Barth, Justification, and the Gospel – an Excerpt from Justification and the Gospel

The following is an excerpt from Justification and the Gospel, by R. Michael Allen.

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Cover ArtIn the modern era, Karl Barth has noted that talk of justification as the word of the gospel has occurred rightly in certain times. He lists four such occasions: Augustine’s opposition to the Pelagians, Luther’s attack on the sacramental practice of the late medieval Roman Church, the early nineteenth-century rejection of a secularized version of salvation in Enlightenment thinking, and in Barth’s own day, he proposes, when “humanistic religiosity” threatens in various ways.

Against each ideology, the justification of the ungodly is a “fully developed weapon with which to meet all these things.” However, Barth suggests a sense of proportion and order: “In the Church of Jesus Christ this doctrine has not always been the Word of the Gospel, and it would be an act of narrowing and unjust exclusiveness to proclaim and treat it as such.”  While “there never was and there never can be any true Christian Church without the doctrine of justification,” this is not the same as saying that it is always the pressing matter of the moment.

Suggestions that one must be all in or completely out present a false middle and fail to recognize the unique glory of this doctrine. “It has its own dignity and necessity to which we do more and not less justice if we do not ascribe to it a totalitarian claim which is not proper to it, or allow all other questions to culminate or merge into it, or reject them altogether with an appeal to it, but if we accept it with all its limitations as this problem and try to answer it as such.”

As in Paul’s presentation of it in Galatians, Barth sees the doctrine as of the essence of the gospel without calling it the entirety of the gospel: “The problem of justification does not need artificially to be absolutised and given a monopoly.”

©2013 by R. Michael Allen. Published by Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

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