Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Centrality of The Vicarious Humanity of Christ for EC

Here is a repost that some of you may have not ever read, so thus the repost. It touches upon the centrality that the vicarious humanity of Christ has within the theology offered from the mood of Evangelical Calvinism. You will notice a polemical bite towards the end of the post, as I contrast EC with what I usually call classic Calvinism (I do this intentionally as a riff on this version of Calvinism's dependence upon 'classical theism' in general). Don't stumble unnecessarily over the polemical bite; the bite simply is taking notice of the fact that there truly is a real and material difference between EC and classic Calvinism. And the vicarious humanity of Christ is a pivotal point of departure between the two, and its implications for soteriology as it is framed from a christologically conditioned notion of our triune God. Here is the post.

Here is a great summary of how Thomas Torrance understood the biblical realities of:justification, reconciliation, and redemption. This summary is provided by Robert Walker, TFT's nephew and editor of Torrance's book Atonement. Of note is thevicarious nature of all three concepts, all grounded in Jesus Christ as our priest and mediator:
(ii) Justification, reconciliation and redemption are the act of God and man in Christ
Again throughout his theology, Torrance emphasises that in Jesus Christ we have the act of God and of man, of God as man in his one person. Justification, reconciliation and redemption therefore must be thought of not simply as the act of God for our salvation, but also as the real act of man, of God as man for us. the importance of this for Torrance's theology and for understanding it cannot be overstated. Justification is not simply the act of God judging sin, atoning for it himself and declaring us righteous in his beloved Son, it is man saying amen to the righteous judgement of God and at the same time fulfilling all righteousness in his own perfect life and humanity. Reconciliation is thus not simply God reconciling the world to himself in Christ, but reconciliation worked out, achieved and realised by Christ as man within his own person, in his own mind, life, heart and soul. Redemption is the mighty act of God in which mankind is liberated from bondage and decay into the new creation through the resurrection of the man Jesus Christ from the dead in the fullness of physical existence. [T. F. Torrance, ed. Robert T. Walker, "Atonement," xlv]
This is the stuff (the guts) of Evangelical Calvinist thought on salvation. If you fail to grasp this, then you will fail to see how EC is indeed distinguishable from Classic Calvinism, in general; and most Christian soteriological understandings, in particular. Furthermore, if you fail to engage the material here, then at the same time, you'll also fail to realize 'how' Calvinist this actually is.

First, there is a grounding of all salvation in God's life alone, in Christ; thus the reason EC stresses the vicarious humanity of Christ for us. We press this, because if we don't, we leave open the possibility for man to have some objective part in salvation (i.e. cooperate with God kind of soteriology). If Christ truly assumed humanity --- and He did --- and if He truly is our priest and mediator --- and He is --- then He, as the firstfruits from the dead, accomplished every aspect of salvation (in Himself). He trusted the Father for us, He first loved the Father, that we might love Him; He repented in our stead, He resurrected that we might resurrect, etc. etc. How this is appropriated is through the Holy Spirit's creativity and otherness (who brings us into communion with the Father and the Son, just as sure as He is the bond of communion and union between the Son's divine and human natures) --- Myk Habets alerts us to the language of theosis and theopoieses in the theology of Torrance [fodder for another post] --- the Spirit provides the space (as He did in the Son) for humanity to 'respond' out of Christ's faith on our behalf.

Second, I say you'll realize how Calvinist this is because it places a genuine primacy on Christ's life. It places a supremacy on God's life as salvation and grace, as the origination of all that is. That without God's unilateral activity in salvation, there, indeed, is no salvation; after all, God's life is salvation. I say these markers are benchmarks of Calvinism because of Calvinism's goal, historically, to speak of salvation in terms that magnify Jesus alone. Now, just because all Calvinists would say these are the touchstones, does not mean all versions or instantiations of Calvinism reach these marks. My contention is that Federal/Classic Calvinism does not; and it is simply because Classic Calvinism has a flawed doctrine of God that does not allow fluid discussion about salvation, because it will not allow for a dynamic understanding of God's trinitarian and relational life.


  1. I have to say that Torrance (like Barth in many ways, only more plainly Calvinist) manages to give me a spin on this that I can accept. To just color in the polemical bite slightly, I find classical Calvinism lacking in its doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Christ because it becomes an extension of the division of God from creation, up into the godhead. If the vicarious humanity of Christ is a perpetual intercessory appeasement of the Father, we have a broken doctrine of God. There is only part of God in Christ, and part of God to be appeased by him. The vicariousness becomes Jesus doing our actions for us, and correctly, in order to please God. "Our great high priest." The whole cultic mechanism of appeasement elevated into the heavens and done for us.

    What it must instead be -- if we in fact believe that the fullness of God is revealed in Christ, and that there is therefore nothing of God's character that we do not see in Jesus -- is the action of God for us in Christ, and the vicarious human response of Christ to God's action, as the good human creature without sin. That Christ's obedience as perfectly human is the perfect match to Christ's action as perfectly God. The faithful response of the one to God's grace, vicariously performed in one life for all, the reconciliation accomplished, and that reality instituted as the possibility for all human creation.

    1. Of course, I may be departing from Torrance, depending on how you construe "good human creature without sin" in relation to his discussion of human nature. I have too much Augustine in me, perhaps, and not enough of Gregory.

    2. Matt,

      I agree with you about moving this out into creation (simpliciter), and so does Torrance. Torrance uses the language, which resonates with your last paragraph, of Godward-humanward which captures the concept of perfect correlation between the electing God and the elected man for us. And this movement of grace has consequence for all of creation (Rom 8).

      Your critique of classic Calvinism is spot on with what I think; I just say it differently, but I like the way you say it :).

    3. Yes, well I still have many vestiges of Auggie in me still too; I think more than I probably can appreciate.


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