The Evangelical Calvinist

"The world was made so that Christ might be born."-David Fergusson

Thomas Torrance as an Evangelical Calvinist: Flesh-n-Bone, Christ Conditioned Election or Union

Torrance is describing an “Old School Evangelical Calvinist’s” — John Craig’s — understanding of election and union with Christ. Of note is that, like Calvin, Craig (according to Torrance) emphasizes union with Christ as a ‘centraldogma’ (of sorts) in regards to understanding the mechanics of salvation and our relation with Christ through His relation with us in the Incarnation. This emphasis, ‘union with Christ’, I believe is something that sets us apart from Federal/Westminster Calvinism; indeed is something of a hallmark or touchstone for us in respect to both our theological construction as well as our linkage into the theology of John Calvin, and more so, into the theology of ‘union with Christ’ in the Apostle Paul’s ‘in Christ’ paradigm. In the following quote you will notice something that has been mentioned here before, the idea of ‘carnal union’ and ‘spiritual union’ with Christ. Let’s hear from Torrance on Craig:

. . . Distinctive also is the fact that Craig regarded election as bound up more with adoption into Christ, with union with him, and with the communion of the Spirit, than with an eternal decree. The union of people with Christ exists only within the communion of the redeemed and in the union they conjointly have with Christ the Head of the Church. ‘All who are united with Christ are joined with the Church. Which of these two unions is the first and cause of the other? The mystical and spiritual union with Jesus Christ. For we are all saints of God, because we are joined first with Christ in God.’

Union with Christ and faith are correlative, for it is through faith that we enter into union with Christ, and yet it is upon this corporate union with Christ that faith and our participation in the saving benefits or ‘graces’ of Christ rest. John Craig held that there was a twofold union which he spoke of as a ‘carnal union’ and a ‘spiritual union’. By ‘carnal union’ he referred to Christ’s union with us and our union with Christ which took place in his birth of the Spirit and in his human life through which he sanctifies us. The foundation of our union with Christ, then, is that which Christ has made with us when in his Incarnation he became bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh; but through the might power of the Spirit all who have faith in Christ are made flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone. It is only through this union, through ingrafting into Christ by faith and through communion with him in his Body and Blood, that we may share in all Christ’s benefits — outside of this union and communion there is no salvation, for Christ himself is the ground of salvation. . . . [Thomas F. Torrance, “Scottish Theology: From John Knox to John McLeod Campbell, 51-52.]

Does anything stand out to you, in contrast to how you typically hear ‘Calvinism’ explained? I think the primary point of departure for EC from Federal Calvinism is highlighted here, and that is the point where ‘Christ himself is the ground of salvation’. For EC things are deeply ‘personal’ and quite intimate. Union with Christ (Pauline ‘marriage language’ cf. Eph. 5) is at the core of EC salvation, this is the nexus wherein Christ takes our wrags and we take His riches. Everything turns on this one point for EC. Christ’s Incarnation and Atonement are inseparably linked, since the moment He ‘carnally’ takes on our humanity; He begins, by the Holy Spirit, to set us apart for communion with Himself and the Father. This consummates, as it were, in ‘mystical’ or ‘spiritual’ union whereby we enter into the full union with Christ through faith by the Spirit. Interestingly, as Torrance notes for Craig, there is a correlation between union with Christ and faith; union with Christ (‘carnally’) is the prerequisite wherein faith assumes its gusto. It is through Christ’s penetration into our sinful states, that He, as our mediator (Priest) makes a move we would never make for ourselves (grace) — left to ourselves — He say’s ‘Yes’ to the Father by the Spirit. As we are confronted with this ‘Yes’ by the Spirit from the Son for us, we then become ‘respondents’ to God’s love showered upon us in His Son (cf. Eph. 1:3; Rom. 5:5), and cry out “Abba Father, Yes!” In short, election, union with Christ are inextricably united for Craig — and for Evangelical Calvinists — the logic of grace that stands behind this is, again, the idea that salvation and all of its attendant relations are profoundly, personally, and Triunally grounded in Jesus Christ! What could be better than that?

Let me mention one more point that should be clarified for those who read here regularly, and are still befuddled by aspects of EC, sorry 🙂 . As we just surveyed, EC follows this idea of ‘carnal and spiritual union’ respectively. What you will notice, even in the quote above, is that ‘carnal union’ is universal — that is, Christ ‘carnally’ assumes all of humanity, real humanity (into its sinful depths); the assumption then, for EC, is that ‘spiritual union’ will follow. EC only really speaks in this positive vein when constructing her soteriology, the fact that people, who are now oriented to God in Christ through ‘carnal union’ with Him (who even go to the cross with Him — cf. the ontological atonement), reject the ‘ground of this union’ (Christ) for themselves makes absolutely no sense for the EC . . . this presents a true dilemma, one that we cannot explain, nor try to. The fact that certain folks stay on the ‘shadow-side’ of Calvary is a deep mystery, but the point should be made: they are now oriented to God in Christ (later Evangelical Calvinists say that these folks, for some strange reason — because of unbelief — experience ‘Gospel-wrath’). It is at this point that the non-logico-causal approach of EC shows up, once again; we don’t refer to a set of impersonal ‘absolute decrees’ when speaking about salvation. Which means that we don’t have a ‘decree for the Fall’ to repose upon; which further means that any discussion about ‘why’ or ‘where’ sin (rejection of God) enters the picture is a non-starter (to ask an EC’r why someone would reject their ‘recreation in Christ’ should expect the same answer to the question “why did the Fall happen in the first place?” or “why did Adam and Eve reject their original ‘creation’ in Christ [cf. imago dei]?”).

*repost, one I obviously like.


Written by Bobby Grow

January 23, 2017 at 2:14 pm

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