Monthly Archives: December 2016

Reading Karl Barth on Election (9)

Church Dogmatics Study EditionSelection: The Church Dogmatics II/2:94-103, Jesus Christ, Electing and Elected.

In his prolegomena to the doctrine of election Barth argued for three things:

  1. That the doctrine of election is oriented toward grace; it is the “sum of the gospel.”
  2. The foundation of election is found in Jesus Christ who is the subject and not merely the instrument or mirror of election.
  3. The doctrine is located within the doctrine of God proper, for the election identifies God as the gracious God, gracious in himself and in all his works ad extra.

Now, in this new section, Barth turns to the substance of the doctrine. For Barth, Jesus Christ is the divine election of grace, the focus of election, and as such, also the subject and content of election. Jesus Christ is the beginning of all God’s ways ad extra, the ground and telos of all God’s creating, reconciling and redeeming activity.

He is the election of God before which and without which and beside which God cannot make any other choices. Before Him and without Him and beside Him God does not, then, elect or will anything (94).

That is, Jesus Christ is the name that God—as Father, Son and Holy Spirit—has from all eternity decided to bear. The election is the eternal self-determination of the one God; there is no God nor work of God nor decree of God other than that of this God who bears this name. In an extended statement crucial for understanding Barth’s doctrine he argues that,

In the beginning, before time and space as we know them, before creation, before there was any reality distinct from God which could be the object of the love of God or the setting for His acts of freedom, God anticipated and determined within Himself (in the power of His love and freedom, of His knowing and willing) that the goal and meaning of all His dealings with the as yet non-existent universe should be the fact that in His Son He would be gracious towards man, uniting Himself with him. In the beginning it was the choice of the Father Himself to establish this covenant with man by giving up His Son for him, that He Himself might become man in the fulfilment of His grace. In the beginning it was the choice of the Son to be obedient to grace, and therefore to offer up Himself and to become man in order that this covenant might be made a reality. In the beginning it was the resolve of the Holy Spirit that the unity of God, of the Father and Son should not be disturbed or rent by this covenant with man, but that it should be made the more glorious, the deity of God, the divinity of His love and freedom, being confirmed and demonstrated by this offering of the Father and this self-offering of the Son. This choice was in the beginning. As the subject and object of this choice, Jesus Christ was at the beginning. He was not at the beginning of God, for God has indeed no beginning. But He was at the beginning of all things, at the beginning of God’s dealings with the reality which is distinct from Himself. Jesus Christ was the choice or election of God in respect of this reality. He was the election of God’s grace as directed towards man. He was the election of God’s covenant with man (101-102).

Barth’s comments here must be understood in the light of his doctrine of the Trinity in which he distinguishes between the immanent and the economic Trinity, and his model of the Trinity as one divine subject in three modes of being (Church Dogmatics I/1). In this text, God’s triunity precedes his election. God exists and so elects as the eternal Father, Son and Holy Spirit; election is the work of the triune God. Thus the Father elects, the Son elects, the Holy Spirit elects, and yet this is not three electings, but the one divine electing of the triune God. There is in Barth’s theology, no social trinity in which the will of the Father differs from that of the Son and the Spirit after the analogy of three distinct human persons, where the will of the three is utterly distinct from that of the others, and may even be in competition or conflict with the others. There may be distinction in the manner in which this one divine will is expressed in the choice of the three persons, but no division or separation.

Barth, of course, goes further than this: Jesus Christ is in the beginning—not in the beginning of God “for God has indeed no beginning. But He was at the beginning of all things, at the beginning of God’s dealings with the reality which is distinct from Himself.” Thus, election concerns not simply “the Son,” but Jesus Christ, the incarnate, the Son of God who is also the Son of Man. But how is this so, given that Jesus Christ is the man born in time?

In the eternity of God—that is, in the eternal wisdom and counsel of God, before there was any reality other than the life and being of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, God, in the freedom of his love, determined that he would give himself to and unite himself with humanity in the person of Jesus Christ. Before anything else this is a divine self-determination, a reflexive action in which God determines God’s own eternal being to be God only in this way, as the One who is with humanity and gracious to humanity in the person of his Son. Jesus Christ, then, is the object and “result” of the divine electing.

But Barth will go one step more. Not only is Jesus Christ the object of the divine election, but because this is an act of divine self-determination, the Son who chooses this electing together with the Father and the Spirit is none other than the Son united with humanity in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ, then, is the subject of election, the one who elects, as well as the object of election, the one who is elected.

Blue & Lonesome

Rolling Stones Blue and LonesomeIt’s been a long time between drinks for Stones fans—eleven years. So when I heard a couple of months ago that a new album was on the way, I knew I would be getting it.

Blue & Lonesome must be the most uncommercial album the Rolling Stones have ever produced; uncommercial in the sense that it has no typical signature songs, no “generic Rolling Stones Rockers,” no attempt at writing a hit or a melodious ballad, in fact, no Jagger-Richards tunes at all. It is an album entirely of covers, old blues songs that take the Stones back to the music of their youth, the music that inspired them then, that got them going, and evidently, still inspires them now.

Uncommercial? It is going for No. 1 in the UK

The Stones have always played covers. Their debut album in early 1964 had fourteen tracks, eleven of them covers, and only Tell Me somewhat memorable. The second album, 12 x 5, had five originals only one of them somewhat memorable. Their third album had four originals including the quite memorable Heart of Stone, a promise of things to come. In 1965 the Jagger-Richards song-writing team hit their stride first with The Last Time, then Satisfaction. Every song on the 1966 Aftermath was an original; same with the 1967 Between the Buttons. The great Stones albums were those from 1968 to 1972, from Beggars Banquet (their best album, in my view) through to Exile on Main Street (the album generally considered their best). On each the band covered an old blues song: Prodigal Son, Love in Vain, You Gotta Move (not a very good arrangement; go to the Love You Live version for searing guitars and blues piano), and two on the double-album: Shake Your Hips and Stop Breaking Down. There were Motown covers and a reggae cover on the mid-late 70s albums.

Love You Live (1977) was a double-live album with one side entirely composed of old blues covers. Their live concerts often included a blues number, whether Little Red Rooster, I Just Want to Make Love to You, or Champagne and a Reefer. “The blues had a baby and they called it rock ‘n’ roll,” said Muddy Waters, who also gave the Stones their name. Maybe the Rolling Stones were mid-wives.

This was not a record the band had planned on making. According to [Don] Was [the producer], “We were recording some new songs and we just hit a wall on this one particular track. We needed to ‘cleanse the palate’ and the ginger for the palate came about when Keith said, ‘Let’s play Blue and Lonesome.’” Thankfully Krish Sharma, who recorded the album, kicked it into record and what you hear is this one and only take of this song. [From the album liner]

Something clicked, and for the next three days they played some more blues songs, recording them without any overdubs, dragging Eric Clapton in to play on two of them (he was in the recording studio next door). The result is a down-to-earth, rough-and-ready collection with Jagger in fine voice, Charlie and Darryl solid as ever, and the guitars weaving, whining and strutting with Keith and Ronnie playing off one another in song after song. It’s swampy. It’s raw. It’s primitive. It could be 1964 all over again, but now with 50+ years behind them. This is the Stones before they were the Stones, the Stones channelling their heroes. This is the Stones now in their twilight simply having fun and making the music they love.

The reviewer for The Times said this was the Stones’ best album since Some Girls. That album, too, was a return to their roots, stripping away the glamour but not the swagger, that attached itself to the band in the mid-70s. I don’t know that I can compare it to any of their albums: it’s very different. It is closer to Blues Blues Blues, the Jimmy Rogers tribute album, that Jagger and Richards both feature on. It’s a blues album, rather than a rock and roll album, but unmistakably, the Rolling Stones.

“I like it, like it, yes I do.”

Only thing I want to know now is when the next album will be out, the one they were actually trying to record. Perhaps it will never see the light of day. But one can hope…

Baptized in the Spirit (Frank Macchia)

Baptized in the SpiritFrank Macchia, professor of theology at Vanguard University, is a leading Pentecostal theologian and author of many books and articles on the person and work of the Holy Spirit. I read about half of his Baptized in the Spirit: A Global Pentecostal Theology (Zondervan, 2006) when it was first released, and began reading it a second time before my lecture at Princeton earlier this year. Over the next few weeks I will post some chapter summaries from this important work in which Macchia explores and extends this central Pentecostal theme.


In his brief introduction Macchia argues that “For all their talk about the importance of pneumatology, Pentecostals have yet to couch their narrow pneumatological interest in charismatic/missionary empowerment within a broader pneumatological framework” (18, original emphasis). His aim is to provide just such a framework, expanding understanding of the Baptism with the Holy Spirit (BHS) beyond the narrow confines he finds in the Pentecostal doctrine. He refuses to set the writings of Luke over against those of Paul as some Pentecostals have done. “One needs help from Paul and other canonical voices to negotiate a broader and more integrated conception of Spirit baptism as an eschatological event that is complex in nature” (15). Thus, Macchia defines Spirit-baptism as an eschatological act of the Trinity, its nature being an outpouring of divine love, an experiential reality in the life of God’s people, and functioning toward the witness (and establishing?) of God’s kingdom.

Chapter Two: Spirit Baptism and Pentecostal Theology

In this chapter Macchia argues that Spirit-baptism is the major Pentecostal theological distinctive, but that this distinctive has been marginalised in recent Pentecostal theology. He suggests four reasons for this:

  1. The inability to coherently relate the sanctifying and empowering work of the Spirit;
  2. The doctrinal and practical diversity of Pentecostalism;
  3. The supplanting of the Spirit-baptism metaphor by eschatology in recent Pentecostal theology; and,
  4. The locating of Pentecostal distinctiveness in theological method.

Macchia does not find any of these reasons compelling but also seeks to recast the Pentecostal doctrine of Spirit-baptism in light of these realities. Specifically, he wants to view Spirit-baptism as a trinitarian eschatological act that both purifies and empowers, whose essential nature is participation in the love of God. He accepts the exegetical stance of Pentecostal biblical scholars such as Roger Stronstadt and Robert Menzies who focus their understanding of Spirit-baptism on Luke’s writings, but wants to expand it in more holistic directions. This is necessary if Pentecostalism is to contribute its unique grace-given accents to the ecumenical theological table.

Pentecostalism has been blessed and gifted by God with certain theological and spiritual accents. We do other Christian families a disservice if we do not preserve and cherish these and seek to bless others with them. Thus, ideal would be a reworking of our distinctives in a way that cherishes our unique accents but expands them in response to the broader contours of the biblical witness and diversity of voices at the ecumenical table (25).

Macchia’s discussion in this chapter provides an excellent overview of recent moves in Pentecostal theology, and argues for a “return” to Pentecostalism’s central distinctive. The only clarification I would make here would be to argue against Menzies and even Stronstadt, that the pneumatology of Acts is actually soteric in nature and not simply charismatic. Their view of Luke’s pneumatology is unnecessarily narrow, and drives a wedge between ideas that in Luke are as one. Luke’s pneumatology is both soteriological and charismatic, and his view of the Christian life is thoroughly pneumatological, empowered by the Spirit, and so missional. Here, Macchia’s view of Spirit-baptism as participation in the life of the triune God could prove a helpful corrective to this deficiency in Pentecostal thought.

A Hauerwasian Advent

HauerwasAdvent is a time of preparation, a time for returning again and again, year after year, to the first things. We who think we know the story probably do not know as we ought to know it. I, for one, do not live into it as it calls to be lived into. This year I hope to return again to the first things with the help of Stanley Hauerwas, and specifically, the first two chapters of his commentary on Matthew (Hauerwas, Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible, Matthew (2006)).

“The book of the genesis of Jesus Christ” is not a modest beginning. Matthew starts by suggesting that … to rightly understand the story of this man Jesus, we must begin with God because this is God’s Messiah (23). …

Eschatology is the word that Christians use to describe this understanding of the ways things are. Eschatology indicates that the world is storied. The gospels and especially Matthew assume there is no more determinative way to understand existence than through the story found in scripture. Creation is the first movement in the story that, as we shall see spelled out in Matthew, involves the election of Israel, kingship, sin, exile, and redemption. For Matthew, indeed for all the gospels, Jesus is the “summing up” of the history of Israel so that Jew and Gentile alike can now live as God’s people. … Matthew believes that the story of Jesus is the story of a new creation (23-24).

For Matthew, Jesus has changed the world, requiring that our lives be changed if we are to live as people of the new creation. Accordingly, the gospel is not information that invites us to decide what we will take or leave. Our task is not to understand the story that Matthew tells in light of our understanding of the world. Rather, Matthew would have our understanding of the world fully transformed as the result of our reading of his gospel. Matthew writes so that we might become followers, be disciples, of Jesus. To be a Christian does not mean that we are to change the world, but rather that we must live as witnesses to the world that God has changed. We should not be surprised, therefore, if the way we live makes the change visible (25).

  An Advent Prayer

Advent God,
we journey with you,
to Bethlehem’s stable and a new-born King,
ears attuned to the song of angels,
eyes alert for Bethlehem’s star.
Forgive us, if on our journey
we are distracted by the tempting offers of this world.
Keep our hearts aflame
with the hope of Christmas,
and the promise of a Saviour.

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Reading Karl Barth on Election (8)

Church Dogmatics Study EditionSelection: The Church Dogmatics II/2:76-93, The Place of the Doctrine in Dogmatics.

The final subsection of §32 concerns the location of the doctrine in the schema of systematic theology. Barth innovates with respect to the tradition by situating the doctrine of election within the doctrine of God; God himself and all God’s works are a consequence of his election. God is God only as the electing God.

As far as I know, no previous dogmatician has adopted such a course. We must ask then: Is it really the case that the doctrine of election forms a part of the definition of the Subject of all Christian doctrine? … We answer this question affirmatively when we maintain of God that in Himself, in the primal and basic decision in which he wills to be and actually is God, in the mystery of what takes place from and to all eternity within Himself, within His triune being, God is none other than the One who in His Son or Word elects Himself, and in and with Himself elects His people. In so far as God not only is love, but loves, in the act of love which determines His whole being God elects (76).

In this subsection Barth surveys six different ways in which theologians have located the doctrine, especially within the Reformed tradition, and more particularly with reference to Calvin. In classical Reformed Orthodoxy, according to Barth, the doctrine followed the doctrine of God, preceding directly the doctrine of creation and the whole remaining content of confession and dogmatics (77). Nevertheless Barth distinguishes his own position from that of Reformed Orthodoxy because the primary tenet of the tradition was not election at all, but the doctrine of the divine decrees of which the election was simply one part. The election, therefore, was grounded in a doctrine of the “absolute world-governance of God,” thus taking God in his relation to the world as its first datum, and understanding the election in light of this (78).

As Barth turns his attention to other ways of considering the location of election he notes that they all speak first of creation and providence and only then of election, either in connection with providence, or with respect to God’s work of salvation.

The most interesting feature of this section is Barth’s discussion of Calvin. Barth notes that in 1536 in the first edition of his Institutes, Calvin linked the doctrine of election with ecclesiology rather than subsuming it under the doctrine of providence. A year later in the first draft of his Catechism, Calvin placed the doctrine immediately after his treatment of Christology and before his treatment of the Holy Spirit and the church. In the later editions of his Institutes (from 1539-1559), it is treated as the climax of reconciliation, as the last word to be spoken concerning God’s work of salvation, which also casts its light on all that has gone before. Finally, in the Confession Gallicana (1559), Calvin adopted precisely the opposite arrangement in which the election was the first word to be spoken with respect to reconciliation.

It is true that Calvin did partly share and partly inaugurate four different conceptions of the place and function of the doctrine of election. But it is also true that we do not find amongst these the conception which is usually described as classical in Reformed dogmatics. Calvin never connected the doctrine of predestination with that of God, whether directly or indirectly (86).

What Calvin did appear to find in the doctrine of election was this—a final (and therefore a first) word on the whole reality of the Christian life, the word which tells us that the existence and the continuance and the future of that life are wholly and utterly of the free grace of God (86).

Of the four proposals made by Calvin, Barth considers that of his Catechism the best, since it understands election as “an event which works itself out between Christ and the Christian” (88).

Barth’s own method is to attach the doctrine, with Reformed Orthodoxy, to the doctrine of God, and with Calvin, to the doctrine of reconciliation, which is and must be the first, central and definitive word of Christian dogmatics:

The doctrine of election is the last or first or central word in the whole doctrine of reconciliation as [Calvin] rightly perceive[d]. But the doctrine of reconciliation is itself the first or last or central word in the whole Christian confession or the whole of Christian dogma. Dogmatics has no more exalted or profound word—essentially, indeed, it has no other word—than this: that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself (88).

The doctrine of election thus serves to identify God as the gracious God and to bring all the works of God under the reign of grace. There is no aspect of existence not encompassed by divine grace. The election is the divine self-determination that God wills to be God solely in Jesus Christ, and to be known, loved, feared and worshipped only as this God (91). Barth insists that this emphasis on divine grace was Calvin’s deepest priority:

We must see the election at the beginning of all the ways of God, and treat of the doctrine accordingly. We believe that in so doing we shall not be disloyal to the intention which activated Calvin especially as he drew up those different outlines. We shall rather be taking up and realising this very same intention (90).