The Evangelical Calvinist

"The world was made so that Christ might be born."-David Fergusson

Author Archive

A Confession: How the Love of Christ Compels All Else

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” –John 17.20-26

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.13 This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus.18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. –I John 4.7-21

These passages are very important to me. Jesus wants the unity that he has shared with the Father and the Holy Spirit to characterize the way I relate to others in his body. Beyond that, he wants the Triune love of his life to be the bond through which this unity is made known; he wants the multiplicity of the body, and its various members, to hang together in the type of unity that defines his inner life as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

I want to make clear that even though the bulwark of my posts are involved in a type of internecine struggle between others in the body of Christ; even though I name people like Michael Allen (most recently in my last post), or the classical Calvinists, the post Reformed orthodox, et al. that this does not mean I don’t love these folks as my brothers and sisters in Christ. Yes, I do have strong theological disagreements with them—disagreements that I think impinge upon real life spirituality—but this does not mean that I don’t love them. Disagreement can be done in a spirit of animus, and even hatred, or it can be done out of love and a heart that desires to strive together with the saints till we all reach the unity of the one faith of Christ once for all delivered to the saints. This is what I pray my striving is characterized by; by a spirit of God’s love in Jesus Christ with the hopes of iron sharpening iron as we hold each other to the high standard and reality of the Gospel itself.

I will say that I often fail; in fact almost always. But what I want to relay through this post is that I don’t see any of these types of engagements (i.e. theological disagreements) as simply a matter of academic debate; I see things as spiritual (and spiritual understood not in a mystical sense, per se, but in and from the concrete spirituality that is grounded in the real life priesthood of the Lamb of God who literally sits at the right hand of the Father). If my cancer taught me anything it is that everything is real in God’s Kingdom; he’s not a fake God, and his ways are ever present and immediate in our daily lives (more than we could ever imagine). In light of this, even though I do like to add some levity to certain things I write, and I do like to have good heated engagements sometimes, I don’t want any of that to detract from the sobriety that is resident in my heart in regard to the realness of the whole endeavor. I also realize that I am just a blogger, at least here on the blog, and so I don’t want to take what I do too seriously; but at the same time, I do take what I do, when I write, with seriousness. I don’t know how else to be before a Holy God, and with the stakes so high. I realize that people “out there” in the body of Christ and the world are actually hurting, struggling, and confused about many things related to God and his Self-revelation in Jesus Christ. A way for me to demonstrate the love of Christ, I think, is to attempt to engage issues with the seriousness that these realities require of me as a disciple of Jesus Christ. I want people to come to experience the unity that Jesus spoke of in regard to the glory that he has shared with the Father and the Holy Spirit; I want people to know the love of God that this unity in multiplicity engenders in each of our hearts by the fellowship of the Holy Spirit as we repose together in and from a participation in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ; and what that means in regard to the type of life we have been invited into through the broken body of Christ which is the torn veil that allows us to enter into the Holy of holies of God’s inner life.

Yet the reality is that I fail. I write about so many amazing things; things that I can really only bear witness to, and hope that by God’s grace and mercy I too might live into them moment by moment. I am a dad and a husband, and I don’t live up to the expectations I so often write about; in many ways I am a hypocrite. This is what I mean about these things not being academic. I have a family, in real life, who I am to model the love of God in Christ to; who I am to give my life sacrificially for; who I am to be there for; who I am to be pointing to Christ every moment of every day. This is my aim. But I fail so often at this sobering charge. And yet this is my second calling only after my first calling to constantly be in love with my first love over and over again. It is only out of this resource that, out of this everlasting fount of evangelical love that I can love my family through. Even now as I write this it makes me even a hypocrite that much more. I will face tomorrow with a whole new set of expectations as a dad and a husband, and I will fail again. Nevertheless I will strive by the resurrection power of Christ to not allow my writings to simply be empty platitudes that I wax eloquent upon, but I will seek the mercy and grace of God in Christ asking him to give me the strength to love the way I ought to; the way he does. I will ask God in Christ each day to allow me to live into the unbelievable reality that “as he is so also are we in this world.”

One of my biggest fears is that I spend all the time that I do reading theology books, reading the Bible, and then walking away from it all relegating it to some level of academic glee or seeing it as some sort of hobby; God forbid it. My real desire is to participate in the love of God in Christ each day, to participate in the glory that the Son has shared with the Father for eternity, and allow that to spread into every aspect of my life. My desire is for all of my interactions online and real life, with people I only know electronically, or people in my own immediate family, to be characterized by the love of God in Christ and the glory of God revealed in the cross of Christ. Without this as the characteristic and reality of my life I can have all knowledge but without love it will mean nothing; it will mean that I had built with wood, hay, straw and stubble. My desire is for the love of Christ to characterize my life to the point that my own wife and kids will be able to see that on a daily basis; anything short of that will negate anything I’ve ever come to know—at least personally. And this is the point I am really driving at, it isn’t about what I’m coming to know, but who I know and am growing in the knowledge of as I encounter the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ over and over again by the Holy Spirit’s fresh and perduring work of sanctification into the sanctification that Jesus Christ is for me.

*A post I wrote about a year ago, but never posted till now.



Written by Bobby Grow

April 5, 2018 at 11:15 pm

Posted in Devotion

Why Do Theology? On the Analogia Nebuchadnezzaro

Why do theology? Is it for the fame and fortune? No. It’s because, personally, without the constant pursuit towards a growing and intimate knowledge of God I could not function. After I came to Christ when I was 3.5 I was given a new heart, the ‘heart of flesh’ that the Apostle Paul and the Prophet Ezekiel wrote about; along with this my head was also rewired, hard-wired in fact, in such a way that reality from that point onward could only make sense if it found its ongoing ever afresh ever anew ground in a growing knowledge of the living God Self revealed in Jesus Christ. Outside of this reality, for me as a Christian anyway, everything else is non-real; there is only One reality that has the capacity to stitch all of reality together in an affectively and cognitively satisfying way. So I began to grow—in other words I didn’t stay 3.5 up and till now—and I lived into this reality, into real reality as the Holy Spirit worked and wooed in my life. As I grew older I had an ever greater appreciation for what Jesus had done, and the cylinders of my new mind and heart were firing rapidly. But a time came when I was subtly seduced into a realm where my mind and heart were completely out of place. There was a season of time that I didn’t really catch how out of place everything was. But because the God I have a relationship with is so merciful and full of grace He allowed me to see and feel (through anxiety) just exactly how out of place I had become. I had sown to my flesh continuously, to the point that great scales had grown over my eyes—the eyes of my heart and mind—and God removed those scales to let me see just exactly where I’d gotten myself. My heart and mind really had nowhere to rest; it was an excruciating experience that would extend out for years.

But remember, I noted that God graciously re-opened my eyes to the reality I had constructed for myself; a reality that was a house full of idols; a reality that my new heart and mind could not decipher or attach to. God, through His Word, began to deconstruct the false-realm I’d created, and displaced it once again with the concrete bodily reality of His recreated world that He had accomplished through His Self giveneness in His humanity in the eternal Son of God, the Man from Nazareth, the One who is homoousios with the Father and humanity, Jesus Christ. I began to feel a real peace, a real solidity in the world that God had called me into in the new creation of the Son. My affective and intellectual cylinders began to fire again, and the blood-life provided by the Son of the Father in my life, in and through my new heart, began to flow and brought life to my frontal lobe and the rest of my brain. I could once again look out at the world, and have a sense of place; and yet this time it was even lighter than it had been before in my younger years. This time I had to walk through a wilderness, a slough in order to come to the sanity that only comes as my new heart and mind are at coalescence with their source in the vicarious heart and mind that Jesus Christ has for me in His life pro me.

Even in this strange newer world there are these cycles where it seems the light of life ebbs even brighter, but then flows into a season of shadows; only then for the light to shine through the shadows with more clarity than before. Biblically all I can think of in order to illustrate this is found in II Corinthians 3: “18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” There is this ongoing transformative aspect, a growing-maturation process that is a work started by God in Christ that He will continue until beatific vision finally comes.

This is why I do theology. I have come to know, without question, that Jesus alone speaks the words of eternal life, and thus I have nowhere else to go. If I try to live a life without doing theology I experience cognitive dissonance of the sort that it literally will drive me mad. My soul needs theology like my body needs oxygen; without it I die, and dying sucks.

33 Immediately the word was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws. 34 At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; 35 all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” Daniel 4:33–35

18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. II Peter 3:18



Written by Bobby Grow

April 5, 2018 at 1:57 am

A Reflection on Why People Are Important For Christians

It is interesting to contemplate upon things when we start with God–as we ought to–and work from there. And so in light of that, I wanted to quickly reflect upon a reason why other people (from ourselves) are important for our life as humanity in general. We need each other to understand what it means to be humans-in-relation, and this is so because we were created and recreated in the image of God who himself is a communion of relation, and in his communion there is his union given shape, and from this union, his communion is given shape. Likewise, we as God’s people who share in this kind of intimate relationship, have been recreated in Jesus Christ in order to fellowship one with the other. This fellowship is given its reality as we participate from Christ’s humanity for us. This fellowship has all kinds of questions and answers associated with it; in other words, inimical to this fellowship is that we are to be pointing each other to Christ. A way this happens, a very important way, is through studying and knowing God together.

I find the most purpose, and the most joy, when I am able to interact with other Christians, or even non-Christians, around understanding, better who God in Jesus Christ is. We are to motivate each other unto love and good works as we see the day of Christ approaching; and this takes shape as we are of those who do not become reclusive in our walks with Christ, but in the community of the saints. We need each other, because we were created and participate in the image of God who needs the other persons he is in eternal relation with to be who he is in himself and for us.

24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. ~Hebrews 10:24-25 (NIV)

Written by Bobby Grow

April 4, 2018 at 8:28 pm

A Response to Kevin DeYoung’s Response to Tom McCall’s Christianity Today Article on the Atonement: A ‘Depth Dimensional’ Consideration

Christianity Today shared an article written by professor Tom McCall (a friend of mine) just as we were upon Good Friday; it had to do with the atonement and the cry of dereliction ‘My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken Me?’ that Jesus cried out on the cross. Kevin DeYoung, a few days following offered a response article via The Gospel Coalition. In conclusion he challenges McCall’s reading this way:

Hodge would agree with McCall’s point that Christ did not suffer exactly what sinners deserve, but would McCall agree with Hodge that Christ suffered the weight of what sinners deserved? More to the point, would he agree with Hodge’s understanding of forensic satisfaction? “The essence of the penalty of the divine law,” Hodge writes, “is the manifestation of God’s displeasure, the withdrawal of the divine favor. This Christ suffered in our stead. He bore the wrath of God.” For sinners this would lead to “hopeless perdition,” but for Christ it meant “a transient hiding of the Father’s face” (473). And lest this be confused with a breach of Trinitarian relations, Hodges makes clear that the “satisfaction of Christ” was a “matter of covenant between the Father and the Son” (472).

Granted, McCall is from the Wesleyan-Arminian tradition, so he may deny all that Calvin and Hodge affirm. But at the very least, they show us a way to deny what McCall wants to deny—a crass Father versus Son Trinitarian breach—while still affirming a wrath-satisfying, God-appeasing, Father-turns-his-face-away penal substitutionary atonement. Whether this way is a better way is beyond scope of this post. But for my part, it’s hard to understand why Christ would ask for the cup to be taken from him unless he believed it to be the cup of God’s wrath that he would drink to the bitter dregs for sinners like us. (source)

DeYoung, predictably, is arguing, because he’s concerned, that McCall just might not really be on board with the classical Protestant understanding of Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA) after all. We see this particularly as DeYoung leaves off with this quip: “But for my part, it’s hard to understand why Christ would ask for the cup to be taken from him unless he believed it to be the cup of God’s wrath that he would drink to the bitter dregs for sinners like us.” Yet, this makes one wonder, at least it makes me wonder, does DeYoung really think that “God’s wrath” can only be understand from a forensic/juridical frame? Indeed, I’m positive this is the only way that DeYoung sees God’s wrath vis-à-vis the atoning cross-work of Christ.

But this clearly is not the only way, nor should it be construed as THE way wherein God’s wrath is most severely focused. As an Evangelical Calvinist I will contend, along with Thomas Torrance et al., that the source of God’s wrath is ultimately creational rather than juridical; that what God is most wrathful of is that his good and very good creation has been polluted by the dregs of sin to the point that God’s intended desire to fellowship with us in the ‘cool of the Garden’ was disrupted. In other words, what it means to be human was distorted to the point that its intended telos or purpose has lost orientation; that human being itself has become so sub-humanized that the only hope was for God to assume humanity, all the way down to the very heart of it all, and redeem through recreation/resurrection from that depth; to rehumanize through the recreation wrought by the resurrection of the forever God-human, Jesus Christ. This was the ultimate source of God’s wrath; that a foreigner like sin would seek to so disrupt his good and very good plan that his love fellowship with his graciously created counter-points in creation was lost. Yes, the forensic was present, but there is no forensic without the creation first—noting not only the logical but chronological and priority of the ground of ‘being’ that precedes all else.

In an attempt to detail this further let me share something I have written previously with the hopes of potentially identifying one way in which there is a greater depth, and as such, a greater wrath of God to be understood in and through the revelation of Godself in the atoning work of Jesus Christ; a work that started in the manger (temporally). You will see, I hope, how what I’ve written applies to this current discussion; and you might see further how it’s possible to think of God’s wrath with greater theological acuity than DeYoung himself seems to think. Beyond that, it identifies the type of space that I think McCall might just have been suggesting is needed in discussions like this one.

For Thomas Torrance the atonement is the contradiction of sin by which Godself inserts himself into the brokenness and fallen-ness of our humanity, through the humanity of Christ, and by so doing vanquishes sin—its death and destruction—by his very own and sui generis being as God and man in Christ. We left off in the last post referring to sin in the theology of Torrance, let me briefly touch upon that further here.

For Torrance sin isn’t simply a transactional or legal situation it is something that touches the deepest reaches of what it means to be a human being; it sub-humanizes people because it disintegrates the koinonial bond that was originally inherent to what it meant for a human to be a human created in the image of God as an image of the image who is Christ (cf. Col. 1.15). This is why for Torrance, and us Evangelical Calvinists following, what was required in the atonement was that our very beings as human beings be recreated in the human being that Jesus assumed enhypostatically as the man from Nazareth. You won’t find this type of penetrative consideration in the forensic framing of atonement that you find in Federal or Covenantal theology; or for that matter, as a subset, what you find in more basic accounts of Reformed theology as we see typified in what is popularly called Five-Point-Calvinism.

Here is an example of how Torrance thinks about the depth dimension of salvation/atonement:

On the cross, the oneness of God and man in Christ is inserted into the midst of our being, into the midst of our sinful existence and history, into the midst of our guilt and death. The inserting of the oneness of God and man into the deepest depths of human existence in its awful estrangement from God, and the enactment of it in the midst of its sin and in spite of all that sin can do against it, is atonement. In a profound sense, atonement is the insertion of the union into the very being of our alienated and fallen humanity. That insertion of oneness by atonement results in koinōnia, in the church as the communion in which Christ dwells, and in which we are made partakers of the divine nature. The koinōnia thus created by the atonement and resurrection of Christ is fully actualised in our midst by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and is maintained by the power of the Spirit as the church continues in the fellowship of word and sacrament….[1]

As we have been emphasizing, for Torrance, and then us Evangelical Calvinists in his wake, salvation is an ontological occurrence; of necessity. The Apostle Paul is quite clear about the depth and reach of sin’s impact, which is why he emphasizes creational and new creational themes so frequently (cf. II Cor. 5:17; Rom. 8:18ff; Col. 1:15ff; etc.). Torrance along with a part of the Christian tradition simply notes this reality in the Apostolic deposit found in the New Testament and seeks to develop the inner logic being presupposed upon by Apostles like Paul et al.

Here is one more example of how Torrance thinks salvation. Here we have an example of what Torrance calls the ‘ontological theory of the atonement,’ it is in line with what we just read from him previously:

It is above all in the Cross of Christ that evil is unmasked for what it actually is, in its inconceivable wickedness and malevolence, in its sheer contradiction of the love of God incarnate in Jesus Christ, in its undiluted enmity to God himself—not to mention the way in which it operates under the cover of the right and the good and the lawful. That the infinite God should take the way of the Cross to save mankind from the pit of evil which has engulfed it and deceived it, is the measure of the evil of evil: its depth is revealed to be ‘absymal’ (literally, ‘without bottom’). However, it is only from the vantage point of God’s victory over evil in the resurrection of Christ, from the bridge which in him God has overthrown across the chasm of evil that has opened up in our violence and death and guilt, that we may look into the full horror of it all and not be destroyed in the withering of our souls through misanthropy, pessimism, and despair. What hope could there ever be for a humanity that crucifies the incarnate love of God and sets itself implacably against the order of divine love even at the point of its atoning and healing operation? But the resurrection tells us that evil, even this abysmal evil, does not and cannot have the last word, for that belongs to the love of God which has negated evil once and for all and which through the Cross and resurrection is able to make all things work together for good, so that nothing in the end will ever separate us from the love of God. It is from the heart of that love in the resurrected Son of God that we may reflect on the radical nature of evil without suffering morbid mesmerization or resurrection and crucifixion events, which belong inseparably together, has behind it the incarnation, the staggering fact that God himself has come directly into our creaturely being to become one of us, for our sakes. Thus the incarnation, passion, and resurrection conjointly tell us that far from evil having to do only with human hearts and minds, it has become entrenched in the ontological depths of created existence and that it is only from within those ontological depths that God could get at the heart of evil in order to destroy it, and set about rebuilding what he had made to be good. (We have to think of that as the only way that God ‘could’ take, for the fact that he has as a matter of fact taken this way in the freedom of his grace excludes any other possibility from our consideration.) It is surely in the light of this ontological salvation that we are to understand the so-called ‘nature of miracles’, as well as the resurrection of Jesus from death, for they represent not a suspension of the natural or created order but the very reverse, the recreation of the natural order wherever it suffers from decay or damage or corruption or disorder through evil. God does not give up his claim that the creation is ‘good’, but insists on upholding that claim by incarnating within the creation the personal presence of his own Logos, the creative and ordering source of the creation, thereby pledging his own eternal constancy and rationality as the ground for the redemption and final establishment of all created reality.[2]

We see the ontological aspect noted once again, and even further we see Torrance, in step with Barth, highlighting how even the knowledge and depth of sin can really only be understood Christologically; as we understand its depths through dwelling upon the reality of what actually was required for salvation to be accomplished. We see in this quote components that we find in Patristic thinkers like Athanasius, and even Maximus the Confessor; particularly as the latter gets into proposing things along the lines of the logoi thread that is interwoven throughout the created order as its taxis or order.

These are ways into a discussion about the atonement and salvation that are lacking, typically, in the Western mode. John Calvin, though, is an exception to this rule; and we could say this is because of his hyper-Christ concentrated approach. If a thinker genuinely focuses on the deep Christologicalness we find in the New Testament it is almost an axiom that that thinker will end up pressing into union with Christ themes that look something like what we find in Torrance’s presentation. Federal theology and the Post Reformation Reformed orthodox theology does not have this emphasis when thinking salvation; it is framed forensically and under a legal strain, necessarily, precisely because their hermeneutical system starts with a Covenant of Works only to be succeeded by the Covenant of Grace. Some will argue that this does not give Covenant theology a necessary legal character, but I think the proof is in the pudding.

[1] Thomas F. Torrance, Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2008), 173.

[2] Thomas F. Torrance, Divine And Contingent Order (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981), 115-16.

Written by Bobby Grow

April 4, 2018 at 12:41 am

Holy Saturday: A Reflection on the In-Between Now and Not-Yet

Recycling a post that is probably around eleven years old now.

holysaturdayHoly Saturday is the time that the “Western Church,” Protestants included (well some), contemplate the moment between the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is the contemplation of the burial in 1 Corinthians 15:3, 4:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4. that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, . . .

What a time to contemplate the time between the now and the not yet. This time between Christ’s cross and humiliation of unspeakable depths, and the glories’ of His coming resurrection and ascension; analogically represent the time we inhabit now. We currently wait to fully realize the glory that Jesus has shared with the Father before the world began. And like the Apostles, Disciples, and hopefuls who followed Jesus to the cross, during this time of Jesus’ silence we can despair, be full of fear, angst, anxiousness, etc. We often wonder is this it? We face circumstances that seem overwhelming, that seem to eclipse and overcome the life of Christ . . . that make it seem as if Christ stayed in the grave. As Christians in this big world, some-times like the disciples of Christ (during this time in history), we can cower behind locked doors, scratch our heads, and wonder, “what now?”

If only the disciples would have remembered, and put 2 + 2 together, what Jesus had said to them in the past (easy for me to say):

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, ‘Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.’ ~ Matthew 17:9

maybe their despair, their bewilderment, would be turned to joy. Maybe their burden would have been light. Maybe they would have been grieving as ones with real hope. But they forgot, at that moment of time they became so gripped with fear they could not really function (at least some of them, His closest). Even though we know the story, because we can read about it at one sitting, don’t we live like Jesus’ end was the grave? We fall into caverns of unbelief that seem to eclipse and overshadow what we know to be true . . . if only we would remember the hope, the hope that Jesus spoke of in Matthew 17, and the hope that was realized in Matthew 28:1-10.

As we look forward to Sunday, lets not grow weary by the unanswered questions and grief of Saturday. Instead of forgetting what Jesus has said about the resurrection (i.e. His second advent), lets glory in advance, in anticipation of the glory that will be revealed in us, as we are hidden in Christ. While we live in Saturday, in anticipation, lets rest with Jesus, lets, with Jesus say: ” . . . Father, into your hands I commit my spirit (Lk 23:46).”

I think the best thing about this analogy, of “Holy Saturday,” is that it breaks down at a point. We don’t despair as if there is no resurrection, in fact as Christians we have been brought into the heavenly places with Christ (cf. Eph. 1), now; we have intimate union with Him now (cf. I Cor. 6:17); we have been given the Holy Spirit now (cf. Jn 14–16); and a whole array of distinguishing factors from those disciples of the first century. So take heart, don’t forget, this Holy Saturday, Jesus’ words of glory in humility:

. . . I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. ~ John 16:33


Written by Bobby Grow

March 31, 2018 at 7:10 pm

Posted in Holiday

‘He Descended to Hell’: How Historic Protestants Interpreted this Phrase in the Apostles’ Creed

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
      he descended to hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

This Maundy Thursday I thought it would be fitting to press into the reality of what in fact took place not only on Good Friday, but Holy Saturday. In the Apostles’ Creed we have the (not uncontroversial) phrase ‘he descended into hell.’ For the remainder of this post we will look at how this phrase has been taken in and among the Protestant Reformed and Lutheran traditions; particularly as that developed in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Richard Muller in his book Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology (which I am currently working through) offers this definition on the Latin phrase descensus ad inferos (‘the descent into hell’),

viz., that portion of Christ’s work, in the text of the Apostles’ Creed, is mentioned immediately after the death and burial of Christ and immediately before the proclamation of the resurrection. The concept was a cause of debate between Lutherans and Reformed and subject to various interpretations on both sides. In general, the Reformed view the descensus as the final stage of Christ’s state of humiliation (status humiliationis, q.v.), while the Lutherans view it as the first stage of the status exaltationis (q.v.), or state of exaltation. Among the Reformed, Martin Bucer and Theodore Beza viewed the descensus as identical with the burial of Christ, while Calvin referred the descensus to the suffering of Christ’s soul coincident with the death and burial of the body. The Reformed scholastics tend to draw these themes together and argue that, loosely, the descensus refers to all the spiritual suffering of Christ’s passion and death and, strictly, to the bondage to death indicated by Christ’s three days in the tomb. The Reformed deny both the idea of a local descent of Christ’s soul into a place called hell or Hades and the teaching (based on 1 Peter 3:19) that he entered Hades to preach salvation to the patriarchs or to men from the age before Noah. Two sixteenth-century Lutheran theologians, Aepinus and Parsimonius, expressed doctrines similar to the Reformed. Aepinus clearly placed the descensus as the final stage of the status humiliationis and viewed it as the suffering of Christ’s soul in his conquest of death. Like the Reformed, Aepinus denied the relevance of 1 Peter 3:19. Parsimonious denied any physical or spatial descensus and similarly referred the descensus to Christ’s suffering. The Formula of Concord condemned speculative controversy on the descensus and argued that the descensus indicated Christ’s deliverance of believers from the “jaws of hell” in and through his victory over death, Satan, and hell. This positive, redemptive reading of the descensus carried over into Lutheran orthodoxy where the descensus ad inferos is interpreted as spiritual (i.e., neither physical nor local) descent to the domain of Satan to announce victory and triumph over the demonic powers. In this interpretation, 1 Peter 3:19 is not an evangelical preaching of salvation to the inhabitants of Hades but a legal preaching of the just damnation of the wicked. This is an act, not of the humiliated and suffering Christ, but of the exalted Christ. According to Lutheran dogmaticians, the descensus follows the quickening of Christ’s body and is the first stage of the status exaltationis.[1]

This provides insight into the ways that the primary traditions that developed out of the Protestant Reformation read the Apostles’ Creed and its phrase descensus ad inferos. No matter what emphasis we want to place on whichever theological syllable, what stands out is the wonder of the reality that God in Christ graciously humbled himself to the point of becoming man and was obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross; and this for us.

Beyond the mystery of it all there is a concrete physicality to it and existential grist that is felt in our lives as we participated with Christ, as he first participated with us, in the death, burial, and resurrection (cf. Rom. 6). The fact that he humbled himself also, as apiece, means that he exalted himself and this for us that we might be what he is, by adoption, and become flesh and blood children of the living God. The only thing I really know to say is: thank you, Lord.

[1] Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1985), 89-90.

Written by Bobby Grow

March 29, 2018 at 7:57 pm

Anonymous Christians and Knowing God

Karl Rahner’s idea of ‘anonymous Christians’ is quite the concept, but it is one that flows organically from his conception of knowledge of God as that is related to moments of existential transcendental experiences that human beings have qua human being. As Paul Molnar explains, this is why, for Rahner, all people, whether they know it or not, are anonymously Christian; because as they look inward and have a sense, a non-conceptual sense of the Divine, they are in fact experiencing or encountering the living God present to each person’s experience as that is extrapolated outward to a transcendental point of contact. Molnar writes this as he is contrasting Karl Barth’s Christ focused aapologetic knowledge of God with Molnar’s transcendental existential:

This is an enormously important point because it is false apologetics that separates the thinking of those who, like Karl Rahner, believe that they can and must begin their thinking about God with our self-transcending experiences. It is exactly for this reason that Rahner believes “we cannot begin with Jesus Christ as the absolute and final datum, but we must begin further back than that.” He thus chooses to begin with “a knowledge of God which is not mediated completely by an encounter with Jesus Christ.” He begins with our transcendental experience, which he claims mediates an “unthematic and anonymous . . . knowledge of God,” which, as seen in chapter one, both Barth and Torrance rightly rejected because such knowledge amounts only to a symbolic description of ourselves in place of the triune God. He thus claims that knowledge of God is always present unthematically to anyone reflecting on themselves, so that all talk about God “always only points to this transcendental experience as such, an experience in which he whom we call ‘God’ encounters man in silence . . . as the absolute and the incomprehensible, as the term of his transcendence.” This term of transcendence Rahner eventually calls a holy mystery because he believes that whenever this experience of transcendence is an experience of love, its term is the God of Christian revelation. It is just this thinking that leads to Rahner’s idea of “Searching Christology,” which, as seen above in chapter one, essentially refers to the fact that anyone who truly loves another, for instance, is already an “anonymous Christian” in that search. In that sense Rahner believer their activity and thinking is in line with what traditional Christology teaches. This approach to Christology presumes that we must find a basis for belief in Christ in a transcendental anthropology. This led Rahner to embrace the idea that we have an obedential potency for revelation and that our lives are marked by a “supernatural existential,” as seen in chapter one. Finally, it led him to the idea that self-acceptance is the same as accepting Christ and God himself. In this context I think one can see rather clearly that the crucial difference between Barth and Rahner is that Barth’s thinking begins and ends with the Holy Spirit as the awakening power of faith—not faith in ourselves (our transcendental dynamisms)—but in the Word of truth, namely, Jesus Christ. And that of course rules out the idea of anonymous Christianity as the projection of an idea that is at variance with what is actually revealed by Jesus himself as the Word incarnate and through his Holy Spirit as the risen and ascended Lord here and now. It also rules out any notion that we have any “potency” or capacity for the revelation of God; that we have an existential on the basis of which we can rely on ourselves in our experience of grace to speak accurately about God; and that we can look to anyone or anything other than Jesus Christ himself to know who God is and what he has done and does for us as the reconciler and redeemer.[1]

What this insight from Molnar helps us to see, beyond Rahner’s logic towards his ‘anonymous Christian,’ is how interrelated things are theologically. We see how theological anthropology is couched in a doctrine of creation, which itself is cradled in a doctrine of God; we see how all of these converge into a discussion about how creatures can have a knowledge of God.

For Rahner the ground of knowledge of God is not the Word of God, and not even the church (which is interesting given Rahner’s Catholic status), but instead it is the shared bond and the experience therein that human beings ostensibly share as they contemplate the deeper things of life. For Barth and Torrance, as Molnar ably develops in his book, if knowledge of God is detached from the concrete given of God’s life for us in Jesus Christ, then we will look elsewhere—if we look at all—for constructing a theory of knowledge of God.

It would not be a reach, I would contend, to extrapolate out from Rahner’s more ‘modern’ Schleiermacherean like turn to the subject theologizing, and ask if other, even more ‘classically’ construed theologies engage in the same type of abstract reasoning when it comes to developing a framework wherein a theory of knowledge of God is developed; I most immediately think of Thomas Aquinas’s analogia entis (‘analogy of being’). Is there a basis, a built in-capacity, or even God-given capacity (post-salvation/conversion) within humanity wherein they can establish a holy ground to think the living God from? It isn’t just Rahner who works things out this way, I would contend that any type of ‘analogy of being’ theologizing equally ends up positing a theological-anthropology vis-à-vis their doctrine of creation that leaves room for an abstractive knowledge of God wherein the human being can habituate in a process of discursive reasoning and reach a point of contact with God that itself is untethered from God’s concrete given in Jesus Christ, the living Word of God. This is not to suggest that Thomists, for example, might arrive at an unthematic non-conceptual knowledge of God, like Rahner’s position leads to, but it is my attempt to draw a point of convergence, thematically, between the types of theological-anthropology that both Thomists and Rahnerians might affirm in regard to the belief that an abstract notion of God can be connived of apart from God’s immediate yet mediate Self-explication of Himself for us in the eternal huios, Jesus Christ.

Are there anonymous Christians? Nein.


[1] Paul D. Molnar, Faith, Freedom and the Spirit: The Economic Trinity in Barth, Torrance and Contemporary Theology (Downer Groves, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2015), 102-04.

Written by Bobby Grow

March 28, 2018 at 8:45 pm

A Christologically Construed Account of Assurance of Salvation in Contrast to an Ecclesiocentric-Catholic Account

Just the other day I was listening to the local Catholic radio station, Mater Dei, and in particular a show they feature (that is a nationally syndicated show originating in San Diego) called Catholic Answers. On the show they had an apologist and public representative for Catholicism fielding call in questions. One of the questions came from a Protestant caller who wanted clarification on the basics of Roman salvation, and in particular, wondered if a Catholic could have assurance of salvation. The apologist’s answer was standard fare, in regard to explaining how Catholics think of salvation; and his response on assurance was that Catholics cannot have that. He noted that this was because salvation was contingent upon the level of cooperation a person has in their walk of salvation, as such coming to any sort of certitude in regard to their “metaphysical standing” (his words) before God is always a tenuous one, and not something any one individual can have in this life.

As a Protestant Reformed Christian, who is also an Evangelical Calvinist, this of course kicks against the goads of my own mind and theological development. I do believe that with a proper Christologically conditioned soteriology assurance of salvation is not an elusive thing; indeed, I think it is the essence of saving faith insofar as that saving faith is grounded in Jesus’ vicarious ‘yes’ for us. In my personal chapter for our most recent book Evangelical Calvinism: Volume 2: Dogmatics&Devotion I wrote a whole chapter on the doctrine of assurance of salvation. I thought I would share four concluding points on assurance of salvation that I presented towards the end of my chapter. It is because of these reasons, and more, that the Catholic response does not do justice to a Christologically conceived doctrine of salvation; not to mention it’s problems when measured against a sound exegesis of Holy Scripture. Here are those points:

  1. Calvin was onto something profound, and this is why we Evangelical Calvinists gravitate towards his belief that “assurance is of the essence of faith.” That notwithstanding, as we developed previously, Calvin’s lack of place for reprobation in his soteriology coupled with the idea of ‘temporary faith’ can be problematic. It has the potential to cause serious anxiety for anyone struggling with whether or not they are truly one of God’s elect. In this frame someone can look and sound like a Christian, but in the end might just be someone who has a “temporary” or “ineffectual faith.” The problem for Calvin, as with the tradition he is representing, is that the focus of election is not first on Jesus Christ, but instead it is upon individuals. Even though, as we have seen, Calvin does have some valuable things to say in regard to a theology of union with Christ, if we simply stayed with his doctrine of election and eternal decrees, we would always find assurance of salvation elusive.
  2. Despite what is lacking in Calvin’s superstructure he nevertheless was able to offer some brilliant trajectories for the development of a doctrine of assurance. Union with Christ and the duplex gratia in Calvin’s theology provide a focus on salvation that sees salvation extra nos (outside of us), and consequently as an objective reality that is not contingent upon us, but solely contingent on the person and achievements of Jesus Christ for us. This is where assurance can be developed from Calvin’s theology in a constructive manner. If salvation is not predicated upon my faith or by my works, but instead is a predicate of Jesus’ faith and faithfulness, then there is no longer space for anyone to look but to Christ. As we have already noted, Calvin did not necessarily press into the idea of Jesus’ faith for us, but that could be an implication in an inchoate way within Calvin’s thought. Calvin provides hope for weary and seeking souls because of his doctrines of union with Christ and the duplex gratia; primarily because what these doctrines say is that all aspects of salvation have been accomplished by Jesus Christ (namely here, justification and sanctification). Calvin’s theology, when we simply look at his theology of union with Christ and grace, leaves no space for seekers to look anywhere else but to Christ for assurance of salvation. And at this level Calvin can truly say that “assurance is the essence of faith.”
  3. As we moved from Calvin to Barth and Torrance what we have are the theological resources required for a robust doctrine of assurance. With Barth and Torrance we certainly have Calvin’s emphases on union with Christ and grace, as Christ is understood as the objective (and subjective) ground of salvation. But moving beyond this we have Calvin’s weaknesses corrected when it comes to a doctrine of election. Because Barth and Torrance see Jesus as both elect and reprobate simultaneously in his vicarious humanity for all of humanity, there is absolutely no space for anxiety in the life of the seeker of assurance. Since, for Barth and Torrance, there is no such thing as “temporary faith,” since faith, from their perspective, is the “faith of Christ” (pistis Christou) for all of humanity, there is no room for the elect to attempt to prove that they have a genuine saving faith, since the only saving faith is Christ’s “for us and our salvation.” Further, since there is no hidden or secret decree where the reprobate can be relegated, since God’s choice is on full display in Jesus Christ— with “no decree behind the back of Jesus”—the seeker of assurance does not have to wonder whether or not God is for them or not; the fact and act of the incarnation itself already says explicitly that God is for the elect and not against them.
  4. If there is no such thing as elect and reprobate individuals, if God in Christ gave his life for all of humanity in his own elect humanity, if there is no such thing as temporary faith, if Christ’s faith for us is representative of the only type of saving faith there is; then Christ is all consuming, as such he is God’s assurance of salvation for all of humanity. The moment someone starts to wonder if they are elect, properly understood, the only place that person can look is to Jesus. There is no abstract concept of salvation; Jesus Christ is salvation, and assurance of salvation and any lingering questions associated with that have no space other than to look at Jesus. The moment someone gets caught up in anxious thoughts and behavior associated with assurance, is the moment that person has ceased thinking about salvation in, by, and for Christ. Anxiety about salvation, about whether or not I am elect only comes from a faulty doctrine of election which, as we have seen, is in reality the result of a faulty Christology. We only have salvation with God in Christ because of what Jesus Christ did for us by the grace of God; as such our only hope is to be in union with Christ, and participate in what Calvin called the “double grace” of God’s life for us. It is this reality that quenches any fears about whether or not I am genuinely elect; because it places the total burden of that question on what God has done for us, including having faith for us in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ.[1]

The Roman Catholic, as well as the classical Arminian and Calvinist positions flounder against this type of theological or Christological backdrop. Can we have assurance of salvation? I don’t know, ask Jesus.

[1] Bobby Grow, “’Assurance is of the Essence of Saving Faith’ Calvin, Barth, Torrance, and the ‘Faith of Christ’,” in Myk Habets and Bobby Grow, eds., Evangelical Calvinism: Volume 2: Dogmatics&Devotion (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2017), 52-4.

Written by Bobby Grow

March 25, 2018 at 9:42 pm

Barth’s No to the Phenomenal

I am reading Paul Molnar’s book Faith, Freedom and the Spirit: The Economic Trinity in Barth, Torrance, and Contemporary Theology, for a review I’m writing for the journal Cultural Encounters. I’m dreadfully behind on not only finishing the book, but also in writing the review. Yet, I felt I must stop for a moment to write a quick post on a point that Molnar is making in regard to Barth’s rejection of phenomenological theology, and how that plays into his style of anti-natural-theology thinking.

Barth’s context, obviously, was in the German/Swiss world where ‘Liberal theology’ had become entrenched; indeed, his own training was under Hermann, a leading liberal theologian of the day. Immanuel Kant’s thought was very influential, and as such the role of the phenomenal had pride of place for theological developments during Barth’s day. Once Barth made his turn to the ‘strange new world of the Bible’ he developed his theology in such a way that it countered his own antecedents given to him in the voices of Kant, Schleiermacher, Hegel, et al. In the following quote Molnar is discussing how and why Barth rejected phenomenological theology. I found it insightful so I thought I’d share it with you, the reader.

Let us begin first by contrasting Barth’s statement noted above that faith is not a phenomenon that is generally known and can be explained to everyone. Why does he say this? The answer is simple. What is known in faith is that Jesus Christ who is the divine-human Mediator between us and the Father has reconciled us to God and now meets us as the risen Lord enabling our belief in him and in his actions of justification and sanctification for us; he is the one in whom our conversion to God has taken place and the one in whom we can live freely as those who are now God’s friends and not God’s enemies. Since Jesus’ divinity and humanity are not to be confused and since Barth consistently held that Jesus is not the revealer in his humanity as such, Barth concluded that no study of anthropology, of Jesus’ humanity or of the church’s visible structure could possibly disclose the true nature of Jesus as the revealer, the church as his earthly-historical form or the true meaning of faith. The truth of these historical realities can be known in their depth of meaning only by means of a miraculous action of the Holy Spirit enabling us to hear the Word of God active as the man Jesus reconciling us to God from both the divine and the human side. Simply put, no phenomenological analysis of human action, human belief or of any historical actions of church members—no analysis of general anthropology—can yield the truth recognized and acknowledged in faith, namely, that Jesus Christ is God’s Word acting for our benefit as the incarnate, crucified, risen, ascended and coming Lord. Faith is bound to its particular object who gives us a knowledge that simply cannot be gleaned from elsewhere or outside faith itself, because what we come to know in faith is something that transcends the world of experience that can be analyzed sociologically, psychologically, historically and therefore phenomenologically. That is why Barth rejected any notion that knowledge of revelation could be had via any a priori sort of reasoning. That is also why, as we shall shortly see, he opposed apologetic attempts to prepare for the gospel through any such analysis; such preparation is rendered unnecessary and indeed impossible by the fact that Jesus himself is the truth of God and cannot be bypassed in an attempt to know what God is doing now within history.[1]

The phenomenal can only be made known from the noumenal; to use Kant’s categories. But these categories don’t ultimately cut it for Barth, as Molnar underscores. The whole act of God in Christ is a miraculous event of the sort for which there is no analogy or phenomena in history. For Barth the event of creation and recreation in Christ are of such a primal sort that they are only accessible in and through contact with God; or, only God can reveal God. And when I say accessible, I mean that nature/creation itself has no meaning apart from its inner meaning given to it in the covenant life of God for us.

It is at this very point that Barth departs so radically from the tradition; on a doctrine of creation/revelation. He is driven to these lengths because he is attempting make Christ the centrum of all reality. Some would say that Barth hits the breaking point, while others would say he breaks the sound barrier.

[1] Paul D. Molnar, Faith, Freedom and the Spirit: The Economic Trinity in Barth, Torrance, and Contemporary Theology (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2015), 51-2.

Written by Bobby Grow

March 23, 2018 at 8:37 pm

Posted in Barth, Paul Molnar

Thinking Canonically Rather than Confessionally: God is ‘Your Father’

Do you ever get the sense that the theology we do, and the God we pray to are seemingly distinct from the other? Here’s what I mean: Doesn’t it seem that the technical language used to talk about God, theologically, like Simplicity, Immutability, Impassibility, Omni ________, is disjointed from the God we meet in the Bible, in Jesus Christ? Jesus says this to Mary just after he resurrected from the grave:

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?”Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her. – John 20:11-18

And yet when we come across a pivotal Confession for the Protestant churches it says this about God:

There is but one only, living, and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions; immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute; working all things according to the counsel of His own immutable and most righteous will, for His own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him; and withal, most just, and terrible in His judgments, hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty.[1]

Don’t get me wrong, when we are attempting to think about God in a deep way we are bound to clumsily posit things about him, and ways to talk about him that seem ajar from how we encounter him in Scripture. But this has been my struggle for years. I am, by disposition, believe it or not, very traditional and conservative when it comes to Christian theology. But as I was exposed more and more to what stood behind the theology I only tacitly had been inculcated into as a young Christian person in my growing up years, I realized that the God I was being taught about in my theology classes sounded very little like the God I had been praying to, and then reading about in my Bible for all the years prior.

When I think of God, and the way I know him most intimately, it is as my Father. If I was introduced to Him through the God I encounter in the Confession above, I would actually be in some pretty dire torment; particularly when faced with all the various trials and tribulations that this life offers up on a daily basis. Do I want to know that God is a Rock, unchanging in His ways, as a reality that just has always been? Yes! Do I think in order to fortify this type of knowledge of God that I need to turn to the philosophers in order to supply me with the categories I need to think of God in these ways? No, I don’t. Andrew Purves and Mark Achtemeir write in this vein:

The center of the New Testament is the relationship between Jesus Christ and the One he addresses as Father. The communion between Jesus and his heavenly Fatherly is an utterly unique relationship, of which we can know nothing apart from Jesus’ own testimony. . . . God is thus Father not by comparison to human fathers, but only in the Trinitarian relation, as Father of the Son. Whenever Father is used of God it means “the One whom Jesus called Father.” The paradigm text is John 1:18: “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” In Greek, the word for “made him known” is exegesato. Jesus “exegetes” or “interprets” the Father. The term does not denote a generic title for God outside of the Father and Son relationship. Father thus functions in Trinitarian language not as a descriptive metaphor but as a proper name, whose home is the relationship that exists from all eternity between the first and second Persons of the Trinity.[2]

Clearly, at some level, philosophical grammar will be involved in the doing of theological essaying. But at what level is this type of ‘grammarizing of God’ successful; and is there a better way to ‘evangelize the philosophers’ vis-à-vis other ways?

I think the best way forward is to go with Occam’s Razor, and be as minimalistic as possible when it comes to engaging with the philosophers. I think this is what the quote from Purves and Achtemeir is getting at, and indeed, is working from. To think of God as ‘my Father’ is to think of Him, conceptually, in much different ways and tones than to think of Him as ‘infinite in being and perfection,’ so on and so forth. And personally, I find this to be the fundamental flaw with so much of what counts as Christian theology today, and yesterday. It is the “Confessional” styled theology that is being retrieved by theologians in the evangelical and Reformed worlds today, but at what cost?

I’m not suggesting that within the history there is no good theology, even using and overly using some of the philosophical language. But what I am suggesting is that the lens through which the resourcement is being done is not expansive enough, and more importantly, is not sensitive enough to the reality of who Scripture discloses God to be in Christ. Jesus reveals God to the world as the Son of the Father in the bond of the Holy Spirit’s love. The Bible speaks of God as the ‘lover of our souls’, the Great Shepherd, the Lamb of God, the One who is, as the God with a name (e.g. Yahweh), as the Bridegroom, so on and so forth. I have not found these descriptors concordant with the God I have studied in the theologians (in the majority tradition of Post Reformation Reformed orthodoxy). There is a piety, and relational reality that gets lost in thinking of God through overly philosophical terms on a constant basis. And it is wrong to attempt to foreclose on who God is by overly privileging categories about God that themselves are not determined by God’s Self-Revelation in Jesus Christ as mediated through Holy Scripture.

This post is not an advertisement to be a Barthian, or Torrancean, or anything else in that mood. This is simply my reflection on why I have approached the things that I do, in the way that I do. My experience of God, as a result of various personal trauma, sometimes in ongoing ways, has driven me not to think of God as some of the Confessions would have me think of Him, but instead to come to Him as My loving Father, who cares for me like the Great Shepherd of Israel that He is. Some might say that I am making a type of disjunctive category mistake because I am drawing a line between how the ‘theologians’ must speak of God in their “craft,” and how the broken believer wants to speak of God because of the trauma and need of their daily life. But if this was the charge, I would suggest that the problem just might be with those who presume that we can make this type of artificial distinction between the Biblical language and the philosophical language ostensibly used to unpack the perceived implications of the Biblical God. Or obversely, the problem might be with those who too quickly equate the philosophical language with the Biblical God, categorically. Why not just allow the Biblical God and the Biblical categories to stand as the determinative categories that they are for thinking God, and teach the church how to resource the past from this vantage point? Why this compelling need, for many evangelicals, to “retrieve” the past in ways that really is more of an attempt to replicate the past for the present?

This will continue to be a rub for me, and maybe you can better see why. I need to rely upon God as my Father, and I can do that in a canonical rather “confessional” way. I think this is the best way to be evangelical in the 21st century, or in any century.

[1] Westminster Confession of Faith.

[2] Purves and Achtemeier, Union In Christ, 34–36.

Written by Bobby Grow

March 22, 2018 at 10:47 pm