Q & R: Karl Barth and Universal Salvation

Here’s the Q:

Hi Brian, I assume that you get tons of email so to be honest, I don’t really expect a response. I am a total layman and my only formal education is in computers so I find it very hard to read the works of theologians. Over the last 3 or 4 months (I am 32) my desire to learn about my faith has grown more than any other time in my life. I credit your books with providing this desire. I grew up evangelical but would classify myself as a post-evangelical. I have been wrestling with the idea of universal salvation, as well as the theology of Karl Barth – more specifically the doctrine of election. I understand these two theology’s potentially have the same outcome but the logic behind them is different. This topic could be controversial and you might not respond because of this. I would be very interested to know your thoughts on both topics. Universal salvation is something that I really hope is truth but I am having a difficult time finding enough evidence for it being truth. The same goes for Karl Barth’s doctrine of election. It seems all other salvation theologies are not 100% grace based as there is action required such as receiving God’s grace. Whether or not I get a response I want you to know I appreciate your insights and know God’s love is being poured onto the needy because of your work.

Reply after the jump …

R: Thanks so much for your note. Thanks also for not demanding or expecting a response – I wish I could respond to every email I receive, but I can’t. Thankfully, by posting replies on this blog, over time I’m building up a good bank of replies so most questions get covered.
I think it’s fantastic that a computer guy is reading Barth. When I was in university, I remember the afternoon I began reading Volume 1 of his Church Dogmatics, and I remember being overwhelmed with a sense of the grandeur and glory and goodness of God. To me, among many other gifts he gives us, Barth opens doors for people to escape from a terribly misguided understanding of election – what Lesslie Newbigin called “the greatest heresy in the history of monotheism” – the idea that God chooses some for elite privilege and others for damnation. Newbigin said – and I agree – that the biblical understanding of election is not being chosen instead of others, but on behalf of others. It means being chosen for service, not just privilege.
It’s hard for me to answer questions about universal salvation because I want to be sure we properly define salvation before we apply the word “universal” to it. For many people, salvation means being saved from a vengeful God who is planning to destroy or eternally torture us. For others, salvation means being saved by a compassionate God from sin and evil. Until we determine which kind of salvation we’re talking about, and which kind of God we’re talking about, it’s hard to even discuss the universality of salvation. This will be a major theme of my upcoming book, A New Kind of Christianity. If you’ve been reading Barth, you’ll find my book an easy read!