Elevation and Apocalyptic Theologies in Con-versation: Reflecting on the Practicality of Grace in the Christian’s Pursuit to Know God

I wanted to, in a bloggy fashion, briefly introduce and touch upon what my friend Myk Habets has called elevation theology. I have written on this before at the blog, but more pointedly, in those instances, I emphasized the related doctrine of the primacy of Jesus Christ over and for all creation. Since I am finally just now reading Edwin Chr. van Driel’s book Incarnation Anyway, I thought it timely to write something up on this theological locus. I will be referring to an essay Myk wrote years ago, and then to Philip Ziegler’s amazing book Militant Grace (2018). What I want to do is bring together a simple point of contact between elevation theology, and the apocalyptic theology that Ziegler alerts people to through his writings. I sort of had one of those aha moments while at work the other night; as I was reflecting on the implications of elevation theology, ‘incarnation anyway,’ and the logic of grace attendant to so called apocalyptic theology. What I put down in this post might not be that meaningful to you, but to me it represents a light-bulb.

Habets introduces his essay On Getting First Things First: Assessing Claims for the Primacy of Christ, this way:

According to Christian tradition Jesus Christ is pre-eminent over all creation as the Alpha and the Omega, the ‘beginning and the end’ (Rev 1.8, 21.6; 22.13). This belief, when theologically considered, is known as the primacy of Christ. The specific issue this doctrine addresses is the question: Was sin the efficient or the primary cause of the incarnation? This essay seeks to model the practice of modal logic in relation to the primacy of Christ, not to satisfy the cravings of speculative theologians but to reverently penetrate the evangelical mystery of the incarnation, specifically, the two alternatives: either ‘God became man independently of sin,’ or its contradiction, ‘God became man because of sin’. Examining historical responses to the primacy of Christ will lead to a consideration of how some recent theologians have taken up these themes and sought to develop them. This in turn provides resources that contribute towards an understanding of the incarnation assuming that the efficient cause was human sin. Finally, an argument will be presented defending the primacy of Christ and a justification for the hypothesis that there would have been an incarnation of the Son irrespective of the fall.[1]

The thought that hit me had to do with the idea that creation, if the ‘primacy of Christ’ doctrine is true, has an inherently extraneous source to its ‘being.’ If so, creation itself, as a contingent reality (creatio ex nihilo) only has a taxis or order to it as that is supplied to it by the gift of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. As corollary, Apocalyptic theology maintains a disruptive notion in regard to creation vis-à-vis the recreation that takes place in the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. Ziegler cites Gaventa in this regard:

As Gaventa concisely puts it, “Paul’s apocalyptic theology has to do with the conviction that in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has invaded the world as it is, thereby revealing the world’s utter distortion and foolishness, reclaiming the world, and inaugurating a battle that will doubtless culminate in the triumph of God over all God’s enemies (including the captors Sin and Death). This means that the Gospel is first, last, and always about God’s powerful and gracious initiative.” Inasmuch as it is an expression of specifically Christian faith, “apocalyptic theology always and everywhere denotes a theology of liberation in an earth that is dying and plagued by evil powers.

In the words of Donald MacKinnon, its subject matters in nothing less than “God’s own protest against the world He has made, by which at the same time that world is renewed and reborn.”[2]

Following, Ziegler expands further this way:

For my own part, I am certainly drawn to the task of envisaging an apocalyptic theology for “ardently Protestant” reasons. For it seems to me that, understood as it is here, apocalyptic is a discursive idiom uniquely suited to articulate the radicality, sovereignty, and militancy of adventitious divine grace; just so it is of real import to the dogmatic work of testing the continued viability of Protestant Christian faith. . . . The apocalyptic idiom starkly illumines at one and the same time both the drastic and virulent reality of human captivity and complicity in sin, and the extraordinary power of saving divine grace that outbids it, reminding us that things are at once much worse yet also paradoxically far, far better than we could possibly imagine them to be.[3]

Now, I’m leaving many moving parts out of this (because of space constraints), but when you allow elevation theology and apocalyptic theology to implicate each other, what stands out, at least to me, is how if creation itself is fully determined to be what it is, always already in God’s eternal and pre-destined life to be for us, for creation rather than against it, then attempting to find logics and ratio inherent within the created order—like natural law and natural theology do—in an attempt to discover a theological epistemology prior encountering God in Christ leads to a dead end.

What I’m tortuously attempting to draw out is the idea that: If creation never had an absolute or ‘pure’ ground in herself, but instead only finds that ground in the grace of God in creation/recreation as that is conditioned by Christ, then a genuine basis for a theological ontology/epistemology is only given in and through God’s Self-revelation and exegesis in Jesus Christ. Do you see what I’m attempting to highlight? If God’s proton is inextricably bound up in the eschaton of his life revealed in Christ, if his first Word of creation is grounded in his choice to be for the world in the grace of Christ, just as his last Word is indeed His first in the resurrection of Christ, then the only ground for knowledge of God can be found in that grace; in that relation that Jesus is for us as the eternal Logos made flesh. In other words, there is no general or profane logic embedded in the created order awaiting discovery as the bases for doing theological work; there is only theo-logic as that is grounded in the Christo-logic as that serves as the basis for the reality of the world—the world first and last, created and recreated.

What I am simply attempting to say is: if the incarnation was always the plan of God for the world, with or without sin entering the picture, then this at least suggests that there has always been a higher plane, an unattainable plane for achieving a genuine knowledge of God; outwith Christ. Apocalyptic theology helps to reinforce this sort of ‘primacy of Christ’ doctrine insofar as it emphasizes the disruptive nature of the incarnation and resurrection as that has to do with this present world order (in its in-between and anticipatory status). More practically I think it offers the Christian with a theology that fits better with the experience of the Christian life, as that is understood in the light of the cross of Christ itself. In other words, there is a ‘logic’ available to the Christian that reposes in the fact that they, by the Spirit, have become able to call ‘Jesus, Lord.’ It is in this practicality of the Christian life that the normal Christian can live a life steeped in the revelatory reality of Holy Scripture and its reality as that is given in Jesus Christ.

The proposal, if you hadn’t noticed, is a uniquely Protestant one that majors on a theology of the Word as the basis for thinking and living the Christian life. It doesn’t elide the tradition or history of the church’s mind, but it recognizes that the warp and woof of the Christian life is one that is ultimately grounded in a theological reality (ontology) that is always already contingent upon creation’s reality as that is given newness and freshness in the recreation realized in the resurrection and ascension of Christ. It keeps the Christian looking up, and allows God’s grace to supply the sort of optics that it only it/He can as the Christian seeks to know God in ever increasing ways. Theologies, of the absolutely ‘classical’ sort, sneer at this sort of grace only conception of creation, and its impact on a theological ontology/epistemology. But I think such sneer should be repented of precisely at the point that Christians aren’t ultimately or slavishly beholden to the ‘tradition’ of the church, per se, but instead we are captivated by the life of God for us as we come into union with that reality in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ.

I fear I have failed to really capture the gist I wanted to go after and articulate in this post, but hopefully something coherent made it through. There is a profound idea going on here between what we are given by so called elevation and apocalyptic theologies, and I think further thought needs to be given to this.

 

[1] Myk Habets, “On Getting First Things First: Assessing Claims for the Primacy of Christ,” Journal compilation C _ The Dominican Council/Blackwell Publishing Ltd, (2008): 343-44.

[2] Philip G. Ziegler, Militant Grace: The Apocalyptic Turn and the Future of Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2018), loc 162, 171 kindle.

[3] Ibid., loc 214, 224.

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Ruminating on an Argument Against Annihilationism

Ground Clearing

I recently came across a group of people I’ve never given a second thought to prior to coming across them. I never gave this group a second thought because I found the position it is a proponent for so odious and incredible that I didn’t think it warranted any time or energy engaging with and refuting. But I have since changed my mind. Not because I’ve come to think that the position is any more credible than I had previously thought it was, but because I’ve realized how many people this view is coming to pollute; among evangelical Christians. The position I’m referring to is popularly known as annihilationism, or among its adherents: conditional immortality and/or evangelical conditionalism. Here is how they succinctly describe their position:

Conditionalism is the view that life or existence is the Creator’s provisional gift to all, which will ultimately either be granted forever on the basis of righteousness (by grace, through faith), or revoked forever on the basis of unrighteousness.

Evangelical conditionalists believe that the saved in Christ will receive glory, honor and immortality, being raised with an incorruptible body to inherit eternal life (Romans 2:7). The unsaved will be raised in shame and dishonor, to face God and receive the just condemnation for their sins. When the penalty is carried out, they will be permanently excluded from eternal life by means of a final death (loss of being; destruction of the whole person; Matthew 10:28).[1]

So according to this particular iteration of conditionalists, as their label portends, they believe that people are born with a potential status; i.e. either a person will be finally granted immortality by receiving the gift of salvation offered by Jesus Christ; or they will die in their sins, and be left in their mortal state—meaning that, according to the conditionalist, at the Great White Throne Judgment they will be “annihilated,” their lives will be eternally extinguished from existence (what many people believe happens to animals when they die).

I had said, in another blog post (that I have subsequently taken down), that I am going to write an actual paper (with real research) on this issue; and I still intend to. But writing such papers take time and research, and my blog posts take me (typically), on average, about an hour to write and publish. Until I am able to finish that paper, I will of course!, keep putting up blog posts; and this post, as you can already tell from what I’ve been saying thus far, is going to engage with what I consider to be the erroneous view known as annihilationism.

Body of Thought

In an earlier blog post on this issue I had quoted Thomas Torrance, and hinted at how I might go about critiquing the conditional immortality (CI hereafter) position; I was going to tie my argument into the doctrine of imago Dei—oh, and I still am! I shared a link to that post in the Facebook group ReThinking Hell where Peter Grice (one of the primary founders of the “movement” ReThinking Hell), and some others pounced on my tact and what I was going to argue. Peter said I’d need to engage with actual scriptural exegesis in order to offer a persuasive argument for his clan; and another admin in the group offered a weird passive-aggressive sniping comment that he could see, in no way, how an argument from the ‘image of God’ could undercut his and their position on hell and annihilation. This all seemed too weird to me; I mean was the dimmer on in the living room? Isn’t their position fundamentally grounded in a theological-anthropological premise about what humanity is; what bearing that has on a human being’s eternal destiny before God? How could these guys, the luminaries of the group, have such trouble grasping how my critique would not only start by thinking about all of this theologically (God forbid it!), but more pointedly theologically-anthropologically? If I didn’t know any better I’d think that I had shown a light on something they didn’t really want to talk about, or maybe something they feel ill-prepared to respond to; and this is me giving them the benefit of the doubt.

Since this is a blog post let me get to a quote from my Evangelical Calvinist colleague, Myk Habets, that he offers up in his published dissertation on Theosis in the Theology of Thomas Torrance. I’ll share the quote, and then tie it into how I think its material substance, theologically, works directly against the erroneous position known as conditional immortality. Here’s Myk (and he’s discussing Torrance’s theology, in case that wasn’t clear):

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

There are tensions within Torrance’s anthropology (as in Calvin’s). On the one hand he argues the imago is an inherent rationality within all humans. On the other hand he argues the imago no longer remains in the creature after the Fall as creatures are utterly depraved. The sole existence of the imago Dei is found in Christ and in those in communion with him. For sure this communion is only possible through the incarnate Son and by the Holy Spirit, but the inherent capacity for communion with God is there nonetheless. How do we account for this tension? Our options are, as I see it, twofold: first, Torrance is inconsistent, or second, there is a deeper explanation. It is my conviction that Torrance is so influenced by Calvin’s anthropology that he adopts his ‘perspectival approach’, to use Engel’s words. From the perspective of traditionally conceived explanations of the imago Dei in substantial terms, the imago Dei has been obliterated in fallen creatures. And yet, from a christological perspective the imago is present, incipiently, as all humans have a capacity for God because the incarnation proleptically conditions creation. Outside of a saving relationship with Christ this avails them the condemnation of God. Savingly reconciled to Christ his Imago becomes theirs through the Holy Spirit. In this way Christ alone naturally possess the imago Dei, he shares this realised imago with creatures by grace, and those not in Christ ‘make more out of the imago dei than they ought’  as they ‘continue to sin against the Word and Law of God’.[2]

There is a lot going on here, and Myk is actually developing Torrance’s Reformed doctrine of theosis. Nevertheless, it has purchase in this discussion insofar as the imago Dei is referred to, and the attendant doctrines of creation (protology) and recreation (eschatology) that frame how we think of the image of God from a Christological and subsequent theological-anthropological direction are present.

To me the theo-logic is simple: even in the intricacies of how TFT understands imago Dei, I think it becomes clear, if he is correct (and I obviously think he is, and so would St. Athanasius, and I’d argue the Apostle Paul), that for humanity to be created and recreated in the image of God requires that once created a human being can never fully or objectively go out of existence. What Myk writes here is basically important to what I will want to argue latterly in my paper: “. . . The imago Dei is not destroyed by the Fall but ‘continues to hang over man as a destiny which he can realise no longer, and as a judgment upon his actual state of perversity’. . . .” It is this idea of suspended humanity post-lapse (Fall) that ‘hang[s] over man’ that is singularly important to the argument against any idea of annihilationism or conditional immortality.

To be created in the image of God, even if that image is tarnished or even lost, does not mean, either theologically or biblically, that a person’s humanity is ultimately lost; it just means it might not be being presently realized. It is to presume upon the idea that what it means to be human is a de jure or objective reality that is extra nos (outside of us), and that is grounded both objectively and subjectively in the humanity of Jesus Christ. Because being human is funded and founded upon the archetypal humanity of Christ, and because creation’s purpose has always already been generated by this realization, annihilation of any part of God’s good and very good creation is at diametrical cross-purposes to what God has accomplished in his free choice to be not be God without us, but with us in the elected humanity of Jesus Christ.

So on my view, when a person, at the Final Judgment, is not in Christ in a de facto or subjective (participatory) way, it is this state that ultimately serves as their judgment. In other words, it is not possible, given the purposes of God’s creation and recreation (resurrection) for any part of it to be annihilated—not if the indestructible life of Christ is its telos and ground—but it is possible for parts of that creation to not existentially or subjectively experience the reality for which it was ultimately created. This is what I would call Hell!

Because annihilationists can’t account for a Pauline doctrine of the primacy of Christ relative to creation and recreation, as that is found, in particular in Colossians 1:15ff, then I think their position flounders and indeed is erroneous relative to what it means to be human in and from Christ. I clearly believe Torrance, Athanasius, and the Apostle Paul are at logger-heads with the annihilationist position; and for the reasons I just roughly and quickly outlined. It will be along these lines that I will attempt to make an argument against the CI position in paper form. That is yet forthcoming, I’ll let you know when it actually has come. jusqu’à ce que nous nous revoyions

 

[1] ReThinking Hell, Statement on Evangelical Conditionalism, accessed 09-28-17.

[2] Myk Habets, Theosis in the Theology of Thomas Torrance (UK: Ashgate Publishing Unlimited, 2008), 32-3.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Furthermore,

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

[2] Ibid., 182.

[3] Ibid., 184.

[4] Ibid., 184.

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

[6] Ibid., 32-3.

Union[s] with Christ According to evangelical Calvinism

The following is a post I put up at the very inception of this blog The Evangelical Calvinist, when I started it in 2009 (after I had already been blogging elsewhere since 2005). It is an essay that Myk Habets provided for me as a guest post here at the blog. I want to repost this for various reasons, reasons I cannot elaborate on at the moment, but will become apparent in the days to come.

Union with Christ is a very important aspect of the evangelical Calvinist project, so failure to understand how EC is nuancing that can result in a failure to actually offer a critique that is ultimately substantial and satisfying. In light of that then, I want to share this essay by Myk, with hopes of gesturing and making clear how EC conceives of ‘union with Christ’ (unio cum Christo).

T.F. Torrance and Union with Christ in Scottish Theology

Myk Habets

Without exploring the entire history of Scottish theology as read through the eyes of Torrance, we may note a few key influences on his thinking about union with Christ from this context. Torrance believes that ‘Union with Christ probably had a more important place in [Robert] Leighton’s theology than that given to it in the thought of any other Scottish theologian.’ Torrance gives Leighton (1611-1684) praise for not considering union with Christ simply as a ‘judicial union’ but as a ‘real union’ which occupies the centre of the whole redemptive activity mediated through Christ as saving grace. Utilised in this way union with Christ is fundamentally related to both election in Christ and the concept of saving exchange whereby Christ gives to humanity what is his – his righteousness and filial status – and takes to himself what is not his own – our sin and alienation. In James Fraser of Brea (1639-1698) Torrance identifies the same emphasis placed upon union with Christ, ‘It is through union and communion with [Christ], grounded in the “personal union” of his divine and human natures, that we come out of ourselves and partake of his fullness; we approach him empty to find all our salvation in the all-sufficient Lord Jesus.’ Thomas Boston (1676-1732) viewed union with Christ not merely as a legal union but a ‘real and proper union with ‘the whole Christ’ transformed through his death and resurrection, that is, a union of an ontological kind.’ Boston often spoke of this as a ‘mystical union’ in which all the benefits of the covenant of grace are given to the elect. Torrance traces these ideas back directly through Robert Bruce (c1554-1631), John Knox (1505-1572), John Calvin, and many others.

Of special interest to Torrance is H.R. Mackintosh (1870-1936). Torrance shows how Mackintosh in continuity with Calvin and the Scottish Reformed tradition, also made the concept of the unio mystica central to his soteriology. For Mackintosh, the concept of the unio mystica was merely a dogmatic restatement of the biblically rich material on the believer’s participatio Christi found throughout the New Testament, particularly in the ‘in/with Christ’ language of Paul and in the organic relationship between Christ and believers depicted in Johannine theology.

According to Mackintosh, mystical union effects a change in the believer’s identity. Through participating in Christ there is an ‘importation of another’s personality into him; the life, the will of Christ has taken over what once was in sheer antagonism to it, and replaced the power of sin by the forces of a divine life.’ There is a twofold objectivity about union with Christ: on the one hand, there is a ‘Christ-in-you’ relationship, and on the other there is a ‘you-in-Christ’ aspect. The former has to do with Christ being present within the believer as the source of new life, while the latter points to the foundation of this new life as lying outside of the believer in Christ. The union is mediated by the Holy Spirit. Torrance adopts these two aspects of participation in Christ into his own theology.

Mackintosh was attempting to postulate a union with Christ Jesus that went beyond the merely moral or ethical. Like Torrance, Mackintosh had reservations over using the term ‘mystical union’ (despite teaching its substance), but chose to define what he meant by unio mystica more willingly than discard the term altogether. By ‘mystical’ Mackintosh means, according to Redman, ‘that the believer’s relationship to Christ transcends human relationships and human experiences of solidarity and union.’ In place of a mere moral union Mackintosh presents a spiritual union that, while rational, is beyond human comprehension. By ‘union’ Mackintosh does not mean a complete identification in which Christ and the believer become indistinguishable; this would be an essential union, something found in the writings of some of the medieval mystics. Mackintosh was aware of the risk of pantheism and avoided this in his christology. Through participatio Christi, Mackintosh argues, one has communion with God as a human being because it is through union with the incarnate Christ that we come to commune with God. By defining union with Christ in such a way Mackintosh is in basic agreement with Calvin’s three senses of the term – incarnational, mystical, and spiritual. One can clearly see why Torrance is so attracted to Mackintosh’s theology.

In his critique of Mackintosh’s doctrine of the unio mystica Redman comments on his use of language. He argues that Mackintosh should have ceased using the language of mystical union and instead used concepts more akin to the essential logic of his theology, such as spiritual communion. Torrance perhaps agrees with Redman’s critique for he does not use the term ‘mystical union’ either, but retains the basic three-fold sense of union with Christ. Despite differences of terminology, Torrance considers his use of theōsis, both in terminology and in substance, conforms to a consistent theme of Reformed theology going back to Calvin and found particularly within the Scottish tradition.

Within this very specific trajectory of Reformed theology Torrance posits his own soteriology. Torrance articulates the dimensions of union with Christ in various ways but consistently he sees three realities involved. Firstly, there is union with Christ made possible objectively through the homoousion of the incarnate Son (Calvin’s ‘incarnational union’ ). Secondly, there is the hypostatic union, and its significance for the reconciling exchange wrought by Christ in his life, death, and resurrection (Calvin’s unio mystica). Finally, these two aspects of union with Christ are fulfilled or brought to completion in the communion that exists between believers and the triune God (broadly corresponding to Calvin’s ‘spiritual union’).

In a paraphrase of Torrance’s theology, Hunsinger presents three aspects which correlate approximately to our outline. Firstly, reception, a past event which involves what Christ has done for us. This is received by grace through faith alone. Secondly, participation, a present event, in which believers are clothed with Christ’s righteousness through partaking of Christ by virtue of his vicarious humanity. Thirdly, communion, the future or eschatological aspect which equates to eternal life itself in which believers enjoy communion in reciprocal love and knowledge of the triune God.

According to Torrance, union with Christ is not a ‘judicial union’ but a ‘real union’ which lies at the heart of the whole redemptive activity mediated through Christ as an act of saving grace. Torrance uses three words to elaborate what union with Christ means in his essay ‘The Mystery of the Kingdom’: divine purpose (prothesis), mystery (mystērion), and fellowship/communion (koinōnia). This triadic structure reflects the trinitarian action of the triune God: prothesis – the Father, mystērion – the Son, and koinōnia – the Holy Spirit. Prothesis refers to divine election whereby the Father purposed or ‘set forth’ the union of God and humanity in Jesus Christ. Divine e
lection is a free, sovereign decision, a contingent act of God’s love; as such it is neither arbitrary nor necessary. Torrance thus holds to the Reformed doctrine of unconditional election, one which represents a strictly theonomous way of thinking, from a centre in God and not in ourselves. Torrance draws on certain aspects of Barth’s doctrine of election for he equates the incarnation as the counterpart to the doctrine of election so that ‘the incarnation, therefore, may be regarded as the eternal decision or election of God in his Love…’ Calling upon Calvin’s analogy, Torrance insists that ‘Christ himself is the ‘mirror of election,’ for it takes place in him in such a way that he is the Origin and the End, the Agent and the Substance of election…’

The second key expression Torrance uses is mystērion; the term is applied to Christ, and specifically to the mystery of his hypostatic union. In relation to God this means that the consubstantial union of the Trinity upholds the hypostatic union so that God does not merely come in man but as man. In this union of God and man a complete henosis between the two is effected, and they are ‘perfectly at one’.

He had come, Son of God incarnate as son of man, in order to get to grips with the powers of darkness and defeat them, but he had been sent to do that not through the manipulation of social, political or economic power-structures, but by striking beneath them all into the ontological depths of Israel’s existence where man, and Israel representing all mankind, had become estranged from God, and there within those ontological depths of human being to forge a bond of union and communion between man and God in himself which can never be undone.

Hence the hypostatic union is also a ‘reconciling union’ in which estrangement between God and humanity is bridged, conflict is eradicated, and human nature is ‘brought into perfect sanctifying union with divine nature in Jesus Christ.’

This atoning union is not merely external or juridical but actual, and points to the higher reality of communion. Hence Torrance can assert that:

it is not atonement that constitutes the goal and end of that integrated movement of reconciliation but union with God in and through Jesus Christ in whom our human nature is not only saved, healed and renewed but lifted up to participate in the very light, life and love of the Holy Trinity.

Union with Christ must be understood within Torrance’s doctrine of reconciliation to refer to the real participation of believers in the divine nature made possible by the dynamic atoning union of Christ. Torrance contends this is atonement in effect. As a result of the incarnation, humanity is united to divinity in the hypostatic union so that:

In the Church of Christ all who are redeemed through the atoning union embodied in him are made to share in his resurrection and are incorporated into Christ by the power of his Holy Spirit as living members of his Body…Thus it may be said that the ‘objective’ union which we have with Christ through his incarnational assumption of our humanity into himself is ‘subjectively’ actualised in us through his indwelling Spirit, ‘we in Christ’ and ‘Christ in us’ thus complementing and interpenetrating each other.

In addition to the hypostatic union Torrance applies the concept of mystērion to the mystery of the one-and-the-many, or Christ and his body the church. Torrance thus understands union with Christ to be largely corporate in nature but applicable to each individual member of his body who is ingrafted into Christ by Baptism and continue to live in union with him as they feed upon his body and blood in Holy Communion. Understanding the church as the body of Christ is thus another way of asserting an ontological union between the community of believers and Christ the Head.

The third term Torrance uses is koinōnia, and it too has a double reference. First, vertically, it represents our participation through the Spirit in the mystery of Christ’s union with us. Second, horizontally, it is applied to our fellowship or communion with one another in the body of Christ. At the intersection of the vertical and horizontal dimensions of koinōnia is the church, the community of believers united to Christ, who is himself united to humanity through the incarnation. Torrance asserts that ‘in and through koinonia the divine prothesis enshrining the eternal mysterion embodies itself horizontally in a community of those who are one with God through the reconciliation of Christ.’ It is this theology of union with Christ by means of fellowship or participation in God which links Torrance’s doctrines of soteriology and ecclesiology; both are aspects of his christology, as we shall see in more detail in the next chapter.

In summarising Torrance’s use of these three concepts Lee’s study helpfully concludes that ‘the cause (causa) of ‘union with Christ’ is prothesis, the election of God. Its substance (materia) is mysterion, the hypostatic union in Jesus Christ, and its fulfilment (effectus) is koinonia, the communion of the Holy Spirit.’ This outline focuses on the trinitarian foundation inherent throughout Torrance’s work which reminds readers not to see the work of reconciliation as exclusively that of the Son, or the Son and the Spirit, but as the work of the triune God.

Theosis in the Theology of Thomas Torrance: Special Offer

My friend, evangelical Calvinist compatriot, and brother in Christ, Dr. Myk Habets’ published PhD dissertation entitled Theosis in the Theology of Thomas Torrance published by Ashgate has a special offer associated with it (from the publisher) until the end of the year. I would highly advise you to take advantage of this offer as soon as possible (and before the end of the year). Here are the details:

HABETS JKT(240x159)PATHMy book from Ashgate on TF Torrance and theosis is going to be made available at 50% discount for all Thomas F Torrance Theological Fellowship members throughout the rest of the year, and especially at SBL/AAR. This is a very generous offer and, I hope, a way for people who don’t have the book to purchase it at a more reasonable price.

Theosis in the Theology of Thomas Torrance. Ashgate New Critical Thinking in Religion, Theology and Biblical Studies. Farnham: Ashgate, 2009. x + 212 pp. [ISBN: 978-0-7546-6799-5; EISBN: 978-0-7546-9407-6]  http://www.ashgate.com/isbn/9780754667995

Ashgate will have the book on display at the AAR/SBL conference.

A special 50% discount for conference attendees and TF Torrance Theological Fellowship members is available. You may advertise the URL www.ashgate.com/torrance (not yet live) and discount code (torrance50) on the TFTTF Website etc.

So the caveat for you to take advantage of this offer is that you are either a member of the Thomas F Torrance Theological Fellowship (which is free), or that you are an attendee at this year’s AAR/SBL conference in Baltimore. Just follow the link above, and use the discount code through the Thomas F Torrance Theological Fellowship’s website.

Here is a review I did of Myk’s book some time ago; this was originally published in The Pacific Journal of Baptist Research of which Myk is the now the Senior Editor.

Theosis in the Theology of Thomas Torrance.  By Myk Habets. Surrey, England: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2009. 212 pp.

Myk Habets is Lecturer in Systematic Theology at Carey Baptist College, Auckland, New Zealand, and he offers a constructive look at Scottish Theologian, Thomas Forsyth Torrance’s version of a so called ‘Reformed’ Theosis. This book serves as the published version of Myk Habets’ doctoral dissertation completed at the University of Otago under the watchful eye of Ivor Davidson.  Habets’ offering provides original insight into an, heretofore, undeveloped doctrine within the theological oeuvre of the celebrated career of Thomas Torrance; Habets’ summarizes the proposal of the book in this way: “The Reformed theologian, Thomas Forsyth Torrance, represents an attempt to construct a soteriology that incorporates  both Eastern and Western models of the atonement around the controlling metaphor of theosis. A close reading of his theology presents a robust and clearly articulated doctrine of theosis as a key way of expressing God’s reconciling activity in Christ. As the true Man and the last Adam, Christ represents the archē and telos of human existence, the one in whose image all humanity has been created and into whose likeness all humanity is destined to be transformed from glory to glory. Through the Incarnation the Son becomes human without ceasing to be divine, to unite humanity and divinity together and effect a ‘deification’ of human nature, mediated to men and women who are said to be ‘in Christ’ by the work of the Holy Spirit. By means of a ‘wonderful exchange’ Christ takes what is ours and gives us what is his. For Torrance, this is the heart of atonement” (ix).

Habets starts with his Introduction, Approaching T.F. Torrance and the Theme of Theosis, which is necessary reading. Herein he provides preliminary definition for what theosis is, and then surveys the history of this pervasive doctrine through looking at key theologians from not just the East, which would be expected, but also the West; which becomes a bridge to Habets’ later development, insofar as Thomas Torrance is a Western theologian. Chapter 1, Creation and Theological Anthropology, enters into discussion by highlighting the import that Christology and teleology in relation to Creation play in backgrounding Torrance’s doctrine of theosis. Chapter 2, Incarnation: God Became Human, begins explicating the central foci which serve pivotal for Torrance’s theosis; that is, the Incarnation and the vicarious humanity of Christ. As Habets says, “[t]he Incarnation is redemptive and thus Christ’s entire life is an act of ‘divinisation’. Through the Word incarnate, revelation of God is given and received by means of Christ’s vicarious humanity, and union with God in Christ is made a reality” (16). Chapter 3, Partaking of the Divine Nature, serves as the touchstone for Habets’ development of Torrance’s understanding of theosis; it is here that Habets elaborates on how Torrance constructively engages a normally ‘Eastern’ understood doctrine of theosis by reifying it in a way that is both Reformed and Calvinian. Chapter 4, Community and Communion, brings together the previously developed themes of the vicarious humanity of Christ as the locus wherein the divine and the human are brought together in the person of Jesus Christ; Habets does this by identifying the role that the Holy Spirit plays in Torrance’s theology as the agent who brings humanity into union with Christ’s humanity, the ‘wonderful exchange’; it is here that ecclesiology and pneumatology are seen as central to understanding how theosis functions in Thomas Torrance’s theology. Nevertheless, it is also here where Habets is most critical of Torrance’s work; here Habets identifies a particular deficit in Torrance’s emphasis upon the Spirit’s work, “Had Torrance taken greater care to explain the relationship between the Spirit and Christ during Christ’s earthly ministry . . . he would have been able to apply this more directly to the Spirit-filled and Spirit-led life of the believer in these in-between times as we await the glorious return of the risen Christ. Unfortunately, such a discussion is absent and students of Torrance are left to work out such a practical theology for themselves” (191). Nevertheless, Habets believes that Torrance leaves a wealth of resource for his students, in constructive and fruitful ways. Habets concludes his work, Conclusion: The ‘Danger of Vertigo’?, by bringing together the heretofore developed threads into a constructive whole which provides critical ground from whence future Thomas Torrance students can fruitfully engage Torrance’s Reformed doctrine of theosis. Habets is clear that Torrance, himself, was not altogether “critical” in developing his doctrine of theosis; nevertheless, Habets believes, that through his reconstruction, he has established the reality that Thomas Torrance clearly offers the Christian (and Western) Church a thorough-going (albeit, revamped) doctrine of theosis to be critically engaged by Thomas Torrance and Reformed scholars alike (198).

Here I offer a few points of reflection. First, Myk Habets’ writing style is precise, cogent, and accessible. He writes for the scholar in this book, but also for the seminary student, and even the thoughtful lay person. Second, Habets offers a compelling case for the belief that at least for one ‘Western’ theologian, Thomas Torrance, there is an actual doctrine (not just theme) of theosis articulated; and while it has Reformed pedigree, it potentially provides ecumenical resource for Eastern and Western Christians alike. Third, Habets provides substantial bibliographic and index material in the end matter of the book that should serve those interested in further research in this area. Fourth, overall, Habets’ approach is measured in tone; and while he is highly appreciative of Thomas Torrance’s theosis, this does not cloud Habets ability to engage Torrance on critical ground. Habets holds his appreciation and criticism of Torrance with a charitable balance on either side.

The only critique I might offer would take the reader back to the Introduction. For myself I did not find this problematic, but I think some may desire more development in regards to the proposed doctrines of theosis present amongst the various theologians surveyed, by Habets. Though, since this section of the book only serves as preliminary and somewhat suggestive to Habets later work; I do not find this to ultimately be a substantial weakness. Others may disagree; they will have to read the book to find out.

I highly recommend this book for scholars, Seminary and Bible College students, and the highly motivated lay person in the Church. Myk Habets offers the Church of Jesus Christ a service by unearthing a rich doctrine of Reformed theosis from the English speaking, Scottish born theologian, par excellence, Thomas Torrance.

Bobby  Grow

Co-editor of  Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church. Eds. Myk Habets and Bobby Grow. Foreword by Alasdair Heron. Eugene, OR.: Pickwick Publications (2012).

First in the Son, and Then Us: The First ‘Christian’

Myk Habets, friend, brother in Christ, colleague in all things Evangelical Calvinist, and Jesusholymentor wrote his PhD dissertation at the University of Otago back in 2006, it was on the doctrine of Theosis in the Theology of Thomas Torrance (the title of the published version with Ashgate). In Chapter 2, Incarnation: God Became Human, Myk gets into identifying more than just this theme of theosis in the theology of Thomas Torrance, but an actual doctrine of theosis. I read Myk’s book (twice) back a few years ago (and even reviewed it for the The Pacific Journal of Baptist Research, which Myk serves as the senior editor for; you can read that review here), and found it very enlightening, and even formative towards a deeper grasp of Torrance’s thinking on many things; in particular, the issues revolving around Christology and salvation (theosis). And it is this area that I want to broach throughout the rest of this blog post.

Torrance believed that Jesus, as the homoousion (God-man) person that he is, and in his vicarious humanity for us, serves as the bridge, the nexus, the locus wherein there is a Godward to manward and manward to Godward movement (a movement of grace in line, with how Torrance would term it, the ‘logic of Grace’); and thus Jesus is the primary point and reality of all things (cf. Col. 2:3), He alone has primacy over all of creation (cf. Col. 1:15ff). Because of this reality, and because Torrance believed that Jesus is the archetype humanity and the ‘image of God’ (Col. 1:15) for us, he could believe and articulate this kind of thinking (as explicated by Myk Habets):

Torrance’s earliest mention of theosis occurs amdist a discussion of christology, when, commenting on the relevance of the hypostatic union for men and women he writes, ‘And in this God-Man we partake in grace, as members of his body, reconciled to God through him and in him, and even it is said, are incomprehensibly partakers of Divine nature!’ Here as early as 1938-39 we have a bold statement on the orthodoxy of theosis and how it functions within Torrance’s theology. As Yeung observes:

When God became man He was no less God, for He was not diminished by the development of the body, but rather ‘deified’ the body and rendered it immortal. ‘Deification’ did not mean any change of human essence, but that without being less human we are by grace made to participate in divine Sonship. (Yeung, Being and Knowing, p. 113)

Because of Christ’s hypostatic union a trinitarian movement is accomplished in his life from the Father through the Son in the Spirit, along with a doxological ‘return’ in the Spirit through the Son to the Father. This movement takes place first in the Son and then in believers by the Spirit of the Son. We share in the love of God through the grace of Christ in the communion of the Holy Spirit. This is what Torrance calls the evangelical, doxological theology the trinitarian life and love that God is. This constitutes an internal relation as the Son is homoousios with the Father and the Spirit and hence this trinitarian structure is at the same time christocentric, ‘for it is only through Jesus Christ that we know the Father and only through him that we receive the Holy Spirit. Everything depends on the indivisible inner relation in being of the Son and the Spirit to the Father …’. [Myk Habets, Theosis in the Theology of Thomas Torrance, 62-3.]

This is what Myk Habets, and I, mean, as Evangelical Calvinists, when we use the language of a ‘Christ conditioned’. Everything starts and ends in Christ. The ‘eternal life’ that we have received in salvation, is the ‘eternal life’ that Jesus first received first for us, in His vicarious humanity. We experience this kind of life (the kind that Jesus has by nature), as we participate in and from Jesus’ humanity by grace and adoption into God’s life. Salvation, then, cannot be said to be something that is present in you (accidents), or something that you activate because of ‘effectual grace’ (monergism); in a Christ conditioned purview, everything is personlised, realized, and actualized for us, in and through the humanity of Jesus Christ (his ‘priestly’ humanity). And so we look to Jesus, continuously, and not ourselves. Because He first loved us, that we might love Him.

Was Jesus Planning on Coming [Incarnating] Even Without the ‘Fall’?

incarnation1

Do you think Jesus would have come, and was originally planning on coming to earth, and incarnating, even without the ‘fall’ of humanity into sin? Here is how Myk Habets (friend, mentor, soon to be doctoral supervisor, co-editor, brother in Christ) has asked this question with more elaboration:

[A]ccording to Christian tradition Jesus Christ is pre-eminent over all creation as the Alpha and the Omega, the ‘beginning and the end’ (Rev 1.8, 21.6; 22.13). This belief, when theologically considered, is known as the primacy of Christ.1 The specific issue this doctrine addresses is the question: Was sin the efficient or the primary cause of the incarnation? This essay seeks to model the practice of modal logic in relation to the primacy of Christ, not to satisfy the cravings of speculative theologians but to reverently penetrate the evangelical mystery of the incarnation, specifically, the two alternatives: either ‘God became man independently of sin,’ or its contradiction, ‘God became man because of sin’. Examining historical responses to the primacy of Christ will lead to a consideration of how some recent theologians have taken up these themes and sought to develop them. This in turn provides resources that contribute towards an understanding of the incarnation assuming that the efficient cause was human sin. Finally, an argument will be presented defending the primacy of Christ and a justification for the hypothesis that there would have been an incarnation of the Son irrespective of the fall. [Myk Habets,  The author 2008. Journal compilation C  The Dominican Council/Blackwell Publishing Ltd. 2008, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK, and 350 Main Street, Malden MA 02148, USA DOI:10.1111/j.1741-2005.2008.00240.x, p. 343.]

So what do you think? Do you think that if sin was the primary reason for Jesus becoming human, that this would mean that creation determined something for God, that God did not first determine for himself? Thomas Aquinas, Habets argues throughout the rest of his essay, would answer in the affirmative; i.e. that the primary reason Jesus came to earth as a human being was to deal with the consequences and fall out provided by the Fall. It is understandable why Aquinas and the classical Tradition have taken this view, but is the traditional view consistent with the theo-logic required by a doctrine of God that sees Jesus as primary over all of creation?

Here is how Myk breaks this down in even more pointed fashion:

[T]wo views on the primacy of Christ dominate the discussion within medieval theology, those of the Franciscans, led by John Duns Scotus, and those of the Dominicans, led by Thomas Aquinas. According to the first view humanity was created for glory, and sin is merely an episode along the way. The incarnation would have occurred  irrespective of the fall since humanity’s ultimate destiny is participation in the being of God and the incarnation guarantees that this will be realized. This Franciscan position is known as the Scotistic thesis. It is what one scholar terms ‘elevation-line’ theology which sees the incarnation as the way to the elevation or consummation of creation.5 The second major view considers the deliverance of creation as secondary to the question of sin. This is the Dominican position known as the Thomistic thesis. It may be characterised as a ‘restitution-line’ theology, in which the incarnation occurred solely as a remedy for humanity’s sin, with the restitution of creation as a corollary. Both ‘school’s’ of thought deserve some articulation before examining some recent contributions to the issue. [pp. 344-45]

Something to consider for you then. Are you an ‘elevation’ theologian or an ‘restitution’? Or maybe you are both?

Creation, A Reason

In some of my posts, especially of late, we have been thinking about the Christian doctrine of Creation; as corollary, we have also been considering our relation to creation in and through Christ. The first step we ought to engage, in our consideration of such things; is to wonder about the God-world relation and what purpose he has always already intended for creation as the counterpoint to his gracious life of love, from which he created. It becomes quickly obvious, as we read the New Testament, and work out the theo-logical implications of Trintarian and Christo-logical assumptions, therein; that creation was created with Christ in mind, and us in Christ. So that God’s original intent, was in and through Christ, to bring all of creation (and humanity as the pinnacle of his creation) into his life of perichoretic (interpenetrating) love (self-giving, subject-in-distinction=Trinity). Scottish theologian, David Fergusson, helps us understand how all of this has played out in the history of interpretation:

The notion of ‘wisdom’ provides further evidence of the integration of creation and salvation in the Old Testament. As the creative agency of God, wisdom is celebrated in the Psalms, Proverbs, Job, and some of the deutero-canonical works. In some places, such as Proverbs 8, wisdom is personified as a divine agent. The divine wisdom by which the world is created is also apparent in the regularity of nature, the divine law, and human affairs. This notion of ‘wisdom’ is later fused with the Greek concept of ‘Logos’ and becomes vital for expressing the linking of creation and Christology in the New Testament. In the prologue to John’s Gospel the Word (Logos) of God is the one by whom and through whom the world is created. This Word which is made present to Israel becomes incarnate in Jesus Christ. In this cosmic Christology, the significance of Jesus is understood with respect to the origin and purpose of the created order. Already in Paul’s writing and elsewhere in the New Testament epistles, we find similar cosmic themes (e.g. 1 Cor. 8:6, Col. 1:15-20, Heb. 1:1-4). By describing creation as Christ-centred, these passages offer two related trajectories of thought. First, the origin and final purpose of the cosmos is disclosed with the coming of Christ into the world and his resurrection from the dead. Second, the significance of Christ is maximally understood reference to his creative and redeeming power throughout the created universe. Writers at different periods in the history of the church would later use this cosmic Christology to describe the appearance of the incarnate Christ as the crowning moment of history. No longer understood merely as an emergency measure to counteract the effects of sin and evil, the incarnation was the fulfillment of an eternal purpose. The world was made so that Christ might be born. This is captured in Karl Barth’s dictum that creation is ‘the external basis of the covenant’ (Barth 1958: 94). [David Fergusson, Chapter 4: Creation, 76-7 in The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology, edited by John Webster, Kathryn Tanner, and Iain Torrance]

In the history what David Fergusson is describing is known as the Scotist Thesis; viz. that the plan was always for Jesus to incarnate to bring humanity and creation into the divine dialogue and life of communion through union with the Son. The ‘Fall’ intensified the Incarnation in a way that is tragic, but rife with the redemptive hope of the resurrection and advent life! I follow the Scotist thesis on this front. My friend, brother in Christ, Evangelical Calvinist co-conspirator, and doctoral adviser, Myk Habets has written this to open up his essay entitled On Getting First Things First: Assessing Claims for the Primacy of Christ (©The author 2008. Journal compilation ©The Dominican Council/Blackwell Publishing Ltd. 2008, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK, and 350 Main Street, Malden MA 02148, USA DOI:10.1111/j.1741-2005.2008.00240.x):

According to Christian tradition Jesus Christ is pre-eminent over all creation as the Alpha and the Omega, the ‘beginning and the end’ (Rev 1.8, 21.6; 22.13). This belief, when theologically considered, is known as the primacy of Christ.1 The specific issue this doctrine addresses is the question: Was sin the efficient or the primary cause of the incarnation? This essay seeks to model the practice of modal logic in relation to the primacy of Christ, not to satisfy the cravings of speculative theologians but to reverently penetrate the evangelical mystery of the incarnation, specifically, the two alternatives: either ‘God became man independently of sin,’ or its contradiction, ‘God became man because of sin’. . . .

Wouldn’t you agree that ‘the world was made so that Christ might be born’?

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. 18 And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. 19 For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, 20 and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. 21 And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled 22 in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight— 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister. ~Colossians 1:15-23

πίστις χριστοῦ, ‘Faith in Christ’ or ‘Faith of Christ’: More on the Vicarious Humanity of Christ

I have written, in the past, on the vicarious faith of Christ for us; and also had a guest post, here, by Myk Habets on the same topic. I want to further highlight this reality as it is presented for us in the Epistle of Galatians. This
continues to represent a hot topic in biblical and exegetical studies, and through this post, once again you will understand what I think about this. The issue has to do with what in the Greek is pistis Christou πίστις χριστοῦ –‘the faithfulness or faith of Christ’. So the issue of contention is whether this phrase should be translated ‘faith in Christ’ (the objective genetive in the Greek), or ‘the faithfulness or faith of Christ’ (the subjective genetive in the Greek); I opt for the latter translation (the subjective genetive)—here is a post wherein I deal head on with this issue Galatains 2.20, Vicarious Humanity and Faith, and Interpretive Tradition in Evangelical Calvinist ExegesisJ. Louis Martyn is an exegete front and center in this debate; he writes:

I live in faith, that is to say in the faith of the Son of God. The place in which the I lives this new life is not only that of everyday human existence but also and primarily the place of faith (the stress lies on the end of the sentence). Were it only the former, it would not be life “to God” (v. 19). Were it only the latter it would be a futile attempt to escape the specific place in which one was called (I Cor. 7:20-24).

But what is this newly created faith-place? A linguistic clue is found in the degree of parallelism between Gal. 2:20 and Rom 5:15:

Gal 2:20                                                                           Rom 5:15

(and the life I now live in the flesh)                        (and the free gift abounds)

I live in faith,                                                                     in grace,

namely the faith of the                                                  namely the grace of

Son of God . . .                                                                    Jesus Christ

Just as in Rom 5:15 the life-giving grace is specified as the grace “of Jesus Christ,” so here the life-giving faith of which Paul speaks is specified as the faith of the Son of God . . . . Christ’s faith constitutes the space in which the one crucified with Christ can live and does live. [J. Louis Martyn, The Anchor Bible, Galatians: A New Translation With Introduction And Commentary, 259.

This is in rhythm with Thomas Torrance’s understanding of the Incarnation and what he calls the ontological theory of the atonement; wherein Christ enters into humanity, and acts for us, in a way we would never act apart from participation with his acting humanity for us. Here is how Robert Walker (TF Torrance’s nephew) sketches Torrance’s view:

iv) faith involves living by the faith of Christ — Torrance points out the significance of the Greek wording of Galatians 2:20, ‘I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.’ We have been brought to know God. Our old way of living in which we did not know God has been put to death with Christ. We now live, we have faith, we interpret the scriptures and do theology, and yet it is not us but Christ who lives in us. The real believer is Christ and we live by and out of the human faith of Christ. (Robert T. Walker, ed., Thomas Torrance, “Incarnation,” xlv)

The concern with this is how human agency, in light of this, can be said to retain a subjective and created integrity; so that humanity is not objectified in the humanity of Christ, such that there no longer remains a created contingency known as humanity. Michael Bird, in summary of Ben Myers perspective on Bird’s and Preston Sprinkle’s book The Faith of Jesus Christ, writes:

Benjamin Myers draws attention to Karl Barth’s unique contribution to the debate through his conception of God’s faithfulness as revealed in the πίστις of Jesus. He detects a pervasive Paulinism, running from Barth’s Römerbrief to the Kirchliche Dogmatik, which places God’s operations in the context of cosmic apocalyptic action rather than seeing them as the outcome of salvation-history. Myers shows how Barth regards faith as essentially God’s faithfulness revealed in Jesus Christ, and human faith as the obedience that participates in Jesus’ own obedience to the Father. Myers also regards the construal of the πίστις χριστοῦ debate as a contest between ‘anthropological’ and ‘christological’ readings to be a false dichotomy, since Barth’s own model shows that the human subject need not be erased in order to make room for divine action. (see full post here)

The significance of this is massive! If the grammar and syntax in Scripture supports this reading—e.g. the ‘subjective genetive’ that πίστις χριστοῦ (faithfulness of Christ)—then the view of faith as something that is created and given to us to activate as human agents is muddled. Whole systems of theological construction—like ones based upon substance metaphysics, like classical Calvinism and Arminianism (who operate with concepts like ‘created grace’) are no longer viable alternatives. Further, if this reading is the case, then a personalist understanding of salvation will finally take its rightful place as the touchstone in soteriological discussion and consideration; relational and Christian Triune emphases will be in the forefront when we think of salvation, and Christ will be the center and ground of salvation talk—and we will no longer concern ourselves with how God’s Sovereignty and Human Freedom usually function in a competitive relation, since these two will be understood from within the hypostatic union of the Divine Son with his human becoming. Even further, humanity will understand its freedom for God, and thus its purpose for existence, from the freedom for God that has opened up for us through the gracious faithfulness of the Son in our stead—so instead of objectifying humanity, the vicarious faithfulness of the Son, subjectivizes humanity in the way that humanity had always been intended for; for relation and participation in the life of God, by grace and through the adoption of the Spirit in the Son’s humanity for us.

This is the exciting topic I am very slowly working at for my PhD studies. I wonder what you think …

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

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

[A]Thesis Four

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

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

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

 

[A]Thesis Five

Election is christologically conditioned.

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

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


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

[2] See further in Johnson, chapter 9.

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

[4] See further in Habets, chapter 7.