Before I start writing on an Evangelical Calvinist approach to predestination and election, let us hear from Myk Habets, again. This will help provide a useful outline of sorts for how I want to get into this issue. Here we have Habets introducing T. F. Torrance as a case study in Evangelical Calvinism, especially in consideration of TFT’s view of election. This is important for me, because I take most of my cues from Torrances’ understanding of election — I think he does the best job, that I’ve read thus far, of capturing and articulating scriptures’ communication on this rather delicate subject. So here is Myk, once again:
The doctrine of election is often considered the central dogma of Reformed theology. While this estimation is of course inaccurate, the doctrine of election is important in a Reformed soteriology. Numerous elucidations of election have been offered by Reformed theologians, many of which fall into the category of determinism and sometimes fatalism. This is especially the case in some scholastic presentations of the doctrine. Reacting to this determinacy many believers have adopted a form of Arminianism to explain those passages of Scripture which speak of God’s electing will. For many, an Arminian explanation of election is more compatible with modern sensibilities and with the existential requirements of contemporary people. Calvinism has fallen on hard times in recent years as a result. Instead of defending a classical federal view of election, in which the divine decrees hold pride of place and every other aspect of God’s redemptive plan is drawn from there, what is required is a doctrine which adheres much closer to the presentation of election as it is found in Scripture, and also one which avoids the hard determinacy of the federal Calvinists. In short, what is required is an evangelical Calvinism. Such a position is formulated by Thomas Forsyth Torrance and with critical modifications recommends itself as a viable model of election today.
While election is examined in various places throughout Torrance’s enormous range of publications, characteristically he does not treat this doctrine in any final or systematic way.1 He lays the blame for the doctrine of election occupying pride of place in much Reformed theology at the foot of Protestant scholasticism which, unlike Calvin, raised the decree of predestination to a separate article of Christian theology and came very near to becoming an independent principle (a ‘Denknotwendigkeit’).2 According to Torrance, ‘predestination is not to be understood in terms of some timeless decree in God, but as the electing activity of God providentially and savingly at work in what Calvin called the “history of redemption.”’3 Torrance’s objection against Westminster theology in particular, his appreciation of a version of universal atonement, coupled with his acceptance of much of Barth’s theology require a thorough examination and at times critique. (Myk Habets, “The Doctrine of Election in Evangelical Calvinism: T. F. Torrance as a Case Study,” Irish Theological Quarterly 2008; 73; 334)
A few things of note:
- Notice what Habets highlights, viz. Many “Reformed” attempts to articulate a view of election and predestination have fallen into a fatalism or determinacy.
- Westminster Calvinism (popular advocates could be: John Piper, Mike Horton, John MacArthur [just on his adherence to the 5-points], Carl Trueman, et al) is the primary form of Calvinism that indeed often falls prey to articulating a view of election as fatalistic [viz. the reprobate are damned by decree, with never an opportunity to be “saved”]
- That Westminster Calvinism has come close, if not, to making God subservient to His own decrees (in the Muslim faith this would be called committing the “Sin of Shirk” — meaning that there is something else equal or coeternal with God, that is not God [in the Federal/Westminster Calvinist case this is the placing of the “Decrees of God” behind God, thus making God subservient (determined to be who He is) and God by virtue of “His service to His decrees”]. Yucky.
- An alternative is provided to the above, The Evangelical Calvinist alternative; it is best provided through T. F. Torrance’s very “Reformed,” but counter-proposed version of election and predestination to the opposing view, that we’ve just sketched in the previous points. I hope this enough of a teaser to whet your appetites for more :-).
Stay tuned. Sometimes I fear that when I write things like this, that the people I most want to reach — “regular Christian people” — are immediately turned off. I fear this, because of the material content of what we are trying to dig into; it is not for the faint of heart. So my fear is that folks will try and read this stuff, think that this is “over-my-head,” and immediately retreat back to the safety of their “Westminster Calvinist” (WC) environs. The problem, partially, is, is that many popular ministries, who are WC, just presumptively preach the Bible through their “received” WC lens. Thus W Calvinism, and its categories of teaching and thought, become synonymous with Scripture itself. Hence, when people read the stuff that I am presenting here, which is counter to what their WC ears are accustomed to, there is an immediate defensive posture taken; because any questioning of WC is actually questioning the Gospel and Scripture itself.
I hope, dear reader, that I am not describing you; I hope that you will try to follow along as I clumsily try and introduce you to something that has been a liberating way forward for me. When you read these posts, have your Bible open, and your logical thinking caps on; test what you read here, and see if, at least, it does not sound much more “Biblical” than what you are used to. Anyway, just and editor’s note 😉 . . . carry on.