I just had a good meeting and fellowship time with a former (and still emeritus 😉 ) mentor of mine, Dr. Ron Frost (he is a former seminary prof of mine, and a brother who I TA’d for during and after seminary). Ron is the one who turned me onto Trinitarian theology, and cultivated in me a love for historical theology (Ron, by training is a Puritan theology expert). Ron’s informing voices towards his Trinitarian theology are, among some, Colin Gunton, John Zizioulas, Gregory of Nazianzen, among other Trinitarian stalwarts (so from a more social trinitarian vantage point). But more importantly for Ron, is a theology of the Word (meaning primarily Scripture as spectacles to see Christ with), and a theology of the Love of God (which naturally flows from being a genuinely Christian Trinitarian thinker); and so you would see why he and I get along so well, one with the other. Indeed, we might have some different angles into this, and maybe some disagreements, here and there; but, truly, our desire for a genuinely Christian theology of the Word & love of God makes any of our disagreements less consequential if we didn’t have these central themes connecting us in and around our desire to be truly Christ centered in approach (which is to be Bible centered).
Ron, I don’t think, is not really an Evangelical Calvinist, per se, but he is also not a Westminster Calvinist (oh my goodness, NO!). He follows the impulses provided by Martin Luther, Augustine, and Richard Sibbes, which for him terminates in following a biblical theological approach wherein the overarching salvation-history covenant that is definitive for understanding God’s relation to us in Christ is the marital covenantal framework — which starts in Genesis 2, we find it in Isaiah, Hosea, then in the Paulinism of Ephesians 5, and as the inclusiastic finish in Revelation at the marriage supper feast of the Lamb. So instead of a Federal Calvinism, with a Law based relationship with God, for Frost, what becomes definitive is the biblical imagery and Christic reality of marital language. So it is a filial understanding of our relationship with God in Christ by the Spirit instead of a juridical, forensic, or law based or framed one. Ron has recently written a post for his blog wherein he is covering the material presented by Romans 4; in the post, Ron conceives of a ‘parable’ to illustrate how God’s grace and love ground our relationship with God, prior to the giving of the law. This dovetails nicely with my last post, and helps to illustrate how important it is to have the biblical frame for understanding God’s covenantal relationship with us in Christ, and how that gets biblically presented and cashed out. Here is the parable that Ron has come up with to drive this point home relative to his exegesis of Romans 4 (I will provide the link to the whole of the post at the end of this parable from, Ron). Here is Frost’s parable (and some explanation about what he means by it):
A son came home from university for the weekend. After breakfast he put $5 on the table as he got up.
“What’s that?” asked his dad.
“It’s what I owe you for breakfast,” replied the son. “And in my bedroom I’ve left you $20 as last night’s room rental.”
The father frowned. “But you’re our son—you don’t owe us anything.”
“I knew you’d say,” the son answered, “because you’ve always tried to make me dependent on you and now it’s time for me to be independent—to be a true person.”
“What led to this?” the father asked.
“In my course on personal development Professor Diablo taught us about the law of true personhood: to be an ‘authentic person’ I need to be independent so that’s my new law of life.”
His father looked puzzled. “But what about the ‘law’—if that’s the language you want to use, ‘of the family’? In a family we’re always depending on each other—that’s what love does.”
“Sorry, Dad—or, maybe I’ll just call you Jim from now on,” said the son, “I see myself as an independent person and that’s the law we’ll all need to recognize from now on.”
The son left the room and Jim, his saddened father, went to his study. He was a very successful accountant so for the rest of the morning he did what he knew best.
At noon the family enjoyed soup and sandwiches and the son, once again, put down a $5 bill. But this time the father had something to say.
“Hold on, Harry, we’ve got something more to talk about here. Since you’ve chosen to live by Professor Diablo’s law of life instead of our own law of a bonded family, I did some homework. Ever since you were born your mother and I have been investing in you and by your new law the bill has come due. So you actually owe us $282,532 including interest and I’d like that as a lump sum by tonight. Or if you prefer monthly payments I can set up a financing plan with interest of less than 10%.”
“But if you were willing to live by the law of a caring family your mother and I will be happy to view it as a gift. Just let me know by dinner time if you don’t mind.”
I ended the parable with the son’s response open. My hope is that listeners will recognize the relational basis of faith: God is a loving “promiser” whose grace elicits the response of faith. In other words faith isn’t a duty—a token payment of our will—but a moment that comes when our hearts become aligned with God’s heart as took place for Abraham in Genesis 15. God took him outside to count stars and promised, “If you’re able to number the stars, you’ll see how many offspring you’ll have.” He believed God and God counted that faith as righteousness.
So Abraham’s faith was based on the promise of a coming seed—a single offspring among the many—who would be the blessing to the nations. In wider reading we can presume it referred to the woman’s “seed” in Genesis 3:15, meaning the one who would come to defeat the Serpent’s seed. That blessing-seed ultimately came to be born as Jesus.
For Abraham to be “counted righteous” in Genesis 15 because of his simple faith was crucial for what Paul taught about justification in Romans 4. This faith came before any moral regulations—epitomized by circumcision—appeared. In fact was many years later that circumcision was given to Abraham as a sign of devotion, in Genesis 17. So in Romans 4 Paul’s point is that circumcision is not to be conflated with the duties of Genesis 17. (see the full post here, at Ron’s blog)
I hope this helps illustrate further how understanding the basis of God’s relation to us in Christ as based in His love is so important toward appreciating who God actually is, and how we actually live before Him in Christ. Not on the basis of law, but on the basis of His prior life of Triune love and grace.