In God Has Chosen: The Doctrine of Election Through Christian History, Mark R. Lindsay weaves together his expertise on Karl Barth and Jewish-Christian relations into a compelling study of election. Rather than providing a genealogy of the doctrine, he highlights “snapshots” from church history, where he argues key developments occurred; in each, he attends to the resulting impact on the Jews.
Lindsay begins with an analysis of Genesis 12:1-9, Genesis 32:22-32, Deuteronomy 7:6-11, Romans 9-11, and Ephesians 1:3-14, the scriptural texts which have typically served as the foundation for this doctrine. Herein, he contends they “demonstrate a pattern of God’s free willing that is characterized more prominently by an expansive inclusivity . . . than by either arbitrary or punitive exclusion” (35).
He carries this thesis through the following chapters as he explores the question of who makes up the Church, the community of the elect. Lindsay begins with the Early Church Fathers, like Cyprian, Ignatius, and Origen, but maintains a special focus on Augustine; this is perhaps due not only to Augustine’s prevailing significance, but also because he raised the possibility that “the ecumene might be broader than either church or Israel” (72).
As opposed to Augustine’s two cities, Lindsay argues the Middle Ages were a time of enmeshment between the church and wider society. This made it easy to exclude “Jews and Muslims, heretics and pagans” from both the “empire” and “the company of the elect” (75). After contrasting the insights of Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus, Lindsay delves into the Reformation, an obvious turning point for the Christian understanding of election. Here, Luther, Arminius, and, most of all, Calvin are considered, followed by Friedrich Schleiermacher and John Nelson Darby.
Giddy with anticipation, students of Barth will relish the way Lindsay examines the great thinker’s advancement of this doctrine in Chapter 5; this not only includes an explanation of Barth’s mature understanding of election, but explores how it evolved to that point. Pierre Maury’s 1936 Geneva paper is considered especially pertinent. Herein, Lindsay draws attention to how Barth’s early approach to election “would have been acutely ill-equipped to oppose Nazi ideology.” However, the latter “was so thoroughly reconstituted around the eternal yes of God in Christ Jesus” that it provided "discursive resistance to both National Socialist anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.”
Lindsay concludes by exploring how Jewish thinkers have grappled with “election in a post-Shoah world, as well as two ways in which the church has responded in post-supersessionary confession” (11). After all, the Holocaust demonstrated that “whatever election might mean, it did not mean sanctuary from annihilation” (10).
While the predominant scholarship on election has taken the form of a confessional argument or comparative study, Lindsay creates an accessible, historically grounded overview. His rich theological commitment to “a more expansive view of God’s electing will” is consistent throughout, and he pleads with readers to take “quite seriously the radical inclusivity of God’s call and offer” (11).
In addition to academics and students, pastors will appreciate Lindsay’s clear writing style, abundant citations, and discerning evaluation; in fact, readers may struggle to put God Has Chosen down. This work provides a significant contribution to Barth studies and the wider fields of systematic and historical theology, particularly because of Lindsay’s commitment to the Jews. Without this focus, this volume would still provide a strong historical argument for the church’s understanding of God’s grace. However, given that so many scholars have effectively ignored the Jewish community, Lindsay rightly insists on the critical significance of the Jews to the doctrine of election.
Catherine C. Tobey is an independent scholar.
Catherine C. Tobey
Date Of Review:
August 4, 2022
Mark R. Lindsay is Joan F. W. Munro Professor of Historical Theology at Trinity College Theological School at the University of Divinity in Melbourne, Australia. He is the author of Reading Auschwitz with Barth; Barth, Israel and Jesus; and Covenanted Solidarity.
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