Torrance’s Theological-Exegetical Gloss on Romans 8:31-39: And a Word of Encouragement About God’s Unrelenting Love For Us

As I have been rereading TF Torrance’s The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being Three Persons, I came across a passage that struck me as a sort of theological-exegetical gloss of Romans 8:31-39. Torrance is often accused of not doing any biblical-exegetical work; but I would counter, that in his role as a Christian Dogmatist his work is saturated in the thematics that allow Scripture to say what it does about God and His works. I would contend that, Torrance, as a Christian Dogmatist, par excellence, has Scriptural themes and their reality in Christ, pervading all of his writings. What is required for the reader though, is that they be familiar enough with Scripture, as Torrance was, to be able to discern just how Scripturally rich and informed his theologizing is. In the following we will compare Romans 8:31-39 and the passage I came across from Torrance; and then in conclusion offer some reflection on its theological and spiritual implications.

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?33 Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” 37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And Torrance:

In the outgoing movement of his eternal Love God himself has come among us and become one of us and one with us in the Person of his beloved Son in order to reconcile us to himself and to share with us the Fellowship of Love which he has within his own Triune Life. Since in the Lord Jesus Christ the fullness of God dwells bodily we must think of the entire Godhead as condescending in him to be ‘God with us’ in our human life and existence in the world. This does not mean of course that the Father and the Spirit became incarnate with the Son, but that with and in the incarnate Son the whole undivided Trinity was present and active in fulfilling the eternal purpose of God’s Love for mankind, for all three divine Persons have their Being in homoousial and hypostatic interrelations with one another, and they are all inseparably united in God’s activity in creation and redemption, not least as those activities are consummated in the incarnate economy of the Son. In refusing to spare his dear Son but in delivering him up in atoning sacrifice for us all, God the Father reveals that he loves us with the very Love which he bears to himself, and that with Jesus Christ he freely gives us all things. If God is for us in this way what can come between us? And in giving us his one Spirit who proceeds from the Father through the Son and sheds abroad in our hearts the very Love which God himself is, God reveals that there is nothing that can ever separate us from him in his Love. Through the Son and in the Spirit, we are taken into the triune Fellowship of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Thus in an utterly astonishing way the Holy Trinity has committed himself to be with us and among us within the conditions of our human and earthly life in space and time, but, it need hardly be said, without being subjected to the processes and necessities of created space and time, and without in the slightest compromising the mystery of his divine transcendence.[1]

We see Torrance creatively interweaving classical trinitarian locus like the opera trinitatis ad extra indivisa sunt (‘the works of the Trinity on the outside are indivisible’) into his thinking on God’s “for us-ness,” which in itself places an emphasis on the oneness of God in recognition of his works toward us in the economy of His life become revealed for us in the Son. Beyond that, we see how the canonical themes, and in particular in this passage, the themes of Romans are informing Torrance’s thought in regard to God’s love for us; and then what that love implies in its grounding in Jesus Christ.

More practically, the great hope this provides us with is without measure! I often feel like I’m just going through the motions of life; getting caught up in the necessary busy-ness of it all, and not really living into the full participatio Christ that I’ve been called to in Christ. What this passage from Torrance, as a gloss on Romans, encourages me to remember is that no matter what, it is the whole God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—who is holding me deeply in His grasp, and who cannot be deterred in His tremendous Love for me. I find great hope in knowing that no matter what the goings on of my life are, that God in Christ for us, for me will never allow me to be separated from Him; that I am as close to Him as the Son of God is to His Father in the bond of the Holy Spirit. While daily requisites of life seem to plague my existence moment by moment; while my energy is zapped by the long hours of work, and the financial responsibilities that seem to be at every turn and corner of life; while health issues, and other anxieties and fears seemingly seek to suck up the time that ought to only be God’s; while all of these things and more are present in our daily lives as Christians, what Torrance and the Apostle Paul encourage us with is the reality of “so what!” God is God, and He will not be thwarted in His great love for us; just as sure as His great Love just is who He is, and He has shown us that in His undivided work for us in the three persons, as revealed first in the Son.

[1] Thomas F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being Three Persons(London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016), 162.

Introducing the Real classical Calvinism: ‘If you’re going to debate it, at least know what you’re debating about’

As usual, in the right online environs, the Calvinist-Arminian (Provisionist) debate has carried on unabated by not actually engaging with the actual entailments of a real-life Calvinist-Arminian theology. In other words, what the reader will find, are people who are in this interminable joust, oriented by the five points of Calvinism, or not. There is a free-flow exchange between favorite prooftexts, and their ostensible exegesis, and/or an intractable debate about this or that philosophical understanding vis-à-vis God’s sovereignty and human agency in freewill. I am almost positive that everyone reading here is well aware of what I am referring to.

What the above participants fail to ever break into, though, is actual and historic doctrine vis-à-vis the Reformed faith and its development. That is, in these debates you will never hear the words: ‘Covenantal’ ‘Federal’ ‘experimental predestinarianism’ ‘Divine pactum’ ‘pactum salutis’ ‘ordo salutis,’ so on and so forth. If a substantial critique is to be made of a classical Calvinism, and its sibling, Arminianism, what it actually teaches must be engaged with. That is, the best of that tradition, and its accurate representation, must be attended to over and again. In an attempt to alert folks, in these spheres, to what classical Calvinism actually entails let me refer us to a passage from C. G. M’Crie, cited by Thomas Torrance:

The Sum is objectionable in form and application. Detailed descriptions of redemption as a bargain entered into between the first and second Persons of the Trinity in which conditions were laid down, promises held out, and pledges given, the reducing of salvation to a mercantile arrangement between God and the sinner, in which the latter signifies contentment to enter into a relation of grace, so that ever after the contented, contracting part can say, ‘Lord, let it be a bargain’, — such presentations have obviously a tendency to reduce the Gospel of the grace of God to the level of a legal compact entered into between two independent and, so far as right or status is concerned, two equal parties. The blessedness of the mercy-seat is in danger of being lost sight of in the bargaining of the marketplace; the simple story of salvation is thrown into the crucible of the logic of the schools and it emerges in the form of a syllogism.[1]

The Sum, as referred to by M’Crie, was a compression of the Westminster Confession of Faith for the Presbyterian church (kirk) in Scotland. Here is how Torrance describes it:

David Dickson and James Durham, both of whom emerged in expository activity, collaborated in compiling The Sum of Saving Knowledge, on the basis of sermons delivered by Dickson at Inverary. It was composed, Woodrow tells us, ‘so as it might be most useful to vulgar Capacities’. In that respect it was certainly very successful, for it supplied ordinary people with a simplified and formalised account of the plan of salvation according to the federal system of theology, expressed in the common language of the market-place. However, in this way the dynamic content of the Gospel was fused with the contractual means of putting into effect the eternal decrees held to issue from the Council of the Trinity, while the inclusion of ‘Kirk-government’ among the means of grace injected a strong presbyterian ecclesiasticism into theology. Ever since its publication in 1650, The Sum of Saving Knowledge has had an immense influence on the thinking of the Kirk by members and ministers alike. Although it was not officially authorised by the General Assembly it was long printed together with the Westminster Standards and associated with their authority. . ..[2]

Some, in the know, in the Federal theology camp, might want to dispute M’Crie’s and Torrance’s characterization; go for it! Even so, the characterization of Covenantal or Westminster Calvinism, by these Scots, is indeed representative of the distillation of a classical Calvinism; particularly as that is embedded in Covenantal-Reformed theology.

At base, even in these short representations, what stands out is the informing theological framework for a classical Calvinism. Indeed, as noted by M’Crie, its character is legal, forensic, juridical, and even mercantile. In other words, the ground of historical Calvinist theology reflects the socio-cultural-economico milieu of the day. It was an agrarian based world, functioning on a bartering system, much like we might be familiar with even today in the 21st century; viz., in principle. It reflects a contractual (or transactional) system of salvation where the quid pro quo is central. That is to say: God presents a framework of legal obedience (covenant of works) for Adam and Eve to perform, in order for a continued relationship to remain in place between God and them. But they failed, which of course in this system God decreed to obtain, leading to an unbridgeable rupture between a sinful humanity (in Adam and Eve), and a Holy God. What was God to do? Thankfully God had already decreed this whole event, this whole economy, and as such, in eternity past had already struck a bargain with the Son (covenant of redemption aka pactum salutis) to purchase an arbitrarily elect group of people (based in God’s remote, hidden, or secret will) from Augustine’s massa of damned humanity. As the Son agreed to meet the conditions of the covenant of works, and prevail where Adam and Eve failed, it would be in His achievement, finally eventuating in His ultimate sacrifice and payment at the Cross, whereby this elect group of people would be purchased from eternal damnation, and brought into the eternal life of God. This, in the Covenantal (Federal) system, is known as the Covenant of Grace. As this covenant has been established, according to the categories of Federal theology, the ‘elect’ will enter into this covenantal framework, and be required to persevere in the good works they have ostensibly been created for in and through the instrumental work of Jesus Christ. Of course, there is a problem here for the elect: i.e., in this system you are never quite sure you really are one of the elect (you could actually be a reprobate). This system has operative what is called ‘temporary faith’ (even Calvin has this in his thinking, which I have published on in our edited book). Temporary faith is the notion, in this system, that it is possible to “look” like one of the elect for whom Christ died, but in the end the purported saint never really was; they didn’t have an effectual, persevering faith, and this by the decree of God.

Maybe if the Calvinist-Arminian debate squabbled with some of the above many would abandon the whole framework simply because they would realize how unlivable (and biblically foreign) it is. History of theological ideas, as you learn them have a way of bringing perspective that the parochial and un-informed debates cannot bring. I would suggest that it isn’t worth engaging in such debates at least until the debater has put in the appropriate work towards understanding the actual historical and theological bases that in fact fund what they are purportedly committed to, and arguing over.

For my money, as is no secret, there is a much better way. It doesn’t fully abandon the history of the Reformed development, but of course it constructively engages with that development, along with the teachings of the early Church, such that a genuinely evangelical and kerygmatic understanding of the Gospel is arrived at. The Gospel offers a freshness, a rest, and a hope that the oppressive system under consideration in this post cannot offer. I have detailed, pretty exhaustively here at the blog, and in our books, what informs this system; primarily as that relates to a doctrine of God and a prolegomena.


[1] C. G. M’Crie, The Confession of the Church of Scotland (Edinburgh: 1907), 72ff cited by Thomas F. Torrance, Scottish Theology: From John Knox to John McLeod Campbell (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1996), 122.

[2] Thomas F. Torrance, Scottish Theology: From John Knox to John McLeod Campbell (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1996), 111-12.


In Defense of Barth’s and Torrance’s Critique of Westminster Calvinism

A repost (not for the faint of heart, approx. 4,300 words). I am still working towards a PhD, and will be adding the gist of this post to the dissertation (which will be accredited, Lord willing). I wanted to write a post on this issue, but then searched my blog and found this. It seems like I’m almost at the point here at the blog that I’ve already written on everything, with reference to Calvinism (LOL). Anyway, settle in and give this post a read. 

Someone on Facebook took issue with my post on Torrance’s critique of Westminster Calvinism, or more pointedly: Federal theology. He believes that Torrance fully mischaracterizes and misunderstands Covenant theology and its implications; he wrote in comment to the post on the FB thread:

Not sure what to think of this. Of course, this isn’t outside of your modus operandi, so on the one hand, I should just nod my head, saying, “classic Bobby Grow.” And, at the same time, I recognize that your blog posts are, at base, a paraphrase rather than developed presentation of your thought. But, on the other hand, I question Torrance’s accuracy regarding his reading of the Westminsterian tradition and thus his reading of the classic theism of which Westminster is only a species. Consequently, I question the strength of your judgment in following him.

Would you be willing to offer us a blog post or two (I’m sure you have some in your archives that you could publish as well) that would directly engage with the Westminster Standards? Again, I recognize that your posts are distillations and summaries, but it may help the sympathetic reader (or otherwise) to see the strength and substance of your argument.

My blog itself (and when I say “blog” I am referring to my blog in toto, not blog posts that populate the blog) is a living testimony to what I think about Westminster theology. In fact, I have a whole category dedicated to critiquing Federal Calvinism which I have endearingly entitled: critiquing classic Calvinism. But in an effort to reiterate such things once more, let me do that throughout the rest of this post.

The issue, the way I see it, can be reduced simply to a doctrine of God, and how God relates to the world in the so-called God/world relation. It ought to be made clear upfront that Torrance’s critique of classical theism, in general, and Westminster Calvinism, in particular, is not unique to him, or the After Barth tradition within which he broadly works (I say broadly because in many ways TFT is his own man, particularly when it comes to critiquing classical theism of a certain mechanical sort). My initial openness to Torrance (and Barth) was because of my formal education and background in historical theology. My now former professor, and mentor (who I would still consider as such), Ron Frost, turned me onto a critique of Federal theology, and its God, not from engaging with the theologies of Barth or Torrance, but through reference to Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Richard Sibbes, John Cotton et al. Again, the theme that grounds the critique of Covenant theology, whether that be in the aforementioned theologians, or presently in Karl Barth and Thomas Torrance is the same. The theme that they all have in common in critique of Federal theology’s supporting doctrine of God is that the God underwriting Westminster Calvinism is a God who relates to the world mechanically; that is their God, in their understanding, relates to the world through decrees, and thus mechanically rather than relationally. This was the critique Frost turned me onto, and is the one that both Barth and Torrance make of “classical theism” in their own respective ways.

With this in mind let me lift up a rather definitive and “summarizing” quote from Barth that helps to, once again, illustrate for us just how decisive a doctrine of God is towards determining all subsequent theological lines of reflection. Here we have Barth offering a critique of Calvin’s doctrine of election (in this instance Calvin’s doctrine of election ought to be understood as typical of classical Calvinism’s understanding in general), and the decretal God funding such doctrine:

How can we have assurance in respect of our own election except by the Word of God? And how can even the Word of God give us assurance on this point if this Word, if this Jesus Christ, is not really the electing God, not the election itself, not our election, but only an elected means whereby the electing God—electing elsewhere and in some other way—executes that which he has decreed concerning those whom He has—elsewhere and in some other way—elected? The fact that Calvin in particular not only did not answer but did not even perceive this question is the decisive objection which we have to bring against his whole doctrine of predestination. The electing God of Calvin is a Deus nudus absconditus.[1]

Compare Barth’s critique of Calvin’s doctrine of election with what would come latterly (relative to Calvin) in the Westminster Confession of Faith’s chapter three Of God’s Eternal Decree

Of God’s Eternal Decree

    1. God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.
    2. Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions, yet hath he not decreed anything because he foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions.
    3. By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death.
    4. These angels and men, thus predestinated, and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished.
    5. Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to his eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of his will, hath chosen, in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of his mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith, or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving him thereunto; and all to the praise of his glorious grace.
    6. As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath he, by the eternal and most free purpose of his will, foreordained all the means thereunto. Wherefore, they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ by his Spirit working in due season, are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by his power, through faith, unto salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.
    7. The rest of mankind God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of his own will, whereby he extendeth or withholdeth mercy, as he pleaseth, for the glory of his sovereign power over his creatures, to pass by; and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praise of his glorious justice.
    8. The doctrine of this high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care, that men, attending the will of God revealed in his Word, and yielding obedience thereunto, may, from the certainty of their effectual vocation, be assured of their eternal election. So shall this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God; and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation to all that sincerely obey the gospel.[2]

While Barth refers us to Calvin he might as well have been referring us to chapter three of the Westminster Confession of Faith; in fact, he may well have been anachronistically overlaying some of that onto Calvin’s theology. For our purposes I am hopeful (because of both time and space constraints) that the contrast and the basis of critique that Torrance himself (insofar as he imbibes Barth’s) is grounded in a doctrine of God.

For those who adhere to the tradition codified in the WCF it is what Richard Muller calls the Christian Aristotelian tradition that stands glaringly at the forefront. In other words, there is no attempt to hide the fact that those present at Westminster (and Dordt for that matter) were simply re-iterating Thomas Aquinas’ synthesis of Aristotle’s categories of the Infinite or Pure Being with Christian theology. In other words, for the WCF it isn’t Jesus Christ, as the Son of the Father, who is the ground or basis of election; for the WCF it is the absolutum decretum or absolute decree that God has chosen, post-lapsarian, to relate gratuitously to a small elect group of people. And his choice to relate to these elect people will be actualized by Christ for them; by Christ meeting the legal requirements that were set out by the so-called covenant of works. Richard Muller writes (at excessive length):

Given these relationships between law and grace, the two covenants, and the problems of sin and salvation, it should not be surprising that a central issue addressed in the Reformed doctrine of the covenant of works was the issue of federal headship and, therefore, the parallels between the first and the second Adam, the federal heads of the covenants of works and of grace. It is at this point that the soteriological ground of the doctrine of the covenant of works is most clearly presented, particularly in terms of its relationship to the doctrine of Christ’s mediatorial headship and work of satisfaction.

Adam, in the covenant of works, “stood as the head of mankind [caput totius generis humani],” in his person “representing” the entire human race. By the same token, as indicated by the Apostle in Romans 5:11-15, Christ as the antitype of Adam stands as the representative of humanity in the covenant of grace and the “surety” of fulfillment or substitute for mankind before the law of God, in effect, in fulfillment of the demands of the violated covenant of works. After all, the violation of the covenant of works abrogated the law as a covenant, not as the ultimate “rule of life.” It is both the permanence of the divine promise of fellowship and the stability of the divine law as the standard of holiness and righteousness and, therefore, as the basis for fellowship with the holy and righteous God, that relates the covenants to one another: “the law declares, that there is no admission for any to eternal life, but on the account of a perfect and absolutely complete righteousness; [and] also, that every sinner shall undergo the penalty of death, the dominion of which is eternal” unless the penalty of sin is paid and “the dominion of death … abolished.”

Drawing on the epistles to the Romans and the Galatians, Witsius argues the equivalency of the promises of the two covenants. Paul, he notes, “distinguishes the rightness of the law from the evangelical” while at the same time indicating that “life” is promised under both covenants. Concerning legal righteousness, Paul writes “that the man which doth these things shall live by them” (Rom. 10:5) and concerning evangelical righteousness, “the just shall live by faith” (Rom 1:17). Even so,

On both sides, the promise of life is the same, proposed in the very same words. For the apostle does not hint by the least expression, that one kind of life is promised by gospel, another by the law…. But the apostle places the whole difference, not in the thing promised by the law to the man that worketh, which he now receives by faith in Christ. But to what man thus working was it promised? to the sinner only? Was it not to man in his innocency? Was it not then when it might truly be said, If you continue to do well, you shall be the heir of that life upon that condition. Which could be said to none but to upright Adam. Was it not then, when the promise was actually made? For after the entrance of sin, there is not so much a promise, as a denunciation of wrath, and an intimation of a curse, proposing that as the condition for obtaining life, which is now impossible. I therefore conclude, that to Adam, in the covenant of works, was promised the same eternal life, to be obtained by the righteousness which is the law, of which believers are made partakers through Christ.

The identical point is made by Brakel with reference to the same texts.

Arguably, both theologians here manifest the central reason for the doctrine of a covenant of works and its fundamental relationship to the doctrines of justification by grace through faith and Christ’s satisfaction for sin: the issue is not to hammer home a legalistic view of life and salvation but precisely the opposite, while at the same time upholding the stability of divine law. There can be no salvation by works, but only by a means that excludes works—in short, through faith in Christ. Nonetheless, the law is not void. Indeed, the law remains the representation of divine goodness, holiness, and righteousness placed in the heart and mind of Adam even as he was created in the image of God. Given the fact of sin, such a law can no longer hold forth its original promise of fellowship with God, but it remains the condition of fellowship just as it remains the temporal indication of the goodness, holiness, and righteousness of God. The covenant of works takes on for the fallen Adam the function of the second or pedagogical use of the law—precisely the function of the Mosaic law understood as the legal covenant or covenant of works: “The Lord willed,” Brakel writes, that Adam “would now turn away from the broken covenant of works, and, being lost in himself, would put all hope in the seed of the woman, which was promised to him immediately thereafter.”

The covenant of works, then, was not violated and made void from the human side by the sin of Adam and Eve, rendering the promises of the covenant inaccessible to their posterity—but it was also, Witsius argues, abrogated from the divine side in the sense that God has clearly willed not to renew or recast the covenant of works for the sake of offering to fallen humanity a promise of life grounded in its own personal righteousness. In other words, God will not now, in the context of human sinfulness “prescribe a condition of obedience less perfect than that which he stipulated” in the original covenant of works. Nonetheless, so far as the promise of eternal life is concerned, all of mankind remains subject to its “penal sanction”: thus, sin does not render void nor the divine abrogation of the covenant of works remove “the unchangeable truth” of God’s “immutable and indispensable justice.” Even so, Calvin had argued the “perpetual validity” of the law and had insisted that “the law has been divinely handed down to us to teach us perfect righteousness; there no other righteousness is taught than that which conforms to the requirements of God’s will.”

The divine abrogation of the covenant of works, then, does not abolish the promise of God or the condition of holiness and righteousness required for the fulfillment of the promise. And it is precisely because of this coordinate stability of promise and law that the covenant of grace becomes effective in Christ alone. When the Apostle Paul writes, “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law,” he indicates both that “the covenant of grace does not abrogate, but supposes the abrogation of the covenant of works” and that

the covenant of grace is not [itself] the abolition, but rather the confirmation of the covenant of works, inasmuch as the Mediator has fulfilled all the conditions of that covenant, so that all believers may be justified and saved according to the covenant of works, to which satisfaction was made by the Mediator…. The very law of the covenant, which formerly gave up the human sinner to sin, when his condition is once changed by union with Christ the surety, does now, without any abolition, abrogation, or any other change whatever, absolve the man from the guilt and dominion of sin, and bestow on him that sanctification and glorification, which are gradually brought to perfection, which he shall obtain at the resurrection of the dead.

The stability of the law, guaranteed in the divine maintenance of the terms of the covenant of works, points not to a legalistic view of salvation but to the fullness of Christ’s work of sanctification and to the totally unmerited character of the salvation provided by grace through faith to believers. “Recognize,” writes Brakel, that “the Lord Jesus placed Himself under” the “same law Adam had … and thereby He merited redemption and adoption as children for the elect.”

The ultimate relationship of the covenant of works to the covenant of grace and, equally so, of Adam to Christ as the old and new federal heads of the humanity, is established and outlined by Witsius, Brakel, and virtually all of the major Reformed covenant theologians of the seventeenth century in their discussion of the “covenant of redemption” or pactum salutis between God the Father and God the Son. Here, also, as in the case of the covenant of works, we encounter a doctrinal construct, elicited according to the terms of the older Reformed hermeneutic, from the collation and exegetical analysis of a series of biblical passages. The doctrine itself probably originated with Cocceius, but its roots are most probably to be found in the earlier Reformed mediation on the trinitarian nature of the divine decrees. While not attempting to offer a discussion of the entire doctrine of the covenant of redemption, we can note here its function with respect to the two other covenants. In the first place, it is the eternal foundation of the covenant of grace, according to which Christ is established, in the depths of the Trinity, as the Redeemer, the new federal head of humanity, and the surety and sponsor of humanity in covenant: in short, the covenant of redemption is an “agreement between God and his elect. The covenant of grace thus also “presupposes” the covenant of redemption and “is founded upon it.”

In the second place, the covenant of redemption established the eternal remedy for the problem of sin and ensured the full manifestation and exercise of the divine righteousness and justice both in the covenant of works and beyond its abrogation. As Brakel comments, “The fact that God from eternity foreknew the fall, decreeing that He would permit it to occur, is not only confirmed by the doctrines of His omniscience and decrees, but also from the fact that God from eternity ordained a Redeemer for man, to deliver him from sin: the Lord Jesus Christ whom Peter calls the Lamb, “who was foreknown [voorgekend] before the foundation of the world. By the covenant of redemption, the Son binds himself to the work of salvation and, therefore, to the fulfillment of the condition of fellowship with God for the sake of God’s covenant people. Thus the promises, the conditions, and the penalties for failure to fulfill the conditions remain—but the conditions are met and the penalties satisfied in Christ. As eternally guaranteed by the covenant of redemption, “conditions are offered, to which eternal salvation is annexed; conditions not to be performed again by us, which might throw the mind into despondence; but by him, who would not part with his life, before he had truly said, “It is finished.”

After excoriating Thomas F. Torrance, Rolson, and Poole for naïvely deconstructing this kind (the above aforementioned by Muller) of classical Covenant theology through a ‘Barthian’ misunderstanding and caricature (of classical Covenant theology, as described by Muller above), Muller concludes thusly:

[…] The purported legalism of the continuing covenant of works as presented in the demands of the law is nothing less than permanence of the original divine intention to ground the fellowship in the nature of God and in the imago Dei. Witsius and Brakel recognized in their debate with seventeenth-century Arminian and Socinian adversaries that as long as covenant refers to a relationship between God and human beings, law must belong to covenant as much as promise. They also understood—as we should perhaps recognize in the theological presuppositions of the contemporary critics of the doctrine—that the denial of the covenant of works, the attempt to deny the legal element of covenant in general (and, today, the attempt to pit the Reformers against their successors), represent not only an alternative view of the original relationship between God and human beings but also an alternative theory of Christ’s atonement and a theology that, at best, is less than traditionally Reformed.

The elements of the Reformed doctrine of the covenant of works that I have described here indicate the result of a process of doctrinal development in the Reformed tradition. As such, the language of the doctrine is certainly different from the language of the Reformers and even from that of earlier successors to the original Reformers such as Ursinus and Olevian or, indeed, in a slightly later time, William Perkins. Yet, the fundamental points of the doctrine, that the work of redemption must be understood both in terms of law and of grace, that human beings were created in and for fellowship with God under terms both of promise and of law, that Adam’s fall was a transgression of God’s law, that human inability after the Fall in no way removes the standard or the demands of the law, and that the gift of salvation through Christ’s satisfaction for sin both sets believers free from the law’s condemnation and upholds the laws demands, remain virtually identical. The free gift of grace in the one covenant respects the stability of law in the other, while the presence of law under different uses in both covenants echoes both the immutability of the divine nature and the constancy of the divine promises.[3]

I wanted to share this whole section from Muller because I want to be clear that my assertions are in line with what the foremost scholar of such things articulates himself.

For Barth, Torrance, and others there is no abstract decree standing behind the back of Jesus in the work of redemption; particularly as that is couched in a doctrine of election vis-à-vis doctrine of God. For Barth, contra Westminster theology, God is only known and given to and for us, for all of humanity, in the concrete humanity and history of the Son become flesh and blood. For Barth God first loved us, not based on legal conditions, but because He first loved us in the Son (so we see a radical doctrine of supralapsarianism present in Barth’s and “my” theology), so that we might love Him. ‘In the beginning God created,’ this is the first word of God’s Grace for us (h/t Ray Anderson); thus, all of human reality in a God/world relation is one that is grounded in Grace, not Law, all the way down (h/t TFT).

But as we can see with reference to WCF directly, and Muller’s description of Covenant theology in particular, the ‘Westminsterian’ tradition is grounded in an Aristotelian Pure Being conception of God; as such, God, in this frame will relate to humanity through a mechanical non-relational/non-personalist frame of reconciliation. Indeed, he must relate to us this way if in fact God’s immutability and simplicity, under its Aristotelian terms, is to remain untouched by or non-contingent upon creation. This is the sine qua non of classical Westminster theology; viz. that God’s ‘Pure Being’ remain pure and unfettered by the trivialities of this world order. This is why TF Torrance has argued that God’s relationship to the world, in the Westminsterian frame, isn’t first based upon an ontology of triune love, as the logic of grace and ground of relationship to humanity, but instead upon a mechanism of Law-keeping; Law-keeping of the sort that is in concert with a God who in His inner-life is characterized by brute power and monadic self-preoccupation; a conception of God that conceives of God’s inner-life as made up of a non-relational substance-in-being relationship that emphasizes God’s oneness at the expense of His threeness (and thus relationality).

With God’s oneness, and the need to keep God pure and actually infinite in the heavens, the Westminster theologians concocted a theological framework (based on the work of others as Muller attests) that makes sure that God’s abstract and ‘other’ power remains intact; even at the expense of emphasizing Who God is for us as revealed in the Father-Son relationship in the God-man, Jesus Christ. Thus, for the Westminsterians, God’s love for the elect is contingent upon the Son, in the covenant of grace, meeting the conditions and requirements originally set out in the covenant of works. He could only love the elect after such legal requirements and penalties were met. This is what Torrance’s critique says, and it is not erroneous when we consider what in fact Westminster is built upon. Torrance (and Barth’s) theology counters by saying that God’s love for us is not contingent upon us meeting legal requirements, but simply upon who God is eternally as Father of the Son in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. There is no decree, for Barth, or Torrance, but Christ. And to even use the language of ‘decree’ in such a frame is to do so ironically and for purposes of reifying what in fact God is about as triune love.

There is still much more to be said (and I have said so so much more in that category I referred you to earlier). Remember, this is bloggy and off the top. This is worthy of a polished paper in order to present things in a more coherent manner; but the lineaments of the argument and response (to my interlocutor) should be clear enough as presently presented.


[1] Karl Barth, CD II/2, 111.

[2] Accessed 01-15-2020 [emphasis mine].

[3] Richard A. Muller, After Calvin: Studies in the Development of a Theological Tradition (Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 185-89.

TF Torrance on the Holy Spirit in the Triune Life

At the Council of Nicaea in 325 A. D. the Fathers spoke of the Holy Spirit only in the last single sentence: ‘We believe in the Holy Spirit’. Brief as this was, it brought into sharp focus the universal emphasis in the New Testament upon the personal and divine nature of the Holy Spirit who, with the Father and the Son, is both the subject and object of faith, he through whom and in whom we believe in Jesus Christ and are saved. In him God himself is immediately present in our midst, miraculously and savingly at work, and through him God reveals himself as Lord, for God himself is the content of what he does for us and communicates to us. The Spirit is not just something divine or something akin to God emanating from him, not some sort of action at a distance or some kind of gift detachable from himself, for in the Holy Spirit God acts directly upon us himself, and in giving us his Holy Spirit God gives us nothing less than himself. Since God is Spirit, the Giver of the Spirit and the Gift of the Spirit are identical. Thus in the Nicene Creed belief in the Holy Spirit is bracketed together with belief in the Father and in the Son, as belief in one God and Lord. -T. F. Torrance, The Trinitarian Faith, 191

How the Inscrutable unReality of Darkness Keeps Barth and the Athanasian Reformed from Incoherence and a Dogmatic Christian Universalism

I want to talk about God’s shadow side. The rip against Thomas Torrance, Karl Barth and the Athanasian Reformed is that their respective doctrine of election leads to some form of Christian universalism (some are okay with that). But in fact, it doesn’t. People like Keven Vanhoozer, Robert Letham, Roger Olson et al. have critiqued Torrance, Barth, and Evangelical Calvinists, like myself, with reference to what they take to be our theological Achilles heel. Because they think from within an Aristotelian or Stoic theory of causation in a God-world relation, they cannot imagine how the Evangelical Calvinist, after Barth, Torrance et al. can escape the conclusion of a dogmatic Christian universalism, or to a total incoherence in our respective proposal. Their problem revolves around the Athanasian Reformed’s understanding of a universal atonement. Because of their a priori commitment to said theory of causation (as already noted), in their minds, if Jesus died for all, as archetypal humanity, then all humanity eo ipso must be justified, saved before God. This is why they can only affirm particular redemption or limited atonement; it is because of their respective theory of causation. God, like the originating spoke in the wheel of salvation is necessarily committed to that particular wheel. He cannot be related to other wheels, but only the wheel He has first chosen to be a spoke in; that is, in the one particular wheel that makes the vehicle of salvation turn (not to mention what God is). God becomes enslaved to a certain type of authority as conceived of by Aristotle vis-à-vis His relation to the created order. In order, for this type of authority to be effectual what He decrees must obtain; otherwise, as the story goes, His creation can thwart His power, by undercutting His choice to redeem. So, to ensure this thwarting cannot happen, the absolute decree (decretum absolutum) says that God will save this s-elect group of people, who He has arbitrarily chosen based upon His remote and hidden will; and there is nothing the created order can do to undercut His authority in this program of salvation. But again, remember this all stems from a theory of Divine authority that has first been concocted by some sort of profane discovery the philosophers have made about divinity, without ever being confronted with that Divinity in the face of Jesus Christ.

If the above theory of authority (sovereignty) is repudiated, that is, the one constructed by the profane philosophers, based upon speculative means, then the whole double jeopardy such theologians fear, as they think from their theory of salvation, no longer exists. This is what Karl Barth et al. do; they elide this dilemma by thinking God as God has first thought and spoken Himself for us in the face of Jesus Christ. When the theologian is committed to the idea that theology can only be done after Deus dixit (‘God has spoken’) then they are freed up to think revelationally about the ways of God in the economy of salvation, and all else. Barth’s reformulation of a Reformed doctrine of election offers just this type of salve. He sees reprobation as part of the realm of darkness; in other words, as part of the non-elect ‘shadow side’ only observed because of God’s Light. So, for Barth, there isn’t a viable explanation for explaining the inscrutable reality of darkness (as a metaphor for evil and sin). In other words, the theologian cannot know what God has not revealed; indeed “the secret things belong to God, but the things revealed belong to us” (Deut. 29:29). Under such conditions we can know why those who get saved, get saved; it is because God has pre-destined Himself for us, in order that they might be saved according to His gracious will of election for us in the elect humanity of Jesus Christ. And this is precisely the point at which people like Vanhoozer et al. claim some type of incoherence in the doctrine of election/reprobation in the theology of Barth et al. They for some reason haven’t accepted the fact that Barth et al. are attempting to think from the interior rationality  of the Gospel implications itself, rather than from a speculative and discursive understanding of how divine causality ostensibly is supposed to work.

Let’s hear from Barth in his own words as he comments on Genesis 1:

. . . The one confronts the other; light darkness, and darkness light. Nor is there any question here of symmetry or equilibrium between the two. They confront one another in such a way that God separates the light, which He acknowledges to be good, from the darkness. “In darkness and night remnants of that primal state intrude into the ordered world” (Zimmerli). The reference can be only to the darkness mentioned in v. 2 as the predicate of chaos, for otherwise it would mean that darkness was also created by God and found good in its own way. Since this is not the case, it is obvious that the antithesis to light, and therefore to the good creation of God, is chaos. And it belongs necessarily and integrally to the creation which begins with the creation of light that God rejects chaos, that He has for it no creative will or act or grace, but has these for light and light alone. Commencing in this way, creation is also a clear revelation of His will and way. Whatever may become a reality from and for chaos, by the commencement of the divine creation it is separated as darkness from light, as that which God did not will from that which He did, as the sphere of non-grace from that of His grace. Only from the majesty and supreme lordship of God is it not separated. Since darkness cannot offer any resistance to the emergence of light; since it has to acquiesce in the fact that light is separated from it; since it is later given a name as well as enough that it is not exempt from the sway of God, but has to serve Him in its own way, so that there can be no question of an absolute dualism. Here, then, and at root in the processes depicted in v. 6 f. and v. 9 f., to “divide” does not mean only to “distinguish” and “separate” but to “create order.” At the same time it is to set up an impassible barrier. Whatever else may take place between light and darkness, light will never be darkness and darkness will never be light. It is also to establish an inviolable hierarchy. However small and weak it may be, light will always be the power which banishes darkness; and however great and mighty it may be, darkness will always be the impotence which yields before light. It is light that is. Of darkness it can be said only that, as long as light is, it is also, but separated from it, marked and condemned by it as darkness, in opposition to it, as its antithesis, and at the same time serving light as its background. Darkness has no reality in itself; it is a by-product. It would like to be something in itself. Again and again it claims to be this. But it cannot make good its claim. It necessarily serves that which it tries to oppose. It is obviously in view of the place and role assigned to them in the hierarchy of creation that the existence of light and darkness are described in Job 38.19 as the secret of God, and that Is. 45.7 can and must say of darkness that God has “created” it. In this striking application of the verb bara’ there is revealed the reverse side, the negative power, of the divine activity, which we cannot, of course, deny to the divine will. The best analogy to the relationship between light and darkness is that which exists between the elect and the rejected in the history of the Bible: between Jacob and Esau; between David and Saul; between Judas and the other apostles. But even this analogy is improper and defective. For even the rejected, even Satan and the demons, are the creation of God—not, of course, in their corruption, but in the true and original essence which has been corrupted. But darkness and the chaos which it represents are not the creation of God any more than the corruption of the corrupt and the sin of the rejected. Thus a true and strict analogy to the relationship between light and darkness is to be found only in the relationship between the divine election and rejection, in the eternal Yes and No spoken by God Himself when, instead of remaining in and by Himself, He marches on to the opus ad extra [work outside of God] of His free love. When God fulfils what we recognise in Jesus Christ to be His original and basic will, the beginning of all His ways and works in Himself, He also accomplishes this separation, draws the boundary and inaugurates this hierarchy. This is what is attested by the story of creation in its account of the work of the first three days, and particularly in its account of the work of the first day.[1]

Barth’s theology, et alia after Barth, is slavishly kataphatic in orientation. In other words, like many of the Patristics, his theology focuses on the economy of God, and what God has freely chosen to reveal about Himself and His ways. What Barth develops from this, as it pertains to election/reprobation, is that only what God creates is indeed elect. In an asymmetrical relationship to this, that which is not created remains in the realm of the reprobate and inscrutable. In the incarnation, the Son does the impossible: the Son assumes the nothingness of the darkness, which humanity itself had been plunged into in rupture with God’s goodness, by assuming flesh (assumptio carnis), and dissolves the nothingness of nothingness, banishing it into outer darkness in the shadow of His resurrection Light. Even with its banishment the realm of nothingness, or hell, remains; but only in inscrutable ways, since the conditions for all to be ‘saved,’ to experience God’s election for them in the humanity of Jesus Christ, has already been actualized in the only real humanity around—which is Christ’s resurrected and ascended humanity.

When Vanhoozer et al. want to claim that Barth, and those following him, are incoherent if they don’t accept a Christian universalism, err. They err because they are attempting to impose a procrustean bed of their own making on top of Barth’s et al. thinking when it comes to a doctrine of election and salvation. It is procrustean, as noted earlier, because Barth starts with a different theological ontology than they do. As a result, he, and those following, can boldly claim that Christ died for all, and at the same time reject a dogmatic Christian universalism; and then still be operating from within the rationality of the implications that the Gospel hisSelf presents through His Self-exegesis of God for the world (see Jn. 1:18; 3:16 etc.)

[1] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics III/1 §41 The Doctrine of Creation: Study Edition (London: T&T Clark, 2010), 121-22.

On the Algebra of Theological Language

I just received a comment on my last post that was offering critique of my apparently oft grammatical inconsistencies in many of my posts (that thread has now vanished). What my interlocutor intended on saying, really, was that I use jargon and theological turns of phrases that he doesn’t understand. Thus, his conclusion was that I was the one in error, and not him (in his understanding). It is true that particularly in the world of theology writers of theology often do use neologisms, and modes of thought that are idiosyncratic to said theologians. I’ve learned this over the years as a reader of theologies; as a reader of this or that theologian it takes time to learn their various dialects, and become ingratiated into their respective style of communication. Two of my teachers, TF Torrance and Karl Barth, are known for their idiosyncratic ways of communicating their respective theological inklings (Torrance for his highly jargony style, and Barth for his lengthy sentences and paragraphs; and both for lots and lots of repetition). But that is simply how it goes in this world. If a reader is only used to reading scholastic or analytic writers, and then get exposed to Barth’s and Torrance’s style of writing, for example, then indeed, it will seem like the reader has entered a whole other universe.

Torrance himself is not unaware of these matters. Indeed, he addresses it in his discussion on the Greek terminology of an/ -enhypostasis. He identifies what I think we must all identify, and get past. That is, understand that the theologian must often use technical/precision/neologistic language in an attempt to intelligibly communicate various aspects about the ineffable God the Christian theologian is directly concerned with. Let’s read along with TFT as he unpacks the why and the how of technical theological language, and how he thinks it ought to be used in a very instrumental and even “sacramental” way.

A note on the use of theological terms such as ‘anhypostasia’ and ‘enhypostasia’

All technical theological terms such as these are to be used like ‘disclosure models’, as cognitive instruments, helping us to allow the reality of Christ to show through to us more clearly. As in natural science we must often cast our thought about certain connections into mathematical and algebraic form in order to see how those connections work out in the most consistent and rigorous way, so here we may well think of ‘anhypostasia and enhypostasia’ as a sort of ‘theological algebra’ to help us work out the ‘inner logic’ in christology more consistently and purely. But once we see the connections more clearly in this way, they have to be translated back into ‘the flesh and blood’ of reality, translated back into terms of the person and work of Christ himself. Just as in natural science, we may have to resort to algebra to work out the connections using algebra like a computer as it were, to compute for us what our brains are incapable of doing by themselves, but must then translate the algebra back into ‘physical statements’ in order to discern the real relations in empirical reality, so we must do much the same here. Anhypostasia and enhypostasia together do not themselves contain the ‘stuff’ of christology, but they may discern more deeply and clearly the ontological structures of the incarnation.[1]

Without digging in further into the material points to be made in regard to an/ -enhypostasia, since we did that recently, the significance of what TF is getting at is substantial. As readers of theology, particularly when confronted with a new dialect or style of a particular theologian’s, the reader shouldn’t presume that said theologian operates from some sort of literary lacuna simply because the theologian uses terminology that might sound strange or wooly to said reader. This is how theology has always developed, as TFT helps us understand better. The terminology of an/ -enhypostasia, at first, might have been considered strange, particularly with reference to attempting to speak of the Lord. But on further reflection what comes to the fore is that such technical language becomes necessary insofar that the reality it is attempting to signify is so far beyond ‘normal’ or profane things, that it becomes an option of desperation in an attempt for our puny minds to have some semblance of articulate thought when it comes to the deeper implications of something like the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ.

For me, I have somewhat absorbed the jargony language of someone like a TFT or a KB, and others, and then meshed that into my own style of fleshing out my particular theological thoughts. My guess is that if you have spent some time reading TFT or KB, that when you then read me, the words and thought patterns I am using make more sense to you than those who haven’t been exposed to TFT or KB. I am, of course!, not claiming to be at the level of TFT or KB, all I am suggesting is that my writing style, inclusive of my theological lexicon, has to date, been heavily influenced by both TFT and KB, respectively. I am also not claiming to not have (see double negative) awkward phraseology and sloppy diction at points, but I am not going to own the notion that this characterizes my writing; even here in the blog format. We can all be better writers and readers, and I don’t pretend to have arrived anywhere yet. And it is true that this is a blog, so I don’t spend lots of time polishing or editing my posts (but that should be an understood). But I do enjoy writing, and have developed my own style; particularly over these last seventeen years as a blogger.

Thanks for being a reader.

[1] T. F. Torrance, ed. Robert T. Walker, Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008), 233.

Thomas F. Torrance’s Evangelical Calvinism: A Historical and Constructive Theological Proposal

Here’s another proposal I once wrote in the past as I was considering doing the PhD back in the day.


Thomas F. Torrance’s Evangelical Calvinism: A Historical and Constructive Theological Proposal


The Problem: Thomas F. Torrance’s Reformed theology has been challenged in regard to its genuinely Reformed provenance by Richard Muller. Muller claims that Torrance operates from the ‘older theology,’ meaning a “Reformed theology” that thinks After Barth, and the mediating theologians of the 18th and 19th centuries. As a result, Muller contends that Torrance’s so-called Reformed theology denies the basic tenets of classical Reformed theology, and displaces those tenets by so reformulating Reformed theology that it becomes non-corollary with its historical antecedents as Muller understands those to be within what he calls ‘Christian Aristotelianism.’ This research study will endeavor to demonstrate that Torrance’s Reformed theology operates within the broad confessional parameters provided for by the historic Reformed faith as that has developed over the last many centuries in the Western European continent. This study will further demonstrate that Muller’s thesis, with particular reference to Torrance’s Reformed theology, misses the mark by attempting to read Reformed theology’s provenance through a reductionistic lens, of which Torrance’s theology serves as one antidote among many that resists Muller’s type of reductionistic reading of the Reformed history, and more to the point, its material theological developments as those have taken shape under the panoply of Reformed theology with its various eddies and tributaries across its total landscape in the Western world.


The Procedure: This study will demonstrate the genuinely Reformed provenance of T. F. Torrance’s theology by offering a biography on Torrance’s birth and development in the Church of Scotland, and its historic antecedents of the early developments of Reformed theology. It will show that Torrance’s Reformed theology operates from a decidedly Scottish iteration and development of Reformed theology, such that Muller’s claims that Torrance’s theology is less than a genuinely Reformed theology are shown to be shortsighted. Conversely, this study will demonstrate the historical lines of development wherein Torrance’s theology, among the ‘older theology,’ as Muller pejoratively refers to it, has a classical Reformed origin story that resists the Mullerian notion of a monolithic understanding of what Reformed orthodoxy entails. This study will show these things by way of comparing and contrasting Muller’s historical reconstruction of the Reformed faith with an alternative reading of the Reformed faith as that developed concurrently with the Westminster confessional faith of the Post Reformed orthodox theologians. Further, this study will attend to a variety of Torrance’s theological loci as that pertains to decidedly Reformed doctrinal currents. These loci will include Torrance’s: 1) Doctrine of God, with particular focus on the Tri-unity of God vis-à-vis the Reformed confessions; 2) Theory of Revelation, as that is related to the Protestant Reformed ‘Scripture Principle’; 3) Theological ontology and epistemology as that is related to God’s decretal relation to the world; 4) Soteriological commitments as those are understood through the dual lenses of Incarnation and Atonement, and its Christ conditioned ground in the vicarious humanity of Christ as Reformed theology; and 5) Eschatology as the Apocalyptic irruption of God’s grace as the first and last word of God’s ‘pre-destination’ to be for the world as understood from within the Reformed frame of sola gratia.

By paying close attention to these various theological loci, in Torrance’s theology, along with the historical coverage of Torrance’s provenance within the Scottish Reformed church, this study will demonstrate that Muller’s claims of Torrance’s inadequacy as a genuinely Reformed theologian fall flat. This demonstration will not obtain through a negative, or reactionary response to Muller’s claims, but by allowing the positive material developments of Torrance’s theology to demonstrate how it is that his theology falls within the parameters of a broadly construed, confessionally oriented Reformed theology as an iteration of a Christologically constructive Reformed imagination.




What is An/ -Enhypostasis? “It asserts then that true man is a predicate of God’s gracious action.”

The Eunomians, following the Arians (and Arius) maintained that there was a time when the Son was not. In other words, they maintained that the Logos of God was a creature; an exalted creature, but a creature nonetheless. So, when we see Jesus, we don’t actually see the Father in the face of the Son, we only see an exalted emissary of the singular (monadic) God of pure being. In a similar line of heresy, known as adoptionism, the Ebionites maintained that Jesus was just a man, already existent, that God adopted for His purposes to be His prophet. TF Torrance provides definition: “Ebionism — the view that Jesus was not God but an ordinary man, adopted to become Son of God.”[1] Ultimately, adoptionism applies to most Christological heresies wherein, as the central feature, Jesus isn’t God, but simply adopted into God’s purposes as a Prophet (akin to an exalted version of an Old Testament prophet, or the final prophet in the line of the Prophetic school—ironically this is exactly the way Muslims see Jesus, as a mere man and prophet of God—also ironically Mohammed spent significant time with his uncle, an Ebionite “Christian”).

In contrast to this heresy of adoptionism, the orthodox Church fathers introduced an important dogmatic teaching with reference to the personhood of Jesus Christ. They argued, from the inner-logic of Scripture and its reality in the analogy of the incarnation, that Jesus had no personal independence from the second person of the Godhead in the eternal Son. So, they contended, the ground of the singular person of Jesus Christ, the personalizing, personating reality, was the person of the Son who has always already eternally been the Son of the Father, as the Father has been the Father of the Son in the eternal bond of koinonia and self-given love provided for by the unioning work of the Holy Spirit. Torrance explains the significance of this at length:

(i) The humanity of Jesus has no independent reality

The first thing we have to note here, is that, taken together with anhypostasia, for the two are not to be separated, the enhypostasia asserts that the incarnation is an act of pure grace alone, and repudiates any form of adoptionism, that is the adoption of a preexisting man to become Son of God. It asserts then that true man is a predicate of God’s gracious action. When the Word was made flesh, God and man were so related that Jesus came to exist as man only so far as he now exists as God. In other words, there is only one Christ, one mediator, one Lord, only one person in Jesus Christ the incarnate Son of God. This one person means that his human nature had no independent subsistence or hypostasis, no independent centre of personal being. If there had been a human person to whom a divine person was added, there would have been an independent centre of personal being in Jesus over against the person of the Son of God; but the human nature of Jesus never existed apart from the incarnation of God the Son. At the first moment of the existence of his human nature, it was in hypostatic union with his Godhead. That is, the human nature from the first moment of its existence had its hypostasis or personal subsistence in the personal subsistence of God the Son. That is the meaning of en-hypostasis.

(ii) The humanity of Jesus has full reality in the person of the Son

But when we have said that, we have to add that although there was no independent personal being called Jesus apart from the incarnation, that does not mean that in the incarnation there was no particular individual called Jesus existing as a particular human being, with a rational human mind and will and soul; and therefore it does not mean that he did not completely possess human nature. Jesus had a fully human mind and human soul and human will; he lived a fully human life in hypostatic union with his divine life, and in that union with his divine life, his human life had manifested the most singular and unique personality as man. That is the emphasis of enhypostasia. It preserves the acknowledgement of the full humanity of Jesus, and indeed of his historical person as a man among others, and as one of mankind, a true man. The anhypostasia stresses the general humanity of Jesus, the human nature assumed by the Son with its hypostasis in the Son, but enhypostasia stresses the particular humanity of the one man Jesus, whose person is not other than the person of the divine Son.

Therefore from the enhypostasis we have to go back again to the anhypostasis and say this: while the Son of God assumed our human nature, and became fully and really like us, nevertheless his full and complete human nature was united to God in a unique way (hypostatically in one person) as our human nature is not, and never will be. Therefore he is unlike us, not unlike us as to the humanity of his human nature, but in the unique union of his human nature to the divine nature in the one person of God the Son. (This is the baffling element in the virgin birth, which tells us that while it is our very human nature he assumed, he did not assume it in the way we share in it, because he took it in a unique relation with his deity). But it is upon the unique, hypostatic relation of his human nature to his divine nature, that the truth of our human nature depends, for it is as we share in his human nature, which is hypostatically united to God, that we are in union and communion with God.[2]

The next time you come across someone who denies the deity of Jesus just say: anhypostasia/ en-hypostasia! Then explain to them that Jesus has no independent existence as a human being apart from the personalizing personhood of the eternal Son of God. That Jesus’ singular person as both fully human and fully God is funded by, grounded in the eternal Logos’ person as the second person of the divine Monarxia (Godhead). Tell them further that to genuinely think biblically materially about these matters follows the lead of the patristics who posited this aesthetically pleasing doctrine of an/ -enhypostasis. That is to say, to attempt to think biblically about who Jesus was/is requires the conclusion that the Son enfleshed in the man from Nazareth, Jesus Christ; and that without this free and gracious action of the Son in concord with the indivisibility of the triune life, that there never would have been a man from the Galilee whose name was Jesus Christ. Tell them this is the unique sui generis reality of Jesus Christ: that is, that He is Theanthropos the Godman, or He isn’t at all. Tell them that the adoptionist notion, with reference to the man, Jesus, is driven by an over-reliance on a rationalistic philosophical maneuver wherein the miracle of the ineffable God become human is so domesticated, so gated-in by the dusty mind of little men and women, that it ends up being a fantasy of the human imagination; that it becomes a way to cope with the unfathomable, and make it fathomable—make it small enough to be generated by thinking from a sense of human pure nature (that is an independent human nature that is not contingent upon God’s Word, but theirs).

There are other significant implications of this doctrine, particularly when we get to a doctrine of pre-destination and election/reprobation. We won’t pursue those here. Further, and recently in his book The Humility of the Eternal Son: Reformed Kenoticism and the Repair of Chalcedon Bruce McCormack critiques the patristic, and Barth’s reception of the doctrine of an/ -enhypostasis as not adequate to the task of thinking the personhood of Jesus Christ. In its place McCormack constructively offers his alternative which he identifies as ontological receptivity. We will have to pursue that further at a later time as well (although I have broached BLM’s book here).

[1] T. F. Torrance, ed. Robert T. Walker, Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008).

[2] Ibid., 229-30.

The Holy Trinity’s Act Becomes the Gospel

The Gospel is Light in the Light of the Holy Trinity. The Gospel is the center of the way of the Triune insofar that the eternal Logos, the Son of God in coinherence with the Father and the Holy Spirit, freely chose to be human. This choice signals that God has freely chosen to not be God without us, but with us; and this choice was made before the foundations of the world. This ineffable reality, that is the God who has always already been Father, Son, and Holy Spirit funds the very ground of the Gospel. The Gospel is God’s life for us, in action by way of incarnation for the world. The world has materiality and concrete reality only because the Son first chose to become material for the world. In this choice the world came to have a telos, a reason for being. The material world was only created because the Son, in the bosom of the Father, wooed by the Holy Spirit, desired to have flesh and blood, so that we might have glory and co-inheritance with Him. Torrance captures these things well:

While the Lord Jesus Christ constitutes the pivotal centre of our knowledge of God, God’s distinctive self-revelation as Holy Trinity, One Being, Three Persons, creates the overall framework within which all Christian theology is to be formulated. Understandably, therefore, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity has been called the innermost heart of Christian faith and worship, the central dogma of classical theology, the fundamental grammar of our knowledge of God. It belongs to the Gospel of God’s saving and redeeming love in Jesus Christ who died for us and rose again and has given us the Holy Spirit who has shed the love of God abroad in our hearts. The doctrine of the Trinity enshrines the essentially Christian conception of God: it constitutes the ultimate evangelical expression of the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ who though he was rich for our sakes became poor that we through his poverty might become rich, of the Love of God who did not spare his own Son but delivered him up for us all, for it is in that personal sacrifice of the Father to which everything in the Gospel goes back, and of the Communion of the Holy Spirit through whom and in whom we are made to participate in the eternal Communion of the Father and the Son and are united with one another in the redeemed life of the people of God. Through Christ and in the Spirit God has communicated himself to us in such a wonderful way that we may really know him and have communion with in his inner life as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.[1]

[1] Thomas F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being Three Persons, 2.

A Telling of an Evangelical Calvinism [contra Westminster Calvinism] by T.F. Torrance

TF Torrance was and remains the inspiration for what me and Myk Habets have called Evangelical Calvinism (after TFT). Torrance maintains that the evangelical Calvinism he affirms was really just representative of a Scottish development that unfolded concurrently alongside the development of Westminster Calvinism. Torrance argues that the themes he elevates as representative of an evangelical Calvinism are all present within the history and development of Reformed theology in the 16th and 17th centuries. Some would want to assert that TF is overreading the history, and eisegeting it through a Barthian lens. But this is misplaced. Yes, TFT was a (doctoral) student of Barth’s; yes, TF affirmed much of Barth’s theology (particularly election); but Torrance’s reading of the Reformed tradition, as he makes clear in his book, Scottish Theology, is a critical reading of the Reformed heritage as that developed in the Scottish motherland. Even if what TF says about Reformed theology sounds like strange teaching, that is only because (if you think so) you have been indoctrinated into the faulty supposition that the Reformed tradition is pretty much a monolithic machine—as that has been distilled in so-called Post Reformed orthodox theology. TFT is simply understanding that the Reformed trad is multivalent, and fulsome with multiple lines of development that aren’t as manageable as some would like to imagine.

In the following we have TF discussing the entailments of what he considers an evangelical Calvinism contra the Federal/Westminster Calvinism which he believes did untold damage to the Reformed tradition, particularly in TFT’s native Scotland (but elsewhere as well). You will notice as you read this that Torrance essentially counters all of the points of a Westminster Calvinism by offering biblically rich themes as those have come to light in the Self-revelation of God in Jesus Christ. Since TF is committed to allowing Scripture speak for itself, as it is regulated by the reality of Jesus Christ, he ends up trafficking in themes that focus on God’s universal and unilateral love, as that is fitting to who God is as triune Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So, you should notice, then, the type of alternative prolegomenon that TFT is working from as he arrives at his kerygmatic-rich notions vis-à-vis dogmatic points. Here is Torrance:

. . . Several comments on this understanding of Christ’s sacrifice may be in place. While traditional forensic language is used, the atoning sacrifice is not to be understood as fulfilled by Christ merely as man (which would imply a Nestorian Christology), but of Christ as the one Mediator between God and man who is himself God and man in one Person. This means that ‘the joyful atonement made between God and man by Christ Jesus, by his death, resurrection and ascension’, is not to be understood in any sense as the act of the man Jesus placating God the Father, but as a propitiatory sacrifice in which God himself through the death of his dear Son draws near to man and draws man near to himself. It is along these lines also that we must interpret the statement of the Scots Confession that Christ ‘suffered in body and soul to make the full satisfication for the sins of the people’, for in the Cross God accepts the sacrifice made by Christ, whom he did not spare but delievered him up for us all, as satisfication, thereby acknowledging his own bearing of the world’s sin guilt and judgment as the atonement. As Calvin pointed out in a very important passage, God does not love us because of what Christ has done, but it is because he first loved us that he came in Christ in order through atoning sacrifice in which God himself does not hold himself aloof but suffers in and with Christ to reconcile us to himself. Nor is there any suggestion that this atoning sacrifice was offered only for some people and not for all, for that would imply that he who became incarnate was not God the Creator in whom all men and women live and move and have their being, and that Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour was not God and man in the one Person, but only an instrument in the hands of the Father for the salvation of a chosen few. In other words, a notion of limited atonement implies a Nestorian heresy in which Jesus Christ is not really God and man united in one Person. It must be added that the perfect response offered by Jesus Christ in life and death to God in our place and on our behalf, contains and is the pledge of our response. Just as the union of God and man in Christ holds good in spite of all the contradiction of our sin under divine judgment, so his vicarious response holds good for us in spite of our unworthiness: ‘not I but Christ’. . . .[1]

The reduction should be clear: TFT’s understanding of Reformed theology is Christ conditioned, and explicated from that vantage point. As a result, an emphasis on God’s love for the world, just as He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, stands at the fore of TF’s thinking when it comes to a theory of the atonement, and its soteriological implications. This is at odds, of course, with Federal theology’s framing of a God-world relation as that is provided for by the legal contract of a Covenant of Works/Grace. Federal theology, as TFT presses, thinks God in terms of a pure being, and thus in categories that are metaphysically juridical and thus impersonal by nature. As a result, as TF also intones, since this notion of God relates to the world through impersonal, distant, and abstract decrees, when Christ comes to the world, under these conditions, Christ becomes simply an instrument in the hands of a wrathful Father. One significant Christological implication of this, as TF shows, is that the work of God in Christ is ruptured from the person of God in Christ, and thus we end up with a Nestorian-like dualism at play in Jesus of Nazareth.

You would hope by now that classical Calvinists would have come to realize the many errors of thinking God in decretal terms. You would have hoped that these same people would have repented of this by now, and turned to what TFT is describing and developing with reference to an Evangelical Calvinism. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. That’s okay, some types only go out by prayer.

[1] T. F. Torrance: From John Knox to John McLeod Campbell, 18-19.