Assurance of Salvation in Christ

My personal chapter for our newly released (May, 2017) Evangelical Calvinism book, volume 2, is entitled: “Assurance is of the Essence of Saving Faith”: Calvin, Barth, Torrance, and the “Faith of Christ”. In it I offer a constructive critique of Calvin’s doctrine of election/reprobation and what that does to his understanding of assurance of salvation. We are generally and favorably disposed to Calvin’s idea that assurance of salvation is of the essence of faith, but I personally believe Calvin’s particular theological framework, when it comes to his double predestination and other issues, does not really support his belief about assurance. So I sought to not only constructively critique him, but also to correct him through Barth’s and Torrance’s categories with reference to this particular locus. At the end of the chapter I offered four summarizing and concluding points in regard to what we have seen in Calvin’s understanding—i.e. what he offered that was highly positive towards assurance of salvation—but then also how Barth and Torrance come along and help Calvin along theologically. The following are two of the four summarizing points that I offered in that concluding section:

3 As we moved from Calvin to Barth and Torrance what we have are the theological resources required for a robust doctrine of assurance. With Barth and Torrance we certainly have Calvin’s emphases on union with Christ and grace, as Christ is understood as the objective (and subjective) ground of salvation. But moving beyond this we have Calvin’s weaknesses corrected when it comes to a doctrine of election. Because Barth and Torrance see Jesus as both elect and reprobate simultaneously in his vicarious humanity for all of humanity, there is absolutely no space for anxiety in the life of the seeker of assurance. Since, for Barth and Torrance, there is no such thing as “temporary faith,” since faith, from their perspective, is the “faith of Christ” (pistis Christou) for all of humanity, there is no room for the elect to attempt to prove that they have a genuine saving faith, since the only saving faith is Christ’s “for us and our salvation.” Further, since there is no hidden or secret decree where the reprobate can be relegated, since God’s choice is on full display in Jesus Christ— with “no decree behind the back of Jesus”—the seeker of assurance does not have to wonder whether or not God is for them or not; the fact and act of the incarnation itself already says explicitly that God is for the elect and not against them.

4 If there is no such thing as elect and reprobate individuals, if God in Christ gave his life for all of humanity in his own elect humanity, if there is no such thing as temporary faith, if Christ’s faith for us is representative of the only type of saving faith there is; then Christ is all consuming, as such he is God’s assurance of salvation for all of humanity. The moment someone starts to wonder if they are elect, properly understood, the only place that person can look is to Jesus. There is no abstract concept of salvation; Jesus Christ is salvation, and assurance of salvation and any lingering questions associated with that have no space other than to look at Jesus. The moment someone gets caught up in anxious thoughts and behavior associated with assurance, is the moment that person has ceased thinking about salvation in, by, and for Christ. Anxiety about salvation, about whether or not I am elect only comes from a faulty doctrine of election which, as we have seen, is in reality the result of a faulty Christology. We only have salvation with God in Christ because of what Jesus Christ did for us by the grace of God; as such our only hope is to be in union with Christ, and participate in what Calvin called the “double grace” of God’s life for us. It is this reality that quenches any fears about whether or not I am genuinely elect; because it places the total burden of that question on what God has done for us, including having faith for us in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ.[1]

The primary correction comes from Karl Barth’s reformulation of election/reprobation as he orders that around and from Christ in a genuinely principled way. Indeed, as I argue in my chapter, it is at this pivotal point where Calvin loses the ability to actually offer the type of assurance of salvation that he had hoped for within his own frame of thought and theological-biblical exegesis.

The only way, as I have argued, that someone can genuinely say that ‘assurance of salvation is of the essence of saving faith’ is if it is grounded in Christ all the way down. If we don’t have a doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ at the center of our theological thinking, then we, like Calvin, will stumble when it comes to this issue (among other issues). If Christ is not genuinely the key, in an absolute kind of way, we will be forced to look elsewhere when attempting to construct our theologies and soteriologies; we will be forced to look, potentially anyway, to speculative philosophical approaches, and theories of causation and metaphysics (like Aristotelianism) that will do damage to a faithful Bible reading; and will do damage to people’s spirituality (that is if the theology itself is internalized).

I wouldn’t want you to think that I have totally relegated Calvin’s theology to the garbage heap; God forbid it! Indeed, I offer much praise of Calvin’s offering even in the midst of my critical engagement with him. He has a rich union with Christ theology, along with his double grace theology; both of which are significantly grounded in a thoroughgoing Christocentrism that you will be hard pressed to find among any of Calvin’s contemporaries.

 

[1] Bobby Grow, “Assurance is of the Essence of Saving Faith”: Calvin, Barth, Torrance, and the “Faith of Christ,” in Myk Habets and Bobby Grow eds., Evangelical Calvinism: Volume 2: Dogmatics&Devotion (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications an Imprint of Wipf&Stock Publishers, 2017), 53-4.

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7 Responses to Assurance of Salvation in Christ

  1. Pingback: Assurance of Salvation in Christ post by Bobby Grow — @BobbyGrow1 The Evangelical Calvinist | Talmidimblogging

  2. Jeff D. says:

    There can be no assurance of salvation in a theology that deals in secret unconditional and immutable eternal decrees.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Anonymous says:

    Bobby I truly enjoyed this, ” I’m Christ centered” 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Bobby Grow says:

    Yes, that’s what I develop in my chapter.

    Like

  5. Bobby Grow says:

    Hi someone, thanks.

    Like

  6. Really enjoyed this post Bobby. Cleared some things up for me. I read Torrance a while back (when I really couldn’t fully grasp what was going on), I need to re-read what I have of his works. I should also read a little Barth, though engaging him seems like a very daunting task. Thanks for being a guide through the very muddled theological landscape we have today.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Bobby Grow says:

    Lettersfromlodebar,

    Thank you. Do I know you?

    Like

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