The following is a great quote on sola gratia (grace alone) by none-other than our own ;-), Myk Habets; and how this looks within the ‘Evangelical Calvinist’ framework. (This will be the weekend post, then).

Torrance is critical of Roman Catholics, certain evangelicals, and liberals alike, who, in direct antitheses to a Reformed doctrine of election, rest salvation upon our own personal or existential decision. The Arminian error is not in subscribing to universal atonement but in subscribing to universal redemption based upon an erroneous reading of 2 Cor 2:15. Free-will is nothing other than self-will and it is the self which is enslaved to sin, therefore no human truly has free-will; therefore, salvation must be by grace alone. A vivid picture of this is provided when Torrance turns to the story of Zacchaeus found in Luke 19:1-10. Interested in Christ but wanting to retain his freedom to stay aloof from him, Zacchaeus, short in stature, hides in a tree to observe Jesus from a safe distance. But Jesus invades his space and announces his decision to lodge in Zacchaeus’s house and tells him to make haste and come down. ‘Then the astonishing thing happened,’ Torrance notes, ‘this man who did not have it in him to change his heart, who was not free to rid himself of his own selfish will, found himself free to make a decision for Christ, because Christ has already made a decision on his behalf. This is what Torrance sees as the heart of the Gospel — that the Son of God has come into the far country to men and women enchained in their self-will and crushed by sin, in order to take that burden wholly upon himself and to give an account of it to God.

This view is contrasted to that of the Arminians who, in Torrance’s opinion, throws people back upon themselves for their ultimate salvation, something he considers ‘unevangelical.’ The Gospel is preached in this unevangelical way when it is announced that Christ died and rose again for sinners if they would accept this for themselves. Torrance considers this a repetition of the subtle legalist twist to the Gospel which worried St Paul so much in the Epistle to the Galatians. ‘To preach the Gospel in that conditional or legalist way has the effect of telling poor sinners that in the last resort the responsibility for their salvation is taken off the shoulders of the Lamb of God and placed upon them — but in that case they feel they will never be saved.’ In contrast Torrance proposes the following as an example of how the Gospel is preached in an evangelical way:

God loves you so utterly and completely that he has given himself for you in Jesus Christ his beloved Son, and has thereby pledged his very being as God for your salvation. In Jesus Christ God has actualised his unconditional love for you in your human nature in such a once for all way, that he cannot go back upon it without undoing the Incarnation and the Cross and thereby denying himself. Jesus Christ died for you precisely because you are sinful and utterly unworthy of him, and has thereby already made you his own before and apart from your ever believing in him. He has bound you to himself by his love in a way that he will never let you go, for even if you refuse him and damn yourself in hell his love will never cease. Therefore repent and believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour.

Torrance’s presentation of the Gospel in such a way is instructive. The love of God is not in question, not even for the reprobate. All are elect in Christ as Christ died for all, thus universal pardon is announced in the free and gracious offer of salvation. And yet, two other things are equally clear; first, not all are saved. The sinner has the right and the ability to refuse the love of God and to damn themselves, no matter how impossible this may seem. While this will forever remain a mystery, it is nonetheless a reality. Second, the sinner does have to do something, namely, repent and believe. While faith is a gift, it must be responsive. This is why Torrance asserts one of his oft repeated phrases, ‘all of grace does not mean nothing of man, but the reverse.’ (Myk Habets, “The Doctrine of Election in Evangelical Calvinism: T. F. Torrance as a Case Study,” Irish Theological Quarterly 73 [2008] 351-52).

A nice ‘Evangelical Calvinist’ synopsis of what ‘grace alone’ means; certainly we see TFT’s penchant for vicariousness at play here; and also we see how ‘grace alone’, for TFT, is personified in Jesus Christ. This is contrariwise to both the Federal Calvinist understanding (which thinks of grace in terms of a ‘quality’ or ‘substance’), as well as the Arminian understanding (which also thinks of grace in terms of ‘something’ we have from God, instead of ‘someone’).

I hope you find this helpful, especially those of you for whom this is your first time exposure to such thinking; I think the quote is pretty straightforward, if not (or even if it is), let me know what you think. Questions and comments, critique and candor are what posts like this are intended to provoke. So let it flow . . .

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