Effectual Call Or Causal Effect? Summons, Sovereignty And Supervenient Grace -- By: Kevin J. Vanhoozer

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 49:2 (NA 1998)
Article: Effectual Call Or Causal Effect? Summons, Sovereignty And Supervenient Grace
Author: Kevin J. Vanhoozer

Effectual Call Or Causal Effect?
Summons, Sovereignty And Supervenient Grace

Kevin J. Vanhoozer


Classical theism is in danger of being overthrown by the current revolution in theological paradigms. The doctrine of the effectual call affords a good case study of the broader God/world relation: if God’s call and divine action in general are interventions, then grace appears ultimately to be a matter of efficient causality—an impersonal relation. Panentheists argue that God need not intervene in the world because the world is in God and, therefore, is open to his general call. On the panentheistic analogy, God is to the world as the mind is to the brain, and divine grace, like the mind, does not intervene but ‘supervenes’ on the world, God’s body. It is not clear, however, whether God’s personal agency can be preserved in this model. Rethinking the doctrine of the effectual call in terms of ‘speech acts’ suggests a new picture for the God/world relation, where the Spirit ‘advenes’ on the Word to bring about not an impersonal but a uniquely personal effect: understanding.

I. Introduction: Theism In Crisis

1. Two Types Of Systematic Theology

Assumptions about the way God relates to the world lie behind every doctrine in systematic theology. The decision one makes as to how to conceive this relation is arguably the single most important factor in shaping one’s theology. Paul Tillich spoke of two types of philosophy of religion to distinguish two ways of approaching God: by way of meeting a stranger, and by way of overcoming estrangement.1 The first, or cosmological way, conceives of God as a personal being who

can interact (or not) with the world. The second, or ontological way, conceives of the world as always/already existing ‘in’ God.

Christian theologians are today faced with a similar choice between ‘theism’ and ‘panentheism’. It may be only a slight exaggeration to say that we are in the midst of a paradigm revolution, but it is clear that the traditional doctrine of God (i.e., classical theism) is in crisis. Theologians of various denominational stripes, liberal and conservative, faced with the choice for or against classical theism, are increasingly abandoning ship.2

Such is the broad canvas on which I wish to apply some initial brushwork, though for the most part I shall confine my attention to a small corner only. While I am interested in these rival pictures of the God/world relation, my focus will be on saving grace. I shall therefore examine that Benjamin...

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