October 2009


Guest post by: Myk Habets

How would an EC answer the question: Are infants who die saved or not?

CCists would appeal to covenantal succession – if they are baptised they are in the covenant and thus saved. Otherwise they are damned. Non-confessional and free-church advocates would appeal to the mercy, love, and infant_baptismgrace of God and say yes they are saved. Radical traditions would simply appeal to sentiment and because they want all to be saved then they believe infants who die are saved. So what of ECists?

Now add to that a related question: are the severally mentally disabled saved or not?

Is the answer to this second question the same as the first and for the same reasons?

What are the relevant biblical texts and what is the theological justification for your answer?

Now, just to add one more ‘problem.’ I am an EC, and a B/baptist – so covenantal succession does not work for me. I am Reformed so I hold to a strong doctrine of original sin and guilt – for all the progeny of Adam. I also think infants who die are saved. I also think the severally mentally disabled are saved. But, for the latter, does that mean that they should be baptised? And that they should be allowed to take communion?

This is in response to Mike Houston’s question on the vicariousness of Christ and how that relates to our relation to or in Him. I will appeal to Myk Habets’ comment on T. F. Torrance’s understanding of the vicariousness of Christ; and then I will provide some closing commentary of my own.

According to Torrance the vicarious humanity of Christ means that only Christ’s response is ultimately valid. All other responses to God are excluded because Christ is the ground and the norm of our response to God. Torrance makes this clear throughout his essay ‘The Word of God and the Response of Man’ where we read, ‘In the Gospels we do not have to do simply with the Word of God and the response of man, but with the all-significant middle term, the divinely provided response in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ’. The humanity of Christ occupies a unique place in which he is the exclusive representative and substitute in all our relations with God, ‘including every aspect of human response to Him; such as trusting and obeying, understanding and knowing, loving and worshipping’. Indeed, this is what it means for Christ to be divinised and for believers to experience theosis in him.

Because the incarnate Son of God is fully human (enhypostasis), his response personalises ours. In all of his soteriological activity: ‘Jesus Christ is engaged in personalising and humanising (never depersonalising and dehumanising) activity, so that in all our relations with him we are made more truly and fully human in our personal response of faith than ever before. . . . (Myk Habets, “Theosis in the Theology of Thomas Torrance,” Ashgate, 76)

So when Mike asks:

Is vicarious humanity comparable to an employers liability? Kind of like employers are vicariously liable for negligent acts or omissions by their employees in the course of employment. Is what your saying is that Christ as the second Adam is the head (employer) of all mankind?

No. It is more personal than this. Christ is ‘real humanity’ and as real humanity (imago dei) he enters into *our* skin and substitutes before the Father (as real human) in ways that we never would. By so doing He elevates our humanity to His level; which is spiritually united to the Father by the Spirit. So to simply frame this in ‘federal’ or ‘forensic’ or ‘external’ or ‘behaviorial’ or ‘nomist’ ways won’t do; and that is what your employer analogy draws from. Our response is grounded in Christ’s completely, that’s what makes it all of grace.

His substitution runs deeper than the forensic model allows for; it goes all the way down through the heart that is ‘desparately sick’ and provides a ‘heart of flesh’ (His heart). There is only one humanity that Christ could substitute for; that’s why when we speak of election we must ground it in Christ’s humanity for us (it is universal). How the reprobate fit in, Mike (or anybody), is not fully comprehensible (if you need to understand this in toto, i.e. in causal/forensic ways, then I think this might continue to be a ‘stumbling block’); we can say that reprobate are fully represented in Christ’s humanity, and why they fail to respond makes no human sense.

More to come . . .

In a previous post and comment thread Mike Houston wanted clarification on this:

Christ’s Atonement was offered on behalf of all mankind through the vicarious humanity of Christ because of his qualification as the Incarnate Son of God, but effectual (actual) Atonement was limited (restricted) only to the elect because of their Spiritual Union with Christ through faith and repentance.

gardenIn other words, all men became eligible for atonement relationally because Christ took on humanity-he became the second Adam. But that in itself is not salvation. Christ actually became the substitute for the sins of those who enter spiritual union (through faith/repentance) with him as the Son of God. Basically Christ took on the sins of the elect and appeased the wrath of God.

This will be a simple response (it’s all I have time for). Actually it could be said that we are only really concerned with the big picture; that is, I would have to say no to the last paragraph. In other words, Christ actually became the substitute for all of humanity (carnal union) — we cannot separate Incarnation from Atonement — and this follows through by the Holy Spirit into Spiritual Union. Why, when confronted with this possibility some reject it (reprobate) is not explainable (there is some mystery here). I think what might need to be understood here is the idea of creation and Recreation; Christ and eschatological redemption are the purpose for creation, in Christ fallen creation is ‘recreated’ (think, in a sense, that we’re starting over), all of humanity is oriented to Christ (indeed creation). The fact that the reprobate reject their spiritual union with Christ is as mysterious as why Adam and Eve rejected their relationship with God in the Beginning.

Now, we have a choice to make; we can either ground the Fall and the Reprobate’s response in the decree (so that in the end God is the ultimate/remote cause), or we can simply say we don’t understand (cf. Deut. 29.29) — nevertheless the reprobate’s choice and thus judgement is not ‘outside of Christ’ (as the decree implies), but is grounded within God’s choice in Christ to judge sin at the cross. If we don’t ground it this way, then as I just said, the classical framing grounds the reprobates judgement outside of Christ; and in this sense Christ is not ‘supreme’ or ‘prime’ over all creation (Col. 1.15ff).

I have just posted a guest post (at my other blog Behind The Back) by Myk Habets on Thomas Torrance’s Framing of Natural Theology through John Calvin & Karl Barth (my title). This is quite good, and would’ve fit in quite well with Travis’ recent Barth Blog Conference. For anyone interested in such things come give it a read, give some feedback, I’m sure Myk would be happy to respond back. See you there . . .

This is in response to Heather’s request for me to compare/contrast Evangelical Calvinism with Traditional/Classic Calvinism. This will all be off the top (it’s a blog remember 😉 ).

  • Doctrine of God

Evangelical Calvinist: Holds to a view of God that emphasizes the Trinitarian nature of God’s life of love — a more relational understanding. God’s life is determined to be what it is by His free-love one for the other; which overflows to His creation.

Classic Calvinist: Holds to a view of God that emphasizes God’s oneness as the Law-giver — a more abstract understanding. Which is why we end up with decrees in God’s dealings with humanity, he must remain unmoved by His creation.

  • Election

Evangelical Calvinist: Grounds election in Christ. He is the electing God and elected God-Man for humanity — which means all of humanity.

Classic Calvinist: Grounds election in the decree, and focuses on particular individuals instead of Christ as the elect.

  • Salvation

Evangelical Calvinist: Emphasizes the idea of ‘union with Christ’ as the ground of salvation, thus His vicarious life is the place where our salvation is rooted (i.e. in His choice for us, not our choice for Him). The Holy Spirit makes Christ’s objective work for us subjective, making Christ’s ‘Yes’ to the Father (as our mediator in His humanity) our ‘Yes’ in ‘Him’.

Classic Calvinist: Speaks of ‘union with Christ’, but grounds salvation in the ‘elect’ man’s Spirit ‘enabled’ choice; in this sense elect man is enabled to cooperate with God in appropriating salvation (albeit it is all attributable to God’s power).

There is more, Heather, and I will respond further. You wanted to know more about Barth’s “apparent” universalism, I will broach that at a later time as well. Let me know what you think of this, if this helps. And of course this post isn’t just for Heather 🙂 , so any and all feedback is expected.

. . . just a heads up, I’ve started one more blog called Behind The Back, it is strictly dedicated to discussing the theology of Thomas F. Torrance; if you’re interested in ‘strictly TFT’ then that blog will be the place for you. My posting over there might be slower than here; but I will be posting as time permits. See you there:

Behind The Back      http://tftorrance.wordpress.com/

There are a million things to write about per EC, does anyone have any requests or issues that you would like me to address that you don’t think I have; or at least have in meaningful ways? I’m thinking that I haven’t really defined Evangelical and Calvinist all that well yet, maybe I’ll write on that; but before I do, any requests?

Based upon what you know of Evangelical Calvinism, to this point, can you differentiate it from what is called Amyraldism? Here is a brief description of Amyraldism:

Amyraldism (or sometimes Amyraldianism, the School of Saumur, hypothetical universalism, or Post Redemptionism), also known as “hypothetical universalism” or “four-point Calvinism”, primarily refers to a mosesmodified form of Calvinist theology. It rejects one of the Five points of Calvinism, the doctrine of limited atonement, in favour of an unlimited atonement similar to that of Hugo Grotius. Simply stated, Amyraldism holds that God has provided Christ’s atonement for all alike, but seeing that none would believe on their own, he then elected those whom he will bring to faith in Christ, thereby preserving the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election.

Named after its formulator Moses Amyraut, this doctrine is still viewed as a variety of Calvinism in that it maintains the particularity of sovereign grace in the application of the atonement. However, detractors like B. B. Warfield have termed it “an inconsistent and therefore unstable form of Calvinism.”

Moses Amyraut, originally a lawyer, but converted to the study of theology by the reading of Calvin’s ‘Institutes,’ an able divine and voluminous writer, developed the doctrine of hypothetical or conditional universalism, for which his teacher, John Cameron (1580–1625), a Scot, and for two years Headmaster of Saumur Academy, had prepared the way. His object was not to set aside, but to moderate Calvinism by ingrafting this doctrine upon the particularism of election, and thereby to fortify it against the objections of Roman Catholics, by whom the French Protestants, or Huguenots, were surrounded and threatened. Being employed by the Reformed Synod in important diplomatic negotiations with the government, he came in frequent contact with bishops, and with Cardinal Richelieu, who esteemed him highly. His system is an approach, not so much to Arminianism, which he decidedly rejected, as to Lutheranism, which likewise teaches a universal atonement and a limited election.

Amyraut maintained the Calvinistic premises of an eternal foreordination and foreknowledge of God, whereby he caused all things inevitably to pass—the good efficiently, the bad permissively. He also admitted the double decree of election and reprobation; though his view on double predestination is modified slightly by his view of double election. In addition to this he taught that God foreordained a universal salvation through the universal sacrifice of Christ offered to all alike, on condition of faith, so that on the part of God’s will and desire, the grace is universal, but as regards the condition it is particular, or only for those who do not reject it and thereby make it ineffective. The universal redemption scheme precedes the particular election scheme, and not vice versa. He reasons from the benevolence of God towards his creatures; Calvinism, he thought, improperly reasons from the result and makes actual facts interpret the decrees. Amyraut distinguished between objective grace which is offered to all, and subjective grace in the heart which is given only to the elect. He also makes a distinction between natural ability and moral ability, or the power to believe and the willingness to believe; man possesses the former, but not the latter, in consequence of inherent depravity. It, therefore, takes an act of God to illuminate the mind, thereby engaging the will towards action. He was disposed, like Zwingli, to extend the grace of God beyond the limits of the visible Church, inasmuch as God by his general providence operates upon the heathen, as in the case of Malachi 1:11, 14, and may produce in them a sort of unconscious Christianity, a faith without knowledge; while within the Church he operates more fully and clearly through the means of grace. Those who never heard of Christ are condemned if they reject the general grace of providence; but the same persons would also reject Christ if he were offered to them. As regards the result, Amyraut agreed with the particularists. His ideaology is unavailable, except for those in whom God previously works the condition of faith, that is, for those who are included in the particular decree of election. (Taken from: Wikipedia)

Clearly there is ‘some’ similarity between EC and Amyraldianism, in fact Amyraut was a student of John Cameron who TFT lists as an ‘Evangelical Calvinist’ in his book Scottish Theology; nevertheless, there is a difference, can you identify it?

I am currently reading:

  1. Calvin’s Doctrine of Man by T. F. Torrance
  2. The Theology of John Calvin by Karl Barth
  3. The Cambridge Companion To John Calvin edited by Donald McKim

I am currently involved in quite a bit of research on John Calvin. There is really no end to Calvin research, in that vein, is there anything you all think I must read on Calvin (I’ve already read Steinmetz, Muller, Parker, Dowey, Neisel, Gordon, Partee, Helm, Holmes, Kendall, Canliss, Habets and some more)? Any theo essays (in journals) you think I need to read?

All of this kind of study is important towards understanding the background to what we are calling Evangelical Calvinism. It is important, of course, because we are claiming Calvin’s name for our theological approach. If Calvin has nothing to do with our categories of thought and framework, then we should just call ourselves Evangelical Reformed. Of course, ‘Reformed’ has become appropriated and thus univocally understood to be another way of saying ‘Calvinist’ (or vice versa). Anyway, the point we are on about in EC is to provide depth and nuance to Calvinism’s development, both historically and constructively . . . thus my reading of Calvin and on Calvin.

P. S. I am also trying to read Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics in the midst of all this other reading; keep me in prayer 😉 .

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