The Problem of Dualism in Science and Theology and Calvinism and Arminianism

Thinking “scientifically” is also thinking “theologically,” and vice versa:

dualism[. . .] theological science and natural science have their own proper and distinctive objectives to pursue, but their work inevitably overlaps, for they both respect and operate through the same rational structures of space and time, while each develops special modes of investigation, rationality, and verification in accordance with the nature and the direction of its distinctive field. But since each of them is the kind of thing it is as a human inquiry because of the profound correlation between human knowing and the space-time structures of creation, each is in its depth akin to the other . . . natural science and theological science are not opponents but partners before God, in a service of God in which each may learn from the other how better to pursue its own distinctive function . . . (Paul Molnar quoting Thomas Torrance [The Ground and Grammar of Theology],”Thomas F. Torrance: Theologian Of The Trinity,” 24)

This is an important principle to wrap the mind around. Torrance is always concerned with undercutting the dualistic ways of thinking that we typically operate out of; in other words, he wants to make sure that the “object” under consideration is always tied to the “subject” considering the “object.” Or, that the “subject” is not allowed to impose some foreign mode of thinking upon the “object” under consideration; thus, in effect, warping the “object,” and not allowing it (or Him) to determine its own shape and emphasis. This then can be applied to the “natural” or “theological” realms of inquiry.

Christianity has failed to grasp this critique in general; thus we continue to go down a road that is largely dualist in orientation —- whether that be from the proactive side (like theological liberalism might represent) or on the reactive side (like theological fundamentalism may represent).

Let me also extrapolate out the principle embedded in this kind of unitary thinking proposed by Thomas Torrance further. When this is applied to Calvinism—a non-dualistic approach—you end up with Evangelical Calvinism. The most important principle that anyone can understand about EC is that you cannot separate the Person of Christ away from the Work of Christ and expect to end up with anything other than classical Arminianism or Calvinism. Once the work of Christ is separated from the person of Christ, the work of Christ becomes attached to elect individuals seeking attachment to the person of Christ; and so this elect person needs a mechanism in order to do that kind of connecting work (or salvation). The solution, historically and presently, has been to propose a notion like created grace that God gives to the elect (whether this be the Arminians or Calvinist approach), and then they cooperate with God in appropriating salvation (by faith); the proof of appropriation is tied into persevering in the faith. But even this short sketch makes clear what happens when the person of Christ is separated from the work of Christ; we end up with an adoptionistic view of christology, and an abstract view of humanity. There is no ground for humanity in or from Christ in the dualistic approach; humanity grounds itself by choosing and persevering in salvation. This represents just one fall out, among the other ones that a dualistic approach to salvation and Christology can have.

If you don’t get this, you will never ever appreciate what we are articulating with Evangelical Calvinism.

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4 Responses to The Problem of Dualism in Science and Theology and Calvinism and Arminianism

  1. stevez says:

    “we end up with an adoptionistic view of christology, and an abstract view of humanity.”

    Bobby could you unpack this a little more?

    btw I am halfway through Torrance’s Scottish Theology, wow.


  2. Bobby Grow says:

    Hi Steve,

    I will attempt to tomorrow.

    Glad to see that your response to Scottish Theology, is Wow! 🙂 In what way is this book impacting you? Is it opening things up for you a bit more?


  3. stevez says:

    Thanks Bobby, I would say that much like Kendall’s book it helps me to see the way Calvin’s writings were handled by those who came after. To see from Torrance’s perspective where the federal understanding of salvation and sanctification replaced the understanding that God in Jesus took care of everything for us. That in order to have unity in the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland the Scottish Church (I know it is a Kirk, but it is a church in our language!) 🙂 caved to the theology of the Westminster Tradition.

    I am delighted to see that the issue (as it was in Kendall’s book) is assurance of Salvation. That, in my opinion, is where the rubber meets the road. Torrance points out that Knox and most of those following (at least as far as I have read) understood that we cannot look to ourselves as any gauge of reality of being in Christ.

    We must first and foremost (only) look to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith. But I am still straining to see (understand) how works, obedience, responsibility etc…(as far as my sanctification goes) fit in with this conclusion. How Paul could write “encouraging’ or sometimes chastising the church to do better, to get right and fly straight, to outline what a true follower of Christ “looks” like.

    There has to be some kind of standard other than “I love Jesus” or else I won’t be able to “not eat” with someone who calls themselves “brother” and is still guilty of listed sins (1 Cor. 5:11)

    I am sure I am missing the point somewhere, I am trying NOT to be fixated on law or my responsibility under the law (since Jesus already met those requirements for me), so maybe my question is better “does Grace obligate” (in sanctification)? is my working out my salvation with fear and trembling a passive or active response given that God is working in me both to will and work HIs own good pleasure? Don’t I have a responsibility to co-operate? And if the answer is simply that I WILL have a “desire” to respond to God’s love isn’t that some sort of inward proof that I really am saved?

    I anticipate your heavy sigh – Please pound lightly. 🙂


  4. Bobby Grow says:


    My view is that love is enough, and that Jesus is God’s act of love for us. The obligation was met by Jesus. Our responsibility is to simply enjoy what He has done for us, and when we blow it (which we will I Jn 2), then we repent and keep walking in what we have already received (Col 2:5-6).

    What motivated Jesus to do the will of the Father? His love relationship with Him. There is no contingency of relationship in our obedience, there is contingency of fellowship; but that is different. It seems that you are trying to understand this (i.e. obedience) in terms of contingency in actual union with Christ and participation in God’s life. But how this would not collapse into a works righteousness conception of salvation escapes me. It isn’t our job to say “do this or else,” to parishoners in our churches or our brothers and sisters in general.

    Anyway, I take the apostle Paul’s warning subjectives (in the Greek) as exhortations to indeed live holy; but his exhortations already presuppose a relationship and union with Christ among those he is exhorting (in the church not outside of it). And I don’t see Paul’s union with Christ theology (it isn’t just Calvin’s) allowing for the idea that the contingency of our continued relationship with God in Christ is ever ever dependent on our obedience; instead it always comes back to what Christ has done for us. Now it is a matter of us simply participating in that. And the reality is is that we will continue to blow, but the good news is that God has already done all of it for us in Christ.


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