Saturday, March 31, 2012

Evangelical Calvinism: T.F. Torrance and Union with Christ in Scottish Theology

The following is a guest post I originally posted at another instantiation of The Evangelical Calvinist back on August 24, 2009, here.
T.F. Torrance and Union with Christ in Scottish Theology

Without exploring the entire history of Scottish theology as read through the eyes of Torrance, we may note a few key influences on his thinking about union with Christ from this context. Torrance believes that ‘Union with Christ probably had a more important place in [Robert] Leighton’s theology than that given to it in the thought of any other Scottish theologian.’ Torrance gives Leighton (1611-1684) praise for not considering union with Christ simply as a ‘judicial union’ but as a ‘real union’ which occupies the centre of the whole redemptive activity mediated through Christ as saving grace. Utilised in this way union with Christ is fundamentally related to both election in Christ and the concept of saving exchange whereby Christ gives to humanity what is his – his righteousness and filial status – and takes to himself what is not his own – our sin and alienation. In James Fraser of Brea (1639-1698) Torrance identifies the same emphasis placed upon union with Christ, ‘It is through union and communion with [Christ], grounded in the “personal union” of his divine and human natures, that we come out of ourselves and partake of his fullness; we approach him empty to find all our salvation in the all-sufficient Lord Jesus.’ Thomas Boston (1676-1732) viewed union with Christ not merely as a legal union but a ‘real and proper union with ‘the whole Christ’ transformed through his death and resurrection, that is, a union of an ontological kind.’ Boston often spoke of this as a ‘mystical union’ in which all the benefits of the covenant of grace are given to the elect. Torrance traces these ideas back directly through Robert Bruce (c1554-1631), John Knox (1505-1572), John Calvin, and many others.

Of special interest to Torrance is H.R. Mackintosh (1870-1936). Torrance shows how Mackintosh in continuity with Calvin and the Scottish Reformed tradition, also made the concept of the unio mystica central to his soteriology. For Mackintosh, the concept of the unio mystica was merely a dogmatic restatement of the biblically rich material on the believer’s participatio Christi found throughout the New Testament, particularly in the ‘in/with Christ’ language of Paul and in the organic relationship between Christ and believers depicted in Johannine theology.

According to Mackintosh, mystical union effects a change in the believer’s identity. Through participating in Christ there is an ‘importation of another’s personality into him; the life, the will of Christ has taken over what once was in sheer antagonism to it, and replaced the power of sin by the forces of a divine life.’ There is a twofold objectivity about union with Christ: on the one hand, there is a ‘Christ-in-you’ relationship, and on the other there is a ‘you-in-Christ’ aspect. The former has to do with Christ being present within the believer as the source of new life, while the latter points to the foundation of this new life as lying outside of the believer in Christ. The union is mediated by the Holy Spirit. Torrance adopts these two aspects of participation in Christ into his own theology.

Mackintosh was attempting to postulate a union with Christ Jesus that went beyond the merely moral or ethical. Like Torrance, Mackintosh had reservations over using the term ‘mystical union’ (despite teaching its substance), but chose to define what he meant by unio mystica more willingly than discard the term altogether. By ‘mystical’ Mackintosh means, according to Redman, ‘that the believer’s relationship to Christ transcends human relationships and human experiences of solidarity and union.’ In place of a mere moral union Mackintosh presents a spiritual union that, while rational, is beyond human comprehension. By ‘union’ Mackintosh does not mean a complete identification in which Christ and the believer become indistinguishable; this would be an essential union, something found in the writings of some of the medieval mystics. Mackintosh was aware of the risk of pantheism and avoided this in his christology. Through participatio Christi, Mackintosh argues, one has communion with God as a human being because it is through union with the incarnate Christ that we come to commune with God. By defining union with Christ in such a way Mackintosh is in basic agreement with Calvin’s three senses of the term – incarnational, mystical, and spiritual. One can clearly see why Torrance is so attracted to Mackintosh’s theology.

In his critique of Mackintosh’s doctrine of the unio mystica Redman comments on his use of language. He argues that Mackintosh should have ceased using the language of mystical union and instead used concepts more akin to the essential logic of his theology, such as spiritual communion. Torrance perhaps agrees with Redman’s critique for he does not use the term ‘mystical union’ either, but retains the basic three-fold sense of union with Christ. Despite differences of terminology, Torrance considers his use of theōsis, both in terminology and in substance, conforms to a consistent theme of Reformed theology going back to Calvin and found particularly within the Scottish tradition.

Within this very specific trajectory of Reformed theology Torrance posits his own soteriology. Torrance articulates the dimensions of union with Christ in various ways but consistently he sees three realities involved. Firstly, there is union with Christ made possible objectively through the homoousion of the incarnate Son (Calvin’s ‘incarnational union’ ). Secondly, there is the hypostatic union, and its significance for the reconciling exchange wrought by Christ in his life, death, and resurrection (Calvin’s unio mystica). Finally, these two aspects of union with Christ are fulfilled or brought to completion in the communion that exists between believers and the triune God (broadly corresponding to Calvin’s ‘spiritual union’).
In a paraphrase of Torrance’s theology, Hunsinger presents three aspects which correlate approximately to our outline. Firstly, reception, a past event which involves what Christ has done for us. This is received by grace through faith alone. Secondly, participation, a present event, in which believers are clothed with Christ’s righteousness through partaking of Christ by virtue of his vicarious humanity. Thirdly, communion, the future or eschatological aspect which equates to eternal life itself in which believers enjoy communion in reciprocal love and knowledge of the triune God.

According to Torrance, union with Christ is not a ‘judicial union’ but a ‘real union’ which lies at the heart of the whole redemptive activity mediated through Christ as an act of saving grace. Torrance uses three words to elaborate what union with Christ means in his essay ‘The Mystery of the Kingdom’: divine purpose (prothesis), mystery (mystērion), and fellowship/communion (koinōnia). This triadic structure reflects the trinitarian action of the triune God: prothesis – the Father, mystērion – the Son, and koinōnia – the Holy Spirit. Prothesis refers to divine election whereby the Father purposed or ‘set forth’ the union of God and humanity in Jesus Christ. Divine election is a free, sovereign decision, a contingent act of God’s love; as such it is neither arbitrary nor necessary. Torrance thus holds to the Reformed doctrine of unconditional election, one which represents a strictly theonomous way of thinking, from a centre in God and not in ourselves. Torrance draws on certain aspects of Barth’s doctrine of election for he equates the incarnation as the counterpart to the doctrine of election so that ‘the incarnation, therefore, may be regarded as the eternal decision or election of God in his Love…’ Calling upon Calvin’s analogy, Torrance insists that ‘Christ himself is the ‘mirror of election,’ for it takes place in him in such a way that he is the Origin and the End, the Agent and the Substance of election…’

The second key expression Torrance uses is mystērion; the term is applied to Christ, and specifically to the mystery of his hypostatic union. In relation to God this means that the consubstantial union of the Trinity upholds the hypostatic union so that God does not merely come in man but as man. In this union of God and man a complete henosis between the two is effected, and they are ‘perfectly at one’.

He had come, Son of God incarnate as son of man, in order to get to grips with the powers of darkness and defeat them, but he had been sent to do that not through the manipulation of social, political or economic power-structures, but by striking beneath them all into the ontological depths of Israel’s existence where man, and Israel representing all mankind, had become estranged from God, and there within those ontological depths of human being to forge a bond of union and communion between man and God in himself which can never be undone.

Hence the hypostatic union is also a ‘reconciling union’ in which estrangement between God and humanity is bridged, conflict is eradicated, and human nature is ‘brought into perfect sanctifying union with divine nature in Jesus Christ.’

This atoning union is not merely external or juridical but actual, and points to the higher reality of communion. Hence Torrance can assert that:

it is not atonement that constitutes the goal and end of that integrated movement of reconciliation but union with God in and through Jesus Christ in whom our human nature is not only saved, healed and renewed but lifted up to participate in the very light, life and love of the Holy Trinity.
Union with Christ must be understood within Torrance’s doctrine of reconciliation to refer to the real participation of believers in the divine nature made possible by the dynamic atoning union of Christ. Torrance contends this is atonement in effect. As a result of the incarnation, humanity is united to divinity in the hypostatic union so that:
In the Church of Christ all who are redeemed through the atoning union embodied in him are made to share in his resurrection and are incorporated into Christ by the power of his Holy Spirit as living members of his Body…Thus it may be said that the ‘objective’ union which we have with Christ through his incarnational assumption of our humanity into himself is ‘subjectively’ actualised in us through his indwelling Spirit, ‘we in Christ’ and ‘Christ in us’ thus complementing and interpenetrating each other.
In addition to the hypostatic union Torrance applies the concept of mystērion to the mystery of the one-and-the-many, or Christ and his body the church. Torrance thus understands union with Christ to be largely corporate in nature but applicable to each individual member of his body who is ingrafted into Christ by Baptism and continue to live in union with him as they feed upon his body and blood in Holy Communion. Understanding the church as the body of Christ is thus another way of asserting an ontological union between the community of believers and Christ the Head.

The third term Torrance uses is koinōnia, and it too has a double reference. First, vertically, it represents our participation through the Spirit in the mystery of Christ’s union with us. Second, horizontally, it is applied to our fellowship or communion with one another in the body of Christ. At the intersection of the vertical and horizontal dimensions of koinōnia is the church, the community of believers united to Christ, who is himself united to humanity through the incarnation. Torrance asserts that ‘in and through koinonia the divine prothesis enshrining the eternal mysterion embodies itself horizontally in a community of those who are one with God through the reconciliation of Christ.’ It is this theology of union with Christ by means of fellowship or participation in God which links Torrance’s doctrines of soteriology and ecclesiology; both are aspects of his christology, as we shall see in more detail in the next chapter.

In summarising Torrance’s use of these three concepts Lee’s study helpfully concludes that ‘the cause (causa) of ‘union with Christ’ is prothesis, the election of God. Its substance (materia) is mysterion, the hypostatic union in Jesus Christ, and its fulfilment (effectus) is koinonia, the communion of the Holy Spirit.’ This outline focuses on the trinitarian foundation inherent throughout Torrance’s work which reminds readers not to see the work of reconciliation as exclusively that of the Son, or the Son and the Spirit, but as the work of the triune God.

The Historicity of the Resurrection with Licona, and a Theological Correction from Torrance

The following are three videos done by Dr. Michael Licona, and sponsored by Michael Patton's Credo House. Licona is an expert (wrote his PhD dissertation) on the historicity of the resurrection. Even though I am more Torrancean in orientation, I still find the kind of work that Licona, Wright, Bauckham (to name a few) are doing in this area of Christian origins is still a viable and necessary piece of historical work (V. a Christian Dogmatic one). In light of the season we are in I am at least going to feature the first three of the ten videos that Licona has done thus far on the historicity of the resurrection. Here they are:

Myth #1: Contradictions in the Gospels from Credo House on Vimeo.
Myth #2: Pagan Parallels in the Mystery Religions from Credo House on Vimeo.

Myth #3: The Fraud Theory from Credo House on Vimeo.

Here is Thomas Torrance providing a more balanced way to understand the relation between the historical and the revelatory from within a Christ-conditioned mode of conception. I think Licona's & companies' work in their areas fits into the 'historical' side of the work that is indeed important to the Christian faith. But left to itself, using a Christological index, we end up with an Adoptionistic approach to Christ; wherein the humanity of Christ is merely a historical appendage adopted by the Divine Logos in his incarnation instead of given direct shape by his person in the womb of Mary (an/enhypostasis).

The mystery of Christ is presented to us within history — that historical involvement is not an accidental characteristic of the mystery but essential to it. That is the problem.

Let us first put it this way, recalling the bi-polarity of our theological knowledge. If God has become man in the historical Jesus, that is an historical event that comes under our historical examination so far as the humanity of Jesus is concerned, but the fact that God became man is an event that cannot be appreciated by ordinary historical science, for here we are concerned with more than simply an historical event, namely, with the act of the eternal God. So far as this event is a fact of nature it can be observed, and so far as it is historical in the sense that other natural events are historical, it can be appreciated as such; but the essential becoming behind it cannot be directly perceived except by an act of perception appropriate to the eternal event. That act of perception appropriate to an eternal act, or divine act, would surely be the pure vision of God, which we do not have in history. Here on earth and in time we do not see directly, face to face, but see only in part, as through a glass enigmatically, in a mystery. We see the eternal or divine act within history, within our fallen world where historical observation is essential. Faith would be better described then as the kind of perception appropriate to perceiving a divine act in history, an eternal act in time. So that faith is appropriate both to the true perception of historical facts, and also to the true perception of God’s action in history. Nor is it the way we are given within history to perceive God’s acts in history, and that means that faith is the obedience of our minds to the mystery of Christ, who is God and man in the historical Jesus. What is clearly of paramount importance here is the holding together of the historical and the theological in our relation to Christ.

If the two are not held together, we have broken up the given unity in Christ into the historical on the one hand, and the theological on the other, refracting it into elements which we can no longer put together again. We then find that we cannot start from the historical and move to the theological, or from the theological and move to the historical without distortion, and nor can we rediscover the original unity. We can only start from the given, where the historical and the theological are in indissoluble union in Christ. [Thomas F. Torrance, Incarnation, 6-7] 

I hope, with Torrance's caveat in mind, that you can appreciate something like what Licona is attempting; while at the same time understanding that Licona & company probably could use the theological corrective that Torrance has to offer!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Do You Need a Theological Consultant or Associate Pastor?

I am seriously ready for a job to open up that involves the employment of my gifts, training, and skills. If you are a pastor, and your ministry is in need of someone who can do theological research for you (including book reviews, etc.); then please let me know, and we can work out a plan, and a contract. Further, if you are a ministry in need of an associate pastor of Evangelism/Discipleship/Christian Education; then contact me. I have years of experience in all of these areas, and would love to be part of your ministry by building people up through the proclamation and explication of the Gospel. I am also a writer (obviously); so if your ministry is in need of a writer, and social media communicator, then contact me, and we can work something out.

In general, I am open to do theological consulting work (pricing negotiable); feel free to contact me, and I look forward to working with you in the process of knowing Jesus in deeper and more mature ways!

contact: email:

Thursday, March 29, 2012

More Coming on Matt Chandler, And a Word From an Original Evangelical Calvinist

I never finished my last installment on Matt Chandler's and John Piper's Calvinism; and my last installment was to be the most constructive and offer a positive way (meaning the way I would like to approach these issues through Evangelical Calvinism) forward for us as people of the Christian Triune God. So my next post will be this last installment. To whet your appetite here is an original Evangelical Calvinist, Hugh Binning (1627-1653), on the joys of being in communion and union with our God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit:

. . . our salvation is not the business of Christ alone but the whole Godhead is interested in it deeply, so deeply, that you cannot say, who loves it most, or likes it most. The Father is the very fountain of it, his love is the spring of all -- "God so loved the world that he hath sent his Son". Christ hath not purchased that eternal love to us, but it is rather the gift of eternal love . . . Whoever thou be that wouldst flee to God for mercy, do it in confidence. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, are ready to welcome thee, all of one mind to shut out none, to cast out none. But to speak properly, it is but one love, one will, one council, and purpose in the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, for these Three are One, and not only agree in One, they are One, and what one loves and purposes, all love and purpose. (Thomas F. Torrance, quoting Hugh Binning, "Scottish Theology," 79)

§3. Matt Chandler’s and John Piper’s ‘two-willed god’: There is a history!

*To catch up read my first and second installments, 1) here and 2) here.

This is my second installment (well third really) on Matt Chandler’s and John Piper’s ‘two-wills in God theology’. My last post on this sought to introduce us to the way that John Piper, in particular, and Chandler otherwise, understand a concept that they both articulate as ‘The TwoWills of God’. I registered my concern in that last post about where this approach leads, because of where it comes from; and because of what it implies about God’s nature, and how he relates to his creation (us) in what has been called salvation history. This post will briefly sketch the aspect of where two wills in God theology came from; my next and last post in this mini-series will detail what the implications are of this approach (for Christology, soteriology [study of salvation], etc.), and in this detailing I will offer what I think is a corrective---which of course is what we advocate for as Evangelical Calvinists. The history of two-wills in God theology can be seen given definition through the thought processes of a medieval theologian named William of Ockham. He believed, in a nutshell, that God was one way in eternity (God’s so called ‘absolute will’), and another way in time-space salvation history (God’s so called ‘ordained will’). What this does is introduce a wedge between the God of eternity and the God of spacio-temporal time; meaning that the God we see revealed in Jesus Christ could potentially be different than the God behind Jesus back up in eternity (understand that I am speaking in oversimplified ways and rather crudely)---or, there is no necessary link between how God acts in eternity, and how God acts in time. The result of this is to place a rupture into the very being of God. Here is how Steven Ozment summarizes Ockham’s view (and he also quotes a bit of Ockham for us); we will quote this at some length:
Ockham’s reputation as a revolutionary theological thinker has resulted from the extremes to which he went to establish the contingent character of churches, priests, sacraments, and habits of grace. He drew on two traditional sources. The first was Augustine’s teaching that the church on earth was permixta, that is, that some who appear to be saints may not be, and some who appear not to be saints may in fact be so, for what is primary and crucial in salvation is never present grace and righteousness, but the gift of perseverance, which God gives only the elect known to him. Ockham’s second source was the distinction between the absolute and ordained powers of God, the most basic of Ockham’s theological tools. Ockham understood this critical distinction as follows:

Sometimes we mean by God’s power those things which he does according to laws he himself has ordained and instituted. These things he is said to do by ordained power [de potential ordinata]. But sometimes God’s power is taken to mean his ability to do anything that does not involve a contradiction, regardless of whether or not he has ordained that he would do it. For God can do many things that he does not choose to do. . . . The things he is said to be able to do by his absolute power [de potential absoluta]. [Quodlibeta VI, q. 1, cited by Dettloff, Die Entwicklung der Akzeptations- unde Verdienstlehre, p. 282, and Courtenay, “Nominalism and Late Medieval Religion,” p. 40.]
Ockham seemed to delight in demonstrating the contingency of God’s ordained power—what God had actually chosen to do in time—by contrasting it with his absolute power, the infinite possibilities open to him in eternity. According to his absolute power, God could have chosen to save people in ways that seem absurd and even blasphemous. For example, he could have incarnated himself in a stone or an ass rather than in a man, or could have required that he be hated rather than loved as the condition of salvation. . . .[1]

In order to keep this brief enough I will not elaborate too much, but let me give some reasons why I think this is important to know; and also for whom I am presenting this in the main:
1) I am introducing this for folks who have never had a Reformation Theology class in seminary, for example. So this is intended to provide exposure for all of those who have been unexposed heretofore.

2) My hope is that because of said exposure, the reader will understand that there is something more going on when they hear Piper and Chandler articulate two wills in God theology. In other words, the way that both Piper and Chandler present this, to the uninformed; the parishioner will walk away thinking that what Chandler just said about two wills in God is simply Gospel biblical truth without reservation or anyway to critically consider this. So my goal is rather minimal by reproducing Ozment’s thought for you; my goal is simply to alert the attentive reader and thinker that there is something more than ‘biblical truth’ going on in the in-formation of Piper’s and Chandler’s view on this particular topic.

3) I want the read to understand that there is a particular problem associated with thinking in these kind of Nominalist ways (which is what the philosophy is called that Ockham articulates) about the nature of God. As I noted earlier, it creates a potential schism (indeed necessary) between the God of eternity and the God of time revealed in Jesus Christ; so as my favorite theologian says (along with Barth before him), we end up ‘with a god behind the back of Jesus’ who is not necessarily the same God we see revealed in Jesus (so when Jesus says in John 14 that ‘when you see me you see the Father’, that may or may not be true according to the implications and logic associated with a two-wills in God theology).

Conclusion My next and final post in this series will expand on the problems associated with this approach; elaborating upon my parenthetical point in point three in the aforementioned. I will notice how this approach, which is purported by both Piper and Chandler to resolve some apparent tensions in scripture; instead exacerbate things in scripture by undercutting the most important point and touchstone we work from as Christians---that is what has been called a Theology Proper or Doctrine of God. If we get this point wrong---e.g. who God is---then the rest of our theological thinking and biblical interpreting will be found to be built on sandy beaches and not the rocky jetty that will stand under the most tumultuous theological storm waves one could fathom.

[1] Steven Ozment, The Age of Reform 1250-1550: An Intellectual And Religious History Of Late Medieval And Reformation Europe, (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1980), 18.

§2. Matt Chandler's and John Piper's 'two-willed god': There is a problem!

I had intended on writing something on Matt Chandler’s conception of God with two wills. My primary means for interacting with Chandler’s view was through two sermons he preached in the past on this topic. As recent as two weeks ago, I had almost finished listening through those sermons, once again; I just tried to find them again, today, so I could finish them up, but instead found this note at Chandler’s ministry website:
Last year we removed all sermons prior to January 2006. Our Lead Pastor, Teaching, Matt Chandler made this request because, in growing in his understanding of the Scriptures, he believed there were some inconsistencies in our past teachings. We pray that the Spirit ministers deeply to you through the teachings now available. (here)

Unfortunately, then, I am unable to finish, and/or then transcribe any of Matt’s own wording on his view. So, I am doing the next best thing; I am appealing to a mentor of Matt’s (the guy who turned Matt on to Five Point Calvinism to begin with), John Piper. I know, for a fact, that Piper has significant influence with Chandler, and that Matt’s views on the ‘two wills in God’ would have originally come from Piper anyway; so maybe it is fortuitous that those sermons from Chandler are no longer available---we are now pointed to Chandler’s source, by looking at John Piper. I don’t intend, of course, to do an exhaustive piece on this issue; but I do intend to do at least a few things with this short article. 1) I will introduce us to the Piper/Chandler definition and rationale for holding to ‘two wills in God’. 2) I will sketch some historical background to what gave rise to the theological furniture that both Piper and Chandler have arranged in their pastoral living rooms in the way that they have; I will do this by briefly looking at famed Nominalist theologian William of Ockham’s articulation of a ‘two willed God’. 3) And finally, I will conclude this mini-essay with my critique of the Piper/Chandler and Occamist doctrines of God, respectively; in the process, I will articulate what I think is a better way forward---and appeal to an Evangelical Calvinist thesis, that Myk and I have written for the book. Let me just assert, here; that the primary problem with the Piper/Chandler view is that 'it gives us a god behind the back of Jesus'. I will attempt to articulate all of this at a level that is accessible, and primarily aimed at the non-specialist and lay Christian---but you are going to have to work with me.
John Piper, and by relationship (teacher/student), Matt Chandler, as classic Calvinists (in contrast to ‘Evangelical Calvinism’) attempt to interpret scripture with the supposition that God must have two wills; they are forced to this conclusion because of what appears to them as necessary contradictory teachings in scripture if in fact God is truly ‘sovereign’ in the ways that these two understand sovereignty (i.e. that God is for God, and God’s holiness and justice determine how he must relate to his creation as Creator---that is as a God of power and law, untouched by creation itself). For example, if God is ultimately sovereign over creation, then wouldn’t this demand that what God desires, God gets? And yet Piper and Chandler must deal with passages like this:
4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. I Timothy 2:4 (ESV)

Based on a passage like this, coupled with the kind of sovereignty of God that Piper and Chandler operate with; the obvious conclusion would be—if God always gets what he desires—that since he ‘desires all people to be saved’, that, indeed, all people will be saved! But this cannot work, based on P’s & C’s prior commitment to the Unconditional election in the TULIP. So they have a delimiting mechanism already built into their understanding of the way that God works; one that would seemingly be at odds with a straightforward passage like I Timothy 2:4—the apparent conclusion would be that they have a contradiction between the way that they think about God theologically versus the way that God seems to be acting according to a passage like the one in Timothy. Here is how Piper gets around this apparent contradiction in his view of God:
Affirming the will of God to save all, while also affirming the unconditional election of some, implies that there are at least "two wills" in God, or two ways of willing. It implies that God decrees one state of affairs while also willing and teaching that a different state of affairs should come to pass. This distinction in the way God wills has been expressed in various ways throughout the centuries. It is not a new contrivance. For example, theologians have spoken of sovereign will and moral will, efficient will and permissive will, secret will and revealed will, will of decree and will of command, decretive will and preceptive will, voluntas signi (will of sign) and voluntas beneplaciti (will of good pleasure), etc. (full argument here)

Here we have the work around that Piper provides for getting out of this apparent dilemma between his commitment to his version of God’s sovereignty, and what scripture ‘apparently’ seems to teach if read in a straightforward fashion. So, for Piper and Chandler; God gives with one hand, and has already taken it away with the other hand. In this scenario, we have a God in eternity acting and willing one way; and then we have an ‘ordained’ way that God has chosen to work in time. So we essentially have a God who is in competition with the other; i.e. the God of eternity versus the way God has chosen to work in time. I think this will have to do, for now. I will break this series of posts up into three posts; this, of course, being the first installment and section which is to introduce us to a basic view of ‘two wills in God theology’ as understood by John Piper, in particular, and his student, Matt Chandler (and others), in general. The next post will show how Piper’s view did not come out of a vacuum (as he himself notes in the quote I provided from him), and how, in fact, it comes directly from a medieval context (via William of Ockham). Stay tuned for section II, in the days to come.

§1. Matt Chandler's Calvinism Given Historical and Theological Background

Okay, here we go. I am going to get into this issue, this way; i.e. by having you all watch this video interview with Matt Chandler done by John Piper. My point in sharing this video is not to use it as a piece that I critique materially; instead, I want what Chandler says to take up residence in your heart and mind so that you will be able to recall this as a reference point for some of the things I will be getting at later. What I mean is this; Matt Chandler says something very explicitly and up front that I've known to be true for along time, but I am afraid that many who listen to, not just Matt Chandler, but many others in his tribe, are failing to realize that the informing theology behind what Chandler & co. communicate to the masses is plain old 5 point Calvinism. Now, some folk are totally fine with this, but other folk didn't realize this to be the case (until now); and so my motive is to expose where Chandler and The Gospel Coalition are coming from, and then offer an alternative way to approach scripture through a better Christian grammar and theological grid. Watch the video, please spend the time to do that, and then I will close this video with some brief reflections and set myself up for further posts. Click Here: John Piper Interviews Matt Chandler on Calvinism. One thing I don't want this to turn into is another slam-fest on 5 point Calvinism; I want to take us somewhat deeper than that. I want to take us into the Holy of holies, or into God's life; since this is where it all goes wrong for a 5 point Calvinist (which I will establish in posts to come). This is, as you heard Chandler mention in the interview, where a need for a God with two wills comes into the picture. Let me just assert right now, if you have a god with two wills you don't have the God of the Bible revealed in Jesus Christ! And if you don't have the God of the Bible Self-revealed in Jesus Christ; then you don't have the full bodied version of the Gospel. Just be prepared to have your thinking piqued, and maybe your beliefs challenged (which I hope is what happens if you appreciate or are a follower of Matt Chandler's teaching). Just pray that I communicate in a fair, firm, and then loving way.... thank you!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Problems of 5-Point Calvinism

What are the dangers of classic Calvinism? This is just off the top, as you'll see; but I would like to brainstorm about what I perceive as the dangers of Westminster or 5-Point Calvinism.

Theodore Beza
  1. 5-Point Calvinism starts with the wrong view of God; it assumes, because of its theological methodology, that God is a God primarily defined by brute Creator power---which de-emphasizes God as Triune, relational, and personal.
  2. 5-Point Calvinism works with a faulty understanding of the God-world relation---this is related to point 1---since God is brute Creator, and untouched by his creation, God must relate to his creation through impersonal Law-like decrees.
  3. 5-Point Calvinism has a faulty view of the Incarnation. Meaning that Bezan Calvinism subordinates God's Son to these impersonal decrees, such that in the process the Son becomes an instrument of God's salvation thus de-emphasizing and detaching the person of the Son from the Person of the Father as the Son has now become determined and shaped to be what the decrees in and for creation have determined.
  4. 5-Point Calvinism misunderstands humanity because it fails to see Christ as the archetype of what humanity is. This has to do with Dortian Calvinism's embrace of a bipolar view of election wherein there is a disjunction between the elect and the reprobate; such that the former are somehow represented by the Son while the latter are not. What does this say about humanity in general?
  5. 5-Point Calvinism errs in the area of salvation since it believes that God is defined by brute-Law-like-Creator-Power, and thus God then provides a salvation that is shaped by Law keeping and performance instead of Love making and rest.
What do you think? Do you have any to add? Do you have problems with any of my suggestions?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Resurrection of Jesus: Apologetics or Dogmatics?

In keeping with the resurrection season we are in; here is Douglas Farrow on Thomas
Torrance and the Resurrection, as it relates to time and eternity:

[...] Torrance's important work, Space, Time, and Resurrection, was informed by his labours in ecclesiology and eschatology and at the interface between theology and the philosophy of science. 'The resurrection of Jesus is an event that happens in history in continuity with the living event of the whole historical existence of Jesus, yet as an event of fulfilled redemption the resurrection issues in a new creation beyond the corruptible processes of this world, on the other side of decay and death, and on the other side of judgement, in the fullness of a new world and of a new order of things' (Torrance 1967:86). In his attempt to answer the question as to how these things can be thought together, Torrance appealed to the concept of recapitulation and, like Irenaeus, tried to work out a view of creaturely reality capable of accommodating it. If this made the whole historical life of Jesus 'resurrection from beginning to end' (Torrance 1976:94), it did not obliterate the distinction between pre- and post-Easter forms of existence. Following Calvin and William Milligan, Torrance was careful to distinguish the doctrines of resurrection and ascension and to develop both. His focus on Christ's heavenly priesthood helped to counteract the tendency in Barth, as in some patristic thought, to emphasize the revelation of Christ's divinity at the expense of his reconstituted humanity (cf. Gunton 2003: 67-91; Burgess 2004; Dawson 2004) and drew attention to the problem of the presence and the absence, that is, to the eschatological tension generated by the departure of Jesus (cf. Seitz 2001: 133-48; Marion 2002: 124-52). It also left more room, at least in principle, for coordination of the messianic and the pneumatological dimensions of resurrection theology. [Douglas Farrow, Chapter 12 Resurrection and Immortality, 227 in The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology, edited by Webster, Tanner, and I. Torrance]

For Torrance, the facticity of the resurrection does not take on Apologetic value, primarily; instead, resurrection is seen as the center-piece of history that ties the beginning (protology) and the end (eschatology) together in Christ. As Christians, we already believe in the resurrection; so our procedure and approach to the resurrection will be much richer and deeper than merely trying to PROVE Christianity; the resurrection represents the recreation and opening up of all creation (cf. Rom. 8:18ff) into its original purpose. That is, to find its reality in the point and preeminent over all of creation, Christ.

So when you turn on the History Channel this week (or the Discovery Channel); don't let your first instinct be to react to their doubts and cynicism and antagonism towards the veracity of the resurrection.  Instead, understand that those very doubts have been defeated by the very thing these are doubting; the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Death of Death

**This week I am going to hit the motif of death, burial, and resurrection for my posts leading up to Resurrection Sunday. Here is a post I just wrote recently that I thought I would post again because I think it fits in well with the timing of our Christian calendars.

I don't know about you, but I grow weary of sin; I (we) face an ongoing battle every breath that we take. Whether it be perverse thoughts, dark deep secrets that plague the conscience, actions that result in destruction for you and all those related to you, systemic evil that permeates the very fabric of society (this is probably most insidious since we are conditioned by it in ways that give it a normalcy and thus societal and then personal acceptance); the Apostle can relate,

23But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? Romans 7:23, 24
We battle on. But how do we know what we battle; how do we gauge the target, how do we even know that there is a target to hit? How do we realize that evil isn't some just mysterious lurking principle 'out there' that ultimately is outside of me, and not something that actually implicates my very being to its deepest depths---even when I engage in the evil 'out there' occasionally or situationally? How do I know, even if I can index concrete and ongoing instantiations of evil 'out there, that the evil is indeed me? And that this all encompassing wickedness and deprivation consumes my inner self, which organically shapes my outer self---since really ourselves (body/soul) are integrated wholes. In other words, I am sin to the depths, and the reason there is sin, evil, wickedness 'out there'; it is mostly because it has a context 'in here', in me. But how can I say such things, how can I ground such assertions beyond some sort of psychological intuition? We know that we are blind when the impression of light intensifies our darkness; when Jesus acts the way he does, and did, we know we are indeed blind. We come to the realization that for all our good, for all our posturing toward ourselves; that the next to the last word is that we live in a state of No, or blindness to the fact that what we see the Apostle Paul giving voice to can only come when faced with the depth of our problem as we participate in the life of Christ. The One who took our No, our blindness, and indeed our sin unto himself 'by becoming sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in him' (II Cor. 5:21). As Calvin so perceptively knew, we only truly have knowledge of ourselves (and our abysmal state), when we first have knowledge of God through Christ, God the Redeemer.

It is this that John Webster masterfully elucidates as he engages Karl Barth's vision of a christologically conditioned knowledge of sin in its most depth dimension. Let me quote Webster, who is commenting on Barth's Church Dogmatics & Ethics, and the moral anthropology embedded therein:

[B]arth's Christological determination of sin is not so much an attempt to dislocate 'theological' from 'empirical' reality, as an argument born of a sense that human persons are characteristically self-deceived. Human life is a sphere in which fantasy operates, in which human persons are not able to see themselves as they truly are. The 'man of sin'

thinks he sits on a high throne, but in reality he sits only on a child's stool, cracking his little whip, pointing with frightful seriousness his little finger, while all the time nothing happens that really matters. He can only play the judge. He is only a dilettante, a blunderer, in his attempt to distinguish between good and evil, right and wrong, acting as though he really had the capacity to do it. He can only pretend to himself and others that he has the capacity and that there is any real significance in his judging. (CD IV/1, p. 446.)

This theme of concealment surfaces frequently in paragraph 60 (and elsewhere). Believing ourselves to see clearly, even allowing ourselves to suppose our sight to be sharper than that of our fellows, we are blind to the reality of our own selves. Barth acutely perceives that moral earnestness frequently rests upon clouded vision and lack of self-awareness and self-distrust. And so, once again, we return to the Christological basis for the treatment of human sin: 'Compared with Him we stand there in all our corruption ... The untruth in which we are men is disclosed ... We are forced to see and know ourselves in the loathsomeness in which we find ourselves exposed and known.'

Human sinfulness, then, entails an ability to disentangle ourselves from our acts in such a way that they are no longer really ours. As Barth puts it in a passage in Church Dogmatics IV/2, we allow ourselves to believe that:

The sinful act is regrettable but external, incidental and isolated failure and defect; a misfortune, comparable to one of the passing sicknesses in which a healthy organism remains healthy and to which it shows itself to be more than equal. On this view, the individual --- I myself --- cannot really be affected by the evil action. I do not have any direct part in its loathsome and offensive character. In the last resort it has taken place in my absence. I myself am elsewhere and aloof from it. And from this neutral place which is my real home, I can survey and evaluate the evil that has happened to me in its involvement with other less evil and perhaps even good motives and elements; in its not absolutely harmful but to some extent positive effects; in its relationship to my other much less doubtful and perhaps even praiseworthy achievements; and especially in my relationship to what I see other men do or not do (a comparison in which I may not come out too badly); in short, in a relativity in which I am not really affected at bottom. I may acknowledge and regret that I have sinned, but I do not need to confess that I am a sinner. (CD IV/2, p. 394)

These clarifications of the forms of human self-deception (which are by no means intended to underrate the ambiguity of the moral situation) are an important background to Barth's treatment of original sin. His objection to some formulations of that doctrine is, at heart, that they are deficient in their account of positive evil. And his refusal of an independent locus peccati, his rejection of anything other than a Christologically determined account of sin, is directed by precisely the same concern. Far from averting attention from evil as fact, Christology is intended to furnish a means of clarifying our vision and dissolving our illusions about our own moral integrity. [John Webster, Barth's Moral Theology: Human Action in Barth's Thought, 69-70.]

The Apostle Paul concurs with this kind of assessment about the deleterious effects of sin upon a life that knows that it only knows its true state of affairs because of the One who finally has given the last word to our No-being by his Yes to the Father for us---viz. a Yes that is given concrete form through his death, burial, and most importantly resurrection-ascension. The Apostle Paul, with his eyes wide open, as we noted earlier, gives a final sigh of relief when he writes:

25I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin. Romans 7:25

The Apostle knew, that he knew sin, not ultimately because of the Law; but ultimately, because of Christ who penetrated deeper than the Law could on its own---viz. into the cavernous depths of the human soul which left to itself continues to look at evil and wickedness as if its 'out there', while all along failing to realize that they've never even seen sin and evil and wickedness in its most grotesque form; that's because they've never presumed that maybe, just maybe the most insidious form of evil, in the end, dwells where they can't peer, where they dare not, in themselves.

Welcome to the Blogger Version of The Evangelical Calvinist

I hope the trek over here wasn't too difficult. You can update your RSS feeds and if you follow via email, you can update that by requesting that in the appropriate area in my new sidebar. I hope the Blogger host serves the interests of my blogging and our interaction in the days to come, without any cumbersome issues to stand in the way. And I look forward to getting some fresh posts up really soon; I have some in mind for the doctrine of Resurrection. Welcome!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Christian Statement of Scripture V. An UnChristian Statement

Here is a very dynamic statement on Scripture and its placement within the life of God's people; finding its continuity in ongoing witness for those people in the 'point and purpose' of their existence, Jesus Christ.

[T]he source of all our knowledge of God is his active revelation of himself. We do not know God against his will, or behind his back, as it were, but in accordance with the way in which he has elected to disclose himself and communicate his truth in the historical-theological context of the worshipping people of God, the Church of the Old and New Covenants. This is the immediate empirical fact with which the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are bound up. They were composed under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and in the providence of God have been handed on to us as the written form of the Word of God. They are the Scriptures of the people of Israel, for Israel was the selected medium of God's revelation in which his Word operated prophetically in the life and understanding of a particular historical community in order to provide within mankind a place where divine revelation might be translated appropriately into human speech and where it might be assimilated and understood in a communicable form by all humanity. And they are the Scriptures of the Christian Church, for the Church was the appointed sphere in which the historical self-revelation of God through Israel, gathered up and transcended and fulfilled in Jesus Christ the Word made flesh, is given an evangelical form in the apostolic witness and tradition, kerygma and didache, through which the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ himself continues to meet men and women as the living Word of God and to impart himself to them as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, apart from whom, as our Lord claimed, no one has access to the Father. [Thomas F. Torrance, Divine Meaning: Studies in Patristic Hermeneutics, (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1995), 5]

I would suggest that this is a properly articulated and understood ontology and/or doctrine of Scripture and its placement within the grasp (so to speak) of God's people; Christians. This is in contrast to the classical understanding of Scripture, here given voice by Evangelical Systematic Theologian, Millard Erickson:

[T]he epistemological question is simply, How do we know? Since our basis for knowing and holding to the truth of any theological proposition is that the Bible teaches it, it is of utmost importance that the Bible be found truthful in all of its assertions. If we should conclude that certain propositions (historical or scientific) taught by the Bible are not true, the implications for theological propositions are far-reaching. To the extent that evangelicals abandon the position that everything taught or affirmed by Scripture is true, other bases for doctrine will be sought. This might well be either through the resurgence of philosophy of religion or, what is more likely given the current "relational" orientation, through basing theology upon behavioral sciences, such as psychology of religion. But whatever the form that such an alternative grounding takes, there will probably be a shrinking of the list of tenets, for it is difficult to establish the Trinity or the virgin birth of Christ upon either a philosophical argument or the dynamics of interpersonal relationships. [Millard J. Erickson, Introducing Christian Doctrine, 62]

The nuance between the two statements is quite subtle to the naked eye, but there is one. The primary distinction between these two articulations is that the former does not make the veracity of Scripture contingent upon creation, or proving it to be so. Instead Torrance's statement places Scripture within the divine speech which actually is life giving and formative to his people's existence, as his people, indeed. The latter thesis statement, from Erickson, places humanity (in general) prior to God's Word in Scripture; such that its veracity can only said to be so through the apologetic works of God's people making it so. In other words, for Erickson, and the Evangelical sphere in general, Scripture is annexed to the realm of philosophical (epistemological) materiality in a way that leaves it out in the open until Christians can prove its reliability. But this is exactly backwards!

The question is who comes first? 1) God, 2) creation, 3) Scripture (Torrance); or, 1) Creation, 2) Scripture, 3) God (Erickson)? The latter set of questions see Scripture placed in the secular realm of philosophy; the former set of questions see Scripture located in the sacred sphere of salvation. Which means that Erickson's approach cannot, theologically, be said to endorse a particularly Christian doctrine of Scripture---only Torrance's can, because his does not make Scripture's prophetic witness dependent upon humanity but upon God's free voice of 'Lordness'---since Erickson's approach moves from a view of creation that ultimately sees creation as a mode of existence that determines its own fate and reality (this is a very modern move, but not a very Christian one).