A Brief History on My Theological Blogging Career and Its Christ Concentrated Orientation

Theological blogging has been a formative thing for me since I started doing it in the Spring of 2005. This current iteration of my blogging life is the longest standing url and location I’ve been since I started blogging. My first blog was called The Stumbling Block and I used the now defunct ‘blogsome’ (WP based) as my host and platform. From that original blog I probably had ten other iterations with various urls and platforms (including Blogger, WordPress, and Typepad as my hosts). I finally settled in with this current blog in 2009, and have stuck with it since. I originally was going to use this blog to promote my work, along with Myk Habets, on what we call Evangelical Calvinism (given further clarification in our two edited volumes 2012 and 2017, respectively); but I obviously have turned it into my general theological medium.

What is it about theological blogging, that for me, is so therapeutic? Blogging, for me, represents a place where I can post my daily theological thoughts in a way that has the benefit of not only being beneficial for me, but maybe others. Writing with the idea that my own theological self-expression might also serve the dual purpose of edifying the church has always impassioned me. You see, believe it or not, I love God’s people and His church; first because I love God. And in lieu of meeting my aspirations to be involved in church ministry or being a theology professor, blogging has helped fill in that basic gap in my life and orientation. When I went to Bible College and Seminary my first intention was to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, personally; but my second intention was to do so, so I might be used of the Lord to edify His church. Because of a variety of circumstances, mostly having to do with ‘market demands’ (i.e. what the churches are looking for in their pastors; and what Bible Colleges and Seminaries require for professorships e.g. being PhDd [which is unfortunate]), the door to full-time Christian ministry has been closed to me. But what hasn’t been closed is my passion to know God, and my desire to edify Christ’s church. This is the lacuna, in my life, that the blog has helped to fill. It has allowed me to network with many others in the theological world, and make contacts that outwith the blog would never have been made.

At a more visceral level, blogging has helped me channel my thoughts into a more constructive and articulate way, that without it they may only have remained as intangible thought-waves floating around in the sea of my synapses left undiscovered (by me). In other words, 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.”[1] It is as I write that, in a way, I teach myself. The writing itself brings forth notions that I have maybe subconsciously picked up through my various readings, and hadn’t actually realized were there until I simply sat down and started writing and reflecting. This is probably the most exciting thing to me about blogging, and what you’ll notice is that it isn’t contingent upon other’s approval. Blogging is indeed a moment of self-expression, wherein there is an unrestrained (pretty much) level of freedom just to write whatever I want when I want; this in itself has a liberative affect promoting further writing, reading, and reflection. And so, I write mostly for myself, at the end of the day; but I am also very hopeful that in this process it still has some sort of capacity to benefit others as well.

It is all the aforementioned ingredients that motivate me to continue blogging. I will continue to blog, Lord willing, until my fingers and synapses no longer work. I actually need to blog for my own mental and emotional well being and health. I am prone to despondency and deep turns into the self and inner-recesses of my own mind; none of these things are healthy, indeed, they have been quite destructive for me in my past. And so, blogging, at the end of the day, functions as a balm, or even a cure for this sort of despondency; as a medium it has the compellation of taking me outside of myself, and putting myself on ‘paper.’ But it isn’t simply a psychological maneuver I am referring to; NEIN. It is the THEOLOGICAL aspect of my blogging that is the succor for me. It isn’t just me taking myself out of myself and putting me on paper, it is the Lord Jesus Christ who has called me to Himself and shown me that my life is grounded in His; that my life has an ec-static reality to it, in His extra life for me. It is this extra in Christ wherein my blogging is given ultimate motivation and shape. It is my desire to know God in Jesus Christ that motivates me to write, and to continue to write; it is my desire to pursue Him with all that I am in and from Him that endures me to the writing process that is inextricable to being a ‘blogger.’ And so, I like to think that it is my theology itself, Christ concentrated as it is, that drives me to continue blogging and writing; for myself and the church.

Thus, the form of my blogging, Christ-conditioned as it is, is given material heft and trajectory by the books that this sort of Christic conditioning lead me to. I focus on historical and constructive theology, and the sorts of authors who I think do that best; because of this commitment to know God in Jesus Christ. As such my blog posts, in the main, have the sort of shape and character they do precisely because of the sort of theology I am committed to. This might seem like a self-evident explication, but it is interesting to me, as I look at my posts over the years, how the primary shape of them has mostly to do with a Christ concentrated way of thinking and writing. I take this as a gift from the Lord; I mean the focus He has built into me towards being obsessed with Jesus as the center of all theological programming; just as He is the center and teleology of all life and purpose.

Maybe this has given you a little more insight into my blogging career and why I do what I do. If you’re a reader I thank you for your support, and hopefully some of my desire to edify you all has and does take place through the variety of my various postings. Blessings.

[1] St. Augustine cited by John Calvin.


I Need a Real Knowledge of God

I want to have a real knowledge of God, and so I look to Christ. This isn’t some cliché academic anecdote I am just throwing out there, it is historicaljesusfor real. I know that for some people doing academic theology remains just that; a highly intellectualist endeavor that at the end of the day doesn’t ultimately penetrate their Christian walks, but instead pads their CVs. If that’s you, then the rest of this post will probably not mean much to you; in fact it might sound somewhat melodramatic to you, but I don’t really care, it isn’t.

When I say that I want to have a real knowledge of God I mean that; I truly want to know (not with hundred percent certainty of course, not without remainder in every possible way)–with all of the provisionality connoted–I want to know that I am engaging with the real God, the real God who is the Christian God, and not some sort of metaphysical philosophical construction papered over with traditional Christian God-language. So for me (as I am sure for most Christians of every stripe, ideally) having a real knowledge of God does not entail an academic approach to knowing God (even though many people who even read what I am writing here will say that my approach is too academic; of course I am not sure what their approach is), it entails a visceral, even palpable need for God. I don’t need an abstract God, and thus I don’t need a God in the abstract; I need a God who can “save” me. I don’t know about you, but I deal with sin on an ongoing basis (I have my pet sins you have yours), and I need to know a God who can get into that situation and radically change it. This is my first real problem in fact towards having a real knowledge of God; me. I get in the way over and again. But this is what I am talking about; I am not trying to be cute or novel, I am being serious right now. I don’t need a theoretical God, I need a God in the concrete who not only can deal with my first major problem at a depth level, and deal with it in such a way that he provides a remedy for it; but I also need a God who can continue to deal with this depth sin problem of mine in an ongoing and powerful way, and hopefully at the same time he will allow me to know him as he takes off my sinward blinders and puts new spectacles on me.

Thankfully, as some solid theology teachers have noted, this is exactly the kind of God we have been given in Jesus Christ. Not only does he deal with my sin problem (on a daily basis too), but in that very dealing (or reconciliation between myself and God), he reveals himself to me so that I can have a real knowledge of God from a center in himself in his Son, Jesus Christ.

What would I do without this real knowledge of God in Christ? I would be the worst of sinners, no doubt! I would be worse than I am now, which is pretty scary to be sure. Without the resurrection, which we just happen to be celebrating today; without the wisdom of the cross of Christ I could never hope to have a real knowledge of God. I am afraid some of this discussion, among the theological types, has become all too academic and abstract. It is hard to come across discussions about a knowledge of God that don’t quickly reduce into an academic argument say about “death of God” theology versus postmetaphysical theology versus social conceptions of God, etc. Sure, yes, these are all important things to discuss, but if we lose sight of their context (so that we can have a real knowledge of God), and if their context’s become enclosed upon themselves and self-referential ends, then it all becomes too abstract, and real knowledge of God gets lost in our pursuit of a theology of glory rather than a theology of the cross.

Not sure if any of this has made sense. But this is just me being bloggy, and reflecting as transparently as I can about stuff; and yes, maybe even this reflection has gotten too abstract (sorry about that!).

Everything you never wanted to know about Bobby Grow, 2014 edition.

I thought I would write a reflective post on how things are going; this seems like a good time to write a post like this given the time of year it is bobbyhat(the beginning of 2015). I will be reflecting on life, on my walk with Jesus Christ, on perspective and how things continue to unfold in my own individual signature on the wall of salvation history.

I am almost five years removed from DSRCT, the cancer I was diagnosed with in late 2009. I still have nerve damage in my feet (neuropathy) from the chemo I went through back then, but other than that (minus one kidney, and some gortex inside my body) I am doing well (my next and final official check-up with my oncologist is at the end of February … a CT scan). Sometimes I wonder why I am still alive; when you are spared of something like DSRCT, you ask the question “why,” why did I survive? I think built into living through a typically terminal cancer there is almost an expectation associated with, especially as a Christian[s]. People, Christian and non-Christian alike seem to assign some sort of grander purpose, some sort of bigger narrative to your life because of survival, as if God must have some sort of extra-special thing, some sort of special reason for allowing me to live on. In reality I have come to conclude that I don’t really believe that that is true, other than the testimony to God’s grace and superabundant power that gets magnified because of my survival; so maybe that’s enough. But that isn’t really any different than anyone else, any other Christian. We all have an astounding testimony and witness bearing capacity purely because of who Jesus Christ is for us and with us! Anyway, that was kind of a random thought, but that’s what this whole post will be.

Ah, employment. What to say?! I currently work for the railroad (as a Conductor/Switchman); before that I worked for a dairy (on the corporate/processing side of things); and before that I worked for Toyota (corporate side of things/imports from Japan off the ships); and before that an array of various jobs (through school). I earned an MA degree in biblical studies and theology, and a BA degree before that in the same thing back in 2001 and 2003 respectively; I had ideally hoped that I would be in “full time” pastoral ministry, or maybe a professor of theology; alas, those dreams have been shattered upon the rocks of reality (but I haven’t lost total hope, with God all things are possible!) So instead I have become a theological blogger, a theological author and editor, and an Evangelical Calvinist. Talking about Evangelical Calvinism …

I became an Evangelical Calvinist back in and around 2009, when I started my first iteration of The Evangelical Calvinist over at a blogger url. Becoming an Evangelical Calvinist began to take shape rather organically; starting the blog was one move that led there, coming into contact with Myk Habets was another move, and reading Thomas F. Torrance’s book Scottish Theology was the primary move that led to the blog, led me to reading an essay by Myk, and then eventuating in contact with Myk, which led to publishing to our first edited book together entitled Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church in 2012. This trend continues on as Myk and I are under contract for a second volume Evangelical Calvinism book, probably due out in and around 2016. It is kind of strange to be identified as an Evangelical Calvinist, the language causes confusion for almost everyone who first encounters it. Beyond that it sounds like I love Calvin more than Jesus with such nomenclature attached to my name online and everywhere; but in the end I really just love Jesus, and I love the Triune God that Jesus has brought me to participate within. I love Jesus. I love him. Without his unbreakable grip upon my heart none of this would mean anything. I simply love him. Evangelical Calvinism is not some academic thing for me, it has become a symbol, but not something that slavishly identifies me; I am a slave of Christ, that is what identifies me, and I would think any good Evangelical Calvinist would want the same to be known of them.

Finally, I love my family. My wife of 15 years is the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to me, other than my relationship with Jesus Christ. My kids are growing fast, my daughter is a new teenager, and my son is getting there; they are beautiful to me. I feel inadequate as a dad and husband, so I look to Christ to be my adequacy, and struggle with his resurrection power to help me to be the best dad and husband that I can be. I usually fail miserably at this endeavor, but God’s grace has thankfully been shed abroad, deeply, in the life of my wife and my kid’s; it seems to allow them to at least put up with me.

My extended family (mom, dad, brother, sister et al.), well I haven’t been to Southern California for almost five years (which is unthinkable to me! we used to go at least once a year to visit), to see them there; although they have been here to visit me. I am praying that the Lord will allow us to visit them back in the homeland this year sometime (I just found out though that I won’t get vacation this year at work); please pray that this might happen still somehow.

That’s it.

Happy New Year, 2015!

The Evangelical Calvinist’s Preliminary Response to Kevin Vanhoozer’s Critique of Evangelical Calvinism

Kevin J. Vanhoozer, evangelical professor, par excellence, and current faculty member at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, in the
PICKWICK_TemplateChicago, Illinois area has offered a whole essay/chapter in critique of what Myk Habets and myself have articulated as Evangelical Calvinism (in our edited book: Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church [Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications and Imprint of Wipf&Stock Publishers, 2012]). In particular, Vanhoozer, in his critique, challenges our methodology (dialectical); our appeal to the history of interpretation (per John Calvin); and at the material level, our understanding of eternal election; and he gauges us on some other things as well. Vanhoozer does all this in a chapter he contributed to in a just released book (of
vanhoozerwhich he is one of the three editors) entitled: Reconsidering the Relationship between Biblical and Systematic Theology in the New Testament: Essays by Theologians and New Testament Scholars edited by: Benjamin E. Reynolds, Brian Lugioyo, and Kevin J. Vanhoozer published by: Mohr Siebeck. Vanhoozer offers two chapters to this edited book, the one of interest to us, the one where he engages with Evangelical Calvinism is titled: The Origin of Paul’s Soteriology: Election, Incarnation, and Union with Christ in Ephesians 1:4 (with special reference to Evangelical Calvinism). Interesting, right?

What I am going to do, throughout the rest of this article, is simply introduce you to some of the early things that KJV claims to be attempting to do as he starts out his chapter; and I might gesture towards a direction that we might respond in as representative of one of the Evangelical Calvinists that he is critiquing in his essay. This will not be an official response/rejoinder to Vanhoozer, I think Myk Habets and myself will attempt to do that later, more formally, by way of an essay for a theological journal somewhere. So this is just an informal thing, to register what is going on in the great wide-world of Evangelical Calvinism, and how some of those who are not so persuaded (like Vanhoozer) are responding. Let’s begin.

Here is what Kevin Vanhoozer thinks of us, and what he thinks we are doing as Evangelical Calvinists; and then how he intends to respond to us:

I undertake this essay as a Reformed theologian in dialogue not only with New Testament exegetes but also with a new tribe of Reformed theologians who designate themselves “Evangelical Calvinists” and who trace their lineage from Barth through T. F. Torrance. They use the qualifier “Evangelical” in order to signal their intent to be biblical and to reinforce the good news at the heart of Christian theology, namely, “that all are included in Christ’s salvific work.”  They claim that Evangelical Calvinism “adheres much closer to the presentation of election as it is found in Scripture” than does “Classic Calvinism.” Accordingly, I shall focus on the way in which Classic and Evangelical Calvinists understand Ephesians 1:4, especially as it relates to the theme of union with Christ. Our particular focus is whether Evangelical Calvinism represents a “better” gospel – not simply good news but the best – and hence a “more excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:31) of interpreting Scripture and understanding salvation.[1]

I wanted to make clear that Vanhoozer intends to engage very directly with us, Myk Habets and myself, as Evangelical Calvinists. And his engagement, as you can see, comes through his focus on Ephesians 1:4 and the doctrine of election therein. He will go on to argue that Evangelical Calvinism’s understanding of election, along with Karl Barth’s (since we essentially follow Barth on election, with some qualification) is erroneous to the text of Scripture, especially as articulated in Ephesians 1:4. One of his primary critiques at this point revolves around the question of whether or not the Apostle Paul has ontology in mind, or soteriology? Vanhoozer believes that Evangelical Calvinists, Thomas F. Torrance, Karl Barth et al. mistakenly hold to the idea that Paul’s reference to ‘in Christ’ or ‘union with Christ’ theology has to do with ontology, when Vanhoozer and the “classical” position, as Vanhoozer understands it, holds that St. Paul is referring to soteriology. Here is what Vanhoozer writes in this regard:

“To be or not to be (in Christ)” may not be the urgent question for those who hear the gospel if God, before the foundation of the world, has already determined who is “in.” On the other hand, if there are conditions for “getting in,” these too will have a direct bearing on the content of the good news. Here, then, is our primary question: Are the elect “in Christ” simply by virtue of being human (ontology) or because they have somehow become beneficiaries of his life and work (soteriology)?[2]

… The question that concerns us is whether election to union with Christ is the same as this unifying of all things in Christ: “To be in Christ . . . is to be part of a program which is as broad as the universe, a movement which is rolling on toward a renewed cosmos where all is in harmony.” What is at stake is nothing less than the meaning of our passage, the whole book of Ephesians, our understanding of Paul’s gospel, and the nature of “christocentric” theology. Does everything’s being summed up “in Christ” entail universal salvation? F. F. Bruce intriguingly suggests that the church is “God’s pilot scheme for the reconciled universe of the future.”[3]

There are, obviously, many interpretations of what Eph. 1:4 has to contribute to our understanding of election, the “sum of the gospel.” My intent in what follows is to examine the suggestion, put forward by Evangelical Calvinists, that all human beings are elect in Christ. Does this insistence collapse “being in general” (ontology) into “being in Christ” and, if so, does “being in Christ” connote salvation (soteriology)? T. F. Torrance draws a fascinating ontological implication from Jesus’ incarnation: “human beings have no being apart from Christ.” The key question, then, is this: if the incarnation is the “setting-forth” of the eternally purposed union of God and man in Jesus Christ – the historical projection of divine election into creaturely existence – then is every human being a “being in Christ” and, if so, does it follow that all are saved?[4]

Very intriguing, right? Vanhoozer is definitely onto something when he asks about the implications of our understanding of election, after Karl Barth, and after Thomas F. Torrance. Our view of election in Christ, our understanding of the Apostle Paul’s union with Christ theology has a more cosmic reach, which sees humanity as the center of the God’s cosmos by design. Our understanding of election, unlike the classical Calvinist approach that Vanhoozer advocates, is not individualistically focused, but Christ focused. In other words, as I just noted, our understanding of election, our doctrine of creation, is inextricably related to humanity’s place within creation as its climaxing reality, as the center that has been given Divine dominion over creation as its priests (as it were). But as corollary with this we do not think of humanity in abstraction, we think of it as ultimately conditioned and grounded in Christ’s humanity for us. We see the eternal Logos (Jesus) as the Deus incarnatus (God to be incarnate), and the Deus incarnandus (God incarnate); and so to be human, from our perspective (and we believe by way of implication of the Incarnation as the rule by which we interpret Scripture, theologically) has always already been a reality grounded in Jesus Christ by his free choice to elect humanity to himself for us before the foundation of the world. And so, yes, Vanhoozer is right to notice the role of ontology in our view of election; how this gets fleshed out into a soteriological locus leads us to a discussion of pneumatology (the person and work of the Holy Spirit in relation to the Incarnation and the image of God imago Dei). We will have to broach the rest of this later.

In closing, though, let me quote some from Myk Habets’ (my co-conspirator in Evangelical Calvinism) published PhD dissertation entitled: Theosis in the Theology of Thomas Torrance. While Vanhoozer claims to be defending the classical Calvinist understanding of election (and he is, as he reads Ephesians 1:4), this might be misleading, a little; we as Evangelical Calvinists actually reach back into heavy dependence upon Patristic theology (so very classical ourselves!), along with Thomas Torrance and Karl Barth. Not only do we look to some of the important themes of Calvin’s union with Christ theology and unio mystica (‘mystical union’ theology), but we look back to Athanasius’ understanding of the Incarnation relative to soteriology and the image of God; in short, we draw on a Reformed doctrine of theosis as found squarely in the theology of Thomas F. Torrance. I am going to quote now from Habets, and the quote should shed some light on how we might proceed in responding to Vanhoozer’s critique more formally in the days to come. Here is Habets (at length):

Like many in the early church Torrance believes the imago is an inherent rationality within men and women – a rationality that HABETS JKT(240x159)PATHenables them to perceive the order of the creation and to praise and worship the one from whom this order came – the Creator. In this regard Torrance affirms aspects of a substantive definition of the imago. However, this is only a partial description of the imago Dei according to Torrance. With Karl Barth in the foreground (and Calvin in the background), Torrance also vigorously defends a relational interpretation of the imago. Humans are created to ‘correspond’ with (Barth), or be a ‘mirror’ to (Calvin) God. However, Torrance develops this relational view beyond that of Barth along lines similar to Pannenberg, that of human destiny. Men and women are persons-in-becoming. Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word of God, is the complete person, the imago Dei in perfection and the one into whom men and women are being transformed, from glory to glory (2Cor 3.18; Rom 8.29; 1 Jn 3.2 etc.).[5]


If humanity is created to know God and to revel in the joy of this knowledge brings (worship), then theosis is the attainment of that knowledge and the joyous communion it creates. The problem with this is, of course, the fact that humanity has fallen. Any discussion of humanity created in the imago Dei must deal with the fact of the Fall and its consequences. For Torrance, the Fall of humanity resulted in total depravity, in Calvinistic fashion. Total depravity does not entail, according to Torrance’s reading of Reformed theology, a thorough ontological break in humanity’s relation with God, but it does mean the essential relation in which true human nature is grounded has been perverted and turned into its opposite, something which only makes sense in a relational-teleological understanding of the imago Dei. Sin is properly of the mind and drags humanity into an active rebellion against God. It is only by the grace of God that human beings still exist at all. The imago Dei  is not destroyed by the Fall but ‘continues to hang over man as a destiny which he can realise no longer, and as a judgment upon his actual state of perversity’. As a consequence, Torrance follows Barth and Calvin in maintaining that the imago Dei can now only be found in Jesus Christ, not in the creature properly speaking. He writes, ‘… justification by grace alone declares in no uncertain terms that fallen man is utterly destitute of justitia originalis or imago dei. It must be imputed by free grace.

There are tensions within Torrance’s anthropology (as in Calvin’s). on the one hand he argues the imago is an inherent rationality within all humans. On the other hand he argues the imago no longer remains in the creature after the Fall as creatures are utterly depraved. The sole existence of the imago Dei is found in Christ and in those in communion with him. For sure this communion is only possible through the incarnate Son and by the Holy Spirit, but the inherent capacity for communion with God is there nonetheless. How do we account for this tension? Our options are, as I see it, twofold: first, Torrance is inconsistent, or second, there is a deeper explanation. It is my conviction that Torrance is so influenced by Calvin’s anthropology that he adopts his ‘perspectival approach’, to use Engel’s words. From the perspective of traditionally conceived explanations of the imago Dei in substantial terms, the imago Dei has been obliterated in fallen creatures. And yet, from a christological perspective the imago is present, incipiently, as all humans have a capacity for God because the incarnation proleptically conditions creation. Outside of a saving relationship with Christ this avails them the condemnation of God. Savingly reconciled to Christ his Imago becomes theirs through the Holy Spirit. In this way Christ alone naturally possess the imago Dei, he shares this realised imago with creatures by grace, and those not in Christ ‘make more out of the imago Dei than they ought’ as they ‘continue to sin against the Word and Law of God’.

Within creation, the theatre of God’s glory, all creation is purposely brought into existence in order to glorify God, and it is in this context that Torrance speaks of men and women as the ‘priests of creation’. Their task is to represent creation to the Creator in a worshipful and joyous response. But nature fails in its realization of such a human vocation. Humanity has failed in its duty as the priests of creation; it refuses to sing the praises of all creation to God. It is precisely at this point that Torrance introduces the astounding claim that God in Jesus Christ does for us what we could not do for ourselves. Torrance’s anthropology is christological, soteriological, and eschatological. These three features inform his theological anthropology at every point.

Within Torrance’s theology theosis consists in being recreated in Christ Jesus who alone is the Image of God. Until men and women are renewed and brought face to face with God in Christ, we cannot know what it means either to know God or to know ourselves as persons….[6]


There are many things we could say after reading the account above from Myk Habets in regard to Thomas Torrance and his Reformed doctrine of theosis. But let this be said for now: the way Evangelical Calvinists (Myk Habets and me in particular) are reading Scripture, including Ephesians 1:4, comes from a different theological grid to begin with; at least from a different grid than Kevin Vanhoozer’s. Yes, we both still need to test our theological theses by Scripture’s teaching, but there is a spiraling relationship between how Scripture is read and the theological paradigms we read out of and back in dialogue with Scripture. There is a canon prior to the canon of Scripture, by way of logical order, that regulates the way we know that Scripture is indeed Scripture, and then how we understand things like creation, election, the eschaton etc. This is one thing.

Another thing is that if Jesus is the Imago Dei (cf. Col 1.15); it follows that any discussion about salvation and our relationship to Jesus will be thought from him at an ontic level. To make a distinction between ontology and soteriology vis-à-vis a reading of Ephesians 1:4 and a subsequent discussion of election really does not make sense for the Evangelical Calvinist; even if it makes sense for a classical Calvinist like Kevin Vanhoozer. Evangelical Calvinists see the Primacy of Christ, and an elevation theology (both of which we will have to discuss later) as central to how we, in a principled way, read Scripture and articulate doctrine in light of that reading; and we see all of this, again, from a kind of regula fidei, or rule of faith that is the canon of God’s life Self-revealed and Self-exegeted in Jesus Christ. When we allow all of this to condition the way we see the macro-themes of Scripture operating, like creation, the Incarnation, a doctrine of Scripture, etc. we end up sounding a lot different from the classical Calvinist reading of things.

Finally, we have only really scratched the surface here. Kevin Vanhoozer offers much more detailed critique than I covered here, but I think that we have made some headway at least towards identifying some ground clearing things that need to be discussed before we move into a point by point response to KJV’s detailed critique of Evangelical Calvinism as Myk Habets and myself have articulated that in our 15 theological theses in the last chapter of our edited book. Nevertheless, I hope this coverage, to the extent that it goes, has been somewhat helpful for you the reader; if nothing else it has been helpful for me to spend the time in writing some of this out (since I write to learn).

[1] Benjamin E. Reynolds, Brian Lugioyo, and Kevin J. Vanhoozer eds., Reconsidering the Relationship between Biblical and Systematic Theology in the New Testament: Essays by Theologians and New Testament Scholars (Germany, Tubignen: Mohr Siebeck, 2014), 179-80.

[2] Ibid., 182.

[3] Ibid., 184.

[4] Ibid., 184.

[5] Myk Habets, Theosis in the Theology of Thomas Torrance (England, Surrey: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2009), 31.

[6] Ibid., 32-3.

I am Just a Bible Believing, Bible Reading Dilettante/At Least That’s What Some Might Think

As of late (like last night and in the last few weeks), I have been engaging with fundamentalismideas surrounded ecclesial authority, biblical authority, tradition, sola scriptura, and ecclesiology in general. The reality that comes through to me, once and once again, is that I am simply a Bible believing, Bible reading, Bible fellowshipping Christian.

For many, the above is too naïve or simple; for some (like a guy’s testimony I just listened to; i.e. Jason Stellman’s), there is a longing or need to be part of a lineage that they perceive as genetic, unbroken, successive, and thus authoritative. I don’t really have this need. Sure, yes, indeed, I want to see myself as part of the body of Christ and God’s people that has stretched the boundaries of salvation history; but I don’t have this need to see God so conflated, so collapsed with His work in His church, in His people, that I need, then, to identify with a group that claims to be the embodiment and concrete reality of this kind of collapse of God (with His authority embedded into this collapsed state of ecclesial affairs). I believe God’s people are everywhere, everywhere where Christ by the Spirit is. I believe the true church of Christ is both visible and invisible; and that the church’s esse or essence is in God’s life of Triune relation itself—and so I don’t think the Church of Jesus Christ (not latter day saints 😉 ) has an address or country code (like next to the Tiber River in Rome and Vatican City).

And so, given the above, it is probably not very surprising that I am an Free church evangelical. And now this gets even more personal, and less critical (maybe even pious to some). I became a Christian at an early age. I walked with the Lord for years growing up. I became lukewarm out of high school. The Lord got a hold of me through some very hard circumstances a few years out of high school. I began to walk closely with the Lord as a result of the crises that were introduced into my life out of high school (graduated from high school in 1992). And what this meant for me was an obsessive determination to read, read, and reread Scripture (which led to further Bible and Theological training in formal way in the following years to come). And this is still true for me today. I had a real and existential need to be ministered to as a result of the crises that were introduced into my life back in and around 1995. The only thing that brought peace to my mind back then (and still!) was to be ensconced, entrenched, and saturated in Holy Scripture; it was the only place that I could genuinely encounter God’s first Word, Jesus Christ. It was the only place where I could find rest, and hope; in someone who obviously loved me and cared for me beyond measure.

My point in sharing the above is to highlight and deepen a little how I might be understood and perceived. It might explain why I like Karl Barth (and Thomas Torrance) so much. What I have finally found in someone like Karl Barth, is a Protestant and evangelical theologian who provides grammar to my long lost and wandering theological feelings. He provides an imaginative and creative (which are both good things) way to think about God’s Word and scripture, and how these two things (along with the proclaimed ‘Word’) coinhere and relate. Most importantly to me, what Barth affirms, is something that I have known for years and years through my own personal experience; and that is, that Scripture is the primary place where God encounters each one of us in his church, in personal, contradictory (to our own thoughts), comforting, convicting, and even endearing ways. And so Scripture for Barth is the norming norm of his mode of operation as a Christian and theologian; as it is and always will be for me. I don’t need any other authority, any other way, than the authority and the way encountered through the pages of Scripture, in all of its particularity and universality. The church gathers around this reality, the church does not possess this reality (Jesus), but Jesus possesses the church, and inhabits her by the Holy Spirit (by which we inhabit Him, by grace). When we read, hear, and live Scripture together we bear witness to the reality that enlivens each of our steps. I know without this reality, I would be hopelessly lost.

I close now with a quote from Adam Neder on Karl Barth, and Barth’s exemplary appreciation for Holy Scripture as the reality upon which all other churchly thought and decisions must be subordinate:

[…] while fully conversant with and significantly indebted to the vast resources of the church’s reflection on the person and work of Christ, Barth regarded himself to be primarily accountable to Holy Scripture, not church dogma, and thus asked that his Christology be judged, above all, by its faithfulness to the New Testament presentation of the living Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, one regularly finds Barth justifying a Christological innovation with the argument that the New Testament depiction of Christ requires it (or something like it) and that the older categories are inadequate to bear witness to this or that aspect of his existence. In other words, and quite simply, Barth understood himself to be free to do evangelical theology — free, as he put it, to begin again at the beginning. And this approach, it seems to me, is one that evangelicals have every reason to regard with sympathy rather than suspicion. [Adam Neder, History n Harmony: Karl Barth on the Hypostatic Union, eds. McCormack and Anderson, 150.]

God Behind the Veil: His ways are hidden from ordinary eyes, but not from the eyes of faith.

I just noticed that my article for Christianity Today, which is part of their ongoing series the Global Gospel Project, is now up. They placed it in an April slot, originally it was slated for May. Anyway, if you don’t have a subscription to CT, then you won’t be able to read the article in full for at least a couple of weeks when it becomes available to the general public. I wrote a short piece on God’s Transcendence (His far awayness) and Immanence (His nearness), and how that cashes out into real life questions (in my particular situation, I applied it to my bout with cancer). Here’s the link below:

God Behind the Veil: His ways are hidden from ordinary eyes, but not from the eyes of faith.

What Theological Themes Shape Me?: Am I a Barthian?

Somebody asserted yesterday on a Facebook meta (discussion) I was having that ‘I am not a Barthian, I am an “evangelical Calvinist.” Indeed, this is true; to a degree. Let me explain this a bit. I enjoy and resonate with Thomas Torrance (who just happens to be one of Karl Barth’s most famous English speaking students), and insofar that Thomas Torrance imbibes the emphases and themes of the theology presented by Karl Barth, then that is how far I could be considered a Barthian. What are some of those overarching or undergirding themes?:

  1. That God is Triune love, and freely Self-determined to be who He is without us, but as corollary, and in grace, He has chosen to not be God without us, in Christ.
  2. As corollary to the above; I accept Barth’s critique of classical understanding of double predestination which is entailed by a distinction between elect individuals and reprobate individuals; and these individual’s status determined by God’s arbitrary choice. Barth sees God’s being as conditioned by election (and thus not God without us, ultimately), and his always already choice to be Triune. More particularly, as Barth restructures the classical conception of election/reprobation; he grounds it election in the humanity of Christ for us, and in His free choice (as electing God, and elected Man) to become humanity, He assumes our reprobation in the process. The result is that in this wonderful exchange, a double election occurs, wherein he initially elects our reprobation, but in the process of salvation (and His cross-work and grave-work), He assumes a newly elect status as the recreation of man, through His resurrection. These are the riches that we become participants of through His poverty at the cross. It is this theme that I fully endorse, provided by Barth (and there are particularities to this that I do not fully follow, which is why I end up going with Torrance … that is fodder for another day).
  3. I fully accept Barth’s critique of natural theology; i.e. that it is anti-Christ.
  4. I accept, in a constructive reading, Barth’s and Torrance’s theory of Revelation, that views Christ as God’s Self-revelation, and scripture and the proclaimed word as His ancillaries (Scripture logically preceding Proclamation, at least for us).
  5. As corollary (which all of these points are of each other); I follow Barth’s and Torrance’s ‘analogy of faith’ methodology Versus the classical ‘analogy of being’ model of doing theology. Which means that I do not engage in philosophical categorizing of God first, but methodologically start with God’s own Self-interpretation in His Self-revelation in Jesus Christ.

Some people have narrower ways of defining whether someone is a Barthian, or not. My guess, really, is that most would say that I am Barthian—with the emphasis on IAN— but no matter, I am more concerned with the conceptual and constructive matter than I am with the label (and I do recognize the relative import of labels). I am what I am, and the above signifies some of the fundamental moves that provides an ongoing and constructive way for me as I move and breathe from the Spirit’s breath given in and through the humanity of Christ (in which I participate as an adopted son).

[A Twofer]: Our Evangelical Calvinism Book: Thesis 4. “God is primarily covenantal and not contractual in his dealings with humanity.” & Thesis 5. “Election is christologically conditioned.”

Since we are drawing ever so close to the release of our book (this March); I thought I would give you two for one on our theses from our forthcoming book (and since Thesis 4 is relatively short). *The following represents Thesis #4 & #5 from our forthcoming book (March 2012): Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church. Princeton Theological Monograph Series. Eds. Myk Habets and Robert Grow. Foreword by Alasdair Heron. Eugene, OR.: Pickwick Publications. There are a total of 15 Theses in this particular chapter (which happens to be chapter 15 in the book); and they have been co-written by Dr. Myk Habets and myself — some of them represent more of one us (as author) than the other, and some reflect more of a good blend between the both of us. To read more about how I am going to unfold some of these here at the blog, click here. The formatting in the post has all the markings required by the publisher for their type-setting process; I am too lazy to remove those for the blog. We look forward to your feedback! Here is Thesis #1  and Thesis #2  and Thesis #3 if you missed them.

[A]Thesis Four

God is primarily covenantal and not contractual in his dealings with humanity.

At the heart of any theology is Theology Proper—an Evangelical Calvinist doctrine of God emphasizes the triune God of grace: the covenantal God versus any sort of contractual god as may be found in, for instance, certain forms of Roman Catholicism, Federal Calvinism, and classic Arminianism.[1]

God’s Covenant with humanity is grounded in the freedom of his Triune life which remains constant despite the twists and turns presented by human proclivities for rebellion. This resists the impulse for creating two or three “covenant’s” (per Thesis 3), which would suggest a dualism in the Godhead and thus in his interaction with humanity. It is covenant theology cast in this light that an Evangelical Calvinism adopts and from which it seeks to understand the triune God of grace as being covenantal.


[A]Thesis Five

Election is christologically conditioned.

This follows on as a corollary from the thesis above. Christ’s work is perfect and requires no supplement, such as the faith of an individual. In forms of Classical Calvinism the subjective elements of salvation have tended to dominate its theology so that an experimental predestination (syllogismus practicus) developed and faith was separated from assurance in an unhealthy manner as Christ was separated from his work. The resultant crises of faith and assurance threw believers back onto themselves and their own works for assurance, rather than onto Christ our perfect mediator and redeemer. Christ has been sanctified, and in his sanctification he has sanctified the elect in him. Believers find their subjective sanctification in Christ’s objective work, and not the other way round. This reflects the duplex gratia Calvin made so much about and yet contemporary Reformed theology has tended to separate—through union with Christ flows the twin benefits of justification and sanctification.[2]

Thomas F. Torrance is instructive as he comments on Scottish Calvinist, John Craig’s approach to articulating what a christologically conditioned doctrine of election looks like; with a carnal and spiritual union providing its orientation: [EXT]Craig regarded election as bound up more with adoption into Christ, with union with him, and with the communion of the Spirit, than with an eternal decree. The union of people with Christ exists only within the communion of the redeemed and in the union they conjointly have with Christ the Head of the Church. . . . Union with Christ and faith are correlative, for it is through faith that we enter into union with Christ, and yet it is upon this corporate union with Christ that faith and our participation in the saving benefits or ‘graces’ of Christ rest. John Craig held that there was a twofold union which he spoke of as a “carnal union” and a “spiritual union.” By “carnal union” he referred to Christ’s union with us and our union with Christ which took place in his birth of the Spirit and in his human life through which took place in his birth of the Spirit and in his human life through which he sanctifies us. The foundation of our union with Christ, then, is that which Christ has made with us when in his Incarnation he became bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh; but through the mighty power of the Spirit all who have faith in Christ are made flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone. It is only through this union, through ingrafting into Christ by faith and through communion with him in his Body and Blood, that we may share in all Christ’s benefits—outside of this union and communion there is no salvation, for Christ himself is the ground of salvation. . . . [3][/EXT][4] Thus election is grounded in a personal union with Christ through his “carnal union” with humanity in the Incarnation, and our “spiritual union” with him through his vicarious faith for us by the Holy Spirit. Christ, in this framework, is known to be the one who elects our humanity for himself; by so doing he takes our reprobation, wherein the “Great Exchange” inheres: “by his poverty we are made rich.”

[1] Historical antecedents to such an approach in which a doctrine of God correctly shaped their doctrines of Christology and soteriology would include, amongst others, Richard St Victor and John Duns Scotus. For both, Theology Proper was robustly Trinitarian, thus relational, personal, and pastoral.

[2] See further in Johnson, chapter 9.

[3] Torrance, Scottish Theology, 52–3.

[4] See further in Habets, chapter 7.

Our Evangelical Calvinism Book: Thesis 3. “There is one covenant of grace.”

*The following represents Thesis #3 from our forthcoming book (March 2012): Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church. Princeton Theological Monograph Series. Eds. Myk Habets and Robert Grow. Foreword by Alasdair Heron. Eugene, OR.: Pickwick Publications. There are a total of 15 Theses in this particular chapter (which happens to be chapter 15 in the book); and they have been co-written by Dr. Myk Habets and myself — some of them represent more of one us (as author) than the other, and some reflect more of a good blend between the both of us. To read more about how I am going to unfold some of these here at the blog, click here. The formatting in the post has all the markings required by the publisher for their type-setting process; I am too lazy to remove those for the blog. We look forward to your feedback! Here is Thesis #1  and Thesis #2 if you missed them.

[A]Thesis Three

There is one covenant of grace.

According to Evangelical Calvinism there is one covenant of grace, in contrast to two or more Divine covenants variously propounded by Classical Calvinism. Following Calvin, the Scots Confession of 1560 clearly teaches the unity of Scripture based around the idea of one covenant between God and humanity. It is when the covenant idea moved from being an organizing principle of Scripture to a theological principle of a system that what we now know as Federal Theology came into being. Within such a scholastic federal system the one covenant found within Scripture is now amplified to three covenants expounded in systematic fashion: the pactum salutis or “covenant of redemption,” the “covenant of works,” and the “covenant of grace.”[1]

As I. John Hesselink stated in the Cambridge Companion to John Calvin: [EXT]Reformed theology has often been described as covenantal theology, and rightly so. However, it is Heinrich Bullinger, not Calvin, who first emphasized the role of the covenant. Nevertheless, Calvin gave classical form to the doctrine of one covenant of grace, in contrast to the later Reformed notion of the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. The covenant takes several forms…but the basic covenant promise is one: ‘I will be your God and you shall be my people’ – and the substance of all the covenants is Jesus Christ.[2][/EXT] Evangelical Calvinism thus rejects the theology of two or three separate covenants in Scripture because we believe that it artificially collapses the tension of God’s personal work in Christ into a schematized system that does not honor the radical and dynamic personalist disclosure of God’s redemptive history as mediated penultimately through Israel; and ultimately, in and through Christ. As a corollary, the emphasis on “one divine decree” flows from the fact that God is one; in accord with this, we should expect that God’s gracious activity towards us is consonant with who he is as the One and only living God (as per thesis 1).[3]


[1]For an introductory work on the Reformed understanding of the covenants see Horton, God of Promise: Introducing Covenant Theology.

[2] Hesselink, “Calvin’s Theology,” 85-86.

[3] See further in chapters 4 and 7 earlier in the volume.