Author： LAI Pan-chiu, Professor, Department of Cultural & Religious Studies, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Universal salvation is a controversial issue in Barth scholarship. The issue involves not only the question of whether and in what sense Barth advocates universal salvation, but also the reason why he explicitly denies universal salvation even though his theology seems to imply it logically. This essay attempts to explore the issue through comparing Barth’s relevant discourses with the Mahayana Buddhist discourses on universal salvation. It argues that in a Mahayana Buddhist perspective, especially through the doctrine of skillful means, it is possible, legitimate, and even coherent for Barth to accept universal salvation on the one hand and deny it on the other. The essay concludes that apart from their seeming similarities, there are also some significant differences between the Mahayana Buddhist and Barth’s discourses on universal salvation. First, whereas Barth’s approach is based mainly on orthodoxy and orthopraxis, the Mahayana Buddhist approach to universal salvation is based also on orthopathos. Second, whereas Barth’s discourses tend to focus on the election of humankind, the Mahayana affirmation of universal salvation clearly covers non-human beings. Third, the Mahayana Buddhist discourses emphasize the equality between sentient beings and the bodhisattvas or even Buddha(s), whereas Barth might highlight the divine initiative and the uniqueness of Jesus Christ.
Barth; Universal Salvation; Mahayana Buddhism; Skillful Means
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