The swath of Calvinism, and 'Christ-conditioned-Election'

It is curious to me, Scot McKnight is discussing the variety of Calvinisms, but he gets stuck on the usual problem of the classic way of framing double predestination, etc. There is really no discussion on the varieties of Calvinism in the post. He fails to highlight Scottish Theology or Evangelical Calvinism; he fails to notice what Janice Knight has labeled The Spiritual Brethren; and then he fails to address the Barthian reformulation of Reformed theology (that “EC” has certain affinity for, through TFT, esp.). This seems like a major over-sight, and it does not serve McKight’s readers well; whatsoever. In fact, it’s posts like his that, I believe, continue to polarize this issue between the usual “sides” of Arminian and Calvinism parties (in their classical theistic forms). Many folks who read McKnight, or even Olson, I think are being given the wrong assumptions; that in fact there really isn’t any variation within the broader stream of Calvinist history. Below I am simply offering a little repost of how Evangelical Calvinists parse double predestination and election; through a so called ‘Christ-conditioned election’ wherein Christ is both the elect and reprobate in Himself for us!:

I think Myk Habets provides a good summation of how an Evangelical Calvinist (Thomas F. Torrance) thinks of election:

One of the distinctive features of a Reformed doctrine of election is the recurring instance that election ‘is christologically conditioned.’10 Following Calvin, Torrance claims that Christ is the ‘cause’ of election in all four traditional senses of ‘cause’: the efficient and the material, the formal and the final. ‘He is at once the Agent and the Content of election, its Beginning and its End.’11 Election proceeds from the eternal decree of God but this eternal decree of election assumes in time once and for all the form of the wondrous conjunction of God and humanity in Christ.12 The hypostatic union is the heart of any understanding of election as Torrance makes clear when he writes, ‘How are we to relate God’s action to our faith? The secret of that is seen only in the God-manhood of Christ, for that is the very heart of election, and the pattern of our election, and is visible only there since it is election in Christ.’13 (Myk Habets,”The Doctrine of Election in Evangelical Calvinism: T. F. Torrance as a Case Study,” Irish Theological Quarterly 73 (2008) 336)

What this illustrates is that the Evangelical Calvinist still speaks of election, even in Classically Reformed terms; but instead of grounding election in Creation (as the Classic approach does, by way of “decree”), it is based in Christ.

PS. I must admit, it gets rather old to see folks talk about Calvinism, and “Reformed” theology, and fail to actually identify the actual history available within the Calvinist stream. Further, it bothers me that Barth is so often overlooked (and I’m not even Barthian, per se) when discussions of Reformed theology are brewing; Barth stands in the Reformed tradition whether you like that or not (it’s a fact)! You can’t pigeon-hole the Reformed tradition to a particular grouping of agreed upon confessions, like the three forms of unity; Calvinism is much more expansive than that, one of it’s hallmarks is semper reformanda (always reforming), and to be involved in the ongoing practice of confession-making. There are many Reformed Confessions available in the history beyond the ones that are notable (and thus identifying of what “counts” as Reformed Theology today), that Karl Barth, T. F. Torrance and many others press as exemplary of the Reformed emphases they wish to forward (like the Scot’s Confession, The Bern Confession, even, for Barth, the Westminster Confession [in qualified ways]). Anyway, I get hot and bothered when I see posts like Scot Mc., entitled the way they are, and then only to realize that there really isn’t any variety, according to the author he appeals to, after all (that’s why folks need to come over here ;-) ).

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18 comments on “The swath of Calvinism, and 'Christ-conditioned-Election'

  1. kenny chmiel says:

    It’s not so much a disagreement over if christ was elected and reprobated but if individuals are. When Colossians speaks about believers being in the death and resurrection it assumes the election of Christ but how does your position extend this fact extend to individuals which are also said to be elected? This is my problem with your position. Obviously you’ll say it is by faith in the election and reprobation of christ, but this seems to leave out the particular for the whole.

  2. Bobby Grow says:

    @Kenny,

    The “EC” position (mine) doesn’t leave out the particular or individual, there is, in a sense, a “double election, election;” wherein those who have the Spirit are both “carnally and spiritually” united to the election ‘in Christ’. God determines who receives the Spirit in Christ. Given the universal scope of election in Christ, it would seem that “all” would respond to whom they’ve been given; but the inscrutable nature of sin then becomes the cipher by which any kind of “explanation” might be given to “why” all don’t ultimately receive their “election” in Christ. There is “dialectic” involved in what I’m saying, and thus this will remain unacceptable jargon and response within a typical logico-deductive schematized system (as the classic both Calvinist and ARminian) works from. But this is the tension where “EC” lives, and, I know, bothers many Calvinists and Arminians alike. But it is what it is, and I think offers a Christ-conditioned approach that avoids collapsing “election” and “reprobation” into the creation as based upon the “absolute decrees.” It also avoids making Jesus’ death and atonement purely “instrumental” as “payment” for the elect etc. (these latter two thoughts are some of the motives for trying to construct a model of election/reprobation that is grounded in the person of Christ and thus God’s triune life vs. using abstract decrees contingent upon the inter-workings of creation history as does the classic approach).

    I hope that offers a little more substance than just saying its “faith” ;-) . . . but it is, an “analogy of faith,” that is :-) .

  3. Bobby,

    For me, I always come back to God the creator and the sovereign, from here election seems to stand. Also Calvin places election in the decrees of God, both the saved and lost. And even like Brunner, I am Infralapsarian. Again, see John 17: 12. I suppose in your position, this would have to be Satan, yes?

  4. PS..Note Bobby, for me its always the Text, and the doctrine of God. And God the Creator cannot be placed against the doctrine of Christ, the Word, and the Redeemer!

  5. Bobby Grow says:

    Fr Robert,

    My position comes back to the God is love (I Jn. 4.8), and works from there. I think the difference between us, apparently, is what I wrote my chapter on for our forthcoming book: an “analogy of being” vs. an “analogy of faith”. My position is not to appeal to a logico-deductive system, and thus I resist speculating upon “why” in “causal” terms folks refuse the salvation of God’s life for them in Christ. But like I said to Kenny, only those who respond to the Spirit’s conviction (meaning God’s love in Christ) will say yes. Calvin answers similarly, he relegates the response of the reprobate to per accidens (and thus assumes an asymmetry to trying to answer the variant responses between the elect/reprobate see his commentary on II Cor. 2.15). The “positive” focus though is on those who respond affirmatively to Christ and in Christ by the Spirit. That’s the emphasis that EC would press. I could also appeal to Calvin’s usage of ultimate and proximate cause, the latter, again being man’s sinfulness. To me though, Scripture says that men love the darkness rather than the light; and it leaves “that” there or that the “god of this age his blinded minded their minds to the light of the Gospel”. So, I hope, my position as living with both what “positive” theo-logic demands, and also the dialectic tension that Scripture also requires.

  6. Bobby Grow says:

    excuse some of my bad grammar in my last comment ;-)

  7. Bobby Grow says:

    Fr Robert,

    Likewise, for me it is always the TEXT; and it is also understanding like Athanasius, that we must start with God as the Son of the Father vs. as Creator. Like I said, an analogia entis vs. analogia fidei ;-) . I read the Bible way way way more than I do theology books, just to clarify :-) .

  8. Bobby,

    My own conversion was not really based upon the knowledge of the love of God so much, as really the power of God’s sovereign grace! Note too, Augustine’s own conversion, as such the Augustinian Conversion! :)

  9. Bobby Grow says:

    And note, it’s important to catch what I am trying to say: the biggest word I use above is START; this is an issue of methdology and how that methodology then impacts exegesis etc. Do we end up emphasizing what the TEXT says about God as triune love who is sovereign Creator; or do we end up with a brute sovereign Creator who is triune love? That’s a huge impasse, and one that I think presents a mutually exclusive approach to things.

  10. Bobby Grow says:

    Fr Robert,

    I know quite a bit about Augustine’s early and mature theology, as one of my former profs (who I did a teaching fellowship for, and with whom I’m having coffee tomorrow, ironically) did much of his PhD work on the impact of Augustine’s theology on English Puritans (esp. a comparison between Sibbes and Perkins); and then also further work on Luther/Calvin and Augustine (along with Aquinas). My point, I know some of Augustine; interestingly he is much more interested in love and the Affections (see his definition of sin concupiscence post-Pelagius). But that said, you can always change to a little more Athanasius in methodology per a doctrine of God, eh ;-) ?

  11. Bobby,

    Btw, have you read Sung Wook Chung’s chapter: A Bold Innovator: Barth on God and Election? In his edited book – Karl Barth And Evangelical Theology. A tough chapter for Barth people!

  12. Bobby Grow says:

    No. I’ll have to add that to the reading list :-) . I’ve heard of the book, but I haven’t found great reviews for it (but of course I think those reviews were coming from mostly Barthians ;-) ). Suzanne McDonald offers some tough critique of Barth in her book “Re-imaging Election” which I’m currently reading. I don’t feel an all or nothing with probably any theologian; of course there are certain trajectories that are incommensurate amongst respective theologians, but that is not to say that there aren’t also commensurate contours amongst the same theologians that can be placed in constructive conversation with eachother — all with the goal of helping to provide further “grammar” for Scripture’s articulation (not further revelation ;-) ). I find some of Barth’s reification on election/predestination helpful, and some not. Same with Calvin. For me TFT is a better fit. We’ll see how I continue to develop, as we all develop :-) . . . I’d prefer Jesus to just come, and develop by an “analogy of sight” instead of an “analogy of faith” so to speak ;-) .

  13. Thanks for this post and for pointing me to Torrance on election. Just finished the Habets article you sight above and yes, this framing of election seems to be to be more palatable, but I do have an important question for you. In your response to Kenny about the individual, you note that, “God determines who receives the Spirit in Christ.” Could you point me to where the article notes this? On my reading, I didn’t see the article as stating this. (It may simply be that you’ve read elsewhere in Torrance where this is stated)

    Let me drop some quotes from that caused me to either misunderstand or disagree. Early in the article, Torrance is quoted, “we are all elected and all damned in Him.” (340) On the next page, he again quotes Torrance, “When confronted with God, humans for the first time become free to decide for God. ‘The personal encounter of Christ with forgiveness on His lips, singles out a man … and gives him freedom to say “yes” or “no” … freedom is only possible face to face with Jesus Christ.” (341) He then continues on to say what you talk about above, that sin is the cipher which still allows some to reject Christ even in the face of this offer. This is a great mystery, the repetition of Adam’s sin.

    Later on in the article, Habets lays out, “Amidst discussing John Howe’s theology, Torrance reveals his own position that ‘while there is no divine decree of reprobation, God allows his will for the salvation of all for whom Christ died, to be frustrated, so that in view of the tears of the Redeemer for the lost, it may be said that God wills the salvation of those that perish.’ (350)

    Two pages later, discussing Torrance’s presentation of the Gospel, Habets avers that, “The love of God is not in question, not even for the reprobate. All are elect in
    Christ as Christ died for all, thus universal pardon is announced in the
    free and gracious offer of salvation. And yet, two other things are equally
    clear; first, not all are saved. The sinner has the right and the ability to
    refuse the love of God and to damn themselves, no matter how impossible
    this may seem. While this will forever remain a mystery, it is nonetheless
    a reality.” (352)

    Without quoting more, yet taking into account his view of non-Arminian view of free will from the end of the article, here is what I see happening: In Christ all are elected, confronted by the Spirit when encountering Christ, and left with a choice for or against God. If chosen positively, it is credited to the “hidden cause of God” and not the “manifest cause” of faith. (349) If negatively it is credited to the “manifest cause” of unbelief and not upon the “hidden cause” of God, because there is only one will in God, namely the salvation of man. Salvation is all by grace because only by grace is it possible to choose positively.

    I see Torrance differing strongly on some points of TULIP, predominantly limited atonement and irresistible grace. Obviously and thankfully, he is for unlimited atonement, but for resistible grace as well. This resistible form grace in some mysterious way and not God’s hidden will is what allows for reprobation to take place.

    This sounds awfully close to Arminianism in some ways, but Torrance clearly removes any doubt here in his views of free will and contra synergism. I love when Torrance says, “The Gospel is preached in this unevangelical way [referring Catholic/Arminian view] when it is announced that Christ died and rose again for sinners if they would accept this for themselves.” He goes on, “To preach the Gospel in that conditional or legalist way has the effect of telling poor sinners that in the last resort the responsibility for their salvation is taken off the shoulders of the Lamb of God and placed upon them—but in that case they feel they will never be saved.” (351)
    Thus, salvation is all by Christ, accepted by the Spirit’s empowerment (or rejected in some mysterious way in spite of the Spirit), with a non-synergistic version of cooperation laid out in the following quote by Habets: “the sinner does have to do something, namely, repent and believe. While faith is a gift, it must be responsive. This is whyTorrance asserts one of his oft repeated phrases, ‘all of grace does not mean nothing of man, but the reverse.” (352)

    What a great reworking of election! Thanks for helping me to further understand this in your response. Have I laid out what Torrance is saying? If not, what am I misunderstanding? I look forward to continuing to converse over these important and deep matters.

  14. And Bobby, I would NOT recommend buying, “Karl Barth And Evangelical Theology.” It is very uneven and only a few of the essays, such as Vanhoozer’s piece are really good. I’ll happily scan any essays you’d like and shoot them to you via e-mail. (That’s legal in case anyone freaks out- go read Fair Use Laws for Academics)

  15. Bobby,

    As you know, I am not negative overtly toward Barth or TFT, but I am more of a classic type Augustinian. I find that the theology of dialectics does not seem to be the biblical and theological method of St. Paul. Thankfully our salvation does not depend upon our full theological method either. But is simply and profoundly Christ Himself, but too always with the great doctrine of the Judeo God! And btw, one of the best books I think I have ever read here, is the classic by James Denny: The Death of Christ! (1902) Denney shows that the faith attaches itself to the historical person and doctrine of Christ, but both the Christ of faith in a historical and ontological unity, but always beware of the Hegelian idealism! Hegel still affects much of the theology in Barth’s time, and even later.

  16. Bobby Grow says:

    @Randy,

    I don’t think I can point you to anything in TFT that explicitly asserts what I have about God choosing who receives the Holy Spirit, but I think what I am noting (and Myk does this as well, as I recall) is that TFT presents a “positive” view of salvation (one view through the one mediator); so the supposition is that per the constraints of the Incarnation and hypostatic union (with an/enhypostasis in mind) all of humanity is universally elect in Christ, and thus all humanity it seems should respond to the the Father in the Son’s ‘Yes’. This seems to be where TFT leaves it, but then of course must recognize, per Scripture, and the emperical reality itself, that not “all” do respond as you think they should. So the choice God has made in Christ, and all who respond have the Spirit; all who don’t, don’t, but then this is the mystery of evil (because they should). There is a bit of dialectic and even some paradox here. But I think this honors the dialectic categories that Scripture gives us.

    I also have some other thoughts to share on election per my reading of McDonald’s book (which I’m not quite finished with yet). I’ll share some of that when I finish the book. I think Scripture needs to be allowed to provide us with the contours from whence we think about election as well (per how God has worked out his salvation in history, and is).

    Thanks for the offer on those chapters. I actually have access to that book though, maybe I’ll check it out someday, for free :-) .

    @Fr Rob,

    It depends on what we mean by dialectic. I simply mean that there are certain tensions left in Scripture (that not even theo-logic can touch) — if you don’t like dialectic, then how about ‘Confessional’ in approach? I’m not referring to a Hegelian dialecticism Christianized in a Barthian form (in fact I’m not sure it’s even fair to paint Barth himself with that brush, maybe the Barthians), but just a more denotative understanding of that term.

  17. Steve Scott says:

    Bobby, you didn’t comment on his blog.

  18. Bobby Grow says:

    I know, by time I saw that post it already had 60 some comments on it; I figured it was a waste to comment at that point, it would just be buried (so I figured I would just vent here ;-) ) . . . I’m getting soft ;-) in my old age.

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