A Shared Mercy: Karl Barth on Forgiveness and the Church, By Jon Coutts

A Shared Mercy

Karl Barth on Forgiveness and the Church

New Explorations in Theology

by Jon Coutts
Foreword by John Webster

A Shared Mercy
  • Length: 244 pages
  • Dimensions: 6 × 9 in
  • Published: September 08, 2016
  • Imprint: IVP Academic
  • Item Code: 4915
  • ISBN: 9780830849154

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Christians regularly ask God to "forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors," but tend to focus on the first half and ignore the second.

Something is missing if Christians think of mission only in terms of proclamation or social justice and discipleship only in terms of personal growth and renewal—leaving the relational implications of the gospel almost to chance. It is vital both to spiritual life and mission to think of the church as both invitation and witness to a particularly merciful social dynamic in the world.

As a work of constructive practical theology and a critical commentary on the ecclesiology of Karl Barth's unfinished Church Dogmatics, A Shared Mercy explains the place and meaning of interpersonal forgiveness and embeds it within an account of Christ's ongoing ministry of reconciliation. A theologian well-practiced in church ministry, Jon Coutts aims to understand what it means to forgive and reconcile in the context of the Christ-confessing community. In the process he appropriates an area of Barth's theology that has yet to be fully explored for its practical ramifications and that promises to be of interest to both seasoned scholars and newcomers to Barth alike. The result is a re-envisioning of the church in terms of a mercy that is crucially and definitively shared.

Featuring new monographs with cutting-edge research, New Explorations in Theology provides a platform for constructive, creative work in the areas of systematic, historical, philosophical, biblical, and practical theology.

"It is almost unthinkable that the insights of Karl Barth have yet to be fully brought to the central topic of forgiveness. In this book, Coutts not only fills this significant gap in Barth research, but does so with the care, sensitivity, and depth of analysis that is a model for any Barth reader. Any student of Barth and any theologian interested in forgiveness will find much worth in engaging seriously with this work."

Tom Greggs, Marischal Chair of Divinity, University of Aberdeen

"Jon Coutts has provided us with a brilliant study of the character of forgiveness. Leaning into the wisdom of Karl Barth, he demonstrates that the church cannot be the church until it learns to give and receive forgiveness, and that this can only be learned and offered insofar as the church leans into the forgiveness offered by God in Christ. This book is a wonderful explication of the pivotal line in the creed, 'I believe in . . . the forgiveness of sins.'"

Gordon T. Smith, president, Ambrose University, Calgary, Alberta

"What a pleasure to read a work that combines scholarly excellence with pastoral sensitivity. Jon Coutts serves both the academy and the church by offering a careful, well-reasoned, and innovative theology of forgiveness in conversation with Karl Barth and a host of contemporary thinkers. The interpretation and appropriation of Barth will be of special interest to scholars of his theology, but the constructive account of forgiveness that stands at the heart of this book will be helpful to anyone seeking to learn how the church can learn to forgive as it first has been forgiven."

Keith L. Johnson, associate professor of theology, Wheaton College

"The significance of Jon Coutts's masterful description of Barth's teaching on forgiveness and the church extends beyond the narrow confines of Barth scholarship. It deserves to be read by anyone who wants to think seriously about the logic and practice of forgiveness."

Adam Neder, Whitworth University

"This is the most thorough account we have of Karl Barth's theology of forgiveness as outlined in CD IV. Coutts rightly locates his study within Barth's ecclesiology, highlighting the fundamentally communal character of Christian forgiveness. Coutts's careful exposition, critical theological judgment, and charitable practicality come together to advance our vision of what it means to 'forgive as we have been forgiven.' I'm doubly delighted to acknowledge that Coutts, a former student of mine, has now become my teacher!"

David Guretzki, professor of theology, church public life, Briercrest Seminary

"In this accomplished volume, Jon Coutts presents a bold vision of the theology and practice of Christian forgiveness that navigates this acutely difficult terrain with sensitivity and insight. Operating at the boundary of systematic, ethical, and pastoral reflection, Coutts draws on Karl Barth's doctrine of reconciliation to present a scripturally based and ecclesially attentive account of forgiveness as a reality of grace in a truly reconciled yet still sinful world. The result is a work that offers both consolation and challenge to Christians in their calling to be servants of reconciliation and deserves the careful attention of both theologians and pastors. Highly recommended."

Paul T. Nimmo, King's Chair of Systematic Theology, University of Aberdeen

"Coutts's aim in this tightly argued yet accessible volume is to elucidate the 'practical ecclesial ramifications' of Karl Barth's theology. He does so by reading Barth's doctrine of the church in Church Dogmatics IV through the lens of forgiveness, which highlights the church's ministry of reconciliation while anchoring that mission firmly in Jesus Christ's own history. Coutts demonstrates that Barth locates 'interpersonal forgiveness at the beating heart of the church's life.' In so doing, Coutts helps us think through what it means when in the Lord's Prayer Christians ask their Father to forgive them as they forgive others."

W. Travis McMaken, Lindenwood University

"Jon Coutts has provided us with the first substantial and reliable treatment of Karl Barth's theology of forgiveness as it appears in the final volume of the magisterial Church Dogmatics. This nuanced exposition and extension of Barth's thought on the theme of forgiveness is astute and generous in its theological judgements, clear in its expression, and practical in its orientation. This is not a blueprint theology but one that engages with Barth's understanding of the gospel of reconciliation in relation to the community ordered and animated by the gift of forgiveness for the sake of the world. Forgiveness, received in justification and sanctification, entails a vocation to share it, since God's mercy in Christ is a shared mercy and a mercy to share."

Richard R. Topping, principal and professor of studies in the Reformed tradition, Vancouver School of Theology

"As A Shared Mercy unfolds what Barth has to say, it also invites its readers to reflect on the theology and practice of forgiveness. Barth hoped that his writings would provoke further work on the doctrinal and practical-theological work by which he was himself so deeply engaged. Those seeking to consider the ecclesial work of forgiveness in relation to the church's troubled cultural locations will find much profit in what follows. In short: this book is both a sure-footed and perceptive study of a largely undiscovered element of Barth, and an astute and at times moving essay in doctrinal, moral and pastoral theology."

From the foreword by John Webster

"Coutts approaches the task with a pastoral and practical sensitivity which makes this book a worthy addition to the field. His expositions of Barth's thought are careful and insightful, and he demonstrates ample knowledge of the secondary literature without getting bogged down by it. Yet while Barth is the chief dialogue partner, an impressive range of other voices is included in the conversation. . . . These interactions undoubtedly enrich the book, and serve to show the fruitfulness of putting Barth into conversation with those outside the world of Barth studies."

Declan Kelly, Evangelical Journal of Theology, 27:1

"A Shared Mercy is an excellent book. It is both scholarly and pastoral, academic and practical. Coutts's contribution is a welcome addition to Barthian scholarship, it is useful to academics both in their research and in their classrooms, and most importantly, it has far reaching implications for the life and practice of the church."

Michael Spalione, Trinity Journal, Fall 2017


Foreword by John Webster
1. What Is It About Forgiveness?
2. Forgiveness in Church Dogmatics IV
3. Forgiveness Shared: The Church of Church Dogmatics IV
4. Forgive Us: The Meaning of Christian Forgiveness
5. As We Forgive: Forgiveness in the Ministry of Reconciliation
6. New Every Morning: The Life of a Confessing Church
Author Index
Subject Index

Jon Coutts

Jon Coutts (PhD, Aberdeen University) is tutor of theology and ethics at Trinity College in Bristol, England. Ordained in the Christian and Missionary Alliance, Coutts has extensive ministry experience in Canada, including serving as pastor in Richmond, British Columbia, and Selkirk, Manitoba. He writes and speaks on a variety of topics including church and pastoral theology, forgiveness and reconciliation, gender and ministry, film and fiction, and the works of Karl Barth and G. K. Chesterton.