Continuing with my recent theme of thinking about Federal Theology (classical Calvinism), in general, and the extent of the atonement, in particular; I thought I would repost this post which I have reposted multiple times before. I have been incited to repost this once again because of the just released book edited by David and Jonathan Gibson entitled: From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective (you can read the first two chapters by Pdf here). The quote from Paul Molnar on Torrance’s objection to ‘definite atonement’ as one of the material theological points of Federal theology will give you insight into why I as an Evangelical Calvinist might be at odds (which I am) with ‘particular redemption’, ‘definite atonement’, and/or ‘limited atonement’ in its classical, and I would argue dualist form. It is better, along with the Apostle Paul, Karl Barth, Thomas Torrance, et. al. to think such things (like atonement in particular) from Christ and his vicarious humanity for us (pro nobis). It is better to think about humanity from God’s definite humanity for us in Christ; this way we aren’t left to think ourselves or unite ourselves (in the Holy Spirit’s name) to Christ’s humanity (salvation). Anyway, read the following from Molnar on Torrance and be blessed.
Here Paul Molnar gives a good summary overview of some of the reasons that T.F. Torrance objected to ‘Federal’ or ‘Westminster’ Calvinism:
Torrance’s objections to aspects of the “Westminster theology” should be seen together with his objection to “Federal Theology”. His main objection to Federal theology is to the ideas that Christ died only for the elect and not for the whole human race and that salvation is conditional on our observance of the law. The ultimate difficulty here that one could “trace the ultimate ground of belief back to eternal divine decrees behind the back of the Incarnation of God’s beloved Son, as in a federal concept of pre-destination, [and this] tended to foster a hidden Nestorian dualism between the divine and human natures in the on Person of Jesus Christ, and thus even to provide ground for a dangerous form of Arian and Socinian heresy in which the atoning work of Christ regarded as an organ of God’s activity was separated from the intrinsic nature and character of God as Love” (Scottish Theology, p. 133). This then allowed people to read back into “God’s saving purpose” the idea that “in the end some people will not actually be saved”, thus limiting the scope of God’s grace (p. 134). And Torrance believed they reached their conclusions precisely because they allowed the law rather than the Gospel to shape their thinking about our covenant relations with God fulfilled in Christ’s atonement. Torrance noted that the framework of Westminster theology “derived from seventeenth-century federal theology formulated in sharp contrast to the highly rationalised conception of a sacramental universe of Roman theology, but combined with a similar way of thinking in terms of primary and secondary causes (reached through various stages of grace leading to union with Christ), which reversed the teaching of Calvin that it is through union with Christ first that we participate in all his benefits” (Scottish Theology, p. 128). This gave the Westminster Confession and Catechisms “a very legalistic and constitutional character in which theological statements were formalised at times with ‘almost frigidly logical definiton'” (pp. 128-9). Torrance’s main objection to the federal view of the covenant was that it allowed its theology to be dictated on grounds other than the grace of God attested in Scripture and was then allowed to dictate in a legalistic way God’s actions in his Word and Spirit, thus undermining ultimately the freedom of grace and the assurance of salvation that could only be had by seeing that our regenerated lives were hidden with Christ in God. Torrance thought of the Federal theologians as embracing a kind of “biblical nominalism” because “biblical sentences tend to be adduced out of their context and to be interpreted arbitrarily and singly in detachment from the spiritual ground and theological intention and content” (p. 129). Most importantly, they tended to give biblical statements, understood in this way, priority over “fundamental doctrines of the Gospel” with the result that “Westminster theology treats biblical statements as definitive propositions from which deductions are to be made, so that in their expression doctrines thus logically derived are given a categorical or canonical character” (p. 129). For Torrance, these statements should have been treated, as in the Scots Confession, in an “open-structured” way, “pointing away from themselves to divine truth which by its nature cannot be contained in finite forms of speech and thought, although it may be mediated through them” (pp. 129-30). Among other things, Torrance believed that the Westminster approach led them to weaken the importance of the Doctrine of the Trinity because their concept of God fored without reference to who God is in revelation led them ultimately to a different God than the God of classical Nicene theology (p. 131). For Barth’s assessment of Federal theology, which is quite similar to Torrance’s in a number of ways, see CD IV/1, pp. 54-66. (Paul D. Molnar, “Thomas F. Torrance: Theologian of the Trinity,” 181-2 [fn. 165])
Some great insightful stuff on Torrance here. Let me know what you think.
Also, something worth noting, while it is possible (although not totally understandable) to be ‘Evangelical Calvinist’ without being ‘Torrancean’; it would be hard-pressed to understand why you wouldn’t want to at least learn a bit from Torrance. In case it is not obvious, I am unapologetically a beneficiary of Torrance’s thinking and direction, on many fronts. The king of ‘EC’ you are getting exposed to here at “The Evangelical Calvinist,” is most certainly shaped by the contribution that Torrance has made in this direction. I really only mention this, because there are some who would claim to be ‘EC’; and at the same time not come to their ‘EC’ conclusions by looking to Torrance much (or, at all).