Torrance on Predestination

I spent the morning listening to an audio of a lecture by Thomas Torrance where he said Limited Atonement (and by implication the Calvinistic interpretation of election and predestination) was a heresy. When he said this I could hear people murmuring and reacting in the background. Anyway, he said some very interesting things, such as – I’m paraphrasing somewhat here – if we interpret predestination according to an Augustinian/Newtonian framework then we are guilty of projecting to God the finite distinctions of our creaturely existence and experience. He was probably referring to our conception of cause and effect, and our experience of linear time. He also said something about predestination being God’s “Yes” and not his “No” to man, and that if ever someone turns out later to be damned it would have to be because he somehow said “No” to God’s “Yes.” I really didn’t find this satisfying because then it makes God’s decision ultimately dependent on our decision. I understand God’s predestination in Rom. 8:29-30 as ultimately winning the day, i.e., all the predestined will be ultimately glorified, without any of them being lost. I seem to hear Torrance saying that it is possible for the predestined to reject their predestination and miss their predestined destination!

Anyway, I found very interesting the discussion about the “error” of thinking in Augustinian/Newtonian terms (i.e., linear logic and linear time). I wonder what kind of framework he would suggest in its place? It’s true enough that God inhabits eternity – a realm beyond and before time where the laws of physics and time as we know it probably do not apply. In that case, we are dealing with an incomprehensible concept which for all that may be a real plane of existence, but from which we are separated by an “infinite qualitative distance” – whatever that means! Anyway, it seems to me that despite this infinite qualitative distance and difference between us creatures and God the Creator, he nevertheless made us in his image, and our reason/logic though finite (and fallen and, hopefully, after that, regenerate!) nevertheless operates in a way that is not unlike his (even if God thinks intuitively in one sweep of comprehensive-intuitive eternal thought, instead of chronologically and consecutively). In other words, the attribution of cause and effect (especially in relation to predestination) to God’s mind is in some sense legitimate – except that we have no way of knowing what the the precise nature of the connections are between said cause and effect, considering that linear time (which is so necessary to our human conception of cause and effect) does not apply to the realm of eternity. I for my part am content to accept that the Bible teaches God to be the ultimate cause of our faith and decision to freely choose Christ for salvation. But the precise nature of that cause and effect is unknown to me. That is why I do not equate this with the simplistic objection that this is nothing more than determinism or fatalism. It seems to me more of a case of two parallel lines meeting: (a cause in eternity touching an effect in time; these two things do not belong to the same plane but somehow they touch each other). How that works I don’t know. But Phil. 2: 12, 13 might be a clue:

“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.”

Before I forget here’s the link to Torrance’s audio lecture!

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