Myk Habets

Guest Post by: Dr Myk Habets[1]

This I Believe

It is a useful exercise to have to clarify what it is you really believe. Here I am thinking of the efforts of the great C.S. Lewis, Oxford don and advocate of Christianity who spoke of his ‘mere Christianity’, or G.K. Chesterton, arguably one of the best writers of the twentieth Century, who simply spoke of Orthodoxy. ‘This I Believe’ is my attempt to briefly present a sort of ‘Dummies Guide’ to my Christian belief for people who have no resemblance to dummies whatsoever. In presenting my beliefs I hope to stimulate your own attempts to think through what you believe.

To begin allow me to speak to my context. I am a man, a husband, a father, and a Christian. I am a conscious and devoted follower of the God who has revealed himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In this I am not alone, of course. Christianity has three grand traditions: Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and Protestantism. While each tradition has its origin each also claims to be the most faithful expression of what it means to be a God-fearer and Christ follower. While I have the utmost respect for my Orthodox and Catholic sisters and brothers in Christ, I prefer the Protestant flavour. More particularly, I am a Reformed Protestant, those who affirm the basic truths of Christianity around several phrases:

  • Sola scriptura (Scripture alone) – the Christian scriptures are the ultimate authority for Christian belief and practice.
  • Sola gratia  (by grace alone) – a right relationship with God may only be received as a gift – that is, by grace.
  • Sola fidei (by faith alone) – relationship with the Christian God requires individual trust. 
  • Sola Christos (By Christ alone) – there are many ways to Jesus but only one true way to God – through Jesus alone. And,
  • Soli Dei gloria (to the glory of God) – all we think, say, and do must be to the glory of God who is the highest good of all.

I am an ecumenical Theologian by vocation. By ‘theologian’’ I refer to the fact that I am an established member of the academic guild of theological educators. I have a PhD in systematic theology, I publish articles and books on constructive theology, and I teach students and supervise theses and dissertations on theology.

By ‘ecumenical’ I mean that my ultimate commitments are larger than to any one sect of the Christian tradition. As faithful witnesses to Scripture, I believe in the ecumenical creeds of Christendom which are binding on the whole church. Here I am thinking specifically of the Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Chalcedonian Definition, and the Athanasian Creed. As a theologian I seek to work within these confessional standards, making clear what they made clear. Thus ecumenical theology is theology for all Christians, regardless of tradition. Ecumenical Christianity seeks to uphold the standards of the faith ‘believed by all people everywhere,’ as one early Father of the faith expressed it.

What then constitutes the essential content of my ecumenical, confessional Christianity? While we could fill an entire books in reply, I think it fair to say there are several unique claims the Christian church makes in light of the history of Jesus the Christ. I want to address four of them.

1. Jesus and the Scandal of Particularity

‘The dogma of the Incarnation is the most dramatic thing about Christianity’, wrote Dorothy Sayers in 1937. And she was correct. She continues, ‘And indeed, the most dramatic thing that ever entered into the mind of man; but if you tell people so, they stare at you in bewilderment.’[2] In a letter she wrote in 1945 Sayers speaks of the ‘scandal of particularity,’ the fact that Jesus Christ was a real person, in a real place, who lived a real life. And that life was a disclosure of the nature of God. Unfortunately, writes Sayers, ‘the people of that time had not the faintest idea that it was happening.[3] Here I wish to pick up on her phrase – the scandal of particularity, a phrase which has gone on to enjoy an extended outing. It is the particularity of Jesus to which Christianity claims is part of its uniqueness. We hear this from such texts as John 14.6 and Romans 10.9. It is this claim that God resides in a real human person, a man from Galilee, a carpenter, that is at the core of Christianity and forms the basis for the critique of those who wish to challenge Christianity. This is the scandal of particularity.

Let us be clear on what the Christian claim is. According to the early creeds Jesus Christ has a complete, real, substantial human nature. He is the same as you and me. And yet at the same time Jesus Christ has a complete, real, substantial divine nature. He is the same as the Father and the Spirit – he is God. In mathematical terms, always a clumsy vehicle for speaking of divine mysteries, we may say Jesus is 100% human and 100% divine – at the same time. In non-technical speak Jesus is unique, a one-off. But what sort of ‘one-off’’ we may ask. Is he the prototype or the archetype? This is important. If Jesus is the prototype then we may assume he has been bettered. By who? Well by us of course! This is a view Christianity rejects. Thus Jesus is seen as the great archetype. In fact the Apostle Paul writes that Adam, the first created human in the biblical story, is the prototype and Jesus is the Last Adam, the great archetype (1 Cor 15.45). This has immense implications.[4]

A Christian understanding of Jesus Christ as fully human and fully divine also requires that people believe human flesh can be a suitable vehicle for divine incarnation. Any philosophy or religion that despises the flesh for any reason is thus incompatible with Christian theology. Those Christians and non-Christians alike who have sought to downplay the flesh, to diminish the role of the body or of things physical, have, in the opinion of ecumenical Christianity, grossly misunderstood the incarnation. You may know of this through the caricatures of Puritanism, or Christian prudishness, or some such. Here, as elsewhere, we must make a distinction between Christianity and individual adherents – the Christians. If nothing else, the incarnation shows that Christianity is a physical religion, related to our reality in every way possible.

2. God the Wholly Other

The second unique claim the Christian church makes in light of the history of Jesus the Christ concerns the question: Who is God? Note that the question is not ‘What is God?’ but ‘Who is God?’ To ask ‘what is God?’ comes close to blasphemy in the Christian tradition. God is a mystery and to ask of God – what are you? – is tantamount to asking God to give us knowledge of all mysteries and thus, to take the place of God himself. But to ask ‘who is God?’ is an incredibly biblical thing to do. In the Old Testament prophets, poets, and writers of wisdom we often find them asking God who he is. Moses, the liberator of Israel, asked God who he was. In the New Testament the disciples ask the same question. Each time God answers and each time he reveals more and more of who he is.

First we note that God is ‘wholly Other’ as the great Swiss theologian Karl Barth called him, bigger, different – transcendent. This is illustrated well when, in her book Amazing Grace, Kathleen Norris includes the following account of the encounter between Moses the liberator of the Jews and God:

Seeing a bush that burns and yet is not consumed, Moses decides to investigate [and] God speaks to him from the bush, saying ‘I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’

     When God demands that he return to Egypt, to Pharaoh himself, and boldly lead the Israelites to freedom, Moses understandably wants to know a bit more about this God who is addressing him. He proceeds by indirection. Not daring to ask God who he is, Moses says instead, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and lead the Israelites out of Egypt?’ God’s answer is hardly comforting: ‘I will be with you.’ And then follows one of the scariest passages in the Bible. God tells Moses that he will know for certain it is God who has called him to this task only when it is accomplished. Only when he has brought the people with him to worship on this mountain.

     This is a God who is not identified with the help of a dictionary but through a relationship. One that demands great willingness to trust and take risks. Moses is flummoxed. He knows that his own people will need convincing, that they will demand to know this God’s name. The next passage might be seen as the premier Jewish humour, a theological vaudeville routine. ‘What is your name?’ Moses asks, and God says, ‘I Am Who I Am.’ Moses might as well have asked, ‘Who’s on first?’[5]

When we speak of the transcendence of God we are talking about that sense in which God is above and beyond us. It tries to get at his supreme and altogether greatness. Transcendence describes God in his consuming majesty, his exalted loftiness. It points to the infinite distance that separates him from and for every creature.

But this is merely a prelude to the real answer to the question Who is God? God is other, God is transcendent and immanent, God is personal and powerful, but who, who is this God? The theological clarification of this point revolves around the doctrine of settled belief in God the Holy Trinity: God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Ecumenical Christianity affirms its belief, shaped by the life of Christ, that God is one Being, three Persons. God is a community, a divine fellowship, a perichoretic union in which three Persons are so identified with each other and so constitute each other they are, literally, in and of the other so completely that while remaining Three, they are simultaneously One. While various analogies could be employed to unpack that dogma, like jazz music or dance, they finally fail to adequately describe who God is like (mostly because they are actually attempts to clarify what God is).

Christianity has an entire arsenal of arguments to account for its belief in God the Trinity, formed over centuries of reflection on the implications of the life of Jesus the Christ, but I shall spare you from these for the moment. Perhaps it is sufficient for me to state the belief and leave it at that. Christians worship God in their worship of the Father of the eternal Son, in their worship of the eternal Son of the Father Almighty, and of their worship of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Sonship and bond of love between the Father and the Son. That is who Christians claim God is.

3. God is God – But what are we?

Central to Christian views of humanity is the contention that men and women are created by God, and are created in his image. Thus: ‘The real human is not what we now find in human society,’ writes one contemporary theologian. He continues,

The real human is the being that came from the hand of God, unspoilt by sin and the fall. In a very real sense, the only true human beings were Adam and Eve before the fall, and Jesus. All the others are twisted, distorted, corrupted samples of humanity. It therefore is necessary to look at [humanity] in [its] original state and at Christ if we would correctly assess what it means to be human.[6]

Christians claim that all humans are created according to the archetype of Jesus – we are images of The Image so to speak. Thus we insist that to know what a human really is, we do not start with studies of humanity (anthropology, sociology, or psychology); rather, we start with the central narrative of the Christian faith: the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus reveals what it means to be truly human in his life, death, and resurrection. All attempts to define what a real person is apart from Jesus Christ are reenactments of the story of Pinocchio: bad company produces bad character. Only in Christ do we find what a real human looks like. And only in Christ’s resurrection do we finally experience our true humanity.

Ecumenical Christianity is radically realistic, however. Genesis 3 tells us of humanities great Fall into sin. We are, in the language of Christianity, fallen beings, stained beings, sinful beings. And so we live with this consciousness that we are like God by design, but positively unlike him by intent. We are sinners. ‘Sinners’ – this word which has caused untold offence to untold millions through human history is still, and unavoidably still, part of Christian vocabulary. It is not that things could not have been different; it is the reality that things are not different. We live in a world of hostility, and evil, however this may be defined. And any religion or worldview has to be able to account for this.

According to the Christian worldview, sin and evil are realities – but so is Jesus the Christ and he can save us from sin and evil. To speak of evil and sin apart from the realities of grace and Jesus is a distortion. Christian philosopher Cornelius Plantinga puts it well:

God wants shalom and will pay any price to get it back. Human sin is stubborn, but not as stubborn as the grace of God and not half so persistent, not half so ready to suffer to win its way. Moreover, to speak of sin by itself is to misunderstand its nature: sin is only a parasite, a vandal, a spoiler. Sinful life is a partly depressing, partly ludicrous caricature of genuine human life. To concentrate on our rebellion, defection, and folly – to say to the world ‘I have some bad news and I have some good news’ – is to forget that the center of the Christian religion is not our sin but our Savior. To speak of sin without grace is to minimize the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the fruit of the Spirit, and the hope of shalom.[7]

Well said. And a good segue into the final unique claim the Christian church makes in light of the history of Jesus the Christ.

4. What is to become of us?  

The theme of redemption revolves around the fact that God in Christ did for humanity what humanity could not do for itself. He dealt with sin, with death, and with defilement. This is perhaps what most people think of as central to Christianity, if they think of it at all. And this is obviously important, as important as any equation is to its problem. The solution to the problem of sin addresses the negative aspects of the human condition – but it does not yet address the positive aspects, so often underplayed or even ignored both within Christianity and from outside.

Redemption from sin and evil is only half the Gospel story. This is what deals with our past, if I may so speak, but it does not yet address that which is truly startling, exciting, and most shocking in Christianity – that to which we are conformed. What is to become of us – according to Christianity in each of its three Great Traditions – Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestantism – is truly offensive to human sensibilities.

In the Old Testament, the teaching of the creation of human beings in the image and likeness of God and the call of the chosen people Israel through the covenant to a closer communion with God prepared for the development of the theme in the New Testament. The New Testament teaching that God’s Son becomes human so that humanity may participate in God through the adoption of the Spirit is dealt with extensively.[8] C.S. Lewis expresses this belief in future glory and immortality in his classic little work Mere Christianity:

[God said] that we were ‘gods’ and He is going to make good His words. If we let Him – for we can prevent Him, if we choose – He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what He said.[9]

I think you now realize why this is close to, if not completely, scandalous to the secular mind. The grand vision and end of all things, according to ecumenical Christianity, is for humans to participate in the divine Communion and yet humans remain human and God remains God! This is the classically articulated doctrine of salvation taught in Scripture, by the Fathers of the Church, and affirmed in Eastern and Western expressions of the Church today. This is what is Good News for those who believe but a stumbling block to those who do not.


What constitutes the essential content of ecumenical, confessional Christianity? I think it fair to say there are several unique claims the Christian church makes in light of the history of Jesus the Christ. I have addressed four of them. First, the question: who is Jesus? To which Christianity replies: Jesus is the Christ. Second, the question: who is God? To which Christianity replies: God the Holy Trinity: God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Third, the question: Who are we (humanity) before this God? To which Christianity replies: people in need of that which they cannot get for themselves. And finally, the question: What is to become of us (humanity)? To which Christianity replies: your destiny is for immortality and the responsibilities that entails. 

This I believe! What do you believe?

[1]            Lecturer in Systematic Theology and Director of the R.J. Thompson Centre for Theological Study, Carey Baptist College. A version of this paper was originally delivered as part of the Horizons Seminars, Unitec,  April 15, 2008. Originally published as ‘This I Believe,’ The Baptist 125 no.6 (2009), 3, 23

[2]        D.L. Sayers to father H. Kelly, October 4, 1937, in The Letters of Dorothy L. Sayers, vol. 2, ed. B. Reynolds (Cambridge: Dorothy L Sayers Society, 1997), 43.

[3]        D.L. Sayers to I. Amesbury of Bristol, June 1, 1945, in ibid., 150.

[4]        See Col 1.15; 2.9; and John 14.9 for starters.

[5]        K. Norris, Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith (Oxford: Lion, 1998), 122-123.

[6]        M. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 496.

[7]        Cornelius Plantinga, Jr, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 199.

[8]        See for instance: John 120.34 (Ps 82.6), 17.20-23; Acts 17.28; and 2 Peter 1.4. It is not that these are the only verses which speak this way. Texts concerning divine sonship (Gal 4.5ff.; Rom 8.15), imitation of God (Mt 5.4-48) and of Christ (Phil 2.5-11), as well as texts presenting the new life of Christians as a pledge and anticipation of future glory (1 Cor 13.12; 2 Cor 3.18; 1 Jn 3.1-3), must all be considered in this light.

[9]        C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (London: Fount, 1952), 172.

I think union with Christ and how that relates to salvation is one of the key pillars upon which EC rests. This nuance, relative to Federal Calvinism, or what have you, differentiates Evangelical Calvinism from the other approaches, which gets me very excited. In that vein let me share something from Myk Habets, he is speaking to this issue in the theology of Thomas Torrance; and how our choice for God (salvation) is first grounded in Jesus’ choice for us (and is acted out in His Spirit constituted humanity in-our-stead [substitution]). I hope you find this helpful:

pentecost. . . Based upon the mutual mediation of Son and Spirit, there is both a God-humanward movement and a human-Godward movement and Jesus through the Spirit mediates both. This means, as Deddo explains, ‘the Spirit not only brings to us the objective effects worked out in the vicarious life of Christ, but also the subjective effects worked out in his humanity. That is, the Spirit enables us to share in Jesus’ own faithful repsonse to the Father’. Torrance’s doctrine of human response as previously analysed provides a foundation for what is developed here by way of the Holy Spirit.

Through the Spirit we share in Christ’s response to the Father. The Spirit empowers the believer to cry ‘Abba, Father’, in the same way that comes naturally to the Son of God; for to be ‘in the Spirit’ is to be ‘in Christ’. Deddo notes that according to Torrance, ‘our whole lives in every part are constituted a participation: a dynamic life of union and communion with God’. Torrance insists that our holiness or sanctification is realised in Christ by the Holy Spirit: our repentance, faith, and obedience are actualised in Christ by the Holy Spirit; every part of our relationship with and response to God is thus achieved in, through, and by the Son and the Spirit. Not only is the Holy Spirit instrumental in justification, but now, also, to sanctification. Critically, however, both are located in Christ. Here we have, in effect, the other side of redemption: ‘the side of the subjectification of revelation and reconciliation in the life and faith of the church. That means the Spirit is creating and calling forth the response of man in faith and understanding, in thanksgiving and worship and prayer. . . . (Myk Habets, “Theosis in the Theology of Thomas Torrance,” 152-53)

What is keynote here is how all of the typical concepts (i.e. election, limited atonement, “by-faith-alone”, “by-grace-alone”, “in-Christ-alone”), which are usually placed in a decree, are reframed or recasted so that it is all grounded in God’s life in Christ by the Spirit. We don’t cooperate with God through grace (as if grace is something given to us that we can cooperate with Christ through) to appropriate salvation (which is the way Classic Calvinism construes it); instead we respond through the ‘free’ response of Jesus Christ to the Father by the Holy Spirit on our behalf. We are placed into, united to Christ, by the ‘person’ (non-created) of the Holy Spirt; it is through this union that our response is first instantiated, first accomplished in Christ’s mediation (in Christ’s Spirit constituted  humanity) for us. Union with Christ (and the broader category of Theosis from which this springs) is an integral part of the Evangelical Calvinist approach; that is because it holds that God’s life itself is salvation (not meeting the dictates of some decrees), thus if we are going to ‘be saved’ we must be in union with this life. And that is what happens through Christ’s humanity by the Spirit first; then we are united to His humanity by the Spirit, and it is out of this recreated humanity that we say ‘Yes’ to the Father (‘thy will be done’).

Does this help clarify anything?

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 . . .

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 . . .

Here is a snippet from Myk Habets on Torrance’s understanding of ‘Federal theology’:

Federal theology, in Torrance’s estimation, works on the premise of a contract or bargain made between the Father and the Son in eternity past, and interpreted in necessary, causal, and forensic terms, rather than grounding election in the incarnate person of Christ, as it was with Calvin and Knox. Torrance rejects a strictly causative relation between God’s eternal decrees and their end because they eclipse any real meaning to such passages as John 3:16 on the one hand, and as a result, on the other hand, they tended to restrict the proclamation of the Gospel to the ‘heathen’ due to a ‘forensically predetermined covenant-structure. (Myk Habets, “The Doctrine of Election in Evangelical Calvinism: T. F. Torrance as a Case Study,” Irish Theological Quarterly 73 [2008] 344 ©2008, Irish Theological Quarterly Sage Publications, Los Angeles, London, New Dehli, Singapore and Washington DC DOI: 10.1177/0021140008095442)

I think this point has been established by now, this is how Torrance viewed Federal Calvinism, and its inherent problems. I tend to agree with TFT, of course, and so I thought I would provide this little summation by Habets in order to reaffirm how it is that Evangelical Calvinists think of their Calvinist Cousins. One of the primary points of departure between ‘EC’s’ and ‘FC’s’ is how we frame election; is it ‘personal’ and grounded in Christ and God’s life, or is it ‘abstract’ and grounded in a set of decrees? EC’s believe it is personal, as underscored by Habets with TFT; while FC’s approach this issue in abstractions, and thus miss the ‘Evangelical’ sense of the Gospel as disclosed in the person of Jesus Christ — as disclosed to all humanity in Jesus Christ (the FC only has the Gospel disclosed to the elect — even if there is a ‘general call’ — based upon the decree of election ratified through the payment made by Christ at the cross for them).

Anyway, this is just a snippet of things to come. I want to stay on track, and continue unfolding the distinctives of EC; which is what this little post is trying to do in ‘good-faith’ with the proviso that this is only a foreshadowing of posts to come! Stay tuned . . .

Guest post by: Dr Myk Habets

Post-Reformation Lament

‘Post-Reformation Lament’©, Dr Myk Habets, Carey Baptist College, [], 1995

Can a man with no convictions,
Be called a man at all?
Can he be named amongst the numbers,
Of a Jesus, James, or Paul?

“I revel in my dogmatism”
That was Luther’s hand,
“Recant your wicked heresy”
“I can’t, so here I stand!”

Give me the time when people knew,
That pure Christian doctrine.
Things like grace, and faith, and works,
And reconciliation.

‘Tulip’ is an acronymn,
That once was quite in vogue.
But now for one to subscribe to it,
He’s labelled an eccentric rogue.

There is so much opinion, What is correct theology?
We debate, discuss, and dialogue,
From sola fide to ecclesiology.

The proponents in these arguments,
Do come to mind so easily.
There’s Augustine, Luther, and George Whitfield,
Pelagius, Pope Leo, and John Wesley.

But what’s the point behind it all?
What is all this to me?
Well my friend, it’s ‘faith and practice’,
That’s at stake, and all eternity!

Christ is Lord, this is the fact,
He’s Prophet, Priest, and King.
This is recorded in His word,
As clear as anything.

When we asked “What is the duty of man”,
We are left with no decision.
It’s stated clearly for all to read,
In the Westminster shorter catechism.

Five hundred years have come and gone,
And still we do debate.
I wonder when the Bible too,
Some will want to relegate.

“Once and for all”, the Bible says,
“The Good News was delivered”.
Five hundred years, or so ago,
Some say it was rediscovered.

Well I don’t know about all that,
If all they said were true.
But I do know that they have a lot to teach,
To modern men like me and you!

For anybody interested, and who has access to academic journals, Dr. Myk Habets — “Evangelical Calvinist, extraordinaire” 🙂 — has yet again been published in the Scottish Journal of Theology. His most recent essay is entitled:

“Putting the ‘Extra’ back into Calvinsm”

Here is the bibliographic info: SJT 62(4): 441–456 (2009) Printed in the United Kingdom C  2009 Scottish Journal of Theology Ltd doi:10.1017/S003693060999010X

If you hadn’t guessed, the article is dealing with the so called extra Calvinisticum. Here is the abstract:

With a long and venerable history in both Catholic and Protestant traditions the doctrine represented by the term extra Calvinisticum has fallen out of favour within contemporary theologies of the cross. Through an examination of the history of the doctrine and its constituent features the present article advocates the reclamation of the doctrine as a necessary component for a contemporary theology of the atonement, with special emphasis on the trinitarian dimensions of the death of God on the cross. The extra Calvinisticum is then adopted to refute contemporary theologies of a suffering God. (see biblio info above)

Here is Hugh Binning (1627-1653), young Scottish theologian, speaking of the primacy of God’s life as the ground of salvation; speaking of the primacy of God’s love as the foundation of salvation:

. . . our salvation is not the business of Christ alone but the whole Godhead is interested in it deeply, so deeply, that you cannot say, who loves it most, or likes it most. The Father is the very fountain of it, his love is the spring of all — “God so loved the world that he hath sent his Son”. Christ hath not purchased that eternal love to us, but it is rather the gift of eternal love . . . Whoever thou be that wouldst flee to God for mercy, do it in confidence. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, are ready to welcome thee, all of one mind to shut out none, to cast out none. But to speak properly, it is but one love, one will, one council, and purpose in the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, for these Three are One, and not only agree in One, they are One, and what one loves and purposes, all love and purpose. (Thomas F. Torrance, quoting Hugh Binning, “Scottish Theology,” 79)

This understanding, historically is very Scotist in orientation, Myk Habets says:

The Scotistic thesis on the primacy of Christ essentially comes down to one word — love. The predestination of Christ is a completely gratuitous act of God. The corollary is that the incarnation is not conditioned by any creaturely factor such as sin. This utter independence from a creaturely factor is true in the case of all the elect. Therefore, a fortiori, it must be true of the predestination of Christ who, as head of the elect, was predestined to the greatest glory. The basic reason given by the Scotists for the works of God ad extra is the supreme love of God.


. . . The sine quo non of the Scotistic thesis is that the predestination of Christ took place in an instant which was logically prior to the prevision of sin as absolutum futurum. That is, the existence of Christ was not contingent on the fall as foreseen through the scientia visionis. . . . (Myk Habets, “On Getting First Things First: Assessing Claims for the Primacy of Christ,” (Journal Compilation, Blackwell publishing 2008), 347, 349)

These are the premises which Evangelical Calvinism flows from. Hugh Binning clearly fits the Scotist thesis, the Evangelical Calvinist seeks to magnify the primacy of Christ through its theologizing; it seeks to be “Evangelical” by accepting the ‘evangelical’ implications that flow from the primacy of God’s life mediated to us in Christ. It is my belief, as an ‘Evangelical Calvinist’, that the Scotist thesis — here defined, and illustrated — best captures and articulates the truth of the Supremacy of God’s life in Christ. The alternative is the Thomist thesis — which Federal theology flows from, per its ‘Doctrine of God’ — this thesis has other implications . . . we’ll have to continue to talk about those in the days to come. Let’s close with one of “Evangelical Calvinism’s” favorite passages of scripture:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things have been created through Him and for Him. 17. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. 18. He is the head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. 19. For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, 20. and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.  ~Colossians 1:15-20

P. S. Often times I speak in polarities, i.e. Evangelical Calvinism vs. Federal etc., this usually is for rhetorical purposes — in order to engender discussion, to provoke — what this post should illustrate though, is that there indeed is a distinct approach to Evangelical Calvinism that does differentiate it from Federal theology — The ‘Scotist thesis’. Everything we do in theology starts with how we conceive of God, so while I realize there is a continuum of belief represented within the ‘Reformed tradition’, depending on this defining point, one will end up on one trajectory or the other or the other. Not all is as nice and neat as I would prefer, but we at least need to define the “poles” in order to further nuance and understand where the various traditions flow from within the ‘Reformed tradition’.

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 . . .

Next Page »