More Reflections on Assurance of Salvation with Reference to Hooker, Calvin, Barth, and Torrance

Morna Hooker in her recently published essay in the Scottish Journal of Theology writes in summary (her last paragraph) on the pistis Christou (‘faith/faithfulness of Christ’) debate:

So were Luther and his followers wrong? They were certainly not wrong to emphasise the role of faith. And as with the answers to our questions about the other phrases we have briefly considered, it may well be that the answer to the question ‘Does this phrase refer to Christ’s faith or ours’? may be ‘Both’. Nevertheless, that faith/faithfulness is primarily that of Christ, and we share in it only because we are in him. Although all the passages where the phrase πίστις Χριστοῦ is used refer to our faith in Christ, it would seem that this faith is possible only because it is a sharing in his. In Christ, and through him, we are able to share his trust and obedience, and so become what God called his people to be.[1]

prodigalsonI am continuing to struggle through the process of writing my chapter for our volume 2 EC book that is forthcoming. My chapter is on a doctrine of assurance of salvation. I am attempting to tackle quite a bit (maybe too much!) by looking at a critique of Calvin’s doctrine of election/reprobation and how it might undercut (on one hand) Calvin’s laudable assertion that ‘assurance is of the essence of saving faith. But at the same time not staying in that critique, but also showing that Calvin had a rich doctrine of union with Christ, and a double grace soteriology that fits well with the Pauline teaching on the pistis Christou. I am also further attempting to draw lines between Calvin, Barth, and Torrance by showing how Calvin’s union with Christ theology provided fertile ground for Barth’s and Torrance’s further filling out of that through their respective doctrines of the vicarious humanity of Christ. The hope will be to constructively demonstrate how a doctrine of assurance of salvation reposes deeply upon a thick doctrine of union with Christ with particular and radical focus upon and from the vicarious humanity and subsequently faith of Christ. Through and excursus I will be surveying Hooker’s very helpful essay on the ‘faith of Christ,’ and hopefully suggesting implications from that towards providing a doctrine of assurance that provides hope for wounded souls.

It is a struggle to bring all of this together since there is so much material to cover, and not enough space to do it in (i.e. in my chapter). But my ultimate goal is to provide soundings for people who read the chapter wherein they can begin to see an emerging doctrine of assurance of salvation that has deep theological and exegetical rootage; a rootage that is grounded in Jesus Christ and not in our own subjective meanderings — doctrine of assurance that is grounded in the living faith of Jesus Christ for us.

I’m not totally sure that many people in the Christian church struggle with this issue anymore, since this issue (i.e. lack of assurance) requires some depth thinking in regard to their relationship with God in Jesus Christ. I’m not convinced this depth is present in most evangelical churches nowadays; so I suppose ‘ignorance is bliss’ for many. But for those who do struggle with issues surrounding assurance, I can’t think of a better way to work through this issue that starting and ending with Jesus Christ; and coming to an understanding that since we participate in Christ, and from His faith for us, as the ground of our faith, that we cannot but always and only look to Christ.

By moving away from the tradition’s and Calvin’s understanding of election and reprobation, where that is grounded in a decree of God, rather than Christ, and turning to an understanding where both election and reprobation are both grounded in Jesus Christ; we are able to move beyond questions about whom Christ died for, and focus instead on the reality that Christ died for me, you, and the whole world unequivocally. This is another important piece to focusing on a union with Christ theology, but moving beyond Calvin’s doctrine of election to do that; nevertheless building upon some of the rich insights on union with Christ that Calvin had to offer (which Barth and Torrance did).

As we can start to see, there is a lot of ground to cover in what I’m attempting to write upon.

[1] Morna Hooker, “Another look at πίστις Χριστοῦ, Scottish Journal of Theology 69:1 (2016) : 62.

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