Results tagged “orthodoxy” from Reformation21 Blog

The Mechanics of Neo-Apollinarian Christology

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I have been, and in many respects always will be, a fan and student of William Lane Craig. Any kid who was into apologetics and contemporary philosophy of religion had to be.

That said, like others, I've recently had to come to grips with some of the odder aspects of his theology proper and Christology, which appear to be less than orthodox. Nick Batzig calls attention to one element which has been raising eyebrows in some circles, of late: his "Neo-Apollinarian" Christology.

Now, I'd heard something about it before, but never looked deep into it until now. He goes into it an clarifies his position in this podcast transcript. In a nutshell:

1. We agree with the Council of Chalcedon that in Christ we have one person with two natures - human and divine.

2. The soul of the human nature of Christ is the second person of the Trinity, the Logos. The human nature of Christ is composed of the Logos and a human body.

3. The divine aspects of the Logos are largely concealed in Christ's subconsciousness so that he had a waking conscious life that would be typical of any human being and that like the mass of an iceberg submerged beneath the surface so in his divine subconsciousness there lay the fullness of divinity. The waking consciousness was typically human.

The aim is to affirm the two natures of Christ, but avoid the possible Nestorianism (in his view) of the Chalcedonian definition. So he takes the heretic Apollinaris and gives him a tune-up:

"Apollinarius' original view was that Christ didn't have a complete human nature. He had a human body but he didn't have a human soul. He didn't have a human nature. As a result he wasn't really truly human. That calls into question the reality of the incarnation and also the effectiveness of Christ's death on our behalf since he did not share our nature.

What I argue in my Neo-Apollinarian proposal is that the Logos brought to the human body just those properties which would make it a complete human nature - things like rationality, self-consciousness, freedom of the will, and so forth. Christ already possessed those in his divine nature, and it is in virtue of those that we are created in the image of God. So when he brought those properties to the animal body - the human body - it completes it and makes it a human nature. Against Apollinarius, I want to say that Christ did have a complete human nature. He was truly God and truly man. Therefore his death on our behalf as our representative before God was efficacious."

So what you end up having, as I understand it, is a sort of overlapping Venn diagram of two sets of properties. The first circle represents the divine nature and its properties, and the second the human nature. Though, here, instead of merging two complete circles so that you get a doubling up on the overlap on those components that make up the human soul (two wills, two minds, etc.), you instead add a circle with a chunk shaved off (the human nature) that happens to fit the outline of the divine nature, sort of like a perfectly-fitted puzzle piece. Put them together and both natures have all the sets of properties they need.

Now, it seems there are several problems with this, but the first one that struck me is the issue of Jesus's consciousness. He says, "The divine aspects of the Logos are largely concealed in Christ's subconsciousness so that he had a waking conscious life that would be typical of any human being and that like the mass of an iceberg submerged beneath the surface so in his divine subconsciousness there lay the fullness of divinity."

What I want to know is how is that supposed to work? Absent a distinct human soul, a human mind that interacts/supervenes on a human brain, etc. how are we arriving at this split-level consciousness? If all we have is a divine Person with an infinite, divine mind and a divine will, rationality, freedom, etc. plus a human body, are we saying that the Son's divine consciousness takes on dimensions and levels it did not have before in its interaction with a human body? Does that represent change in the divine nature, then? Or are these levels of consciousness now possible because of the interaction between the Logos and the "meat" of the human brain, so to speak?

I looked up the discussion of the problem in Craig and Moreland's Philosophical Foundations of a Christian Worldview (1st Ed.) and I have to say, that while expanded, the discussion wasn't much clearer at this point. Pardon the large block-quote:

"We postulate that the divine aspects of Jesus' personality were largely subliminal during his state of humiliation. We suggest that what William James called the "subliminal self" is the primary locus of the superhuman elements in the consciousness of the incarnate Logos. Thus Jesus possessed a normal human conscious experience. But the human consciousness of Jesus was underlain, as it were, by a divine subconsciousness. This understanding of Christ's personal experience draws on the insight of depth psychology that there is vastly more to a person than waking consciousness. The whole project of psychoanalysis is based on the conviction that some of our behaviors have deep springs of action of which we are only dimly, if at all, aware. Multiple personality disorders furnish a particularly striking example of the eruption of subliminal facets of a single person's mind into distinct conscious personalities. In some cases there is even a dominant personality who is aware of all the others and who knows what each of them knows but who remains unknown by them. Hypnotism also furnishes a vivid demonstration of the reality of the subliminal. As Charles Harris explains,

a person under hypnosis may be informed of certain facts and then instructed to forget them when he "awakens," but the knowledge is truly in his mind, and shows itself in unmistakable ways, especially by causing him to perform . . . certain actions, which, but for the possession of this knowledge, he would not have performed. . . . What is still more extraordinary, a sensitive hypnotic subject may be made both to see and not to see the same object at the same moment. For example, he may be told not to see a lamp-post, whereupon he becomes (in the ordinary sense) quite unable to see it. Nevertheless, he does see it, because he avoids it and cannot be induced to precipitate himself against it.

Similarly, in the Incarnation--at least during his state of humiliation--the Logos allowed only those facets of his person to be part of Christ's waking consciousness which were compatible with typical human experience, while the bulk of his knowledge and other cognitive perfections, like an iceberg beneath the water's surface, lay submerged in his subconscious. On the model we propose, Christ is thus one person, but in that person conscious and subconscious elements are differentiated in a theologically significant way. Unlike Nestorianism our view does not imply that there are two persons, anymore than the conscious aspects of one's life and the subconscious aspects of one's life constitute two persons." (610-611)

Leave aside the propriety of appealing to split personalities as a suitable analogy for the mental life of our Lord, depth psychology could really be helpful in considering these issues in Christology more generally. But what I'm failing to see is the way this works out in Craig's formulation.

Because on Craig's view, it seems there is only the one, divine mind which is now, somehow, also the site of the distinctions and levels and subliminal layers which form Christ's human, conscious life. Now, I know they reject, or at least propose to modify divine simplicity (Craig and Moreland, 526), but even in that discussion, they seem sympathetic to William Alston's view that at least the divine knowledge is simple.

Has there been a change to the divine nature such that what was once simple, now becomes complex in the act of the incarnation? Craig describes the incarnation as a matter of addition, rather than subtraction-which is right:

"Rather it is a matter of addition - taking on in addition to the divine nature he already had a human nature with all of its essential properties. So we should think of the incarnation not as a matter of subtraction but of addition."

But the addition of layers of consciousness to the divine mind is not the logic of addition which the Fathers at Chalcedon had in mind. They saw the Logos assuming humanity to himself leaving the divine nature unchanged. But it is hard to see the Logos remaining unchanged in his becoming the soul of the body of Christ, if this is now adding layers of self-consciousness to the single mind he has/is.

If so, then along with the rejection of the assumption of a human soul, this would be to contradict Chalcedon at another point. For it would seem to be a denial of divine immutability. But I don't see them wanting to do that.

Now, for myself, I don't think the Chalcedonian definition and classical Christology of the Church is Nestorian. But even if I did, contrary to solving any questions, Craig's un-Orthodox Christology just seems to leave us with more.

Soli Deo Gloria

Unorthodox Christology

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Recently, it has come to light that William Lane Craig, professor of philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, propagates an unorthodox view of Christology. Craig has explicitly stated that "the soul of the human nature of Christ is the second person of the Trinity, the Logos. The human nature of Christ is composed of the Logos and a human body." Craig states, 

"If you have a rational soul and a humanoid body, you have a human person. That is all it takes. So if you say that Christ had a merely human soul and a human body then why wasn't there a human person, Jesus? Yet orthodoxy denies that. Orthodoxy says there is only one person in Christ (or who is Christ), and that person is divine. There is no human person, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is a divine person with two natures. I can't make sense of that if we say that Christ had, in addition to his divine person, a merely human soul conjoined with a human body. That seems to me to be sufficient for another person in which case you have two Sons - one the divine Son and the other a human Son."1

Craig's proposal opposes the orthodox Chalcedonian statements about Christology-- including that later doctrinal articulation of the Westminster Shorter Catechism that "Christ, the Son of God, became man, by taking to himself a true body and a reasonable soul, being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost in the womb of the virgin Mary, and born of her, yet without sin."

Rather than avoiding the Appolinarian heresy, Craig embraces a form of it which he personally calls, "Neo-Appolinarianism." How very sad that we are re-living the early church heresies in our own day. Instead of staying with the orthodox notion that Christ is fully God and fully man--two natures in one person, "without confusion, without change, without division, without separation"--Craig amalgamates into the human nature of Christ a divine soul. With regard to how easily men may fall into unorthodox errors in Christology, Geerhardus Vos has aptly noted:

"Church doctrine holds to the middle between extremes, because here it is also true that there is no effective heresy that does not derive its strength for exercising influence from an element of the truth, which it attempts to develop one-sidedly and elevate at the cost of all other truths. Especially in a doctrine like this, where the middle way is so narrow and one is continually in danger of slipping to the right or to the left, it is not sufficient to know the truth positively."2



2. Geerhardus Vos. (2012-2016). Reformed Dogmatics. (R. B. Gaffin, Ed., A. Godbehere, R. van Ijken, D. van der Kraan, H. Boonstra, J. Pater, A. Janssen, ... K. Batteau, Trans.) (Vol. 3, p. 30). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

When Calling Yourself a "Christian" Isn't Enough

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As a new Christian, I was very interested in studying cults. I studied the nuances of Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses, Unitarianism, and so on. When we think of cults, we tend to think of groups that not only pervert what the Bible says about salvation, but especially that depart from what Christianity has long taught since the very beginning. One of the other interesting features of cults is that they desperately want to be seen as in the mainstream of Christianity. When the Mormons come to my house, they insist that they're "Christians" - in fact the last ones that came to my house told me they're evangelicals.

Recently, I was reflecting on an important point that Dr. Trueman has been making for a number of years--namely, that the term "evangelical" has not only lost its meaning, but that it probably needs to be abandoned altogether.

Is it possible that the term "Christian," like "Evangelical," isn't enough? Since the Nashville Statement was released this past week we have seen a number of negative responses from people also wanting to claim the name of Christian. I have seen many people claiming that suicides among the LGBTQ community will skyrocket every time Christians reaffirm what they've always said on these issues. I have seen nobody try to argue that what is in the Nashville Statement is innovative or foreign to what Christianity has always taught.

Truthfully I don't see engagement from the dissenters when it comes to the text. I do see the modern shaming, naming, and bullying tactics of the crowd being employed in full-force. I don't see anyone carrying the flag for historic Christianity who is opposing the Nashville Statement. There is no effort on the part of the dissenters to make any connections with the teachings that have been part of the catholic (universal) church since Christ established it.

In this regard, one of the most important books that have been released in the last year was the book Unchanging Witness, by Donald Fortson and Rollin Grams. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Unchanging Witness approaches the theological question of human sexuality from two fronts--the historical front and the exegetical front. Fortson and Grams spend most of the book examining every biblical text that refers to human sexuality, and especially to homosexual behavior. They spend about a quarter of the book surveying direct quotations from the early Church Fathers, the church during the Middle Ages, and the church during the renaissance/Reformation period. Their overall argument is that not only do the Scriptures teach with unanimity and clarity that homosexual behavior is sinful, but their larger point is that the church in history has spoken with one unanimous and unchanging voice on this specific question. Lutherans and Calvinists may differ on the Lord's Supper. Methodists and Baptists may disagree over how to baptize. Baptists may disagree with Baptists over the five points of Calvinism (the list goes on). No Christian church or denomination ever disagreed on the morality of homosexuality.

Here's the real money quote from Unchanging Witness

"On the issue of homosexual practice, no person or church or group should say that biblical texts mean something other than what the church has said all along because...both Scripture and the church have clearly and consistently said the same thing. The issue comes down to this: the authority of Scripture and the relevance of the church's teaching" (Fortson and Grams, pg. 5).

This is precisely where I wish to come back around to the question of whether it's enough to just claim the name "Christian." The people who are spearheading the 'Gay Christian' movement are innovators in the extreme. They must argue that there is no relevance to the church's teaching on the subject of sexual behavior, because there is no argument to be made in that regard. Can someone really claim to be Christian while enjoying the church's teaching (perhaps) on the doctrine of God while they at the same time willfully jettison its interpretation of what the Bible says about human sexual behavior? They can, perhaps, but they would be 'Christian' in name only. It is our relationship to the history of the church that makes our claim to be Christians meaningful. Wolfhart Pannenburg said this:

"If a church were to let itself be pushed to the point where it ceased to treat homosexual activity as a departure from the biblical norms, and recognized homosexual unions as personal partnership of love equivalent to marriage, such a church would stand no longer on biblical grounds but against the unequivocal witness of Scripture. A church that took this step would cease to be the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church" (Christianity Today, November 11, 1996, pg. 37).

Whatever you think of the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood... whatever you think of the helpfulness of issuing public statements signed by hundreds of professors and pastors... whatever you think about the CBMW's willingness or unwillingness to deal with the errors that they put forth during the ESS controversy... an objective reading of the Nashville Statement ought to ring true to all people who are Christians in any sense that our forefathers would have recognized. Those who belong to the cult of Evangelical Libertinism are howling in pain right now, but they should be recognized for what they are: a fringe cult masquerading as Christians, just like the Mormons and Watchtower folks.

 

Great Scott: Thomas Boston's Orthodoxy (and mine?)

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If I, or an angel from heaven, should criticize the Marrow or the Marrow Men, let us be anathema. 

Imagine reading my post yesterday and coming to the following conclusions:

  1. That I was suggesting Thomas Boston was not orthodox in his covenant theology.
  2. That this is what the moralists always do: accuse the orthodox of being antinomian for not being neonomians.

To arrive at these conclusions one would either have to live in a sustained state of paranoia or have a penchant for not reading very carefully or generously. 

In my post I don't believe I accused anyone orthodox of being antinomian. To be more specific, I don't believe that Boston is an antinomian at all. I have great admiration for Boston. As far as the Marrow is concerned, my point was that I believe Fisher was a Hypothetical Universalist, which is well within the bounds of Reformed orthodoxy in my view. 

As I said, I believe the Marrow, written in a specific context (the 17thC), has statements that only Hypothetical Universalists in the seventeenth century would have been comfortable with. To me, it is an oddity that certain theologians, including Boston, in the eighteenth century, believed that many statements in the Marrow were consistent with particularism concerning the extent of Christ's death. 

Sinclair Ferguson, in his new book, refers to Boston's own uneasiness with the language of conditionality in the covenant of grace. Hence, I wrote:

"Boston had reservations about the conditionality of the covenant of grace, but pretty much every orthodox Reformed theologian I have read affirmed the conditionality of the covenant of grace (e.g., Bishop Davenant; see also ch. 19 of A Puritan Theology). According to Ferguson: "Later, however, [Boston] was of a very different mind: 'I had no great fondness for the doctrine of the conditionality of the covenant of grace'" (p. 67). Boston says also, "I had no great gust for faith's being called the condition..." 

Now, just because Boston held to this view doesn't make him unorthodox. I own his collected Works. He is a great pastor-theologian. He's Reformed. But, I believe he was guilty sometimes of poor historical theology, which wasn't totally his fault due to the lack of resources he had at his disposal. 

I'd like to personally buy a copy of Sinclair Ferguson's book and a copy of the Marrow (which I have commended for Christian Focus) for anyone who can prove that I have been unfair to Boston or that I have accused the orthodox of being antinomian. 

To tweet or write or speak those sentiments, almost immediately after my initial post, isn't a matter of pixels on a screen, but rather a deadly, careless tirade that unnecessarily threatens the peace and purity of the church.

This brings me to my final point. I have heard that one or two have argued that sanctification is by faith alone. No one disputes that it is by grace alone, but the more contentious question is whether sanctification is by faith alone. 

I do not think so, and I agree with Kevin DeYoung who also denies that sanctification is by faith alone.

Of course, whatever does not comes from faith is sin. So sanctification always involves faith (Acts 26:18). It is the radical principle of all our actions (and so only in that sense could it be "faith alone"). But the phrase itself is decidedly unhelpful.

But, in the process of becoming holier, are we sanctified by faith alone? I think what's at stake is whether there are other means that God uses in a positive way to conform his people to the image of Christ Jesus. 

We could ask whether God's gospel threats or his moral law are true and valid instruments of sanctification in the life of a Christian who is united to Christ. Let's consider the role of God's law.

For Christ, keeping God's commandments functioned as a means of sanctification (Jn. 15:10). For us, keeping the commandments likewise functions in part as the means by which we remain in Christ's love. We are asking the right questions, I think, when we consider whether the moral law can have a positive role in our sanctified life. 

The written law (i.e., God's commandments) and the "law of the Spirit" are not contrary principles for the Christian believer. 

One of the Westminster divines, Anthony Burgess, picked up on this important issue, which I think tends to get overlooked today when we discuss sanctification. Burgess affirms that the law is an instrument of sanctification:  

"If the Law, and the commands thereof be impossible, to what purpose then does he command them? Why does he bid us turn to him when we cannot? Then we answer, that these commandments are not only informing of a duty, but they are practical and operative means appointed by God, to work, at least in some degree, that which is commanded." 

Read carefully the latter part of that quote. A prominent Westminster divine, who wrote a highly valued book on the doctrine of justification by faith alone, claims that the moral law is an "operative means" that works, "in some degree, that which is commanded." Would he say sanctification is by faith alone? No. 

That is what is meant when I say above that the law can function as an "instrument of sanctification." Rutherford adds that the Reformed have never made the law the instrument of sanctification, but they do acknowledge it is a "help" when preached in the context of indicatives. It is, as Rutherford says, "a true instrument of sanctification."

Burgess is careful, however, to point out that the law will only have an effect in sanctification only if it is accompanied by the power of the Spirit. If the Spirit does not accompany the preaching of the law, it will completely fail to sanctify. But this is also true of the gospel: 

"Preach the promises of the Gospel a thousand times over, they convey no grace, if the Spirit of God be not there effectually." (Rutherford says the same thing).

God blesses, with his Spirit, the faithful and accurate preaching of his Word, both the indicatives and the imperatives (Jn. 17:17).

If one holds that the law is an instrument - not "the" instrument - of sanctification, then one may have a different approach to preaching the imperatives compared to the person who tends to think that the law only condemns and drives us to Christ for forgiveness. 

In this regard, I would also say that not only the preaching of God's word, but also the sacraments are true instruments of sanctification. 

Noel Weeks on Biblical Background

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There is great confusion today about the role and possible influence of ancient Near Eastern texts on the Old Testament, particularly the opening chapters of Genesis. Last fall, Dr. Noel Weeks, expert historian and Senior Lecturer in Ancient History at the University of Sydney, did an outstanding two part article series for reformation21 on the subject of Biblical background.

Part One is here

Part Two is here

Today in 1967

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On this day in 1967 the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the USA (PCUSA) adopted (what we now call) the 1967 Confession, a document largely influenced by the liberalization of the doctrine of Scripture (especially by Karl Barth). It was the culmination of a downgrade movement in Presbyterianism that had been at large for several decades.

As I thought about this today I was reminded of what Iain Murray wrote concerning the nineteenth century downgrade movement in Baptist Union. Writing on C. H. Spurgeon, in a book called The Forgotten Spurgeon, Murray suggested that the prevalent attitude on the part of the Baptist Union leadership was, "an unwillingness to define any doctrinal issue, a readiness to reduce what constitutes the content of orthodox Christianity to a minimum, and a 'charity' which made men willing to question the standing of any denomination in the sight of God so long as it professed the 'Evangelical faith.'"

Murray pointedly adds: "As we look back now on the last decades of the 19th century we cannot exonerate orthodox ministers who allowed the term 'evangelical' to become debased: they had not the strength to declare that men were not ministers of Christ who, while professing the 'Evangelical Faith', either never preached that Faith or practically repudiated it in details of their teaching.

Spurgeon himself warned, "There is truth and there is error and these are opposite the one to the other. Do not indulge yourselves in the folly with which so many duped that truth may be error, and error may be truth, that black may be white, and white is black, and that there is a whitey-brown that goes in between, which is, perhaps, the best of the whole lot."