Barth and Küng on Justification, by Trevor Hart
Very briefly we may note two obvious points of difference between Barth and Küng over sola fide. (1) For Küng justification is to be split into two parts: the objective (redemption) which is achieved for us in Christ, and the subjective (justification) which is worked out in us as we are made righteous by God’s gracious activity. While faith is certainly not a condition of the objective aspect (how could it be?), we may and must speak of it as properly a condition of the subjective. Without our response of faith this ‘making holy’ cannot take place. Faith does not earn or deserve it, but is necessary in order for it to take place in us. For Barth, faith is not a condition of the subjective aspect of justification: faith is the subjective aspect of justification; it is the response of human beings in encounter with Jesus Christ (and hence with the truth concerning their own being), the point at which the completed reality of their justification impinges upon their existence and throws them into transition. (2) Precisely as such faith is a response to a reality and not merely to a possibility. Whereas for Küng the subjective aspect…is that in which virtual justification becomes a reality for man, Barth sees justification as the reality to which faith response. Again, the respective loci of reality are for Küng in us and our being as individuals and for Barth in Christ, and therefore in us and our ‘being’. For Küng there is no sense in which we can refer to the unbeliever as justified in anything but a virtual sense. There is no real justification without faith. Whatever may have been achieved objectively in Christ, something ‘ontological’ remains to be done in each of us before justification can be a reality for us.