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Addendum: Alas, I’ve already started another blog project. If you’re still here, come over and subscribe to the new blog. It is called Sub Specie Torrancitatis. You can find it by Clicking HereOr alternatively, here is the full address: http://posttorrancean.wordpress.com . I explain in my first post there the rational behind starting a new blog. Even in this short week I’ve realized, once again, that having a blog is part of my DNA, at this point. It helps with my reading, and gives it some purpose other than simply being for me. Blogging fills a lacuna in my life, and the PhD may never come. My energy levels are tapped out, it seems, at just maintaining a blog (I currently work graveyard, and even now am operating on minimal and terrible sleep). Anyway, if you want to continue to read my stuff then come on over and subscribe. It will be a different experience, I think; as far as focused content on TFT. But of course, if you’ve been reading me for awhile here, you’ve gotten plenty of Torrance here as well. See you there!! 

I’ve come to the conclusion that this blog The Evangelical Calvinist has run its course. I originally started blogging in 2005, and had many other blogs prior to this one which I started in 2009. I originally started this blog as a secondary blog to focus on what Myk Habets and I were doing with Evangelical Calvinism; this blog was never intended to be my only or primary blog, but that’s what it ultimately became. In some ways I feel like my blog is holding me back from doing something new; meaning, I really want to pursue the PhD and other things, and holding onto this blog almost makes me feel locked into a past that zaps my focus that way. So part of closing the blog has to do with that. But on the other hand, blogging itself has, in my view, changed or died, relative to the function it used to have in the online world. Blogs used to have a network of other blogs it was part of, and there was a lot of helpful banter and debate that took place as a result. That has all changed, and the comments sections of almost ALL blogs has seemingly dried up; thanks to the way Twitter and Facebook has conditioned people to interact on social media (I think). Anyway, I am totally appreciative of all my faithful readers, although I don’t even know who you are because you never comment ;). But I think it really is time, this time, to retire this blog.

So what does this mean for this blog? What it means is that I will no longer be actively posting here. What it doesn’t mean is that I will delete this blog; I will never do that. This blog represents blood, sweat, and tears; it represents lots of work and lots of research. This blog will serve integral to my PhD work (whenever that happens) in the days to come. I have so many quotes and ideas embedded in the makeup of this blog that it would be ludicrous to delete it. Hopefully, even though I will no longer post here, this blog will continue to serve as a resource for folks who are looking for an alternative mood within the Reformed Christian reality.

Because I have at least eight outstanding blog book reviews I have committed to over the last couple of years I will continue to write at my Medium.com site. In fact, I will continue to write at my Medium site quite regularly. I will leave a link to that at the bottom of this post. As I have in my sidebar: ““I count myself one of the number of those who write as they learn and learn as they write.” – St. Augustine cited by John Calvin. Since this is the case: I will always need a place to write and learn. Medium will serve as a nice transition place for me; it is set up more like Facebook, in a way (meaning, the like button is more of the focus rather than comments so much, although commenting is still available at Medium), with a focus on the writing itself rather than on comments so much—which fits with the way blogging itself has gone anyway.

I am sort of sad to do this, but I think it is an important step for me with hopes of transitioning to a new phase in regard to what I would like to accomplish academically in the days to come. Again, I so appreciate the faithful readership so many of you lurkers have offered me over the years. And hopefully you’ll still be able to benefit from any insights I might have as I continue to write over at Medium. So for the last time here at The Evangelical Calvinist Pax Christi and Blessings!

You can still read me over at: medium.com/@bobbygrow

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I’ve been blogging consistently since 2005, not all at this url, obviously. I’m starting to think that I might retire TEC. It isn’t as fulfilling as it once was, and I’m not even sure I have that many readers anymore. But even if I do, I’m starting to think the work of The Evangelical Calvinist might be done and over with. If I do retire TEC, I’ll still write, sometimes, over at my Medium site; which if I do retire I’ll leave a link to that here. But the reason I ever originally started TEC was to be a thematic blog that sought to offer an alternative mood of Reformed theology; alternative to Federal theology, and the more popular iterations of Calvinism found in baptistic and five pointed forms. That battle, or engagement, has seemingly been fought; at least in the theoblogosphere, and I’ve said everything I need to say about that.

Anyway, I’m contemplating.

What do we know of God? Is there some sort of vestiges of God in us, such that contemplation of God is an inherent capacity built into humanity? The Great Tradition of the Church has seemingly operated with a grandiose Yes, to this question. But what about us Protestants? We say we affirm a doctrine like Total Depravity, wherein the noetic effects of the Fall are so great that there no longer remains any basis inherent to humanity to ponder God; instead, at least in some Protestant accounts, at best all we can ponder, even if we desire to ponder God, is an idol (cf. Calvin).

This issue continues to remain of great concern to me. What issue, you may ask? The issue that so called natural theology presents us with. True, many proponents of natural theology maintain that God’s Revelation and Reconciliation are still required in order to come to a real knowledge of God; but at the same time they also operate with this idea that humanity, post-lapsarian, retains a hook or moral capacity to posit God outwith Revelation. They don’t posit this in a fully Pelagain sense, but it is framed, I would contend, at best, in a semi-Pelagian frame. That is, while humanity retains this moral or intellectual capacity towards knowledge of God, these folks would also maintain than in order for knowledge of God to genuinely obtain, that (created) Grace needs to be present in the life of the positer (of God). There is a background anthropology at work here, one that emphasizes an intellectualist anthropology (as in Thomist intellectualism and Christian Aristotelianism); which helps explain why these proponents are so strongly committed to arguing for the viability of a natural theological way. Prior to this anthropology, these proponents are committed first to an Aristotelian/Thomist doctrine of God (as in Thomas’s Prima Pars). In order to maintain coherence and consistency with their commitment to a Thomist doctrine of God, and the hierarchy of being therein, they recognize that this must follow through into their respective doctrines of anthropology and soteriology.

But I don’t think the aforementioned commitments are sufficiently “Bibilical.” In other words, in Protestant form, as one committed to the Scripture Principle, and all that entails de jure, I think scriptural reality negates a slavish commitment to accounts of theological grammar that masquerade as what just is the orthodox reality of the Church of Christ. In other words, I don’t think orthodoxy, for the Protestant, requires that I simply affirm the Tradition, a priori, just because it is the Tradition. As a Protestant my rule of faith is not Church Tradition, but instead, it is Jesus Christ; or the biblical reality. In this alternative frame, then, if I read Scripture without these prior commitments what comes through on a prima facie reading is the reality that ‘no one seeks after God, nor desires to do so’ (cf. Rom. 3). What stands out is that without Revelation there is no genuine knowledge of God possible (cf. Gal. 1; Acts 8 etc.).

Karl Barth appreciates all of this better than anyone else I know. I maintain that there can be no such thing as a ‘natural theology’ precisely because I maintain that there is nothing natural about God. God is super and supranatural, as such any knowledge of Him will be fully contingent upon Him. Knowledge of God will not have any a priori bases in hidden moral capacities latent in the intellects of an abstract humanity; to think such only means that the persons who engage in such abstract positing about God can only be one thing: self-projection. If there is no basis in humanity for knowledge of God, and yet individual humans (even collectively) believe otherwise, then what notion of God are they conjuring if in fact they attempt to so conjure? Genesis 3 narrates this:

Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?”And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ”Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.

Men and women did not gain a knowledge of God through eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; no, instead they gained a knowledge of their navels—thus recognizing their exposure before God, but only as He first walked among them. Men and women in their ‘natural’ (or lapsed) status, according to Scripture, only have a knowledge of themselves (homo in se incurvatus); as such, it requires God to come down to humanity and pull people out of their navels into the nave of God’s inner life as that is Revealed in Reconciliation in and through His Self-givenness in Jesus Christ. Any attempt to circumvent this way can only leave us in a place of self-projecting, if in fact we attempt to think God at all.

Barth concurs with more eloquence as he writes the following:

The inner necessity of the theological method employed in Holy Scripture and demanded by it can be made clear by following out the contrary method to its consequences. To characterise the latter in terms of the arbitrariness by which man takes liberties with God is hardly sufficient. This arbitrariness is itself obviously just a symptom of a very peculiar opinion which man has formed about himself, about God and about his own attitude to God. In the usual critical way, he thinks that he can set himself over against God as partner and opposite number. He therefore thinks that God and His revelation belong to the sphere of his own capacity, since by revealing Himself God does something which man can foresee and anticipate in its content as well as in its form. To a certain extent God is doing His duty in revealing Himself to man; and, moreover, it is His duty to reveal Himself to man precisely in a way which the latter can foresee and anticipate, and on the basis of such foresight and anticipation understand and appreciate. It belongs to man that God is and is free for him, and so becomes manifest to him. Thus that arbitrariness of his is quite in order. Because of his self-awareness he is also aware of what it must mean if God reveals Himself to him. he should and must measure the so-called revelations that meet him—so many encounter him claiming to be revelation—by the measure of himself, of his thoughts about what is appropriate to God and salutary for man. If this view is valid, that God is originally as bound to man as man is to God, the view that God is not the free Lord, His revelation not free mercy, the fact of His revelation not the presupposition, freely created by Him, of all our thought and language about it—if all this is valid, then arbitrariness must have its place, and the objection that such arbitrariness is illegitimate will be quite incomprehensible. The will it not rather be praised as a fine gift of God Himself and used with the appropriate assurance? But behind this view does there not still lurk something quite different? In the speculative, apriori-aposteriori, critical thought and language about God and man, as it reached predominance in Protestant theology in the period of Leibniz, should there really be only a relation of parity between God and man? Should we rather not posit here a relation of superiority in favour of man? Such thought and language may of course be embellished and justified by the edifying reflection that, to enable man to know Him, God has permanently planted Himself in man’s heart. Yet we are bound to agree with L. Feuerbach in his objection to theology, that the essence of such thought and language consists practically in man creating God for himself after his own image. No doubt this also may be interpreted as a work of serious, sincere piety. But in that case piety must mean a profound meditation by man on himself, a discovery of his inmost agreement with his own intimate and essential being, a disclosure, affirmation and realisation of the entelechy of his I-ness, which constantly asserts itself in natural and historical form, in joy and sorrow, in good and evil, in guilt and reconciliation, in truth and error, and which ought to be addressed as a divine being. The contrast between the conditioning of man by God and that of God by man now becomes, secondary, colourless and unimportant. Are the two not the same thing? Is not the objection brought against the arbitrariness of man quite futile? Have we not control of God, because we have control of ourselves, control of ourselves because we have control of God? Can the second view be avoided, once we have admitted the first?

It is not necessary to pursue these conclusions to their full limit, if the significance and basis of the other method is to become equally manifest. It is not necessary to go so far as to deny the objective reality of revelation, which is apparently the ultimate goal of this other method. It is a long way to Feuerbach from the “reasonable” or “mild” orthodoxy, which consciously and systematically used this method for the first time two hundred yean [sic] ago. But the continuity of the way cannot be disputed. That must open our eyes to the fact, should we fail to see it otherwise, that the way of the prophets and apostles right from the start is quite a different way.[1]

Earlier I referred us to a late medieval iteration of natural theology, and its reception by Post Reformation Reformed orthodoxy; at least in certain situations. Barth refers us to natural theology’s development in the Leibnizian period of thought; but I would contend that there is corollary between the two, at an intellectual level. Albeit the former is a confessional form of natural theology, while the latter becomes a deconfessionalized form; the distinction being on the plane and role that revelation itself plays in the development of the natural theological method and certain conclusions. But at a summary level, I contend, that all natural theology starts on the same plane; all natural theology starts on the premise that there is latent moral capacity in humanity that gives them the capacity to posit God at some level.

Along with Karl Barth, and the Bible, I maintain that such positing about God can only and always be a mode of self-projection and idol-manufacturing.

 

[1] Karl Barth, CD I/1 §13.

The Road to Emmaus has to be my favorite setting and theme in the whole of the Bible; other than Revelation 21–22. So when I come across studies that engage with this theme I am always enthralled by it. I just finished Edwin Chr. van Driel’s book Incarnation Anyway (an excellent study and read!). Because I am severely time-pressed I won’t be able to adequately engage with the critique he offers of Barth on resurrection, but I at least wanted to share a short revealing passage of the way van Driel’s critique works. Full disclosure: I agree with van Driel in regard to his critique of Barth’s conception of time and how that implicates a doctrine of resurrection and new creation. Indeed, this is the theme I am so enthralled by; i.e. New Creation! After much prior development, here is, in a nutshell, van Driel’s critique of Barth and the idea of resurrection as it functions in Barth’s theology of time and recreation:

Eschatological human beings are thus embodied creatures—Christ as the firstborn, than, in the general resurrection, followed by all others. If this is true, it will not do to say, as Barth does, that the being of Jesus Christ was perfect and complete by the time of his death, and that resurrection and ascension are no more than the revelation of Christ as the man he had been. Nor will it do, as Barth’s recapitulation model does, to conceptualize eschatological consummation as the preservation of the lived life, instead of the continuation of the creature’s temporal life. Embodiment implies a continuation of time. Bodily actions are, essentially, temporal events. Breaking bread, eating a fish, embracing a friend—these are actions that cannot take place in a timeless existence. Further, a life that still unfolds in time cannot be called completed. Therefore, Christ’s being, Christ’s life and identity cannot be presented as completed by the time of his death, nor can the resurrection be analyzed as solely a revelation of a life lived. A completed life has no future, but Christ does. A life lived no longer participates in time, but Christ does. The recapitulation model needs to be rejected: it falters on the embodied nature of the resurrected One. The eschaton is not the conservation of a life definitively ended by death. Instead, the eschaton is the harvesting of a new life; a life born out of the old as the crop is born out of the seed.[1]

As I noted, we won’t have time to address the technicalities that van Driel has treated in a much fuller and developed form; prior to this critique. But suffice it to say, I think van Driel is right to critique Barth on this front. Don’t worry, I still love Barth; but I don’t want to read anyone uncritically.

In summary: Barth thinks things in terms of an actualist and completed event; including Christ’s parousia. When applied to certain doctrines this does things to them; sometimes I find it helpful and beneficial for the theological task, other times I do not. The point van Driel is raising contra Barth is a point at which I think Barth’s theology falters indeed. I think actualism, by-and-large, is the better way to go; I think Barth’s “post-metaphysical” narratival mode (attempting to think things as narrated in the history of salvation as attested by Holy Scripture) is still the better bend we can take in the road of theological methodology. But at certain points I think we must demur; or at least I must.

[1] Edwin Chr. van Driel, Incarnation Anyway: Arguments for Supralapsarian Christology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 148-47.

I wanted to register a few theses on why I think theological blogging is still the better and more viable alternative to other forms of social media (Facebooking, Tweeting, etc.) when engaging in organic theological conversation.

  • Theological blogging fits well with the reformation concept of The Priesthood of All Believers. In other words, just as this principle fit with the practice of translating the Bible into the vernacular for all Christians; so too, theological blogs open the doors for all Christians to engage in thoughtful and reflective theological machination in the context of the broad gamut of various other Christians and their respective traditions.
  • Theological blogging offers the space required for meaningful theological discussion to occur (V Facebook and Twitter which only allow for soundbyted pearls that are prone to misunderstanding, and don’t have the capacity to draw people into a deeper reflection and sustained thought, per se).
  • Theological blogging, as a subset of blogging in general, has a greater preponderance for promoting free thought; just because blogs and their hosts have a greater distance from each other (meaning less editorial oversight by the hosts — like we get on Twitter and Facebook).
  • Theological blogging has the potential (now mostly lost, but it’s still there) to provide for networks of people coming together to form other networks with other people, thus providing ferment for a cross-pollination of ideas that outwith would not happen.
  • Theological blogging is populated by people who voluntarily engage in theological reflection, and is made up by people who want to engage in this sort of discussion and reflection. This is not the case, especially with Facebook (but also with Twitter), since it is made up of people who are there for a variety of reasons; and around a variety of shared or unshared commitments. Theological blogging doesn’t have this disadvantage. The people bloggers encounter, via comments, and other blogs within their chosen network[s] (in my case, theology) are people who by definition want to share in the same sort of discussion you are seeking to promote, provoke, or foster.
  • Theological blogging is a perfect place, particularly if you are engaged in academic theological writing, for floating various projects, theses for dissertations or books so on and so forth.
  • Theological blogging is a place where you can learn while you write and write while you learn.
  • Theological blogging allows a place for the theological writer to mature as a writer. Blogging allows for freedom in the writing process where an organicism can blossom, while at the same time a discipline can be cultivated.
  • Ideally, theological blogging promotes real life discussion, such that people comment, and the author the blog gets almost immediate feedback to their ideas. This can be a fruitful process, and a place where, again, maturation, in a variety of ways can take place.
  • Theological blogging is a place where education can happen. In other words, because of the variety of potential interlocutors in the blogosphere, there is a mixing and meshing of various education backgrounds and experience. As such, beginners can be pushed by veterans, and veterans can be pushed by beginners in the communicative and pedagogical process and development.

I just noted, on Twitter, that I think theological blogging is largely dead. Tim Challies responded thusly:

I tend to think that if anything is killing blogs, it’s people saying that blogs are dead. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. In the meantime, tons of people are still doing it and many more are taking up the craft…

I don’t agree with, Tim. My intent was to note the way blogging has changed. I’m not suggesting that blogging no longer represents an online presence. But I am suggesting that blogging, relative to its heydays, is indeed DEAD. In my theses above I touched upon some of the hallmarks that USED to make blogging a lively endeavor; most of that is gone. People no longer comment, for example; not just on my blog, but on some of the most popular blogs. Regular church people no longer have blogs, unfortunately; when in fact, in my experience, these were the folks who made up most of the theological blogs out there—I would suggest that it is this demographic that has largely given up blogging and migrated to Facebook (not Twitter).

Blogging used to be an enjoyable thing. For me it has mostly become a die-hard practice that I have been cultivating since 2005, and am unwilling to give up; precisely because of its positives as I’ve highlighted in my aforementioned theses. I will always continue to maintain a blog, again, because I think it has the values I’ve already mentioned. Even taking away much of the culture of the blogosphere, and it has been taken away relative to its past iterations, I still see value in blogging. Like I have posted in my sidebar:

“I count myself one of the number of those who write as they learn and learn as they write.” – St. Augustine cited by John Calvin

Contra Challies, there is nothing self-fulfilling about stating that blogging is largely dead; not when, in fact vis-à-vis its past, it is dead! Blogging has changed, and I would argue much of that has been driven by the onset of a new demographic (millennials, yes, I’ll blame the millennials again) entering the world at large. They are used to quicker engagement, and have been weaned on Twitter, Snapchat, Instragram, and other like social media. Blogging in such a context seems too slow and archaic for this sort of psyche. I’m hopeful that blogs might have a revival, but as it stands now I don’t really see that happening. I mean, sure, people still read blogs, but it is not the same dynamic as before. Things have changed in the blogosphere, and it isn’t for the better in my view.

For me, a theology of the Word is definitive for what it means to be a Protestant Christian; as such, I think our theologies ought to be conditioned by their reposition upon the Word of God. There seems to be some slide in this area among Protestant retrievers; i.e. the guys and gals who are in the process of developing a ‘Reformed Catholicity’ among other nomenclature. As Protestants we should have a de jure or principled commitment to Holy Scripture and its reality in Jesus Christ as the primal initiative for all things theological and praxis. The Word of God ought to be the centraldogma of all that Protestant theology entails and is characterized by, such that when people read a Protestant theology they are thrust back, not upon the church, but Scripture, and its reality in Christ. I think this was a central motivation for the magisterial reformers, and is why we ended up with a sola scriptura. But, as Protestants, in our zeal to ‘recover’ the Great Tradition of the Church, we are seemingly being seduced back into the scholastic tradition-building tradition; and the ecclesial authority attendant with that, thus losing the actual authority of Scripture. As Protestants we say all else, in regard to a theory of authority, is subordinate to Holy Scripture; but in practice, and theological endeavor, I see something else happening.

John Calvin offers a good word on Scripture’s special place for his type of Protestant theology. In the following he is in early discussion on his concept of knowledge of God, and how he sees God’s Word as the special place that the ‘children of God’ are given to have an accurate, and thus non-idolatrous, knowledge of God. The moment we digress into Trad-itional knowledge of God, at least as our regulative authority, we have crossed over into speculative rather than revealed knowledge of God. As one of the early pre-post-Reformed orthodox Reformed theologians, Calvin understood this, in regard to the character that a Word-based theology ought to have for his Protestant brethren and sistren. He writes:

Since it is evident that God used His word with those whom He wanted to instruct fruitfully, because He saw that His form and image which He had imprinted in the edifice of the world was not sufficient, we must walk by this path if we desire with a good heart rightly to contemplate His truth. We must, I say, return to the word in which God is shown very well and painted as if living by His works, when these are considered no according to perversity of our judgment but according to the rule of the eternal truth. If we turn away from this word, no matter how quickly we go, we will never arrive at the goal because we are not running in the path. For we must take into account that the light of God which the apostle calls “inaccessible” is for us like a labyrinth to lose us unless we are led through it by the directing of the word, so that it is better for us to limp along in this path than to run quickly outside of it. That is why David, having recounted how the glory of God is preached by the heavens, the works of His hands proclaimed by the firmament, His glory manifested by the well-ordered succession of day and night, then comes down to the commemoration of His word (Ps. 19[1]). “The law of the Lord,” he says, “is without blemish, converting the soul; the testimony of the Lord is true, giving wisdom to the lowly; the righteousness of the Lord is right, rejoicing the hearts; the precept of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eyes” (Ps. 19[7-8]). By this he signifies that the teaching by creatures is universal to all, but the instruction by the word is specific to the children of God.[1]

We can understand Calvin better as we place the above quote into his teaching on the twofold knowledge of God,[2] more broadly; but for our purposes, what is important to highlight is the centrality the Word of God has for Calvin at a base level. For the Protestant there is an aversion to speculation about God, and “Godness,” just at the point that we (as Protestants) are committed to what God has revealed of Himself to and for us in Christ as attested to by the canon that Holy Scripture is.

As I broach this issue, in regard to the material and formal sufficiency of God’s Word, what you might also be alerted to is why I have chosen to go the way I have, in regard to the tradition I have, in Reformed theology. I think to be catholic, in the best sense, is to be committed to the rule of Faith, who is Scripture’s reality, Jesus Christ. I know that many believe that to be genuinely catholic these days, means to one degree or the other, that we tie ourselves into the Tradition of the Church. But I think prior to that, and more decisive than that, what it really means to be catholic is to be tied into the humanity of God in Jesus Christ; how can we be more catholic than that?[3]

[1] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion: 1541 French Edition, trans. by Elsie Anne McKee (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009), 37.

[2] From the quote we can also pickup Calvin’s notional thinking on the sensus Divinitatis, but again, for our purposes we are focused on the Word in this post.

[3] There are many related and underwriting threads just waiting to be pulled upon in regard to my question here, like: 1) theory of authority, 2) theory of revelation, 3) ecclesiological theory in general, 4) how we think catholicity vis-à-vis progressive historical developments etc.

PhD Proposal: The Exegetical Foundations for an Evangelical Calvinism

Summary of Topic. Evangelical Calvinism offers an alternative reading to Federal theology from within the Reformed perspective. Myk Habets and I have co-edited two edited multi-author volumes entitled Evangelical Calvinism: Volume 1: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church (2012) and Evangelical Calvinism: Volume 2: Dogmatics & Devotion (2017) where we identify and develop what we are calling Evangelical Calvinism (per Thomas F. Torrance’s usage) as a mood that has been present in the historical and contemporary development of Reformed theology. As a consequence of this identification we have created fifteen theological theses articulating what we think constitutes the Evangelical Calvinist mood. These theses work constructively from the themes found in the theologies of Athanasius, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Richard Sibbes, Thomas F. Torrance, Karl Barth, and a group of Scottish theologians. As a consequence of our publications we have received critical response from such scholars as Kevin Vanhoozer, Roger Olson, Scott Swain, and Michael Allen. The response has largely revolved around an attempt by these readers to read the Evangelical Calvinist mood through their broadly classical theist, and mostly classical Calvinist lens (Olson’s reading being an exception as he works from an evangelical Arminian perspective). There are two points that are generated from these disparate approaches: 1) Non-Evangelical Calvinism (i.e. Federal theology) works from a scholastic methodology that begins with the divine decrees in a logico-deductive fashion and then reads texts theologically in that light; 2) Evangelical Calvinism works opposite to that. As a result I want to show the theological starting point for Evangelical Calvinism and then the theological interpretation of scripture commensurate with that, which in turn will show the bases for the theological exegetical foundations for an Evangelical Calvinism.

Proposal. This thesis will attempt to clearly articulate where the differences occur between the exegetical foundations for classical Calvinism and an Evangelical Calvinist approach. I will seek to define what the key theological commitments are that inform the classical Calvinist and Evangelical Calvinist reading and exegesis of Holy Scripture, and attempt to show where their relative points of convergence as well as departure are one from the other. This process will engage in a survey of the history of ecclesial ideas ranging from the patristic, medieval, Reformed, post-Reformed, and contemporary periods of theological interpretive development. The thesis’s primary objective will be to argue that Evangelical Calvinism’s theological exegetical approach has just as much, if not more grounding in the history of the church catholic as does the classical Calvinist reading of Scripture. More than providing an apologetic for Evangelical Calvinism’s reading of Scripture vis-à-vis classical Calvinism’s, this thesis will offer a positive description of the antecedent theological underpinnings that have given rise to Evangelical Calvinism’s reading of Scripture and the Dogmatic loci produced from that reading. The final objective of this thesis will be to provide a cogent iteration of the specific theological entailments and exegetical principles of Evangelical Calvinism’s theological interpretation of Scripture which clearly highlight the Reformed provenance of an Evangelical Calvinist method.

I wonder if this uptick in the radical nature of abortion practice, as we are now witnessing in New York, Virginia, and I’m sure in other liberal states, in days to come, is a reaction to Trumpism? I wonder if these states are attempting such radical movements,[1] in this regard, as a political way to work at the subversion process of Trump’s presidency, and those who voted for him? Either way, no matter the motivation, it is of the most heinous sort of dread and evil that it is unconscionable to contemplate as real; but it is real.

We just remembered the Shoa (Ha Shoa), the catastrophe or Holocaust these last days, but here in the United States since Roe v Wade we have witnessed, if we could quantify immorality of this sort (which we can’t), the outright murder of over 60,000,000 human beings; persons at the very most vulnerable stage of their lives. It seems outrageous that the very same people who can decry the evil of Hitler’s Holocaust, can at the same time celebrate America’s Holocaust in the ways they do; but that’s exactly the sort of duplicity we see taking place in our country.

One wonders how people can look at the mutilated limbs and bodies of the most precious among us, and place those up against the mutilated bodies of the shoa victims; and not arrive at the same conclusion about them both. But they don’t! How does this happen; how can we make sense of anything so irrational and reprehensible? How can so called civilized human beings arrive at the conclusion that barrels of mutilated babies’ bodies is in any way a right that any sane person could or should be given?

The biological information is available for all, as is the physiological; in regard to the human status these babies in the womb have. Of course, the distinction the “ethicists” like to use to dehumanize the ‘fetus’, is well the language of fetus, but beyond that, it is to make a distinction between human being and personhood. These “ethicists” want us to think that personhood isn’t arrived at until the fetus is delivered, and gains full self-awareness and faculty in that regard. On this logic, as Peter Singer has been arguing for years, infanticide is actually the logical reduction to the abortionists’ argument. But, really, they have been engaging in infanticide, legally, since the 70s; since personhood is part-and-parcel with conception. We all know, biologically, that a fetus, at conception, has all the chromosomal-component parts that it takes to be a human being; indeed, to be a person.

The concern (and I write this all off the top) is that the inherent logic to all of this presupposes that personhood is in fact a social construct, just like human sexuality or sexual orientation is. Which means that personhood, according to these wits (or maybe we should say, Twits) is not just a social, but is also a political construct; insofar as we have a socio-politico sense of what it means to be a functional member of society at large. This is at least a slippery-slope. We can begin to see how eugenics, infanticide, death-panels, abortion, euthanasia are of a piece in this sense. The logic, which clearly there isn’t any sound logic in any of this, underwriting abortion in general, and these late stage abortions in particular, can be just as easily applied to toddlers to the mentally ill to the aged so on and so forth. If personhood is a socio-politico construct that is determined by the public at large—in regard to who has personhood and who doesn’t—then so help us God; and yes God, help us!

The same proponents of abortion rights, at all stages, based on their own logic, if that logic is carried through, could be inflicted by that logic in the days to come; you know the days when they’re old and dying. Indeed, we already see this logic-of-death creeping into states where euthanasia is legal, and in countries where such practice is amenable to anyone who might be struggling with a deep sense of low-self-esteem or other real, but not life-threatening sufferings. We even see this sort of creep in the way insurance companies pursue certain surgical care for the elderly. We see them taking their time in making decisions on whether to provide certain procedures or not, based upon the age of their insured and the likelihood of their successful recovery.

The metrics being appealed to determine personhood are: Will the aged or mentally ill among us be a fully functional, contributing member of society? Meaning, will such persons be contributing members in regard to the global economy, and its fiscal well being or not. At some levels, not all, we can see how personhood is attributed to various castes of people simply based upon their capacity to be economic producers for the greater worldwide system. Personhood, is largely a predicate of how great of a commodity a “person” is deemed to be or not. Babies in the womb are deemed as a dreg on the economy; they are only potential contributors, who in the meantime, if given a chance to deliver, have no immediate or actual potency when it comes to the economic well-being of society. Indeed, most likely, many of the children aborted are seen as drags because they are typically children of single women with no support system available to them other than the state (just look up the statistics on the largest demographic of peoples having abortions in the United States).

No matter, we have been living in a time, over these last fifty years, that even eclipses the Holocaust; at least as far as sheer numbers of people being barbarically massacred. In the beginning of this post I was wondering about what could lead so called civilized and technologically and scientifically advanced and evolved people to arrive at the conclusion that the practice of abortion is okay. As a Christian I have the explanatory power to diagnose and prescribe the problem and remedy for this blight of the American’s “moral compass.”

God will judge; He is judging; but He will judge with decisiveness and show no partiality. He will come again, and wipe out this sickness in the human heart once and for all. It’s possible to start that transformation process right now, but only the few will find that narrow way.

[1] Although partial-birth-abortion was once legal too.

I have been thinking lately about how easily we, as Christians, are seduced into the ways of the ‘world’; even when we are vigilantly attempting to live sanctified lives unto God. It is seemingly impossible to not be enculturated, at some level, to the point that our guard is taken down and the world system then seeps into the pores of our lives such that we become blind to the stark reality of God’s otherness and holiness; the holiness that He requires us to live into: ‘Be Holy as I am Holy.’ So what’s our hope? Can we have a daily knowledge of God which keeps us from being sucked into the ‘ways of the world,’ such that we have the capacity to not just resist, but discern the various snares set for us by the enemy of our souls?

John Calvin in the very opening of his Institute of the Christian Religion famously offers his thoughts on knowledge of God and knowledge of self. I think his words are a helpful way to think about our position before God, and how it is that we come to have a genuine knowledge of ourselves; just as we come to have a genuine knowledge of God through union with Christ. I want to suggest that it is as we inhabit this frame, on a daily basis, that we will come to have the proper perspective for doing ‘battle’ in a world system that seeks, at every turn, to take us captive to do its will rather than God’s. Calvin writes (in the 1541, French version of his Institute):

For this pride is rooted in all of us, that it always seems to us that we are just and truthful, wise and holy, unless we are convicted by clear evidence of our unrighteousness, lies, madness, and uncleanness. For we are not convinced if we look only at ourselves and not equally at the Lord, who is the unique rule and standard to which this judgment must be conformed. For since we are all naturally inclined to hypocrisy, an empty appearance of righteousness quite satisfies us instead of the truth; and since there is nothing at all around us which is not greatly contaminated, what is a little less dirty is received by us as very pure, so long as we are happy with the limits of our humanity which is completely polluted. Just as the eye which looks at nothing but black-colored things judges something that is a poor white color, or even half-gray, to be the whitest thing in the world. It is also possible to understand better how much we are deceived in our measure of the powers of the soul, by an analogy from physical sight. For if in broad daylight we look down at the earth, or if we look at the things around us, we think that our vision is very good and clear. But when we lift our eyes directly to the sun, the power which was evident on the earth is confounded and blinded by such a great light, so that we are obliged to admit that the good vision with which we look at earthly things is very weak when we look at the sun. The same thing happens when we measure our spiritual abilities. For as long as we do not consider more than earthly matters we are very pleased with our own righteousness, wisdom, and virtue, and flatter and praise ourselves, and thus come close to considering ourselves half divine. But if we once direct our thought to the Lord and recognize the perfection of His righteousness, wisdom, and power (the rule and standard by which we must measure), what pleased us before under the guise of righteousness will appear dirtied with very great wickedness; what deceived us so wondrously under the guise of wisdom will appear to be extreme madness; what had the appearance of power will be shown to be miserable weakness: so it is when what seemed most perfect in us is compared with God’s purity.[1]

Calvin’s thought here is a prescient word for our current moment in world history. As Christians, in the main, we have firmly planted our feet on the slippery slope of cultural appropriation to the point that genuine encounter with the living God has become fleeting; instead we typically end up encountering self-projections who we have conflated with divinity.

Some may read these words from Calvin, and read: Legalism or nomism. But if that’s the conclusion then Calvin’s point is only proven, not repudiated. Christians are so afraid of being legalists, that they’ve lost sight of the demand of God to be holy as He is Holy. Christians, unfortunately, have wrongly read legalism and God’s holiness and purity together; but this couldn’t be further from the reality. Legalism is a man-made standard, the very standard Calvin is attempting to marginalize and undercut, that elevates human-centered wisdom and righteousness to divine status, and then, if at all, attempts to live up to this artificial standard to achieve favor before God and men. But this is all wrong, as Calvin so insightfully identifies. God’s holiness is sui generis, it is of another sort; another world even. God’s holiness is set apart by His eternal Life as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in interpenetrative union. This is the knowledge that sets us free to see ourselves as we are; this is the knowledge that undoes our artificial systems of right and wrong. It is a knowledge of God that sets us free to see the world as it is, as God sees it for us in Christ; a world that, in God’s economy has come to have a cruciform shape, such that to think God rightly first requires a daily reckoning of ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in and from Christ.

It is possible to maneuver the terrain of the current world system as a Christian, and not be fully sublimated by the seductive siren calls of its minions of “light.” But it requires the sort of knowledge Calvin alerts us to. It requires a daily battle that we ourselves have no strength to fight; so it requires that we actively recognize our passive posture before God, with the hope that He, in His mercy, will supply us with the grace sufficient for us to see as He sees. It seems that, by-and-large, the church, even the so called evangelical churches, is failing at this in radical ways. If we are going to be ‘saved’ we must have to do with the real and living God, not with a god who is a manifest destiny of our own making. This is the challenge that Calvin leaves us with: Are we going to battle to seek God while He may be found; are we going to wake up each morning, and reckon ourselves dead to sin and alive to Christ? It is only in this Spirit empowered mode of living coram Deo that the Christian will have the resource to be an ‘overcomer’ rather than someone overcome by this world system.

[1] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion: 1541 French Edition, trans. by Elsie Anne McKee (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009), 24.

I wanted to, in a bloggy fashion, briefly introduce and touch upon what my friend Myk Habets has called elevation theology. I have written on this before at the blog, but more pointedly, in those instances, I emphasized the related doctrine of the primacy of Jesus Christ over and for all creation. Since I am finally just now reading Edwin Chr. van Driel’s book Incarnation Anyway, I thought it timely to write something up on this theological locus. I will be referring to an essay Myk wrote years ago, and then to Philip Ziegler’s amazing book Militant Grace (2018). What I want to do is bring together a simple point of contact between elevation theology, and the apocalyptic theology that Ziegler alerts people to through his writings. I sort of had one of those aha moments while at work the other night; as I was reflecting on the implications of elevation theology, ‘incarnation anyway,’ and the logic of grace attendant to so called apocalyptic theology. What I put down in this post might not be that meaningful to you, but to me it represents a light-bulb.

Habets introduces his essay On Getting First Things First: Assessing Claims for the Primacy of Christ, this way:

According to Christian tradition Jesus Christ is pre-eminent over all creation as the Alpha and the Omega, the ‘beginning and the end’ (Rev 1.8, 21.6; 22.13). This belief, when theologically considered, is known as the primacy of Christ. The specific issue this doctrine addresses is the question: Was sin the efficient or the primary cause of the incarnation? This essay seeks to model the practice of modal logic in relation to the primacy of Christ, not to satisfy the cravings of speculative theologians but to reverently penetrate the evangelical mystery of the incarnation, specifically, the two alternatives: either ‘God became man independently of sin,’ or its contradiction, ‘God became man because of sin’. Examining historical responses to the primacy of Christ will lead to a consideration of how some recent theologians have taken up these themes and sought to develop them. This in turn provides resources that contribute towards an understanding of the incarnation assuming that the efficient cause was human sin. Finally, an argument will be presented defending the primacy of Christ and a justification for the hypothesis that there would have been an incarnation of the Son irrespective of the fall.[1]

The thought that hit me had to do with the idea that creation, if the ‘primacy of Christ’ doctrine is true, has an inherently extraneous source to its ‘being.’ If so, creation itself, as a contingent reality (creatio ex nihilo) only has a taxis or order to it as that is supplied to it by the gift of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. As corollary, Apocalyptic theology maintains a disruptive notion in regard to creation vis-à-vis the recreation that takes place in the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. Ziegler cites Gaventa in this regard:

As Gaventa concisely puts it, “Paul’s apocalyptic theology has to do with the conviction that in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has invaded the world as it is, thereby revealing the world’s utter distortion and foolishness, reclaiming the world, and inaugurating a battle that will doubtless culminate in the triumph of God over all God’s enemies (including the captors Sin and Death). This means that the Gospel is first, last, and always about God’s powerful and gracious initiative.” Inasmuch as it is an expression of specifically Christian faith, “apocalyptic theology always and everywhere denotes a theology of liberation in an earth that is dying and plagued by evil powers.

In the words of Donald MacKinnon, its subject matters in nothing less than “God’s own protest against the world He has made, by which at the same time that world is renewed and reborn.”[2]

Following, Ziegler expands further this way:

For my own part, I am certainly drawn to the task of envisaging an apocalyptic theology for “ardently Protestant” reasons. For it seems to me that, understood as it is here, apocalyptic is a discursive idiom uniquely suited to articulate the radicality, sovereignty, and militancy of adventitious divine grace; just so it is of real import to the dogmatic work of testing the continued viability of Protestant Christian faith. . . . The apocalyptic idiom starkly illumines at one and the same time both the drastic and virulent reality of human captivity and complicity in sin, and the extraordinary power of saving divine grace that outbids it, reminding us that things are at once much worse yet also paradoxically far, far better than we could possibly imagine them to be.[3]

Now, I’m leaving many moving parts out of this (because of space constraints), but when you allow elevation theology and apocalyptic theology to implicate each other, what stands out, at least to me, is how if creation itself is fully determined to be what it is, always already in God’s eternal and pre-destined life to be for us, for creation rather than against it, then attempting to find logics and ratio inherent within the created order—like natural law and natural theology do—in an attempt to discover a theological epistemology prior encountering God in Christ leads to a dead end.

What I’m tortuously attempting to draw out is the idea that: If creation never had an absolute or ‘pure’ ground in herself, but instead only finds that ground in the grace of God in creation/recreation as that is conditioned by Christ, then a genuine basis for a theological ontology/epistemology is only given in and through God’s Self-revelation and exegesis in Jesus Christ. Do you see what I’m attempting to highlight? If God’s proton is inextricably bound up in the eschaton of his life revealed in Christ, if his first Word of creation is grounded in his choice to be for the world in the grace of Christ, just as his last Word is indeed His first in the resurrection of Christ, then the only ground for knowledge of God can be found in that grace; in that relation that Jesus is for us as the eternal Logos made flesh. In other words, there is no general or profane logic embedded in the created order awaiting discovery as the bases for doing theological work; there is only theo-logic as that is grounded in the Christo-logic as that serves as the basis for the reality of the world—the world first and last, created and recreated.

What I am simply attempting to say is: if the incarnation was always the plan of God for the world, with or without sin entering the picture, then this at least suggests that there has always been a higher plane, an unattainable plane for achieving a genuine knowledge of God; outwith Christ. Apocalyptic theology helps to reinforce this sort of ‘primacy of Christ’ doctrine insofar as it emphasizes the disruptive nature of the incarnation and resurrection as that has to do with this present world order (in its in-between and anticipatory status). More practically I think it offers the Christian with a theology that fits better with the experience of the Christian life, as that is understood in the light of the cross of Christ itself. In other words, there is a ‘logic’ available to the Christian that reposes in the fact that they, by the Spirit, have become able to call ‘Jesus, Lord.’ It is in this practicality of the Christian life that the normal Christian can live a life steeped in the revelatory reality of Holy Scripture and its reality as that is given in Jesus Christ.

The proposal, if you hadn’t noticed, is a uniquely Protestant one that majors on a theology of the Word as the basis for thinking and living the Christian life. It doesn’t elide the tradition or history of the church’s mind, but it recognizes that the warp and woof of the Christian life is one that is ultimately grounded in a theological reality (ontology) that is always already contingent upon creation’s reality as that is given newness and freshness in the recreation realized in the resurrection and ascension of Christ. It keeps the Christian looking up, and allows God’s grace to supply the sort of optics that it only it/He can as the Christian seeks to know God in ever increasing ways. Theologies, of the absolutely ‘classical’ sort, sneer at this sort of grace only conception of creation, and its impact on a theological ontology/epistemology. But I think such sneer should be repented of precisely at the point that Christians aren’t ultimately or slavishly beholden to the ‘tradition’ of the church, per se, but instead we are captivated by the life of God for us as we come into union with that reality in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ.

I fear I have failed to really capture the gist I wanted to go after and articulate in this post, but hopefully something coherent made it through. There is a profound idea going on here between what we are given by so called elevation and apocalyptic theologies, and I think further thought needs to be given to this.

 

[1] Myk Habets, “On Getting First Things First: Assessing Claims for the Primacy of Christ,” Journal compilation C _ The Dominican Council/Blackwell Publishing Ltd, (2008): 343-44.

[2] Philip G. Ziegler, Militant Grace: The Apocalyptic Turn and the Future of Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2018), loc 162, 171 kindle.

[3] Ibid., loc 214, 224.

Welcome

Hello my name is Bobby Grow, and I author this blog, The Evangelical Calvinist. Feel free to peruse the posts, and comment at your leisure. I look forward to the exchange we might have here, and hope you are provoked to love Jesus even more as a result. Pax Christi!

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A Little Thomas Torrance

“God loves you so utterly and completely that he has given himself for you in Jesus Christ his beloved Son, and has thereby pledged his very being as God for your salvation. In Jesus Christ God has actualised his unconditional love for you in your human nature in such a once for all way, that he cannot go back upon it without undoing the Incarnation and the Cross and thereby denying himself. Jesus Christ died for you precisely because you are sinful and utterly unworthy of him, and has thereby already made you his own before and apart from your ever believing in him. He has bound you to himself by his love in a way that he will never let you go, for even if you refuse him and damn yourself in hell his love will never cease. Therefore, repent and believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour.” -T. F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ, 94.

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