When we read Holy Scripture I would think that we would want as much foreign matter, from Scripture, out of that mix. In other words, I would think that as we engage with Scripture we would want to encounter the living Word (Jesus Christ) to whom it gives and bears witness unabated! This is what drives me in my quest to know God through Holy Scripture. I don’t want anything to get in the way of knowing God in Jesus Christ.

The reality is, in light of the above, because we are creatures, human beings, is that we all come to Scripture with preunderstandings and presuppositions given shape and form by whatever socio-cultural context we have grown up within. Speaking for myself, as a North American evangelical, I have grown up in a certain context that tells me how I ought to read Scripture; namely from a Dispensational hermeneutic (which I have since repudiated). Now this isn’t the case for all N. American evangelicals, some are groomed in what is called Covenant theology, others in Anabaptist peace theology, others in more ‘liberal’ theology etc. But the point stays the same, we all bring preunderstanding to the text of Scripture, and for Christians we are groomed in it by whatever interpretive tradition or church setting that we fellowship in.

But nobody really wants to collapse their theological tradition into the text of Scripture; everybody wants to believe that their theological tradition bubbles up out of the text (exegesis). So this begs the question, how do we avoid eisogesis (reading our theologies and our gods into the text of Scripture)? My money is on a certain rule of faith (regula fidei), a rule of faith reified from its Patristic context into a more constructive understanding; in other words, the reality, I would contend, that holds all of Scripture together (just as He does with creation in general), is Jesus Christ. Thomas Torrance (as he is reflecting on this very thing as it gets applied to the soteriological concerns orbiting around so called limited atonement and universalism) writes this:

For Torrance, apprehension of the cross involves a conversion of the reason in which we bow our own reason before the reality and mystery of Christ and seek to understand it (as far as we may) out of itself without reducing it to logical schemata of our own making which inevitably break it up into separate elements to distort it. We need to hold together what scripture holds together, refusing to categorise it in ways that distort that wholeness. If we cannot understand how scripture holds together certain things which we find difficult (such as the unconditional love and forgiveness of God for all, the finished work of Christ, the gospel imperative to repent and believe, and the fact that some refuse and are judged by the very gospel that offers them life) then it is not open to us to resolve the tension through a man-made logical schema which emphasises some elements as [sic] the expense of others. We need to be crucified with Christ in our natural reason and through the transforming of our mind begin to penetrate into ‘the interior logic of scripture’ so that we may learn to think as scripture thinks and hold together what it holds together in Christ. Both universalism and limited atonement for Torrance fail to do that. . . .[1]

As Torrance underscores we want to allow the mystery of God become man in Jesus Christ to hold all of the unstated premises of Scripture together. If we approach Scripture with this rule for reading we won’t impose artificial theological frameworks (and metaphysics) upon Scripture but we will allow the viva vox Dei (the living voice of God) to confront us as we encounter the living reality of Scripture all through its pages, as we encounter the resurrected Son of Man, Jesus Christ.

I actually believe that what stands behind most readings of the Bible today (at least for evangelicals who basically think from classically Reformed Augustinian/Thomist metaphysics) unfortunately end up flattening Scripture out because they involve an imposition upon the text’s reality.

[1] Thomas F. Torrance, ed. Robert T. Walker,Atonement, 188 fn. 70

Karl Barth engaged heavily with his perception of the Post-Reformation orthodox/scholastic theologians of the 17th century, primarily (early on anyway) as mediated through Heppe. Rinse H Reeling Brouwer in his recently released book Karl Barth cropped-barthderspiegel.jpgand Post-Reformation Orthodoxy provides very good insight into how Barth engaged with this period of theological development, and how he (Barth) constructively appropriated the grammar of orthodoxy in his always reforming kind of way. As follows Reeling Brouwer gives us his insight on how Barth engaged with the Federal theologians and their concept of covenant (foedus), and in addition Brouwer highlights what he thinks served as central components for how Barth indeed received the concept of covenant. Here is Reeling Brouwer:

In his encounter with the writings of federal theologians, especially in his work for the Göttingen Dogmatics, Barth felt that federal theology had exerted a regrettable influence on Reformed doIn gmatics by historicising revelation. At the same time he discovered the importance of the theological concept of the covenant itself and he apparently saw possibilities for this concept in his own dogmatic project. For him the main features of this concept are as follows:

  • The covenant is a one-sided initiative of God, a fully free arrangement on His part and purely an act of grace and mercy towards humanity; this becomes especially clear when, like Cocceius, one identifies the eternal decree of election with the pactum salutis as the presupposition of the covenant of grace in time;
  • The covenant is closely linked to revelation: the God who wants to be a God of this covenant speaks to His people, and man from his side can only be seen as a being addressed by his God;
  • The character of the covenant as a covenant of grace comes out most clearly when Christian preaching speaks of the divine grace for sinners. This does not, however, exclude the possibility of a modification of the one covenant, where man in the state of nature is seen as a being bound by his free choice for God from the beginning, nor does it exclude that the covenant has the character of a promise and an expectation, that it bears the eschatological mark of all Christian preaching;
  • The covenant is not only a promise, but also an obligation; it binds human beings not only as gospel, but also as law;
  • The concept of the covenant is corrupted when it is split into a duality of works and grace, justice and mercy; as such, it becomes dependent on influences that are alien to its properties.

In my view, Barth could profitably put the covenant concept to work in his own project, provided that it was defined in this way.

And now the thesis: Heinrich Heppe says: ‘from the beginning German- Reformed theology described the fundamental concept of revelation with the expression foedus Dei (also regnum Christi, koinonia cum Christo)’. Karl Barth indeed tried to use all these expressions as a ‘fundamental’ or, perhaps more accurately, ‘integrating’ concept for his theological project. He began with the concept of the regnum (in Safenwil), he – possibly for methodological reasons – drafted a theology of revelation (that is, of the Word of God) in his years in Germany and from the 1940s onwards he placed the (more material than formal?) concept of the covenant at the centre of his endeavour. In what follows, we will turn to this last phase.[1]

What do you think?

[1] Rinse H Reeling Brouwer, Karl Barth and Post-Reformation Orthodoxy (Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2015), 116-17.

Both Karl Barth and Thomas F. Torrance (Barth’s best English speaking student) were against Federal or classical Covenant theology, even though both of them took the concept of foedus or covenant and reified or recasted it in such a way that Christ truly became the center on both God’s side and man’s side (and they did other stuff with covenant too, like in Barth’s innovative way he barthglassesinverted the classical Federal order of things from 1) creation, 2) covenant to 1) covenant (as regulative in regard to God’s relation to creation), 2) creation.

In the following I am going to share on Barth from Rinse H Reeling Brouwer, and on Torrance from Paul Molnar; both detailing why Barth and Torrance had serious problems with classical Federal or Reformed theology (as it came to us in a Westminster shape). First we will hear from Reeling Brouwer on Barth:

Barth writes ‘For the rest you shall enjoy Heppe’ s Locus xiii only with caution. He has left too much room for the leaven of federal theology. It was not good, when the foedus naturae was also called a foedus operum’. In Barth’ s eyes, the notion of a relationship between God and Adam as two contractual partners in which man promises to fulfil the law and God promises him life eternal in return, is a Pelagian one that should not even be applied to the homo paradisiacus. Therefore,

one has to speak of the foedus naturae in such a way that one has nothing to be ashamed of when one speaks of the foedus gratiae later on, and, conversely, that one does not have to go to the historians of religion, but rather in such a way that one can say the same things in a more detailed and powerful way in the new context of the foedus gratiae, which is determined by the contrast between sin and grace. For there is re vera only one covenant, as there is only one God. The fact that Cocceius and his followers could not and would not say this is where we should not follow them – not in the older form, and even less in the modern form.

 In this way paragraph ends as it began: the demarcation of sound theology from federal theology in its Cocceian shape is as sharp as it was before. Nevertheless, the attentive reader will notice that the category of the covenant itself is ‘rescued’ for Barth’ s own dogmatic thinking.[1]

And Paul Molnar on T.F. Torrance (I have shared this before):

Torrance’s objections to aspects of the “Westminster theology” should be seen together with his objection to “Federal Theology”. His main objection to Federal theology is to the ideas that Christ died only for the elect and not for the whole human race and that salvation is conditional on our observance of the law. The ultimate difficulty here that one could “trace the ultimate ground of belief back to eternal divine decrees behind the back of the Incarnation of God’s beloved Son, as in a federal concept of pre-destination, [and this] tended to foster a hidden Nestorian torranceyoungdualism between the divine and human natures in the on Person of Jesus Christ, and thus even to provide ground for a dangerous form of Arian and Socinian heresy in which the atoning work of Christ regarded as an organ of God’s activity was separated from the intrinsic nature and character of God as Love” (Scottish Theology, p. 133). This then allowed people to read back into “God’s saving purpose” the idea that “in the end some people will not actually be saved”, thus limiting the scope of God’s grace (p. 134). And Torrance believed they reached their conclusions precisely because they allowed the law rather than the Gospel to shape their thinking about our covenant relations with God fulfilled in Christ’s atonement. Torrance noted that the framework of Westminster theology “derived from seventeenth-century federal theology formulated in sharp contrast to the highly rationalised conception of a sacramental universe of Roman theology, but combined with a similar way of thinking in terms of primary and secondary causes (reached through various stages of grace leading to union with Christ), which reversed the teaching of Calvin that it is through union with Christ first that we participate in all his benefits” (Scottish Theology, p. 128). This gave the Westminster Confession and Catechisms “a very legalistic and constitutional character in which theological statements were formalised at times with ‘almost frigidly logical definiton’” (pp. 128-9). Torrance’s main objection to the federal view of the covenant was that it allowed its theology to be dictated on grounds other than the grace of God attested in Scripture and was then allowed to dictate in a legalistic way God’s actions in his Word and Spirit, thus undermining ultimately the freedom of grace and the assurance of salvation that could only be had by seeing that our regenerated lives were hidden with Christ in God. Torrance thought of the Federal theologians as embracing a kind of “biblical nominalism” because “biblical sentences tend to be adduced out of their context and to be interpreted arbitrarily and singly in detachment from the spiritual ground and theological intention and content” (p. 129). Most importantly, they tended to give biblical statements, understood in this way, priority over “fundamental doctrines of the Gospel” with the result that “Westminster theology treats biblical statements as definitive propositions from which deductions are to be made, so that in their expression doctrines thus logically derived are given a categorical or canonical character” (p. 129). For Torrance, these statements should have been treated, as in theScots Confession, in an “open-structured” way, “pointing away from themselves to divine truth which by its nature cannot be contained in finite forms of speech and thought, although it may be mediated through them” (pp. 129-30). Among other things, Torrance believed that the Westminster approach led them to weaken the importance of the Doctrine of the Trinity because their concept of God fored without reference to who God is in revelation led them ultimately to a different God than the God of classical Nicene theology (p. 131). For Barth’s assessment of Federal theology, which is quite similar to Torrance’s in a number of ways, see CD IV/1, pp. 54-66.[2]

For those of you who are interested in this kind of stuff hopefully you find this helpful to have these insights together in one post.

[1] Rinse H Reeling Brouwer, Karl Barth and Post-Reformation Orthodoxy (Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2015), 112-13.

[2] Paul D. Molnar, Thomas F. Torrance: Theologian of the Trinity,  181-2 fn. 165.

For the Christian being a monotheist (belief in one God), and Trinitarian (belief that the one God is three persons) are mutually implicating realities. As you know I have been reading Katherine Sonderegger’s Volume 1 Systematic Theology, Doctrine of God. In it she has many rich insights and laudable things to communicate, but when it comes right down to it I have to finally demur; and trinity-iconthe demurring comes because of a fundamental disagreement about how she parses monotheism and Trinitarianism, as if one does not implicate the other and the other does not implicate the one. Let me share from what she has written, and you will see what I mean (maybe you’ll agree with her, but maybe you’ll agree with me).

Note what I said here! Our reading of the priestly-prophetic visio Dei is not principally Trinitarian in character. We are not hearing and seeking out in this witness of ancient Israel a sign and foretaste of Triune Persons. It is not the Father, say, that we see breaking through the cloud and smoke to descend upon Moses and upon the people Israel. Nor do we look for an intimation of the Son in these royal Appearances in the temple. We do not bring forward first and principally the Holy Spirit as personal disclosure in Dame Wisdom or in the maternal brooding over the dark sea at creation’s dawn. The forward press of so much modern theology—the drive to subsume the doctrine of God within the Trinity and the Triune Persons—does not, I believe, properly attest the Unicity of the God of Israel. The Deity and Nature of God is personal: the One God is a Person; we can dare to put it this way. Monotheism is no shame word! At once God is Nature and Person, and the witness of ancient Israel to its Lord is to an Object inalienably Subject, a Subject lowered and handed over to be Object. This oscillation in Israel’s and therefore our religious life before God—now our experience of the I AM—is the gracious condescension of the Lord God to usward, for these are not two, not distinct or segmented, but One, One Mystery, One God.[1]

This is troubling to me on many fronts, primary of which is her rupturing of the One and the Many, the One and the Three; her apparent fear about “the drive to subsume the doctrine of God within the Trinity and the Triune Persons” is problematical to say the least!

She has Karl Barth in her sights (she had just mentioned him and aimed at him in the preceding context leading to the quote I shared), and so she might as well have TF Torrance and Evangelical Calvinists in her sights as well (indeed she does!). There is no need to worry the way she does; she speaks of Monotheism as if, for the Christian, this is somehow, definitionally different than speaking of the Trinity, but it surely isn’t! For the orthodox Christian we know of no other Oneness of God apart from His revealed reality in the Son, Jesus Christ. As such, our understanding of God’s oneness (de Deo uno) is necessarily shaped by His Self-revelation as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (de Deo trino), the hypostases of the One God. Oneness for the Christian is absolutely subsumed by the Threeness of the persons of the Divine Monarxia (Godhead), not incidentally. We are not Muslims, neither are we Jews, we are not Unitarians we are Trinitarians, and so Sonderegger’s fear is not well founded, not in the Christian tradition; least not in the tradition I affirm.

Let’s end this with TF Torrance, and how he would most likely respond to Sonderegger’s pronouncement about monotheism and the Trinity:

in the Scots Confession as in John Knox’s Genevan Liturgy, the doctrine of the Trinity is not added on to a prior conception of God—there is no other content but the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. There was no separation here between the doctrine of the One God (De Deo Uno), and the doctrine of the triune God (De Deo Trino), which had become Roman orthodoxy through the definitive formalisation of Thomas Aquinas. This trinitarian approach was in line with The Little Catechism which Knox brought back from Geneva for the instruction of children in the Kirk. “I believe in God the Father, and in Jesus Christ his Son and in the Holy Spirit, and look for salvation by no other means.” Within this trinitarian frame the centre of focus in the Confession and Catechism alike is upon Jesus Christ himself, for it is only through him and the Gospel he proclaimed that God’s triune reality is made known, but attention is also given to the Holy Spirit. Here once again we have a different starting point from other Reformation Confessions. Whereas they have a believing anthropocentric starting point, such as in the Heidelberg Catechism, this is quite strongly theocentric and trinitarian. Even in Calvin’s Institute, which follows the fourfold pattern in Peter Lombard’s Sentences, the doctrine of the Trinity is given in the thirteenth chapter within the section on the doctrine of God the Creator. Calvin’s Genevan Catechism, however, understandably followed the order of the Apostles Creed. The trinitarian teaching in the Scots Confession was by no means limited to the first article for it is found throughout woven into the doctrinal content of subsequent articles.[2]

Torrance would note that Sonderegger is following the ‘formalisation of Thomas Aquinas,’ indeed she does. Just following the quote I share from KS, she gets into the mode, the method of theological engagement she is using to come to such conclusions; she notes her reliance upon scholastic methodology, and how that implicates our grammar and understanding towards a knowledge of God. As a result she has artificially wrested the Triune Persons from the One God of Israel, and that is too bad!

[1] Katherine Sonderegger, Systematic Theology: Volume 1, The Doctrine of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015), Loc. 6577, 6584 Kindle.

[2] Torrance, Scottish Theology, 3–4.

For Karl Barth it is a frivolous pursuit to attempt to psychologize a theological anthropology, and yet in the Tradition (both Roman Catholic and Protestant) this is exactly what has obtained. For the Western tradition the appeal, particularly for barthPost-Reformation scholastic theologians was to appeal to an Aristotelian understanding of what it means to be human; an appeal to what has been called a faculty psychology (i.e. affections, intellect, and will)–we see this approach in Augustine, Medieval theology in general, Thomas Aquinas, et al. As Barth engaged with various post-Reformed theologians, like Amandus Polanus he was pushed up against this reality; and he rejected it (and I would add: rightly so). Here is Reeling Brouwer describing Barth’s engagement with Polanus’s theological-anthropology (and as you read this you will see that Brouwer quotes Barth directly as well – this quote from Brouwer comes from the context of him discussing Barth’s engagement with Polanus’s doctrine of creation):

For the second issue, namely man, Polanus does not divide the material into a dichotomy. Instead he works – as he does more frequently – with the Aristotelian division into definitio (hominis) [V. 27], causa efficiens [V. 28], materia [V. 29 – 31], forma [V. 32], and finis [V. 33]. Here the body is, of course, the matter, and the soul the form of human being. Barth addresses Polanus’s definition of man in the paragraph entitled ‘Phenomena of the Human’. This is already an indication of his objections to this definition. Although Polanus qualifies it (after the analysis of the nomen) as the beginning of a contemplatio theologica hominis, Barth cannot see the real theological point in this definition and considers it to be a description of the mere phenomenon of a human which nevertheless does not point to the real man. He writes:

Polanus opens with the [in Barth’s eyes] clear-cut Aristotelian definition: homo est animal ratione praeditum. He explains it as follows: [definitio haec duabus partibus constat: genere & differentia specifica:] ‘man belongs to the genus animal, that is he is a substanti corpore organico et anima vegetante atque sententie & loco movente constans’ [Polanus refers here to Gen 2,7 and 1 Cor 15,46 – 47]. The differentia specifica from other animals is that he is gifted with reason. By this we are to understand the vis intellectus, qua is logizetai, ratiocinatur et [ut Scholastici loquuntur] discurrit, hoc est ex uno aliud [deducit] vel aliud post aliud ordinat. Hence the opus seu officium of reason consists in discursus, i. e. in the swiftness [celeritas] with which his mind moves from one thing to another, from causes to effects, from effects to causes, and therefore to the knowledge of all things. This vis intellectus is not given to any other animal….

It is indisputable, Barth comments, that one here sees a phenomenon of the human. But the definition is already doubtful from a philosophical point of view and still more so with regard to its theological quality. What is the relationship between this result of (classical Greek-dualistic) human self understanding, namely an understanding of man’s own vis intellectus, and the knowledge of God as a knowledge of the covenant (in the sense of the opening Chapter of Calvin’s Institutes)?…[1]

What we see in this development of Brouwer, and in Barth’s critique of Polanus, reflects a very typical Western analytical development of what constitutes what it means to be a human being (i.e. anthropology). We also see Barth’s critique of the received Aristotelian intellectualist anthropology that sees the defining component for what makes a human, human over-against the other ‘animals’, is that humans have intellect and the ability to self-reflect, not only upon themselves, but upon God. Barth sees this as a very speculative way to conceive of humanity, as a philosophical convention that has nothing to do with theological development; and almost nothing to do with what he thinks philosophy (in the analytic tradition) has real access to. As we close the quote from Brouwer, he makes clear that Barth thought that a genuine theological anthropology could only delimit itself to the covenant; of God become man, and in Christ man exalted to participate in the ‘divine nature.’ But what does this mean for Barth?

Karl Barth in his little book The Humanity of God answers for us how humanity ought to be conceived of from within covenantal terms, from within a Calvinian[2] focus wherein knowledge of God provides for a genuine knowledge of what it means to be human; and of course for Barth this is grounded in the nexus of the only place that that reality has happened, in Christ (Logos ensarkos):

In Jesus Christ there is no isolation of man from God or of God from man. Rather, in Him we encounter the history, the dialogue, in which God and man meet together and are together, the reality of the covenant mutually contracted, preserved, and fulfilled by them. Jesus Christ is in His one Person, as true God, man’s loyal partner, and as true man, God’s. He is the Lord humbled for communion with man and likewise the Servant exalted to communion with God. He is the Word spoken from the loftiest, most luminous transcendence and likewise the Word heard in the deepest, darkest immanence. He is both, without their being confused but also without their being divided; He is wholly the one and wholly the other. Thus in this oneness Jesus Christ is the Mediator, the Reconciler, between God and man. Thus He comes forward to man on behalf of God calling for and awakening faith, love, and hope, and to God on behalf of man, representing man, making satisfaction and interceding. Thus He attests and guarantees to man God’s free grace and at the same time attests and guarantees to God man’s free gratitude. Thus He establishes in His Person the justice of God vis-à-vis man and also the justice of man before God. Thus He is in His Person the covenant in its fullness, the Kingdom of heaven which is at hand, in which God speaks and man hears, God gives and man receives, God commands and man obeys, God’s glory shines in the heights and thence into the depths, and peace on earth comes to pass among men in whom He is well pleased. Moreover, exactly in this way Jesus Christ, as this Mediator and Reconciler between God and man, is also the Revealer of them both. We do not need to engage in a free-ranging investigation to seek out and construct who and what God truly is, and who and what man truly is, but only to read the truth about both where it resides, namely, in the fullness of their togetherness, their covenant which proclaims itself in Jesus Christ.[3]

Barth still has a focus on ‘knowledge’ as the ground from which man can come to know what it means to be human, but unlike the scholastics (Polanus, et al.) Barth’s approach was not to interiorize this by focusing on various components of what might make man, man; instead Barth takes an exteriorizing approach that simply attempts to think from within the covenant that God established between Himself and creation, in general, and humans in particular, with His life in the Son (the One who elected our humanity for Himself) as the inner ground of the external reality we see and experience in the created order.

What we see in Barth, then, when it comes to developing a theological-anthropology is a principial Christocentric concentration wherein philosophical and psychological speculation is thrown out the window, and concrete theological theoanthropology is conceived of by inhabiting the reality of Bethlehem.

[1] Rinse H Reeling Brouwer, Karl Barth and Post-Reformation Orthodoxy (Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2015), 64-5.

[2] See John Calvin, Institutes 1.I: ‘Without knowledge of self there is no knowledge of God … Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists in two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But, while joined by many bonds, which one precedes and brings forth the other is not easy to discern. In the first place, no one can look upon himself without immediately turning his thoughts to the contemplation of God, in whom he “lives and moves” [Acts 17:28]. For, quite clearly, the mighty gifts with which we are endowed are hardly from ourselves; indeed, our very being is nothing but subsistence in the one God. Then, by these benefits shed like dew from heaven upon us, we are led as rivulets to the spring itself. Indeed, our very poverty better discloses the infinitude of benefits reposing in God….’ (p. 35-6, McNeill).

[3] Karl Barth, The Humanity of God (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1978), 46-7.

Old Reformed theology, like that found in Franciscus Junius and Amandus Polanus, often referred to two prongs of theology; i.e. archetypal and ectypal theology. Rinse Reeling Brouwer defines what this entails for us:

Archetypal’ theology is the theology of the essential and uncreated knowledge that God has of Himself. ‘Ectypal’ theology is communicated first of all to the human nature of Christ, to the angels, and to the saints in heaven. In its higher forms it can be known by way of intuition ; the multitude of forms can be conceived uno simplici actu, in one simple act. But as long as man wanders on earth (‘theologia ectypa’ as ‘our theology’) and is not yet in his heavenly homeland, he – being subject to a lower form of ‘ectypal’ theology – must reconcile himself to the limits of his faculties as an intellectual creature, that is, of his discursive mind….[1]

I think this is a helpful distinction in that it highlights the idea that God in himself (in se) remains ineffable. Even if what has been revealed of God in Jesus Christ is, in the economy of God’s Self-revelation is an exacting reference to the God who just is in eternity – eternally as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – there remains an antecedent reality of God that remains impenetrable to our constantly growing minds and hearts; growing, that is, in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. So while there is an exact correlation between God theologically and economically, there remains an aspect of this reality that lets us know that we are up against an ultimate that is not of our making. The God we see in Jesus Christ is exactly the God who has always eternally been, but we can only approach this God in ectypal ways that will always remain ‘provisional’ modes towards knowing God. In other words we walk by faith not by sight.

[1] Rinse H Reeling Brouwer, Karl Barth and Post-Reformed Orthodoxy (Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2015), 60.


As corollary to this archetypal/ectypal distinction one point I didn’t hit on, is that ectypal knowledge of God will always be the provenance of us, His creatures. That even in beatific vision our knowledge of God, while in exacting correspondence to who He is, as revealed in and through the Mediator, Jesus Christ, will always be less than His own archetypal knowledge of Himself since He is God and we are not. So underneath this distinction between the ‘knowledges’ there is the premise of the Creator/creature distinction. While fully participating in God’s triune life as adopted children of God, as ‘sons of God’ we have access to God by Grace and not by Nature; as such our knowledge of God will always be less than what His Self-knowledge is. He is God we are not, this is really the basis upon which archetypal and ectypal distinctions turn.


I was reminded recently, as a result of interaction with an ardent Thomist/Scholastic theologian, how entrenched that approach is still perkinspresent within the lives of many Christian thinkers even of today. Well, John Calvin would have none of that!

In the following I will be engaging with research my former professor from seminary, and mentor, Ron Frost did for his PhD dissertation on Richard Sibbes and William Perkins with reference to the ‘divided house’ present within English Puritanism, particularly as that revolved around disparate definitions of ‘grace.’

In a very oversimplified description of things, within English Puritanism (and this stain continues into the present within certain sectors of Reformed theology, i.e. the reference to that Thomist theologian I spoke of to open this post), there were at least two camps. There were those who indeed followed the Thomist synthesis of things and held to a created conception of grace (vis-à-vis the Aristotelian habitus) wherein (as the story goes) the elect could cooperate with God in a quid-pro-quo arrangement of salvation (e.g. Federal or Covenant theology) [William Perkins would be a prime example of this style of things]; and then there were those who actually held to the idea that nature did not need to be aided or perfected by grace, but instead they understood that nature was subordinate to God’s grace, and thus a relational focus on grace and salvation was emphasized [Richard Sibbes would be an excellent example of this among the English Puritans]. Well, it is this latter group that someone like John Calvin, Martin Luther, and Ulrich Zwingli et al. would fit into. We will focus on John Calvin.

John Calvin, ever before the English Puritans, laid groundwork through a neo-Patristic retrieval of seeing salvation as a personal and ontological reality by his emphases upon unio cum Christo (‘union with Christ’) and duplex gratia (‘double grace’) prongs within the salvation complex. It was his focus on Christ as the ground of salvation, indeed the ground of humanity as the imago Dei and ‘mirror of election’ that he trumpeted the need to see salvation from within a christocentric and Trinitarian frame; in other words, from within a personal and relational frame. Rather than seeing it through a Thomist frame of things where grace is understood as a created quality through which the elect habitually cooperate with God by ‘proving’ their election through perseverance in good works etc. John Calvin rejected such conceptions of things. Here is Ron Frost’s insight:

Calvin’s rejection of habitus. Calvin also rejected the notion of grace-as-a-created-quality, insisting instead that grace is always relational. He was sharply critical of the scholastic discussions of grace, charging in the Institutes (1559) that by it the “schools” have “plunged into a sort of Pelagianism”. In book three of the Institutes, Calvin developed his own doctrine of grace. His view that faith is relational and a matter of the heart—a personal certainty of God’s gracious benevolence—is implicit if not explicit throughout the exposition. The Spirit is the “bond by which Christ effectually unites us to himself”. He cited Rom. 5:5, the verse so important to Augustine’s affective theology, that the Spirit pours God’s love into the believer’s heart. He readily associated this with the affective language of moderate mystics: as the Spirit is “persistently boiling away and burning up  our vicious and inordinate desires, he enflames our hearts with the love of God and with zealous devotion.”

In defining faith Calvin derided the medieval-scholastic notion of formed and unformed faith as an attempt “to invent” a “cold quality of faith.” He was similarly critical of the moralistic tendencies inherent in the Thomistic model: “Hence we may judge how dangerous is the scholastic dogma that we can discern the grace of God toward us only by moral conjecture …” Against such ideas, faith actually “consists in assurance rather than in comprehension”. Even Phil. 2:12-13, with its explicit synergism (“work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure”), was seen to portray a believer’s appropriate humility as a counterpart to his or her assurance of God’s goodness. He attacked “certain half-papists” who represent Christ as “standing afar off” as an object of faith “and not rather dwelling in us”. The work of justification is, he insisted, a gaze in which the believers are led “to turn aside from the contemplation of our own works and look solely upon God’s mercy and Christ’s perfection”.[1]

If we are going to engage with Calvin, let’s not collapse him into a mode that he rejected. Calvin would never fit in with the post-Reformed scholastic theology of ‘Calvinism’ or Reformed theology post him.

But beyond that, at an application level, what is most important here is to recognize, with Calvin (among others), that salvation is something fully realized in Christ for us and with us. Richard Sibbes (against Perkins) picked up on this kind of Calvinian conception of things; and similarly critiqued folks like Perkins on the same grounds that Calvin critiqued the ‘half-papists’ and scholastics. Jesus Christ has bridged the gap for us, by the Holy Spirit, in His vicarious humanity. He is the bridge, not a created quality of grace or habitus. Sorry Thomists!

[1] RN Frost, Richard Sibbes: God’s Spreading Goodness (Vancouver, Washington: Cor Deo Press, 2012), 165-66.


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