T. F. Torrance


I have some guest posts waiting in the wings from our very own, and venerable, Myk Habets. In lieu of those postings, I have something a bit off theme, from the blog here; although let me try to work it into an Evangelical Calvinist framework. I was put onto this by a budding TF Torrance scholar Adam Nigh (thanks Adam — he has this posted at his blog).

You’ll have to realize, I’m a fan of TFT (duh 😉 ); and if you didn’t know TF was quite the scientist (esp. in re. to the philosophy of science). TFT, as I understand it, was what one might call a Theistic Evolutionist or its more mild version a Progressive Creationist (hey, he was/is a man, he’s not perfect 😉 ). Anyway, it shouldn’t then shock you that I’m also interested in the philosophy of science (although my readings in this area have waned). I actually like Intelligent Design ‘science’; and I’ve struggled with this, especially since an EC’r does not place a high premium on ‘natural theology’. But, Torrance offers a nice way to deal with this; a way to place the “natural sciences” into the service of the Gospel through a ‘stratification of knowledge’. I’m not going to try and unfold all of this (Myk has two guest posts over at my other blog that explains this much more robustly [in re. to TFT’s approach to Natural Theology and a ‘theology of nature’]).

Anywho, here’s that video Adam Nigh has over at his blog:

H/T: Adam Nigh

What I want to highlight, between the naturalism that this video flows from and the approach that EC takes, is that we EC’rs believe that this kind of rampant Naturalism (worship of creation) needs to be reversed; it needs to be stamped out. We EC’rs believe that without Christ, videos like this make sense; without union with Christ’s humanity (‘divinised’ by His divinity, not swallowed up though — ‘glorified humanity’ if you will) by the Holy Spirit — belief states like the one represented here are sensical. That’s why the EC message is so important, it liberates man out of himself, into Christ’s self; and places us in right orientation to the rest of creation, which is reign over it as ‘Priests’ . . . that is, not worship it. EC’rs stand in awe of the Creator, as this scientist stands in awe of creation; and we do so out of the love that the Son of God shares with the Father through the communion of the Holy Spirit (okay a stretch, but I wanted to highlight this interesting video, and add another wrinkle and flavor to the blog here).

By the way, a strange but intriguing video.

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 . . .

**A repost for your Sunday**

Here is a quote from T. F. Torrance, from the preface of his book Scottish Theology. This really captures the distinction and nuance that I am trying to make through this blog for the uninitiated (thus far). That indeed there is a rift between what has been called Federal Calvinism (or what I’ve been calling “Classic”), and Evangelical Calvinism (or “Scottish Theology”). TFT is introducing his book, and giving some of the rationale for writing it.

In Chapter One on John Knox and the Scottish Reformation, I have offered a general account of the deep doctrinal change that took place, but in the succeeding chapters I have tried to focus on the main issues that arose as a result of the adherence of the Church of Scotland to the Westminster Confession of Faith. Following upon the teaching of the great Reformers there developed what is known as ‘federal theology’, in which the place John Calvin gave to the biblical conception of the covenant was radically altered through being schematised to a framework of law and grace governed by a severely contractual notion of covenant, with a stress upon a primitive ‘covenant of works’, resulting in a change in the Reformed understanding of ‘covenant of grace’. This was what Protestant scholastics called ‘a two-winged’, and not ‘a one-winged’ covenant, which my brother James has called a bilateral and a unilateral conception of the Covenant. The former carries with it legal stipulations which have to be fulfilled in order for it to take effect, while the latter derives from the infinite love of God, and is freely proclaimed to all mankind in the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. It was the imposition of a rigidly logicalised federal system of thought upon Reformed theology that gave rise to many of the problems which have afflicted Scottish theology, and thereby made central doctrines of predestination, the limited or unlimited range of the atoning death of Christ, the problem of assurance, and the nature of what was called ‘the Gospel-offer’ to sinners. This meant that relatively little attention after the middle of the seventeenth century was given to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity and to a trinitarian understanding of redemption and worship. Basic to this change was the conception of the nature and character of God. It is in relation to that issue that one must understand the divisions which have kept troubling the Kirk [church] after its hard-line commitment to the so-called ‘orthodox Calvinism’ of the Westminster Standards, and the damaging effect that had upon the understanding of the World of God and the message of the Gospel. . . . (Thomas F. Torrance, “Scottish Theology,” x-xi)

This encapsulates the motivation for the blog here; my desire is to alert folks to the reality that TF is speaking to. Here TFT highlights the development of a tradition of Calvinism that is particular to Scotland; but, also want to note that this phenomenon was not unique to the Scots. This kind of development was also, contemporaneously, at play in England as well; Janice Knight has identified this branch of development within Calvinism, as The Spiritual Brethren (as opposed to The Intellectual Fathers — the Westminster Divines).

Calvinists of today, need to know, that they aren’t the only Calvinist ‘orthodoxy’ around; that history is not on their side, per se. Even more importantly, beyond history, I really do not believe that scripture is on their side — by and large.

Anyway, I hope this quote gives you more insight on where many of my cues have been and are coming from. I also hope that if you are into ‘federal theology’ that this will at least make you pause.

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 . . .

It is no secret that this blog, in many ways, is shaped by Thomas F. Torrance’s influences. I have “known” T. F. for only the last three years, and I’m still getting to know him 😉 , and everything that I’ve read of his has been a TTorrance_smll“page-turner.” Almost everything I see him saying resonates with my own sense and theological predisposition; I’m obviously a great fan. Not only that, but we even have our very own T. F. Torrance scholar here at TEC, in the person of Dr. Myk Habets (who recently guest-posted some poetry for us). I say all this, because — and I was actually and naively unaware of this, until a few months ago — I have been becoming more and more aware that T. F. Torrance (I knew about Barth) is not a trusted source for many a theologian out there. Here is an example provided by Dr. Michael Haykin, he recently said this at his blog about Barth and Torrance, comparing B and T with Warfield:

. . . to take one example of comparison between Warfield and Barth/Torrance: when the latter read the Fathers, they frequently read them wrongly, out of context and with their own agenda so that the Fathers end up sounding like neo-orthodox before their time. T.F. Torrance’s study of grace in the Apostolic Fathers is very one-sided and fails to aprpeciate [sic] texts like the Letter to Diognetus, while his reading of Nazianzen (I am thinking of his article on Greg Naz and Calvin on the Trinity) is accepted by few patristic scholars. Warfield, on the other hand, read the Fathers well, partly because of his training as a NT scholar, and devotes monographs to their study. This rich understanding of historical theology informs his systematic study and forms the subsoil out of which he develops a rich overview of the Christian Faith. My problem with Barth and Torrance is that I find I cannot trust them when they are doing patristics, and that makes me suspicious of their interpretation of holy Scripture. (taken from: here)

I can understand his reticence, and I find his transparency commendable. But at the same time, come on! Certainly Barth and Torrance took liberty in some of their readings of the Patristics, but what one calls liberty, another calls interpretation. In other words, isn’t this the work of scholarship, to read and interpret, reconstruct and vivify folks from the past? This happens all the time in theological academia, Haykin makes it sound like there is a static norm and threshold of scholarship that must be met, before any particular scholar can be taken seriously. Come on! Scholarship is fluid, views are fluid, interpretations are fluid (I’m not a relativist 😉 ). To say, as Haykin does, that he cannot trust folks like Torrance — which is his perrogative, and that’s fine — and his interpretation of scripture, is too much of a generalization to take seriously. All I see Haykin, and others doing, is protesting the particular metaphysics that folks like Barth and Torrance  (click on the hyper-link to see a good intro to this kind of ‘metaphysics’ done by Kevin Davis) were forwarding (contra the classic kind, that I presume Haykin is committed to). What Haykin does is engage a genetic fallacy, by basically stating that anything that comes from Barth and Torrance is suspect simply because it is coming from Barth and Torrance.

What I appreciate about Torrance is simply his constructive theological creativity; it is his ideas, it is his unique brand of theology. I appreciate him because I think that what he communicates (by-and-large, I don’t agree with everything that comes from TFT) provides some great explanatory power per the ‘inner logic’ implicit in scripture (sola scriptura!). I would like to see Haykin, and folks like him (the prejudice), critique the thought and material content of TFT’s broader theological project versus engaging in sweeping generalization when it comes to Barth and/or Torrance.

A little rant, sorry. Btw, over at his blog, Haykin does see Barth and Torrance as necessary dialogue partners, but I’m afraid that this just means that they serve as “those other guys, over there” foils for magnifying real teachers of truth (like Warfield represents for Haykin). I know nothing of Dr. Haykin, except for what I just read over at his blog, so hopefully I’m completely off base here.

Here is Thomas F. Torrance critiquing George Hill’s understanding of limited atonement (you can find a fuller explication of this in TFT’s “The Mediation of Christ [must read]):

Hill seemed to have no idea of the biblical teaching about the election of one for the many found both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, and of the idea that the redemptive purpose of God for all nations of the earth was narrowed down to Israel, to a remnant, and then in the most intensive way to Jesus in the midst of Israel, and was fulfilled in and through him in a universal way for all mankind. Thus in respect of the people of Israel the universalising purpose of God will lead to the point when ‘all Israel shall be saved’. Instead, Hill limited the universal sufficiency and extent of Christ’s atoning redemption by a notion of specific ‘destination’, governed by God’s eternal degree, of only certain individuals for ultimate salvation. Regarded from the end result, therefore, the penal satisfaction offered by Christ in his sacrificial death was held to be actually and finally effectual only for particular people. Thus even for George Hill, this evangelical moderate who sought to restore, in some measure at least, the place of the love and mercy of God to its primary place in redemption, the atonement was essentially and rigidly limited in its nature and extent. The question had to asked, therefore, as indeed it was by Thomas Chalmers, what kind of God does this imply? That was the great question with which the General Assembly was faced in 1830, with McLeod Campbell’s revolt against the idea of God that lay behind the doctrine of predestination and limited atonement in what George Hill regularly referred to as ‘the Calvinistic System’ that prevailed in the Kirk.

— Thomas F. Torrance, “Scottish Theology,” 262-63

The one for the many is a key biblical motif, and it first finds its ‘rootage’ in the antecedent life of God. In other words, who we see mediated through the national life of Israel, and then fully enfleshed in the tabernacling of Jesus (Jn 1:14); is what has always already been a reality in God’s life for us in the Son for all eternity (or ‘supra-time’). This is the some of the stuff that goes into an Evangelical Calvinist understanding of a Christ conditioned election or Christic Supralapsarianism. Salvation is grounded in God’s life, and so who we see revealed in Jesus of Nazareth is who has always been in the ontological coinhering relations of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

All of this dovetails nicely with Scott’s recent post on election.

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