Reforming Calvinism, pt. 3: Theo-Groundwork


This is the third post in the series Reforming Calvinism. If you have not already done so, I would encourage you to read the previous two posts (which you can access here: Reforming Calvinism) before proceeding. In this post I would like to provide some theological groundwork upon which I will be able to reconstruct certain aspects of TULIP. I have decided to place this material here in the series introduction to help cut down on the length of some of the posts later on.

To begin, I would like to quote a section from Myk Habets’ excellent book Theosis in the Theology of T.F. Torrance, pp.333-335 (theosis, in layman’s terms, is a way of understanding salvation usually associated with Greek or Eastern theologians that focuses on the renewal of human beings as God’s image-bearers and their participation in the divine life). In this section, Habets sketches Torrance’s view of the creation and restoration of humanity in the imago Dei (image of God) as grounded prior to creation in Christ himself. This will be foundational to what will follow in this series, so it is critical to understand at this point. Habets’ language is academic, so it may be difficult reading for some, but I encourage you to stick with it and I will try to distill the essential points in a more accessible way at the end. Here is Habets:

Within Torrance’s theology theosis consists in being recreated in Christ Jesus who alone is the Image of God. Until men and women are renewed and brought face to face with God in Christ, we cannot know what it means either to know God or to know ourselves as persons.

…the coming of God in Christ, and his self-communication to man, have taken such a form in the Incarnation, that it is there only that we may see human nature set forth in its truth as creature made to be the child of the heavenly Father. Thus there can be no question of trying to understand man out of himself, or from his relation to the world, he must be understood primarily from the Word made flesh.[70]

In the incarnation the eternal Son of God assumes fallen human nature and redeems it thus restoring and fulfilling the divine telos for humanity of union and communion with God (theosis).[71] With Athanasius, Torrance speaks of Jesus as ‘the Dominical Man’ and ‘the principle of ways’ which God has provided for us. By this he means that the incarnate Christ has an archetypal significance for human beings.[72] He even suggests that: ‘every human being is ontologically bound to him. It is in Jesus Christ the incarnate Creator, then, that the being of all men, whether they believe or not, is creatively grounded and is unceasingly sustained’.[73]…

Herein lies one of the main components of theosis within Torrance’s anthropology. The imago Dei lies ahead of each human person and can only be realised in the person of the incarnate Son, Jesus Christ. The imago Dei is our destiny and true telos, not something inherent within each human person, waiting to be realised through some self-effort, self-examination, process of spiritual awakening, or mysticism.[75] The realising of the imago Dei is theosis within Torrance’s anthropology and as with the rest of his thought, is actioned entirely by grace, that is, in the incarnate Son of God. ‘In other words, the fall of man means that the imago dei can be interpreted only in eschatological terms.’[76] These eschatological terms are entwined with christological action.

[T]he original intention of God becomes event in man’s existence only by the Word, and the imago is possessed only in faith and hope until we see Christ as he is and become like him. In Christ, therefore, we see the imago Dei to be the ground of our existence beyond our existence, but which becomes sacramental event here and now in the hearing of faith, as we are sealed with the Holy Spirit until the redemption of the purchased possession.[77]

If this proves a bit difficult, here are the points that will be particularly relevant to this series:

1. The primacy of Jesus Christ in humanity’s creation and redemption in the image of God.

That humanity was created in the image of God according to Genesis 1 is not a controversial point. That the goal of redemption is the renewal of this image is likewise often affirmed. What is not so well understood, however, is how the New Testament directs us to think about these truths. It teaches that when we think of the imago Dei, we are to think primarily of Jesus Christ who alone is the true imago Dei, who prior to creation was the archetype of all humanity. Thus when we read in Genesis 1 that God created human beings in his image, we are to understand that in its fullest and deepest sense, this refers to humanity’s creation in the image of Christ who is the true imago Dei. Adam was only “a type of the one to come” (Rom. 5:14), and before the foundation of the world we were “predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29). These and other texts (e.g. 2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15) indicate that the imago Dei to which Scripture ultimately refers is not humanity as such, but Jesus Christ through and for whom human beings were created and in whom they are restored. From creation onward, being conformed to Jesus Christ who is the true imago Dei was humanity’s ultimate telos or goal.

2. The continuity between creation and redemption.

If the first point is true, then the second flows inevitably from it. As Paul poetically describes in Colossians 1:15-20, the Christ who was the “firstborn of all creation” is the same Christ who is “the firstborn from the dead.” To posit a disjunction between the scope of creation and redemption – between those descended from Adam and those for whom Christ’s salvific work is intended – would be according to this passage tantamount to introducing a rupture into the person of Jesus Christ himself (and thus into the life of God), for it is in Christ that “all things hold together”. I know that some will think this leads unavoidably to universalism, but, as we will see, this conclusion simply does not follow from the Christocentric theo-logic (as opposed to causal logic) that I will articulate (see the second post in this series).

3. The indivisibility of Christ’s person and work.

This last point is also implicit in what I have already explained, but it is important to state it clearly. When we characterize salvation in terms of a restoration of the imago Dei, we see that no wedge can be driven between Christ’s person and his work. If Christ is the true imago Dei who conforms us in likeness to himself by the Spirit, then what he does is inseparable from who he is. Salvation, in this view, is not something that we can possess as a gift separate from Christ himself; rather it is in union with Christ by the Spirit that we share in all the benefits of his person and work and become partakers of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4). As we will see, all kinds of problems emerge when we try to divide that which God has eternally joined together.


[70]  Torrance, Theology in Reconstruction, p. 102. Torrance continues to distance himself from the form of ‘Calvinism’ that transferred to nature what belongs to grace. Torrance argues that after Calvin there came into being a strange amalgamation of Thomistic logic and the Reformation view of humanity.

[71] This is a reversal of the fall which resulted in sin which Torrance defines as shattered communion in Torrance, ‘The Atoning Obedience of Christ’, pp. 65–6.

[72]  Torrance, ‘The Soul and Person in Theological Perspective’, pp. 115–16.

[73]  Torrance, ‘The Atonement the Singularity of Christ’, p. 244. Torrance is not implying that all people, by right of this ontological bond, are saved. Quite the opposite! The article in question is one in which Torrance is arguing for the singularity of Christ in an otherwise pluralistic world. His point is that because Jesus Christ is the Creator Incarnate, then all creation, men and women especially, are ontologically related to him. His logic goes as follows: if Christ in his incarnation represents all humanity, then in his atonement he must represent to the same extent all humanity. Any other view is to separate atonement from incarnation and revert back to an old dualist notion: a ‘schizoid notion of the incarnation’, ibid., p. 246.

[75]  In place of ‘mysticism’ Torrance prefers to speak of ‘intuitive’, non-logical knowing that arises under the constraint of reality upon the mind. See his ‘Intuitive and Abstractive Knowledge: From Duns Scotus to Calvin’, in De Doctrina ioannis Duns scoti. Congressus scotisticus internationalis, ed. Carl Balic (Rome: Societas Internationalis Scotistica, 1968), pp. 291–305. See Myk Habets, ‘Thomas Forsyth Torrance: Mystical Theologian sui Generis’, Princeton Theological Review 14 (2008): pp. 91–104.

[76] Torrance, Theology in Reconstruction, p. 108. Torrance refers the reader to Calvin’s Commentaries on Romans (5.12), and 1 Corinthians (15.45); and his sermons on Job (14.1–2; 33.1–2; and 39.8–9).

[77]  Ibid., p. 109.


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