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Dogmen- und Theologiegeschichte
Re-Imaging Election. Divine Election as Representing God to Others and Others to God.
Grand Rapids/ Cambridge: Eerdmans 2010. XX, 213 S. 22,5 x 16,0 cm. Kart. US$ 26,00. ISBN 978-0-8028-6408-6.
This book is an exceptionally well-written and thought out foray into the idea of election, both in its classical sense and in its Barthian reinterpretation. In it, Suzanne McDonald, takes up a critique of both the traditional Reformed understanding of election and its narrow interpretation of the meaning of individual, double predestination while simultaneously rejecting Barth’s purely Christological solution to the problem. Instead, she offers an expanded account of election true to Joseph Owen’s orthodoxy, which demands a potent role for the Spirit in election such that election remains the Pneumatological completion of Christ’s work at an individual level. She does this, however, while still defining the end of election within Barth’s more universalist interpretation of the phenomenon.
M.’s means for skirting these problems is found in her unfolding of a perichoretic and representational understanding of election. Election is the Pneumatological element of the perichoretic unity of the Godhead as the Godhead moves outside of itself into creation. This election is first found in Christ but extended to the believing Church through the Spirit. If election, however, is extended to the Church in the Spirit, election is also potentially extended to all of humanity through God’s Church, for all of creation is itself built upon the same relational and representational unity that God uses to extend God’s self both back into God’s self and into the Church. The Church, then, as the Church is the site in which the whole of Creation finds itself opened to God’s blessing by repre-senting the whole of a relational creation back to God.
With so many features to admire in this book, both in terms of the level of argumentation and the precision of thought, I choose to highlight two of the more interesting ones. First, M. offers a well thought and poignant critique of Barth’s later working out of the notion of election. M. does not necessarily disagree with Barth’s universalistic conclusion; she does, however, believe that Barth wrongly forgoes talk of the Spirit, attempting to contain the notion of election entirely within a Christology. Barth’s move contains a concrete contradiction. Barth rightly rejects the necessity of universal salvation, opting to preserve instead the freedom of God. However, the only grounds through which Barth could rightly reject universal salvation are Pneumatological – that the Spirit, as the fulfiller of the will of the Father and Son, is the one who makes effective and brings to completion the divine will-to-elect in an individual, double-predestinational manner.
Second, M. opens up the potency of thinking representationally about election through a metaphor gained in reflection upon the terrible disease of dementia. While a person may slowly lose her sense of individual identity through dementia, her friends, family, and all those who know her keep that identity safeguarded, storing memories that the individual can no longer remember and pre-serving plans that the person could never again make for herself. While this individual is lost to herself, she is not lost to her community and, thus, neither is she absolutely lost to herself. So it might also be with election. While the Spirit holds open the truth of the Church’s identity in Christ to the Church — an identity that the Church either forgot or did not yet know – the Church does the same for all of humanity while simultaneously representing the identity of humanity back to God. The insight, in other words, forms a powerful image through which to contemplate God’s possibilities in God’s election.
My only real complaint pertains to M.’s understanding of the work of the Spirit. For M., the Spirit always completes the work originating in the Father and the Son. This much is correct. Part of her understanding of »completion« demands an intellectual ascent to Christ in a faith given by the Spirit. The concept of »belief«, thus, signifies those who not only understand what they believe but know that they believe. I wonder, however, if there are not more subtle interpretations of the Spirit and its work — views that ought to be given some hearing, even if only and ultimately for the sake of rejection. The Spirit may not, in fact, work, first, in terms of intellectual ascent. Intellectual ascent, as Cardinal Newman points out, may take years upon years of reflection, even though belief may have been there all along. Perhaps belief has more to do with something like a »praxis« than, first, an intellectual ascent. After all, we may engage in Spirit-led acts of love far before understanding the Trinity’s work in these acts.
Despite this minor critique, I believe that the book stands second-to-none for those interested in contemporary, Protestant systematic and constructive theology.