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Election, Eternity, and Time in Karl Barth

For Reformed Christians we often struggle with the relation between the eternal decree of God and the historical manifestation of that decree in time. It is ingrained within our theological DNA to think of the distinction between the eternal decree of God and its temporal manifestation. It is against this backdrop that Barth came on the scene and challenged the traditional take on election – and with it, the traditional notions of how eternity relates to time. Some more explication is in order.

For Barth, Jesus Christ is himself the eternal decree of God who precedes all being and all time (CD II.2, 94). There is no being – not even of God! – apart from Jesus Christ. Nor is there any time prior to or apart from him. “And for this reason, too, we have no need to project anything into eternity, for at this point eternity is time, i.e., the eternal name has become a temporal name…the Son of God – the Son in concreto and not in abstracto, Jesus Christ, who is the Head of His body, the Church – this Son is “before all things.” (CD II.2, 98). Jesus Christ then is God in a primal movement toward man (CD II.2, 99). In other words, Jesus Christ does not have to wait for time in other to be temporal for us. In election he is already eternal time, he is already the temporally elected man who is “before all things,” the “eternal beginning of God” (ibid). In this way, Barth purposefully and skillfully employs the language and concept of eternity in an equivocal fashion. There is a reason why he uses the name Jesus Christ to describe this “before all things,” primal existence. He is not speaking of Jesus Christ before the flesh, but Jesus – precisely as the God man – primally. So, in one sense Jesus Christ is eternal (because he is “before all things”), and in another sense he is not eternal (because he is in concreto). In the former sense he is eternal because of his superior and sovereign actuality, but in the latter sense he is not eternal because he is not without time.

Now that that is clear (!), any thoughts from the listening audience?

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