Friday, November 11, 2016

"evangelical Calvinism" and TF Torrance, "Predestination in Christ"

Here are a few short quotes from “evangelical Calvinist” Theologian TF Torrance, from his article “Predestination in Christ” (The Evangelical Quarterly 13.2 (April 1941): 108-141), where he challenges the traditional Calvinist (deterministic) understanding of predestination, grace and Romans 9-11 (bold mine): 

It is with this point that a doctrine of predestination must start: In Christo. Nor must it ever be allowed to trespass those bounds. There is no higher will in God than Grace. (p 110) 
Now in Christo certainly means that. And it is only when a doctrine of predestination becomes disengaged from Christ, that it becomes abstract and savours of determinism. But this abstraction cannot be allowed--that is to say, the separation between Grace and the divine decree of election. There is an absolute bond between God and His Word. God is always Subject! Predestination, therefore, far from being anything impersonal, is supremely personal, supremely so, because in Christ the Word. That God has come to us in that way, through Christ, means the acute personalization of all God’s dealings with men, election and damnation not excluded. But that is the difficulty, for in Christ God comes too near, and sinful men are not able or willing to bear the pressure and weight of a personal God--it is far easier to keep things more abstract, and so to keep God at a distance. But such impersonal relations with God mean in the end some form of determinism. That is why determinism is always cropping up in Christian theology, because the dialectic of the sinner yields determinism. Over against all this, Christian faith must cling to the fact that God encounters us personally in Christ through the Word. Just because he comes to us with and through the Word, it means that He has come not to manipulate human beings, but to bring them to decision. God has not come to elect stocks and stones but to elect human beings and to do it in such a way that He brings their whole beings under the sovereignty of His Word, that He makes them responsible, and so for the first time truly personal. (112) 
Some commentators and theologians are apt to accuse the Scriptures themselves of determinism, and in particular the famous passage of St. Paul in Romans ix. But this is a fundamental mistake. Determinism is as foreign to both the Old and the New Testaments as is abstract thought. The difficulty with the New Testament is that people are apt to read it with Greek eyes, as it is written in Greek. It is a welcome fact that not a few modern New Testament scholars who are at the same time good Hebraists, have scouted this tendancy, while from the Jewish side scholars have repudiated the validity of drawing parallels between St. Paul or Hebrews, for example, and Hellenistic Judaism. There can be no doubt about the fact that determinism is quite impossible for classical Hebrew; it is completely foreign to the whole Hebrew mind. That is a point we Westerners do not readily understand because our language and thought is steeped in a powerful Greek tradition of impersonalization. It is small wonder therefore when theologians misunderstand the New Testament in this regard. [...] Without doubt, as much as anything else, it is the study of the Old Testament that keeps the thought of predestination healthy. The lapse into determinism is only possible with the employment of abstract categories of thought, such as cause, force, etc. (113-114). 
Here we must be quite clear about the fact that predestination is not just the religious form of determinism. It has nothing whatsoever to do with it.  It has to do with Grace, the Love of God as related to the divine aseity. And that is the way St. Paul understands it in Romans ix. 11-13. A careful reading of the context from Chapter IX to Chapter XI makes that quite clear. There St. Paul is at pains to point out that Grace is free to all.  
The Scriptures lend no countenance to a Jones-Smith theory of predestination, in which one is damned and the other elected simpliciter. (114-115)
Apparently the Reformers often failed to see that the Grace of God is as comprehensive extensively as it is intensively. They all agree that Grace cannot be granted because of merit, but it is only in fact granted to demerit. The Holy Spirit has no predilections in regard to merit--but that is true extensively as well. The Holy Spirit has no predilections in regard to who are to be damned and who are to be elected, not even in the Arcanum Consilium! Predilection in regard to particular individuals is only apparent--judged on the basis of cause and effect--when one is taken and the other left. No such thought occurs to St. Paul in Romans--it is a cardinal principle with Him that Christ died for all, and that Grace extends freely to every man. (115)
To return to more concrete language, the personal encounter of Christ with forgiveness on His lips, singles out a man (cf. all the miracles), and gives him freedom to say “yes” or “no”. It must not be thought that this freedom is such that it can be pocketed; freedom is only possible face to face with Jesus Christthe mystery isand this we shall never fathomthat such a man may commit the sin of Adam all over again. He may usurp that freedom, try to pocket itbut this usurped freedom becomes his very sin, and the last state of that man is worse than the first. He becomes hardened. (123-124)
The Salvation of Christ free to all is given to man, but its very giving in forgiveness, brings sin to book, brings judgment, though just because it brings pardon. But that is the difficulty: the Offence of the Cross. Christ Himself is the stumbling-block. “Only when we are confronted by Him is there the possibility of being ‘offended’. For there is no Other Who can force men to come to a decision about Him when they are confronted by Him. The Person about Whom it is imperative that we should make a decision, for or against faith, is the Mediator, the One before Whom, in Whom, we decide before God and in the presence of God.” [Brunner, The Mediator, p 341] That is why the possibility of election means the possibility of rejection, because the possibility of faith means also the possibility of being offended. When we are brought face to face with decision in this encounter, and answer No or disobey--and God does not allow us to be neutral--then we choose damnation in the second place, that is the Cross of Christ is our judgment only and not our salvation. When we answer Yes or obey, then we learn that Christ has already answered for us! We are chosen already in Christ. We must say that both election and damnation are in Christ--man cannot damn himself any more than he can elect himself. What constitutes his disobedience damnation is the Cross itself. God's reaction against sin there receives its full weight, and when the sinner repudiates the Cross, he comes under the full weight of the judgment of God. In point of fact man probably never or only very rarely deliberately repudiates the Cross--he evades it and keeps on evading it until it is too late, but it amounts to the same thing in the end. (126)

The full article is available online here.  

These last two quotes were also included (at least in part) in the book Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church (edited by Myk Habets & Bobby Grow - Google Preview), which I have just begun reading.

Note, however, that by “evangelical Calvinism”, these authors are referring to a particular Scottish strand of Reformed Theology which, as you can see, is quite different from the typical New Calvinism (with its TULIP emphasis) from which we so commonly hear.  Dr Olson, in his review of the book, writes:
So-called evangelical Calvinism, as represented by this book’s editors and authors, is a breath of fresh air that will probably be dismissed as revisionist by the die-hards among the high federal, TULIP Calvinists. 
According to this book’s editors and authors, Calvinism comes in several flavors and theirs, evangelical Calvinism, has been handed down primarily by Scottish chefs. As mentioned, the two main ones are the Torrances. Many other names are mentioned, but I won’t go into all of them. Suffice it to say that this flavor of Calvinism has a Barthian taste but is not limited to Barth or the “Barthians.”

In Evangelical Calvinism, Myk Habets writes: 
It is well known that the Torrance brothers, Thomas and James, are outspoken against Calvinism after Calvin, what Torrance variously describes as "federal Calvinism," "hyper-Calvinism," "Bezan Calvinism," "scholastic Calvinism," and "Westminister Calvinism." All such Calvinisms as Torrance styles them present a federal scheme of salvation, a moralising of the Christian life, the intellectualising of faith, a logicalising of theology, and an overly forensic notion of election and justification in which faith and assurance tend to be torn apart from each other. Torrance considers his own position to be an "evangelical Calvinism." (p 184)

(Note, however, that Myk later says that Torrance rejects "the Arminian position that humans are in a neutral position and respond to the Gospel from free-will" (187)--this is an incorrect characterization of Arminianism and, though I have not read a lot of Torrance, in what I have read he does not name "Arminianism" either. Rather, Torrance writes more generally about the incorrect "belief in a free-will that somehow occupies a neutral position" ("Predestination in Christ", p 115, and in endnote 33, adds, "this was one of the major contentions of Luther against Erasmus"); this is not the position held by any Arminian scholar I have read.)

Dr Roger Olson also points out, referring to Torrance's view as shown in the quote from p 123-124, above:
How is this different from classical, evangelical Arminianism? I don’t see that it is different at all. It is only different from a distorted image of Arminianism.  
Am I saying that evangelical Arminianism and evangelical Calvinism are identical? No. But, then, there are varieties of evangelical Arminianism, too. There are so-called "Reformed Arminians" and there are Wesleyan Arminians.

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