Vicarious Faith, Tom Torrance, and a Few Memories

It’s not often these days that Eclectic Orthodoxy gets noticed, but over at Reformissio, Jonathan Kleis mentioned me in his recent article “Athanasius, T. F. Torrance and the Vicarious Humanity of Christ,” and I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the mention. We bloggers crave attention. Thank you, Mr Kleis! Jonathan has been blogging on Torrance over the past couple of months, and I commend his articles to you.

The writings of Thomas Forsyth Torrance have deeply influenced my preaching and theological reflection since seminary days (egads, we are talking late 70s, friends!). He taught me that genuine knowledge of God is mediated through the incarnate Son, that Christ Jesus and his atoning work are indivisibly one, that we are justified not by our subjective faith but by the faithfulness and obedience of the Lord to his Father. Most importantly, he helped me, both through his theological writings and extended correspondence, to personally appropriate in my life the unconditional love of God in Jesus Christ. The debt I owe to my Scottish brother in Christ is incalculable.

Torrance is typically described as a follower of Karl Barth. The voice of Barth can be heard on every page of his writings. Yet Torrance himself always insisted that St Athanasius of Alexandria was his favorite theologian. An icon of Athanasius, Fr George Dragas tells us in an illuminating interview, hung prominently in his office at the University of Edinburgh. His book The Trinitarian Faith is my favorite work by Torrance. One of my two copies is personally autographed by him. It is an outstanding synthetic introduction to the catholic faith of the Nicene Fathers and is filled with the words and spirit of the great Alexandrian bishop.

But I have always been aware of Torrance’s theological weaknesses. He was prone to make grand generalizations which have always seemed, at least to me, to be just too grand. He loved to expatiate on the pernicious dualisms of Latin (as well as Byzantine) theology, which, he believed, distorted just about everything about the Roman Catholic Church, including its sacramental practices and teachings (see Douglas Farrow, “T. F. Torrance and the Latin Heresy“). He was never able to transcend his Reformed sacramentology and ecclesiology. He could write eloquently about the Holy Eucharist, but I knew that he did not understand it from the inside. It was not part of his tradition and experience. Without a living experience of the Eucharistic Christ who embodies himself under the forms of bread and wine, whose Body and Blood we eat and drink and before which we prostrate ourselves in adoration and love, huge swaths of the patristic writings must necessarily remain opaque and misunderstood.

Tom and I began a correspondence soon after my ordination in 1980, which continued for almost two decades. He always replied to my letters. In the latter half of the 80s, I urged the editor of the Anglican Theological Review to include voices other than the usual liberal Anglican suspects. I recommended Torrance, and he asked me to contact him. I did so and within a month I received in the post “The Doctrine of the Holy Trinity According to St Athanasius.” I passed it on to the editor, and it was soon published in ATR. A couple of years later I asked Tom to contribute an essay to my book Speaking the Christian God. Once again he immediately agreed. His was the first manuscript that I received, of course: “The Christian Apprehension of God the Father.” At some point I drove up to Princeton to meet him. I think it was during the time when he was working on the establishment of the Center for Theological Inquiry. He was exceptionally gracious and patiently addressed my long list of questions, one by one. He shared with me his love for Anglicanism (if I recall correctly, his wife was Anglican), as well as his involvement in ecumenical dialogue with Eastern Orthodoxy. He told me the remarkable story of how he was made a protopresbyter in the Orthodox Church! He was humbled and thrilled by the honor bestowed upon him. I knew I was in the presence of a great Christian gentleman and man of faith, as well as a great theologian. I think I may have met him again on a second occasion, but my memory here is spotty (alas). Tom always encouraged me in my own work, as inconsequential and susperficial as it was, and he become an enthusiastic supporter of the Baltimore Declaration when it was published in 1991.

During our years of correspondence, I constantly pestered him about the role of faith in our justification in Christ. Anyone who has wrestled with the Pelagian question knows how vexing it all can be. If faith is necessary for salvation and if faith is a gift of the Spirit and if everlasting damnation is a real possibility for everyone, including the baptized, how do I know, can I know, that I am intended by God’s unconditional love? How do I know, can I know, that I am justified and will be justified? I was obsessed by this question of assurance. Torrance had a unique (and as I was to learn, Barthian) take on the question: we are not saved by our faith but by the faith and faithfulness of the incarnate Son, in which we participate by our union with Christ in the Spirit:

It is illuminating to recognize that subjective justification, as well as objective justification, has already taken place in Jesus Christ. Not only was the great divine act of righteousness fulfilled in the flesh of Jesus, in his life and death, but throughout his life and death Jesus stood in our place as our Substitute and Representative who appropriated the divine Act of saving Righteousness for us. He responded to it, yielded to it, accepted it and actively made it his own, for what he was and did in his human nature was not for his own sake but for our sakes. That is true of all that he did. He was the Word of God brought to bear upon man, but he was also man hearing that Word, answering it, trusting it, living by it—by faith. He was the great Believer—vicariously believing in our place and in our name. In becoming one with us he laid hold upon our wayward human will, made it his very own, and bent it back into obedience to, and in oneness with, the holy will of God. Likewise in justification, Jesus Christ was not only the embodiment of God’s justifying act but the embodiment of our human appropriation of it. In that unity of the divine and the human, justification was fulfilled in christ from both sides, from the side of the justifying God and from the side of justified man—‘He was justified in the Spirit’, as St Paul put it. Justification as objective act of the redeeming God and justification as subjective actualization of it in our estranged human existence have once and for all taken place—in Jesus. (“Justification in Doctrine and Life,” Theology in Reconstruction, pp 156-157)

What makes Torrance’s formulation of vicarious dominical faith even more interesting is his claim, stated in many of his writings, that this notion of vicarious faith is firmly grounded in the Church Fathers, particularly in St Athanasius and St Cyril of Alexandria.

And this brings me to the occasion for this blog. In a Facebook comment last month, I expressed a measure of skepticism regarding the degree of patristic support for Torrance’s formulation and employment of the notion of Christ’s vicarious faith. Who among the Fathers says anything quite like “If we think of belief, trust or faith as forms of human activity before God, then we must think of Jesus Christ as believing, trusting and having faith in God the Father on our behalf and in our place” or “In a profound and proper sense, therefore, we must speak of Jesus Christ as constituting in himself the very substance of our conversion, so that we must think of him as taking our place even in our acts of repentance and personal decision” (The Mediation of Christ, pp. 92, 96)? That Torrance is pushing the patristic envelope does not mean that he is wrong in asserting the vicarious faith and repentance of our Great High Priest. Theologians are supposed to creatively interpret the faith for the Church. After all these years, I still warmly assent to his dogmatic proposal, though I’m not sure how strongly or frequently I would preach it in the pulpit or teach it in catechism classes—probably less than I once did. TFT supporters need to be more cautious about asserting the thesis of the vicarious faith of Christ as representing the explicit faith of the Church Fathers. In the magisterial hands of Torrance, the Fathers sometimes sound just too Barthian. Torrance’s thesis has yet to be critically evaluated by patristic scholars. Unfortunately, the contributors to the recently published collection of essays T. F. Torrance and Eastern Orthodoxy do not assess it. They missed an opportunity, I think.

In response to my Facebook comment, Jonathan cites an essay by Fr Khaled Anatolios, “The Soteriological Significance of Christ’s Humanity in Saint Athanasius.” Athanasius taught, so Anatolios maintains, that the incarnate Son receives the Holy Spirit on our behalf. He quotes this text from the Contra Arianos:

Through whom, and from whom should the Spirit have been given but through the Son, since the Spirit is his? and when were we enabled to receive It, except when the Word became human? and . . . in no other way would we have partaken of the Spirit and been sanctified, if it were not that the Giver of the Spirit, the Word himself, had spoken of himself as anointed with the Spirit for us. And in this way we have securely received It, insofar as He is said to have received [the Spirit] in the flesh. For the flesh being first sanctified in Him and He being said, as human, to have received through it, we have the derivation of the Spirit’s grace, ‘receiving out of his fullness’. (CA 1:53)

This is a welcome confirmation, but it is still lacking the Torrancean twist. I am not surprised by its absence, as I suspect that the twist is dependent upon a specifically 20th century Protestant context. Torrance is seeking, with Barth, to liberate Reformed Christianity from the heresy of double predestination, while at the same time emphatically asserting the gratuity of our justification in Jesus Christ over against all forms of Pelagianism, Semi-Pelagianism, and Semi-hemi-demi-Pelagianism. But the Eastern Fathers were not particularly worried by Pelagianism and so had no problem speaking, without all the qualifications that Torrance makes, of a synergism between God and man in the event of personal salvation. Maybe they should have made these qualifications, but they didn’t. Of course, for many Torrance supporters the witness of the Fathers really does not matter, on this or any other theological topic, so convinced are they in their reading of the Scriptures—but it did matter to Tom.

Thomas Torrance was a dogmatic theologian; and he read the Fathers, as all dogmatic theologians do, in light of his constructive concerns. Those of us who treasure his contributions to modern theology should not be reluctant to admit that, on occasion, he may have stretched the patristic testimony just a tad beyond the breaking point.

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26 Responses to Vicarious Faith, Tom Torrance, and a Few Memories

  1. Hi Fr Kimel, I very much enjoyed reading this post, especially for the inclusion of the recollections of your personal interactions with TFT. Not all of us who appreciate TFT can relate similar stories! I also very much appreciate the mention of myself and my blog and your encouraging words!

    In my own post, I also acknowledge that the way in which Athanasius articulated his understanding of the ‘soteriological significance of Christ’s humanity’ was not identical to that of Torrance. I agree that it does lack, as you say, the ‘Torrancean twist’. I would say that regardless of that, I find there is at least a fair amount of continuity (without overlooking the discontinuities that you have noted) between the two on this point. My impression after reading your thoughts here is that at the end of the day we probably agree to a large extent on this, just that I would tend to emphasize the elements of continuity between them (and, being Reformed myself, I am unapologetically biased toward TFT’s Reformed slant on things!).

    Thanks again for this post. I found it very helpful and illuminating.

    P.S. Just one quick request: would you mind fixing the spelling of my last name? It is spelled ‘Kleis’ with only one ‘s’ at the end. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Mike H says:

    “…liberate Reformed Christianity from the Calvinist heresy of double predestination, while at the same time emphatically asserting the gratuity of our justification in Jesus Christ…..”

    While Barth/Torrance may have radically redefined the semantic content of the term “predestination”, I can’t, for the life of me, see how the same concerns that find expression within the Calvinist formulation of “double predestination” – those concerns having to do with the extent of God’s salvific will within a monergistic framework that leads to anything less than universal salvation – somehow disappear.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Torrance wrote an article back in the 50s criticizing the universalism of John A. T. Robinson: “Universalism or Election?” The article is included in the recent reprint of Robinson’s In the End, God. Of interest here is Mark Koonz’s essay “The Old Question of Barth’s Universalism.”


      • Mike H says:

        Thanks for the essay link Father. Apologies in advance for the length of this comment (and my typos).

        I wish I was more familiar with the particular arguments that the author (and Barth) are addressing because I simply don’t understand (and this is the main gist of the essay) why God’s “freedom” is at stake here. To me, there’s an unwarranted emphasis on universalism (and limited atonement for that matter) entailing some “necessity” or “historical metaphysic” that’s imposed on God from without, or that it’s based on some argument of what God “must do”.

        I’ve been working through David Congdon’s The God Who Saves (slowly – I’m finding it to be a difficult read), but thought I’d quote him at length here because he addresses this exact thing:

        —“The point is clear: to posit universal salvation or apokatastasis is to deny God’s divine prerogative to bestow mercy and grace as a “free gift”. Universalism obligates God to be gracious, which of course contradicts the very nature of grace. Salvation is not something we are given but something we are owed. Effectively, then, to posit this doctrine is to attempt to save ourselves.
        The problem is that this objection presupposes we already know that God’s will is a will to condemn sinners to eternal damnation. In other words, it is an exercise in begging the question. If God has determined to send some people to hell, then of course any doctrine that proclaims the salvation of all would be an infringement on God’s freedom. There is, of course, a very simple response to this problem, namely, to reject the original premise. Nothing prevents us from saying that God saves all people because God wills to save all – precisely as an exercise of God’s sovereign freedom……Whether this is the right way to think about God’s saving purposes is another question, but the point here is simply that universalism need not contradict divine freedom; it can instead be the natural expression of it. I would argue that this is Barth’s actual position, though he refuses to call it universalism because of the problematic connotations of the word.”—

        And then there are also the quoted words of Barth in the essay: “We cannot say that because we know that he has overcome hell, but he has the liberty to decide to whom he will give the benefit of the victory over hell.”

        So I simply can’t see how the real issue is God’s “freedom” in this quote – rather, it’s about the extent to which God actually wants to save people.

        In recognizing that “freedom” can also mean the “freedom to save”, the essay doesn’t overtly presuppose “that God’s will is a will to eternal damnation”. It doesn’t foreclose on either option. And that is the point. The issue is not really freedom at all. It seems to me that, within the essay, there is simply an agnosticism as to whether God actually wants to save all people. If there is uncertainty as to God’s salvific will (due to the complexity and multi-vocality of the Biblical witness or what have you – an issue with which I sympathize) or pastoral reasons, etc., then that’s fine. But the argument from “God’s freedom” doesn’t hold up for me.


      • Mike H says:


        There’s also, however, a slip into a sort of free will defense as a way to avoid the implication that the implication is that God just may not want to save everybody:

        ”Therefore there is no basis on which we can claim to know that all who reject the love of God in time will come to welcome that same love in eternity.” – p.4

        I found that confusing. The way that I understand the monergism and vicariousness of Christ being presented here – “Christ believing, trusting, and having faith in God the Father on our behalf and in our place” – it unambiguously rules out the above statement. There is no sense in which anyone “rejecting the love of God in time” through their own will has any bearing whatsoever on the matter of salvation within this framework.

        Along those lines, immediately after the earlier quote from Congdon, he continues on to say:

        –“Indeed, and as I have argued elsewhere, Barth’s real problem with universalism has to do not with the freedom of God but with the historicity of the believer.–

        I take this to mean, at least in part, that vicariousness is not and indeed cannot be the entire narrative because – and this has to do with a larger discussion about what salvation even is and what a person is – life is not a mere exercise in monergistic vicariousness. There is a me within space and time – a me that is not God – that is bound up with others.

        In the end, I’m getting a little bit of a “River of Fire” or “love eternally experienced of wrath” sort of vibe going on and maybe that’s where the patristic witness overlaps. I’m aware, however, that there was a post on this blog questioning if that view really is THE patristic view.


        • brian says:

          Mike H,

          An obligation is something we often experience as extrinsic and potentially alienating. If we understand Necessity in those terms, only a kind of Demiurge could conceivably be frustrated by pre-existent “matter” that imposes conditions recalcitrant to the fully enacted will of the maker. However, if one is considering the fully free God who creates ex nihilo, surely there is a failure to properly think the Transcendence of the Creator God if one imagines the debt towards creation as an alienating imposition. Of course, there is a long tradition (it’s what spawned the controversy in Catholic circles over “pure nature”) anxious to avoid any implication that God is not free in the offer of grace. To even speak of a “debt towards creation” is unpardonable. I confess, I find the hand-wringing on this issue to be largely missing the point. God is not compelled to create. He creates out of love, delight, generosity, out of the infinite names of the Inexpressible.

          There is perhaps a sense in which God does not choose to Create. I have talked about this before. David Burrell notes how the most momentous decisions in our lives are largely beyond choice as it is normally encountered. One can choose among options (what will I eat, where will I live, what shirt to wear,) but in the most important things, who chooses to fall in love, to be an artist, philosopher, an artisan? At the highest level of Freedom, choice disappears into assent to one’s being as a gift of God, as a dynamic “lived narrative” that can only happily conclude in participation in Divine Life. All our deliberation and choice is only meaningful as teleological and thus always already directed by desire for the Good. God’s freedom is, of course, a mystery we only approach analogously, but I am inclined to think God can be inspired, that the Holy Spirit plumbs the depths of God and that God’s creation was never anything like a choice among possible worlds, but the discovery of a lovely order, a Wisdom, that demanded by its poignant beauty, it’s fragile cry for existence, that it be . . . and God said, “let there be.”

          In this sense, God’s freedom is the Necessity of Love. It is not an extrinsic imposition, but the very ardor of God’s Secret Heart. And then grace is where nature is always meant to conclude. The particular, singular unique being is chosen, but chosen as an irreplaceable musical note in the symphonic whole. Turning all this into a calculus of choice as the philosophers of autonomy imagine is to be lost in false dilemmas. The modern theologies of election are already rooted in the worship of idols, an ersatz divinity without joy and mirth and omnipotent vulnerability.

          Liked by 2 people

          • Mike H says:


            “In this sense, God’s freedom is the Necessity of Love.”

            Yes, that’s the way that I see it. “Necessity” is not intended as a burden or imposition. But that’s exactly why the semantics are so important. I do think that the linked essay views “necessity” in the way that you laid it out in your comment – as extrinsic – and so it addresses that particular definition. I get that. I just think that the particular ways that “necessity” and “freedom” are talked about in the essay are…off.

            I hear the God-talk – vicarious belief, unconditional love, the overcoming of hell, the defeat of sin, God as savior of all, etc – all ideas present in the essay. It’s one thing to recognize that we do not entirely understand what these words mean. That is fair. (But neither can we offer these words up to an abyss of equivocity.)

            It’s one thing to disagree on the implications of God-talk, even when certain underlying axioms are mutually agreed upon, and to be humble in “presuming”. One may say “I’m just not sure that God really desires all to be saved.”

            It’s quite another to seek to work out theological implications but run into a brick wall guarding an eternal abyss that goes by the name “divine freedom”. And on this wall sits Gabriel the archangel – the voice of God – who simply repeats over and over “Yeah, but just remember that you can’t make Me. I am free”.

            That doesn’t seem, to me, to lead to a reverence and humility based in faith. It’s not that it’s not true in a sense, but it still leaves me baffled and speechless.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Grant says:

            And there is another aspect to this false dilemma, which was discussed in a talk given by David Bentley Hart in ‘Is Hell Forever? Creation and Universalism, which relates to this, which I found very powerful.

            I’m trying to surmise mostly from memory, so I’d advise anyone to find the recording of the talk, which is on this blog somewhere I think but anywhere, here goes:

            If God creates ex nihilo, He creates completely freely, there is no restraint, hindrances or any necessity on His will. Creation adds nothing to God, He needs nothing, and is Reality itself, and He acts and creates in total liberty, with no requirements or restraints upon the act. Even appeals to best possible world theories where God forms creation as the best possible version of creation, both seems to put conditions on God, creation is no longer a completely free act, and God is not free, and I’m not sure how it fits with classical theism, since something thinking through other possibilities for universes seems to imply other things besides God even as abstract ideas, that He isn’t God but a god, and is dependant on.

            But if this is so, that means that there is no hindrance in creation expressing God’s nature, the truth and depth of reality itself in creation, and from a Christian standpoint that would be His goodness, His love. And this makes the claim eschatological, for if creation is only truly complete with the completion of the resurrection and the union of all things in Christ, when God is all in all, then it is in that revelation that God Himself is fully revealed. When to which all things are created has been unveiled, in everything’s end is God’s freedom and character revealed to all. The end is bound up with the origin of al things, as only then can we see the true nature of what has called all things from nothing, and will the true nature of reality itself be revealed. As creation is an eternal act, all things are orientated and end towards His goodness, and is an eternal act that is His nature in that act, revealed the transfiguration of all things in Christ.

            But if this is true, than the final destiny of all will be a revelation of God’s nature, a moral statement on His character, particularly as, if He is truly free, restrained neither by necessity nor ignorance, all contingent ends and in the case of rational contingent beings, their acts and the final ends are intentionally enfolded into His eternal creative act. And since He is absolute free of any contingencies, and all things are logically reducible to their first cause, and the rational of a first cause is the final cause which prompts it, and that first cause if a completely free act of creation, the final end of things is the whole moral truth of that act. And in a real sense, if being is act, God is what He does, through and in all things, with all things coming from God and orientated and return to Him, and there is nothing beyond the power of God’s rational freedom. But this means when viewed from the final revelation of things there can be no final tragic loss, or irreconcilable or ruined elements, such as rational beings (ourselves and any other rational beings) as this to would be something God had done as part of His act of creation. Their loss, whether through some form of eternal damnation, separation (though how can anything be separated from God), through their annihilation ceases to exist, or existing forever in a state that experiences His love and full reality as something hurtful, and therefore remaining forever incomplete, trapped and damaged versions of their true selves, or any conceived mix of these, would be exactly this.

            The free act of God, would be bringing their destruction however conceived as an intentional part and purpose of creation, even if none were ever actually damned or destroyed etc, it would have been a possibility assumed into and intentionally part of His eternal act, and even unrealized part of His nature, something freely assumed. And all possible outcomes and risks, are assumed and accepted even if they never occur, and would be a part of God’s nature, and deep revelation of who He is, because He is free, and creation is a free act without any restraint or any other effect on His freedom.

            In that respect it doesn’t matter if the end of any is to remain fallen and damned, and the damage caused through them and in them is unhealed, whether it’s through some form of Augustinian hard predestination, or in secondary causes beings have more genuine autonomy, as rational beings directed towards their end in God, who’s ends and fully enfolded into His freely creative act, their ends, and all our ends, are the result of His free act, and therefore the distinction becomes meaningless when viewed from this perspective. If some are lost, even only one, or the possibility is there in the final revelation and end of all things to which they are directed, that is the revelation of the being of God, and since the Christian proclamation is that God is good as who He is, not relative to some other cause or in degree to some abstract standard, but rather that He is good, that He is love is what He is in His simplicity, as the fullness of Being itself, these words are rendered without meaning, if some are lost, and this would be part of His own free act, as it is finally unveiled. Those words loss in real meaning, if God is free, and therefore creation a truly free act, all things in creation, all acts and ultimately it’s end is intentionally part of that eternal act, and as Being is act, the final ends are the revelation of that act, and therefore that nature and being.

            If God is free, and yet some are damned and lost, then words such as good, just and certainly to say He is love are meaningless, or simply cannot be applied where they mean anything. The whole grammar of Christian belief is rendered into gibberish by such, and only viewing evil as the end of all things would make sense, but then that would be, as all this, to fly directly in the face of the revelation of Christ Himself, and would be simply monstrous. That John Calvin essentially came to this by having the intellectual honesty in his position to outright say that God isn’t love, and that this is only how He is experienced by the elect, but that He is hatred to the damned, even though this denied the central revelation of the gospel, demonstrates just how dark this line of thought is taken to it’s ultimate conclusion, and it is something wholly monstrous and blasphemous to me.

            And what does this mean for the ones who are lost, even if it is just one, they become the ones on whom the final end of creation and the end of all things depends. This particularly as all things and beings are orientated towards God, found in Him and are directed in all their faculties and nature with a desire for Him, for the Good. They act and are free to the extent they can know the Good and therefore themselves, and while they can mistake evil for good for all and themselves, and lacking full freedom and relation of such turn off track in pursuit and desire of good, the desire and orientation, the appetite for good comes prior to and directs the nature and growth of all things, and all things remain orientated towards God no matter what warps and twists happen between them and others. To know the Good is the desire and act towards it completely, and to not desire it, is not to have known it truly and never to have been free to so choose. They remain orientated towards God, as their being and ends part of God’s free creative act, and thus it makes no more sense for God to intentionally allow in His creative act, some rational beings to thus damn themselves out of some priority for freedom (which again would not be there, those that are so damaged are not free and do not know the good, and are not free to choose it, and are not free at all), then for a father to allow a deranged and insane child to throw themselves into a fire out of tender regard for their moral autonomy (and again, in this situation, the father would have set up all of the conditions of both the possibility for the child to be deranged and for the fire to be their, and have gambled on the possibility of the child throwing themselves into the fire in the first place, for the analogy to come close to working). When considered with all the vagaries of mortality, prior temperaments, defects that people suffer from, the situations into which they are born and grow, and all this in it’s myriad complexity and interconnected nature, with all the pain, restrictions and afflictions, this reality becomes even more stark.

            The eternal loss or suffering of anyone would be an eternal tragedy and an evil, and if such were part, and indeed part of the end, of an intentional free act of God, it could not be comprised in the ends of a good will, in any sense that good has any intelligibility (and to say God good is different completely than our understanding of it, is really to say He and the good He intends is evil with just a more reverential turn of phrase). If God creates from nothing freely and eternal damnation or destruction are both true, than that end is part of the intentions and act of God, and evil would be part of God’s intention. Even if some limited good were to be obtained through this saga, and through the final revelation build towards the final nature and end of creation, whether through hard Augustinian predestination in which conscious, sad puppets serve this purpose to enable the revelation of God’s sovereignty, or whether have autonomy in the rational self and their growth and development, it comes to the same logical end. Because even here, God has chosen the price of this destruction as part of His act to bring about the ends He desires, and He has done some completely freely with no necessity imposing this on Him (because than He cannot be free, nor would such be God), it becomes a price He ventures even if none ever did end up eternally falling into a ruin and eternal loss (however conceived) . And given the vagaries of existence given above, our teleological orientation and growth, and true freedom of action would be (to know and act towards the Good, which would be our true nature, and to mistake or see something evil or fallen for the Good and their good and object of desire would be exactly to not know it, and not be able to act free) that of those lost would be but for those chances us. Which is the same if they were predestined for damnation and the elect for salvation (and would again all have been ends enfolded in God’s intentions in His free act of creation), which means what would those people be. They would be none other than those suffering for the sake of the redeemed, for the whole of creation, and price settled on in God creating to be paid for the rest of the limited good of creation. They even if one, would be the saviour of all else, their eternal destruction that which redeems all things, and what does this do to the Incarnation, to the Cross and Resurrection, what is that in light of one being eternally suffering or destroyed on behalf of the rest of creation. When thought through the implications are horrifying, and seem to strike at all things at the heart of the gospel and it’s proclamation and revelation of God, it would be something that would make Christ’s Incarnation as nothing compared to that.

            And with such a revelation of God’s nature in His act of creation from nothing in which eternal damnation were a reality and a part of the final revelation and intended ends, God could not be called good, love etc, when they no longer mean what they are intended to mean, but rather it’s opposite.

            If God is free, and creates freely unhindered from any external necessity, ignorance, principle and any imperfection and lacking nothing, and creates from nothing eternally, than His final judgement, the revelation of all things of the ends to which the first cause intends, will reveal His true nature. And if God creates being created either way to end up in eternal misery, and even would possibly end up in final ruin and destruction, then God’s Being cannot be ascribe as good or love in any meaningful way. It might be an act of limited love, but equally would be an act as Hart describes of prudential malice. It cannot to him, and I agree be said that God is free, creates freely and is at the same time what the revelation of the Gospel, of the Messiah Himself proclaims and reveals His nature to be, which is good, and is love.

            For God to be good, and to be free, and therefore act in complete freedom with creation from nothing, than eternal damnation or loss cannot also be true.

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          • Mike H says:

            What he (Grant) said.

            My initial comment in this thread related to the reference to double predestination, that I couldn’t see how the issues relevant to double predestination were really resolved (aside from a change in the semantic content of the word “predestination” – which itself is no small thing).

            After honing in on those issues in the Koonz essay though – recognizing that terminology can be used in various ways – the arguments culminate not in “human free will” (though there are also some confusing references to that) but rather God’s “freedom”, which is understood as an absence of restriction, necessity, external obligation, etc. That’s much like it is in your traditional Calvinist’s double predestination framework – though in the case of Koonz I see a sort of agnosticism (a hopeful agnosticism?) about God’s salvific will as opposed to the traditional Calvinist’s “reprobation to the praise of his glorious justice”.

            That said, I can’t help thinking that there are two very different definitions of “freedom” at work between Grant’s comment here and the Koonz essay.

            Liked by 2 people

  3. John Stamps says:

    Thomas Torrance was a frequent visitor at PTS when I was a student there in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. You could always find him in the refectory, chatting with students over lunch or supper, drawing theological diagrams on napkins, etcetera.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. William says:

    Would I be mistaken in thinking that Torrance’s formulation quoted above resembles a little of what’s in the “new perspective” on Paul?


  5. Bobby Grow says:

    In our (Myk Habets and myself) forthcoming vol 2 Evangelical Calvinism book we feature a whole section (with 8 chapters) to the doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Christ; and then other chapters throughout that also depend greatly upon it as a hermeneutical foundation (as understood in the theologies of Barth and TF). I don’t feel as compelled as maybe you are Jonathan, or maybe as worried, to demonstrate that TFT is accurately or univocally representing the patristic reading on this; TFT is a constructive reader who resources the patristic theologians, and many others, from other periods, with the goal of simply articulating sound Christian Dogmatic teaching for the church of Jesus Christ. That said, his engagement with patristic theology makes him unique among Reformed theologians in that he offers an ecumenical and catholic spirit as a Reformed theologian that is very rare; something that I think should be commended rather than bemoaned. Does TFT engage in some theological hagiography? Yes, for sure. But again, given his mode and style, I don’t really see that as a minus but a plus.


    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Hi, Bobby. Thanks for stopping by. I agree, of course, with your statement that TFT is a constructive dogmatic theologian, but surely you do not mean to suggest that his readings of the Church Fathers (or of any theologian) should not be critically assessed and weighed. He did not just sporadically visit the Fathers and mine them for the occasional quote. He sought to inhabit their writings and to accurately represent their views to a modern audience, including a modern scholarly audience. Hence the question of the adequacy and reliability of his interpretations of the Fathers remains important to us. His theological reputation is not diminished, in my eyes, if patristic scholarship should ultimately determine that some of his readings do not hold up. But it would be diminished if patristic scholarly were to determine that he was guilty of gross misreadings across the board, which I obviously do not think that he is.

      I agree with you, Bobby, that his engagement with the Father makes him relatively unique among Reformed theologians. Clearly the Fathers held an authority for him that they do not hold for most Reformed Christians. Clearly he hoped to be taken seriously not just as a Reformed theologian but as a catholic and ecumenical theologian. How else do we explain the energy and time he invested in the Reformed/Orthodox dialogue? Torrance would not hold nearly the interest for folk outside the Reformed tradition if he had not sought to subject his biblical and theological reflection to the patristic tradition.

      Your comment raises a question I’ve been wanting to ask you. I understand why you have enlisted Torrance in your Evangelical Calvinist movement, but would he have wanted to be identified as an Evangelical Calvinist?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Bobby Grow says:

        Hi Aidan,

        I’m not saying TFT shouldn’t be read critically—Jason Radcliff has done a commendable job at that. I’m saying that at the end of the day his engagement is one of ressourcement, so whether or not he accurately understands or nuances some of the patristics isn’t ultimately the goal with TFt—even if he felt he was accurately representing the Patristics. I think Jonathan’s post is good in at least showing that linking TF to the contours of thought found in Athanasius are independently confirmed by Anatolios’ construction of Athanasius’s thought. In other words the mood of Athanasius is undeniably present in both Barth and TFT; i.e. the focus on ontology in salvation and anthropology rather than the focus on the juridical/forensic. But my point, further, is that the fathers for TFT are not his standard or authority; the Scriptures are—so TFT’s Reformed-ness.

        As far as TFT an evangelical Calvinism, I’ve responded to that multiple times at my blog (which you apparently don’t read 😉 ). Myk and myself came upon that language from TFT himself, as he describes his type of Calvinism in contrast to Federal or Westminster or Bezan Calvinism, as he calls it. Have you never read his book *Scottish Theology*. You of course aren’t the first one to ask this question, even among those sympathetic to TFT, but we didn’t make this up, we simply read TFT and found that language and identification there.


  6. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    I have revised my article a bit. I wanted to clarify a couple of points and add an additional memory that came to me this morning.


  7. Ryan says:

    Minor quibble: I think you meant to just say “unsurprisingly” and not “not unsurprisingly” in the second to last paragraph.


    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Thanks, Ryan. I ran the double-negative a few times through my brain, and couldn’t make sense of what I wrote. So I just changed the sentence. 🙂


  8. Kenn Lutz says:

    The link inn the 5th paragraph:
    “The Doctrine of the Holy Trinity According to St Athanasius”
    is inoperable.

    Lord, have mercy.


  9. Pingback: Irenaeus, T.F. Torrance, and the Vicarious Receptivity of Christ | Reformissio

  10. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Of interest to this thread is Torrance’s early essay “Predestination in Christ.”


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