Karl Barth's Infralapsarian Theology: Origins and Development, 1920-1953 [New Explorations in Theology]
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Karl Barth's Infralapsarian Theology: Origins and Development, 1920-1953 [New Explorations in Theology]

IVP Academic / 2016 / Paperback

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Theologians have long assumed that Karl Barth's doctrine of election is supralapsarian.

Challenging decades of scholarship, Shao Kai Tseng argues that despite Barth's stated favor of supralapsarianism, his mature lapsarian theology is complex and dialectical, critically reappropriating both supra- and infralapsarian patterns of thinking. Barth can be described as basically infralapsarian because he sees the object of election as fallen humankind and understands the incarnation as God's act of taking on human nature in its condition of fallenness.

Tseng shows that most of Barth's Reformed critics have not understood his doctrine of election accurately enough to recognize his affinity to infralapsarianism and, conversely, that most Barthians have not understood Reformed-orthodox formulations of election with sufficient accuracy in their disagreement with the tradition. Karl Barth's Infralapsarian Theology offers a clear understanding of both the historic Lapsarian Controversy and Barth's distinct form of lapsarianism, providing a charitable dialogue partner to aid mutual understanding between Barth and evangelicals.

Product Information

Format: Paperback
Number of Pages: 304
Vendor: IVP Academic
Publication Date: 2016
Dimensions: 9.00 X 6.00 (inches)
ISBN: 0830851321
ISBN-13: 9780830851324
Series: New Explorations in Theology

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Author Bio

Shao Kai Tseng (DPhil, University of Oxford) is assistant professor of systematic theology at China Evangelical Seminary in Taipei, Taiwan. He is the author of a chapter in the Oxford Handbook of Nineteenth-Century Christian Thought, as well as several books and scholarly articles in both English and Chinese. Previously he served as a pastor at Faith Chinese North American Baptist Church in his hometown of Vancouver, British Columbia.

Endorsements

Through a detailed study of the development of Karl Barth's theology against the background of the Lapsarian Controversy of the seventeenth century, Tseng shows that Barth's professed 'purified supralapsarianism' is in fact a transformed vision of Christology and predestination in which both infralapsarian and supralapsarian elements play an important role. Tseng's headline claim that Barth's mature view is best described (contra Barth himself) as 'basically infralapsarian' is and will no doubt remain controversial. Yet at the same time, his fine-grained presentation of Barth's Christological doctrine of election as a dialectical admixture of supra- and infralapsarian patterns of thinking builds a persuasive case and, moreover, models a hearty mode of theological inquiry that is refreshing in an era grown chary of dogmatic reflection.
-Joel D. S. Rasmussen,
associate professor of nineteenth-century Christian thought, University of Oxford

Swimming against the currents of common opinion, Shao Kai Tseng offers a fresh and provocative argument that Karl Barth was not a supra- but infralapsarian. Such a claim will undoubtedly raise eyebrows, but Tseng presents a convincing case rooted in a careful analysis of the original seventeenth-century debate and Barth's own extensive writings. Without hesitation I can say that this is a must-read book for anyone who wants a better understanding of Barth's theology. But this book is also important for anyone who wrestles with how to explain God's relationship with fallen humanity, the doctrine of Christ, time and eternity, and election and salvation.
-J. V. Fesko,
Westminster Seminary California

Shao Kai Tseng's text is a most impressive piece of scholarship. His topic of predestination, with a focus on Barth, chimes in with the important debate in Barth scholarship on election in relation to Trinity. This book will take its place as further evaluation and revision of the interpretation of predestination in Barth's theology. I commend the work by this emerging Asian theologian wholeheartedly.
-Timothy Bradshaw,
University of Oxford

Shao Kai Tseng's new book tackles a problem that many have regarded as metaphysical and, as such, impossibly obscure. However, Tseng's study shows not only that the choice between a supralapsarian and infralapsarian view was of perennial concern to Barth but that it also dovetails with central aspects of his christological thinking. Tseng approaches the subject by means of a careful scrutiny of key texts as well as of relevant secondary literature. He has an exceptional and welcome ability to juggle the highly technical vocabulary of Reformed dogmatics in such a way as to show how the issues are of importance to all Christian thought.
-George Pattison,
1640 Chair of Divinity, University of Glasgow

Was God's original will to enter into covenant relations with his creatures an act that took place because of the fall or irrespective of the fall? The answer that this significant study provides is that it is both, with more weight attached to the latter view. Ordinarily one might wonder what the relevance of a study of Barth's supralapsarian and infralapsarian emphases might be both for Barth scholars and the church. In this carefully argued, well-researched and well-documented exploration of the development and implications of Barth's doctrines of election and Christology, Shao Kai Tseng demonstrates exactly why such a study is important. We learn exactly how Barth could forcefully present the power of God's grace by focusing on Jesus Christ as 'electing God and elected human,' rather than on a decretum absolutum, while at the same time taking account of God's good creation as it is menaced by sin and death. Since God is really free as the one who loves within the immanent Trinity, we know that God's love of the world in election and incarnation is effective for all, just because God's self-determination to be for us is irrevocable as an action of love that corresponds perfectly with God's self-sufficient act of love in the freedom of the immanent Trinity. This is certainly a book that Barth scholars will want to read and discuss. But it is a book that will engage and inform all theologians who are concerned about how to understand God's love and freedom for us today in a way that does justice to both God's love and God's freedom.
-Paul D. Molnar,
professor of systematic theology, St. John's University, Queens, NY

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  1. John M Kight
    Michigan
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    Gender: Male
    5 Stars Out Of 5
    An example that new explorations in theological studies are possible! Engaging and Insightful!!
    April 24, 2016
    John M Kight
    Michigan
    Age: 25-34
    Gender: Male
    Quality: 5
    Value: 5
    Meets Expectations: 5
    Shao Kai Tseng is assistant professor of Systematic Theology at China Evangelical Seminary in Taipei, Taiwan. Tseng has a D.Phil. from the University of Oxford and has authored a number of books and scholarly articles in both English and Chinese. Much of Tsengs ongoing research has centered around the theology of Karl Barth. Tseng brings an interesting perspective to the current trends within Barth studies, and the present volume is a clear example of keen reflection and distilled scholarship.

    Karl Barths Infralapsarian Theology: Origins and Development 1920-1953 is made up of two major sections: (1) Reappraising Barths Lapsarian Position and (2) Barths Lapsarian Position in Development, 1920-1953. The first portion of Tsengs investigation provides some definitional groundwork for the lapsarian problem. Tseng explains, what defines supralapsarianism in general is the thesis that in election-reprobation God considers humanity as unfallen, while what defines infralapsarianism is the view that eternal double predestinationbefore the actual creation of the worldGod conceives of fallen humanity as the object of election-reprobation (p. 61). It is here that Tseng then reevaluates Barths position and his self-identification with the former lapsarian position.

    Still, Barths lapsarian convictions are far more complex than that allowed by a simple ascription to a supralapsarianism position. For Tseng, the complex and dialectical nature of Barths lapsarian thinking, along with his doctrine of election outlined in CDII/2, could be described as basically infralapsarian (p. 79). Thus, the second portion of Tsengs investigation seeks to establish this conclusion further by chronologically examining the development of Barths lapsarian position from Rmerbrief II (1920-1921) to CDIV/1 (1951-1953). This latter section comprises the majority of the book and Tseng does well in guiding the reader to his intended conclusions. Tseng concludes that regardless of Barths avowed sympathy for the supralapsarian ordering of divine decrees, Barths Christocentric doctrine of election . . . has in fact been a robustly complex scheme in which supra- and infralapsarian theological incentives and patterns of thinking . . . have been dialectically interwoven (p. 290). In other words, a simple ascription to a supralapsarianism in Barths theology is just thatsimple.



    Those familiar with the landscape of Karl Barth and Barth studies will be able to examine the investigation of this book with more scrutiny than others. This is not a book written with a general readership in mind. It is both technical and dense, but rich with insight and theological reflection. If anything the reader will walk away encouraged that new explorations in theological studies are possible, which makes this title a perfect fit for the series in which it resides. This is a book that I can recommend for those interested or invested in Barth studies. It is a new page turned in the complex study of one of the twentieth centuries most influential figure. Still, for those who are looking for an entrance ramp into the conversation, I would recommend looking elsewhere.

    I received a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commissions 16 CFR, Part 255: Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.
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