T.F. Torrance’s Doctrine of Election in 250 Words

In an article dating back to 1949, T.F. Torrance succinctly described the doctrine of election in the following way:

Election means nothing more and nothing less than the complete action of God’s eternal love, that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish but have everlasting life”. It is the eternal decision of God who will not be without us entering time as grace, choosing us Thomas_F._Torranceand appropriating us for Himself, and who will not let us go. Election is the love of God enacted and inserted into history in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, so that in the strictest sense Jesus Christ is the election of God…There is therefore no decree of predestination which precedes this act of grace or goes behind the back of Jesus Christ, for that would be to split the act of God into two, and to divide Christ from God…

The great fact of the Gospel then is this:…God has chosen all men, in as much as Christ died for all men, and because that is once and for all no one can ever elude the election of His love. Inasmuch as no one exists except by the Word of God by whom all things were made and in whom all things consist, and in as much as this is the Word that has once and for all enacted the eternal election of grace to embrace all men, the existence of every man whether he will or no is bound up inextricably with that election—with the Cross of Jesus Christ.[1]

What Torrance articulates here in these few sentences is a distillation of all that Scripture teaches about the eternal will and counsel of God that, according to the apostle Paul is “to unite all things in [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph. 1:10). It is the fruit of Torrance’s conviction that all Scripture ultimately points to Christ – the Word of God made flesh – who is in himself not only the Way and the Life but also the Truth of God embodied. As such, this understanding of election stems from Torrance’s commitment to not interpret Scripture and formulate theology by going, as it were, behind the back of Christ, looking for a will or a work of God that is somehow different, or even contradictory, to that which is clearly revealed in Jesus. To do so would be to make again the foolish request of Philip in John 14:8: “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Like Philip, do we think that we need something other than or apart from Christ himself whereby we can see and know the Father? The response of Jesus to Philip would be the same to us: “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?” (John 14:9-10a).

Since the Father is in Jesus and Jesus in the Father, to see Jesus is to see the Father. To hear Jesus is to hear the Father. To know Jesus and his will is to know the Father and his will. Without distortion. Without remainder. Without differentiation. Without contradiction.

Thus, when we realize that Christ assumed the flesh shared by all human beings (John 1:14; Rom. 8:2; Phil. 2:7; Heb. 2:14) and died an atoning death in that same flesh, we are left with only one possible conclusion: inasmuch as Christ, who is the perfect revelation of the Father, died for all (John 3:16), none can be excluded from the sphere of God’s saving will. Does this mean that all will be saved? No, for although the light of Christ shines on all (John 1:9), not all will come into the light because they love the darkness (John 3:19-20).

As strange as it may sound, Torrance actually wrote this summary of his understanding of election in article with which he aimed to refute the notion of universal salvation! While it may not be immediately evident how this is so (perhaps a topic fit for another post!), it is important to recognize that for Torrance, as should be for us as well, it is more important to be faithful to Scripture and its witness to Christ, whatever may be the paradoxes that result, than to construct a logically-airtight theological system.

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[1] T.F. Torrance, 1947. ‘Universalism or Election?’ in Scottish Journal of Theology, 2(3), pp.314-315.

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2 thoughts on “T.F. Torrance’s Doctrine of Election in 250 Words

  1. Kenneth Ross 28 October 2016 / 02:24

    Not so “strange” as it may seem. It was Tom’s whole point (and Barth’s before him) that one had either a living doctrine of graceous election or a mechanical doctrine of legal universalism. There was no middle ground, no place of refuge from the “either/or.” Certainly a fit topic for another blog.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jonathan Kleis 28 October 2016 / 08:51

      Agreed. Although I know it sounds strange to many! I think that I will indeed follow this with another from the same article.

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