Response to Critics (of My Essay on Barth’s Universalism)

Response to Critics (of My Essay on Barth’s Universalism) March 11, 2013

So, as I predicted, some have criticized my essay (immediately preceding post on Barth’s universalism) for being “unoriginal.” I thought I said that I wasn’t trying to be original. I was trying to make Barth’s view accessible to the masses of people interested in Barth who will never read a journal article by Hunsinger, et al., or Church Dogmatics.

Also, I did not want to do a literature search and review of recent arguments and conclusions about the subject. I wanted to go directly to the source, Church Dogmatics, and find out what Barth himself said. I’m afraid many people are getting their opinions about Barth’s theology from Barth scholars of the past one or two decades–especially out of Princeton. (Nothing against them, but people ought to read Barth if possible and consider other interpretations of Barth than those.)

One of my favorite books about Barth’s theology is by non-Barthian scholar Gary Dorrien (Theology without Weapons). But, unfortunately, his insights are being ignored by those who rush to read only the Princeton Barth scholars.

If my conclusions are the same as Hunsinger’s or others’, fine. My intention was not to say something new and different; it was to provide key quotes from CD that many seem to ignore or never have read and suggest what they might have to say about the question of Barth’s universalism. If my conclusions are the same as someone else’s, well, then, that’s supportive of my thesis.

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  • Anthony

    I want to say that, in my comment on one of your earlier posts, I was assuming that Barth was not a universalist when I said that my professor was Barthian when it came to election. My prof is not a self proclaimed Barthian. I interpreted his position in light of Bruce McCormack’s interpretation of Barth, which sounds more exclusivist than universalist, and interprets election specifically in light of identification with Christ (it is probably a wrong view of Barth but I am only saying that my prof is definitely not a universalist). So the book that he is planning on writing (on the 6th century Semi-Pelagian controversy) will not be by a universalist.

  • Barth Scholar

    There are many of us who inwardly feel proud and excited when we do a lot of research on something. We feel like trumpeting it from the hilltops but most of us also have the good sense to reign it in and couch our research as “*a* contribution” or “an attempt” –especially when we recognize there may very well be secondary literature that we have no delved into. But when you exhibit no such restraint (i.e. “I think it resolves the issue once and for all . . . My hope is that you, my dear readers, will disseminate this article (attributing it to me, of course) far and wide so that students of Barth have access to it.”, you should not be surprised when you receive pushback.

    • rogereolson

      I wonder who you may be? 🙂 Okay, so you missed that I said I was not claiming originality for it. I think I expressed Barth’s view more clearly and simply than many have in the scholarly literature. If I’m wrong about that, well, others will decide (of course). It is impossible, of course, to read all the secondary literature on Barth; it is voluminous to say the least. I had no doubt that others have expounded Barth’s view similarly or even better, but I have not seen it expressed in a popular forum where non-theologians have access to it. Also, if, as you suggest, Barth’s view (as I have described it) is so well known, why do so many scholars of Barth (I won’t name them here but I have talked with them) continue to say he was NOT a universalist? People tend to have lined up on one side or the other–either Barth was or was not a universalist. My point is the answer to the question is more complicated than that. Barth’s view was subtle but not impossible to grasp.

  • Dr. Olson, your article as to whether Karl Barth was a universalist or not was superb! Very well researched and clearly stated. In my opinion, based on his own words and on my own biblically-based conclusions, there can be no doubt that Barth was a convinced universalist. That said; I’m not surprised that some evangelical-type Christians would vociferously deny that he ever so much as hinted believing in the ultimate salvation of all humanity. Such an admission is a threat to their own deeply entrenched dogmas of doom and gloom for all those ‘bad sinners’ that are running loose out there. To admit as much (universal redemption) would also require the end of the teaching of “hell” with its threat of eternal conscious torture for the vast majority of God-created humanity. It has been my observation that some Christians will fight like hell to defend hell — for others.

    • rogereolson

      What I suspect (as I’ve said here before) is that for SOME evangelical scholars it is important to say that Barth was not a universalist (which is partly true as I argue in my essay) in order to keep other evangelicals’ minds open to Barth. Most (all?) of those evangelical Barth scholars I know who deny that Barth was a universalist take no pleasure in believing in hell. But many (most?) constituents of evangelical institutions are committed to hell as eternal torment of the wicked. They pay the salaries.

  • Jerry G. Disch, Pastor

    Hi Roger,
    Thanks for all of your entries, they stir the heart and mind to continue to think and rethink our understandings of God.