An Easterly Influenced Reformed Theology Rather than a Westerly

The ontological characterizes the theology of Thomas Torrance, as it does, consequently for so called evangelical Calvinism. In brief, the Eastern branch of Christianity has focused on the whole person in salvation in the imago Dei. The problem for humanity in the East is a broken humanity coram Deo (before God), rather than a broken Law (and thus required penalty in need of requite), as we see emphasized in the Western frame—i.e. forensic or juridical models of atonement like what we see in the so called Penal Substitutionary Atonement theory. In passing, Sarah Coakley, as athanasius2she is discussing Trinitarianism in iconography, and shifts her focus from West to East writes this:

All our recent illustrations have traced a Western trajectory, in which a concentration of Christ’s death is one marked feature, and a problematically abstruse didacticism, another. But what of the Byzantine East, with its quite different and well-codified conventions of iconography, its perception of the icon as a non-propositional ‘door to the sacred’, and its tendency to emphasize and Athanasian salvation through Christ’s reconstitution of humanity (rather than through ‘satisfaction’ for sin)?[1]

Torrance was once asked if he was a Barthian; he replied that he was an Athanasian. It is this emphasis that streams through an evangelical Calvinist understanding of salvation; one that focuses on the recreation or resurrection of humanity in Jesus Christ. Khaled Anatolios describes this way of seeing things well:

A helpful way to synthesize the argument of Against the Greeks—On the Incarnation and to integrate it with Athanasius’s later and more explicitly polemical work is to focus on the trintarian-christological-anthropological nexus that forms the guiding motif of the work: only the One who is true Image can renew humanity’s being according to the image (kat’ eikona). The trinitarian ground of this nexus is the immediate relation (though we do not find the later technical vocabulary of “relation” in this treatise) whereby the Son is the Image of the Father. The soteriological consequence of this immediacy is that the Son is uniquely able to grant direct and immediate access to the Father. The statement that humanity was created according to the Image is simultaneously anthropological and christological: to be created according to the Image is to be granted a participation in the one who is the true and full Image of the Father. When humanity lost its stability, which depended on remaining in the state of being according to the Image, the incarnate Word repaired the image of God in humanity by reuniting it with his own divine imaging of the Father. Jesus Christ is therefore both eternal divine Image and restored human image. The saving union of divine and human image in Christ is characterized by immediacy. One foundational principle of Athanasius’s theological vision is this stress on the continuity of immediate connections between God and humanity and a corresponding abhorrence of obstacles and opaque mediations. As perfect Image, the Son is immediately united to the Father and transparently reflects knowledge of the Father; anything short of this immediate and transparent relation would deconstruct our immediate connection with the Father through the Son from the divine side. Through his incarnation, the Son repairs our human participation in his imaging of the Father from within the human constitution; anything short of a full incarnation would leave humans disconnected from both Father and Son. Thus, incarnation and the full divinity of the Son are both integral to the immediacy of our contact with the Father. Far from indicating inferior divinity, the human life and death of Jesus Christ extend the efficacy of is divine imaging of the Father in the face of humanity’s loss of the state of being according to the image. It is a wonderful display of the loving-kindness that belongs to the divine nature as such, the philanthrōpia that is equally shared by Father and Son.[2]

I am not going to quote Torrance directly here, but I have voluminously elsewhere here on my blog. The point I want to get across is that evangelical Calvinism, as an alternative to classical Calvinism, works from a more Eastern direction when it comes to construing things; albeit through Calvinian and Barthian lenses as well. We do have a place for the juridical or forensic, but it is not the frame of things as it is in Western and classical Calvinist trajectory.

If you are a newer reader here, and you’re wondering what’s so different about evangelical Calvinism, you would do well to consider what was just communicated. I have seen many, and understandably so, become confused when they read here and try to interpret things through their Western Reformed lenses; it is time to take those off and put on your Eastern lenses (realizing, again, that we have some decidedly Western influence as well).

[1] Sarah Coakley, God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay ‘On the Trinity’ (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 234-35.

[2] Khaled Anatolios,Retrieving Nicaea: The Development and Meaning of Trinitarian Doctrine,(Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2011), 107-8.


5 thoughts on “An Easterly Influenced Reformed Theology Rather than a Westerly

  1. Pingback: An Easterly Influenced Reformed Theology Rather than a Westerly | The Evangelical Calvinist | Talmidimblogging

  2. This is a useful way of framing things, I think. EC as an Eastern kind of Reformed theology. I like it. I’ll probably have to mention that in my book.


  3. All credit to where it’s due, for sure. I’m writing a short ebook mostly for the benefit of my classmates (though also family and church members) on the Neo-Calvinism train who want to understand this Evangelical Calvinism stuff I hold.

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