Vicarious


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?

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).

The real advance has obviously been made when we come to the INSTITUTIO of 1559, in which unio cum Christo [union with Christ] has become the common denominator under which Calvin tried to range his whole doctrine of the appropriation of the salvation achieved and revealed in Christ. For now in the Third Book, before he can speak of faith, of conversion and renewal, of the vita hominis christiani, of abnegatio nostri as its sum, of the necessary bearing of the cross, of the relation between this and the future life, then — and only then — of justification, of Christian freedom and prayer, of eternal election as the ulitmate presupposition of the whole, and finally of the future resurrection, according to the view attained in 1559 he has first to make it plain how it can come about at all that what God has done for us in Christ, as declared in the Second Book, can apply to us and be effective for us. The answer given in the noteworthy opening chapter of the Third Book is to the effect that it comes about through the arcana operatio Spiritus, which consists in the fact that Christ Himself, intead of being extra nos, outside the man separated from Him and therefore irrelevant to us, becomes ours and takes up His abode in us, we for our part being implanted into Him (Rom. 11:17) and putting Him on (Gal. 3:27). (Karl Barth CD 4.3.2, 550-51 cited by Charles Partee, The Theology of John Calvin, 195)

 

Two quotes from Calvin on Union with Christ (or Unio Mystica):

First, we must understand that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value for us. Therefore, to share with us what he has received from the Father, he had to become ours and to dwell within us.

— Institutes III. 1. 1 cited by Charles Partee, The Theology of John Calvin, 40

Therefore, that joining together of Head and members, that indwelling of Christ in our hearts — in short, that mystical union — are accorded by us the highest degree of importance. We do not, therefore, contemplate him outside ourselves from afar in order that his righteousness may be imputed to us but because we put on Christ and are engrafted into his body — in short because he deigns to make us one with him.

Institutes II. 16. 19 cited by Charles Partee, The Theology of John Calvin, 41

Both of these quotes illustrate something that stands at the heart of an ‘Evangelical’ approach to Calvinism; and that is the vicarious life of Christ. If we aren’t ‘really’ brought into His life, in the Incarnation and Atonement (both of these being inextricably linked), then salvation only ends up dealing with the symptoms (murders, lying, stealing, lusting, blaspheming, etc.) — the external problems — and not with the “heart problem” (where the murders, lying, etc. flow from). If Jesus didn’t get into our skin, and thus we into His, then we end up with a half baked salvation . . . which really is no salvation. More to come . . .

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.

Here’s ‘the Man’, T. F. Torrance, commenting on one of my favorites, Scottish theologian, Jonathan Fraser of Brea (17th c.):

. . . Faith is to be understood in a personal way, not as an assent to information, to truths of Scripture or doctrinal propositions, but as the assent that arises in the heart and understanding as an echo of or answer to Christ’s call in the Gospel. It is a ‘closing with Christ’, when ‘the Lord speaks to the heart and draws the heart to himself’. Faith is to be understood, therefore, in accordance with the nature of its proper object, a Saviour crucified for our sins held out to us by the Love of God in the Gospel. It is not to be understood in terms of its own nature or activity as faith, but in relation to Christ its proper object as he is offered to us in the Gospel. Faith is ‘not a giving but a receiving grace’. What Fraser was concerned to stress here and all through his work was the objective basis of the confidence and assurance of faith, in Christ himself. ‘The Ground of this Confidence is wholly in the Lord Jesus without us, and not at all either in whole or in Part in our selves.’ (Thomas F. Torrance, “Scottish Theology,” 184)

This is how EC’rs like to think about ‘Saving Faith’, it is vicarious, and grounded in Christ’s life for us. I’m afraid that typically faith is framed in ‘substance’ terms, as grace is (the Thomist impact). EC sees such things in relational and through Trinitarian lenses. I hope your faith is grounded in Christ’s and not in some sort of ‘accident’ of essences or something.

**You see, I have some problems, I can hardly read a few pages from TFT’s “Scottish Theology” without feeling compelled to sit down and let you in on the ride — that’s what I am doing here 😉 . I’m not really going to comment on this one, except to say, watch out for how TFT, through his discussion of Scottish (Evangelical Calvinist) theologian John Craig (a successor to John Knox), hits on the distinctions between Federal and Evangelical Calvinism, his emphasis upon ‘union with Christ’ and the ontological understanding of the atonement, election, and carnal and spiritual union (this point will illustrate that Myk Habets nor myself made this stuff up), carnal and spiritual union was right there in John Craig’s theology. Anyway, won’t you read along with me . . .

In his catechetical teaching Craig devoted ‘the Second part of our Belief’ to the doctrine of Christ as king, priest, and prophet, the offices for which Christ was anointed by the Spirit, and which expressed how Christ saved us. Special attention was given to his priestly office in which he gave unusual place to the obedience and praying of Christ as part of his atoning passion offered for us in satisfaction of God’s wrath. Like Calvin he held that Christ died for all, suffering for us in soul as well as body, sustaining the person of guilty men, taking upon himself their punishment, and their curse, thereby bringing upon them the blessing of God. Of particular note is the question and answer: ‘What comfort do we have in the person of the Judge? Our Saviour, Advocate, and Mediator only shall be our Judge’, for it marks the vast difference between Craig’s radically christocentric doctrine of God and of Christ’s atoning satisfaction offered once for all, on the one hand, and on the other hand, the federal concept of God as primarily the ominpotent lawgiver who required to be appeased if we are to be saved. Thus with John Craig there was no concept of God as Judge behind the back of Christ.

Distinctive also is the fact that Craig regarded election as bound up more with adoption into Christ, with union with him, and with the communion of the Spirit, than with an eternal decree. The union of people with Christ exists only within the communion of the redeemed and in the union they conjointly have with Christ the Head of the Church. ‘All who are united with Christ are joined with the Church. Which of these two unions is the first and cause of the other? The mystical and spiritual union with Jesus Christ. For we are all saints of God, because we are joined first with Christ in God.’

Union with Christ and faith are correlative, for it is through faith that we enter into union with Christ, and yet it is upon this corporate union with Christ that faith and our participation in the saving benefits or ‘graces’ of Christ rest. John Craig held that there was a twofold union which he spoke of as a ‘carnal union’ and a ‘spiritual union’. By ‘carnal union’ he referred to Christ’s union with us and our union with Christ which took place in his birth of the Spirit and in his human life through which he sanctifies us. The foundation of our union with Christ, then, is that which Christ has made with us when in his Incarnation he became bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh; but through the mighty power of the Spirit all who have faith in Christ are made flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone. It is only through this union, through ingrafting into Christ by faith and through communion with him in his Body and Blood, that we may share in all Christ’s benefits — outside of this union and communion there is no salvation, for Christ himself is the ground of salvation. Hence, as Craig pointed out, the Creed speaks of the remission of sins within the credal article on the Spirit and the Church. While he laid emphasis on the work of the Spirit in effecing union and conjuction with Christ, Craig insisted also that God uses three main instruments to bring us into union and to maintain us in it: the Word, the sacraments, and the ministry of men. . . . (Thomas F. Torrance, “Scottish Theology,” 50-52)

Isn’t that rich? If there are any questions, let me know.

Also don’t forget I just posted, right before this one, two other posts here and here.

Vicariousness is such an important concept for EC, I dare not pass up an excellent summation of what’s at stake. T. F. Torrance says:

. . . However, it is still this emphasis upon the vicarious humanity of Christ which we lack. If the emphasis is upon the fact that God has acted for us in Christ, then our human response is by way of cooperation, because an act on the part of man is required in addition to and complementary to the act of God. Hence Protestantism often teaches, or tends to teach, that we are all co-workers and ‘co-redeemers’ with Christ and God! But for Calvin and Knox that error is obviated in their teaching about the vicarious and priestly nature of the human Jesus. It was in the Eucharist that their stress upon that came out most strongly. It was through union with Christ in his vicarious humanity nourished in sacramental communion that the concern of the Reformed Kirk with human and social care in the lives of people was grounded. (Thomas F. Torrance, “Scottish Theology: From John Knox to John McLeod Campbell, 45)

Often we see the appropriation of salvation framed in terms of ‘our’ response; but this only flows, per TFT, from following a Docetic christology. Docetism is the heresy that forwards the notion that Christ only “appeared” to have a human body; thus it is realy only God acting in salvation, and not man. Therefore we must act on our behalf, our assertion of faith becomes the bridge between God and man in salvation. This is what pressing in on Christ’s vicariousness remedies; it takes serious His actually becoming man, it takes serious the fact that not only was God acting, but man in Christ by the Spirit was also acting in the atonement. This way the God-Man is the center of salvation; it is His ‘Yes’ to the Father that we speak out of. There is nothing to add, there is no gap to fill; we must see the con-junction of God and man in Christ as the key to our discussions on salvation. We must recognize that there is nothing good in our humanity, no infusion of grace that we can cooperate with God through, no good works that we can accomplish in order to do anything towards salvation . . . it’s either Christ in us, or nothing!

Do you see why pressing a full-fledged hypostatic union is so important? If not, we will construct systems of “Bible reading” that, by default, symptomatically bring us back to ourselves. It was not enough for God to act in salvation; it must be the God-Man acting, or there is no hope! Does this make sense . . .

**Don’t forget to read: Scott’s post**

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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