The Ontological Theory of the Atonement and Evangelical Calvinism

Here is something for you to meditate upon as you sleep tonight (at least I’m going to). This is a quote from Thomas Torrance taken from Myk Habet’s and my book Evangelical Calvinism. It is taken from our Thesis chapter, calvaryand this happens to be Thesis 14. Here is what Thesis 14 is:

The atonement is multifaceted and must not be reduced to one culturally conditioned atonement theory but, rather, to a theologically unified but multi-faceted atonement model.

And here is the quote from Torrance (when I have more time I will quote the whole thesis):

Jesus did not repudiate the preaching of John the Baptist, the proclamation of judgement: on the contrary he continued it, and as we have seen he searched the soul of man with the fire of divine judgement, but in Jesus that is subsidiary to—and only arises out of—the gospel of grace and vicarious suffering and atonement. In the incarnate life of Jesus, and above all in his death, God does not execute his judgement on evil simply by smiting violently away by a stroke of his hand, but by entering into from within, into the very heart of the blackest evil, and making its sorrow and guilt and suffering his own. And it is because it is God himself who enters in, in order to let the whole of human evil go over him, that his intervention in meekness has violent and explosive force. It is the very power of God. And so the cross with all its indelible meekness and patience and compassion is no deed of passive and beautiful heroism simply, but the most potent and aggressive deed that heaven and earth have ever known: the attack of God’s holy love upon the inhumanity of man and the tyranny of evil, upon all the piled up contradiction of sin. [Torrance, Incarnation, 150.]

As you can see from Torrance he has a different emphasis than the ubiquitous range that penal substitution has for Evangelicals and the Reformed alike. Instead of seeing atonement framed by a juridical or legal frame (which flows from the Covenant of Works), Torrance understands that the depth dimension of the atonement, if it is to be really effectual (so to speak), must penetrate the depth of the broken and desperately evil heart. A legal conception only, only deals with behavioral and venial sins (symptoms, externals); instead of framing the atonement legally, per se, Torrance develops his ontological theory of the atonement. The idea is well expressed in the quote provided from him above. This is why Torrance so believed that Jesus had to of assumed a fallen/sinful humanity in the Incarnation (although he rightly qualifies this by arguing that Jesus immediately sanctifies this fallen humanity by the Holy Spirit so as not to sin); Torrance believed with Gregory of Nazianzius that ‘the unassumed is the unhealed’. And Myk and myself (and other of our authors in the book) believe that this is the better way to go; i.e. that is to understand that salvation must deal with the real problem, our stone like broken hearts. That’s what Jesus does by penetrating the depths of our fallen humanity all the way down, and through this he gives us his heart of flesh; the kind that is Spirit shaped, and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is Liberty.

Anyway, off to bed for me; more to come on this later.




  1. “And so the cross with all its indelible meekness and patience and compassion is no deed of passive and beautiful heroism simply, but the most potent and aggressive deed that heaven and earth have ever known: the attack of God’s holy love upon the inhumanity of man and the tyranny of evil, upon all the piled up contradiction of sin.”

    Wow, a punch to the face (in the best way possible)! Loved it!



  2. […] last post only briefly only touched on our Thesis 14 from our Evangelical Calvinism book. In this post I […]


  3. Cal,

    Good! 🙂