Barth's Ontology of Sin and Grace: Variations on a Theme of Augustine, 1st Edition (e-Book) book cover

Barth's Ontology of Sin and Grace

Variations on a Theme of Augustine, 1st Edition

By Shao Kai Tseng


166 pages

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pub: 2018-12-05
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In recent Barth studies it has been argued that a key to understanding the theologian’s opposition to natural theology is his rejection of substantialist ontology. While this is true to an extent, this book argues that it is a mistake to see Barth’s ‘actualistic ontology’ as diametrically opposed to traditional substantialism. Probing into Barth’s soteriological hamartiology in Church Dogmatics, III-IV, a largely neglected aspect of these volumes in recent debates on his understanding of being and act, it shows how his descriptions of sin, nature, and grace shed light on the precise manners in which his actualistic ontology operates on both a substance grammar of being and a process grammar of becoming, while rejecting the metaphysics underlying both grammars.

Looking at issues such as original sin, universal salvation and human will, Barth is shown to be radically redefining the relationship between humans, their actions and the divine. This book argues that human ‘nature’ is the total determination of the human being ‘from above’ by God’s grace in Christ, while the existential dimension of the human being is also totally determined ‘from below’ by the Adamic history of sin. This serves to demonstrate Barth’s endeavours in eliminating the vestiges of natural theology within the Western tradition handed down from Augustine.

By exploring these issues this book offers a fresh insight into Barth’s relationship with his theological forbears. As such, it will be vital reading for any scholar of Barth studies, the problem of evil, and theological ontology.


‘In his characteristically clear and direct writing, Professor Shao Kai Tseng of Zhejiang University, China continues to establish himself as an important commentator on the theology of Karl Barth with this ground-breaking work discussing Barth’s understanding of sin, human nature and salvation. This book helpfully explains how and why Barth understood humanity to be affected by sin and grace with an emphasis on grace as God’s Yes to humanity in his Word and Spirit, but without resolving the freedom of God’s love for us into a rationalistic doctrine of universalism. This book will be must reading for all who are interested in Barth’s theological anthropology.’ – Paul D. Molnar, Professor of Systematic Theology, St. John’s University, Queens, NY, USA

Table of Contents


1 Sin and Substantialist Ontology: The Augustinian Background of Barth’s Theological Grammar

2 God and Nothingness (CD III/1-3): Barth’s Actualistic Reorientation of Augustine’s Meontological Grammar

3 Barth’s Actualistic Hamartiology (CD IV/1-3, §60, §65, and §70): Prolegomenal Considerations

4 ‘The Pride and Fall of Man’ (CD IV/1, §60): Original Sin and the History of Christ

5 ‘The Sloth and Misery of Man’ (CD IV/2, §65): Barth on the Bondage of the Will

6 Condemnation and Universal Salvation: Barth’s ‘Reverent Agnosticism’ Revisited (CD IV/3, §70)

Epilogue. Barth’s Paradigm Shift: An Actualistic Reorientation of Christian Ontology

About the Author

Shao Kai Tseng (DPhil, Oxford) is research professor in the Department of Philosophy at Zhejiang University, China. He is the author of Karl Barth’s Infralapsarian Theology (2016) and Hegel (2018), and a contributor to the Oxford Handbook of Nineteenth-Century Christian Thought (2017) and Blackwell Companion to Karl Barth (forthcoming).

About the Series

Barth Studies

The work of Barth is central to the history of modern western theology and remains a major voice in contemporary constructive theology. His writings have been the subject of intensive scrutiny and re-evaluation over the past two decades, notably on the part of English-language Barth scholars who have often been at the forefront of fresh interpretation and creative appropriation of his theology. Study of Barth, both by graduate students and by established scholars, is a significant enterprise; literature on him and conferences devoted to his work abound; the Karl Barth Archive in Switzerland and the Center for Barth Studies at Princeton give institutional profile to these interests. Barth's work is also considered by many to be a significant resource for the intellectual life of the churches.

Drawing from the wide pool of Barth scholarship, and including translations of Barth's works, this series aims to function as a means by which writing on Barth, of the highest scholarly calibre, can find publication. The series builds upon and furthers the interest in Barth's work in the theological academy and the church.

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
PHILOSOPHY / Religious
RELIGION / General
RELIGION / Philosophy
RELIGION / Christian Theology / General
RELIGION / Christian Theology / Christology
RELIGION / Christianity / General
RELIGION / Theology