Thoughts of a Living Christian

Musings of an amateur theologian and hopeful writer

Costly Grace

There can likely be no life which epitomizes the costliness of grace more than those who have given their lives for their faith. There is no action which emulates Christ more than giving one’s life. One such martyr was Bonhoeffer, who, more than anyone else, was sufficiently equipped to talk about the costliness of grace. Horrified by how ‘cheap’ grace had become in churches, he scornfully laments,

Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing. Since the cost was infinite, the possibilities of using and spending it are infinite. What would grace be if it were not cheap?[1]

Though such an outcry was in response to the liberalism that pervaded his German context, the same cry can be made today, indeed in any generation. For when grace is watered down, perhaps so as to make it as appealing and easy as possible, the Gospel is distorted. We see timid and tame Jesus and hear his teachings on tolerance, but we don’t see the pain and passion or hear his preaching on persecution. Bonhoeffer insists that true grace must lead to justified living; he claims “the only man who has the right to say that he is justified by grace alone is the man who has left all to follow Christ,” for “such a man knows that the call to discipleship is a gift of grace, and that the call is inseparable from the grace.”[2] We need, therefore, “to recover a true understanding of the mutual relation between grace and discipleship.”[3]

Grace must be costly, he argues – and I agree – for cheap grace seduces us toward mediocrity where Christ urges us toward action (cf. John 7.21-23). Willmer explains that for Bonhoeffer, the Christian life is not about achieving a certain religious life, but about acknowledging Jesus as Lord. It’s about separation from everything except the Lord so as to follow him exclusively.[4] Hence grace is costly because it does not lead to the freedom of comfort, living as though Christ died purely so we can go on living as we were without consequence; rather it leads to the freedom of servitude (cf. Gal. 5.13; 1 Pet. 2.16). Integral to discipleship is imitating Christ’s self-sacrifice, and thus is a cost. According to Willmer,

Costly grace is necessary because grace endangers salvation. The church too often (as with some German Christians) yielded to plausible pastoral and evangelical temptations to make grace cheap in order to ease the way of outsiders into church while excusing them from discipleship.[5]

The question I ask is: “Bonhoeffer’s calls to discipleship are roughly 80 years old – are they still relevant today?” My answer came swiftly: Yes, of course! Howard argues that today’s social climate requires us to uphold Bonhoeffer’s legacy and call the contemporary church to recover the costliness of grace.[6] It doesn’t matter the generation, complacency will always lead to mediocrity. I see many presentations of the Gospel wherein “justification by grace” is the be-all and end-all, to get people through the doors. The Gospel is simplified and saturated and there is no sanctification. Kerygma requires the uncomfortable proclamation of discipleship and persecution; Jesus never made it easy, so why should we?


Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship. New York: Touchstone, 1959.

Howard, Evan Drake. “Bonhoeffer’s Legacy for American Christians.” In The Reformed Journal, (April, 1985).

Willmer, Haddon. “Costly Discipleship.” In The Cambridge Companion to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, edited by John W. de Grunchy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

[1] Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship. New York: Touchstone, 1959. 43. Furthermore, “Cheap grace means the justification of the sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything, they say, and so everything can remain as it was before,” (p. 43).

[2] Ibid. 51.

[3] Ibid. 55. Cf. p. 56 – “Discipleship means the life which springs from grace, and that grace simply means discipleship.”

[4] Willmer, Haddon. “Costly Discipleship,” in The Cambridge Companion to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, ed. John W. de Grunchy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999). 173-188.

[5] Ibid. 177.

[6] Howard, Evan Drake. “Bonhoeffer’s Legacy for American Christians,” The Reformed Journal (April, 1985). 14-17.


Thoughts on Integrity

My new daily reading program this morning took me to Romans 2. This initial chapters are quite familiar and I skimmed over the verses but several verses seemed to jump out at me:

Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and boast in God; if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of little children, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth – you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? As it is written: ‘God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you. (Rom. 2.17-24)

I admit, when I was reading this I didn’t immediately feel it was talking to me, I certainly don’t call myself a Jew! So I kind of skimmed over the verses, but something pulled me back. It doesn’t matter whether you or I are a Jew or not, this passage speaks to us!

Paul was warning the Romans to DWYSYWD.

DWYSYWD. It’s a fancy Greek word.

Actually it’s not Greek. It’s an English acronym: Do What You Say You Would Do. Another way of saying it is “Practice what you preach.”

This passage is all about integrity. Anyone, whether you are a religious leader, CEO, parent, teacher, preacher, band manager, Hungry Jacks manager…… At some point, every single person will be expected to do something. If you say you are going to do something in a particular way, and you don’t do it, it’s really not good. People rely on you to get the job done.

In a Christian sense, this is particularly relevant.

We tell Jesus we will follow him. So what should we do? A person with integrity will follow Jesus because that’s what they said they would do.

My question is this: Can a person who has no integrity be a Christian at all?

Let’s say a person – Joshua, we’ll name him – wants to be a basketballer, so he says, “I’m going to play basketball,” and then doesn’t play basketball. Can Joshua rightly be called a basketballer?

Proverbs 28:18 says “Whoever walks in integrity will be delivered, but the one whose ways are crooked will suddenly fall.” 

Now of course when we accept Christ as our saviour, he send the Holy Spirit to live within us, who replaces our old heart with a new – we become a new creation. The Spirit guides us, directs us, instructs us and encourages us. Thus as we pay attention to the Spirit, which we do as we do the spiritual disciplines (regular prayer, bible reading, etc.), our hearts are centered and our vision focused on Christ and we will live with integrity.

Integrity in the Christian life means Doing What You Said You Would Do, and we have said we would, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, deny ourselves, daily taking up our cross and coming after Christ.

Once Saved, Always Saved?

I preached a sermon recently where the bible passage seemed to imply that someone could lose their salvation. It made me think.

The passage was Colossians 1:21-23:

And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before – provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven.

Some translations use the word “if” instead of “provided that” but either way the implication is that a person is saved only so long as they remain established in the faith. The text looks to be very clear on the fact that the human will must always, continuously, be involved.

When someone hands you a gift you have to reach out and take it, and then you must hold onto it. If you don’t stretch out and take it, do you truly receive the gift? Of course not. And if you decide to drop the gift and break it, give it back, forget about it, neglect it, allow it grow old and dusty sitting on a bookcase in your office, do you really appreciate the gift? Certainly doesn’t seem like it.

So it is with salvation; the human will must respond in faith and acceptance.

I have heard the argument, “Well the people who allow the gift of salvation to grow old, to grow weary, to not remain steadfast in the faith, never truly received the gift of salvation in the first place.” I think this argument is somewhat naive. There are far too many warnings in the bible against becoming complacent, giving up on the faith, etc.

I have also heard the argument that eternal life means it’s eternal, therefore if we have eternal life it’ll last forever and thus cannot be partial. But this begs the question: what is eternal life? Jesus tells us what eternal life is in John 17:3 and there is no mention of time at all. Rather he says that eternal life is to know God. In other words eternal life is about having an intimate relationship with God the Father.

Is the word ‘eternal’ even a good translation? Probably not. The word aionios means pertaining to an age, aion meaning age. Aionios does not, therefore, mean immortality, or forever, or eternal. This is also why I do not believe hell is a permanent place of torture and punishment.

Hence, eternal life has nothing to do with living forever, but everything to do with an intimate relationship with God that we can experience right here, right now. Therefore, the argument that the eternal life Jesus gives lasts forever and thus cannot end, doesn’t stand up to scrutiny for it is an incorrect understanding of the relationship God offers.

Now let’s consider these two passages out of Hebrews:

For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, since on their own they are crucifying again the Son of God and are holding him up to contempt. (6:4-6)

For if we willfully persist in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has violated the law of Moses dies without mercy “on the testimony of two or three testimonies.” How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by those who have spurned the Son of God, profaned the blood of the covenant by which they were sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace? (10:26-29)

These passages make it pretty clear to me. “Those who have once been enlightened…tasted the heavenly gift…shared in the Holy Spirit,” etc. and have been sanctified,  can fall away and can profane “the blood of the covenant by which they were sanctified.” You can experience the Holy Spirit, you can be sanctified, you can be given a new life and can still fall away.

Those who were once hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, are now reconciled by the blood of Christ – IF they continue steadfast in the faith. This passage certainly is Paul warning the Colossians not to become like those mentioned in the above two Hebrew passages. Paul is warning us not to become complacent so that we don’t slip away from the salvation given us.

The ideas of Perseverance of the Saints, and Once Saved, Always Saved, which aren’t technically the same thing, are both wrong. The myth that you cannot lose salvation has led to so many churches and so many Christians becoming bland, Spirit-less and devoid. We must – like Paul and the author of Hebrews…and Jesus himself (cf. Matt. 7.13-23) – warn our people, our churches, not to slip into complacency because the consequences are absolutely terrible.

The Church’s Kingdom-Oriented Mission


According to the German theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg, “the central concern of the Church, and the primary point of reference for understanding the Church, must be the Kingdom of God.”[1] He elsewhere states,

In this way the church is related to the coming kingdom of God: the kingdom of God is not the church; it is the future of the church, as it is the future of all mankind. But the church is the community of those who already wait for the kingdom of God for Jesus’ sake and live from this expectation.[2]

Pannenberg insists upon a proleptic understanding of the function of the Church as a sign of the future fellowship believers will experience with the coming Kingdom of God, which has, paradoxically, already arrived with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Kingdom has indeed arrived in the proclamation of Jesus as Messiah, and thus the values of the Kingdom, predominately love which results in perfect peace and justice, are to be central in the Church’s mission. The Church will never permanently implement these values, or any lasting positive social change, for it is merely provisional until the Kingdom arrives, which will bring the final consummation of humanity.

This essay seeks to analyze Pannenberg’s ecclesiology, with particular focus on the role of pneumatology, which he argues is a core aspect of any ecclesiological discussion, and the relationship the Church has with the Kingdom of God. Discussion will begin with analysis of his ecclesiology, before moving to the Church’s function as proleptic sign of the Kingdom. The essay will then assess the way in which, according to Pannenberg, the eschatological realization of the Kingdom influences the Church’s mission in contemporary society, with critical reflection before concluding with an assessment of the viability of this theological perspective.

The Church and The Kingdom of God

Pannenberg begins his ecclesiology with discussion of the vital role of the Spirit in the formation of the Church. He argues the Church is a continuation of God’s creative work, the Spirit eschatologically unifying believers with one another and with the Son, empowering them to continue God’s work of creation. Hence, the Spirit and Son work closely in forming the Church; Spirit enables and Son fashions.[3]

The Spirit is gift in our lives producing fellowship with Jesus, who is criterion for entering the Kingdom of God. This communion with Jesus brings people into the Kingdom, giving us a taste of our final eschatological humanity, precisely because Jesus is himself the Kingdom of God. According to Grenz, “Pannenberg describes the church as the anticipation of a new eschatological humanity,” and “the Spirit grounds not only the individual assurance of faith but also the fellowship of believers.”[4] Furthermore Pannenberg states,

The gift of the Spirit has a soteriological function as an anticipation of the eschatological outpouring of the Spirit and is defined as a gift by the fact that Jesus Christ has given him to believers, the eschatological future of salvation having dawned already in his own person and history, so that they are aware that the Spirit they have received is the Spirit of Jesus Christ.[5]

The Church is the eschatological people, gathered for mission, unified as the Spirit witnesses to, and reveals, Jesus in believers. The Spirit reveals the eschatological nature of Jesus’ resurrection as the future eschaton itself, breaking into the present, promising the resurrection of the dead to come for believers. Thus it is only by the Spirit’s work that Jesus is the foundation of the church, leading believers to the Father.[6] Pannenberg hence appropriately labels the Church as “the field of activity of the Spirit of Christ.”[7]

The Church, as the new People of God, has as its vocation the reflection of the light of the nations: Christ. This does not mean, however, the Church possesses light and authority to force a sense of superiority over this world.[8] Believers are bound together with Jesus through the knowledge that in Jesus the consummation of humanity has come, revealed by the Spirit, enabling us to see Jesus as Messiah. However, distinction must be made between Jesus and the church, and the kingdom of God and the Church; the church anticipates the future fellowship of humanity in God’s Kingdom. Jesus is the consummation of humanity, but this consummation is yet to find total actualization in the arrival of the Kingdom of God. The church must therefore educate believers for the Kingdom.[9]

Pannenberg asserts that the Church’s existence finds its origin “when the first step was taken to proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation,”[10] referencing Pentecost as this decisive moment. However, the resurrection and Pentecost were merely partial aspects of the consummation of the Kingdom, as was the formation of the primitive community which would find realization in the fellowship in the Kingdom of God.[11]

The rule of Christ is…already present in the church’s proclamation. For the rule of Christ can have no different goal from his earthly ministry, where it was to call men into the kingdom of God and to proclaim the coming of that kingdom. Through the continuation of the mission of Jesus Christ in the church’s proclamation of Christ, the rule of Christ shows itself to be present within it. And yet the community of Christians in the particular historical form which its life takes at any given time is not identical with the kingdom of Christ.[12]

Jesus’ earthly work was the formation of a church and the proclamation of the nearness of the Kingdom, for the immanence of Jesus means no less than the immanence of the Kingdom. The calling of the 12 disciples was less the formation of a core community, and more a symbolic eschatological action, representing the restoration of Israel. With the rejection of the Easter message by most of the Jewish population, this core fellowship transcended the bounds of the Jewish people, becoming a representation “of the destiny of all humanity as a new and definitive society in the Kingdom of God.”[13] The 12 were thus “a provisional sign of God’s dominion, although in such a way that in it the future of this dominion was present already, even if not fully so.”[14] Furthermore, Pannenberg argues that Jewish eschatology had always included recognition of the inclusion of the Gentiles; “In Israel expectation of God’s rule developed as the hope of a future in which God’s just will would be done without break or limit, both in Israel itself and also among the nations.”[15]

Jesus’ ministry was the proclamation of this coming Kingdom and thus, Pannenberg argues, any who dedicates their life to Christ inevitably dedicates their life to the Kingdom. Jesus points the Church toward the Kingdom and reigns where people acknowledge the Kingdom and live accordingly.[16] This was Jesus’ Messianic function, to enable others to participate in the Kingdom. Jesus was exalted to exercise God’s power, and as one with the Father, he serves the Kingdom of his Father, who exercises his power through Jesus.[17]

He argues that the Church is a proleptic “sign of the future fellowship of humanity under God’s reign,” seen particularly in its liturgical life and specifically in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.[18] It functions as an eschatological community, thus as a sign of God’s coming rule, but must be distinguished from this coming rule. It must proclaim this provisional nature, ever moving towards God’s lordship which is already present as a sign. The Kingdom was therefore present in Jesus’ ministry and presently in the Church, by the Spirit, through proclamation.[19] Bradshaw explains,

The future remains the future in our historical continuum, and the kingdom of the Father remains in the future, however it has arrived proleptically in Christ…The kingdom of God is present as the future of God’s final reign proleptically arrived in Christ, and yet the future holds the fullness of this reign and our participation in it.[20]

The Church is, therefore, the “sacrament of the kingdom.”[21] It is, in Christ, both the mystery of salvation and has the function as sign. Jesus is the revelation of the mystery of salvation, and the Church is a sign of the Kingdom by participation in this salvation. Pannenberg argues that “the church has its end not in itself but in the future of a humanity that is reconciled to God and united by common praise of God in his kingdom.”[22] The Church, as sign, witnesses to this end, but is not in itself this end, nor can her work be undistinguished from that of Jesus’.[23]

Pannenberg rejects the chiliastic notion of a distinction between the Kingdom of Christ and the Kingdom of God, a notion resulting from the Jewish-Christian expectation of the millennial reign of the Messiah. There should be no separation between the two, for the Kingdom of Christ is the Kingdom of God, for, as Pannenberg argues, there is unity between the Son and the Father as the Son participates in God’s Lordship; “There can exist no competition between the Son and the Kingdom of the Father.”[24]

Because the Kingdom is an all-encompassing event, the consummation of all humanity, justice and peace will reign supreme. As the fulfillment of this justice and peace, it will be perfect communion, for without justice and peace, this communion is broken; it is clear that the Kingdom is not yet realized precisely because of the injustice and brutality in the world.[25] It is clear, therefore, that the Church is merely a partial realization of the Kingdom. To remain faithful to Jesus’ message of salvation, the Church must keep the Kingdom of God as the central concern in its proclamation, which points toward the future of the world and of humanity. Pannenberg argues against the Protestant emphasis on individual salvation as the goal of the Church’s mission, rather arguing that the purpose of the Church must be directed toward the Kingdom of God.[26]

Eschatological Peace

Pannenberg argues that the Church is a proleptic sign of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom breaks into the present from the future, revealing love and true peace and justice. He states, “In the work of Jesus the kingdom of God, and therewith the eschatological future of the world, had already broken into salvation.”[27] This was particularly revealed through his resurrection, which was revelation of the end. He also argues, “The hope of the coming of God’s kingdom necessarily goes hand in hand with the expectation of a cosmic renewal of the world,” extending beyond the temporal to the inclusion of eternity into the present; “Eternity will no longer have to be in antithesis to time but must be thought of as including time.”[28] Bradshaw clarifies,

At the eschaton the kingdom of God enters time, eternity being the future perfection of everything. Everything that occurs and perishes in time is preserved in God’s eternity, which embraces all temporal events and identities and brings them to their final destiny, that of praising the Father with the Son in the Spirit.[29]

Invariably, the general resurrection of the dead is anticipated. Only this can lead to all individuals participating in the perfect society of the Kingdom, for this resurrection implies transformation, with the believers being transformed into the light of God’s glory. This transformation, however, cannot occur in the present, rather in the future return of Christ.[30] He states, “It is only because the full advent of the kingdom of God occurs together with the general resurrection of the dead, that all individual members of humankind will have a chance to participate in the final consummation of human destiny in the kingdom of God.”[31] The Kingdom, the perfect society, will be realized in history, thus in time and not outside of or beyond time. This realization will be simultaneous with the new heaven and Earth as eternity breaks into history. Schwӧbel observes that for Pannenberg the end of history does not mean transition into void, but rather that history is included into God’s eternity, the consummation of humanity finding fulfillment in eternity.[32]

This eschatological renewal, wherein the Church’s reality is included into God’s eternity, finding realized and complete actualization, impacts upon the present. Hence, the Church is called to enact these Kingdom values into the present. The future realities of the Kingdom of God are present only through faith, not through the Church enforcing these values onto this world. There are functional implications as the sign of this reality, but the Church cannot cause the Kingdom into this world.[33] When the Kingdom does come, there will be no need for the Church to remain, for the Church exists only as long as the political orders do not provide the ultimate human fulfilment, which is found only in the Kingdom of God. This should not result in despair, but in hope, for this provides us with the strength needed to accept these limitations.[34]

Panneberg argues that the Kingdom will bring true fellowship between all people; this unity only comes in the present through the reign of God amongst those who are subject to its authority. This unity cannot be enforced or coerced, but only through loving and caring for one another, advocating for justice.[35] Political order is, also, connected to the Kingdom of God and God’s reign. Politics establish peace and justice in society, but any stable political order requires a foundation that transcends the world, appealing to a higher authority. However, the goal of politics will only find actualization in the Kingdom. The difference between the spiritual and the secular in the political realm, is in the eschatological awareness of Christianity. Hence, “Christians and their churches must act as advocates of our rational autonomy in awareness of our own finitude and hence also of the divine mystery that constitutes our finite existence.”[36]

Christians must not keep silent on matters of injustice, but must remember that full and final justice comes from the Kingdom of God which is still to come. Christians should enact Kingdom values, but these values will only ever be a partial reconciliation. Only God can definitively bring the Kingdom into actualization. The Church must remind the State of this fact.[37] Hence, the Church is essential in society, pointing others toward the Kingdom, primarily in two ways: 1) preventing humans from claiming ultimate significance, and 2) encouraging social action.[38] He argues,

While we must not despise the legal forms of life, neither should we think that, by themselves, they can provide ultimate justice for the individual. Laws cannot achieve the justice we seek precisely because they are abstract and general. Only care for the individual achieves true justice; legal formulations must be subordinated to this justice…Love effects that unity among men which expresses itself in legal forms but which is always more than those forms. Love fills the legal forms with life and thus achieves true justice.[39]

The actualization of this love and true justice is realized only in the Kingdom of God. Hence, the Kingdom speaks to these legal forms and is thus “pointedly political.” Pannenberg’s view of the Kingdom is indeed political, but, contrary to liberation theology, this Kingdom comes neither through political agenda, nor through human action.[40]

He states, “In the light of the futurity of God’s Kingdom, it is obvious that no present form of life and society is ultimate.”[41] But this does not disqualify the need for political activity. The future Kingdom of God demands obedience in the present. In fact, any recognition of God’s future reign and obedience to God as ruler requires a change in the present situation, for the future of God’s reign has a reality of its own, one which includes and revises the present. Yet any political forms of peace and justice remain provisional and preliminary and require an awareness of this temporality. We must engage in politics, inspired by a transcendent ideal that we will only ever see realized provisionally, striving towards history’s destiny and fulfillment in the realization of the Kingdom.[42]

This view of human political orders as provisional is likely influenced by his history, being exposed to both Nazi Germany and Stalinist Eastern Europe; “His firsthand exposure to the evils of two human social orders…forms a part of the background to Pannenberg’s conclusion that no human political system can ever fully mirror the perfect human social structure that one day will come as a divine gift in the kingdom of God.”[43]

Human laws can never actualize a perfect society of peace and justice. Only God can bring this justice because his law is perfected by love, reconciling individuals with one another. However, a totally new heaven and Earth is required before this love can reign, “for human conflict, on account of the dominion of sin in human relations, is deeply rooted in the natural conditions of existence as it is now.”[44]

The Church, as constituted by both Spirit and Son, proleptically reveals the fellowship that is to come in final fruition in the actualization of the Kingdom of God, which constitutes the consummation of humanity in Christ, found particularly in his resurrection. This future reality which the Church reveals is one of perfect community, wherein God reigns supreme through love, and perfect justice and peace is enjoyed. The Church represents this fellowship, albeit merely partially. The Church’s essential nature is living in this world, showing Christ’s death and resurrection to the world and is thus missional in nature. The Kingdom of God constitutes this mission, being a sign of God’s reign over all humanity. The Church is not a means to salvation in itself but points to Jesus Christ, who is.[45]

Pannenberg argues, “The truth is that the Church can only be understood in relationship to the world…the connection between Church and world is by no means accidental; the Church’s relationship to the world is determinative for her authentic vocation.”[46] He asserts that the Church must always gaze outwards toward humankind.[47] He further argues that there is no distinction between a ‘horizontal’ love and a ‘vertical’ love. In other words, loving God is loving others and vice versa. Therefore, in loving one another and the world, in being unified through love, we are participating in God’s rule, anticipating the future fellowship between all in the perfect society of the Kingdom of God.[48]

Critical Reflection

Pannenberg’s theological understanding of the relationship between the Church and the Kingdom is not without criticism. According to Grenz,

Some remain skeptical concerning the practical working out of his proposal, specifically how modern pluralistic society, in which many truth claims are competing for adherence, can nevertheless appeal to a religious understanding of reality for the legitimation of its political order.[49]

In other words, Grenz is questioning the place of Pannenberg’s political theology in contemporary pluralistic society. He observes that religious pluralism is the result of humankind’s innate knowledge of God, but Christians must demonstrate the truth of the love inherent in Christian theology, built around the proclamation of the immanence of the transcendent Kingdom. While Pannenberg rejects a religious plurality as sufficient for salvation, he asserts the inclusiveness of the Gospel, while further arguing that other religions have their place in revealing Christ.[50] Hence, Pannenberg is seemingly unperturbed by these criticisms, for he asserts that while other religions may reveal Christ in a partial way, Christianity is the one true faith and hence the Kingdom values must be implemented in any human political society. But he stresses that ecumenical unity must be formed, and that Christians must demonstrate the truth of these Christian values to the world; the only way the world can acknowledge the truth of the Kingdom is through demonstration and proof of its efficacy.

Activist theologians have criticized Pannenerg for not providing a theology for social change, arguing his political theology is too conservative. They focus on his claims that no political order will provide lasting positive change, which can only come with the actualization of the Kingdom of God. However, this criticism is unfounded, for he argues not for a disengagement from the world but rather that the Kingdom causes the Church to engage with the world, without overestimating the Church’s ability to bring about significant lasting change.[51]

Another area of criticism pertains to Pannenberg’s tendency toward determinism. If the future is not already determined, how can it influence the present? How can the Kingdom function retroactively unless it is determined already? Hence, Pannenberg’s theology, argues Grenz and Olson, presupposes a strict determinism.[52] These are fair concerns, and highlight a major area of tension in Pannenberg’s eschatology. He denies this determinism, but argues, “God creates his creatures as they are, which means in the case of the human creature that human freedom itself is to be conceived as God’s creation.”[53] In other words, human freedom is in itself a divine determination. The future impacts upon the present not in removing freedom, but by providing that freedom.[54] The tension, however, is still left unresolved.


In sum, Pannenberg’s ecclesiology seeks to incorporate a greater pneumatological – and, arguably, eschatological – aspect than had been allowed in much evangelical theology. The Spirit’s vital role is in leading humans to Christ, who in turn leads to the Father, and in whom the Kingdom is made present. Pannenberg insists upon, however, a distinction between the Church and the Kingdom; the Kingdom is made present by Christ, through proclamation, but the Kingdom can only be experienced provisionally until Christ returns and the rule of God is actualized in totality. The Church thus functions proleptically. It is a sign of the Kingdom, albeit a provisional sign, and hence the Church’s mission is intricately linked with the Kingdom.

The Church’s Kingdom-oriented mission is to represent the peace and justice that will come with the actualization of the Kingdom. The fellowship to come with the resurrection of the dead, when eternity breaks into history and a new heaven and earth will be formed, will have love as its foundation. Therefore, the Church must represent these Kingdom values of love, justice and peace, by loving and caring, and being involved in social action, whilst remembering than any system or political order will always remain provisional. She must remind society of its temporality and finitude, pointing to the future fellowship in the Kingdom as the hope that strengthens the Church’s mission.

Despite the tension of the tendency toward a strict determinism, of which Pannenberg denies, his ecclesiology and his understanding of the mission of the Church as being determined by the future Kingdom of God is comprehensive and on the most part, agreeable. His argument is intricate and logical and is difficult to find fault with. It is impossible to escape tension within the bible itself in regards to the eschatological bend in its portrayal of the Church and the “now – not yet” of the Kingdom of God which Christ proclaimed. Pannenberg seems to play on this tension, and rather than simplifying this tension so as to remove the paradoxical eschatological mystery of the Church, he returns focus to Christ, and through Christ the eschatological proclamation of the consummation of humanity in the Kingdom of God.

Pannenberg’s ecclesiology and understanding of the relationship and tension between the Church and the Kingdom is an important contribution to missiological ecclesiology, for it places the Church’s mission upon a transcendent ideal. The promise of the perfect fellowship to come with the Kingdom, that has come and has been revealed through the resurrection, places the Church in something much bigger than itself. This understanding will – and must – cause the Church to recognize the fact that it is God alone who builds his Church, but he builds his Church through his children. The Church must therefore not remain static or inactive but must seek to fulfill the Great Commission by loving and seeking the implementation of the Kingdom values. The Kingdom will always invariably orient the Church toward love, and anything other than this will cause the Church to cease to be the Church, for it will cease representing Christ and his Kingdom.


Adams, Nicholas. “Eschatology Sacred and Profane: The Effects of Philosophy on Theology in Pannenberg, Rahner and Moltmann.” International Journal of Systematic Theology 2, no. 3 (2000).

Bloesch, Donald G. The Church: Sacraments, Worship, Ministry, Mission. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2002.

Bradshaw, Timothy. Pannenberg: A Guide for the Perplexed. London: T&T Clark International, 2009.

Brink, Gijsbert van den. Almighty God: A Study of the Doctrine of Divine Omnipotence. Kampen: Koh Pharos Publishing House, 1993.

Bruce Chilton, J. I. H. McDonald. Jesus and the Ethics of the Kingdom. London: SPCK, 1987.

Clowney, Edmund P. The Church. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995.

Grenz, Stanley J. Reason for Hope: The Systematic Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Grenz, Stanley J. Theology for the Community of God. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994.

Harper, Brad, and Paul Louis Metzger. Exploring Ecclesiology: An Evangelical and Ecumenical Introduction. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2009.

Harvie, Timothy. “Living the Future: The Kingdom of God in the Theologies of Jürgen Moltmann and Wolfhart Pannenberg.” International Journal of Systematic Theology 10, no. 2 (2008).

Lloyd-Jones, D. Martin. The Kingdom of God. Cambridge: Crossway Books, 1992.

Lӧsel, Steffen. “Wolfhart Pannenberg’s Response to the Challenge of Religious Pluralism: The Anticipation of Divine Absoluteness?” Journal of Ecumenical Studies 34, no. 4 (1997): 499 – 519.

McGrath, Alister E. Christian Theology: An Introduction. 5th Edition ed. West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.

Mostert, Christian. God and the Future: Wolfhart Pannenberg’s Eschatological Doctrine of God. London: T&T Clark, 2002.

Neuhau, Richard John. “Theology for Church and Polis.” In The Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg, edited by Philip Clayton Carl E. Braaten. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1988.

Olive, Don H. Wolfhart Pannenberg, Edited by Bob E. Patterson. Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1973.

Pannenberg, Wolfhart. “Hermeneutics and Universal History.” In History and Hermeneutic, edited by Robert W. Funk. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc., 1967.

Pannenberg, Wolfhart. Jesus – God and Man. Translated by Lewis L. Wilkins. London: SCM Press Ltd., 1968.

Pannenberg, Wolfhart. Basic Questions in Theology. Translated by George H. Kehm. Vol. 1. London: SCM Press Ltd., 1970.

Pannenberg, Wolfhart. The Apostles’ Creed: In the Light of Today’s Questions. Translated by Margaret Kohl. London: SCM Press Ltd., 1972.

Pannenberg, Wolfhart. “Future and Unity.” In Hope and the Future of Man, edited by Ewert H. Cousins. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1972.

Pannenberg, Wolfhart. Human Nature, Election, and History. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1977.

Pannenberg, Wolfhart. Theology and the Kingdom of God, Edited by Richard John Neuhaus. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1977.

Pannenberg, Wolfhart. Ethics. Translated by Keith Crim. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1981.

Pannenberg, Wolfhart. “A Response to My American Friends.” In The Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg, edited by Philip Clayton Carl E. Braaten. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1988.

Pannenberg, Wolfhart, “The Present and Future Church”, First Things (accessed 28/05/2013).

Pannenberg, Wolfhart. “The Task of Christian Eschatology.” In The Last Things: Biblical and Theological Perspectives on Eschatology, edited by Robert W. Jenson Carl E. Braaten. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. , 2002.

Pannenberg, Wolfhart. Systematic Theology. Translated by Geoffrey W. Bromiley. Vol. 3. London: T&T Clark International, 2004.

Peters, Ted. “Pannenberg’s Eschatological Ethics.” In The Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg, edited by Philip Clayton Carl E. Braaten. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1988.

Schwӧbel, Christoph. “Wolfhart Pannenberg.” In The Modern Theologians, edited by David F. Ford. Massachussets: Blackwell Publishers Ltd. , 1997.

Snyder, Howard A. Kingdom Lifestyle: Calling the Church to Live under God’s Reign. Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1985.

Stanley J. Grenz, Roger E. Olson. 20th Century Theology: God & the World in a Transitional Age. Downer’s Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

Tupper, E. Frank. The Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1973.

Wilckens, Ulrich. “The Understanding of Revelation within Primitive Christianity.” In Revelation as History, edited by Wolfhart Pannenberg. London: Sheed and Ward Ltd. , 1969.

Witherington, Ben. Imminent Domain: The Story of the Kingdom of God and Its Celebration. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009.

[1] Wolfhart Pannenberg, Theology and the Kingdom of God, ed. Richard John Neuhaus (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1977).  73.

[2] Wolfhart Pannenberg, The Apostles’ Creed: In the Light of Today’s Questions, trans. Margaret Kohl (London: SCM Press Ltd., 1972). 154 – 155.

[3] Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, vol. 3 (London: T&T Clark International, 2004). Cf. Christoph Schwӧbel, “Wolfhart Pannenberg,” in The Modern Theologians, ed. David F. Ford (Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers Ltd., 1997). 198.

[4] Stanley J. Grenz, Reason for Hope: The Systematic Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg (New York: University Press, 1990). 150 – 152. Cf. Pannenberg, Theology and the Kingdom of God. 82 – 83. Cf. Timothy Bradshaw, Pannenberg: A Guide for the Perplexed (London: T&T Clark International, 2009). 88, 102.

[5] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology. 7. Cf. Phil. 1:19; Rom. 8:9.

[6] Ibid. 13 – 16. Cf. Don H. Olive, Wolfhart Pannenberg, ed. Bob E. Patterson (Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1973). 63; Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jesus – God and Man, trans. Lewis L. Wilkins (London: SCM Press Ltd., 1968. 107.

[7] Pannenberg, The Apostles’ Creed: In the Light of Today’s Questions. 145. Cf. Pannenberg, Jesus – God and Man. 107 – 108.

[8] Pannenberg, Theology and the Kingdom of God. 75.

[9] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology. 17 – 21. Cf. Wolfhart Pannenberg, “The Present and Future Church,” First Things, (accessed 28/05/2013). 4.

[10] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology. 28. Cf. Wolfhart Pannenberg, Ethics, trans. Keith Crim (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1981). 181 – “The Kingdom of God…became present reality for his hearers in and through that proclamation.”

[11] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology. 28.

[12] Pannenberg, The Apostles’ Creed: In the Light of Today’s Questions. 153.

[13] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology. 29 – 30. Cf. Bradhsaw. 90; Pannenberg, The Apostles’ Creed: In the Light of Today’s Questions. 153 – “The church, as the community of the end-time, is now the company of people who are already united in expectation of God’s future for mankind.”

[14] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology. 31. Cf. E. Frank Tupper, The Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1973). 231 – 232; Pannenberg, Jesus – God and Man. 193, 212; Wolfhart Pannenberg, “The Task of Christian Eschatology,” in The Last Things: Biblical and Theological Perspectives on Eschatology, ed. Carl E. Braaten, Robert W. Jenson (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002). 5, 10; Bradshaw. 77 – “Jesus is clearly the bringer in of the kingdom of the universal God, the one who is to come has come.” Cf. Luke 11:20; John 12:31, 48.

[15] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology. 30. Cf. Zech. 9:9-10; 14:9, 16-17; Mic. 4:1-4; Deut. 33:5; Num. 23:21; Ps. 47:7; 1 Chron. 28:5; 17:14; 29:23; 2 Chron. 9:8.

[16] Pannenberg, Theology and the Kingdom of God. 76 – 77, 83. Cf. Pannenberg, “The Task of Christian Eschatology.” 3.

[17] Pannenberg, Jesus – God and Man. 218. Cf. Pannenberg, Ethics. 181; Bradshaw. 138.

[18] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology. 31. Cf. Pannenberg, “The Present and Future Church.” 5; Grenz. 151; Pannenberg, The Apostles’ Creed: In the Light of Today’s Questions. 152 – “The church is not the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is, rather, the church’s future as it is the future of the world.”

[19] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology. 32 – 38. Cf. Pannenberg, Ethics. 19; Grenz. 180; Pannenberg, “The Present and Future Church.” 4 – “The kingdom of God is not something that we can bring about, nor is it identical with the life of the church…The church’s mission is to be a sign of the kingdom.”

[20] Bradshaw. 102. Cf. p. 166 – “God’s kingdom is still to come, while being proleptically here.” Synder argues similarly, “In a very real sense, the church is not only a sign but also (when faithful to Christ and led by the Spirit) the agent of the kingdom on Earth. The church is not the kingdom; neither is it unrelated to the kingdom. It is the witness to the kingdom and, when anointed and animate by the Holy Spirit, becomes in a partial though not unambiguous way the sign, prototype and pilot project of the kingdom on earth,” (Howard A. Snyder, Kingdom Lifestyle: Calling the Church to Live under God’s Reign (Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1985) 80).

[21] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology. 42.

[22] Ibid. 45.

[23] Pannenberg, Jesus – God and Man. 219. Cf. Tupper. 241.

[24] Pannenberg, Jesus – God and Man. 369. Cf. Pannenberg, The Apostles’ Creed: In the Light of Today’s Questions. 152 – 153. Furthermore, “The Father establishes his Kingdom precisely through the Son, not apart from him, or beside him, or after his Kingdom…The Kingdom of the Son is also that of the Father and vice versa,” (Pannenberg, Jesus – God and Man. 369).

[25] Pannenberg, Theology and the Kingdom of God. 80. Cf. Pannenberg, Ethics. 181; Pannenberg, “The Task of Christian Eschatology.” 5.

[26] Pannenberg, Theology and the Kingdom of God. 73. Cf. Grenz. 153.

[27] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology. 581. Cf. Wolfhart Pannenberg, “Future and Unity,” in Hope and the Future of Man, ed. Ewert H. Cousins (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1972). 65.

[28] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology. 584, 595. Cf. Pannenberg, Jesus – God and Man. 61, 193.

[29] Bradshaw. 167.

[30] Pannenberg, “Future and Unity.” 70 – 71. Cf. Pannenberg, Jesus – God and Man. 106 – 107; Pannenberg, “The Task of Christian Eschatology.” 6 – 7. Cf. Isa. 26:14, 19; Mark 12:26f; 1 Cor. 3:13-15; 15:50ff; 2 Cor. 5:10.

[31] Pannenberg, “The Task of Christian Eschatology.” 11.

[32] Schwӧbel. 201. Cf. Pannenberg, Theology and the Kingdom of God. 76.

[33] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology. 48.

[34] Pannenberg, Theology and the Kingdom of God. 83. Cf. Pannenberg, “The Task of Christian Eschatology.” 2, 6.

[35] Pannenberg, Theology and the Kingdom of God. 78 – 79.

[36] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology. 49 – 54. Cf. Grenz. 179.

[37] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology. 55 – 56. Cf. Wolfhart Pannenberg, Human Nature, Election, and History (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1977). 101.

[38] Pannenberg, Theology and the Kingdom of God. 85. Cf. Pannenberg, “The Task of Christian Eschatology.” 6 – “Hope for the kingdom may inspire and direct our human efforts in this world, but its achievement is for another world and puts an end to our antagonistic history of human action.”

[39] Pannenberg, Theology and the Kingdom of God. 79-81 – “Love is the final norm of justice.” Cf. Bradshaw. 91.

[40] Pannenberg, Theology and the Kingdom of God. 79 – 80. Cf. Grenz. 180.

[41] Pannenberg, Theology and the Kingdom of God. 80. Elsewhere Pannenberg states, “The expectation of the Kingdom of God implies that only when God rules and no man possesses dominating political power any more, then the domination of people by other people and the injustice invariably connected with it will come to an end,” (Pannenberg, “Future and Unity.” 70 – 71). Cf. Pannenberg, “The Task of Christian Eschatology.” 1 – 2.

[42] Pannenberg, Theology and the Kingdom of God. 81. Cf. Ulrich Wilckens, “The Understanding of Revelation within Primitive Christianity,” in Revelation as History, ed. Wolfhart Pannenberg (London: Sheed and War Ltd., 1969). 61; Olive. 87.

[43] Stanley J. Grenz, Roger E. Olson, 20th Century Theology: God & the World in a Transitional Age (Downer’s Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992) 186 – 187.

[44] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology. 584. Cf. Pannenberg, “The Task of Christian Eschatology.” 11. Cf. Rev. 21:1; Isa. 65:17.

[45] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology. 45 – 47. Cf. Pannenberg, Theology and the Kingdom of God. 75 – “The Church is true to its vocation only as it anticipates and represents the destiny of all mankind, the goal of history.”

[46] Pannenberg, Theology and the Kingdom of God. 72-74 – “Since every conception of the Church that disregards its relatedness to the world remains one-sided, and since only the vocation of the Church for the Kingdom of God explains theologically the essential character of her relatedness to the world; therefore, the whole of the ecclesiological thematic can be brought into perspective only from the viewpoint of the Kingdom of God.”

[47] Pannenberg, The Apostles’ Creed: In the Light of Today’s Questions. 147.

[48] Ted Peters, “Pannenberg’s Eschatological Ethics,” in The Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg, ed. Carl E. Braaten, Philip Clayton (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1988). 242, 247.

[49] Grenz. 170-80.

[50] Steffen Lӧsel, “Wolfhart Pannenberg’s Response to the Challenge of Religious Pluralism: The Anticipation of Divine Absoluteness?” Journal of Ecumenical Studies 34:4 (1997). 499-519.

[51] Grenz. 181. Cf. Peters. 248-49 – “God’s future has had and continues to have an impact upon our present situation. The direction of force comes from the future.”

[52] Grenz. 198-99.

[53] Wolfhart Pannenberg, “A Response to My American Friends,” in The Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg, ed. Carl E. Braatan, Philip Clayton (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1988). 322.

[54] Gijsbert van den Brink, Almighty God: A Study of the Doctrine of Divine Omnipotence (Kampen: Koh Pharos Publishing House, 1993). 220.

The Church as Trinitarian Eschatological Koinonia


Ecclesiology has been an area of contention for much of the Church’s existence. Where the Church receives its authority, who is in the Church, what the Church looks like, how the Church should act; many debates have arisen from this creature called ekklesia, some of which become divisive. This paper seeks to present a Biblical and historical argument that the Church should be recognized as trinitarian, eschatological koinonia (or fellowship/community). Initial discussion will pertain to the nature of this Church, before moving to discussing its expression through the marks, ordinances and mission of the Church.



“Outside the Trinity…there is no church.”[1] Similarly “Moltmann believes that ecclesiology is fundamentally trinitarian…The church does not correspond to any one member of the Trinity, “but to the eternal perichoresis.””[2] The Biblical picture is that the Father elects his Church, given to and found in Christ, built up and united by the Spirit (Gen. 12; Deu. 6.6-11; Isaiah 49.5; John 17; Eph. 1.4; Col. 1.13).[3] This people, says 1 Pet. 2.10 is a ‘Holy Priesthood’ of God, his own people and nation.[4] It is also the Body of Christ (Eph. 5.29-32) and hence, as Grenz notes, we must be doing the will of Christ, who is the head.[5] Importantly, we are not Christ himself,[6] but we are connected to him, the True Vine (John 15.5).[7]

Yet it is also decidedly pneumatological in nature, being the ‘Temple of the Holy Spirit’ (1 Cor. 3.16).[8] According to Aquinas, the Spirit animates the Church,[9] and Barth states, “The Christian congregation arises and exists neither by nature nor by historical human decision, but as a divine convocation…called together by the work of the Holy Spirit.”[10] Pannenberg’s ecclesiology is largely pneumatological; through the Spirit we have fellowship and the Kingdom is made present.[11] He argues, “Only by the work of the Spirit…is Jesus Christ the church’s foundation.”[12]


The Church as an eschatological entity refers primarily to its relation to the Kingdom of God.[13] The Kingdom of God is both a present reality (Luke 17.20), by which Satan has been defeated (Matt. 12. 28-29; Luke 10.9, 18, 20) and prophecy has been fulfilled (Matt. 11.2-26; Mark 1.14-15; Luke 4.21); and a future expectation (Luke 21.31).[14] Unlike much medieval theology, it is important to make a distinction between the Church and the Kingdom;[15] “The church…is not identical with the Kingdom of God. It is a sign of the kingdom’s future of salvation.”[16] As a sign of the Kingdom, the Church is a doorway to the Kingdom, bearing witness to the Kingdom, represented through fellowship with one another.[17]

Referencing the eschatological nature of Joel 2, Pannenberg says, “The event of the outpouring of the Spirit…involves a comprehensive account of the church as the eschatological people of God who, in contrast to the Jewish people, is gathered by mission from the human race as a whole and thus becomes…the new people gathered out of all peoples.”[18] Küng argued similarly, centering unity on participation in “the truly eschatological event” of the death and resurrection of Christ.[19]

As a sign, the Church is thus sacramental by nature. Rahner labelled the Church a sacrament of salvation, “the presence of God’s love,” pointing away from itself to God.[20] He states, “By the very fact of being in that way the enduring presence of Christ in the world, the Church is truly the fundamental sacrament…From Christ the Church has an intrinsically sacramental structure.”[21] For Pannenberg, “The Church…is nothing apart from its function as an eschatological community and therefore as an anticipatory sign of God’s coming rule and its salvation for all humanity.”[22] It should be noted that the term ‘sacramental’ should not be understood in terms of administering grace, merely pointing toward the One who does administer grace. The church’s role, according to Pannenberg, is to educate us for the Kingdom.[23] One other element of this eschatological nature of the Church is the Church’s missiological being. As a reflection of the God who revealed his missiological and proactive nature, by electing Israel and his Church, sending his Son, and promising eschatological renewal, the Church must also be missiological. Its very nature is missional. This is discussed below, but it is important to note this eschatological element, as the Church points toward Christ and the Kingdom through mission.


The word ekklesia, coming from the two Greek words meaning “to call” and “out of” is used in the LXX to translate qahal, meaning “assembly,” (Cf. Deu. 23.1ff; 1 Chron. 28.8). Hence Jesus’ ekklesia is a continuation of the Old Testament assembly of the Lord.[24] This assembly, or community, is emphasized in Zizioulas’ ecclesiology: “The Church as the Body of Christ points to a mysticism of communion and relationship through which one is so united with the ‘other’ (God and our fellow man) as to form one individual unity.”[25] Ratzinger argues similarly,[26] and both centre this communion on the Eucharist.[27] Rather than the metaphysical unity as presented by Zizioulas and Ratzinger, Moltmman’s view is preferred, wherein the Church is a reflection of the trinitarian fellowship; “Through the ministry of the Spirit the trinitarian fellowship invites persons, the church, and the creation into its redemptive, agapic, eternal-life-giving koinonia.”[28]

Is this community ‘catholic’ (meaning ‘universal’)? Cyril of Jerusalem said in the fourth century that the church is catholic because it “extends through all the world,”[29] to which Aquinas added inclusivity and timelessness.[30] However, it moved away from the temporal toward an invisible understanding, as the Westminster Confession affirmed, “The catholic or universal church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ.”[31] However, Barth argued the Church is primarily visible,[32] which seems to fit the biblical picture whereby the Church will be recognised by its actions (Cf. John 13). Grenz argues that according to Hebrews 12.22-23 the Church is “one cosmic fellowship that transcends time,”[33] an idea taken further by Ratzinger and Zizioulas, who argue that the transubstantiated elements in the Eucharist is what unifies the Church, i.e. the one body of Christ.[34]

Eucharistic ecclesiology such as this suggests that the Church is unified in the act of participating in the Eucharist (Cf. Eph. 1.4; John 6). This is largely based on a transubstantiation theology, which will be discussed below. However, unity should be seen as coming solely through the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5.5; Eph. 4.1-6; Phil. 2.1-3; 1 Cor. 12.13). Hence, not the Eucharist, but the worship of the One God and the submission to the One Word should be the focal point of the Church’s universality.



Since the Reformation, elements that ‘mark’ Church has been a matter of contention. The First Helvetica Confession and Luther affirmed the central position of the word of God.[35] Luther stated, “Anywhere you hear or see such a word preached, believed, confessed, and acted upon, do not doubt that the true ecclesia sancta catholica, a “holy Christian people” must be there.”[36] Calvin added to this the administration of the sacraments,[37] and then later Barth added to these two the “fellowship of prayer.”[38] Hence the visible Church exists where the Bible is expounded, believed and acted upon, the ordinances are administered and not neglected, and the congregation joins in prayer and worship.[39]


The celebration of the ordinances are the high point of corporate worship.[40] They are symbols by which the Church obediently responds to God’s grace, remembering their participation in his death and resurrection, and allow God to “begin and sustain that faith.”[41] However, appropriate administration requires the other ‘marks’ to be present, thus validity the Church’s presence.[42] The number of ordinances should be kept to two, based on two criteria Grenz outlines: 1) Biblical evidence that Jesus ordained the act, and 2) evidence that the early Church practiced the act. Hence, only baptism and the Lord’s Supper should be considered ordinances.[43]

Baptism is the initiatory symbol of participation in the death and resurrection of Christ. Pannenberg aptly puts it, “In terms of baptism the Christian life is a process of dying with Christ, and at the same time, by the Spirit, the new humanity, the resurrection life, is already at work in Christians.”[44] Infant baptism must be rejected because of the lack of a profession of faith in Jesus Christ, which the New Testament picture clearly portrays as vital in baptism.[45] Hence, the concept of ‘believer’s baptism’ is preferred.[46] Similar to a marriage ceremony, baptism is public confession of personal faith, symbolizing entry into Church, Jesus’ death and resurrection, and the sealing of a covenant with God.[47] Furthermore, baptism is an oath, pledging loyal service to the Lord, surrendering to his will.[48] It does not bring salvation, but is a celebration of God’s grace within the individual.[49]

After baptism, which is the initiatory rite, the Lord’s Supper is the repeated ordinance, by which the Church is invited to remember Christ’s sacrifice and the Church’s participation in that death and resurrection. Further, it acts as proclamation of Christ’s sacrifice, a visual illustration of the gospel.[50] Contentions surrounding the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper have focussed on the debate of Jesus’ presence in the elements. The Roman Catholic perspective became transubstantiation, wherein the elements physically and literally become the body and blood of Christ; the Lutheran consubstantiation purported Christ’s physical presence in all things, not merely in the elements becoming Christ’s physical body; and Zwinglian memorialism which asserted the Lord’s Supper was no more than a symbol – Christ was not literally physically present.[51] Calvin responded to all three by arguing that Jesus is physically present by the Spirit, who lifts us up to God the Father.[52]

Transubstantiation must be rejected, because it is clear from Scripture that Christ has physically ascended to his throne in heaven (Acts 1.6-11),[53] which thus inevitably contradicts consubstantiation.[54] However, the Biblical picture stresses the fact that it is more than merely a sign as the Zwinglian model affirms. Because eucharisto (‘to give thanks’), kuriakon deipnon (‘Lord’s Supper’), and koinonia (‘communion’) are each used in reference to this ordinance (Luke 22.19; 1 Cor. 11.20; 1 Cor. 10.16, respectively), it can be understood as being based in the Trinity. It should be understood as christocentric, pneumatological, eucharistic and celebratory remembrance of Christ as the paschal Lamb of God, in whom we are unified and in whose death and resurrection we participate.


The Church’s essence, reflecting God’s nature, is to be missional. Much ecclesiology has focussed on what the Church does, but the focus should be on what the Church is; the Church’s very nature is rooted in mission.[55] Harper and Metzger argue this missional nature “flows forth from the church’s communal identity…communion with God gives rise to its missional existence, for God’s communal being is co-missional.”[56] According to John 17, as God sends the Son, so the Son sends the Church; as his body, the Church lives by Christ’s will.[57] We are sent to proclaim the Gospel (1 Pet. 2.9). According to Barth, the Church exists for the world, to reveal the Word of God. Ministry is subordination, both to God and humanity as we serve God. We need not, nor should not, do any more. It is up to God to complete his mission. He states, “Its task is simply to serve…to assist both God and man.”[58] The Church merely witnesses to what God is doing; “with the deepest humility it points to the work of God accomplished in Him and the Word of God spoken in Him.”[59]


The Church is trinitarian, eschatological koinonia. It does not correspond with any one person in the Godhead, but to all three; it is the People of God, the Body of Christ, and the Temple of the Holy Spirit. It sacramentally points toward the Kingdom of God and the salvation offered through Christ; a community united by the Spirit to visibly reveal Christ’s love. The Church is marked by submission to the Word, administration of the ordinances, and corporate prayer and worship, and by its very essence is missional. The mission of the Church is, thus, to eschatologically point toward the Kingdom of God by being a community of love. The Baptist perspective is virtually synonymous with this understanding, but would respond to the emphasis on Calvin’s spiritual presence in the Lord’s Supper, preferring a Zwinglian memorialism.[60] The most important thing for the Church to remember, however, is that God has not deserted his Church, but has promised to ensure its survival, even from all the powers of Hades; the Church will endure.


Allen, R. Michael. Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics: An Introduction and Reader. London: T & T Clark International, 2012.

Barth, Karl. Dogmatics in Outline. Translated by SCM Press. 2 ed. London: SCM Press, 2001.

Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Translated by Henry Beveridge. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989.

Godfrey, W. Robert. “Calvin, Worship, and the Sacraments.” In A Theological Guide to Calvin’s Institutes, edited by Peter A. Lillback David W. Hall. Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing Company, 2008.

Grenz, Stanley J. The Baptist Congregation. Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 1985.

Grenz, Stanley J. Reason for Hope: The Systematic Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Grenz, Stanley J. Theology for the Community of God. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994.

Harper, Brad, and Paul Louis Metzger. Exploring Ecclesiology: An Evangelical and Ecumenical Introduction. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2009.

Hill, Graham. Salt, Light, and a City: Introducing Missional Ecclesiology. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock, 2012.

Küng, Hans. The Church. Translated by Ray and Rosaleen Ockenden. New York: Sheed and Ward, 1967.

Mannion, Lieven Boeve and Gerard, ed. The Ratzinger Reader. New York: T&T Clark, 2010.

McGrath, Alister E. Christian Theology: An Introduction. 5th Edition ed. West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.

McGrath, Alister E., ed. The Christian Theology Reader. London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.

Moltmann, Jürgen. The Church in the Power of the Spirit. Translated by Margaret Kohl. London: SCM Press Ltd, 1977.

Mullins, E. Y. Baptist Beliefs. Valley Forge: Baptist World Publishing Company, 1912.

Norman H. Maring, Winthrop S. Hudson. A Baptist Manual of Polity and Practice. Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1991.

Pannenberg, Wolfhart. Systematic Theology. Translated by Geoffrey W. Bromiley. Vol. 3. London: T&T Clark International, 2004.

Rahner, Karl. The Church and the Sacraments. Translated by W. J. O’Hara. London: Burns & Oates, 1963.

Reymond, Robert L. A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1998.

Stone, Bryan P., ed. A Reader in Ecclesiology. Surrey, England: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2012.

Vriezen, Th. C. An Outline of Old Testament Theology. Translated by S. Neuijen. 2 ed. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1970.

Zee, Leonard J. Vander. Christ, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004.

Zizioulas, John D. Being as Communion. New York: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1985.

Zizioulas, John D. Communion & Otherness. New York: T&T Clark, 2006.

[1] Brad Harper and Paul Louis Metzger, Exploring Ecclesiology: An Evangelical and Ecumenical Introduction (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2009). 19.

[2] Graham Hill, Salt, Light, and a City: Introducing Missional Ecclesiology (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock, 2012). 90.

[3] Col. 1.13 reinforces that it is something the Father has done (note the perfect tense). Furthermore, as Barth argues, “A congregation is the coming together of those who belong to Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit,” (Barth, in R. Michael Allen, Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics: An Introduction and Reader (London: T & T Clark International, 2012). 132). Cf. Th. C. Vriezen, An Outline of Old Testament Theology, trans., S. Neuijen, 2 ed. (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1970). 88 – “Israel was only elected in order to serve God in the task of leading those other nations to God. In Israel God sought the world…in His mercy He called Israel to the service of His kingdom among the nations of the earth.”

[4] Cf. Stanley J. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994). 466. Notice the link to Old Testament theology (cf. Exod. 6.7).

[5] Ibid. 466.

[6] Cf. Barth, who states, “It is not itself Jesus Christ either acting for the world or speaking to it,” (in Allen. 200).

[7] Cf. Jürgen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit, trans., Margaret Kohl (London: SCM Press Ltd, 1977). 5 – “Christ is his church’s foundation, its power and its hope…The lordship of Christ is the church’s sole, and hence all-embracing, determining factor.” Also, Hill comments on Moltmann’s Christological emphasis, “The church’s foundation, essence, power, mission, and future are built on and directed toward Jesus Christ…The church’s identity and purpose is wrapped up in the messianic mission of Christ,” (Hill. 87).

[8] This imagery clearly reflects Old Testament imagery, the temple representing God’s presence (Cf. Grenz. 466).

[9] Aquinas, in Bryan P. Stone, ed. A Reader in Ecclesiology (Surrey, England: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2012). 65.

[10] Karl Barth, Dogmatics in Outline, trans., SCM Press, 2 ed. (London: SCM Press, 2001). 133. Furthermore, Moltmann argues similarly, that the Spirit is the primary shaper of the Church; “The Spirit leads the church to witness        to and worship Christ, to embrace his messianic mission, to live in eschatological hope, and to pursue God’s power and presence in all dimensions of its being,” (Hill. 91). Cf. Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, trans., Geoffrey W. Bromiley, vol. 3 (London: T&T Clark International, 2004). 13 – “By the Spirit each is lifted above individual particularity in order, “in Christ,” to form with all other believers the fellowship of the church.”

[11] Stanley J. Grenz, Reason for Hope: The Systematic Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990). 152-54. This eschatological perspective is shared by McGrath, who argues that the Spirit’s presence “within the church is a sign of the coming of God’s new age, and the distinctive role that the church must play in bringing about the kingdom of God on earth,” (Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, 5th Edition ed. (West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011). 377).

[12] Pannenberg. 16.

[13] Cf. Ibid. 73 – “The central concern for the Church, and the primary point of reference for understanding the Church, must be the Kingdom of God.”

[14] Cf. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God. 474. He labels the Kingdom “the eschatological in-breaking of God into history,” (p. 474). Furthermore, Rev. 5.9 and Gal. 3.28 reveal that the Church’s diversity of people expresses the inclusiveness of the Kingdom. n

[15] Ibid. 477.

[16] Pannenberg. 37.

[17] Harper and Metzger. 48-71. Also, Grenz, Theology for the Community of God. 461 – “As the fellowship of believers we enter into relationship with God and with one another. This covenantal relationship is a foretaste of the future community we will share in the new creation and a sign of the eternal community of the triune God himself.”

[18] Pannenberg. 13.

[19] Hans Küng, The Church, trans., Ray and Rosaleen Ockenden (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1967). 81. Cf. Hill. 30 – “Küng describes the church as the eschatological community of salvation, called into existence through the eschatological event of the life, message, death, resurrection, and reign of Christ.”

[20] Hill. 14-16.

[21] Karl Rahner, The Church and the Sacraments, trans., W. J. O’Hara (London: Burns & Oates, 1963). 18.

[22] Pannenberg. 32. According to Grenz, “For Pannenberg the church is a proleptic sign of the kingdom, and the people of God live from the proleptic presence of the future among them mediated by the Spirit,” and “the church is the anticipation of the kingdom; therefore its essence is constituted by the kingdom, of which it is a sign,” (Grenz, Reason for Hope: The Systematic Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg. 151-53).

[23] Pannenberg. 26. Cf. Grenz, Reason for Hope: The Systematic Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg. 153 – “The biblical discussion focuses on Jesus’ own purpose, to proclaim the kingdom, which for Pannenberg means that ecclesiology is not to be grounded directly on the concept of the fellowship of believers but on the kingdom.” Pannenberg reasons, “The Spirit’s specific work in the church always relates to Jesus and to the eschatological future of God’s kingdom that has dawned already in him. The consequences of this for the doctrine of the church is that its relation to the kingdom of God, as an anticipation of the future fellowship of the humanity renewed in this kingdom, must form the context for an understanding of the church as the fellowship of believers that is grounded on the participation in the one Jesus Christ,” (Pannenberg. 20).

[24] Grenz, Theology for the Community of God. 464-65 – “The early Christians linked themselves as the followers of Jesus to what God had begun in the wilderness with the nation of Israel.” Furthermore, implicit in this is the idea of sanctification, to be set apart for a particular purpose (Cf. John 17). This continuation of Old Testament imagery implies participation in the Abrahamic covenant, as the “People of God,” (Rom. 4.1-16; Gal. 3.6-18) (McGrath. 376).

[25] John D. Zizioulas, Communion & Otherness (New York: T&T Clark, 2006). 307. Furthermore, Hill describes Zizioulas’ ecclesiology, “Our natural biological essence is not eradicated, since Christians live in the body and are subject to death. However, our biological substance, and our transformed substance and nature, are bridged by the nature of the Eucharist, and by our communal participation in the sacrament (bridged by a sacramental or Eucharistic hypostasis),” (Hill. 64).

[26] Lieven Boeve and Gerard Mannion, ed. The Ratzinger Reader (New York: T&T Clark, 2010). 93 – “These disciples became a ‘people’ through communion with the Body and Blood of Jesus, which is simultaneously communion with God. The Old Testament theme of covenant, which Jesus incorporates into his preaching, receives a new center: communion with Christ’s Body.”

[27] Hill. 5-11, 72.

[28] Ibid. 93. Further, McGrath labels the Church the “Community of Salvation,” called into being as response to God’s salvation work, to proclaim and extend this work, (McGrath. 376).

[29] Cyril of Jerusalem, in Alister E. McGrath, ed. The Christian Theology Reader, 4 ed. (London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011). 411.

[30] Ibid. 415.

[31] Ibid. 426. Furthermore, “The visible church, which is also catholic or universal under the gospel (not confined to one nation as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion.” This dualism affirms what Augustine argued, who, as a result of the Donatist controversy, argued for a mixed body of sinners and saints. Due to sin, the church cannot be made of saints, but the church is sanctified and made holy by Christ, (McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction. 379-80).

[32] Barth. 133 – “By men assembling here and there in the Holy Spirit there arises here and there a visible Christian congregation. It is best not to apply this idea of invisibility to the Church…If the Church has not this visibility, then it is not the Church.”

[33] Grenz, Theology for the Community of God. 467. Cf. 1 Cor. 12.20; Eph. 1.22-23.

[34] Hill. 11, 68; John D. Zizioulas, Being as Communion (New York: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1985). 144-45 – “Although the catholicity of the Church is ultimately an eschatological reality, its nature is revealed and realistically apprehended here and now in the eucharist.” See below for discussion on the Eucharist, including discussion on transubstantiation.

[35] In McGrath, ed. The Christian Theology Reader. 418-419. The First Helvetica Confession stated, “It is not only known but also gathered and built up by visible signs, rites, and ordinances, which Christ Himself has instituted and appointed by the Word of God as a universal, public, and orderly discipline,” (p. 419).

[36] Ibid. 418-19. McGrath notes that for Luther, it was “more important to preach the same gospel as the apostles than to be a member of an institution which is historically derived from them,” (McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction. 382).

[37] Calvin argued, “Wherever we see the word of God sincerely preached and heard, wherever we see the sacraments administered according to the institution of Christ, there we cannot have any doubt that the Church of God has some existence,” (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans., Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989). 4.i.9.

[38] Barth, in Allen. 135 – “The congregation is the place where God’s word is proclaimed and the sacraments are solemnised and the fellowship of prayer takes place, not to mention the inward gifts and works, which are the meaning of these outward ones.”

[39] This should not, however, disqualify the inevitable invisible aspect of the Church. While these ‘marks’ are what characterize the Church’s activity, the Church can still exist in their absence. Hence, it should be clarified that a basic understanding of these ‘marks’ should be what the Church should be doing regularly, and through these regular actions, the Church can be distinguished from the rest of the world. Furthermore, as discussed below, the term ‘ordinance’ is preferred to ‘sacrament.’

[40] The meaning of the word ‘sacrament’ has historically been somewhat ambiguous. It is not within the scope of this essay to debate semantics, but based on historical tendency toward the belief that the administration of the sacrament is in itself the administration of the grace it signifies, the term ‘ordinance’, as employed by Grenz, is preferred, referring to the fact that these acts were ordained by Jesus Christ, (Cf. Stanley J. Grenz, The Baptist Congregation (Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 1985). 29-32).

[41] W. Robert Godfrey, “Calvin, Worship, and the Sacraments,” in A Theological Guide to Calvin’s Institutes, ed. Peter A. Lillback David W. Hall(Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing Company, 2008). 372. Calvin argued, “It seems to me, then, a simple and appropriate definition to say, that it is an external sign, by which the Lord seals on our consciences his promises of good-will toward us, in order to sustain the weakness of our faith, and we in turn testify our piety towards him, both before himself, and before angels as well as men,” (Calvin. 4.xiv.1. Furthermore, the eschatological nature in this argument must be recognized, as Pannenberg states, “The significatory nature of the sacramental presence of Christ and God’s kingdom in baptism and the Supper is an expression of the “not yet” of our Christian life in tension as we move on to the eschatological consummation of salvation,” (Pannenberg. 353).

[42] Calvin argued similarly, in that they must never function independently of the spoken word, (Godfrey. 375).

[43] Grenz, The Baptist Congregation. 32.

[44] Pannenberg. 243. Furthermore, Mullins argues that baptism symbolizes a remission of sin, union with Christ, and a cleansing from unrighteousness, (E. Y. Mullins, Baptist Beliefs (Valley Forge: Baptist World Publishing Company, 1912). 68-69).

[45] Leonard J. Vander Zee, Christ, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004). 122 – “The primary objection to the baptism of infants…is the fact that in infant baptism one of the most important aspects of New Testament baptism is missing: conversion and the profession of faith in Jesus Christ.” Cf. Acts 8.37, which insists on the need to accept Jesus as saviour before baptism.

[46] It is not within the scope of this essay to argue the points of the links between circumcision and baptism, the Acts ‘household texts’ and others.

[47] Grenz, The Baptist Congregation. 34. Cf. 1 Cor. 12.13; Rom. 6.3-4; 1 Pet. 3.21.

[48] Winthrop S. Hudson Norman H. Maring, A Baptist Manual of Polity and Practice (Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1991). 153.

[49] Mullins. 14 – “Baptism does not regenerate. It is to be administered to those who have previously been regenerated by the Spirit of God. Baptism does not secure remission of sins save in a symbolic way…Baptism is simply the outward symbol of what has already taken place within the subject.”

[50] Grenz, The Baptist Congregation. 39-40. Cf. Mark 14.22-25; Matt. 26.26-28.

[51] McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction. 419-20; Grenz, Theology for the Community of God. 532; Godfrey. 372-383.

[52] Calvin. 4.xvii.9, 10, 19. Cf. Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1998). 962 – “It is a fact that Calvin does teach that by the Spirit’s empowering Christ’s human nature, although in heaven and not endowed with ubiquity is nonetheless brought to us (or perhaps better, by faith we are lifted to it) and that we derive spiritual life from feeding specifically upon it by faith.” Furthermore, John 6.51-58 recounts Jesus declaring that in order to have eternal life, one must “eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,” (v.53). John 15.26 and 16.13 state that it is the Spirit who testifies on our behalf before the Father and who guides us into truth and, thus to the Father. Therefore, seeing that it is the Father who gives eternal life through Christ (John 2.16) and it is the Spirit who unifies us to Christ (1 Cor. 12.13) and guides us to the Father, the source of eternal life, we must acknowledge – with Calvin – that it is by the Spirit that the Supper becomes efficacious.

[53] Furthermore, Rom. 8.34 places Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension in the same category, and thus can be understood as a physical death, physical resurrection, and physical ascension. Also, 1 Cor. 15.20-28; John 3.13; 16.5-7; Heb. 4.14; 8.1.

[54] It is for this reason that eucharistic ecclesiology is to be rejected.

[55] Cf. Irenaeus, in McGrath, ed. The Christian Theology Reader. 408.

[56] Harper and Metzger. 20. Furthermore, “The purpose of the church’s missional nature is the glorification and worship of the Father,” (Hill. xiii). Also, “The church has a mission in the world, but it is not its mission – it is the mission of the Trinity, revealed in human history, breaking into the present and awaiting fulfillment in the future. The Spirit empowers the church to fulfill its nature and role in this trinitarian history of God’s dealing with the world, by his transformative presence in word, sacrament, office, mission, worship and witness to the gospel…it does not merely have mission; instead, the church can only be fully comprehended as a missionary organism and community in the light of the Spirit’s work, the eschaton, and the missio Dei,” (Ibid. 90).

[57] Grenz, Theology for the Community of God. 75.

[58] Barth, in Allen. 192-98.

[59] Ibid. 201.

[60] As purported in Grenz, The Baptist Congregation. 15-26.

Be the Pulse of God!


Last week my car broke down. I went to pick Amy up from her house to come to church on Easter Sunday, we get in the car and it would not start. How very frustrating. All the more frustrating for someone as mechanically illiterate as myself. We took Amy’s car instead and on Monday a mechanic from the RAC had a look at it and made it work again. What the problem was was faulty wiring – the battery was fine, but the electricity was simply not getting to the starter motor.

I asked the mechanic to do something and he did. Imagine if I asked him to fix my car and ten minutes later he came back to me saying, “I didn’t fix the car, but guess what – I memorized what you told me!” That doesn’t help my car work, I’m still stuck. I ask him again to fix my car, but 10 minutes later he comes back saying, “I got together with some other mechanics from the RAC and we’ve made a song.” My car is still not working! I asked him to do something and I wanted him to do it! Fortunately in reality, he actually did fix my car.

But what if God asks us to do something. Are we going to do it? What has he asked us to do? He has asked us to love him, to be united to fellow Christians, and to go to the ends of the Earth proclaiming his Gospel. Are we going to do that? If not, are we any more useful than a mechanic that won’t fix a car?

Passage – John 17

So this is a prayer prayed by Jesus and is his last extended dialogue before going to the cross. And it is virtually John’s version of the Lord’s prayer.[1] This passage tells us that the Church should be characterized by love, unity and mission. I’ll add some thoughts on how the Church can practically live out these three elements near the end of the message.

Firstly, it talks about love.


This theme comes up in verses 1-5; 9-11; 26.

We read of a great deal of love from the Son toward two people, or two groups of people.

1. We first get a sense of Jesus’ love toward God the Father.

In v.1, when he begins praying, he says “Father.” For a Jewish context, this is a big deal. No one had that sense of familiarity with Yaweh. Underlying that word patēr which means father (which is where we get the word paternal), is the Aramaic word “Abba” which was a very intimate word, something a child would say toward a father, meaning “Daddy” or “my dear father.”[2] Elsewhere Jesus uses this word “Abba” directly. Jesus is expressing the intimate relationship between him and his Father, God.

But also Jesus says “glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you.” What I find fascinating here is that again in the Jewish context, to ask for God’s glory is blasphemous, Yahweh alone is glorious. Again he is showing that close relationship with God. They honour one another by sharing glory, by giving one another glory.

2. Secondly, we get a sense of Jesus’ love toward us.

He says “you have given [the Son] authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal live, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” There are three things in this which I think are important for us to understand if we are to understand this concept of love.

a.  First is this idea of “Eternal Life.” What does this mean? Is that referring to simply living for a long long time? Have we been given some sort of longevity that will be given to us in the future? What this refers to is not about quantity, but about quality. And eternal life means to know God. To know God is not just a mental activity, rather the idea of “knowing” someone expresses deep intimacy. In Genesis we read that Adam knew Eve and she became pregnant. That’s pretty intimate.

Hence, eternal life is not about going somewhere or achieving something, but is about experiencing deep intimate relationship with our Creator. Furthermore, it’s not about something in the future that we could experience after we die or once the Church gets bigger or when Jesus returns, but is something to be experienced right here, right now.[3]

b. Jesus then prays that God would protect us. Jesus cares about us and cares about what will happen to us. So he asks that God protect us. And notice that he says, “Protect them in your name.” You see in Hebrew tradition, someone’s name has great significance and reveals something of their character. God’s name in this instance means love and power. Protect them because you love them; in your name, because your name means power, you are able to protect.[4] This word tērō means to guard, watch over, preserve. God’s protection means he is constantly watching over us.[5] No one can offer better protection than God himself!

c. Jesus is thinking about us today. In v.20 he says “I ask…on behalf of those who will believe.” He’s not just thinking of the immediate 12 disciples, but is looking beyond the cross, beyond the years, to Christians today. How amazing is it to think that our Lord prays for us, and he is still praying! Hebrews 7:25 says he is always praying to the Father on our behalf.

To summarize:

Jesus loves the Father. They have an incredibly close relationship. And this love is the same love that we are loved with. God pursues relationship with us. He gives us eternal life which means intimate relationship with God, love which can be experienced right here and now. Because of this love we are protected and watched over and prayed for.

Paul says in Romans 8:37-39: “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Chris Jesus our Lord.”


Where a mechanic is characterized by his ability to fix a car, the Church is characterized firstly by love, and secondly by unity. This refers to both unity with God, and unity to one another. As we are loved by Christ, we are united to Christ; as we are united to Christ, we are united to fellow Christians.

This theme comes up through most of this passage, but prominently in verses 11; 20-24. Verse 21 says, “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us.” Jesus says elsewhere, “if you have seen me you have seen the Father,” so all along there has been a very close connection between the Father and Son, and in fact they are united as one. John says, “In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God and the Word was God and then became flesh and made his dwelling amongst us.” In Philippians 2 Paul says that Jesus was in the form of God and didn’t regard equality with God something, as my NRSV translates it, to be exploited. So the unity between the Father and the Son is literally as absolutely one being. Two persons, but one being. The Father and the Son, both the one God and yet individuals.

And this is the unity we are taken up into. Just think about that for a second.

We’re not absorbed into God that we become literally God ourselves, but we are welcomed into that same unity between the Father and the Son. Jesus prays, “Holy Father, may they be one, as we are one.”

Jesus also prayed that believers would united to one another. Verses 22-24 say, “The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I them and you in me, that they become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

We are united to God as the Father is united to the Son. This same unity overflows into our relationships with other Christ-followers. We become united to one another, we become one, as we become one with Jesus, as Jesus becomes one with the Father. Paul says that the Church is the Body of Christ – one body.

This unity is not caused, nor can it be created, by any human effort. It is entirely God’s work. As the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are united as one, one God and one Lord, yet three distinct persons, so we are taken up into that unity together. We can add nothing to this perfect unity, nor can we do anything to achieve it. It is only God who can unite us to himself; only God who can unite us to one another.

Looking at the Church today, I’m not sure if we can be seen as one body. There are approximately 41,000 Christian denominations in the world, from Roman Catholic, to Orthodox, to Baptist, to Seventh Day Adventist and so on. I personally don’t think different traditions means disunity, just because people have some varying beliefs, does not necessarily mean we are divided. But when these different traditions bicker and argue and even go to war with each other – which has happened – I think that is when we have a problem.

When the world sees the Church they must see a Church unified in love, and when they see that unity they will see Christ.


So the Church is characterized by love, unity and we’ll now look at the third aspect: mission. What I mean by mission is basically being proactive. Scriptural clearly teaches that God is proactive and  missional by nature. The sending of his Son, the election of Israel, the promise of redeeming the world at the end of the age. God didn’t just wait for us to get to him, he proactively came to us. He proactively seeks social justice, promising redemption to a broken word. God clearly at his core is concerned about mission.

This passage talks about us going out into the world. V. 18 says “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” Hence, the Church needs to reflect God’s missional heart by being missional in this world. We cannot wait for non-Christians to come to us, we have to go to them. We have to go out into this world to reveal the Good News of Jesus Christ. The word Gospel literally means Good News. Christians in this regard are meant to be like journalists. Journalists with news will not be quiet – they will tell the news! So Christians who have this news – the best news – must tell others!

John uses the word, kosmos, which means world more than any other New Testament book, and mostly in this very chapter, so it’s a big theme for him.[6] However, he was it was never meant to be easy for a Christian in this world.

Jesus said, “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.” (vv. 14-16)

We are not of this world. Because of our unity with Christ we have swept up into something far more significant than anything in this world. So the world reacts against Christians. In this passage Jesus is saying that we have inherited his mission, it is not our mission. We are merely continuing his mission.[7] But we know how Jesus’ mission ended. It ended on the cross.

Matthew 16 tells us that we must take up our cross and follow Jesus. Is this a simple action? No! It takes all of who we are. We have just finished a sermon series where Ian taught us about the cries Jesus made upon the cross, which ended with Easter last week. The cross was as far opposite to fun as I can possibly imagine. Nothing could be further away from a pleasant situation than being on a cross. There is nothing worse. But that is the sort of faith that is required of Christians, of each one of us.

We hang a cross around our necks, but do we carry it on our backs?

If it were meant to be easy, why would Jesus pray for protection over us?

He also prays that we be sanctified, he says, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.” (Vv. 17-19)

That word, hagiazō, meaning “to consecrate,” “cleanse, purify, sanctify,” essentially means to be set apart for a particular use.[8] To be sanctified means to be set apart. But this does not mean to be removed entirely. We are to be salt and light in this world, positively influencing the world from the inside. The Church has been set apart from this world to go into the world, taking up the cross, facing hatred and persecution to preach the Gospel.

But I want to make something clear: We cannot do mission without unity, and we cannot have unity without love. See how they all fit together?

We are loved by God, united to God, and so we love each other and are united to one other. But we must also love the world and go into the world to bring more into this unity we have with God. Jesus says in verse 21-23, “so that they may be one…that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

The third characteristic of the Church is radical unity. The world will see the Church and see unity, and because of this unity will see Christ’s love.

So what I’m trying to emphasize is this: there needs to be something different about the Church. When people see the Church, what will they see? Will they see another group of people, or will they see a people marked by love, unity and mission?

Back to the story of the RAC mechanic. There were certain things that characterized him as an RAC mechanic. Firstly, he turned up in an RAC car, he was wearing RAC clothes, he knew what he was doing with cars, he knew how to fix my car, and then he fixed it! I asked him to do something, and he did it.

There are also meant to be certain things that make the Church recognizable as the Church. These things reflect the very heartbeat of God. The Church must be characterized by love, unity, mission.

How do we do that though?

How can the Church be recognizable?

1. We must first love God. There is no point in doing anything unless we respond to God in love. This is not just a happy feeling sort of love. As I said before, it’s not meant to be easy as a Christian. To respond with love to God means willing to die for God, giving your life over to God.

But I can tell you that it is the single greatest thing you can do. When you give your life entirely over to God, you experience such joy and peace, such relationship with God. It’s incredible.

We do this by praying to God, “God take it all, help me to dedicate all I am and have to you.” This means repenting. Repenting simply means turning. We turn away from our earthly, human, sinful ways, and we turn towards God and God’s ways.

2. We also love God by loving others. Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love your neighbour as you love yourself. This means placing others before ourselves. Paul says that we should be like Christ, who though being in the very nature God became human and became servant to humanity, even dying for humanity. Jesus tells us to love one another as he has loved us. He has loved us by dying for us. Hence, the world will see love when we love one another by being willing to serve and even die for one another.

The Church must be characterized by love and unity. Jesus says in John 13 that our love for one another will prove to the world that we are Christ’s disciples. So the Church must be recognizable by our love for one another. This must be a radical love for one another, this is willing to die for one another.

3. Another way of being unified is removing discrimination. Paul says in Galatians that there is no longer Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female. Rather, there is Christ. When we see one another, we see Christ. That means we must treat one another with absolute respect, complete forgiveness, total acceptance. This is not always easy. But the Church is recognizable by welcoming and accepting each and every single person for who they are.

Philip Yancey once told a story of a prostitute who had just hit rock bottom. When asked if she had considered going to church, she responded by laughing and saying, “They’ll just judge me more.” I think that’s a very sad story. The love and unity given to the Church by Jesus Christ means loving everyone no matter what.

4. The Church must be characterized by being proactive and missional. It is by loving the world, not by fearing the world, or separating one’s self from the world, that we can witness to the world.[9]

If we are too much a part of the world, the world does not see Christ; if we are too distant from the world, the world does not see love. It is in loving the world while not becoming too much a part of the world that the world can be emancipated.

This means seeking the prosperity of the nation we’re in, it means seeking social justice – there are more slaves today then they’re ever has been in history – and chasing the end of poverty, it means helping your neighbours when they need it, working your hardest at work despite a grumpy and unpleasant boss, it means living the Gospel, proclaiming through your actions and through your words. It means having integrity to stand up for what you believe.

To be the Church is radical.


The Church can be no less, nor any more, than the pulse of God, reflecting his very heartbeat: love, unity, mission….love, unity, mission….love, unity, mission.

Being loved by God, we must love God and others. Through doing so, we will be united with God and with fellow Christians. We then go out seeking to fulfil Christ’s commission on this Earth, praying that the Church may grow and permeate society, and through our love and unity, the world will see eternal life and that many will seek that life and devote their lives to Christ as we devote our lives to Christ.

God has asked us to do something – are we going to do it?

[1] John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2007). 322.

[2] Bruce Milne, The Message of John (Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1993). 239.

[3] Andreas J. Kostenberger, John (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004). 487 – 88.

[4] Kostenberger, John. 490 – 491.

[5] William D. Mounce, The Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1993). 450.

[6] Minear, “John 17:1-11.” 178.

[7] Milne, The Message of John. 245.

[8] MacArthur. 323.

[9] Minear, “Evangelism, Ecumenism, and John Seventeen.” 12.

What Actually is the Church?

Unfortunately there is no simple, concise answer to this question. We may immediately race to the Bible to find an answer, but what we find may initially confuse. We are to be the bride of Christ? We are to be salt and light? The uninitiated may balk at such metaphor! However the issue is compounded upon viewing the Church today – or, rather, the many styles and theologies; the many interpretations of the Biblical metaphors of this “flock.” Often, it seems, the discussion comes down to three factors: 1) who, 2) where, and 3) its origin and authority. This paper reflects upon the Roman Catholic ecclesiology as presented in Lumen Gentium,[1] with more recent interpretations of the Second Vatican Council from whence this document originates by Joseph Ratzinger, as well as a comparison with the Protestant ecclesiology of Karl Barth. Despite many similarities, both are remarkably distinct, with the differences in theology emanating from differing responses to the above three factors.

Lumen Gentium asserts that the ‘who’ of the Church consists of those participating in the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Holy Communion, Penance, among others, unified in Christ’s body – as celebrated at the altar in the sacrament of Eucharist – to form one Body in Christ.[2] This is further asserted by Ratzinger, who argues the Universal Church is found in the sacraments.[3] Those within the Church are “united in a hidden and real way to Christ,” who gives to them the Spirit to constantly renew and unify the Church.[4] Furthermore, “All men are called to be part of this catholic unity of the people of God which in promoting universal peace presages it. And there belong to or are related to it in various ways, the Catholic faithful, all who believe in Christ, and indeed the whole of mankind, for all men are called by the grace of God to salvation.”[5]

Similarly, the ‘where’ of the Church is wherever the sacraments are faithfully and properly administered. These sacraments can only be administered by “those ministers, who are endowed with sacred power,”[6] who receive this “power” from the seat of Peter, thus “the faithful must cling to their bishop, as the Church does to Christ, and Jesus Christ to the Father, so that all may be of one mind through unity, and abound to the glory of God.”[7] Thus the third factor, of the origin of the Church, or where the Church derives its authority, is from the Pope, as Christ “placed Blessed Peter over the other apostles, and instituted in him a permanent and visible source and foundation of unity of faith and communion.”[8]

The Church is thus defined, according to Lumen Gentium and Ratzinger as the mystical body of those who are unified to one another and to Christ through participation in the sacraments (who) properly administered by bishops and priests (where) who receive their power and authority from Peter and ultimately Christ (origin/authority). An evident issue arises when determining soteriology. Much emphasis is placed on correct administration of the sacraments; “Fortified by so many and such powerful means of salvation, all the faithful…are called by the Lord…to that perfect holiness.”[9] A typical Protestant argument would be that faith comes from Christ alone, not through a physical action.[10] This argument is, however, inadequate, due to the complexity of Catholic ecclesiology. Ratzinger, for example, would agree that faith comes from Christ, but it comes through the Pope, the bishop or priest, the sacrament to the recipient.[11]

Barth’s ecclesiology, however, seems to make much more sense of the link between ecclesiology and soteriology. Where Lumen Gentium places the origin of the Church with the ‘blessing’ of Peter, Barth, in typical Barthian style, places a greater Christological emphasis on the Church. He links the beginning of the Church with Christ’s resurrection, arguing the Church is an event; “The Church exists by happening. The Church exists as the event of this gathering together.”[12] This avoids the Roman Catholic overemphasis upon the Church as an institution wherein grace and faith come through the ministers, because rather than faith being administered through papal authority, the Church – as an event – leads toward the source of faith and grace rather than being the source itself. Barth argues, “The essence of the Church is the event in which the Holy Scriptures as the prophetic-apostolic witness to Jesus Christ carry through the “demonstration of the Spirit and power.””[13] He further states that “the Holy Scriptures establish the Church.”[14] The ‘who’ is thus the ‘living congregation’ whose fellowship is formed by the Holy Spirit, deriving its authority from the Bible. As to the ‘where,’ he argues that “the one, holy, universal, apostolic Church exists as a visible congregation…assembled by God’s Word, comforted and exhorted by God’s Word, and which serves God’s Word in the world.”[15]

Barth’s ecclesiology is much preferred to that of Lumen Gentium and Ratzinger, largely because its authority is based not in a human, but in the dynamic working of God through the Holy Spirit, speaking through the Word. The Church is not the source of faith, but directs towards the source of faith. It does not dominate, but serves, as Barth argues.[16] That is the wonderful truth of the nature and essence of the Church!


Barth, Karl. God Here and Now. Translated by Paul M. van Buren. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1964.

Hill, Graham. Salt, Light, and a City: Introducing Missional Ecclesiology. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock, 2012.

Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal. Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith: The Church as Communion. San Francisco: Igantius Press, 2005.

Vaticana, Libreria Editrice, ed. The Documents of Vatican Ii with Notes and Index: Vatican Translation. Strathfield, NSW: St Pauls Publications, 2009.

[1] Of the two ‘great pillars’ of Vatican 2, Lumen Gentium discussed the ad intra aspects of the Church, and is thus a theological document pertaining to what the Church actually is. The second, Gaudium et spes is virtually inseparable to the first, but focuses on the ad extra aspects of the Church, hence focussing on the Church within the world. Both are essential in understanding the theology of Vatican 2, but also both the ad intra and ad extra aspects of the Church are essential in any discussion of what the Church is.

[2] Libreria Editrice Vaticana, ed. The Documents of Vatican Ii with Notes and Index: Vatican Translation (Strathfield, NSW: St Pauls Publications, 2009). 18 – “As often as the sacrifice of the cross in which Christ our Passover was sacrificed (cf. 1 Cor 5:7) is celebrated on the altar, the work of our redemption is carried on, and, in the sacrament of the eucharist bread, the unity of all believers who form one body in Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 10:17) is both expressed and brought about.”

[3] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith: The Church as Communion (San Francisco: Igantius Press, 2005). 141-142 – “We are given a quite practical answer to the question, What is this one universal Church, which is ontologically and temporally prior to the local Churches? What does she consist of? Where can we see her at work? The Constitution answers this when it talks to us about the sacraments. First there is baptism…in baptism the door is opened for us into the one Church: baptism is the presence of the one Church and can come only from her…to the Eucharist, in which Christ gives us his Body and, thus, makes us into his body.”

[4] Vaticana, ed. 21-22.

[5] Ibid. 29.

[6] Ibid. 32. Cf. Ratzinger. 143 – “The dimension of the sacrament extra nos is seen yet again in the office of bishop and of priest: the fact the sacrament of priestly service is requisite for the Eucharist is founded upon the fact that the congregation cannot give itself the Eucharist; it has to receive it from the Lord by the mediation of the one Church.” One cannot but notice the blindingly enormous presupposition that only bishops and priests can administer the sacraments. Neither Ratzinger nor Lumen Gentium make any argument as to why “the congregation cannot give itself the Eucharist.” My question is thus, “why not?”

[7] Vaticana, ed. 42. With this comes liturgy, “Our union with the Church in heaven is put into effect in its noblest manner especially in the sacred Liturgy, wherein the power of the Holy Spirit acts upon us through sacramental signs,” (p. 64). Cf. Ratzinger. 126 – “The Church derives from adoration, from the task of glorifying God. Ecclesiology, of its nature, has to do with liturgy.”

[8] Vaticana, ed. 32. Furthermore, “This Church constituted and organized in a world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him,” (p. 23). Cf. Graham Hill, Salt, Light, and a City: Introducing Missional Ecclesiology (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock, 2012). 9, regarding Ratzinger’s ecclesiology, summarizes, “Faith and Christian experience, therefore, are mediated through the church, which they encounter as sacrament, sign, and instrument of salvation.”

[9] Vaticana, ed. 26-27.

[10] Cf. Hill. 11 – “Reformed evangelical ecclesiology believes that the individual Christian is saved by grace and faith alone, through the person and work of Christ alone, whereas Ratzinger affords the larger, universal church, as well as the local church, a defining place in the sacramental mediation of faith.”

[11] Though it is not within the scope of this reflection, one must then ask the question: where, then, is the place for repentance? Does one need to repent to receive this faith, or can one simply receive this faith through participation in the sacrament without any thought whatsoever of repentance?

[12] Karl Barth, God Here and Now, trans., Paul M. van Buren (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1964). 62. His actualistic ecclesiology continues, “The essence of the Church is the event in which this peculiar human togetherness becomes possible and effectual,” (p. 63).

[13] Ibid. 64.

[14] Ibid. 64. Many Roman Catholics would respond to this by arguing that the Church came first, then Scriptures – after all, were not the people of the New Covenant gathered before the New Testament was written? Ratzinger argues that the Church originated “with the community of 120 gathered around Mary, and especially with the renewed community of the Twelve,” (Ratzinger. 136). This may be true, but the question is not which came first, rather where authority is derived. This Catholic response can be countered in two ways. Firstly, the early Church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching,” (Acts 2:42) obviously the teaching given to them by Jesus Christ Himself. Hence, from the very beginning, the Church received its authority from this teaching which was eventually written down, becoming Scripture. Secondly, the assertion that Peter was the source of authority is fairly short-sighted. He was given a particular vocation by Christ for leadership, but there is no mention of him being elevated above the other apostles in terms of faith. It seems his mission was no more important than the others! Therefore, the source of the Church must be something other than Peter, which is thus Scripture.

[15] Barth. 76.

[16] Barth. 80 – The Church guides; “to guide means to serve, not to dominate.” Furthermore, “Had the congregation in Rome wanted to serve rather than rule, rather than needlessly underscoring its domination, in addition, by erecting a throne in its midst and raising up its incumbent as an infallible judge over the faith and life of all the congregations, we might all be Roman,” (p. 80).

Hear, O Claremont.

A devotion I gave at CBC last week for a prayer night:


Have you ever forgotten anything? Maybe you forgot a TV show or where you put your keys? Maybe you’ve forgotten to put the bins out, to realize you actually had already put the bins out or you’ve forgotten where you put your glasses to find them on your head? Have you ever forgotten someone’s birthday? Have you ever forgotten your own birthday?

If you have, don’t panic, even Einstein forgot things. One time, so the story goes, half way through shaving, he had a brilliant idea which he just had to write down. Hours later when getting ready to go out that night, he realized there was still shaving cream on half of his face – he forgot to finish shaving! Another time he was in a taxi and forgot his own address. Fortunately, the taxi driver knew where he lived. Again another time, he was on a train and panicked when the conductor was checking tickets. Knowing who he Einstein, the conductor let him off this one time. But Einstein responded by saying, “That’s nice, but I’ve forgotten my destination!”

Or have you ever had amnesia? One of my lecturers had amnesia once when he fell off a bike in another country and woke up in a hospital, not knowing where he was, who he was, or what he was doing there surrounded by people speaking a language he couldn’t understand. Fortunately, when he saw his friends an hour later his memory came completely back.

There’s one thing we cannot forget. We cannot forget the Lord our God.

When Moses lead the Israelites out of Egypt, he commanded them to never forget God and what He had done for them. Entering into this new stage of their existence, Moses knew that if they forgot what God had done for them, their relationship with God would diminish. So we read in Deu 6:4-12:

“Hear, O Israel, The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorsteps of your house and on your gates. When the Lord your God has brought you into the land that he swore to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you – a land with fine, large cities that you did not build, houses filled with all sorts of goods that you did not fill, hewn cisterns that you did not hew, vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant – and when you have eaten your fill, take care that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.” (Deu 6:4-12)

This is a cry of allegiance. It’s Israel’s way of saying, “YHWH is our God and no other.”

Why? Because they remembered what he had done for us! They remembered the incredible salvation that he gave them when he took them out of Egypt toward this new land.

And the message is the same for today, for the Church, internationally, in Australia, in Perth, in Claremont Baptist Church. As we move into a new stage of this congregation’s existence, as we think about what this Sunday night will look like in the future, we must not forget what the Lord has done for us. We must not forget the salvation that Christ has achieved for us.

Because if we forget, it’s like having amnesia: we forget the past, so we forget who we are, which would mean we don’t know where we’re going.

Albert Einstein forgot the past, he forgot that was shaving; he forgot the present, he forgot his address; he didn’t know the future, he forgot his destination.

Like the Israelites, we must not forget the Lord. We must not forget God’s salvation offered us in Christ Jesus.

As we look toward the future of Claremont Baptist Church, we must not forget what Christ did for us.

We can be comforted however, by the fact that God is gracious. Einstein forgot stuff occasionally, but he was still a brilliant man. The Israelites forgot. They forgot God and went astray. Even when they were so bad that they went into exile, God still brought them back.

So as we plan for the future, we will strive to be the church that God wants us to be and we will take the effort to do the things God wants us to do. But when we stuff up, we know that our gracious God holds us firmly. As Paul says,

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 8:38-39)

And this should give us peace and hope. It should comfort us.

So, Claremont, let us remember the love of Christ, because if we forget that, we forget who we are as the Church, and we don’t know where to go. But if we occasionally slip up, we know that Christ will catch us and put us back on course.

So what I’m wanting us to pray for tonight, as we think about the future of this evening service and the future of Claremont as a whole, are based around these 3 prayer points which will be on the screen:

  1. To have a renewed sense of God’s love and grace.
  2. To have a renewed sense of Christ’s presence.
  3. To have a renewed sense of the Spirit’s guidance and direction.

Deuteronomy 7


Deuteronomy 7 is a difficult passage to understand. Its themes and exhortations seem initially shocking. The command to destroy the Canaanites totally, and the labels ‘detestable,’ and ‘abhorrent’ imply a terrible genocide. Contemporary readers would find difficulty in seeing God as a God of love in this passage. However, this essay seeks to argue for this very understanding. The essay argues that this passage does, in fact, teach God’s love. The allusions to war and genocide do not contradict this core message. The essay shall initially exegete the passage, dividing the passage into three sections: vv.1-5, 6-15, 16-26. The focus of these sections will be analysing such things as the understanding of the seven nations and their destruction, the removal of idols and religious paraphernalia and treaties. Following this exegesis will be a theological reflection, wherein the essay shall probe the difficult question pertaining the purported justification of a ‘holy war.’ The essay shall conclude with a discussion on how this passage should be discussed within a contemporary, post-modern culture.


On a brief reading of this chapter, it is easy to come to the conclusion that it is callous. However, with the surrounding chapters is an admonition to remember God’s love and to cherish his gracious election. Furthermore, as Brueggemann asserts, “The intention of the chapter is to take deliberate steps so that the coming generation will choose covenant with YHWH.”[1] God has chosen his people, who must give themselves totally to him. Thus, idolatry is prohibited.[2] The chapter must be read as one unit, due to literary and conceptual themes and is carefully structured, centred on vv. 11-12, reference to the commandments, and is bordered by reference to Israel’s distinctive nature.[3] The emphasis of this passage lies in relationship; YHWH’s love toward Israel, and Israel’s response to YHWH.[4]

An area of exegetical contention lies in the specifics of the nations. Brueggemann argues this text was written no later than the eighth or seventh century, hence these seven nations are long extinct, “Thus the list of seven nations is an archaic slogan that represents, in context, any alien culture with its religious temptations for Israel.”[5] This seems, in some way, a scapegoat. However, his thesis is supported by Rofé who, after a long analysis of the text, concluded a second stratum of Deuteronomy was added during Josiah’s time, which includes this passage.[6] Furthermore, Kline and Cairns argue for a metaphorical reading; “The seven specified here possibly is a figure for completeness.”[7] Hence, it is likely these were not literal nations, but simply an allusion to God’s requirement of total purging.

This purging, known as the ban, was intended to keep Israel safe from idolatry. However, these nations were not simply ‘cleared away,’ but “stayed and became integrated into Israel…In this theological retrospect, the Deuteronomic writer is tacitly acknowledging that fact and tracing Israel’s apostasy to these indigenous influences.”[8] In other words, this purported later author, perhaps around the Exile, has accredited Israel’s present apostasy with this earlier influence of Pagan nations. Vv. 2-3 include prohibitions of treaties and marriages, which casts doubt on the command to annihilate all the Canaanites. Furthermore, Exodus 23 and Leviticus 18 reveal a different portrait of the entrance into the land; the Canaanites ‘disappearing’ in the former, and being ‘vomited out’ by the land in the latter. Thus, Brueggemann’s argument for an allegorical reading of the nations seems most likely.[9]

Brueggemann further regards this text as “articulation of Israel’s distinctiveness,” which begins with destroying “seductive alternatives.”[10] The alters, sacred stones and Asherah poles in v. 5 refer to Baal worship. The pillar identified a locale where a deity could be contacted, and often had male associations, even portraying a phallic symbol. The Asherim was the corresponding female symbol representing the fertility goddess. Hence we can surmise these images represented a setting for fertility rites.[11] Thus, as Miller argues, “the ban is grounded in the insistence on no accommodation to the religious practices of the inhabitants of the land.”[12] This is further insisted by the prohibition on marriage or treaties. Craigie helpfully states,

The Israelites were bound primarily by the berîṯ (covenant, treaty) with the Lord, and though this was a religious bond, it was also a political bond, for it set aside Israel as a distinctive nation among other nations. To make a treaty with other nations would indicate a lack of faithfulness on the part of the Israelites to their suzerain God. Likewise, the Israelites were forbidden to undertake a marriage alliance them; although there may be a prohibition of mixed marriages between Israelites and non-Israelites implicit here, the specific prohibition probably has in mind the forging of political treaties by means of marriage. This course of action, as with the making of a treaty (v. 2), would be an indication of compromise and could lead to a disruption of the covenant faithfulness to the one God…Thus both prohibitions (vv. 2-3) have in mind the preservation of the covenant relationship with the Lord by forbidding any relationship that would bring that first and most important relationship into danger.[13]

Involved in marriages was commonly the acceptance of one another’s religion. Hence, the need for covenantal faithfulness to YHWH is paramount. Israel’s relationship with YHWH certainly is the “most important relationship,” and thus they must respond in absolute obedience; exterminating other religious options and cultic installations ensured chaos would not swallow up this relationship and other religions did not tempt them away.[14]

Verses 6-15 make up the core of this passage, the focus being the Holy God’s election of Israel for covenantal relationship. The people are called to be “holy to the Lord your God,” which “here means separated for and belonging to” YHWH.[15] In other words, as holy people, they are YHWH’s exclusive property. Furthermore, they are not called to be holy, but are holy.[16] This separated them from other peoples and practices, further reflected in the assertion that “God has chosen you out of all the peoples of on the face of the earth” (v. 6).[17] They are also called YHWH’s “treasured possession,” meaning they are more valuable than all the other nations. As Brown states,

Moses knew that the only true God had made a unique covenant with his Israel, his greatly valued people. It was not that God lacked compassion for other nations or cared nothing for them; his universal sovereignty and unlimited love are amply illustrated elsewhere in this book. He deliberately chose Israel, however, to be a special instrument of his purposes in the world.[18]

The phrase “set his affection (v. 7) comes from the verb implying a strong physical desire a man would have for an attractive woman. Thus, YHWH’s intimate love is evident.[19] This intimate love is, however, not based in any excellence on Israel’s part; there is nothing about the people that would cause YHWH to choose to love them. In fact, they were “the fewest of all peoples.” Why then does YHWH choose them of all people? Because he loves them. Cairns labels this a “wonderful tautology: God loves because God loves!”[20] They are holy people, not because of inherent merit, but because of divine election.[21] Hence, this passage is warning against pride.[22]

The passage then includes requirements of the people; God’s chosen nation is to be obedient in response to his gracious election. According to Brueggemann, “The relationship is grounded in free grace, but it operates according to symmetrical expectations in which there is no easy, assured forgiveness.”[23] Continual obedience, however, does not imply achieving merit, but rather maintains the proper covenant relationship. Their health and prosperity depended upon such obedience. YHWH would be their ‘fertility God’ over and above the Canaanite gods, and would provide no agricultural setbacks. The terms ‘grain,’ ‘wine,’ ‘offspring,’ and ‘young’ are also names of Canaanite deities, but, as Chritsensen argues, the people were likely unfamiliar with these terms.[24] The point is that there is no other god who the Israelites need; YHWH can and will provide everything. However, the people must reciprocate this covenantal faithfulness. The “horrible diseases you knew in Egypt” is likely a reference to diseases such as elephantiasis, skin boils, eye and bowel afflictions, among others, which were common in Egypt.[25]

Verses 16-26 then return to the command to destroy everything in Canaan, and to destroy the land’s inhabitants. Israel is threatened by these people and their religion, “because they will talk Israel out of the obedience that is the prerequisite to its prosperity in the land of promise.”[26] Yet the focus is not on Israel’s strength, but on YHWH’s. They cannot allow their enemy’s strength to cause them to forget their Lord’s power, who should be their focus. They were to remember the miraculous signs and wonders that YHWH performed in Egypt and expect a repetition of such marvellous events, so long as they trusted him. This same God who rescued them from Egypt is to war on their behalf.[27]

Furthermore, verse 20 implies that YHWH has many possible courses of action, thus emphasizing the totality of his might.[28] The exact meaning is unclear however, particularly in reference to the ‘hornet’ (Cf. Exodus 23:28). Craigie argues it should be understood to refer to the inability of the Canaanites to find a hiding place from God.[29] Kline, alluding to it being understood as a symbol for Pharaoh’s power, argues it should be read as a reference to “the terror of God which, descending on Israel’s foes, produced panic and rout.”[30] Cairns argues for a reference to nature itself fulfilling YHWH’s purposes.[31] Of the three it is difficult to discern which is correct. It is likely the phrase is deliberately ambiguous, simply referring to YHWH’s absolute faithfulness to and power to achieve his promises. Thus, it could be one of these three, or it could be none, something which only YHWH knows.

Verse 22 reveals a slow conquest, wherein gradual growth and control will occur, while the Canaanites become less and less numerous and powerful. This avoids the danger of the “land returning to a primitive state of natural anarchy.”[32] To destroy a name completely, furthermore, was a common ancient Near East curse, meaning total annihilation, even out of history annals. The reason for this is to avoid idolatrous worship and contamination. Israel was to stay away from and remove anything abhorrent that would eventually destroy Israel.[33]

Theological Reflection

This chapter has certainly been seen by many as an abhorrent affront to modern sensibilities. Today, especially in a post-modern society, tolerance and acceptance are a must and anyone demanding genocide is deemed inhuman. One needs only look at Hitler to see brutal nationalism. According to Christensen, “The command to ‘utterly destroy them’ (7:2), without showing any mercy, is simply more than most people today can accept. Such language suggests fanaticism and intolerance.”[34] Furthermore, Millar regards, “These chapters have been dismissed as indefensible, vicious nationalism, which can have no relevance in the modern world. This is a pity, because such sentiments do justice neither to the wider Deuteronomic context nor to the passages themselves.”[35]

It is important to note that this is not historical recounting, but theological preaching. The author is urging Israel to obedience. However, this obedience is not “brutal free-for-all” but carefully controlled and “a unique command of the God who owns not only the land, but the whole earth.”[36] The command to destroy nations is not primarily a reference to warfare, but rather a recognition of the temptations of the Canaanite lifestyle and culture will face the Israelites, temptations which the author clearly believes will lead the nation to absolute destruction – the exact opposite reason YHWH saved the people from slavery in Egypt. The influence of this pagan nation must be purged.[37] Earl furthers this argument,

Deut 7 is concerned with the preservation of Israel’s distinctive identity in a way that encourages the transparent manifestation of the relationship between YHWH and Israel that is characterized by love. The preservation of this identity is developed in terms of the separation from idols and of the avoidance of relationships with non-Israelites, relationships that are assumed to lead to idolatry, since relationships of this sort entail allegiances that compete with allegiance to YHWH, compromising Israel’s relationship with YHWH, leading to diminishment and death.[38]

Furthermore, as Christensen argues, the text is to be read poetically. It is an expression of YHWH’s holiness. YHWH’s holiness – then, as today – demands an absolute avoidance of evil.[39] Thus, the call is to Torah obedience and the author admonishes avoidance at all cost of any cultural accommodation.[40]

In today’s society, pluralism is often not merely accepted, but applauded, observes Mann.[41] The concept of a single religious authority, let alone one brought about through genocide, is obviously one that causes many to shudder. This is especially so in an age where secularism and atheism is growing rapidly. Firstly, as this essay has argued above, the passage does not command absolute genocide. Rather, it is exhortation that the nation avoids any temptation that will lead to apostasy and thus destruction. Secondly, pertaining to religious pluralism and tolerance, how a Christian relates to a post-modern world is particularly difficult. How should one convince others that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, when they may simply respond by saying their truth is their truth and entirely up to them. This is a digression, but the point is clear, should we take the avoidance of temptations as seriously as this text argued the Israelites should?

Cunliffe-Jones argues,

Apart from the question of humanity, the issue which it raises for us is the relation between principle and human relationships in daily life. Loyalty to God is of course of the greatest importance, and we cannot expect never to give offence in doing this. But it is possible to offend against the corporate life of mankind by insisting unnecessarily on religious principle, and by failing to recognize that Christ and non-Christian share a common life in which both must, within limits, work together.[42]

In other words, sole loyalty to God and preaching the need for loyalty to this one God will cause offence in today’s culture, but the offence should not be in the way we present the Gospel, but from the cross of Christ itself. When we focus on religious principle that we become judgmental and separated from the world, we fail to see that we are, in fact, in this world and thus must work with the world. Cairns, quoting Matthew 5:43-45 implores that what is required is not a total elimination, but a transformation, of the enemy.[43]


In conclusion, Deuteronomy 7 is a magnificent exhortation for the Israelites to recognize YHWH’s holiness and to obey by keeping his commands. Inherent in keeping these commands is the rejection of all other possibilities, hence these temptations must be destroyed. This chapter, bordered by the admonitions to destroy these temptations is centred on the loving and gracious election of Israel. Initially, this passage may seem callous and harsh, but is a poetic recounting of YHWH’s love, and the covenantal relationship between the two. God is mighty to save a nation that is not great by any standard. He faithfully keeps the promises he made to the Fathers. He demands faithfulness from his people; obedience will result in blessing, but disobedience will result in curse. To avoid this curse, the people must remove any temptation.

In today’s culture, it is vital to teach this passage of not justifying any form of war. Though the passage may have been used historically to justify such wars as the Crusades, but the focus should remain on the Lord. We must understand God’s faithfulness through a Christological lens to the cross. God still loves his people absolutely faithfully, enough that he would send his Son. This passage can so easily be misinterpreted. But it absolutely must be read in terms of God’s faithfulness and gracious love.


Brown, Raymond. The Message of Deuteronomy. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1993.

Brueggemann, Walter. Deuteronomy. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001.

Cairns, Ian. Deuteronomy. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992.

Christensen, Duane L. Deuteronomy 1:1-21:9. Nashvill: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2001.

Craigie, Peter C. The Book of Deuteronomy. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1976.

Cunliffe-Jones, H. Deuteronomy. London: SCM Press Ltd, 1971.

Earl, Douglas. “The Christian Significance of Deuteronomy 7.” Journal of Theological Interpretation 3, no. 1 (2009): 41-62.

Kline, Meredith G. Treaty of the Great King: The Covenant Structure of Deuteronomy: Studies and Commentary. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1963.

Mann, Thomas W. Deuteronomy. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995.

McConville, J. G. Deuteronomy. Leicester, England: Apollos, 2002.

Millar, J. Gary. Now Choose Life: Theology and Ethics in Deuteronomy. Leicester, England: Apollos, 1998.

Miller, Patrick D. Deuteronomy. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990.

Miller, Patrick D. The Way of the Lord. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007.

Rofe, Alexander. Deuteronomy. London: T&T Clark Ltd, 2002.

[1] Walter Brueggemann, Deuteronomy (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001). 93.

[2] Patrick D. Miller, Deuteronomy (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990). 111; Thomas W. Mann, Deuteronomy (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995). 64. Evidently, this is an extension of the second commandment.

[3] J. G. McConville, Deuteronomy (Leicester, England: Apollos, 2002). Contra. Duane L. Christensen, Deuteronomy 1:1-21:9 (Nashvill: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2001).

[4] Douglas Earl, “The Christian Significance of Deuteronomy 7,” Journal of Theological Interpretation 3, no. 1 (2009). 43 – “Deut 7 gives content to Deut 6:4-5, understood in terms of the preservation of this relationship and thus of the identity of the “elect” community. This is expressed here primarily in terms of unswerving allegiance to YHWH as life is lived with reference to torah.”

[5] Brueggemann. 94.

[6] Alexander Rofe, Deuteronomy (London: T&T Clark Ltd, 2002). 6.

[7] Meredith G. Kline, Treaty of the Great King: The Covenant Structure of Deuteronomy: Studies and Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1963). 68. Cf. Ian Cairns, Deuteronomy (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992). 89.

[8] Cairns. 89. Cf. Rofé. 125.

[9] Cf. Earl. 44; Peter C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1976). 177.

[10] Brueggemann. 94. Cf. Craigie. 179; Christensen. 156 – “The paraphernalia of worship among the foreign peoples in the land was to be totally destroyed, so as to remove all temptations to follow pagan religious practices.”

[11] Cairns. 89.

[12] Patrick D. Miller, The Way of the Lord (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007). 85.

[13] Craigie. 178-179. Cf. Mann. 65; Raymond Brown, The Message of Deuteronomy (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1993). 105.

[14] Brown. 106; Rofe. 13; Brueggemann. 95; Mann. 65; Kline. 68. Cairns. 90.

[15] Brueggemann. 95.

[16] Brown. 103-104 – “They must be what they are.”

[17] Cf. Craigie. 179.

[18] Brown. 107. Cf. H. Cunliffe-Jones, Deuteronomy (London: SCM Press Ltd, 1971). 64; Miller. Deuteronomy. 111 – “To be God’s special possession is to be holy to the Lord, set apart from others for the Lord’s service.”

[19] Miller, Deuteronomy. 112. Cf. Cairns. 90.

[20] Cairns. 91. Cf. Miller, Deuteronomy. 112.

[21] Craigie. 179. Cf. Cunliffe-Jones. 64.

[22] Cairns. 90. Cf. Brown. 104; Kline. 68-69; Christensen. 156 – “God chose them not because of any inherent superiority, but because he loved them. It was a matter of grace.”

[23] Brueggemann. 97.

[24] Christensen. 164. Cf. Brueggemann. 98; Cairns. 91-92; Craigie. 180.

[25] Craigie. 181; Christensen. 164. Furthermore, Rofe argues, “Deut 7.15 hints that God redeemed Israel from Egypt where they knew ‘all manners of illness and evil diseases’…But the text is a promise for the future, not a resume of benevolent acts of the past,” (p. 227).

[26] Brueggemann. 98.

[27] Kline. 69; Craigie. 181.

[28] Cf. Brueggemann. 98-99.

[29] Craigie. 182.

[30] Kline. 69.

[31] Cairns. 94.

[32] Craigie. 182. Cf. Christensen. 164-165.

[33] Christensen. 165; Cunliffe-Jones. 66. Cf. Brueggemann. 99.

[34] Christensen. 157.

[35] J. Gary Millar, Now Choose Life: Theology and Ethics in Deuteronomy (Leicester, England: Apollos, 1998). 156.

[36] Ibid. 156.

[37] Ibid. 157.

[38] Earl. 46.

[39] Christensen. 157, 166 – “The strong language of the concluding verses (Deut 7:25-26) bears witness once again to the demands of holiness in our relation to God. We must shun the very appearance of evil.”

[40] Brueggemann. 100.

[41] Mann. 65.

[42] Cunliffe-Jones. 63-64.

[43] Cairns. 92.

The Lesser of Two Difficulties: Barth’s Revision of Calvin’s Doctrine on Election


John Calvin and Karl Barth are easily two of the most influential theologians in history. And both are renowned for a particular doctrine, that of election. The caricature of Calvin as having coming up with double predestination right off the top of his head has been widespread, but, as seen below, he did not posit this doctrine, but inherited it. His doctrine influenced many and the Reformed tradition has endured. Barth was one such theologian who was influenced greatly by this tradition, but inevitably moved away from and it and revised the Orthodox Reformed doctrine of election. Allen states that, “Of all his many contributions to theology, Karl Barth is undoubtedly most widely known for his revisions to the doctrine of election.”[1]

Gunton regards, “Barth is not writing without glances over the shoulder…the object of (his) concern is the great Calvin.”[2] Evidently, Calvin’s influence upon Barth is great, and is easily recognizable in the doctrine of election. Simply put, Calvin’s doctrine seeks to place salvation squarely in God’s hands, who, in his secret and divine counsel, elects some for salvation and others for reprobation; Barth’s doctrine insists that Jesus Christ is both Subject and Object of election, the electing God and elected human. This essay seeks to analyse both positions, assessing their implications and Barth’s revision of the Reformed doctrine. It does so by discussing and providing a critique of Calvin’s doctrine before assessing Barth’s doctrine. Following this will be an analysis of the similarities and differences, and evident influences upon Barth, before providing a critique of Barth’s doctrine and coming to a conclusion.

Calvin and Reformed View on Election

Clark succinctly summarizes Calvin’s doctrine, “God has, in Christ, elected to salvation a certain number from all eternity and reprobated others, or decreed that they remain in the state of sin, and that this decree must be traced finally to the unquestionable and inscrutable will of God.”[3] Calvin’s double predestination is evident, but it must be stressed that Calvin’s doctrine was not unique. Rather, it can be traced back through Aquinas, medieval theology, to Augustine. Reformers including Luther, Melanchthon, Butzer and Zwingli further taught double predestination.[4] Calvin believed Augustine correct, that those who are converted are those the Lord willed to convert.[5] His doctrine arose from debates with Pighius and Georgius, whom he felt took the ground of salvation out of God’s hands.[6] For Calvin, only Scriptural doctrine would suffice and thus sought Biblical precedence.[7]

Calvin states, “By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man,”[8] and “God by his secret counsel chooses whom he will while rejects others, his gratuitous election has only been partially explained until we come to the case of single individuals, to whom God not only offers salvation, but so assigns it.”[9] He elsewhere states, “Salvation of the faithful depends upon the eternal election of God.”[10] All are called to repentance, but nothing can be conceived of without faith, faith which is enabled by God. There is a distinction: all are called externally; the elect are called internally and given the ability to respond in faith. This faith is only ever a response, because election comes first.[11] Evidently, Calvin is attempting to return election into the hands of God.

The inevitable implication of election is the negative, reprobation, which receives far less discussion from Calvin. His concern was that if salvation was up to the human, if unbelief constitutes reprobation, it becomes equal with grace; “for as grace occasioned the salvation of some, so unbelief would occasion the loss of others.”[12] He further stressed the voluntary nature of sin, thus establishing guilt.[13] On the cross, Christ becomes both the elect and reprobate, and by believing in the Son of God, humans are adopted as sons and heirs of God. Calvin states, “Christ therefore is for us the brightest mirror of the eternal and hidden election of God.”[14]

Calvin’s double predestination was taken up and expanded upon by Beza, arguing for a supralapsarian double predestination. In eternity, God elected some and subordinated Christ to this decree; God reprobated others and appointed Adam to corruption. In doing so, God can declare his supreme power.[15] This was then affirmed by the Reformed Westminster Confession in 1643: “All those whom God has predestined unto life, and those only, he is pleased, in his appointed and accepted time, effectually to call…out of that state of sin and death…to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ…This effectual call is of God’s free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man.”[16]

This Reformed Calvinist doctrine of election, while prominent, is not without criticism. Fisk and Gibson have argued that Calvin and this tradition have misinterpreted Romans 9-11 to be referring largely to individual salvation, where it should be understood as communal election; i.e. God has elected his people.[17] Schreiner notes that “the central issue in the chapters is not predestination, nor is it even the salvation of Israel.”[18] However, he continues to discuss chapter 9 with an eye to double predestination and individual election. Fisk and Gibson are partly correct, in that the chapters as a unit are to do with God’s electing a community of people, but there are obvious allusions to individual election. Hence, these criticisms fall short. A more important criticism is in Calvin’s refusal to believe God can be limited. His affirmation that if unbelief constitutes reprobation then unbelief is on equal footing with grace, is an unnecessary conclusion. What Calvin refuses to imply is God choosing to limit himself. This is something which Barth corrects, as seen below. God can choose to allow unbelief, but this should not imply unbelief is equal with grace. The two are not even equitable; grace allows belief or unbelief, and God leaves that response to the human. This is not a challenge to God’s omnipotence, as Calvin would believe.

Barth on Election

For Barth, the freedom of the grace of God must be central, as O’Neil states, “Barth argues that God’s sovereignty is not constrained, conditioned or obligated by anything external to himself in the decision of his election.”[19] This freedom must be emphasized.[20] This God elects humans not based on human merit, but because of his freedom; he loves because he is free to love.[21] His election reveals a gracious God, revealed in the incarnation – the act in which God is who he is. The incarnation is the end point as well as the start point for theology, for “there is nothing more to say about God than is revealed in the incarnational act.”[22]

The incarnation does not constitute an ontological change, “because God had already and eternally determined himself to be God in this relationship of oneness with humanity in and through the person of the Son, and to be God only in the form and this relation.”[23] He determined to be no other than a God in relationship with and for humanity,[24] as Barth states,

In so far as God not only is love, but loves, in the act of love which determines His whole being God elects. And in so far as this act of love is an election, it is at the same time and as such the act of His freedom. There can be no subsequent knowledge of God, whether from His revelation or from His work as disclosed in that revelation, which is not as such knowledge of this election.[25]

In election, he determines the being he will have for eternity. This being is one of relationship, whereby, in Jesus, mercy is chosen for humanity and reprobation for himself. This determination by God occurs before the human determination to accept this gracious gift.[26]

Thus, we get to the crux of Barth’s argument, that Jesus is both Subject and Object of election. All humanity is elect in Christ, who is at the same time electing God and elect human.[27] As Crisp notes, God “elects Christ…Christ is the Elect One. He is also the Reprobate One, the judge judged in our place.”[28] There is no direct Scriptural reference to Jesus as Subject of election, but is defended by Barth based on his reading of the prologue to John.[29] John 1:1-2, with Ephesians 1:4ff. among other New Testament passages leads Barth to conclude that Jesus is eternally one with God. Hence, it is impossible for Barth to speak of God’s electing will without reference to Jesus.[30] Yet he is also the object of election, but not simply one of the elect, rather he is the elect of God in whom humanity is elected. This is based on humanity being elect in Jesus (Eph. 1:4), i.e. Jesus is elect and humanity is elect in him. Jesus is willingly elected to obedience and suffering.[31] McCormack argues that “we falsify the situation of judgment if we think of it as an event between ‘God and God’. It is the God-human in his divine-human unity who is the Subject of this suffering.”[32] Humanity is elected not through or with Jesus, but due to his self-determination to be this God in relationship and has elected himself for reprobation, elected in Jesus himself.[33]As Barth states,

Jesus Christ, then, is not merely one of the elect but the elect of God. From the very beginning (from eternity itself), as elected man He does not stand alongside the rest of the elect, but before and above them as the One who is originally and properly the Elect. From the very beginning (from eternity itself), there are no other elect together with or apart from Him, but, as Eph. 1.4 tells us, only “in” Him. “In Him” does not simply mean with Him, together with Him, in His company…“In Him” means in His person, in His will, in His own divine choice.[34]

Salvation is then not determined by repentance and faith, but realizing one is elect in Christ. Thus, it is epistemic, and not ontological.[35] Further, this implies that unbelief is a denial of one’s election.[36]

As is evident, Barth’s doctrine on election is in some ways similar to the Reformed tradition, but is also remarkably different. The remainder of this essay analyses these differences and how Barth reinterpreted the doctrine. In 1922, Barth became fascinated by Calvin when he began lecturing on him at Gӧttingen. Barth spoke of Calvin: “A waterfall, a primitive forest, a demonic power, something straight down from the Himalayas, absolutely Chinese, strange, mythological; I just don’t have the organs, the suction cups, even to assimilate this phenomenon, let alone to describe it properly.”[37] He began to think of himself as a Reformed theologian and absorbed himself in Reformed theology. Then in 1936 he saw a lecture by Pierre Maury who placed a greater Christological emphasis on election, which greatly influenced Barth, who then began to criticize the classic doctrines of predestination as not being adequately Christological.[38]

However, it was not until Church Dogmatic II/2 that we see his dramatic shift away from the Reformed perspective. Barth gives a more complex account of eternity and double predestination, and “offers a radical reorientation of the doctrine to a Christological centre that issues in a completely new understanding of both election and double predestination.”[39] Election for Barth is good news.[40] He insists that Calvin’s election is ‘dreadful,’ and that Calvin’s decretum horribile is the opposite to what a correct doctrine on election should look like. [41] Rather than looking past Jesus to a hidden decree in God, for Barth there is nothing to say of God outside of Christ. Calvin’s doctrine is good news only to the elect, but election should be understood, according to Barth, as Gospel.[42]

Barth criticizes Calvin of not giving Christ a big enough role in the determination of the elect.[43] However, this neglects Calvin’s commentaries, particularly on John, in which Calvin affirms in his exegesis of John 13:18 that Jesus is the author of election; the elect elected by himself.[44] The real difference is not that Calvin didn’t hold a Christ-centred view of election, but that Barth held both election and reprobation as being eternally in Christ.[45] He rejected the Orthodox Reformed positions of the distinction between the Logos without flesh, and the Logos within flesh, and the distinction between the Logos incarandus (the Logos ‘to be incarnate’) and the Logos incarnatus (the Logos ‘incarnate’). Based on his understanding of John 1, there is no distinction, and so the human Jesus is the eternal and divine Logos, hence reprobation and election occur within Christ.[46] Furthermore, if God is unchanging, how can the Word become something different? Barth rejects the extra Calvinisticum (that the Logos is omnipresent, but not the human Jesus), believing it to create too much of a dualistic nature of Christ.[47]

For Barth, there is no ontological change, because God has self-determined who he would be in Jesus Christ on the cross.[48] In other words, God does not change his being in becoming human, because in eternity God has already chosen to human. Barth cannot speak of election apart Christ, he is not simply a mirror. As Mueller states,

When Jesus Christ is seen as the electing God, the fatal error of Calvin and others, who separated the electing God from Jesus Christ, is avoided. To be sure, Calvin and Luther saw Jesus as the head of the elect. But neither related the revealed God in Jesus Christ and the hidden God to one another rigorously enough. For them the decree of predestination is dark and foreboding because it always referred to some decree apart from, and behind, Jesus Christ.[49]

For the Reformed tradition, the focus and object of election is people and God is the subject. However, because of Barth’s refusal to separate the human Jesus from the divine Word, and Jesus from the Father, “divine election…is God’s election of himself or more specifically, God’s self-election in his Son Jesus Christ.”[50] This leads into Barth’s reappraisal of supralapsarianism and Calvin’s decretum absolutum, for God does not decree something that is obscure and hidden behind Jesus.[51] Jesus is the focus of any speech about God, and only in and through whom God can be known. Hence, any doctrine hidden in obscurity behind Jesus – as opposed to revealed in Jesus – is impossible which, thus, includes Calvin’s decretum absolutum.[52]

McCormack argues that the root of the difference between Calvin and Barth is in divine ontology. For Barth, God is not unknown, but is he who is in Jesus Christ, and is as this being in eternity.[53] Rather than decretum absolutum in which some are elect and some are reprobate by some decree made by God apart from Christ, Christ himself is the decretum concretum, both the electing God and elected human.[54] Evidently, Barth holds a supralapsarian double predestination, albeit a radically revised position: Christ is elect and reprobate, the Elect and Reprobate One.[55] In other words, as Crisp evaluates, “instead of some being elected and some being damned in eternity, Christ is both elected and damned in eternity.”[56] Humanity is thus saved derivatively, because all are elect in the Elect One, and none are reprobate, because Christ is the Reprobate One.[57] O’Neil helpfully states,

With a view to humanity considered as a whole, the telos of election is their non-rejection: there is no double decree, no decreed rejection, no ‘Book of Life’ which is simultaneously a Book of Death. There are none who are excluded by a prior determination of the divine will, but all are embraced in the love and grace of God revealed in Christ supremely at the cross, and which is universal in its scope.[58]

This, however, does not remove the mystery of God’s salvation, but makes election known as the mystery; “it stands over against the uncertainty of an absolute and hidden decree in which the true mystery is perverted into a mystery exclusive of God’s sovereignty that stands apart from the grace and mercy of God.”[59] Hence, Calvin’s particularism is rejected, for Jesus redeems humanity, and then the individual.[60]


Barth’s critique and revision of Calvin’s doctrine is helpful and insightful. However, it too has several criticisms. Brunner criticized the doctrine of making the incarnation no longer an event. If Christ is he who he is in eternity, he doesn’t become anything in the incarnation.[61] This criticism is valid to a point. The Greek egeneto – aorist of ginomai – implies a coming into existence, creation and production; the implication is that the Word comes into existence as flesh, there is some sort of becoming, or change.[62] However, Brunner has misread Barth. While Barth rejects the notion that this becoming is an ontological change, he does not reject – as Brunner’s criticism implies – that the Word becomes, taking on flesh. This becoming is decreed in eternity, and is the divinely decreed expression of who God is and has determined to be for humanity. Hence, it is in fact an event.[63]

Central to Barth’s argument is his interpretation of Eph. 1:4. Carson argues that “it is not at all clear that the ‘us’ of Ephesians 1.4 refers to all men: the epistle is, after all, addressed to ‘the saints who are also faithful in Christ Jesus’ (1.1), not the world at large.”[64] In other words, Carson criticizes Barth of taking this verse out of context. Chung regards,

From the Reformed and Calvinist perspective, Barth’s idea of Jesus as the elected man is not contrary to the Scripture because the Bible also teaches that Jesus Christ was elected by God to be the Mediator and Saviour for sinners. However, his idea of God’s universal election of all human beings in God’s election of Jesus Christ is contrary to the explicit teachings of the Scripture. For the traditional Reformed theologians, Ephesians 1:3-6 teaches that in Christ God elected some people to be adopted as his children before the foundation of the world. So, the passage teaches clearly that the primary object of God’s election is not Jesus Christ but individuals.[65]

These criticisms are certainly valid. It does indeed seem that the focus of election as portrayed in Eph. 1:4 is the people, not Christ; not the individual per se, as Chung argues, but the Church, and certainly not all humanity. Despite this, it cannot be said that Barth’s doctrine is not built upon exegesis, considering the vast Scriptural references in his argument. However, as Penner argues, Barth possibly went too far. Calvin avoided comparatively long discussion on reprobation because of the lack of Biblical doctrine; “The Scriptures simply point to God’s election and human responsibility for sin.”[66] The inexorable question is this, is reprobation Scriptural? If not, as Penner and Boer argue,[67] Barth’s attention to Christ being the Reprobate One, in whom are all the reprobate that they may no longer be reprobate, has no – or at least, very little – Scriptural support. Hence, why come to this conclusion?

Another issue pertains to the Trinity. Barth sought to avoid Calvin’s mistake of separating Christ from the Trinity, yet (1) Calvin did no such thing,[68] and (2) Barth arguably went too far to the other extreme and all but destroyed any distinction between Jesus and the Father. This results in a contradiction: if Christ is one with God that he be the Subject of election, why is only Christ the Object of election? If Christ, with the Father, elects humanity, why is the Father, with Christ, not also the elected? Only Jesus is labelled as Subject. As McCormack argues, “What sense does it make to speak of ‘Jesus Christ’ as the Subject of election if, in God, there are not three individuals but one personality (one self-consciousness, one knowledge, one will)?”[69]

Potentially his most common criticism pertains to the implication that his doctrine results in universalism. Though Barth rejected apokatastasis,[70] his doctrine seems to entail it. The Bible reveals Christ as the criterion for judgment, not object of judgment, as Penner argues.[71] However, O’Neil argues,

In saying that all are not rejected but rather are elect, Barth means that they are elect to the promise of election. All, in and of themselves and as a result of their sins, are rejected. But this rejection is relative, not absolute. As also elect they are ordained to hear the gospel, and with it the promise of their own election, and by believing may become ‘rejected men elected.’[72]

Thus, upon closer inspection, it seems that Barth’s doctrine does not necessarily entail universalism. Barth repeatedly rejected this charge of universalism, but argued that the Church should not stop hoping for and praying for universalism, or at least as many to be saved as possible. We must preach the triumph of grace and hope all who hear will respond in faith.[73]

The more prominent issue is, however, not universalism, but pneumatology, as Penner remarks, “The Holy Spirit’s role in the atonement is all but invisible in Barth’s theology.”[74] The concentration on Jesus results in a division within the elect, between those who know they are elect, and those who do not. The distinction lies in the presence or absence of the Spirit, who enables the believing community to know and live in accordance with that election in Christ. Outsiders lack the Spirit and so are deaf to proclamation and live as if they are rejected, despite their election. Hence, this community is distinguished functionally, not ontologically; pneumatologically, not Christologically. For Barth, the Spirit has no bearing on the ontological nature of election, contrary to the Reformed and evangelical position, in which no one can be ‘in Christ’ apart from the Spirit. There is, hence, a subordination of pneumatology to Christology in election.[75]

The Spirit’s role is to delineate those who are ‘in Christ’ and those who aren’t, and to enable our response without being determinative on the reality of our election. Those who are elected are those who believe; those who are rejected are those who initially reject God. Hence, there is a tension within Barth’s doctrine, wherein his Christology seems contradictory to his pneumatology.[76] On the one hand, all are elect in Christ. Christ is the Elect One, the human representative, the being in whom all condemnation is taken up with. Yet on the other hand, the Spirit enables some to respond to God in faith.[77] His pneumatology rebuts the claim of apokatastasis, but conflicts with the claim that all are elected in Christ. If the Spirit chooses some to acknowledge that election and respond to God’s grace in love, can all truly be elect? His argument that all are elect in Christ contradicts his argument that only some receive the gift of the Spirit.


So, who is preferred, Calvin or Barth? Before a conclusion is proposed, a quick summary is required. Calvin and the Reformed position on election is a supralapsarian double predestination, wherein God, in his eternal decree, has elected some for salvation and some for damnation. By his secret counsel, he chooses and rejects whom he will. Unbelief cannot be on equal footing with grace, rather salvation must remain in God’s hands. For Barth, God’s freedom must be central; he because he is free to love. Thus, God reveals himself as a loving and gracious God. The incarnation is the divine self-revelation, not constituting an ontological change, for in the incarnation God has chosen whom he will be in eternity; God chooses to be a God in relationship with humanity. Thus, he elects humanity. Jesus Christ is both electing God and elected human; the Subject and Object of election. Salvation, thus, comes through recognizing one’s own election in Christ.

Barth’s doctrine of election is a radical revision of the Reformed position, giving a greater complexity to concepts of eternity and double predestination. For Barth, Calvin’s doctrine was only good news to the elect, not to humanity, and rejected the distinction between the Logos incarandus and the Logos incarnatus. Thus, there is one nature in Christ in eternity. As this essay has argued, neither are free of criticism. Calvin’s position rests on a false assumption that unbelief can be the flip side of grace. Barth recognized the complexity of salvation, rejecting Calvin’s short-sighted doctrine, but, despite a brilliant Christology, his doctrine suffers under the weight of his understanding of the Trinity, the allusions to universalism, and his pneumatology. Barth has blurred the distinction between the persons of the Father and the Son, but demands that election be centered solely on Jesus. Furthermore, the tension between his Christology which alludes to universalism and his pneumatology which virtually reiterates a Reformed supralapsarian double predestination is untenable.

Both doctrines have been incredibly influential and are both Scriptural, pastoral and comprehensive. However, under close inspection, neither position is adopted whole-heartedly. Of the two, Barth’s doctrine, on the basis of his brilliant Christology and rejection of the extra Calvinisticum is preferred, considered the lesser of two difficult doctrines. It is not the intention of this essay to posit a new, revised position, because that is beyond the scope of this essay. A few particular and vital issues that both Calvin and Barth agree upon is that God is sovereign and free, salvation is mysterious and gracious, and we should never stop preaching the Gospel and praying for redemption. Election is the action and revelation of a great and loving God, who desires a loving relationship with his creation.


Allen, R. Michael. Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics: An Introduction and Reader. London: T&T Clark International, 2012.

Barth, Karl. The Epistle to the Romans. Translated by Edwyn C. Hoskyns. London: Oxford University Press, 1968.

Barth, Karl. The Theology of John Calvin. Translated by Geoffrey W. Bromiley. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995.

Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics. Vol. II: 32-33, Edited by T. F. Torrance G. W. Bromiley. London: T&T Clark 2009.

Berkouwer, G. C. The Triumph of Grace in the Theology of Karl Barth. Translated by Harry R. Boer. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1956.

Bettis, Joseph D. “Is Karl Barth a Universalist?” Scottish Journal of Theology 20, no. 4 (1967): 423-436.

Beza, Theodore. In The Christian Theology Reader, edited by Alister E. McGrath. London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.

Bloesch, Donald G. Jesus Is Victor! Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Salvation. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1976.

Boer, Harry R. “Reprobation: Does the Bible Teach It?” Reformed Journal 25, no. 4 (1975): 7-10.

Bromiley, Geoffrey W. An Introduction to the Theology of Karl Barth. Edinburgh: T&T Clark Ltd., 1979.

Brunner, Emil. In The Christian Theology Reader, edited by Alister E. McGrath. London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.

Busch, Eberhard. Karl Barth: His Life from Letters and Autobiographical Texts. Translated by John Bowden. London: SCM Press Ltd., 1976.

Commentary on John – Volume 2.

Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Translated by Henry Beveridge. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989.

Calvin, John. Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, Edited by J. K. S. Reid. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997.

Carson, D. A. Divine Sovereignty & Human Responsibility: Biblical Perspectives in Tension. London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1981.

Chung, Sung Wook. “A Bold Innovator: Barth on God and Election.” In Karl Barth and Evangelical Theology: Convergences and Divergences, edited by Sung Wook Chung. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2006.

Clark, R. Scott. “Election and Predestination: The Sovereign Expressions.” In A Theological Guide to Calvin’s Institutes, edited by Peter A. Lillback David W. Hall. Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing Company, 2008.

Colwell, John. “The Contemporaneity of the Divine Decision: Reflections on Barth’s Denial of ‘Universalism’.” In Universalism and the Doctrine of Hell, edited by Nigel M. De S. Cameron. Carisle, UK: Paternoster Press, 1992.

Crisp, Oliver D. “The Letter and the Spirit of Barth’s Doctrine of Election: A Response to Michael O’neil.” EQ 79, no. 1 (2007): 53-67.

Fisk, Samuel. Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom. Neptune, New Jersey: Loizeaux Brothers, Inc., 1973.

Gibson, David. “The Day of God’s Mercy: Romans 9-11 in Barth’s Doctrine of Election.” In Engaging with Barth: Contemporary Evangelical Critiques, edited by David Gibson. Nottingham, England: Apollos, 2008.

Gibson, David. “A Mirror for God and for Us: Christology and Exegesis in Calvin’s Doctrine of Election.” International Journal of Systematic Theology 11, no. 4 (2009): 448-465.

Gorringe, Timothy. Karl Barth: Against Hegemony. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Gunton, Colin. “Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Election as Part of His Doctrine of God.” Journal of Theological Studies 25, no. 2 (1974): 381-392.

Jewett, Paul K. Election & Predestination. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Pulishing Company, 1985.

McCormack, Bruce. “Grace and Being: The Role of God’s Gracious Election in Karl Barth’s Theological Ontology.” In The Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth, edited by John Webster. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

McDonald, Suzanna. Re-Imaging Election: Divine Election as Representing God to Others & Others to God. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010.

McDonald, Suzanna. “Evangelical Questioning of Election in Barth: A Pneumatological Perspective from the Reformed Heritage.” In Karl Barth and American Evangelicalism, edited by Clifford B. Anderson Bruce L. McCormack. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2011.

McGrath, Alister E. Christian Theology: An Intoduction. 5 ed. London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.

Molnar, Paul D. Incarnation & Resurrection: Toward a Contemporary Understanding. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007.

Mounce, William D. The Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1993.

Mueller, David L. Karl Barth. Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1972.

O’Neil, Michael. “Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Election.” EQ 76, no. 4 (2004): 311-326.

Penner, Myron B. “Calvin, Barth, and the Subject of Atonement.” In Calvin, Barth, and Reformed Theology, edited by Carl Trueman Neil B. MacDonald. Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster, 2008.

Schreiner, Thomas R. Romans. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 1998.

Storms, Sam. Chosen for Life: The Case for Divine Election. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2007.

“The Westminster Confession of Faith on Predestination.” In The Christian Theology Reader, edited by Alister E. McGrath. London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.

[1] R. Michael Allen, Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics: An Introduction and Reader (London: T&T Clark International, 2012). 71.

[2] Colin Gunton, “Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Election as Part of His Doctrine of God,” Journal of Theological Studies 25, no. 2 (1974). 381.

[3] R. Scott Clark, “Election and Predestination: The Sovereign Expressions,” in A Theological Guide to Calvin’s Institutes, ed. David W. Hall and Peter A. Lillback (Philipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing Company, 2008). 122.

[4] Ibid. 91-96.

[5] John Calvin, Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, ed. J. K. S. Reid (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997). 93 – “What Augustine says is therefore evidently true: They are converted to the Lord whom He Himself wills to be converted; for He not only makes willing ones out of unwilling but also sheep out of wolves and martyrs out of persecutors, reforming them by more powerful grace.”

[6] J. K. S. Reid, in ibid. 11.

[7] Clark. 122.

[8] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans., Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989). 3.xxi.5.

[9] Ibid. 3.xxi.7. Furthermore, “Scripture clearly proves this much, that God by his eternal and immutable counsel determined once for all those whom it was his pleasure one day to admit to salvation, and those whom, on the other day, it was his pleasure to doom to destruction,” (Ibid. 3.xxi.7).

[10] Calvin, Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God.

[11] Ibid. 15, 34, 103-105; Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion. 3.xxiv.8; Sam Storms, Chosen for Life: The Case for Divine Election (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2007). 147.

[12] Reid, in Calvin, Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God. 17-18. He further states that “the will of God would overpowered by weak men,” (p. 18). Cf. Institutes. 3.xxiv.3.

[13] D. A. Carson, Divine Sovereignty & Human Responsibility: Biblical Perspectives in Tension (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1981). 208. Cf. Institutes 3.xxiii.1-14.

[14] Calvin, Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God. 127. Cf. p. 43. Cf. Institutes. 3.xxiv.5.

[15] Theodore Beza, in The Christian Theology Reader, ed. Alister E. McGrath (London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011). 379.

[16] “The Westminster Confession of Faith on Predestination,” in The Christian Theology Reader, ed. Alister E. McGrath (London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011). 381-382.

[17] Samuel Fisk, Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom (Neptune, New Jersey: Loizeaux Brothers, Inc., 1973). 119-120; David Gibson, “The Day of God’s Mercy: Romans 9-11 in Barth’s Doctrine of Election,” in Engaging with Barth: Contemporary Evangelical Critiques, ed. David Gibson(Nottingham, England: Apollos, 2008). 165-167.

[18] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 1998). 472.

[19] Michael O’Neil, “Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Election,” EQ 76, no. 4 (2004). 312. Cf. Allen. 84.

[20] Geoffrey W. Bromiley, An Introduction to the Theology of Karl Barth (Edinburgh: T&T Clark Ltd., 1979). 85. Cf. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, ed. T. F. Torrance G. W. Bromiley, vol. II: 32-33 (London: T&T Clark 2009). 19. Hereafter referenced as CD, followed by volume, part and page number.

[21] Timothy Gorringe, Karl Barth: Against Hegemony (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999). 149. Cf. Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans, trans., Edwyn C. Hoskyns (London: Oxford University Press, 1968). 59 – This grace is emphasized by Barth, “He who has been chosen by God cannot say that he has chosen God.” Also, CD II/2, 94 – “It is God’s free grace that in Him He elects to be man and to have dealings with man and to join himself to be man.”

[22] B. Penner, “Calvin, Barth, and the Subject of Atonement,” in Calvin, Barth, and Reformed Theology, ed. Neil B. MacDonald and Carl Trueman (Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster, 2008). 138. Cf. David L. Mueller, Karl Barth (Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1972). 98; G. C. Berkouwer, The Triumph of Grace in the Theology of Karl Barth, trans., Harry R. Boer (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1956). 90 – Election is not to do with a hidden God, but a revealed God. Election does not in the same breath announce life and death.

[23] O’Neil. 314. Cf. Bromiley. 87.

[24] O’Neil. 320. Cf. Allen. 72.

[25] CD II/2, 76-77. Cf. Bromiley. 86 – “We cannot speak of God without speaking of the electing God.”

[26] 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, ed. John Webster (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000). 98. Also, Mueller. 98. Cf. CD II/2, 195.

[27] CD II/2, 103 – “The simplest form of the dogma may be divided at once into the two assertions that Jesus Christ is the electing God, and that He is also elected man.” Cf. Penner. 139; McCormack. 93; Gorringe. 150; Berkouwer. 99 (who labels this a ‘wonderful miracle’); Carson. 100; Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Intoduction, 5 ed. (London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011). 369.

[28] Oliver D. Crisp, “The Letter and the Spirit of Barth’s Doctrine of Election: A Response to Michael O’neil,” EQ 79, no. 1 (2007). 55-56. Cf. CD II/2, 116-117, 123-124.

[29] CD II/2, 117.

[30] Mueler. 100. Cf. Bromiley. 87-88 – “In Jesus Christ we go back as far as there is to go in divine electing, for in him we go back to the electing God himself.”

[31] O’Neil. 315; Sung Wook Chung, “A Bold Innovator: Barth on God and Election,” in Karl Barth and Evangelical Theology: Convergences and Divergences, ed. Sung Wook Chung(Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2006). 72; Bromiley. 88. Cf. CD II/2, 122-123.

[32] McCormack. 105.

[33] Cf. Berkouwer. 101; McCormack. 105.

[34] CD II/2, 116-117.

[35] CD II/2, 318. Cf. Crisp. 58-59; Bromiley. 88.

[36] Berkouwer. 113.

[37] Eberhard Busch, Karl Barth: His Life from Letters and Autobiographical Texts, trans., John Bowden (London: SCM Press Ltd., 1976). 138.

[38] Ibid. 278. Cf. Gorringe. 148; Allen. 71.

[39] Gibson. 136-137.

[40] CD II/2, 14.

[41] Penner. 137; Berkouwer. 92.

[42] Penner. 137; O’Neil. 312; Allen. 72. Cf. CD II/2, 2-3.

[43] CD II/2, 66-67. Cf. Bromiley. 85.

[44] Commentary on John – Volume 2, ed. John Calvin, in the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, (accessed 6/11/2012). Cf. David Gibson, “A Mirror for God and for Us: Christology and Exegesis in Calvin’s Doctrine of Election,” International Journal of Systematic Theology 11, no. 4 (2009). 459-460. Cf. Calvin. Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God. 127.

[45] Penner. 139

[46] McCormack. 94-95.

[47] Ibid. 95-97. Cf. CD I/2, 168-169.

[48] McCormack. 98-99. This is an expression of his ‘actualism.’

[49] Mueller. 102.

[50] Chung. 71.

[51] Berkouwer. 96. Cf. Gorringe. 150; O’Neil. 313 – Barth thought Calvin’s absolute decree “robs the believer of assurance by obscuring the source of election.”

[52] CD II/2, 110-11. Cf. O’Neil. 312.

[53] McCormack. 97. Cf. Crisp. 54.

[54] Berkouwer. 103. Cf. Bromiley. 89; Gorringe. 149-150; Mueller. 101 – “Instead of positing an unknown, dark, and absolute decree as the origin of God’s predestinating will, we must speak about Jesus Christ as the electing God and as the content of the divine election. Jesus Christ is God’s concrete degree.”

[55] Crisp. 55-57. Cf. McCormack. 106; Chung. 73. Bromiley. 89 – “Barth might be described, then, as a reconstructed supralapsarianism.”

[56] Crisp. 57. Cf. McCormack. 107; Allen. 71.

[57] CD II/2, 318f. Cf. Crisp. 56.

[58] O’Neil. 320.

[59] Berkouwer. 104-105.

[60] Penner. 140.

[61] Emil Brunner, in The Christian Theology Reader, ed. Alister E. McGrath (London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011). 394.

[62] Cf. William D. Mounce, The Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1993). 126.

[63] Cf. Paul D. Molnar, Incarnation & Resurrection: Toward a Contemporary Understanding (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007). 2-3.

[64] Carson. 216.

[65] Chung. 73.

[66] Penner. 143.

[67] Ibid. 143; Harry R. Boer, “Reprobation: Does the Bible Teach It?,” Reformed Journal 25, no. 4 (1975). 10.

[68] Penner. 142-143.

[69] McCormack. 103. Cf. Penner. 144.

[70] CD II/2, 506. Cf. Berkouwer. 112; John Colwell, “The Contemporaneity of the Divine Decision: Reflections on Barth’s Denial of ‘Universalism’,” in Universalism and the Doctrine of Hell, ed. Nigel M. De S. Cameron (Carisle, UK: Paternoster Press, 1992); Joseph D. Bettis, “Is Karl Barth a Universalist?,” Scottish Journal of Theology 20, no. 4 (1967).

[71] Penner. 144. Cf. Chung. 76.

[72] O’Neil. 321.

[73] Berkouwer. 177. Cf. O’Neil. 319.

[74] Penner. 144.

[75] Suzanna McDonald, “Evangelical Questioning of Election in Barth: A Pneumatological Perspective from the Reformed Heritage,” in Karl Barth and American Evangelicalism, ed. Clifford B. Anderson Bruce L. McCormack(Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2011). 260-262. Furthermore, election is “a reality that has already been accomplished for all in God’s self-election in Christ, which may or may not be made know to individuals by the Spirit,” (McDonald. 262-263). Cf. CD II/2, 105, 158.

[76] McDonald. 267 – There is a tension and inconsistency between his pneumatology and Christology, in which the two “are pulling in such different direction[s]…that his doctrine of election is at risk of imploding.”

[77] Cf. CD II/2, 257, 203-279.

Post Navigation