A Mechanical-Universe: Against Classical Theologies that Subvert the Freedom of God and the Freedom of Humanity

I have kind of been on a bit of a sabbatical from reading Thomas Torrance, but I am tired of that sabbatical; it is time to jump back on the wagon, and resume where I left off with TFT, wherever that was.

maryjesusI just re-picked up (I never actually read it the first time I picked it up) Torrance’s book Divine and Contingent Order, and I am excited I did. The fact that Torrance dedicates this book to his long time Greek Orthodox compatriot Georges Florovsky should say something; that is, that this book, per classic Torrance, is going to take us back to the patristic past, and constructively through retrieval bring us into some modern and contemporary discussion–in the case of this book it will have mostly to do with issues surrounding science, with obvious overlap with theology.

The following quote from this book brings me back to what I have probably become known for best (at least in my past iteration as a blogger) in the theo-blogosphere, that is my rather contentious relationship with what I have called classical Calvinist (and Arminian) theology (but I wouldn’t want to limit my contentiousness to just the Calvinists and Arminians, I believe in offering equal opportunity of contention for other expressions and certain kinds of classical, mostly Aristotelian inspired, medieval theologies). And so this quote is intended to once again–for I fear that people have become lax in regard to the current takeover of North American evangelical theology by tributaries of resource that are flowing directly from the Aristotelian stream of deterministic logico-causality present and funding evangelical movements like The Gospel Coalition, Together 4 the Gospel, et. al. etc.–re-register that Bobby Grow is still watching ;-) , and I haven’t grown lax in my disdain for the mechanical God of classical Calvinism, in particular, even if I understand that many Calvinists have a deep piety and love for God. So consider my vigor, in this regard, to be motivated, in part, by a desire to align said Calvinist piety and love of God, with a ground and grammar for articulating God and dogma in a way that is correlative and consistent with who the Calvinists and Arminians want to love as God.

In step with the above then, let me get to this quote from Thomas Torrance. In this quote Torrance is sketching the impact that Aristotelian and then Newtonian categories have had upon God and the subsequent development of theology that followed, in particular, and for our purposes, in the post Reformed orthodox era of Calvinist and Arminian theology. And given the fact that much of this theology is being repristinated and resurrected by the neo-Calvinists/Puritans et. al., again, it will only be apropos to visit its informing background through the lens that Torrance provides for that. Torrance writes (at length),

It was in terms of these basic ideas that classical Christian theology of the fourth and fifth centuries set out to reconstruct the foundations of ancient philosophy and science upon which the pagan picture of God and the cosmos rested.  Today we can see that they were masterful ideas which lay deep in the development of Western science, and with which we are more than ever concerned in the new science of our own day and its underlying concept of a unifying order. But what became of these ideas in thought subsequent to the Nicene and immediately post-Nicene era? For a short period they bore remarkable fruit in the physics of space and time, and of light and motion, that arose in Alexandria in the fifth and sixth centuries and which, like the theology out of which it grew, was thoroughly anti-dualist in its basic orientation. Before long, however, these ideas became swamped in the massive upsurge of dualist cosmologies and epistemologies which took somewhat different forms in the Augustinian West and Byzantine East. The idea that the created universe is rational because its Creator and Preserver is rational remained, and was to see considerable development, especially in Western medieval theology and philosophy, which thus has contributed immensely to our scientific understanding of the universe. Unfortunately, however, the doctrine of God behind it all suffered not a little modification in terms of his inertial motion which was to have considerable effect upon classical Newtonian physics. Here the conception of the impassibility and immutability of God (i.e. that God is not subject to suffering or change), which has patristic sources, became allied to the Aristotelian notion of the Unmoved Mover. Although the idea of the creation of the universe out of nothing remained, that became difficult to maintain when the universe itself came to be construed more and more in terms of Aristotle’s four causes in which the effect was understood as following inexorably from its antecedent and defining cause, for to regard the Creator as the First Cause from which the universe took its rise appears to imply ‘the eternity of the world’ if only the mind of God who knows himself as its First Cause. Mediaeval theology on evangelical grounds had to reject the notion of ‘the eternity of the world’ but it remained trapped, for the most part at least, in notions of impassibility and immutability of God which had as their counterpart a notion of the world which, given its original momentum by the First Cause, constituted a system of necessary and causal relations in which it was very difficult to find room for any genuine contingence. Contingence could only be thought of in so far as there was an element of necessity in it, so that contingence could be thought of only by being thought away. The inertial relation of an immutable God to the world he has made thus gave rise to a rather static conception of the world and its immanent structures. Looked at in this way it seems that the groundwork for the Newtonian system of the world was already to found in mediaeval thought.[1]

Does this, at all, sound familiar to you? Have you been exposed to this kind of over-determined world in what you have been taught at church or elsewhere? What do we lose if we affirm the kind of mechanical world that Torrance just described? We lose intimate relationship with God in Christ for one thing. We also have potential for losing compassion for others; we might conclude that the plight of some people, or a whole group or nation of people are ‘just’ determined to be where they are in their own lived lives, no matter how miserable. We might not overtly or consciously think all of this, but it surely would be informing the way we view ourselves and other selves in relation to God in the world.

Let me just leave off by suggesting that what Torrance describes above, about a mechanical-world is the world you get when you embrace classical Calvinism, Arminianism, etc. (philosophically, theologically, ethically, etc.). And let me suggest that there is a better way forward that is more consistent with the idea that God is love, and that he serves (or should) as the ground and grammar of everything.

 

 

 

[1] Thomas F. Torrance, Divine And Contingent Order (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981), 5-6.

What Did Lessing, Schleiermacher, and Kant do to the Bible and the Way we Interpret It?

How did we get to where we have gotten theologically exegetically in our current state, whether ‘Liberal’ or ‘evangelical’ in the modern-post/modern period? How has a ‘reasonable faith’ impeded upon a revealed faith such kantthat either we must attempt to jump Lessing’s historical ditch by our own intellectual prowess, or acknowledge thus propping up revealed theology (i.e. what is given in the Bible) by our own rationales?

These are questions I will briefly deal with and sketch in the rest of this kind of abstract (an abstract without an essay).

As Murray Rae describes the impact of Lessing, Schleiermacher, and Kant upon where ‘modern’ exegetical practice is at today the above questions will be addressed, and then I will follow this up with my own reflection upon Rae’s observations.

Lessing’s troubled skepticism about whether the Gospel narratives—concerning events now inaccessible to our experience—could be sufficiently trustworthy to warrant the total submission of one’s life and intellect to the truth proclaimed by Christianity helped to generate among Schleiermacher’s contemporaries, at least in the universities, an impatience with theological claims—about Jesus in particular—that relied solely on the quotation of Scripture and that could not be confirmed by the deliberations of human reason. That mood was also given impetus by Immanuel Kant’s (1724–1804) insistence that we have no direct experience of things as they are in themselves but only of things as they appear to us. The way appearances of things are ordered into a coherent picture of the world depends upon the data of perception but crucially too upon the conceptualizing activity of our own intellects. With respect to theology, Kant contended that we have no direct experience of God, but our experience of moral obligation only makes sense if we postulate the existence of God (along with individual freedom and immortality). The existence of God is, in other words, a condition of the intelligibility of our moral experience.

Kant proceeded to explain that there are two forms of theology, the revealed or biblical theology of the church containing all the historical and symbolic material upon which Christian theology has been constructed, and the rational theology which Kant himself presumed to develop in Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone (1793). These two forms of theology are related as two concentric circles: the outer being revealed theology, the inner being rational theology. The rational theologian, Kant argued, must “waive consideration of all experiences,” which is to say, the rational theologian must proceed without reliance upon the historical material of the Bible. There is, in revealed theology, a timeless essence with which the rational theologian is concerned, but it is discoverable in principle without recourse to the historical testimonies that attend Christian theology, as also the theology of other faiths. The essence of all faiths, allegedly, is their moral significance, which is derivable a priori from reason alone.[1]

Present in all proposals, whether Lessing, Schleiermacher, Kant, et. al. there is redolent a kind of dualism between history (linearly conceived), and a subject’s engagement with it vis-à-vis reason; and the more circumspect or reliable or accessible of the two is humanity’s reason. And so beyond the categories supplied by reason there is nothing reliable and thus anything beyond reason remains off limits and inaccessible toward being a ground upon which humanity can build anything stable and flourishing.

As Rae underscores, what this does, in particular with a Kantian accessibility to reality and ‘truth’ is that it subjectivizes it in a way that historical data, for example, no longer has the capacity to duly inform how we ought to conceive of God; instead that is left to our experience and ordering of reality through our own rationales. So God becomes subject to our subject, and Scripture is discarded as a husk that only reflects the kernel of other human being’s attempt to think God. God orbits in our world, we do not orbit in his, in other words.

Actually I made some assertions about ‘Liberals’ and ‘evangelicals’ in my opening statements to this abstract, I am going to leave those dangling in light of what I just presented.

[1] Murray Rae, “Salvation in Community: The Tentative Universalism of Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834),” in ed. Gregory MacDonald, All Shall Be Well: Explorations in Universalism and Christian Theology, from Origen to Moltmann (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2011),

The Apocalyptic Eucharist as the Reality that Unites the Churches Under the Primacy of Jesus: T Torrance

The following (well the indented section that is following; the first three paragraphs are my introduction and thoughts on what Torrance has written to Florovsky as transcribed by Baker) comes from Matthew Baker’s tommytorrancetranscription of a personal correspondence that took place between Fr. Georges Florovsky and Thomas F. Torrance.*

I want to highlight an aspect of Thomas Torrance’s theology by quoting this lengthy section of this particular letter from Torrance to Florovsky. What is at stake is an undertaking wherein Torrance and Florovsky were seeking ecumenical dialogue, and to do so between the Eastern Orthodox and Reformed church that Torrance dutifully represented in his homeland of Scotland.

What is theologically insightful in this is Torrance’s emphasis upon the Eucharist as being the reality that ought to apocalyptically bind all of the branches of the Christian churches together (i.e. not just Rome, not just the Greeks, not just the Reformed, etc.). As you will read below, you will see how Torrance has a theology of Ascension informing his conception of the binding and apocalyptic reality of the Eucharist itself. As you will read, you will observe that Torrance believed that the uniting factor present in the Eucharist is the reality mediated in and through it, something that does not pronounce a word of judgment or reconciliation grounded in the ecclesia itself; but instead mediating the very reality of Christ himself into the presence of his seven churches (pace Revelation) as representative of all instances of his church. And this, for Torrance, the Eucharist, was conferred upon God’s people immediately at the Holy Ascension signifying his primacy over all of creation, but in particular, his people in his church[es]. Jesus, for Torrance, is the Eschatos, the first and the last word of judgment and reconciliation over his people. This is not something or some-reality that the churches can manage or control, but this is something instituted in Christ’s blood (of the New Covenant), given life in the resurrection, and constantly in-breaking (apocalyptic) as his churches, out of obedience to him, participate koinonially around his broken body, and shed blood. This is the reality that binds all of his people together, no matter what nation, tribe or tongue, or denomination (under the rubric of his orthodox life).

Okay, so the above is my take on what Torrance has written to Florovsky. You read it, and tell me what you think. And tell me if you agree with Torrance about the apocalyptic reality and power and place of the Eucharist; do you think it has the purchase to provide for the kind of ecumenicism that Torrance hoped for (Florovsky did not in the final analysis).

Beechgrove Manse,

39 Forest Road,

Jan. 25, 1950

My dear Professor Florovsky,

I am ready to understand the theological significance of defection from a united Eucharist, behind which there is a certain theological earnestness and sincerity so often lacking in those who are not very pained at our divisions; but ultimately refusal of intercommunion can only mean for me a lack of trust in the opus Dei in the Eucharist and a fear that it is not so powerful as to overcome our mistakes and heal our divisions, and bring medicine to our mortal strifes. If the real presence of the Lord, the Son of Man, the Eschatos, the Lamb of God, is with us in the Eucharist, as I most firmly believe it is, then I am ready to put the Lord and Head of the Church before Church Order, before Doctrine, before Tradition. All our Church Order and Doctrine come as the result of the charismata given us by the Lord of the Church in his Ascension-gifts; but, says Paul, even these charismata will pass away, though faith, hope, and love will remain. Even the Ämter[1] of the Church, as Eugen Walter of Freiburg says in a recent powerful book (Das Kommen des Herrn – R.C.!)[2], will pass away before the apocalypse of the New Creation which is absolutely one with the risen Body of the Saviour.[3]

This is the notion that the Reformed Church takes seriously, the Lordship of the Real Presence in the Church, and not the domestication of the Real presence to be the manipulable tool of Church history and ecclesiastical orders that are necessarily fraught with the misunderstandings of this passing world. The Reformation stands for a Christological correction of the doctrine of the Church and sacraments in accordance with the principles of Nicaea and Chalcedon, which was NEVER carried out anywhere until a beginning was made at the Reformation. This is what it means to put on the wedding garment for the Marriage Supper of the Lamb – “not being conformed to this world but being transformed by the renewing of the mind . . . Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,” etc.[4] But there is no need to say all this to you, for as a Biblical theologian you will agree with it.[5] Our divisions come however where we arrest some particular doctrine and freeze it a special point, and refuse for [?] pride or prejudice or history to carry this doctrine critically through the whole pleroma of our Church life and thought and practice. This may be painful to you, but I submit that as we look over at the Catholic sections of the Church, conscious though we may be that we have yet to reform ourselves anew in areas where we became deficient through defection at the Reformation, there are areas in the Catholic Churches where a refusal to submit to self-correction in terms of the great Christological Councils is the greatest stumbling block to reunion.

One of the burning points here is where Church Order concerns the Eucharist. You are right to put your finger on this point! I do wish I could spend several days with you going over all the relevant passages in the Scriptures and the Fathers of the first four centuries on these matters – that is the only way to come to a closer understanding, is it not?[6]

 

*The following footnotes are transcribed directly from Matthew Baker’s transcription of the above section of the letter that he has offered for us in his Participatio vol. 4, pg. 287-323 essay highlighting the correspondence that took place between Fr. Georges Floroskvy and Thomas F. Torrance. The numeration of the footnotes does not correlate to the original essay offered by Baker due to transcriptional edits made by me.

[1] German: “offices,” “orders.”

[2] “R.C.”: Roman Catholic. Walter’s study Das Kommen des Herrn (Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder, 1948-1950) was published in two volumes: Die endzeitgemässe Haltung des Christen nach den Briefen der heiligen Apostel Paulus und Petrus (1948); II. Die eschatologische Situation nach den synoptischen Evangelien (1947).

[3]  Torrance notably does not address here the apostolic thrones still to be found in  the kingdom of God (Matt. 19:28; Lk. 22:30; Rev. 20:4), of which the ancient Orthodox liturgical synthronon of bishop and presbyters is an eschatological image.

[4] Romans 12:2; Philippians 2:5.

[5] Note how Torrance’s regard for Florovsky as a “Biblical theologian” – quite a different perception than the one that obtains in recent criticisms of Florovsky and neopatristic theology among academicians in the Orthodox sphere.

[6] In his 1970 sermon “The Relevance of Orthodoxy,” reprinted in this issue of Participatio, Torrance reflected on his experience of precisely such common study of Scripture in the Faith and Order Commission on Christ and His Church and admitted: “Again and again  … when passages of the Bible were being interpreted by others – Professor Florovsky, for example – I had to take a new hard look at the Greek text of the New Testament to see whether it really did mean what he said, and again and again found that I had been misreading the New Testament because I had been looking at it through Presbyterian spectacles. Our conjoint discussion, to which we brought our several Church traditions and outlooks, enabled us in the give and take of criticism, to read what was actually written in the Bible and to interpret it as far as possible undistorted by this or that ecclesiastical tradition. I myself learned, I think, from the Orthodox more than from any other.”

What is Natural Theology? and Why It Should be Abhorred.

Often I reference Natural Theology on my forum/blog, but I do not often give an explanation for what it is in a basic sense. So with this post I hope to quickly remedy that by providing a basic definition of what natural hitler1theology entails, and who was one of its most famous and early proponents. Millard Erickson in his systematic theology Introducing Christian Doctrine has written this in description and definition of what natural theology is at a basic level:

The core of natural theology is the idea that it is possible, without prior commitment of faith to the beliefs of Christianity, and without relying upon any special authority, such as an institution (the church) or a document (the Bible), to come to a genuine knowledge of God on the basis of reason alone. Reason here refers to the human capacity to discover, understand, interpret, and evaluate the truth.

Perhaps the outstanding example of natural theology in the history of the church is the massive effort of Thomas Aquinas. According to Thomas, all truth belongs to one of two realms. The lower realm is the realm of nature, the higher the realm of grace. While the claims pertaining to the upper realm must be accepted on authority, those pertaining to the lower realm may be known by reason.[1]

This seems probably pretty vanilla for most evangelical Christians to digest, and something most are pretty familiar with; in fact it seems intuitive, does it not? But I reject this; I reject the idea, along with Karl Barth and against Thomas Aquinas that people in general can come to a genuine knowledge of God apart from God’s particular Self-revelation in Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, most of the Western tradition of Christianity (of which almost all of my readers are participants of, i.e. the Western trad) affirms natural theology. It affirms conceiving of God, categorically by way of employing philosophical reflection as determinative for how we supply ourselves with a grammar that articulates God. I reject this though. So does Karl Barth, and here is why[2] (and this is a full length quote, so hang on),

“The content of revelation is wholly God.” The point here is simply that God is not just half revealed, so that another part of his being or attributes or acts will have to remain hidden or will have to be imparted in some other way than by revelation. As regards the second possibility, we have to think especially of the increasing role played in Protestant theology from the end of the 16th century by what is variously called natural theology or revelation or religion (as distinct from the supernatural or Christian revelation). Natural revelation includes not only the voice of God in nature, as the name indicates, but also such things as conscience, the moral light of nature, religious feelings or dispositions or tendencies in us, mathematical and philosophical axioms, what better pagans know about the existence and unity of God, and the creation and overruling of the world by him, and non-Christian analogies even to such central Christian mysteries as the Trinity and the incarnation. Theologians usually regarded and employed this natural revelation as a good and useful narthex or first stage on the way to the true Christian revelation. The older Reformed theology in particular attached high importance to this preliminary structure. According to A. Schweizer one might even see in it one of the most valuable features of Reformed theology. It was given a place of honor in the 19th century both in the first part of Schleiermacher’s Christian Faith and in Schweizer’s own Glaubenslehre. Vestigia terrent! For my part, although I am Reformed, I want no part of it. You will not be surprised at this in view of what I have said earlier. Either God speaks, or he does not. But he does not speak more or less, or partially, or in pieces, here a bit and there a bit. This is a contradiction in terms, an anthropomorphism, a basic naturalizing of revelation which fits Schleiermacher very well, but which ought not to have found any place among the older Reformed. Calvin at the end of the discussion in the first chapters of the Institutes was perspicacious enough to raise the whole question again, to oppose the Christian knowledge of God dialectically to natural knowledge, and to proceed as though there were only the former. And even in Thomas Aquinas the insights one can gain into God’s nature apart from revelation have the significance only of a possible and necessary ancillary construction that pays secondary honor to the truth of revelation. If God speaks, then God speaks, and we have to do with the one Logos that the prophets and apostles received, the one revelation in the incarnation which the people of the Bible know and attest as either promised or manifested. Nothing prevents us, and much urgently inclines us to suppose that others, too, might have had a share, and might still have a share, in the same divine answer. We do well at this point to confess the free and broad outlook of Aquinas when he said that all truth, no matter who speaks it, is of the Holy Spirit, or of Zwingli when he said that whoever speaks truth speaks of God. But the truth must then be understood as the one totality of truth, and the words “Holy Spirit” and “God” must be taken in a pregnant sense. Truth that really goes back to God cannot be a particle of truth. It is either the whole truth or it does not go back to God and is not revelation at all.[3]

Interesting how Barth constructively engages with Aquinas, while at the same time ardently rejecting what Thomas became largely known for: natural theology.

What is the practical implication if we follow natural theology? Does it affect the way we think of God if we seek God and his ways, his perfections from nature before we encounter and meet him in Jesus Christ? What of the Old Testament, someone might ask, don’t we see older people of God engaging in natural theology? Isn’t God ‘progressively’ unfolded for us in the Old Testament before we ever meet him in Christ, and don’t we infer things about God in the Old Testament that are a result of reflecting upon him in his activity in nature (like creation, etc.)?

The above might represent challenges to Barth’s position against natural theology, and in fact, there are even more nuanced Greek ones that appeal to the Logos and His place in the taxis or order of nature itself (the Eastern Orthodox are fond of going this way).

I think you “non-specialist” Christian out there, you would be very surprised if you dug deeper how entrenched your understanding of God is by natural theology. I think natural theology ends up in idolatry, and it elevates humanity’s capacity to know God that in the end supplants a need for God by a continual need for us and our intellects in order to create space and grammar for God without allowing God’s own life to determine the shape of the grammar he would have us use in order to understand him under the force and compelling reality of his own life.[4]

 

 

 

[1] Millard J. Erickson, Introducing Christian Doctrine (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1996), 35.

[2] I have used the picture of Adolf Hitler in this post because it was the context within which Barth wrote and wrote against. Hitler and the Reich would have represented a socio-cultural expression and logical/theological conclusion to where natural theology when consistently held to could potentially lead. In other words, natural theology is an ‘under the sun’ theology such that what ‘is’ (for the natural theologian) is what ‘ought’ to be. If we start any other place other than God in Jesus Christ as the ‘is’ and thus the ‘ought’, if we start from below, like Hitler did, if we start from our own thinking and reflection upon nature, consistent with this, in an extreme but logical form, might result in something like the Holocaust, or even the Apartheid of South Africa. So I appeal to Hitler not to shut any further arguments down, but to illustrate Barth’s context, and why he with such fervor abhorred natural theology as the following quote from him will demonstrate.

[3] Karl Barth, The Gottingen Dogmatics: Instruction in the Christian Religion (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), 91-2.

[4] Also see my chapter, “Analogia Fidei or Analogia Entis: Either Through Christ or Through Nature,” in Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church, eds. Myk Habets and Bobby Grow (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2012), 94-113. Also I should note, that I am not suggesting that we are not part of the equation, and that we do not or should not engage with every ounce of capacity the Lord has given us; instead with my point here, I am suggesting that we need to, by way of order, allow God’s crystalline voice spoken most evidently and clearly in his dearly beloved Son, Jesus Christ by the breath of the Holy Spirit, to be the voice we seek first. There is no voice in nature, apart from the One who first gave nature by fiat in and for Jesus Christ (Col. 1.15ff; Rev. 21–22; etc.). He alone exegetes, explains the Father, the God-head for us. If domain of the Word, of Jesus Christ, is inclusive of nature, then it behooves us to start with her King, and think from there. This whole post, this whole consideration comes back to a matter of theological methodology–and yet I cannot stress how important this at a most basic level, that is, knowing God.

Was Thomas Torrance Really a Calvinist? Georges Florovsky Thought So.

There have been some who have made the claim that Thomas Torrance was not a Calvinist; indeed, this claim has come from his fans and interpreters as well as his un-fans and antagonists. Myk Habets and I have colored florovskyTFT as a Calvinist, and so if he was something lesser than this, then it might be argued that we are mis-representing and misplacing Torrance along the theological spectrum. Of course Myk and I did not make this up whole cloth about Torrance, we found this kind of self-labeling in his book Scottish Theology wherein he describes the kind of Calvinism he follows, along with some older Scottish Calvinists he is engaging with in his book, as evangelical Calvinism; and this in contrast to what he called (in the same book) ‘Federal’ Calvinism, ‘Bezan’ Calvinism, ‘Westminster’ Calvinism, etc.

So there is that, but then there is also Georges Florovsky, who was a contemporary (although senior) of TFT, and friend. Florovsky and TFT interacted and became friends over a period of more than twenty years; they worked together to forge an ecumenical dialogue between the Eastern Orthodox (pace Florovsky) and the Reformed (so Torrance). Matthew Baker, a young Eastern Orthodox scholar, and Thomas F. Torrance fan, while writing on Torrance’s and Florovsky’s friendship, describing something else, but related to the point I am narrowing in on with this article, quotes Florovsky as Florovsky is reflecting upon Torrance’s theological identity in contrast to his own. Florovsky said about Torrance,

here begins probably a very terrible experience. You may say sometimes it is a confusing embarrassing experience. You do everything that Professor Zander wants you to. You discover – excuse me for using just the name – Tom Torrance is an awfully nice fellow, but unfortunately he is a Calvinist. I might love him as a man, and then we have a terrible row. He is a very close friend of mine, but twenty years younger, and an excellent theologian. We know each other as brothers and yet we disagree; this is a real experience. We agree at a certain point, well then we cannot agree. The point is, one may say, that because I was educated in Russia and he was educated in Scotland . . . this would be fatalism and probably all the circumstances had some importance, but there is something else.[1]

This might seem like a technicality, and it is. But I want to help endorse and simply register the idea that T. F. Torrance was a Calvinist theologian, even if ‘Calvinist’ at the end of the day becomes synonymous and short-hand for ‘Reformed.’[2]

I realize this post reflects how geeky I am, but you get the drift ;-).

 

[1] Typescript of an audio lecture, Georges Florovsky, “The Vision of Unity,” p. 24, Carton 3, folder 1, 1955 in Matthew Baker, “The Correspondence Between T. F. Torrance and Georges Florovsky (1950-1973),” Participatio Journal vol. 4 (2013): 291.

[2] I believe understanding someone’s theological identity is important. Not so we can slander or caricature them (which is how the label ‘Calvinist’ was originally used by the early Lutherans against Calvin and his followers [see Bruce Gordon’s book on Calvin for a discussion on this]) by invoking the political connotations that might be built up around whatever label we use to identify a particular and given theological identity; but instead, so that we can have clarity about the historical and ideational forces that have given a certain theological identity shape. But I also think it is important to remember that even within a given identity we should be careful to understand that there is nuance within a continuum of belief. In other words, not all Calvinists are the same; not all Lutherans are the same; not all Eastern Orthodox are the same; etc.

A 'mini-defense' for Reading T. F. Torrance

Bobby Grow:

Here is a post I once wrote, and reposted on a defense for reading Thomas Torrance.

Originally posted on The Evangelical Calvinist Forum:

It is no secret that this blog, in many ways, is shaped by Thomas F. Torrance’s influences. I have “known” T. F. for only the last four years, and I’m still getting to know him ;-) , and everything that I’ve read of his has been a “page-turner.” Almost everything I see him saying resonates with my own sense and theological predisposition; I’m obviously a great fan. Not only that, but we even have our very own T. F. Torrance scholar here at TEC, in the person of Dr. Myk Habets (who recently guest-posted some poetry for us). I say all this, because — and I was actually and naively unaware of this, until a few months ago — I have been becoming more and more aware that T. F. Torrance (I knew about Barth) is not a trusted source for many a theologian out there. Here is an example provided…

View original 601 more words

My Motivation: Evangelical Calvinism

I was reminded, just recently, how impacting the Calvinist and Arminian debate still is. Given the advent of N. T. Wright, and other thinkers within Christendom today, I think it is all too easy for 409115_1716122720482_1760647773_868301_1824042339_nsome of us to forget that most North American Evangelicals (of which I am one) have never heard of N. T. Wright; and more importantly ;-), most Evangelicals have never heard of Thomas Torrance or even Karl Barth. There is a whole demographic of Evangelical people (at the popular level) who are still embroiled, one way or the other, in this binary of Calvinism versus Arminianism. Indeed, within this demographic there are some who I would characterize as rather antagonistic and vociferous; it is these, who for the most part, I have no real desire engaging with anymore (a waste of time, usually). But there are many, many who are not antagonistic, and who are not vociferous, but who sit under the teaching of these aforementioned vociferous types. It is these voiceless (or timid) souls who motivate me to continue to engage in this kind of ‘fight’ for what I think is right and fruitful for those most weary among us.

There is so much confusion about who God is among Evangelical Christians. Indeed, I would suggest that this is the biggest problem we have. We don’t really know who God is. We have a view of God that comes straight to us from the pages of the scholastic Calvinist. A God who remains much more performance driven, much more Law-based, and a God who we really can find no rest in (just demands). I am not advocating that we completely evacuate all that has come before us in our Christian past, just the opposite! Instead, I want to continue to resource what is available from the Christian past for the present. I think the past (even if that is the recent past), has a rich tapestry of resource just waiting to be retrieved and redressed in a way that I would think most Christians (who are stuck in the wilderness of the scholastic God), would finally find refreshing and hope producing in regard to their own daily walk and spirituality.

So this is why I will probably always be here, posting on why people need to repudiate their classical view of God, and instead adopt a paleo-classical view that has been redressed through the articulation of people like Karl Barth, Thomas Torrance, and John Webster et. al.

*repost