Even Calvinists Can’t Know Everything and Shouldn’t Try

I came across an interesting statement in Thomas F. Torrance’s Scottish Theology that I haven’t quite been able to move past. In the first chapter on “John Knox and the Scottish Reformation,” Torrance points out that the Scots Confession avoided speculation about the Incarnation. My point is not specifically about the Incarnation but about speculation. Before I go further, here’s the quote in context:

The doctrine of the Incarnation is governed throughout by the message of salvation. There was no speculation about whether there would have been an Incarnation if man had not fallen, whether the Incarnation was a necessary act or device or a divine after-thought, or an inevitable event in the relation between God and man. It is the way freely taken by the grace of God in the midst of man’s enmity to God. Although man has separated himself from God, God will not let him go, and sends his own Son to enter into man’s estrangement and to be Immanuel, God with us, in the midst of our existence, God and man perfectly united.

Before I digress here, please take a few moments to mediate on the truth, stated by Torrance so poetically, about the gracious free act of God seeking out sinful man to reconcile humanity to himself.

Although man has separated himself from God, God will not let him go, and sends his own Son to enter into man’s estrangement and to be Immanuel, God with us, in the midst of our existence, God and man perfectly united.

Now, on to my digression.

Torrance’s statement that the Scots Confession avoided speculation and “what ifs” is an indictment against Scholastic Calvinism’s desire to know and have all the answers. I get that Calvin was not writing polemically in the same way the Synod of Dort was, but that Scholastic spirit pervades later Calvinism so deeply that everything became codified and quantified and spelled out.

Infralapsarianism vs. Supralapsarianism, anyone? I’m not joking. When I first heard Geerhardus Vos was in hot water at Calvin College because he was supralapsarian and everyone else was infralapsarian, I almost dropped my teeth. (Don’t believe me? Here’s one source among many you could find.)

This is what happens when we try to peer too deeply into the things of God.

How different from the Church Fathers who were so afraid to go beyond Scripture that refused to say more than that Jesus was “begotten not made.” Why? Because Scripture says “begotten” and we can’t possibly understand more about God than what he has revealed about himself. We know Jesus wasn’t created (hence the “not made” part), but he was “begotten” and we’re afraid that if we go further than that we might go too far. They were willing to preserve some mystery when it comes to God and his works. (I’m oversimplifying, but I’m sure you get my point.)

Calvin himself, however, thought differently than some “young, restless” people who have borne his name. He wasn’t afraid to speak boldly on the things that Scripture made clear. But he also had a healthy respect for the mystery of God and his works.

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About Michael R. Jones

Pastor and PhD candidate writing on Paul's theology of suffering.
This entry was posted in Calvinism, Theology, Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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