Assurance of Salvation between Theodore Beza and John Calvin

If you need assurance who would you rather listen to; Theodore Beza or John Calvin? Or neither?

In order to resist this second [temptation], it is necessary to know if we have this faith or not. The means is to ascend (monter) from the effects (effets) to a knowledge of the cause (cause) which produces them. Now, the effects (effets) that Jesus Christ produces in us, when we have apprehended him by faith, are two. In the first place, there is the testimony that the Holy Spirit gives to our spirit, that we are children of God . . . . Secondly, . . . when by faith Jesus Christ has given himself to us eternally in order to dwell in us, his virtue produces and reveals there his powers, which are known in Scripture by the word “regeneration” . . . . This regeneration has three parts . . . . The power of Jesus Christ coming to take possession of us produces three effects (effets) in us: the mortification of this corruption which Scripture calls the old man, his burial, and finally, the resurrection of the new man . . . . To know this regeneration it is necessary to come to its fruits. Thus, . . . the man, being set free from sin . . . begins to do what we call good works (4.13).

Need more:

[Good works] make us more and more certain of our salvation, not as causes of it, but as testimonies and effects (effets) of the cause (cause), that is, our faith . . . . Since good works are for us sure testimonies of our faith, it follows that they also make us certain of our eternal election . . . . So then, when Satan puts us in doubt about our election, it is not necessary to first go and search for the decision of the eternal plan (conseil) of God; his majesty would dazzle us. But, on the contrary, it is necessary to begin with the sanctification which one experiences in oneself, and to climb higher (monter plus haut). Since our sanctification, from which proceeds good works, is a sure effect (effet) of faith, or rather of Jesus Christ is necessarily called and elected by God to salvation, . . . it follows that sanctification with its fruits is the first step (le premeier degre)  by which we begin to ascend (monter) all the way to the first and true cause (la premier . . . vraye cause) of our salvation, that is, our eternal and gratuitous election (4.19).

– Theodore Beza quoted from his, “Confession de la Foy (1558),” in “Adaptations of Calvinism in Reformation Europe,” 64-5 ed. Matt P. Holt

Rest now my weary souls! Look to the decree and find rest. :-)

How can anyone read this, and say, “yep, this is pure ‘Gospel’ truth?” Let me just say, with all of my attitude in-tact, that I realize folks like Beza & co. were just working with the theological tools they had (they didn’t know any better). What’s your excuse? Have you paid attention to the kind of spirituality that this kind of stuff produced in the ensuing years following?

Contrast Beza with Calvin (and by the way, Beza was Calvin’s successor at Geneva):

Now we shall possess a right definition of faith if we call it a firm and certain knowledge of God’s benevolence toward us, founded upon the truth of the freely given promise in Christ, both revealed to our minds and sealed upon our hearts through the Holy Spirit.

– John Calvin, Inst., 3.2.7.

The contrast between these two is rather striking, especially since Beza and Calvin were compatriots.

TULIP, Evangelical Calvinist Style

The TULIP Evangelical Calvinist style:

  • Total Depravity = ‘He who knew no sin became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in him.’ II Corinthians 5.21.
  • Unconditional Election = God in Christ elected humanity for himself that ‘by his poverty we might be made rich.’ II Corinthians 8.9.
  • Limited Atonement = The atonement was ‘limited’ to Christ’s humanity for us, for all of humanity. I John 2.2.
  • Irresistible Grace = God chose to not be God without us prior to our choice to be for him; indeed it his choice for us in Christ that grounds and funds humanity’s choice to be for him, in and through the Spirit. Galatians 2.20.
  • Perseverance of the Saints = God’s life is indestructible, and so it will always persevere for us. Hebrews 7.25.

Something like that.

Thomas Torrance on Incarnational Cosmology and the Intellegibility of the Contingent Universe in Relation

“We come now to the other aspect of the Christian doctrine of God that is of significance for our theme, the faithfulness of God. This is the idea that in all its creaturely fragility and temporality the universe is harnassed to the invariance and constancy of God’s wisdom and love. Here once again the early Christian Church took its view of the whole economy of the space-time universe from its understanding of Jesus Christ as the bodying forth within space and time of the eternal purpose of God’s love. That is to say, it was the incarnation of God himself in Jesus Christ which constituted the dynamic centre from which the whole pattern and history of created reality is to be discerned, for all lines converge meaningfully at that point where are are transfixed, as it were, by a transcendent axis, much as the spokes of a cartwheel are made to bear upon a centre through which is thrust the axle that gives the wheel its significance. The discovery of the ultimate meaning and design of the universe in the incarnation had the effect of transforming the Hebrew idea of the covenanted mercies of God, and the Hellenic idea of the predetermination of all things in accordance with changeless necessities, and of bringing them together in such a way as to give rise to a thoroughly dynamic view of the cosmos in which orderliness and temporality, regularity and novelty, constancy and change were married together. The doctrine of creation out of nothing had shocked the Greek mind, as we have seen, for it appeared to throw the universe into unstable, irrational flux, but that was to fail to see the anchoring of the time-continuum of created reality in the unswerving faithfulness and love of the Creator such as he had revealed himself to be in Jesus Christ. However, the concept of a temporal origin to the universe from such a God had the effect of both establishing the concept of the history of the physical universe as an open-ended movement which constantly takes mankind by surprise, and yet of showing that history falls within the overarching constraints of God’s grace as its operation in our spatio-temporal existence is revealed in Jesus. That is to say, here we have advanced a concept of the divine providence without the closed predetermination of Aristotelian final causes or the changeless natural law of the Stoics, and the concept of the creative interaction of God with the temporal order of the universe which gives rise to a new understanding of order as both real and contingent. Far from being understood in the Platonic as a transient image of eternity, and far from being confounded with the measurement of velocity as with the Newtonians in a later age, time is filled with real content, for it is the created counterpart to the ever-new creative purposes of God himself, so that it continues to manifest from moment to moment in a dynamic present new patterns of events which could not have been anticipated from what has already happened in the past or have been predicted through any logico-deductive reasoning from abstract ideas. It is this astonishing combination of unpredictability and lawfulness, not only in the history of man but in the history of all created reality in its relation to the constancy and freedom of the grace of the Creator, that lies behind the Christian conception of the cosmos as an open-ordered universe. In its correlation with the unlimited freedom and inexhaustibility of the Creator the universe is characterized neither by uncertainty nor by necessity. Far from being closed or predetermined, the universe constitutes an open-textured system in which novel forms of order constantly emerge and yet blend with what has already taken place in invariant consistency and rationality.”

– Thomas F. Torrance, Divine And Contingent Order (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981), 68-9.

A Christological Collage: Reflecting on the Two-Natures, One Person of Jesus for Easter

As we remember the great reality that God in Christ has accomplished for the world during this Easter moment, I thought it would be appropriate for us to stop and consider a rather technical but important Christological jesuscollagereality. Namely, how ought we think of the relationship between the divine and human natures present in the one person of Jesus Christ? How we attempt to answer this question will have important implications in regard to what we think happened at the cross of Jesus Christ. For example Todd Norquist in a recent comment on the blog pondered: “I’m also sketchy on wt [sic] Christ, in his divine nature, was experiencing in the tomb–and at death.” And over at another blog that I was recently interacting act, one of its authors, Tom Belt articulated a related point in regard to considering the implications of a two-natured Christology (albeit in a different kind of context); Tom wrote,

The homoousion posits the consubstantiality of the Son/Logos with the Father. Chalcedon specifies two natures. One person, yes, but two natures (inseparable and unconfused). It’s via his divine nature that the Son is consubstantial with the Father and via his human nature that the Son is consubstantial with us…. That is, when I say the Son is not “reduced without remainder” to the constraints of his embodied/human context, I mean what Athanasius meant when he affirmed that while the Son was a babe in the cradle the SAME SON was sustaining the universe. One Person, yes, but two natures. And the natures are not collapsed into the constraints of Jesus human consciousness and embodied state.It seems to me that Kim F in his reply to Fr Aidan conflates the natures. He thinks that since there is one and only one subject (the Son) of the human sufferings that this must mean those sufferings define the divine nature. But that’s not at all an obvious ‘Christological’ truth picked up off the surface of reading the gospels, and it specifically denies Chalcedon. (see here)

Without getting into a problem with Tom’s kind of Nestorian-like explication of Chalcedonian christology (potentially, Nestorian, I would need further articulation from Tom on what he means in regard to ‘consubstantial with us’, he seems to elide the ground of both natures in the Son while wanting to affirm it; I would need to know how Tom deploys the concept of an/enhypostasis), what his quote identifies is the import, and maybe the continued confusion (or more charitably, difficulty) of how a two-nature one person Christology ought to function. Beyond Belt though, let me provide one more example, this time from my friend Steven Nemes, and a recent Good Friday blog post he just offered while reflecting upon this Easter season. Steven used Jürgen Moltmann’s theology of the cross to reflect on God and suffering, and of course Moltmann is Lutheran, so we will get a kind of distinct rendering of the communicatio idiomatum and how the two natures repose in the one person of Jesus Christ, which for Moltmann brings suffering into God’s life:

When God becomes man in Jesus of Nazareth, he not only enters into the finite of man, but in his death on the cross also enters into the situation of man’s godforsakenness. In Jesus he does not die the natural death of a finite being, but the violent death of the criminal on the cross, the death of complete abandonment by God. The suffering in the passion of Jesus is abandonment, rejection by God, his Father. God does not become a religion, so that man participates in him by corresponding religious thoughts and feelings. God does not become a law, so that man participates in him through obedience to a law. God does not become an ideal, so that man achieves community with him through constant striving. He humbles himself and takes upon himself the eternal death of the godless and the godforsaken, so that all the godless and the godforsaken can experience communion with him (p. 276). (see here)

Given the above examples we can see how understanding the hypostatic union (the two natures of Jesus Christ, the divine and human) can affect the way we parse things, in particular, within a soteriological frame.

In response to this I am going to offer a quick reply by offering some quotes from my friend Darren Sumner, and an essay he has written (which represents a compressed version of his PhD work at Aberdeen). Darren will identify how this kind of discussion has occurred historically and in particular between the Lutherans and Calvinists. Darren as a Barth scholar, will offer an alternative kind of via media to what is somewhat represented by the Reformed view of this given by Tom Belt above, and the Lutheran application of this observed in the Moltmann quote.

We will start with Darren’s definition of the extra Calvinisticum which is the name given to the Reformed approach to thinking the two-natures of Christ juxtaposed with the Lutheran understanding of perichoresis or interpenetration between the two-natures of Christ (the communicatio idiomatum); and then I will close with Darren’s Barthian constructive proposal between these two extreme and historic approaches that has inhered in the Calvinists and Lutherans respectively. (And as I am writing this post I am running out of motivation and steam, so I might leave this post rather fragmented, and leave you to sort it out in the comment meta, if you so desire).

Here is Darren on definitions:

[T]he purpose of this article is to examine the dogmatic place of the ‘so-called’ extra Calvinisticum in an effort to determine whether it is an indispensable tenet of Christology – particularly in the Reformed tradition. This doctrine states that the Word of God is not entirely circumscribed by his assumed humanity, but continues to fill and sustain the universe even while he is incarnate in Jesus Christ. In other words he exists in two ways, both ensarkos and asarkos, because – as the Reformed dogmatics typically put it – finitum non capax infiniti. The term has its origins in Reformation debates over the Eucharist: the Reformed rejected both the bodily presence of Christ in the sacrament and the Lutherans’ innovative expansion of the communication idiomatum that undergirded it, since, they argued, there is no sharing of attributes between the natures. In its origins as a piece of negative theology – as the denial of Lutheran ubiquity and the genus maiestaticum – the extra Calvinisticum aimed at nothing more than this. It was an attempt by the Reformed to maintain: (1) the proper, Chalcedonian distinction between the natures, and (2) that the natures remain unaltered and undiminished. Therefore the Word is fully incarnate in the human Jesus, but is etiam extra carnem also outside the flesh.[1]

Darren on a Constructive Barthian Proposal Between the Calvinsts and Lutherans:

[T]he lives of the Word as asarkos and ensarkos both mutually participate in the one Christ, just as his two natures (or essences) mutually participate. This, for Barth, is simply another way of speaking of the hypostatic union – but speaking of it as a dynamic event between God and humanity and not as a static condition. The states of humiliation and exaltation ‘operate together and mutually interpret one another’, and this simultaneity allows us to affirm both that the Son is never limited to human form, never abandons the throne or ceases to sustain the universe, and also that he is one, undivided Subject who cannot be sought other than in Jesus Christ. It has the advantage of affirming what the Reformed took of value from the extra carnem without succumbing to its failings. It also binds the doctrine of the two natures to soteriology, not allowing it to float autonomously from the narrative of the New Testament. Where Lutheran Christology suggested that the Word crosses the gap between the Creator and the creature, and Reformed Christology that the Word bridges the gap (remaining on both sides), Barth’s actualist Christology suggests intead that in his person Jesus Christ closes the gap. God and humanity remain distinct, but are unequivocally reconciled in the event of the Son’s incarnate life.

It is evident, then, that Barth’s reconfiguration of the status duplex placed the difficult matter of the extra Calvinisticum in new light. It enabled him finally to articulate just where the Reformed deployment of this doctrine into the thorny field of Christology was coming up short, and how the life of the Logos asarkos may yet be affirmed (against Lutheran kenosis, in all its forms) in such a way as to reach the goal for which Calvin had set out, yet without succumbing to the dangers of a double Logos or an evacuation of the doctrine of the incarnation of any meaningful content. But where the humiliation of the Son of God and the exaltation of the Son of Man are understood to be a single event, his life beyond the incarnation no longer speaks the definitive word about his eternal identity.[2]

If I had more energy, this is where I would attempt to draw out some implications of what Darren has offered in an attempt to engage with all of the examples I have noted previously. But I will leave that for another time.



[1] Darren O. Sumner, “The Twofold Life of the Word: Karl Barth’s Critical Reception of the Extra Calvinisticum,International Journal of Systematic Theology Volume 15/1 (January 2013): 42-57.

[2] Ibid. Obviously (if it isn’t obvious see the following), these two paragraphs have been preceded by much detailed explication and argumentation by Darren; this is his summary of all of that.

Holy Saturday, The Chasm Between Now and Not-Yet

Wrote this about seven years ago.

holysaturdayHoly Saturday is the time that the “Western Church,” Protestants included (well some), contemplate the moment between the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is the contemplation of the burial in 1 Corinthians 15:3, 4:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4. that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, . . .

What a time to contemplate the time between the now and the not yet. This time between Christ’s cross and humiliation of unspeakable depths, and the glories’ of His coming resurrection and ascension; analogically represent the time we inhabit now. We currently wait to fully realize the glory that Jesus has shared with the Father before the world began. And like the Apostles, Disciples, and hopefuls who followed Jesus to the cross, during this time of Jesus’ silence we can despair, be full of fear, angst, anxiousness, etc. We often wonder is this it? We face circumstances that seem overwhelming, that seem to eclipse and overcome the life of Christ . . . that make it seem as if Christ stayed in the grave. As Christians in this big world, some-times like the disciples of Christ (during this time in history), we can cower behind locked doors, scratch our heads, and wonder, “what now?”

If only the disciples would have remembered, and put 2 + 2 together, what Jesus had said to them in the past (easy for me to say):

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, ‘Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.’ ~ Matthew 17:9

maybe their despair, their bewilderment, would be turned to joy. Maybe their burden would have been light. Maybe they would have been grieving as ones with real hope. But they forgot, at that moment of time they became so gripped with fear they could not really function (at least some of them, His closest). Even though we know the story, because we can read about it at one sitting, don’t we live like Jesus’ end was the grave? We fall into caverns of unbelief that seem to eclipse and overshadow what we know to be true . . . if only we would remember the hope, the hope that Jesus spoke of in Matthew 17, and the hope that was realized in Matthew 28:1-10.

As we look forward to Sunday, lets not grow weary by the unanswered questions and grief of Saturday. Instead of forgetting what Jesus has said about the resurrection (i.e. His second advent), lets glory in advance, in anticipation of the glory that will be revealed in us, as we are hidden in Christ. While we live in Saturday, in anticipation, lets rest with Jesus, lets, with Jesus say: ” . . . Father, into your hands I commit my spirit (Lk 23:46).”

I think the best thing about this analogy, of “Holy Saturday,” is that it breaks down at a point. We don’t despair as if there is no resurrection, in fact as Christians we have been brought into the heavenly places with Christ (cf. Eph. 1), now; we have intimate union with Him now (cf. I Cor. 6:17); we have been given the Holy Spirit now (cf. Jn 14–16); and a whole array of distinguishing factors from those disciples of the first century. So take heart, don’t forget, this Holy Saturday, Jesus’ words of glory in humility:

. . . I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. ~ John 16:33


Easter Before Good Friday: A Reflection on the Apostles’ Creed

Was Crucified, Dead, And Buried, He Descended Into Hell

How do you think of God revealed in Jesus? Do you primarily think of him through the lens of the cross? Then you might be a Western Christian (which most of us are). Or maybe you think of him primarily in and through the lens of the resurrection, yeah? It is probably best, instead, to think of him in both his humiliation (cross) and exaltation (resurrection, ascension, heavenly session, and consummation), and to think ourselves from within this nexus of being of God and [hu]man[ity] in Christ and his hypostatic union. This represents a genuine dialectic, right? And it also illustrates how we ought to think reality from God’s Self revelation in Christ. But I digress.

Karl Barth speaks of this kind of theologia crucis and theologia gloriae more pointedly than I can, and he hearkens us back to Martin Luther’s ‘theology of the cross’ (which I think dialectically has a proper understanding of ‘theology of glory’ embedded in it) as he reflects upon this article of The Apostles’ Creed: Was Crucified, Dead, And Buried, He Descended Into Hell.

The mystery of the Incarnation unfolds into the mystery of Good Friday and of Easter. And once more it is as it has been so often in this whole mystery of faith, that we must always see two things together, we must always understand one by the other. In the history of the Christian faith it has, indeed, always been the case that the knowledge of Christians has gravitated more to the one side or to the other. We may take it that the Western Church, the Church of the Occident, has a decided inclination towards the theologia crucis—that is, towards bringing out and emphasising the fact that He was surrendered for our transgressions. Whereas the Eastern Church brings more into the foreground the fact that He was raised for our justification, and so inclines towards the theologia gloriae. In this matter there is no sense in wanting to play off one against the other. You know that from the beginning Luther strongly worked out the Western tendency—not theologia gloriae but theologia crucis. What Luther meant by that is right. But we ought not to erect and fix any opposition; for there is no theologia crucis which does not have its complement in the theologia gloriae. Of course, there is no Easter without Good Friday, but equally certainly there is no Good Friday without Easter! Too much tribulation and sullenness are too easily wrought into Christianity. But if the Cross is the Cross of Jesus Christ and not a speculation on the Cross, which fundamentally any heathen might also have, then it cannot for one second be forgotten or overlooked that the Crucified rose again from the dead the third day. We shall in that case celebrate Good Friday quite differently, and perhaps it would be well not to sing on Good Friday the doleful, sad Passion hymns, but to begin to sing Easter hymns. It is not a sad and miserable business that took place on Good Friday; for He rose again. I wanted to say this first, that you are not to take abstractly what we have to say about the death and the Passion of Christ, but already to look beyond it to the place where His glory is revealed.[1]

This challenges me. Admittedly I have thought from the ‘Western’ proclivity much more than the ‘Eastern,’ if we can even speak from this divide any longer. We might like to skip over Good Friday though altogether, but I don’t think Barth is calling for that. We might like to live our ‘best life now’ (pace Joel Osteen), and live a Christian spirituality that has no cruciform or cross-shaped anything; we might like to pretend that there are no people locked up in insane asylums, or who live in the squalor of their birthed existence into Sudanese poverty and affliction (for example); but this isn’t what Barth is suggesting by inverting Good Friday with Easter. I think it is more profound, what Barth is suggesting, it is in line with what the author of the epistle of Hebrews has written (I think):

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.[2]

Christianity represents a glorious way to think, but glorious in cruciform shape. This Easter season, let Easter hope condition the whole season. Walk through the ‘stations,’ but do so from the hope that He is Risen, Indeed!

10 always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.[3]


[1] Karl Barth, Dogmatics In Outline (London: SCM Press, 1949), 114.

[2] Hebrews 12.1,2 NKJV.

[3] II Corinthians 4.10 NKJV. 

Was Thomas F. Torrance an Advocate of Open Theism? Nein!

The following will not be an attempt to argue against the merits of what has been called Open Theism, whether it has any (merits), or not. Instead, the sole purpose of this mini-essay will be to clarify whether or not Scottish theologian, Thomas F. Torrance, affirmed the Open Theist position in his material writings, and theological offerings.

Since I am attempting to provide clarification about Torrance’s relationship (or non-relationship) with open theism, there must be, you might infer, folks who are claiming that in some way (even if only suggestively), Torrance was an advocate or friend of open theism. But before we get ahead of ourselves, for the un-initiated, let me provide a definition of what open theism entails from one of its most popular and foremost proponents today, Greg Boyd. Boyd states, in regard to his definition of open theism, this:

If I had to define “Open Theism” in one sentence, I would say that it as the view that the future is partly comprised of possibilities and is therefore known by God as partly comprised of possibilities.  (By the way, I prefer to refer to this view as “the open view of the future,” since the most distinctive aspect of Open Theism is not its understanding of the nature of God, but its understanding of the nature of the future).

To expound a bit on this definition, the open view of the future holds that God chose to create a cosmos that is populated with free agents – at least humans and angels (though some hold that there is a degree of freedom, however small, in all sentient beings).  To have free will means that one has the ability to transition several possible courses of action into one actual course of action. This is precisely why Open Theists hold that the future is partly comprised of possibilities.  While God can decide to pre-settle whatever aspects of the future he wishes, to the degree that he has given agents freedom, God has chosen to leave the future open, as a domain of possibilities, for agents to resolve with their free choices.  This view obviously conflicts with the understanding of the future that has been espoused by classical theologians, for the traditional view is that God foreknows from all eternity the future exclusively as a domain of exhaustively definite facts.[1]

Whether or not (and he does not) Boyd wants to associate his ‘open’ view with his doctrine of God or not, does not change the reality that this (his) view does implicate his doctrine of God, and his conception of a God-world relation; in particular, as the quote illustrates, how Boyd conceives of God’s posture and activity towards the future of this earth, and the human decisions that shape it. For Boyd, then, God’s life becomes contingent upon the way we as human beings ‘decide’ to go one way or the other; and God then responds in kind to our decisions, even if he does so from a more privileged and knowledgeable place than we ourselves do. The implication being that God is ‘open’ to our future, thus filling in the gaps or contingencies embedded in creation as he ‘responds’ to our ‘free’ and unconditioned choices (which ends up collapsing God into creation [making God’s decisions about his relation to creation contingent upon creation’s decisions about the future, both generally, and particularly], which would be akin to the kind of pantheistic theology of someone like Jürgen Moltmann).

To be ‘open’ then, for God, in this system, is to be genuinely open to the choices that we make as human beings.[2] This would be opposed to the conception, the classical conception, that God knows the beginning from the end; and that there is nothing external to God’s life (like creation) that could cause him to change his mind, like our decisions.

Thomas F. Torrance is not an advocate, whatsoever! of Open Theism as some would like to suggest.[3] And for the rest of this little essay, I would like to briefly explain why; and further, how Torrance is using the language of ‘open’ in contrast to the way that open theism uses it. By engaging in this quick exercise, I hope to demonstrate that any attempt to correlate Torrance and open theism, simply because they use similar language at points (i.e. open), is in the end an equivocal endeavor.

Thomas Torrance’s primary concern, in his theology, is not to explain how human being’s choices might implicate God’s inner Triune life (in se). Torrance is not anxious about defending free-will theism, and libertarian free agency (as is open theism) against the over-deterministic world of classical Calvinist thought imbued with a universe that is regulated by fate-driven decrees and cog like mechanisms that turn the hands of God’s time and our’s. Instead, Torrance’s primary concern, in regard to a doctrine of God, is to demonstrate that God’s life has always already been free in itself to be what is exhaustibly within itself based upon the intra-relations of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In other words, for Torrance, he would like people to understand that God does not need anything or anyone else to be exhaustively complete and full within himself (so simple). It is precisely because of whom God is in and for himself, Torrance would postulate, that he has the kind of freedom it took for him to decide to create. And for Torrance, God decided to create not by a necessary compulsion, but because he is grace and love; and because he is love and grace he freely chose, in concert with this defining reality, to create counterpoints, by creating a creation (humanity) that could participate and reciprocate his self given life of love back to himself (cf. I Jn. 4.19) in fellowship one with the other. For Torrance then, and in line with an Athanasian theme, God has always been Father of the Son by the Holy Spirit, but he has not always been Creator; becoming Creator for God, just as becoming Incarnate in Christ, was something new for God and it was grounded back in this antecedent reality of who God is as love and in his free act grace.

Given this background on Torrance’s doctrine of God we are free to consider, better, how openness for Torrance functions in contrast to how ‘openness’ functions for the Open Theist. When God freely chose to create, in Torrance’s view, built into this was the notion of contingency. In other words, when God created (and the classical Christian doctrine of creation ex nihilo is foundational and presumed for Torrance), since he did not need the world in order to be God, by definition (since he is the one creating it), the world depended upon his divine Word for its reality; and so the world was initially and continuously contingent upon this reality (i.e. the world needs God’s sustenance in order to exist, so contingence). In describing this we are getting closer to understanding how ‘open’ language will do work within Torrance’s system of theology and doctrine of God, in a God-world relation. What you should be starting to realize by now, is that for Torrance, there is an interesting and pregnant relation between the contingency of the world, and how he uses the concept of openness in regard to the world’s relationship with its giver, with God. It is apropos then for us to see how Torrance himself articulates his understanding of God, and how the world is open to him (not vice versa in contrast to open theism’s conception and employment of ‘openness’). Here is Torrance (at length):

There is no intrinsic reason in the universe why it should exist at all, or why it should be what it actually is: hence we deceive ourselves if in our natural science we think that we can establish that the universe could only be what it is. The universe is not some sort of perpetuum mobile, a self-existing, self-supporting, self-explaining magnitude, wholly consistent and complete in itself and thus imprisoned within a pointless circularity of inescapable necessities. On the contrary, the universe constitutes an essentially open system with an ontological and intelligible reference beyond its own limits which cuts the circuit of any possible closure of its internal processes re-entrantly upon themselves, and thereby gives them their distinctive intelligibility. Thus it belongs to the very nature of the universe that the consistency of its own independent status and condition is incomplete and requires to completed beyond itself. That is another way of saying that the independence of the universe is both grounded in and limited by its radical dependence. Given that dependence, openness, or reference of the universe beyond itself which is part of what contingence means, contingence also represents—that the universe is endowed with an autonomous character both as a whole and throughout its immanent relations, with features and patterns and operational principles which belong to it as by intrinsic natural right, and which require an autonomous mode of investigation appropriate to their distinctive nature and integrity. That is why contingence must be assiduously respected, and must not be rationalized away as some unfortunate element of deficiency or inexplicability in nature from which science must abstract in order to give a consistent, rational account of the universe. Rather is contingence to be regarded as a basic and essential feature of the universe, a constituting condition of its reality and actuality.[4]

Torrance’s whole discussion of ‘openness’ takes place under the dogmatic category of a doctrine of Creation (which is distinct from where the discussion of openness occurs for the Open Theist, for the OT this discussion takes place in a doctrine of humanity or in the realm of an theological-anthropology). The world is necessarily ‘open’ precisely because it is contingent upon its reality given and sustained by God. The world, for Torrance, as just noticed, has its own internal order and independence, and thus has realities attendant to that that are coherent with its own immanent integrity; but the point, Torrance’s point remains, this independent character of the created order, the world, is a contingent independence, contingent upon God. When scientists, when people endeavor to seek out the mysteries of the universe, there is a naturalist component to this, but ultimately this seeking out, according to Torrance, will finally terminate beyond creation itself, and require the inquirer to move beyond nature and recognize that nature itself is contingent upon God’s word of grace. In this sense the world remains ‘open’, the world is ‘open’ and there is an openness of God in a God-world relation, wherein the world must look beyond itself to its giver if there is going to be an ultimate intelligibility about its order and resplendent glory.

This is different than the way the open theist thinks of openness. I will leave this open for you to consider further. But what should no longer be open, if ever it was for you, is the idea that Thomas F. Torrance is anywhere close to being an advocate, chum, friend, mate of what has become known as Open Theology. He is not for the reasons delineated  above.


[1] Greg Boyd,, accessed 04-16-2014.

[2] In other words, God could change his mind based upon future contingencies that become actual through the decision making process of human beings, for example. So God’s life vis-à-vis his relation to the future is not exhausted by his own internal life, but remains genuinely open and informed by the choices that human history makes; thus implying that God’s own being could be lacking and deficient insofar as he, along with us, is waiting to see how the future is going to unfold.

[3] See this blog article Muslin Open Theists, Politics, T. F. Torrance, and Why the God-Man Matters, written by open theist proponent, T.C. Moore. Moore would like to suggestively posit that Thomas F. Torrance’s theology somehow is in alignment with the concerns and categories offered by Open Theism. Moore quotes Torrance in a piece where Torrance uses the language of ‘openness of God’ to draw this kind of purported or suggestive correlation between Torrance’s theological articulation and that of open theism. This quote:

The world, then, is made open to God through its intersection in the axis of Creation-Incarnation. Its space-time structures are so organized in relation to God that we who are set within them may think in and through them to their transcendent ground in God Himself. Jesus Christ constitutes the actual centre in space and time where that may be done. But what of the same relationship the other way round, in the openness of God for the world that He has made? Does the intersection of His reality with our this-worldly reality in Jesus Christ mean anything for God? We have noted already that it means that space and time are affirmed as real for God in the actuality of His relations with us, which binds us to space and time, so that neither we nor God can contract out of them. Does this not mean that God has so opened Himself to our world that our this-worldly experiences have import for Him in such as way, for example, that we must think of Him as taking our hurt and pain into Himself? This is what we cannot do from the approach of deistic dualism—why, for example, Schleiermacher could not hold that God is merciful and why Bultmann cannot allow that the love of God is a fact within the cosmos. Thus it would appear that the question as to impassibility of God is the question as to the actuality of the intersection of God’s reality with worldly reality, and as to the depth of its penetration into our creaturely being. If God is merely impassible He has not made room for Himself in our agonied existence, and if He is merely immutable He has neither place nor time for frail evanescent creatures in His unchanging existence. But the God who has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ as sharing our lot is the God who is really free to make Himself poor, that we through His poverty might be made rich, the God invariant in love but not impassible, constant in faithfulness but not immutable. T. F. Torrance, Space, Time, and Incarnation (Oxford University Press, 1969), 74-75, emphasis added.

[4] Thomas F. Torrance, Divine And Contingent Order (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981), 36.