Should We Think About God’s Relation to Humanity Through a Decree or Through a Person?

Should we think about God’s relation to humanity through a decree, or through a person, through the dearly beloved Son, Jesus Christ? That is the question that evangelical Calvinism reposes upon, again and again. It is a K123741point that I don’t think many of evangelical Calvinism’s critics appreciate about evangelical Calvinism, and in particular about one of EC’s most prominent theologians, Thomas Torrance. If God is a personal God by nature (in se), if he is a plenitude of Triune relation, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, then it follows that his relationship to his creation will likewise be personal and not governed by impersonal and abstract decrees.

When the above reality is applied, for example to the doctrine of election, Thomas Torrance (speaking as one of evangelical Calvinism’s premiere theologians) writes:

… Calvin calls Christ the Speculum praedestinationis. All this is of the utmost importance because it means that the relation between God and man in the act of predestination is to be thought of in terms of the person of Christ. How does God elect men? Through Christ. Why does He elect them? Because of Christ. Just because Christ is, therefore, the author and the instrument of election, we may not think of it in any deterministic sense, but in terms of the way our Lord treated men when He Himself was on earth. Unless this aspect of the Reformed doctrine of predestination is understood along with the other side, it is not really understood at all. That applies not only to the critics but to many champions of Calvinism as well![1]

To steal a phrase from Peter Leithart, Thomas Torrance’s project was about ‘evangelizing metaphysics,’ in another words, Thomas Torrance, and evangelical Calvinists as corollary, was all about personalizing Christian Reformed theology. Not because he or we are committed to a modern existentialist understanding of what it means to be a person, but because the revealed Christian God is Triune and personal. Since we take our cues from the categories of God’s Self revealed life, it is necessary then to think personally versus impersonally about the way he has related to us in Christ.

This is just another window into what distinguishes evangelical Calvinism from its classical cousin. I want to highlight some of these distinctions so that what Evangelical Calvinism is offering will be significant for those who might fail to see its significance. Using classical Calvinism as a foil of sorts, in its alternative status, will help to draw the lines more brightly.


[1] Thomas F. Torrance, “Predestination In Christ,” Evangelical Quarterly 13 (1941), 109.

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5 Responses to Should We Think About God’s Relation to Humanity Through a Decree or Through a Person?

  1. Kevin Davis says:

    Do you remember where Leithart made that comment? That’s a great way to express Torrance’s project.


  2. Bobby Grow says:

    In his book Athanasius. I don’t remember the particular context, it wasn’t about TFT, but I think he was generally referring to what the patristics at the ecumenical councils did. And I think it is totally apropos in re to Torrance’s approach too!


  3. markmcculley says:

    But is the Christ in whom Torrance believes a person? Or is He only “the impersonal humanity” of Christ?

    The Father and the Son are not distinct in the way that I am distinct from the Father and distinct from the Son. Torrance’s idea of the atoning union suggest that the incarnation and life of Christ is already enough to reconcile us to God without the Death to satisfy law. But Christ was “made sin” not by incarnation but by imputation to be the sin-offering only for those Christ represented..

    .If Christ healed human nature by incarnation (union with humanity), then why was Christ crucified in that healed human nature?

    Christ even now is not “human nature”, but one person (with one history) who is both human and divine. And all the rest of us humans are still sinners. Not even regeneration has healed our nature so that we will be reconciled by this healing.

    The human nature even of those born again is still fallen.


  4. Bobby Grow says:

    Nope, Torrance affirms and works through the an/enhypostasis of patristic theology and reality. So no to your first set of questions!

    2) Yep, we are related by grace, the Son (Jesus) by nature; there’s no problem there. You need to read more Torrance, you are severely misrepresenting him on active and passive obedience; both of which he affirms in his way.

    3) Christ healed human nature in the resurrection, the climax of the Incarnation. Again, you are misrepresenting Torrance. I think you need to read him more so you can better critique his actual theology.

    4) Christ is unio personalis wherein the human nature finds life via the homoosious reality.

    None of your critiques pan out because they misrepresent and caricature (strawman) Torrance’s actual beliefs. Torrance’s actual theology self-referentially is consistent, and is consistent with the theo-logic present and required by the Incarnation.


  5. Bobby Grow says:

    Every time you comment here, Mark, you seem to want to punch holes in Torrance’s theology; that’s fine! But if you are going to make sure you understand Torrance’s theology first, if you don’t, be humble enough to admit that, spend the time understanding his theology, and then make critique from real knowledge. I won’t engage with you further until you do that.


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