On the occasion of Barth’s coming to this country and lecturing in Chicago the Reformed Journal devoted an entire issue to this world famous theologian. In that issue James Daane has an article under the caption: “Can We Learn from Karl Barth?” He writes, first of all, by way of introduction: “I know of no distinctive doctrinal formulation of Barth which Reformed theology ought to accept as a substitute for its own. I cannot recommend that any particular Reformed doctrine be discarded by one taken over from Barth. This is not the way to learn from Barth.”
According to Dane, it is probably better “to ask whether by the study of Barth we can learn some things for ourselves. Can a study of Barth help us to discover the weak soft spots, the undeveloped areas in Reformed theological thought?”
As an illustration of one of the “weak spots” Daane selects the doctrine of election. He then writes:
“Election is of the very structure of Reformed theology. Yet the aspect of election which forms the very structure of Reformed theology is that of the individual chosen of God to salvation through Christ. This aspect of election can be found in the Canons of Dordt, and is found there owing to the circumstance in which is was necessary for the Reformed Churches to defend the doctrine of salvation by grace alone against the threat of Arminianism. They faced this threat bravely and effectually. Yet they developed this aspect of election quite in isolation not only from the biblical teaching of election of Israel, but also quite in isolation from the election of Jesus Christ. Thus it is the election of individual men to heaven which has become a structural part of Reformed theology, not the election of Israel, nor the election of Christ.”….
“By contrast, it is the election of Christ which is the central feature, and the structural determinative part of Barth’s theology, and it is in the light of Christ’s election that Barth deals with the election of individual men.”
Daane asks the question how Reformed theology can make so much of individual election and neglect what is of primary importance: the election of Christ. This certainly is not according to Scripture. Both the Old and New Testament emphasize that Christ occupies the chief place in God’s counsel of election. “The cross is the central fact in the New Testament, and the very center of the Christian message. At this central place, what was the central question? the question of Christ’s election. Jesus had claimed to be the Christ, the elect, the chosen of God.” This is the reason why they crucified Him. This is evident even from the mockery the was hurled at him by the rulers of the Jews that stood by. They said: “He saved others; let him save himself, if he be the Christ, the chosen of God.” Yet, in spite of all this, Reformed theology never gave the central place to Christ in the counsel of election.
What shall we say to this?
Personally, I am very much in favor of the idea, which is certainly Scriptural, that Christ occupies the central and chief place in God’s counsel of election. But the question is: must or can we learn this from Barth? I do not believer this.
I, too, have made study of Barth for many years and lectured on his Theology in our seminary. I must say that he is an amazingly voluminous writer. His Dogmatics alone covers thus far ten volumes, large pages, each volume containing from five hundred to almost seven hundred pages and much of it in small print. When I first began to study him, in “The Word of God and the Word of Man,” I must confess that I did not understand him. But gradually I began to understand what he was “driving at.” His so-called commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, which, by the way, is one of his most famous books, is no commentary at all. At first when I read him I received the impression that he might turn in the right direction, i.e., in the direction of the Reformed truth. But I think so no more. To me Barth is certainly not a Reformed theologian. It is often said that he opposes modernism. Also this I do not believe. It is very striking, indeed, that on the one hand, many Reformed theologians seem to be in favor of his theology, while, on the other hand, many modernists believe in him also. How is this possible? And how is it possible that he is invited and accepted the invitation to deliver a series of lectures at the University of Chicago which is surely not Reformed or even orthodox?
A partial answer to these questions may be gathered from a report of his first lecture printed in the Chicago Daily News which was sent to me by a brother in South Holland. I quote it here:
“God’s Love Covers All Men, and Their Ideas, He Declares.
Dr. Karl Barth told a packed chapel audience here that God’s love and mercy extend to all men—and to the conflicting theologies as well.
He noted that, among the various theologies, each calls itself the best one. He warned religionists not to participate in this competition.”
The famous Swiss theologian spoke at length of the ‘God of the Gospel’ before an estimated two thousand attentive listeners in the Rockefeller Memorial Chapel on the University of Chicago campus.
Dr. Barth also talked about ‘Evangelical Theology’ that school in 20th century Protestantism with which he is identified as a main spokesman and founder.
He described the term ‘evangelical’ as one that recalls the New Testament and the Reformation of the 16th century . . . the catholic, ecumenical continuity and unity of all theology which treats of the God of the Gospel.
He said there is Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Evangelical theology as well as Protestant.
No theology, however, can claim equality with God, Dr. Barth cautioned his audience.
The God of the Gospel is the God who is devoted mercifully to the life of all men and therefore to their theologies, who yet transcends not only those others but also Evangelical theology, he said. He is the God who again and again discloses Himself anew and must be discovered anew.
Dr. Barth stresses that the God of the Gospel is man’s God, not only as his Lord, but also as his father, brother and friend. He said that God is not next to man, yet also not merely above him, but rather with him and by him and, most important of all, for him.”
We readily understand, of course, that this is a very brief summary of Barth’s lecture. We may also surmise that the reporter did not understand everything. Nevertheless, there is enough in this summary to warrant the conclusion that no modernist would have any grave objection to what Barth said in this first lecture. And, on the other hand, no Reformed man would subscribe to this theology.
He emphatically reveals himself as a universalist: God loves and is merciful to all men. To one that has studied Barth this is nothing new. According to Barth, Christ is the reprobate and He bore reprobation and the reprobate on the cross. I am well aware that Barth denies that he is a universalist, but he is just the same. If Christ is the only reprobate then there is no reprobation, and if there is no reprobation then there is no election.
As far as Daane’s contention is concerned that, namely, we can learn from Barth that Christ is the central elect, I would say this is impossible because Barth does not believe in the Scriptural truth of election and reprobation. And, secondly, it is not true that Reformed theologians consider the truth of election in an individualistic light.
Why, for instance, does the Heidelberg Catechism speak of election in connection with the Church of Christ? It certainly does so in question and answer 54: “What believest thou concerning the holy catholic church of Christ? That the Son of God from the beginning to the end of the world, gathers, defends, and preserves unto himself by his Spirit and Word, out of the whole human race, a church chosen to everlasting life: agreeing in true faith; and that I am and forever shall remain a living member thereof.” This is no individualistic but the organic conception of election. Cf. also my explanation of this Lord’s Day in Vol. 5 of “The Triple Knowledge.”
Also Dr. A. Kuyper does not favor the individualistic conception of election. Cf. his “Dictaten Dogmatiek” Vol. I, De Predestinatione (Concerning Predestination). Also Vol. III, De Foedere gratiae specialis (Concerning the Covenant of grace).
I may also quote from my own Dogmatics, although this is not yet published. In Locus I, Theology, I write:
“We, therefore, would like to present the matter of God’s counsel or predestination as follows. God conceived and willed all things in His eternal decree for His own name’s sake, that is, to the glory of His name and the reflection of His infinite virtues and life. And as the highest in God is His own covenant life, He willed to establish and to reveal His covenant in Christ; and all other things in the counsel of God are related to that main purpose as means. Hence, we obtain the following order: 1. God wants to reveal His own eternal glory in the establishment of His covenant. 2. For the realization of this purpose His Son becomes Christ, the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature, that in Him as the first begotten of the dead all the fullness of God might dwell. 3. For that Christ and the revelation of all His fullness the Church is decreed and all the elect. In the decree of God Christ is not designed for the Church, but the Church for Christ. The Church is His body and serves the purpose to reveal the fullness there is in Him. 4. For the purpose of realizing this Church of Christ and, therefore the glory of Christ the reprobate are determined as vessels of wrath. Reprobation serves the purpose of election as chaff serves the purpose of the ripening of the wheat. This is in harmony with the current thought of Scripture and we find it expressed literally in Isaiah 43:3, 4: ‘For I am the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, thy Savior. I gave Egypt for thy ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for thee. Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honorable, and I have loved thee; therefore will I give men for thee, and people for thy life.’ 5. Finally, in the counsel of God all other things in heaven and on earth are designed as means to the realization of both election and reprobation, and therefore of the glory of Christ and His Church. And because in the decree of God all things are conceived in this manner, therefore all things must work together for good to them that love God, to them that are called according to his purpose. And in this light we can also understand-scripture when it teaches us, as I Cor. 3:21-23, that ‘all things are yours; whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life; or death, or things present or things to come; all are yours; and ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s’.”
It ought to be rather evident, therefore, that we cannot and ought not to try to learn from Barth, least of all from his conception of predestination because: 1. He teaches that Christ is the reprobate and, therefore, he does not believe in reprobation, and 2. It is not true that the Reformed conception of election is individualistic but is organic.