Van Til’s assertion: that Barth was not true to the Reformation heritage.

[20]. See Karl Barth’s original foreword to Maury’s Predestination in this volume (see page 29).

[21]. Daniel Thambyrajah Niles (4 May 1908—17 July 1970) was a Ceylonese pastor, evangelist and president of the Ceylon Methodist Conference. He once famously defined the task of an evangelist as “one beggar telling another beggar where to get food.”

[22]. Satyaranjan, The Preaching of D. T. Niles, 24.

[23]. Barth, The Knowledge of God and the Service of God.

[24]. Barth, The Theology of the Reformed Confessions, 133.

[25]. Barth, The Knowledge of God and the Service of God, 69.

[26]. Ibid., lecture VII.

[27]. Mark Lindsay’s works include Covenanted Solidarity: The Theological Basis of Karl Barth’s Opposition to Nazi Antisemitism and the Holocaust (2001); Barth, Israel and Jesus: Karl Barth’s Theology of Israel (2007); and Reading Auschwitz with Barth: The Holocaust as Problem and Promise for Barthian Theology (2014). More recently (2020) he has published with IVP God has Chosen: The Doctrine of Election Through Christian History, in which he updated and revised his chapter from my book renaming it Karl Barth’s Reconsideration of the Doctrine of Election, ch 6 160-183.

[28].  Zahrnt observed that “Whenever Barth came to speak of Apokatastasis, he denies it. He skirts it by appealing to the same freedom of God which makes his grace so unlimited. Grace forbids faith to turn the open number of the elect in Jesus Christ into a closed number, on the pattern of the classic doctrine of predestination. But to reckon with the redemption of all men would equally result in a closed number..” (CD II/2:421f.) Zahrnt also picks up on the theme of O’Neil’s essay on the relation between election and proclamation: “The fundamental openness of the number of the elect has to be reflected in the ‘open situation of proclamation.’ Consequently, Barth answers the charge that he teaches an Apokatastasis by constantly referring to preaching: The Church’s mission is not to define and contemplate the divine choice, but to preach it, thereby perfecting the destination of the elect. Predestination is not an object for inquiry and discursive description, but for faith and personal address: ‘It is meant for you!’ See Zahrnt The Question of God, Protestant Theology in the Twentieth Century, 110.

Ten years after the publication of CD II/2 in 1952, Barth published his Christus und Adam nach Römer 5, in which he stated that “The very existence of this individual (Christ) is identical with a divine righteous decision which potentially (my emphasis)includes an indefinite multitude of other men so as to be manifest and effective in those who believe in Him in a way that is absolutely decisive…” See Barth, Christ and Adam. 12.  Barth’s use of the adverb potentially reveals a certain caution. He was specifically dealing with verses 12 -21 of Romans 5, in which, as Morris has clearly pointed out, “There is an objectivity to this section that we should not miss. In verses 1-11 and again in 6: 1-9 the pronoun “we” is constant, but in 5:12-21 there is not one “we”. Paul is concentrating on objective facts, irrespective of our participation.” See Morris, The Epistle to the Romans, 228, (my emphasis.) In a similar vein Barrett concurs in his commentary on verse 19, stating that “Adam’s disobedience did not mean that all men necessarily and without consent committed particular acts of sin; it meant that they were born into a race which had separated itself from God. Similarly, Christ’s obedience did not mean that men did nothing but righteous acts, but that in Christ they were related to God as Christ himself was related to his Father.” See Barrett, The Epistle to the Romans, 117 (See also Barrett, From First Adam to Last, 68-119.) Bloesch distances himself from Barth’s position on the scope of salvation:  “In my view the victory of Christ over the powers of darkness benefits all, but it does not liberate all. It makes their liberation and reconciliation viable but not inevitable” (my emphasis). See Bloesch, Jesus is Victor! Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Salvation, 123. This is an issue that still haunts the church in our day. However, Ramm’s discussion in his chapter on Barthian Universalism in After Fundamentalism, 165-172, draws attention to something that he senses is at the heart of Barth’s concern with the “significance of people who are not Christian” He says that what Barth is essentially asking us is “Does the Gospel consign to meaninglessness all those people who have never heard it or never believed it? Are non-Christians the waste products of the plan of salvation?” (my emphasis).

[29]. Reymond, Théologien ou prophète, 54, (my translation).

[30]. Visser ‘t Hooft was the first General Secretary of the World Council of Churches from its foundation until his retirement in 1966.

[31]. Réforme, 18 February 1956. Barth mentions this visit in a letter to Thurneysen, 24 March 1932.

[32]. Visser ‘t Hooft, Memoirs, 36.

[33]. Suzanne de Dietrich wrote of Maury and Visser ‘t Hooft, “For three years they shared the same office . . . This partnership between an expansive Southern Frenchman and a reserved tenacious Dutchman must have been very amusing at times” (50 ans d’histoire, 93).

[34]. Chittister, Uncommon Gratitude, 34.

[35]. Pratt and Homan, Radical Hospitality, 65.

[36]. Peterson, A Long Obedience, 165.

[37]. Macmurray, Persons in Relation, 12. Macmurray claimed that “If . . . we isolate one pair as the unit of personal community we can discover the basic structure of community as such. The relation between them is positively motived in each. Each then is heterocentric; the centre of interest and attention is in the other, not in himself. For each, therefore, it is the other who is important, not himself. The other is the centre of value. Persons in Relation, ch. 7.

[38]. Maury, Jesus Christ, cet inconnu.

[39]. Barth, CD III/2, 260, 263.

[40]. Krötke, “The Humanity of the Human Person,” 163.

[41]. Ibid., 168. Krötke’s quotations are from CD III/2, 203.

[42]. Un homme libre (A free man), published 18 Feb 1956 (my translation).

[43]. Reymond, Karl Barth—Pierre Maury, 249.

The mature Barth: Schleiermacher and a ‘Theology of the Holy Spirit’ with a footnote from Pierre Maury.

Karl Barth has an amazing Concluding Unscientific Postscript on Schleiermacher, an appendage to his series of lectures delivered at the University of Göttingen in the winter of 1923/4, when he confronted and challenged the pillar of theological liberalism (The Theology of Schleiermacher – Lectures at Göttingen, Winter Semester of 1923/24, Ed. D. Ritschl, Trans. G.W. Bromiley, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans, 1982). He ‘sticks to his guns’ but at the same time speaks of ‘the possibility of a theology of the third article, in other words, a theology predominantly and decisively of the Holy Spirit’, which Pentecostal theologian Frank D. Macchia in The Spirit of God and the Spirit of Life: An Evangelical Response to Karl Barth’s Pneumatology 1 has also reflected on.

This is the mature Barth looking back at his lifelong tussle with the revered father of liberal Protestantism in Germany. He recalls his friendship with Eduard Thurneysen and how from Hermann Kutter he had

‘ learned to speak the great word ‘God’ once again seriously, responsibly, and forcibly’ [2]. He remembered when

‘.. the First World War broke out and brought something which for me was almost even worse than the violation of Belgian neutrality – the horrible manifesto of the 93 German intellectuals, who identified themselves before all the world with the war policy of Kaiser Wilhelm II and Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg. And to my dismay, among the signatories I discovered the names of almost all my German teachers (with the honourable exception of Martin Rade). An entire world of theological exegesis, ethics, dogmatics, and preaching, which up to that point I had accepted as basically credible, was thereby shaken to the foundations, and with it everything which flowed at that time from the pens of the German theologians. And Schleiermacher? Had not even he in the first of his Speeches from 1799 written impossible things about the British and the French? Had he not also been a leading Prussian patriot from 1806 to 1814? Would he also perhaps have signed the manifesto? Fichte certainly, perhaps Hegel, but Schleiermacher? According to what I know of his letters from the period after 1815, I remain convinced that, no, he would not have done. Nevertheless, it was still the case that the entire theology which had unmasked itself in that manifesto, and everything which followed after it (even in the Christliche Welt), was grounded, determined and influenced decisively by him’. [3]

And yet Barth could say, in retrospect, many constructive, positive and winsome things about Schleiermacher, while remaining true to his break with the tradition that had nurtured him in his early years.

Then comes his famous and truly fascinating conclusion regarding ‘a clarification of his relationship to Schleiermacher’.

‘.. what I have occasionally contemplated for here and now-  and thus not only with respect to a theological event in the kingdom of glory (which will then form the triumphal ending to my history with Schleiermacher), but, so to speak, with respect also to a millennium preceding that kingdom – and what I have already intimated here and there to good friends, would be the possibility of a theology of the third article, in other words, a theology predominantly and decisively of the Holy Spirit. Everything which needs to be said, considered, and believed about God the Father and God the Son in an understanding of the first and second articles might be shown and illuminated in its foundations through God the Holy Spirit, the vinculum pacis inter Patrem et Filium (the bond of peace between the father and the Son). The entire work of God for his creatures, for, in, and with human beings, might be made visible in terms of its one teleology in which all contingency is excluded. In Church Dogmatics IV:1-3, I at least had the good instinct to place the church, and then faith, love, and hope, under the sign of the Holy Spirit. But might it not even be possible and necessary to place justification, sanctification, and calling under this sign – to say nothing of creation as the opus proprium of God the Father? Might not even the Christology which dominates everything be illuminated on this basis (conceptus de Spiritu Sancto!)? Isn’t God- the God confessed by his people through the revelation of his covenant and who is to be proclaimed as such in the world – essentially Spirit (John 4:24, 1 Corinthians 3:17), i.e., isn’t he the God who in his own freedom, power, and love makes himself present and applies himself? Was it perhaps something of that sort which, without having gotten beyond obscure intimations, was so passionately driving my old friend Fritz Lieb in the past decades of his life, a life which was moved and moving on that basis all along? And is that perhaps also what in our own day the promising young Catholic dogmatician Heribert Műhlen in Paderborn is getting at? Be that as it may, interpreting everything and everyone in optimum partem, I would like to reckon with the possibility of a theology of the Holy Spirit, a theology of which Schleiermacher was scarcely conscious, but which might actually have been the legitimate concern dominating even his theological activity. And not his alone! I would also like to apply this supposition in favour of the pietists and (!) rationalists who preceded him, and, of course, in favour of the ‘Moravians of a lower order’ of the 18th century, and beyond that, in favour of the ‘Enthusiasts’ who were so one-sidedly and badly treated by the Reformers, and still further back, in favour of all those agitated and contemplative souls, the spiritualists and mystics of the Middle Ages. Could it not be that so many things which for us were said in an unacceptable way about the church and about Mary in Eastern and Western Catholicism might be vindicated to the extent that they actually intended the reality, the coming and the work of the Holy Spirit, and that on that basis they might emerge in a positive-critical light? And then even – in etwa – more or less, as one is won’t to say today in bad German, Schleiermacher’s miserable successors in the 19th century and the existentialist theologians in our 20th century as well? The whole ‘history of sects and heretics’ could then be discovered, understood, and written not ‘impartially’ but quite critically as a ‘history’ in which everything is thoroughly tested and the best retained, a history of the ecclesia una, sancta, catholica et apostolica gathered by the Holy Spirit.

This is merely a suggestion, as is only proper, of what I dream of from time to time concerning the future of theology in general, and in particular concerning the perplexity in which I find myself as I attempt to evaluate Schleiermacher as well as also those who preceded and succeeded him. I will no longer experience this future, to say nothing of leading the way into it or taking its work in hand.

Not, however, that some gifted young person – in the supposition that he or she is called to it – should now immediately run down the path and into the marketplace for me with a buoyantly written brochure entitled ‘Toward a Theology of the Holy Spirit’ or something of that sort! And how misunderstood my beautiful dream would be if anyone supposed that what is at stake is now to say ‘the same thing from an anthropological standpoint’ once again! As if that were not precisely what is so deeply problematic about Schleiermacher, that he- brilliantly, like no one before or after him – thought and spoke ‘from an anthropological standpoint’! As if I, instead of dreaming of a possibility of better understanding Schleiermacher’s concern, had dreams quite crudely of continuing in his path! I warn! If I’m not to have dreamed sheer nonsense, then only persons who are very grounded, spiritually and intellectually, really ‘well-informed Thebans’, will be capable of conceiving and developing a theology of the third article. Those who are not or not yet to that point, instead of boldly wanting to actualise a possibility of the millennium, should prefer to persevere for a little while with me in conscious ‘perplexity’.’ [4]

To give some further context to Barth’s reflection above, Leo Stossich has pointed out in his essay ‘The Human Election of God‘ (Election, Barth and the French Connection, 201) that

‘In Karl Barth’s Table Talk, Barth states that due to the theological situation in 1932, he wanted to strongly emphasise the objective side of revelation in order to redress the over-subjectivising of election (Barth in Godsey, Karl Barth’s Table Talk, 27.) Barth viewed Schleiermacher and the theologians of immanence as attempting an essentially pneumatocentric approach to theology. Schleiermacher appealed to “a general and innate human God consciousness as both the basis and the object of theological reflection.” (Hart, Regarding Karl Barth: Toward a Reading of His Theology, 8.) While the exposition of the subjective side of revelation resonated with Barth, he saw that the effects were the relativising of Christ and dissolution of the Word; and hence, concluded that the theme of Schleiermacher’s theology “is not the Holy Spirit, but, as Schleiermacher claims, merely man’s religious consciousness.…” (Protestant Theology in the Nineteenth Century: Its Background and History, 472.)  Macchia states that ‘Barth came to combat this “anthropocentric” (or, more accurately, “believer-centric”) point of departure for theology not only with a Christological centre for defining revelation but increasingly from the vantage point of the implications in God’s self-giving as Spirit’. (Macchia, “The Spirit of God and the Spirit of Life,” 152-153.)’

In the light of Barth’s revealing confession in his later years, it is also more than of passing interest to read the excerpt below from his dialogue with a group of the spring district meeting of preachers from Methodist churches in Switzerland on May 6, 1961. Barth answered questions in morning and afternoon sessions for a total of 4 ½ hours. One of the questions that was asked concerned faith and experience [5].

Question. In Methodism the salvation experience has great significance. This relates to the fact that the Holy Spirit works in such a way in a human being that a person can come to a joyful certainty of the redemption that has been accomplished by Christ for that person and for the whole world. What is your position on the recognition of the psychological dimension experienced in salvation?

Barth. Here we are concerned about the joyful certainty of the salvation that Christ has accomplished for humans and for the whole world. The Holy Spirit brings about this joyous certainty, and it is not based upon something that I have accomplished and what I have apprehended. It is not something that somehow might have arisen in my heart, as it is spoken about in 1 Corinthians 2:9, but rather it is about something that could not have arisen in ‘the heart of anyone, what God has prepared for those who love him,’ specifically from me, this human being, and for the whole world, indeed not somehow just me. The certainty here concerns something that lies completely and wholly outside of me, not within me. When I consider myself, what I feel, my little or big theology, my experience- yes, I have these, but what I am certain about (is not this experience). I am not certain about my certainty; I do not believe in my own faith; rather, I believe in that which God has done in Christ. This is the great wonder, namely, that I am permitted to believe in something that stands high above me, something that came from God to me, never something that I have in my pocket. I can orient myself always and only on the cross of Golgotha.

With respect to what I can experience psychologically of salvation: naturally salvation is something that we can experience. I am a being who has been given a psychological dimension. Nevertheless, in this matter we must always clearly differentiate: What is an impulse of the mind? What is an impulse of the conscience and of the will? ‘We have this treasure in clay jars’ (2 Corinthians 4:7). What there is on my human side, I will rejoice that I am permitted to have this treasure in this clay jar. But I do not want to confuse the treasure for the jar. I do not want to say, The Holy Ghost is present inside my little soul or my small head; rather, let us look to that place from which we may also live, namely, that which comes ‘from above’ anōthen, and not in a way that there is still something to be found here below. What there is here below is what I am as the one who is addressed, the addressee. I want to be glad that I am the addressee to whom God directs his word, the Bible, this ‘letter’. I will want to read the ‘letter’ and be amazed over the fact that I am the one who may travel this path, this ‘theological path’, about which you asked me in your first question (on which path I suddenly have the most wonderful thing occur, as Martin Luther put it): ‘From heaven above, I come down here. I bring you tidings good and new’ [6].

I do not know whether what I have said here is ‘Methodist orthodoxy’ or not. I do not deny the salvation experience. I wouldn’t think of doing that! The salvation experience is that which happened on Golgotha. In contrast, my own experience is only a vessel. And now you have to contradict. It’s probably time for that.

Question. There was a time when you were not disposed to speak in this positive way about the experience of salvation. Considered on a purely psychological level, what has changed for you to bring this about?

Barth. I will give you an answer. I come (originally) out of the liberal theological stream, from Wilhelm Herrmann in Marburg, and also from Adolf Harnack [7]. At that time I was (also) an assistant editor for the then famous journal Christliche Welt of Martin Rade [8]. In that little circle I heard no word as often as the word ‘experience’. I absorbed all this, and for years I preached to my people in Safenwil [9] about this ‘experience’. And then I discovered that behind this theology stood the great Schleiermacher. Then through my reading I also met up with Pietism. I noticed that before Friedrich Schleiermacher there was also a Philip Jakob Spener and an August Hermann Francke (back then I had not concerned myself so much with John Wesley)…

Then in the pulpit I had my breath taken away. I began to read the Bible more and so to look more attentively at what God has done. And then it dawned on me: the Bible does not testify to ‘experience’, rather to the acts of God. And then as it happens in these matters, there has to be a 180 degree turn made, from pious humans to God himself, who has done everything in Christ that was needed to redeem the world. Then I began to write books [10]. I read a great deal for this task, including many Pietist biographries, and in this activity I said to myself: wait a minute, it does not work like that! Pietism and rationalism are brothers: they both think in human centred ways. In Romans and in my early writings about 40 years ago, I offered people some very tough things to swallow. Whenever I even heard the word ‘Pietism’ or just had the inkling that it was close by, I believed that I had to engage it strongly [11]. So it happened that with the position I took against the experientiality of salvation, I gave offense to many good, pious people.

Now I have become somewhat older, and now I can speak tenderly as well with this part of Jerusalem (Isaiah 40:2). Now I do not have to turn so fiercely against this expression of faith.

Interjected comment: Our critique of your position on this has proved to be of some use then!

Barth. I hope so… Many people were expecting (in fact) that things should develop exactly this way further through my life, (namely, to push the critical boundaries further). No, it has been so for me that doors and windows have opened in a variety of directions. I do not have to take back anything. At that time, it was right, and these things had to be said. And it would probably be good if this or that group would still today read my Romans.

Interjected comment: Thank you so much for describing this part of your ‘theological path’!

Barth. I think you have noticed that I’m not completely without feeling.

I will add my own postscript to these fragments from the life and ministry of Barth’s ‘French Connection’, his dear friend Pierre Maury (1890-1956), who was certainly no Pietist but he always began his lectures at the Protestant Faculty of Theology in Paris with an invocation to the Holy Trinity. Willem Visser’t Hooft said that Maury’s “..discovery of Barth was enriching, clarifying, without rupture”. Bernard Reymond candidly observed that Maury was “won over and full of enthusiasm for the discovery of a doctrine which met his expectations, because it corresponded to the orientation of his own reflections” yet Suzanne de Dietrich said of him “…Barthian? Yes he is; but in a very French way, that is to say with no restrictions, an inner independence; he is a Barthian while remaining his own man. And through him a biblical and theological renewal became for a whole generation of French pastors, youth workers, parishioners, a living and concrete reality”. (Pierre Maury and the beginnings of the Barthian era) [12]  Maury certainly shared the same conviction about the necessity of the operation of the Holy Spirit in revelation and assurance. In a memorable sermon he preached on a Pentecost Sunday at the Reformed Parish of Passy in Paris he affirmed that “…we have received in Jesus Christ, a spirit of adoption. It is of this adoption that the Holy Spirit tells us, and certifies to us – deep within us, invincibly. Because of Jesus Christ, in Jesus Christ, we have nothing to fear from God. And that is the miracle of Pentecost: the great change, the overturning of our life” [13]


[1] Chung, Sung Wook: Karl Barth and Evangelical Theology: Convergences and Divergences. Milton Keynes, UK : Paternoster Press, 2006, 149.

[2] The Theology of Schleiermacher – Lectures at Göttingen, Winter Semester of 1923/24, Ed. D. Rirschl, Trans. G.W. Bromiley, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans, 1982, 263.

[3] Ibid, pp. 263-4.

[4] Ibid, 277-9

[5] Barth in Conversation, Vol 1, 1959-1962, Ed. Eberhard Busch, Louisville Kentucky, Westminster John Knox Press, 2017, 120-122.

[6] The first lines of a Christmas carol by Martin Luther.

[7] Barth studied with A von Harnack (1851-1930) in the winter of 1906-7 in Berlin and with w. Herrmann (1846-1922) from spring 1908 until fall 1909.

[8] From fall 1908 until summer of 1909. Professor Martin Rade (1837-1940) in Marburg was the editor of the journal from its founding.

[9] From 1911 to 1921 Barth was a pastor in the Aargau town of Safenwil.

[10]  the first edition of Barth’s work Der Romerbrief  (The Epistle to the Romans) written in 1916/18, appeared in 1919. The second edition written in 1920/21 came out in 1922 in Munich.

[11] In fact, Barth addressed himself aggressively against Pietism only in his first exposition of Romans, not because of its emphasis on the experience of salvation, but rather because of its individualism. In the second Romans exegesis, Barth did negatively address the issue of experience, but in that discussion he did not name Pietism. (Karl Barth and the Pietists, trans. D.W. Bloesch, Downers Grove. Il: InterVarsity Press, 2004).

[12] (Translation – Simon Hattrell) – A short extract from Reymond, B. 1985. Theologian or Prophet, French speakers and Karl Barth before 1945, Symbolon, L’Age d’Homme, Lausanne, pp 51-55).

[13] (Maury, P. ‘Le témoignage de l’Esprit’ – Quand Jésus est là, Paris, Société Centrale d’Evangélisation, 1956, 163).

“Election, Barth and the French Connection”.


Election, Barth, and the French Connection, 2nd Edition: How Pierre Maury Gave a “Decisive Impetus” to Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Election

By Pierre Maury, Translated & Edited by Simon Hattrell Pickwick Publications, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers

978-1-5326-6718-3 /

www.wipfandstock.com

New Title by Pierre Maury, Edited & Translated by Simon Hattrell

Karl Barth’s famous account of the doctrine of election in his mammoth Dogmatics has been described as the heart of his theology—a great hymn to the grace of God in Christ. Discover the person who initially stimulated Barth’s mammoth reworking of the “classical” view of the doctrine—pastor/theologian Pierre Maury (1890–1956). Their close friendship and especially a seminal paper Maury gave in 1936 entitled “Election and Faith” helped stimulate Barth’s reflection. Discover some never-before- translated works of Maury as well as a revision of a previously published piece on predestination. In this revised and expanded second edition, seven theologians reflect on the significance of these works for us today from historical, textual, pastoral, and theological standpoints, and seek to draw conclusions for us in our contemporary setting.

Simon Hattrell served as a missionary in France in the 1970s and 1980s, was Principal of the Tasmanian College of Ministries in Hobart, Tasmania, in the 1990s, and in his retirement has helped coordinate distance theological education and training for the Anglican Diocese of Tasmania.

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/

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

The story of how an obscure French Pastor/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”.

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”.

4.    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 seven interpretative essays will also help you engage with some of the most pertinent historical, theological, textual and pastoral issues in our contemporary setting.

5.    Does God have favourites 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?

Below is an extract from the revised translation of Maury’s 1936 paper Election and Faith.

…..Who else but he (God) could tell us that we really need election, that is to say, that we really are lost? When we look at ourselves, when we count up, by ourselves, our virtues and our failures, we would not know how to come up to such a rigorous standard, to the necessity of such a complete gift; we would still think we have some merit in the eyes of God. In Christ, that is to say, before his cross, there is only one truth, that is that he dies because of us. This is because we do not love God; this is the cause of our election, not we ourselves, because we too say: Here’s the heir, come on, let us kill him! Before the cross, before this sole place in the world, all virtues die, because we see clearly there that it is these virtues as much as vices which cause the death of the Holy and Righteous One. Before the cross we know—and we know it for ourselves—who are the elect and what election truly is: election of enemies of God, of the torturers of Christ. The elect will always be taken from among those who surround the cross, from amongst those who cry out “Crucify!” and amongst those who remained quiet, amongst those who did nothing, those who could do nothing. “It was necessary that the Son of Man be rejected.” Before the cross, too, we understand this paradox: the price of free election. For if election does not cost us anything, for God it cost his Son. For God to extend grace is to give everything, to give everything for us who cannot give him anything. There is in this word grace, which we often use very lightly, a frightening aspect. In the cross of Christ we find the mortal pains of the choice that God has made concerning us. Grace, the sheer gift of election, is the agony of Gethsemane; it is the suffering undergone right up to the harrowing cry, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” This is heaven closed. This is the Son who is no longer with the Father, because the Father is no longer with the Son. And this is, in heaven, the Father who has truly given his Son, totally abandoning him for us who had abandoned him to death. This is the night of the ninth hour. What does this darkness mean? Revelation says: punishment. And the Son believes it. Punishment, God’s wrath. The only one who will understand grace in election is the same one who understands that it is fulfilled in Christ dying, smitten by God, deserted by men. The only one who will understand how election extends grace is the one who, before the cross, does not come with arguments or with good works, with religious emotion or objections, but who stands there speechless because they have nothing to say, nothing to do, nothing to put forward. I know very well that it is not easy to trust. Here too, it is easier to argue or be unbelieving, easier to line up our questions or to say Was it really necessary for this substitution to take place? Let us put aside all these easy solutions so that this cross is not rendered powerless. All our denials will have no hope of changing the word of the Son of God himself: “The Son of man must be crucified!”

“It has been a delight to read, and equally, a joy to reflect on what is contained here. What Maury does so ably is to disempower and dismantle the idea of the absolute decree outside of, or apart from, Christ.”

—John Rietveld, Christian Coaching Institute, Australia

“This book will be a considerable service to those who find the work of Barth a source of endless inspiration and challenge. But it also puts before a wider theological public the opportunity for a second look at a doctrine far too readily consigned to the mistakes of Christian history.”

—Christiaan Mostert, University of Divinity, Melbourne, Australia

“From where did Karl Barth ever get the outrageous idea that predestination is the sum and essence of the good news? One place is the work of the lesser-known French pastor-theologian Pierre Maury. This revised and expanded edition re-introduces readers of English to Maury’s fresh and stimulating thinking on this doctrine, and the accompanying essays helpfully locate the significance of such in Barth’s work, and invite fresh opportunities for doing theology after Barth.”

—Jason Goroncy, University of Divinity, Melbourne, Australia

Election, Barth and the French Connection 2nd Edition (2019)

Some works which are closely linked to the content of ‘Election, Barth 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 significant impetus to Barth’s thinking as far as election is concerned, and his stimulation of a Christological concentration in Barth should steer 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 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 of 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 which I 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 provides 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.

About Simon Hattrell

Simon was nurtured in the Christian faith from an early age and remembers with much affection the care shown to his widowed mother by the Vicar of the great Norman Abbey Church of Tewkesbury in the Cotswolds district of the UK where he was a chorister. Attending King’s School Gloucester, he was confirmed by Bishop Basil Guy in 1963, afterwards altar serving for two years in the Cathedral. His love of organ music came from listening daily to the playing of the late notables of 20th century English church music, Doctors Herbert Sumsion and John Sanders.

After four years in the Glorious Glosters, the 28th/61st Foot, (Feb 65 to Oct 68), with postings to Mauritius, active service in Aden & South Yemen, then Cyprus, Chester, and Berlin, he became a ‘Ten Pound Pom’ & immigrated to Tasmania at the end of 1968. His faith was reawakened through his sister Felicity’s love and prayers. Married to Barbara in 1970, he spent 72/3 at Commonwealth Bible College in Brisbane subsequently returning to Savage River on the West Coast leading the Community Church and teaching scripture in the Area School for nearly three years. By this time Jonathan and Kirsty had arrived followed soon after by Benjamin and Stefan, the latter in France, where Simon worked with a large Evangelical/Pentecostal Church in the University City of Montpellier, primarily amongst foreign students. He then later engaged in church planting and congregational development in a beautiful region called the Massif Central working alongside national pastors.

On his return to Tasmania at the end of 1989, he was appointed founding principal of the Tasmanian College of Ministries, which then became Tabor College Tasmania (now Alphacrucis University College, Hobart campus) teaching regularly and leading it through a period of intense development and helping to gain government accreditation for their courses in 1996. He taught a range of subjects including Bible, Comparative Religion, Ministry and Theology. Barbara was the Library manager at Tabor and played a large part in the success of the College. Twenty six years later she is still managing it three days a week. Beginning in 2002 Simon’s postgraduate part time study gave him the opportunity to explore the theology of Karl Barth and Thomas Torrance as well as reflect on the lessons and stages of leadership development.

After serving for part of 2003 as a Pastoral Assistant at Bay West (now called Wellspring) Anglican Church in Sandy Bay during an interregnum, he returned again to University to complete a Bachelor of Education in 2004 subsequently teaching in Charters Towers, Townsville and Kingston in 2005. The call to serve in local church ministry was still strong and he was ordained by the Anglican Bishop of Tasmania, John Harrower to the Diaconate on his 58th birthday in October 2005 and priested at the beginning of 2006. From early 2007 to the end of 2012 he and Barbara moved to the Diocese of North Queensland, where Simon was Rector of Mount Isa and then Heatley in Townsville.

On ‘retirement’ the publisher Wipf & Stock accepted his proposal for a work focussed on his revised translation that he had completed of French Pastor/Theologian Pierre Maury’s work on Predestination (Westminster/John Knox Press 1961) as well as his new translations of two other significant works: Election and Faith, a seminal paper Maury gave in 1936 in Geneva that had never ever been translated into English and Ultimate Decision a sermon preached in Paris in 1937. Election and Faith had a huge influence on the magisterial Swiss theologian Karl Barth. Maury was a well known and loved French theologian and Reformed Minister, who was not only held in high esteem in France but internationally. This project has garnered a lot of interest and support from a whole range of theologians here in Australia, the UK, Germany and the USA. This second revised edition (2019) includes three more essays from Australian theologians.

Simon’s “Ministry” career

President/Chairman Savage River Community Church, Tas 1973-76

Missionary/Church Planter France 1977-1989

Principal, President and Head of Theology Tasmanian College of Ministries/Tabor College, Hobart 1991-2002

Pastoral Assistant BayWest Sandy Bay 2003

Deacon in Charge Franklin/Esperance 2005-6

Priest in Charge Franklin/Esperance 2006-7

Rector Mount Isa, NQ 2007-09

Rector Heatley, Townsville NQ 2009-12

Authority to Officiate 2014 Diocese of Tasmania

Coordinator of the Bishop’s Certificate in Theology and Ministry 2015-18 Diocese of Tasmania

Other interim ministry assignments from 2015 to 2020 in Port Sorell/Latrobe, Burnie, Tasmania, King Island & Flinders Island in the Bass Strait. With the Bush Church Aid Society in Cloncurry, NW Queensland (2019 & 2021) and Coober Pedy, South Australia (2022).

O Truth unchanged, unchanging

O Word of God incarnate,
O Wisdom from on high,
O Truth unchanged, unchanging,
O Light of our dark sky,
We praise Thee for the radiance
That from the hallowed page,
A lantern to our footsteps,
Shines on from age to age.

William W. How

A friend recently observed that “Barth will at times lay the blame for liberalism (“Neo-Protestantism”) at the feet of Protestant Scholasticism. An example is in CD II/1:494 where he says that the Protestant orthodox doctrine of immutability (i.e., immobility) prepared the way for Schleiermacher and Feuerbach.” Interesting!

For you scholars who want to research this:

  1. In Roger Olson‘s Mosaic of Christian Belief pp.125-29 under the subheading Diversity Within Christian Belief about God he discusses this issue – especially Dorner’s influence, which Barth mentions in CD II/1.
  2. Bruce McCormack in Orthodox and Modern (Baker Academic, 2008) also engages with this in his response to van Driel pp. 261-77. Well worth a read as is
  3. Reeling Brouwer‘s Karl Barth and Post Reformation Orthodoxy (Ashgate 2015)! He also has a chapter/overview in vol 2 of the new Wiley Blackwell Companion to Karl Barth.
  4. Also in the Oxford Handbook of Karl Barth (OUP, 2020) Dolf Te Velde has a chapter on Barth and Protestant Orthodoxy.
  5. One of my blog posts did partially address this issue: https://simonhattrell.com/2016/12/06/karl-barth-gods-deity-is-no-prison-in-which-he-can-exist-only-in-and-for-himself/

The late Geoffrey Bromiley (The Theology of Karl Barth, T & T Clark, 1979, pp. 78-9) said that for Barth “God’s constancy means that he remains who he is. Since he is the living God, it does not entail immutability in the abstract sense of immobility (CD II/1:491-493). The immutable as such cannot be equated with God; he is immutably the living God in his freedom and love (494). He is what he is in being and actuality (494). eg Exodus 3:4 and Psalm 18:25…”. Maybe a rigid view of immobility in God led Schleiermacher et al to revolt against such a deity? Immutability should be seen rather as constancy. On p. 502 he clarifies all this by referring to “God’s constant vitality..” as an indication of God’s “real history” with his world.

In his almost extempore lectures on Barth the late much esteemed Colin Gunton in The Barth Lectures (T & T Clark, 2007, pp. 106-7) gives further clarification:

“This section §31 (CD II/1), is much longer than §30; it is well over 200 pages. It is here that Barth interacts with the Greek philosophical concepts – these terms are much more abstract. Barth is insistent that these must be defined through revelation, and therefore through God’s personal freedom. First we have the three perfections of God’s freedom – that is he is one, that he is constant (or immutable) and that he is eternal. But all these perfections are done lovingly as well. Although this is schematic it is illuminating. This illustrates Barth’s own relationship to the tradition and to his earlier theology.

Constancy- omnipotence

For example, in the second pair of perfections, traditionally God’s constancy has been expressed through the idea of his immutability, the idea that God is changeless. If he were to change he would not be the eternal God. But this is often interpreted negatively. For example, he criticises the idea of negative immutability, that is the idea that God can change, as some process theologians would have us believe (CD I/1:494) .

Barth: If it is true that God is not moved either by anything else or by himself, but that confined by his simplicity, infinity and absolute perfection he is the pure immobile, if that is so, then it is quite impossible there should be any relationship between himself and the reality distinct from himself…(ibid)

In other words you can see that God is so immutable that he can’t come into relationship with his world. Barth then goes on to hammer this point in even harder:

we must not make any mistake that pure immobile is death. If then the pure immobile is God then death is God, that death is positive..(ibid)

In other words if God is totally immobile in the philosophical sense then you are divinising; the positive meaning comes out in this. What we mean by this concept of constancy or immutability is that God is what he is in eternal actuality; he never is it intermittently, but always and in every place he is what he is, continually and self consistently: his love cannot cease to be his love nor his freedom his freedom. You see immutability is God’s being in himself, internally and not being, so to speak, thrown aside by things that happen in the world. There is such a thing, he says, as a holy mutability of God, what is, in a sense, changeable. He is above all ages, but he is above them as he is Lord as the King of the ages (1 Timothy 1:17) and therefore he is the one who partakes in their alteration. So there is something corresponding to that alteration in his own essence. His constancy, and this is I think his definition, his constancy consists in this fact that he is always the same in every change. He doesn’t want to say that he can change, otherwise what about all this material in Scripture about him changing his mind, repenting of the fact that he made the human race at all, for example, you’ve got to take these seriously you see – this is not abstract changelessness. His constancy consists in this fact – that he is always the same in every change. This is one side of this pair of divine perfections. The other side is his omnipotence. So that is his freedom, now the other side is his omnipotence. This is a strange thing to put in terms of love – omnipotence, power. All-powerful is not in itself a guarantee of lovingness; and Barth is again very interesting on this, he is very Pauline. The key to this conception is not the traditional philosophical definition – traditionally omnipotence has been described as God’s power to will anything but a contradiction. Omnipotence means he can do anything but will a circle be square, or anything whatever?….”

FOOD FOR THOUGHT!

Karl Barth to Geoffrey Bromiley in 1961: “None of their questions leaves me with the impression that they want to seek with me the truth that is greater than us all”.

A letter from Karl Barth to Dr. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Pasadena, California June 1961 [1]

Dear Dr. Bromiley,

Please excuse me and please try to understand that I cannot and will not answer the questions these people put. [2] To do so in the time requested would in any case be impossible for me. The claims of work in my last semester as an academic teacher (preparation of lectures and seminars, doctoral dissertations, etc.) are too great. But even if I had the time and strength I would not enter into a discussion of the questions proposed. Such a discussion would have to rest on the primary presupposition that those who ask the questions have read, learned, and pondered the many things I have already said and written about these matters. They have obviously not done this, but have ignored the many hundreds of pages in the Church Dogmatics where they might at least have found out—not necessarily under the headings of history, universalism, etc. —where I really stand and do not stand. From that point they could have gone on to pose further questions. I sincerely respect the seriousness with which a man like G.C.  Berkouwer studies me and then makes his criticisms. [3] I can then answer him in detail. [4] But I cannot respect the questions of these people from Christianity Today, for they do not focus on the reasons for my statements but on certain foolishly drawn deductions from them. Their questions are thus superficial. The decisive point, however, is this. The second presupposition of a fruitful discussion between them and me would have to be that we are able to talk on a common plane. But these people have already had their so-called orthodoxy for a long time. They are closed to anything else, they will cling to it at all costs, and they can adopt toward me only the role of prosecuting attorneys, trying to establish whether what I represent agrees or disagrees with their orthodoxy, in which I for my part have no interest! None of their questions leaves me with the impression that they want to seek with me the truth that is greater than us all. They take the stance of those who happily possess it already and who hope to enhance their happiness by succeeding in proving to themselves and the world that I do not share this happiness. Indeed they have long since decided and publicly proclaimed that I am a heretic, possibly the worst heretic of all time. [5] So be it! But they should not expect me to take the trouble to give them the satisfaction of offering explanations which they will simply use to confirm the judgement they have already passed on me. Dear Dr. Bromiley, you will no doubt remember what I said in the preface to Church Dogmatics IV/2 in the words of an eighteenth-century poem on those who eat up men. The continuation of the poem is as follows: “… for there is no true love where one man eats another.” These fundamentalists want to eat me up. They have not yet come to a “better mind and attitude” as I once hoped. I can thus give them neither an angry nor a gentle answer but instead no answer at all.

With friendly greetings,

Yours, Karl Barth.

P.S. I ask you to convey what I have said in a suitable manner to the people at Christianity Today.

[1] Karl Barth Letters 1961-1968, Ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Jürgen Fangmeier, and Hinrich Stoevesandt. Tr. Geoffrey W. Bromiley. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1981. 7-8

[2] Christianity Today had asked Geoffrey Bromiley (a principal Editor and Translator of the Dogmatics) whether Barth would answer some questions from Barth’s principal detractors in the USA such as Cornelius van Til.

[3] G. C. Berkouwer, The Triumph of Grace in the Theology of Karl Barth, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956.

[4] CD IV/2: xii, IV/3: 173-180.

[5]  For example – C. Van Til, Christianity and Barthianism, Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Company, 1962. Van Til wrote to Barth after his visit to the USA in 1962 “When you came to Princeton I called up the Seminary and asked whether I could see you but was discouraged from doing so. When I looked for an opportunity to shake hands with you after your Princeton lectures you were hurried away. When at last I did come near to you in the hallway and somebody called your attention to my presence and you graciously shook hands with me, saying: ‘You said some bad things about me but I forgive you, I forgive you,’ I was too overwhelmed to reply.” (G. Harinck, ‘How can an Elephant Understand a Whale and Vice Versa? The Dutch Origins of Cornelius Van Til’s Appraisal of Karl Barth’, Eds Bruce L. McCormack & Clifford B. Anderson,  Karl Barth and American Evangelicalism, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2011, 41.)

Van Til’s critique was far from superficial but comprehensive in its scope and in its day had a marked influence, engendering a cautious attitude toward Barthian theology. However, while censuring Barth for his many “errors,” he respected his scholarship: “The Church Dogmatics is a truly monumental work. In reading it one’s admiration for Barth knows no bounds . . . in the Church Dogmatics we have the ripe fruition of arduous reflection and research” (Van Til, Cornelius. Christianity and Barthianism. Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1962, 2.)

Colin Gunton’s summary of Karl Barth’s doctrine of election – The Election of the Individual

Colin Gunton

From The Barth Lectures, Transcribed and edited by P.H. Brazier, T & T Clark, 2007, 120-1.

CD II/2 paragraph 35 The Election of the Individual

“…Here he says that the choice of godlessness is void: you cannot ultimately choose to be godless. Everybody is called to eternal life on the basis of God’s decision; but not everybody lives as if this were true. Barth: You can opt for Godlessness in a sense that it is precisely those that God elects (CD II/2: 321).

Christ dies for all! The difference he lays out is in calling and not status (CD II/2: 345). All human beings have the status of being elected by God: some appear to realise that differently. And therefore no one is in principle rejected, except of course, Jesus – and he on behalf of others.

Barth: The rejected man who alone and truly takes and bears away the wrath of God is called Jesus Christ. He is the rejected as and because he is the elect. In view of his election there is no other rejected other than himself (CD II/2: 349 & 353).

This leads to an important conclusion: the tradition that there are two classes – those elected, those not elected. Barth sees no absolute opposition between the two: the number of the elect is open and not closed, as compared to the Augustinian tradition. Barth explains that there is no closed number in the Augustinian tradition or in the idea that a certain limited number of elect are to take the place of fallen angels (CD II/2: 412). Barth states that because of the openness of God’s gift the number is not defined until all is over. This leaves the question, who are the rejected? It follows from what Barth has said that the only ones rejected are those who choose to be! Those who reject their election are therefore those who are lost. A ‘rejected’ man, and he puts rejected in quote marks, is one who isolates himself from God by resisting his election as it has taken place in Jesus Christ. God is for him; he is against God; God is gracious but he is ungrateful, God receives him but he withdraws himself. But it doesn’t follow from that that this is for eternity. The effect to refuse your election might be overwritten by God. Therefore, the question is raised, Barth is sometimes accused by more traditional Calvinists of being a universalist. ……he is not saying , this is a doctrine about God, only secondly about the human race. He is not saying all go willy-nilly to heaven: that seems to be the logic, but that is God’s decision not ours. You can’t say whether we are universalists or not, that is not in our decision. And the case of Judas Iscariot of course is the classic one and there is a wonderful passage, a splendid passage, where he discusses this;

The New Testament gives us no direct information about the outcome of this extraordinary for and against (CD II/2:476)

The New Testament simply doesn’t tell us: it tells us that Judas dies in an unpleasant way. It doesn’t tell us what God does finally – woe unto him of course – but that doesn’t mean necessarily forever. And he makes the crucial point that the elect and the rejected are two sides of each of us, two sides of our story, not two classes of people (CD II/2:506). And that is the interesting thing that he has said about all of this. I think this is an absolutely great piece of theological revision, it is an absolutely astonishing overturning of the tradition.”

Colin Ewart Gunton (19 January 1941 – 6 May 2003) was an outstanding and much loved English systematic theologian and United Reformed Church minister, who made a major contribution, in particular, to our understanding of the doctrine of the trinity. He was Professor of Christian Doctrine at King’s College, London, from 1984.

Matthew Frost –  Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago – posted this wonderful reflection on this same theme on the Karl Barth Facebook Discussion Group:

“The community, as the principal image that grounds individuals, is a community drawn to God, not a community elect in itself. Nor are there for Barth communities or individuals rejected in themselves. There is only a mass of humanity called to responsibility before God, a mass of humanity of which the community is a part in every way, exempt from no aspect of its fallenness: a rejection that inevitably shapes and qualifies its claims to acceptance of God, but does nothing to change God’s subjection of the creature to grace.
The community in its Jewish and Christian duality for Barth, as a human reality, is where we are called to stand by the God who self-elects and self-determines in the act by which our existence at all is determined as the creature: election. But the twofold form of the community in that sense is not its nature, is not constituted by election. The church and synagogue are not elect in themselves, or bodies of elect people in themselves. The covenant of grace is the nature of the creature, the total creature and not humanity alone, much less any of the parts we have falsely divided ourselves into.
It is God who self-constitutes and self-elects, who has eternally determined the total creature for partnership with God and for salvation before it was created, who at the centre and apex of history in this lost time between the Fall and the ‘eschaton’ has eternally accomplished our reconciliation—and at all points before and after has been, is, and will be realising that grace upon us as resisting objects who do not stay in the state to which God would like to get us as responsible partners.
We are not, in any of the three spheres of the economy, direct objects of election for Barth. There are no fixed numbers, but one: one elect, the same one rejected, who is the determining subject and object of God’s own will, and who was in the beginning before the creature was at all.”

John Capper: “For Barth, both election and joy belong fundamentally to the doctrine of God”.

John Capper

Karl Barth’s doctrine of election

(an excerpt from John Capper’s Cambridge University Doctoral Thesis (1998) on Karl Barth’s Theology of Joy. John is Academic Dean and Senior Lecturer in Theology at Stirling Theological College, University of Divinity, Melbourne, Australia)

….The basis of Barth’s doctrine of election is the notion of Jesus Christ as God’s unequivocal “Yes!” to humanity. It is this positive basis of divine engagement which is constantly to the fore in Barth’s promulgation of his doctrine of election – a doctrine based entirely on his understanding of election as the work of God who is wholly gracious and fundamentally forgiving. In founding the doctrine in the act of God in Jesus Christ, Barth avoids any semblance of pelagianism. In similarly rooting the response of humanity in Jesus Christ, he likewise avoids any possible semi-pelagian understandings. Let us then turn to a closer engagement with the central texts of CD II.2.

In discussing the “orientation” of the doctrine of election, Barth notes that the context is fundamentally the gospel, the evangel, good news, glad tidings – the liberating and uplifting message of Jesus Christ.[1] It is in this form and this form alone (the election of grace in Jesus Christ) [that] the tidings of the divine decision made in Jesus Christ are glad tidings (frohe Botschaft) directed to all men, directed indeed to the whole world.[2] In parallel with his argument that the message of the evangel is Yes and not No,[3] he states that it is not a mixed message of joy and terror, salvation and damnation. Originally and finally it is not dialectical but non-dialectical. It does not proclaim in the same breath both good and evil, both help and destruction, both life and for the “joyous revelation” of which creation waits in stillness and silence.[4]

The revelation is received as well as given on the basis of the grace of God. It is only because of the work of the Holy Spirit in the whole created realm that there is the possibility of revelation, of response – and thus of praise and joy. To be without the Spirit of God’s grace is to be indentured in a human world which is a boring apprenticeship for an irrelevant eternity. Barth will tolerate no such vision of God or of creation. As he states:

…except with grace, and through grace, and to the glory of grace, there can be no rejoicing and praise of creation, (keinen Ruhm und Jubel der Schöpfung) no receiving of the Holy Spirit and of the enlightenment and guidance of the Holy Spirit, no glory of saints and angels in the consummation of His kingdom, no height and no depth.[5]

It is the glory of this electing grace in Jesus Christ as elected and electing which allows Barth to make the link between joy and predestination, because Jesus Christ is the basis of confidence, consolation and joy in the elect. Jesus Christ is himself the basis of trust and hope.[6] The elected person will have the “resurrection and prayer (of Jesus) both in the mind and in the heart”.[7] Thus it is that predestination is (when understood within Barth’s conceptualization of election) a source of joy and not terror in the elect.[8] This is the outcome of the affirming “Yes” of God, which is fundamental to Barth’s doctrine of election. Election, like revelation, evokes joy and awe.[9] Election is the result of God’s constancy,[10] love[11] and God’s “determination to blessedness” which flows from God’s glory, which is “the overflowing of the inner perfection and joy of God”.[12] This overflow of God’s glory necessitates the conferral of God’s very self on those who, “in and through the community, are the object of divine predestination”.[13] Human blessedness is thus to be understood as participation in not just receipt of God’s blessedness.[14] This cannot be interpreted without reference to Barth’s understanding of time and eternity, since the act of God in election draws the elect into fellowship with God, who then becomes “the ground of perfect joy in time and eternity”.[15]

As Barth links election to the nature of God, so he makes a connection between joy and hope, with each experienced in the life of Jesus Christ. Similarly he links obedience to joy in human life, with grateful obedience epitomizing the fullness of human existence. Obedience is also linked with gladness in Barth’s anthropology…..Barth grounds the right behaviour of the elect in the good pleasure of God, who is in the midst of a rejoicing heavenly host.[16] Obedience is also portrayed as a summons to fellowship with God, wherein the elect “hear the command…that [they] may belong to Him”.[17] In the recognition of the judgement of Christ is “joy at the prospect of coming into God’s judgement”.[18] It is in this context of calling that Barth notes that God gives his Holy Spirit “in order that His own relationship to His Father may be repeated in us”.[19] Thus we may be “all the more joyfully prepared to live our spiritual life humbly but courageously…in prayer, in thankfulness and worship and intercession”.[20] It is on this final note that Barth concludes his doctrine of God, the joyful, electing God, with the recognition that the elect, in prayer, sigh “continually but joyfully, as those who have received the Spirit: Veni Creator Spiritus !”.[21] The linking of the joy of God in the election of Jesus Christ to joy allows Barth’s doctrine of election, in the context of his redefinition of predestination, to be a fundamentally joyful doctrine. It is a doctrine which adds to rather than subtracting from the joy of the elect, and of the whole creation.

John found Pierre Maury to be a kindred spirit when he started reading him and then writing his essay “Serious Joy of the Ultimate Decision” for “Election, Barth and the French Connection: How Pierre Maury gave a ‘Decisive Impetus’ to Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Election“.

Take, for example, this excerpt from Maury’s ‘Election and Faith‘:

“Whoever has understood that, whoever does not speak of this too hastily, can rejoice that such is the secret of God. He can move forward in this mystery and know that, all things considered, election is always positive when it is in Christ, that it has only been negative for him on Good Friday. Before the cross we do not understand and we worship, we do not question, we bless. And whom would we worship if not the one who has extended grace toward us? Why would we not bless, if not because of his positive grace? The cross where Christ is condemned does not condemn us, it makes us children of God. By it we pass from death to life, because the Son has made our death his and here more than ever, as Paul says “There is only yes in him.”[1]

Once more, let us say it again, that this is only true in Christ, that is to say, before the cross, in faith. Here, here alone, here truly, faith knows that double predestination has become simple and that “God is love.” This is because they have known it; this is because they have believed it, which Calvin and so many others have above all sung about, uniquely, the joy of election. Not that they were hard of heart—harder than us—that is to say more knowledgeable and more proud in their chosen discipline. Just simply, that they had understood that in Christ crucified there is only cause for the believer to experience a triumphant joy. Believing, from now on believing here in their election, cannot be to believe in their own perdition.[2] In the same way, the Apostles Creed does not say, in the third article: I believe in eternal death—but nevertheless it does not say: there is no eternal death—so in the same way, in Christ—without ever denying that one cannot not be in Christ—there is no negative election”.

Election, Barth and the French Connection: How Pierre Maury gave a ‘Decisive Impetus’ to Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Election“. p. 49.

[1]. Translator’s note: Maury appears to be alluding to Paul in 2 Corinthians 1:20: “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ…” (NIV).

[2]. Translator’s note: Or “ruin.”

John Capper’s footnotes

[1] CD II.2.12. “The truth which must now occupy us, the truth of the doctrine or predestination, is first and last and in all circumstances the sum of the Gospel, no matter how it may be understood in detail, no matter what apparently contradictory aspects it may present to us. It is itself evangel: glad tidings; news which uplifts and sustains.” (Sie ist Evangelium: gute Nachricht, erfreuliche, aufrichtende, tröstende, hilfreiche Botschaft.KD 11.) Hartwell, Theology of Karl Barth, 105, describes this doctrine, so different from Calvin’s against which it defines itself, as beating at the heart of Barth’s theology.

[2] CD II.2.26. (KD 27 – frohe is emphatic earlier in the same discussion).

[3] The tenor of the argument is more subtle, with Barth arguing that the No is “said for the sake of the Yes and not for its own sake.…[but] it is not Yes and No, but in its substance, in the origin and scope of its utterance, it is altogether Yes.” CD II.2.13. (KD 13).

[4] CD II.2.32.

[5] CD II.2.93. (KD 100).

[6] “The mystery of the elected man Jesus is the divine and human steadfastness which is the end of all God’s ways and works and therefore the object and content of the divine predestination. And the fact that it is actualized in Him and on their behalf is the fact to which those who are elected “in Him” must cling, the fact in which their confidence must repose, the fact from which their joy and consolation must be derived. And this fact is one which is ever new, and one which is their strength and wisdom in all circumstances.” CD II.2.126. (KD 135-6).

[7] CD II.2.127: “…And this means to be elected. For it is the man that does this who “in Him” is the object of the divine election of grace.” — (“An Jesus glauben heißt: seine Auferstehung und sein Gebet vor Augen und im Herzen haben. Und eben das heißt Erwähltsein. Eben der Mensch, der das tut, ist «in ihm» der Gegenstand der göttlichen Gnadenwahl.” KD 136).

[8] “The facts (regarding that which God has put away from the elect) are true, but it is also true that they are far outweighed by the resurrection of Jesus Christ and that as the result of this resurrection they belong already to the vanished past. The thought of God’s predestination cannot, then, awaken in us the mixture of terror and joy which would be in order if we were confronted partly by promise and partly by threat. It can awaken only joy, pure joy. For this order is found in the divine predestination itself, and it cannot be revoked.” CD II.2.174. As Barth’s note following this section underscores: “This interpretation of double predestination stands or falls…with the view that the divine predestination is to be understood only within the election of Jesus Christ.” CD II.2.174.

[9] See CD II.1.223.

[10] See CD II.2.273.

[11] CD II.2.412.

[12] “The determination of the elect to be the object of the love of God is undoubtedly his determination to blessedness. The glory of God, to share in which is the intention and purpose of His love for the creature, is the overflowing of the inner perfection and joy of God. (Eben die Bestimmung des Erwählten zum Gegenstand der Liebe Gottes ist nun zweifellos seine Bestimmung zur S e l i g k e i t . Gottes Herrlichkeit, an der das Geschöpf zu beteiligen der Wille und das Ziel seiner Liebe ist, ist das Überströmen der inneren Vollkommenheit und Freude Gottes.) God chooses the elect from eternity and for eternity, that he may catch up a beam or a drop of His own blessedness and live as its possessor, that he may rejoice in Him and with Him. It is for blessedness that God has determined man, as He determines Himself in His own Son for unity with man, as in Him He offered up no less than Himself.” CD II.2.412. (KD 455).

[13] CD II.2.313.

[14] CD II.2.412. (KD 456).

[15] CD II.2.413. Gunton, Becoming and Being, 208, notes that in Barth “reconciliation is trinitarian and voluntaristic, by reference to the free act of God whose act carries necessity with it.” Limited by his agenda of engagement with Hartshorne, Gunton does not pick up on the many references to the relationality of God as Trinity which are present in the Church Dogmatics, thus missing an even more significant challenge to Hartshorne’s relational process theology: a challenge to the “panentheism” which finds all in God, but does not allow God to overflow in abundance, love and joy to creation.

[16] “The act of the eternal predestination and election of Jesus Christ, to which God’s command ultimately reaches back, this beginning of all the ways and works of God both generally and therefore in our life, is the act of his ‘good-pleasure’ [«Wohlgefallens»] and therefore His joy, and it is in keeping with this that its fulfilment in time was surrounded by the jubilation of the heavenly hosts. In and with the decision to which we are summonsed by God’s command there has simply to be an echo of this good-pleasure of God Himself, of this jubilation of the angels.” CD II.2.611-2. (KD 680).

[17] CD II.2.738.

[18] CD II.2.741.

[19] CD II.2.780.

[20] CD II.2.780-1.

[21] CD II.2.781.

‘New Creation Realities’ or the objective and subjective poles of salvation in Maury and Barth with reference to the works of James Denney, Jeff McSwain & Adam Neder

Decades before I ever started to read Karl Barth seriously in the early 2000s (he was considered very suspect at the Bible College I attended in the early 70s), or had discovered the writings of Pierre Maury in 2013, I had been very much influenced by writers such as DeVern Fromke of the Christian and Missionary Alliance and the great preacher/expositor Leo Harris, founder of the unique Australian indigenous Pentecostal denomination – CRC Churches International. These men emphasised in their writings and preaching what used to be called in the 70s ‘New Creation Realities‘ focusing on Pauline passages such as, for example, 2 Corinthians 5, where Paul’s grand vision of a new humanity in Christ is so strong just like Romans 5: 12-21. The late great Anglican biblical scholar Leon Morris in his commentary on Romans (Morris, L. The Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988) said concerning this passage: “There is an objectivity to this section that we should not miss. In verses 1-11 and again in 6: 1-9 the pronoun “we” is constant, but in 5:12-21 there is not one “we”. Paul is concentrating on objective facts, irrespective of our participation.” See Morris, The Epistle to the Romans, 228, (my emphasis.) . I have to say that my exposure to this focus, which to be fair was directed to baptised Christians, was also balanced with a good dose of classical Reformed theology mainly through men like the beloved Welsh pastor Aeron Morgan, another peerless biblical expositor, and of course Martin Lloyd-Jones, whose commentaries on Romans I devoured. I may not have agreed with the Doctor on all his expositions but I began to get a firm grip on Paul’s corpus. Another person I should mention is the late Stewart Dinnen, sometime Principal of the WEC (Worldwide Evangelisation for Christ) inter-denominational mission training college ‘Worldview’ in Launceston, Tasmania.

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It was Stewart who first brought to my attention what the great Scottish New Testament scholar James Denney was saying way back at the beginning of the last century in his magisterial  ‘The Death of Christ’ especially his revised edn of 1911 (Hodder). Denney would, of course, have been familiar with William Wrede et al and the two salvation discourses, one forensic the other participatory – the two doctrines of reconciliation, a ‘juridical’ and an ‘ethico-mystical’ one.  Denney develops this twofold aspect of Christ’s death “He bore our sins and died our death” in a stunning manner. To my mind he opened up statements like Paul’s in 2 Corinthians 5:14 ( “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died”) in a truly masterful way like no other commentator before or since (they all seem to dodge the full implications of what Paul was saying). I would encourage anyone to read Denney on 2 Corinthians. I am including an excerpt from this outstanding commentary here:

Denney on Paul in 2 Corinthians 5

I have also been reading Jeff McSwain on Barth’s Doctrine of Sanctification. His book Simul Sanctification Barth’s Hidden Vision for Human Transformation. I highly commend this work in which he cites a favourite theologian of mine Daniel Migliore. Jeff is essentially grappling with the old tension of justification and sanctification which is the theme of CD IV/2 para 66.

In ‘Participatio Christi’ The Central Theme of Barth’s Doctrine of Sanctification – Zeitschrift für Dialektische Theologie 18 (2002) (289-90) on CD IV/2 Migliore says that

‘Barth’s doctrine of sanctification cannot be abstracted from the comprehensive theological ontology in which it is embedded. It presupposes a realistic understanding of God to be God for humanity; it presupposes a realistic trinitarian understanding of God as the God who lives in eternal self-giving love, who freely enters into fellowship with humanity in Jesus Christ, and who freely gathers, builds up and commissions a new community of men and women in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit; it presupposes a realistic understanding of the union of the eternal Word of God and human nature in Jesus Christ in which all humanity is included. “There is no one,” Barth contends, “who does not participate in Him.”

This is what Jeff McSwain calls Barth’s Christo-anthropological actualism. He describes this as always ‘derived’ ie every human being is wrapped up in the being-in-action of God the Son, the Son of Man, in the fullness of the Holy Spirit, and in the love of the Father. We are participants before we are conscious of it. Actuality always precedes possibility.

Jeff’s work is exceptional!

Watch this interview with Jeff:


In Denney’s Death of Christ, edn of 1911, from page 128, he says that

“Since Pfleiderer’s first book on Paulinism was translated, some thirty years ago, it has become almost an axiom with many writers on this subject, that the apostle has two doctrines of reconciliation — a juridical and an ethico-mystical one. There is, on the one hand, the doctrine that Christ died for us, in a sense like that which has just been explained; and on the other, the doctrine that in a mystical union with Christ effected by faith we ethically die with Him and live with Him — this dying with Christ and living with Him, or in Him, being the thing we call salvation.

What the relation of the two doctrines is to each other is variously represented. Sometimes they are added together, as by Weiss, as though in spite of their independence justice had to be done to both in the work of man’s salvation a doctrine of justification by faith alone in Christ who died for us finding its indispensable supplement in a doctrine of spiritual regeneration through baptism, in which we are vitally united to Christ in His death and resurrection. Weiss holds that it is not Pauline to say that the fellowship of life with Christ is established by faith; it is only established, according to his view, by baptism.[1] But Paul, it is safe to say, was incapable of divorcing his thoughts so completely from reality as to represent the matter thus. He was not pedantically interpreting a text, he was expounding an experience; and there is nothing in any Christian experience answering to this dead or inert justification by faith, which has no relation to the new life, nor again is there anything in Christian experience like this new life which is added by baptism to the experience of justification by faith, but does not spring out of it. It is a moral wrong to any serious-minded person to construe his words in this way. Ritschl does not add the two sides of the Pauline gospel together as Weiss does. For him they stand side by side in the apostle, and though salvation is made equally dependent on the one and the other they are never combined. Romans sixth has nothing to do with Romans third. The conception of the new life, derived from union to Christ in His death and resurrection, is just as indifferent to justification by faith, as the representation of Christ’s death in the sixth chapter of Romans is to the sacrificial representation of the same thing in the third. The new life or active righteousness of the sixth chapter bears the same name as the divine righteousness of the third, but materially they have nothing in common, and the diversity of their contents stands in no relation to the origination of the one from the other.[2] Ritschl says it is for dogmatic, not biblical, theology to define the problem created by these two ways of salvation and the apparent contradiction between them — and to attempt its solution; and Holtzmann is disposed to censure Weiss for overlooking this, and attempting an adjustment in his Biblical Theology of the New Testament.[3] But this is manifestly unfair to St. Paul. The apostle knew nothing about the distinctions which Theological Encyclopaedia draws between biblical and dogmatic; he was a man of intellectual force and originality engaged in thinking out a redeeming and regenerative experience, and the presumption surely is that his thought will represent somehow the consistency and unity of his experience. If it does so, it is for his interpreters to make the fact clear without troubling themselves whether the result is to be labeled biblical or dogmatic. There are too many people who refuse to take biblical theology seriously, because it is incoherent, and who refuse to take dogmatic seriously, because its consistency is artificially produced by suppressing the exuberant variety of the New Testament. Perhaps if New Testament experience had justice done to it, the incoherence of New Testament thinking would not be so obvious. Holtzmann himself attempts to find points of contact, or lines of connection, or to borrow from another field an expression of Dr. Fairbairn’s, ‘developmental coincidences’ between the two gospels, though in a haphazard way; ideas like πίστις πνεῦμα, and ἀπολύτρωσις, it is pointed out, find a place in the unfolding of both.[4]

In spite of such high authorities, I venture to put in a plea for the coherence of St. Paul. If we found the one theory, as it is called, at one period of his life, and the other at another, there might be a prima facie case for inconsistency; but when both are set out in full detail, in a definite sequence, in the same letter, and that the most systematic of all the apostle’s writings, and one which aims unambiguously at exhibiting his gospel as a whole, the presumption is all the other way. There are cases in which it is fallacious to say post hoc, ergo propter hoc, but this is not one. There could not be a greater mistake than to assume that in the sixth chapter of Romans St. Paul makes a new beginning, forgetting all that he has said, and meeting objections to that gospel which we have been expounding by introducing ideas which have no relation to it, and which may indeed be described as a correction of it, or a supplement to it, or a substitute for it, but which are in no sense whatever a vindication of it. A vindication of it is clearly what St. Paul means to give, and we are bound to assume that he saw what he was doing. He had preached that sinful men are justified freely through faith in Jesus set forth by God as a propitiation in His blood, and his adversaries had brought against this gospel the accusation that it tempted to and even justified continuance in sin. What is his answer? To begin with, it is an expression of moral horror at the suggestion. μὴ γένοιτο! But, in the next place, it is a demonstration of the inconsistency of such a line of action with what is involved in justification. ‘Men who like us died to sin, how shall we still live in it?’ (Romans 6:2).

Why should it be taken for granted that ‘dying to sin’ is a new idea here, on a new plane, an idea which startles one who has been following only that interpretation of justification which we find in Romans chs. 3-5? It may be a new idea to a man who takes the point of view of St. Paul’s opponents, and who does not know what it is to be justified through faith in the propitiation which is in Christ’s death; but it is not a new idea to the apostle, nor to any one who has received the reconciliation he preaches; nor would he be offering any logical defense of his gospel if it were a new idea. But it is no new idea at all; it is Christ dying for sin — St. Paul reminds the objectors to his doctrine — it is Christ dying our death on the tree, who evokes the faith by which we become right with God; and the faith which He evokes answers to what He is and to what He does: it is faith which has a death to sin in it. Of course, if Christ’s death were not what it has been described to be, it would be nothing to us; it would evoke no faith at all; but being what it has been described to be, the faith which is the response to it is a faith which inevitably takes moral contents and quality from it. (I remember when I first heard Stewart Dinnen quote these words and how it gripped me) The very same experience in which a man becomes right with God — that is, the experience of faith in Christ who died for sins — is an experience in which he becomes a dead man, so far as sin is concerned, a living man (though this is but the same thing in other words), so far as God is concerned. As long as faith is at its normal tension the life of sin is inconceivable. For faith is an attitude and act of the soul in which the whole being is involved, and it is determined through and through by its object. This, I repeat, is what is given in experience to the man who believes in Christ as St. Paul preaches Him in Romans 3:25 f., and this is the ethical justification of his gospel. What is fundamental here is Christ in the character of propitiation, Christ bearing our sin in His death, it is this Christ and no other who draws us in faith to Himself, so that in and through faith His death and life become ours. The forensic theory of atonement, as it is called, is not unrelated to the ethico-mystical; it is not parallel to it; it is not a mistaken ad hominem or rather ad Pharisaeum mode of thought which ought to be displaced by the other; it has the essential eternal truth in it by which and by which alone the experiences are generated in which the strength of the other is supposed to lie. I do not much care for the expression ‘mystical union’ with Christ, for it has been much abused, and in St. Paul especially has led to much hasty misconstruction of the New Testament; but if we are to use it at all, we must say that it is something which is not a substitute for, but the fruit of, the vicarious death of Christ. It owes its very being to that atonement outside of us, that finished work of Christ, which some would use it to discredit. And it is because this is so, that St. Paul can use it, so far as he does so, not to replace, or to supplement, or to correct, but to vindicate and show the moral adequacy of his doctrine of justification. Of course, in the last resort, the objection brought against St. Paul’s gospel can only be practically refuted. It must be lived down, not argued down; hence the hortatory tone of Romans 6. But the new life is involved in the faith evoked by the sin-bearing death of Christ, and in nothing else; it is involved in this, and this is pictorially presented in baptism. Hence the use which St. Paul makes of this sacrament in the same chapter. He is able to use it in his argument in the way he does because baptism and faith are but the outside and the inside of the same thing. If baptism, then, is symbolically inconsistent with continuance in sin, as is apparent to every one, faith is really inconsistent with it. But faith is relative to the δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ, the divine justification which is St. Paul’s gospel, and therefore that gospel in turn is beyond moral reproach.[5]

In an Athanasian view of the work of Christ in the Death of Christ (p 100-1) he said:

“The love of Christ, the apostle argues, constrains us, because we thus judge — i.e., because we put a certain interpretation on His death. Apart from this interpretation, the death of Christ has no constraining power. Here we find in St. Paul himself a confirmation of what has been said above about the distinction of fact and theory. It is in virtue of a certain theory of Christ’s death that the fact has its power to constrain the apostle. If it were not susceptible of such an interpretation, if this theory were inapplicable to it, it would cease to constrain. What, then, is the theory? It is that one died for all; ὑπὲρ πάντων means that the interest of all was aimed at and involved in the death of the one. How it was involved in it these words alone do not enable us to say. They do not by themselves show the connection between Christ’s death and the world’s good. But St. Paul draws an immediate inference from them: ‘so then all died.’ In one sense, it is irrelevant and interrupts his argument. He puts it into a hurried parenthesis, and then eagerly resumes what it had suspended. ‘One died for all (so then all died), and died for all that they who live should no longer live to themselves, but to Him who died for them and rose again.’ Yet it is in this immediate inference, that the death of Christ for all involved the death of all — that the missing link is found. It is because Christ’s death has this inclusive character — because, as Athanasius puts it, ‘the death of all was fulfilled in the Lord’s body’ — that His death has in it a power which puts constraint on men to live for Him.[6] I cannot agree with Mr. Lidgett when he says that the words can only be understood in connection with the apostle’s declaration elsewhere, that he has been ‘crucified with Christ.’[7] That declaration is a declaration of Christian experience, the fruit of faith; but what the apostle is dealing with here is something antecedent to Christian experience, something by which all such experience is to be generated, and which, therefore, is in no sense identical with it. The problem before us is to discover what it is in the death of Christ which gives it its power to generate such experience, to exercise on human hearts the constraining influence of which the apostle speaks; and this is precisely what we discover in the inferential clause: ‘so then all died. ’ This clause puts as plainly as it can be put the idea that His death was equivalent to the death of all; in other words, it was the death of all men which was died by Him. Were this not so, His death would be nothing to them. It is beside the mark to say, as Mr. Lidgett does, that His death is died by them rather than theirs by Him; the very point of the apostle’s argument may be said to be that in order that they may die His death He must first die theirs. Our dying His death is not, in the New Testament, a thing which we achieve on our own initiative, or out of our own resources; it is the fruit of His dying ours. If it is our death that Christ died on the Cross, there is in the Cross the constraint of an infinite love; but if it is not our death at all if it is not our burden and doom that He has taken to Himself there — then what is it to us? His death can put the constraint of love upon all men, only when it is thus judged that the death of all was died by Him. When the apostle proceeds to state the purpose of Christ’s death for any, that they which live should not henceforth live to themselves, but to Him who died for them and rose again’ — he does it at the psychological and moral level suggested by the words: ‘The love of Christ constrains us’. He who has done so tremendous a thing as to take our death to Himself has established a claim upon our life. We are not in the sphere of mystical union, of dying with Christ and living with Him; but in that of love transcendently shown, and of gratitude profoundly felt.[8] But it will not be easy for any one to be grateful for Christ’s death, especially with a gratitude which will acknowledge that his very life is Christ’s, unless he reads the Cross in the sense that Christ there made the death of all men His own.

adam-neder

A while ago I tackled Adam Neder’s brilliant work Participation in Christ (Westminster/John Knox, 2009) in which Cambria Janae Kaltwasser said in a review

(http://barth.ptsem.edu/index.php/Book_Reviews/Book_Review/participation-in-christ)

that in the second chapter of his work Neder “explicates Barth’s doctrine of election through sustained focus on paragraph 32 of CD II/2. Here Barth portrays election as both God’s self-determination to be God for us and his determination for humanity in the one human being Jesus Christ. This determination by God forms the focal point of Neder’s study. In Barth’s doctrine of election, participation in Christ is disclosed in its twofold form. In election’s objective form, all of humanity is included in the history of the covenant by virtue of Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, accomplished on our behalf. Yet, rather than replacing the obedience of individual human beings, Jesus’ history, “establishes a trajectory for humanity, defining humanity by governing it as a telos” (18). Therefore the subjective side of participation in Christ, the free obedience of human subjects, is included in and ensured by the objective side. Thus, for Neder, the theme of participation allows Barth’s treatment of election to blend seamlessly into his ethics, the imperative aspect of objective participation in Christ: “The command of God is God himself in action drawing human beings into active fellowship” (25).

Thus, for Neder, Barth sees election as the inclusion (participation) of humanity in Jesus’ own election–an inclusion that has both objective (universal) and subjective (personal) aspects. Barth refers to the objective as “de jure participation” and the subjective as “de facto participation.” Also, he notes the priority of the objective aspect (form), which is…

“..the ground of the subjective form, which is its consequence and goal–its telos. Moreover, and this is crucial to notice, the nature of objective participation in Christ guarantees that participation in Christ will also include a subjective form. [This means that] Jesus Christ is the object of election. Humanity benefits from his election by virtue of its being in him. And the meaning of being “in Christ” in the objective sense is that humanity has Jesus Christ as its representative.

…Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, his fulfillment of the covenant between God and humanity, are accomplished on behalf of humanity. By being who he is for humanity, Jesus Christ establishes, in an objective sense, the being and identity of humanity. He establishes, constitutes, and defines human being” (p18).

However, this objective participation…

“...does not exclude or replace the action of individual human beings. Rather, it establishes a trajectory for humanity, defining humanity by giving it a telos. In this way, the objective reality of the being of humanity in Christ includes within itself, establishes, and guarantees genuine human subjectivity. In human obedience, the objective aspect of election–the objective presence of the being of humanity in Jesus Christ–is realized in the action of individual human beings as the fulfillment of that prior divine decision. Election and obedience are related to one another as ground and consequences. Jesus Christ’s fulfillment of the covenant of grace is a work of faithful obedience. As such it establishes true humanity as a life of faithful obedience. The telos of election is Jesus Christ’s life history, and the telos of objective participation in Christ is subjective participation in Christ. In both cases the telos is realized in obedience” (p18).

In Neder’s concluding chapter to Participation in Christ (Columbia, 2009) 84-86, he gives attention to Barth’s affirmation of the simul peccator et sanctus teaching and adds a critique of Barth’s dismissal of genuine human agency empowered by the Holy Spirit as in Romans 8:13.

“Throughout this study I have highlighted Barth’s commitment of the affirmation that Jesus Christ is himself grace, and therefore that we receive Christ’s benefits only to the extent that we are joined to him. Grace never becomes our possession, Jesus Christ never becomes our possession. However one might judge Barth’s rejection of the habitus concept, it clearly stems from this basic insight. So too does his use of the simul peccator et sanctus teaching, which Barth extends into the area of sanctification. It is the latter innovation that I would like to briefly examine.

The simul iustus et pecator doctrine affirms that in ourselves we remain totally sinful even as in Christ we are totally righteous. For Barth, this teaching guarantees that Jesus Christ will never be displaced from his place of supreme importance, since believers remain dependent on him at every moment. With this in mind, Barth’s teaching concerning sanctification also becomes intelligible: our sanctification consists in participation in Jesus Christ’s sanctification, and thus our sanctification, like our justification, is conceived as aliena sanctitate; sanctitate Jesus Christi. “Luther’s simul (totus) iustus, simul (totus) peccator has thus to be applied strictly to sanctification.” [1] . This led Barth to coin a new term – simul peccator et sanctus [2]. Such a person Barth writes, is

both the old man of yesterday and the new man of tomorrow… is still the old and yet already the new, in complete and utter antithesis….(T)he vita christiana in conversion is the event, the act, the history, in which at one and the same time man is still wholly the old man and already wholly the new – so powerful is the sin by which he is determined from behind, and so powerful the grace by which he is determined from before….(T)here is an order and sequence in this simul…. The old and the new man are simultaneously present in the relationship of a terminus a quo and a terminus ad quem.[3]  

Homo peccator, has been displaced, has passed away, and yet somehow still persists in the present. Homo sanctus has been established as the future of humanity, which in obedience becomes present. Thus it is clear that for Barth, as for Luther before him, the simul doctrine denotes an eschatology.

Barth’s emphasis on the totality of these two simultaneous determinations led him to draw the radical conclusion that de facto sanctification “takes place here below where there is no action that does not have the marks of sloth or can be anything but displeasing to God. This is true even of their lifting up of themselves, even of their looking to the Lord, which is their actions as saints.” [4] This is an extreme and unnecessary assertion, one that ultimately cuts against Barth’s affirmation of de facto participation in Christ.

Throughout this study, I have shown how Barth repeatedly stresses that de jure participation in Christ grounds, elicits and guarantees de facto participation in Christ. In obedience, human beings are joined to Jesus Christ and are therefore holy. This fact should have led Barth to conclude that as this event takes place, there is nothing left to say about such people than that they are holy. They are, so to speak, wholly holy because they are in this act of theirs, and in this act of theirs they are joined to Jesus Christ. The question is, Does obedience human action correspond to God’s gracious action or not? If it does, then there is no reason to say that it does not, which is what Barth seems to affirm when he says that even our good actions can only be displeasing to God and therefore require his justification. [5] why would they require justification if they really are good actions-actions that correspond to God’s action?

Barth’s primary reason for drawing this conclusion seems to be that good human action does not arise from a person’s “own heart or emotions or understanding or conscience, but has its origin in the power of the direction which has come to” [6] her in Jesus Christ. Barth insists that obedience takes place not by one’s “own caprice, but by the will and touch and address and creation and gift of this Lord.” [7] That is, of course, true. But because it is true, because God’s grace actually elicits genuine human obedience, those acts of obedience are actually good. To have said so would not have jeopardised any of Barth’s basic concerns, such as that Jesus Christ is himself grace; that grace is not a transferred condition;  that human beings are holy and righteous only by virtue of their participation in Jesus Christ’s holiness and righteousness; that holiness is categorical rather than partial; that good human action does not synergistically cooperate with divine action, but is ever dependent on it; that sin is an ever-present threat which, when embraced, constitutes a contradiction of true humanity, etc. Among other things, Barth’s otherwise successful counter to the Roman Catholic charge that justification is a legal fiction is undermined to the extent that he casts doubt on the reality of the transformation of the believer that takes place in de facto participation. For these and numerous other reasons, Barth should simply have said that where and when obedience takes place by the power of the Holy Spirit, it is exclusively obedience, and therefore good human action. He does, of course, say this in places. But he denies it in other places, which was a mistake, and an unnecessary one at that.”

[1] Barth CD IV/2:572.

[2] Ibid., 575.

[3] Ibid., 573.

[4] Ibid., 528.

[5] Cf Calvin’s comment that ‘there never existed any work of a godly man which, if examined by God’s stern judgement, would not deserve condemnation” (institutes of the Christian Religion, ed John T. McNeill, trans Ford Lewis Battles, library of Christian Classics (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), 21:778).

[6] Barth, CD IV/2:528.

[7] Ibid., 529.

{Pierre 1934

I do not find it at all surprising that Pierre Maury was ‘du même avis’ as Karl Barth in his sermon ‘The Ultimate Decision‘ preached in the season of Lent in 1937 a year after his seminal ‘Election and Faith‘ lecture in Geneva, which had such a profound influence on Barth:

“…When this child is born in a manger, when this man dies on the cross and rises again the third day, the eve of the Sabbath, it is our whole life that is swept up in this commitment, it is for our whole life that something happens. He is the one by whom—for whom also—we have been created, who is there. He is there, simple and immense, simple as the simplest of the sons of men, immense because the dimensions of his existence contain us all; he is the beginning and the end of our life. In him everything is enclosed, kept, protected. When he cries out, “Come to me, you who are weary and heavy laden” (Matthew 11:28), it is all our destinies that he is calling, because they belong to him. When he stretches out his arms upon the cross, he says that it is “to draw all to himself” (John 12:32), because no one has existed without him and outside of him. When he rises and is exalted to the right hand of God, it is in order to present to God—eternally, and in eternity—those who—from all eternity, in eternity—have always been, are and will always be his. I have said, I have repeated: all.” Hattrell, Simon, ed. Election, Barth, and the French Connection: How Pierre Maury Gave a “Decisive Impetus” to Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Election. (2nd Edn) Translated by Simon Hattrell. Eugene, Or.: Pickwick Publications, 2019, 113.

All the footnotes below are from the passage quoted above in Denney’s work The Death of Christ (Hodder, 1911)

[1]Biblische Theologie des Neuen Testaments, Section 84 b. (English Translation, 1. p. 456 ff.).

[2]Rechtf u. Versohnung, 2. pp. 338 f.

[3]Neut. Theologie, 2. p. 141.

[4]Ibid. 2. p. 137 ff.

[5]For a fuller treatment of this point, see article in Expositor, October 1901, ‘The Righteousness of God and the New Life.’

[6]De Icarnatione, c. xx section. 5.

[7]J. S. Lidgett, The Spiritual Principle of the Atonement, p. 39.

[8]The way in which theologians in love with the ‘mystical union’ depreciate gratitude must be very astonishing to psychologists. See Juncker, Die Ethik des Ap. Paulus, 161, and Rothe, Dogmatik 2. 1. 223 (a remark on this passage in 2 Corinthians 5.): ohne Ihn und seinen Tod hatten Alle sterben mussen; das Leben das sie leben verdanken sie also ganzlich Ihm, und mussen es deshalb ganz und gar Ihm widmen.