Election and Reprobation According to Barth This subject we will finish in the present editorial, although we could write much more about it. But to do so would be mere repetition just as Barth repeats himself time and again.
We have tried to prove from his Dogmatik the following:
1. That Barth does not believe in reprobation, although he uses the term frequently. But he employs the term in the sense in which Reformed theology uses the term total depravity. For in themselves all men are reprobate.
2. That Christ is the reprobate and that He died for the reprobates, that is, for all men. Hence, after His death reprobation is removed and there are no more reprobates.
3. That, seeing that he does not believe in reprobation, he cannot believe and does, not believe in election. All men are elect. All men are, as far as God is concerned, in Christ who has taken away reprobation. And if any man should consider himself a reprobate this can only be his own choice, for God has chosen him unto everlasting life and glory.
4. That Barth is Arminian and worse than that: he is really a universalist. For Arminius, at least, taught that God chose those of whom He foresaw that he would believe, and He reprobated those that would not believe in Christ. But Barth teaches that there is no reprobation, since Christ is the reprobate, that by His death on the cross He has removed all reprobation and that, as far as God is concerned, all men are elect.
This is not only Arminianism of the worst sort, but it is also nonsense. That Barth can teach this, is only because he uses the terms election and reprobation in an entirely different sense from that in which they are used in Reformed theology.
That this is true, we will once more prove in this concluding editorial.
In his Dogmatik Barth devotes a long section under the caption Die Bestimmung Des Verworfenen (The Destination of the Reprobate). In an introductory paragraph, he writes (I freely translate):
“‘Reprobate’ is the man who distinguishes or separates (vereinzelt) himself over against God by opposing his election which is realized in Jesus Christ. God is for him; he, however, is against God. God is gracious unto him; he, however, is unthankful to God. God accepts him; he, however, forsakes God. God forgives him his sins; he, however, constantly repeats them as if they never were forgiven. God delivers him from the guilt and punishment of his apostasy; he, however, lives and continues to live as the prisoner of Satan. God destines him to salvation and to His service; he, however, chooses the misery of an existence according to his own arbitrary choice, and for his own honor. In this way the reprobate exist together with the elect. And we would not have understood completely and given an answer to the question as to the destiny of the elect, if we would avoid an answer to the question concerning the others, that is, the reprobate. What does God want with him? What is the design, the purpose, and the contents, the purposed execution and fulfillment, the meaning and the arrangement of his existence, in as far as also his existence is the object of divine foreordination?
This is surely Arminianism in its, worst form! This is the doctrine of freewill, the doctrine of Pelagius. This means that man is stronger than God. God is dependent on man’s choice. God has chosen man to salvation, but man does not want it! God is in man’s favor, but man does not want His favor! God even forgives him all his sins, but he must have nothing of it, and that settles the matter!
And what is the conclusion? What does God want with him, with the reprobate, that is, with the elect reprobate or the reprobate elect?
You may find the answer to these questions at the very end of Barth’s chapter on the destination of the reprobate. God wills that also to him the gospel must come and he must hear the promise of his election. He wills that also to him the gospel must be preached. He wills that he shall grasp the Christian hope and that he may live in the hope that is offered to him in the gospel. He wills that the reprobate may believe and that as believer he may become an elect reprobate. God surely did not destine him to be a reprobate, but rather that he allows himself to be told, and to tell himself that he is an elect reprobate. Such is, according to Barth, the teaching of the New Testament: believers are reprobates who are redeemed and delivered out of their reprobation. They are reprobates who are as such called to faith in Christ. They are reprobates who, on the basis of the election of Jesus Christ and with a view to the fact that He gave Himself for them, believe in their election.
Is it not plain that Barth is an Arminian and is worse than that?
Let this be the end of our discussion of Barth’s conception of election and reprobation.
Recently I read a three-volume work on The Writings of Arminius, a work that was published by Baker Book House in 1956, and which, although this is not a book review, I recommend to our readers.
In connection with this work, however, I wish to write a few articles on the above-mentioned subject.
And first of all, I give a historical review on the person of Arminius as well as on his views.
James Arminius or in Dutch Jacobus Harmsen, was born in 1560 in Oudewater and died October, 1609 in Leyden. He studied at the University of Leyden, 1575-1582, and at the University of Geneva, 1582-1587, under a well-known expounder of the teachings of Calvin. After this he traveled for a year, visited Padua and Rome, and in 1588 he became minister of the Reformed Church in Amsterdam, Holland.
I must relate in parentheses that his studies at the University of Geneva were interrupted and for a year he studied at the University of Basle, after which he returned to Geneva. In Basle the faculty of Theology offered him the degree of doctor, which honor, however, he declined.
In Amsterdam there was a certain Coornhert, a layman who caused quite a commotion in the church because he openly attacked the views of Calvin, especially with respect to his doctrine of predestination. When, after a disputation, he refused to retract, he was condemned and declared a heretic. Arminius was also involved in the dispute and was asked to refute the writings of Coornhert. But after he studied the matter he became more and more convinced that Coornhert was right and that the traditionally Reformed view of predestination was an error.
Here I want to insert a remark. Usually, Arminius is praised for his upright and amiable character. Thus in a sketch of his life in the beginning of the three-volume work which I mentioned above, W.R. Bagnall writes as follows:
“Thus lived, and thus, at the age of forty-nine years, died James Arminius, distinguished among men, for the virtue and amiability of his private, domestic and social character; among Christians for his charity toward those who differed with him in opinion; among preachers, for his zeal, eloquence and success; among divines, for his acute, yet enlarged and comprehensive view of theology, his skill in argument, and his candor and courtesy in controversy. His motto was: BONA CONSCIENTIA PARADISUS” (a good conscience is paradise).
Nevertheless, he was not honest in propagating his views on predestination when he found that he agreed with Coornhert on this fundamental and important doctrine. He knew that Coornhert was condemned as a heretic. He also knew what was the Reformed conception on this doctrine as contained in the Reformed Confessions, at that time the Heidelberg Catechism and the Belgic Confession. Before, therefore, he openly proclaimed his views from the pulpit of the church in Amsterdam, he should either have resigned as minister of the church or have put in a gravamen or objection with the proper ecclesiastical bodies and in the meantime have kept still until the matter was decided by the latter.
But he did nothing of the kind. Instead he proclaimed his heretical doctrine from the pulpit. And not only this, but he also propagated it by other means, until hundreds of ministers and others embraced his views and also propagated them and a wide and deep schism was created in the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands.
Hence, I say, he may have been as amiable as you make him, but, he certainly was not honest and, what is more, he knew it.
The people of his congregation soon noticed that his views on predestination had changed. In a sermon on Romans 7:14, he occasioned an accusation of Pelagianism. At this time he quieted down the alarm by openly declaring that he would teach nothing against the Heidelberg Catechism and the Belgic or Netherland Confession. Also this was dishonest because he was very well aware of the fact that he did not agree with the Confessions of the Church. However, not long afterwards he preached a sermon on Romans 9 which caused new alarm and trouble. Investigations were made. New disputations were conducted. The only result was that Arminius became more and more convinced that he was right and that the Reformed view of predestination and total depravity as well as related doctrines were erroneous.
He should, of course, have been treated and deposed if he did not retract. Why was he not? We must not forget that the church in the Netherlands at that time was under the authority of the civil magistrates, and the church could not even call a synod without their approval. And that many if not most of them were in favor of Arminius and his views is plain from the fact that, instead of being disciplined and deposed, he was appointed as professor in the University of Leyden!
It is said that at that time he had a conference with Gomarus who was a strong defender of the doctrine of predestination and who, besides, was a supralapsarian. It is also said that, at that time, the parley between Arminius and Gomarus had a satisfactory result. But, whether this be true or not, it certainly did not last long. A year after Arminius was appointed, the disagreement between him and Gomarus was brought into the open, and that, too, as might be expected, on the doctrine of predestination and related doctrines.
Various conferences were held. Many of the Reformed ministers violently disagreed with Arminius and his teachings at the University of Leyden. As might be expected, also the students of theology in the University became involved in the disputes. The conferences, as might also be expected, bore no desired fruit. Of these conferences, especially the one that was held in 1608, we must speak next time.
Then in 1609 Arminius died. But the matter itself was by no means settled.