Monday, June 25, 2012

Dan Migliore on the Munus Triplex, Part 1 – Soteriology

Ever since Gustaf Aulen’s seminal work, Christus Victor, dogmatic work on soteriology (the doctrine of salvation) has had to grapple with the brute fact that there is no single “official” way to think about Jesus Christ’s saving work in the theological tradition. While various streams of the tradition sink their roots in different patterns of thought or emphasis, none of these are exclusive and each must be brought into conversation with the others. Furthermore, there has been increased recognition that there are multiple ways of thinking about Christ’s saving work attested in scripture. So this multiplicity is not only in reception, as it were, but also in origin. This is, of course, to be expected given the nature of the event.

In any case, Migliore lays out very briefly one of the ways of handling this multiplicity within the Reformed theological tradition. And he does so by employing one of that tradition’s fun little Latin phrases. All the different theological traditions have these phrases that are shorthand for a whole modus operandi (see what I did there?) within that tradition. This one pertains to thinking through the person and work of Jesus Christ with reference to his “threefold office” of Prophet, Priest, and King. Here is how Migliore ties this bit of christology to soteriological multiplicity, having recently rehashed the three primary soteriological positions (he calls them “Christ the Victor,” “satisfaction,” and “moral influence”):

Daniel L. Migliore, Faith Seeking Understanding, 186.
John Calvin’s doctrine of the three offices of Christ (munus triplex) offers help in keeping our understanding of the atonement open and inclusive. Calvin says that Christ acts as our prophet, priest, and king. In this doctrine of the three offices, Calvin is able to include the teaching of Jesus, his sacrificial death, and his lordly rule. We might restate Calvin’s teaching of the three offices of Christ as follows: Christ as prophet proclaims the coming reign of God and instructs us in the form of life appropriate to that reign (moral influence); Christ as priest renders to God the perfect sacrifice of love and obedience on our behalf (satisfaction); Christ as designated king rules the world despite the recalcitrance of evil and promises the ultimate victory of God’s reign of righteousness and peace (Christ the Victor).

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4 comments:

Mike said...

I am certainly thankful for the "munus triplex" way of looking at Christ. Do you know, is it "original" with Calvin (i.e., is he the first person to have framed it quite that way - I know he would certainly - and rightly -claim it as biblical, not "original" in the sense of novelty)?

Did you happen to see Richard Muow's article in the May issue of "Christianity Today" that acknowledged (I thought somewhat begrudgingly) that there are multiple ways of looking at the atonement, but that subsitutionary atonement was still "the best"? He made some good points, but I think anytime one says, "Sure, there are multiple ways, but the one I like best is, in fact, the best," means one has kind of missed the point.

There are some good "munus triplex" hymns out there, too. That's actually one of the few reasons I like "We Three Kings" - it's nothing reliable on the magi themselves, but it nails the three offices of Christ!

W. Travis McMaken said...

I'm not sure whether it is original with Calvin, but it is certainly marginal before him (and it may be original to him).

I looked only very briefly at Mouw's piece. One is, of course, entitled to having one's favorite. But one should also be expected to make an argument about why that favorite is the most comprehensive, etc (i.e., is able to incorporate positively the concerns of the others).

bfad said...

I like this connection. It should be helpful when discussing soteriology with some of my friends who are hung up on penal subsitutionary theology being the only "biblical" view of the atonement.

Luther's Stein said...

Mike,

Gerald McCulloh has a pretty decent historical survey of the topic in the link below if you are interested in the background. Basically, he argues that the theme develops out of Scripture [surprise!] and is familiar to the Medievals prior to Calvin

http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=ddxpLZ_zG7UC&pg=PA86&lpg=PA86&dq=medieval,+Munus+triplex&source=bl&ots=aefhYXCjxW&sig=6clO-00MPE8elITKlZuc2AqVRQ4&hl=en&sa=X&ei=ipgbUObcOKiT0QWK-YHQDw&ved=0CEUQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=medieval%2C%20Munus%20triplex&f=false