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Thesis 14 & 15. This is Thesis 13 from our edited book, Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church.

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predestination

Thesis Thirteen. There is no legitimate theological concept of double predestination as construed in the tradition of Reformed Scholasticism.

Following immediately on from the previous thesis we deny any form of double predestination as traditionally construed by Classical Calvinism; specifically, that there is a mass of humanity predestined by God from all time to Hell. Those who are on the “broad way” to destruction have experienced the love and grace of God for them in Christ only to have rejected such grace, and as such have damned themselves to an eternal separation from God.50

In commenting on the Scottish Evangelical Calvinist, James Fraser of Brea, Torrance writes:

Fraser held that Christ died for all people, the unbelieving as well as the believing, the damned as well as the saved, the reprobate as well as the elected. How, then, did he think that the death of Christ, not least his atoning satisfaction for sin, bears upon those who reject Christ and bring damnation upon themselves? This was one of the basic issues where James Fraser sided with the teaching of John Calvin, rather than with that of those “Protestant Divines” who, he complained, had not followed the old road. The particular point we must take into account here is that according to St. Paul the knowledge of Christ is to some people a “savour of life unto life,” but to others it can be a “savour of death unto death.” In that light it may be said that while the preaching of the Gospel of Christ crucified for all mankind is meant for their salvation, it can also have the unintended effect of blinding and damning people—it becomes a “savour of death unto death.” That is how Fraser regarded what happened to the reprobates in becoming “the vessels of wrath.”51

With Scripture, Calvin, Fraser, Barth, and Torrance, Evangelical Calvinism holds that Christ is the mirror of election and thus he is the elect “man” for others. It is Christ, therefore, and not some divine decree enacted in a pre-temporal decision, that becomes the center of predestination— Christ is both God’s “Yes” and “No” in himself. As Suzanne McDonald has convincingly articulated, election has to do primarily with representation—of God to humanity and humanity to God—and thus Christ is the primary subject and object of such election.52 The consequence, then, is that both the elect and reprobate find their orientation in Christ. In other words, all of humanity is elect in Christ, and their reprobation becomes a reality per accidens53 as they reject, inscrutably, their election in Christ. To reiterate an earlier point, an Evangelical Calvinist may confidently assert that: “There is no wrath of God that is not first experienced as the love of God for you.”54

51. Torrance, Scottish Theology, 199–200.
52. McDonald, Re-Imaging Election.
53. John Calvin says in his commentary on 2 Corinthians 2:15: “. . . Thus Christ came not into the world to condemn the world (John iii. 17,) for what need was there of this, inasmuch as without him we are all condemned? Yet he sends his apostles to bind, as well as to loose, and to retain sins, as well as remit them. (Matt. Xviii. 18; John xx. 23.) He is the light of the world, (John vii. 12,) but he blinds unbelievers. (John ix. 39.) He is a Rock, for a foundation, but he is also to many a stone of stumbling. (Isaiah viii. 14.) We must always, therefore, distinguish between the proper office of the Gospel, and the accidental one (so to speak) which must be imputed to the depravity of mankind, to which it is owing, that life to them is turned into death.” Calvin, Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians, 161.
54. Cf. Thesis 8. According to Torrance, When Christ Comes, 188, “That is why we are afraid of God—because He wants to give Himself to us in love, and His love is our judgment. Because we are afraid, our guilty conscience distorts the face of God for us and makes us afraid to look upon Him. We are trapped in the pit of our own fears, and run away from the very One who really loves and the only One who can forgive us.” Torrance proceeds to exposit the “wonderful exchange” wrought by God in Christ whereby Christ takes our judgment and our place that we might be given his place (184).

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Accessible

So basically: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him will not perish, but have everlasting life’ ~John 3:16

If you want further clarification let me know in the comments.

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This is part of my ongoing attempt to make what I write accessible for the Christian public at large. The following is Thesis 14 from our edited book Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church. I will quote it in full, then follow it up with further explanation, with hopes of making it comprehensible in ways that are able to penetrate the hearts and minds of as many as will. [here is the first installment]

cropped-holbein-dead-christ-detail.jpg

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Thesis Fourteen. The atonement is multifaceted and must not be reduced to one culturally conditioned atonement theory but, rather, to a theologically unified but multi-faceted atonement model.

While Evangelical Calvinism upholds what is essential in a penal substitutionary theory of the atonement, it does not limit the atonement to juridical metaphors. Instead it prefers to see the atonement through the multifaceted New Testament perspectives, in addition to the many Old Testament antecedents, and speak of an ontological, personal, relational, and even mystical union, centered in Christ, by which any atonement model inheres.55

The language which the New Testament uses to set this out is drawn from the long history of God’s dealings in revelation and reconciliation with his covenant people Israel. That language is used in the sovereign freedom of the New Testament revelation, in the sovereign freedom of the Son of God who, as he comes into the situation prepared for him in Israel, acts both critically and creatively in fulfilment of the Old Testament patterns of understanding and worship provided within the covenant. We must seek therefore to examine that language, and through it and by means of it, seek to understand what the New Testament teaches us of the death of Christ. And yet we must pass beyond the Old Testament language to the actual person and work of Christ himself and allow his person and work as mediator to remould in our obedient understanding of him, even the language divinely prepared in the old covenant, for here it is with the new covenant in the blood of Christ that we are concerned.56

It is this embodied aspect of the atonement in Christ that becomes the centrum wherein an Evangelical Calvinist understanding of the atonement takes full shape. The imagery and liturgical activity of atonement found throughout the canon of Scripture is grounded and orientated ontologically in the cruciform life of Christ. This means that Evangelical Calvinists believe that penal-substitution is an aspect of the atonement, and a fundamental one at that; that both forensic realities are present, but that they find their nexus deeper down as Christ takes on the full weight of sin in his very being.

Torrance beautifully describes the implications of such an atonement model when he writes:

Jesus did not repudiate the preaching of John the Baptist, the proclamation of judgement: on the contrary he continued it, and as we have seen he searched the soul of man with the fire of divine judgement, but in Jesus that is subsidiary to—and only arises out of—the gospel of grace and vicarious suffering and atonement. In the incarnate life of Jesus, and above all in his death, God does not execute his judgement on evil simply by smiting violently away by a stroke of his hand, but by entering into from within, into the very heart of the blackest evil, and making its sorrow and guilt and suffering his own. And it is because it is God himself who enters in, in order to let the whole of human evil go over him, that his intervention in meekness has violent and explosive force. It is the very power of God. And so the cross with all its indelible meekness and patience and compassion is no deed of passive and beautiful heroism simply, but the most potent and aggressive deed that heaven and earth have ever known: the attack of God’s holy love upon the inhumanity of man and the tyranny of evil, upon all the piled up contradiction of sin.57

If the forensic/juridical components are the primary components of an atonement theory, then the concern is that atonement will not have dealt with the real reach of sin; to use the language of Scripture, the juridical/forensic, alone, does not have the capacity to deal with the “heart.” Instead, juridical/forensic themes can only provide “payment” to God for legal crimes committed against him; yet the primary issues— the cause of the symptoms—remains untouched. Evangelical Calvinists advance the ontological theory of the atonement that helps correct the imbalance left by the classic understanding.

55. See Torrance, Atonement, 99.

56. Ibid., 1.

57. Torrance, Incarnation, 150.

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Accessible

In a nutshell, what this all means, is that we as Evangelical Calvinists (Myk Habets and myself in particular) believe that the most popular and dominant theory of the atonement (i.e. what Jesus did for us, as classically understood, in his cross-work, paying for the penalty of our sins), which is known as the Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA) theory, does not adequately capture the depths of which actually happened in the atonement of Jesus. Basically, to simply believe all that Jesus did at the cross was pay a legal debt on our behalf, would be akin to a bails-bondsman paying for a criminal to get out of jail; obviously, the criminal is now “free,” but in reality all that has happened is a legal agreement between the Law-court and the criminal has been agreed upon, that their debt has been ‘paid’ for (in the analogy, only temporarily, which is where it breaks down), and on this basis they are now free from the prison that was now holding them. Of course the problem remains, only the symptoms have been dealt with, and the criminal is still a criminal in intention and heart, they are just a “free criminal.” This is akin to what happens in the forensic PSA understanding of the atonement. Jesus is the bails-bondsman, he pays for our penalty of sin, but in reality, his payment never penetrates into the depth of our heart, which is what makes us sinners and inward focused (navel-gazers). What needs to happen, is that Jesus needs to fully enter into our situation, he needs to become fully human, and thus when he dies on the cross, what is really happening is that he is putting to death the cause of our criminality, what makes us sinners (our utterly wicked hearts Jer. 17;9 etc.). So when we say ‘the ontological theory of the atonement’ all that this is indicating is that Jesus truly enters into the depths of our humanity, and he isn’t just our purported bails-bondsman, but he actually and really (ontologically-which means ‘being’ of who we really are), becomes a real human being, representative of all human beings, and he condemns ‘sin’ in his body, as Paul says in Romans 8:3; he puts our sorry hearts of sin out of their misery, and gives us his heart of ‘flesh’ (II Cor. 3; Ez. 36) in his resurrected humanity.

So to frame the atonement as a ‘legal’ thing as its primary understanding, is problematic; because it doesn’t offer the real answer to what we really needed, only the belief that Jesus put our sinful hearts to death, deals the final death blow to our wicked hearts that is needed in order for genuine reconciliation to happen between God and humanity. And as Evangelical Calvinists, we believe this union of reconciliation has happened in the person of Jesus Christ, who is both God and man, and our mediator and high priest. And so we stand humbly before him and in him, as redeemed, recreated, and resurrected humanity, with new hearts that beat with love for the Father, given life blood through the veins of Jesus for us, and breath to these dry bones, by the Holy Spirit’s in-spiration.

I am going to start backwards with our Theses from our book; starting with Thesis 15 first. This will be the kickoff post in my ACCESSIBLE postings. I am going to quote our 15th Thesis, and then try to flesh it out in more PICKWICK_Templateaccessible and understandable ways for folks who that might be advantageous for.

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Thesis FifteenEvangelical Calvinism is in continuity with the Reformed confessional tradition.

Evangelical Calvinism fits into the Reformed family of faith as a participant with the confession-making of the Protestant Reformed tradition. Confessions and catechisms are timely voices that mature in different spaces, and due to various occasions wherein the situation calls for a decisive statement to be made by a body of Christians who submit to biblical authority (sola scriptura). Jack Stotts captures well the Evangelical Calvinist perception of the place that confessions have within the Reformed tradition:

The Reformed sector of the Protestant Reformation is one that holds to what can be called an “open” rather than a “closed” confessional tradition. A closed tradition holds to a particular statement of beliefs to be adequate for all times and places. An open tradition anticipates that what has been confessed in a formally adopted confession takes its place in a confessional lineup, preceded by statements from the past and expectant of more to come as times and circumstances change. Thus, the Reformed tradition—itself a wide river with many currents—affirms that, for it, developing and adopting confessions is indeed an obligation, not an option. These contemporary confessions are recognized as extraordinarily important for a church’s integrity, identity, and faithfulness. But they are also acknowledged to be relative to particular times and places. This “occasional” nature of a Reformed confession is as well a reminder that statements of faith are always subordinate in authority to scripture.58

In this vein Evangelical Calvinism is not slavishly committed to the Canons of Dort or the Westminster Standards. While Evangelical Calvinists respect both of these, for instance, as Reformed confessions, they do not necessarily see either as being the definitive standard. What happened at Dordrecht was an historical response to a localized situation and as such the five points were never meant to define Calvinism or the Reformed faith in toto; and Westminster, while of abiding value, is couched in its own very specific English Puritan context and logic which again is specific to that time and place and as such does not necessarily translate well into other contexts. The same would go for the other confessions. Nevertheless, Evangelical Calvinists believe that the Reformed confessions reflect a rich heritage to draw from; and, in fact, Evangelical Calvinists find a special affinity for both the Scot’s Confession of the Faith and the Heidelberg Catechism. Both of these convey the Trinitarian foci, the Christocentric logic, and the relational warmth of the Gospel, each of which is inimical to Evangelical Calvinism.59

58. Jack Stotts in Rohls, Reformed Confessions, xi.

59. See Grow, chapter 4, and Purves, chapter 5.

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*ACCESSIBLE

This one seems pretty accessible and straightforward, but let me try to clarify it even further. Evangelical Calvinism, in the way that Myk Habets and myself take it, is committed to working from the rich heritage offered by the Protestant Reformed movement. We don’t see confession making as something that is binding (like Scripture is), but we see it as the natural overflow that happens when Reformed Christians gather together, and reflect upon the depth of our God who is Triune love(Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), and engage with who He has revealed Himself to be in His dearly beloved Son, as it has been deposited and written for us by the Apostles and Prophets in the Scriptures. We see then Reformed Confessions and Catechisms from the past as expressions of  heart’s that are super-abundantly filled with the love of Christ, and that need somewhere to capture that for their local and regional bodies of like-minded believers. In this way, the Confessions don’t serve as binding documents which we as Reformed Christians must adhere to in every jot and tittle in order to be considered a Reformed Christian; instead we look back at the ‘spirit’ that gave rise to these Confessions and Catechisms, and we look back at what these thoughtfully crafted documents have to say doctrinally, and we take our inspiration from this, as we continue on in this ‘spirit’, and engage with some of the doctrinal points covered and articulated in these Confessions and Catechisms. Evangelical Calvinists do their thinking in this same kind of style of thinking, we build upon some of the riches left for us in these documents, and in this tradition; and we joyfully affirm our place in the Confessional heritage of the Reformed church, by being so aligned.

Here are examples of one confession and one catechism that Myk and I particularly like:

Scots Confession of the Faith, 1560

The Heidelberg Catechism

I would have to say, personally, that The Heidelberg Catechism is probably my favorite Reformed catechism out of all of the Reformed catechisms and confessions.

I am going to try something a little different with my blog. I tried to start up what I was calling The Evangelical Calvinist In Plain Language, but trying to maintain two blogs just never works out for me. So instead what I am going to do—because I have many many people ask me to do something like this, and I think it will be good practice for me—is I am going to simply write posts here that are intentionally accessible for lay Christians to better appreciate and understand (alongside posts that aren’t necessarily intending this). Most all of these kinds of posts will have to do with me fleshing out what Evangelical Calvinism (as Myk Habets and I understand it) entails. If I write a post that I intend to make accessible in this way, I will place ACCESSIBLE in the title of that particular post. That way you all will be tipped off that I am genuinely trying to communicate in a way that is not for the trained academic, but for the thoughtful Christian lay person instead.

I intend on working through the 15 Theses Myk and I co-wrote for our fifteenth chapter in our edited book: Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church. I might try to write the first one of those today, so stay tuned.

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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