Order of Salvation


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!**

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 :-).