Karl Barth on Election and Double-Predestination

by Max Andrews

Predestination is prominent in Barth’s thought.  To Barth, “election” is the sum heart of the gospel.  Barth “responds” to John Calvin by turning Calvin’s pre-destination into salvation for “all” mankind.  This is not universal salvation.  For Barth, election is the greatest gift to the good news of the Gospel.  Calvin understands election and pre-destination as a mystery in God whereby some are elected to salvation and some are elected to damnation.  As Calvin puts this doctrine in the hiddeness of God, he works against his usual theological practice of placing doctrine on God’s revelation and God’s manifestation of His will in Jesus.  Here, Barth points out that we must only reflect on God in His revelation and not, what is not revealed.  Barth’s “double-predestination” has two parts.  As Jesus is the Revelation of God, He is the Choosing God and the Choosing Man.  He is actively choosing and passively chosen.  Secondly, we know who is “elect” because in Christ, man is Chosen for salvation and God in Christ Chooses Himself for damnation.  Jesus is elected to rejection at the cross and is the Human Being for human beings that is accepted or saved.  In this way, Barth believes that Jesus transforms election and predestination or double-predestination from a division of the saved and lost into a division between human and divine which God overcomes in the resurrection and ascension.

The “tensions” that arise consist of an accusation that Barth is teaching “Universalism” and “Christo Monism.”  It can look like Barth is trying to say that all are saved by Jesus’ taking sin on the cross upon Himself and taking on the condemnation.  Rather, Barth rejects this position.  He is not saying that everyone in general is saved but that one by one there is no one who is not saved.  This keeps the threat of loss but also keeps the reality that the threat is overcome.

The charge of Christo Monism arises from Barth’s Christocentrism.  For Barth, everything is defined by Jesus Christ.  He was not supporting Christo Monism.  Barth brings all doctrinal headings in and under Jesus Christ.  Barth’s view was influenced by his fight against anthropocentrism that the liberals supported and the ecclesiocentrism that the Roman Catholics supported.  Both of these give over to looking away from Jesus for revelation or redemptive work.

2 Comments to “Karl Barth on Election and Double-Predestination”

  1. I have to say I don’t agree with Barth’s attempt at dealing with predestination. I still think Calvin has pioneered the better explanation. It seems to me like a very complicated attempt to avoid taking a hard stance on election and predestination. I think the biblical description of predestination and election is simple and easy to define and reference. By what standard does God choose some to salvation and some to damnation? we are not told in scripture. We simply understand that we serve a just and loving God who’s ways are higher than our own. we have been left with a grand theology in the bible about predestination and then given very little explanation. I like the Christ centered approach he makes however, as I agree all things point to and come from Christ and He is our example and standard. interesting stuff and fairly heavy to wrap ones mind around.

  2. Back in the 50’s when I was at Calvin (a superb college, by the way) I was troubled by both double predestination and the eternal torment of the lost. (Isn’t it interesting that Jesus, when talking to an INDIVIDUAL, never warned them, “If you do not believe in and follow me you will fry forever! How come, if he was the unique expression of The Truth?)
    Barth helped save my faith, and I’ve come to realize that John Calvin overlooked the O.T, roots of election, esp. Gen. 12 and Isaiah 49, which speak of the call of Abraham and the task of Isaiah to bring blessings to all mankind. (Calvin also didn’t read in larger context Romans 9:13, “Jacob I loved and Esau I hated”, not realizing that this was early in a dialectical process leading to Romans 11–“And so all Israel will be saved,” and “In making all mankind prisoners of disobedience his purpose was to have mercy on all.”

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