Barth on Atonement and Election – an Excerpt from Galatians and Christian Theology

The following is an excerpt from Bruce McCormack’s essay “Can We Still Speak of ‘Justification by Faith’?” in Galatians and Christian Theology.


Cover Art“How is Christ “made sin” for us? John Calvin answered, “Through the mechanism of imputation.” The guilt of human sin is “transferred” to the God-human—probably at the point when Christ says in the garden, “Not my will, but yours be done.”

Barth’s answer looks in a different direction. In his soteriology, the doctrine of election does all the heavy lifting that the idea of imputation had done for Calvin. The God-human does not need to have the guilt that accrues to the sins of the elect imputed to him; he already is “the sinner” by virtue of God’s eternal choosing of himself in Christ to be the “reprobate” human. God chooses reprobation as his portion so that it will not be ours.

Thus Christ is “made sin” already in election. His embrace of the full consequences of human sinfulness (suffering, death, and perdition) is the concrete realization in time of what the God-human already is in pretemporal eternity—by way of anticipation. Moreover, Christ’s embrace of the full consequences of sin is the medium by means of which God takes these human experiences up into himself in order there, in his own being as God, to bring an end to them. In putting it this way, I am suggesting that sin is not simply “paid for” but indeed destroyed.

…Barth’s doctrine of election also provides the answer to problems surrounding “incorporation” into Christ’s “story.” Given that human beings are elected “in Christ,” they do not have to be “engrafted” into him at a later point in time. They were already “in” Christ when he suffered, died, and was raised. The death that he dies to bring an end to the sinner is already our death in that it takes place in him. And the new creation effected by the verdict of the Father is already effective for them in advance of their own final resurrection.

©2014 by Mark W. Elliott, Scott J. Hafemann, N. T. Wright, and John Frederick


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