Jesus Christ the Electing God – an Excerpt from Reading Barth with Charity

The following is an excerpt from Reading Barth with Charity, by George Hunsinger.

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Cover ArtA major reason why Barth insists that Jesus Christ is the Subject of election is that he wants to rectify a problem in the tradition. He wants to overcome the view—found in virtually all medieval and Reformation sources—that posits Jesus Christ as merely the object of election.

For Barth, Jesus Christ is not merely its object nor can he be relegated (as with Calvin) merely to the “executive” branch. As the second “person” of the Trinity, the eternal Son (in union with Jesus of Nazareth) belongs (with the Father and the Holy Spirit) to the “legislative” branch in God’s pretemporal decision of election.

“In [Jesus Christ],” writes Barth, “we have to do not merely with elected man but with the electing God” (II/2, 108). Jesus Christ is the electing God and the elected man in one. “The name of Jesus Christ has within itself the double reference: the One called by this name is both very God and very man. Thus the simplest form of the dogma may be divided at once into the two assertions that Jesus Christ is the electing God, and that he is also elected man” (II/2, 103). In the mystery of his one divine-human reality, Jesus Christ is the Subject of election as God and the object of election as man.

Barth enters an important clarification:

We have laid down and developed two statements concerning the election of Jesus Christ. The first is that Jesus Christ is the electing God. This statement answers the question of the Subject of the eternal election of grace. And the second is that Jesus Christ is elected man. This statement answers the question of the object of the eternal election of grace. Strictly speaking, the whole dogma of predestination is contained in these two statements. (II/2, 145)

Jesus Christ is the Subject of election in an internally differentiated way. He is its Subject not only as God but also as man, but first and primarily as God. “As we have to do with Jesus Christ,” writes Barth, “we have to do with the electing God” (II/2, 54). Or again, “Jesus Christ . . . in his own person is himself the God who freely elects and then acts towards the creature, the One behind and above whom there is no other God and no other election. . . . Christ is the electing God” (II/2, 68).

The tradition was right to see that the man Jesus is the object of election but wrong to forget that by virtue of the hypostatic union he is also and primarily the electing God.

©2015 by George Hunsinger. Published by Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

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