The Presupposition of the Atonement

For Barth, the presupposition of the atonement is God’s original covenant with humanity – the atonement brings this to fulfillment in Jesus Christ. ‘He therefore fulfills and reveals the original and basic will of God, the first act of God, His original covenant with man.’ Because the atonement fulfills this original covenant of God it demonstrates that God has always been for humanity, that ‘God does not occupy a position of neutrality in relation to man.’

That is the covenant of God with man, from which He has bound and pledged Himself always to begin, and in virtue of which He has constituted Himself his God. And that is the presupposition of the atonement as revealed in its actualisation in Jesus Christ: the presupposition whose consequences are deduced in atonement; the presupposition which in the atonement is fulfilled in spite of the opposition of man. We do not postulate it. We do not grope for it in the void. We find it in that which has actually taken place in Jesus Christ. IV.1.2 p38

It is in act of atonement that God says ‘I will be your God and you will be my people.’ So, for Barth, this means two things. First, humanity cannot think of God except as the One who has established and fulfilled this covenant. ‘For according to the Word which He Himself has spoken in His supreme and final work, there is no other God.’

Second, this means humanity cannot think of itself except as those covenanted to God. ‘Just as there is no God but the God of the covenant, there is no man but the man of the covenant: the man who as such is destined and called to give thanks.’

All of this means that gratitude is the only right response humanity can make to the presupposition of the atonement – that God will be their God and they will be His people:

Grace and gratitude belong together like heaven and earth. Grace evokes gratitude like the voice an echo. Gratitude follows grace like thunder lightning. IV.1.2 p41

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5 Responses to “The Presupposition of the Atonement”

  1. Wow! Karl Barth a covenant theologian!? Who would’ve thought!

    Quite an interesting post dude.

    Do you think Barth is thinking in terms of a traditional covenant of works (ie., God requires all humans to obey him), or a covenant of grace (ie., all people are part of the redeemed community)?

    • stephengardner Says:

      its everywhere in iv.1 If you’re interested he’s got 10 pages of exegesis on covenant which is pure gold. And another 10 page footnote of covenantal theology throughout history

  2. Tres interesting dude. I’ll have to grab the book off ya for a read.

    Giddy up.

    PS – you around this week?

  3. yeah i’m itching to smash ya.

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