Wednesday, April 20, 2011

T.F. Torrance: The Atonement, pt 9


Despite his rejection of a doctrine of limited atonement and his assertion of universal election in Jesus Christ, Torrance finds room for a doctrine of reprobation in his understanding of the wonderful exchange embodied in Jesus Christ.

Against a doctrine of universalism, Torrance regards the reprobate as those who, subject to the irrational and accidental nature of sin, reject God’s love as revealed in his gracious universal pardon. “Why anyone who is freely offered the unconditional love of God in the Lord Jesus should turn away from him,” writes (Torrance et. al., 1999:31), “is something quite inexplicable and baffling.” Torrance (1949:312) cites Judas Iscariot as an example of one who inexplicably rejected the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ. As Torrance (1981b:136; 1993:248) notes, why some do not believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour and go to hell cannot be explained, for here we have to do with something that happens “accidentally,” “irrationally,” and “inexplicably.” Rather than attempting to construe unbelief in terms of logico-causal connections, Torrance argues that if some do not believe and perish, that must be understood as “accidental” or “adventitious,” for Jesus Christ came to save sinners (1Tim 1:15), not to condemn them. It is the nature of the gospel to bring life, not death, just as it is the nature of light to illumine, rather than to bring darkness. Nevertheless, while God does not desire the death of sinners but, rather, that they turn and live and come to the knowledge of the truth (cf. 1Tim 2:4), argues Torrance (1996c:283), God does not impose the gospel upon people whether they believe or not. “Hence, while there is no divine decree of reprobation, God allows his will for the salvation of all for whom Christ died, to be frustrated, so that in view of the tears of the Redeemer for the lost, it may be said that God wills the salvation of those who perish.”

Comment: Note Torrance’s assertion that God allows his will to be “frustrated.” This is quite different from the Augustinian-Calvinist doctrine of absolute sovereignty. According to Augustine, if people are in hell, then God must will they be there, since God's will cannot be “thwarted.” From this unscriptural reasoning it is an easy step to assert that God “predestines” them to hell. Augustine's thought in this regard is rooted in a Greek (pagan) philosophical view of divine "immutability." Scripture plainly teaches, however, that God wishes none to perish, that he wants all to turn in repentance. God does NOT will that any be in hell. As Clark Pinnock, John Sanford, and others have shown, God is big enough to allow freedom and contingency in the creation. If any are in hell, it is because they choose hell rather than God. God is big enough and powerful enough to allow his will to be frustrated in the service of freedom. As Torrance notes, God does not “impose” the gospel on anyone.

In the face of the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ, to be reprobate is an “un-understandable mystery.” Torrance (1949:316, 317) writes:
To choose our own way in spite of God’s absolute choice of us, to listen to the voice of His infinite love and to know that we are already apprehended by that love in the death of Jesus, and by that very apprehension of love to be given the opportunity and capacity to respond in faith and love, and still to draw back in proud independence and selfish denial of God’s love, is an act of bottomless horror. . . . Can we imagine anything more appalling than that a man should use the very power that God gives him to choose to contradict God, should choose to depart from God, and yet be unable to depart, because in spite of all he is still grasped by God in an act of eternal love that will not let him go?
Even the man who wilfully rejects the love of God is held in the eternal embrace of Jesus Christ, in whom all things consist and move and have their being. Should Jesus Christ let him go even for an instant, he would vanish into nothingness. God’s eternal love will not let him go, however. “Even when a man has made his bed in hell God’s hand of love will continue to grasp him there.” And therein lies the “hell” of hell: it is to choose one’s own way and, yet, in that choice, still to be chosen by God. As Torrance notes, it is not God who makes hell, for hell is the contradiction of all that is of God (Torrance, 1949:316, 317). Hell is the place in which the sinner is forever imprisoned in his own refusal of God’s love, and that is, indeed, the “hell” of it. Against the hyper-Calvinist doctrine of double predestination, Torrance writes regarding those in hell: “[The reprobate’s] being in hell is not the result of God’s decision to damn him, but the result of his own decision to choose himself against the love of God and therefore of the negative decision of God’s love to oppose his refusal of God’s love just by being Love.” This “negative decision” of God’s love is what Torrance calls “the wrath of the Lamb” (Torrance, 1996d:cxv, cxvi).

Comment: The above-paragraph is worth reading and re-reading and re-reading!

Elsewhere, Torrance (2009:157, 158) writes more pointedly that if anyone goes to hell, it is by a “downright refusal” of the reconciliation that Christ has already provided to all in pure love. He continues:
Because of the blood of Christ there is no positive decision of God to reject anyone, but only the gracious decision to accept them, and that decision has once and for all been enacted in the cross and resurrection so that nothing in heaven and earth can change it or undo it or reverse it. To reverse it would be to bring Christ back to the cross again, and to deny the reality of what he has already done. That decision is not altered if man refuses it, but if someone goes to hell, they go because they dash themselves in judgement against an unalterable positive act of divine reconciliation that offers to them only divine love [emphasis in original].
In loving humanity even to the point of death on the cross, “God risked the happening of the incredible,” that man would choose to reject the love revealed at the cross. Thus, the cross unmasks “the bottomless dimension of sin in the human heart.” To be sure, the witness of scripture stands aghast at the mystery of iniquity; therefore, it refuses to betray the love of God and the agony of Jesus by a doctrine of universalism. On the other hand, scripture refuses to teach that God’s love is split in two by a doctrine of double predestination. To the contrary, God’s action towards humanity remains forever the one, indivisible act of love, and even the “dark whirlpool” of human sin, particularly as revealed at Calvary, cannot alter that fact (Torrance, 1949:317).


This is the last of my Lenten series on Torrance’s doctrine of the atonement. Thanks to all of you who have taken the time to read this wonderful material. If you have found these posts helpful, I would love to hear from you. See you again around May 15, when we begin an in-depth look at Torrance's doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ. You're gonna love it!

References: See previous posts.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

T.F. Torrance: The Atonement, pt. 8

Universalism and Limited Atonement

Comment: Barth and Torrance are often wrongly "accused" of being universalists. They are not. Apparently critics don't take the time to differentiate between universal atonement and universalism.

Torrance’s assertion that God has chosen all humanity in Jesus Christ, coupled with his insistence on the universal range of atoning reconciliation, may lead to the erroneous conclusion that he is a “universalist,” that is, one who believes in the salvation of all mankind (Bloesch, 2004:14, 39, 40). In this regard, an examination is needed of his rejection of both “universalism” and the doctrine of “limited atonement.” As will become plain, Torrance’s argument against a doctrine of limited atonement is directly related to his rejection of the “Latin heresy” described in a previous post (March 9, 2011), particularly in regard to his repudiation of atonement as an “external” rather than ontological reality.

As Torrance notes, the argument for either universal salvation or limited atonement is commonly cast as follows: If Christ died for all, then all must be saved, whether they believe or not; but if all are not saved, then Christ did not die for all; therefore, atonement is limited. Behind both these alternatives, however, Torrance (1986b:481; 1993:245, 246) finds two “very serious heresies.”

First, in regard to the Calvinist doctrine of limited atonement, there is a “disjunction” or dualism that bifurcates the divine and human natures of Christ, divides his being and his acts, and consequently separates the incarnation from the atonement. As Torrance (1986b:481) notes:
On this view the humanity of Christ is not regarded as having any inner ontological connection with those for whom he died, but is regarded only as an external instrument used by God as he wills, in effecting salvation for all those whom God chooses and/or for those who choose to accept Christ as their personal Saviour. Thus a separation can be made between the universal range of the Kingdom of Christ and the limited range of his atoning sacrifice.
Because it fails to appreciate the ontological connection between Jesus Christ and all humanity, a doctrine of limited atonement minimizes the significance of the incarnation for atonement by treating the humanity of Jesus Christ in an “external” and “instrumental” way. By reducing the atonement to a forensic transaction or the fulfilment of a legal contract between God and mankind, this view makes the Son’s humanity merely a tool used by God for a temporary repair job and then returned to the cosmic tool box in heaven (Torrance, 2009:182; cf. Kruger, 2003:36, Jesus and Undoing of Adam).

In addition to its merely external or instrumental nature, a doctrine of limited atonement implies a “restricted and partial” view of the incarnate Son’s assumption of fallen Adamic flesh and a consequent notion of partial rather than total substitution in the atonement. According to Torrance, hyper-Calvinist views of the atonement create a Nestorian dualism, or split, in the incarnate reality of Jesus Christ by asserting that the deity of Christ was in “repose” at the cross, so that the incarnate Son suffered in his humanity only (Torrance, 2009:184). Against this view, Torrance (1993:246; cf. 2009:184, 185; Torrance, et. al., 1999:29) argues:
If we really hold that it is God himself who bears our sins in Jesus Christ, God himself who in becoming man takes man’s place and stands with man under his own divine judgement, God himself the Judge becoming the man judged, then we cannot allow any divorce between the action of Christ on the cross and the action of God. How is it at all possible to think of the divine judgement in the cross as only a partial judgment upon sin, or a judgement only upon some sinners, for that is finally what it amounts to if only some sinners are died for, and only some are efficiently implicated in atonement? The concept of a limited atonement thus rests upon a limitation of the very being of God as love, and a schizoid notion of the incarnation, i.e., upon a basic Nestorian heresy.
For Torrance, a doctrine of limited atonement rests on a Nestorian dualism that breaks apart the hypostatic union with its implication that God is not intimately and personally involved in the suffering of Calvary; rather, only the humanity of Jesus Christ suffers on the cross. Since God is not involved at the cross, except by consent, the atonement can be construed in a restricted and partial, as well as external and instrumentalist way, wherein Jesus offers his humanity on behalf of the elect few only. On the other hand, against a Nestorian dualism between the deity and humanity of Jesus Christ implied in a doctrine of limited atonement (cf. Torrance, 1996c:19, 133), Torrance rightly asserts, along with the New Testament writers, that the one who died on the cross is the eternal Word made flesh, the very one by and through whom all things are created and have their being, and in whom hold together. Because all humanity is ontologically bound to the incarnate Creator Word, there can be no restriction to the atoning work of Jesus Christ.

In addition to a Nestorian dualism underlying the partial judgement implied in the doctrine of limited atonement is the second of the serious heresies Torrance finds in common arguments regarding both limited atonement and universalism: that is, a controlling framework of thought based upon “logico-causal connections.” As Torrance argues, the insertion of a logico-causal relation between the death of Christ and the salvation of men and women has led to a view that the atonement of Jesus Christ is “sufficient” for all but “efficient” only for some. According to the logic of this argument, if the atoning death of Christ applies to all men, then logically and causally all men must of necessity be saved; on the other hand, if some perish in hell, then logically and causally the efficacy of the atonement does not reach them. According to Torrance, this view was introduced into post-Augustinian high medieval theology, later rejected by Calvin, then reintroduced into Calvinist orthodoxy by Theodore Beza (1519-1605). The place of “logico-causalism” within Protestantism was considerably reinforced by the Newtonian view of “causal connections” between external entities such as atoms or particles, a view that gave rise to the hard determinism of hyper-Calvinistic notions of predestination and limited atonement. As Torrance notes, the ongoing problem of universalism versus limited atonement attests to the deep entrenchment of the Latin heresy in Protestant and Evangelical thought, wherein atonement continues to be reduced to a logical framework of cause and effect (Torrance, 1986b:481, 482; 1993:245, 246).

At the heart of the “logico-causal” (i.e., “if . . . then”) assertions regarding universalism and limited atonement, Torrance (1993:246-249) finds “two fatal interconnected errors” that completely “shatter” the argument. First, to posit a logico-causal connection between the atonement and the forgiveness of sins is “falsely to project into the atonement a kind of connection which obtains between finite events and statements about them in our fallen world, and to substitute it for the transcendent kind of connection that is revealed in the creative and redeeming activity of God himself.” As Torrance argues elsewhere (1981b:135, 136), a logico-causal approach to the atonement, as particularly evident in Calvinist Scholasticism, attempts to read back into God the temporal, causal, and logical relations characteristic of human experience in the world. This forced Calvinist Scholasticism to connect “the relative apparent distinctions” between believers and unbelievers to the absolute decree of God, thereby forcing the construal of predestination into the double form of election and reprobation. The doctrine of double predestination, however, entailed a dualism in the heart of God, “an ultimate ‘Yes’ and an ultimate ‘No,’” that could not be explained away by regarding the “No” of reprobation as only the “passing over” of some rather than their deliberate damnation. Calvinism was trapped in its own logic, notes Torrance. While there is a “logic of grace” exhibited in the pattern of God’s grace in the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Christ, wherein “he acted under the freely accepted constraint of his unreserved self-giving for our salvation,” to construe the logic of grace in terms of necessary, logical connections is to convert grace into something other than itself, for such a construal implies that there is not a “free, contingent relation” between the self-giving of Christ in the cross and human salvation but, rather, a “logico-causal” relation.

In a similar vein, Torrance argues that a doctrine of universalism commits the “logical fallacy” of “transmuting movement into necessity.” That is, universalism destroys the free decision of faith by making salvation necessary rather than possible. For Torrance, universalism can, at best, only be expressed in terms of “hope” or “possibility,” but never in terms of dogmatic necessity (Torrance, 1949:313; 1996c:277). It is the construal of a logico-causal relation between grace and human salvation that gives rise to the “twin errors” of both limited atonement and universal salvation (Torrance, 1981b:136).

As Torrance (1993:246, 247) wisely notes, the miraculous acts of God cannot be construed in the ordinary categories of human thought, for they operate from a “transcendent presence in which his being and act and Person are integrated in the power of his triune being.” Torrance finds this transcendent connection in the virgin birth, the resurrection, the miracles of divine healing, and the multiplication of a few loaves and fish. As Torrance argues:
Jesus Christ is the resurrection and the life, and that cannot be construed within a system of this-worldly logico-causal relations. The kind of connection that obtains in the atoning death of Christ was demonstrated in the resurrection of Jesus. The connection between the atoning death of the Lord Jesus and the forgiveness of our sins is of an altogether ineffable kind which we may not and cannot reduce to a chain of this-worldly logico-causal relations. To do that comes very near to sinning against the Holy Spirit.
As Torrance rightly argues, there is no “logical-causal” connection between the death of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sins. Rather, the connection between the cross and human salvation is an ineffable mystery hidden in the heart of the Triune Godhead, one that cannot be captured within the bounds of ordinary categories of human thought. As Torrance (1981b:136) cogently notes, if human salvation is dependent on a logical connection between the death of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sins, “we would all be unforgiven whether we believe or not.”

The second fatal error in logico-causal arguments for universalism or limited atonement, wherein attempts are made to explain why some are finally saved and others are not, involves a “rationalisation of evil.” For Torrance, a doctrine of universalism fails to take into account the irrational nature of the “mystery of iniquity” and the “abysmal irrationality of evil,” realities that cannot be explained away rationally, for to do so would mean that God need not have taken the way of the cross in order to save humanity. Evil involves a “radical discontinuity” that cannot be explained in terms of logico-causal relations (i.e., “continuity”) without explaining it away. Evil is so “bottomless,” or “abysmal,” that to overcome it requires nothing less than the direct presence and power of the eternal, infinite God (Torrance, 1949:313; 1996c:277; 1993:247). Torrance (1993:247, 248) argues:
In order to redeem us from the enormity of evil God “had to” become incarnate in our mortal existence and penetrate into the chasm of our sinful and guilty separation from himself, which he freely did on the cross out of his unlimited and unstinting love. Conversely, the fact that God himself, God incarnate, penetrated into our damned existence and death in order to save us, reveals the bottomless chasm and the irrational, inexplicable nature of evil by which we are separated from him. If then anyone thinks he can explain why the atoning death of Christ avails efficaciously only for some people but not for all through offering a logico-causal explanation, he is really putting forward an argument which is tantamount to doing despite to the infinite agony of God Almighty at Calvary, for he does not consider the fearful nature of sin and evil which cost God the sacrifice of his own beloved Son.
For Torrance (1993:248), both universalism and the doctrine of limited atonement are “twin heresies which rest on a deeper heresy,” that is, the recourse to a logico-causal explanation of why the atoning death of Christ avails or does not avail for all humanity. As Torrance pointedly argues, “Any such an attempt at logico-causal explanation of the efficacy and range of the atonement is surely a form of blasphemy against the blood of Christ.”

References: See previous posts.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

T.F. Torrance: The Atonement, pt. 7

Atoning Reconciliation and Election

Comment: For those of us rightly revulsed by the Calvinist doctrine of election, the following is cause for cheers and shouts of joy!

The boundless nature of the wonderful exchange and the unlimited range of atoning reconciliation bear directly on Torrance’s understanding of election or predestination. In keeping with the Reformed tradition of unconditional election, one which reflects a strictly “theonomous” way of thinking centred in God, Torrance’s doctrine of election rejects any idea that humanity can establish contact with God or induce God to act in accordance with human will and desires, for all human relations with God derive from God’s grace, whereby he freely establishes reciprocity between himself and his creatures. Torrance notes that post-Reformation Reformed theology stressed the priority or prevenience of God’s grace, often preferring the term “predestination” to the term “election.” He argues that the “pre” in “predestination” emphasised the “sheer,” “unqualified” objectivity of God’s love and grace toward all, as expressed in the biblical teaching that God has chosen humanity in Christ “before” the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4). Torrance links this eternal decree with the truth that Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, was slain before the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8). Thus, Torrance distinguishes between predestination and election by locating the former in the timeless, eternal purpose of God’s love for humanity and the latter in the fulfilment of that purpose in space and time in the history of Israel and the mediation of Jesus Christ. For Torrance, election is more than a static decree located in the timeless past; rather, it is a living reality that enters time and space and confronts us face to face in Jesus Christ (Torrance, 1981b:132-134; cf. 1996c:14; Habets, 2008:335, 336).

In one of his earliest papers, Torrance (1941:108, 109) identifies two strands of thought in Reformed teaching on predestination. The first is the more familiar tendency to treat the doctrine of predestination along with, even in between, the doctrines of the divine decrees and subsequent doctrines. In this line of thought, predestination is raised to the position of a separate article in Christian theology, one that, to a certain extent, “stands on its own legs” and “governs” the doctrines of creation, providence, the fall, and sin and punishment (cf. Torrance, 1996c:135). The second characteristic of Reformed teaching on predestination, one that is often overlooked by its critics, and the one that reflects Torrance’s own understanding of election, is the recurring insistence that election is closely connected with Christ; that is, election is in Christo or propter Christum. Torrance writes:
[T[he relation between God and man in predestination is to be thought of in terms of the person of Christ. How does God elect men? Through Christ. Why does He elect them? Because of Christ. Just because Christ is, therefore, the author and the instrument of election, we may not think of it in any deterministic sense, but in terms of the way our Lord treated men when He Himself was on earth. Unless this aspect of the Reformed doctrine of predestination is understood along with the other, it is not really understood at all.
There are “two sides,” therefore, to the Christian doctrine of predestination: “that the salvation of the believer goes back to an eternal decree of God, and yet that the act of election is in and through Christ.” The connection between election and Christ is essential to a full understanding of the Reformed teaching on election, for it acts as a “powerful antidote” to the philosophical determinism that arose with the systematisation of Reformed theology (Torrance, 1941:108, 109).

As Torrance argues, however, a division occurred between these two aspects of predestination; that is, election was detached from the historical, incarnate reality of Jesus Christ and hidden in the secret, inscrutable counsel of God. In post-Reformation Calvinist Scholasticism, under the influence of Augustine’s doctrine of “irresistible grace,” combined with an Aristotelian doctrine of final cause and imbued with the determinism of Newton’s “cause-effect” cosmology, a strongly deterministic slant was read into the doctrine of predestination. Among the problems associated with the hard determinism of Calvinist Scholasticism was the tracing of predestination back to an eternal, irresistible decree in God, wherein election was detached from the incarnation and the cross and grounded in an “arcane dark patch” in God behind the back of Jesus. In this bifurcation of christology and election, Christ was regarded as the “instrument” of election, but not the “ground” of election. The ultimate ground of election was found in the secret counsel (arcanum consilium) of God. This detachment of election from Jesus Christ, that is, the separation of the eternal will of God from the existence of the incarnate Son, drove a deep wedge between Jesus and God and, thereby, introduced not only a “suspicion of Deism” in the Calvinist predilection to detach election from Christ, but also an element of Nestorianism into Calvinist christology, a dualism which called into question any essential relation between Jesus and the Father and provided ground for “a dangerous form of Arian and Socinian heresy in which the atoning work of Christ regarded as an organ of God’s activity was separated from the intrinsic nature and character of God as Love.” Torrance notes that this dualism between election and the incarnation was far removed from Calvin himself, who insisted that Christ is the “mirror of election” (Torrance, 1941:109, 110; 1981b:134, 135; 1996c:133).

As Torrance argues, when the doctrine of election is interpreted within a dualistic framework that separates the incarnate Son from election, coupled with the cause-effect determinism of Newtonian cosmology, the doctrine of predestination is “turned on its head.” Instead of being regarded as the dynamic movement of God’s love into human existence in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, it is twisted and distorted into a “mythological projection into the realm of God’s Being and Activity of cultured-conditioned concepts and creaturely distinctions” (Torrance, 1981b:137). “We cannot let go the truth,” Torrance argues, “that God has come in person in Jesus Christ, and that in Him we have a full and final revelation of the Father.” Election “in Christ,” therefore, means that Christ is the “ground” of election. To detach election from Christ makes election precede grace; that is, it implies that “there is a higher fact than Grace, and that therefore Christ does not fully go bail for God” (Torrance, 1941:109, 110). Torrance continues:
Christ is himself identical with the action of God toward men; He is the full and complete Word of God. There is therefore no higher will than Grace or Christ. There are no dark spots in the character of God which are not covered by the Person of Christ; as the express image of God He covers the whole Face and Heart of the Father. And while election must be grounded in the eternal decree of God, Christian faith cannot allow that to be separated in the very least from the Word. Christ is in His own Person the eternal decree of God ‒ and it is a false distinction to make Him only the causa et medium and not also the full ground of predestination.
Comment: Be sure to get that: Jesus Christ, the eternal Word of God, is the eternal decree of God. There is no inscrutable decree of election located in eternity past that is separate from the incarnate Son.

In his assertion that election cannot be detached from Christ, Torrance will not allow the subordination of the love of God revealed in Christ to a “higher and more comprehensive decree of Providence.” For Torrance (1941:110), a doctrine of predestination must start in Christo, for “[t]here is no higher will in God than Grace.”

In another early paper, Torrance (1949:314, 315) describes election as “nothing more and nothing less than the complete action of God’s eternal love” for the whole world, as expressed in John 3:16. He further describes election as “the eternal decision of God who will not be without us entering time as grace, choosing us and appropriating us for Himself, and who will not let us go.” For Torrance, election is the love of God “enacted and inserted into history” in Jesus Christ, “so that in the strictest sense Jesus Christ is the election of God.” Decades later, he writes (1981b:131, 132):
Properly regarded, divine election is the free sovereign decision and utterly contingent act of God’s Love in pure liberality or unconditional Grace whether in creation or in redemption. As such it is neither arbitrary nor necessary, for it flows freely from an ultimate reason or purpose in the invariant Love of God and is entirely unconditioned by any necessity . . . in God and entirely unconstrained and unmotivated by anything beyond himself. . . . [Moreover] election refers to the eternal decision which is nothing less than the Love of God himself is, in action . . . [flowing] freely and equably to all irrespective of any claim or worth or reaction on their part.
Simply stated, election is the concrete expression of the love that God is by nature (cf. Habets, 2008:346).

Torrance (1981b:133) describes the doctrine of election as the “counterpart to the doctrine of the incarnation.” As “the exact antithesis of all mythology,” that is, in contradistinction to all mythological projections of the human psyche onto God, the incarnation is the “projection of God’s eternal purpose of Love into our creaturely existence and its embodiment in a unique and exclusive way in Jesus Christ,” in whom authentic relationship between God and man is established. Torrance continues:
The incarnation, therefore, may be regarded as the eternal decision or election of God in his Love not to be confined, as it were, within himself alone, but to pour himself out in unrestricted Love upon the world which he has made and to actualise that Love in Jesus Christ in such a way within the conditions of our spatio-temporal existence that he constitutes the one Mediator between God and man through whom we may all freely participate in the unconditional Love and Grace of God.
Torrance (2009:183) captures the relation between election and the incarnation by insisting that election or predestination does not occur “behind the back of Jesus Christ”; that is, there can be no dualistic divide between election and grace, wherein election is detached from Jesus Christ and located in inscrutable divine decrees from eternity past (cf. Torrance, 1949:315; 1996c:133). To go behind the back of Jesus and speak about election apart from Christ is to fail to fully appreciate the soteriological significance of the consubstantial Father-Son relation. The creedal assertion that the incarnate Son is homoousios to Patri means there is no inscrutable will or hidden nature of God other than the will and nature of God revealed in Jesus Christ. Hence, God’s eternal purpose of election (cf. Eph 1:4, 5) cannot be separated from the divine love revealed by God in sending his Son to be the Saviour of the whole world (cf. J. Torrance, 1983:87, 88).

Comment: Just as epistemology (knowledge of God) must begin with God’s definitive self-revelation in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, so, too, our understanding of election and predestination must begin with Jesus!

In keeping with his unitary, holistic approach to the mediation of Christ, Torrance (2009:183) argues against any dualism between election and Christ’s atoning work on the cross. He writes:
God’s eternal election is nothing else than God’s eternal love incarnate in his beloved Son, so that in him we have election incarnate. God’s eternal decree is nothing other than God’s eternal word so that in Christ we have the eternal decree or Word of God made flesh. Election is identical with the life and existence and work of Jesus Christ, and what he does is election going into action.
In Jesus Christ, the eternal decision of God has entered time and space and become “acutely personalised.” Election is not, therefore, some “dead predestination” hidden in the past or “some still point in timeless eternity,” but is a living act that enters time and confronts us in the Word of God incarnate (Torrance, 1949:315; cf. 1941:112). Torrance continues:
The great fact of the Gospel then is this: that God has actually chosen us in Jesus Christ in spite of our sin, and that in the death of Christ that election has become a fait accompli. It means too that God has chosen all men, in as much as Christ died for all men, and because that is once and for all no one can ever elude the election of His love. In as much as no one exists except by the Word of God by whom all things were made and in whom all things consist, and in as much as this is the Word that has once and for all enacted the eternal election of grace to embrace all men, the existence of every man whether he will or no is bound up inextricably with that election ‒ with the Cross of Jesus Christ.
Torrance’s assertion that “God has chosen all men” reflects the biblical principle governing salvation history: that is, God elects the one for the many, just as Israel was elected to serve as a light to the nations (cf. Torrance, 1996c:134, 135). It is this corporate covenant-election that is brought to fulfilment in Jesus Christ, the Mediator of the new covenant, in whom election and substitution “combine in the most unique, most intense and personal concentration of the one and the many.” Jesus Christ is the “actualisation” of the eternal purpose of God to give himself to humanity in pure love and grace. Every human being is loved by Jesus Christ, so that his atoning work is the “pouring out of the pure love of God upon all humanity” (Torrance, 1981b:132, 133; 2009:109, 183, 184).

For Torrance (1996c:14), therefore, election is “christologically conditioned.” While election proceeds from the timeless, eternal decree of God, this eternal decree, or word of election, enters historical time and space in the incarnate reality of the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. The “heart of the mystery of election” is found in the hypostatic union, where God and man are reconciled in the one person of Jesus Christ. As Torrance argues, “Christ is himself the Elect One ‒ in him election becomes and operates as atoning mediation.” If there is a paradox in the grounding of election in both the eternal decree of God and the space-time reality of Jesus Christ, Torrance (1941:111) argues, “it is nothing else than the central paradox of the Christian faith, the Incarnation of the Son of God.”

References: see previous posts

Comment: I agree with Dr. Baxter Kruger in his assertion that it is time we take back the doctrine of election from the Calvinists, wherein predestination is reduced to a dark, inscrutable, and usually terrifying decretum horribilis. To paraphrase Barth, “Election is the best news we can hear.” The doctrine of predestination/election should cause us to rejoice, for it means that God has loved all humanity from the foundation of the world, and has determined that he will not be without us. As Torrance (1949:316) argues, because the whole universe revolves around the love of God in Jesus Christ, preaching should make election “the very centre of the Kerygma.” Amen!!


The Holy Spirit is the “mediator of communion.” The Holy Spirit “mediates,” or “brings together,” things that are distinct, diverse or eve...