Christ is All: An Introduction to the Life and Thought of Karl Barth — Part 4

Thus far in this series we have looked at the life of Barth as well as begin to explore his theology as well. In particular we have shown how Christ is everything for Barth in the sense that he reframes every loci of systematic theology along christological lines. Jesus Christ, the God-man, forms the two sides of each doctrine that comes under review. Christ is himself both the divine and human sides of the covenantal relationship between eternity and time. We looked at how that is the case for his doctrines of revelation and election. Now we will look at how it is the case for his doctrines of creation and reconciliation. We will then conclude this part, and the series, with some critical reflections.

c. Creation

In Barth’s doctrine of creation he will make an important distinction which many of us will appreciate. He holds at every place the importance of making the distinction between the creator and the creature. Now, he uses that word “creation” in a very interesting way. He understands “creation” to be a reference to both an act and a thing. We may speak about “creation” as an act of God whereby he calls that which is not into existence. We can also use the word to describe the finished product, the thing which God has made—the “creation.” So we can speak about the act of creation, and we can speak about the creation. So, really, there are three elements to Barth’s doctrine of creation: the creator, the creature, and the act of creation.

So, now, you may already be anticipating how his Christology structures his doctrine of creation. In the tradition, the act of creation is an event that occurs at the beginning of time by the triune God. Particularly, it is the second person of the Trinity, the pre-incarnate Word, who is the immediate agent of creation. However, for Barth, Jesus Christ is himself the subject, object, and act of creation. He is both the creating God and the creature, as well as the act of creation. His divine nature is the creator, and his human nature is the creature, and the incarnation is itself the act of creation—the actualistic bond that holds together both creator and creature.

Jesus Christ is always both sides of the covenant, for Barth. He is the revealing God, and the revealed-to man. He is the electing God, and the elect (and reprobate!) man. He is the creating God and the created creature. He is always and everywhere both sides of the covenant, without separation and without confusion.

d. Reconciliation

And lastly we have Barth’s Christological doctrine of reconciliation. Here we may, once again, begin on familiar ground. Let us begin with John Murray’s classic Redemption: Accomplished and Applied. The two parts of redemption correspond, roughly, to the historia salutis (what Christ has accomplished for me in history) and ordo salutis (the application of Christ’s work to me by the Holy Spirit).

In traditional Reformed theology these are two aspects of soteriology which are one act of God, but distinct in time. Christ’s accomplished work of redemption is done at a particular time and in a particular place once for all. But Christ, by his Spirit, applies that once and for all work to believers all through history—both those who came before his work, and those who came after it. But there is a time differential between redemption accomplished and applied.

Barth proposes to close that gap. He does so by eliminating our faith, and the necessity thereof, as a condition for receiving the application of the benefits of Christ’s accomplished redemption. He does so by making the two aspects of redemption one time-event. Following the pattern we have seen before, Christ is himself both God the redeemer and the redeemed man. He is, from above, the divine accomplishment of redemption and, from below, the human application of redemption. In one transcendent act of grace, Jesus Christ is himself both redemption accomplished and applied.

E. Barth and Modern Theology

And so we can see how Barth would be subject to the label “christomonism.” Christ is literally all. All of theology is reduced to Christology. There is no single loci of doctrine that is not reframed along Christological lines. For Barth, Christ is all in his theology.

Nevertheless, the expression “christomonism” may not be the most accurate label. Which is why I am proposing the term “christopanism” instead (see part 1 of this series). For Barth Christ restructures all of theology along the lines of God’s one transcendent act of grace in his time for us in Jesus Christ.

Now, its that idea of “transcendent act” that I would like to discuss now. In Barth, time and eternity, or God and the creature, are both wrapped up in this one act. This is an act that takes place, for Barth, in a transcendent time—called “God’s time for us.” This time is neither our time, nor is it pure eternity—as eternity is traditionally conceived. Rather, it is a different time altogether. As such Jesus Christ is quite literally out of this world, he is the great beyond, being beyond our time.

Barth’s theology was formed viz-a-viz the imminence theology of modern theology. Liberalism sought to bring together God and man in the sphere, or in the time, of the human experience. It was a theology from below. God and man participated in a common act—the feeling of absolute dependence. Modern theology, from Kant to Schleiermacher to Ritschl, rejected Western metaphysics and developed an actualistic ontology. Ontology would be understood in terms of act, not substance. God and man shared in the same imminent act of human experience. You can understand why Barth tied together the the analogia entis of medieval Catholicism and modern day liberalism. In both schemes God and man share in some kind of commonality.

Barth would not shed this actualism. In fact, he would advance it and apply it more consistently in his theology than anyone before him. But what Barth does is moves, he shifts, the act. In liberalism, the act of feeling of absolute dependence is essentially man’s act. But for Barth, actualism describes not the act of man in his subjective experience, but the act of God in his objectivity. And so he shifts the act from below to above. The act which forms the ground of all theology is an act of God in his grace in Jesus Christ. And it is an act that occurs above, in a realm or sphere which is wholly other. It is not our sphere or time, space, or history.

Besides the fact that he runs into all sorts of difficulties with regard to the historical nature of the acts of God in the historia salutis, Barth also did not shed the most significant problem he found in liberalism. God and man, in Barth, still share something—naming the time of God’s grace. This third time, God’s time for us, is that in which God and man (in the Man, Jesus Christ) participate. They share in this one transcendent sphere. He hasn’t eliminated the modern problem, he’s only shifted it.

In this way, really, Barth has not eliminated the analogia entis, he has only reframed it and reshaped it. To refine that last point some, we might say that Barth has swapped out the ae for an “analogia vera temporis” – an analogy of actual time. That is to say, God and man, on Barth’s scheme, do not share in some abstract notion of “being” but rather in the concrete act of time. Time then becomes the singular concept that holds both God and man together in God’s gracious transcendent act. In other words, at the end of the day, in Jesus Christ there is no real ontological duality. God and man are not, in Jesus Christ, utterly distinct. In fact, there is a complete, radical, and transcendent univocal relation which obtains between them. Barth really never gives up the modus operandi of modern theology after all.

F. Van Til and Barth

Now, I really have to give credit to Cornelius Van Til on this last point. According to Van Til this is the Achilles heal of Barth’s system. The idea of time as the common sphere in which both God and man participate is not developed by Van Til, its a theme I develop in my dissertation. But the basic critique is Van Til all the way. Van Til, long before I was born, analyzed Barth’s thought along similar lines. I’m simply trying to add color and contour as I seek to advance Van Til’s fundamental insights.

Van Til had many criticism to level against Barth. However, in summary form, Van Til’s critique can be understood in two basic steps. If you get this, you are well on your way to understanding Van Til’s transcendental critique of Barth.

First, according to Van Til, there is no direct revelation in Barth’s system. This should be fairly uncontroversial. For Barth, as people like McCormack and Trevor Hart have pointed out, revelation can never become a product of our history or time. Revelation, as we said above, is a transcendent event. Therefore, revelation is not a thing to be possessed by humanity. Rather, revelation is a person in this gracious act of God in Jesus Christ. In this way, then, revelation can only be indirectly known by us. We have no immediate access to revelation. We can only know of revelation as the Bible as the Church point to revelation. But revelation does not take place in nature, and it does not take place in the Bible. Therefore, man cannot read revelation or perceive revelation. He may read about revelation. He may perceive of revelation. But one thing is for sure, man may not have direct access to revelation.

Because of this, while the Bible is important, it can only be a fallible witness to revelation. We must come to the Bible by faith, in order to see this revelation. And since it is a fallible witness, Barth opens the way for a critical reading of the Bible. What is reliable and what is not in the Bible is determined by revelation itself. Because of this, we must read the Bible only in light of Jesus Christ. But what that revelation is is really quite beyond us. We can never grasp this revelation. We can never bottle up this revelation in the form of verbal, intellectual propositions. For Van Til this produces a kind of nominalism in theology. Ultimately and essentially it is irrationalism, deism, and agnosticism.

But since man cannot claim any level of certainty with regard to knowledge of revelation, the theologian is left to formulate his theology on that which is not revelation. Now, to be sure, Barth believes in exegesis. He does quite a bit of it, especially in the first part of volume III on the doctrine of creation. Nevertheless, it is still theologizing without—at least in theory—an infallible Word from God directly given to us. Rather, God is only—but fully and exhaustively (read: with no remainder)—revealed to man in Jesus Christ. This yields, of course, rationalism.

So, for Van Til, Barth—along with all anti-theistic thinking or thinking that stands on the basis of man’s would-be autonomous reason—is caught up in a rational-irrational dialectic. The would-be autonomous theologian has both ignorance and omniscience at once and the same time.

Second, because God and man meet together in this one time-act in Jesus Christ, God and man share in a common reality. God makes himself fully known through himself. Jesus Christ is the revealing God and the revealed-to man. God and man then, in Jesus Christ, mutually exhaust each other.

So, because of the transcendent nature of the ontological relationship between God and man, God (and man!) remains so “wholly other” that he is truly disconnected from us in the here and now. This is the Kantian and deistic aspect to Barth’s ontological scheme.

But since God and man share in the same actualized time-sphere, God and man are wholly identified with one another. This is the pantheistic, or analogia, aspect of his ontology. This yields an on-going, persistent and consistent deistic-pantheistic dialectic in Barth’s thought. Which, as Van Til points out, is no better than liberalism. If in liberalism God and man become one in the imminent, subjective experience of man, then on Barth’s scheme God and man become one in the transcendent, objective act of God in Jesus Christ. Same problem, shifted to a different sphere.

And this is why I believe so many other criticisms of Barth’s thought have fallen flat. No one else, of those who have written major critiques of Barth, analyze his system as deeply as Van Til. Berkhower and Horton, for example, hover on the surface in their criticisms of Barth, attacking this doctrine or that doctrine. But they never expose the deep structures of his thought.

G. Conclusion

In this series, we have attempted to show at least two things.

First, for Barth Jesus Christ really is all. In fact, the label of christmonism is an appropriate way of summarizing Barth’s theology. But what is more appropriate is to apply the label “christopanism” to his system of theology as a whole.

Second, Barth’s theology is of a cloth with his liberal professors. He did break with his professors, but it was not a radical break. It was a protest driven by political and cultural concerns. He shifts the ground of theology from the subjective to the objective, but does not return to the theology of Calvin, Luther, and the Heidelberg Catechism.

These two factors, his “christopanism” and essentially modern approach to theology, lead to the dialectical tensions in his thought which have plagued his writings ever since he was flourishing in the mid-20th c. Far from being a resource for Reformed theology in the 21st c., Barth’s thought should rather be regarded as a voice of caution from the past. To be sure, all Reformed theology should be Christ-centered. Christ is himself the goal, the sum, and substance of all redemptive history. But when Christ is not just the center, but when he becomes “all,” the irony is that we lose the one true Christ of biblical revelation. If the incarnation becomes an analogy, or conceptual framework, for each loci of theology, only trouble and confusion can result. When a preconceived Christology, even if it is a Chalcedonian Christology, becomes the structure into which everything else must be fitted, man becomes sovereign over his own theological system.

But when we begin with the direct self-revelation of Christ which he gives to his people in his Spirit-breathed Word, then our theology will be truly a manifold witness. It can include a Christ-centered understanding of creation or redemption without forcing it into a christopanistic mold. Christ can be—and must be—preeminent as we do exegesis of the very Word and Words of God in Scripture. But the Scriptures, of course, reveal to us God’s mind about other things other than Christ—even though Christ is always and everywhere the sovereign Lord over all things.

Unfortunately, attempting to move forward with Barth today is actually (ironically?) a returning to the past. It is to return to the 19th century and even back to Kant himself. It is to return to the old pagan philosophies in which man is autonomous and God is made in man’s image.

No, rather, I would urge the next generation of pastor-theologians to move forward by advancing what we have learned from the past. Taking our starting point from the Infallible Word, let us do exegesis while learning, without re-inventing the theological wheel, from Irenaeus, Augustine, Anselm, Thomas, Calvin, Owen, Hodge, Warfield, Machen, and Murray. And let us learn from them with discernment, delighting in the glorious treasures which they have—by God’s grace—mined from the depths of the Bible.

And not just delight in them, but to live them and to teach them to others. It is these truths, the grand truths of the Reformed Faith, that can and will feed and drive the church until that day when our Savior appears for a second time, this time apart from sin, to take us to himself forever.

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4 years ago

James, amazing summary. Thanks for your summary of Karl Barth theology. The only question I have is whether it is fair to say that for Karl Barth there was no subjective element in his soteriology which would make it closer to deism. I do disagree with your conclusion. But first let me say that I agree that for Barth salvation (redemption accomplished and applied as Murray divided it) was objective, was to be found in the work of Christ. Barth doctrine of reconciliation which he divided into justification, sanctification, and calling (conversion) was all accomplished in Jesus Christ. There was no subjective element as you pointed out. In Christ the whole human race has been justified, sanctified, and called (converted), and it did not depend on a human response. With that said this is where my agreement ends, because Barth clearly taught that there was a human response, there was an important subjective element, even though our salvation did not depend on it. So for Barth faith, love, and hope are the human responses to justification, sanctification, and calling.

Let me elaborate. Let ‘ s take justification as an example. Although the work of justification was objective and fully accomplished by Christ through, his perfect obedience and death on the cross, there was a corresponding subjective element which is the human response of faith. Faith was certainly not a condition of justification, and justification does not depend on faith, nonetheless it can be argued that for Barth the subjective aspect of justification is faith. But you are right justification does not depend on faith and has been fully completed in Christ outside of faith. From this perspective you can say that the work of salvation is fully objective, but as I mentioned for Barth the human response (faith) was very important. Even though it is not faith that justifies but Christ, Barth did give a lot of importance to faith as the human response to justification. So saying that the soteriology of Barth has no subjective element is a bit of a stretch.

I personally like the approach of Barth because it takes the focus away from me and puts it on Christ. It solves many of the criticisms that have been levied against the puritans which sought assurance of salvation in themselves (in their faith or in their works / sanctification). For Barth instead, the assurance of salvation comes from the promises of the gospel that are found in Christ, so it is an objective assurance that does not depend on me.

The bigger question is whether the approach of Barth is biblical or not. And I think there are bible passages like 1 Timothy 4:10 that support Barth in that salvation is unconditional (justification) whether one believes or not. That said even though God has saved man unconditionally, man still needs to accept this salvation already accomplished, not in order to be saved (he is already saved by the work of Christ on the cross) but to receive what is already his. This is what Barth is trying to get at. And I think it is a very biblical understanding of salvation.

Jim Cassidy

4 years ago

Hi Bill,

I don’t disagree with you at all. I make the role of faith in reconciliation more explicit in my dissertation. Faith does have a role. All men, for Barth, everywhere are called upon to believe the Gospel. Nevertheless, the efficacy of the Gospel does not depend on the faith of men. So, while there is a moral injunction for all men to believe, all men are already justification, sanctified, and converted in Christ.

You are quite correct that this does take the focus off of us and upon Christ. And you are right to ask the question about whether or not its biblical. In Scripture, faith is a non-negotiated condition of the covenant of grace in general and justification in particular. We may think that that undoes grace, and places the focus back on us. And that is a real danger. But it is what God has said, and in his wisdom it is a proper way to speak. Now, the Reformed dealt with the anthropocentric problem when they articulated the doctrine of saving faith as something that is given to us from Christ himself (a la Eph 2:8). In this way, the glory – even for our faith – is given to God in Christ. So that it is always from him, to him, and through him that he might alone get the glory in our salvation. Barth rejected the human element of the covenant outside of Christ, and as such landed himself on the side of the anabaptist, radical reformers.

What do you think?


4 years ago

Hi Jim, you asked me for my thoughts on what you wrote. You know if you had asked me two weeks ago I would have agreed with you. But I have seen something that has really changed my mind. I will tell you where I see Barth’s doctrine of universal justification much stronger than the original Reformers. This is why confessional lutheranism has embraced it. Let me show you, because it’s of the essence of the gospel. Does the forgiveness of sin require one or two parties ? For example for you to forgive somebody is it necessary that the other person accept your forgiveness? What if they don’t even know you’ve forgiven them because it took you so long that you can’t find the person to tell them the good news ? The answer to both questions is that you as a human being forgive unilaterally. Forgiveness can’t be conditional by definition on the offender accepting it. They may reject it. Or if you are unable to tell them for whatever reason they may not even know you have forgiven them. The same thing is with God, he forgives on account of Jesus Christ. And this forgiveness does not depend on a human response. it can not, otherwise it would be a conditional forgiveness. So if in Christ the whole human race is forgiven unconditionally. Now from God’s point of view everybody is forgiven. In Christ God does not hate man any longer, all sins have been atoned for. However man still hates God until he accepts the free unconditional forgiveness of sin. Although God is already reconciled to man in Christ, man is not reconciled to God until he accepts this unconditional forgiveness.

In summary in the act of forgiving (between God and man, or between two men as well) there are two parties, the offender and the offended. One forgives, the other one receives the forgiveness. However the act of forgiving by the offended party does not depend on the offender receiving or accepting the forgiveness. Many times we forgive but our forgiveness is rejected by the other party, but this does no mean that we have not forgiven. But because the offender rejects our forgiveness full reconciliation has not taken place, however from our side we have fully forgiven. The same thing with God, he forgives, and his forgiveness can never depend on a human being accepting it or rejecting it. Otherwise by definition it is not forgiveness.

Do you understand what I mean ? So it makes for Barth to teach that justification does not depend on a human response (faith) because justification is the free act of God who on account of Christ’s work on the cross forgives sinners. And this act of justification can never depend on faith. Faith is the human response to justification, but faith can never justify nor lack of faith can ever invalidate the justification of the ungodly. Because forgiveness is a unilateral act of God, forgiveness always requires one party only, i.e. God. It does not depend on the offender (man) accepting it or rejecting it.


4 years ago

Faith is still necessary to receive the forgiveness of sins or to receive justification. But the justification of the ungodly is on account of Christ’s work, God pronounces the verdict not guilty to man on account of Christ”s perfect obedience and his death on the cross. The active and passive obedience of Christ triggers the justification of the ungodly. It is this justification that triggers faith, the human response. We love, because he loves as first. We can only come to faith because he has justified us in Christ first freely and unconditionally. When Paul says we are justified by faith, all he means is that those that have faith are the only ones that have responded to God”s unconditional unilateral love and unconditional unilateral forgiveness. But the response of man, faith, is nothing else than receiving this free forgiveness that God has already pronounced as a result of Christ”s perfect obedience. So faith is required but not in order that God may forgive us, or that God may justify us, or that God be reconciled to us. Quite the opposite, faith is required because God has forgiven us, has already justified us in Christ, is already reconciled to us. Faith is our response to God’s grace but does not earn grace, so grace precedes faith, justification precedes faith.

Full reconciliation needs two steps. God forgives and justifies first, man receives this forgiveness and justification in faith. Both justification, God’s unconditional act, and faith which is man”s response are required for salvation. Faith is the response to the gospel, but the gospel is true whether faith be present or not. Justification which is God’s act of pronouncing a non guilty verdict on account of Christ”s work on the cross is the gospel. And the gospel does not depend on faith, but on Christ’s work of salvation, the non guilty verdict is solely grounded on what Christ did and not our faith which is the human response that receives and believes the not guilty verdict.


4 years ago

2 Corinthians 5:19 speaks of God in Christ having reconciled the world to himself on account of Christ by not imputing their trespasses , i.e God unconditionally justified outside of faith the whole world. This is the gospel. But 2 Corinthians 5:20 calls for man to be reconciled to God, that is it demands faith, it demands a human response to the gospel. But no man can come to saving fait unless he be justified first, because faith is the human response to God”s act of justification. Justification is the gospel, faith is believing the gospel, i..e. faith is believing that we (sinners’ the ungodly) have been freely justified solely on account of Christ


4 years ago

Put it another way, aince I just explained justification is the gospel, is the object of faith. Justification is the result of Christ’s work on the cross. Justification creates faith, it is objective. Faith is the human response that receives justification. And this the context in which Paul of justification by faith, in that justification is the object of faith, it is what faith believes, what faith receives.


4 years ago

Here’s a super good summary of the theology of Karl Barth, which in this article is called tinitarian theology. The essence is the vicarious death of Christ for all of humanity, the whole human race being elect and redeemed in Jesus Christ. http://www.thenewmystics.com/Articles/1000129600/Home_Page_of/Articles/What_on_Earth.aspx

Because this theology affirms that although the whole human race is united to Christ and ascended into heaven and sitting at the right hand of god, in order to partake of the benefits we still need to have faith, it will be impossible to refute biblically. In essence trinitarian theology is biblical christianity. It does not affirm that faith saves, but it does affirm that without nobody can be saved. In essence it is not different from calvinism, in that trinitarian theology still affirms that fellowship with God can only be experienced through faith and this faith is purely of grace, a gift of God. This faith does not save though, but the faith of Christ in the Father is what saves all men both believer and unbeliever. However the unbeliever because he does not faith has no fellowship with God and perishes. In this theology although everybody is elect, one can argue that the reprobate are the elect that do not know they are elect (do not have faith that they are elect).

This theology is no different from the Reformers. Call it post modern calvinism or post modern luthearnism. The lutheran church has embraced it in the form of objective justification. Many calvinists now consider Barth a post modern calvinist, I personally do. But not all calvinists have embraced trinitarian theology, the same can not be said of confessional luthernaism which has wholeheartedly embraced a universal objective justification of the hole human race whether they have faith or not. Objective justification for the lutheran church is a fait acompli that does not require faith and encompasses the whole of humanity. This objective justification needs to be received by faith (subjective justification), but faith receives a justification that is already accomplished, faith does not justify but is the instrument by which objective justification is received.

Although I had recently had some serious reservations about this theology, I do not believe it can be biblically refuted. As a matter of fact I read recently Michael Jinkins “Invitation to Theology” and believe trinitarian theology to have many advantages that can not be found in traidtional theology. Specially the doctrine of revelation, where natural revelation can only be understood through special revelation. This is consistent with Romans 1 that affirms that through nature we can only deny God, but when we look at nature through Christ (the whole cosmos as fallen in Adam and redeemed in Jesus Christ) then and only then can we escape the sin of idolatry and worshipping nature, which is pantheism. Far from leading to pantheism as Jim Cassidy affirms, it avoids pantheism (the worshipping of the creature instead of the creator). I now see Chris in everything, even when I walk past a baseball stadium I see it as redeemed in Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:17 affirms all things are redeemed in Jesus Christ. The whole cosmos has been saved and is resurrected in Christ.

Jim Cassidy

4 years ago


How can a strictly and exclusively forensic benefit of redemption (justification) produce anything, nevermind the subjective and renovative gift of faith? If justification is a declarative word of the judge, how is it that that declaration can produce faith? Furthermore, how can there be justification quite prior to and apart from faith? On that scheme justification is no longer by faith alone, but faith is by justification alone. That seems to turn Paul upside down.


4 years ago

Hi Jim, your first two questions are easily answered because it is something that the lutheran church takes for granted since its founder C F W Walther wrote his book “La and Gospel” which can be purchased from Concorida Publishing or read online here http://lutherantheology.com/uploads/works/walther/LG/ . Walther affirmed an objective justification apart from faith. He also taught that this is the gospel. And that God by his word or sacrament proclaims the absolution of sin unconditionally. Whether man believes it or not God has pardoned him. This declaration of righteousness in Christ, this announcement is the gospel. It creates faith, justification always has an ontological effect and prompts a human response. God created the world by his Word, he creates faith by his Word, it is the declarative power of the word of God. Michael Horton implicitly affirms the same when he teaches that the gospel is an indicative, never an imperative, it is an announcement of what Christ has done. Repent and believe is not the gospel, they are imperatives, they are law. They are necessary but they are the human response to the indicative of what Christ has done. Horton compares the gospel in his book Christless Christianity, to a herald that announces after World War 2 that the war has ended. This announcement prompts people to go and celebrate and dance in the streets. So it produces joy, and so is when the forgiveness of sin is proclaimed unconditionally it causes men to embrace it and celebrate in joy, God creates faith by the proclamation of the free justification of sinners on account of Christ. Faith by definition is to believe that we are forgiven for Christ’s sake, so the object of faith is our justification. The Augsburg Confession puts it beautifully:
Article IV: Of Justification.

1] Also they teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for 2] Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. 3] This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight. Rom. 3 and 4.


4 years ago

With regard to your third question, where you say that Paul clearly teaches it reverses the order of Paul, and that Paul teaches that there can be no justification outside of faith. Well, this one is a more tricky question, in that you are right not only Paul but also Jesus teaches this, like the parable of the pharisee and tax collector makes it clear that one was justified and the other one was not. Jesus in that parable also seems to imply that some sort of human response is required. So both Jesus and Paul at times seem to deny a universal justification of all mankind .

So what’s my take on it ? I think that we can not read the bible in a literalistic way. In many other passages the unconditional universal forgiveness of sin without faith is proclaimed 1 John 2:2 1 , Timothy 4:10 , 2 Corinthians 5:19 , Matthew 12:31-32

So what the bible is telling us is that forgiveness or justification has really two steps as I have indicated. 1) God forgives 2) Man accepts , rejects, or is not even aware that this forgiveness took place (those that don’t hear the gospel). So whenever the bible speaks of justification outside of faith in the passages I quoted, it refers to step 1) which is the gospel proclamation of the universal remission of sins already pronounced by God on the whole world. And when the bible speaks of faith justifying it refers to man accepting this forgiveness.


4 years ago

1 John 2:2 1 Timothy 4:10 2 Corinthians 5:19 and Matthew 12:31-32

Also Romans 4:5 speaks about believing in God who justifies the ungodly. So Paul makes justification is the object of faith. God does not justify those that have faith or the godly, God justifies the ungodly Paul says. Clearly Paul is talking about a justification without faith in this passage, but one that needs to be believed, received by faith.

Those are the passages I referred in my post above that affirm a justification without faith of the whole world, it didn’t come clear in the post so I retype them here.

Bruce Sanders

4 years ago

I had intended to inject my comment as a reply to Jim’s questions, but decided to let Bill finish first.

Jim had made the point: “How can there be justification prior to and apart from faith? On that scheme justification is no longer by faith alone, but faith is by justification alone.”

Jim’s position / conflict is partly derived from Gen 15:6; a verse mistranslated in most English Bibles:

I will start with Nehemiah 9:7-9: Thou art the LORD the God, who didst choose Abram, and broughtest him forth out of Ur of the Chaldees, and gavest him the name of Abraham; (8) and foundest his heart faithful (see next paragraph) before Thee, and madest a covenant with him to give the land of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, and the Perizzite, and the Jebusite, and the Girgashite, even to give it unto his seed, and hast performed Thy words; for Thou art righteous.

These verses make 3 points: (i) God had taken control of Abraham life; (ii) Abraham was faithful (Niphal participle of aman: someone who proves themselves dependable / reliable / trustworthy); and (iii), God was righteous (Hebrew: sdq) to perform these works (i.e. God’s works were a demonstration of His righteousness).

Regarding Gen 15:6 (the same narrative) Hebrew parallelism and syntax indicates the subject of the first clause (Abram) is the subject of the second. The verb form in the first clause is Hophal, a passive with causation. The verb in the second clause is Qal imperfect (indicates unfinished action), and has a 3rd feminine singular suffix, referencing the feminine noun sdqh (righteousness). Regarding “to him,” the lamed has a dagesh (a dot which whenever used indicates God as the referent).

Reformed hermeneutics teaches that obvious verses must interpret difficult verses … Neh 9:7-9 is obvious, Gen 15:6 because of the ambiguous pronouns is difficult.

The sense of Gen 15:6 in Hebrew is: “He (Abraham) was compelled to trust in the LORD and reckon / credit / esteem / acknowledge Him (the LORD) righteous.”

This translation agrees with Neh 9:7-9.

Gen 15:6 cannot be used to teach Abram was righteous because of faith.


4 years ago

Well it was Luther actually who affirmed that whether a man believes or not his sins are forgiven. The gospel is true and God does not lie. This applies in baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the Absolution, and the preaching of the Word. These 4 means of grace are always effective maintained Luther, and they are equally effective for those that believe and those that believe not. Like Luther put it if God gave you a castle, he gave you a castle whether you believe it or not, those that rejected the gospel will find out that their sins were forgiven. This paper from the confessional lutheran church Wisconsin Synod explains the official lutheran position of universal objective justification and brings numerous quotes from Luther affirming it. Here’s the WELS (Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod) official position with numerous quotes from Luther and other lutherans in history http://www.wlsessays.net/files/BeckerJustification.pdf Below are some excerpts from this paper which I recommend you read in full, where Luther clearly affirms that objective justification of all men is true for everybody, and it is equally true for believer and unbeliever alike, it is also a must that we proclaim this Word because it is the gospel by which God creates faith through baptism, the Lord\s Supper, the Absolution, and the preached Word. Those are the 4 means of grace that proclaim a justification already accomplished for all mankind. Here is some excerpts from the link I just provided,, here is what Luther has to say:

“That Luther believed in objective justification is, however, very easy to demonstrate. Luther says, for
example, that when we baptize someone we must say to the person being baptized, “All your sins are remitted
by reason of the presence of Christ. Therefore I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy
Spirit. This means that I remit all your sins, cleansing you of them right now” (LW 22, 177). In that context he
“Baptism … remains valid and correct, even if it could be proved that a child or an adult did not believe when
baptized … whether I believe or disbelieve, it remains good and valid in itself.” That he had a correct
understanding of the function of faith in this matter is clear from the words that follow: “If I believe, it benefits
me … if I do not believe, Baptism will not redound to my good in all eternity” (p. 175).
Commenting on the words of Christ in which he commanded his disciples to “preach the remission of
sins” (Lk 24:47) Luther says that this is nothing else than “to preach the Gospel, which announces to all the
world that in Christ the sins of the whole world are swallowed up, that he died to take our sins away from us
and that he rose to devour them and wipe them out, so that all who believe this have such hope and assurance”
(St. L. 11, 693). It is crystal clear that the announcement of forgiveness to all the world comes first; then faith
builds on that announcement and finds comfort and assurance in it.
If there is still any doubt that Luther believed that when God tells us in the Gospel that our sins are
forgiven this is true whether we believe it or not, all such doubt ought surely to disappear when we listen to
Luther’s ridicule of the Roman doctrine of the “erring key” (LW 40, 337ff). That term, in Roman Catholic
theology, means that when the priest says, “Absolvo te,” “I forgive your sins” those words are not true if the
person is not really contrite, if he has knowingly omitted some sins from his confession, or does not intend to
carry out the satisfaction prescribed by the priest. Lutherans whose theology is basically Romanizing will say
that the pastor’s words, “I forgive you all your sins” are true only for the believers in the audience.
Speaking of the “erring key” Luther writes,
Even he who does not believe that he is free and his sins forgiven shall also learn, in due time,
how assuredly his sins were forgiven, even though he did not believe it … He who does not
accept what the keys give receives, of course, nothing. But that is not the key’s fault. Many do
not believe the gospel, but this does not mean that the gospel is not true or effective. A king
gives you a castle. If you do not accept it, then it is not the king’s fault, nor is he guilty of a lie.
But you have deceived yourself and the fault is yours. The king certainly gave it. (LW 40, 366f)
In that same context he indicates very clearly that when the pastor speaks the absolution he should be able to
say, “I know for certain that I have loosed you before God, whether you believe it or not.” We need no more
evidence than this to prove beyond question that Luther believed in what we call “objective or universal
justification” even though he did not use the term. “


4 years ago

This is the link from where I quoted from, this paper summarizes the lutheran position perfectly and affirms universal objective justification of all mankind without faith being a requirement to be believed, as this paper correctly teaches this is the gospel. http://www.wlsessays.net/files/BeckerJustification.pdf


4 years ago

With that said, Barth should have checked some aspects of his doctrine more carefully. In particular the doctrine of election. Although Barth is correct in pointing out that Christ was the elect (Augustine in his book on the predestination of the saints and Calvin in his Institutes both affirmed that Christ was the primary example of election, God elected Him) he failed to affirm with Augustine and Calvin that the elect men are those whom Christ teaches them to come to faith, those that believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 11:7 The election hath obtained it, and the REST were blinded’ and Acts 13:48 And as many as were ordained to eternal life, believed . So both of these passages prove clearly the traditional historic calvinist / augustinian doctrine of election. Unlike objective justification where I can argue for and defend Barth’s position, I can not do the same on Barth’s doctrine of election. His refusal to acknowledge that the elect are those that come to faith and the reprobate those that do not come to faith, Barth inadvertently denies the doctrines of grace. Because this universal truth is affirmed by arminians, calinists, lutherans, and catholics. What man is elect and what man is not as I have proven from the two passages of scripture I quoted is clear, those that believe are the elect, those that do not are not. That said Barth needs to be given credit by pointing out that election can only be found in Christ and as a representative of the human race the whole human race has been elected, and I think that this is why he chose to ignore those passages of scripture that deny a universal election. With that said I do not think this is helpful, and is one area of Barth’s theology that will need refinement by future theologians.


4 years ago

In addition to the scripture I mentioned in my last post, John 12:40 , Luke 8:12 , Mark 4:11-12, Matthew 11:25 and many other passages in scripture make it super clear that every man would be saved if they believed the gospel, but God chose to reveal Christ to the elect alone and chose to hide Christ from the Reprobate. This is very obvious, and as I have said it is so obvious, that for Barth to ignore it and affirm a universal election is wrong. So maybe the English hypothetical universalists like John Davenant are the guys to look for sound doctrine. In that they affirmed a strong universalism, Christ died for your sins, you sins are forgiven applies to believer and unbeliever alike affirmed the chief of the British delegation to Dort, John Davenant. So he was a strict universalist as far as Christ having forgiven the sins of all mankind, but he was a strict particularist as far as the application or distribution of the benefit by grace through faith to the elect alone, only the elect believe. Prosper of Aquitaine , a disciple of Augustine was another example of a particularist with regard to election (the gift of faith), and a universalist with regard to the forgiveness of sin of all mankind in the atoning work of Christ. Lutheranism also falls into this category in that they affirm a universal objective justification and a particular unconditional election. All the passages of scripture I mentioned and other such as Luke 10:13 make it very clear that in Christ the whole world was justified, and the only thing that prevents people from entering it is that God either chose not to preach the gospel to them or shut their ears while the gospel was being preached so that they would not understand it.


4 years ago

What is very interesting in this is how much in common Karl Barth has with Theodore Beza.

1) Both started with Calvin and ended far apart and away from Calvin
2) While Calvin accepted the tension between a universal atonement of the sins of the whole world and a particular decree of election. Beza and Barth rejected this tension and reconciled the decree of election and the death of Christ, Beza made both parrticular and Barth both universal. In doing so, both departed from Calvin radically. It was Prosper of Aquitaine, the disciple of Augustine that warned that anybody that would try to reconcile the two, would go down a slippery slope. And this is exactly what Beza and Barth did.

3) So from this perspective both Theodore Beza (scholastic calvinism) and Karl Barth need to be strongly rejected. Because both used Calvin as their starting point and both radically departed from Calvin. Barth and Beza went in opposite directions, Barth into universalism denying the biblical doctrine of particular election and Beza into particular redemption denying the universality of Christ’s saving death for all men.(both believer and unbeliever).


4 years ago

I just finished reading “A dissertation on the death of Christ” by the puritan John Davenant. It’s an excellent book, and it starts on page 317 of his second volume on his commentary on colossians. Here’s the link for those that want to read it https://books.google.ca/books/about/An_Exposition_of_the_Epistle_of_St_Paul.html?id=PKgMAAAAIAAJ&redir_esc=y

After reading this book I have to say that it is safer to affirm the doctrine of justification by faith than affirming the doctrine of a universal objective justification. For no matter how much the work of Christ hast accomplished we can not say that anybody is justified before God unless they have come to faith and embraced the Savior or in the case of infants they have been baptized. Going any further I am afraid we have no authority from God to proclaim that the whole world has been declared righteous by God, the whole mass of sinners that will never come to repentance and faith. So I have to backpedal on this one, as much as I got excited about Barth objective salvation initially, it just does not seem to jive with scripture. So I have to agree with Jim when he warned me about my error and pointed out Barth’s error of moving the whole work of salvation to what Christ accomplished and completely disregarding the application of the redemption Christ accomplished. Unfortunately as I said, I have to go by what scripture says, and justification is not something Christ accomplished for the whole human race at the cross, it is the gift of God to be received through faith together with all the other benefits of Christ’s death.


4 years ago

But now I am reading the death of death in the death of Christ. And lo and behold , John Owen affirms objective justification (and sanctification and adoption to boot) just like Karl Barth and the lutherans. The only difference is that he does it for the elect instead of the whole world. So this completely confirms what I wrote before, that Beza (and Owen of course) and Barth have a lot in common by both departing from Calvin and the Heidelberg Catechism and making election and the atonement dependent on each other. In the case of Barth, universal, and in the case of Owen and Beza particular.

Because of this, we should not jump to conclusions that Barth, John Owen, and modern lutheranism are all wrong in affirming an objective salvation outside of faith. Owen affirms it for the elect and Barth and the lutherans for the whole world. sin

Calvin, Luther, the Heidelberg catechism, John Davenant and the hypothetical universaliststs hey all deny any type of objective salvation and instead affirm a universal atonement for all men that did not save anybody unconditionally. Basically at the atonement Christ propitiated the wrath of God for all mankind so that he is now pacified to the whole human race on condition of faith, so that whosoever believes in Him shall be saved. Unlike Owen, Ursinus (as John Davenant and the hypothetical universalists) affirmes in the Heidelberg Catechism that Christ suffered for all, he suffered for Judas as well as Peter, so that if Judas had repented he would have been saved. And this is consistent with what John Davenant writes in his book “A dissertation on the death of Christ”. But here’s the Heidelberg Catechism and Ursinus commentary affirming the conditional death of Jesus Christ for the whole human race :


Q. What do you understand by the word, “suffered”?
A. That during his whole life on earth, but especially at the end, Christ sustained, in body and soul, the anger of God against the sin of the whole human race.

Obj. 4. If Christ made satisfaction for all, then all ought to be saved. But all are not saved. Therefore, he did not make a perfect satisfaction. Ans. Christ satisfied for all, as it respects the sufficiency of the satisfaction which he made, but not as it respects the application thereof; for he fulfilled the law in a two-fold respect. First, by his own righteousness; and secondly, by making satisfaction for our sins, each of which is most perfect. But the satisfaction is made ours by an application, which is also two-fold; the former of which is made by God, when he justifies us on account of the merit of his Son, and brings it to pass that we cease from sin; the latter is accomplished by us through faith. For we apply unto ourselves, the merit of Christ, when by a true faith, we are fully persuaded that God for the sake of the satisfaction of his Son, remits unto us our sins. Without this application, the satisfaction of Christ is of no benefit to us.


4 years ago

So there you have it, 5-point calvinists better realize that they have no case against Karl Barth, zero. The theology of Barth and Owen both affirms an objective unconditional salvation by Christ outside of faith. Either ignorance or hypocrisy can justify any criticism of Barth by anyone who subscribes to the Westminster Confession or Canons of Dort and holds to limited atonement.

Now, I think this issue deserves further consideration because both Owen and Barth make a very strong case that Christ actually saved objectively sinners with his work and this objective work is true whether sinners believe it or not. This teaching is of course contrary to the Heidelberg catechism and John Calvin, but it is not necessarily heretical. If we charge Barth with Heresy, Owen and 5-point calvinism go down with it and so does modern lutheranism that also affirms an objective justification. So we have to be extremely careful here. Because although Calvin and the Heidelberg catechism affirm a universal atonement for all men, that requires the condition of faith, Karl Barth and John Owen affirm an unconditional atonement that has saved men unconditionally. It is safer not to charge either side with heresy on this one.

But my point was to show that 5-point calvinism and Barth have a lot more in common with each other than with Calvin and the Heidelberg catechism. You can take all of Barth theology and all his universal objective work of salvation, and all you need to do is make election particular instead of universal, and lo and behold you have the theology of John Owen.


4 years ago

In all fairness to Owen he does say that justification is conditional on faith even for the elect (though Christ purchased it on the cross). But be that as it may, just because Barth and lutheranism assert an objective universal salvation (justification) that is independent on whether man believes it or not, and even though Owen makes a very through defense of limited atonement I do not think this issue can be resolved this side of heaven. The importance of Barth theology is that the gospel truth is a truth revealed in the last days , but this truth is universally valid. Just like the laws of nature are universally valid and were so as much in prehistoric times as they are now after Newton and Einstein, now we know them and benefit from them, and so is with the gospel. I am not going to take sides one way or another, not trying to play the devil’s advocate here, just that theologically we can not resolve this as I said, when we get to heaven we will find out. Nonetheless for now we should consider calvinism, lutheranism, and Barth as all valid forms of monergism that try to explain in the best possible way the meaning of the death of Christ.



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