Category Archives: T.F. Torrance

Jonathan Edwards on the Atonement (Review)

It is well known that some of Edward’s followers, sometimes known as the New Divinity, advocated for a view of atonement known as the “governmental theory” or according to Oliver Crisp, penal non-substitution.  This view (in its orthodox form) was first proposed by Hugo Grotius. He suggested that Christ acted as a penal example, demonstrating God’s aversion to sin and paying respect to God’s law. One Edwardsean, Amasa Park picked up this governmental theory and ran full speed with it, even outlining the theory in nine propositions.

Even though its commonly accepted that the New Divinity saw themselves as developing jonathanedwardsontheatonement__76739-1490203753-315-315their governmental theory in light of Edwards’s doctrine, academic debates rage as to whether Edwards’s followers were actually following Edwards’s trajectory in this area or whether they significantly departed from his thought.  For example, B.B. Warfield argued that the Edwardseans forsook Edwards’s teachings. John Gerstner argued that they though they followed Edwards but had no justification in saying so. Finally, and more recently, Oliver Crisp has argued that Edwards knew and approved of these Edwardsean ideas. Brandon Crawford, author of Jonathan Edwards on the Atonement, enters into this debate by offering an in depth account of Edwards’s theory of atonement. His hope is that by focusing on Edwards we will be in a better position to evaluate how his legacy was received.

In order to carry out his aims Crawford begins by setting the historical context of Edwards’s doctrine of atonement. He does this by surveying early and medieval accounts (ch. 1), Reformation and Puritan accounts (ch. 2), and alternative perspectives in the Reformation and Puritan eras (ch. 3). A few questions arose in my mind as I read this section. Did he try to survey too many perspectives? Probably. What makes “alternative perspectives” to be “alternative?” I’m not sure. I also had a few critiques of these sections. One major one is that I think he reads penal substitution too heavily into his early sources. Yes, PSA is there in some form, but not in the full blown sense Crawford wants it to be. I think his overemphasis on the presence of PSA is an important move for Crawford. He needs PSA to be the standard atonement theory in order to say that in downplaying or ignoring PSA the Edwardseans were being unfaithful to orthodoxy.

After three chapters of historical context Crawford finally gets to the heart of the matter: Edwards’s doctrine of atonement. He begins with a chapter addressing Edwards’s theology of God’s glory. Although it is an accurate overview of the topic he hardly engages with any scholarship on the topic, he also doesn’t do a great job of connecting the topic of this chapter to the main topic of the book: atonement. The connection is there but it is not very explicit. The next two chapters present Edwards’s account of salvation history and his definition of sin (ch.5) and the Penal Substitutionary nature of Edwards’s doctrine (Ch. 6). This latter chapter was the most interesting. Here he shows that Edwards conceived of atonement mainly as 1) Penal Substitution and 2) Penal Example. Crawford says, “Edwards believed that Christ’s death also served as a penal example, publicly vindicating God’s honor and law, which God also required before sin’s penalty could be fully satisfied.” (119) Crawford concludes:

Edwards’s doctrine of atonement, then, included two prominent concepts: Christ as penal substitute and Christ as penal example. As the two concepts are placed side by side it becomes apparent that these ideas were not contradictory in Edwards’s mind, but complementary.

Crawford follows up on this chapter with a chapter addressing other themes in Edwards’s doctrine of atonement. However, chapter 6 sticks out as the most significant, at least in my mind, for addressing the debate about Edwards’s legacy.

Crawford’s conclusion about Edwards’s legacy is that Edwards was classically Reformed and that his followers deviated from Edwards’s reformed orthodoxy. According to Crawford, Edwards bears some responsibility for this, as he “may not have sufficiently guarded against the separation of the substitution and governmental components of his system… Yet Edwards does not bear all of the responsibility. He is not responsible for how his words may have been misunderstood by his successors after they took possessions of his manuscripts.” (140). This is a fair and even-keeled conclusion, which I think is argued for persuasively in chapter 6. However, I think it could have been argued for in a journal article rather than in a whole book.

Note: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an impartial review.

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(Review) Flesh and Blood: A Dogmatic Sketch Concerning the Fallen Nature View of Christ’s Human Nature

Christ has a fallen human nature. That is the claim that Daniel Cameron, adjunct instructor at Trinity Christian College wants to defend in his short book titled: Flesh and Blood: A Dogmatic Sketch Concerning the Fallen Nature View of Christ’s Human Nature.

According to many Christians, that statement is not only wrong, but it seems to be heretical. Why is that? Well, supposedly, affirming the fallen nature of Christ would sacrifice the sinlessness of Jesus, and thus undermine the gospel itself. However Cameron is not unique in making this claim, far from it! He takes his cue from T.F. Torrance himself. The logic that undergirds Torrance’s position is the non-assumptus principle, i.e. the unassumed is unhealed. According to Torrance, if Christ does not assume our fallen human nature, then Christ cannot heal and sanctify it. This position is obviously contentious. In fact in recent years Kevin Chiarot, Oliver Crisp, and Luke Stamps have attempted to show that it is impossible to say that Christ did in fact assumePrint a human nature and maintain the integrity of the gospel. Its in the midst of these discussions that Daniel Cameron attempts to articulate a defense of the Fallen Nature view, the result of which is five really short chapters on the topic.

Chapter one is a brief introduction to the topic. The second chapter looks into what exactly it means to say that the Divine Son assumed a fallen human nature. Chapter three looks at the pros of the unfallen human nature view, drawing from the work of Oliver Crisp, Kevin Chiarot, and Luke Stamps. Chapter four proposes a way to retain what is helpful from the fallen and unfallen views while avoiding the potentially harmful consequences of the fallen view. Chapter five closes by noting what role the Holy Spirit may play in the fallen nature view.

Cameron’s conclusion is that there is in fact a way to affirm the fallen nature view while avoiding the harmful consequences of it. He believes that we can affirm the fact that Christ had a fallen human nature and that Christ was both impeccable and not corrupt and not loathsome in the sight of God. Thus according to Cameron, we can say that Christ had a fallen human nature, and that Christ “truly and really atoned for our sins as the spotless Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” (71)

Despite Cameron’s interesting and well thought out defense I remain unconvinced of his position. There are several reasons why. 1) The Fallenness view is a hard deviation from the tradition of the church. While this may not in and of itself be a problem, I believe it represents a rather large obstacle. The church tradition might be wrong…. but a lot more needs to be shown why we should abandon tradition. 2) As Luke Stamps has put it, the fallenness seems “to ignore the fact that we can affirm what might be called the fallen experience of Jesus without positing a fallen nature to him.” (You Asked, Gospel Coalition) I still remain unconvinced by Cameron that this is not the case. 3) Cameron works with an anemic view of sin. Cameron says that Christ can have a fallen nature and not be loathsome in the sight of God, but I remain unconvinced. I think Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen is right when he says that “only the revisionist modernist view of sin makes it possible to attribute a sinful and fallen human nature to Christ and at the same time consider him sinless because of lack of sinful acts.” (Christ and Reconciliation, 174) Our sinful state, is an ontological reality prior to, but inseparable from our sinful acts. Our fallen nature, and not just our sinful acts, makes us “loathsome” to God and in need of reconciliation. If this is actually the case, which I believe it is, then the fallen nature view suffers from a major problem of making Christ “loathsome” to God.

Despite these three issues I have with the fallen nature view, I can certainly say that this is a fantastic introduction to the Torranceian idea of Christ having a fallen nature. If you want to get a clear picture of what Torrance’s view is, and what some of the major objections are to his view, as well as a cogent defense of this view, then this is the place to start. If you want a summary of Torrance’s view and a critique of the view then I would recommend Kevin Chiarot’s The Unassumed is the Unhealed. Nevertheless, Flesh and Blood is a fine place to start.

Note: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an impartial review.

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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