Matthias Gockel, Barth and Schleiermacher on the Doctrine of Election: A Systematic-Theological Comparison (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 229 pp. (review copy courtesy of Oxford UP – and there is also an online edition) Friday, 6 July 2007
Schleiermacher rejects the idea of particular relations between God and different individuals, in order to move beyond particularistic accounts of individual redemption and to emphasise the “divine unity and the unity of the world” (p. 101). Schleiermacher thus regards reprobation as only a temporary passing over. In spite of such temporary reprobation, all unbelievers remain predestined to salvation: “God sees all human beings, not only the believers, in Christ” (p. 102).
Barth’s early revision of the doctrine of election, Gockel argues, is strikingly similar to this Schleiermacherian account. In Romans, Barth emphasises the dialectical unity of God’s decree: “God’s reprobation (of the elect) and God’s election (of the reprobate)” are “one and the same in God” (p. 118). There is a real duality here of judgment and grace, but it is the duality of God’s unified action, an action which affects all human beings alike. It is thus impossible to conceive of the church and the world as “two separate groups of persons” (p. 125). This revised model of double predestination is developed further in Barth’s Göttingen Dogmatics. Here, Barth emphasises the teleological ordering of election and reprobation. God judges in order to be gracious – the way of predestination leads us “through damnation, even through hell, to salvation and life” (p. 156).
In both Romans and the Göttingen Dogmatics, then, Barth has developed what Gockel calls a “Schleiermacherian reconstruction” of the doctrine of election. For both Barth and Schleiermacher, the divine decree is to be understood in the context of the historical decision between faith and unbelief; for both of them, election articulates the sheer initiative of the divine act; and for both of them, there is a teleological movement in time from reprobation to election. Above all, both theologians focus not on “individual predestined human beings” but on “the predestining God” (p. 157). Surprisingly, then, Gockel argues that it is “precisely the anthropocentric outlook of traditional views” which motivated not only Barth’s revision of election, but also Schleiermacher’s (p. 12).
Barth did, however, revise the doctrine of election a second time, and it is this decisive “christological revision” that is developed so expansively in CD II/2. Now Barth comes to think of God’s twofold decision of election and reprobation as a decision about Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is reprobated for the sake of election. And, crucially, the divine decree “is not made in an abstract eternity” prior to Jesus Christ, but “precisely in the life of Jesus” (pp. 163-64). Jesus Christ is both subject and object of election: the Logos is identified with Jesus of Nazareth (p. 203)... Gockel’s reading of Barth thus leads him to support Bruce McCormack’s controversial interpretation: “the idea of the immanent trinity depends on the concept of predestination” (p. 177). There is no difference between God’s decision in time and God’s decision in eternity – they are precisely the same event in Jesus Christ himself. And Gockel observes that Paul Molnar’s critique of McCormack – resting as it does on a strict separation between God’s being-in-himself and his being-for-us, i.e., between triunity and election – represents “the very opposite of what Barth intended” (p. 180)... Labels: book reviews, doctrine of God, election, Karl Barth, Schleiermacher posted by Ben Myers at 6:30 PM