Thursday, August 30, 2007

Goings On

Dear Readers,

I deeply regret that I was unable to bring you your usual installment of ‘Reading Scripture with John Calvin’ yesterday morning, and that my posting frequency has so rapidly declined. However, I now find myself to be in a very interesting transitional period.

Last weekend was spent fulfilling all righteousness with reference to my Summer French course, which concluded (for me) on Tuesday morning. Wednesday morning was spent playing golf, something that I have not been able to do since early June. Wednesday afternoon was spent helping my neighbor move into a new apartment down the hall. This morning is / will be spent gathering some research materials so that I can move toward writing a paper proposal; this afternoon will be spent picking some friends up at the airport. Friday will be spent helping various friends move. Are you beginning to see a trend? :-)

My wife and I will be attending a Wedding this coming weekend which will occupy me until Tuesday. I have various meetings next week, and then the race begins to see how much Robert Jenson, John Calvin, and Paul Tillich I can read (not to mention writing that paper proposal, prepping a paper for submission to a journal, and other sundry tasks) before orientation for my doctoral program begins on September 14th. Add to that my constant desire to stock up on interesting blog fodder, like more installments of ‘Reading Scripture with John Calvin’ – also, look for a mini-series on Wolfhart Pannenberg in the coming month – and I’m swamped.

All of that is to say, my posting will likely be irregular for a couple of weeks. But, of course, I’ll do the best I can.

In the meantime, keep watching my recent post entitled Did the Eternal Son Assume a Fallen Human Nature? Some Reflections. Comments continue to flow in, I am doing my best to respond to them, and I would love to have more people involved. Special thanks to Michael Pailthorpe for spreading the word about this fun discussion.

Also, if you need something to read, check out David Congdon’s current series: on Paul Among the Evangelicals and on Problems in Ecclesiology Today, or head on over to look at John Drury’s review of The Resurrection in Karl Barth, By Robert Dale Dawson.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Francis Turretin’s Ecclesiology: 18.21

Twenty-First Question: The Distinction Between Bishop and Presbyter – Is the episcopate an order or grade of ecclesiastical hierarchy distinct from the presbyterate; and is it superior by divine right? We deny.

Turretin is not concerned here with the notion of bishops as such. What he is concerned about is the notion that bishops posses authority on the basis of divine right as opposed to their being granted temporary custody of authority by a group of equals. Indeed, Turretin ends this section by commenting that while he thinks the presbyterian form of church government is closest to what Christ and the apostles instituted, he is willing to admit for other forms in different places as need for them arises. As long as people grant to him that the presbyterian form is not heretical and not cause for breaking communion between churches, he is happy to allow for other forms of ecclesial government that support the Gospel.

He does, however, offer a number of arguments to undermine the ‘divine right’ version of episcopacy:
  1. “[F]irst, the papal hierarchy has no foundation in the word of God.” (p. 200) It should have been mentioned there if bishops do in fact rule by divine right.

  2. “Second, because bishop and presbyter are everywhere in Scripture taken for one and the same…” (p. 201) Acts 20.28, Philippians 1.1, 1 Timothy 3.2, Titus, 1.5-7, Acts 11.30, Acts 14.23, Acts 15.2, 6, 22, 23.

  3. “Third, we read in Scripture of no ordination of a bishop apart from that of a presbyter.” (p. 202)

  4. “Fourth, Paul in enumerating the various orders of ministers in the church makes no mention of the episcopate.” (ibid) This is a great oversight on Paul’s part if it is as important as the Romansits say.

  5. “Fifth, presbyters as well as bishops received from Christ the same right to the keys of binding and loosing, of retaining and remitting sins by the use of the keys.” (p. 203) Turretin here hits very briefly on the relation between the apostles and their successors and, rightly in my opinion, wants to distinguish between the two.
    “It is gratuitously assumed that bishops are successors of the apostles rather than presbyters. For the apostolic preeminence and power, which depend upon their immediate and extraordinary call, no more admit successors than their infallibility and right of founding the church. In those things which belong to an ordinary ministry, all presbyters are equally successors of the apostles inasmuch as by their calling there belongs equally to them the power of the keys, the preaching of the gospel and administration of the sacraments…” (ibid)
  6. “Sixth, the ancients do not attribute this distinction to divine right, but to human custom.” (p. ibid) Cyprian, Ambrose, Augustine, Ignatius.
At this point Turretin launches into a reconstruction of how it might have happened that ecclesial order developed from a college of presbyters to an episcopate. His reconstruction is an interesting read for someone with a decent level of curiosity and a sense of humor, but it does not need to be recounted here. Turretin moves on to summing up the Roman episcopate, which he divides into three components: ‘something divine,’ ‘something human,’ and ‘something Antichristian.’ Turretin is willing to live with the something human about episcopacy, namely that it is a human development of the originally instituted order, but he wants to reject that which is antichristian about it, namely the prideful and tyrannical way in which the pope and his hierarchy exercise their authority.

N.B. This is the conclusion of my series on Turretin's ecclesiology. An index is available on the serials index page.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Did the Eternal Son Assume Fallen Human Nature? Some Reflections

The question of whether or not the eternal Son assumed a fallen or an un-fallen human nature is one that has long exercised theologians. Lately, thanks in no small part to Karl Barth, there is growing support for the position that the nature assumed was fallen. But, there has also been increased resistance to this idea. I recommend reading David Congdon’s paper proposal dealing with Barth and Oliver Crisp for a brief introduction to these matters.

What goaded me into writing this post was a recent post by Guy Davies over at Exiled Preacher. Therein, Guy reflects briefly on Barth on this matter and declares in favor of the ‘un-fallen human nature’ position. In the first comment on that post, I briefly indicated why this position may not in fact be correct. Guy’s response to that comment convinced me that a more complete treatment is needed.

The following is not by any means exhaustive. Nor does it deal explicitly with the work of Barth or others who have addressed this question. It is simply a collage of my own reflections on the theo-logic of salvation, on Scripture, and on the ‘un-fallen human nature’ position. I can only hope and pray that this will be a helpful exercise.

2 Corinthians 5.21[n1]

Now, to start at the beginning, 2 Corinthians 5.21 makes it clear that Jesus “knew no sin,” and it is a very important part of the theo-logic of redemption that we affirm that Jesus lived a sinless life. That is not up for debate here; I affirm Jesus’ sinless life. However, 2 Corinthians 5.21 goes on to say that God made Christ, who “knew no sin” to be “sin on our behalf.” So, despite the affirmation that Jesus lived a sinless life, he bore our sin. It could be argued that this making Christ to be “sin on our behalf” occurred at the incarnation, thus supporting those who argue for an assumption of fallen human nature. Others could argue that this occurs on the cross, thus maintaining the assumption of un-fallen human nature. Both are too reductionist precisely because the incarnation and the cross cannot be separated. They are mutually basic. You cannot have one without the other. The incarnation moves decisively toward the cross and the cross is the culmination of the incarnation (of course, the resurrection and ascension need to be added to this mix, but you get the idea).

We might be tempted at this point to make a distinction between the universal condition of fallen humanity, namely, the fact that we are all sinners, and unavoidably so, and the fact that we all commit sinful acts. The fallen condition would be addressed by the incarnation and particular sins by the cross. However, this is to move the above mistake one step further back. While we can make this distinction between sinful condition and actual sins, just as we can make a distinction between the incarnation and the cross, there are no actual sins apart from the sinful condition and no sinful condition apart from actual sins, just as there is no incarnation without the cross and no cross without the incarnation. These two are mutually basic as well, and ought not to be separated.

So, what we have at this point is the affirmation that Jesus “knew no sin” and that he was made to be “sin on our behalf.” In other words, Jesus committed no sin and yet bore our sins.

Romans 8.3[n2] and Philippians 2.7[n3]

These two passages are important in this discussion, and therefore I will address them as a sort of ground-clearing exercise. Guy Davies, in the second comment of the aforementioned thread, alludes to the language of these verses, noting that Jesus Christ was found to be in the likeness of a human person, but without sin. The implication is that “likeness” means that Jesus was the same as but also different from us. Romans 8 talks about God “sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh,” the implication being that this ‘sinful flesh’ is a reference to fallen human nature, and the idea of “likeness” being that he looked like us or appeared to be like us, but didn’t ultimately possess this sinful nature.

The problem with this that if you apply this meaning to the idea of “likeness” with consistency, you get in trouble with Philippians 2.7, which when speaking of the incarnation says that Jesus was “made in the likeness of men.” Now, if we say that “likeness” means here that the eternal Son only looked like or appeared to be human, we run headlong into the heresy of Docetism. So, “likeness” here must mean that the eternal Son was like we other human beings in every way. Indeed, kenotic Christologies based on Philippians 2 are devoted to trying to explain how this could be the case. So, how are we to reconcile this with the Romans passage? How are we to reconcile the fact that Jesus was completely human and also completely divine? And not just completely human, but found to be like we other human beings with reference to sinful flesh?

What is Not Assumed is Not Redeemed

What is the theo-logic of salvation? Gregory of Nazianzus got at the heart of it when he wrote that “What is not assumed is not redeemed.” The idea is that if we are to be saved, every facet of our existence has to be united with God so that God can overcome the sin that permeates our entire existence.[n4] This is what God does in the incarnation: the eternal Son takes our entire human existence upon himself and, through living a life of perfect obedience (this is the sinless life bit) to the Father, even to the point of total abandonment by the Father, reconciles humanity to God. Through Christ’s perfect obedience God both reveals how serious a problem sin is and destroys sin.

The question is: How can a fallen human nature be redeemed if it is not assumed? I personally do not think that there is a good answer for how this could be the case. Gregory of Nazianzus was right about this one, in my humble opinion. Of course, I’m not alone in this judgment. Apollinarius was condemned as a heretic on the basis of this principle: he argued that the eternal Son replaced the human mind in Jesus, but others were convinced that if this was so then the human mind could not have been redeemed, and we would still be in our sins.

How Could Jesus Have a Sinful Nature and yet Live a Sinless Life?

Not to sound dismissive, but ask God. One of the things that we learn from Christ is just how serious sin in, namely, that we are all implicated. We exist under a condition of sinfulness, and we commit sins; and because we commit sins, we exist under a condition of sinfulness. This is a cycle that humanity would be hopelessly locked inside, were it not for Christ. Ultimately, this is why it was necessary for God to become human. We human beings are incapable of rendering to God the obedience required of us, so God did it himself. This is the mystery of salvation.

Is it really so much harder to imagine this possibility than it is to imagine the incarnation itself?

Implications of the Sinless Human Nature Position

There seem to be some things lurking behind the scenes of the position that Christ assumed and un-fallen human nature. Here is some of what I see:

The Person and Work of Christ

Above I toyed with the idea of separating the incarnation from the cross, and the condition of sin under which we live and actual sins that we commit. There I affirmed that though we can distinguish between these two things, we cannot separate them because they are mutually basic. It seems to be that separating these things is precisely what the ‘un-fallen human nature’ position is up to. But, to do this is to separate Christ’s person (incarnation) from his work or benefits (cross). With the likes of Torrance[n5], Barth[n6], Calvin and Luther (to name but a few), I reject this idea. To separate Christ’s person from his works is to imply that the person was simply a means to the end of his works. Thus, Christ is viewed as acquiring some kind of merit (paying a debt, etc) that is applied / imputed to us. I think that the more responsible position is to keep Christ’s person and work together, affirming that we are saved by the person of Christ through his saving work, who redeemed the sinful condition of human existence by rendering the perfect obedience that we could not supply. Through being united to Christ, we partake in this redemption. Salvation has to do not with external legal relations, but with internal spiritual ones.

Bad Physiology

Also lying behind the ‘un-fallen human nature’ position is an antiquated notion of how it could be that actual sins translate into a universal condition of sinfulness. The patristics believed that inside every sperm cell resided a miniature but fully developed human being. This cell, when deposited into a woman’s womb, would grow until it was of a suitable size to survive external to the mother, and was born. The woman added nothing to the child, simply providing a place for it to safely grow. Sin, it was argued, is passed ‘genetically’ from father to child. This was thought to be the point of Jesus’ virgin birth, namely, that since no man was involved, no sin was involved.

Of course, today we know that this is ridiculous. The sperm cell must unite with the egg in order to form a zygote which develops on the basis of the combined DNA of mother and father. Genetically, mother and father have an equal role in the production of a child. You could push the above lunacy back a further step and simply claim that the ‘sin gene’ is carried by the sperm cell, but this is simply stupid.

Sinful Human Nature?

While most of us would recognize this point, it cuts deeply because our conception of a ‘sinful nature’, especially in the West, is subtlety linked with biology. That is why it seems to make sense to us to say that Jesus’ human nature was not sinful: there existed biologically at one time a human being (Adam) who had not yet sinned, Christ simply bypassed the biological development subsequent to that first sin (I will leave to the side questions of Genesis interpretation at this point). But, as I have pointed out above, this ‘biological’ or ‘genetic’ view of sinful human nature is absurd. We would do better to think in terms of a universal condition of sin that covers all aspects of human existence (N.B. that the technical definition of a 'nature', namely, that it is a catalog of properties shared by each member of a class, avoids the 'biological' conception and fits well with my notion of a universal condition of sin). In other words, we are trapped within a system defined by sin, and this means that sin is unavoidable for us. We are born as sinners (into this universal condition of sin) and we all commit actual sins.

The difference with Christ is his perfect obedience, not the fact that he was born outside of the universal condition of sin for, as we have seen, if that universal condition of sin is not assumed by Christ, it is not redeemed and we are still governed by it, even if our actual sins are taken care of by some merit obtained by Christ.
[n1] - 2 Corinthians 5:20-21: Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

[n2] - Romans 8:1-4: Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

[n3] - Philippians 2:1-11: Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

[n4] - Thomas F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ, 39 - "Perhaps the most fundamental truth which we have to learn in the Christian Church, or rather relearn since we have suppressed it, is that the Incarnation was the coming of God to save us in the heart of our fallen and depraved humanity, where humanity is at its wickedest in its enmity and violence against the reconciling love of God. That is to say, the Incarnation is to be understood as the coming of God to take upon himself our fallen human nature, our actual human existence laden with sin and guilt, our humanity diseased in mind and soul in its estrangement or alienation from the Creator. This is a doctrine found everywhere in the first five centuries, expressed again and again in the terms that the whole man had to be assumed by Christ if the whole man was to be saved, that the unassumed is unhealed, or that what God has not taken up in Christ is not saved."

[n5] - Thomas F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ, 63 - "Since in Jesus Christ God himself has come into our human being and united our human nature to his own, then atoning reconciliation takes place within the personal Being of the Mediator. In Jesus Christ the Creator Word and Son of God incarnate, his Person and his Work are one. What he does is not something separate from his personal Being and what he is in his own incarnate Person is the mighty Act of God’s love for our salvation. Christ and his Gospel belong ontologically and inseparably together, for that is what he is, he who brings, actualizes and embodies the Gospel of reconciliation between God and man and man and God in his own Person. In him the Incarnation and Atonement are one and inseparable..."

[n6] - cf. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV/1, 122-128.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Reading Scripture with John Calvin: 1 Peter 3.1-4

1 Peter 3.1-4

[1] Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, [2] when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. [3] Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. [4] Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.



I’m afraid that this is one of the times when I feel the need to both defend Calvin and make excuses for him. As much as I would love to be able to say that Calvin was a feminist a few hundred years before anyone else really was, I cannot. Of course, this is the same kind of thing that we must remember with reference to the writers of the biblical text. We must judge them in light of their cultural situation, and not in light of our own. With reference once again to Calvin, it should be noted that despite what he may say in certain texts such as this, he really had a rather robust view of the male-female relationship in marriage, a relationship that he saw as full of reciprocity, tenderness, and love (in all the best senses of the word). If you want to get a taste of that, I recommend Calvin’s commentary on Genesis.

This material naturally divides into two portions: first, the material having to do with influencing husbands; and, second, the bit having to do with jewelry, hairstyles and how women dress. What Calvin fixates on in the first section is the notion that wives might win their husbands to Christ without words. He points out that what Peter means is that wives can do much “to prepare their husbands, without speaking to them on religion, to embrace the faith of Christ.”

The second section is, admittedly, the one with the embarrassing quotes. Here is one: “wives are to adorn themselves sparingly and modestly: for we know that they are in this respect much more curious and ambitious than they ought to be” (italics are mine). But, does this mean that absolutely no adornment and, what is more, absolutely no clothing is permitted to the Christian? Calvin’s intense commitment to the notion of moderation means that one need not worry about him being too extreme on these issues (cf. Calvin’s Institutes 3.19 for his treatment of Christian freedom). Calvin breaks down these questions into their various parts, and identifies the focus of the passage on the evil of vanity (not without an embarrassing phrase or two): “Peter did not intend to condemn every sort of ornament, but the evil of vanity, to which women are subject.”

So, what of the clothing question? “Two things are to be regarded in clothing, usefulness and decency; and what decency requires is moderation and modesty.” This makes a lot of sense. When wearing clothes, we need to think about wearing things that make sense for what we will be doing in those clothes, and we need to be decent with reference to our cultural standards. And, with reference to decency, we need to be modest (again, I would say – and I think that I could make the case for continuity with Calvin – that this refers to cultural standards) and moderate. The talk of moderation here is the bit that directly has to do with vanity. One should not dress in order to feed one’s ego. Of course, we would argue (and I suspect that Calvin would also) that this refers to both men and women; it is a shame that Calvin thinks it applies especially to women in any essential (and not a culturally conditioned) sense.

NB: For anyone who is looking for a good exegetical resource on women in the New Testament, I recommend Craig Keener’s Paul, Women and Wives: Marriage and Women’s Ministry in the Letters of Paul. It only covers Paul, but it is excellent and the patterns established in the Pauline letters (household codes, etc) carry over into the sort of passage that we have here in 1 Peter.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Barth and the Writing of the Barmen Declaration

George Hunsinger (Ed), For the Sake of the World: Karl Barth and the Future of Ecclesial Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004), 209.

This from John Godsey, who reports the story that Barth told him about the writing of the Barmen Declaration:
…they appointed three persons to work on a common theological declaration for the meeting. These were Thomas Breit, a Lutheran from Bavaria; Hans Asmussen, a Lutheran from the Old Prussian Union; and Karl Barth, a representative of the Reformed. Breit wrote the other two to meet him at a hotel in Frankfurt, where they could work out the declaration together. This they did, and during the morning they outlined the six points they wanted to make and decided on their plan of action. They would eat lunch at the hotel, then each go to his room and work out his own statement concerning the six areas, beginning at two and ending at five o’clock. Then they would come together at five, compare what each had written, and work out a common statement based on their three contributions.

Lunch arrived, and it was a fairly heavy one, served with wine, and afterward there was coffee and liqueur and big black cigars. Then they went to their separate rooms. Barth ordered more coffee to be sent to his room and set to work, writing the whole declaration as it now stands, Bible quotations and all, between two and five…At five o’clock there was a knock at the door. Asmussen entered and sheepishly explained that he had fallen asleep and slept the whole time. A bit later Breit came and exclaimed, “Oh! Ich habe geschlaffen!” (Oh, I went to sleep!). Both the Germans had lain down for their afternoon nap, a custom in Germany, had overslept, probably because of the wine and liqueur, and came with blank sheets of paper, whereas Barth, not accustomed to the nap, had written the Barmen Declaration! The other two men readily accepted his work, and thus it was that the Swiss Reformed theologian ended up writing the declaration or confession for the most important synod during the Church Struggle. Sometime later Asmussen made a special trip to Bonn to ask Barth if he could make a small addition to point 2, and Barth said, “Sure!” The words, as translated into English, are these: “Through him (Christ) befalls us a joyful deliverance from the godless fetters of this world for a free, grateful service to his creatures.” Barth’s comment on the whole affair was the following: “Church history is probably full of queer incidents like this!”


Monday, August 20, 2007

Francis Turretin’s Ecclesiology: 18.15

Fifteenth Question – Are the evangelical and Reformed churches true churches of Christ? We affirm.

Turretin begins this section by stating that if anyone wants to know why the ‘evangelical and Reformed’ churches are true churches, they need only apply the ‘rule of opposites’ to the preceding discussion of the Roman church. But, finally, the reason is that “there is nothing in it not founded upon the word of God and which was not instituted and delivered by Christ and the apostles.” (p. 137) Turretin gets going rhetorically in this section, and I thought that I would reproduce a good chunk of his text so that you, gentle reader, would be able to enjoy it. Also, this bit of text touches on many of Turretin’s primary concerns:
“Our religion [‘evangelical’ or ‘Reformed’ Christianity] is that which is wholly occupied with knowing the one and triune God, the Creator, preserver and Redeemer, and rightly worshiping him according to his command. It gives the entire glory of our salvation to God alone and writes against man alone the true cause of his sin and destruction. It is our religion which recognizes no other rule of faith and practice besides the sacred Scriptures; no other Mediator and head of the church than Christ; no other propitiatory sacrifice than his death; no other purgatory than his blood; no other merit than his obedience; no other intercession than his prayers. It is our religion which teaches that God alone is to be adored and invoked and does not allow the glory and the religious worship due to him to be transferred to creatures. It is our religion which depresses man as much as possible by taking away from him all presumption of his own strength and merits; and raises him to the highest point by preaching that the grace and mercy of God is the one only cause of salvation, both as to acquisition and as to application. It is our religion which proclaims war against all vices, recommends all virtues and presses the necessity of holiness and good works unto salvation; places piety and worship, not in bodily exercises, which are of little advantage…but in worship in spirit and truth, consisting in a pure heart, a good conscience, faith unfeigned, love and the practice of good works. It is our religion which brings solid peace and consolation to the soul of the believer in life and in death by the true confidence which it orders him to place, not in the uncertainty and vanity of his own righteousness or human satisfactions, but in the sole mercy of God and most perfect righteousness of Christ, which, applied to the heart by faith, takes away doubt and distrust and ingenerates a vivid persuasion of salvation after this life. It is our religion which not only does not forbid the reading of the sacred Scriptures as dangerous, but commands it as most useful and highly necessary; which does not wish sacred things to be gone through with a foreign tongue by which the wretched people do not understand God speaking and are held in ignorance the furthest removed from the mysteries; but commends the use of the common tongue known to all that she may consult for the edification and instruction of all. It is our religion which imposes upon all the obedience due to superior powers and thinks that not without great wickedness and sacrilegious audacity can any moral person arrogate to himself the power of deposing kings and absolving subjects from their oath of fidelity. It is our religion which, content with the two sacraments instituted by Christ (baptism and the Supper), rejects all others as inventions of human genius. It recognizes the true, spiritual and sole saving presence of Christ in the Supper and cannot admit the bodily and Capernaitic presence by which God is believed to be not only made by man but also to be eaten, as opposed to sense, reason and faith and full of ten thousand contradictions. Now what falsity or impiety can be discovered in all these things? On the other hand what can be found which does not breathe truth and sincerity and agree with the word of God and the spirit of Christianity?” (p. 139-40)
This lengthy paragraph sets things out in terms of differences between Turretin’s churches and the Roman church. But, he goes on to note that, for the most part, the argument with Rome is not that Rome thinks all this is false, but that Rome adds to it. The argument is about the exclusivity of these things. As Turretin puts it:
“It is confirmed from this – that our whole controversy with the Romanists is not about these affirmative articles, which the Catholic church in all ages has constantly taught and Rome herself also now receives and professes; but about negative and exclusive articles which she thrusts forth to us as necessary to be believed – we, however, constantly reject them as false and erroneous. For example, the question between us is not whether the Scripture is the divinely inspired word of God, the rule of faith and practice (which is our belief and which they themselves also admit); but whether besides the Scriptures there are unwritten traditions to be received with equal affection of piety and reverence as a rule of faith (which they maintain and we deny). It is not disputed whether Christ is our Mediator with God and his death a propitiatory sacrifice for our sins (which is confessed on both sides); but whether besides Christ there are other mediators, whether of redemption or of intercession, and whether besides the sacrifice of the cross, any other truly propitiatory sacrifice must be admitted (which they hold and we reject). It is not controverted whether God is to be worshiped and adored (concerning which we both agree); but whether besides God we lawfully may and ought to worship and invoke creatures. The question is not whether Christ is the head of the Church (which is asserted on both sides); but whether besides Christ the pope is also a secondary head (which is their error, to which we are opposed). Finally, not to mention more heads, it is not disputed whether we are justified by faith apprehending the merit of Christ (which we hold with the Scriptures); but whether we are justified also by works (which they urge and we repudiate).” (p. 140-1)
Turretin goes on to refute nine counter-arguments against the evangelical and Reformed churches:
  1. Crime of Schism: Counter; (1) not all separations are schisms / evil, (2) it is not the same thing to separate from the Roman church and to separate from the true church, (3) infallibility is granted to no single visible church and therefore separation from Rome is not a sin.

  2. The Reformation is New: Counter; the people are new but the doctrine is old. The Reformation is a purging of error, not an innovation.

  3. Reformation is false because there is a defect in the calling and mission of its ministry: Counter; (1) this is presumed but not true, (2) there is such a thing as an extraordinary call especially in times when reform is needed, (3) correct teaching is more important than having an ordinary call, etc.

  4. The Reformation has internal disagreements: Counter; not in essential matters.

  5. The lives of some of the Reformers we full of vices: Counter; (1) truth does not depend on leading a sinless life, (2) the Pharisees and Sadducees used the same argument against Christ and it didn’t work then, (3) the reformers were not perfect but fallible humans like the rest of us but reports of their sins are greatly exaggerated, (4) the Romanists are far worse.

  6. The Reformation is violent: Counter; “As from the beginning, it was founded not with arms, but by the preaching of the word alone and by the blood of the apostles and the sufferings of the martyrs.” (p. 144) Besides, the papacy is worse.

  7. The Reformation has given rise to confusion: Counter; not concerning doctrine but only because of some rebellious and silly people.

  8. The Reformation has given rise to independence in church and state: Counter; obedience is important and only those who wish to live free of the magistracy should be considered as agitators for independence.

  9. Fanaticism and Libertinism: Counter; all those crazy sects shouldn’t be associated with the evangelical and Reformed churches.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Gerhard Forde's 'On Being a Theologian of the Cross'

Gerhard O. Forde, On Being a Theologian of the Cross: Reflections on Luther's Heidelberg Disputation, 1518 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997)

The title of this work says it all. This book is not about how to do theology of the cross, it is about being a theologian of the cross. And this distinction makes all the difference. Basically, this book is made up of Gerdard Forde’s commentary on Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation, as the sub-title states. Through his commentary, Forde explicates what may be Martin Luther’s most profound theological contribution, theologia crucis, the Theology of the Cross. One quote from Forde sums up the work as a whole, “A theologian of the cross says what a thing is,” (p. x). While this may seem odd, especially since many view theology as being quite abstract and not concerned with concrete “things” at all, the oddity is exactly the point. Forde recognizes a need in the theology of our time to focus once again on how we write and speak. Language is one of his concerns, and Forde feels compelled to bear witness against its improper use. For Forde, “The theology of the cross…provides the theological courage and conceptual framework to hold language in place” (ibid.).

What is it about theologia crucis that provides courage and conceptual framework? That question gets to the very heart of the earlier distinction about being a theologian of the cross. Being a theologian of the cross means seeing the world a certain way, “what Luther came to call looking at things through the suffering of the cross,” (p. xii). Fur Luther, the cross represented God’s full frontal attack on, and defeat of, humanity’s sin. A large portion of that sin has to do with pride, especially theological pride or Theology of Glory. Theology of Glory is the natural mode of human theology. Humanity thinks that it knows how to think and speak about God and/or how to identify and deal with sin. But in the cross, God showed humanity that we had it figured all wrong and that nothing we can do is able to deal with sin and nothing we can say is able to define God. It is then the theologian’s recognition of her position as agent acted upon by God in the cross that provides courage, for the theologian knows that she is but a witness to what God has done. The conceptual framework then has much to do with suffering – with the suffering savior and suffering humanity.

No short excursion such as this can even begin to communicate the depth of insight waiting to be gained from Forde’s study of the Heidelberg Disputation found in this book. The theologia crucis touches every part of life and theology and thus even Forde’s book is only a start. But, it is a very good start.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Reading Scripture with John Calvin: 1 Peter 2.24-25

1 Peter 2.24-25

[24] “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” [25] For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

*NB: Quotes are from Isaiah 53



Calvin comments on these three extraordinary verses in the space of three pages, but in that time he touches on some central themes in Christian soteriology and even manages to quibble a bit with the Roman Catholics of his day, whom he here calls “the Sophists in their schools.” From these verses Calvin extracts three primary points. First, “Christ by his death has given us an example of patience.” Calvin seems to be drawing upon the preceding verses for this meaning. Second, “by his death he restored us to life” for which reason “we ought cheerfully to follow his example.” Third, we find an explanation of the reason why Christ died, namely, that we “being dead to sins, ought to live to righteousness.”

The phrase that Calvin translates as “Who his own self bare our sins” becomes important, and here Calvin addresses the atonement. It should be noted that Calvin speaks of imputation and substitution, but – and here we must trust to the editor a bit more than I would like – Calvin consistently decides in favor of expiation over propitiation. As some of you may know, the former reforms more properly to the removal of sin while the latter refers more properly to the satisfaction of some controlling consideration – God’s wrath in the case of the atonement. Thus, on the basis of this text, it would be incorrect to call Calvin a supporter of the penal substitutionary understanding of the atonement. However, Calvin goes not to speak in more penal substitutionary terms: “we are reconciled to God on this condition, because Christ made himself before his tribunal…as one guilty for us, that he might suffer the punishment due to us” and, later, “not only guilt was imputed to him, but…he also suffered its punishment…” Of course, because Calvin is such a nimble thinker, these moves resolve in this very sentence back to the previous position: ““not only guilt was imputed to him, but…he also suffered its punishment, that he might thus be an expiatory victim.”

It should be noted in passing that one of the great achievements of Karl Barth mature doctrine of the atonement (Church Dogmatics IV/1) is that he maintains both concepts (expiation and propitiation) but orders them such that propitiation exists only secondarily and in service of expiation, that is, God’s wrath serves God’s love.

Now, Calvin manages to mix it up a bit with the Roman Catholics of his day on the question of whether Christ took care of our deserved guilt and punishment, or just the guilt while the punishment bit is up to us to take care of. It is easy to see from some of the quotes above that Calvin thinks that Christ took care of both. What sort of import these distinctions have for Protestant / Roman Catholic dialogues these days is beyond my ken, but I would love to be enlightened.

Of course, Calvin is always concerned with ethics. The point of our reconciliation to God is that we might live holy lives. Indeed, that is the point of our dieing to sin. Those of you who know some Reformed theology will recognize the theme of mortification, and Calvin uses that word. This mortification to sin is a benefitia Christi: “there is power in Christ’s death to mortify our flesh,” indeed, “the death of Christ is efficacious for the expiation of sins, and also for the mortification of the flesh.” It is this increasing mortification that lies at the heart of the Reformed notion of sanctification. But, it must be noted that this increasing mortification is not something that we accomplish, but is the fruit of Christ’s work on our behalf and in us through the power of the Holy Spirit.

This marks the end of 1 Peter chapter 2. We have now covered 95 pages of Calvin’s commentaries. That seems like quite a milestone to me! We have about another 60 pages to go in 1 Peter. Feel free to e-mail me with suggestions for which of Calvin’s commentaries to tackle next!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

TF Torrance on John Knox on the Ascension

Thomas F. Torrance, Scottish Theology: From John Knox to John McLeod Campbell (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1996), 22-23.
The resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ means the final completion of our salvation in the objective sense, for Christ alone among his brethren possesses glory, honour and prerogative till all his enemies be made his footstool, which we undoubtedly believe they will be at the final judgment…In consummation of all this the Lord Jesus will return visibly as he was seen to ascend, when the time of refreshing and restitution of all things will come, and all God’s promises will be fulfilled. But the ascension implies two other things:

(1) The suspension of final judgment until Christ comes again. Christ alone possesses all power and glory. He possess [sic] that in our name, but he has withdrawn himself visibly from us, until he comes again. The full execution of his judgment and salvation is therefore yet to come. That leaves the world throughout the ages time for repentance and for faith. This is therefore the age of grace, the age when Christ will enlarge his Kingdom, which he does by pouring fourth his Spirit, withholding his final bodily presence which would mean the final judgment. The Spirit convicts the world of sin, righteousness and judgment, and acts upon the Church making its members to participate in the life of the resurrection, and leading them into all truth…

(2) The ascension also means that Christ’s Person, with his presence in power and glory, is withdrawn from our sight, so that we are sent back to contemplate him, not primarily by the mystery of his Being in eternity, but as Jesus who was born, lived, and taught, was crucified and rose again. Christ deliberately withdrew himself from our sight so that our minds might be sent back to the Cross. And as we turn to the Gospel testimony of the Cross, the Holy Spirit is poured out upon the Church, and makes that testimony the Word of our salvation. There is no way to Jesus, no contact with the risen Lord, but by way of the crucified – no theologia gloriae but first a theologia crucis and then on that basis a sursum corda following the movement of the ascension. Hence the Eucharist rises us up in thanksgiving from the Cross to the Heavenly Session of Christ our Mediator and High Priest at the right hand of Power. It is at the Eucharist where our participation in the crucified, risen and ascended Christ is unceasingly renewed, that we learn to live as those whose life is hid with Christ in God, and who here and now enjoy ‘that blessed society which we the members have with our Head and our only Mediator Christ Jesus’.
[NB: The quotation at the end is taken from the Scots Confession, article 11.]

Monday, August 13, 2007

Karl Barth Reading Group - Week 6

This is the final installment of the Karl Barth Reading Group notes. You can expect future installments if and when the group reconvenes.

§ 7. The Word of God, Dogma and Dogmatics

Dogmatics is the critical question about dogma, i.e., about the Word of God in Church proclamation, or, concretely, about the agreement of the Church proclamation done and to be done by man with the revelation attested in Holy Scripture. Prolegomena to dogmatics as an understanding of its epistemological path must therefore consist in an exposition of the three forms of the Word of God as revealed, written, and preached.

1) The Problem of Dogmatics

Dogmatics arises in response to the question of whether the human activity of proclamation is also obedience, and for this reason dogmatics judges proclamation. The criterion of this judgment is Scripture as the “concrete form of the Word of God.” This criterion is not to be replaced by any other for if it is, dogmatics becomes something other than dogmatics, and the church is left to depend upon its own resources. A fine print section suggests that, in different ways, this is the failing of both Roman Catholicism and the Protestant Modernism. (248-259)

Scripture’s superiority to other would be criterions of dogmatics and proclamation cannot be proven, for to prove it one must appeal to an even higher criterion, which would defeat the whole point. Scripture’s superiority cannot even be proved by the existence of faith, because what we assume is faith “might even be God-forsaken unbelief.” Thus, we can only bear witness and point to this criterion, which is itself a witness. Ultimately, “We can say no more than this, that the Bible can answer for itself in this matter.”[1] (259-265)

Dogmatics, then, is not the science of dogmas but of dogma. The former has to do with authoritative theological expression, the latter has to do with that which gives rise to these expressions, namely, the Word of God. Dogmas are never anything more than human expressions, even though they are especially significant expressions. The dogmas formulated by the church “can and should guide dogmatics. But [they] cannot seek to be the dogma which is the goal of dogmatics…[because dogmatics] aims at the truth of revelation.” Dogmatics is, in this sense, an “eschatological concept,” for the truth at which dogmatics aims is never captured in the theological expression given to it by humans. (265-269)

Dogmatics is not to be undertaken for the sake of mere theory. We are concerned in theology with the correspondence of theological formulation to objective reality, but not in an abstract way. Thus, dogmas do not carry the force of divine command but human command. What dogmatics is primarily concerned about is human obedience to the command of God. “We pursue dogmatics because, constrained by the fact of the Bible, we cannot shake off the question of the obedience of Church proclamation. The question of its obedience includes that of its truth. But the question of its truth can be put only as the question of its obedience.” (269-275)

2) Dogmatics as a Science

What it means for dogmatics to be a science is “responsibility to its object and to the task imposed by this object.” There are regular and irregular forms of dogmatics. Regular dogmatics is concerned with “the completeness appropriate to the special task of the school of theological instruction.” The human reality of the church requires such theology. Irregular dogmatics lacks this concern for completeness and consists more in “free discussion of the problems that arise for Church proclamation.” Both sorts of dogmatics must be open and attentive to each other, indeed, they must learn from each other. (275-278)

What Barth is on about, however, is regular dogmatics, an unapologetically so: “Nothing that can claim to be truly of the Church need shrink from the sober light of ‘scholasticism’…Fear of scholasticism is the mark of a false prophet.” There are three things required of scientific dogmatics: (1) it must be concerned with church proclamation, for it is itself preparation for proclamation, (2) is must not merely exposit but must critique and correct proclamation,[2] (3) it must ask about how church proclamation matches the revelation witnessed to by Scripture. Indeed, “Dogmatic work stands or falls by whether the standard by which Church proclamation is measured is the revelation attested in Holy Scripture.” Barth goes on to discuss Scripture as this measure, especially in relation to culture. He concludes this section by noting that dogmatics is only a program to the extent that it is a calling, which means that although dogmatics must make judgments, these judgments are only provisional. “[W]e can only make, as it were, a judgment for the moment, for to-day, and tomorrow we must give another hearing.” Still, “What finally counts is whether a dogmatics is scriptural.” (278-287)

3) The Problem of Dogmatic Prolegomena

Although the criterion of dogmatics has been discussed, the ‘path of knowledge’ it pursues has not, that is, how proclamation is to be measured by Scripture. Three things must be done in this regard: (1) a doctrine of Scripture must be proffered, (2) a doctrine of church proclamation must likewise be explicated, (3) but, decisively, an account of the Word of God as that which is revealed and to which Scripture and proclamation bear witness must be put forth. This cannot be a general account of revelation, but “the concrete concept of revelation which the Bible attests…the epiphany of Jesus Christ.” Ultimately, this means a discussion of the doctrine of the Trinity. Because he is no longer concerned with the forms but with their inner and mutual relations, Barth will now follow the ontological order (revelation, Scripture, proclamation) rather than the epistemological order (proclamation, Scripture, revelation) pursued in §4.

[1] This is very similar to Calvin’s notion of Scripture as self-authenticating. Cf. his Institutes, 1.7.

[2] Barth elaborates: “[T]he question is put here too, and must be answered by every dogmatics, whether dogmatics is a part of Church history or of information about the present-day Church, or whether it is itself a part of the Church’s action.” It seems as though Barth is distancing himself from Schleiermacher’s tack as set-forth in the latter’s Brief Outline on the Study of Theology.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Recommended Reading Meme

David tagged me, and so I am obliged by the etiquette rules of theo-blogdom to offer you, dear readers, a short list of books that have influenced me greatly or to which I find myself frequently returning.
  1. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Battles / McNeil edition)

  2. Calvin’s Institutes will make you a theologian. Giving sustained attention to Calvin for some reason other than declaring him unenlightened is frowned upon in some circles; giving sustained attention to Calvin because he pushes one to grapple with issues at a more fundamental level than does much conservative theology is frowned upon in some others. Nevertheless, he deserves and rewards careful study and, if nothing else, will give you an example of the marriage of biblical, pastoral and ‘systematic’ theology.

  3. Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology: An Introduction

  4. This was the first of Barth’s many books that I read, and I have read it numerous times since then. It never fails to cast new light on the many subjects that it addresses or on the thought and commitments of its author.

  5. Thomas F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ

  6. David has this book on his list, and he is certainly right. It belongs on any such list. Torrance has provided in this short volume an excellent analysis of the gospel, Jesus Christ. If the combined force of David’s and my own recommendations is not enough for you, check out Torrance’s discussion of evangelism and how to preach the gospel.
I feel like I’m coping out by only mentioning three books, one of which David mentioned himself, but I must be excused because this is a bit repetitive. For more recommendations, check out my Amazon list entitled “A theological library for the Christian in the pew”, which highlights and comments on 9 books (including the three above).

Ah, yes. And now to tag some other unfortunates. Matt, John, Shane, Andy, and Michael.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Reading Scripture with John Calvin: 1 Peter 2.21-23

1 Peter 2.21-23

[21] To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. [22] “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” {Isaiah 53.9} [23] When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.



In the few pages of commentary connected to this passage we find something of the non-violent Calvin. That Calvin could express sentiments like those we find here is an incredible thought for many people, especially if they have stumbled upon the defamatory literature on the web concerning Calvin and Servetus (most of which is riddled with historical inaccuracies, btw). But, we must remember to make an important distinction between what Christians are to willingly bear in patience for the sake of the gospel, what the civil government has responsibilities for, and what citizens of a Christian polis have recourse to. That is, should someone have been mistreated within Calvin’s own Geneva, this person would have had numerous avenues of lawful redress. But, when persecution comes at the hands of a non-believer or outside the scope of lawful redress, we see that Calvin is not unable to speak of non-violence.

The preceding is how I would situate the material in this section of Calvin’s commentary, and may just as easily be erroneous as correct. But, on to the text!

We are called by God for the purpose of patiently bearing wrongs, Calvin notes. Furthermore, Christ is our example in this. Here Calvin provides a really interesting paragraph concerning the imitation of Christ. What in Christ are we to imitate? His walking on water? His fasting in the wilderness for forty days? No. As Calvin puts it, “when he gave these evidences of his power, it was not his object that we should thus imitate him.” Because of this, we have to exercise “a right judgment” in order to discern what in Christ we are to imitate. Of course, here Calvin thinks Peter to be clear that it is Christ’s patience that we are to imitate. He ties it all up thusly: “Hence, that we may live with him, we must previously die with him.”

But, even as we imitate Christ in these proper ways we must recognize an important distinction between Christ and ourselves, namely, that Christ was perfectly innocent and we are not. From this Calvin argues: “There is…no reason why any one of us should refuse to suffer after his example, since no one is so conscious of having acted rightly, as not to know that he is imperfect.” In other words, we are not perfect and therefore deserve to suffer. Now, as much as we don’t like the sound of this in our day and age, it does make a certain amount of sense. We tend to connect particular consequences to particular failings. Let us take the case of someone getting a speeding ticket (this will be a very imperfect analogy!). Imagine that you are cruising down the road at 55 mph in a 50 mph zone, and a police officer pulls you over and tickets you. This is certainly an unusual occurrence: police rarely pull people over for doing less than 8 mph over the speed limit! It seems egregious for you to be pulled over when you were driving carefully and in keeping with social convention (let’s set aside the fact that convention does not equal legality). But, who among us has never in their lives driven at greater than 10 mph over the limit? If we have done that in the past, why should we rebel against the thought of being given a ticket, even for going only 1 mph over the limit? We deserve the ticket on the basis of our past behavior, but we think that once we have gotten away with something that it is no longer of consequence.

In a sense, this is and must be the case in terms of human law (statutes of limitation, etc). But, we are dealing with God. Remember Calvin’s doctrine of providence. Though our suffering comes from the hands of other human beings, ultimately it comes from God’s hands, against whom we know that we have sinned and by whom we deserve to be punished. Thus, Calvin (with Peter!) can admonish us to submit to suffering by human hands knowing that it is to God that we thereby submit.

There is one more factor that we must consider, namely, that we “have God as [our] defender.” In the same way that our suffering comes ultimately from God, God will ultimately vindicate us where we have suffered unjustly. (Punishment from God is always right; suffering delivered by the hands of human beings is not necessarily right even when we recognize it as part of God’s discipline of us – a very important point!). Thus, we must leave vengeance and retribution to God. But, not only this! For we again have Christ’s example. “Christ did…refer his judgment to God, and yet did not demand vengeance to be taken on his enemies,” and we are to do the same. Calvin hopes that we will be able to say: “how I wish them to be saved who seek to destroy me.” For this “meekness was manifested by Christ; it is then the rule to be observed by us.”

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Karl Barth’s Relational Anthropology

Daniel J. Price, Karl Barth’s Anthropology in Light of Modern Thought (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 97-98.
The salient feature of Barth’s mature anthropology is that it is dynamic. Barth’s anthropology is not dynamic merely in the sense that it indicates raw motion as opposed to a static state – but also in the sense that “dynamic” refers to interpersonal relations…The relational implications of Barth’s anthropology are highlighted by his adoption of the Latin phrase: Si quis dixerit hominem esse solitarium, anathema sit. (Note: Price includes this translation in a footnote – “If anyone will have said that man is solitary, let him be anathema.”) This statement comes in the middle of Barth’s volume on theological anthropology and it holds both ends together. This Latin phrase indicates the social character of Barth’s anthropology: to be human is to participate in a shared experience. Therefore, no accurate understanding of the human being can be derived if we look at a person in isolation from God and others. This phrase is the negative affirmation of Barth’s positive insistence that “real man” can only be understood as a being in encounter: a being in covenant relation with God and fellow humans. To find the human essence, Barth insists we must view the person in relation to God, others, self, and time. It is, therefore, the overlapping spheres of relationships that constellate to form a human being. If modern men and women are alienated and solitary it is to their detriment as creatures made in the image of God. Separation is a sign of human brokenness. The purely solitary person is a human being in crisis. Those who attempt to climb up the path of life without a partner tread on the brink of an abyss. Like a mountain climber whose strength wanes while climbing solo, the person who is truly alone stands on a precipice with little hope of reading the summit. The need for an anthropology that is couched in terms of the shared experience of human community is integral to Barth’s discussion of the human beings as a creature made in God’s image and likeness.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Things You Ought to Read

Even though we are easing into August – that dreaded month when the mercury never seems to stop climbing and when we are forced to reckon with the approaching academic year – your dedicated theo-bloggers far and wide have been working to bring you quality, stimulating reading material. Here are a few things that you don’t want to miss:

On Journeying with Those in Exile

Dan has two nice posts up at the moment. First, there is his very recent post entitled “Baudrillard and Christian Universalism: Freedom, Choice, Liberation, Martyrdom” where, making use of Jean Baudrillard and making reference to a conversation going on over at David’s (Fire and Rose) in his Paul among the Evangelicals: The Problem of Universalism in Rom. 5:12-21 series (this series of David’s is one that you definitely don’t want to miss), Dan thinks through the question of whether human freedom should be understood in terms of choice or obedience, and what sort of difference it makes.

Also, Dan has posted a nice review of Joseph Ratzinger’s / Pope Benedict 16th’s book Jesus of Nazareth, with specific reference to questions concerning the ‘historical’ Jesus.

Seeing the Form

Andy, who participated in the 2007 Karl Barth Blog Conference, has a series going dedicated to Jamie K.A. Smith’s volume Introducing Radical Orthodoxy. So far there are two posts in this series, and Andy promises more. Check them out - first / second - and stay tuned for further installments.


Chris Tilling, the theo-blogger that every conservative theo-blogger loves to hate thanks to his posts on inerrancy, is currently engaged with bringing us a very fine extended review of Gordon Fee’s brand new book entitled Pauline Christology. The index to this review series may be found here.

Trinity Anyone?

Discussion of the doctrine of the Trinity continues both here at DET and over at Inhabitatio Dei.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Discussing the Trinity with Halden

I thought that I would take this opportunity to point you toward a conversation that Halden D. and I have been having in the comments section of at his blog, Inhabitatio Dei. He posted about the Westminster confession, I responded, and things went from there. At this point it seems that Halden and I have come to something -like- a consensus, but others may succeed in stirring the waters again. In any case, be sure to check it out.

Here is a statement of the doctrine of the Trinity in a nutshell that I developed in that comments section:
There is one divine life (ousia / essence) that is structured or characterized by three-fold communion (persones / hypostases). There is one will / locus of consciousness / personhood, with three forms or modes of being / activity. These forms are radically perichoretic, which means that the divinity of each is equal to that of the whole. The three forms are distinguished only by the unique combinations of their mutual relationships. One God existing eternally in the communion of his three-fold life.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Reading Scripture with John Calvin: 1 Peter 2.18-20

1 Peter 2.18-20

[18] Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. [19] For it is commendable if you bear up under the pain of unjust suffering because you are conscious of God. [20] But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.



Calvin’s penchant for brevity has turned into something of an obstacle for us in this series. The dearth of material that he offers to us leads, in turn, to a dearth of material that I can offer to you my readers. And yet, we will not turn aside.


When undertaking Scriptural exegesis, there are two aspects of context to which one must give attention. First, there is the literary context, that is, one must consider the text that comes before and after the passage in question. There are varying sublevels here, beginning with the sentences prior or after, moving out to encompass whole chapters and books, further still to the Testament (Old or New) in question, and also to the entirety of the canon. At this point, consideration of context passes outside of the canon, and thus enters into its second aspect, namely, historical context. This includes such aspects as material, social and intellectual history. How much attention that an exegete can give to all thee varying levels of context is determined by skill, time, and goal. Why do I bring this up? In part because Calvin doesn’t give me much to work with here so I need something to talk about, but also because Calvin gives us brief examples of both of these aspects. He tells us that these verses are “connected with what is gone before, as well as the other things which follow,” and this helps us to see that we are concerned with “civil or social subjection,” as opposed to ontological subjection (one assumes). Calvin also, in his discussion of the relation of slaves and servants to masters, take into consideration the condition of this relationship “at that time” in an attempt to understand precisely what is demanded by this passage.


In the midst of his discussion, Calvin gives us a paragraph that is simply a gem. This kind of paragraph makes doing this kind of habitual reading in Calvin worthwhile (and imagine, you all get the benefit of my discipline in these matters!). What the TNIV gives us above in verse 18 as “those who are harsh” is translated by Calvin as “the forward”, which he takes to mean masters who are not “equitable or humane”. But, there is a variant (whether in the textual or in the interpretive tradition is hard to ascertain) here that Calvin notices where “forward” has been changed to “wayward”, which Calvin notes has been used by
“the Sorbons, who commonly understand by wayward, the dissolute or dissipated, were it not that they seek by this absurd rendering to build up for us an article of faith, that we ought to obey the Pope and his horned wild beasts, however grievous and intolerable a tyranny they may exercise. This passage, then shews how boldly they trifle with the Word of God.”
It is that last line, where Calvin attaches this variant linguistic rendering to trifling with the Word of God, that gets me. Classic!


Although it only pops up here and there, the center of Calvin’s interpretation of these admonitions seems to be the idea of ‘duty’. When speaking of the fear that should accompany submitting to masters, Calvin says that “fear arises from a right knowledge of duty” (and, thus, the TNIV rendering of “reverent fear” seems to hit the mark by Calvin’s standards). A little later Calvin writes that “one performs his duty, not from a regard to men, but to God.”

It seems to me, on the basis of my reading of Calvin (not just in this series but through the years) that ‘duty’ plays an important role in Calvin’s thought. It ties in with his notion of vocation, of Christian freedom, and a host of other topics. For Calvin, duty is central to freedom, for true freedom comes only through submission to the order established by God – freedom comes through doing our duty, we might say. It seems to me that our contemporary situation gets this relation between freedom and duty hopelessly wrong. Things like ‘duty’ or ‘responsibility’ are often seen as things that impede our freedom, and things that therefore should be cast off. But this is destructive self-servitude, not true freedom. True freedom is always ‘freedom for’ and never simply ‘freedom from’.