The Place of Election

“A place for everything and everything in its place.”

In the third subsection of his doctrine of election Barth argues for its proper place in the scheme of his theology. Barth places it within his doctrine of God. God is the electing God, the God who chooses. He reveals himself as he really is precisely as the God who in Christ has chosen to be the God of humanity and has chosen us to belong to him. This is a natural consequence of Barth’s preference for the particular over the abstract. God is not some vague all-powerful deity who decides in advance everything that will happen according to the secret purposes of his mysterious will and then, to fulfill these secret purposes, chooses some people and rejects others. Instead, the true and living God is the God who has no other secret purpose than his actual, particular decision to give us life in Jesus Christ.

In hindsight it is easy to see that Barth’s whole discussion of the doctrine of God in the second volume of the Church Dogmatics has led to this very point. The God who loves in perfect freedom is the one who has freely chosen us because of his love. As well, the placement of the doctrine of election in his discussion of the being and nature of God will also profoundly affect Barth’s presentation of the nature of election.

However, to justify this placement of the doctrine of election in the doctrine of God, Barth must acknowledge that there are other alternatives and he must defend his own unique arrangement. Some theological systems like the Westminster Confession place the doctrine of election soon after the doctrine of God. This arrangement may seem the most close to Barth’s own. But in reality these systems understand election within a general view of God’s providence and for this reason Barth rejects them. Some systems place the doctrine of election straight after the doctrine of the person and work of Christ. However, Barth notices with regret that this arrangement seems only coincidental and the treatment of election is not grounded in Christ. Some systems place the doctrine of election within the doctrine of the church. Barth admits that the strength of this approach is that it makes clear that what God chooses is a people, a community, not just a collection of individuals. But for that reason Barth argues that the place for election is not within the discussion of the people who are chosen, but of the God who chooses. All other systems place the doctrine of election within the doctrine of salvation, either as the motive or purpose or summary of salvation. Barth acknowledges the importance of the doctrine of salvation within the whole system of theology. God is nothing if he is not the God who saves. But he argues that this is far too late in the scheme of theology to highlight the fact that the one thing that explains everything that God chooses to do, especially in his work of salvation, is that God is a God of grace and his grace is revealed in the choices he has made.

God is nothing if he is not the God who saves. 

In rejecting all these different approaches and in presenting his own, Barth argues that God’s grace cannot be divorced from who God really is. Grace is not something that can be forgotten and then only picked up halfway through a theological system. Grace is not just a minor or secondary thought that is only necessary as a response to human sin. God is from first to last the God of grace and his grace is revealed in the choices he has made. Before all creation God chose us in Jesus Christ. He is the electing God.

God’s grace cannot be divorced from who God really is.

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