Monday, March 22, 2010

Term Paper Topic.

I apologize for my lack of posting. Life really has been quite busy and it is coming down to crunch time in the next week or so. All of my presentations are finished, I think my professor favored the last one (Lord-willing), and now I just have to focus on my last two research papers - one for the Barth seminar and one for my Luther class. Should be interesting.

This is my idea about my Barth paper:

Barth was not pleased with Calvin's view of election due to fact that double predestination implied a "hidden decree" of God before the foundation of the world. And this decree was made outside of Christ. He didn't find any value in such a doctrine, especially pastorally, since the individual could never have assurance that they were considered among the elect given the hidden nature of the decree. As such, Barth believed that the place where God is most revealed to humanity - via the eternal Word of God made flesh in Jesus Christ - should not contain any such existentially repugnant mysteries.

Therefore, Barth states that before the foundation of the world, Jesus Christ as God HImself was the electing God AND the elected man. He was the one that elected and He was the one who was elected. He took the reprobation that humanity deserved upon Himself. Consequently, all humanity was elected IN Christ (Eph. 1:4).

Given the reformulation of the reformed doctrine of election, Barth has been called a universalist, most notably by Emil Brunner ("soft universalism" to be exact). This is the most classic objection held by the traditionally reformed. And for reasons I don't feel like explaining (most of them are obvious), the traditional reformed view has no room for universal salvation.

Barth has two responses to this objection:

1) He will not affirm universalism because Scripture does not affirm it, even if such a view is the logical consequence of his position. He stops where Scripture stops.
2) To suppose that God will surely save all human beings is to impose an obligation upon God (hope that is clear). This defies the freedom of God. Ultimately, he is free to save anyone that He wants to save and there is no necessity in God to save any individual.

I am fine with the first point. He stands in the reformed tradition by appealing to such boundaries. However, I realized that his second response is problematic. I don't make this objection as one that has something to prove against Barth. I think the man was a genius, and I don't have to defend my admiration for his unapologetic appeal to the freedom and sovereignty of the most merciful, holy, and gracious God. However, it seems like by using this reply, he falls right back into a type of hiddenness that is even more severe than Calvin's. As Anthony Yu writes, "Is God, therefore, exercising another freedom beyond and above what he has concretely determined and accomplished in Jesus Christ?" ("Karl Barth's Doctrine of Election, 'Foundations', 259).

Those are my thoughts. Perhaps my objections stem from my less than sophisticated skills of interpreting the genius of Barth. While I admire his unwavering commitment to the freedom of God, it doesn't seem helpful in this particular situation. Hopefully when I meet with my professor tomorrow, he won't totally shut down my paper idea. He is a kind and gracious man so I won't expect the worse (like I always do!).

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Doctrine of Hell.

I'd like to state this formally: I do not have a specific belief about hell. I am not a universalist. I am not an annihilationist. I am not a traditionalist (when it comes to the doctrine of hell).

I don't know what I believe in regards to this doctrine. This is NOT because I am trying to affirm agnosticism regarding this issue for my whole life. I simply have not given it enough thought and investigation. However, I am heavily considering the option of writing my final paper for the Barth seminar on the doctrine of hell.

I would just like to say one thing - shouldn't we all be hopeful universalists? Even if we never find warrant for such a position in the text, shouldn't everyone who claims to be a Christian embrace a sense of extreme sadness and mourning when we think about hell? Even Christ proclaimed on the cross, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." A part of me cringes inside every time I hear a Christian dogmatically affirm the eternal punishment of the non-elect with a bit of glee in their voice. They clearly have never read Jeremiah, nor John 17, nor the sentiments of Paul in Romans 9.

While I don't agree with everything in this article, the last line was very meaningful to me:

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Doctrine of Election.

I have to give a presentation on Barth's doctrine of election on Tuesday for my seminar. I am a bit burdened right now, as it took me four hours last night to get through the first half. As my professor promised, it was dense. I wish I had the largest white board in my room so i could draw maps and diagrams. My brain can not process that much detail without photos. It was very difficult to conceptualize. However, I think, for the most part, that I have the essence of his argument.

I was a bit confused because Barth spent over ten pages in the excursus attempting to explain the difference between supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism. I have never been able to be an infralapsarian given the problems I believe it ultimately poses for the doctrine of God (placing the doctrine of providence before predestination). It seems to points out the devastating problems of supralapsarianism without offering much more than agnosticism and even more speculation. I remember reading Calvin's Institutes last semester and when the class started to discuss his doctrine of election, it was very uncomfortable. What should be the most comforting doctrine became that which caused stress, uncertainty, and doubt. It seems that in unpacking the views of supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism, Barth understands this. He heavily criticizes both but ultimately comes down excruciatingly hard on supralapsarianism. As one that believes in supralapsarianism, I was surprised, given everything I've read about Barth that he was on this path and I didn't understand why it seemed like he was going to end up on the side of the infralapsarians. I understand the terror and darkness involved in being a supralapsarian but I can't compromise on some of the basic tenets - or even the motivating factor behind holding fast to such a doctrine: to protect the utter sovereignty of God at all costs, even at the expense of a seemingly loving doctrine of God. Still, there is something very dark about the position, something that probably terrifies the supralapsarian deep inside. I was prepared to part ways with Barth, despite the devastating blows he gave to my view. But then, out of nowhere, he agrees! But only after he makes Jesus Christ the subject AND the object of election first. It was a radical reorientation of the entire view of election. The move, in all its simplicity, is sheer genius. I am guessing that whenever someone reads this doctrine for the first time, they have to have the wind taken out of them to some extent. It is like another color suddenly comes into the spectrum that didn't exist before. You sit there, in awe and shock, just thinking "how did everyone before him miss this possibility?!?" And you pace back and forth in your room thinking "what do I do with this?" Ultimately, his view has many devastating problems that might be worse than the solutions he offers. I am still sorting through the holes along his path in this section. Who knows what I'll decide.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Darker Days.

There is something very dark about Barth's world. I am reading his biography and can not quite explain how difficult it has been to adjust to it. It has started to impact my view of his theology. I am not quite sure what to do with all of this. The Spirit of God is active to show the individual believer how easy it is to elevate the theological task to the point of idolatry. It is a frightening place to find oneself. Lord, have mercy upon your servant.