[Review] Reading Barth with Charity: A Hermeneutic Proposal by George Hunsinger

The doctrine of election is the sum of the Gospel because of all words that can be said or heard it is the best. CD II/1, 3

In a recent review of George Hunsinger’s “Reading Barth with Charity: A Hermeneutical Proposal,”[1] Phillip Cary commented, “Barth’s Christocentrism is fundamental to the appeal of his theology, and it leads him to make some startling claims.” That is a bit of an understatement. But Cary is absolutely correct, a conception of Jesus is at the very center of all Barth’s theology. Christology is so important to Barth’s Theology that some have gone so far as to assert that Barth has no Christology per se, but that his entire theological project is Christological.[2] Therefore, one’s appropriation of the place of Barth’s Christology within the framework of his theological project, is critical for how one receives the entirety of Barth’s theology.

In his new work, Hunsinger sets forth a reading of Barth very different from his revisionist opponents; a Barth that is, well, strikingly less radical. Hunsinger arrives at this reading of Barth by using a “hermeneutic of charity,”[3] a methodological approach to ambiguous texts that seeks alternative interpretive options when faced with apparent contradictions. According to the hermeneutic of charity, the reader should only subject an argument or proposition to criticism after one has sought to resolve the difficulties themselves.[4] If one cannot resolve the apparent contradiction via a favorable interpretation (i.e. one that does not involve prima facie contradiction), then one is permitted to subject the argument or proposition to criticism. The principle of “charity” is more or less a hermeneutical application of the “Golden Rule.”[5] As one could probably guess, Hunsinger argues that the revisionists’ interpretation of Barth fails to read Barth charitably; that is, they’re guilty of pitting Barth against himself and through deductive reasoning setting a theological trajectory for his theology that Barth never intended.

Hunsinger cites T.F. Torrance’s[6] distinction between “evangelical” and “rationalistic” Calvinism as an example of the principle of charity in action.[7] It is a more or less classic “Calvin and the Calvinists” approach. The “evangelical” Calvinism is allegedly closer to the actual textual Calvin than the logical systemizing of the “rational” Calvinists following Beza. “It judged, according to Torrance, that the filial was prior to the legal, that the personal was prior to the propositional, that the inductive took precedence over the deductive, and that spiritual insight placed constraints on logical reasoning.”[8]

The rationalistic Calvinists’ approach to Calvin’s writings lead to the allegedly “extreme” doctrines of Limited atonement, supralapsarianism, infralapsarianism and worst of all (for Torrance at least), a “legalistic construal of ‘covenant’ that tended toward synergism.”[9] For Hunsinger the present debate is no more than an incarnation of the “Calvin and the Calvinists” debate, only this time, it is Barth and the revisionist Barthians.[10]

A Revisionist Manifesto

Hunsinger cites Bruce McCormack’s “Grace and Being: The Role of God’s Gracious Election in Karl Barth’s Theological Ontology”[11] as an impressive example of a revisionist[12] reading of Barth. It contains the seminal ideas that will work their way through much of the revisionist literature in one form or another. For example, the use of the word “ontology.” Hunsinger notes that ontology plays a significant role in modern receptions of Barth’s theology,[13] and that is part of the problem. Hunsinger therefore distinguishes between two types of ontology. First, there is the proper philosophical sense of the word as the study of “being qua being” (ontology1). Second, there is the looser sense which speaks to a “field of inquiry pertaining to the material covered and the sorts of things and relations one finds in it-to a general area of action, inquiry, or interest”[14] (ontology2). According to Hunsinger, the revisionists often fail to distinguish between these two uses of ontology.

Predictably, Barth rejects ontology1 as a danger to Dogmatic theology. Ontology1 represents a danger to the Dogmatic theologian in its penchant for imposing overarching systems wherein the Dogmatic theologian is constrained to operate.[15] While Barth felt free to plunder ontology1 for useful tools, he would never submit (according to Hunsinger) to the rigors of an independent ontology as presented in ontology1,[16] and this includes an “actualistic ontology” such as that argued for by McCormack.

So the solution for Hunsinger is found to be neither post-metaphysical in nature nor within classical essentialist metaphysics; it is, rather, a combination of both.[17] In other words, the Revisionist has set up a false dilemma against the textual Barth, and that is the rub for Hunsinger.[18]

“Actualistic ontology” a la Bruce McCormack is a way of describing the being of God as it is “determined” in Jesus Christ and is associated primarily with the “revisionist” reception of Karl Barth.[19] When worked out to its logical conclusion, an actualistic ontology argues for a pre-temporal non-Trinitarian act (i.e. election) that occurs “in relation to the world” and subsequently constitutes the Trinity. So behind God’s decision to be Triune, is an undifferentiated divine potentiality that is actualized only after God’s self-determination to be for His people in Jesus Christ. For McCormack, any talk of a Triune God prior to the act of election is “speculative.”[20]

The revisionists will argue that Barth had embraced an essentialist metaphysic prior to Church Dogmatics II/2 (hereafter CD),[21] and never fully purged it from his thought. The purging therefore has been left up to the revisionists, who took Barth places theologically he never intended to go.

In addition to determining the Divine being, the revisionists seek to explain the “how” of God’s gracious act of election. How can God become man without undergoing any ontological change? Hunsinger offers two answers in response: first, God is free to do whatever he pleases. If you need proof, look no further than the Incarnation. The Incarnation of the Logos can occur only because God is both powerful and free.[22] Second, Barth had what Hunsinger helpfully refers to as a “doctrine of antecedence,”[23] which basically asserts that God’s ad extra acts find their “antecedent ground” in God’s own Trinitarian being. The revisionists err, according to Hunsinger, in their removal of the Trinitarian foundation of God’s ad extra act of election. The result is, “What God is eternally in Himself is subsequent to what he determines himself to be relative to the world.”[24]

But isn’t all this talk of “antecedence” speculative as McCormack asserts? For Barth, speculation is defined by any idea not directly tied to the historic revelation of God in Jesus Christ. Therefore, Hunsinger counters, it [the doctrine of antecedence] is not speculative because knowledge of God in Christ is only possible due to God’s own antecedent self-knowledge. “Far from being speculative, the idea of the eternal Trinity is the ground of all revealed truth.”[25] The revisionist will reject the doctrine of antecedence because it is not grounded in actualism. They will go even farther and argue that one cannot understand the Incarnation apart from an actualistic ontology (see ontology1). The problem is, that is the very idea militated against by Barth. So if the revisionists desire to maintain their interpretation, they do so in spite of Barth’s own stated desire not to be bound by an overarching ontology. If we stick with the “Calvin and the Calvinists” example used by Hunsinger in the introduction, we could safely place the revisionist in the “Calvinist” camp. Only in this instance, it’s an example of “Barth and the Barthians.”

One of the major weaknesses of the revisionist movement, according to Hunsinger, is the uncharitable use of deductive reasoning. The revisionists have selectively isolated certain Barthian texts that seem to support their actualistic ontology, and then reasoned deductively from those texts to establish a radically different trajectory for Barth’s theology. “The thesis of this study is that the revisionist position derives, not entirely, but to a large extent, from taking one of Barth’s statements out of context, and turning it into an abstract proposition, and deducing certain conclusions from it that Barth would not have drawn.”[26]

For example, McCormack argues that the Logos asarkos only becomes the Logos ensarkos after the decision of election. There is no LA apart from Jesus Christ, because Jesus Christ (Logos ensarkos) is the subject of election.[27] McCormack then offers three logical deductions from the above proposition: 1. If Barth wishes to speak of Jesus as the subject of election he must deny any notion of the Logos prior to the decree of election. 2. Barth must deny there is any Logos apart from God’s act of predestination. 3. Only then would it be clear that the Logos ensarkos is the Subject of election and not the Logos asarkos.

The revisionists use a hermeneutic of deductive reasoning that, according to Hunsinger, cuts against the grain of Barth’s actual dogmatic intent. “The inferred Barth is the gold standard against which the actually existing Barth comes up wanting. The deduced entity is used to claim that the textual Barth is inconsistent.”[28] According to the revisionists, the actual Barth was never able to consistently work out the implications of his own theology or he would have reached a post-metaphysical stage of development.

Throughout this book Hunsinger pursues lengthy, somewhat technical discussions of the more nuanced disagreements between the Barthian traditionalists and revisionists. These sections are helpful due to Hunsinger’s careful delineation of terms and concepts that help one navigate the debate. One such instance is his debate with Bruce McCormack over the “Extra Calvinisticum.[29] Briefly, for McCormack there is no Logos asarkos apart from the Logos incarnandus;[30] the two are identical. Hunsinger explains, “The Logos was always slated to become incarnate, having no other raison d’etre in the Godhead, and once the Logos has become incarnatus (incarnate), it can no longer be asarkos at the same time.”[31] For McCormack, there is a fundamental identity between the Logos asarkos and the Logos incarnandus, which excludes any notion of a self-determined Logos asarkos behind the act of election. But once the Logos becomes incarnate (incarnatus) the Logos asarkos disappears as it is “absorbed into the incarnation without remainder.”[32]

The traditionalist on the other hand argues that because the Logos asarkos is determinate in and of itself, the Logos asarkos retains its role during and after the Incarnation. While the revisionists view the Trinity as subsequent to the act of election, the traditionalist understands the act of election to be predicated on the self-existent Trinity.[33] The revisionists require the abolition of the Logos asarkos in order to warrant the “reversal from antecedence to subsequence.”[34] In other words, instead of grounding the economic Trinity in the ontological, the revisionist reverses that order so the ontological is grounded in the economic, ensuring that there can no longer be any God outside of God for us (Deus pro nobis).

At this point, Hunsinger offers a helpful distinction between God’s “correspondence” to and “dialectical identity” with His creation. The traditionalist understands the relationship between the Father and the Logos to foreshadow God’s relationship to the world.[35] He defines dialectical identity as the act of “looking at one self-identical object from two different but mutually exclusive perspectives.”[36] Hunsinger argues that “dialectical identity” must be replaced by a view that recognizes the “asymmetrical unity in distinction” present in Barth’s theology. By “asymmetrical” he simply means the logical and ontological priority of the ontological Trinity as the “basis on which God turns to the world.”[37] That is, the economic Trinity is ontologically and logically grounded in the ontological Trinity.

Now, Hunsinger observes, the allegation of inconsistency (leveled by the revisionist against Barth) serves as a lynch pin for the revisionist, making their claims practically non-falsifiable. “No matter what the counter evidence may be, it can always be chalked up to inconsistency.”[38] Part and parcel to Hunsinger’s proposed hermeneutical approach is the willingness to grant a writer the courtesy of a charitable reading. If you run across what appears to be a contradiction, do not immediately assume the writer is simply daft. Rather, seek diligently for a solution to the problem and rescue it from contradiction.

Back to Barth and the extra Calvinisticum. Barth famously differs with the extra due to his fear that it could invite speculation into the being and act of God. It may invite one to consider the Logos asarkos apart from the Logos ensarkos and could even lead to the denial of Jesus as the “subject” and “object” of election.[39] “For Barth, Calvin failed to see that it was the whole Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), not just God in abstraction, who was the Subject of election…Calvin’s doctrine of election was therefore ‘speculative’ in Barth’s eyes precisely to the extent that it was not grounded in the Trinity.”[40] Barth, according to Hunsinger, would reject the revisionist reception of his theology precisely because he emphasized the absoluteness of the Triune being of God. He would be averse to any notion of a “pre-trinitarian God beyond God”[41] as speculative.

Seek God where He May be Found

In chapter 2 Hunsinger analyzes a debate between McCormack and Edwin Chr. van Driel, a professor of theology at Pittsburgh theological seminary. The centerpiece of their discussion is the statement, “Jesus is the subject of election,” a claim of central importance in the traditionalist revisionist debate. According to Hunsinger, van Driel exhibits the principle of charity in his reading of Barth. Contra McCormack, van Driel proposes that “Jesus Christ is not the acting Subject of election but instead ‘the verb, the action.’”[42] In his overall critique of McCormack, van Driel rejects the notion of a self-constituting God due to the shadow cast by Hegel over the idea.

Obviously Hunsinger has a problem with this proposition as it fails to do justice to Jesus as the “Subject” of election (and not simply the “verb” or “action”). In response, Hunsinger offers three alternative interpretations. First, he argues that for Barth God has no beginning. Jesus Christ as the Logos ensarkos cannot rightly be considered a “constitutive” member of the Trinity as the Logos ensarkos has a beginning while the Trinity does not. Similarly, the Logos ensarkos is not eternally begotten as is the case with the Logos asarkos. Additionally, the Logos asarkos does not exist for the sake of the Logos ensarkos (as the revisionist idea of subsequence would require), rather the Logos asarkos exists “in and for himself.” Therefore, election presupposes the Trinity. It is by way of election that God “determines,” not constitutes, himself to “deal graciously with the world.”[43]

Hunsinger’s second point is slightly more opaque. He seeks to determine in what sense the Logos ensarkos was present “at the beginning of all things.”[44] The Logos ensarkos is not the same as the asarkos, and neither is the Logos ensarkos pre-existent in the same way as God.[45] Hunsinger explains “as the antecedent Logos asarkos, he wills himself as the subsequent Logos ensarkos. It is obviously not the Trinity that is subsequent to the incarnation, but the incarnation that is subsequent to the Trinity.”[46] The result is an eternal-historical conception of Jesus Christ as He belongs to eternity as the Logos asarkos and to history as the Logos ensarkos.[47] This means that for Barth, according to Hunsinger, God’s decree of election, the cross, and the final judgement are three “forms” of the same eternal act, so that, “They remain eternally distinct while also coinhering.”[48] For Barth, “beginning, succession, and end” exhaustively indwell one another in a perichoretic relationship.[49] This means that Jesus, according to God’s act of election is “present in the eternal foreknowledge and counsel of God.”[50] Jesus is present at the beginning due to the foreknowledge of God, as he is known by God in eternity to be the object and subject of election. Hunsinger explains, “Because everything that exists outside God exists first of all in God, in his eternal sight or foreknowledge, it follows ‘that [God’s] knowledge is not actually tied to the distinction between past, present, and future being’ ([CD] II/1, 559). It is again supremely the person of Jesus Christ in his irreducible historicity who, for God, sub specie aeternitatis, is not tied to the distinction between past, present, and future being.”[51]

So while Jesus is essentially present in eternity with God, He is not present according to his historical actualization. But that is not to say that Jesus exists in a less than real way in God.

Jesus Christ is present ‘in the beginning’ with God as ‘an eternal [event] in the form of time, and [as] a temporal [event] with the content of eternity’ ([CD] II/2, 97). In the beginning, he is no less real to God in pretemporal eternity than he will be in time, and as he is real in God’s pretemporal foreknowledge and counsel, so he will also be actualized in time.[52]

By virtue of God’s foreknowledge, Jesus is in eternity what he will become in the economy.[53]

As I mentioned above, one of the strengths of Hunsinger’s work is his close exegesis of the Barthian texts critical to the traditionalist/revisionist debate. It also makes his book very difficult to review. Hunsinger frequently interacts with fairly lengthy sections from the “Church Dogmatics” and offers pages of incisive exegesis and makes extremely helpful distinctions. Following his discussion of Jesus as the “Subject and Object of election,” Hunsinger attempts to explain the relationship between the Logos asarkos and ensarkos in Barth’s theology. Hunsinger argues that the man Jesus Christ (Logos ensarkos) was brought into the Triune being of God via the Logos asarkos. Thus, the man Jesus is the Son of God by grace, not by nature. Hunsinger explains, “Although in some sense he belongs to the Holy Trinity he does so not by nature but by grace, not by eternal generation but by historical (and thus contingent) participation.”[54] This act of election presupposes a “fully constituted” Divine Triune God who elects in grace.

If Hunsinger is correct, Barth is clearly contradicting the revisionists’ reception of his theology by affirming that election is grounded in the Trinity and “represents the free overflowing of the superabundant glory of the Triune God.”[55] Election cannot therefore be viewed as God reducing some potentcy within Himself, He is not filling up what was once lacking, rather His goodness is overflowing freely and graciously according to Hunsinger.

It is important to remember that in the act of election the Logos asarkos is not totally absorbed into the Logos ensarkos, the Logos asarkos still subsists behind the Logos ensarkos in a manner incomprehensible to man.[56] The Logos asarkos must have logical and ontological priority over the Logos ensarkos while both must remain united together in the One eternal Word. In other words, the relationship between the Logos asarkos and Logos ensarkos is one of asymmetrical unity-in distinction. This asymmetrical unity-in distinction makes it possible for the Logos asarkos to be “completely abased” while the Logos ensarkos is “completely exalted.” Simultaneously, the Eternal Word as the Logos asarkos transcends its abasement even while it completely participates in it.[57] Hunsinger argues that Barth preserves the unity of the Logos asarkos and Logos ensarkos while still respecting their unique roles. More pointedly, the eternal Logos in its two forms and their asymmetrical unity-in distinction makes it possible for the Logos to fully experience sin and death as the Logos ensarkos while simultaneously transcending death in its form as the Logos asarkos. The Logos asarkos simultaneously participates in and transcends all its activities in and with the Logos ensarkos. Similarly, the Logos ensarkos and its antecedent grounding in the Logos asarkos, makes the transcendence of sin and death a reality.[58]

Returning to McCormack and van Driel, Hunsinger notes that van Driel sees the antecedence of the Logos asarkos, “but at the expense of his proleptic unity with the earthly Son of Man.”[59] McCormack, on the other hand, grasps the unity of the Logos asarkos and Logos ensarkos but fails to see the distinction between the two. They both fail to grasp (according to Hunsinger) how Jesus Christ could be the Subject of election. For Hunsinger, the solution is found in understanding Jesus to be present in pre-temporal eternity, namely by way of his election and union with the Son based upon the foreknowledge of the Triune God.[60] In this sense, Jesus is present “before the dawn of his own time, as the one he will be in time.”[61] Additionally and following from the previous point, the human will and essence of Jesus are “enhypostatic” with regards to the Person of the Son even in eternity (proleptically). The essence and will of Jesus are necessarily “anhypostatic” as well.[62] This tells us, according to Hunsinger, that Jesus has no hypostasis apart from the eternal Word, but that the eternal Word makes himself the subject of election “really but contingently (and irreversibly) identical with Jesus of Nazareth.”[63]

Being and Action: The Question of God’s Historicity

In chapter 3 Hunsinger interacts with professor Paul T. Nimmo’s work “Being in Action,” a work Hunsinger still finds praiseworthy despite the revisionist current that runs through it. Hunsinger notes, “[Nimmo] presents Barth’s entire ethics as dominated by a particular philosophical structure [see ontology1] ’Actualistic ontology’ becomes the controlling idea within which Barth works out his ethics.”[64]

Under the controlling concept of “actualism” Nimmo defines God’s personhood in terms of “decisions, acts, and relations.” Act and being are not basic to God, rather God constitutes his Triune Being through act.[65] Hunsinger disagrees with Nimmo’s notion of God’s self-determination “filling up some deficit as though without election God would be less than fully constituted as God.”[66] The apparent confusion occurs when the line between constitution and determination are blurred.[67]

While traditionally revisionists have turned to CD II/2 for justification for their actualistic ontology, currently many scholars are turning their attention to CD IV/1 pp. 192–210, “The Way of the Son of God into the far Country,”[68] for more solid evidence of their position. Hunsinger lays out some helpful guidelines for reading the text: first, read it in its entirety; second, don’t neglect the “second ending,”[69] and third, read it in light of Barth’s “doctrine of antecedence.”[70]

God’s economic activity, for Hunsinger, is based in eternity (antecedence) and in that way time and eternity correspond to one another in form (temporal/eternal), and in their correspondence “they comprise an asymmetrical unity-in distinction.”[71] Hunsinger argues that Barth’s conception of eternity is essentially Trinitarian, and therefore eternity includes elements of pre, supra, and post temporality which while sequentially distinct, mutually coinhere.[72] “They [pre, post, and supra temporality] constitute God’s (antecedent) history with himself while also serving as the eternal basis of God’s history with the world.”[73]

In the same thesis, Nimmo proposes 2 conclusions regarding the Holy Spirit: first, that the Holy Spirit should be considered “elected God” with Jesus; and second, he suggests that Jesus was only incarnate for the sake of election, so likewise the Holy Spirit’s sole purpose is the establishment of the Church. “No antedent and independent Trinitarian role exists for the Spirit in eternity (logically and ontologically)- no role, that is, such as the one Barth actually assigns to the Spirit of being the eternal (and antecedent) bond of peace between the Father and the Son.”[74]

Hunsinger responds by arguing that the Holy Spirit’s antecedent role in the eternal being of God involved being the “mediator of communion between the Father and the Son.”[75] This antecedent (eternal) reality (of the Spirit as mediator) grounds the Spirit’s mediatorial work (temporal) in history. Additionally, Hunsinger offers his own reading of CD IV/1 that seems to answer how the Son of God could be submissive to the Father without falling into either modalism or subordinationism. He argues that the obedience of Jesus in the economy is actually based on Divine Freedom, so Jesus’ obedience to the Father is performed, “in virtue of the richness of his divine being (CD IV/1, 194)”[76] (unity-in distinction). The Father makes Himself “identical”[77] with Jesus in the sense that the two are inseparably one “but never lose their abiding distinction.”[78]

Now the question must be answered, how can we speak of economic and eternal obedience? If Jesus is eternally obedient, how do we avoid subordinationism? Hunsinger explains, “obedience is not just an earthly event undertaken in the economy.” Or to state it more directly, “Moreover, it [economic obedience] can occur in the economy only through its antecedent in eternity.”[79] That is, the obedience of the Logos ensarkos presupposes the obedience of the Logos asarkos. This reading safeguards Barth from any notion of election constituting the Trinity for the act of election presupposes the Triune God.

Now what follows from the Son’s obedience in eternity (ad intra) according to the doctrine of antecedence? As you could probably guess, his obedience in the economy (ad extra).[80] This is where Hunsinger introduces his “Chalcedonian grammar,” “[Jesus] simply ‘activates and reveals himself’ for who he is in a new and temporal form.”[81] The two “forms” of Jesus’ obedience (eternal and temporal) coexist “without separation or division” and “without confusion or change” and are asymmetrically related.[82] Hunsinger’s intention is to correct the revisionist trajectory by shifting it away from Hegel and towards Chalcedon.[83] It is worth noting that the Son’s obedience is “parallel in status to his lordship.”[84] In other words, by being obedient Jesus does what only God can do. His obedience, therefore, does not suggest any inherent ontological deficiency as is so often assumed.

Two Disputed Points: The Obedience of the Son in Classical Theism

At the heart of the traditionalist/revisionist debate is the assertion that the Son’s obedience to the Father is constitutive of his essential deity. But how does that claim square with Barth’s own assertion, “What he [God] is in revelation he is antecedently in himself” (CD I/1, 466)? Hunsinger explains, “On this basis Barth argues from below to above. He reasons from the Son of God’s obedience in the far country back into the Trinity’s inner life. He draws inference from time to eternity…He could not be obedient in the economy were he not already obedient in eternity[85] [emphasis mine].

Now Hunsinger is not arguing that we can reason our way back into the Godhead and understand exactly what the eternal obedience of the Son is like simply because we can observe his obedience in the economy.[86] But we can discern the Son’s identity as son by witnessing his obedience in the economy, the obedience which finds its antecedent ground in the eternal obedience of the Son.[87] The Father and the Son share the same will and essence, but in differing ways. The Son receives His essential deity from the Father via His eternal generation and his will from the Father is “in the mode of perfect and eternal submission.”[88]

Regarding Barth’s unusual use of history, Hunsinger comments, “I propose to ‘disambiguate’ Barth by designating his concept of God’s eternal history as ‘history1’ and his concept of God’s earthly history as ‘history2.’”[89]

Barth states,

The divine being and life and act takes place with ours, and it is only as the divine takes place that ours takes place. To put it in the simplest way, what unites God and us human beings is that he does not will to be God without us, that he creates us rather to share with us and therefore with our being and life and act his own incomparable being and life and act, that he does not allow his history to be his, and ours ours, but causes them to take place as a common history…

The whole being and life of God is an activity, both in eternity and in worldly time, both in himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and in his relation to humankind and all creation. But what God does in himself and as the Creator and Governor of humankind is all aimed at the particular act in which it has its center and meaning.(CD IV/1, 7)

Hunsinger interprets Barth as arguing for “one indivisible activity in which God subsists”[90] which would embrace both “history1” and “history2.” The above passage is frequently used by revisionists[91] to support their departure from classical metaphysics in favor of an “actualistic ontology” in which the very being of God is conditioned by his creation. As a result, many of God’s attributes would by necessity be historicized by this “common history” God shares with his creation.

For Hunsinger the “common history” of God and creation poses no threat if it is “governed by the grammar of the Chalcedonian pattern.”[92] This gift of unity “occurs in and through the Incarnate Son” and therefore presupposes the “Triune God’s antecedent eternal perfection.”[93] As a result, “history1” and “history2” are united “without separation or division” (inseparably united) and “without confusion or change” (abidingly distinct).

Now that is not to say that Barth was in no way Hegelian, according to Hunsinger. “Barth drank deeply from the wells of both Anselm and Hegel.”[94] Barth appreciated Anselm’s emphasis on the perfection of God’s being, but disliked his apparent incipient essentialism. “[Barth] worried that in [Anselm’s] theology ‘God was at bottom a supreme being with neither life, nor activity, nor history, in a neutrality which can never be moved or affected by anything.’ ([CD] IV/1, 112).”[95] Predictably, Barth saw in Hegel the idea that God was living and active, over and against the static (allegedly), immovable God of Anselm. On the other hand, Barth disliked Hegel for his seeming disregard for the freedom of God, and his dialectic which makes God dependent on the contingent for his [God’s] own self-actualization. He was in Hegel’s dialectic the possibility for a “fatal reversal”[96] making God dependent on man. That is precisely why, according to Hunsinger, Barth developed his doctrine of antecedence.

According to Hunsinger, Barth includes both Anselmian and Hegelian elements in his theology. He revises the attributes of God[97] in lieu of his actualism so that, “[t]hese aspects or ‘perfections’ of the divine being are not the same as those in classical theism because they are all qualified by God’s sovereign freedom [emphasis mine] as the freedom of his love.”[98] In other words, Barth “Hegels” the traditionally received incommunicable divine attributes and so “actualizes the divine perfections while maintaining their absolute, self sufficient, antecedence.”[99]

Revisionism Scaled Back: a Partial Dissent

In the final full chapter of his book, Hunsinger interacts with a Barthian scholar Paul Dafydd Jones. It seems that Jones has managed to achieve a revisionist reading of Barth while for the most part adhering to the “principle of charity” as laid out by Hunsinger. Jones rejects the revisionist receptions’ most shocking idea, namely that the Trinity is constituted by election, and substitutes it with what he has called “the doctrine of subsequence.”[100] Jones asserts, “God decides, freely, that the economic elective activity of the Son, realized by way of his union with a contingent human being, should prove eternally determinative for God’s second way of being.”[101] In other words, God’s act of election conditions his eternal existence as the Son.

The problem is, for Barth, “a doctrine of divine antecedence took precedence over all elements of subsequence. He argued that the Lord God remained the same in and through every change.”[102] Hunsinger reads Barth as positing that impassibility, as is traditionally received in the Reformed tradition, threatens the freedom of God, but not in the way we may think. For the historic Reformed, impassibility safeguarded God’s independence and therefore His freedom. Barth reconfigures the doctrine to mean that God is free to suffer and still remain essentially absolute. He makes God sovereign over his own independence so that God can choose to be passible and remain (somehow) independent.[103]

According to Hunsinger, Barth conceived of a suffering God as a means of explaining how the cross dealt with sin. What he comes up with is a thoroughly actualistic passibilism in which sin and death are consumed by suffering. This is for Barth the unique mode of God’s victory in defeat. A dialectical re-interpretation of impassibility. The sufferings of the Logos ensarkos are mediated back to the Logos asarkos, and thus to the very being of God.[104] The sufferings were abidingly distinct and yet united, the Father and Son suffering in tandem. For Barth, God must have remained impassible in suffering or he could not overcome sin and death.[105]

Tolle Lege?

Why should a Reformed believer (I’m speaking more narrowly of someone who would fit into the category “Calvinist” in the Calvin and the Calvinist paradigm) read this book? First, every Reformed believer shouldn’t read this book. It is definitely not intended for a general readership. While Hunsinger does a superb job of writing clearly and with varying levels of complexity, this book is not one I would pick up for spiritual edification. Now, this book is required reading for anyone who intends to enter the “Barth Wars” (whether they are critical or sympathetic to Barth it really does not matter, the book is simply too important to neglect reading carefully). That said, it is unlikely that this book will convert many “revisionists.” It seems to me that the greatest good that will come from this book is the response it will likely elicit from the “revisionist” camp.

With the above proviso in mind, I have at least three reasons why a Reformed believer should read this book. First, Hunsinger’s exegesis of Barth is interesting to say the least. However, I think his main proposal to read Barth using a hermeneutic of charity is more of a rhetorical than a substantive move. Additionally, it seems that Hunsinger would spend a bit more time explicitly developing what a hermeneutic of charity looks like.[106] It was helpful to observe Hunsinger deal with the problem texts for “traditionalist” Barthians, but again, given the title of the book one would expect to see more explicit development of the hermeneutic of charity as it is applied outside the context of analytic philosophy. Second, Barthianism is in vogue. And while the number of Barthians may not increase substantially as a result of the resurgence of interest in Barth, we can rest assured that Barth’s influence will nonetheless be felt in evangelicalism. If the Reformed pastor and engaged layperson are to serve effectively in the context of the Church (given this resurgence of interest in Barth) they should at least consider becoming acquainted with the most influential appropriations of Barth’s theology. We have to square with the reality that many today are captivated by what appears to be new in Barth’s theology. The Reformed pastor owes it to his people to stay informed on these issues. Third, and I want to state this point carefully, reading Barth and his most recent expositors critically has the potential to make us better theologians. These are not easy books to work through, but I think critical engagement with the source material will prove to be of use in clarifying and advancing a more consistently self-conscious confessional Reformed theology.

[1] George Hunsinger, Reading Barth with Charity: A Hermeneutical Proposal (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2015)

[2] “While Barth has no Christology as such because the whole of his theology is Christological he does, however, have a doctrine of God as such even though the whole of his Church Dogmatics could be called a doctrine of God. The reason for this is obvious. For Barth an isolated Christology would be an abstraction since it would not deal with the whole Jesus Christ in his being and action in their unity.” John Thompson, Christ in Perspective: Christological Perspectives in the Theology of Karl Barth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978) 1N1

[3] Not a principle unique to Hunsinger (see http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/davidson/)

[4] Hunsinger, xii

[5] Ibid. xiii

[6] Ibid. xv

[7] For a devastating critique of the “Calvin and the Calvinists” thesis see: Richard Muller, Was Calvin a Calvinist? Or, Did Calvin (or Anyone Else in the Early modern Era) Plant the ‘TULIP’?” [http://www.calvin.edu/meeter/Was%20Calvin%20a%20Calvinist-12–26–09.pdf]

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] “The reasoning of the Barthian revisionists seems closer to rationalistic Calvinism than to evangelical Calvinism.” Ibid. xvi

[11] Bruce McCormack, Grace and Being: “The Role of God’s Gracious Election in Karl Barth’s Theological Ontology” in The Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000) 92–100

[12] As with any theological movement there is a great deal of diversity within the “revisionist” camp. If I speak of the movement monolithically I do so with the above proviso in mind.

[13] Hunsinger, 2

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid. 3

[16] Ibid. 4

[17] Ibid. 5

[18] He says as much on p. 115 “Perhaps this is the place to reiterate that the driving interest of this book has to do with Karl Barth, not with revisionism.” Hunsinger’s concern is for the textual Barth, and that concern is evinced by Hunsinger’s careful exegesis of the relevant Barthian texts. The revisionist may find fault with much of Hunsinger’s take on Barth, but they definitely cannot say that he hasn’t provided a nuanced and textually based argument against their position.

[19] Ibid. 5

[20] Ibid. 7

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid. 7–8

[23] Hunsinger offers this disclaimer, “I use the word doctrine here only as a matter of convenience. I do not mean to suggest that Barth has anything like a formal ‘doctrine of antecedence’” Ibid. 8N11

[24] Ibid. 8

[25] Ibid. 9

[26] Ibid. 10

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid. 14

[29] “A term used by 17th century Lutheran theologians to describe the Reformed view that after the incarnation the eternal Word as the second Person of the Trinity continues to be present and active beyond the flesh of Jesus Christ himself. Thus the Word is never totally contained in flesh.” Donald K. McKim, Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms (Louisville: WJK, 1996) 100

[30] The Logos to become incarnate. Ibid. 16

[31] Ibid.

[32] Ibid. 19

[33] Ibid. 18

[34] Ibid. 19

[35] Ibid. 19–20

[36] Ibid. 20n22

[37] Ibid. 21

[38] Ibid. 21

[39] Ibid. 33

[40] Ibid. 34–35

[41] Ibid. 36

[42] Ibid. 41

[43] Ibid. 43

[44] Ibid. 45

[45] Ibid. 46

[46] Ibid.

[47] Ibid. 48

[48] Ibid.

[49] “That being is eternal in whose duration beginning, succession, and end are not three but one, not separate as a first, a second, and a third occasion, but one simultaneous occasion as beginning, middle and end. Eternity is the simultaneity of beginning, middle, and end, and to that extent it is pure duration. Eternity is God in the sense in which in himself as well as in all things God is simultaneous, i.e., beginning and middle as well as end, without separation, distance or contradiction.” CD II/1, 608 cited by Hunsinger on 49

[50] Ibid. 49

[51] Ibid. 50

[52] Ibid. 51

[53] Hunsinger offers this clarification, “Pretemporal election is a comples transaction that unfolds as follows. The Father elects the Son; the Son elects himself in free obedience to the Father; in electing himself the Son also elects the human Jesus into unity with himself; the man Jesus elects himself by consenting to be the objet of the divine election; and finally the man Jesus consents to his election by electing the God who elected him. Remarkably, all this is seen as occurring in pretemporal eternity. In this pretemporal occurrence, the man Jesus is thought to be present with the Holy Trinity in a unique way, namely, from before the foundation of the world. He is present proleptically according to the eternal counsel and foreknowledge of God.” Ibid. 160

[54] Ibid. 51

[55] Ibid. 53

[56] Ibid. 58

[57] Ibid. 59

[58] Hunsinger explains, “The actuality of the multiple and simultaneous forms of the one Word of God in its diverse temporal and eternal operation s surpasses anything that we can think or imagine. That is the surpassing mystery of the divine Logos.” Ibid. 59

[59] Ibid. 69

[60] Ibid. 71

[61] Ibid.

[62] Ibid.

[63] Ibid. 72

[64] Ibid. 76

[65] Ibid.

[66] Ibid. 77

[67] “For Barth, however, self-determination means that the triune God decides to be who he is also in another and contingent way. The transition is not from the indeterminate to the determinate, but from the noncontingent to the contingent. In an act of free self-determination, contingent ‘properties’ are added by the incarnation to God’s already determinate reality as the eternal Trinity.” Ibid. 77n2

[68] Ibid. 81

[69] “Barth’s second ending has him returning home to himself. For in this section he endorses what he had written more than three decades earlier. He openly reaffirms the doctrine of the Trinity found in [CD] I/1, the first volume of his dogmatics. Not surprisingly, Barth revisionists tend to sidestep this second ending. The ending calls into question their claim that the later Barth had disowned his early work on the Trinity.” Ibid. 82

[70] Ibid. 82

[71] Ibid. 83

[72] Ibid.

[73] Ibid.

[74] Ibid. 86

[75] Ibid. 86

[76] Ibid. 91

[77] Ibid. 92

[78] Hunsinger continues to explain, “It is always a matter of unity-in-distinction and identity-in-difference.” Ibid. 93n16

[79] Ibid. 94

[80] Ibid. 102

[81] Ibid.

[82] In other words, the eternal takes precedent over the temporal.

[83] “ It [the revisionist thesis] misreads him [Barth], in other words, as if her were operating with a more or less ‘Hegelian’ ontology as opposed to the ‘Chalcedonian’ pattern. It overlooks that Barth continues to uphold ‘an absolute (and infinitely qualitative) distinction’ between divine and human being ([CD] IV/2, 61)” Ibid. 162

[84] Ibid. 111

[85] Ibid. 116

[86] “The eternal obedience of the Son must differ from any obedience we know.” Ibid. 118

[87] Ibid. 119

[88] Ibid.

[89] Ibid. 120

[90] Ibid. 121

[91] Ibid. 122

[92] “Divine history in itself (history1) and divine history in relation to us (history2) are related not only in inseparable (‘without separation or division’) but also in abiding distinction (‘without confusion or change’).” Ibid. 123

[93] Ibid.

[94] Ibid. 128

[95] Ibid. 129

[96] Ibid. 130

[97] For a very helpful summary of his revision of the incommunicable attributes see pp. 131–132.

[98] Ibid. 133

[99] Ibid. 134

[100] Ibid. 138

[101] Ibid.

[102] Ibid. 165

[103] “What he [Barth] denies is that God’s impassibility is an impediment to his sovereign freedom. He denies that God is a prisoner of his own perfections (IV/1, 187)…In the cross of Christ, divine impassibility is hidden under the form of its opposite without ceasing to be what it is.” Ibid. 152

[104] “The inseparable unity meant that Christ’s sufferings and death took place in his humanity without being strictly confined there. Through the flesh of the Word made flesh, they were mediated back into the being of God, where they were destroyed as through a raging fire [emphasis mine].” Ibid. 155

[105] Such is the “surpassing mystery of the incarnation.” Ibid. 155

[106] Instead Hunsinger offers only a few short explanations see pp. xii-xiii, 39–40, 41, 47N4, and 73.

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4 years ago

What type of charity do I owe to a false teacher ?

1) Denies the historical Adam. Denies the fall, man was always a sinner.
2) Teaches that Christ had a fallen or sinful nature. He says Christ didn’t sin ,but he adds that Christ’s nature was like the nature of every man after the fall. Well, the Reformers correctly taught the biblical understanding that a fallen nature is incapable of doing any good. So how can Christ have had a sinful nature as Barth teaches ?
3) Barth taught that we can not speak about sin and we can not understand the Law unless we preach grace first and understand grace. Nobody that has not accepted Christ’s grace should be taught the Law according to Barth. Well, how is anybody going to even think they need grace when they do not see themselves as transgressors in need of salvation from sin. Basically any faith that comes from Barth preaching will be like the faith of the devils, people may come to Christ, but not to be saved from their sin. This is because Barth does not allow for the preaching of sin prior to the preaching of grace.
4) Barth was a universalist that preached that mankind is already redeemed without any need of repentance and faith. He completely removed the accusatory function of the law, so that nobody can ever be convicted of sin. His Christ is not the savior of the world , but somebody that has given the whole world a license to sin and said Yes to unregenerate man, a Christ that loves everybody (both Jacob and Esau), elect and reprobate, believer and unbeliever.

Yes, the above conclusions may be harsh. But I can support each and every one of them, that this is the core of Barth’s theology. The end result of Karl Barth’s theology are Brian McLaren and Rob Bell and other more mainstream evangelicals that do not preach about sin any more. Regardless whether Barth thought that not every goes to heaven, his theology is universalism, and those that believe his gospel have in all likelihood never repented of their sin personally. I do not see how any Barthian (unless they misunderstood Barth) can work out his salvation with fear and trembling, when the God they worship is a Santa Claus that loves everybody and never exhibits the wrath against all ungodliness that the God of the Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob does.

Yes, I agreewith Barth that Christ has propitiated the wrath of God against all mankind, yes I agree that Christ has reconciled the whole world, the whole human race to himself not imputing their trespasses. Barth’s favorite scripture 2 Corinthians 5:19 teaches so and Barth interprets it correctly. But Barth aboslutely the next verse, 2:Corinthians 5:20 where Paul tells the world “be reconciled to God”, this beautiful salvation of verse 19 needs to be received as Paul commands in verse 20. And very few receive Christ and are reconciled to God. The vast majority of the world are under God’s wrath, contrary to Barth’s teaching that the whole world is under the love of God. Barth denies that every man is in Adam, dead in trespasses and sins, unreconciled to God, under God’s wrath, until such time that he receives Christ by faith.

So going back to my first question. Why should I show charity to a heretic that does not call sinners to repentance but declares the whole human race redeemed?


4 years ago

i missed the word ignores in my first post:
“But Barth aboslutely IGNORES the next verse, 2:Corinthians 5:20 ” is how it should have read.

Paul teaches that God is reconciled to the whole world in 5:19, but now in 5:20 God tells the world to be reconciled to God. It is not sufficient that God is reconciled to the world and has not imputed their trespases (verse 5:19), we ought to receive this gift by faith where Paul commands us “be you reconciled to God” (verse 5:20). And Barth’s theology is universalism because it is based on verse 19 and deletes verse 20 from scripture, resulting in an unconditional universalism.


4 years ago

With that said, Hunsinger is absolutely correct in the distinction between rationalistic and evangelical calvinism. And yes, the reformed need to go back to evangelical calvinism. And until that happens I believe Barth will keep raising its ugly head in reformed theology . I believe the Reformed need to go back to Ursinus and the Heidelberg catechism in order to find evangelical calvinism. The Heidelberg catechism is pure evangelical calvinism. And just how far the reformed have walked away from the Heidelberg catechism i don’t think they even realize.

I am wondering how many of the Reformed today would affirm that Christ propitiated the wrath of God for all mankind. And this is exactly what Q37 says that Christ suffered for the anger of God against all mankind. In his commentary Ursinus magnificently answers under Objection 4 those that say that if that were so then everybody would go to heaven, by pointing out that Christ died for all as far as making full satisfaction for the sins of mankind and this is so as to guarantee a full sufficiency of the atonement, Christ’s death is sufficient for all, but Christ’s did satisfy for the elect alone as far as the application of his death to the believer (conversion in repentance and faith which belongs to the elect alone). And on his commentary on Question 20 of the Heidelberg Catechism, Ursinus is even more emphatic that Christ’s death bore the sins of all mankind, but this universal salvation only benefits those that receive it through faith, so not everybody goes to heaven. In this way Ursinus fully agrees with Barth on 1 Corinthians 5:19 as far as God being reconciled to man and as Paul says not imputing the sin to all of mankind. But Ursinus also clarifies that God’s work includes the application of the atonement or conversion of sinners, and this application is limited to the elect alone. So the atonement is limited only in its application for Ursinus. So unlike Barth, Ursinus indicates in his commentary on Q20 of the Heidelberg catechism that there is condition to salvation and this is that it must be received by faith. And God accomplishes this through the effectual call which applies to the elect alone. So in this sense only is the atonement limited.

So how many Reformed would agree with Ursinus today ? I would say very few, most are limiting the atonement in its sufficiency and deny that Christ bore the sins of the whole world and this is where I believe evangelical calvinism is destroyed. There is a fundamental difference between Ursinus and John Owen, between evangelical and rationalistic calvinism. For Ursinus and evangelical calvinists God has propitiated the sins of all mankind, the whole human race. it is only the application of the atonement that is limited to the elect only, in that God regenerates only his elect and leaves the rest in unbelief as a punishment for their sin. This is the teaching of Ursinus, John Calvin, the Heidelberg Catechism, and evangelical calvinism. Rationalistic calvinism took over after Beza and the confrontation with the Arminians helped its rise. Here’s the link to Ursinus full commentary on the Heidelberg catechism, please read his commentary on questions 20 and 37 from where I quoted http://www.seeking4truth.com/ursinus/zutblcont.htm

Barth will keep haunting the Reformed faith and have credibility with many in the Reformed camp until such time as the Reformed return to the Heidelberg Catechism’s teachings.

Bruce Sanders

4 years ago


Regarding your first point, lets assume for a moment that Barth was right and there was no biblical Adam in history, how would your reply change?


4 years ago

Bruce, this is a hypothesis that I would never even consider. I have no reason to doubt the historical Adam, Satan may from time to time try to assail our faith and pose a question like, “what if Adam didn’t exist”? Well I would refer anybody that doubts God’s historic account of creation to Hebrews 11:3 “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” I am sorry Bruce, but the creation of Adam as the first man out of the dust of the earth I can only believe by faith through the holy spirit, I can’t rationally discuss this with your or a scientist because neither of us have any evidence. Creation is a matter of faith as I quoted from scripture, and the holy spirit alone can create this faith. From natural revelation I can not prove or disprove the existence of a historic Adam.

The problem with Barth goes beyond a historical Adam, his whole doctrine of revelation is plagued with a denial of the bible as a historic witness. Basically the events of the bible are saga says Barth, they did not actually take place in history. Saga is so pervasive says Barth that it is all over the bible, read here http://postbarthian.com/2015/01/05/karl-barths-definition-saga/ So your hypothetical question about Karl Barth being right would throw out pretty much everything we know about christianity. The bible is not reliable any more, is just a bunch inspired poems that enlighten us. You may think I am exagerating, but I am not, if we can not search the scriptures and trust them to find answers then the christian faith loses all credibility as far as truth and the authors of the are liars. Like Paul says about the resurrection, if Christ isn’t risen, then we are liars 1 Corinthians 15:15 . Barth denied the historical resurrection of Jesus at the beginning of his theological career, and then accepted it as historical event. But the same applies to Adam, if Adam was not the first man made out of dust by God then the author of Genesis is lying. Because he is portraying a historic event that never happened. Adam and Eve begot Abel, Cain, and Seth. How is this possible if Adam was not a historical figure ? Basically we can not rely on scripture any more, and the foundation of our faith is destroyed, let us not forget that sola scriptura was one of the 5 solas of the Reformation. And if we throw out sola scriptura we are in trouble, and I wasted countless hours of my life studying a book and a testimony that attests to historic events and the promises associated with those events, but in fact none of this may ever have happened. It could all be saga for all I know, if I were to trust Barth. I trust the apostle Paul who had high view of scripture, i trust Jesus who testified that all scripture pointed out to him and witnessed to him. And certainly if the book of Genesis was inaccurate, the book that contains the promises of God to Abraham, Jesus would have had something to say about it. But Jesus had a high view of scripture, and I trust his testimony about scripture and dismiss Barth’s empty speculations.


4 years ago

But one thing is this Bruce, if Barth repented of his sin and put his faith in Jesus Christ alone he is with Christ right now. And sermons by Barth like this one https://iheartbarth.wordpress.com/2011/04/24/saved-by-grace-a-sermon-by-karl-barth/ indicates to me that he was a Christian and is in heaven now. His theology may have been flawed, but nobody is saved by theological knowledge. So as difficult as it appears to me that somebody that denies the historic events of the bible which are foundational to the promises associated with them, and somebody that would not preach about the lost condition of man, and instead jump directly to man’s redeemed state (even the unregenerate are redeemed and risen with Christ according to Barth), in spit of all this there are many indication like Barth’s words and writings the night before his death, that Karl Barth has trusted in the promises of the gospel. he probably came to faith when he was studying Augustine or Luther or Calvin, and then forgot all about it, and built a theology about redeemed man which is really beautiful but only when applied to those that have faith and not to all unregenerate man. The doctrine of redemption, and the redemption in Christ Jesus applies to “whosoever believes”, not to the whole human race, the promises of the gospel are not for all of man kind but for those that will come to Christ, “whosoever believes”, the elect. Barth never saw it or got confused, but regardless of this, and even though we do not owe any charity to his faulty theology, we do owe him charity in that he in all likelihood is a fellow christian brother, a saint of the past. But only God knows it for certain, I do not, but I owe him charity to his confession of Christ as his Savior in spite of theological differences.

Gregory Irwin

4 years ago

I don’t think you can read Barth’s commentary on Romans 5 without knowing that for Barth the first Adam was as regular and particular as the last Adam.

You have to be aware of the extent to which Barth counts on the Word Itself to make Itself known. If you don’t recognize that, you will think that Barth hasn’t any true content. He always and only works in support of the work of the Spirit – there is no separate logical realm of thought for Barth. When you read Barth don’t look for proofs but wait and read in prayer.

Greg Irwin

George Hunsinger

4 years ago

Thank you for this fair-minded and thoughtful review.

I would only point out that I do not think the difference between evangelical and rationalistic Calvinism, as interpreted by Torrance, maps onto the “Calvin vs. Calvinists” debate. In any case, the review overlooks that my interest in Torrance’s distinction is mainly methodological.

As to the Comment about Barth on Adam, I think that if you would affirm a historical Adam, as I would, you will not find it gratly incompatible with Barth, even though he essentially side-steps the question. On the whole, I think A. Plantinga is better here.

Moreover, anyone who wants to affirm Ursinus and the Heidelberg Catechism, as I would, can also still learn a lot form Barth.

Thank you again for this fine review.

Kevin Davis

4 years ago

Austin, thank you for such a thorough and fair-minded review. Excellent work. Honestly, I did not expect this from RF, given their past engagement with Barth. However, I was disappointed with how you ended the review. Hunsinger’s charitable reading was “more of a rhetorical than a substantive move”?! Based upon your careful review, that is obviously not the case. You cannot simply assert that it is rhetorical without some attempt at demonstrating it is so, especially after you have demonstrated the opposite!

Having said that, I want to express my gratitude again for this review and the hard work that went into producing it. God bless you.


4 years ago

George, I guess one of the barriers to Barth being considered orthodox is his universalism. And here I am not talking about whether everybody goes to heaven which Barth or Torrance never taught. But what I am referring to is that somehow there is a universal reconciliation in the theology of Barth and Torrance that Christ accomplished unconditionally for every man individually. Correct me if I’m wrong but for Barth Pharaoh and Judas were as much reconciled to Christ as Moses and Peter. And this teaching is unbiblical. I would have no problem as I have stated, that God has reconciled the whole world to himself as 1 Corinthians 5:18 teaches but then this reconciliation needs to be applied individually by faith 1 Corinthians 5:19 and until this happens nobody is individually reconciled to God. We can speak of mankind in general (without identifying particular individuals) in 1 Corinthians 5:18 being reconciled, but the individual reconciliation occurs by grace through faith in 1 Corinthians 5:19 when Paul says “Be ye reconciled to God”. So I see as very dangerous in the preaching of the gospel to tell an unregenerate individual that he is reconciled to God, when in fact he is an enemy of God for as long as he remains in unbelief. If we are going to speak of individual people being reconciled to God, we have to limit its reference to those that have come or will come to faith, “whosoever believes in him shall not perish” John 3:16 . But speaking of a universal reconciliation already accomplished unconditionally for every human being individually I see it as a departure of traditional orthodox christianity. The promises of the gospel are for the world or all of mankind on condition they believe (like in John 3:16), if we want to make the promises of the gospel unconditional then we have to limit them to Christians or the Saints, i.e. all those that have come or will come to faith. This is where i think that Barth has departed from an orthodox understanding of unlimited atonement. You see unlimited atonement does not mean that Christ has paid the penalty for sin for every individual sinner or that he died as a substitute for every individual sinner. This was never taught during the time of the Reformation by lutherans, arminians, calvinists, or roman catholics.

Even Wikipedia says that unlimited atonement never states that Jesus paid the penalty for sin for every man individually http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unlimited_atonement :

” What it does not state

Jesus paid the penalty for those who deny faith in Him, and His death was a substitutionary atonement for those who deny Him—Though the term unlimited atonement can easily give the incorrect assumption that Jesus’ payment encompassed all people, unlimited atonement maintains a limit on the legal effect. Jesus’ death was indeed an offerof a substitutionary atonement to all, but this offer was resistible; though salvation is offered to all, not all are saved. ”

And Wikipedia also points out to the commonalities between unlimited and limited atonement shared by lutherans, arminians, calvinists, and roman catholics at the time of the Reformation.

” Unlimited atonement has a number of important points in common with traditional formulations of limited atonement. Both positions affirm that:

The call of salvation can genuinely be made universally
Jesus paid the penalty only for those who have faith in Him
Jesus’ death was a substitutionary atonement only for those who accept Him”

John Davenant, the puritan theologian, explained it perfectly in his book in his book “A dissertation on the death of Christ”. Jesus on the cross purchased a right of salvation for every human being that comes to faith in him (he has promised it), God says Davenant assumed an obligation to every man that comes to faith to provide him salvation. Now this biblical definition of conditional unlimited atonement was affirmed by Ursinus as well. On objection 2 in his commentary on question 20 of the Heidelberg catechism Ursinus affirms unlimited atonement, the major is true, Christ satisfied for all men conditionally which is the same as John Davenant:

“Obj. 2. All those ought to be received into favor for whose offences a sufficient satisfaction has been made. Christ has made a sufficient satisfaction for the offenses of all men. Therefore all ought to be received into favor; and if this is not done, God is either unjust to men, or else there is something detracted from the merit of Christ. Ans. The major is true, unless some condition is added to the satisfaction; as, that only those are saved through it, who apply it unto themselves by faith. But this condition is expressly added, where it is said, ” God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16.)”

Now Karl Barth and John Owen both departed from the Heidelberg catechism. Barth by teaching a universal unconditional atonement, and Owen by denying the conditional unlimited atonement taught by Ursinus and Davenant. Now Barth also denied that the atonement is limited in its application to those that believe the gospel, that the atonement is limited to the elect or believers alone was never a matter of dispute among all protestants and catholics in the 16th century. Of course Ursinus and Davenant held to unlimited atonement in the manner I explained, they also affirmed the traditional Reformed doctrine of limited atonement, in that Christ’s purpose was to redeem the elect. This is why John Piper correctly affirms an unlimited / limited atonement doctrine which is the teaching of the Heidelberg catechism, and John Davenant’s writing “A dissertation on the death of Christ” is the most accurate interpretation of the Heidelberg Catechism that I have read.

This is why I consider Barth not to be an orthodox christian. When there are problems in the theology of the atonement, then this will affect your whole theology, exposition, and preaching. And this does not apply to Barth alone, John Owen is as guilty for going the other extreme. And I think Karl Barth is a reaction to extreme rationalistic calvinism, but unfortunately he went to the other extreme. This is why I suggested that the Reformed need to go back to the Heidelberg catechism.

Now with regard to your book, I agree on your dispute with McCormack. The trinity precedes the decree of election in Barth’s theology. And yes the comparison that you make that McCormack is reading Barth like the rationalistic calvinists read Calvin is accurate in my opinion.


4 years ago

In the above sentence that I wrote I missed the word “benefits” so I include the correct sentence with the word “benefits” in capital letters:

“Now Barth also denied that the atonement is limited in its application to those that believe the gospel, that the atonement is limited IN ITS BENEFITS to the elect or believers alone was never a matter of dispute among all protestants and catholics in the 16th century.”


4 years ago

And it is not just the Heidelberg catechism that the reformed of today reject. The same can be said of the Westminster Confession. There is no article of the Westminster confession that has been more perverted in their interpretation than Chapter 7 section 3, which agrees fully with Ursinus and Davenant teaching of a conditional covenant of grace with all mankind which is nothing else than unlimited atonement in its sufficiency. Let’s take a look at the wisdom of the Westminster Divines , and their perfect definition of the covenant of grace as both a conditional covenant with all mankind , and an unconditional promise of salvation solely for those that will come to Christ (the elect). A perfect summary of John 3:16. And yet the Reformed today teach that the covenant of grace includes only the elect, something that was rejected by the Westminster divines. As John Davenant, God has made a covenant with all men, where he has obligated himself by word of his promise that can never fail to save all those that come to faith. John 3:!6, Matthew 11:28. This covenant is specifically revealed in scripture and is with all mankind and is not only affirmed in the Heidelberg Catechism as I have shown before, but in the Westminster Confession of Faith as well as I am showing now. Here’s is the quote

WCF chapter VII
Section III.—Man, by his fall, having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace: wherein he freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto life, his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe.

So the covenant of grace has two clauses:

1) with every single man it says: “wherein he freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved”
2) to the elect alone though it promises eternal life and the gift of faith: “promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto life, his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe”

The divines understood that God’s grace is universal to all men, but that also there is a special grace for his elect that is different from the grace he offers the reprobate, insofar as the reprobate do not come to faith and do not receive the benefits of Christ.

So maybe the call to the Reformed is to go back to either the Heidelberg Catechism or the WCF since both state the same. But to affirm a covenant of grace that is particular to the elect is to reject the consensus that was reached at the Westminster Assembly, whereby the covenant of grace is conditional for every man but unconditional for the elect.

George Hunsinger

4 years ago

As I understand Barth, he did not believe the church was entitled to teach that all persons would be saved, but he did believe that we should pray for the salvation of all and that we should keep the question open in hope. This view seems in line with 1 Tim. 2:1-4. He thought it was not spiritually good for us to have an emotional stake in the existence of a populated hell.

Barth believed that all were included in the saving significance of Christ’s death (by grace), but that no one was excused from acknolwedging Jesus Christ for who he is as Lord and Savior (by faith, or by “sight” as its eschatological equivalent). He certainly affirmed 2 Cor. 5:20.

His views are more in line with Athanasius and the East than with Augustine and the West. His views are subtle and complex, but he indeed tilts strongly toward universal hope, while leaving the question open in reverent agnosticism, as I have argued in a couple of places.


4 years ago

Thanks, George. I understand and I agree with Barth that we should be hopeful for the salvation of everyone. Even Jesus when before he died, he said “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing”. And Romans 10:18 quoting psalm 19:4 teaches that the call of the Lord has gone to the ends of the world (every man). Psalm 19 is about general revelation, and Paul’s quote in Romans 10:18 suggests that there is grace even in general revelation. Romans 1:21 mentions “they knew God”. Is it possible that one or two people that never believed the gospel may be saved through general revelation ? Anything is possible, though scripture does not affirm it, some passages of Romans 2 could be interpreted that way, but nowhere is it affirmed that the grace of god in general revelation can secure the salvation of some men. Nonetheless it can not be ruled out with 100% certainty as Prosper of Aquitaine mentions in his book the Call to all nations. God’s grace can do anything. So Barth’s charity towards mankind is scriptural.

With that said I believe the teaching of a universal objective reconciliation of mankind as Barth teaches is not the best way of articulating what scripture teaches. And here again Barth is not the only culprit. I actually thought until very recently and even defended in this forum an objective universal reconciliation just like Barth teaches it. It is called the doctrine of Universal Objective Justification that the major lutheran confessional churches LCMS and WELS have formally adopted. They claim it is compatible with the 16th century book of Concord and they have already excommunicated pastors that oppose this doctrine. The doctrine basically teaches that in the death and resurrection of Jesus every single person in the world that ever lived has been pronounced righteous and is forgiven. People that go to hell are forgiven sinners, just like the people that go to heaven, the only difference is that one rejected the gift and the other accepted it. It’s very similar to Barth and Torrance. Although I used to be a big proponent of this doctrine myself, even defended it in this forum, I now find it to be not representative of what scripture teaches and in contradiction with what Luther taught and the lutheran confessions teach. I do not have a problem with the radical doctrine of grace that modern lutherans and Karl Barth teach, that Christ accomplished and no just made salvation possible, when Christ said it is finished he truly saved men and not just made salvation possible for man. Nonetheless when we talk about such radical saving grace I disagree with the modern lutherans and Barth, and side with the Heidelberg Catechism and the WCF that teach that this type of grace that Barth and the modern lutheraans teach is only for the elect that will inherit eternal life, those that God will save by grace through faith and not for the whole human race. I do believe that there is a universal grace but as I explained, this universal grace is conditional on faith as I quoted the Heidelberg catechism and WCF. When we speak about unconditional grace, we have to reserve to make sure this type of grace is particular and not universal as the historic reformed confessions teach.

My only issue with confessional reformed is that most of them deny any type of universal saving grace for all men as the Heidelberg Catechism and WCF VII III teach. And like Barth understood this has caused all sorts of problems for the church, with Arminius first and Barth second trying to make up for this deficiency. In my opinion neither Barth nor Arminius succeeded. We need to go back to Luther, Cavin, Ursinus (the Heidelberg catechism), and WCF chapter VII section III to get a biblical understanding of unlimited atonement. There is hope, and actually this is already happening. Some at the gospel coalition and John Piper are realizing that beside the unconditional clause in the covenant of grace with the elect (limited atonement) , there is the conditional clause in the covenant of grace that applies to all men if they come to faith (unlimited atonement). Here is the article that affirms that limited atonement when properly understood does not contradict anything that conditional unlimited atonement (with faith as a condition for justification) teaches plus it also teaches an unconditional limited atonement (where faith is provided to the elect alone ) http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2010/06/24/limited-atonement/

George Hunsinger

4 years ago

P.S. Thanks to Kevin Davis, who is right to say that my use of the principle of charity cannot be dismissed as merely “rhetorical.” I use it — implicitly and explicitly — throughout my argument to show that Barth’s alleged “inconsistencies” can be explained more charitably — i.e. as non-existent. I don’t need to give a more theoretical account of the principle than the one I offer. I merely need to demonstrate what it looks like in practice, which is what I tried to do.


4 years ago

Dr. Hunsinger,

Thank you for the kind words, it was a pleasure to read and review your book. Thank you for the clarification regarding the Torrance thesis.

Kind regards,


4 years ago


Thank you for the comment that is actually relevant to the original post. That is a fair criticism, I see now that I didn’t develop my point as well as I could have in my conclusion. My point is, that the core of Hunsinger’s critique seems to be essentially the same as his critique in other places. He states his case with a good deal of clarity in the book, and even interacts with newer contributions to the debate, but the main feature of the book is the proposed “hermeneutic of charity.” My point in saying that this move is more “rhetorical than substantive” was not to denigrate the quality of his work in the present volume, it was to clarify what I see to be a weakness in the overall move. That is, that Dr. Hunsinger’s proposition seems to be an attempt at identifying his (Dr. Hunsinger’s) interpretation of Barth as “charitable” which would seem to make him the de facto winner (so to speak) of the debate. In other words, if one were to frame the debate along the lines proposed by Dr. Hunsinger, one would have to acknowledge Dr. Hunsinger as the winner right out of the gate.

George Hunsinger

4 years ago

Dear Austin,

I’m perplexed by this line of reasoning. I did not invent the idea of the “principle of charity.” It is, as stated in my book, commonly used by analytic philosophers. It has a technical, not a moral, meaning (again as I explained at length). My argument shows that the principle can be applied to a reading of Barth’s texts in order to show that they are not “inconsistent” in the way that Barth-revisionism has claimed. There is nothing honorific about the principle one way or the other.

George Hunsinger


4 years ago

Sorry guys for my misinterpretation, of WCF VII III . I am now subscribe to the full orthodoxy of the WCF ! The covenant of grace although it appears to be conditional with all men, it is actually unconditional with a few (the elect alone). I know I said before it had two clauses, one conditional with the world, the other one unconditional with the elect. Fact of the matter is because only the elect meet the condition (God actually satisfies the condition for them in regeneration), it is solely with the elect. Also, my apologies about my comments on Owen. Owen was correct in his view of the atonement, I had maintained the hypothetical universalism of John Davenant, but now I see clearly that a doctrine of full limited atonement is the most biblical, more so than hypothetical universalism. Oh well, my apologies for thinking this out loud and making so many posts. I went through a radical change in my theology over the past three weeks, from supporting a Barthian / lutheran universaal atonement / justification, to hypothetical universalism of Davenant, and now a full orthodox calvinist. Took me a while to figure it out, but I now think the 3 forms of unity and the WCF are the most accurate representation of what the bible teaches. I always was a fan of the confessions, but sitting on the fence and convinced the lutheran confessions to be more accurate. The same thing with Barth, I always thought he was orthodox. But this is no more. With that said, it is very easy for me to be charitable to those that hold to a universal atonement because I know you can trust in Christ as your savior and have that view, nonetheless the view is unbiblical and against historic christianity. Bottom line is only the church, the saints of the past, the current living saints, and those that will believe in the future have had their sins atoned at Calvary. Not sure why it took me so long to see something so simple. I remember having defended the doctrine that hell is populated by forgiven sinners , I don’t know how i could have ever subscribed to such a doctrine but I did. But this is what modern lutherans teach (LCMS and WELS) and Barth, that the sins of all mankind were paid for in full at Calvary.


4 years ago

Though one thing I still want to highlight on the atonement is this. If we look at Dort when it defines the atonement as sufficient for all but efficient for the elect, and it defines sufficiency based on the value of the atonement and efficiency based on the application of the atonement through faith. But there is one thing that many have missed except for the hypothetical universalists. And it is this, that the object of faith is the sufficiency of the atonement and not the efficiency., because the application (efficiency) of the atonement depends on the all sufficiency of Christ’s work for all sinners. This is what Ursinus in his commentary on the Heidelberg catechism highlights so well. Based on this if the objective work of Christ (the sufficiency or value of the atonement) is the object of faith that the holy spirit applies to us by faith we need to believe in an unlimited atonement where Christ died as a substitute for all men and atoned for all the sins of all men. So from this point of view Barth’s view of the atonement is the most biblical one, because it defines the object of faith properly. Even though because the all sufficient universal atonement is intended for the salvation of the elect alone , and when the promises of the gospel are proclaimed they demand faith in order to save the sinner we should say that effectively Christ died for the elect only and only those sins were fully atoned at Calvary. Even though the object of faith is based on the sufficiency of the atonement and never on its effectiveness. So I think all those biblical passages that talk about unlimited atonement, talk about the sufficient satisfaction made by Christ for all sins of all people at all times. And John Owen in his book the Death of Death in the Death of Christ fails to recognize this. He is correct that the atonement viewed from its efficiency atoned for the sins of the elect alone, but incorrect in that he fails to see that in its sufficiency Christ died as a substitute for those that are in hell, because the value of the atonement is such that should God have willed to convert those men Christ’s blood would have sufficed to cover their sins. This is why Paul had no qualms with many universalist statements about the atonement and preaching a universal reconciliation of all men to Christ. All Paul is referring to in those verses is the sufficiency of the atonement and not its efficiency. And the reason the sufficiency of the atonement is so important as I said , is because it is the object of faith, while the efficiency of the atonement refers more to the gift of faith itself but not to its object.


4 years ago

So unfortunately I can not recommend the boot the death of death in the death of Christ because it pretty much misinterprets every single bible verse that talks about a the universal redemption of all men ever born in the world by Christ’s atoning sacrifice. Owen fails to see time and time again that those verses refer to the sufficiency of the atonement, and misinterprets them by saying the world refers to the elect or the verses refer to common grace but not to saving grace. The fact is that there is a universally all sufficient saving grace affirmed in the bible and affirmed in the Canons of Dort. And it can not be watered down, because it is actually the object of our faith, it is the all sufficient objective work of Jesus Christ. Even though the work of Christ, God intends to apply to the elect alone. But Barth is correct that at the time of Christ’s death all men were justified and sanctified in Christ, Hebrews 10:29 speaks about those that were sanctified (uses the exact word) that despised the blood of Christ that sanctified them. Peter also talks about those that denied the Master who bought them with their blood. We really need to interpret these verses properly, and realize they are talking about the sufficiency of Christ’s blood to take away the sins of the reprobate. But when we speak of sufficiency we can confidently say that the sins of the reprobate were taken away and atoned for at Calvary, even though the atonement does not benefit the reprobate at all because it is not received by faith, and the atonement demands faith to become effective and take away sin. So even though Christ takes away the sins of the reprobate at Calvary (all sufficiency of the atonement), without the work of the spirit in conversion nobody is saved, both the atoning work of Christ and the work of the spirit in conversion are required for salvation. The work of the spirit flows from the work of Christ, and from this point of view the work of Christ though sufficient for all intends only the redemption of the elect where the atonement is applied. In its sufficiency unlimited, in its intention the atonement is limited, because it is designed for the salvation of the believer only. But as an object of faith it is the sufficiency (and not is efficiency) that faith apprehends, and applies it by saying “Christ died for me”.


4 years ago

I have now a new insight on the atonement that shows where Owen went wrong, and were Ursinus, and the english hypothetical universalists Davenant, Ussher, and Preston got it right. Ursinus as I quoted from his Heidelberg Catechism pointed out that Christ satisfied for all men (Judas included) and paid in full the penalty for sin, but he did not satisfy in the application of the atonement (only the elect come to faith). Now what does this mean ? And why Ursinus was so brilliant.

Well, very simple, what Ursinus is saying is that Chris never satisfied for the sin of unbelief persisted unto death. This is why the preaching of the gospel has a condition that you must believe to be saved. This is because Christ did not atoned for unbelief. As the english hypothetical unviersalists brilliantly pointed out the error o 5 point calvinism is that they are trying to look for salvation in the atonement, when in fact salvation is in the application of the atonement. Romans 3:27 is the key verse where Paul talks about the Law of works that saves nobody (otherwise we would boast) and the Law of Faith by which nobody can boast. You see Christ fully satisfied for the Law of Works, he loved the Father perfectly, he loved neighbor perfectly, his sacrifice was perfect so the all the sacrifices of the Old Testament have been rendered obsolete since Christ is the new high priest. But as I explained Romans 3:27 talks about the Law of Works and also the Law of Faith (by which no man can boast), and we Christ never satisfied for the Law of Faith, Christ did not die for the sin of unbelief. This is why the gospel call demands faith, because “lack of faith” or unbelief is a sin that was never atoned for at Calvary. So how does God deal with the sin of unbelief ? Very simple, as the english calvinist hypothetical universalists and Ursinus noted the sin of unbelief is dealt with regeneration (the application of the atonement) because Christ never dealt with it at Calvary. Christ died for the sins of all men, but Christ never died for all the sins of all men which is the mistake that John Owen made by assuming that all the sins of the elect were atoned for at Calvary. The fact is the sin of unbelief, even in the elect, it was never atoned at Calvary. Unbelief is not just a sin but a damnable condition, which God can never forgive, so Calvary was not the place to deal with it. God removes unbelief at regeneration, and a man is born again. This is why even the elect need to be born again, because unbelief is a sin that when persisted until death was never atoned for at Calvary. Charles Spurgeon made this very clear in his sermon on unbelief, which he considered a damnable sin which Christ never paid for. Here is Spurgeon :


“5. And now to close this point—for I have been already too long—let me remark that you will observe the heinous nature of unbelief in this—that it is the damning sin. There is one sin for which Christ never died; it is the sin against the Holy Ghost. There is one other sin for which Christ never made atonement. Mention every crime in the calendar of evil, and I will show you persons who have found forgiveness for it. But ask me whether the man who died in unbelief can be saved, and I reply there is no atonement for that man. There is an atonement made for the unbelief of a Christian, because it is temporary; but the final unbelief—the unbelief with which men die—never was atoned for. You may turn over this whole Book, and you will find that there is no atonement for the man who died in unbelief; there is no mercy for him. Had he been guilty of every other sin, if he had but believed, he would have been pardoned; but this is the damning exception—he had no faith. Devils seize him! O fiends of the pit, drag him downward to his doom! He is faithless and unbelieving, and such are the tenants for whom hell was built. It is their portion, their prison, they are the chief prisoners, the fetters are marked with their names, and for ever shall they know that, “he that believeth not shall be damned.” “


4 years ago

Further to my post above a few minutes ago and to summarize, so the atonement is universal for all men, but unbelief is not covered by the atoning death of Christ. Christ satisfied fully the Law of Moses (including the 10 commandments) at Calvary, and thus Christ established the new Law of Faith Romans 3:27. But Christ did not satisfy for the Law of Faith at Calvary, faith is a requirement for salvation, man has to believe, Christ’s faith is in Himself (in Christ) is not imputed to the sinner on the basis of the atonement. But on the contrary God instead of pardoning unbelief, he removes in the new birth or regeneration.

I backed up in my post from a few minutes ago this. I thank the Ursinus, the hypothetical universalists, and Spurgeon as I explained in my last post. These were the influences I credit, without which I would not have been able to arrive to this new insight on the atonement. Owen was mistaken that the elect had all their sins atoned for at Calvary, this is incorrect, unbelief was not pardoned nor dealt with at Calvary. Unbelief is such a damnable condition, that when persisted until death can not be pardoned, it demands God to remove the condition of unbelief in regeneration for a man to be saved. Of course temporary unbelief as Spurgeon mentioned was atoned for by Christ, but it is the removal of unbelief in regeneration that saves, as the English hypothetical universalists taught. And the atonement is not linked to the application of the atonement which is the brilliance of Davenant that saw it, the atonement is universal for all men (but it does not cover unbelief) and the application of the atonement is particular to the elect and removes unbelief. Ursinus clearly mentioned in his commentary on the Heidelberg that I quoted in one of my earlier post, that Christ satisfied fully for all men (Judas included) but he did not satisfy for the application (the condition of faith). As Urisinus points out God’s promise in John 3:16 has a condition, faith. And the sin of unbelief or “lack of faith” God chose not to deal with at the cross of Calvary but in regeneration. So the atonement is limited but not by the number of people it covers, it covers all men, but it’s limited in that the sin of unbelief was not atoned for. This is why the gospel demands faith and not works for salvation, as Romans 3 explains the difference between the law of faith and the law of works Romans 3:27. He that believes shall be saved, he that does not believe shall be damned is the gospel. If Christ had satisfied for the sin of unbelief, then those that do not believe the gospel would be saved and they are not.

So Karl Barth was in full error by stating that all sins of all men were atoned for including unbelief persisted till death. This is why Barth so damnation as an impossible possibility. But damnation would have been a real possibility for Barth, had he noticed that the sin of unbelief was never atoned for. It was the english hypothetical universalists and Ursinus that got the atonement right. Owen also erred seriously by stating that all the sins of the elect were atoned for at Calvary, which fails to recognize that the elect do not commit the sin of unbelief persisted until death, and that this sin was not pardoned in the elect but in fact removed by God at regeneration. None of the elect lack faith, and this is because the sin of unbelief “lack of faith” was never atoned for, and God dealt with it at regeneration and not at the cross of Calvary. So unbelief is dealt with not at Calvary, but in the application of the atonement as the hypothetical universalists correctly noted. If unbelief had been dealt with at Calvary, the gospel call would be an unconditional announcement with no demand for repentance and faith. This is why we are justified by faith, and not at the time of Christ’s atonement, none of the elect were justified at the atonement because the sin of unbelief was not removed at the cross. The elect are justified when they come to faith in regeneration and God gives them faith and removes their unbelief which was not atoned for at Calvary.

Lee Enochs

4 years ago

As a second year student at Princeton Theological Seminary, I am familiar with this debate on Barth. Recently I happened upon your review of Dr. Hunsinger’s book and think you did an outstanding job. Very thorough. Whether or not your take on the issue is adequate I will leave for others to decide since I am not an expert on Barth and this subject is far beyond my academic pay grade. However, I need to commend you for your attempt to read and understand Barth with care. Unlike most Evangelical critics like Van Til, you seem to treat Barth much more balance.


2 years ago

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