The Evangelical Calvinist’s Preliminary Response to Kevin Vanhoozer’s Critique of Evangelical Calvinism

Kevin J. Vanhoozer, evangelical professor, par excellence, and current faculty member at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, in the
PICKWICK_TemplateChicago, Illinois area has offered a whole essay/chapter in critique of what Myk Habets and myself have articulated as Evangelical Calvinism (in our edited book: Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church [Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications and Imprint of Wipf&Stock Publishers, 2012]). In particular, Vanhoozer, in his critique, challenges our methodology (dialectical); our appeal to the history of interpretation (per John Calvin); and at the material level, our understanding of eternal election; and he gauges us on some other things as well. Vanhoozer does all this in a chapter he contributed to in a just released book (of
vanhoozerwhich he is one of the three editors) entitled: Reconsidering the Relationship between Biblical and Systematic Theology in the New Testament: Essays by Theologians and New Testament Scholars edited by: Benjamin E. Reynolds, Brian Lugioyo, and Kevin J. Vanhoozer published by: Mohr Siebeck. Vanhoozer offers two chapters to this edited book, the one of interest to us, the one where he engages with Evangelical Calvinism is titled: The Origin of Paul’s Soteriology: Election, Incarnation, and Union with Christ in Ephesians 1:4 (with special reference to Evangelical Calvinism). Interesting, right?

What I am going to do, throughout the rest of this article, is simply introduce you to some of the early things that KJV claims to be attempting to do as he starts out his chapter; and I might gesture towards a direction that we might respond in as representative of one of the Evangelical Calvinists that he is critiquing in his essay. This will not be an official response/rejoinder to Vanhoozer, I think Myk Habets and myself will attempt to do that later, more formally, by way of an essay for a theological journal somewhere. So this is just an informal thing, to register what is going on in the great wide-world of Evangelical Calvinism, and how some of those who are not so persuaded (like Vanhoozer) are responding. Let’s begin.

Here is what Kevin Vanhoozer thinks of us, and what he thinks we are doing as Evangelical Calvinists; and then how he intends to respond to us:

I undertake this essay as a Reformed theologian in dialogue not only with New Testament exegetes but also with a new tribe of Reformed theologians who designate themselves “Evangelical Calvinists” and who trace their lineage from Barth through T. F. Torrance. They use the qualifier “Evangelical” in order to signal their intent to be biblical and to reinforce the good news at the heart of Christian theology, namely, “that all are included in Christ’s salvific work.”  They claim that Evangelical Calvinism “adheres much closer to the presentation of election as it is found in Scripture” than does “Classic Calvinism.” Accordingly, I shall focus on the way in which Classic and Evangelical Calvinists understand Ephesians 1:4, especially as it relates to the theme of union with Christ. Our particular focus is whether Evangelical Calvinism represents a “better” gospel – not simply good news but the best – and hence a “more excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:31) of interpreting Scripture and understanding salvation.[1]

I wanted to make clear that Vanhoozer intends to engage very directly with us, Myk Habets and myself, as Evangelical Calvinists. And his engagement, as you can see, comes through his focus on Ephesians 1:4 and the doctrine of election therein. He will go on to argue that Evangelical Calvinism’s understanding of election, along with Karl Barth’s (since we essentially follow Barth on election, with some qualification) is erroneous to the text of Scripture, especially as articulated in Ephesians 1:4. One of his primary critiques at this point revolves around the question of whether or not the Apostle Paul has ontology in mind, or soteriology? Vanhoozer believes that Evangelical Calvinists, Thomas F. Torrance, Karl Barth et al. mistakenly hold to the idea that Paul’s reference to ‘in Christ’ or ‘union with Christ’ theology has to do with ontology, when Vanhoozer and the “classical” position, as Vanhoozer understands it, holds that St. Paul is referring to soteriology. Here is what Vanhoozer writes in this regard:

“To be or not to be (in Christ)” may not be the urgent question for those who hear the gospel if God, before the foundation of the world, has already determined who is “in.” On the other hand, if there are conditions for “getting in,” these too will have a direct bearing on the content of the good news. Here, then, is our primary question: Are the elect “in Christ” simply by virtue of being human (ontology) or because they have somehow become beneficiaries of his life and work (soteriology)?[2]

… The question that concerns us is whether election to union with Christ is the same as this unifying of all things in Christ: “To be in Christ . . . is to be part of a program which is as broad as the universe, a movement which is rolling on toward a renewed cosmos where all is in harmony.” What is at stake is nothing less than the meaning of our passage, the whole book of Ephesians, our understanding of Paul’s gospel, and the nature of “christocentric” theology. Does everything’s being summed up “in Christ” entail universal salvation? F. F. Bruce intriguingly suggests that the church is “God’s pilot scheme for the reconciled universe of the future.”[3]

There are, obviously, many interpretations of what Eph. 1:4 has to contribute to our understanding of election, the “sum of the gospel.” My intent in what follows is to examine the suggestion, put forward by Evangelical Calvinists, that all human beings are elect in Christ. Does this insistence collapse “being in general” (ontology) into “being in Christ” and, if so, does “being in Christ” connote salvation (soteriology)? T. F. Torrance draws a fascinating ontological implication from Jesus’ incarnation: “human beings have no being apart from Christ.” The key question, then, is this: if the incarnation is the “setting-forth” of the eternally purposed union of God and man in Jesus Christ – the historical projection of divine election into creaturely existence – then is every human being a “being in Christ” and, if so, does it follow that all are saved?[4]

Very intriguing, right? Vanhoozer is definitely onto something when he asks about the implications of our understanding of election, after Karl Barth, and after Thomas F. Torrance. Our view of election in Christ, our understanding of the Apostle Paul’s union with Christ theology has a more cosmic reach, which sees humanity as the center of the God’s cosmos by design. Our understanding of election, unlike the classical Calvinist approach that Vanhoozer advocates, is not individualistically focused, but Christ focused. In other words, as I just noted, our understanding of election, our doctrine of creation, is inextricably related to humanity’s place within creation as its climaxing reality, as the center that has been given Divine dominion over creation as its priests (as it were). But as corollary with this we do not think of humanity in abstraction, we think of it as ultimately conditioned and grounded in Christ’s humanity for us. We see the eternal Logos (Jesus) as the Deus incarnatus (God to be incarnate), and the Deus incarnandus (God incarnate); and so to be human, from our perspective (and we believe by way of implication of the Incarnation as the rule by which we interpret Scripture, theologically) has always already been a reality grounded in Jesus Christ by his free choice to elect humanity to himself for us before the foundation of the world. And so, yes, Vanhoozer is right to notice the role of ontology in our view of election; how this gets fleshed out into a soteriological locus leads us to a discussion of pneumatology (the person and work of the Holy Spirit in relation to the Incarnation and the image of God imago Dei). We will have to broach the rest of this later.

In closing, though, let me quote some from Myk Habets’ (my co-conspirator in Evangelical Calvinism) published PhD dissertation entitled: Theosis in the Theology of Thomas Torrance. While Vanhoozer claims to be defending the classical Calvinist understanding of election (and he is, as he reads Ephesians 1:4), this might be misleading, a little; we as Evangelical Calvinists actually reach back into heavy dependence upon Patristic theology (so very classical ourselves!), along with Thomas Torrance and Karl Barth. Not only do we look to some of the important themes of Calvin’s union with Christ theology and unio mystica (‘mystical union’ theology), but we look back to Athanasius’ understanding of the Incarnation relative to soteriology and the image of God; in short, we draw on a Reformed doctrine of theosis as found squarely in the theology of Thomas F. Torrance. I am going to quote now from Habets, and the quote should shed some light on how we might proceed in responding to Vanhoozer’s critique more formally in the days to come. Here is Habets (at length):

Like many in the early church Torrance believes the imago is an inherent rationality within men and women – a rationality that HABETS JKT(240x159)PATHenables them to perceive the order of the creation and to praise and worship the one from whom this order came – the Creator. In this regard Torrance affirms aspects of a substantive definition of the imago. However, this is only a partial description of the imago Dei according to Torrance. With Karl Barth in the foreground (and Calvin in the background), Torrance also vigorously defends a relational interpretation of the imago. Humans are created to ‘correspond’ with (Barth), or be a ‘mirror’ to (Calvin) God. However, Torrance develops this relational view beyond that of Barth along lines similar to Pannenberg, that of human destiny. Men and women are persons-in-becoming. Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word of God, is the complete person, the imago Dei in perfection and the one into whom men and women are being transformed, from glory to glory (2Cor 3.18; Rom 8.29; 1 Jn 3.2 etc.).[5]


If humanity is created to know God and to revel in the joy of this knowledge brings (worship), then theosis is the attainment of that knowledge and the joyous communion it creates. The problem with this is, of course, the fact that humanity has fallen. Any discussion of humanity created in the imago Dei must deal with the fact of the Fall and its consequences. For Torrance, the Fall of humanity resulted in total depravity, in Calvinistic fashion. Total depravity does not entail, according to Torrance’s reading of Reformed theology, a thorough ontological break in humanity’s relation with God, but it does mean the essential relation in which true human nature is grounded has been perverted and turned into its opposite, something which only makes sense in a relational-teleological understanding of the imago Dei. Sin is properly of the mind and drags humanity into an active rebellion against God. It is only by the grace of God that human beings still exist at all. The imago Dei  is not destroyed by the Fall but ‘continues to hang over man as a destiny which he can realise no longer, and as a judgment upon his actual state of perversity’. As a consequence, Torrance follows Barth and Calvin in maintaining that the imago Dei can now only be found in Jesus Christ, not in the creature properly speaking. He writes, ‘… justification by grace alone declares in no uncertain terms that fallen man is utterly destitute of justitia originalis or imago dei. It must be imputed by free grace.

There are tensions within Torrance’s anthropology (as in Calvin’s). on the one hand he argues the imago is an inherent rationality within all humans. On the other hand he argues the imago no longer remains in the creature after the Fall as creatures are utterly depraved. The sole existence of the imago Dei is found in Christ and in those in communion with him. For sure this communion is only possible through the incarnate Son and by the Holy Spirit, but the inherent capacity for communion with God is there nonetheless. How do we account for this tension? Our options are, as I see it, twofold: first, Torrance is inconsistent, or second, there is a deeper explanation. It is my conviction that Torrance is so influenced by Calvin’s anthropology that he adopts his ‘perspectival approach’, to use Engel’s words. From the perspective of traditionally conceived explanations of the imago Dei in substantial terms, the imago Dei has been obliterated in fallen creatures. And yet, from a christological perspective the imago is present, incipiently, as all humans have a capacity for God because the incarnation proleptically conditions creation. Outside of a saving relationship with Christ this avails them the condemnation of God. Savingly reconciled to Christ his Imago becomes theirs through the Holy Spirit. In this way Christ alone naturally possess the imago Dei, he shares this realised imago with creatures by grace, and those not in Christ ‘make more out of the imago Dei than they ought’ as they ‘continue to sin against the Word and Law of God’.

Within creation, the theatre of God’s glory, all creation is purposely brought into existence in order to glorify God, and it is in this context that Torrance speaks of men and women as the ‘priests of creation’. Their task is to represent creation to the Creator in a worshipful and joyous response. But nature fails in its realization of such a human vocation. Humanity has failed in its duty as the priests of creation; it refuses to sing the praises of all creation to God. It is precisely at this point that Torrance introduces the astounding claim that God in Jesus Christ does for us what we could not do for ourselves. Torrance’s anthropology is christological, soteriological, and eschatological. These three features inform his theological anthropology at every point.

Within Torrance’s theology theosis consists in being recreated in Christ Jesus who alone is the Image of God. Until men and women are renewed and brought face to face with God in Christ, we cannot know what it means either to know God or to know ourselves as persons….[6]


There are many things we could say after reading the account above from Myk Habets in regard to Thomas Torrance and his Reformed doctrine of theosis. But let this be said for now: the way Evangelical Calvinists (Myk Habets and me in particular) are reading Scripture, including Ephesians 1:4, comes from a different theological grid to begin with; at least from a different grid than Kevin Vanhoozer’s. Yes, we both still need to test our theological theses by Scripture’s teaching, but there is a spiraling relationship between how Scripture is read and the theological paradigms we read out of and back in dialogue with Scripture. There is a canon prior to the canon of Scripture, by way of logical order, that regulates the way we know that Scripture is indeed Scripture, and then how we understand things like creation, election, the eschaton etc. This is one thing.

Another thing is that if Jesus is the Imago Dei (cf. Col 1.15); it follows that any discussion about salvation and our relationship to Jesus will be thought from him at an ontic level. To make a distinction between ontology and soteriology vis-à-vis a reading of Ephesians 1:4 and a subsequent discussion of election really does not make sense for the Evangelical Calvinist; even if it makes sense for a classical Calvinist like Kevin Vanhoozer. Evangelical Calvinists see the Primacy of Christ, and an elevation theology (both of which we will have to discuss later) as central to how we, in a principled way, read Scripture and articulate doctrine in light of that reading; and we see all of this, again, from a kind of regula fidei, or rule of faith that is the canon of God’s life Self-revealed and Self-exegeted in Jesus Christ. When we allow all of this to condition the way we see the macro-themes of Scripture operating, like creation, the Incarnation, a doctrine of Scripture, etc. we end up sounding a lot different from the classical Calvinist reading of things.

Finally, we have only really scratched the surface here. Kevin Vanhoozer offers much more detailed critique than I covered here, but I think that we have made some headway at least towards identifying some ground clearing things that need to be discussed before we move into a point by point response to KJV’s detailed critique of Evangelical Calvinism as Myk Habets and myself have articulated that in our 15 theological theses in the last chapter of our edited book. Nevertheless, I hope this coverage, to the extent that it goes, has been somewhat helpful for you the reader; if nothing else it has been helpful for me to spend the time in writing some of this out (since I write to learn).

[1] Benjamin E. Reynolds, Brian Lugioyo, and Kevin J. Vanhoozer eds., Reconsidering the Relationship between Biblical and Systematic Theology in the New Testament: Essays by Theologians and New Testament Scholars (Germany, Tubignen: Mohr Siebeck, 2014), 179-80.

[2] Ibid., 182.

[3] Ibid., 184.

[4] Ibid., 184.

[5] Myk Habets, Theosis in the Theology of Thomas Torrance (England, Surrey: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2009), 31.

[6] Ibid., 32-3.

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22 Responses to The Evangelical Calvinist’s Preliminary Response to Kevin Vanhoozer’s Critique of Evangelical Calvinism

  1. whitefrozen says:

    I just skimmed this post so I’ll read it in detail later, but pretty cool to have such interaction from Vanhoozer. Hes a heck of a thinker.


  2. As a Reformed system, EC faces a rhetorical challenge that other traditions have long faced, but with a unique intensity: Reformed critics for whom a certain construction of the individual human being is the protoevangelion without which salvation cannot even be conceived as salvation. Many such critics receive any soteriology in which human solidarity is prior to the individual as a dysangelion. It is hard to overlook the extent to which this eccentric construct of individualism underwrites many other commitments in religion, society, and politics (eg Obamacare). It is even harder to find support for that construct in scripture or in traditions independent of St Augustine of Hippo. Thus far– I have not read the cited text by KJV– it looks as though St Augustine’s faulty inferences from Romans 5.12 are being projected into Ephesians 1.4. Deja vu all over again?

    Western societies– by definition– have so deeply cultivated an ideology and practice of individualism that the questions that these critics raise do need to answered somehow if EC etc are to be put into practice on the ground in North America or Western Europe. An answer attractive to Lutherans and the Orthodox is that the Brand X construct of individualism is itself grave sin. For Luther, it is that ‘in curvatus se’ from which we are freed only by reliance on Christ. In Phillip Cary’s subtler view, it is the ultimate reason why those who followed Augsburg stepped back from Calvin’s revolutionary notion that one had to have individual assurance of perseverance in order to have saving faith and the benefits of Christ’s work. For the Orthodox, it is simply axiomatic that in the cosmic salvation depicted in scripture, it is humanity as a whole that is being saved, and the separate salvations of individuals alienated from humanity but communing with God somehow is bizarrely unscriptural on the face of it, and only those socialized to project such a thought into the text could ever have believed that it was there. My guess– alas I have no copy of the EC manifesto– is that EC’s pastoral answer to extreme individualism develops Calvin’s robust view of the Holy Spirit’s work to deconstruct what his unusual view of perseverance implies. Or they just disagree with Phillip Cary.


  3. Bobby Grow says:


    Yes, he is a heck of a thinker, but he disagrees with us; so what does that tell you ;-)?!


  4. Bobby Grow says:


    Yeah, Augustine can be quite the culprit at points. I agree with Luther yet about the homo incurvatus in se, and still see that as a helpful Augustinian left-over. But in general EC trades on Athanasian themes rather than Augustinian.

    I once read a book dedicated to how Calvinism has shaped American culture and individualism; it fits well with your points in your first paragraph above. And yes, assurance of salvation has become a problem because of classical Calvinism’s view of election/reprobation and definite or limited atonement. This is something I will be writing on for our next EC volume as well!


  5. Nathanael Johnston says:

    It’s always interesting to me how Augustine gets accused of being the source of modern individualism even though he promoted a communal form of monasticism (and the Christian life more generally) in an era in which the heroic individual monk/hermit was prized (e.g., Athanasius’ Life of Anthony, Gregory of Nyssa’s Life of Macrina, etc.). Call me crazy, but it seems like that particular criticism of Augustine might be a little off the mark.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Bobby Grow says:


    I still like Augustine and benefit from him if that means anything to you. And I don’t actually see him as the source of Western individualism, there are many other sources and complexes for that.


  7. Nathanael Johnston says:

    Sorry about that Bobby. My comments about Augustine were actually aimed at Bowman Watson, though I found his comment a bit unclear so I may have missed the mark.


  8. Bobby Grow says:

    No worries, Nathanael! I would be curious to hear Bowman’s response then 🙂 !


  9. “It is hard to overlook the extent to which this eccentric construct of individualism underwrites many other commitments in religion, society, and politics (eg Obamacare).”

    Bobby, I had in mind the American evangelicals who angrily rejected Tom Wright’s comment that Christians ought in principle to be in favor of healthcare for all.

    “St Augustine’s faulty inferences from Romans 5.12”

    “Call me crazy, but it seems like that particular criticism of Augustine might be a little off the mark.”

    Yes, Nathanael, you are crazy. I am Walton, not Watson. Do you agree with St Augustine on the referent of ‘eph ho’ in the Greek text of Romans 5.12?

    As community exemplars, the hagiographic vitae that you mention are indeed more communal than St Augustine’s introspective Confessions, just as the Koinonia of St Pachomius are also more densely communal than St Augustine’s little Regula. But speaking here of theological “traditions independent of St Augustine of Hippo” might we not better compare St Maximus the Confessor’s Ambigua to Calvin’s Institutes? Calvin’s angelology is unjustly ignored, but I cannot think that you would say that the exegeses behind the Institutes are as open to the participatory and cosmic aspects of salvation as those in the Ambigua.

    To be clear, St Augustine was a rarely brilliant elder brother in Christ, and if you argue with him, you will almost certainly lose. But brilliant as he was, he was also isolated and idiosyncratic. His writings have serious flaws, and systems built on those flaws have magnified them with disastrous results. In the C16, this was hard for a theologian in the northwest of Europe to avoid; in the C21, it is impossible for a responsible theologian anywhere to excuse.


  10. Nathanael Johnston says:

    Bowman Walton, I’m really sorry about messing up your name; that’s just sloppy and lazy on my part.

    Now, on to Augustine. I do follow Augustine (as mediated through the Reformed tradition) on Romans 5. I think it is worth pointing out that Augustine was not being original on his interpretation of Romans 5:12 but was following the interpretation of Ambrosiaster. That brings me to your claim that Augustine is isolated and eccentric. The truth is, that claim can only be bourne out if we ignore Cyprian, Optatus, Hilary, Ambrose, Ambrosiaster, and the rest of the third and fourth century Latin patristic authors.

    I haven’t read Maximos yet so I’m not able to deal with that claim. I do think that Augustine’s ecclesiology is far from individualistic but I will grant that his soteriology has some individualistic elements. I think we will probably continue to disagree about how much Augustine can be blaimed for post-Enlightenment individualism. That doesn’t address all of your reply but it’s all I have right now.


  11. Bobby Grow says:


    What is your background (I know Bowman’s a bit)? Are you a theology student of some kind, I mean formally somewhere (or have you been)? Are you in the “ministry” of some kind? Just curious. I like to know who I am interacting with at my blog 🙂 .


  12. Nathanael–

    (1) How do you personally construe the referent of ‘eph ho’ in the Greek text of Romans 5.12? I don’t care what Gerald Bray said St Augustine said Ambrosiaster said St Paul says. I would not care more if “Cyprian, Optatus, Hilary, Ambrose, Ambrosiaster, and the rest of the third and fourth century Latin patristic authors” agreed with it. I’m an evangelical, and Romans 5.12 is what it is.

    (2) “I think we will probably continue to disagree about how much Augustine can be blamed for post-Enlightenment individualism.” No, we cannot continue what has never started. It looks as though you misunderstood my comment, and responded instead to somebody’s else’s historical thesis on the augustinian origins of modernity. If such a thesis were in the OP, and we did discuss that, it does looks as though you, Bobby, and I might possibly agree to hate it. But all I care about here is KJV’s odd response to EC. Sorry.

    (3) “[…your claim that Augustine is isolated and eccentric] can only be borne out if we ignore Cyprian, Optatus, Hilary, Ambrose, Ambrosiaster, and the rest of the third and fourth century Latin patristic authors. I haven’t read Maximos yet…” No… Nathanael, just skim this–

    –and then read this–

    –and this–

    Just a quick study, but my guess is that you would find the large scale ideas interesting (even if you disagree with every one of them), and they will efficiently make clearer what is meant by saying that St Augustine is ‘isolated’ and ‘eccentric.’ More importantly, they stretch the imagination in ways that deepen one’s understanding of EC and for that matter C himself–

    Blessings and peace.


  13. Nathanael Johnston says:

    Well, I was at Westminster Philly from 2009-2012 and graduated with an M.A. (and I’m mad as hell about the firing of Doug Green and Chris Fantuzzo). I got accepted into Marquette’s PhD program in historical theology with the intention of studying Medieval (specifically, 14th century) theology. However, I did not get funding so I am currently working for a survey research company in Raleigh. I am a member of a PCA church but I’m not in any formal ministry position.

    In terms of writers who have influenced me I would list the following:

    Early Church History:
    Lewis Ayres
    Michel Rene Barnes

    Medieval Church History:
    Heiko Oberman
    William J. Courtenay
    Russell L. Friedman

    Reformation/Post-Reformation History:
    Heiko A. Oberman (again)
    David C. Steinmetz
    Richard A. Muller
    Carl R. Trueman

    Old Testament:
    Christopher Seitz
    Brevard S. Childs
    Donald Gowan
    WTS OT professors not named Peter Enns

    New Testament:
    Richard B. Hays
    Richard Bauckham
    Larry Hurtado
    Simon Gathercole
    Dan McCartney

    Classic Theologians:
    Herman Bavinck
    Francis Turretin
    John Calvin
    Thomas Aquinas
    Cyril of Alexandria

    Contemporary Theologians:
    Stephen Holmes
    Scott Swain
    Fred Sanders
    James Dolezal
    John B. Webster
    Thomas Weinandy
    Gilles Emery

    Reformed Theologians I don’t like:
    Cornelius Van Til
    Meredith Kline
    Jonathan Edwards
    Jurgen Moltmann
    Karl Barth (I really have mixed feelings on him)

    That was probably way too much information but you did ask for it. I don’t mean to come across like I’m trying to impress you with what I’ve read; I just want to give you some idea of where I am coming from. The list of theologians I need to read but haven’t read is quite lengthy and includes some pretty embarrassing omissions like Schleiermacher, T. F. Torrance, Abraham Kuyper, and Charles Hodge. Anyway, I’ve already written a book so I’ll just stop now.


  14. “I don’t mean to come across like I’m trying to impress you with what I’ve read; I just want to give you some idea of where I am coming from.”

    Exactly right, Nathanael. I wish that there were a profile feature on which people could just click “I’ve read that” or “This book was important to me” by the books on some virtual shelf.


  15. Nathanael Johnston says:

    Well Bowman, I’m glad we agree on the importance of what one has read. So, just to briefly respond:

    On (1) I would say that my original response was a bit of a dodge. I really haven’t studied the question in any depth but my initial thought would be to agree with Ambrosiaster and Augustine on that clause. It does look like John Murray and Henri Blocher both defended imputation while construing the clause differently. I guess I’d say I’m a definite yes on the imputation of Adam’s sin but not firm on the exact interpretation of the disputed clause. I will say that what the early church fathers said on a particular passage of Scripture does matter and I think this is a good Protestant opinion on my part (see chapter 2 of the Second Helvetic Confession).

    On (2) I guess I completely misread you on that one. I’m glad we agree and I’m sorry we spent so much time talking past each other.

    On (3) it looks like I have a lot of reading to do (never a bad thing).

    By the way, in case you didn’t know, the complete Ambigua of Maximos were translated into English this year and are available in two beautiful hardback, diglot volumes. Better still, each volume is being sold for under $30. Now you know what to ask for this Christmas.


  16. Bobby Grow says:


    Thanks for sharing! Cool! And the firing to those two guys is a sad situation! I know some PhD grads from WTS, in particular, Jim Cassidy. He and I go back on forth on Facebook … he likes to argue with me about Barth and Torrance, and because I pick on Federal theology (but no more than he/and many WTS guys pick on Barth and Torrance like the Reformed Forum guys of which Cassidy is a member). Sounds like you are on the “liberal” side of the WTS spectrum 😉 … so the guys I know probably would go after you too 🙂 .

    I like all of the things you have read, in fact it looks a lot like a list I might write out for myself. I have read quite a bit on Luther and Luther directly in the past. I’ll give you a pass on Barth 😉 . What about Bavinck, do you like him? I might do PhD research on him and Barth at the Free University of Amsterdam. I am getting lined up with Cornelius van der Kooi over there; we’ll see if that ever happens. When I graduated seminary back in 03 I was accepted to the PhD program at Fuller for historical theology (but I had no funding either!); it sounds like my interests, at that point, were very much so in line with where you are at right now!

    Thanks for sharing all of that! I like knowing that kind of stuff … cool!

    Bowman is a Harvard grad! So make sure you put on your smoking jacket when you interact with him 😉 haha Lol. Just kidding Bowman. But seriously, Nathanael, Bowman is a Harvard grad … cool! I can only claim some coursework from the competing Ivy league school at Princeton :-).


  17. Nathanael Johnston says:

    I’m definitely a big Bavinck fan! He’s one of the guys most responsible for my interest in medieval scholasticism (and Reformed scholasticism for that matter). 😉 Studying at the Free University of Amsterdam sounds like a blast so I hope that works out for you.

    I suppose I am on the “liberal” side of WTS (a strange thought). I’m not a Van Tillian so there are some WTS folks whom think I’m liberal just because of that. I have actually crossed swords online with Jim Cassidy on biblical interpretation but I don’t know him personally.


  18. “On (1) I would say that my original response was a bit of a dodge.”

    Nathanael, you’re in good company. The same words can be construed several ways at the level of the syntax– Joseph Fitzmeyer is cited by all sides on that– nobody today construes the text as St Augustine did, and everyone’s response to this is frankly a bit of a dodge. The implications of the syntactic ambiguity are obvious to Murray, Blocher, and Meyendorff (at the link I sent you). The Reformation principle of the perspicuity of scripture would seem to lead one to the most probable traditional reading– the choice taken by the Greek fathers.* But no. Those invested in Western-style imputation have tried hard to defend some other still suboptimal construal to avoid that. One naturally suspects “motivated reasoning.” The present situation forces an absurd choice between perspicuity and imputation– either we can know the gospel and not need it, or we can know it but only by passing over the most probable reading. However, evangelical systematicians (eg Michael Bird) have begun to engage the Greek reading, if only to avoid it. We can expect further creative work on this problem.

    * Since the systemic depth of the East West difference only became apparent in Russian scholarship of the C 19, Reformation era documents such as the 2HC could not have engaged the problem that the duality of orthodoxy poses for perspicuity. Since this is an East West problem, it was as invisible to the papal side as to the reformers.


  19. Bobby and Nathanael– I look forward to further posts on KJV’s critique and the EC response to it. My thoughts on the relation of the Romans 5.12 problem to rival readings of Ephesians 1.4 should take those posts into account. Meanwhile, however, it is a great pleasure to be joined here in Bobby’s online village by a voice with Nathanael’s expertise and interests. Thank you both for making introductions. May your Advents be blessed!


  20. Bobby Grow says:

    Thank you, Bowman! I will need to post more on KJV’s critique!

    And I am happy that both you and Nathanael visit here frequently and bless me with your insights; I think we are kindred spirits 🙂 !


  21. Bobby Grow says:


    My point on “liberal” was simply noticing a kind of representative continuum I have seen present in those associated with WTS. You are definitely more “liberal” than someone like Jim Cassidy (your approval of Enns only illustrates my observation 😉 ).


  22. For the sake of the global village, may the most ecumenical argument prevail! The vultures are circling over provincial theologies. God sent them.

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