"Come in, O blessed of the Lord!": Karl Barth and Inclusivity

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Gen. 24:31:  "Come in, O blessed of the Lord! Why do you stand outside? For I have prepared the house and a place for your camels."

Twentieth-century theologian Karl Barth introduced a paradigmatic shift in the concept of "the elect." Previously, since the Reformation, the elect was generally seen as a set number of individuals who had been predetermined by God to receive effective saving grace. This left a problem of the non-elect: those who God has decided to pass over in his ultimate wisdom.

This remains a conundrum since the text of scripture seems to indicate that it was never God's will that anyone perishes, but that all receive life eternal (2 Peter 3:8-10). The reformers reconciled this by dividing God's will into two variations: His effective/decretive will and the prescriptive will. The problem with this is that God seems two-faced. One part of him wishes he could save everyone, but he decrees that only certain people be saved. 

Barth's answer to this is to reconstruct our concept of the Trinitarian nature of God to include "will" as a dynamic working concept with eternal generation. For Barth, God's will takes the form of the eternal generation of the Son. This means that God's will is to be a certain type of God--a God who wills to be God-for-us. This God is missional in nature--His mission is to send himself eternally for our salvation. The act of creation was a result of this movement in the eternal generation of the Son. 

This answer to the problem serves two purposes, in the least: 

  1. God's will is a unified and eternal act that has real results for those for whom he is such a God. Therefore, it is not divided into a wish and a result. The wish is contained in the act, as is the result. 
  2. God's act of eternal generation makes Jesus Christ the elect one in whom all are elect. 

The problem that results from this is that it appears that there are none who are not elect. But it is not that simple, as we will see. 

God, in sending himself in Jesus Christ, the Elect One, reveals the ultimate and full will of God. Nothing in the scriptures can be interpreted apart from this act. For Barth, election theology does not start with the fall but begins with God in Jesus Christ. Election theology is not a biblical theology of sin, but a systematic theology of God Himself. Jesus is not merely a problem-solver. This would be a truncated view of the divine mission. He is the center of the whole story. All creation belongs to Christ himself as the creator and recipient of the gift of creation. The future and end of creation are contained within Jesus Christ. Our theology must begin with the question: Who is Jesus? 

Secondly, God in Jesus Christ is not concerned with restoring a moral order. There is no morality apart from the good act of God eternally being God-for-us. He is not interested in a legal relationship with us, where he exchanges our sin for righteousness for the sake of Justice (a platonic form outside the will of God in Jesus Christ). Under this false conception, God is held captive by an external force called "Justice" that holds him accountable to punish evil and reward good. God is held by no legal standard of justice in his will to be God-for-us in Jesus Christ.

Therefore, Christology is not contained within a theology of sin or a philosophy of moral order.  

This "if you then I" relationship is a contractual, conditional, hopeless, and an anti-filial relationship. God's love for his creation is unconditional and cannot work on these conditional parameters. This is mythology and idolatry, not theology. 

Rather, God's mission is to, in Christ, make right (reconcile) everything and to himself (or welcome everything into himself). God is on a mission of saving the world through the Elect One, Jesus Christ, breaking down the resistance of God's good purposes and perfecting His creation. 

Therefore, are all saved? No. Certainly not. But all are being saved in Jesus Christ to an effect that is unknown and mysterious. God reconciles the unrepentant to himself. We do not know what this looks like on the other side of death, but it is a real and powerful message of God's will in Jesus Christ. All are included in the mission of God in Jesus Christ. No one can escape his love, not even the most unrepentant sinner.