Thoughts of a Living Christian

Musings of an amateur theologian and hopeful writer

Archive for the tag “Predestination”

What Part of “Free Will” is Free?

The contemporary concept of freedom pertains to the capacity to objectively decide on a single, particular course of action, out of a numerous array of possible actions. Freedom is the ability to do whatever one pleases without limitation, having recognized and understood all possible actions and inevitable consequences. To an extent, however, this freedom does not exist. All human action is influenced by feeling and emotion, subjective experience and influence, particular worldviews and value systems, and all human action is held in tension with laws, societal customs and norms, common etiquette, etc. We cannot simply do whatever we please if it is forbidden by law, or previous experience tells us it results in negative consequences. Of course, we can do this, but reason compels us to do otherwise.

But if feelings and experience influence our reasoning capacity – a wholistic view of the human, as opposed to Hellenistic division between psyche and soma – doctrines of sin and anthropology, and inevitably soteriology, are affected. It’s clearly biblical that at our core, humans are sinful and in fact hostile toward God (Rom. 5; Eph. 2). James tells us that what is at our core will come out in our actions and speech (James 2). In other words, our innermost emotions influence our cognitive processes. What we think to be reasonable is determined by what we have learned. What we think is reasonable, therefore, is determined by sin; we are all slaves to sin (Rom. 6; John 8). Hence, humanity cannot be anything other than hostile toward God, thus we do not – we cannot – have the freedom of will to turn toward God.[1]

The debate between Erasmus and Luther reflect similar perspectives, but I have difficulty with both. Luther’s perspective leads inexorably, despite Forde’s objections otherwise, to a deterministic perspective of God’s divine will.[2] Luther makes a distinction between the will over those things that are below us, such as time and money, etc. and that which is above us, such as God and the life he offers. The former is under our free control, the latter is not. For Luther, we, as humans, literally do not have the strength to break our bondage, for we are prisoners of sin and of Satan. We are justified, not by our own merit, for we have none, but through God’s gift of righteousness. Furthermore, we are justified, not on our ability to trust God, for we cannot, but on God’s calling and creating within us the capacity to respond.[3]

It is that last little part of Luther’s argument that bothers me tremendously. He argues that we are slaves either to Satan or to God, and it is entirely up to God to decide which, for even Satan is under God’s control. You cannot deny it: Luther’s God elects some for salvation, and elects others for damnation. This I believe is a serious problem. John 3.16 says God loves the world and 1 John 2.2 says Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. Luther’s absolute rejection of free will leads him to an abhorrent God. And he defends this position as an attribute of God’s love by essentially arguing we should ignorantly put our heads in the sand; God’s hidden purposes are not to be questioned, and we cannot know these purposes until the end of time. This to me seems to be a copout.[4] Barth argued vehemently against this dualistic nature of God; there is no hidden purpose to God, for God is revealed fully in Christ. The picture we have of Christ is one of love, whose teachings underscore the universal scope of his activity (not a limited atonement theory).

Either none of us are elect, or all of us are elect. Either we are all permanently bound to reject God, or we all have an opportunity to respond to God’s gift of righteousness. Our will, clouded by darkness, will always shrink away from the light. Like gazing into the sun, our eyes adjusting to the brightness, we can uncomfortably allow the light of the Son to overcome us until it is no longer uncomfortable, or we can turn away, retreating back into the darkness that we for so long have found so comfortable.



Forde, G. O., The Capitvation of the Will: Luther vs. Erasmus on Freedom and Bondage (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 47-59.

Packer, James I., “Luther Against Erasmus” Concordia Theological Monthly, Vol. 37 no. 4 (1966), 207-221.

Rupp, E. G., “The Erasmian Enigma” in Luther and Erasmus: Free Will and Salvation (Library of Christian Classics Vol. XVII; London: SCM, 1969), 1-28.

[1] Forde recounts part of Luther’s argument, arguing that we cannot accept God’s predestination and election, for as humans our inability prevents us – we are bound to say no to God, (Gerhard O. Forde, The Captivation of the Will: Luther vs. Erasmus on Freedom and Bondage (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2005). 50).

[2] Forde, The Captivation of the Will. 47-59.

[3] James I. Packer, “Luther Against Erasmus” Concordia Theological Monthly, Vol. 37 no. 4 (1966), 207-221.

[4] NB: I use that term cautiously, for Luther was an incredible man and an excellent theologian.


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.


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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.

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