Results tagged “Christology” from Reformation21 Blog

Aiming to Preach with Aims

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We need to hear Christ in order to believe in him for salvation (Rom. 10:14). Ordinarily we hear his voice through his ordained ambassadors as they preach the gospel in demonstration of the Spirit's power (Rom. 10:15; 2 Cor. 5:19-6:2; 1 Cor. 2:5). Yet we can believe these things and still make fatal mistakes in regard to preaching. People sometimes respond in strange ways to the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit in the preached Word. Some reason that if the Spirit alone changes people's hearts, then it does not matter how well ministers reason with sinners or, in some cases, whether anyone preaches the gospel to them at all. This is like saying that since God can keep us alive without food, he will keep us alive whether or not we eat. Dead souls result from the first way of thinking and dead bodies from the second. What God can do in his providence is a poor guide for what we should do in light of his Word.

In Colossians 1:28-29, Paul shows that preaching requires hard labor in order to achieve its ends when he writes, "Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily" (Col. 1:28-29).

The high aims of preaching demand the heavy labors of preachers. This passage asserts that ministers must preach Christ wisely for the salvation of all hearers. We learn from these truths how and why the lofty aims of preaching flow from its content and determine its manner. This reinforces previous posts on these themes and expands them in relation to the aims of preaching.

Ministers must preach Christ (v. 29a" "him we preach"). Why did Paul consistently treat Christ as the sum and substance of his preaching? Other passages surveyed in this series of posts showed that Christ is the primary object of preaching because, through preaching, Christ brings sinners to the Father by the Spirit's power. Colossians 1 adds that Christ is the primary substance of preaching (v. 29) because Christ builds his church through ministers who suffer for his sake (v. 24-25), because he is the substance of the divine mystery that God has now revealed (v. 26-27), and because union with Christ is the "hope of glory" for believers (v. 27; Phil. 3:20-21). Ministers embody Christ's ministry on behalf of the church. Christ is the reason for their sufferings, the content of their message, and the ground of their hopes. Why, then, must Christ be the sum and substance of their preaching? He must be so because ministers live in communion with Christ as they aim to bring others into communion with him, because they should be consumed with the divine mystery regarding him above all else, and because he must remain the center of their hope. Christ is the bridge between preaching the glory of the Triune God and all other subjects in relation to God. Preaching "the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27) without relating all things in it to Christ's person and work is like trying to view a beautiful landscape without the light of the sun. It is "him we preach?" Is it him we want to hear about?

Ministers must preach Christ wisely (v. 29b" "in all wisdom"). What does it mean to preach Christ? Negatively, preaching Christ is not merely describing Christ. What would we think of a man who described a woman clearly, accurately, and dispassionately only to learn later that the woman was his wife? Preaching is not like giving a physical description of a suspect to a detective. It is more like singing for joy over one whom our souls love (Song 3:1, 4). It is like the friend of the bridegroom waiting eagerly to introduce the bridegroom to his bride (Jn. 3:29). Positively, preaching Christ must be done "in all wisdom." Preaching Christ should be specific and direct ("warning every man"). The purposes of preaching reflect the purposes of Scripture (1 Tim. 3:15-17). Wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ includes reproof and correction as well as doctrine and instruction in righteousness. "Warning" entails application. "Warning every man" demands specific application. Preaching should be instructive as well ("teaching every man"). As Westminster Larger Catechism 159 states, "They that are called to labour in the ministry of the Word, are to preach sound doctrine, diligently, in season and out of season; plainly, not in the enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit, and of power; faithfully, making known the whole counsel of God." Preaching must aim to convict individual hearers by applying the teachings of Scripture to them directly. Preachers must know the people to whom they preach. Refuting irrelevant errors that people do not face is like shooting without taking aim. Preachers should visit the people to whom they preach regularly in order to know them personally and the challenges they face. Application should not be so specific that we betray trusts and embarrass people publicly in sermons, but we should be specific enough that we can warn and teach "every man." In doing so, preachers preach "wisely, applying themselves to the necessities and capacities of their hearers" (WLC 159).

Preachers must preach Christ for the salvation of all hearers (v. 29c). "Every man" appears three times in this passage. We cannot be content to leave anyone behind in preaching. We cannot adopt a "take it or leave it" mentality to the means of grace, in which we preach dull sermons and blame the Holy Spirit for the unbelief of our hearers. Preaching should be zealous and passionate. Preachers must preach "zealously, with fervent love to God and the souls of his people; sincerely, aiming at his glory, and their conversion, edification, and salvation" (WLC 159) Reformed preaching should neither be boring nor harsh. The pulpit is not a platform for beat up pastors to lash back at difficult people. We must keep the final goal of salvation in view. God aims to present every man perfect in Christ, not merely to justify them.

Paul concludes that preaching is dependent labor ("laboring according to his working, which works in me mightily"). By now, readers should detect a pattern in biblical texts that describe preaching. Christ is the primary object of preaching. He reaches sinners by his Word and Spirit, using ministers as his instruments. He is the subject, object, and end of preaching. This pattern raises several questions for preachers:

Do you preach to the glory of God in Christ? Doing so keeps your preaching on track. Do you preach Christ experimentally? Does Christ live in your affections in order to bring life to others through your sermons? This makes your preaching lively. Do you preach Christ pointedly? Preaching without specific and pointed application violates the biblical definition of preaching just as much as failing to preach Christ does. Pointed preaching is part of what makes Spirit-filled preaching effective. Those who repeat Christ's story without pressing Christ on individual consciences and those who press people with duties without preaching Christ fail equally in aims of preaching. Do you labor hard in preaching with the Spirit's help? 

This is what makes preaching powerful. It is not enough to read Bible commentaries, though many of preachers need to read more of them than they do. Commentaries help us understand the text, but they do not help us meet the goals of preaching. Though the Spirit is sovereign in his work, lacking zeal, vigor, or diligence in preaching is a better indicator of laziness than of faith. Preaching must be lively, convicting, instructive, specific, and laborious. Only such preaching can aim to present every man perfect in Christ.

The Necessity of Preaching

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Salvation is an expansive term. It essentially means "safety." Salvation includes the application of Christ's work from the new birth, through faith and repentance, to Justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification. Christians share in Christ's benefits because they are united to him through faith and they enjoy communion in all his benefits. We have been saved (Eph. 2:8), we are being saved (2 Cor. 2:15), and we shall be saved (Rom. 5:9). God uses means such as the Word, the sacraments, and prayer to save sinners (WSC 88). We receive Christ by faith as we use his appointed means to foster and to exercise our faith.

Is reading the Bible in private enough to save us? Not ultimately. Like the Bereans, we must receive the preached Word "with all readiness" and we must search the Scriptures daily "to find out whether these things [are] so" (Acts 17:11). Preaching is necessary for salvation because it is the ordinary means through which we hear Christ and are saved by him. This passage explains why preaching is necessary, who should do it, what it proclaims, its opposition, and its purpose. These truths show us why we need preaching as a means of promoting our salvation through union and communion with Christ.

The necessity of preaching of so clearly highlighted by the Apostle Paul in Romans 10, where he wrote:

"How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: 'How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!' But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, 'Lord, who has believed our report?' So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Rom. 10:14-17).

Preaching is necessary because people need to hear Christ in order to believe in him for salvation. Romans 9-11 answers the question why so many Jews did not receive Christ as their Messiah. In chapter 9, Paul answered that not all Jews came to faith because God did not elect all of them to salvation. Chapter 11 concludes that God preserved an elect remnant of ethnic Jews now, such as Paul, and that God would save many more of them in the future. Chapter 10 explains that unbelieving Jews were accountable for their unbelief. Paul explained that God would save both Jews and Gentiles through preaching. He pressed the necessity of preaching in light of the fact that people need to call upon Christ through faith. Circumcised Jews needed to be circumcised in heart (Jer. 9:25-26; Rom. 2:28-29). Uncircumcised Gentiles "were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world" (Eph. 2:12). Only Christ's blood could bring both Jews and Gentiles near to God (v. 13-18). Paul added that it was not enough to hear about Christ. People need to hear Christ's voice. The Greek text of Romans 10:14 says literally, "How shall they believe him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear [him] without a preacher?" As Christ spoke in Paul (2 Cor. 13:3), and as Christ pleads with sinners through his ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:20), so people hear Christ through preachers in order to believe Christ himself. This does not mean that Christ does not call people through Bible reading and that he does not use the sacraments and prayer as means of salvation. Yet preaching is the ordinary means by which we must learn Christ and hear his voice (Eph. 4:20). How God can save sinners and how he ordinarily chooses to do so are different questions. When we listen to sermons, we should expect to hear Christ in the sermon as he calls us to himself by his Word and Spirit.

Preaching comes through Christ's sent messengers. This implies that preachers are necessary for preaching and that God must equip and send them to preach on Christ's behalf. This point builds upon the previous post, which defined preaching as a public authoritative proclamation of the gospel through Christ's ordained ambassadors. To identify preaching we must identify the preacher properly. We saw that Christ gifts preachers through the Spirit. Christ sends preachers to do their work by calling them to office through the church. He calls men to office through the election of the congregation and the laying on of hands by a group of elders (presbytery, in Greek. Acts 1:23, 6:3-6, 14:23; 1 Tim. 4:14). This former act is election and latter is ordination. The church recognizes the gifts of those whom Christ is sending to preach; it does not convey gifts to them. This reinforces the idea that we must define preaching largely in terms of office. We should seek to hear and receive Christ through the preaching of those preachers whom he has sent.

Preaching is necessary because it brings to us glad tidings from God. Paul cited Isaiah 52:7 to show the blessedness of those who bring "the gospel of peace." "Gospel" means "good news" and proclaiming this good news is inherent to preaching. This means that preaching has a positive aim. It is the "sweet savor of Christ" to God" (2 Cor. 2:15) and God intends preaching to be the "savor of life unto life" to those who believe (v. 16). Preaching should have a positive tone because Christ's person and work are its objects. In preaching, we hear the voice of the Christ who saves.

The positive aim of preaching often meets opposition. Paul cited Isaiah 53:1 to show that preaching does not always bring life. The preached Word becomes a "savor of death" to those who reject Christ (2 Cor. 2:16). It was so to unbelieving Israel in Isaiah's day, it was so to unbelieving Jews in Paul's day, and it remains so to all people who refuse Christ's voice through preaching today. Preaching condemns incidentally. Its aim is to save rather than to condemn. Preaching announces God's love in sending his Son to save those who believe (Jn. 3:16). He did not send him to condemn the world, but to save it (v. 17). Preaching condemns only those who do not believe in the only begotten Son of God (v. 18). People bring their own darkness to bear on the gospel, the nature of which is light (v. 19). Those who love darkness hate light and shun its radiance (v. 20). Yet those who love the truth as it is in Jesus (Eph. 4:21) love the light that he is and brings. The darkness in people's hearts leads them to flee the light, but the darkness of the world cannot overcome the light (Jn. 1:5). God will achieve the end of calling people out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Pet. 2:9) and he will use preaching as a means of doing so.

Preaching is necessary as the primary means that Christ uses to bring people to salvation because it is his primary means of promoting saving faith. "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Rom. 10:17). Some manuscripts read, "the word of Christ," instead of, "the word of God." In either case, Paul teaches us that preaching is the primary means of converting sinners and of building up the saints to salvation because we hear Christ through preaching. Christ must, therefore, be the primary object of preaching. Though preaching is defined largely in terms of office, Christ's work in sending preachers defines preaching in terms of its content as well. Christ commissions preachers, they speak on Christ's behalf, and Christ speaks through them, in order to unfold the unsearchable riches of Christ (Eph. 3:8). Failing to preach Christ in a sermon denies the definition and nature of preaching. Christian sermons must be distinctively Christian. Do we listen to sermons expecting to hear and receive Christ through them?

Good teaching begins with definitions. Effective schoolteachers tell their students what they are doing and why in order help students learn well. This often means defining terms specific to each subject. Math students need to learn what a hypotenuse is and students of physics need to understand what mass, acceleration, and velocity mean. The Bible also has its own vocabulary, which includes "preaching." Yet many Christians sit under sermons, and some even preach them, without a working definition of what preaching is in light of Scripture.

In 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2, the Apostle Paul gave an implicit definition of preaching when he wrote, 

"Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For He says: 'In an acceptable time I have heard you, and in the day of salvation I have helped you.' Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation."

The passage cited above implies that preaching is a public authoritative proclamation of the gospel, through ordained ambassadors of Christ, who plead with people to be reconciled to God on Christ's behalf, on the grounds of Christ's person and work. Understanding what preaching is helps us understand its purposes and what we should expect when listening to sermons. This is important because Christ designed preaching to be an ordinary part of evangelism and discipleship (Matt. 28:19-20).

This text teaches us what preaching is. Preaching is a public, authoritative proclamation of the gospel. Paul's preaching was public proclamation. He implored people and he pled with them. His self-description as an "ambassador" meant that his preaching carried authority. Whether referring to the twelve apostles (Matt. 10:5-15) or to the seventy-whom Christ sent (Lk. 10:1-12), Christ words apply: "He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me" (Matt. 10:40)." Preachers implore sinners and plead with them on Christ's behalf. This is how they "do the work of an evangelist" (2 Tim. 4:5). Preaching is "the ministry of reconciliation" (2 Cor. 5:18) through which Christ's pleads with and implores us through his messengers. When we receive the message of Christ's ambassadors then we receive Christ. When we reject their message then we reject the Christ whom they preach. This is true with respect to all faithful gospel preaching. Preaching comes with the authority of Christ through his ambassadors and we must submit to Christ through it.

We also learn here who preachers are. Preachers are ordained ambassadors of Christ. In 2 Corinthians, Paul defended his ministry at length against false apostles (2 Cor. 2:17, 11:5). In doing so, he not only defined the nature and purposes of his apostolic ministry, but he established the pattern of gospel ministry more broadly. Being an ambassador implies gifting, calling, and ordination. I will address the last link in this chain more fully in my next post in relation to Romans 10:14-17. Preaching is defined primarily in relation to office. Christ gifts church officers for their office and he gives officers as gifts to his church. Ephesians 4:11 teaches that the ascended Christ gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers as gifts to his church. Some of these teaching offices were extraordinary and temporary while others are ordinary and permanent. Yet all of them instruct the church for its purity and unity, its maturity and growth in Christ, and its protection from false teaching (Eph. 4:12-16). Believers in general evangelized (euangelidzomai) as they were scattered abroad while Philip preached (keruso) Christ (Acts 8:4-5). All teaching offices come from Christ and revolve around proclaiming his person and work. Christ preached the kingdom of God (Mark 1:39). Christ cleansed a leper, warning him to tell no one (Mark 1:40-44). Yet the man preached (keruso) without being gifted, called, and ordained (v. 45). All Christians must evangelize, yet not all are permitted to preach. All Christians are Christ's servants, but not all Christians are Christ's ambassadors.

We learn next why Christ appointed preaching and preachers. Preachers plead with people on Christ's behalf to be reconciled to God. Preaching flows from the fear of the Lord in preparing people for the final judgment (2 Cor. 5:9-11). The love of Christ compels sound preaching (v. 12-15). Preaching aims to provide a true view of God's savings aims through his person and work (v. 16-19). Preaching is God's act of calling sinners to be reconciled to him through Christ (v. 20, 6:1-2). As we must define preaching in relation to office, so the Christ, who is the source of church offices, dominates the content of preaching.

Lastly, preaching is founded on Christ's person and work. Preaching is possible because God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself (2 Cor. 5:19). Preaching proclaims Christ's person and work for the salvation of all (v. 21). God reconciles sinners to himself in Christ because Christ is fully God, enabling him to match God's infinite majesty and the infinite weight of sin. He is fully man, enabling him to obey, suffer, die, and rise in his human nature for us. God becoming man alone could enable God to purchase the church with his own blood (Acts 20:28). Christ became sin for sinners, removing God's wrath and curse from them, so that sinners might become the righteousness of God in him, being justified freely through him (2 Cor. 5:21; Rom. 3:24). Christ gifts and calls preachers to be his ambassadors by virtue of his ascension (Eph. 4:8). He makes preaching possible through making himself the ground of the message preached. We must receive Christ by faith through preaching as he presents himself to us through his ambassadors.

This passage helps us understand what preaching is both negatively and positively. Negatively, not all gospel proclamation is preaching. Neither does all preaching have the right object. Preaching must impart the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27) in a way that that demonstrates that all of the promises of God are yes and amen in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20). Positively, preaching is the public, authoritative, proclamation of the gospel through ordained ambassadors of Christ. Preachers plead with people to be reconciled to God on the grounds of Christ's person and work. Preaching is Christ's ordinary means of seeking and saving the lost. This means that there is continuity in how preaching addresses believers as well as the unconverted. Paul implored Christians at Corinth "not to receive the grace of God in vain." Christ is set forth in preaching to believers and to unbelievers alike because the accepted day of salvation is a perpetual "now." All subsequent posts in this series will expand and explain the ideas presented here. We must understand what preaching is in order to understand how and why we should listen to sermons. Do we receive Christ through his ordained ambassadors as we press onward and upward towards the culmination of our salvation in Christ? (Phil. 3:14).

*This is the first in a series of posts on "Preaching Christology or Preaching Christ." 

Dr. Ryan McGraw is Professor of Systematic theology, Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. He is the author of A Heavenly Directory: Trinitarian Piety, Public Worship, and a Reassessment of John Owen's Theology (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2014); The Foundation of Communion with God: The Trinitarian Piety of John Owen (Reformation Heritage Books, 2014), Christ's Glory, Your Good: Salvation Planned, Promised, Accomplished, and Applied (RHB 2013), and, By Good and Necessary Consequence (RHB 2012).


The Advent Season: Not Just Christmas

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Early in my pastoral ministry a thoughtful young man came with an interesting question while our congregation was in the midst of celebrating the Advent season. The question arose from a hymn sung during a Lord's Day worship service. The hymn was the Isaac Watts classic "Joy to the World." The question was, "Pastor, why are we singing a hymn during Christmas containing lyrics that refer to the 2nd coming of Christ?" My pastoral response was twofold.

First, together we examined the hymn. It soon became obvious the hymn actually contained lyrics that referred to both the 1st Advent (i.e. His Incarnation and Birth) and lyrics to the 2nd Advent (His Second Coming). Furthermore, the hymn, verse by verse, traces the triumph of Christ as the Redeemer of His people from His 1st Advent to His 2nd Advent.

Secondly, we noted there are multiple hymns sung during the Advent season which exalt the Lord for His redeeming work in both the 1st and 2nd Advents. Then, it was my turn to ask a question. "Why do you think so many Advent hymns sung at "Christmas" extol both Advents of Christ?" The answer though simple has been lost to many. But, if recaptured can lead us to a profound blessing.

The reason so many hymns and confessions associated with the Christmas celebrations reference both the 1st and 2nd Advents is because the early church intentionally designed the Advent Season to celebrate both the 1st and 2nd Advents of Christ. Why?

The Advent is a work of God's grace whereby God Himself has come to us, to be among us and become one of us in order to save us from our sins and will come again for us to be with us forever. The Old Testament, through types, symbols, prophecies and Christophanies (i.e. pre-incarnate appearances of Christ) anticipated the coming of the Messiah - the Promised One - in whom "all of the Promises of God are yes and amen." Those Messianic prophetic Promises can be summed up with two specific Promises.

  • The first Promise was that the Messiah would "save His people from all of their sins" and deliver them from all of His and their enemies.
  • The second Promise was that the Messiah would not only defeat these enemies but would ultimately destroy them and deliver His people into a glorious forever Kingdom.

But when the Messiah came into the world to fulfill God's promises He revealed a surprising yet Biblically consistent truth. The Epiphany of the Messiah was not one Advent to accomplish two Divine Promises but two Advents, each one designed to accomplish one of the two Promises.

The 1st Advent or the Incarnation when the Son of God humbled Himself by taking upon Himself true humanity through the prophesied Virgin conception/birth was designed to fulfill the first Promise that God would "save His people from their sins" and defeat all of His and their enemies. The second Promise that He would receive His people to Himself and destroy His defeated enemies in His 1st Advent would be fulfilled by a 2nd Advent when He would "come again" in that same incarnate body now resurrected and transformed for all eternity - Two Epiphanies - Two Advents.

"For the grace of God has "appeared" (ἐπεφάνη - 1st Advent) bringing salvation to all men; disciplining us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in this present age; looking for the blessed hope and "appearance" (ἐπιφάνειαν - 2nd Advent) of our great God and Savior Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession zealous for good deeds" (Titus 2:11-14).

Gradually for multiple reasons the Advent season initiated by the celebration of His 1st Advent - Christmas - when He was born "to save His people from their sins" and to defeat His and our enemies at the Cross, became the singular focus of the Advent season. One reason is that the 1st Advent is the occasion of His humiliation which was accomplished, not by the subtraction of His deity but, by the addition of His humanity. Another reason is that the 1st Advent celebrates His Incarnation, a necessary act of God to save sinners - "by a man came death, by a man comes the resurrection of the dead." Yet another reason is that the triumph of the 1st Advent assures the 2nd Advent and the 2nd Advent consummates the victory of the 1st Advent. A final reason is the 1st Advent is a fact of history while the 2nd Advent is a prophetic promise which makes it pre-written history.

But pastorally, while not being enslaved or conscience-bound to observe a church calendar, I would suggest that if we intentionally returned to the historic emphasis of the Advent season which intentionally celebrates the 1st Advent while also anticipating the 2nd Advent we could add a theological focus which would enhance our pastoral ministries of both celebration/worship and discipleship/equipping. So, here is a pastoral recommendation: Start reclaiming the vibrancy of the advent season from secularization by enhancing our commitment to the great commission of making disciples through emphasizing the inseparable dynamic relationship of both advents of Christ.

In a word, let's return to the historic objective of using the Advent season to affirm both the victory of Christ in His 1st Advent and our longing for the consummation of His victory in the 2nd Advent. In so doing we would not only minister to a heart-felt need in the lives of God's people we would also more effectively disciple God's people and more effectively proclaim the Gospel of Hope to the world.

The Advent season, historically, was designed to minister to the grace-implanted and grace-nurtured heart of every Christian. A heart which both "rests" in the joy of our Savior's victorious 1st Advent and yet a heart which is also "restless" in the anticipation of our Savior's 2nd Advent to receive us to Himself that we might be with Him in a New Heavens and a New Earth forever.

"I go away to prepare a place for you and if I go away to prepare a place of you I will come again so that where I am there you may be also... Even so come quickly Lord Jesus."

 

Van Til's Critique of Barth's Christology (Part 2)

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In the first post in this series, we gave consideration to Van Til's assessment of Barth's Christology. In this post we wish to examine Barth's own teaching on Christology. The key to understanding Barth's Christology is to understand where he places the act of the incarnation. To use Van Til's expression, Barth seems to place that act in Geschichte. So what is the nature of this Geschichte? At least in Barth's earlier thought, as Bruce McCormack has shown, this is the real history of God which stands over against the so-called "unreal" history of humanity.34

McCormack aptly describes this as the "tangent point" at which God's history meets our history, without becoming one with it. It is important at this point to set this idea against the backdrop of Barth's rejection of the higher critical approach of the liberal school. For Barth, God and his revelation cannot be handled or manipulated by man in his own fallen time. Therefore, revelation - and thus the incarnation - must be something that is quite independent of "our time." Trevor Hart explains:

Revelation...is an event...The habitual use of the noun form [i.e., "revelation"] tends inevitably to direct our thinking instead toward the abstract, and to suggest some commodity (textual, historical or whatever) which represents the abiding deposit of a prior act of 'revealing'...something which has, as it were, become an earthly commodity and been handed over into human custody and control, domesticated and packaged for responsible human use.35

Second, in CD III/1 Barth engages in a stimulating discussion of the relation between God's act of creation and the history of the covenant of grace. What he is concerned to do here is defend against the notion of a generic "god," an impersonal uncaused cause as you find in Thomas' five ways. At this point, Barth offers a very insightful alternative to Thomas with which Van Til would surely agree. In refusing to pit God as creator against God as redeemer, Barth sets forth a better way:

But at this point everything depends upon the fact that the One from whom the world comes and on whom it depends should not be "God" in the sense of this or that conception, but He who in the process of history reconciles the world to Himself in order to give to it, as its Redeemer, its new and eternal form. (CD III/1, 45).

To this sentiment a truly Protestant theologian can only express his assent. However, Barth goes one step further. He goes so far as to affirm the history of the covenant of grace as being prior to the act of creation. The history of the covenant of grace has a distinct precedence and pre-existence over creation. Our doctrine of creation,

equating the Creator with the Deliverer, tells us that the world too, the whole nexus of being and movement in which I exist, has no prior existence that there is absolutely nothing which can take precedence of the history of the divine covenant of grace (Idem).

From here Barth develops his argument to include the Trinity. Creation is an act of the triune God, and in particular the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. Barth states:

Hence the proposition that God the Father is the Creator and God the Creator the Father can be defended only when we mean by "Father" the "Father with the Son and the Holy Spirit." (CD III/1, 49).

But who is the "Son" that is with the Father-Creator? For Barth, notice, it is not the self-contained ontological Son apart from human flesh, rather:

It is not without His Son but as the Father of Jesus Christ that God bears the name of Father in Scripture and the creed. Again, it is not without the Son but in Jesus Christ that according to Scripture and the creed He makes Himself known as the sovereign Lord of all things and the Creator (Idem).

So, since there is an incarnation in eternity, that must mean God has time - and if time, then history.36 "Eternity...is not in any way timeless...In this way it is the essence of God Himself...God is Himself eternity. Thus God Himself is temporal...God in His eternity is the beginning of time" (CD III/1, 67-8). It becomes increasingly clear that for Barth there is a time, or history, other than "our time." (read: Historie). And that other time is the time of Jesus Christ - the time of grace. Jesus Christ is this time of grace. And what is more, this time of grace is independent of our time:

In this way the time of grace, the time of Jesus Christ, is the center and perfect counterpart of the time of creation. Like it, and in contrast to 'our' empty time, it is fulfilled time (CD III/1, 75).37

Therefore the revelation of God in Jesus Christ does not occur in our time, in our history. Yet, and because of this, God's time of grace occurs in "full contemporaneity" (CD III/1, 74) and "simultaneously" (CD III/1, 75) with our time. Even so, our time never becomes itself revelation.

Finally, this whole conception must be set against the backdrop of Barth's earlier work in CD I/2 where he speaks about "God's time for us." This time is a third time (CD I/2, 47).38 The Christ event is its own time (CD I/2, 49). It is the time of Jesus Christ (CD I/2, 51). However, standing over against this third time is "our time." This world time is

without Christ, without revelation, a hard surface of secularity...It covers the years 1-30 like all others. It is world history in which, along with history of culture...there is also a history of religion and the Church. But there is certainly nothing that we can seriously call a history of "God's mighty acts" (CD I/2, 63).

But the "third time" is a time that God makes for us (CD I/2, 49). This is the time of revelation and incarnation.39  Barth sets forth three times: God's time, our time, and Gottes Zeit fur uns ("God's time for us"). It is this last time which is real time. And this time takes place in the incarnation - "the event of Jesus Christ" (CD I/2, 49). This time alone "is to be regarded as eternal time" (CD I/2, 50). This eternity is "pre-historical time" (ahistorischen Vorzeit). Yet - though it is pre-historical - it is not timeless time. Rather, it is a temporal reality (Idem; KD, 55). And it is here that "our time" is taken up and renewed:

...the time we mean when we say Jesus Christ is not to be confused with any other time. Just as man's existence became something new and different altogether, because God's Son assumed it and took it over into unity with his God-existence...so time, by becoming the time of Jesus Christ, although it belonged to our time, the lost time, became a different, a new time (CD I/2, 51).

This third time is God's act, or event, of revelation in Jesus Christ. It is important for us to note here, in support of the idea that this third time is not something which happens in calendar time, to cite Barth's original idea of the relation between this time of revelation and calendar-time history. He puts it this way:

To put it concretely, the statement "God reveals Himself" must signify that the fulfilled time is the time of the years 1-30. But it must not signify that the time of the years 1-30 is the fulfilled time. It must signify that revelation becomes history, but not that history becomes revelation. (Ibid., 58).

Now, no other statement is more important for understanding Barth's Christology than this one. Revelation - i.e., Jesus Christ - becomes history. Jesus Christ - in this act or event of God's time for us - becomes history by taking to himself our fallen time. However, our time, history, or calendar days can never be revelational.40 Revelation takes place transcendently, entirely removed from our fallen time. Our time has no capacity for revelation, history can in no way be the medium of revelation.

In this way, Barth's Christology represents a new and original reinterpretation of the tradition. And this is why his theological innovations were such a reversal of his day's dominate neo-Protestant theology. Nineteenth century theology was thoroughly informed by a doctrine of God's immanence. Liberalism's God was "trapped" or "stuck" in the earthly muck of human consciousness. Barth sought to release God from that trap and make him utterly and completely transcendent. Rather than viewing the incarnation as a process which occurs within the consciousness of man, or within the strictures of man's fallen history, Barth described the incarnation in terms of an objective event which occurred outside of "our time." The incarnation is a transcendent event.

In one fell swoop Barth has rejected both liberalism and Reformed orthodoxy, presenting us with a would-be via media. Even so, a commonality remains between liberalism and Barth: the incarnation did not happen in calendar-time history. Revelation may be historical, but history is not revelational.41 In other words, what Barth believes is an attempt at a via media is nothing of the sort. Rather, it is merely another modern option, with nothing but a formal nod to orthodoxy.

 

Conclusion

If what we have said above about Barth's thought is correct, then we must stand with Van Til in his fundamental contention: Barthianism is not simply a different expression of Christianity, but a different religion altogether. Or, to put the matter in the form of a question: is there any way to conceive of Barthianism and (Reformed) Christianity as friends? The answer must be Nein!

For this reason, we find the recent dismissals of Van Til's critique by current evangelical theologians somewhat troubling. What is perhaps even more disturbing is the fact that Barth's theology is being readily received today as being friendly toward Reformed orthodoxy. Whatever the reasons for this, it is time to once again exercise discernment, as Van Til did. In addition, we would do well to read Barth, carefully and closely as Van Til did, seeking to understand truly the deep structures of his thought and their implications for Christian doctrine and life. And when we have done that, we must stand in witness and testimony to the self-attesting Christ of Scripture.


*You can find the full set of footnotes for this post here.

Van Til's Critique of Barth's Christology (Part 1)

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In the recent resurgence of interest in the theology of Karl Barth--particularly among evangelicals1--theologians of no mean significance have opined on Cornelius Van Til's writings about the dialectical theologian. Van Til, according to some, offered an "absurd"2 and "inept analysis"3 of Barth's theology which "wielded a disproportionate influence"4 among evangelicals through his "tendentious"5 reading of the Church Dogmatics.6 Others have argued that Van Til's motive for critiquing Barth and Barthianism was "institutional." D.G. Hart, for example, argues that Van Til was motivated by a desire to justify Westminster Seminary's existence over against Princeton Seminary.7 But did Van Til really misfire so badly in his critique?

Van Til's Critique

In order to show the accuracy of Van Til's analysis of Barth, we will take his critique of Barth's Christology as a test case.

First, according to Van Til, Barth's Christology results in a functional Eutychianism. In the one act of God in Christ the creature is collapsed into the Creator; man is as highly exalted above time as is God. In other words, in the incarnation

"... God is no longer qualitatively distinct from man. Modern theology holds that both God and man are temporal. Barth holds that both God and man are eternal...Whether God and man are regarded as correlatives in the thick, heavy atmosphere of time or in the rarified realms of eternity makes no difference. In both cases man is as necessary to God as God is to man."8

This will be Van Til's basic understanding and critique of Barth throughout his life. In fact, in 1955, he made the following observation about Barth's theology--echoing some of his concerns from 1931:

"So also Karl Barth's God is what he is exclusively in relation to man "in Christ." Barth's main principle is "the revelation of God in Christ" to the exclusion of the God who exists from all eternity within himself, independently of his relation to the world."9

Furthermore, because God and all things are equally transcendent, Barth "strip[s] him of all the attributes that orthodox theology has assigned to him, and thus enable[s] him to turn into the opposite of himself."10 According to Van Til, then, Barth's theology leads to the inevitable conclusion that "He is then wholly identical with man and his world."11

Second, Van Til shows that Barth's thought is in fundamental continuity with a basic Kantian ontology. Van Til writes:

"To be sure, Barth has repeatedly asserted his desire to construct his theology in total independence of all the philosophical schools. Yet he has also admitted that in his earlier writings he had been influenced by modern epistemology...The Ritschlian theology in which Barth was nurtured was controlled by a modern form of the critical philosophy of Immanuel Kant...the Theology of Crisis, in the case of both Barth and Brunner, is essentially a modern theology. By an essentially modern theology we mean a theology which, like modern critical and dialectical philosophy, seeks to be activistic and anti-metaphysical at all costs."12

Interestingly, Bruce L. McCormack reaches a similar conclusion concerning the relationship between Kant and Barth:

"The fact that Barth devoted so many pages of his writings...to criticizing neo-Protestant theology tended to conceal the extent to which his antimetaphysical stance was itself a distinctly modern option in theology. My own contribution to the European discussion of Barth's relation to modernity was to demonstrate the extent to which Kant and the later Marburg neo-Kantianism influenced not only his earliest "liberal" theology...but also decisively stamped his dialectical theology."13

This interpretation is shared by Kant scholar, John Hare who--while recognizing significant discontinuities between Barth and Kant--argues that Barth's reliance on Kant was "constant."14 While so much more can and should be said here, we will leave it with simply noting how interesting it is that even the best of scholars recognize Barth's basic Kantian ontology. Yet, Van Til continues to be castigated--even though he made this observation over 85 years ago!

Third, consider Van Til's most concise critique of Barth's Christology which came in a 1960 article, entitled "Karl Barth on Chalcedon." Here is gives a close summary of Barth's doctrine of the incarnation from CD IV/1 and IV/2.15 He summaries Barth's "actualized" doctrine of Christ when he writes, "The incarnation is an event. As such it is at the same time the humiliation of God and the exaltation of man. The peril in which man stands is God's peril in Christ."16 In other words, the incarnation has ontological implications for who--and what - God is.

Now, this new formulation of "the Christ-event" means several things for Barth. Initially, it means that we must no longer think of the states of humiliation and exaltation as events in time in which one event takes place before the other. That would make revelation a predicate of history, which would--in turn--limit God's absolute freedom.17 Next, this Christ-event means that the two natures can never be separate from one another. It is one event that takes place in both natures. In this way, Christ's humiliation is the humiliation of God and his exaltation is the exaltation of man...By thus removing the traditional ideas with respect to the states and natures of Christ, Barth is opening up a path for the sovereign and free, as well as universal, grace of God to man.18

And last, the Christ-event also means the elimination of the distinction between Christ's person and work. Rather, "Christ's person is his work and his work is his person."19 Van Til takes this to mean that the incarnation in Jesus Christ is God's act of atonement for all mankind--sovereignly and universally. Jesus is the act of "the changeless Son of God and the changing man Jesus."20 It is in this context that Van Til introduces Barth's concept of the "contemporaneity" of Christ's person--which is his work - in Geschichte. He explains that "Geschichte happens every time" and thus "Christ's humiliation is at the same time exaltation."21

Fourth, the Christ-event means the utter rejection of the distinction between the Logos asarkos and the Logos en sarkos. In other words, "God does not will to be God without us."22 Van Til further explains:

"Here then is the reason why the idea of a Logos asarkos back of the incarnate Christ must be rejected. The message of the Gospels is the incarnate Christ. It is this Christ that precedes the creative work of God. The covenant of grace as preceding creation is established and effected through him."23

Therefore, Van Til explains, for Barth "God is his revelation to man."24 Any distinction between God-in-himself and God-for-us "no longer has any constitutive meaning but possesses only heuristic import."25 God's being and his revelation in Christ are identified. This clarifies what Van Til said earlier when he said "man is as necessary to God as God is to man." Furthermore:

"God extends his existence into coexistence with man. He identifies his being with that of man and transforms human being into participation with divine being...A complete interchange of predicate takes place between God and man in Christ."26

In other words, God's act in the incarnation constitutes his being. Again, Bruce L. McCormack supports Van Til's reading:

"What Barth is suggesting is that election is the event in God's life in which he assigns to himself the being he will have for all eternity...He takes this human experience into his own life and extinguishes its power over us."27

Therefore, God has no being which stands prior to or independent of his acts: "Thus there is no God in himself prior to the incarnation and there is no man in himself apart from his participation in the incarnation."28

Fifth, the Christ-event means the rejection of the idea of "God as such." Van Til explicates:

"Barth says that in Jesus Christ God is both wholly like and wholly unlike man...Herein lies the foundation of the reconciliation of the world with God. He can become truly man and as such the only true man, only if he is free to relinquish his being as it is in itself and to become wholly one with man. It is therefore God's nature to become wholly other than himself."29

For Van Til, Barth does not have a doctrine of a self-contained God who is altogether a se.30 Rather, his nature is determined by his act in Jesus Christ, "God's being and God's work are said to be one and the same."31

And sixth, the Christ-event means the denial of the decretum absolutum. If Jesus Christ is both electing God and elected man, then there can be no decree which exists independent of the person of Jesus Christ.32 To say otherwise - to say that God chooses some and rejects others - is to make God arbitrary in his decision. Rather, Barth proposes a decretum concretum in which God's covenant choice for all men in Christ precedes everything else.33 In other words, God's opera ad extra determine his opera ad intra. What God will do in Christ (save all) constitutes his eternal decree (to elect all).


1 Of special interest for our purposes is the recent blog post by Michael Allen at the Gospel Coaition (retrieved September 8, 2016). Allen's piece exemplifies the characteristic appreciation of Karl Barth's theology today which stands in stark contrast to the critical disposition of Reformed theologians of the mid-20th century.

*A document with the full set of footnotes for this post can be found here

Of the twelve affirmations that constitute the Apostles' Creed -- perhaps the most regularly recited statement of basic Christian doctrine in the western Church of the last 1500 years -- none has caused greater uncertainty and debate over the centuries than that declaring that Jesus Christ "descended into hell." This affirmation, wedged between assertions that Christ "was crucified, died, and buried" and "rose again" on "the third day," received fundamentally different interpretations by Roman Catholic and Protestant theologians of the Reformation era. The sixteenth-century Roman Catholic Church staked out its understanding of this affirmation in the Catechism of Trent, suggesting it named Christ's visit not to "hell strictly so-called," but to that "limbo" where "the souls of the just before the coming of Christ the Lord were received, and where, without experiencing any sort of pain... they enjoyed peaceful repose." Christ, according to Rome, spent the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday -- "Holy Saturday" as it is sometimes called -- in this limbo, freeing the souls therein to enter into heavenly bliss.

The (arguably) inherent ambiguity of the Creed's claim regarding Christ's descent into hell, coupled with Rome's rather speculative interpretation of the same (itself rooted in late-medieval Christian thought which, without clear biblical warrant, added purgatory and several limbos to heaven and hell in the landscape of the afterlife), has caused (even) some Reformed churches to revise the Creed's affirmation to something less confusing (namely, "he descended into the grave"), or to omit the phrase entirely.

John Calvin strongly warned against such tampering with the Creed, even before there were many noteworthy efforts to do so. "We ought not to omit [Christ's] descent into hell," the Reformer warned, calling that descent "a matter of no small moment in bringing about [our] redemption." Calvin was decidedly keen not to deprive (Reformed) believers of the opportunity to confess their faith in the very words that Christians for centuries before them had used. He was quite sure that, properly understood, there was nothing in the words of the Creed -- every last one of them -- to cause genuine believers alarm. "We have in [the Creed] a summary of our faith," Calvin wrote, "full and complete in all details, and containing nothing in it except what has been derived from the pure Word of God." Calvin was even more keen not to deprive believers of the opportunity, every time they recited the Creed, to reflect upon a very critical aspect of Christ's saving work which, in his judgment, is embodied in the affirmation in question: "If any persons have scruples about admitting this article into the Creed, it will soon be made plain how important it is to the sum of our redemption: if it is left out, much of the benefit of Christ's death will be lost."

Calvin denied that Christ's descent into hell merely named his descent into "a grave," thus simply repeating "in other words what had previously been said [in the Creed] of his burial." He argued, rather, that Christ's descent into hell complements the preceding clause which describes Christ's death, alerting us to the spiritual dimension -- the sustaining of God's wrath on behalf of our sin -- of Christ's suffering upon the cross. God incarnate, after all, did not merely undergo physical torment and physical death upon the cross. Indeed "if Christ had died only a bodily death, it would have been ineffectual [for our salvation]." Upon the cross, rather, Christ endured "the severity of God's vengeance, to appease his wrath and satisfy his just judgment." And this, according to Calvin, is precisely what the Creed's affirmation that Christ "descended into hell" describes. "Christ was put in [the] place of evildoers as surety and pledge -- submitting himself even as the accused -- to bear and suffer all the punishment that they ought to have sustained.... No wonder, then, if [Christ] is said to have descended into hell, for he suffered [there] the death that God in his wrath [has] inflicted upon the wicked!"

Calvin has a ready answer for those who find it strange to find this affirmation of Christ enduring hell on the cross situated subsequent to the affirmation that Christ "suffered, died, and was buried." He argues that the Creed's affirmation constitutes grammatical apposition -- a phenomenon where some noun or clause restates an immediately preceding noun or clause, but adds something to it. An instance of apposition is discovered in the sentence: "This is my daughter, Kaitrin." "Kaitrin" in that sentence (who, by the way, is my daughter, not Calvin's) renames or restates "daughter." Similarly, "he descended into hell" renames or restates what occurred when Christ "suffered" and "died," but fleshes out that preceding clause with rather significant detail. "The point," Calvin concludes, "is that the Creed sets forth what Christ suffered in the sight of men, and then appositely speaks of that invisible and incomprehensible judgment which he underwent in the sight of God in order that we might know not only that Christ's body was given as the price of our redemption, but that he paid a greater and more excellent price [by] suffering in his soul the terrible torments of a condemned and forsaken man."

No wonder, in short, that Calvin felt so strongly about retaining this affirmation of the Creed. Stripped of this affirmation, the Creed fails to speak meaningfully of what Christ actually suffered upon the cross, as his eternal Father -- in light of our sins imputed to Christ -- turned his back upon him. Indeed, provided we accept Calvin's interpretation of this Creedal statement, it becomes (arguably) the pivotal affirmation of the entire Creed, the hinge upon which our salvation turns, the basis of the remarkable benefits, subsequently listed in the Creed, that belong to us ("the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting").

Of course, it takes some effort to educate believers about what Christ's descent into hell actually entails. But thus educating believers is a far better option than revising the Creed or simply omitting a statement which admittedly requires explanation (and by explanation, I mean opportunity to instruct others in the meaning of the cross).

An examination of Christ's suffering upon the cross under the rubric of "hell" also stands, incidentally, to help us understand hell itself better. Hell, like every other created reality (or perversion of the same), can only properly be understood in relation to the Creator. Our own thinking about hell should begin, not end, with attention to Christ's endurance of it upon the cross. Such is the proper path towards a theological rather than physical or metaphysical understanding of hell. Such is the proper path, in other words, towards properly understanding the horrible fate, irrevocable estrangement from God, that awaits those who reject the grace of God that is offered to us in Christ Jesus.

In short, we should continue to confess that Christ "descended into hell" not only for the sake of catholicity (though certainly for that), but also in the interest of regularly affirming the profound reality of what Christ endured for us upon the cross. To steal and tweak a phrase from J. Gresham Machen, "I'm so thankful for Christ's descent into hell. No hope without it." Indeed, no description of Christ's person and work is complete without reference to the same -- reference, that is, in some form at least to the reality that Christ has suffered hell itself on behalf of his people.

Christ inhabited hell. But not, as Rome would have us believe, tomorrow in the liturgical calendar (Holy Saturday). He inhabited hell today (Good Friday), when he drank the cup of God's wrath against our sin to the very dregs, and so freed us from ever having to down a single drop of the same. Praise be to God for Christ's descent into hell.

Did the second person of the Trinity die?

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Who died on the Cross?

Did the Second Person of the Trinity die on the cross?

We affirm. (But not all of us)

I recently read an argument by R.C. Sproul that suggested we should not say the second person of the Trinity died because that would be a mutation within the very being of God. It was argued that "we should shrink in horror from the idea that God died on the cross." He added, "The atonement was made by the human nature of Christ." 

In my opinion, the arguments above are wrong-headed. Ligonier Ministries recently re-posted this article, so evidently they are in approval of these sentiments. Far from re-thinking some of the flaws in their Christological documents, they have only exacerbated them. 

First, we must keep in mind the distinction between essence-appropriate and persons-appropriate language, i.e., essential versus relative predication. We could say, then, that in relation to their persons, the Son and the Spirit are a Patre (from the Father), but in relation to their essence they are a se. Hence, Reformed theologians have by and large used this distinction to maintain a unity of essence but also affirm a relational order in terms of the three persons. 

Therefore, persons-appropriate language explains why we can say that the Father did not die on the cross, but the Son did. 

If we affirm, as we should, that God purchased the church with his blood (Acts 20:28) we are essentially saying that God purchased the church with his death. Why should we not be allowed to say (or sing) what the Scriptures explicitly teach? Could Luke's statement have been open to misunderstanding by his readers? Of course. But Christ said all sorts of things that could be open to misunderstanding (e.g., Jn. 6:53).

The mystery and glory of the gospel demands that we say things that can be possibly misunderstood (e.g., sola fide and the Roman Catholic response to that blessed doctrine).

Some worry that this means the deity suffered, so they shrink back from affirming the Son of God (the Second person) died on the cross. But, as I say above, this is wrong and not in keeping with classical Christology.

The form of speech is what must be acknowledged. We can say God died because of the communication of properties (WCF 8.7; "according to the human nature"; see also this fine piece - 1st point). So far so good. To say the deity suffered on the cross is wrong because it is spoken without a figure. The abstract (i.e., the deity) is the divine essence, which cannot die. But when we speak of the Son of God dying we are speaking about the concrete (the name of the person, who is the God-man). 

We have to say the person died, not a nature. The person on the cross who died is Jesus, the Son of God. 

This point of doctrine (i.e., the communicatio idiomatum) was a source of contention between Reformed theologians and various Roman Catholic writers, such as Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621), who held that Christ performed his acts of mediation only as a man. In response, Reformed theologians argued that if only Christ's human nature mediated, then another human could have mediated with equal efficacy before and after the incarnation. By anchoring the natures of Christ in the unity of his person, Reformed theologians refused to speak of Christ's mediatorial work as simply the work of a human. No: Christ's mediatorial work was the work of the Son of God, who died on the cross. 

So we cannot say that "the atonement was made by the human nature of Christ." This is a Roman Catholic error. Natures don't do anything in the abstract. We are concerned about the concrete in all of Christ's acts of mediation: the Son did this or the Son did that. The atonement had to be made by the person because the atonement needed to be infinite in value. 

Can we sing, then, "And Can it Be?" (especially the words, "How can it be that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?")?

Absolutely. We sing it in the concrete, of the Son of God who loved us and died for us (Gal. 2:20, "I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me").

"He who fixed the heavens in place has been fixed in place.
He who laid the foundation of the universe has been laid on a tree.
The Master has been profaned.
God has been murdered." (Melito of Sardis)

Since writing and submitting the series of posts (beginning here) on the pervasive Christological confusion in China, I have received a communication confirming that my caution about attributing to our brother the view suggested by his assertions is well founded. As I muse in the final post of the series,

Perhaps these statements do not accurately represent his views. They are imprecisely stated, somewhat speculative, and not clearly argued from Scripture. There are layers of language involved here and at least two years has passed since these recordings were made--enough time for him to have already changed his mind.

According to this recent communication, this brother declares that he "embraces the totality of the Reformed faith" and made some of the assertions at the root of the present confusion in unguarded extemporaneous moments. He did not intend to confuse anyone on the doctrine of Christ's humanity, does not believe the assertions circulating widely in China are well-understood, and denies that they "adequately represent" his full or final position on this matter.

So far as I can see, this is encouraging news. The confusion itself persists, of course, and deserves whatever attention is necessary to clarify just what the biblical and confessional teaching on Christ's humanity is; going forward, may we concentrate on the doctrinal issue at hand with one heart and mind for the welfare of the church here, there, and everywhere.

Reviewing Ligonier's Christology Statement

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Ligonier Ministries have produced a Creed, as well as Affirmations and Denials, with a focus on Christology - a "Christology Statement". While I wonder what possible ecclesiastical authority a Creed can have when offered by a parachurch organization, I think their instincts to defend the truth are in many ways commendable. 

Historically, Reformed theologians and pastors have sought to improve Confessions that were already in existence. Thomas Goodwin stated that the additions and changes in the Savoy Declaration (1658) were the "latest and best" by incorporating "clearer expressions" than what was found in the already impressive Westminster Confession of Faith. 

Personally, I think writing new Confessions could be an extremely helpful enterprise, especially given the rise of (somewhat) new errors in the church. We cannot simply take for granted the truths for which our forefathers fought. John Owen disdains, according to Ryan Kelly, "a kind of mindless and lazy confessional allegiance, especially when they have 'lived [in] the comfort of' them for a time. Confessional assemblies, then, are to be 'put upon a new search' of divine truth." 

Owen had a remarkably "progressive" position regarding the writing of Confessions. His view on the progress of theology meant that confessions need to be re-stated, sometimes even modified or changed, in order to meet the particular needs of the church in each age. Reformed confessions were sometimes written within years of other Reformed confessions in Britain during the seventeenth century. 

Kelly adds: "Owen suggests that there is always an ongoing need for the church 'to defend, improve, give and add new light unto old truths' (Works, 11:11). Such a concept of adding 'new light unto old truths' at least suggests the possibility of a better articulation and fuller explanation of an old truth in a new confession; but it, in fact, goes further to include an improvement of old truths with 'new light'" (Works, 4:223-31). 

An Analysis of Ligonier's Creed and Affirmations and Denials

In the spirit of "iron sharpening iron" I would like to provide an analysis of some of the theological content of the Creed in the hope that my own critical observations might lead to some further reflection by those associated with the producing of this document. Who knows, it may be that instead of adopting a defensive attitude (as some undoubtedly will), the "framers" might acknowledge the validity of one or more of these points and revise their documents accordingly! Doesn't public theology demand this sort of thing, i.e., external scrutiny?

1. In Article 2, their understanding (and thus rejection) of homoiousios is mistaken. They overlook or are not aware of the fact that homoiousios is not an alternative to homoousios. It's a later corrective to the modalist error, just as homoousios corrects Arianism. As an Arian cannot confess homoousios so a modalist cannot confess homoiousios. That's by design. Each term has its advantages and disadvantages, and we need both. Many might find this odd, but that's because many confuse the origin of the term (e.g., Eusebius) with its constant sense. The term was quite serviceable against the modalists. 

Also, this phrase in Article 2 appears a little sloppy: "We affirm that Jesus' divine nature is consubstantial (homoousios) and therefore coequal and coeternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit." 

The Son is consubstantial, coequal, and coeternal with the Father and Spirit. Surely they want to say "The Son, in accordance with his divine nature, is..." rather than just predicating things of Jesus' divine nature abstractly. Some have worried about a type of mild Nestorianism in R.C. Sproul's Christology, and this statement doesn't help, especially when read against comments he has made on stage at conferences justifying images of Christ because they are "images of the human nature", not of the divine. Not even the East uses that argument for icons. Rather, they insist that Christ's glorified humanity is on display in fully glorified saints, rather than humanity or human nature as such.

2. I notice that the Affirmations and Denials do not address in any explicit detail the impeccability of Christ. From what I have heard and read from R.C. Sproul, I believe he denies impeccability - at least in the past he has. Thus the Creed is silent on an aspect of Christology that, to me, is of fundamental importance to our view of Christ's person. Affirming sinlessness is not the same thing as affirming impeccability (i.e., that he cannot sin). Affirming Christ's impeccability would have been a salient point in today's context. Denying impeccability leads to massive implications for our doctrine of God and the Trinity.

3. There is practically nothing on union with Christ, sanctification, and glorification. There is only a mention of the gift of the Spirit, but the document does not say what the gift is for. All of this doesn't necessarily need to be a problem for a statement on Christology, except for the fact that the Affirmations and Denials clearly deal with applied soteriology concerning justification by faith. The Creed also only mentions one applied aspect of salvation: justification ("He took our filthy rags and gave us His righteous robe.").

In the Preface, R.C. Sproul makes the laudable commitment to defending the whole Christ, arguing that the whole Christ is necessary for our confession and faith and life. But to say this and then reduce that whole Christ to justification is an interesting omission. The document may only convince Roman Catholics that Protestants are hell-bent (pardon the pun, per Trent) on "abstract imputation." Will this document help our cause against Rome, especially given Rome's polemics against Protestants for being weak on sanctification? 

4. Article 7 (the Affirmation) is odd. It is written in the present tense, which gives the impression that in his glorified, ascended state Christ still partakes of infirmities. Surely that is only true of his life of humiliation?

5. Article 12 could be worded better. They almost appear to make the atonement purely about substitution. What is denied should actually be affirmed about his death (see Heb. 2:14) in terms of his victory over Satan. While they are correct that Christ's death is not only or merely a victory over Satan, it is at least that, even as it is important to say it is other things as well. After all, the first promise of the gospel (Gen. 3:15) is victorious language!

6. There is nothing justifying the current situation for why the Creed was written. They do not talk specifically about contemporary Christological heresies or crises serving as the provocation for this. Why do they think the present generation of the Church is unprepared without this creed? I am of the opinion that the historic creeds are still adequate. 

Indeed, most of what is good in the Ligonier statement is not new but old; what is questionable or imprecise is not old, but new. 

7. I don't quite understand the "because" in Article 13 (Affirmation): "We affirm that because of Christ's life of obedience and death, our sin is imputed to Him and His righteousness is imputed to us by faith."

What is it about the fact per se of Christ's life of obedience and death that entails imputation? The "because" suggests a relationship of necessity: because of Christ's life of obedience and death, ergo our sin imputed to him etc. It is at least imprecise and sloppy. "Because" should be dropped. Instead a different preposition should be used, or the syntax should all be reconfigured to clarify that imputation is the issue being confessed, without grounding it in the fact of Christ's life and death. 

In my view, Christ's life of obedience and death, on their logic, also entails impartation, but in this document imputation gets all of the attention in terms of applied soteriology.

8. I am not sure about this in Article 10: "...and that He bore the penalty for our sin by His sinless life and His death on the cross." While Christ bore the penalty for our sin on the cross, is it correct to argue that he bore the penalty for our sin "by His sinless life"? It could be true, but I wouldn't put it that way, as it will no doubt confuse more than clarify.

9. A number of the Affirmations and Denials require a lot of "reading into" or excessive explaining to make the meaning work. In other words, they are making things difficult for the reader by stating, for example (Article 6): "We affirm that Jesus is the perfect and supreme image of God, and that to be truly human is to be conformed to His image." Was Adam, before the Fall, conformed to the image of Jesus? Perhaps this is a Supralapsarian document? Or was Adam not truly human, in which case this would be close to a Socinian position. Ironically, what they say could also be read in a Barthian direction. Whatever the case, Article 6 is a mess.

Elsewhere, they say: "We deny that we are justified on the basis of any infusion of grace into us; that we are justified only once we have become in ourselves inherently righteous; or that any future justification will be based on our faithfulness." This last part ("or that any future justification...") could conceivably rule out many Reformed Protestants who spoke of a double justification. Note they say, "any future justification", as if there were not a type of justification that takes into account our faithfulness. A charitable reading would mean that "based on" means meritorious, in which case I would agree. But "based on" can be used generally, in which case previous Reformed luminaries would have to disagree with the statement. Would, then, these Reformed Protestants end up denying justification by faith alone, which, in the words of the document, is tantamount to denying the gospel (i.e., "We further affirm that to deny the doctrine of justification by faith alone is to deny the gospel.")? Do Arminians, with their different understanding of justification by faith, also deny the gospel? 

In one respect, I wish they would have altogether avoided applied soteriology in these documents, not only because they almost entirely only deal with justification, but because when they do they, unwittingly perhaps, end up excluding some from the Reformed tradition. 

10. Article 3 is also regrettably put: "We deny that Jesus is in any way lesser than God." But consider the words of the Athanasian Creed: "equal to the Father as regards divinity, less than the Father as regards humanity." Otherwise, how could Jesus have said, "The Father is greater than I" (Jn. 14:28)?

11. Finally, I have a problem with Article 10 (the Affirmation). The problem with this Affirmation is that nearly all modern critics of the imputation of the active obedience of Christ could affirm Article 10. This Affirmation misses the point entirely. 

These critics do not deny the reality of Christ's active obedience. Rather, they deny that that is the righteousness imputed. In fact, Article 10 does not even affirm the imputation of the active obedience of Christ. Even Norman Shepherd would have no problem with Article 10. In addition, Article 13 speaks of Christ's righteousness being imputed by faith, which (again) is something even Shepherd would affirm. Much to be preferred is the Savoy Declaration (1658), which affirms the imputation of Christ's active obedience. 

So while the documents provided by Ligonier are a little too justification-centric for my liking, even when they do speak of justification they don't frame the issue as narrowly or carefully as one might expect from them. 

Or maybe they are intentionally making the door wide on sola fide?

Conclusion

I remain persuaded that the church, not parachurch organizations, should be commissioned with producing Creeds, because only then will the Creed(s) produced have any binding authority on those who solemnly vow to confess the Creed(s). It wouldn't surprise me if a lot of my Presbyterian brothers feel much the same. 

The Ligonier documents offered lack the elegance of Chalcedon (451 A.D) and the precision and balance of Westminster. They fail to make any progress on what has already been written by our Reformed theologians in previous eras, and in some cases what they say is either unclear or wrong.  

To that extent, while I commend Ligonier for wanting to publicly defend the truth, I am not as excited about the content of the Creed and the Affirmations and Denials as some are, especially given how long it took to craft (3 yrs) and the resources they have at their disposal. That is not so much a slight on the authors of the documents as it is praise for Reformed divines from previous eras who framed such beautiful and precise statements regarding our Lord Jesus Christ - statements that are, I think, hard to improve upon.
This is the final post in a twelve-part series on the current Christological confusion taking root in China's emerging Reformed community (see parts 12345678, and 9 and 10 and 11).


Conclusion

There may be ways to construe the supposed pre-existent humanity of Christ without transgressing Chalcedonian orthodoxy--Klaas Runia certainly thought Barth achieved this.[1] For this reason, among others, Reformed theologians have generally treated this view as objectionable but not, by itself, heretical.[2] Even though some of the statements reviewed in this essay are difficult to square with Chalcedon and obviously incompatible with the Reformed standards cited above, my concern here is not assessing this man's views but addressing the Christological confusion his statements are causing within Reformed circles on the mainland of China (and beyond).

Perhaps these statements do not accurately represent his views. They are imprecisely stated, somewhat speculative, and not clearly argued from Scripture. There are also layers of language involved here and at least two years has passed since these recordings were made--enough time for him to have already changed his mind.

Whatever the case may be, these statements are circulating throughout mainland China, influencing believers who are just discovering the Reformed tradition, and causing enough Christological confusion to warrant our concern. Anyone who develops their Christological views around these "two claims, . . . first, that Christ's human nature and Christ's body are uncreated; and, second, that Christ's human nature has existed from all eternity," seems certain to stray from the Chalcedonian Christology the orthodox Reformed standards consistently maintain. Jesus Christ is not a bodily manifestation of an eternal humanness hidden within God; God-incarnate is not just similar to us with respect to a range of bodily functions but consubstantial with us--just like us in every way except sin; and there is no such thing as an uncreated physical body.

Though the divine and eternal Son assuming a fully human nature, body and soul, created and finite just like ours, is a scandal, it is the glorious scandal of God's saving grace in Jesus Christ, necessary for us and our salvation.

Notes:

[1] Klaas Runia, The Present-Day Christological Debate (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1984), pp. 16-21.

[2] An interesting example of this is Hodge, Systematic Theology, pp. 421-28, who treats the views of Swendenborg and Watts on this point as merely objectionable and describes the latter as undoubtedly "a devout worshiper of our Lord Jesus Christ," p. 423.

This is the eleventh post in a twelve-part series on the current Christological confusion taking root in China's emerging Reformed community (see parts 12345678, and 9 and 10).


Seventh Statement: The "Unknown Humanity of God in Christ"

"Until recent times," Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen observes, "the idea of the pre-existence of the human nature [of Christ] was not only not affirmed but at times considered to be dangerous or even heretical."[1] This did not prevent the ever-provocative Karl Barth from contriving such a Christology, however. First hinted at in his Church Dogmatics, he later argued before the Swiss Reformed Ministers' Association that the humanity of God in Christ must have a central place in evangelical theology. Admitting that he and his cobelligerents had "moved [this perspective on God] from the center to the periphery, from the emphasized principle clause to the less emphasized subordinate clause" in their polemic against theological liberalism, he now considered its recovery an urgent task.[2] Since then a number of other theologians have played suit. Among them are Wilhelm Vischer, Donald Bloesch, Robert Jenson, Thomas Senor, and the already noted Webb.[3] Apparently, our brother in Asia should be added to this list.

Although he does not cite any sources for his statements (other than a few dubiously translated or interpreted places in Scripture), his language sometimes seems lifted right out of Barth's several discussions, including his claim that the eternal humanness of Christ is the uncreated "prototype" of humanity and "could be called the 'Un-known humanity of God in Christ'."[4] Here, for example, is Barth's discussing the creation of humans:
There is a real pre-existence of man... namely, a pre-existence in the counsel of God, and to that extent, in God Himself, i.e., in the Son of God, in so far as the Son is the uncreated prototype of the humanity which is to be linked with God... As God Himself is mirrored in this image, He creates man [5]
On the humanity of God, Barth declares "it is precisely God's deity which, rightly understood, includes his humanity" and that "His deity encloses humanity in itself." Humanity, he argues, is hidden within the divine being but revealed through Jesus Christ: "In Him the fact is once for all established that God does not exist without man." Again, "in the mirror of this humanity of Jesus Christ the humanity of God enclosed in His deity reveals itself." [6]

Barth understands that "the statement regarding God's humanity, the Immanuel, to which we have advanced... from the Christological center, cannot but have the most far-reaching consequences."[7] But the consequences are determined by the details of the particular view one advances. Despite the similarity of language, Barth and our brother in Asia arrive at their respective views on the pre-existence of Christ's humanity from distinct starting points and, in the end, hold distinct positions--the latter's even more exotic than the former's.

This is not the place to enter into a comparative study of Barth's view of Christ's pre-existent humanity and the variety of this species taking root in China today. But, as Barth correctly notes, any statement regarding the humanity of God in Christ will have profound consequences, some of which, as Kärkkäinen observes, have long been considered dangerous to the understanding of Scripture captured in the Chalcedonian definition set down in 451.

Notes:

[1] Kärkkäinen, Christ and Reconciliation: A Constructive Christian Theology for the Pluralistic World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013), pp. 184-85.

[2] His 1956 address to the Swiss Reformed Ministers' Association was entitled "The Humanity of God" and subsequently translated into English and published in Karl Barth, The Humanity of God (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1960), pp. 37-65. See also Barth's Christocentric discussion of election in Church Dogmatics II/2 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1957), pp. 95-194 (especially p. 145), and of the creation of "real man" in Church Dogmatics III/2 (1960), p. 155.

[3] See, for example, Wilhelm Vischer, The Witness of the Old Testament to Christ, trans. A. B. Crabtree (London: Lutterworth, 1949); Donald G. Bloesch, Jesus Christ: Savior & Lord (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1997), pp. 132-43; Robert W. Jenson, Systematic Theology, vol. 1 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), especially pp. 125-45; and Thomas D. Senor, "Incarnation and Trinity" in Reason for the Hope Within, ed. by Michael Murray (Grad Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), pp. 238-59, especially 241-52. Bloesch also names Klaas Runia and Ray Anderson as proponents, p. 137. Like Matt Slick, President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry, who states "Jesus is uncreated" several times in his article on "Jesus" available at https://carm.org/cut-jesus, it is difficult to know Runia and Anderson intended to assert the uncreated humanity of Christ or were just speaking loosely about his pre-existence as the Son. After Barth, Jenson's views have attracted the most attention, including sharp critiques by Simon Gathercole, "Pre-existence and the Freedom of the Son in Creation and Redemption: An Exposition in Dialogue with Robert Jenson," International Journal of Systematic Theology, 7.1 (January 2005), pp. 38-51, and Oliver D. Crisp, "Robert Jensen on the Pre-existence of Christ," Modern Theology 23:1 (January 2007), pp. 27-45, the latter concluding Jenson's view is "simply incoherent," p. 42.

[4] Second Recording.

[5] Church Dogmatics III/2, p. 155.

[6] Barth, Humanity of God, pp. 46, 49, 50,  and 51, respectively (emphasis original). It is worth noting that the Barth's language regarding the humanity of God has spread far beyond just those who affirm Christ's humanity is pre-existent. Take, for example, the title to James Torrance's festschrift, Christ in our Place: The Humanity of God in Christ for the Reconciliation of the World: Essays presented to James Torrance (Eugene: Pickwick, 1989) or the language of Jürgen Moltmann in many passages of The Crucified God: The Cross of Christ as the Foundation and Criticism of Christian Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993).

[7] Barth, Humanity of God, p. 52.

This is the ninth post in a twelve-part series on the current Christological confusion taking root in China's emerging Reformed community (see parts 123456, 7 and 8)


Fifth Statement: Merely Functional Likeness

Ironically, holding a univocal view of God's image (see part 8) leads our speaker to insist that Christ's human nature "is fundamentally different from us who have been created."[1] This is a startling departure from the Chalcedonian tradition's confession that the incarnate Son is "consubstantial with us according to the manhood [and] in all things like unto us, without sin" (see part 3)

If there is only one kind of divine image and that image is the eternal Son and is also the essence of humanity then it follows that the eternal Son must be eternally human in some sense--the sense of his eternal humanness. As he puts it,
Jesus Christ possesses God's image, [while] we were created after God's image. Therefore, Christ himself is the image, which is the gene of human nature. Well, within Christ is the original form of human nature, or original human nature. This is something that is not created. This is what I mean. So, I believe that Christ's human nature is uncreated and pre-existent within God.[2]
And again,
Since humankind was created in this image, humankind is said to have been created in the image of God, that is, created in Christ's likeness. Now, since humankind was created in Christ's likeness, Christ must have pre-existed before the creation of all human beings. The "humanness in Christ" has always pre-existed within Christ. This is what I mean to express.[3]
So, Christ is the original human, we are the copies created in the likeness of his humanness: "we reflect Him, he is the prototype."[4]

Because his human nature is uncreated and pre-existent we cannot say he is like us in every way except sin--or conversely, that we are just like him. We must instead conclude that his "humanness is not very similar to what is traditionally referred to as humanity or human nature" and that, even as incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth, he is only "like unto us in many things."[5] Even "his body is entirely different from ours."[6]

Directly addressing the Chalcedonian claim Christ is like us in every way except sin, he asks,
Is he like unto us in all these things? He is a human being, so, just like us, he could grow hungry, thirsty, and physically weary; he would sleep; he experienced many of the things that we experience.[7]
But the many ways he is like us may relate only to a range of bodily functions and corresponding experiences:
His body is entirely different from ours, because our bodies have been created. . . . Jesus Christ's body was neither created from dust, nor from the union of a man and a woman, . . . so his body is certainly different from ours. Different, yet, he truly became human, and he had to possess all the functions of the kind of bodies that we have, so he would sleep, he would be tired, he would grow hungry, he would be thirsty, etc. The functions of his body were "like unto us in all things."[8]
Although Jesus is necessarily like us in his bodily functions, embodied experience alone falls short of being consubstantial with the rest of humanity. Functional somatic similarity, if you will, is not enough to secure the kind of identification with humanity the Chalcedonian tradition, not to mention author of Hebrews, maintains is necessary "for our salvation." As the maxim laid down by Gregory of Nazianzus declares, "that which was not assumed is not healed."[9]

Notes:

[1] First Recording

[2] Third Recording

[3] First Recording

[4] First Recording

[5] First Recording

[6] Third Recording

[7] Second Recording

[8] Third Recording

[9] Letter to Cledonius (Ep. 101), p. 5

Transfigured Hermeneutics 3: Transfiguration as Theophany

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This is the third part of a multipart series of posts on the subject of the Transfiguration and its significance for Christian theology and biblical reflection. Within the first couple of posts I explored the literary presentation of the event of the Transfiguration, chiefly as it appears in Luke's gospel. I argued that the Transfiguration is paralleled to the Baptism of Christ and is also framed by an Exodus pattern. Within this Exodus pattern, the analogies between the Transfiguration and Sinai are cast in bolder relief, enabling us to see the mutually illuminating character of the events that occur on the two mountains. It is to this that we will now turn.

In Exodus 33:17-18, Moses asked the LORD to show him his glory. The LORD descended in the cloud, stood with Moses, and then passed before him in 34:5-9, declaring his covenant name. As Meredith Kline has observed, there is both a close interrelationship and a distinction in the Old Testament between the Angel of the LORD and the Spirit-Presence.[1]  The Angel (or Messenger) of the LORD is identified with God and is spoken of as a divine figure, but can also be distinguished from God 'as one who is sent by God on a mission or who himself refers to the Lord in the third person.'[2] The Angel is the divine archetypal prophetic figure--a form of God's self-manifestation--declaring the LORD's will and representing his authority to his people. The Spirit-Presence (or Glory) is the LORD's own majesty and splendour.

There are many accounts of theophanies in the Old Testament. It is important, however, to observe their differing characters. In some theophanies, as in the LORD's appearance to Abraham at Mamre (Genesis 18) or the Man who wrestles with Jacob at Peniel (Genesis 32:22-32), the appearance is of the Angel of the LORD, with apparently no accompanying Glory phenomena. In other cases, such as the pillar of cloud and fire that led the children of Israel out of Egypt and the theophany witnessed by the nation at Mount Sinai in Exodus 19 and 20, it is the phenomena of dreadful and awe-inspiring Glory-Presence that is most prominent, a burning radiance shrouded in thick cloud and darkness. Kline writes:
During the earlier period when the kingdom offered in the Abrahamic promises was still abeyant, God appeared as the Angel, apart from the Glory phenomena. But the advent of the age that was prototypal of final judgment and kingdom consummation witnessed a form of theophany appropriate to an age of eschatological fulfillment. God's self-revelation to Israel in this age of exodus triumph and kingdom founding was still a revelation through the Angel, but now the Angel appeared in union with the Spirit-Presence, in the more public and continuous and awesome epiphany of the Glory-cloud.[3]
When the Angel is accompanied by the Glory, it is the Glory-Face of the LORD that is seen. Moses' theophany upon Mount Sinai is of a distinct character from previous theophanies. While the Angel of the LORD laid aside his Glory in previous theophanies, Moses witnessed the Angel in his Glory-form. As Moses saw the Glory-Face of the LORD he was transformed by the sight, his own face bearing a reflected glory so dazzling that the Israelites could not bear to look upon it. To spare the Israelites from the sight, Moses covered his face with a veil, only removing it when he went into the Glory-Presence of the LORD to speak with the LORD again (Exodus 34:29-35).

As I have observed, Luke narrates the Transfiguration of Christ in a manner that accents Exodus themes. The relationship between the Transfiguration and Sinai is found primarily in the theophany, although the contrasts here are as important as the similarities. The most significant of these contrasts is that, while Moses' face is changed as he reflects the LORD's Glory-Face, Jesus' Transfiguration isn't a reflection, but is an unveiling of God's own Glory-Face. This is a point of no small significance: in his Transfiguration, Jesus is implicitly disclosed as the Messenger of the LORD, the archetypal divine prophet, the radiant Image or Face of God, the one witnessed by the people of God in the Old Testament.

Within the next post, I will continue to explore the theme of Christ as divine theophany, focusing upon the treatment of the subject in the gospel of John.

Notes:

[1] Meredith G. Kline, Images of the Spirit (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1999), pp. 70-75

[2] Ibid. p. 71

[3] Ibid. pp. 72-73
This is the eighth post in a twelve-part series on the current Christological confusion taking root in China's emerging Reformed community (see part 123456, and 7)


Fourth Statement: The Recast Image of God

Recast by the concept of Christ's eternal humanness (see part 5), the image of God is no longer just about the way humans were originally created in God's likeness but now also about how humanity's original form eternally exists "within God's being." He reasons that "the image of God is Christ and therefore Christ in eternity is the original form of human nature."[1]  Turning the imago Dei on its head, he proceeds from the claim that "humanness is the essence of Christ and . . . Christ is the image of God" to the conclusion that "this image contains within it the original form of the essence of human nature. Perhaps," he proposes, "this could be called the 'Un-known humanity of God in Christ'."[2]

Orthodox Reformed theologians sometimes speak of Christ as the essential image of God (imago essentialis) in the sense that, as the Son, he is co-essential with the Father. When they do, however, they carefully distinguish this sense of the divine image from the sense in which humans are created in God's image (imago accidentalis), and deny that humans possess the essential image of God.[3]

As the incarnate Son, Jesus Christ in some sense makes the invisible God visible. Hence he is "the image of the invisible God" (Col 1:15) and "the exact imprint of his nature" (Heb 1:3) in a way that surpasses anything that could be said of mere humans. Only the incarnate Son bears the essential image and it cannot be transmitted, lost, or damaged anymore than he could be duplicated or fail to be the second person of the Trinity.

The image of God in mere humans, however, is a natural gift originally given to Adam at creation. From him, it has been passed on to the whole race and, in the fall, was also severely damaged and partly lost. The damage was done to the intrinsic aspect of the divine image, which is how humans are, like God, spiritual beings with intellect, will, and affections. Though damaged, these faculties survive the fall and in this sense humans continue to bear the divine image. The extrinsic aspect of the divine image, which is how Adam and Eve, also like God, were originally righteous, holy, and pure, was lost in the fall.

To confuse the Son's essential image with the image of God given humanity is to confuse the divine and human natures. Our speaker is aware of the danger:
Here, I do not intend to confuse Christ's human and divine natures. What I mean is that Christ's human nature [or humanness], which is the original form by which human nature is created, is within him.[4]
The statements on the image of God above, however, fail to maintain any distinction between the essential image of God in Christ as the divine Son and the divine image given to humanity as a gift. Consequently, they fail to prevent this kind of confusion between the divine and human natures. On the contrary, by tracing the imago Dei in humans back through "the ontological being of Christ" to "God's being," this sort of confusion seems unavoidable.

Notes:

[1] First Recording

[2] Second Recording. The phrase "Unknown humanity of God in Christ" is originally given in English by the speaker and thus not translated, and for that reason offset here in quotation marks

[3] This sense of the imago essentialis should not be confused with, for example, G. C. Berkouwer's use of that term in Man the Image of God: Studies in Dogmatics (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1962), pp. 38-41, to refer to the constitutive aspect of the image of God in humanity. Note also that Lutheran theologians draw a similar distinction between the substantial image of God (imago substantialis) uniquely in Christ as the divine Son and the accidental image (imago accidentalis) originally in Adam.

[4] Second Recording

Proverbs: Written to Christ, for Christ

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Connecting Christ and the Proverbs isn't so easy. How do we read the book of Proverbs as Christians in a way that would distinguish us from how a Jew might read the same book? Also, why then was the book of Proverbs written? 

In understanding Christ in relation to Proverbs we need to understand Christ himself. The Christ of the New Testament is both fully God (Jn. 1:1) and fully man (Jn. 1:14).  Regarding his divinity he is the all-wise God (Rom. 11:33; 16:27); his understanding has no limit (Ps. 147:5); thus, we are to praise him for his wisdom (Dan. 2:20). If the book of Proverbs is the book of Wisdom - and it is - we are bound to confess as Christians that the Son of God is both Wisdom and the author of wisdom (Prov. 2:6). The Son of God, however, is also the Son of Man. As a man, he is finite; that is, besides being 'very God of very God', Christ is also fully human. And because he is a human, his knowledge and wisdom are limited and capable of increase (Lk. 2:52), though never reaching the same level as that which the Godhead possesses. These points about Christ's person are, I believe, absolutely vital if we are to understand the relation of Christ to the book of Proverbs.

In the third "Servant Song", Isaiah provides an interesting glimpse into the life of Jesus. We are told that Christ receives from his Father "an instructed tongue" so that he may "know the word that sustains the weary" (Isa. 50:4). From his earliest childhood Christ was wakened every morning so that he might be taught by his Father (Isa. 50:4). As a man he read the Word of God - which would have likely included Proverbs - and became aware not only of his own story (Lk. 24:44), but of how he ought to live as the subject of his own story. Luke's account of Jesus as a twelve year old should not surprise us, then. During Christ's conversation with the teachers of the law he "amazed" those who heard him and so Luke records that "Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men" (Lk. 2:52).  
During the course of Christ's public ministry he taught in parables, both to conceal (Matt. 13:10-17) and reveal (Matt. 13:36-43) the mysteries of the Kingdom. Interestingly, the Greek word for "parable" (parabole) is connected to the Hebrew word for "proverb" (masal). By teaching in parables, Jesus was a teacher of wisdom!  Moreover, as we study the details of Christ's life we note that Christ knew how to "answer a fool according to his folly" (compare Prov. 26:5 with Jn. 19:11, Jn. 10:34) and to "not answer a fool according to his folly" (compare Prov. 26:4 with Lk. 23:9, Matt. 22:32). The evidence suggests, then, that Christ not only read the Proverbs, but needed to read the Proverbs in order to live a life pleasing to the Father.  Indeed, the book of Proverbs connects wisdom with righteousness (Prov. 10). The context of Proverbs 10 shows that to "do right" often involves depriving oneself for the good or benefit of others (see Prov. 10:5).  

Bruce Waltke summarizes this behaviour in Proverbs in the following way: "The wicked advantage themselves by disadvantaging others, but the righteous disadvantage themselves to advantage others." Once seen in this light, how can we not think of Christ who, "though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich" (2 Cor. 8:9)? Little wonder, then, that Paul should famously declare that Christ is "wisdom from God" (1 Cor. 1:30) and that in him "are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Col. 2:3). Christ truly is the very incarnation of wisdom - wisdom whereby one disadvantages himself for the sake of others!

Proverbs 1-9 commends to its readers the pursuit of wisdom; in fact, wisdom is personified as a noble lady to be pursued (e.g. 1:20-33; 8:1-36). In chapter 8 personification becomes personality. The specific - highly controversial - text that marks this transition in Proverbs is 8:22-31. Some theologians have argued that this section is an explicit reference to Christ, while other scholars have rejected this line of interpretation because they feel this lends itself to a form of Arianism, the idea that the Son was created by the Father. In fact, this was a favourite text of Arius. But many (Reformed) orthodox Christian theologians have nevertheless seen Christ - who as the God-man is the center of God's decrees - as the subject of Proverbs 8. If Christ, as the God-man, is described in Proverbs 8:22-36, and I believe he is (based in part on Paul's way of describing Christ in 1 Cor. 1:30), we have an important clue in how we apply the Proverbs to our lives as Christians.
The Christ who is at the center of God's purposes for the recovery of mankind in Prov. 8:22-31 (especially verse 31) is the same Christ who provides the imperatives for his people in verses 32-36! Christ sets before mankind two different paths, the path of wisdom and the path of folly. To those who choose the former he promises "life and ... favour from the Lord" (Prov. 8:35), but to those who choose the latter he promises "death" (Prov. 8:36). Paul connects the lack of wisdom and how it affects conduct in 1 Corinthians 2:6-8 in the following way: "We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory." The wisdom that invites us is the Lord of glory; and once we feast on Wisdom himself (Jn. 6:53), we cannot help but live out that Wisdom in our calling to be conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). 

To live according to wisdom, as the Proverbs instruct us, is to live like Christ himself. And for that reason, "Christ as wisdom from Proverbs" has added significance to those who bear the name Christian. But, as we meditate upon Christ's obedience for us, we may not only look to the gospel accounts of his life, but also to Proverbs as the manual that instructed him how to live the perfect life that we were unable to live. In Gethsemane, when Christ asks three times for the cup of suffering to be removed from him, he submits himself to the will of the Father, which has echoes of Proverbs 16:9. Christ knew that his Father would determine his next steps: the steps that led him to the cross. 

In the end, I believe that Proverbs was written to/for Christ (and by Christ); and because we are in him, they are written also for us. This might mean, regrettably for some and happily for others, that Proverbs 31 is not first about our wives, but about the church. 

This is the seventh post in a twelve-part series on the current Christological confusion taking root in China's emerging Reformed community  (see part 1234 and 5 and 6).

Third Statement: Incarnation as the Assumption of a Body (Alone?)

Despite his apparent anthropological dualism, our brother does not actually affirm a two-stage incarnation (or refer to humanness as his soul). Origen believed Christ's human soul was un-fallen and pre-existent but also created and assumed by the Son at the beginning of creation. But here, Christ's humanness is said to be uncreated and eternal, not something assumed but "something within God's being."

So, there is only one incarnational moment, which involves the assumption of a physical human body by the one who is already human without the incarnation. Thus, in explaining the meaning of "Logos ensarkos, Word-in-flesh," he declares this:
About this "flesh", the Bible has made three important statements: (1) "the Father has prepared a body for me"; (2) the Son Himself took the form of a slave, thus inheriting a physical body from Mary; (3) the Virgin conceived and gave birth by the Holy Spirit, so God came to dwell among us--Immanuel.
He proceeds to explain from these three points why he is unwilling to call Christ's body (or flesh) created, which we will return to in part 10. The point here is to observe the apparent reduction of the incarnation to just the assumption of a physical human body. Again, in his words, "Christ was already in possession of an original and eternal form of human nature, and then after he came into the world, he came to possess an incarnate human nature, the nature of a human body."[1]

This statement could be read as reducing not just the incarnation, but created human nature to possessing a human body or some property we acquire "by virtue of having a body." He denies this, however, and prefers to say "a human being is human because there is human nature [in the sense of humanness] within him or her."[2] As already observed (see part 5), "humanness is the essence within human beings, the essence by virtue of which human beings are human."[3] But, according to him, the Son already possessed this from eternity and thus was a human being in precisely this sense. So, the Son did not assume human nature in the sense of humanness or become fully human when conceived in Mary's womb, but acquired just "the nature of a human body."

By insisting on the pre-existence of Christ's humanness, he arrests this view from collapsing into a Word-flesh or Apollinarian Christology. Although these statements suggest a broadly Apollinarian view of what the Son assumed in the incarnation, the speaker insists that the incarnate Son "has a [human] body, a soul, affection, reason, and a will just like us."[4] It is unclear whether his human soul is identical with his humanness prior to the incarnation (asarkos) or only as embodied (ensarkos), but humanness seems to refer to the spiritual (intellectual and volitional) aspect of Christ's human nature, and thus his humanity includes both body and soul, including the intellectual aspect denied by Apollinarians.[5]

Avoiding Apollinarianism, however, is little consolation.

Notes:

[1] Third Recording. Also worth noting, the speaker identifies flesh with body and contrasts it to both the soul and what Jesus possessed prior to the incarnation.

[2] First Recording

[3] First Recording

[4] Second Recording

[5]  Hodge, Systematic Theology, pp. 421-23, interprets Emanuel Swedenborg's extensive but scattered comments on the incarnation as positing an eternal humanness in God that becomes materially manifest in time by the God's assumption of a physical body. Hodge is followed by Donald G. Bloesch, Jesus Christ: Savior & Lord (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1997), p. 137.

This is the sixth post in a twelve-part series on the current Christological confusion taking root in China's emerging Reformed community (see part 123, 4 and 5).

Second Statement: Platonic Dualism

As noted at the end of the previous post (see part 5), his discussion of the incarnation under the distinction between human nature and humanness vaguely sounds like Origen (or Isaac Watts). Origin believed in the pre-existence of human souls and taught a two-stage incarnation of the Son, the first consisting of his union with the un-fallen human soul of Jesus from the beginning of creation and the second a union with a human body in Mary's womb. The prior union of the Son with a human soul is why, he reasons, "throughout the whole of Scripture, not only is the divine nature spoken of in human words, but the human nature is adorned by appellations of divine dignity."[1]

Our speaker makes similar claims, drawing the same conclusion about the biblical witness to humanity's "dignity and glory" prior to the incarnation.[2] Though he does not endorse the pre-existence of the human soul, his notion of humanness as the original, pre-existing form of the humanity later embodied in Jesus of Nazareth and prototype of all created humans comes close. Traditionally, the human soul (anima) is conceived as the form of the human body (forma corporis). Most Reformed theologians adopted a broadly Aristotelian interpretation of this, in which the form (soul, in this case) only properly exists in the particular thing formed (the embodied human).[3] Like Origen, however, our speaker embraces a version of Platonic dualism in which forms really exist independent of the thing formed:
Humanness is the essence within human beings, the essence by virtue of which human beings are human. This human essence has existed from all eternity, and is something within God's being that he intended to use as the gene for his creation of humankind. It is the image of God; it is the ontological being of Christ [4]
In other words, the original, pre-existing form of humanity (humanness) is not just an idea in God's mind but an actually existing thing, which he, unlike Origen, declares eternal and locates within God's being.

The implication of this for understanding the unique moment of the incarnation in Mary's womb is taken up in the next post.

Notes:

[1] Origen, De Principiis, 2.6.3-5. See also Isaac Watts, "The Glory of Christ as God-man" in The Works of the Rev. Isaac Watts, vol. 6 (Leeds: Edward Baines, 1813), pp. 484-670, and the discussion of this work in Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968), pp. 423-28.

[2] First Recording

[3] Ordinarily, form and matter are considered inseparable in this tradition. The separation of soul from body in death is a temporary, abnormal state.

[4] First Recording

I begin every semester in my Church and Sacraments course with the following quotation from Martin Luther, which Karl Barth used "In Place of a Foreword" to introduce Church Dogmatics, volume 1.2. The quotation says so much about the relationship between Christology and ecclesiology in Protestant dogmatics. And it offers so much by way of encouragement to ministry-weary pastors. So, rather than adding further comment, I will let Luther speak for himself:

It is not we who can sustain the church, nor was it our forefathers nor will it be our descendants. It was and is and will be the one who says: 'I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.' As it says in Heb. 13: 'Jesus Christ, heri, et hodie, et in secula.' And in Rev. 1: 'Which was, and is, and is to come.' Verily he is that one, and none other is or can be.

For you and I were not alive thousands of years ago, but the church was preserved without us, and it was done by the one of whom it says, Qui erat, and Heri.

Again, we do not do it in our lifetime, for the church is not upheld by us. For we could not resist the devil in the papacy and the sects and other wicked folk. For us, the church would perish before our eyes, and we with it (as we daily prove), were it not for that other Man who manifestly upholds the church and us. This we can lay hold of and feel, even though we are loth to believe it, and we must needs give ourselves to the one of whom it is said, Qui est, and Hodie.

Again, we can do nothing to sustain the church when we are dead. But he will do it of whom it is said, Qui venturus est and in secula. And what we must needs say of ourselves in this regard is what our forefathers had also to say before us, as the Psalms and other Scriptures testify, and what our descendants will also experience after us, when with us and the whole church they sing in Psalm 124: 'If the Lord himself had not been on our side, when men rose up against us,' and Psalm 60: 'O be thou our help in trouble, for vain is the help of man.'

... May Christ our dear God and the Bishop of our souls, which he has bought with his own precious blood, sustain his little flock by the might of his own Word, that it may increase and grow in grace and knowledge and faith in him. May he comfort and strengthen it, that it may be firm and steadfast against all the crafts and assaults of Satan and this wicked world, and may he hear its hearty groaning and anxious waiting and longing for the joyful day of his glorious and blessed coming and appearing. May there be an end of this murderous pricking and biting of the heel, of horrible poisonous serpents. And may there come finally the revelation of the glorious liberty and blessedness of the children of God, for which they wait and hope with patience. To which all those who love the appearing of Christ our life will say from the heart, Amen, Amen.
This post is the second in a twelve-part series on the current Christological confusion taking root in China's emerging Reformed Community (see part 1 here).

Context & Cause of the Current Confusion

In one of the most fascinating developments in global Christianity today, many pastors and other believers in China are embracing Reformed theology and reforming their beliefs and practices. Though a few observers challenge the claim, a Reformed community in China (as opposed to isolated individuals and congregations) does exist, and not just online. The tendrils of this community often twine around the ministries of a relatively few widely recognized ministers. As such, these individuals, whose ministries are often based outside of China, exercise remarkable influence on theological opinion within the still relatively secluded world of Reformed Christianity on the mainland.

For many years now, and at least as recently as 2013, one such influence with an international ministry and reputation has been saying some very confusing things about the human nature of Jesus Christ. [1]  At times, he has attempted to clarify and defend his comments. One such attempt is found in a series of three recordings he made in 2012, which were subsequently transcribed and translated by others. Though these three recordings and a booklet he published in 1991 are the sources cited below, the primary source of the confusion in China's Reformed community has been his oral statements to the same effect in sermons, lectures, and especially question and answer sessions.

Though this man's public statements are the source of the current confusion, as one Reformed observer explains, "the belief that Christ's humanity is uncreated actually has had a longstanding tradition among Chinese Christian leaders associated with Reformed theology, including Jia Yuming." [2]  This tradition appears to be reflected in the widely used Chinese translation of the Belgic Confession, which curiously drops the original's explicit affirmation that the human nature of Christ is created. [3]  All of this predates the current proponent of this view, whose statements may represent what he sees as an established, albeit eccentric, Eastern Christological tradition--a tradition that seemed certain to fade away without his advocacy.

A Cautious Critique

Some of the church's greatest fathers have occasionally said some odd things about Jesus Christ, things later generations viewed as ill-advised or just plain wrong. Take Athanasius of contra mundum fame for his stand against ascendant Arians. Once, while trying to show how his adversaries mangled Hebrews 3:2 about Jesus' becoming or being made or appointed high priest, he drew this analogy of the incarnation:

What the Savior did on His coming, this Aaron shadowed out according to the Law. As then Aaron was the same and did not change by putting on the high-priestly dress, but remaining the same was only robed, . . . in the same way it is possible in the Lord's instance also to understand aright, that He did not become other than Himself on taking the flesh, but, being the same as before, He was robed in it; and the expressions 'He became' and 'He was made,' must not be understood as if the Word, considered as the Word, were made, but that the Word, being Framer of all, afterwards was made High Priest, by putting on a body which was originate and made, and such as He can offer for us; wherefore He is said to be made. [4]

Comments like these continue to fuel sometimes uncharitable suspicions that Athanasius operated with a deficient view of Christ's humanity--that the Son assumed something less than a fully human nature complete with intellect and will. [5] Even if Athanasius was not confused about the humanity of Christ, this analogy and some of his other remarks confuse readers and obscure his orthodoxy as much as they disclose it.

Elsewhere, Athanasius affirms the union of the divine Word with a fully human nature, body and soul. [6] So, we should not conclude too much from an odd analogy here or argument there. Whether the one above is helpful or confusing is a different question than any we might ask about Athanasius's Christology. We may conclude, that is, that this analogy is very confusing or that argument not at all helpful while taking no position on or even defending the source's overall view of Christ's humanity.

Similarly, the following critique centers on the cause of the current Christological confusion within China's emerging Reformed community. The immediate cause is found in certain public statements. I take no position on whether these statements are being understood correctly or if they accurately represent this brother's views; I only conclude that his statements are the cause of some confusion that deserves at least this much attention.

Notes:

1. For several good reasons I need not explain here, I am not going to name the current source of this apparently confused and certainly confusing teaching. Those most likely to benefit from me doing so will already know who it is; those who do not know probably do not need to know.

2. Jia (1880-1964, formerly known as Chia Yu-ming) had strong ties to prewar Presbyterian mission work in China, teaching at both Nanjing Jinling Seminary and North China Theological Seminary. He gained an international reputation and became vice-chairman of the Committee of the Chinese Church Three-Self Patriotic Movement in 1954. Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Christianity, (http://www.bdcconline.net/en/stories/j/jia-yuming.php; accessed July 22, 2015)

3. This edition of the Belgic Confession was translated by Charles Chao, published by Reformation Translation Fellowship, and is now available online at https://www.ccel.org/contrib/cn/creeds/belgic.html.

4. Athanasius, Against the Arians, 2.8.

5. See, for example, Christopher Beeley, The Unity of Christ: Continuity and Conflict in Patristic Tradition (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012), 165. Beeley's harsh interpretation of Athanasius includes accusations that he invented the Arian controversy and died a bitter controversialist defending his narrow Word-flesh Christology.

6. In Letter to Epictetus, 7, he writes this: "But truly our salvation . . . does not extend to the body only, but the whole man, body and soul alike, has truly obtained salvation in the Word Himself. That then which was born of Mary was according to the divine Scriptures human by nature."
Some time in the autumn of 379, Gregory of Nazianzus answered the summons issued by the Synod of Antioch to take up residence in Constantinople. His job description was clear: to promote the Nicene faith in a city given over to Arianism. Gregory soon established the Church of the Resurrection and, within a year, preached a series of sermons we know as his "Five Theological Orations."

Oration 29--the "third" theological oration--is devoted to the identity and action of the Son of God, our Savior the Lord Jesus Christ. It is an able and eloquent presentation and defense of orthodox Christology. It also provides ample material for meditation on this Good Friday. 

Near the end of Oration 29, Gregory engages in an extended discourse on the beautiful and paradoxical nature of Christ's suffering and death as the God-man, which I cite below. In order to fully appreciate the beauty and power of this section of Gregory's sermon, it is helpful to note a couple of features that characterize his preaching of Christ. First, his discourse is attentive to the fact that Jesus is "one Lord" and therefore that everything he did and suffered on our behalf was performed by one saving subject. The one who suffered death for us on the cross is the same one who conquered death in his death for us on the cross, etc. Second, his discourse is attentive to the fact that this "one Lord" is at one and the same time fully God and fully man and therefore that everything he did and suffered on our behalf reflects the twofold character of his theanthropic (i.e., divine and human) person. 

Without further comment, I commend to you Gregory of Nazianzus on the crucifixion of the God-man:

He is sold, and very cheap, for it is only for thirty pieces of silver; but he redeems the world, and that at a great price, for the price of his own blood. As a sheep he is led to the slaughter, but he is the shepherd of Israel, and now of the whole world also. As a lamb he is silent, yet he is the Word, and is proclaimed by the voice of one crying in the wilderness. He is bruised and wounded, but he heals every disease and infirmity. He is lifted up and nailed to the tree, but by the tree of life he restores us; yea, he saves even the robber crucified with him; yea, he wrapped the visible world in darkness. He is given vinegar to drink mingled with gall. Who? He who turned the water into wine, who is the destroyer of the bitter taste, who is sweetness and altogether desired. He lays down his life, but he has power to take it again; and the veil is rent, for the mysterious doors of heaven are opened; the rocks are cleft, the dead arise. He dies, but he gives life, and by his death destroys death. 

Christ's Entrance into Heaven

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Have you ever wondered what it must have been like when Christ entered heaven after having ascended? This was a unique moment in redemptive history, and one that we should probably meditate upon a lot more than we do. At the risk of being occasionally speculative, here are some thoughts on Christ's entrance into Heaven as the glorified God-man.

The effect upon those in heaven must have been incredible. We are told that there is much joy in heaven when a sinner repents (Lk. 15:7). But what about the joy when Jesus, who saves all who enter heaven, arrived to take his seat at the right hand of the Father? As John Owen said, "No heart can conceive, much less can any tongue express, the glorious reception of the human nature of Christ in heaven" (Exposition of Hebrews, 5:410).

Heaven and earth were in need of reconciliation. Here, Christ enters as the one who has united all things together, "things in heaven and things on earth" (Eph. 1:10). With his entrance into the heavenly sanctuary, the holy angels, with open face, beheld the Lord of glory. What they had longed for was now fulfilled (1 Pet. 1:12). 

John Flavel considers Christ's ascent and entrance into heaven from the perspective of the Father:

"The Father received him with open arms, rejoicing exceedingly to see him again in heaven; therefore God is said to 'receive him up into glory,' 1 Tim. 3:16. For that which, with respect to Christ, is called ascension, is, with respect to the Father, called assumption. He went up, and the Father received him. Yes, received so as none ever was received before him, or shall be received after him" (Works, 1:506).

Jesus assured his disciples it was for their good that he left in order that "the Helper" may come (Jn. 16:7). But we should remember that his coming to heaven was also good for the departed saints in glory, the angelic host, the Father, and especially Jesus himself, who was "taken up in glory" (1 Tim. 3:16). 

No wonder that John Owen reflected, so beautifully, 

"This makes me judge that the season of Christ's entrance into heaven, as the holy sanctuary of God, was the greatest instance of created glory that ever was or ever shall be, unto the consummation of all things" (Works, 1:264).

Heaven was a "new" place when Christ arrived in order to continue his ministry of reconciling all things. Heaven was as perfect as it could be before Christ entered. But it was also as perfect as it could be once he entered. Heaven attained a greater glory with Christ's entrance. Thus, there is little doubt that heaven in its perfection after Christ's triumphal entry was a place where those present had an increase of joy and satisfaction that the Son had returned home as the victorious one.


Is Jesus on every page in the Old Testament? According to the title of a recent book, he may be. Is Christ in every sentence (e.g., "tear out the fangs of the young lions, O Lord!" Ps. 58:6b)? Should we employ the exegetical genius, or perhaps lack thereof, to find him in every definite article, specific referent, or conjunction (e.g., "But..." - Eph. 2:4)? Should we employ a certain apostolic hermeneutic that will help us develop a Christocentric lens through which to read the Old Testament?

For the last several years, I have noticed these type of questions being asked. They may take different forms; nevertheless, the substance is essentially the same. Whether one is discussing the grammatical historical hermeneutic, redemptive historical approach, a combination thereof, or the law/gospel distinction, people are desirous to know to what extent Jesus is in the Old Testament.

As I continue to read the debates on this topic, some of which have more recently been centered around a Christotelic understanding of the scriptures, I began wondering something, perhaps, more fundamental to the discussion. How are we allowing uninspired subtitles and versification to influence us?

As a budding Hebrew linguist, there are certain things I prefer when reading the Hebrew Bible. I prefer the MT arrangement of the Old Testament--not the English arrangement. I enjoy reading about redaction theory, source criticism, and looking more deeply at the textual criticism apparatus. One idea that I have always desired was to acquire and read the Hebrew scriptures without the 10th or 11th century invention of the pointing system and without the 12th and 15th centuries versification system. That is a different Old Testament than we read today in our English Bibles, particularly as it relates to arrangement and versification. 

So as we consider the nature and manner of Jesus on every page (in the Old Testament), how do we understand the ebb and flow of the narrative based on our English Bibles? As Paul preached the kingdom of God and his Christ at Rome (Acts 28), he was not contained by subtitles. When Christ confronted his hearers by claiming that the scriptures testify of him (John 5), he wasn't guided by versification exactly as we are.

It seems to me that defining how we are using the Old Testament may be a helpful idea to further narrow the conversation. I am almost certain someone has already mentioned this. Despite my lack of ability to recall other works on this specific idea, I wonder if there is any merit to this suggestion, and if so, how will this help?

Let's use one example. Many of our Old Testament books are in narrative form. Due to the current versification and subtitle listings in our English Bibles, we often follow the headings and verses that were set for us. While that may be helpful to consider and even preach from, our divisions of the narratives sometimes inhibit a holistic view of the story and potentially create an environment where exegetes feel like they are gasping for air to find Jesus. 

Of course one can take that idea too far and not divide the narrative at all on the basis of the understanding that it is one entire narrative and therefore should not be fragmented. That is not my point. There may be certain coordinating or disjunctive conjunctions that indicate a scene change. At that scene change, it may be appropriate to end that section of the narrative. Sometimes that means we must read beyond the subtitles listed in our English Bibles. It may create a longer sermon; it may mean we have to read longer sections of scripture; or it may mean we cannot highlight, to our congregation, the exegetical precision that we would normally in smaller sections of scripture, but if it presents a clearer image of the overall story and thus prepares the way for better exegesis to preach Christ, it is worth it.

Taking the narrative in larger sections may help some of the exegetical gymnastics that can occur to find Jesus under every rock. (By the way, it is acceptable to find him on the rock - Exod. 17:1-7; 1 Cor. 10:1-4). Yes, I believe Jesus is in the Old Testament (Heb. 4); yes, I believe the scriptures point to him as the pinnacle of redemptive history (Luke 24);  yes, I believe the gospel--perhaps I should define that--should be preached in every sermon; but I also believe pastors must be careful in their exegesis. We do not want to misguide our churches toward an inappropriate understanding of seeing Christ in the Old Testament.

Book bites

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A couple of bits and pieces to recommend, either of which you might already have sampled, I hope to your edification.

First, Antinomianism by Mark Jones (Amazon.com/Amazon.co.uk/Westminster). We are not lacking expressions of the blunter forms of antinomianism in our day, but the phenomenon is actually far more subtle than a rejection or amelioration of the abiding relevance of the Ten Commandments as a binding code on the conviction and behaviour of regenerate men and women. Jones plunges into the seventeenth century to bring out some of the very fine distinctions and seemingly slight but vital shifts of emphasis that expose antinomianism as a system both in its older and more modern forms. Here you will find something of the breadth of the heterodoxy involved, and also the breadth of the orthodox response (in which there were also some differences of opinion). Particularly helpful are Jones' pastoral concern for those exposed to this kind of ministry and his determination to offer a thoroughly Christological corrective. This is a cracking little volume, though if you cannot even spell the word newance you are likely to have some issues with it. You might yourself wish to massage a few of his conclusions but the book is a timely reminder of what Jones suggests is "Reformed theology's unwelcome guest." As a historical and theological frame of reference for issues that we are facing again today, this slim but thoughtful work should prove extremely useful.

Second, The Shallows by Nicholas Carr (Amazon.com/Amazon.co.uk). This is the gent who wrote the famous essay asking whether or not Google is making us stupid. This is not a Christian book, nor is it a diatribe against technology. Thoroughly naturalistic in its approach, with no real room for the spiritual or supernatural, it is nevertheless a penetrating volume. Carr considers the potent effect of the interweb on our brains, its effective training of us into certain patterns of thought, its profound and even deliberate impact on our assimilation and assessment and retention of data. Stimulating in style, broad in scope, balanced in approach, pointed in warning, I think that Christians who act and interact in large measure online would do well to read this book, put it in the context of their Scriptural convictions, and carefully examine the extent to which we are being formed and influenced by the media through which we now access and receive so much of our information, let alone our theological instruction.

Review: "The Public Ministry of Christ"

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The Public Ministry of Christ
William G. Blaikie

This volume, first published in 1883, bridges the disciplines of Christology and pastoral theology, and its author will need no commendation to those who value Scriptural studies that blend scholarship and devotion. Blaikie's contention, argued in the opening chapter, is that it was a deliberate intention of Christ to teach and leave an example for his disciples, and that gospel ministers are not only able but obligated to follow that example as far as gift and grace permits.

This established, we then begin to unpack the elements of our Lord's public ministry. We begin with the preparation for his ministry, in which - to develop the one as a sample of the whole - Blaikie considers the purposes of God in making Nazareth the scene of development, with its relative isolation and solitude, together with the discipline of subjection (to the will of his heavenly Father, lawful human authority in the form of his parents, and the requirements of his official position as our representative) under which the Lord Jesus came. The thirty years give way to forty days in which that cultivated spirit of obedience is tested, with comparisons to and lessons for men who seek to follow Christ's example. Such thoughtfulness and meditation might make many ministers pause and ponder again the circumstances of our own preparation for the ministry, even though we must be careful not to presume upon definitive interpretations of providence.

Blaikie then moves on through the inner spirit of Christ's ministry in which he considers his entire consecration to his work, a then a section contemplating the outer features of Christ's ministry in its Judean, Galilean and post-transfiguration phases, with their general tenor and specific concerns. Christ's labour as a teacher then comes to the fore, and this is developed at some length, with a careful consideration first of its essential qualities, careful structures and striking illustrations. Our guide then consider the parables and some of Christ's longer public discourses and his more private investment in his disciples over the period of his public ministry. A different tack then develops as Blaikie looks at our Lord's dealings with those outside, on the borders of, and within the kingdom. All of these elements are considered in themselves and carefully explained and applied in their relevance to those who walk in the Master's footsteps.

Blaikie closes by considering Christ's last acts toward, words addressed to and prayers for various classes of men, closing with his post-resurrection appearances, in which, for example, emphasis is thrown on the prominence which Christ gives to his sufferings:
In the centre of the solar system, the sun occupies the best position for influencing every planet, but his rays go forth quite readily to the furthest outskirts of the system. "Christ crucified" in the centre of the Gospel firmament, is fitted to irradiate the whole sphere of moral and spiritual truth, and increase the power of every motive, and elevate the aim of every project that seeks to advance the true welfare of man. (339)
Neither does Blaikie lose sight of the very obvious fact that in these interviews the Lord was giving explicit direction to the disciples for the establishment and extension of his visible kingdom on earth, assuring us in his own final words that
If only we would take up the posture of servants, executing the designs of a heavenly Master, relying on the grace of His Holy Spirit, and giving ourselves soul, body, and spirit to His work, results not inferior to theirs [i.e. the disciples] would crown our labours, and of our work as of theirs it would be written, -  "So mightily grew the word of the Lord, and prevailed." (346-7).
In my limited experience I have yet to come across another volume with the distinctive blend and tone of Blaikie's study of the Lord Jesus' public ministry. On one level it would be valuable for anyone studying the life of the Lord and seeking to obtain insights into his labours; when to that is added the deliberate attempt to draw appropriate lessons for the followers and proclaimers of a crucified Christ, another layer is added. In this regard there is a particular freshness as Blaikie gives practical lessons concerning both character and conduct, blending insights into the disposition of Christ in his work and the work itself. The sections on teaching are very different from some of the "how-to" homiletical helps of the present day, focusing on illustrative principles rather than mechanical practices (though see also the same author's For the Work of the Ministry [A.com/A.co.uk]). For younger men wishing to grasp more of what it means to follow Christ in their own roles as under-shepherding preacher and teacher, this would be a provocatively different and thoroughly engaging source of instruction. For older ministers, a work like this might serve as a glass of cold water, a tonic to refresh and revitalize, stimulating new perspectives on their service for the Lord. To either group, and others besides, the benefit of a book so thoroughly focused upon and breathing the Spirit of the person and work of Christ Jesus would be no small blessing in itself, as filling our eyes and our hearts with delightful views of his character and purposes.

[Readers might also wish to consult, as a companion volume dealing with different themes to different ends, but equally profitable, Blaikie's Glimpses of the Inner Life of our Lord.]

Results tagged “Christology” from Through the Westminster Confession

Chapter 8.4, 5

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iv. This office the Lord Jesus did most willingly undertake; which that He might discharge, He was made under the law, and did perfectly fulfill it; endured most grievous torments immediately in His soul, and most painful sufferings in His body; was crucified, and died, was buried, and remained under the power of death, yet saw no corruption. On the third day He arose from the dead, with the same body in which He suffered, with which also he ascended into heaven, and there sits at the right hand of His Father, making intercession, and shall return, to judge men and angels, at the end of the world.

v. The Lord Jesus, by His perfect obedience, and sacrifice of Himself, which He through the eternal Spirit, once offered up unto God, has fully satisfied the justice of His Father; and purchased, not only reconciliation, but an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven, for those whom the Father has given unto Him.

With chapter eight we confess that Christ our Mediator, in willing humility, pursued all that was necessary for our salvation. Section four succinctly outlines God's gracious revelation of the cost, the weight, and the glory of redemption in Christ. The eternal Son was made flesh, made under the law, and perfectly fulfilled it where we had railed and rebelled against it. In the place of his people he not only perfectly fulfilled all righteousness, but also endured the full weight of its penalty against them. He "endured most grievous torments immediately in his soul, and most painful sufferings in His body; was crucified, and died, was buried, and remained under the power of death..." 

Christ the Mediator finished his earthly service and cross-work victoriously. In the grave his body "saw no corruption. On the third day He arose from the dead, with the same body in which he suffered... he ascended into heaven." The King of glory, the LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle (Psalm 24:8), conqueror of Satan, sin, and death, ascended to heaven, was seated, and "there sits at the right hand of His Father." 

What is our Lord Jesus Christ doing in heaven? He is making intercession, mediating between our Holy God and the sinful men drawn to him in faith and repentance by his Word and Spirit. He is interceding, reconciling men to God as the perfect high priest who has completed the once for all sacrifice. While we live in the era of gospel proclamation, the final day of this present world is steadily approaching, "when he will return in glory to this earth, to judge men and angels, at the end the world."

Section five focuses on the ends or purpose of Christ's accomplishment of redemption for all who trust in him--with great anticipation of what is to come. Jesus, "by his perfect obedience, and sacrifice of himself", offered up in full completion through the Spirit to God, "fully satisfied the justice of his Father; and purchased, not only reconciliation, but an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven, for those whom the Father has given him." He drank down the cup of wrath, suffering the agony of thirst, so that we could have the water of life freely; instead of being barren and cursed, through him we become fruitful trees by rivers of water. 

Christ's work as Mediator is "for those whom the Father has given unto Him." Have you been given by the Father to Christ? How can you know? Jesus said, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst... All that the Father gives to me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out." (John 6:35,37) If you are looking to him for reconciliation and restoration to God, for cleansing, grace and new life, you have come to Jesus. Then this confession is your confession of faith. Christ is your Mediator, his Father is your Father, and His Father is the one who has given you to him. And he, Jesus, has purchased this reconciliation, and inheritance for you.

Dr. William VanDoodewaard is Associate Professor of Church History at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and Visiting Professor of Church History at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Chapter 8.2, 3

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ii. The Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance and equal with the Father, did, when the fullness of time was come, take upon Him man's nature, with all the essential properties, and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin; being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the virgin Mary, of her substance. So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion. Which person is very God, and very man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and man.

iii.The Lord Jesus, in His human nature thus united to the divine, was sanctified, and anointed with the Holy Spirit, above measure, having in Him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge; in whom it pleased the Father that all fullness should dwell; to the end that, being holy, harmless, undefiled, and full of grace and truth, He might be thoroughly furnished to execute the office of a Mediator and Surety. Which office He took not unto Himself, but was thereunto called by His Father, who put all power and judgment into His hand, and gave Him commandment to execute the same.

Who is Jesus Christ, the Mediator? In section two of this chapter we confess first of all that He is fully God: "the Son of God", the "second person of the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance and equal with the Father." The language used in articulating the full divinity of Christ the Mediator reflects the early church's scriptural definition and defense of these truths. This is the confession of the Christian church of all ages and places; those who deny the full divinity of Christ preach "a different gospel" contrary to that of the Word of God. (Gal. 1:6-9) 

The glorious mystery of the gospel is intimately wrapped up in the reality that "when the fullness of time was come" this same Son of God became fully man "taking upon Him man's nature, with all the essential properties, and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin." Jesus Christ is just as fully human as you and me in every way except sin! Echoing the language of the Apostles' Creed, the Confession describes the Son's incarnation: "being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the virgin Mary, of her substance." The incarnation was no negation of, or abandonment of His divinity; nor was it a temporary reality. Rather in Christ, "two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition or confusion." As such, the Confession reiterates that Christ in his person is "very God, and very man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and man."

In his incarnation, our Lord Jesus Christ was and is completely, perfectly constituted and prepared, "thoroughly furnished to execute the office of a Mediator and Surety." He is fully equipped in himself, fully sufficient for the great work of redemption to be done. Yet, while Christ is Mediator, the work of redemption is also that of the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The confession describes this: "the Lord Jesus, in his human nature thus united to the divine, was sanctified, anointed with the Holy Spirit, above measure, having in Him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge; in whom it pleased the Father that all fullness should dwell... being holy, harmless, undefiled, and full of grace and truth." In taking up the "office of Mediator and Surety" by his incarnation the Son was not doing his own will "but the will of him who sent me." (John 6:38) The Father's eternal love, authority, and power stands behind our Mediator and our redemption in him. Praise our Triune God for his grace in Christ, the perfect, willing Savior!

Dr. WIlliam VanDoodewaard is Associate Professor of Church History at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and Visiting Professor of Church History at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.