Barth and Küng on Justification, by Trevor Hart

Trevor Hart, “Christ and God’s Justification of Creation,” in Regarding Karl Barth: Toward a Reading of His Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999): 68.
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.


Jeff Danleoni said…
Can you or some bright reader please explain to me why the concepts "imputed" vs. "imparted" righteousness have become key theological terms in the Christian argument over justification? Unlike the actual biblical words "righteousness" and "justification", from which these concepts are derived, "imputed" and "imparted" are not primary source text. Yet these terms have become central in the justification argument. In fact, I find the "Trinity" concept an easier exegesis than that of "imparted" and "imputed". I think the argument is an attempt to force a door inside the mystery of the Resurrection.
The concept of 'imputation' with respect to righteousness was introduced during the Reformation as a way of explaining how the saving righteousness of God could pertain to a person without becoming a predicate of that person. That is, it is a way of maintaining the external or alien nature of saving righteousness. The saved person does not become essentially righteous, but is righteous because this righteousness obtained by Christ has been legally credited to said person.

Does that make sense?
Jeff Danleoni said…
Wow, you're fast! I understand the differences between the terms, I just question the exegesis that derives these concepts from the biblical words "righteousness" and "justification", "faith" and "works". I am favorable to the Reformed notion of "imputed" righteousness but I don't think you can draw a line in the sand as neatly as people like Piper and Wright do when they speak of this issue because these words are derivative, not biblical, text. I would fear to be so certain of my exegesis once you begin straying from Scripture. I suppose the same could be said of the Trinity and of perichoresis. How far into the nature of God and his salvation can you go before you end up building a castle on sand?

Anyway, thank you for your website. It's a great resource and I check it often.
Ah, I understand better now what you are saying. There is a sense in which the 'imputation' terminology is derivative from NT passages that use language of 'reckoning' righteous. I'm thinking for instance of Paul's discussion of Abraham's faith, which was 'counted' or 'reckoned' as righteousness. So there is definitely an exegetical touchstone.

On the broader question, I am happy to use extra-biblical terminology to make points that I think are implied in the biblical text - hence things like 'Trinity'. And then, of course, we need further terms to make further distinctions. But it always has to come back to the text.

The thing that I would want to maintain is that, while all theology ought at the end of the day to be 'biblical' theology, 'biblical theology' is not the end-all and be-all of the theological enterprise.
Anonymous said…
Completely ignoring your discussion on imputation (though I definitely could say something....)

Between Kung and Barth, I have to go with Barth despite the risk inherent in his view - that is, of course, universalism.

Justifying faith grasps Jesus, it does not "do" anything else. As hard as that makes the work of teaching and comprehending how to do discipleship, it is the hard and beautiful fact we have to work with.
Let us also avoid neglecting Calvin's insight (which I think Barth follows) that the work of the Holy Spirit precedes and creates the faith which grasps Christ.
Anonymous said…

You state that you believe that Barth follows Calvin's ordo salutis, but given Barth's actualised metaphysic and "universal" assumption of humanity (objectively) how is it that Barth follows Calvin here? I mean in the end, Calvin believes that salvation (subjectively) is mediated from the throne (Heb. 7:25) to "particular" folks (thus the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit); does Barth believe this? Or maybe you're saying that methodologically, Barth and Calvin are in tandem, in re. to the ordo salutis, its just that Barth (given his "actualism") believes that "all humanity" will be so moved upon by the Holy Spirit (as He "moved" upon Christ vicariously for us).

Could you clarify? Thanks . . .
I don't want to talk about Calvin's ordo salutis as a whole, for there are divergent interpretations, etc., and Barth is clearly working with a different constellation. But, for Barth, awakening to faith - the de facto actualization of what is already true de jure - remains the work of the Holy Spirit. The first 40 pages of CD 4.4 make this clear, and it can be found in numerous other locations as well.
Strider said…
Perhaps we might ask which theologian, Kung or Barth, is being most faithful to the New Testament and the theological tradition. I think the answer must be Kung. IMO, Barth's presentation of justification is clearly an innovation--a brilliant innovation, a creative, stimulating, perhaps compelling innovation, but an innovation nonetheless. It's hard to see any of the major Christian traditions ever really assimilating it.
I don't know, Strider. For my money, Barth on justification is just a really consistent Calvin, except with Calvin's doctrine of predestination switched out for Barth's doctrine of election. If you want to quibble with Barth in terms of innovation, that is the place to do it.
Strider said…
Perhaps we might ask this clarifying question: What would Calvin find objectionable in Hans Kung's presentation of justification?
Based on the paragraph here, I would suspect that what Kung is calling the subjective side of justification Calvin would call sanctification.
Strider said…
Just working from the Trevor Hart citation, let me ask this: Would Calvin or the later theologians of the Reformed Churches, claim that an adult may be justified even if he does not believe, even if faith has not been actualized in his life? Is there not a sense in Calvin and in most Reformed theologians in which faith as personal response to the gospel is indeed a condition of justification? Yes, these same theologians go on to qualify faith as nonmeritorious, as an empty hand that only receives the gift, etc.; but is it not also the case that the unbelieving and disbelieving cannot be described as justified in Christ? And is this not the reason why the ordo salutis inevitably arises within Reformed reflection on justification, sanctification, and glorification?

If I'm right on this, then it seems to me that both Kung and the Reformed appear to be in substantive agreement on the subjective dimension of justification.

I have not read Hart's article on Kung and Barth, and I've been away from these texts for a good while; but I would like to raise a caveat here: we need to be careful about pushing too hard the objectve/subjective distinction in Kung, as if the two can be neatly separated. Kung is attempting to articulate the mystery of grace:

"Only he who believes is justified. The task consequently is to related the 'objective' act of justification which happened on the cross with its 'subjective' realization. On the one hand, the justification accomplished on the cross must not be separated from the process which reaches down to the individual man; this would in one way or another lead to apokatastasis. On the other hand, personal justification must not be separated from the general act of justification on the cross; this would in one way or another lead to predestinationism. Rather both must be seen as the two sides of a single truth: All men are justified in Jesus Christ and only the faithful are justified in Jesus Christ. The generic act of justification on the cross is the 'permanently actual presence of salvation, accessible for personal appropriation' (Schrenk). The divine character of the declaration of divine justice and grace which took place on the cross once and for all and for all men, makes possible a relation between 'objective' and 'subjective' justification" (Justification, p. 223).

Would Calvin disagree with this? If yes, at what point and what?
Calvin at his most consistent would speak of faith only as a formal condition for justification - formal in the sense that it must be present, but the human person in question has absolutely notion to do with making it present, not even a notion of open-handed reception. For Calvin, it is the Holy Spirit that produces faith before and apart from anything we do.

For Calvin there is still the movement from potential to actual (there is a similar if relativized movement in Barth), but - with reference to the Kung quote you have at the end of your comment - Calvin would not call this the objective and subjective sides of one thing called justification, but the movement from atonement to justification.

The difference between Calvin and Barth is the status of this movement from 'potential' to 'actual' in soteriology. As I have suggested, this is relativized in Barth - although it still has a place - by his doctrine of election, which differs from Calvin's. This is where I think the divergence lies.
Strider said…
Is it not also the case that Calvin speaks of faith as the instrumental cause of justification (e.g., Inst. 3.11.7, 3.18.8)? But be that as it may, I do not yet see a substantive difference between Kung and Calvin. Kung and Calvin, despite terminological differences, perhaps, seem closer on this matter than Calvin and Barth.
Calvin's comments about faith as instrumental cause need to be taken in context, namely, with reference to the material in 3.1.4 that explains faith as the creation of the Holy Spirit.

I won't deny that there are similarities between Kung and Calvin. The question is: where are the similarities? Do they lie at the heart of Calvin's reformational project or are they on the periphery of material more or less left over from the Medieval context? I would argue - although this is neither the time nor the place - that Barth is moving forward with the heart of Calvin's reformational project and relativizing (reinterpreting and resituating, not removing) the rest.
Anonymous said…
Hey Father Alvin Kimel (Strider), I wondered what happened to you.

As far as I understand the differentiation between Kung and Calvin (and I don't really know Kung), I think Travis' point here:

. . . Calvin would not call this the objective and subjective sides of one thing called justification, but the movement from atonement to justification.

would be the point of "context" that I think "categorically" might provide the best frame for understanding a "distinction."

Just thought I would say hi, and throw in my 2 cents.
Strider said…
Hi, Bobby.

I do not doubt there are important differences between Calvin and Kung (how can there not be?) but it would be helpful to have these spelled out.

I have been away from Calvin a very long time, and in the past I always tended to read him through the lens of T. F. Torrance (whose writings I do know well--or at least I used to until my brain turned to mush). But though I very much appreciate the importance of union with Christ in Calvin's thought, and though I always used his NT commentaries when I was preparing sermons, he never touched my heart, at least not in the way that Luther did.

I am dubious of the claim that Barth is simply a consistent Calvinist, but it is beyond my competence to argue one way or the other. I simply register my skepticism. :)

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