Category Archives: T.F. Torrance

Torrance & Scottish Theology

From a Review of Torrance’s Scottish Theology:

Dr. T.F. Torrance is among the immortals of Scottish theology, his work on the trinity an enduring priceless legacy. He has placed the homoousion at the heart of all our belief, reminding us that God has no face but Jesus. Even in his anger there is no un-Christlikeness at all. The electing (and the reprobating God) is non other than the incarnate Son. In Jesus’ sacrifice, God himself becomes the hilasmos. In his indwelling, God himself indwells us.

I and many others embraced these contributions with instant appreciation. But we saw in them no reason to repudiate our past. True, some of these emphases were not explicit in Scottish Calvinism. But they were implicit; or at least easily assimilated. We can welcome the new Trinitarian insights and weave them happily (if critically) into the legacy of Rutherford and Durham, Martin and Cunningham. Dr. Torrance does not need to discredit the past to create space for his vision.

-Donald McCleod EQ 72:1 (2000)

Calvin’s Ladder: A Spiritual Theology of Ascent and Ascension

The church is no stranger to theologies of ascent. Julie Canlis, lecturer at Regent College, suggests that Calvin’s voice ought to join the chorus of such theologies. In Calvin’s Ladder: A Spiritual Theology of Ascent and Ascension, Canlis argues that Calvin’s voice isn’t drowned out in this chorus but that it sticks out for various reasons, the primary reason being that his theology of ascent is grounded in the concept of participation in Christ.

Canlis suggests that Calvin’s understanding of Christian piety ought to be understood through the concept of Trinitarian koinonia. This koinonia begins with Christ. Christ makes 51nsdxz0m4l-_sy344_bo1204203200_a double movement, that of descent and ascent. In Christ God has come as man to humanity to stand in our place and as man Christ leads us back to the Father. According to Canlis, “The entire Christian life is an outworking of this ascent – the appropriate response to God’s descent to us – that has already taken place in Christ.” (3)  Whether one is talking about desire for God, prayer, obedience, vocation, or worship, or ascent, all has been accomplished for humanity vicariously through Christ. Canlis devotes six chapters to unpacking Calvin’s understanding of this vicarious ascent in Christ.

She begins with a survey of various theologies of ascent, including the works of Plato, Plotinus, Origen, Augustine, and Aquinas. These thinkers all tell the story of humanity’s self-empowered (though sometimes assisted by grace) journey towards the divine, in which the individual is the primary agent of ascent. Calvin breaks the mold, making Christ the primary agent of ascent:  ascent is not something that fallen humanity does, rather it is something that humans participate in.

She expands upon the theme of participation by beginning with creation. creation’s existence is infused with relationality. In fact, “Communion is the groundwork of creation, the purpose of anthropology, and the telos toward which all creation strains.” (54) However, humanity has exchanged communion for independence. This is the essence of sin. The solution to the problem of sin would be to reestablish humanity’s existence in communion with God.

Following the chapter on creation, Canlis devotes a chapter to exploring how Christ’s double movement of descent and ascent addresses the problems of fallen humanity. The Son descends fully into humanity, in order that humanity may participate in him. He then ascends, taking humanity up into participation in God’s own life. How is this participation applied to humans? Her fourth chapter is devoted to showing that the appropriation of Christ’s ascent happens through union with Christ, which is enacted by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit not only makes that union objectively true, but the Spirit’s actions in the Lord’s Supper is also the means of grounding and reconstituting that union. (171) The Lord’s Supper is the concretization of the relationship of union and ascent between Christ and Christians.

The fifth chapter is devoted to putting Calvin in conversation with Irenaeus. She argues that neither Calvin nor Irenaeus presents a picture of participation in Christ as something in which humans become less than fully human; rather, through participation in the divine life, humans experience a more deeply human reality. She doesn’t argue for Irenaeus’ direct influence upon Calvin, but notes that there are many important similarities.

Canlis’ final chapter is dedicated to unpacking the implications of the idea that for Calvin “ascent was not ascent of the individual soul but humanity’s participation in the triune communion” which is opened up by Jesus’ ascent. (230) She suggests that Calvin’s theology might have much to contribute to ecumenical dialogue, that it might provide a robust pneumatology that has normally been lacking in Reformed theology, and it might serve as an antidote to the individualistic and reductionistic spirituality so prevalent in our day.

There is much to appreciate in this book. Canlis does a fine job of showing that the concept of mystical ascent into the life of God need not be foreign to Reformed Christianity. Simultaneously, she shows that Calvin’s theology makes a unique contribution to this strand of Christian spirituality. She has also done a fine job in showing how important participation in Christ is to the rest of Calvin’s theology. Calvin’s doctrines of creation, Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Eucharist, the Trinity, and Eschatology cannot be understood apart from the concept of participation.

To say that Canlis has succeeded in these areas is not to say the book does not have its shortcomings. First, one might wonder whether her understanding of the Christian life is too individualistic. Yes, the Christian life might be grounded in participation in Christ, but her interpretation of Calvin on this point does not require that a Christian be in communion with other Christians. The topic of communion with other Christians is surprisingly absent in her discussion of the Lord’s Supper. Second, we may wonder why Canlis doesn’t do more to address her indebtedness to Torranceian theology. Her understanding of the descent/ascent, vicarious humanity of Christ, and grace are explicitly Torranceian. Torrance’s reading of these concepts in Calvin are rather controversial (to say the least), yet she does not address this controversy at any point.

Despite these shortcomings,  Canlis ought to be commended for writing a book that makes an important contribution to mystical spirituality from a distinctly reformed position.

Calvin’s Ladder: A Spiritual Theology of Ascent and Ascension by Julie Canlis (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2010), xii + 286 pp.

Love and Epistemology (Abstract) – Biola’s CCT

This weekend I will be at Biola’s Center for Christian Thought presenting a paper on the topic of love and epistemology. It is titled: Amo ut Intelligam (I Love so That I May Understand): The Role of Love in Religious Epistemology. Below you can read the sort of long abstract:

Abstract

Most contemporary discussions about religious epistemology have revolved around discussions about foundationalism, coherentism, realism, anti-realism, basic beliefs, and divine hiddenness among other topics. However, one topic that has received noticeably little attention is the role that love plays in our knowledge of God. This paper turns to the works of T.F. Torrance in order to show how love plays a crucial role in our religious epistemology.

In his epistemological works Torrance presents two basic principles of knowledge: The first principle is that “All genuine knowledge involves a cognitive union of the mind with its object, and calls for the removal of any estrangement or alienation that may obstruct or distort it.”[1] The second principle is that “we may know something only in accordance with its nature.”[2] That is, the nature of that thing prescribes the mode of knowing appropriate to it and determines the way we ought to behave towards that thing. The concept of love plays an important role in both of these principles.

In regards to the first principle, I show that God’s loving act of atonement is what removes the estrangement and alienation from God which prevents knowledge of him. Specifically I argue that given the Holy Spirit’s nature and his role atonement we are enabled to love God and thus to enter into the union of love with God which is necessary to know him. In regards to the second principle I show that this principle entails that in order to know God we must know God in a godly way. Thus given that it is God’s nature to be loving we must approach God in love in order to know him.

Both of these points have interesting implications for the task of theology. The first implication is that only those who love God will be able to have knowledge of God. This does not mean that the person who does not love God cannot hold true beliefs about God, it simply means that these beliefs do not count as knowledge. A second implication is that theologian who desires to know God must be committed to growing in her love for God. This in turn has implications for the personal life of the theologian, i.e. she must be committed to being a part of a community that helps her grow in love for God, she must be committed to loving others as God has loved her, she must seek to eradicate those things in her life which hinder her from loving God, etc.

This paper does not seek so circumvent other important topics in religious epistemology, since discussions about justification, realism, and divine hiddenness are certainly important. Rather it seeks to show that love ought to play a more prominent role in our religious epistemology. By showing this I provide another reason for further research into the nature of love.

[1] Torrance, The Mediation of Christ, 25.

[2] Torrance, The Mediation of Christ, 25.

The Meaning of Love – 5th Annual CCT Conference

A week from today I will be over at Biola’s campus for their 5th Annual Center for Christian Thought conference.

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This year’s topic is “The Meaning of Love.” The conference will be exploring questions like:

  • What is love?
  • What are the ethical implications of Jesus’s love commands?
  • What should be made of the Christian notion of enemy love?
  • What can be learned from recent scientific work on love about intentional practices likely to conduce to a loving character?
  • What light do ethical theories shed on the moral dimensions of love?
  • What is the relationship between love and justice?

To top things off they have a great line up of keynote speakers including:

  1. George Hunsinger – “Agape and the Long Defeat”
  2. Nicholas Wolterstorff – “Love and Justice – and Beauty Too”
  3. Thomas Jay Oord – “Love’s Essential Aspects and Diverse Forms”
  4. Lynn G. Underwood – “Perspectives on Compassionate Love: Science, Spirituality, and the Arts”

Hunsinger’s paper looks to be especially interesting. He will be comparing Karl Barth’s work to J.R.R. Tolkien’s work. In this paper he will be comparing Tolkien’s Nazgul’s to Barth’s concept of das Nichtige (the power of nothingness). Sounds fun!

In addition to the keynote speakers there are over 30 breakout sessions. These include papers by friends of mine, Thomas Ward and Jordan Wessling. Thomas was my T.A. in my medieval philosophy class when I was a sophomore at UCLA. Jordan is one of two post-docs on our Analytic Theology team at Fuller. And of course, yours truly, will be presenting a paper titled: Amo ut Intelligam (I Love so That I May Understand): The Role of Love in Religious Epistemology. Its a riff on “I believe so that I may understand.”

Overall the conference looks like a lot of fun. So if you are free next Friday and Saturday come down to Biola’s beautiful campus for what seems to be the makings of a really interesting conference. Register here.

I’m Doing a PhD!

So in the last 2 days I got some HUGE news…

I have been accepted into both Fuller Seminary and the University of St. Andrews for their newly formed programs in Analytic Theology. Both schools received very large grants from the Templeton Foundation in order to see how Analytic Theology may help us make sense of prayer, love, and human nature. As a part of those grants, both schools made some space for new PhD Students. Fuller created 2 new positions and St. Andrews created 6. Both schools are among the best schools in theology. Both are cutting edge when it comes to Analytic theology. It is such a blessing to be accepted into both of these great schools.

I’ll be announcing which school I’ve decided to go to really soon!

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George Hunsinger and Reading Barth with Charity

Today George Hunsinger will be presenting at our Trinity Seminar – and I’m assuming he is going to talk quite a bit about Reading Barth With Charity. In this book he lays out what it looks like to read another theologian in a charitable way. Austin Reed at Reformed Forum gives an excellent summary of what this looks like. He also gives a pretty good description of Torrance’s Evangelical Calvinism:

In his new work, Hunsinger sets forth a reading of Barth very different from his revisionist opponents; a Barth that is, well, strikingly less radical. Hunsinger arrives at this reading of Barth by using a “hermeneutic of charity,”[3] a methodological approach to ambiguous texts that seeks alternative interpretive options when faced with apparent contradictions. According to the hermeneutic of charity, the reader should only subject an argument or proposition to criticism after one has sought to resolve the difficulties themselves.[4] If one cannot resolve the apparent contradiction via a favorable interpretation (i.e. one that does not involve prima facie contradiction), then one is permitted to subject the argument or proposition to criticism. The principle of “charity” is more or less a hermeneutical application of the “Golden Rule.”[5] As one could probably guess, Hunsinger argues that the revisionists’ interpretation of Barth fails to read Barth charitably; that is, they’re guilty of pitting Barth against himself and through deductive reasoning setting a theological trajectory for his theology that Barth never intended.

Hunsinger cites T.F. Torrance’s[6] distinction between “evangelical” and “rationalistic” Calvinism as an example of the principle of charity in action.[7] It is a more or less classic “Calvin and the Calvinists” approach. The “evangelical” Calvinism is allegedly closer to the actual textual Calvin than the logical systemizing of the “rational” Calvinists following Beza. “It judged, according to Torrance, that the filial was prior to the legal, that the personal was prior to the propositional, that the inductive took precedence over the deductive, and that spiritual insight placed constraints on logical reasoning.”[8]

The rationalistic Calvinists’ approach to Calvin’s writings lead to the allegedly “extreme” doctrines of Limited atonement, supralapsarianism, infralapsarianism and worst of all (for Torrance at least), a “legalistic construal of ‘covenant’ that tended toward synergism.”[9] For Hunsinger the present debate is no more than an incarnation of the “Calvin and the Calvinists” debate, only this time, it is Barth and the revisionist Barthians.[10]

Exploring Christology and Atonement with CMT

In Exploring Christology and Atonement: Conversations with John McLeod Campbell, H.R. Mackintosh and T.F. Torrance Andrew Purves unites two often divided aspects of Christology – the person and work of Christ. Through engagement with the work of Campbell, Mackintosh, and Torrance Purves shows how this Scottish “school” of theology can help shape the practice of our faith. Although Purves is clear that he doesn’t want to separate the person and work of Christ he finds it necessary to divide the book into two sections: Christology and Atonement. Under the rubric of Christology he covers the basic questions of Christology, the hypostatic union, and union with Christ all from the perspective of these three Scottish theologians (CMT). He follows the work of CMT and argues for an a posteriori account of Christology, one which beings with the revelation of God in Christ as opposed to a form of theology which attempts to do Christology by following the logic of already-held-to beliefs about God.

Purves devotes one chapter to each of CMT’s theology of atonement. For each of the three theologians he emphasizes the centrality of filial rather than forensic language in atonement, the character of God, God’s opposition to Sin, the importance of including the life of Jesus into ay atonement theory, the bi-directionality of Christ’s work, and that God is not the object of atonement but rather the subject of atonement.

Rather than focus on Purves’s account of McLeod Campbell or Mackintosh, I will focus the majority of my critique on his account of T.F. Torrance. Purves gets Torrance mostly right. He accurately covers his understanding of the atonement as a “mystery,” he notes Torrance’s hesitations about penal substitution, he emphasizes the bidirectionality of Christ’s work, he makes the hypostatic union a key part of his explanation of Torrance’s atonement theory, he even notes the Torrance’s views on the extent of atonement. All of this is great. But there is a major piece left out of Purves’ account – the role of recapitulation in Torrance’s theory of atonement. While Purves does not that “the whole life of Jesus, including his death, consistutes reconciliation” (227) – He fails to devote any significant discussion to the role that Patristic theology has on his theory of atonement. Torrance says that by “living all of life through the whole course of our human existence (enhypostasis), Jesus Christ achieved within our creaturely being that union between God and man that constitutes the heart of atonement. He explains that his whole life was a redemptive operation because throughout his whole life, the forces of evil waged war against him and against the union between God and man. These forces sought to “divide the human life of the Son on earth from the life of the Father above, to divide the divine and human natures in Christ himself.” In order to be “victorious” against these forces, Christ would need to live the whole human life out (enhypostasis) all the way through death and resurrection maintaining the union between human nature and God. Thus we clearly see Patristic influences upon his theology.

In addition to this major gap in Purves’ coverage of Torrance there are two more general critiques that need to be noted. First it is that Purves overemphasizes the filial-relational aspects of atonement to the complete detriment of any forensic elements that are clearly there. Second, Purves fails to critically engage with any of these theologians in a substantive way. Towards the end of each chapter he brings up a few small issues he has with each theologian, but his critiques seem to be more of an afterthought. In summary – his coverage of each theologian is just a summary. There is nothing necessarily wrong with that, but its not what you would expect from a book that claims to be a “conversation” with CMT.

Despite these flaws – the readers of this book will certainly come away with a deeper understanding of CMT’s position. That is something which I applaud, not only because it means that Purves represented them faithfully, but because CMT’s theology is a theology which refuses to separate academic theology from piety. Thus the reader will be thrown in to the beauty of the gospel and will (if they take Purves’s words seriously) come away with a deeper appreciation of who Christ is and what he has done for us.