[書摘] A Mirror for God and for Us: Christology and Exegesis in Calvin’s Doctrine of Election

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Electing

Source:  DAVID GIBSON, « A Mirror for God and for Us: Christology and Exegesis in Calvin’s Doctrine of Election », International Journal of Systematic Theology Volume 11 Number 4 October 2009, pp.448-465

Excerpt and Summary

Calvin’s exegesis yields a view of Christ’s role in election which may be traced across a spectrum: reaching back into eternity there is the pre-existent Son who is the author of election, the active subject who participates in the decree of election, and there is also Christ the object of the decree, the Elect One, both as the pre-existent Mediator and as the Mediator in time. In his role as the pre-existent Mediator, Christ is the ‘Head’ of the elect, the one in whom certain humans are elected.

Christ the subject of election: The electing God

Concerning the election of Judas, in Jn 6:70 he is one of the chosen; in Jn 13:18 he is not (‘I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen’). For Calvin the sense in which Judas is both chosen and not chosen is because two very different kinds of choosing are on display:

  1. First a temporal election is meant by which God appoints us to any particular work – just like Saul who was elected king.
  2. Then Christ speaks of the eternal election by which we are made God’s children, and by which God predestined us to life before the creation of the world.

For Calvin, the eternally reprobate can actually be adorned with God’s gifts which enable them to carry out their office (like Saul or Judas), but this is entirely different from the sanctification of the Spirit. Christ/God in history plays an active role not just in the temporal choosing of the twelve to the apostolic office (and Israel to be His law-keeper and so on), but also according to his divine nature in the eternal choosing of individuals in a salvific sense.

When it comes to Jn 15:16, 19 (‘You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit’), however, Calvin equivocates between assigning a temporal or an eternal referent to it. He first admits that this passage does not ‘treat of the common election of believers’, by which they are adopted to be God’s children, but of that special election by which he appointed his disciples to the office of preaching the gospel’. But he still wants to affirm the clear parallel between this temporal election and eternal election: both the beginning of salvation (eternal election), and all the parts which flow from it (in this case appointment to the office of preaching), issue from Christ’s free mercy. Christ is the author of both forms of election.

Christ the object of election:

The mediating God-man and preexistent Son; Christ is the object of election in an eternal sense by being the one in whom the elect from the human race are chosen (John 15, 17). Calvin’s description of this love is sharply focused on the economy – it is a love of the Son, but it is a love that must be referred to us. The title of beloved belongs to Christ alone. God loves none but in Christ. For Calvin, it is not that we are chosen by God and, on the basis of that choice, engrafted into Christ’s body; we are too lowly, even in an unfallen state, to merit God’s favor. Rather, God looked upon our head, and predestined the chosen to life only as they were members of Christ. Christ is a mirror in which God looks to see us.

It is vital to note that eternal election is not an end in itself for Calvin, but is merely the structural ground of the temporal work of salvation. For Calvin the title ‘the beloved Son’, at least in election contexts, appears to work not at the level of describing immanent Trinitarian relations, but rather the economic relations of the Father, the Son, and the people who belong to the Son. Christ confirm what the Father has decreed on our salvation by actually effecting it.

Christ the object of our faith, the elected Man and the head/ representative of the Elect.

  • Calvin is most interested in describing Christ as the object of faith. Depictions such as “author of the great blessing” (Jn 6:26) and “author of life (Jn 6:33) are less claims about Christ’s divine essence than they are claims about his office of Mediator in time (Notice in Jn 6:32 . Jesus says that ‘his Father, rather than he himself, is the author of this gift.). 創始成終 is understood as a historical category.
  • There is the closest possible correlation between the work of the Father and the work of the Son. The Father wills salvation in the Son, and this is what the Son has come to achieve. By entering the world to execute the Father’s eternal decree, Christ stands as faith’s object in salvation. Our faith is a response to this Father-Son relation.
  • Faith is the neotic basis for a sufficient knowledge of election. The election of God in itself is hidden and secret. The Lord manifests it by the calling in time.
  • Whoever is not satisfied with Christ but inquires/speculate elsewhere about eternal predestination desires to be saved contrary to God’s purpose. The nuance is that their election is not the only thing that God has decreed for them; he has also decreed their faith [in Christ]. Christ mediates the salvation that flows from eternal election by being the object of the elect person’s faith.
  • To be sure, Christ’s eternal mediation is vitally important, but it is so less because of the knowledge it gives about the trinitarian ground of election and more because of the knowledge it gives of free and certain salvation.

Here Calvin speaks of his second distinction of Eternal and Temporal election: The former may be described as election itself; the latter as the salvation that flows from election.

  • Temporal election: for redemptive purpose in time and sanctification. Election is known in Christ.
  • Eternal election: timeless; sealed by the Holy Spirit and inscribed in the Book of Life. Election is in Christ.

As one inseparable (where time connects with eternity) reality, election and faith are executed separately –election in eternity, calling to faith in time.*

Calvin’s logical timeline of election:

In sum, Calvin begins in eternity with election in Christ. While election is properly described as decreed by the Father, Calvin is clear that Christ also participates in the choosing [of specific individuals that will belong to Him]. As we move along the line and enter the world of created reality, we encounter a universal calling of the gospel which is made effective in the hearts of the elect. Here they come to faith in Christ, and experience regeneration and adoption into God’s family.

【Further Reflection and Critique】

(1)

First, the problem in Calvin’s « faith in time » is that it is a depiction of the cognitive aspects of faith only and falls short of a concrete ecclesial narrative form. Too much weight is given to propositional and forensic account of salvation and too little room is left for collective imagination and praxis.

(2)

The dynamic relationship between the « temporal election for divine office » (e.g., King: Saul; Apostle: Judas; Covenant People: Israel; Judge: Samson) and the « temporal election into salvific faith » is underdeveloped.

Calvin only gives us a positive example where the « apostleship as a divine office » corresponds with the temporal coming to faith, which must be correctly understood as the actualization of the eternal decree. But he does not spell out how temporal election for divine office can aslo correspond to the eternal decree in a non-salvific sense: the forever damnation of Judas and forever loss of Saul.

(3)

Paul Helm thinks that Calvin understands the incarnate Christ as a ‘fit, consistent, or appropriate expression’ of the character of the Logos asarkos (eternal Son in Calvin’s conception) not merely of his omnipotence but also of his moral character. This move is to maintain the continuity between the incarnate Son and the eternal Son. But in this way Eutychism looms in (i.e., the incarnated Jesus only has one nature and it’s all about His divinity). How we maintain the distinction between Jesus two nature while keeping the ontological continuity the incarnated and the eternal One  is the challenge!

On the other hand, Karl Barth and Bruce McCormack’s concern that Calvin’s eternal Son has an ‘identity shrouded in darkness’, though seems to be not completely on target (given Calvin’s commentary on Jn 13:18),  must nonetheless be registered as legitimate. For Calvin’s immanent Trinity gives us a weak Son in terms of dramatic personality. He is the electing God, but beyond this affirmation we could only speculate other things about Him.This is because for Calvin the incarnated Son is a mere temporal expression of who He eternally is and not the other way around.

While the economic Son’s role as object of faith is underscored, how this Logos ensarkos would illumine us about the Logos asarkos is not theologically undergirded in Calvinism.

The doctrine that is traditionally called extra Calvinisticum (Lat. « The Calvinistic beyond/outside ») exposes further issue. It claims that Logos was also outside or beyond the physical body of Christ. This was meant to protect the immanent Trinity from being reduced to immanent “Duality” when the economic Trinity is at work with the creation during Jesus’ 33 years earthly sojourn.

To explain the function of the extra Calvinisticum in Calvin, E.D. Willis puts it in this way: While Logos asarkos mediated the divine ordering of the universe from its beginning, Logos ensarkos performed the reconciling work without the cessation or diminution of his mediation of this divine ordering.

‘[T]he Son of God left heaven only in such a way that he continued to exercise his dominion over it; the Incarnation was the extension of his empire, not the momentary abdication of it’.

But for Willis, Calvin jeopardizes his own stance on Christocentric revelation by prioritizing election as God’s eternal will, which is discoverable by us outside the Christ event itself. If this is true, then incarnation is relegated as extension that is only complementary (rather than integral or comprehensive) to a bigger revelation. Then this “bigger revelation”, while still will commit in prioritizing the Bible over human reason, really could not defend itself from degenerating into Biblicism, dominion theology, and/or natural theology.

Thus, it is on the one hand vital to see Barth’s criticism [though ill-informed] against Calvin’s failure to assign the active subjective role to Christ in election in good terms—both Calvin and Barth want to affirm Christ as the electing God who mediates salvation in His free grace and unconditional love. On the other hand it is also crucial to understand the excruciating problem with Logos asarkos and extra Calvinisticum posited in old metaphysical framework. Nowhere in the Bible do the apostles claim to have knowledge about the preexistent (asarkos or extra) Logos apart from what we may know in Jesus’s own being and revealed words.

By consequence, it makes much better sense to speak of the Logos incarnandus (the Logos ‘to be incarnate) regarding to the passages on the preexistent Son, and this requires us to adopt an actualistic ontology that grounds our Christology in history: the historical Jesus Christ.

 

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