Barth, Cooper, & Prison
I am not far removed from reading and reviewing Jordan Cooper's The Great Divide. I did not actively engage the final two chapters on the subjects of justification and sanctification. However, in reading Karl Barth's Deliverance to the Captives, portions of those last chapters echoed in my head. Both of these books happen to be published by Wipf & Stock so it seems appropriate to tie some quotes together into a cute bow.
It is a matter of historical record that Barth was highly influenced by Lutheran theology. He was infatuated with Luther in his younger days and elements of Barth's early dialectic approach can be attributed to Luther. Barth's affinity for Calvin's theology grew with time and maturity (I kid, I kid) — those interested in the bigger picture should read Barth's The Theology of John Calvin. In spite of this, Barth emphasized a Christus Victor perspective of the atonement championed by Lutheranism (Gustaf Aulén's book was released in 1931 but I am unaware what impact it had on Barth).
Many might be unfamiliar with the impact the Christus Victor model has on descriptions of the atonement and sin. Cooper makes comments in his chapter on justification that elucidates some differences between Reformed and Lutheran emphasis. I quote two short portions for example,
"In Reformed theology, Adamic sin is more often tied to the imputation of guilt, whereas in the Lutheran tradition Adamic corruption is central or even confessed to the neglect of any imputation of Adams guilt." (163)
"Christ for us always has precedence over Christ in us. God's work for sinners is at the heart of the Christian faith." (174)
This language places sin as a power or figure requiring defeat. Christ's work then is for us in releasing us from this power. Barth's dialectic "yes" and "no" (based on 2 Cor 1:17-22) corresponds to this releasing power and saddles itself reasonably close the Luther law/gospel distinction — I say reasonably because I mean no disservice to the venerable distinctions the two expositions still maintain. Barth articulates a "Christ for us" precedence through the work of Jesus Christ being the universal "yes" to all of mankind. With this background, Cooper's sentences came rushing back into my mind as I read Barth's sermon, "Saved by Grace," within Deliverance to the Captives. The imagery of captivity, freedom, and God's conquering work in Jesus Christ is never distant from Barth's preaching. But in this particular sermon, the imagery seems more beautiful,
"Sinners are people who in the judgment of God, and perhaps of their own consciences, missed and lost their way, we're not just a little, but totally guilty, hopelessly indebted and lost not only in time, but in eternity. We are such sinners. And we are prisoners. Believe me, there is a captivity much worse than the captivity in this house.There are walls much thicker indeed much heavier than those closed upon you." (37)
Recall that Barth preached this sermon to prisoners in Basel. Though Barth does use "guilt" language, the emphasis is on captivity. Barth stresses being enslaved by sin not merely guilt of sin. This is highlighted by Barth's emphasis on the salvation act itself. Sin in the Christus Victor model is defeated in its entirety. Sin is defeated on behalf of everyone. It is directly applicable to you, the listener of Barth's sermon. Sin no longer has dominion over you. There is no pretentious discretion in the gospel,
"I have been saved! Is this really so, is this the truth? Look once again to Jesus Christ and his death upon the cross…He carried our sin, our captivity and our suffering…He carried it away. He acted as the captain of us all. He broke through the ranks of our enemies. He has already won the battle, our battle. Our sin has no longer any power over us. Our prison door is open." (39)
The objective justification espoused by Jordan Cooper (The Great Divide, 168-169) is also found in a manner within Barth's thinking. This universal reality of reconciliation was in part because of Barth's understanding of election. But it was mostly because of His understanding of God's complete work in Jesus Christ. This reconciliation is true even if you reject it,
"By grace you have been saved! — this is true, even though we may not believe it, may not accept it is valid for ourselves and unfortunately in so doing may forgo its benefits." (40)
Barth truly believed Christ was victorious over sin for everyone. This victory was not a partial victory but a complete victory. Barth's emphatic preaching of God's positive word of Jesus Christ to every man, woman, and child reminds me of my Lutheran brothers and sisters in Christ.