T. F. Torrance and the New Trinitarians

by Phillip on April 12, 2014


We have been so eager to share some of the material emerging from an arena of the Body of Christ which appears to have been lying dormant. The works of late T.F. Torrance and his brother J.B. Torrance, “two of the leading British interpreters of the theology of Karl Barth,” have been fueling a new spirit or “mood” of theology offered by a loosely connected group of theologians who are calling themselves “Evangelical Calvinists.”

Don’t let the name throw you a curve by conjuring up images of Mark Driscoll or even the amiable Tim Keller. It represents an entirely different tone as it restructures the legal Federal Calvinism represented by Augustine/Westminster Assembly and restores it to that of the more relational Trinitarian model of Athanasius (who penned the Nicene Creed) which was later carried by the Scottish Reformers. Evangelical Calvinist Bobby Grow says:

“An Evangelical Calvinism highlights a Calvinistic tradition that has developed particularly within Scotland, but is not unique to the Scots. The editors have picked up the baton passed on by John Calvin, Karl Barth, Thomas Torrance, and others, in order to offer the family of Reformed theologies a reinvigorated theological and spiritual ethos.”

While claiming to be aligned with neither Federal Calvinism (PCA, Gospel Coalition et al.,) nor with Classical or popular Arminianism, scholars such as Roger Olson see it as simply a variant of Classical Arminianism. The curious thing about this new theological stream is that it represents the fundamental heart and passion of both Calvinism and Arminianism at the same time.

To help you understand the reason why we are so excited about this “movement” which emphasizes our inclusion in the Trinitarian life of God please take a look at these quotes by Thomas F. Torrance:

“God loves you so utterly and completely that he has given himself for you in Jesus Christ his beloved Son, and has thereby pledged his very being as God for your salvation. In Jesus Christ God has actualised his unconditional love for you in your human nature in such a once for all way, that he cannot go back upon it without undoing the Incarnation and the Cross and thereby denying himself. Jesus Christ died for you precisely because you are sinful and utterly unworthy of him, and has thereby already made you his own before and apart from your ever believing in him. He has bound you to himself by his love in a way that he will never let you go, for even if you refuse him and damn yourself in hell his love will never cease. Therefore, repent and believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour.”
(T. F. Torrance, “The Mediation of Christ,” 94)

“Perhaps the most fundamental truth which we have to learn in the Christian Church, or rather relearn since we have suppressed it, is that the incarnation was the coming of God to save us in the heart of our fallen and depraved humanity, where humanity is at its wickedest in its enmity and violence against the reconciling love of God. That is to say, the incarnation is to be understood as the coming of God to take upon Himself our fallen human nature, our actual human existence laden with sin and guilt, our humanity diseased in mind and soul in its estrangement or alienation from the Creator. This is a doctrine found everywhere in the early Church in the first five centuries, expressed again and again in the terms that the whole man had to be assumed by Christ if the whole man was to be saved, that the unassumed is unhealed, or that what God has not taken up in Christ is not saved. The sharp point of those formulations of this truth lay in the fact that it is the alienated mind of man that God had laid hold of in Jesus Christ in order to redeem it and effect reconciliation deep within the rational centre of human being.” (T. F. Torrance, “The Mediation of Christ,” 48-9)

“Jesus is the fulfilment and embodiment of God’s Holy and righteous act or dikaioma, and also the embodiment of our act and faith trust and obedience towards God. He stood in our place, taking our cause upon Him, also as the Believer, as the Obedient One who was Himself justified before God as His beloved Son in whom He was well pleased. He offered to God a perfect confidence and trust, a perfect faith and response which we are unable to offer, and He appropriated all God’s blessings which we were unable to appropriate.”
“Through union with Him we share in His faith, in His obedience in His trust and in His appropriation of the Father’s blessings; we share in His justification before God. Therefore when we are justified by faith this does not mean that it is our faith that justifies us, far from it – it is the faith of Christ alone that justifies us, but we in faith flee from even our own acts of faith confession trust and response and take refuge in the obedience and faithfulness of Christ”
Theology in Reconstruction. TF Torrance. 1965, pp 159-160

“The love of God…functions unreservedly and equably as love even in the judgment of the sinner. It is his loving of the sinner which resists his sin that is His judgment of the sinner…the total self-giving of the self-affirming God in love is and cannot but be the judgment of His love upon the sinner. He does not hold back His love from the sinner, for He cannot cease to be the God who loves and loves unreservedly and unconditionally. Is that not why St. John in the Apocalypse could speak of the wrath of God as ‘the wrath of the Lamb” (Rev. 6:17; 11:18; 16:1; 19:15), for His wrath is the total unrestrained self-giving of God’s love upon the Cross which He does not withhold even from those who reject it, and which is and cannot but be wholly opposed to evil and sin? And that is surely why St. Paul could speak of His ministry of the Gospel as a savor to one of life unto life and to another of death unto death. In God there is no Yes and NO, but only Yes (1Cor. 1:19f; 2:15f). It is upon the Yes of God’s eternal love for us that our salvation rests, but that Yes is also the judgment of those who perish. Why people may want to reject the love of God is quite inexplicable, but whether they believe in Jesus Christ as the incarnate love of God or refuse to believe in Him, the love of God remains unchangeably what it was and is and ever will be, the love that is freely, unreservedly and unconditionally given to all mankind.”
(p. 246)

“Grace is to be understood as the impartation not just of something from God but of God Himself. In Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit God freely gives to us in such a way that the Gift and the Giver are one and the same in the wholeness and indivisibility of His grace…”
(Thomas F. Torrance, Reality and Evangelical Theology. Westminster Press. 1981. pgs 14,15)

“When the Protestant doctrine of justification is formulated only in terms of forensic imputation of righteousness or the non-imputation of sins in such a way as to avoid saying that to justify is to “make righteous”, it is the resurrection that is being by-passed. …justification is empty and unreal, merely a judicial transaction, unless the doctrine of justification bears in its heart a relation of real union with Christ. Apart from such a union with Him through the power of His Spirit, Christ would remain, as it were, inert or idle. We require an active relation to Christ as our righteousness, an active and an actual sharing in His righteousness. This is possible only through the resurrection; – when we approach justification in this light we see that it is a creative event in which our regeneration or renewal is already included within it.”
(Torrance, Thomas F. – Space, Time and Resurrection)

If you are weary from wandering the Calvinist desert you will find refreshment here. While some Evangelical Calvinists would confess being hopeful that God will save all, none would claim absolute assurance of  a global salvation due to what they call the “inexplicability of sin.” It seems to mimic Robert Capon’s evasive stance of  “I am and I am not a universalist*.” But rather than criticize their hedging we commend to you the superior degree of their hope!

To read more about Evangelical Calvinism see here. Or to read Roger Olson’s review of Bobby Grow and Myk Habets compilation Evangelical Calvinism and the ensuing discussion at Patheos read here. To read more deeply on the incarnation/trinity per T. F. Torrance read here.

*Robert Capon’s universalism quote:

“I am and I am not a universalist. I am one if you are talking about what God in Christ has done to save the world. The Lamb of God has not taken away the sins of some — of only the good, or the cooperative, or the select few who can manage to get their act together and die as perfect peaches. He has taken away the sins of the world — of every last being in it — and he has dropped them down the black hole of Jesus’ death. On the cross, he has shut up forever on the subject of guilt: “There is therefore now no condemnation. . . .” All human beings, at all times and places, are home free whether they know it or not, feel it or not, believe it or not.

“But I am not a universalist if you are talking about what people may do about accepting that happy-go-lucky gift of God’s grace. I take with utter seriousness everything that Jesus had to say about hell, including the eternal torment that such a foolish non-acceptance of his already-given acceptance must entail. All theologians who hold Scripture to be the Word of God must inevitably include in their work a tractate on hell. But I will not — because Jesus did not — locate hell outside the realm of grace. Grace is forever sovereign, even in Jesus’ parables of judgment. No one is ever kicked out at the end of those parables who wasn’t included in at the beginning.”

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