If Christ Believes For Us, Then What Place is There For Us; How are Humans Responsible in Salvation?

This one dovetails with the last post, and the one prior to that. It has to do with human agency in salvation. The fear of those who encounter Barth’s, Torrance’s, or even if I can be so bold, the evangelical Calvinist’s theologies is that everything gets swallowed up by Jesus Christ. Now excuse me if you think I’m a bit audacious, but I’m not totally sure how that’d be wrong; I digress. What we will look cropped-patristicjesus.jpgat in this post is how in light of the vicarious humanity of Christ—which implies that even in salvation he has faith for us—how, particularly with focus on Barth’s theology, humans (us) after Christ’s humanity for us (pro nobis) maintain integrity and active agency ourselves within the frame of salvation.

Problem Presented

To drive home the radical nature of what we mean as evangelical Calvinists in regard to the vicarious humanity and thus the vicarious faith of Christ for us, let me refer to Jason Goroncy and his chapter in our edited volume Evangelical Calvinism (2012); his chapter is entitled “Tha mi a’ toirt fainear dur gearan:” J. McLeod Campbell and P.T. Forsyth on the Extent of Christ’s Vicarious Ministry. Here Goroncy is describing the way J. McLeod Campbell (1800–1872), Scottish theologian, thinks salvation from the humanward side; albeit the humanity of Jesus Christ (at length):

While Western orthodoxy has mostly stressed the Godward side of the atonement, Campbell laid the weight on the creaturely side, following Anselm: “None therefore but God can make this reparation . . . Yet, none should make it save a man, otherwise man does not make amends.” Campbell recognized that an adequate repentance by those disabled by sin, while required, was morally impossible, and therefore if such were to be offered it would have to be by God, albeit from our side—that is, God in fallen flesh. This is because, Campbell argued, genuine repentance involves seeing the sin (and sinners) “with God’s eyes,”11 viewing broken humanity from within, feeling the deep sorrow  that sin creates and confessing the righteousness of God’s judgment upon it. As R. C. Moberly recalls, sin “has blunted the self’s capacity for entire hatred of sin, and has blunted it once for all.” Only one, therefore, who could see things as they really are could make an adequate confession both of God’s righteousness and of human sin. Such confession is not made in order to avoid sin’s consequences but precisely that sin’s consequences may be embraced in all their dreadfulness, “meeting the cry of these sins for judgment, and the wrath due to them, absorbing and exhausting that divine wrath in that adequate confession and perfect response on the part of man.”

Genuine repentance and confession for “The sin of His brethren” would have to come from one who, as it were, stood on God’s side in the human dock.14 What was impossible for sinners was possible for this man who in the fullness of the hypostatic union penetrated into the depths of our humanity to see sin as God sees it, and to condemn sin as God condemns it, and yet do so from our side and as our head. That is, in “The High Priest of redeemed humanity” such confession and condemnation of sin happened not only with “great sorrow” but from the side of sin. So Campbell: “This confession as to its nature, must have been a perfect Amen in humanity to the judgment of God on the side of man. Such an Amen was due in the truth of things. He who was the Truth could not be in humanity and not utter it—and it was necessarily a first step in dealing with the Father on our behalf. He who would intercede for us must begin with confessing our sins.”

Christ’s “perfect Amen in humanity to the judgment of God” has value for humanity insofar as Christ, ‘spiritually speaking . . . is the human race, made sin for the race, and acting for it in a way so inclusively total, that all mortal confessions, repentances, sorrows, are fitly acted by him in our behalf. His divine Sonship in our humanity is charged in the offering thus to God of all which the guilty world itself should offer,” as Horace Bushnell notes. In offering that perfect response from the depths of humanity Christ “absorbs” the full realization of God’s judgment against sin. Standing as God, Christ knows “a perfect sorrow” regarding sin. And, standing with no “personal consciousness of sin” but fully clad in fallen flesh, Christ is able to offer “a perfect repentance” that is required from humanity’s side offering that perfect “Amen” to God’s mind concerning sin. With this response—even in the midst of Calvary’s darkness—God re-speaks those words first heard over Jordan’s waters: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” And in response, humanity cries out “Our Father, hallowed be thy name.”

But to stop here is to misrepresent Campbell’s position. His notion of Christ’s representative repentance must be conceived as that to be exercised with the full weight of the prospective goal of Christ’s atonement—that those for whom he died might be enabled by the Spirit to participate in the confession and repentance of their elder brother, his repentance being “reproduced” in them.[1]

In Campbell’s theology, as developed by Goroncy, Christ stands in our stead ontically. It is the eternal Logos robed in the dregs of humanity, according to Campbell, wherein the full weight of sin can truly be addressed; as such genuine reconciliation between God and humanity is wrought. There are lots of interesting elements that can be developed from this line—and Jason does that throughout the rest of his excellent chapter—but what I am pressing in this post is the vicarious aspect of it all. For evangelical Calvinists, for Barth, for Torrance Jesus in his humanity, as the God-man, does for us what we could never do for ourselves, left to ourselves.

But to the critics, like Kevin Vanhoozer, Kevin Chiarot et al., this poses an abiding problem. They fear, as I mentioned earlier, that if Christ does all of this for humanity, then there remains no place for human agency and responsibility before God; i.e. humanity is so metaphysicalized, within this particular fear, that these critics believe this schemata to be un-biblical—thus un-orthodox.

Answer Provided

Since evangelical Calvinism is a resourceful endeavor, instead of pushing further into Campbell, we will appeal to Karl Barth’s theology—someone else for whom the vicarious humanity/faith of Christ is pivotal—and we will do so through one of his commentators, Robert Dale Dawson. In Dawson’s development of Barth’s theology, particularly with reference to Barth’s doctrine of resurrection, the problem that the critics fear is addressed—at least I think it is. Here Dawson reflects on the cross and resurrection, and how that reality realized in Christ is transitioned to the rest of humanity:

It is perhaps for this reason that Barth’s development of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and of his prophetic office have such great similarity, for both have to do with that further ontological transformation – which appears to follow sequentially the justification and sanctification of human being in Jesus Christ – established and revealed in the resurrection, in which human beings are granted ne life, that is, new space and time, in which to offer genuinely free and independent, and therefore appropriate, subjective response to the objective accomplishment of reconciliation in Jesus Christ, and at the same time to serve as true partners with God in the fulfilling of this reconciliation. The teleological determination of reconciled being and action must be taken then as a new aspect of the being of Christ conferred by the Father in the resurrection.

What, one may ask, does this have to do with the turn of the Crucified to others? How does this teleological dimension of our reconciled being and action revealed in the resurrection answer the question of the genuineness of the subjective human response extra Christum to the objective achievement of reconciliation intra Christum? Our answer must be that it is precisely in address of this question that Barth develops the material as he does. Barth underscores the fact that the Father acts upon the Son in the resurrection and in this makes his declaration to the world. Hence, only in the Son is there the reality and the promise of the resurrection of the dead for all other men and women. Therefore, the transition from the objective accomplishment of reconciliation to its subjective appropriation is focused christologically in the particular act of the Father upon the Son. In addition the specific shape of this transition takes the form of declaration, and as declaration, takes also the form of promise, for the declaration itself is a declaration of what is real and true in Jesus Christ but which has still to be experienced as real and true in the as yet ‘unevangelized’ anthropological world. According to Barth, this inalienable aspect of our reconciled being, this teleological determination, this ‘being in a co-operation of service with God’ is an aspect of our reconciled being which we lay hold of in hope. That is to say, our new being is a coming being. It will be ‘ a being by the side of God, the participation of man in the being and life of God, a willing of what He wills and a doing of what He does. It will be a being not only as object, but as an active subject in the fellowship of God with the created world and man. Thus, it is in the teleological dimension of our reconciled being, conferred and revealed in the resurrection, that time and space is created for free and independent human response to the objective accomplishment of reconciliation in Christ.[2]

Lots going on here, but for our purposes we will simply underscore the context of new creation. This is the key to Barth’s theology, i.e. understanding that all of contingent reality is because of God’s grace; and God’s grace is his very own inner-Triune-life. There is no independent nature in Barth’s theology; again, it is all grace. As such, in the resurrection, as the first stage of parousia (or presence) in the new creation (the germ, as it were), all things have been re-created; it is this context from whence humanity lives, grounded and concentrated as it is in the vicarious humanity of Christ. In other words, humanity, even in the original creation, for Barth, was an ec-static reality; it was never something that human’s possessed of themselves, it was always something that was constitutionally given to them in the elect humanity of Jesus Christ (Deus incarnandus ‘God to be incarnate’). Same in the re-creation/resurrection; what it means to be human is given to humanity from the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ (as we noted in the last post it is transitioned from Christ’s humanity to ours by the Holy Spirit). The humanity and context we live in now, all of creation, is from the new-creation in Christ; what needs to be done has already been accomplished. Creation has been re-created, and the conditions of the Fall, both noetically and ontically have been irrupted anew in the humanity of Christ; as such all of creation is impacted (Romans 8)—just because we can’t see it yet doesn’t mean it isn’t so (II Cor. 5.7 ‘we walk by faith not sight’).

To be human, for the evangelical Calvinist, for Barth, for Torrance is to be fully free for God; this is what was always intended (protologically), and what is and will be (eschatologically). I personally think this fits much better with the creational and global trajectory of the Apostle Paul’s theology, as well as the theology in the whole of the Apostolic Deposit (i.e. the New Testament).

P.S. So you ask: “why don’t all believe then?” As soon as you can explain to me why humans fell to begin with (without appealing to some sort of speculative theology, or decrees of God), then I’ll answer your question.


[1] Jason Goroncy, “Tha mi a’ toirt fainear dur gearan:” J. McLeod Campbell and P.T. Forsyth on the Extent of Christ’s Vicarious Ministry,” in eds. Myk Habets and Bobby Grow, Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2012), 255-57.

[2] Robert Dale Dawson, The Resurrection in Karl Barth (Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2007), 184-85.


Jason Goroncy on the ‘Vicarious Humanity of Christ’ and its Role as Centrum for evangelical Calvinism

As time permits I am going to try and post from our (Myk Habets’ and my) edited book, Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing Continuing the Reformation of the Church. I am going to kick this off by referencing one of our excellent PICKWICK_Templateauthors (they all are!), Jason Goroncy, and his chapter 10 entitled: “Tha mi a’ toirt fainear dur gearan” (Galeic: “I note your objection”): J. McLeod Campbell and P. T. Forsyth on the Extent of Christ’s Vicarious Ministry. Jason offers a sweet development of how ‘vicariousness’ functions in the theology of evangelical Calvinism, and how there is even disagreement among its own adherents, as to the details; but also how there is over all principled agreement as to the role this doctrine plays within the broader schema of evangelical Calvinism. The following quote from Jason represents his first two opening paragraphs to his essay, and my intent in quoting this is to introduce you to what is at stake in regard to the variance represented between classical Calvinism (or Federal theology), and evangelical Calvinists (or Scottish theology). Here is what Jason writes:

The notion that in the gracious act of election God enters into the very conflict that has erupted between God’s own covenant faithfulness and the unfaithfulness of humanity as God’s covenant partner (and there in full solidarity with humanity—standing with and among sinners—has borne human infidelity and recalcitrance to its deathly end in order to heal and restore humanity to participation through the koinonia of the Spirit in the eternal and triune life and love) lies at the very heart of the recovery of that stream of Reformed thought identified as “Evangelical Calvinism,” and which has been most clearly articulated in recent decades in the work of T. F. Torrance and J. B. Torrance. With seemingly tireless energy, these two brothers (and many of their students) maintained the view that a bifurcation of streams emerged early on in Reformed thought, one which ran from John Calvin through John Knox, James Fraser of Brae, Robert Leighton, and the Marrow men, and found fresh articulation in the nineteenth century in a parish minister of the Kirk in Row on the Gareloch in Dunbartonshire; namely, John McLeod Campbell. This stream, in Torrance parlance, represents, “Evangelical Calvinism.” The other stream, associated with names such as Theodore Beza, William Perkins, John Owen, Thomas Watson, George and Patrick Gillespie, and Samuel Rutherford, among others, represents, in Torrance parlance, “Federal Calvinism.”

At the heart of so-called “Evangelical Calvinism” lies belief in the vicarious nature of Jesus Christ’s ministry, i.e., that “Christ was anointed by the Spirit in our humanity to fulfil his ministry for us,” or “on our behalf.” Among those who wish to highlight the ministry secured in and by Christ’s vicarious humanity, however, there remains some debate over the extent to which Jesus’ work “on our behalf” reaches, and the implications of such for human participation in that work by the Spirit. This essay shall attend to this debate, and will do so by bringing John McLeod Campbell into conversation with a compatriot of his—albeit of a later generation—the Aberdeenshire-born Congregationalist minister, Peter Taylor Forsyth. – Jason Goroncy, “Tha mi a’ toirt fainear dur gearan,” J. McLeod Campbell and P. T. Forsyth on the Extent of Christ’s Vicarious Ministry,” in Evangelical Calvinism. Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church, ed. Myk Habets and Bobby Grow (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2012), 253-54.

Jason goes on and develops this kind of internal struggle relative to the extent of the vicarious humanity of Christ and its function in faith and repentance in an individual’s life toward appropriating and living out the Christian life.

I hope in the days to come, to be able to spend more time with this theme of vicariousness, and get further into Goroncy’s offering. A few things that are notable, even in these opening paragraphs from Jason are this:

  1. That the vicarious humanity of Christ functions as a central theme for Evangelical Calvinists. And it does so, because Evangelical Calvinists see this, and sees Jesus as both the form and material reality of the Gospel itself; and thus this up-points the personalist reality with which we see the Gospel centered in the personal and dynamic life of God who is Triune love and gracious act towards us.
  2. What Goroncy’s indexing illustrates is that there is an obvious and discernable distinction between the stream and mood of Calvinist thought that we are identifying and highlighting V. its alternative and more well known and popular cousin, classical Calvinism[1] or Federal (Covenantal Theology). And this disparity between the two is able to be identified not just with abstract ideas, but with actual people with names in places who advocated and developed these ideas and disparate trajectories.

So these are a couple of things that Jason’s introductory paragraphs reveal. Something that concerns me, and this really has nothing to do with Jason’ particular points, is my fear that some people could be turned off to the material points we are trying to highlight, simply because of the volatile and politically charged language of “Evangelical” and “Calvinist.” I hope that you have the fortitude to push beyond your normal expectations that you have associated with such language, and actually engage with the kind of theological places that we are offering. How in the world could you ever find another theological offering that is more centered in and from God’s Triune life of love? And why would you want to?








[1] When I refer to ‘classical’ Calvinism, I am not really referring to its historical place per se (if I were, I would consider evangelical Calvinism as ‘classical’ since it has its original moorings in the historical development of Reformed theology in general), what I am referring to is its heavy reliance upon classical Thesim and substance metaphysics.

I’m ‘Spiritual’, not ‘Religious’

This is the second time within two weeks that I am stealing a great quote from another blogger, in this instance it is from Jason Goroncy (and it is not Goroncy, although there is plenty of Jason worthy to be quoted!, but Lash, whom Jason is quoting); last time I did this I stole a quote from Kait Dugan who was quoting Bruce McCormack on Barth (almost sounds like I’m scholastic or something). But I just couldn’t pass this up, and I wouldn’t want you to pass this up either; and if you don’t read Jason’s blog (and if you don’t you should!), then you would clearly have missed an opportunity to reflect on the difference that is present when someone says ‘I’m not religious, I’m spiritual!’. This is what Nicholas Lash is addressing in the quote that I found from him over at Goroncy’s; here’s what Lash thinks about such sentiment:

‘When people say (as they do, it seems, with increasing frequency) that they are more interested in “spirituality” than in “religion”, they usually seem to mean that they prefer the balm of private fantasy, the aromatherapy of uplifting individual sentiment, to the hard work of thought and action, the common struggle to make sense of things, to redeem and heal the world. When church leaders are exhorted to concentrate on “spiritual” affairs, the implication sometimes seems to be that these things are different from, and loftier than, such mundane matters as proclaiming good news to the poor and setting at liberty those who are oppressed’. – Nicholas Lash, Holiness, Speech and Silence: Reflections on the Question of God (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004), 92–3. [taken from this post at Jason’s]

Jason lives in New Zealand, I think Lash is in the UK, and I am in the USA; it doesn’t matter where one might be in the West, I am sure we have all encountered this kind of sentiment. It reeks of a thinly veiled varnish, it sounds shiny, and it looks finished; but upon further examination it becomes clear that this kind of posture towards life is really just an empty headed admission that these kinds of folk (who employ such verbiage) are full of dead man’s bones. It is an attempt to give an appearance of depth, thought, and dimension; without really counting the cost, without denying self, taking up the cross, and following Jesus. Sometimes, I’m afraid, that when people make the claim that they are Christians, they might as well be claiming to be ‘spiritual’ instead of ‘religious’; since, often, they share the same hollow ring. We are all hypocrites at some level—which is what’s so good about the Good News—but that doesn’t mean we can’t talk about our own hypocrisy, and then repent!