Reading Scripture with the Christological and Trinitarian Grammar

This is from chapter 4 of what I presented for my PhD dissertation to Concordia Academic Theology Consortium. As many of you know I gave back that PhD. I am still working on the dissertation (to refine and add to it further), as it looks like it will be considered for another PhD (possibly) at an accredited school. Anyway, here’s a little excerpt:

. . . I contend that since all orthodox Christians, in every place, operate with these conciliar categories—two natures/singular person—with reference to Jesus Christ, that it is this fortification, these grammatical loci, that fundamentally give hermeneutical shape to the way that even the most low-church evangelicals think Christ. As a subsequent implication then, this tacit Chalcedonian grammar, is, or should be the explicit way Christians interpret all of Scripture (both Old and New Testaments). More crudely put: since the conciliar Christ is fundamental to how orthodox Christians think Christ, and if Scripture is, at a first-order level, intensively and principially in reference to Christ, if Scripture is the sign (signum) to its greater and ontological reality (res), Jesus Christ, then all Christian exegesis of Holy Scripture will be and must be regulated by this sort of catholic (universal) Christological standard. That is to say, if Christians are going to think who Christ is through the Chalcedonian grammar, in an essential, but proximate way (vis-à-vis eschatological reality), eo ipso they will interpret Scripture through this rule insofar that Scripture refers to Jesus and the triune God as its inherent and life-breathing reality.

The Mythology of the Academicians: They’re Just Regular People

The following was recently tweeted by Dr. Peter Sloane:

In response to things I see here: academics are no more intelligent than the general population and no more skilled than a plasterer or electrician. We don’t do a PhD because we are super bright, or become so because of it, we just happen to love our vocation as others do theirs. I don’t enjoy the narrative that universities are filled with exceptionally bright people. They are filled with people highly specialised and with time to devote to the intricacies of a discipline and no more.[1]

Sloane is Senior Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Buckingham in the UK. I could not resonate more with the sentiment he has articulated above. Indeed, as any reader who has followed me for any amount of time knows, I have oft criticized the theology of glory that often attends theological academia (and all of academia in general). As Sloane rightly notes, the academic is not necessarily smarter than anyone else; indeed, they generally aren’t. Just as any swath of humanity will demonstrate, there are smart people, mediocre people, and dumb people along said continuum of humanity; this holds true among the academic guilds just the same. As Sloane’s tweet also highlights, and rightly so, is that the academic is a specialist; especially in the 21st century (indeed, to a fault these days). And so, when we apply this principle to theological academia what someone can expect is some level of technical and specialized language as that relates to the artistry of theological communique. Unfortunately, I’m afraid that the specialists in this particular craft, as in any craft, begin to buy into the idea that their specialization, because of its already limiting and liminal language (and the conceptual matter it symbolizes), by definition narrows the discussion to “them.” That is to say, when the non-specialist Christian attempts to enter this particular fray, what ends up happening is that they might end up sounding unintelligible, maybe even dumb, because they aren’t schooled in the linguistics, logics, and lexical aspects that go into the theological academic game. As such, a type of boundary is set up, such that the academics talk among themselves, using their technical parlance, which necessarily, in a certain way, keeps the laity, in the ecclesia outside of the “deeper” discussions that only the specialists can really have (or so the specialists pride themselves into thinking).

As I have described the above scenario, what I haven’t engaged with yet is what makes theology unique. Theology, if it is genuinely Christian theology, is not for the so-called specialists alone. The specialists, if there are such a thing in the theological sphere, are really supposed to be “doctors for the Church.” That is to say, they have a teaching role to play, a role that really reduces to, as its sine qua non, discipleship. And yet because of the strictures that help define academia in general, and then theological academia in particular, the theological specialist starts to live and breathe in an atmosphere that never “comes down” and attempts to be “non-specialist.” As a result, an ethos of elitism takes hold in the hearts of the specialists, such that they often either retreat back into their ghetto, with “their people,” or they attempt to drop into the fray of “regular church people” only to feel rejected, or so misunderstood that they begin to think that either they are too smart for such people, or that the people they are attempting to engage with in the churches are just too dumb to really understand what they, as the trained specialists, can grasp.

The gap between the academic and the regular church person is reinforced by many variables, a complex that is not easily addressable. Even so, at the end of the day, as Sloane has rightly noted, as far as intelligences go, neither the academic nor the regular church person is necessarily smarter or dumber than the other on a continuum.

Ultimately, it is sin that keeps these seemingly disparate groups from a meeting of the minds and hearts that is supposed to obtain among the fellowship of the people of God. The Lord, ultimately, is not concerned about smarts, but the state of the heart. God wants our whole being (which the heart, in Hebrew and Greek represents in canonical Scripture) to be overcome with the beauty and ways of God in Christ. He loves us as a Father loves His Son. It is this relationship that funds anything following, including intellection. The Father shows no partiality, neither to the smart or dumb person (intellectually). His relationship to, for, with, and in us, in Christ by the Spirit, has nothing to do with what we so often wrongly place priority on. He doesn’t look outwardly, but at the heart; He loves the total person. There is no elitism in the Kingdom. If anything, the elect in the Kingdom are the impoverished, the bruised reeds, the so-called “dumb” among us. When any air of elitism, no matter how that is given expression, enters into the Church as a bad yeast, God is not there. He is with the broken, downtrodden, and humble.

23 Thus says the Lord, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; 24 but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the Lord. -Jeremiah 9:23-24

[1] Peter Sloane, Twitter, accessed 05-30-2023.

On the Biblical Hermeneutical Dilemma: The Art and Science of Biblical Interpretation

We all have interpretive tradition as we approach the task of exegeting Holy Scripture. Some know this, most, in the evangelical churches, don’t. As Christians we are all faced with the hermeneutical dilemma. That is, we are, as the ‘priesthood of believers,’ as the communio sanctorum, tasked with, and privileged by the calling to encounter and know God through the study of Holy Scripture. But precisely because we are believers, in the plural, this leads to said hermeneutical dilemma. That is, we all arrive at Scripture with pre-understandings, and a host of other culturally conditioned expectations that the text itself really isn’t (or shouldn’t be) subject to. So, as Christian interpreters of the Christian scriptures, part of the toiling we must go through, is to learn to identify our pre-understandings, and cultural conditioning, and then critically question if those pre-understandings help to enhance our respective exegeses of the text, or on the other hand, question if (and this is typically the case) these foreign apparatuses might be polluting and distorting our exegetical conclusions. Most interpreters of Holy Scripture don’t ever really get around to this process; we might call it, as DA Carson does, the process of distanciation; viz. the process of distancing, disentangling ourselves from our dearly held, and ingrained presuppositions, to the point that we might indeed come to better critically interpret the Holy text.

Yet, as I have already noted, most won’t go through this process; it can be painful. Don’t get me wrong, I am not referring to what more popularly has come to be called deconstructionism. No, in fact, what I’m after here is at real crosscurrents with this more popular and naïve approach currently under way by many disillusioned (and often young) Christians out there. Distanciation, is really the thickening process for understanding where we come from ecclesially; not to mention, culturally and personally. It is the process of digging down deep, self-examining, and listening to the past doctors of the Church in a way that might disrupt, disorientate what we have often, naively, come to hold as our sacred cows. For some, these interpretive cows might be the dispensational hermeneutic, for others, the covenantal/Ramist hermeneutic, for others an existentialist hermeneutic, and still yet for others, some form of identarian hermeneutic (i.e., feminist/womanist, queer, Black liberationist, so on and so forth). Whatever our pre-understandings entail, it is imperative that we come to understand what those are, and then shed what might be darkening our understanding of the text; and at the same time, taking on those hermeneutics that might, indeed, enhance a more proximate way towards arriving at our exegetical conclusions.

The primary problem of not going through the process of distanciation is that we end up conflating our said hermeneutic with the biblical teaching itself. That is, we end up so absolutizing our hermeneutic (i.e., dispensational; theonomic postmillennial; biblical patriarchal; Lordship salvationist etc.) with Scriptural teaching that we cannot see a critical distinction between the two. In this scenario, it becomes nearly impossible for genuine, and thus Christian engagement to obtain between competing hermeneutical adherents. Once this stalemate hardens, and it does, all we have left is a hard sectarianism, among the various hermeneutical systems, with the result being discord and back biting among purported brothers and sisters in Christ. In other words, these systems, when siloed so intransigently to the biblical text, and its teaching, lead various Christians to actually question whether or not their respective opponents are even Christians at all.

I’m all for the heated, but well-lit debate! But at the end of the day, the Christian needs to be humble enough to recognize that there is no salvific ultimacy tied to any hermeneutic, that indeed has been contrived under the broader banner of a genuinely catholic orthodoxy. This is why I am a proponent of a Christologically conditioned hermeneutic, by the way. Some scoff at the audaciousness of claiming such a hermeneutic, but for my money it is the only hermeneutic that has the capacity to provide the text of Holy Scripture with the proper orientation and context to arrive at the most proximate exegetical conclusions available.


I’m on vacation for the next almost couple of weeks. I won’t be posting during that time, or at least not till the tail-end. May you stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. I’ll see you all on the flip side.

‘The Father’s Theology’: An evangelical theology versus a philosophical theology

I am a proponent of an evangelical theology. ‘Evangelical’ in the sense that the starting point for theology, I contend, ought to be the Evangel or Gospel Hisself. This is contrary to the philosophical, or hard metaphysical theologies that have characterized much of the Western tradition’s theologizing for centuries (i.e., we could think of Thomas Aquinas all the way into Nietzsche et al.) An ‘evangelical theology’ is a kerygmatic theology; particularly when we understand that the kerygma is the pronouncement and announcement that Jesus is Lord. It is a theology of the Father who declares, “this is my dearly beloved Son, hear Him!”

Eberhard Jüngel gets at these matters in the following way:

These two tasks, to learn to think God and thought anew, cannot be separated from one another theologically. It is therefore all the more important from which of the two tasks one approaches the other one. This question, which requires initial clarification, is in actual fact the issue of the self-understanding of theology itself. The first decision to be made will have to do with the difference between philosophical and evangelical theology. A theology which is responsive to the gospel, meaning a theology which is responsive to the crucified man Jesus as the true God, knows that it is fundamentally different from something like philosophical theology in this one thing: single-mindedly and unswervingly, based on its specific task, it attempts to think God from the encounter with God, and thus to think thought anew. For Christian theology, the decision about what thought means is to be made in relation to the possibility of thinking the God who is an event. The possibility of thinking God is, for evangelical theology, not an arbitrary possibility, but rather a possibility already determined by the existence of the biblical texts and claimed already by faith in God. Theology must think God in the concrete context of a history which, beyond the momentary aspect of the “I think,” implies experiences of God which have happened and are promised.

Evangelical theology is distinguished from philosophy in that it does not desire to be lacking in presuppositions, but rather implies certain decisions in its approach to being evangelical theology. A dialogue with philosophical theology, which is really conceivable only as an argument, or a disputation with atheism, must begin accordingly with the exposition of these hermeneutical decisions of evangelical theology. Only in this way does it proceed in a precise and scientific fashion. And above all, this is the only way for it to be honest.

Evangelical theology explicates its basic decisions immediately as decisions of thought, and not solely as decisions of faith. There is a difference whether faith believes or whether thought also understands this. When thinking becomes involved with faith, it will also understand that God cannot be thought without faith. That is the initial point from which evangelical theology proceeds.[1]

Ultimately, as Juengal intones, a genuine evangelical theology is really grounded in the concrete and blood of the cross of Jesus Christ; it is a theology of the cross versus a theology of glory (i.e., philosophical theology). This is the type of theology I am a proponent of. It makes a decision to be grounded in the “hard teaching” of Jesus Christ, and to begin its theologizing only after God has spoken, and not in some sort of artifactual antecedents discovered by a profane humanity and history (i.e., philosophical theology). So, it isn’t a theology of inherent self-possession, as if postlapsarian humanity has the vestiges of an analogy of God left to them. An evangelical theology understands and takes seriously the reality that humanity, after the fall, lost all capability to think and speak God. It understands that a theology that attempts to think God, prior to encountering God in the face of Jesus Christ, can only conclude in constructing a notion of God that is ultimately a projection of the fallen self; a Superman even. Further, it understands that its theology is one of dispossession and ecstasy, in the sense that it is fully contingent upon God, unilaterally, encountering us, as event, afresh anew, by the Holy Spirit’s fresh breath hovering over us with the re-creation power of the resurrection. The only stability in an evangelical theology is grounded in the subject of theology, who is the Christ and the triune God. Evangelical theology has a vulnerability to it that is willing to be considered foolish and weak; that is based in a God willing to be misunderstood as a mere mortal, hidden in the flesh of a man from Nazareth.

I commend to you an evangelical rather than a philosophical theology. The Gospel is the power of God. The Gospel disrupts and reorientates humanity’s telos towards the God who has spoken in Jesus Christ. The Gospel is dynamic, organic, and relational. Just be an evangelical theologian already, and leave the philosophy to the philosophers.

[1] Eberhard Jüngel, God as the Mystery of the World, trans. by Darrell L. Guder (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf&Stock [reprint], 1983), 154.

The Absence of God and the Rejection of the Self-Projected God: A Word to the Atheists and Theologians Alike

I happen to believe this. So, what do I happen to believe, you ask? That atheists, when they say they reject God, aren’t rejecting the living God because they can’t without first knowing God; and they can’t first know the living and real God without the Spirit; and if they had the Spirit they would be a Christian; but since they don’t have the Spirit they aren’t Christians; and thus have no capacity to reject the real God. They instead only have the capacity to reject a god who is really just a projection of themselves; no matter how many Christians they are surrounded by. Even if they can intellectually “know” about the God Christians claim to know, they themselves cannot make this claim since the Spirit is required to know this God; to have eyes to see and ears to hear His voice. Since they are not this capacious, they may well be atheists; but they are atheists only insofar that they are rejecting the gods that the philosophers and they themselves have projected. If my premise seems tautologous, it is; but only insofar as God is the beginning and end of the circle. Barth agrees with me when he writes:

The God whose existence or manifestness they doubt or deny is not God at all. And so too His absence, as they think they should assert it, is not God’s absence at all. In order to be aware of God’s absence they would first of all have to know God and therefore God’s revelation. All general intellectual difficulties and impossibilities respecting knowledge of so-called supernatural things assert nothing at all in face of the negation of all other knowability of God which is achieved by God’s revelation itself. God does not belong to those supernatural things which may be believed and asserted to-day, doubted and denied to-morrow. And so, the difficulties and impossibilities respecting knowledge of these things, which the sceptic and atheist fancy they should take so very seriously, have nothing whatever to do with the hiddenness of God for man or man’s blindness for God. The seriousness of the fact that God is not free for us, not to be possessed, first begins with the revelation which delimits this fact, yet also illumines and confirms it in its factuality.[1]

This has tacit relationship to Anselm’s fides quarens intellectum (‘faith seeking understanding’), but is also a bit distinct. Barth’s point here is more publically critical than that. It is more in line with Ludwig Feuerbach’s critique of cultural religionists who worship a god of their own self-projection; it is a constructively critical appropriation of that line of thought.

This has impact on a variety of things, one of which is the way we as Christians engage with non-Christians. As an evangelist it makes me think I shouldn’t be in the business of proving God’s existence to atheists or agnostics, but instead simply proclaiming the Gospel to them which is the power of God. Indeed, this sort of anti-natural-theological/law thinking kicks against the North American evangelical sub-culture in some stinging ways. But then, on the positive side, in the same sub-culture there is this sort of emphasis on simply proclaiming the Gospel to whoever will hear, and allow the seed to fall where it will.

Barth’s critique does indeed have implication towards the way the Christian theologian does their theologizing; no doubt. It is a matter of where the theologian starts their theologizing. Thomas Torrance and Barth were of a piece when it comes to this, even if the way they emphasized certain things made them sound a little different one from another when it comes to a natural theology. Nonetheless, they both are theologians of the analogia fidei or analogy of faith tradition; the tradition that grounds knowledge of God in God Revealed and then given to and for us in the vicarious humanity of Christ in and through the faith of Christ which is the basis for our knowledge of God. We can also pick up entailments of Calvin’s ‘faith as knowledge of God’ in both Barth and Torrance in this instance. These are important things that continue to run over the heads of many theologians in the current evangelical climate. They simply go on their merry-way, and act as if such things really don’t matter; they continue to engage in a textus receptus way of theology, wherein they simply see themselves as inheritors of a by-gone Protestant theology that represents, for them, the only genuine way to be an orthodox, conservative, evangelical theologian. But they are wrong. And more significantly, what is of ultimate import, beyond figuring out if we are in line with an ad hoc conception of who the orthodox are or aren’t, is to simply be focused on doing theology that is most proximate to the Gospel reality itself. In other words, who cares, ultimately, what the genetics are; the Gospel itself is the only genealogy that really matters.

Anyway, atheists, theologians, and all of us ought to be wary of thinking we can have a genuine knowledge of God apart from the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. We ought to start everything from that point or not start at all.


[1] Barth, CD I/1 §13, 28.

Torrance’s Theological-Exegetical Gloss on Romans 8:31-39: And a Word of Encouragement About God’s Unrelenting Love For Us

As I have been rereading TF Torrance’s The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being Three Persons, I came across a passage that struck me as a sort of theological-exegetical gloss of Romans 8:31-39. Torrance is often accused of not doing any biblical-exegetical work; but I would counter, that in his role as a Christian Dogmatist his work is saturated in the thematics that allow Scripture to say what it does about God and His works. I would contend that, Torrance, as a Christian Dogmatist, par excellence, has Scriptural themes and their reality in Christ, pervading all of his writings. What is required for the reader though, is that they be familiar enough with Scripture, as Torrance was, to be able to discern just how Scripturally rich and informed his theologizing is. In the following we will compare Romans 8:31-39 and the passage I came across from Torrance; and then in conclusion offer some reflection on its theological and spiritual implications.

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?33 Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” 37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And Torrance:

In the outgoing movement of his eternal Love God himself has come among us and become one of us and one with us in the Person of his beloved Son in order to reconcile us to himself and to share with us the Fellowship of Love which he has within his own Triune Life. Since in the Lord Jesus Christ the fullness of God dwells bodily we must think of the entire Godhead as condescending in him to be ‘God with us’ in our human life and existence in the world. This does not mean of course that the Father and the Spirit became incarnate with the Son, but that with and in the incarnate Son the whole undivided Trinity was present and active in fulfilling the eternal purpose of God’s Love for mankind, for all three divine Persons have their Being in homoousial and hypostatic interrelations with one another, and they are all inseparably united in God’s activity in creation and redemption, not least as those activities are consummated in the incarnate economy of the Son. In refusing to spare his dear Son but in delivering him up in atoning sacrifice for us all, God the Father reveals that he loves us with the very Love which he bears to himself, and that with Jesus Christ he freely gives us all things. If God is for us in this way what can come between us? And in giving us his one Spirit who proceeds from the Father through the Son and sheds abroad in our hearts the very Love which God himself is, God reveals that there is nothing that can ever separate us from him in his Love. Through the Son and in the Spirit, we are taken into the triune Fellowship of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Thus in an utterly astonishing way the Holy Trinity has committed himself to be with us and among us within the conditions of our human and earthly life in space and time, but, it need hardly be said, without being subjected to the processes and necessities of created space and time, and without in the slightest compromising the mystery of his divine transcendence.[1]

We see Torrance creatively interweaving classical trinitarian locus like the opera trinitatis ad extra indivisa sunt (‘the works of the Trinity on the outside are indivisible’) into his thinking on God’s “for us-ness,” which in itself places an emphasis on the oneness of God in recognition of his works toward us in the economy of His life become revealed for us in the Son. Beyond that, we see how the canonical themes, and in particular in this passage, the themes of Romans are informing Torrance’s thought in regard to God’s love for us; and then what that love implies in its grounding in Jesus Christ.

More practically, the great hope this provides us with is without measure! I often feel like I’m just going through the motions of life; getting caught up in the necessary busy-ness of it all, and not really living into the full participatio Christ that I’ve been called to in Christ. What this passage from Torrance, as a gloss on Romans, encourages me to remember is that no matter what, it is the whole God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—who is holding me deeply in His grasp, and who cannot be deterred in His tremendous Love for me. I find great hope in knowing that no matter what the goings on of my life are, that God in Christ for us, for me will never allow me to be separated from Him; that I am as close to Him as the Son of God is to His Father in the bond of the Holy Spirit. While daily requisites of life seem to plague my existence moment by moment; while my energy is zapped by the long hours of work, and the financial responsibilities that seem to be at every turn and corner of life; while health issues, and other anxieties and fears seemingly seek to suck up the time that ought to only be God’s; while all of these things and more are present in our daily lives as Christians, what Torrance and the Apostle Paul encourage us with is the reality of “so what!” God is God, and He will not be thwarted in His great love for us; just as sure as His great Love just is who He is, and He has shown us that in His undivided work for us in the three persons, as revealed first in the Son.

[1] Thomas F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being Three Persons(London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016), 162.

Introducing the Real classical Calvinism: ‘If you’re going to debate it, at least know what you’re debating about’

As usual, in the right online environs, the Calvinist-Arminian (Provisionist) debate has carried on unabated by not actually engaging with the actual entailments of a real-life Calvinist-Arminian theology. In other words, what the reader will find, are people who are in this interminable joust, oriented by the five points of Calvinism, or not. There is a free-flow exchange between favorite prooftexts, and their ostensible exegesis, and/or an intractable debate about this or that philosophical understanding vis-à-vis God’s sovereignty and human agency in freewill. I am almost positive that everyone reading here is well aware of what I am referring to.

What the above participants fail to ever break into, though, is actual and historic doctrine vis-à-vis the Reformed faith and its development. That is, in these debates you will never hear the words: ‘Covenantal’ ‘Federal’ ‘experimental predestinarianism’ ‘Divine pactum’ ‘pactum salutis’ ‘ordo salutis,’ so on and so forth. If a substantial critique is to be made of a classical Calvinism, and its sibling, Arminianism, what it actually teaches must be engaged with. That is, the best of that tradition, and its accurate representation, must be attended to over and again. In an attempt to alert folks, in these spheres, to what classical Calvinism actually entails let me refer us to a passage from C. G. M’Crie, cited by Thomas Torrance:

The Sum is objectionable in form and application. Detailed descriptions of redemption as a bargain entered into between the first and second Persons of the Trinity in which conditions were laid down, promises held out, and pledges given, the reducing of salvation to a mercantile arrangement between God and the sinner, in which the latter signifies contentment to enter into a relation of grace, so that ever after the contented, contracting part can say, ‘Lord, let it be a bargain’, — such presentations have obviously a tendency to reduce the Gospel of the grace of God to the level of a legal compact entered into between two independent and, so far as right or status is concerned, two equal parties. The blessedness of the mercy-seat is in danger of being lost sight of in the bargaining of the marketplace; the simple story of salvation is thrown into the crucible of the logic of the schools and it emerges in the form of a syllogism.[1]

The Sum, as referred to by M’Crie, was a compression of the Westminster Confession of Faith for the Presbyterian church (kirk) in Scotland. Here is how Torrance describes it:

David Dickson and James Durham, both of whom emerged in expository activity, collaborated in compiling The Sum of Saving Knowledge, on the basis of sermons delivered by Dickson at Inverary. It was composed, Woodrow tells us, ‘so as it might be most useful to vulgar Capacities’. In that respect it was certainly very successful, for it supplied ordinary people with a simplified and formalised account of the plan of salvation according to the federal system of theology, expressed in the common language of the market-place. However, in this way the dynamic content of the Gospel was fused with the contractual means of putting into effect the eternal decrees held to issue from the Council of the Trinity, while the inclusion of ‘Kirk-government’ among the means of grace injected a strong presbyterian ecclesiasticism into theology. Ever since its publication in 1650, The Sum of Saving Knowledge has had an immense influence on the thinking of the Kirk by members and ministers alike. Although it was not officially authorised by the General Assembly it was long printed together with the Westminster Standards and associated with their authority. . ..[2]

Some, in the know, in the Federal theology camp, might want to dispute M’Crie’s and Torrance’s characterization; go for it! Even so, the characterization of Covenantal or Westminster Calvinism, by these Scots, is indeed representative of the distillation of a classical Calvinism; particularly as that is embedded in Covenantal-Reformed theology.

At base, even in these short representations, what stands out is the informing theological framework for a classical Calvinism. Indeed, as noted by M’Crie, its character is legal, forensic, juridical, and even mercantile. In other words, the ground of historical Calvinist theology reflects the socio-cultural-economico milieu of the day. It was an agrarian based world, functioning on a bartering system, much like we might be familiar with even today in the 21st century; viz., in principle. It reflects a contractual (or transactional) system of salvation where the quid pro quo is central. That is to say: God presents a framework of legal obedience (covenant of works) for Adam and Eve to perform, in order for a continued relationship to remain in place between God and them. But they failed, which of course in this system God decreed to obtain, leading to an unbridgeable rupture between a sinful humanity (in Adam and Eve), and a Holy God. What was God to do? Thankfully God had already decreed this whole event, this whole economy, and as such, in eternity past had already struck a bargain with the Son (covenant of redemption aka pactum salutis) to purchase an arbitrarily elect group of people (based in God’s remote, hidden, or secret will) from Augustine’s massa of damned humanity. As the Son agreed to meet the conditions of the covenant of works, and prevail where Adam and Eve failed, it would be in His achievement, finally eventuating in His ultimate sacrifice and payment at the Cross, whereby this elect group of people would be purchased from eternal damnation, and brought into the eternal life of God. This, in the Covenantal (Federal) system, is known as the Covenant of Grace. As this covenant has been established, according to the categories of Federal theology, the ‘elect’ will enter into this covenantal framework, and be required to persevere in the good works they have ostensibly been created for in and through the instrumental work of Jesus Christ. Of course, there is a problem here for the elect: i.e., in this system you are never quite sure you really are one of the elect (you could actually be a reprobate). This system has operative what is called ‘temporary faith’ (even Calvin has this in his thinking, which I have published on in our edited book). Temporary faith is the notion, in this system, that it is possible to “look” like one of the elect for whom Christ died, but in the end the purported saint never really was; they didn’t have an effectual, persevering faith, and this by the decree of God.

Maybe if the Calvinist-Arminian debate squabbled with some of the above many would abandon the whole framework simply because they would realize how unlivable (and biblically foreign) it is. History of theological ideas, as you learn them have a way of bringing perspective that the parochial and un-informed debates cannot bring. I would suggest that it isn’t worth engaging in such debates at least until the debater has put in the appropriate work towards understanding the actual historical and theological bases that in fact fund what they are purportedly committed to, and arguing over.

For my money, as is no secret, there is a much better way. It doesn’t fully abandon the history of the Reformed development, but of course it constructively engages with that development, along with the teachings of the early Church, such that a genuinely evangelical and kerygmatic understanding of the Gospel is arrived at. The Gospel offers a freshness, a rest, and a hope that the oppressive system under consideration in this post cannot offer. I have detailed, pretty exhaustively here at the blog, and in our books, what informs this system; primarily as that relates to a doctrine of God and a prolegomena.


[1] C. G. M’Crie, The Confession of the Church of Scotland (Edinburgh: 1907), 72ff cited by Thomas F. Torrance, Scottish Theology: From John Knox to John McLeod Campbell (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1996), 122.

[2] Thomas F. Torrance, Scottish Theology: From John Knox to John McLeod Campbell (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1996), 111-12.


Our ‘Lost Time’ in the ‘New Time’ of the Saga of Jesus Christ: How Saga Functions in Barth’s Usage

Barth is often depicted as a liberal or “neoorthodox” theologian who repudiates the inerrancy of Holy Scripture, which alone anathematizes him for the evangelical. Barth is often presented as an enemy to conservative orthodox Christianity, with his neo-Kantian, reified Hegelianism ripping to shreds any hope of giving the evangelical churches anything wholesome and genuinely biblical to cogitate upon. Barth, in many sectors of the evangelical and Reformed churches, is considered as enemy of the state to the health and well-being of historically orthodox Christianity. Barth is often demonized, caricaturized, and flambéed just at the point that someone moves their lips into position to pronounce his name.

But what I want people to understand is that Barth is none of these negatives I just noted. When you actually spend time with him and his theology the reader will quickly realize that the fears I’ve been listing are unwarranted and have almost no teeth to them whatsoever; save Barth’s repudiation of inerrancy (which his reasons for repudiating this “doctrine” isn’t the same reason the “Liberals” do, but instead based upon his theory of revelation, which I would argue is more attuned and evangelical than inerrancy as a doctrine allows for in regard to a doctrine of Holy Scripture). In line with this desire to show that Barth isn’t the anti-Christ that so many fear, I wanted to share a snippet from him on the way he thinks about Scripture, and how what he calls saga actually fits better with the evangelical desire to see Christ magnified and prime over all our considerations as thoughtful Christians. I want people to come to the realization that Barth offers a genuinely Protestant way to be Protestant without succumbing to what I consider the trojan horse of Catholicity (big “C”), as that continues to make in-roads into the evangelical theologies being recovered today.

As we pick up with Barth, the context we meet him in is on his theory of time/eternity and God. As I alluded to above, he gets into his thinking on saga (v myth think Bultmann), and how that relates to historical personages and events as deposited in the salvation-history we canvas throughout the pages of the both the Old and New Testaments. I will close with a parting word, after the quote, and leave a link to another post I once wrote on this same topic vis-à-vis Barth. Barth writes:

At this point we recall once more the extraordinary significance of chronology in the Old and New Testaments. The whole of the patriarchal ages in Genesis, the rise of the prophets, the various historical co-ordinates of the place of Jesus Christ at the beginning of the Gospels according to Matthew and Luke are presented with a rare exactitude. In this, use may have been made of antiquated Oriental number-symbolics or number-mysticisms, whereby arithmetical error, whimsies and impossibilities may have crept in. But the wonderful thing to be noted here in the Bible Is not the correctness or incorrectness in content of the temporal figures, but their thoroughgoing importance as time data, which is but underlined by incidental number-mysticism and other liberties. There is not a suggestion that revelation and its attestation might have been localised just as well elsewhere or anywhere in historical space. How important it was for the early Church, too, to be able to date the incarnation of the Word, is shown by the passus sub Pontio Pilato [suffered under Pontius Pilate], already in the oldest forms of confession. Revelation is thus and not otherwise localised. In the event of Jesus Christ, as in the various events in anticipation and recollection, it is as genuinely temporal and therefore as temporally determined and limited as any other real events in this space of ours. It is also—think for a moment of the story of creation—described temporally real, where according to the measurements of modern history this description can only be “saga” or “legend.” The Bible also says the same where it transmits parables in the Old and New Testaments. Myths, on the contrary, i.e., narrative expositions of general spiritual or natural truths, narratives which although savouring perhaps of saga do not claim to be narratives, but are to be understood only when stripped of their narrative character, so that the eternal core is liberated from the temporal shell—myths do no occur in the Bible, although mythical material may often be employed in its language (Church Dogmatics I, 1, 373 f.). The dialogue between God and Satan at the beginning of the book of Job “took place on a day” (1.6) corresponding to the day on which subsequently the earthly misfortune burst upon Job. Also Job’s question of God (10.4): “Hast thou eyes of flesh, or seest thou as man seeth? Are they days as the days of men, or they years as man’s years?”, is in the sense of the text certainly not to be answered with a simple negative. In view of the time concept we must not try to avoid the way of Holy Scripture’s “privileged anthropomorphism” (J. G. Hamann, Schriften, ed. F. Roth, vol. 4, 9). Year, day, hour—these are concepts which cannot possibly be separated from the biblical witness to God’s revelation, which in the exposition of it cannot be treated as trifles, if we are not to turn it into a quite different witness to a quite different revelation.

Having said that, we must, of course, go on to say that the time we mean when we say Jesus Christ is not to be confused with any other time. Just as man’s existence became something new and different altogether, because God’s Son assumed it and took it over into unity with his God-existence, just as by the eternal Word becoming flesh the flesh could not repeat Adam’s sin, so time, by becoming the time of Jesus Christ, although it belonged to our time, the lost time, became a different, a new time.[1]

Let the emboldened section serve as commentary on the un-emboldened section. That section lets us understand, better, what Barth is on about. When he refers to saga, he is referring to a real-life historical event as recorded in the biblical witness, and to real-life historical personages; but he is wanting us to read that from the frame of the ‘new-time’ that Christ is for us. In other words, it is saga precisely at the point that historicism and the form criticism of his day could not actually access the “history” of Holy Scripture precisely because such history is only modulated and refracted as it is seen in the Light of the risen Christ. We see here, in Barth, an emphasis on ‘eschatological-time’ breaking in and throughout the witness and canonical formation of the scriptural witness; through its narration of various events and people in those events as they find teleological (purposeful) concreteness in the flesh and blood reality and event of God’s life for the world gifted to it in Jesus Christ.

Saga was the only category, in this context, he could see working to depict the history-delimiting reality that God’s life serves for the creaturely world as its inner and forward grounded reality. As is typical for Barth, his deployment of saga is a reification of that term from its normal usage in literary theory/studies. Nevertheless, it functions in a similar manner; in the sense that the history of God in Christ for the world appears to the profane eyes as just that: legend or saga. But of course, for Barth, this is only because Christ’s reality has not been received by the eyes of faith, but rather the mind of unbelief. Even so, for Barth, saga certainly operates with the general literary characteristics of its normal usage, yet it is reified insofar as what ironically appears as a normal saga, on the superficial, ends up being a saga of epigrammatic portions; the likes of which only those in union with Christ can come to see as greater than the sagas of fictional story or legend. Yet again, saga, for Barth is embedded in a greater theological web of revelation, election, and covenant that puts him onto such a word to help him explicate what he is really trying to say in contrast to many others of his time; others, who indeed, ended up reading Jesus as myth, based upon other optics such as existential encounter provides for the individual knower—albeit cut off from the concreteness of the Christ event and tethered only by the floating brains of those seeking an encounter unencumbered by the solidity of an accessible history. Barth’s usage and appeal to saga is a subversive exercise shaped by his own location and theological formation. Nonetheless, in my view, it has wonderful trajectory as it supplies the evangelical with a way to view the history recounted in Holy Scripture through the reality of Jesus Christ (a real history pre-determined by God’s supralapsarian election to be for the world rather than against it Jn. 3.16).

Here is a link to another post that I once wrote on this topic: Click Here


[1] Karl Barth, CD I/2 §14, 52. The first long section is Barth’s ‘small print’ and the emboldened section is a regular sized font section.

Christian Theology Done by the Sufferers


Theology done by people in the depths of suffering looks much different than theology done by people who are relatively comfortable.

When I say “theology” I mean anything anyone thinks or does towards the magnification of Jesus Christ. And this might not even be a conscious effort, especially for those in the thralls of suffering. Indeed, it is in these seasons, when “we have the sentence of death on us so that we will learn to trust the One who raises the dead,” that we are simply living out of the depths of Christ’s life for us (ecstatic existence); i.e., we know He is living for us, or we “wouldn’t make it.”