An Evangelical Calvinist Doctrine of Scripture

I as an Evangelical Calvinist hold that Scripture should be understood instrumentally or as ‘spectacles’ as Calvin held. In other words EC for me believes that Scripture is something that God uses through its human words and bible-cover-pagecontexts, as His ordained Spirit shaped place where he encounters us afresh and anew every time we open, read, and study it.

Scripture in the classic position is understood from a philosophical vantage point, or to get technical, in the realm of epistemology. Which is to say that it is the place that tells us how we know what we know, but the emphasis of this approach places the onus on us; i.e. how “we” know, and what “we” make of it.

In contrast to this, I see Scripture in the realm of soteriology, or “salvation”, and in particular (along with John Webster) in the realm of sanctification. In this order of things, then, we don’t come before scripture (as if we give it its reality by our exegesis etc.); instead God in Christ comes before Scripture, just as He did/does before creation itself (Scripture). This placement keeps things in proper perspective, and it ensures that Scripture is not something that we can manipulate, but it keeps its reality in charge of things, so to speak (i.e. He can contradict our thoughts etc. through His written Word).

So Scripture is not the ultimate place where God has revealed Himself (which is the classic emphasis); Scripture finds its reality when it bears witness to, and finds its substantial meaning in Jesus Christ; just as the rest of creation. The difference with Scripture (from the rest of creation), is that the Holy Spirit inspired it and illuminates it in a special way, which again finds its orientation in Jesus Christ and in His high priestly humanity for us.

Bobby’s Developing Bible Study: ‘Jesus is the Key’

I have been seeking a hermeneutic, or a way beyond the impasse created by my move to what Gibson and Muller have called a principial & intensive method of biblical interpretation  (in reference to Barth on their part, no luther_martin-3less). I have become disenchanted, over the past few years, with the hermeneutical framework (but not all of the ways) that I was trained in through both Bible College and Seminary; that is, theLiteral, Grammatical, Historical method. Certainly, though, I cannot, nor do I want to fully abandon the Grammatical, Historical, and Canonical realities that make up the shaping of what we call the Bible. So in other words, I have been in some personal conflict when it comes to my theory of hermeneutic; wanting to affirm a methodologically and principled way of reading scripture, in Christ. And on the other hand, not also wanting to reject the historical and canonical aspects of scripture that repose in it its Christic shape; so I want to continue to use the grammar, the syntax, the lexical, and the canonical markers of scripture that serve instrumentally to point beyond themselves to the deep reality they signify, in Christ.

The following two quotes from Zimmerman on Luther’s approach to biblical interpretation are the ones thus far that I have benefited from the most in my pursuit to provide some denouement to my, as of late, hermeneutical angst.In this seeking of mine, I have been reading Jens Zimmerman’s Recovering Theological Hermeneutics: An Incarnational-Trinitarian Theory of Interpretation. And unlike T. F. Torrance’s book Divine Meaning: Studies in Patristic Hermeneutics(which I thoroughly benefited from, of course, especially in serving the purpose in providing a general theory of hermeneutics that, indeed seeks to present a truly principled christocentric hermeneutic); Zimmerman’s book, and brief development of Luther (thus far in my reading of his chapter on Luther’s hermeneutic) has help to affirm the way that I want to proceed by being principially Christicin my biblical exegesis, and at the same time understanding that within this theoretical hermeneutical framework; that there is a viable way to employ all of the philological tools that one ought to employ when engaging the text of scripture, which is special literature.

[I]t follows that the subject matter of the Bible, the good news of God’s love for humanity shown in the incarnation, cannot be understood through historical research alone. Nor in contrast to the historical school of the nineteenth century is historical distance a problem. The historical distance is nullified (not bridged) by the Word, which first created history and then was spoken into history. Luther concludes that it is the role of the Holy Spirit to make the incarnate Word present to the reader. Thus for Luther; a hermeneutics adequate to interpret the subject matter of the Bible is based on the unity of “Christ, Word, and Spirit” (EE, 365). Luther’s theory differed from a theory of verbal inspiration, for he insisted on a word behind the word that requires from the reader constant revisions in interpreting the written letter. . . . [59]

In light of this, it is no surprise that someone like my friend, Matt, a Lutheran, is also a Barthian; for the above sketch of Luther’s hermeneutic sounds very much so like Barth’s (and T.F. Torrance’s, no less) approach to understanding the written word as it continually, and ever anew proximate the Living Word in whom the written and proclaimed word find their reality and orientation. As Karl Barth (I believe in his CD I/1) describes this, there is both the ‘outer-logic’ and ‘inner-logic’ of Scripture (playing off the Reformer’s perspicuity ‘outer/inner’ clarity dialectic); such that the written letter (outer logic) remains stable, our understanding of that is provisional and ever changing as we understand more and more the One, the Word, to whom this written word points (this is the ‘inner-logic’ according to Barth … and the reason that ‘theological exegesis’ should be understood as the norm for biblical interpretation).

barthglassesTo sum up, for Luther, “the Word of God in the cosmic sense was the eternal Christ, and as the Word of God in the New Testament was essentially the historical Christ. Given his doctrine of the Word, it was logical for Luther to see Christ and the cross as the central theme of God’s redemptive word”…. Luther’s systematic Christological hermeneutic principle does not mean, however, that he simply read his opinion into the text; the assiduous use of all philological aids available at his time in his sermon and lecture preparation demonstrates Luther’s desire to develop theology from the text. That is not to say, of course, that sometimes his vivid imagination saw Christ in the text where modern scholarship does not. However, respected strands of contemporary scholarship have come to agree in principle with Luther’s reading of Paul and the plausibility of the Pauline assertion that Jesus the Christ is the fulfillment of Torah and the messianic promises in Isaiah pertain to his redemption and vindication of humanity … [Jens Zimmerman,Recovering Theological Hermeneutics, 59-60]Here is the second quote that again helps assuage and also confirm me in my own movement forward as a theological/Christological exegete of Holy Scripture; Zimmerman summarizes:

 As Zimmerman developed in an earlier iteration of his chapter on Luther; for Luther there is no understanding the historical word of scripture without the Word of Faith breathing life into the history as it is conjoined in Christ as he is the point and purpose of creation and creation’s history unfolded toward and in Christ. If this is the case, the words of scripture cannot have meaning or signification if they are abstracted from their reason for being as they are taken up in Christ. And yet, more constructively, this is exactly how higher-critical and historist approaches to biblical interpretation (some of which I have been discussing in previous posts, whether on the ‘Liberal’ side or the ‘Fundamentalist/Evangelical’ side) have colluded in their adumbration of the text of scripture (adumbrated because these ‘critics’ have place scripture into a pretext of their own construction, one that doesn’t have eyes to see and ears to hear, because if it did, these critics would understand that they can’t understand the text without understanding that it’s all about Jesus).

And so, since this post is now just over the reported attention span of blog readers (which is a 1,000 words, max.); I will close this post. Maybe you can appreciate a little better, then, where I am at in my own development; and maybe you can see why I have jettisoned my beloved LGH and even Dispensational hermeneutical theory.

I am, at the end of the day, really quite pragmatic when it comes to all of this stuff; meaning that I have one principle that guides the way I proceed:“Jesus is the Key”. So, if it is Thomas Torrance, Karl Barth, John Calvin, my child-hood Sunday school teacher, or whoever else; if anyone or anyway serves my principle that ‘Jesus is the key,’ then I am willing to at least listen and test whether what one particular or another teacher communicates actually contributes to this principle or, instead, whether they quench this principle. Luther, and Zimmerman’s constructive reading of Luther is helpful towards my principle. That said, the only way we can really know if someone is helpful towards affirming my principle is to truly understand what said teachers really taught and thought; for this is the only way we can potentially benefit from their stated christocentrism. 

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Torrance, Contra Limited Atonement and Universalism

Here is Thomas Torrance commenting on rationalist thinking in regards to trying to articulate issues particular to the extent of the atonement. And then we have Torrance commenting on the inescapable reality of the universal range of the atonement, but not the universal salvation that a rationalist approach must reduce to; which Torrance is, of course, as am I, against! Torrance says:

The rationalism of both universalism and limited atonement

Here we see that man’s proud reason insists in pushing through its own partial insight into the death of the cross to its logical conclusion, and so the great mystery of the atonement is subjected to the rationalism of human thought. That is just as true of the universalist as it is of those who hold limited atonement for in both cases they have not yet bowed their reason before the cross of Christ. (Atonement, 187-88)

This was his concluding remark, he had just finished, previous to this, effectively arguing against both limited atonement and universalism (whether that be of Classic Calvinist or Arminian [or even Barthian] varieties). Now we get into his initial thoughts on the fact that Christ’s death had to be for all; according to both Scripture’s witness, and the ‘inner-logic’ scripture presupposes upon:

(i) Christ’s death for all is an inescapable reality

We must affirm resolutely that Christ died for all humanity — that is a fact that cannot be undone. All men and women were represented by Christ in life and death, in his advocacy and substitution in their place. That is a finished work and not a mere possibility. It is an accomplished reality, for in Christ, in the incarnation and in his death on the cross, God has once and for all poured himself out in love for all mankind, has taken the cause of all mankind therefore upon himself. And that love has once and for all been enacted in the substitutionary work on the cross, and has become fact — nothing can undo it. That means that God has taken the great positive decision for man, the decision of love translated into fact. But because the work and the person of Christ are one, that finished work is identical with the self-giving of God to all humanity which he extends to everyone in the living Christ. God does not withhold himself from any one, but he gives himself to all whether they will or not — even if they will not have him, he gives himself to them, for he has once and for all given himself, and therefore the giving of himself in the cross when opposed by the will of man inevitably opposes that will of man and is its judgement. As we saw, it is the positive will of God in loving humanity that becomes humanity’s judgement when they refuse it. (Thomas F. Torrance, Atonement, 188-89)

It is really hard for people to cope with what Torrance is saying, I think. It kicks against the way that we have been “trained” and “conditioned” to think. All I can say, is that folks should try to imagine a world where doing math for Theology does not exist; and then we’ll all be fine ;-) .

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An Invitation: Battle to Be a Theologian of the Cross

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Staying alert theologically can be an outright spiritual battle. There is an array of things thrown at us in our daily lives that would seek to thwart the work of the Holy Spirit in a way that would cause us to revert back to the ‘flesh’ (see Galatians 3:1ff). We are born theologians, as we first enter this world through our mother’s womb we are conceived in sin, and so it takes the unilateral and gracious work of God in Christ to take our hearts of stone from us and give us hearts of flesh (see II Cor. 3:1ff) that are soft and malleable to His ways and not ours. If we quench this work of salvation, this work of reconciliation between God and humanity that has taken place in and through the vicarious humanity of Christ for us then we will be theologians of glory. We will seek out ways and systems of thought that take shape in the ‘idol factory’ of our minds and hearts (pace Calvin); we will construct civilization in a way that caters to our god, to ourselves and our desires; we will worship the creation rather than the Creator (see Romans 1), this world is always attempting to subvert and quench the work of the Spirit in our lives – the work that would make us to be theologian’s of the cross who take up our crosses daily and follow Christ (see Matt. 16:22ff). So being a theologian, a Christian theologian, a deep thinker who contemplates upon the depth realities of all that we are and have in Christ is a battle; one where we are required and implored to take every thought captive unto the obedience of Christ and to cast down every thought and imagination that would seek to elevate itself over God (see II Cor. 10); one where we are to cultivate a posture of gratitude and nourishment from the simplicity of the Gospel, in simple devotion to Jesus Christ (see II Cor. 11) submitting to God and resisting the devil (see James 4:7-8) who would attempt to make us into theologian’s of glory worshiping the angel of light rather than the Son of His glory (see Col. 1:13).

I am in this battle, so are you. We live in a world system that is busy. It is busy with “good things,” like making money at all costs, sacrificing our families for Mammon, and subsuming our time under the banner of lust and lampoon, but not under the banner of His love (see Song of Songs). I am in this battle. I have been working really hard at my new job with the railroad. I have been in Railroad school which requires all of my time (literally everyday), and yet I am a theologian, I am a Christian who worships the Triune God of life and hope. It is a battle to not give in and simply become a theologian of glory; not because I have rejected the cross of Christ, but because I simply have no time to devote to my Lord. Not that I can’t do my railroad school work and job as unto the Lord, I can and I will by God’s grace, but I want to do so with understanding. It is important to have the capacity to feed the soul with the depth reality of who God is in Jesus Christ. Otherwise the things of the world, even if they might appear necessary and “good” can lure us into patterns of life that subtly lead us away from the cross, and ultimately lead us to ourselves. Remaining a theologian of the cross is a battle. I can attest to this, as I am sure you can.

I am dedicated, to my dying breath to being a theologian of the cross! There are Christians suffering and being killed all over the world simply because they love Jesus Christ. The least that I can do is press on in the resource and circumstance the Lord has given me, and on their behalf, and as a member of the body of Christ I can and will (Lord willing) grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ; I will pray with understanding (by God’s grace) on behalf of my brothers and sisters who cannot (see Hebrews 4; 7:25). I will bear their burdens (see Galatians 6), and hurt when they hurt (see I Cor. 12), and cry out as if in prison with them (see Hebrews 10), and I will do so (by God’s grace) through studying and research and writing as unto the Lord, and from the Lord. I will be a theologian of the cross, not so I can be smarter than you, or more knowledgeable than you, but in service to God’s body in Christ, in service to his sacred Church.

I invite you to fight this battle with me, and I further invite you to rebuke any thought that would allow you the role of apathy; you are not allowed to do that, and neither am I! We are soldiers for Christ, and part of that, in our part of the world and circumstance in particular means that we avail ourselves to study of God’s Word which includes availing ourselves to the riches that God has given to us in his body in the past and into the present. I could say more, but I will stop. I invite you to the battle, take up your cross daily and follow Christ before it is to late to do good, there is opportunity yet (see Galatians 6).

Is Israel’s Response to Hamas Unjust?

The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians rages on as I write this, and in many quarters I hear people decrying the actions of Israel yasser arafatas genocidal and unethical. In this short article I simply want to probe this idea further, are Israel’s actions immoral and heinous? Is Israel using unwarranted force in their attempt to root out their mortal enemy (in this instance, the Palestinians/Hamas)?

On January 26th, 2006 the Palestinian people overwhelming voted Hamas into political power, and as their democratically representative government. Here is what the Washington Post reported then:

RAMALLAH, West Bank, Jan. 26 — The radical Islamic movement Hamas won a large majority in the new Palestinian parliament, according to official election results announced Thursday, trouncing the governing Fatah party in a contest that could dramatically reshape the Palestinians’ relations with Israel and the rest of the world.

In Wednesday’s voting, Hamas claimed 76 of the 132 parliamentary seats, giving the party at war with Israel the right to form the next cabinet under the Palestinian Authority’s president, Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of Fatah.[1]

Hamas, the radical Islamic movement is who the Palestinian people wanted to be their leadership (all things being equal). It would be no surprise who and what Hamas was and are in regard to their charter and mission statement; the Palestinian people knew who they were, and what their ultimate goal was. And so the Palestinians have what they have because they wanted it (in terms of leadership). Here is what Hamas’ charter statement says in regard to the state of Israel:

The Islamic Resistance Movement is one of the links in the chain of the struggle against the Zionist invaders. It goes back to 1939, to the emergence of the martyr Izz al-Din al Kissam and his brethren the fighters, members of Moslem Brotherhood. It goes on to reach out and become one with another chain that includes the struggle of the Palestinians and Moslem Brotherhood in the 1948 war and the Jihad operations of the Moslem Brotherhood in 1968 and after.

Moreover, if the links have been distant from each other and if obstacles, placed by those who are the lackeys of Zionism in the way of the fighters obstructed the continuation of the struggle, the Islamic Resistance Movement aspires to the realisation of Allah’s promise, no matter how long that should take. The Prophet, Allah bless him and grant him salvation, has said:

“The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him. Only the Gharkad tree, (evidently a certain kind of tree) would not do that because it is one of the trees of the Jews.” (related by al-Bukhari and Moslem).[2]

The Palestinians, and by extension, Hamas want one thing ultimately – if they are good Muslims that is – they want what their Prophet spoke of: ‘O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.’

If the above is true, if the Palestinian people consciously and intentionally voted Hamas in as their leadership, knowing full well what Hamas stood for ecclesiopolitically (and they did), then what is currently happening in this terrible conflict between the Palestinians and Israel is the logical and natural consequent. At the very core of Islamic faith, the Jew and then the Christian (just see what ISIS is currently doing in both Syria and Iraq to Christians), are the ultimate infidels; as infidels they are to be killed and wiped off the face of the earth. And consistent with this ‘religious-politico’ belief, Hamas, ISIS and other Islamic groups around the world are living out their faith.

In light of this reality, is it ethically wrong for the state of Israel to respond in the way that they have been to a state, to the Palestinians who are seeking to systematically wipe them (Israel) off of the map? Is there a moral equivalency or moral equivocation inhering in Israel’s actions, where the Israeli human being is seen as more valuable than the Palestinian? And is Israel the one who has placed these Palestinian people in the place that they are in, or is it Hamas who has done this to their own people? Is there such a thing as ‘Just War’, and does Israel have the responsibility to defend itself and citizenry against her enemies? And has Israel shown restraint, or have they engaged in the kind of unbridled barbarism that they are accused of in their attacks on Hamas (remember, Israel has the might to wipe Gaza off of the map in minutes … have they?)

Does any of the above make the loss of life, especially among the Palestinians less egregious? Of course not! But I find it hard to blame the state of Israel when in fact it is Hamas itself (with the underwriting of the Palestinian people themselves) who have placed their own people and themselves into this nightmare situation. The Palestinians need to root out Hamas as their government and place people into power who actually want peace. But then I am left wondering if this can ever be the actuality since Palestinians (not all, there are many Christian Palestinians) are good Muslims?

 

[1] Source

[2] Source

Christ, Then Us. The “First Christian”

Myk Habets, friend, brother in Christ, colleague in all things Evangelical Calvinist, Jesusholywrote his PhD dissertation at the University of Otago back in 2006, it was on the doctrine of Theosis in the Theology of Thomas Torrance (the title of the published version with Ashgate). In Chapter 2, Incarnation: God Became Human, Myk gets into identifying more than just this theme of theosis in the theology of Thomas Torrance, but an actual doctrine of theosis. I read Myk’s book (twice) back a few years ago (and even reviewed it for the The Pacific Journal of Baptist Research, which Myk serves as the senior editor for; you can read that review here), and found it very enlightening, and even formative towards a deeper grasp of Torrance’s thinking on many things; in particular, the issues revolving around Christology and salvation (theosis). And it is this area that I want to broach throughout the rest of this blog post.

Torrance believed that Jesus, as the homoousion (God-man) person that he is, and in his vicarious humanity for us, serves as the bridge, the nexus, the locus wherein there is a Godward to manward and manward to Godward movement (a movement of grace in line, with how Torrance would term it, the ‘logic of Grace’); and thus Jesus is the primary point and reality of all things (cf. Col. 2:3), He alone has primacy over all of creation (cf. Col. 1:15ff). Because of this reality, and because Torrance believed that Jesus is the archetype humanity and the ‘image of God’ (Col. 1:15) for us, he could believe and articulate this kind of thinking (as explicated by Myk Habets):

Torrance’s earliest mention of theosis occurs amdist a discussion of christology, when, commenting on the relevance of the hypostatic union for men and women he writes, ‘And in this God-Man we partake in grace, as members of his body, reconciled to God through him and in him, and even it is said, are incomprehensibly partakers of Divine nature!’ Here as early as 1938-39 we have a bold statement on the orthodoxy of theosis and how it functions within Torrance’s theology. As Yeung observes:

When God became man He was no less God, for He was not diminished by the development of the body, but rather ‘deified’ the body and rendered it immortal. ‘Deification’ did not mean any change of human essence, but that without being less human we are by grace made to participate in divine Sonship. (Yeung, Being and Knowing, p. 113)

Because of Christ’s hypostatic union a trinitarian movement is accomplished in his life from the Father through the Son in the Spirit, along with a doxological ‘return’ in the Spirit through the Son to the Father. This movement takes place first in the Son and then in believers by the Spirit of the Son. We share in the love of God through the grace of Christ in the communion of the Holy Spirit. This is what Torrance calls the evangelical, doxological theology the trinitarian life and love that God is. This constitutes an internal relation as the Son is homoousios with the Father and the Spirit and hence this trinitarian structure is at the same time christocentric, ‘for it is only through Jesus Christ that we know the Father and only through him that we receive the Holy Spirit. Everything depends on the indivisible inner relation in being of the Son and the Spirit to the Father …’. [Myk Habets, Theosis in the Theology of Thomas Torrance, 62-3.]

This is what Myk Habets, and I, mean, as Evangelical Calvinists, when we use the language of a ‘Christ conditioned’. Everything starts and ends in Christ. The ‘eternal life’ that we have received in salvation, is the ‘eternal life’ that Jesus first received first for us, in His vicarious humanity. We experience this kind of life (the kind that Jesus has by nature), as we participate in and from Jesus’ humanity by grace and adoption into God’s life. Salvation, then, cannot be said to be something that is present in you (accidents), or something that you activate because of ‘effectual grace’ (monergism); in a Christ conditioned purview, everything is personlised, realized, and actualized for us, in and through the humanity of Jesus Christ (his ‘priestly’ humanity). And so we look to Jesus, continuously, and not ourselves. Because He first loved us, that we might love Him.

600 Words on the Israeli, Palestinian Conflict: A Genuine Ethical Dilemma

Let me say something about the current conflict in Israel and Gaza
(with Hamas). A couple of days ago I had correspondence with a friend on Facebook about this issue, and I seemed to be intimating that Israel’s attack on Gaza was warranted; that if they don’t attack, at some gazakidspoint they will run out of their ‘Iron Dome’ rockets, and all of these thousands upon thousands of missiles being shot by Hamas from Gaza will eventually break into the Israeli society and wipe it out.

Even as I write this I still remain conflicted. There are many layers that need to be considered I think, but one layer stands out as utmost important! That layer has to do with the many innocent children being killed by the Israeli bombs coming into Gaza in order to wipe out Hamas and their military complex. My genuine ethical struggle with all of this has to do with, of course, trying to negotiate through the various realities at play in this scenario. I am unsure who to blame, actually I am not. Ultimately, in my view, Hamas is to blame. When CNN shows pictures and videos of children who have been killed or severely injured by Israel’s bombing campaign, I immediately get this visceral emotional reaction that wants to blame Israel. And yet in the background I can hear the missiles (figuratively) being fired from Hamas towards Israel even as the camera is panned in on this little innocent Palestinian child or teenager.

Somehow the tables have been turned. Israel internationally is being painted as the colonizer and Palestine as the natives being held under oppression. But historically, if that’s how we want to proceed, who was in Israel first? And who was dispersed first? The Palestinians or the Jews? But I don’t think answering this question is really going to settle the ethical on the ground dilemma we are being faced with. We have Hamas who has hi-jacked the Palestinian state, and thus, in many ways, the Palestinian people; and then we have the state of Israel trying to protect their nation from Hamas, and from those surrounding nations (Iran, etc.) who use Hamas as a proxy in order to accomplish the Islamic objective of wiping Israel off the face of the map. We have Hamas firing thousands upon thousands of missiles into Israel with the intent of indeed destroying Israel, and then we have the nation of Israel responding in kind, and with more force (because of their capabilities) with the goal of stopping Hamas and Iran, and others from annihilating them. We have the United Nations and others attempting to paint Israel as committing genocide, and ironically comparing the Jews to the Nazis, and creating a Palestinian ghetto; and yet we have Israel, again, not naïve to the reality that it is do or die for them. We have Hamas building their whole military complex behind and literally under the Palestinian neighborhoods, and then we want to piss on Israel for attempting to root this intolerable reality out, this cancer of Hamas who are using their own people, their own children as political pawns and martyrs (which is how they would look at it) as shields and talking points to accomplish their goals.

And then at the end of the day we still have the little Palestinian boy who I just saw on CNN all bandaged up because of the response by Israel, and it is too much to bear. The moment Israel runs out of Iron Dome missiles we will have the same pictures of little Israeli children in the hospitals too. I don’t see an answer to this dilemma, but save Jesus Christ and his bodily return!