August 2009


Just a heads-up, I plan on dealing with particular texts of scripture that are key to our approach to articulating an Evangelically charged Calvinism. I am afraid that some of what I have been presenting, thus far, has been too much on the systematic theology side (which isn’t inherently bad ;-); but given my affirmation of sola scriptura, I want to be faithful to that, and try to connect some of the things we have been talking about, with scripture.

So start to look for those kinds of post in the immediate future. I think the first section I am going to look at — since this just came up in the last comment meta — is II Corinthians 2:14ff. This pericope — or unit of scripture — presents us with some principles on the kinds of questions we should be concerned with in regards to the various responses we find to the Gospel (yes and no). I look forward to talking futher about this passage; probably my next post (I wish my posts could be the result of research papers on each subject, but sometimes [given life] all I can do is throw out a reflection — usually if I do throw out said reflections, they come from past research that I have done on that particulary subject. My goal is to provide fresh thinking and research, but sometimes it is not always possible :-).

Here is a quote from Robert T. Walker (T. F. Torrance’s nephew, and editor of Torrance’s posthmously published work Incarnation), he is unfolding, in an “editor’s introduction,” how his uncle understood the vicarious nature of faith through the humanity of Christ’s life. I think this is brilliant, and also think it dovetails nicely with Martin Luther’s understanding of the ‘vicarious’ nature of Christ’s life for us; which I have noted elsewhere. Here we go:

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.

v.) faith is living by the ‘vicarious humanity’ of Christ — a key part of Torrance’s theology is the fact that everything that Jesus did in his humanity he did for us and everything that Jesus is he is for us. It is all ours through union with him in faith. What we could not do for ourselves God has come to do for us as man. The person of Christ is not just God acting for salvation, it is God acting as man for us. Christ’s life of ‘passive obedience’, in which he suffered the judgment of God and atoned for our sins on the cross, means that we are freed from them. Christ’s life of ‘active obedience’, in which he positively fulfilled the Father’s will, means that his human righteousness is ours and is a fundamental part of our justification. Jesus has completed all the parts of our salvation in the whole course of his life. His human life he lived for us and in our place. The relation between our faith and Christ’s, our life now and his vicarious humanity for us, is exactly that described in Galatians 2.20 and described elsewhere in Paul as life in union with Christ.

vi.) faith is union with Christ through the Spirit — for Torrance, the Christian life is one of union with Christ in which in faith we live out of his faith and his righteousness. Having no righteousness in ourselves, we are united to him so that we may live out of his. Our faith is the knowledge, given to us in the Spirit, that he has accomplished our salvation in his person and work and that we are saved purely by his unconditional grace.

This does not mean that we do nothing although it does mean that we do nothing for our salvation. For Torrance, there is an analogy here with the person Christ. The fact that the humanity of Christ owes its being entirely to the action of God in the incarnation, does not mean it is not real. The fact that Christ is all God, or that all of God is in Christ, does not mean that there is nothing of man in him, but the opposite, that all of man is in him. Torrance used to explain that in the logic of grace, ‘All of grace does not mean nothing of man. All of grace means all of man.’ The knowledge that forgiveness and salvation is all of grace liberates us out of ourselves into union with Christ, freeing us to live fully and freely out of him. All of grace means all of man, just as the action of God in Christ means all of man in Christ. (Robert T. Walker, ed., “Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ,” xlv-xlvii)

Do you catch the significance of union with Christ through his incarnation ‘for us’? Do you see the need for Christ to assume all of humanities’ brokenness, within His very life? Torrance assumes what scripture assumes, that we cannot add anything to salvation. He underscores the necessity for God, outside of us, to become God ‘inside of us’, through incarnating; and thus taking our sinfulness to its logical end (the cross), trusting (‘faithing’) the Father (on our behalf, as our mediator) to ‘redeem’ that which needs to be ‘healed’ — which Christ has become for us. Do you see how faith is ‘vicarious’ in this paradigm? We could never do the heavy lifting, thus Christ! We would never trust anybody, but ourselves (left to ourselves), to do what’s best for ‘me and mine’. Thus God, in Christ, had to take us to where only He could, as a ‘bahhing’ lamb. It is this ‘vicarious’, even substitutionary (biblically understood), notion that Torrance is pressing, and laying bare in the Apostle Paul’s letter to Galatia. Since we couldn’t die for ourselves (we would not), we cannot “trust for ourselves;” it is only then by the Spirit’s creative work, that we are able to ‘trust out of Christ’s trust’. And thus our union with Christ, or rather His union with us, becomes the basis from whence humanity can be said to be ‘saved by faith’ at all — not our own faith, but the faith of Christ poured abroad upon our heart’s through the Holy Spirit. Not an ‘alien’ (but indeed external, albeit ‘for us’) faith, but the ‘personal’ faith of Christ, as ‘man’ for us; finding its guiding shape through the divine life of the Son [anhypostasis] (begotten of the Father), through the creative ‘otherness’ of the Spirit, for us, in Christ, for us [enhypostasis].

Brilliance, upon brilliance . . . the life of God, known through Christ is staggering!

**P. S. the crazy thing is, is that this is only talking about Torrance’s thought, we haven’t even made it to Torrance himself yet! Do you like? If so, stay tuned for more meat from Torrance in the days to come — you can be sure I will be quoting and reflecting on him, profusely!**

Here is an account and testimony given by a fellow, from the 17th century, who had been living under the legalistic constraints that Federal-Westminster Calvinism had burdened him with (his account represents the type of sentiment felt by many in Puritan England who actually internalized and understood the implications of the ‘Calvinism’ they were living under). It wasn’t until this ‘brother’ was exposed to the ‘Free Grace of Christ’ through the preaching and teaching of Richard Sibbes that he finally understood what it meant to be a ‘slave set free’:

I was for three years together wounded for sins, and under a sense of my corruptions, which were many; and I followed sermons, pursuing the means, and was constant in duties and doing: looking for Heaven that way. And then I was so precise for outward formalities, that I censured all to be reprobates, that wore their hair anything long, and not short above the ears; or that wore great ruffs, and gorgets, or fashions, and follies. But yet I was distracted in my mind, wounded in conscience, and wept often and bitterly, and prayed earnestly, but yet had no comfort, till I heard that sweet saint . . . Doctor Sibbs, by whose means and ministry I was brought to peace and joy in my spirit. His sweet soul-melting Gospel-sermons won my heart and refreshed me much, for by him I saw and had much of God and was confident in Christ, and could overlook the world . . . My heart held firm and resolved and my desires all heaven-ward. (Ron Frost. Kelly Kapic and Randall Gleason, eds., “The Devoted Life: An Invitation to the Puritan Classics,” Frost is quoting from: John Rogers, Ohel or Bethshemesh, A Tabernacle for the Sun (London, n.p., 1653)

I just wanted to share this to illustrate what the “weight” of following through on the implications of “Classic Calvinism” actually looks like. And then see what it looks like for that burden to be lifted off through an Evangelical Calvinist Gospel.

Since here at The Evangelical Calvinist we hold Thomas F. Torrance as one of its best proponents and developers of such theology; I wanted to point you to a newly released journal Participatio of the Thomas F. Torrance Theological Fellowship. Thanks to Jason Goroncy (another Kiwi theologian), I have been made aware of the linkage required to access this journal: you can download here.

I think as you read the articles in this journal, you will become better acquainted with why I am so impressed with T. F. Torrance’s theology and person. I can’t wait to dig into some of these essays, I hope you too will take advantage of this opportunity!

**The following quote is a little lengthy, not too bad, but if you want to skip to the bottom, to my “List of Assertions,” and closing paragraph you might just want to interact at that level (the quote substantiates or at least provides fodder for my assertions). Some might find this beyond where you’re at in your understanding (i.e. might be a little “heady”); if so, you can always ask for clarification. I plan on writing some more posts on “defining” Evangelical Calvinism soon (this piece actually helps provide an example of what it’s not ;-). Also the tone here is a little polemical**

William Perkins (1558-1602), a Cambridge theologian, and English clergyman can be considered to be one of the founders of what today is known as Calvinism. When people say they are ‘Reformed’ (esp. in America), this is one of your forbears who you are beholden to for the theological categories you think through — to one degree of intensity or another. If you, more popularly, follow the teachings of John Piper, Michael Horton, Carl Trueman, and even John MacArthur, amongst others; then you follow in the trajectory that William Perkins set so long ago.

William Perkins followed the scholastic tradition (conceptually); that is to say, he adopted the Aristotelian framework assimilated by Thomas Aquinas to explain and articulate who God is (ontologically), and thus what salvation entails as corollary. Part of adopting this framework, for Perkins, means that he must cast God in terms of immutability (there have been reifications of this term to fit a more trinitarian understanding — I say this just so that some of you know that I am aware of this); God cannot have any kind of contingency or composition, here is how Perkins says it: “God’s immutability of nature is that by which he is void of all composition, division, and change” [Perkins, Golden Chaine, 1. 11, first cited by: Ron Frost, “Sibbes’ Theology of Grace UnPublished PhD Dissertation,” 61]. This has a drastic impact upon how God’s life is understood, and emphasied to be, viz. as singular (simplicity); furthermore it implies that the Johannine notion of “God is love” to be a figment of God’s disclosure in time, but not a reality of who God is in eternity (since love would imply ‘composition’, ‘division’, and ‘change’). The following is a quote (from Ron Frost’s dissertation) that further elucidates and substantiates my claims thus far:

2. Love and the will. In speaking of God, apart from any one of the triad of persons, Perkins identified a primary essence which is “void and free from all passion” [Perkins, “Golden Chaine,” 1. 25]. Love, if seen as essentially affective, would include an element of contingency, namely, God’s desire that his creation respond to his love as the complement to his own love. If, however, love is a component of the will, God merely requires such a response . In the Golden Chaine, then, love is striking in its absence as a motivation in God; this despite the primacy of love in biblical descriptions of God. As illustrated in the chart of the Chaine [which Frost provides on the previous page], love appears only after the mediatorial work of Christ.

Perkins also believed that if God’s love is perceived as an inherent motivation (that is, as an affection), it would imply the prospect of universal salvation. He raised an “objection” in the Golden Chaine to make the point, a point which illustrates Perkins’ position that love is defined by God’s arbitrary determinations:

Object. Election is nothing else but dilection or love; but this we know, that God loves all his creatures. Therefore he elects all his creatures.Answer. I. I deny that to elect is to love, but to ordain and appoint to love.II. God does love all his creatures, yet not all equally, but every one in their place [Perkins, “Golden Chaine,” 1. 109, Cited by Frost, 62].

This reflected Perkins’ synthetic definition of God’s love. In his Treatise of God’s Free Grace and Man’s Free Will, Perkins posed the question “whether there be such an affection of love in God, as is in man and beast.”

I answer that affections of the creature are not properly incident unto God, because they make many changes, and God is without change. And therefore all affections, and the love that is in man and beast is ascribed to God by figure [Perkins, “God’s Free Grace, 1.723, cited by Frost].

Thus, God must be understood to express his immutable will in a manner that accomplishes “the same things that love makes the creature do”. God, then, lacks any inherent affections but he still chooses to do the actions of love or hatred, and uses anthropomorphic language, while working out his eternal purposes: “Because his will is his essence or Godhead indeed.” [Perkins, “God’s Free Grace,” 1.703, cited by Frost] [brackets all mine] (Ron Frost, “Richard Sibbes’ Theology of Grace and the Division of English Reformed Theology [Unpublished PhD Dissertation, University of London, King’s College, 1996],” 61-2).

List of Assertions

  • This is the origin and framing of contemporary thinking about “double-predestination” (supralapsarianism) and the import of God’s decrees.
  • According to Perkins, to sustain the above framing, and as a result of using Aristotle’s “immutability,” God cannot love within Himself — within His own life freely. Thus God is different in eternity (ad intra) than He is in time as the “mediator” (ad extra).
  • In other words, the decrees of God (absolutum decretum) create space for God, “to love,” without impinging upon His real life, which according to Perkins, cannot love (or there would be change).
  • Furthermore, Perkins’ view implies that there is another God behind the back of Jesus.
  • At bottom, Perkins’ God cannot love, He cannot (in His real life in eternity) have compassion, or greive; He is only able to do this in time because His decrees allow Him to do so (in other words, God becomes subserviant to His decrees — so in the end He really is contingent on Human history, He is determined by His decrees — He is thus, not truly free!).

I wonder if any of this causes any contemporary Calvinists of today any kind of pause. If your view of double-predestination is framed by Perkins’ view (which it is, if you follow Westminster Calvinism), then I wonder what that further says about your view of God. Are you willing to take on the same assumptions on God’s immutability that Perkins does? Or, because you know scripture won’t let you, are you going to say: “I don’t believe that nonsense,” and move on, assuming that what Perkins and Westminster articulated has no bearing on your own “biblical viewpoint?” Enquiring minds want to know!

Can you think of any contemporary Evangelical Calvinists? I’ll start the list off:

  • Thomas F. Torrance
  • George Hunsinger (out of Princeton)
  • Myk Habets (our Kiwi theologian)
  • Bobby Grow (that’s me 😉
  • . . .

Who else would you include on this list? In fact let me open it up to include theologians from the history of the church . . .

Here’s an easier task. Who are contemporary, or even historical Classic and/or Federal Calvinists? I’ll kick this off too:

  • R. C. Sproul
  • Richard Muller
  • Mike Horton
  • . . .

Anymore come to mind? I think this listing will be indicative of what “system” has actually been prevailing within Christianity.

H/T: Dr. Myk Habets, for inspiring this post

[The following is a “guest post,” a paper that Dr. Habets recently sent me to read, and I think this is helpful in forwarding our understanding of what stands behind Evangelical Calvinism — if you want the full paper (I mean the footnotes) then email me, and I’ll forward it to you. I just want to say thank you to Dr. Habets for providing this paper for mass consumption, so thank you!]

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 election 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.

Calvinism is not a monolithic reality (thus this blog), historically, often times I find, when interacting with Classic Calvinists, that there is the pervasive belief that “their” tradition is pure gospel without development. I think the following, at least, illustrates that this is too reductionistic, and in fact there is significant disagreement between someone like John Calvin (Evangelical Calvinist par excellence) and Theodore Beza (Classic Calvinist the fountain-head), on the ordo salutis and the decrees .

In Richard Muller’s book: Christ and the Decree: Christology and Predestination in Reformed Theology From Calvin to Perkins, he is discussing Theodore Beza’s articulation of Christ and the decrees relative to predestination and the consequent doctrine of sanctification and assurance. Let’s hear from Muller on Beza’s view on “finding assurance” of salvation:

The syllogismus practicus [practical syllogism] appears in Beza’s thought as, at most, a partial solution to the problem of assurance. Beza frequently spoke of the inner witness of the Spirit as a ground of assurance, particularly in the context of justification and sanctification. This accords, on the one hand, with Beza’s forensic definition of justification and, on the other, with his recognition that sanctification could not be equated with progress toward a sinless life; in neither case could the emperical syllogismus enter the picture as the sole ground of assurance. But when Beza asks the question of the Christian life that results from faith, justification, and sanctification, proceeding, that is, from the divine cause to its human effects, he more pointedly even than Calvin, demands that good work follow. Throughout Beza’s works there is a tension between the spiritual and the emperical grounds of assurance: there is, in the relatively late study on Ecclesiastes, a denial of any use of material riches as a sign of justification or election–but in the isolated statement of the Catechismus compendarius, the syllogism rears its head in unabated form.

As Bray remarks, we encounter in Beza hardly a trace of Calvin’s teaching concerning Christ as the ground of assurance. There is a strong christological center in all of Beza’s attempts at systematic formulation and we sense everywhere the connection between Christ and the decree, but on the problem of assurance, which must always relate to causally to the decree, there is little christological discussion. In a sense, then, Beza allows more of a separation to occur between the munus Christi and the ordo salutis than does Calvin, to the end that the causal-emperical and pneumatological interests of the ordo predominate. . . . (Richard Muller, Christ and the Decree, 85)

The first point I want to highlight on Beza is that according to Muller the “Practical Syllogism” played a heavy heavy role as the basis for the elect to find assurance of salvation—in other words, emperically “proving” salvation was predominate within the soteriology of Beza. Secondly, there is a juxtaposition between the trajectory set by Beza versus the trajectory set by Calvin in regards to the basis of finding assurance (Calvin, according to Muller, believed that Christ alone was the sole base for finding assurance of salvation vs. Beza who “demanded” that good works are necessary if a person is to have assurance of salvation).

While Beza desires to present an christocentric soteriology, it appears, at least according to Muller’s analysis, that he becomes bogged down by concerns relative to ordo salutis rather than to emphasize the PERSON AND WORK of Jesus Christ.

Let me leave with a suggestion: it is this kind of Calvinism that is considered “Orthodox” today, the kind that was ratified at the Synod of Dordt. Again this kind of regimented Calvinism finds its genesis and shape through its Doctrine of God. The “Doctrine of God” that leads to a Bezan understanding (even a Westminster understanding), is the one informed by what has been called Thomism; that is, Thomas Aquinas’ (Roman Catholic scholar) integration of Aristotelian categories of the infinite with the Christian God. If we err at this point, which I believe Classic Calvinism has, then every other doctrine (including soteriology, issues dealing with salvaiton) will be skewed from an actual “Evangelical” understanding of Christian theology.

In fact it is this issue that will determine whether someone ends up an Evangelical Calvinist versus a Classic Calvinist; that is how we “start” out talking about God. I will need to unpack more of this later . . . I can do some of that in the comment meta if you want.

P. S. If anything, I want you to walk away from this post realizing that there really is a discernable distinction, very early on, to be made amongst Calvinism[s]. Thus, at the least, my blog title is warranted; and in fact, within the history of ideas, these distinctions are demanded if we are going to be “people of the truth” (Janice Knight has made a distinction between English Calvinism, one she labels The Spiritual Brethren [which would correlate closely to our “Evangelical Calvinism”, in some ways], and The Intellectual Fathers [which would correlate to “Classic Calvinism”, exactly] — I’m bursting at the seems here ;-), I have a surplus of things I want to speak to . . . in time ;-). I have left some terms undefined in this post (i.e. practical syllogism), this is on purpose . . . I’m hoping to create some space for discussion and questions :-).

Here is Mike Horton and Robert Godfrey (president of Westminster Theological Seminary, California) discussing John Calvin’s theology, and a recently published book by Godfrey, John Calvin: Pilgrim & Pastor. I think you’ll find this interesting — I certainly did — especially when they discuss Calvin’s view on “assurance;” this is why it is so hard to “get at” what Classic Calvinists actually believe (and I don’t mean to say that we can’t, but it is exceedingly difficult to get a “Classic Calvinist” to consistently make distinctions between their “name-sake” and what in fact was developed further in his name; I think they just assume that Calvin would’ve approved, in fact that he would’ve been the deciding vote on the 5 points of Dordt) — it’s as if the whole “Reformation,” post-Reformation era belongs to them. They speak of Calvin’s rather “Evangelical” tendencies (and rightly so), as you will hear, and then they go on and speak of the Synod of Dordt (and the 5 points) as if Calvin would’ve been right at home at Dordt. Here is the podcast:

On Calvin’s 500th Birthday

Let me provide a lengthy quote from T. F. Torrance on Jonathan Fraser of Brae (a Scottish theologian from the 17th century). This is what makes someone an “Evangelical Calvinist” (EC) versus an “Classical” one; remembering that there is something behind all this that is really at stake in speaking of someone as an EC — and that is our “Doctrine of God.” I digress, here is this quote; it will require follow up, which I will do at a later time (or in the comments, which if you read here, I would appreciate your feedback 😉 — although I have provided a little commentary at the end of this quote). Here we go:

. . . Fraser realized that the extent of the atoning death of Christ had to be thought out in light of the interrelation between the incarnation and the atonement, and so of the saving assumption by Christ of our Adamic humanity which was comprehensive in its nature and range. As the one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus embraced all mankind, and therefore what Fraser called all ‘ mankind sinners’. As the first Adam brought death by sin upon all flesh, so Christ came as the second Adam in order by means of death to lay a foundation of reconciliation and life for all. He did not take on himself the nature of man as elected, but the actual human nature of mankind as the object of his atoning death and satisfaction, which applies to all and every member of the human race. Hence it may be said ‘ all men are fundamentally justified in him and by him.’ ‘ Christ obeyed, and died in the room of all, as the head and representative of fallen man.’ Fraser understood this incarnational assumption of our humanity in accordance with St. Paul’s teaching in Romans 8. 2f about Christ condemning sin in the flesh, i.e. all sin in all flesh, and in 2 Corinthians 18. 5f [sic] about Christ being made sin for us, that through his death and blood we might be reconciled to God, and be made the righteousness of God in him. Christ came into the world, then, as mediator not to condemn it but to save it.

Woven into this understanding of redemption through Christ as mediator and Fraser’s understanding of the all sufficiency of the death of Christ, was the place he gave to the reformed doctrine of the active and passive obedience of Christ, his obedient life and vicarious suffering. As with earlier reformed theologians of the 53rd chapter of Isaiah about the suffering servant played a basic role in Fraser’s thinking about the mediatorial life and activity of Jesus, prompting him to take into account ‘ the whole course of Christ’s obedience from his incarnation’ through which he united himself to sinners in an effectually saving way in order that all men might believe. Fraser admitted, however, as we have already noted, that the atoning death of Christ for sinners was ‘ not necessarily effectual’ for all, for there was no physical or necessary connection between them, although there may be one of faith. It is significant that Fraser would not divorce the all sufficiency of Christ’s death from the all sufficiency of his incarnate person and obedient life. This is very evident in the arguments he developed for ‘ a sufficient universal satisfaction for reprobates’.

Quite clearly, then, Fraser held that Christ died for all people, the unbelieving as well as the believing, the damned as well as the saved, the reprobate as well as the elected. How, then, did he think that the death of Christ, not least his atoning satisfaction for sin, bears upon those who reject Christ and bring damnation upon themselves? This was one of the basic issues where James Fraser sided with the teaching of John Calvin, rather than with that of those ‘ Protestant Divines’ who, he complained, had not followed the old road. The particular point we must take into account here is that according to St. Paul the knowledge of Christ is to some people a ‘savour of life unto life’, but to others it can be a ‘savour of death unto death’. In that light it may be said that while the preaching of the gospel of Christ crucified for all mankind is meant for their salvation, it can also have the unintended effect of blinding and damning people—it becomes a ‘ savour of death unto death’. That is how Fraser regarded what happened to the reprobates in becoming ‘ the vessels of
wrath’.

The Word of the Lord goeth not in vain, but shall certainly accomplish that whereunto it is sent. Isa.I.5. The Messengers thereof being a sweet savour unto God, in them that perish, and in them that are saved, 2 Cor. ii.15. So the blood of Christ is a sacrifice of a sweet smelling savour to the Lord both in them that perish, and in them that are saved.

While the Arminians used this as an argument for universal redemption, Fraser, like Calvin, interpreted it as indicating how the death of Christ proclaimed in the Gospel has a ‘ twofold efficacy’ in which it can act in one way upon the elect and in a different way upon the reprobate. That is to say, it is the Gospel with that acts in that way. Those who reject the blood of Christ thereby become objects of ‘ Gospel and Wrath and Vengeance’ and bring destruction and damnation upon themselves. It is the very condemnation of sin in the atoning satisfaction made by Christ for all mankind, elect and reprobate alike, that becomes the condemnation of the reprobate who turn away from it, and thereby render themselves inexcusable. ‘ Reprobates by the death of Christ are made more inexcusable … If the death of Christ affords clear ground for all to believe, then I think the death of Christ makes all unbelievers inexcusable.’ Fraser spoke of this judgment of the unbelieving and the reprobate as ‘ Gospel wrath’ or wrath of a gospel kind.

God’s intention, end and purpose he designed, was indeed to save the elect amongst them, but not to save the rest, but that they contemning and rejecting the offer salvation might be made fit objects to shew his just gospel-vengeance and wrath upon them, tho’ it be true that God intended the work should have such an end.

According to Fraser this ‘ Gospel-Wrath’ is a worse punishment than ‘ Law-Wrath’. This was rather harsher than what Fraser said elsewhere, where he was closer to Calvin. Thus in speaking of Christ as ‘ crucified and crucified for our sins’, he wrote ‘ Nothing can be expected from this Saviour but good will: It’s by accident Christ condemns, but his primary end is to give life to the world.’
Again:

I grant indeed Christ doth condemn many, but then consider that such as he condemns it is for flighting of his grace offered in the Gospel; his first office is to preach glad tidings, to hold out the golden scepter that the world might believe and be saved, but then the world misbelieves Christ (for a great part of them did) Christ secondarily condemns and per accidens.If by unbelief they neglect this great salvation, the death of Christ will be so far from saving of them that it shall be their greatest ditty. (Thomas F. Torrance, “Scottish Theology: From John Knox to John McLeod Campbell,” 198–201)

Notice how Fraser makes the distinction between creation and election. This allows him to speak about a universal atonement, and at the same time talk about election and reprobation as theological realities. In other words, the incarnation vis-à-vis the atonement becomes the touchstone framework for his articulation of his brand of covenant theology. So on one hand he can say that Christ genuinely died for all humanity, and on the other hand hold that this universal atonement encapsulates both the elect and reprobate. One having a positive response to the Gospel, and one having a negative response to the Gospel.

Something that I like about Fraser, and his approach, is that he provides an alternative, more evangelically motivated Calvinism; contra his rationalist counterparts from Westminster. In other words, whereas Westminster Calvinists frame the whole atonement discussion with logico/causal language so that if Jesus dies, whomever he dies for “will be saved”—i.e. because if he doesn’t save who he dies for then he shed some of his blood in vain, and his sovereignty is called into question. Fraser’s approach reorientates the atonement from the causal rationalist language toward a more Christ centered evangelical framing; he accomplishes this by focusing on the supremacy of Christ over both life and death. For Fraser Jesus is the centrifugal force who alone (along with the Father and Holy Spirit) determines salvific reality for all people. Fraser does not seem to feel forced, as the rationalist Westminster Calvinists does, to explain why some respond positively and some negatively; he just recognizes that this is the reality. And this reality all orbits around Jesus Christ, and his ultimate determination shaped by his triune life.

There is a lot more that needs to be said, but I would say this piece has gone on long enough. If you have made it this far, then I’m sure this quote has prompted many questions; so I’ll see you in the comment meta.

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