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As a good Conservative Baptist (CBA) I grew up singing hymns. One of those hymns is called Grace Greater Than Our Sin and it was published by Julia H. Johnston in 1910. It goes like this:

baptismjesus1. Marvelous grace of our loving Lord, Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt! Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured, There where the blood of the Lamb was spilled. Refrain: Grace, grace, God’s grace, Grace that will pardon and cleanse within; Grace, grace, God’s grace, Grace that is greater than all our sin! 2. Sin and despair, like the sea waves cold, Threaten the soul with infinite loss; Grace that is greater, yes, grace untold, Points to the refuge, the mighty cross. 3. Dark is the stain that we cannot hide; What can we do to wash it away? Look! There is flowing a crimson tide, Brighter than snow you may be today. 4. Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace, Freely bestowed on all who believe! You that are longing to see His face, Will you this moment His grace receive?

As I was thinking about the quote I am about to share from Princeton theologian, George Hunsinger, this hymn came rushing back to mind. As the hymn underscores God’s grace is that much more powerful than sin and death. What the hymn does not underscore so well, and in a way it dampens this reality, is that properly understood, grace is a person; grace is Jesus Christ come with the Holy Spirit. As Augustine has noticed, God’s love and grace are tied into the personal reality brought to bear in our lives by the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit who operated actively in the creative work of the incarnation of God in the womb of Mary, is the same Holy Spirit who personally unites us to Christ’s resurrection in whom we experience and participate in God’s life of grace for us (pro nobis). Augustine believed that Romans 5:5, one of his favorites, captured this reality best,

And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.

Something that both the hymn, and the passage from Romans presuppose upon, and rightly so, is that God’s grace is extra nos, outside of us. As such, when grace breaks into our lives it (better, He) does something radical; He disrupts our trajectory away from Him, and orients it back to Him. This disruption is so radical that language such as resurrection, reconciliation, regeneration, re-creation are all words used to capture the ineffable reality that has taken place as God’s grace disruptively breaks into the bonds of our inward curved lives (homo in se incurvatus), an recapitulates the whole creation order by retrospectively reversing His original creation and re-orders everything in such a way that creation is re-set into creation’s original purpose (telos) who is the Christ, God’s grace. George Hunsinger communicates it this way:

Grace that is not disruptive is not grace—a point that Flannery O’Connor well grasped alongside Karl Barth. Grace, strictly speaking, does not mean continuity but radical discontinuity, not reform but revolution, not violence but nonviolence, not the perfecting of virtues but the forgiveness of sins, not improvement but resurrection from the dead. It means repentance, judgment, and death as the portal to life. It means negation and the negation of the negation. The grace of God really comes to lost sinners, but in coming it disrupts them to the core. It slays to make alive and sets the captive free. Grace may of course work silently and secretly like a germinating seed as well as like a bolt from the blue. It is always wholly as incalculable as it is reliable, unmerited, and full of blessing. Yet it is necessarily as unsettling as it is comforting. It does not finally teach of its own sufficiency without appointing a thorn in the flesh. Grace is disruptive because God does not compromise with sin, nor ignore it, nor call it good. On the contrary, God removes it by submitting to the cross to show that love is stronger than death. Those whom God loves may be drawn to God through their suffering and be privileged to share in his sufferings in the world, because grace in its radical disruption surpasses all that we imagine or think.[1]

 

[1] George Hunsinger, Disruptive Grace: Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 16-17 cited by Michael Allen, Justification and the Gospel, 174 scribd version.

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In my last post I quickly and from the top sketched the problem that John Shore had in his appeal to reason as if it was a new form or mode
Aristotle Small
of revelation from God, and more importantly, about God and his ways within a God-world relation; particularly as that God-world relation applies to Christian ethics. Fortuitously I just happen to be reading theologian par excellence, John Webster’s little book Holiness; in this little book Webster is discussing, but of course: God’s holiness in its reach into various spheres within the Christian’s life. For the rest of this post I will be engaging a bit with Webster’s thinking about holiness, and in particular, and in dovetail with what I was inchoately talking about in regard to the elevation of reason by John Shore (and many others). That said, I don’t really want to get sidetracked by applying this discussion to closely to Shore, maybe only insofar as his approach serves as a contemporary and popular illustration of what Webster describes in regard to a modern understanding of reason and its elevation.

John Webster writes this of modernity’s understanding of reason:

… Modernity has characteristically regarded reason as a ‘natural’ faculty – a standard, unvarying and foundational feature of humankind, a basic human capacity or skill. As a natural faculty, reason is, crucially, not involved in the drama of God’s saving work; it is not fallen, and so requires neither to be judged nor to be reconciled nor to be sanctified. Reason simply is; it is humankind in its intellectual nature. Consequently, ‘natural’ reason has been regarded as ‘transcendent’ reason. Reason stands apart from or above all possible convictions, all particular, historical forms of life, observing them and judging them from a distance. Reason does not participate in history but makes judgments about history; it is a transcendent and sovereign intellectual legislator, and as such answerable to none but itself.

Such conceptions of reason have become so deeply embedded in modern culture and its most prestigious intellectual institutions that they are scarcely visible to us. But for the Christian confession, these conceptions are disordered. Above all, they are disordered because they extract reason and its operations from the economy of God’s dealings with his creatures. To think of reason as ‘natural’ and ‘transcendent’ in this way is, by the standard of the Christian confession, corrupt, because it isolates reason from the work of God as creator, reconciler and perfecter. Once reason is thought of as ‘natural’ rather than as ‘created’ (or, to put it differently, once the category of ‘the created’ is collapsed into that of ‘the natural’), then reason’s contingency is set aside, and its sufficiency is exalted in detachment from the divine gift of truth. Or again, when reason is expounded as a natural competency, then it is no longer understood as fallen and in need of reconciliation of God. Again, when reason is considered as a human capacity for transcendence, then reason’s continual dependence on the vivifying Spirit is laid to one side, for natural reason does not need to be made holy.

Christian theology, however, must beg to differ. It must beg to differ because the confession of the gospel by which theology governs its life requires it to say that humankind in its entirety, including reason, is enclosed within the history of sin and its overcoming by the grace of God concerns the remaking of humankind as a whole, not simply of what we identify restrictively as its ‘spiritual’ aspect. And so reason, no less than anything else, stands under the divine requirement that it be holy to the Lord its God.[1]

This could bring us into a discussion of how pure nature has functioned in Christian theology, or in secular theologies; or this could bring us into a discussion of Thomas Aquinas’ appropriation of Aristotle’s idea of an ‘active intellect’ and how that forms us as people anthropologically; we also could get into a discussion about how the Puritans, for example, spoke about such things in their appropriation of Aristotle’s tripartite faculty psychology—indeed all of these things are really correlative with and even fund, to extent, Webster’s insights on reason. But let’s not, and say we did, for time’s sake.

What is of import, at least to me, in what Webster is highlighting is how all of who human’s are needs redemption. We are noetically flawed, even in redemption we cry out to Jesus along with the man in the Gospel accounts “Lord I believe, help me in my unbelief!” It should be clear though: any appeal to human reason, any appeal to reason embedded in the image of God, as if that sanitizes reason in a way that keeps it untouched by sin is a non-starter for the Christian; as Thomas Torrance has said more than once: ‘We are sinners all the way down, so we need grace all the way down.’

[1] John Webster, Holiness, kindle loc. 122.

*Credit: Image of Aristotle taken from Matt Ryder’s collection here.

*The following is a repost, and one that I wrote quite some time ago; I doubt that hardly any of you have read it before. It is relatively short (for me), so give it a read. I am going to be writing formally for a forthcoming something on the doctrine of assurance, and I also have recently been in discussion with someone who helped trigger for me how important and liberating a genuine and radical message of grace-filled Gospel reality actually is; and how thirsty and needy we all are for this message. What I want to do is to make sure that we ground our conception of grace properly in who God is (doctrine of God), and who He is for us in Christ (Christology and a rightly articulated doctrine of election). Grace is rich and deep, it is more than a concept, it is God’s act for us, when, not only did we not deserve it, but without it we would not exist in the first place (doctrine of creation). Anyway, read the following post, it is pretty simplistic and straightforward, assertive and suggestive. I have written more cogently or theologically on the matter elsewhere (and I will be writing on this matter quite formally in the days to come).

Often when we talk and think about salvation “we” are at the center of the discussion. In other words, so many times we think about salvation as if it is all about ME. But to the contrary, this couldn’t really be further from the truth. Indeed, salvation includes humanity; but not as its center-point. You might want a little more proof than my mere assertion. Okay, here’s Paul:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32. He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? 33. Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ . . . ? ~ Romans 8:31–34a.

There is something lurking behind what is communicated here. As we read this, at face value it almost appears that “we” are the point of this passage; but I would want to counter that in fact it is Jesus who is the center-piece here. What Paul is doing is encouraging us, by an unspoken reality here, and that is that Christ is the One who has overcome condemnation; overcome by being condemned for us! The Son, the second person of the trinity, is whom salvation revolves around; it is His obedience, His sin-bearing, His resurrection that provides the framework for any discussion on salvation. He included us, by becoming “us” in the incarnation, in becoming the first fruits of His salvation.

And this is the point of “Christ-centred” salvation, it is His salvation, His plan, His gift, His triumph, His victory that we have been united to. Any time that we start thinking that salvation is mine, or that “I” am at the center of salvation; we fail to grasp the point of salvation, and that is to magnify the name of Jesus.

I hope this helps, I’m afraid this isn’t as clear as I would like . . . but it is what it is ;-) . I will be working at developing this more cogently later.

**This post was prompted by this post. It makes me sad to see folks within a “system of salvation” wherein issues of assurance are at the forefront (“because of” the methodology employed in order to articulate a “theory of salvation”). Here’s that post: The Struggle for Assurance

I wasn’t sure I really wanted to post this; not because it isn’t stupendous, but because it is rather lengthy, and I am tired. But for you my dear readers I will sacrifice some sleep, and expose you to something that ought to make your gracejesusday, or life (the reality of what is being communicated). I won’t provide any of my own commentary on this one, it speaks well enough for itself. I will say though, at the outset, that what is communicated here pretty much contradicts most conceptions of Grace that I have ever come across. Most conceptions of grace that I have come across (from a Christian perspective) speak of it as a thing and quality; something that God gives us that we don’t deserve. I suppose to an extent that part is true (i.e. the part about it being a reality we don’t deserve), but it is much more; and the round perspective of Grace, of course understands its actuality grounded personally in Jesus Christ and God’s action for us in Him by the creative and generative power of the Holy Spirit. At the end of the day—if you haven’t figured this out yet—it is either all Jesus, or it ain’t Christianity simpliciter. Here we go; Torrance lays it down here, he is flowing big time (which is why this is a little long, at least for me to transcribe … but it is worth it!).

[T]o sum up: Grace in the New Testament is the basic and the most characteristic element of the Christian Gospel. It is the breaking into the world of the ineffable love of God in a deed of absolutely decisive significance which cuts across the whole of human life and sets it on a new basis. That is actualized in the person of Jesus Christ, with which grace is inseparably associated, and supremely exhibited on the Cross by which the believer is once and for all put in the right with God. This intervention of God in the world and its sin, out of sheer love, and His personal presence to men through Jesus Christ are held together in the one thought of grace. As such grace is the all-comprehensive and constant presupposition of faith, which, while giving rise to an intensely personal life in the Spirit, necessarily assumes a charismatic and eschatological character. Under the gracious impingement of Christ through the Spirit there is a glad spontaneity about the New Testament believer. He is not really concerned to ask questions about ethical practice. He acts before questions can be asked. He is caught up in the overwhelming love of Christ, and is concerned only about doing His will. There is no anxious concern about the past. It is Christ that died! There is no anxious striving toward an ideal. It is Christ that rose again! In Him all the Christian’s hopes are centred. His life is hid with Christ in God. In Him a new order of things has come into being, by which the old is set aside. Everything therefore is seen in Christ, in the light of the end, toward which the whole creation groaneth and travaileth waiting for redemption. The great act of salvation has already taken place in Christ, and has become an eternal indicative. The other side of faith is grace, the immediate act of God in Christ, and because He is the persistent Subject of all Christian life and thought, faith stands  necessarily on the threshold of the new world, with the intense consciousness of the advent of Christ. The charismatic and the eschatological aspects of faith are really one. In Christ the Eternal God has entered into this present evil world which shall in due course pass away before the full unveiling of the glory of God. That is the reason for the double consciousness of faith in the New Testament. By the Cross the believer has been put in the right with God once for all—Christ is his righteousness. He is already in Christ what he will be—to that no striving will add one iota. But faith is conscious of the essential imminence of that day, because of the intense nearness of Christ, when it shall know even as it is known, when it shall be what it already is. And so what fills the forward view is not some ideal yet to be attained, but the Christian’s position already attained in Christ and about to be revealed. The pressure of this imminence may be so great upon the mind as to turn the thin veil of sense and time into apocalyptic imagery behind which faith sees the consummation of all things. Throughout all this the predominating thought is grace, the presence of the amazing love of God in Christ, which has unaccountably overtaken the believer and set him in a completely new world which is also the eternal Kingdom of God. [Thomas F. Torrance, The Doctrine of Grace in the Apostolic Fathers, 34-5.]

And you wonder why I read Torrance so much! Ha, I partake liberally of his writings, and the above is an example why! If this does not charge you, then you best be checking for a Christian pulse. I don’t really know what else to say, other than I have a kink in my back now from writing this out, but I think you are now blessed because of the cause of said kink (i.e. transcribing this). Why doesn’t this stuff get preached from pulpits all across the land? Oh yeah, pastors aren’t reading Torrance, and if they do they aren’t quoting him in large doses! I think I might just have to buy my own pulpit and start preaching or something; at least that’s what I feel like doing after contemplating the depths that Torrance has just helped plumb for us. If you are a pastor, I challenge you to quote some if not all of this in a future sermon; and quote it with the passion this deserves (pound the pulpit or stomp the floor a few times [if you don’t have a pulpit anymore] if you have too).

I am going to bed now; I think I will dream of grace (i.e. sweet Jesus)!

I wasn’t sure I really wanted to post this; not because it isn’t stupendous, but because it is rather lengthy, and I am tired. But for you my dear readers I will sacrifice some sleep, and expose you to something that ought to make your gracejesusday, or life (the reality of what is being communicated). I won’t provide any of my own commentary on this one, it speaks well enough for itself. I will say though, at the outset, that what is communicated here pretty much contradicts most conceptions of Grace that I have ever come across. Most conceptions of grace that I have come across (from a Christian perspective) speak of it as a thing and quality; something that God gives us that we don’t deserve. I suppose to an extent that part is true (i.e. the part about it being a reality we don’t deserve), but it is much more; and the round perspective of Grace, of course understands its actuality grounded personally in Jesus Christ and God’s action for us in Him by the creative and generative power of the Holy Spirit. At the end of the day—if you haven’t figured this out yet—it is either all Jesus, or it ain’t Christianity simpliciter. Here we go; Torrance lays it down here, he is flowing big time (which is why this is a little long, at least for me to transcribe … but it is worth it!).

[T]o sum up: Grace in the New Testament is the basic and the most characteristic element of the Christian Gospel. It is the breaking into the world of the ineffable love of God in a deed of absolutely decisive significance which cuts across the whole of human life and sets it on a new basis. That is actualized in the person of Jesus Christ, with which grace is inseparably associated, and supremely exhibited on the Cross by which the believer is once and for all put in the right with God. This intervention of God in the world and its sin, out of sheer love, and His personal presence to men through Jesus Christ are held together in the one thought of grace. As such grace is the all-comprehensive and constant presupposition of faith, which, while giving rise to an intensely personal life in the Spirit, necessarily assumes a charismatic and eschatological character. Under the gracious impingement of Christ through the Spirit there is a glad spontaneity about the New Testament believer. He is not really concerned to ask questions about ethical practice. He acts before questions can be asked. He is caught up in the overwhelming love of Christ, and is concerned only about doing His will. There is no anxious concern about the past. It is Christ that died! There is no anxious striving toward an ideal. It is Christ that rose again! In Him all the Christian’s hopes are centred. His life is hid with Christ in God. In Him a new order of things has come into being, by which the old is set aside. Everything therefore is seen in Christ, in the light of the end, toward which the whole creation groaneth and travaileth waiting for redemption. The great act of salvation has already taken place in Christ, and has become an eternal indicative. The other side of faith is grace, the immediate act of God in Christ, and because He is the persistent Subject of all Christian life and thought, faith stands  necessarily on the threshold of the new world, with the intense consciousness of the advent of Christ. The charismatic and the eschatological aspects of faith are really one. In Christ the Eternal God has entered into this present evil world which shall in due course pass away before the full unveiling of the glory of God. That is the reason for the double consciousness of faith in the New Testament. By the Cross the believer has been put in the right with God once for all—Christ is his righteousness. He is already in Christ what he will be—to that no striving will add one iota. But faith is conscious of the essential imminence of that day, because of the intense nearness of Christ, when it shall know even as it is known, when it shall be what it already is. And so what fills the forward view is not some ideal yet to be attained, but the Christian’s position already attained in Christ and about to be revealed. The pressure of this imminence may be so great upon the mind as to turn the thin veil of sense and time into apocalyptic imagery behind which faith sees the consummation of all things. Throughout all this the predominating thought is grace, the presence of the amazing love of God in Christ, which has unaccountably overtaken the believer and set him in a completely new world which is also the eternal Kingdom of God. [Thomas F. Torrance, The Doctrine of Grace in the Apostolic Fathers, 34-5.]

And you wonder why I read Torrance so much! Ha, I partake liberally of his writings, and the above is an example why! If this does not charge you, then you best be checking for a Christian pulse. I don’t really know what else to say, other than I have a kink in my back now from writing this out, but I think you are now blessed because of the cause of said kink (i.e. transcribing this). Why doesn’t this stuff get preached from pulpits all across the land? Oh yeah, pastors aren’t reading Torrance, and if they do they aren’t quoting him in large doses! I think I might just have to buy my own pulpit and start preaching or something; at least that’s what I feel like doing after contemplating the depths that Torrance has just helped plumb for us. If you are a pastor, I challenge you to quote some if not all of this in a future sermon; and quote it with the passion this deserves (pound the pulpit or stomp the floor a few times [if you don’t have a pulpit anymore] if you have too).

I am going to bed now; I think I will dream of grace (i.e. sweet Jesus)!

*repost

I have lots of people email (instead of comment) me about my various posts here at the blog. Recently I received an email from someone who wondered why I didn’t have a category (in my categories for the blog) designated as “obedience”? I haven’t emailed this person back yet, but I thought before I did that I would respond to this rather interesting observation here at the blog first (it seems fitting for me to do so).

adam-eve-garden-of-eden-1To start with, I do have a category entitled “ethics,” which deals with issues and instances of concrete instantiations of Christian obedience (or disobedience); and then I do deal with Christian obedience in many posts, but they aren’t under a specific category of “obedience,” but instead those can be found under the category of “salvation” (and then a lengthy process of weeding through this posts will ultimately yield results that show I have dealt with questions that are oriented around Christian obedience). But I would like to answer this question with more particularity, and clarity on why my blog does not emphasize this category (as important as it is!). My blog does not emphasize this category (in the way my interlocutor is wondering, I presume) because the way I think of our relation to God in Christ, has Christ in the way; and I mean in the way of you and me (logically, theo-logically). Historically, and classically, Evangelicals (given their hybrided dependence upon Reformed/Covenant theology) have emphasized relation with God through a mode of emphasizing law-keeping conditioned by forensic categories of thought (just read an Evangelical systematic theology if you don’t believe me). And insofar that I have eschewed this classical mode, I have abandoned emphasizing law-keeping (code for ‘obedience’, usually) as the emphasis by which I understood relationship with God, and how I conceive of Christian holiness (or obedience as its subsequent expression). To provide an example of where the Evangelical heritage comes from, theologically, in this regard; let me quote Kim Riddlebarger (a contemporary advocate of Covenant Theology, and member of the White Horse Inn radio broadcast, along with Michael Horton), as he sketches the original and lasting relationship and way that he (and the classically Reformed) think of how God and man (God/world) relate to each other through the Covenant of Works (or Creation):

[A]s redemptive history unfolded, the first Adam—the biological and federal representative of all humanity—failed to do as God commanded under the terms of the covenant of works. The Lord God said to Adam, “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Gen. 2:17). This covenant of works or, as some Reformed writers speak of it, the “covenant of creation” lies at the heart of redemptive history. Under its terms God demanded perfect obedience of Adam, who would either obey the terms of the covenant and receive God’s blessing—eternal life in a glorified Eden—or fail to keep the covenant and bring its sanctions down upon himself and all humanity. Adam’s willful act of rebellion did, in fact, bring the curse of death on the entire human race. This covenant of works is never subsequently abrogated in the Scriptures, a point empirically verified when ever death strikes. This covenant also undergirds the biblical teaching that for any of Adam’s fall children to be saved, someone must fulfill all the terms of the covenant without a single infraction in thought, word, or deed (Matt. 5:48; 1 Peter 1:16). [Kim Riddlebarger, A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding The End Times, 47.]

Much could be said in critique of this conception of things (and I have already said much, just check my category “critiquing classical Calvinism”), but in order to not get side-tracked from the point of this post, let me stay particular to my intention. In predictable form (since Covenant theology has Creation preceding Covenant), Riddlebarger allows Creation to condition Covenant instead of seeing Covenant (God’s life of gracious love) conditioning Creation (one serious fall out of this theological ordering is that Jesus becomes conditioned by creation instead of conditioning creation himself as homoousion—I digress!). In other words, when Reformed thinkers like Riddlebarger, and his whole tradition, start theologizing and biblical exegeting they start where Riddlerbarger starts, with Law (or the Covenant of Works/Creation). And yet, as Ray Anderson has highlighted (along with others), what should be understood (first), is that God spoke and created (which is an act of grace as corollary with His overflowing life of Triune love). So what grounds any relation with God, first, is not Law-keeping, but the fact that God spoke (which is grace)! This might seem to be a subtle shift, but it is profound!

Following this shift of emphasis, what becomes primary is not my personal obedience (and Law-keeping), but God’s in Christ for us. As Thomas Torrance has written (as I just quoted this in a post below this one),

[…] Under the gracious impingement of Christ through the Spirit there is a glad spontaneity about the New Testament believer. He is not really concerned to ask questions about ethical practice. He acts before questions can be asked. He is caught up in the overwhelming love of Christ, and is concerned only about doing His will. There is no anxious concern about the past. It is Christ that died! There is no anxious striving toward an ideal. It is Christ that rose again! In Him all the Christian’s hopes are centred. His life is hid with Christ in God. In Him a new order of things has come into being, by which the old is set aside. Everything therefore is seen in Christ, in the light of the end, toward which the whole creation groaneth and travaileth waiting for redemption. The great act of salvation has already taken place in Christ, and has become an eternal indicative. [see full text here].

This does not mean that personal obedience is not important, but it frames it in a way that allows me to keep my eye on Christ instead of first looking at myself (and then reflexively looking at Christ: i.e. reflexive faith], as if I, myself, can somehow be abstracted out of the only true humanity which is Christ’s. So I “seek first His kingdom and righteousness, then all these other things will be added unto me” (and I only seek first, because He first loved (and sought) first that I might love Him, through Him by the Spirit). My relationship with God is not dependent upon my obedience, but Christ’s obedience for me (us); and so this ought to go along ways in illustrating why I don’t have a separate category (apart from Christology) for obedience in my sidebar. Thomas Torrance in his (posthumously published) book Atonement: The Person and Work of Christ really captures the import of this shift and way of framing things from God’s gracious Self directed life for us in contrast to the Legalistic emphasis that the classical Covenant of Works flows from:

(iii) The holiness of the church is its participation through the Spirit in Christ’s holiness

 This holiness is actualised in the church through the communion of the Holy Spirit. He only is the Spirit of holiness, he only the Spirit of truth; and therefore it is only through his presence and power in the church that it partakes of the holiness of Jesus Christ. Since the holiness of the church is its participation through the Spirit in Christ’s act of self-consecration for the church, then that is the only holiness, the only hallowing of the church there is. That is the holiness which was actualised in the church when it was baptised with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and the union of the church with Christ was fulfilled from the side of the church as well as from the side of Christ.

The church is not holy because its members are holy or live virtuous lives, but because through his presence in the Holy Spirit Christ continues to hallow himself in the midst of the church, hallowing the church as his body and the body as his church. Thus the true holiness of the members is not different from this but a participation in it, a participation in the holiness of Christ the head of the church and in the holiness of the church as the body hallowed by Christ. Participation in this holiness however involves for the members of the church a life of holiness, just as it involves a life in Christ, of faith relying upon his faithfulness, of love that lives from the overflow his love, of truth that comes from the leading of the Spirit. Because the church is the body of Christ in which he dwells, the temple of the Holy Spirit in which God is present, its members live the very life of Christ through the Holy Spirit, partaking of and living out the holy life of God. Therefore personal holiness, and all the qualities of the divine life and love found in their lives, are the fruits of the Holy Spirit. [Thomas F. Torrance, Atonement, edited by Robert Walker, 386-87.]

There is a lot to comment on here as well, but I must limit myself. I will just say that it is this reversal of things (i.e. placing the Covenant of Grace [God’s life Pre-destined]) from Law to Grace that explains why I don’t have a category explicitly labeled “obedience”. It isn’t because I don’t think Christian obedience is important, it is because I think the gr0und of this emphasis is roundly rooted in Jesus Christ for us (and thus I have a category for Christology instead). It isn’t that I don’t think personal obedience or holiness are important, I do! Instead, it is because I am persuaded that focusing on Christ and God’s Triune life of gracious love, and participating in that from the Spirit’s unioning activity will produce obedience and the life of Christ through the members of our bodies as they are constantly given over to the death of Christ that His life might be made manifest through the mortal members of our body. We obey, only because Jesus obeyed for us first. We don’t obey to ensure that we are one of the elect that God purchased from the mass of “perdituous” humanity; we obey because God loved us first that we might love Him back through the mediating and priestly Spirit anointed humanity of Jesus Christ. It is only through this framing of things that I feel I can live out this exhortation from St. Paul:

 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. ~Galatians 5:1

Without the freedom of God for us in Christ I live under a burdenouss yoke that really ends up being hell; which, I am pretty sure this is what Jesus came to save us from (ourselves), and for Himself (and His shared life in the Monarchia or God-head). So obey, but only from Christ by the Spirit, not for Christ so you can find God’s approval.

I wasn’t sure I really wanted to post this; not because it isn’t stupendous, but because it is rather lengthy, and I am tired. But for you my dear readers I will sacrifice some sleep, and expose you to something that ought to make your day, or life (the reality of what is being communicated). I won’t provide any of my own commentary on this one, it speaks well enough for itself. I will say though, at the outset, that what is communicated here pretty much contradicts most conceptions of Grace that I have ever come across. Most conceptions of grace that I have come across (from a Christian perspective) speak of it as a thing and quality; something that God gives us that we don’t deserve. I suppose to an extent that part is true (i.e. the part about it being a reality we don’t deserve), but it is much more; and the round perspective of Grace, of course understands its actuality grounded personally in Jesus Christ and God’s action for us in Him by the creative and generative power of the Holy Spirit. At the end of the day—if you haven’t figured this out yet—it is either all Jesus, or it ain’t Christianity simpliciter. Here we go; Torrance lays it down here, he is flowing big time (which is why this is a little long, at least for me to transcribe … but it is worth it!).

[T]o sum up: Grace in the New Testament is the basic and the most characteristic element of the Christian Gospel. It is the breaking into the world of the ineffable love of God in a deed of absolutely decisive significance which cuts across the whole of human life and sets it on a new basis. That is actualized in the person of Jesus Christ, with which grace is inseparably associated, and supremely exhibited on the Cross by which the believer is once and for all put in the right with God. This intervention of God in the world and its sin, out of sheer love, and His personal presence to men through Jesus Christ are held together in the one thought of grace. As such grace is the all-comprehensive and constant presupposition of faith, which, while giving rise to an intensely personal life in the Spirit, necessarily assumes a charismatic and eschatological character. Under the gracious impingement of Christ through the Spirit there is a glad spontaneity about the New Testament believer. He is not really concerned to ask questions about ethical practice. He acts before questions can be asked. He is caught up in the overwhelming love of Christ, and is concerned only about doing His will. There is no anxious concern about the past. It is Christ that died! There is no anxious striving toward an ideal. It is Christ that rose again! In Him all the Christian’s hopes are centred. His life is hid with Christ in God. In Him a new order of things has come into being, by which the old is set aside. Everything therefore is seen in Christ, in the light of the end, toward which the whole creation groaneth and travaileth waiting for redemption. The great act of salvation has already taken place in Christ, and has become an eternal indicative. The other side of faith is grace, the immediate act of God in Christ, and because He is the persistent Subject of all Christian life and thought, faith stands  necessarily on the threshold of the new world, with the intense consciousness of the advent of Christ. The charismatic and the eschatological aspects of faith are really one. In Christ the Eternal God has entered into this present evil world which shall in due course pass away before the full unveiling of the glory of God. That is the reason for the double consciousness of faith in the New Testament. By the Cross the believer has been put in the right with God once for all—Christ is his righteousness. He is already in Christ what he will be—to that no striving will add one iota. But faith is conscious of the essential imminence of that day, because of the intense nearness of Christ, when it shall know even as it is known, when it shall be what it already is. And so what fills the forward view is not some ideal yet to be attained, but the Christian’s position already attained in Christ and about to be revealed. The pressure of this imminence may be so great upon the mind as to turn the thin veil of sense and time into apocalyptic imagery behind which faith sees the consummation of all things. Throughout all this the predominating thought is grace, the presence of the amazing love of God in Christ, which has unaccountably overtaken the believer and set him in a completely new world which is also the eternal Kingdom of God. [Thomas F. Torrance, The Doctrine of Grace in the Apostolic Fathers, 34-5.]

And you wonder why I read Torrance so much! Ha, I partake liberally of his writings, and the above is an example why! If this does not charge you, then you best be checking for a Christian pulse. I don’t really know what else to say, other than I have a kink in my back now from writing this out, but I think you are now blessed because of the cause of said kink (i.e. transcribing this). Why doesn’t this stuff get preached from pulpits all across the land? Oh yeah, pastors aren’t reading Torrance, and if they do they aren’t quoting him in large doses! I think I might just have to buy my own pulpit and start preaching or something; at least that’s what I feel like doing after contemplating the depths that Torrance has just helped plumb for us. If you are a pastor, I challenge you to quote some if not all of this in a future sermon; and quote it with the passion this deserves (pound the pulpit or stomp the floor a few times [if you don’t have a pulpit anymore] if you have too).

I am going to bed now; I think I will dream of grace (i.e. sweet Jesus)!

Is grace simply an attribute that can be abstracted from its source, and thus paulgracebecome a quality that we can manipulate or manage under our own resources? Or is grace only really conceivable as an activity rooted and personified in the life of God in Christ for us?

I have grown up, as maybe you have, in a Reformed/Arminian-shaped Thomism that thinks of grace as a quality, a thing, depersonalised stuff that has been dropped into my humanity just waiting to be activated and worked out in my life as an elect Christian person. And through habitually activating the power of this created grace in my life, I can reach beatific vision and acquire eternal life (or so the tale goes).

To be honest as I write this, I am actually wondering if people even think like this anymore? I am wondering if the Evangelical life has enough pause in it to even reflect on such things? Does it really matter to anyone anymore whether or not grace is a quality, a thing versus being a person whose name is Jesus? I’ll just assume this still does matter, and offer what a young Thomas Torrance thought of this as he wrote his PhD dissertation on The Apostolic Doctrine of Grace in the Apostolic Fathers. He wrote:

[I]n the New Testament charis (χáρις) becomes a terminus technicus. While other meanings are still current, there is a special Christian sense of the word coined under the impact of Revelation to convey something quite unique. No doubt existing ideas are caught up within the word, such as kindness, gift, etc., but charis is such a new word (in fact a καινη κτíσις) that it cannot be interpreted in terms of antecedent roots or ideas. Rather it is to be understood in the light of a singular event which completely alters the life of man in basis and outlook: the Incarnation. God has personally intervened in human history in such a way that the ground of man’s approach to God, and of all his relations with God, is not to be found in man’s fulfilment of the divine command, but in a final act of self-commitment on the part of God in which He has given Himself to man through sheer love and in such a fashion that it cuts clean across all questions of human merit and demerit. All this has been objectively actualised in Jesus Christ, so that Christ Himself is the objective ground and content of charis in every instance of its special Christian use. Typical passages are [Torrance here offers these passages in the NT Greek, I will offer the NIV translation of these in its place]:

Romans 5.15: 15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!

Romans 5.21: 21 so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

I Corinthians 1.4: I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.

2 Timothy 2.1: You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.

Romans 16.20: 20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.

Thus in its special New Testament sense charis refers to the being and action of God as revealed and actualised in Jesus Christ, for He is in His person and work the self-giving of God to men. Later theology thought of charis as a divine attribute, but it would be truer to the New Testament to speak of it less abstractly as the divine love in redemptive action. Grace is in fact identical with Jesus Christ in person and word and deed. Here the Greek word charis seems to pass from the aspect of disposition or goodwill which bestows blessing to the action itself and to the actual gift, but in the New Testament neither the action nor the gift is separable from the person of the giver, God in Christ. Even apart from the other characteristics of the word in the New Testament, this basic fact means that the Christian charis completely outdistances its etymological roots. There is doubtless a linguistic but no theological point of contact with charis in classical and hellenistic Greek. [Thomas F. Torrance, The Doctrine of Grace in the Apostolic Fathers, 20-1.]

In typical Torrance form, he argues from his methodological commitment that genuinely Christian thought was/is so apocalyptic and ground breaking in mode that it breaks in on (Greek in this instance) concepts in such a way that the word, ‘grace’, is taken from its original contextual usage, pretexted and retexted in a newly given (i.e. Revealed) conceptual universe of Christian jive. In other words, there is no lexical analogy in the Classical or Koine period of Greek that can be appealed to in order to unpack the theological and conceptual force that charis takes on as it is commandeered by the in-breaking Self-revelation of God in Jesus Christ. So we look to Jesus as the key for understanding its Christian (versus Greek) meaning.

The impact of thinking of grace in this way is that it is not viewed from a starting point found in humanity by itself; instead God’s freely Self-determined life is allowed to shape how we ought to understand grace. Not as a thing that we can control, but as a person who stoops down in accommodating love and gives his very life (Godself) for ours (which is what original creation itself comes from). This presupposes a conception of grace that by way of theological order (and just chronology for that matter) places God prior to us, and grace/covenant prior to creation (instead of vice versa). If we place creation (and thus Law) prior to grace/covenant (God’s life), then God’s free life of love shaped sovereignty is placed at our self-determined whim, and he becomes a thing who we can manipulate by our self-conceived form as a ‘pure-humanity’ of sorts (i.e. a humanity that is not logically conditioned by its necessary relation to the image that it bears/mirrors in Jesus Christ Col. 1.15ff).

The liberating thing about conceiving of grace as someOne who is outside of us (extra nos), and non-contingent upon us (and our appropriation of Him) is that the burden of salvation is lifted from our shoulders and placed on the shoulders of His Self governing life. We are free to look away from ourselves, and our works/peformance; and thus opened up to peer, as it were, into the holy of holies of God’s life. Thus through this gracious Spirit created unioning of divinity with humanity (ours) in Christ’s we are free to participate in God’s life, and thus be poured out as drink offerings on the sacrifice and faith of others. If we think of grace as a quality (the classical view), or attribute, we are again brought under the bondage of performing (through the enablement of “grace”) our salvation, and persevering in our good works.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. ~Galatians 5:1 (NIV)

Let’s talk about love. Not just any love, but true love; the kind of love that shapes who the Christian God is, my God (and your God if you’re in Christ). There are all kinds of popular and sentimental parodies of love at work in our world today; mostly lust is mistaken for love in our day and age. There is also a more developed conception of love amongst people in the world that believes that there is some sort of creaturely independence about love that is shared between two people (like in a marriage or boyfriend/girlfriend relationship). Indeed, there is this kind of bond, and a created one, that ought to inhere between a man and a woman (by way of God’s good creation and recreation, in Christ). But is it enough to say ‘I do’ to another, if the ground of that ‘I do’ is not intentionally and consciously centered in the love of Christ as the Son of the Father in and through the communion of the Spirit?

The divorce rate in America (and the world, but I will focus on America since I am an American) does not suggest that a kind of independent creaturely love (and I mean one that is not shaped in the ‘bosom’ of the Father of the Son) has any kind of committal force or dynamis to it. Instead the statistics on marriage in America suggest that a love without the cross of Christ and cruciform shape (which is the kind of sacrificial other focused love that shapes God’s intra-Trinitarian life love) has no staying power. At bottom this kind of love, devoid of the Spirit as it is, can only and always seek it’s own good; it cannot, definitionally, seek anything else because it loves the darkness rather than the light (according to John 3:16ff).

So I will simply make the assertion and thesis statement: That there is no true ontology or conception of love apart from its ground in the Triune life of God in Christ. Further, that human love has no purpose (or telos) if it is un-tethered from the life of God through the Spirit anointed mediating gracious humanity of Jesus Christ. The conclusion, then, is that human love as an end in itself has nowhere to finally look but back at self (homo in se incurvatus); because human love was always already intended to find its verve and slide in and through Christ’s Spirit empowered love of the Father.

Thomas Torrance provides a helpful description of what God’s Triune love is; he writes:

The fact that, as St John tells us, God is Love, who has manifested his love to us in sending his only Son into the world so that we might live through him, does not meant that God is Love in virtue of his love for us, but that God is in himself the fullness and perfection of Love in loving and being loved which out of sheer love overflows freely toward others. It means that the Love that God is, is not that of solitary inactive or static love, whatever that may be, but the active movement of reciprocal loving within the eternal Being of God which the one ultimate Source of all love. That God is Love means that he is the eternally loving One in himself who loves through himself, whose Love moves unceasingly within his eternal Life as God, so that in loving us in the gift of his dear Son and the mission of his Spirit he loves us with the very Love which he is. In other words, that God is Love as this loving One in Christ and in the Spirit, means that in their interpersonal reciprocal relations the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are the Communion of Love which the One God eternally is in himself, and indeed is also toward us. It is as this ever living and acting Communion of loving and being loved that God is who he is, the perfection and fullness of Love that will not be confined with the Godhead but freely and lovingly moves outward toward others whom God creates for fellowship with himself so that they may share with him the very Communion of Love which is his own divine Life and Being. [Thomas F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being Three Persons, 5-6]

As Torrance highlights, and in agreement with what I have been sketching previously, God’s Triune life is the only category of love available. We have been created and recreated in Christ to participate in God’s life of Triune life of love which as revealed in Christ is cruciform in shape. If we are not actively participating in this life of love, we cannot anonymously claim to be actually loving. A relationship without being grounded in participation in God’s life through Christ will only spin hopelessly and endlessly back to self. It won’t find its true orientation, as Augustine noted when he wrote: “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.” Hearts that are seeking union and communion, one with the other; hearts that are not the new ‘fleshy’ hearts (II Cor. 3) that we have in and through the heart of Christ cannot find rest and true union, but only disarray and destruction (ultimately).

God is Love. Amen.

This is a rererepost. This post seems to get hits on an ongoing basis more than any other post I think that I have ever posted. I think I originally wrote this post probably 5 years ago. I might tweak the way I said some things, but all-in-all I still stand by what I originally communicated in this post. It is reassuring to me to know that God’s faithfulness in Christ is the objective and subjective ground upon which I stand in relation to him. I stand on and in the solid rock of Jesus’ mediating gracious humanity as the anchor of my soul. There is nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus; because if God be for us, in Christ, and he does not condemn us, then who can be against us?

I am quite certain that there are many people in the church today, because of bad teaching and theology, who struggle with issues surrounding assurance of salvation. In fact this is not a new phenomenon, but is as ancient as the rambunctious Apostle, Peter. Remember the emphasis of the “Last Supper,” and Jesus’ prediction that one of His disciples would deny any relationship to, or knowledge of Himself. And we all know what happened, Peter most certainly denied any knowledge of or relationship with Jesus (see Mk. 14:66-72, amongst the other synoptics and the Gospel of John); and of course his response was one of sheer horror, and remorse. I think at that moment, and the immediate time following this incident, Peter was most unassured that he would have any further part in the “Kingdom of God.”

But you see, his relationship with Jesus was not dependent on his faithfulness to any kind of commitment or “covenant” that he may have made with God, and His Son; oh no, rather the relationship was completely dependent on Yahweh’s covenant faithfulness to His people (in fact all of humanity, objectively speaking). Let’s go back to the Old Testament for a moment to further substantiate Yahweh’s faithfulness, indeed Jesus’ faithfulness to humanity. In fact there are so many examples of this throughout the Old Testament, that we have our pick, so to speak; lets quickly look at Ezekiel 36 verses 22-32 (click on citation for full text). Here we come across Yahweh speaking to Israel, and coming to them in a time of great, great, sustained unfaithfulness, on their part. He admonishes them, and makes clear His intention to bring judgment on them (per the Levitic curses, Lev. 26; Deut. 28–30); but, and this is the hopeful part, He shows Himself faithful to them, inspite of their unfaithfulness to Him. In fact He promises to bless them beyond belief, at His initiation, and because of who He is, in Himself, inspite of their own unbelief and outright disobedience. Let’s just get a sampling of Yahweh’s staggering, and gracious nature towards an unbelieving people:

Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord God, ‘It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you went. 23. I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst. The then nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord God, when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight. 24. For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land. 25. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. 26. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. . . . (Ez. 36:22-26ff)

Notice the “I–you” pattern, in the section above; this pattern continues on through verse 32 of this chapter another seven times. This is an important pattern, and is used for emphasis in this passage. It is a movement, a unilateral one, where Yahweh is seen to be the One who is always faithful, and does everything because of His love (which we know defines His nature as Father loving Son, Son loving Father, and Holy Spirit loving both bringing communion amongst the three); which we creatures partake of as He showers us with His surplus and super-abundance. So then, when we come to Peter and Jesus we should not be surprised that Jesus responds just as graciously to a fearful Peter, cowering in remorse and sheer angst of soul. Notice the response, and special notice paid to Peter in Mark 16:7 (this is the angel’s message, just after Jesus has resurrected):

. . . But go, tell His disciples and Peter, He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He told you. . . .

And Paul in his first epistle Corinthians also makes this special distinction of Peter:

. . . and that He appeared to Cephas [Peter], then to the twelve. 6. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; . . . (I Cor. 15:5, 6)

The point to take away from this, is that even though Peter denied Him, Jesus remained faithful in His love for Peter. This is illustrated by the pin-pointed pursuit by God to single out a desperate despairing Peter. The LORD pursues us, and He keeps us as His, no matter what. This relationship between Peter and Jesus was presupposed by who Jesus was (in relationship to the Father and Holy Spirit), and is for us; instead of who Peter (and we are) was and is for Jesus.

What this incident further illustrates is that “assurance of salvation” is not even a scriptural category. In other words, we don’t see this ever communicated as a viable situation in the scriptures. The scriptures presuppose Yahweh’s faithfulness, as well as humanity’s unfaithfulness; which is the point of the cross. It is the cross that reverses the curse and the subsequent doom and gloom of humanity’s fallen situation. Our response to the Father, is firmly located in Jesus’ response to the Father on the cross, “. . . Father into thy hands I commit my spirit. . . .” It is not until much later, within church history that “assurance of salvation” becomes a doctrinal “pastoral” category. The next post will further touch on the system of theology (esp. as developed in English Puritanism) that brought us this deplorable teaching on “assurance.”

Stand firm today in the confidence that it is not our faithfulness, but His faithfulness, and LIFE, that is the source of our confidence and hope!

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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