Our Evangelical Calvinism Book: Thesis 2. The primacy of God’s triune life is grounded in love, for “God is love.”

*The following represents Thesis #2 from our forthcoming book (March 2012): Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church. Princeton Theological Monograph Series. Eds. Myk Habets and Bobby Grow. Foreword by Alasdair Heron. Eugene, OR.: Pickwick Publications. There are a total of 15 Theses in this particular chapter (which happens to be chapter 15 in the book); and they have been co-written by Dr. Myk Habets and myself — some of them represent more of one us (as author) than the other, and some reflect more of a good blend between the both of us. To read more about how I am going to unfold some of these here at the blog, click here. The formatting in the post has all the markings required by the publisher for their type-setting process; I am too lazy to remove those for the blog. We look forward to your feedback! Here is Thesis #1 if you missed it.

[A]Thesis Two

The primacy of God’s triune life is grounded in love, for “God is love.”

Hugh Binning (1627-1653), a young Scottish theologian, spoke of the primacy of God’s life as the ground of salvation. Speaking of the primacy of God’s love as the foundation of salvation he wrote: [EXT]Our salvation is not the business of Christ alone but the whole Godhead is interested in it deeply, so deeply, that you cannot say, who loves it most, or likes it most. The Father is the very fountain of it, his love is the spring of all—“God so loved the world that he hath sent his Son.” Christ hath not purchased that eternal love to us, but it is rather the gift of eternal love . . . Whoever thou be that wouldst flee to God for mercy, do it in confidence. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, are ready to welcome thee, all of one mind to shut out none, to cast out none. But to speak properly, it is but one love, one will, one council, and purpose in the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, for these Three are One, and not only agree in One, they are One, and what one loves and purposes, all love and purpose.[1][/EXT] Echoing a similar sentiment John Duns Scotus once remarked: “The creation of things proceeds from God not out of any necessity whether of being or knowledge or of will but out of pure freedom which is not moved, much less necessitated, by anything outside of itself so as to be brought into operation.”[2]

The fact that God’s life of love is supreme over all life, presents Evangelical Calvinism with the resources to claim that our God is truly the One who provides “Good News” for all.[3]

In soteriology, for instance, Evangelical Calvinism believes the primacy of Christ is the touchstone from whence all else is centered (see thesis 8).  It is our belief that the primacy of Christ best captures and articulates the truth of the supremacy of God’s life in Christ for us; a theme made explicit and with compelling force by Karl Barth.[4] While much of the Reformed tradition after Calvin adopted certain central insights of Thomas Aquinas at this point, Calvin by contrast, followed the trajectory of thought laid down by Duns Scotus, mediated through John Major in regards to his doctrine of God. As Richard Muller writes: [EXT]Calvin must depart from a doctrine which examines the predestination of an abstract humanity which does not exist apart from the person of Christ. A similar redefinition of the predestination of Christ is seen in the theology of Bonaventure—who will apply the divine determination neither to the Word, since the divine Word disposes all things, nor to the human nature abstractly, but to the God-man as the foundation of the predestination of mankind to salvation. Calvin, I believe, goes farther still than this, but the underlying theological motivation is similar and the precedent, which places Calvin once again in continuity with Franciscan and ultimately Scotist rather than Thomist thought, is significant.[5][/EXT]

As Karl Barth writes at the beginning of CD II/1, “§30 The Perfections of the Divine Loving”: [ext] God is He who in His Son Jesus Christ loves all His children, in His children all men, and in men His whole creation. God’s being is His loving. He is all that He is as the One who loves. All His perfections are the perfections of His love. Since our knowledge of God is grounded in His revelation in Jesus Christ and remains bound up with it, we cannot begin elsewhere—if we are now to consider and state in detail and in order who and what God is—than with the consideration of His love.[6][/ext] Without wanting to claim too much, Evangelical Calvinism appeals to the primacy of God’s triune life as grounded in love—for “God is love”—and identifies and develops Christian practices from this starting point.[7]

[1] Binning, The Works of Hugh Binning (1735 edn.), as cited in Torrance, Scottish Theology, 78–79.

[2] Duns Scotus, Quaestiones disputatae, q. 4, a. 1, n.3. John Duns Scotus correctly understood the primacy of God’s life as Love whereas Thomas Aquinas developed a speculative theology elaborated from sense-experience as the starting point for his Theology Proper. See Scotus, God and Creatures. For a support for this position see T.F. Torrance, “Intuitive and Abstractive Knowledge,” 291-305; and J.B.Torrance and Walls, John Duns Scotus.

[3] It would be wrong to infer from this thesis that Evangelical Calvinism arbitrarily ranks the divine attributes and, a priori, has “love” at the top. This is the method of Open Theism and not of Evangelical Calvinism. Theological reflection on 1 John 4:8 concerns God as relational and personal-Triune-not as a supreme form of human love. See for instance the argument of Bruce McCormack at this point, “The Actuality of God,” especially 189-210.

[4] The alternative at this point is a Thomistic theology from which Federal Theology proceeds. For a discussion of both approaches in their wider contexts, and representing Roman Catholic and Reformed thought, see the recent collection of essays in White ed., The Analogy of Being: Invention of the Antichrist or the Wisdom of God? In these essays the debate between Karl Barth and Erich Przywara is studiously discussed and brought up to date.

[5] Muller, Christ and the Decree, 37.

[6] Barth, CD II/1, 351. Thesis 7, no less than Barth’s theology, is meant to imply that love can be abstracted from God’s freedom, or, we might add, any of his other perfections. Cf. Barth, CD II/1, 440.

[7] See Canlis, chapter 12 and Kirkland, chapter 14.

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3 Responses to Our Evangelical Calvinism Book: Thesis 2. The primacy of God’s triune life is grounded in love, for “God is love.”

  1. Arjen says:

    I like this thesis. The typical ‘scottish’ emphasis on the primacy of Christ is indeed very remarkable. It seems to me, the ‘scottish’ flavour is to be discerned on other points as well, like an, say, ’empirical’ emphasis, for example in the doctrine of the eucharist.
    One point of criticism though: I don’t know whether this thesis is a quote from Torrance himself, or the work of you both, but the connection between John Major and John Calvin isn’t very strong. See:

    But anyway, I’m looking forward to the next thesis.


  2. Bobby Grow says:


    Thank you for the feedback. I too understand that the evidence for the influence of John Major is suspect. I know that TFT followed that line, but I too have read argument that seems to make this a bit flimsy, or questionable. I’ll be in touch with Myk about this, thanks.


  3. Pingback: Our Evangelical Calvinism Book: Thesis 3. “There is one covenant of grace.” « The Evangelical Calvinist

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