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*Something I wrote years ago, but something that I am thankful for everyday. If Jesus had not ascended He would not be seated at the right hand of the Father always living to make intercession for those of us who have come to inherit His eternal life. I know Ascension Sunday is a ways a way yet, but I enjoy thinking about it. So here’s a post that helps us, or at least me, do that.

As Christians we often think about the theology of cross, and the hope of the resurrection (as we should!); but often what gets lost is a theology of the Ascension, and what that means for both now, and the future. Colossians 2, and the language of pleroma, or the plenitude of God’s fullness embodied in Christ dovetails with this, and the primacy of Christ’s life for creation as we are lead into chapter two from chapter one of Colossians, starting in verse 15. Without the ascension we would have no hope of salvation, no assurance of salvation, no High Priestly praying for us by Jesus, and no hope for final and bodily consummation. So the ascension, beyond just signifying that Jesus is above all, and beyond being the means by which he left this earth for the eyewitnesses to see, provides for us a multitude of other hopes and assurances; that without which, we would be a pitiable mass. Here is how Thomas Torrance makes this significant in a discussion he is providing for how ascension functioned in the theology of Scottish reformer, John Knox:

K123741

Knox laid unusually strong emphasis on the ascension of Jesus Christ in the self-same body which was born of the Virgin Mary, and was crucified, dead and buried and which rose again, and very rightly. It is one of the most neglected doctrines of the Faith. Ascension is not just an addendum to the story of Jesus, a ringing down of the curtain on his earthly life, but it is one of the great essential salvation events. The ascension of the Lord Jesus is the inauguration of the Kingdom of God over the whole creation, but as centred in Christ it is the Kingdom of Christ. What did the ascension do?

(1) It was the completion of the Incarnation event. He who descended also ascended. The very same body which had been born of the Virgin Mary, was crucified, and died and was buried, ascended into heaven, for the accomplishment of all things. Thus the saving work of Christ reaches up into eternity, into the ultimate mystery of God.

(2) The union of God and man in Christ was assumed into the immediate presence of God the Father on his throne — there Christ wears our human life, and it is in our name that he is there at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, standing in for us.

(3) In our name and for our comfort he ascended to take possession of his Kingdom, to inaugurate it and enlarge it. There he is given and receives all power in heaven and on earth — there the crucified Christ sits at the right hand of power and glory.

(4) The Heavenly Session of Christ speaks of the fact that he ever lives to make intercession for us as our Advocate and High Priest and only Mediator, and prays and intercedes for us. This is the teaching of the Epistle of Hebrews, and plays a central role in Knox’s doctrine of the Lord’s Supper.

(5) In his ascension Christ opened the heavens into which we may appear in him before the throne of the Father’s mercy. Christ’s ascension is the ground of our comfort and assurance. It is the ascended Christ who sends us his Spirit, the Comforter. Thus the full meaning of the ascension is to be discerned in relation to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Church. It is in this light that the Church of Christ is to be understood, as ‘the blessed society which we the members have with our Head and only Mediator Christ Jesus, whom we confess and avow to be the Messiah promised, the only Head of his Kirk, our just Lawgiver, our only High Priest, Advocate and Mediator.

Thomas F. Torrance, Scottish Theology: From John Knox to John McLeod Campbell (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1996), 21-2.

Be enriched, be edified; I am.

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As Christians we often think about the theology of cross, and the hope of the resurrection (as we should!); but often what gets lost is a theology of the Ascension, and what that means for both now, and the future. Colossians 2, and the language of pleroma, or the plenitude of God’s fullness embodied in Christ dovetails with this, and the primacy of Christ’s life for creation as we are lead into chapter two from chapter one of Colossians, starting in verse 15. Without the ascension we would have no hope of salvation, no assurance of salvation, no High Priestly praying for us by Jesus, and no hope for final and bodily consummation. So the ascension, beyond just signifying that Jesus is above all, and beyond being the means by which he left this earth for the eyewitnesses to see, provides for us a multitude of other hopes and assurances; that without which, we would be a pitiable mass. Here is how Thomas Torrance makes this significant in a discussion he is providing for how ascension functioned in the theology of Scottish reformer, John Knox:

K123741

Knox laid unusually strong emphasis on the ascension of Jesus Christ in the self-same body which was born of the Virgin Mary, and was crucified, dead and buried and which rose again, and very rightly. It is one of the most neglected doctrines of the Faith. Ascension is not just an addendum to the story of Jesus, a ringing down of the curtain on his earthly life, but it is one of the great essential salvation events. The ascension of the Lord Jesus is the inauguration of the Kingdom of God over the whole creation, but as centred in Christ it is the Kingdom of Christ. What did the ascension do?

(1) It was the completion of the Incarnation event. He who descended also ascended. The very same body which had been born of the Virgin Mary, was crucified, and died and was buried, ascended into heaven, for the accomplishment of all things. Thus the saving work of Christ reaches up into eternity, into the ultimate mystery of God.

(2) The union of God and man in Christ was assumed into the immediate presence of God the Father on his throne — there Christ wears our human life, and it is in our name that he is there at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, standing in for us.

(3) In our name and for our comfort he ascended to take possession of his Kingdom, to inaugurate it and enlarge it. There he is given and receives all power in heaven and on earth — there the crucified Christ sits at the right hand of power and glory.

(4) The Heavenly Session of Christ speaks of the fact that he ever lives to make intercession for us as our Advocate and High Priest and only Mediator, and prays and intercedes for us. This is the teaching of the Epistle of Hebrews, and plays a central role in Knox’s doctrine of the Lord’s Supper.

(5) In his ascension Christ opened the heavens into which we may appear in him before the throne of the Father’s mercy. Christ’s ascension is the ground of our comfort and assurance. It is the ascended Christ who sends us his Spirit, the Comforter. Thus the full meaning of the ascension is to be discerned in relation to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Church. It is in this light that the Church of Christ is to be understood, as ‘the blessed society which we the members have with our Head and only Mediator Christ Jesus, whom we confess and avow to be the Messiah promised, the only Head of his Kirk, our just Lawgiver, our only High Priest, Advocate and Mediator.

Thomas F. Torrance, Scottish Theology: From John Knox to John McLeod Campbell (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1996), 21-2.

We need this perspective more than ever! We need to know that Jesus is Lord, that history is his-story, and that the chaos of this world has already been reordered (I say by faith) by the coming of the Son of Man. Jesus is Lord, that is what his session at the right hand of the Father asserts, in a loud trumpeting way; in such a way that we ought to be quiet before Him as he sits upon his throne.

I am really burdened right now about what is going on in the Christian church, and in culture at large. My guess is that Jesus is about to step off of his throne only to finally come and announce, by sight, that he indeed is King of kings and Lord of lords; and to set to rights what the world has set to wrongs.

As Christians we often think about the theology of cross, and the hope of the resurrection (as we should!); but often what gets lost is a theology of the Ascension, and what that means for both now, and the future. Colossians 2, and the language of pleroma, or the plenitude of God’s fullness embodied in Christ dovetails with this, and the primacy of Christ’s life for creation as we are lead into chapter two from chapter one of Colossians, starting in verse 15. Without the ascension we would have no hope of salvation, no assurance of salvation, no High Priestly praying for us by Jesus, and no hope for final and bodily consummation. So the ascension, beyond just signifying that Jesus is above all, and beyond being the means by which he left this earth for the eyewitnesses to see, provides for us a multitude of other hopes and assurances; that without which, we would be a pitiable mass. Here is how Thomas Torrance makes this significant in a discussion he is providing for how ascension functioned in the theology of Scottish reformer, John Knox:

K123741

Knox laid unusually strong emphasis on the ascension of Jesus Christ in the self-same body which was born of the Virgin Mary, and was crucified, dead and buried and which rose again, and very rightly. It is one of the most neglected doctrines of the Faith. Ascension is not just an addendum to the story of Jesus, a ringing down of the curtain on his earthly life, but it is one of the great essential salvation events. The ascension of the Lord Jesus is the inauguration of the Kingdom of God over the whole creation, but as centred in Christ it is the Kingdom of Christ. What did the ascension do?

(1) It was the completion of the Incarnation event. He who descended also ascended. The very same body which had been born of the Virgin Mary, was crucified, and died and was buried, ascended into heaven, for the accomplishment of all things. Thus the saving work of Christ reaches up into eternity, into the ultimate mystery of God.

(2) The union of God and man in Christ was assumed into the immediate presence of God the Father on his throne — there Christ wears our human life, and it is in our name that he is there at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, standing in for us.

(3) In our name and for our comfort he ascended to take possession of his Kingdom, to inaugurate it and enlarge it. There he is given and receives all power in heaven and on earth — there the crucified Christ sits at the right hand of power and glory.

(4) The Heavenly Session of Christ speaks of the fact that he ever lives to make intercession for us as our Advocate and High Priest and only Mediator, and prays and intercedes for us. This is the teaching of the Epistle of Hebrews, and plays a central role in Knox’s doctrine of the Lord’s Supper.

(5) In his ascension Christ opened the heavens into which we may appear in him before the throne of the Father’s mercy. Christ’s ascension is the ground of our comfort and assurance. It is the ascended Christ who sends us his Spirit, the Comforter. Thus the full meaning of the ascension is to be discerned in relation to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Church. It is in this light that the Church of Christ is to be understood, as ‘the blessed society which we the members have with our Head and only Mediator Christ Jesus, whom we confess and avow to be the Messiah promised, the only Head of his Kirk, our just Lawgiver, our only High Priest, Advocate and Mediator.

Thomas F. Torrance, Scottish Theology: From John Knox to John McLeod Campbell (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1996), 21-2.

Be enriched, be edified; I am.

In commenting on Evangelical Calvinist, John Knox’s understanding of God; Thomas Torrance offers a profound statement of what all of this entails:

[K]nowledge of the one and only God, as far as it is true knowledge, enshrines the mystery of God, and so is confessed and acknowledged as God eternal, infinite, immeasurable, incomprehensible, omniscient, invisible. This God whom we know cannot be fitted into our knowledge. God cannot be commanded by our reasons — cannot be comprehended by our minds. It is certainly to our minds that God reveals himself but only in such a way that he remains eternal, infinite, incomprehensible, etc. Knowledge of God cannot be put into precise words. God’s majesty defies definition or description — all theological language is apocalyptic in so far as it is genuine. That is true above all of the Trinity — knowledge of this God is infinitely open. Thus in faith the human reason is opened wide to the infinite and incomprehensible being and majesty of God as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. [Thomas F. Torrance, Scottish Theology: From John Knox to John McLeod Campbell, (T&T Clark: Edinburgh, 1996), 6 — A review copy provided graciously by T&T Clark]

You will quickly notice which direction Torrance believes knowledge of God comes from; not from our epistemological schemas, but from God to us through Christ and into the Triune life of God himself. This approach to knowing God runs against the construing God from thinking of him through his works in creation or something. Or trying to find analogies in creation, or in humanity that in latent ways allow us to think and speak about God. No! Knowledge of God for Torrance, and as he would contend, John Knox, is a gift from God in Christ for us through the Spirit. There is never one-to-one correspondence between our theological language and God’s being. Instead, theological language is something that is constantly given to us anew as God continues to break in on our world, on our conceptions; and re-orders and re-orientates our grammar in a way that puts to death anything we had conceived of prior to this encounter in Christ. He provides a ground for knowing him that is completely out of this world (but decidedly and concretely in this world); the God-Man. He presents us with concepts that breaks up and re-orders our imaginations in ways that place us upon the precipice of heaven’s throne; Ezekiel knows what I’m talking about.

Just a little reflection . . .

Evangelical Calvinist, par excellence, Thomas F. Torrance; provides some very insightful words on how he understood John Knox’s doctrine of God and His triune nature. What Torrance says articulates some of the basic premises about God’s life and His relation to creation, that ‘EC’ pivots upon. Let me quote, at length, and then provide a little reflection behind the quote:

(a) It is as a Trinity that the majesty and sublimity of God are made known. As Holy Trinity God is revealed to be intrinsically personal. God is Person precisely as he is triune, so that intimate personal relationship is involved in acknowledgment of the one only God, cleaving to him, serving him, worshipping and trusting personally in him as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The majesty of the one only God and the transcendent mystery of the eternal God as such do not produce the personal communication between God and man — that belongs to the personal self-revelation of God as Holy Trinity. God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and remains what he is in his eternal Self even when he gives himself to be known by us in such personal ways.

(b) It is the triune God who is known as Father, Maker, Pastor and Redeemer. It is the Trinity who creates, appoints, governs all things in heaven and earth, visible as well as invisible. God the Father Almighty can be known only through the Son, as the Incarnation of God and of his work for our redemption. Fatherhood is defined in terms of redeeming grace toward us and free adoption of us as his children. ‘We call him Father not so much because he has created us, but by reason of his free adoption by which he has chosen us in Jesus Christ.’

(c) It is as the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, that God relates himself to all creation, visible and invisible. His relation to creation is supremely as personal will — but the purpose and glory of that relation is Jesus Christ. There are here distinct elements of cosmic redemption, in God’s concern for all creation and of all his handiwork, but what all that means will be revealed only at the last day. This strictly trinitarian theology means that Knox regarded God’s relations will all creation exclusively in terms of personal will, and exclusively in the light of Christ’s redemption and saving purpose. (Thomas F. Torrance, “Scottish Theology,” 7).

Just a few things. God is first and always already triune before he becomes Creator. He created because He is love in Himself, and thus this becomes the ground through which He always relates to His creation; in personal, loving ways — and thus “Law” must be framed through this, versus the classical way which has God relating by Law, then Grace/Love etc. Second, the method for knowing God (as Church father, Athanasius made clear in his argument contra Arius) is to ground this revelation in the eternal Son; it is through this self-Revelation of God that we by the Holy Spirit are made “alive” “reconciled” and thereby have the capacity to know who God is in Christ’s redeemed humanity — this is the point being made in point (b) above on adoption. Third, just to reiterate, Evangelical Calvinists, along with two historic ones (Torrance and Knox), believe that because God is triune (that’s who He is), that his relations to humanity will be shaped by what can be called God’s antecedent life of eternal love; thus an implication of this, is that God does not relate to creation through a matrix of impersonal decrees (that other and most Western theological frameworks think of God through).

Here is TF Torrance describing John Knox’s view on what Knox called God’s ‘ordinance of Grace’, and how that related to his view of God’s immutability.

John Knox never wearied of affirming the immutability of God. He ever remains the same God, true and faithful to his ‘joyful promise’ to Adam that seed of the woman would break down the serpent’s head. This took the form of an ordinance of grace in which God provided a way within the history of mankind for deliverance and redemption. It is indeed upon the ordinance of grace that the whole order of creation depends, for it remains the same in the midst of man’s sin, and in spite of it, the ordinance of grace assumed the character of the promise. The promise involves judgment — the seeking out of man, his calling, his rebellion and conviction of sin, but throughout all judgment and wrath, through all calamity and disaster, God’s purpose for mankind was being worked out. In the first instance this took historical form in the calling of Israel to be the medium of God’s self-revelation to mankind, and it is that ordinance which proved to be the centre around which all things revolve and in relation to which they cohere. He is the God who brough Israel out of Egypt and destroyed Pharaoh in the Red Sea, who sent the Jews into exile, and brought them back as a remnant into Palestine. God is immutable and his ancient Word still holds sway — his ancient ways still appear in his dealings with man. But this is no immutability conceived in philosophical categories — it is the immutability of God’s purpose, will and action, for God is above all the living God who is at work in his creation, whose hand disposes nations and kingdoms. His divine ordinance of grace took historical shape in his covenanted relations with the people of Israel through whom a way was prepared for its ultimate fulfilment in the Incarnation and in the inauguration of the Church. No theologian has had a more vivid and dramatic or a more powerful realisation of direct divine action in history than Knox, and of its ultimate soteriological character. It is here that his theology stands out in such contrast to medieval teaching — its dynamic outlook indicates that there had taken place a radical move away from the rather static categories of the medieval frame of mind. This is vividly evident in his acceptance of the influence of the Old Testament and its significance for his own times in Scotland. The very same God of whom we learn in the Old Testament Scriptures, not least through the great prophets, and in the New Testament Scriptures in the original mission of the Church, now deals with men and nations through the mighty acts of his saving Word. (Thomas Torrance, “Scottish Theology,” 8-9)

There is alot in this quote. Torrance covers Knox’s themes of a ‘Doctrine of God’, Soteriology, and Eschatology; and he notes how all of these points are shaped by the life of God which is grace. This provides a basis for speaking about God’s activity in salvation history, so that we can have a God who is involved with His creation in dynamic ways; without sacrificing His immutable character. We see how Knox, through Torrance’s commentary, jettisoned the rather static God of medieval scholasticism who only was able to interact with His creation through a demeanor of stasis (or being static); which led to the development of thinking of God through decrees (this way God could remain “unmoved” and thus non-contingent by His creation).

Both Federal and Classic Calvinism are still stuck in the latter mode of understanding God, in other words they try to work through the categories provided by medieval scholasticism; which I think is at odds with scripture. I favor Torrance’s Knox, and his approach.

I have this great quote from TFT on John Knox, and his ‘ordinance of grace’; and how Knox saw all of salvation history saturated by this ‘ordinance’. It is a beautiful quote, and highlights what Knox thought of God’s immutability; he clearly believed in it, but not in the typical Thomistic/medieval static terms that so many before him had conceived. I’ll share this tomorrow . . . too late now!

I really like this statement about John Knox as a ‘preacher-theologian’. So often there is a wedge placed between these two, and clearly God has called some to be professional theologians (i.e. teachers); but I think what really is missing amongst pastors today is that they fail to see their role as a theologian (out of necessity — teaching God’s Word requires this). No, no, I’m not saying the pastor needs to be an “academic,” but that he should be serious about communicating who God is (thus the theologian part). Anyway here is how TF Torrance talks about John Knox in this vein:

John Knox himself was essentially a preacher-theologian, one who did not intend to be a theologian, but who could not help being a theologian in the fulfilment of his vocation. He regarded his vocation: a) as a preacher of the Gospel, someone burdened with the lively Word of God, which he had to proclaim in a correspondingly lively manner; b) as a steward of the mysteries, or ‘a steward of the mystery of redemption’ (one of his favourite expressions).

The price of Christ Jesus, his death and passion is committed to our charge, the eyes of men are bent on us, and we must answer before the Judge, who will not admit everie excuse that pleaseth us, but will judge upryghtly, as in his words he hath before pronounced . . . Let us be frequent in reading (which allace, over many despise) earnest in prayer, diligent in watching over the flock committed to our charge, and let our sobrietie and temperate lyfe eshame the wicked, and be example to the godly . . .

The desperate earnestness with which Knox took his calling demanded theological earnestness: . . . (Thomas Torrance, “Scottish Theology,” 2-3)

If only we had preacher-theologians like Knox today. Too often it seems we have preachers who are preacher-CEO’s or something . . . ah, enough Evangelical bashing; but you know what I mean, right?

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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