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There seems to be a lot of controversy around atonement theory, especially in regard to those who advocate for so called Penal holysaturdaySubsitutionary Atonement (PSA) theory, and those who don’t. I used to be a strong advocate of PSA as the touchstone of what holds all other theories of the atonement together. But I have shifted, of course. In evangelical Calvinism, along with Thomas Torrance (and others), I have advocated for the ontological theory of the atonement (I have written about that somewhere else). The underlying premise behind the ontological theory is that sin has so affected who we are as people (at an ontic level) that we need to be recreated, or in “biblical” terms, resurrected (the Apostle Paul seems to agree, see Romans 6–8). The underlying premise behind a PSA view is that God’s holy law has been broken, thus a penalty incurred, thus this penalty needs to be paid for. To further complicate this (the PSA view), all of the terms and categories it has received come through a late medieval conception of salvation known as Covenant or Federal theology; it is this basis that informs and shapes, I will assert, popular and even academic conceptions of PSA today. But without getting further into fleshing out definitions, comparisons and contrasts between PSA and the Ontological theory (among other theories), let’s hear from Christian Kettler on Karl Barth’s approach to atonement theory (it fits with the Ontological theory of the atonement that us Evangelical Calvinists believe should be primary in this ongoing discussion). Here is Kettler on Barth:

The New Testament description of this “history” [Jesus’ history] speaks of a particular, once for all event which consists of three parts. The first consists of the sayings and acts of Jesus in Galilee, where he is in control, and, in a sense, remote from others in his purity. The second part consists of Gethsemane and the Passion. Jesus is no longer the subject but the object of what happens. A judgment takes place, not upon the guilty, but upon the Judge.

The real commentary is in the third part of the story, the resurrection narrative. It tells us that the gospel story is “significant in itself.” There is no power beyond the object which can cause it to become significant. In the case of Jesus, it is the power of the Judge to take the place of those who are judged, “the power of the corresponding becoming.” Therefore our subjectivity is not something which could begin to add anything to this greatest of “facts.”

He speaks for Himself whenever He is spoken of and His story is told and heard. It is not He that needs proclamation but proclamation that needs Him. [Karl Barth]

In addition, if Christ is present today, one cannot relegate the history of Jesus Christ to the past. No, it is “a history which is the new history for every man.” The reality of salvation is found for Barth not in the history of religious experiences of humanity but in the history of one man, the man who has taken the place of humanity in judgment.[1]

So for Karl Barth atonement theory reposes in and from God’s identification with us in the Incarnation of His Son, Jesus Christ. If we are going to have a forensic language connected to what happened in atonement, and we must, since the Bible has such language, then this is the alternative we should follow; the alternative is grounded in a thoroughgoing doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Christ. The idea that the Judge became judged for us takes the forensic components and collapses them where they need to be collapsed. Not into a quid-pro-quo Covenantal schema imposed upon Scriptural categories which gives us the Penal Substitutionary Atonement theory, but it collapses such legal language back into its rightful context as given, sustained, and realized in God’s life of Triune love for us in his elected life with us in Jesus Christ. Note Kettler further on Barth and the importance of the vicarious humanity of Christ at this point:

Barth states that Jesus Christ is “for us” because he took our place as judge. Instead of the arrogance of humanity which assumes the place of judge, God has intervened in Jesus Christ, having claimed that place for himself, and has judged the sin of humanity. This is not simply an intellectual exposure of the arrogance of humanity, but a taking away of its place by the humanity of Christ. This is the radicality of the vicarious nature of the humanity of Christ in Barth’s doctrine of the atonement. Such radicality has great implications for the comprehensiveness of the gospel, since “Jesus as very man and God has taken the place of every man.” Ethical implications are relevant here, also. This is a “replacement,” not a new prohibition or commandment from eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. In summary, “replacement” speaks of “vicarious humanity.”[2]

If we are going to say that we affirm historic and orthodox Chalcedonian christology (i.e. two natures Christology), then we must follow its reduction where it leads; it leads to a radical doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Christ. He is the Judge who has freely been judged for us!

I am feeling pretty passionate about all of this as I write this, I am having to constrain myself from really saying what I think about this whole online atonement discussion that has been taking place between so called Progressive and Conservative (primarily of a certain Reformed variety) Christians. It just seems like it is missing the boat.

[1] Christian Kettler, The Vicarious Humanity of Christ and the Reality of Salvation (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1991), 241.

[2] Ibid., 242-43.

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I just posted the following to my group blog for a program I am a part of through Princeton Theological Seminary. One of our assignments was to listen to the following podcast by Eboo Patel, and the following is what I wrote in response to what he had to say. Patel is a Muslim, and yet he promotes an inter-faith approach to things. As you will be able to infer from what I wrote in response, I don’t agree with him, even if I think his desires are noble (which I do think they are). Click here to listen to the podcast if you want (it is approx 18 minutes). Here is my response:

ghandiI just finished listening to the assigned podcast for pre-session #4 class work which was a short lecture given by Eboo Patel on interfaith interaction and ecumenical and inclusive engagement between various faith traditions; in particular, for him, between Christians, and his faith tradition, Islam. And yet as I listened to Patel’s very articulate and winsome talk, what stood out to me was that he seemed to be ameliorating the substantial differences and distinctives inherent between Islam, Christianity, and other ‘faith’ traditions. And that he places a higher premium on our shared human and earthly situation, and in the process diminishes the ‘eternal’ realities that give each of our faith traditions there actual distinctiveness; that is, I see Patel diminishing the significance and thus importance of what we think about God. It appears that Patel holds to the an idea that the concept ‘God’ is actually an ‘eternal’ reality, who in the end ends up being the same reality, and thus in the present what is important in the ‘earthly’ experience of ‘God’ is to focus on our shared experiences and various, but shared expressions of ‘faith.’

Interestingly, what Eboo Patel is doing, and the way he is emphasizing a ‘pluralistic’ approach to inter-faith cooperation sounds very similar to the way that theologian John Hick approached his expression and understanding of Christianity through his ‘pluralist universalist’ approach. Christian theologian Christian Kettler describes Hick’s approach (and quotes Hick in the process); notice, as you read this, how well Hick’s approach (as described by Kettler) dovetails with Patel’s approach. I think there is more than coincidence going on between Patel’s informing approach, and how Hick approaches things; here is Kettler on Hick:

Hick responds to this challenge by stressing 1) the structural continuity of religious experience with other spheres of reality, and 2) an openness to experimental confirmation. “Meaning” is the key concept which links religious and mundane experience. “Meaning” for Hick is seen in the difference which a particular conscious act makes for an individual. This, of course, is relative to any particular individual. Verification of this experience is eschatological because of the universal belief in all religions that the universe is in a process leading towards a state of perfection.

The epistemological basis for such an approach is found in the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. Hick’s soteriology is based on “Kant’s broad theme, recognizing the mind’s own positive contribution to the character of its perceived environment,” which “has been massively confirmed as an empirical thesis by modern work in cognition and social psychology and in the sociology of knowledge.” The Kantian phenomena in this case are the varied experiences of religion. All have their obvious limitations in finite humanity, so none are absolutely true.

In contrast to Kant, however, Hick believes that the “noumenal” world is reached by the “phenomenal” world of religious experience. “The Eternal One” is “the divine noumenon” experienced in many different “phenomena.” So the divine can be experienced, but only under certain limitations faced by the phenomenal world. Many appropriate responses can be made to “the divine noumenon.” But these responses are as many as the different cultures and personalities which represent the world in which we live. Similar to Wittgenstein’s epistemology of “seeing-as,” Hick sees continuity between ordinary experience and religious experience which he calls “experiencing-as”.

The goal of all these religious experiences is the same, Hick contends: “the transformation of human existence from self-centeredness to Reality-centeredness.” This transformation cannot be restated to any one tradition.

When I meet a devout Jew, or Muslim, or Sikh, or Hindu, or Buddhist in whom the fruits of openness to the divine Reality are gloriously evident, I cannot realistically regard the Christian experience of the divine as authentic and their non-Christian experiences as inauthentic. [Kettler quoting: Hick, Problems of Religious Pluralism, 91.][1]

Even if Patel is not directly drawing from Hick’s pluralism (which I doubt that he is not), it becomes quite apparent how Patel’s ‘earthly’ vis-á-vis ‘eternal’ correlates with Hick’s appropriation of Kant’s ‘noumenal’ (which would be Patel’s ‘eternal’), and ‘phenomenal’ (which would be Patel’s ‘earthly’). What happens is that the actual reality of God is reduced to our shared human experience of what then becomes a kind of ‘mystical’ religious experience of God determined to be what it is by our disparate and various cultural, national, and ‘nurtural’ experiences. In other words, God and the ‘eternal’ becomes a captive of the human experience, and our phenomenal ‘earthly’ experiences becomes the absolutized end for what human flourishing and prosperity (peace) is all about.

Beyond this, Patel, towards the end of his talk uses a concept of ‘love’ that again becomes circumscribed by and abstracted to the ‘earthly’ human experience of that; as if the human experience of love has the capacity to define what love is apart from God’s life. But as Karl Barth has written in this regard:

God is He who in His Son Jesus Christ loves all His children, in His children all men, and in men His whole creation. God’s being is His loving. He is all that He is as the One who loves. All His perfections are the perfections of His love. Since our knowledge of God is grounded in His revelation in Jesus Christ and remains bound up with it, we cannot begin elsewhere—if we are now to consider and state in detail and in order who and what God is—than with the consideration of His love.[2]

In other words, for the Christian, our approach and understanding of ‘love’ cannot be reduced to a shared and pluralistic experience of that in the ‘earthly’ phenomenal realm. Genuine love for the Christian starts in our very conception of God which is not something deduced from our shared universal experience, but is something that is grounded in and given to us in God’s own particular Self-revelation in Jesus Christ.

In conclusion, I would argue that Eboo Patel’s ‘earthly’ pluralist approach is noble, but his approach is flawed because 1) ‘God’ cannot be adumbrated by our human experience (because for the Christian that our understanding of God is revealed from outside of us); and 2) ‘love’ is not simply an human experience that transcends all else, but instead is the fundamental reality of God’s Triune life. If love is the fundamental reality of who the Christian God is, then the object of our ‘faith’ as Christians, by definition, starts in a different place than all other religions and their various conceptions of God. If this is the case, then Christianity offers a particular (not universal) understanding and starting point to knowing God, and thus to understanding how love relates to truth (and vice versa). And yet, Christianity remains the most inclusive ‘religion’ in the world, because God loves all, and died for all of humanity; but this can only be appreciated as we start with the particular reality of God’s life in Jesus Christ.

None of what I just wrote means that we cannot work alongside or with other ‘faith’ traditions; it is just important, I think, to remember that who God is remains very important, and in fact distinguishes us one from the other. And that while we can and should befriend and conversate with other faith traditions, in the midst of this, we should not forget that there still is only one ‘way, truth, and life’ to the Father, and that way comes from God’s life himself, in his dearly beloved Son, Jesus Christ. If we don’t want to affirm what I just suggested, then what we will be left with is something like John Hick’s ‘anonymous Christians’ with the notion that all ways are ‘valid’ expressions towards the one God ‘out there’ somewhere.

 

 


[1] Christian D. Kettler, The Vicarious Humanity of Christ and the Reality of Salvation (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publications, 1991), 65-6.

[2] Barth, CD II/1, 351.

repost

I just posted the following to my group blog for a program I am a part of through Princeton Theological Seminary. One of our assignments was to listen to the following podcast by Eboo Patel, and the following is what I wrote in response to what he had to say. Patel is a Muslim, and yet he promotes an inter-faith approach to things. As you will be able to infer from what I wrote in response, I don’t agree with him, even if I think his desires are noble (which I do think they are). Click here to listen to the podcast if you want (it is approx 18 minutes). Here is my response:

ghandiI just finished listening to the assigned podcast for pre-session #4 class work which was a short lecture given by Eboo Patel on interfaith interaction and ecumenical and inclusive engagement between various faith traditions; in particular, for him, between Christians, and his faith tradition, Islam. And yet as I listened to Patel’s very articulate and winsome talk, what stood out to me was that he seemed to be ameliorating the substantial differences and distinctives inherent between Islam, Christianity, and other ‘faith’ traditions. And that he places a higher premium on our shared human and earthly situation, and in the process diminishes the ‘eternal’ realities that give each of our faith traditions there actual distinctiveness; that is, I see Patel diminishing the significance and thus importance of what we think about God. It appears that Patel holds to the an idea that the concept ‘God’ is actually an ‘eternal’ reality, who in the end ends up being the same reality, and thus in the present what is important in the ‘earthly’ experience of ‘God’ is to focus on our shared experiences and various, but shared expressions of ‘faith.’

Interestingly, what Eboo Patel is doing, and the way he is emphasizing a ‘pluralistic’ approach to inter-faith cooperation sounds very similar to the way that theologian John Hick approached his expression and understanding of Christianity through his ‘pluralist universalist’ approach. Christian theologian Christian Kettler describes Hick’s approach (and quotes Hick in the process); notice, as you read this, how well Hick’s approach (as described by Kettler) dovetails with Patel’s approach. I think there is more than coincidence going on between Patel’s informing approach, and how Hick approaches things; here is Kettler on Hick:

Hick responds to this challenge by stressing 1) the structural continuity of religious experience with other spheres of reality, and 2) an openness to experimental confirmation. “Meaning” is the key concept which links religious and mundane experience. “Meaning” for Hick is seen in the difference which a particular conscious act makes for an individual. This, of course, is relative to any particular individual. Verification of this experience is eschatological because of the universal belief in all religions that the universe is in a process leading towards a state of perfection.

The epistemological basis for such an approach is found in the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. Hick’s soteriology is based on “Kant’s broad theme, recognizing the mind’s own positive contribution to the character of its perceived environment,” which “has been massively confirmed as an empirical thesis by modern work in cognition and social psychology and in the sociology of knowledge.” The Kantian phenomena in this case are the varied experiences of religion. All have their obvious limitations in finite humanity, so none are absolutely true.

In contrast to Kant, however, Hick believes that the “noumenal” world is reached by the “phenomenal” world of religious experience. “The Eternal One” is “the divine noumenon” experienced in many different “phenomena.” So the divine can be experienced, but only under certain limitations faced by the phenomenal world. Many appropriate responses can be made to “the divine noumenon.” But these responses are as many as the different cultures and personalities which represent the world in which we live. Similar to Wittgenstein’s epistemology of “seeing-as,” Hick sees continuity between ordinary experience and religious experience which he calls “experiencing-as”.

The goal of all these religious experiences is the same, Hick contends: “the transformation of human existence from self-centeredness to Reality-centeredness.” This transformation cannot be restated to any one tradition.

When I meet a devout Jew, or Muslim, or Sikh, or Hindu, or Buddhist in whom the fruits of openness to the divine Reality are gloriously evident, I cannot realistically regard the Christian experience of the divine as authentic and their non-Christian experiences as inauthentic. [Kettler quoting: Hick, Problems of Religious Pluralism, 91.][1]

Even if Patel is not directly drawing from Hick’s pluralism (which I doubt that he is not), it becomes quite apparent how Patel’s ‘earthly’ vis-á-vis ‘eternal’ correlates with Hick’s appropriation of Kant’s ‘noumenal’ (which would be Patel’s ‘eternal’), and ‘phenomenal’ (which would be Patel’s ‘earthly’). What happens is that the actual reality of God is reduced to our shared human experience of what then becomes a kind of ‘mystical’ religious experience of God determined to be what it is by our disparate and various cultural, national, and ‘nurtural’ experiences. In other words, God and the ‘eternal’ becomes a captive of the human experience, and our phenomenal ‘earthly’ experiences becomes the absolutized end for what human flourishing and prosperity (peace) is all about.

Beyond this, Patel, towards the end of his talk uses a concept of ‘love’ that again becomes circumscribed by and abstracted to the ‘earthly’ human experience of that; as if the human experience of love has the capacity to define what love is apart from God’s life. But as Karl Barth has written in this regard:

God is He who in His Son Jesus Christ loves all His children, in His children all men, and in men His whole creation. God’s being is His loving. He is all that He is as the One who loves. All His perfections are the perfections of His love. Since our knowledge of God is grounded in His revelation in Jesus Christ and remains bound up with it, we cannot begin elsewhere—if we are now to consider and state in detail and in order who and what God is—than with the consideration of His love.[2]

In other words, for the Christian, our approach and understanding of ‘love’ cannot be reduced to a shared and pluralistic experience of that in the ‘earthly’ phenomenal realm. Genuine love for the Christian starts in our very conception of God which is not something deduced from our shared universal experience, but is something that is grounded in and given to us in God’s own particular Self-revelation in Jesus Christ.

In conclusion, I would argue that Eboo Patel’s ‘earthly’ pluralist approach is noble, but his approach is flawed because 1) ‘God’ cannot be adumbrated by our human experience (because for the Christian that our understanding of God is revealed from outside of us); and 2) ‘love’ is not simply an human experience that transcends all else, but instead is the fundamental reality of God’s Triune life. If love is the fundamental reality of who the Christian God is, then the object of our ‘faith’ as Christians, by definition, starts in a different place than all other religions and their various conceptions of God. If this is the case, then Christianity offers a particular (not universal) understanding and starting point to knowing God, and thus to understanding how love relates to truth (and vice versa). And yet, Christianity remains the most inclusive ‘religion’ in the world, because God loves all, and died for all of humanity; but this can only be appreciated as we start with the particular reality of God’s life in Jesus Christ.

None of what I just wrote means that we cannot work alongside or with other ‘faith’ traditions; it is just important, I think, to remember that who God is remains very important, and in fact distinguishes us one from the other. And that while we can and should befriend and conversate with other faith traditions, in the midst of this, we should not forget that there still is only one ‘way, truth, and life’ to the Father, and that way comes from God’s life himself, in his dearly beloved Son, Jesus Christ. If we don’t want to affirm what I just suggested, then what we will be left with is something like John Hick’s ‘anonymous Christians’ with the notion that all ways are ‘valid’ expressions towards the one God ‘out there’ somewhere.

 


[1] Christian D. Kettler, The Vicarious Humanity of Christ and the Reality of Salvation (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publications, 1991), 65-6.

[2] Barth, CD II/1, 351.

*Just thought I’d repost this book review I did of Christian Kettler’s book on the vicarious humanity of Christ. If you are interested in better understanding a central doctrine for Evangelical Calvinist thought, then Kettler’s book is sure to help you in this endeavor; and on that basis I highly commend Christian’s book to you.

The Vicarious Humanity of Christ and the Reality of Salvation, (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2011)  ISBN: 13: 978-1-61097-166-9, Paperback, 338 pp. Price: $29.60

by: Christian D. Kettler

To begin, I would like to say thank you to James Stock of Wipf and Stock Publishers for graciously sending me this review copy.

The author, Christian D. Kettler is currently Professor of Theology and Philosophy at Friends University in Wichita, Kansas. He earned his PhD at Fuller Theological Seminary under the watchful eyes of the late Drs. Geoffrey Bromiley and Ray Anderson. This particular book, under review, represents Kettler’s PhD dissertation (which was originally published in 1991 by University Press of America) which he submitted at Fuller Theological Seminary in the late 80s. Besides being supervised by Bromiley and Anderson for his doctorate, Kettler also served as Thomas F. Torrance’s teaching assistant in 1981 (when Torrance was at Fuller); it was during this time that Kettler was motivated to research what was a central doctrine for TF Torrance (p. v), that is, the vicarious humanity of Christ.

The book, by way of organization, is helpfully broken down into three parts. Part One is titled: The Problem of the Reality of Salvation in Contemporary Theology. This first part of the book is made up of five chapters: Chapter 1, Salvation as Immanence: Process Theology (John B. Cobb, Jr.) p. 15 & Liberation Theology (Leonardo Boff) p. 25. Chapter 2, Salvation as Eschatology (Jürgen Moltmann and Wolfhart Pannenberg) p. 41. Chapter 3, Salvation as Universalism (John Hick) p. 63. Chapter 4, Salvation as Humanization (Hans Küng) p. 73. And Chapter 5, The Humanity of God as Critique of Anthropocentric Theologies, p. 81. This section serves as a survey of various theologies, as the aforementioned table of contents illustrates, that will provide a context which Kettler will offer critique of later in the other sections of the book. In fact Kettler moves from this first section by appealing to Karl Barth’s Humanity of God, as offering a critique of what Kettler believes are actually anthropocentric modes of theology in the theologies of Cobb, Boff, Moltmann, Pannenberg, Hick, and Küng. Here is what Kettler writes in summary of this section, “The problem of their anthropocentric approach for the question of the reality of salvation is then critiqued through Karl Barth’s doctrine of the vicarious humanity of God, which becomes a bridge leading us into the main body of  our study, Part Two, ‘The Vicarious Humanity of Christ as the External Expression of the Eternal Humanity of God.’” (p. 6) This leads us to Kettler’s ‘Part Two’.

Part Two of Kettler’s work, as just noted, is entitled: The Vicarious Humanity of Christ as the External Expression of the Eternal Humanity of God. This section is made up of four chapters, and they are: Chapter 6, Vicarious Humanity as Theological Reality (T.F. Torrance) p. 121. Chapter 7, Vicarious Humanity as Epistemological and Hermeneutical Reality (John McLeod Campbell) p. 155. Chapter 8, Vicarious Humanity as Soteriological Reality: The Vicarious Repentance of Christ, p. 187. Chapter 9, Vicarious Humanity as Eschatological Reality: The Exalted Humanity of Christ in the Epistle to the Hebrews, p. 205. This section of the volume serves as Kettler’s main body of engagement with the doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Christ. He starts fittingly with Thomas Torrance’s doctrine here, since T. F. Torrance is known as one of the primary advocates for giving this doctrine prominence in his own dogmatic endeavor. Kettler writes as he opens his section on Torrance:

Thomas F. Torrance is one contemporary theologian who has repeatedly in his writings brought up the significance of the vicarious humanity of Christ for salvation. This is a humanity which becomes the basis for a renewed and restored humanity. Certainly such an approach holds promise to help us in our search for “the reality of salvation. (p. 121)

Kettler develops this theme, per the already mentioned break down of the chapter, through the various motifs that make up this theme or doctrine in the theologies of Thomas Torrance, John McLeod Campbell [another Scottish Theologian prior to Torrance’s time], an Anglican named R. C. Moberly, James B. Torrance [Thomas’ brother]; and then Kettler does exegetical work in the epistle to the Hebrews which yields more material for better understanding the scriptural basis for the theologies of the aforementioned theologians (p. 7). After this work is done, Kettler moves the reader to his Part Three.

The third section, or ‘Part Three’ is called: The Vicarious Humanity of Christ as the Locus of the Reality of Salvation in the World: Vicarious Humanity as Ecclesial Reality. This section is made up of two chapters, they are entitled: Chapter 10, Humanity Displaced: The Judge Judged in our Place (Karl Barth), p. 233. Chapter 11, Humanity Restored: Christ as the Last Adam and the Church as the Body of Christ, p. 263. Kettler offers a summary of this section:

[I]n Part Three, the locus of the vicarious humanity of Christ is found in the church, the body of Christ. But this is true only as the church becomes “displaced” by the humanity of “the Judge judged in our place” (Karl Barth) and “restored” as the church becomes “the Community of the last Adam.” The character of this community is not found in itself, but in God,  through the lordship of the Spirit (“the community of the Spirit”) and, then, through the fruit of concrete, often unspectacular, acts of faith, love and hope in the world (“the community of faith, hope, and love”). In all of this, Rashkolnikov’s question, the question of every atheist and agnostic, is never far behind: “And what does God do for you?” — the question of the reality of salvation. (p. 7)

You notice that Kettler mentions ‘Rashkolnikov’, that’s because he opens, in his preface, and closes in his epilogue with a question offered in Dostoyevsky’s novel, Crime and Punishment. Kettler creatively uses Dostoyevsky’s writing to frame the general question that his study is seeking to answer; that is, ‘the reality of salvation’.

What this reviewer found worthy of commendation in Kettler’s book is that he provides a clear organizational scheme to his book. He offers careful and cogent analysis of the various theologies that implicate a doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Christ. Furthermore, Kettler’s study is rather ground breaking; there has not been many works “published” (to my knowledge) that broach this doctrine, and seek to develop it as a vital doctrine that has dogmatic, ethical, and pastoral reference for the Christian church. Something that stood out to this reader was Kettler’s careful exegesis of the Christology offered in the Epistle to the Hebrews. It is not often that one finds exegetical work done in a study that is primarily of dogmatic significance. So this reviewer found this a noteworthy move reflected in the research of Christian Kettler.

While this review has not found anything negligent in the efforts of Kettler, there is some room for improvement. The first thing of note (and this is something that Kettler had no control over at the time, of course not!), is that Kettler’s work is rather dated. And so the theologies he surveys in the beginning of the book may not have the relevance that some readers of dogmatic theology, today, might want. Secondly, having a sense of where ‘Barth’ studies are in their current form (in the 21st century context), this reviewer believes that some of Kettler’s analysis of Barth’s own thought might not prove as ground breaking or pertinent as it once may have in Kettler’s original context in the 1980s and 90s. Ultimately, the only real area for improvement that this reviewer found of note is something that Christian Kettler really had no control over; the material is somewhat dated. That said, there is not a lot of material available in this area of research, so Kettler’s work is a gem if your interests fall in the area of soteriology, Christology, and in particular, the doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Christ.

I would highly recommend this book for researchers in this area, for academics and theologians, for the motivated seminary student, and for the thoughtful and persistent lay Christian. On a five star rating system, this reviewer gives Christian Kettler’s book a four and a half.

*This is a repost, but one I think most of you haven’t read. It overlaps significantly with the topic that I will be researching for my own doctorate. The following, at least the quote from Kettler, comes from Kettler’s published PhD dissertation, originally published back in the late 80s and recently republished by Wipf and Stock just a couple years ago (thanks to Myk Habets). This post probes the reality of the Kingdom of Christ, and its ground in the objective/subjective act of God in Christ. It offers some antidote to contemporary thinking about soteriology that is too anthropological and not christological enough.

christjesusJust getting into Kettler’s book now; working through the introduction, and I have come across a bit that intends to create hook that the rest of the book (presumably) will seek to provide resolution for.

[T]he historical situation since the Enlightenment has increased the crisis in soteriology dramatically. Previous to the Enlightenment, theology tended to see salvation as primarily an other worldly eschatological reality, “a radically different world in another time and place.” God was “the sole source of salvation.” This changed with the Enlightenment focus on human happiness and social welfare. This change was basic and profound. Braaten is again very perceptive:

The interesting difference in respect between Voltaire and Rousseau, or between Comte and Darwin, or between Marx and Mao all appear miniscule from a soteriological point of view compared to the difference between a belief in salvation based on human power and one that trusts in the power of God.

But existentially, the doctrine of salvation is also in crisis as well. This is what we will term the “reality” of salvation. The question is this: Does the Christian preaching of salvation through Christ really make any difference in a world in which sin, evil, and suffering continue to run rampant? Braaten puts it quite bluntly: “Has Christian preaching of salvation noticeably changed the world?” It is this very existential crisis which has been the source of the modern theological shift in the doctrine of salvation from trust in the power of God to salvation as based on human power. This has had very negative results in the life of the church, according to Braaten:

Is this not why some church groups desparately reach for every modern secular substitute for salvation, whether psychological for the individual person, or more political for the larger collectivities?

As we shall see, we share this negative critique by Braaten. Yet, the question of reality of salvation must be answered by the church, and particularly by its theological community.

Our premise is that the root problem in contemporary crisis of the reality of salvation is found in the anthropocentric, experience-oriented approach to salvation particularly characteristic of Christian theology since the Enlightenment. We may even be bold enough to say that in this theology the gift of God has been exchanged for a bowl of anthropological pottage. Yet the question still remains: How can we speak of the reality of salvation in a world which hardly looks like it has been invaded by the kingdom of God? Our proposal is that the teaching on the humanity of God in the thought of Karl Barth and Eberhard Jüngel provides both a critique of anthropocentric soteriologies, and a positive alternative, but only as it is fulfilled in the doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Christ as particularly elaborated by T. F. Torrance. Our goal is to see the humanity of God as a bridge between the contemporary problem of the reality of salvation and its resolution in the reality of the vicarious humanity of Christ. [Christian D. Kettler, The Vicarious Humanity of Christ and the Reality of Salvation, (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2011 [re-print]), 12-13]

This gives a feel for the book, and the way Kettler will have us heading in the pages to come.

This hints at what issues are at stake in this discussion; especially within the confines of the modern (and contemporary) theological landscape. And more than just a dry, arid, abstract theological tome; this issue, as we can see, addresses something that is very close to home for each one of us — viz. our own skin! And yet the trick in answering this question, and still remain faithful to the primacy of God’s grace in salvation is to frame the answer to this question with the right dogmatic order and theological optics. Meaning, that while seeking to answer a genuinely human and existential question (like what Kettler has highlighted in the quote); we want to make sure that this human question doesn’t swallow up the divine answer (like the christological heresy of adoptionism does). The remedy is one that God already thought of long before the world was created; that humanity is given its image in the image of His beloved Son. God has humbled himself in Christ, that he might exalt humanity in Christ. It is this humiliation of God wherein the real life rubber meets the road questions of our daily wanderings in life are given concrete paths to walk on. We have a Saviour who can sympathize with our suffering and weaknesses because he suffered the cumulative sufferings of all humanity in our stead and into the ontological depths of his very being (and this for us, because he loves us). It is as we participate in his resurrected humanity that we are given his eyes of faith; the eyes required to move beyond the dilemma that Kettler has set up in the above quote (i.e. that it appears as if the kingdom of God really hasn’t entered planet earth given all of the current and ongoing strife, travail, and suffering that still seems to be marching full speed ahead in an unrelenting world).

Ultimately the way I see it; it is a matter of trusting the LORD! While human suffering is real, it is only real because Jesus suffered it first. This must be the way we think of this (before we suffer [cf. Mt. 7], because if we wait until we’re in the midst of the storm it may well be too late to find hope). If Jesus pentrated the lining of our skin with his life (and didn’t “just” pay a penalty as if he was the Divine debit card); then we are saved from the inside-out, and up.

I think Kettler’s book is going to be good …

Christian Kettler provides his nine thesis statements on the vicarious humanity of Christ in the theology of Thomas Torrance:

crucifixion1. Christology includes the “double movement” of the way of God to humanity and the way of humanity to God, contra Docetism and Ebionitism. The “Creator Son,” “the Word of God,” is identical with Jesus of Nazareth (Athanasius). Thus, the radical significance of Christology is “the coming of God himself into the universe he created.”

2. God coming as a human being, not just in a human being removes all possibility of a “deistic disjunction” between God and creation. The possibility of the interaction of the living God with space and time is opened up.

3. The vicarious humanity of Christ is the heartbeat of salvation history. From the circumcision of Abraham to the Incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, the interaction of the humanity of Christ with creaturely form provides a basis for the knowledge of God and the reconciliation of humanity within the structures of space and time.

4. However, the reality of the humanity of Christ, as the reality of the “Creator Son,” “the Word made flesh,” is not limited to the structures of space and time. This is what is expressed in the Reformed doctrine of the so-called extra Calvinisticum, the significance of the vicarious humanity of the risen and exalted Christ.

5. The reality of the vicarious humanity of Christ stresses the inability of fallen humanity to know and respond to God. The Lutheran emphasis on finitum capax infiniti paved the way for the nineteenth century doctrine of the religious capacity of the human spirit.

6. This integration of the divine and creaturely provides the basis for the mediatorial ministry of Christ.

7. The divine Logos in human flesh, as the vicarious humanity of Christ, communicates the very life of God in humanity (Campbell). Salvation is based on the communication of this life (Irenaeus, Athanasius). In this way, Christology is dynamically related to soteriology. In effect, Christ becomes the “very matter and substance of salvation.”

8. The work of the vicarious humanity of Christ is based on the twin moments in salvation of substitution/representation and incorporation. Christ not only takes our place, and becomes our representative, thereby creating a new humanity (substitution/representation), but also incorporates us into this new humanity (incorporation). Our actions become his actions. Our life becomes his life, the life of God.

9. The “correlation and correspondence” produced by the vicarious humanity of Christ provides an “inner determination” of life. There is a “reciprocity” of being which creates “wholeness” and “integrity” and presents a “contradiction” to the forces of darkness. [Christian D. Kettler, The Vicarious Humanity of Christ, 127-28]

*repost

Have you eve wondered what Thomas Forsyth Torrance’s doctrine and ontology of scripture is, and even more; how his view implicates his hermeneutical approach (maybe you were unable to get to sleep last night because this wonderment so preoccupied you)? Well, you’re in luck; Christian Kettler, who wrote his PhD dissertation on Torrance’s doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Christ (which is what I will be writing my PhD dissertation on as well … if I ever actually am able to start that thing) provides development and answer to your longing wonderment on this very issue. Here is how Kettler develops this for us:

The apostolic authority of the New Testament has its basis for Torrance in its correlation with the saving humanity of Christ. The apostolate is the place where revelation, based on the Incarnation, is “earthed.” One wonders whether Torrance is stating it too strongly when he says that the apostolate was “the human expression of his [God’s] Word.” Should not such strong language be reserved for the Incarnation alone? However, he does stress that Scripture, the writings based on the apostles’ teaching, like the apostolate, stands with sinners under the judgment and redemption of the cross. Torrance is quick to point out that this “creaturely correspondence of the Holy Scriptures to God’s Word” is “a human expression based on the Humanity of Jesus Christ.” Thus, since it is related to the historical humanity of Christ, Scripture must have the character of “learned obedience to the Father.” “Just as we speak of his [Jesus’] life in terms of obedience, so we must speak of the Bible as obedience to the Divine self-revelation.” Therefore, the doctrine of verbal inspiration should not mean the inerrancy or infallibility of the Bible in a literary or historical sense. “It means that the errant and fallible human word is, as such, used by God and has to be received and heard in spite of its human expression then must point beyond itself “to what it is not in itself, but to what God marvelously makes it to be in the adoption of his grace.” If revelation [and, therefore, inspiration of Scripture] takes place in the midst of fallen humanity, we must allow the “fallenness” of the humanity of the Scriptures to have its proper place if it is to be regarded as truly human. It is on the basis of such a consideration of atonement as taking place within the realm of fallen humanity that has caused Torrance to call for a serious interrelationship between revelation, Scripture, and “a doctrine of atoning mediation between the Word of God and the word of man.” Our doctrine of the human written Word must be seen in correlation, but not to be identified with, the human living Word.

Torrance finds crucial hermeneutical implications in such a view of Scripture. The real text of which we are to be concerned with, according to Torrance, is not the letter of Scripture but the humanity of Christ “as the actual objectification of the Word of God for us within our human mode of existence in space and time. It is to this which the Scriptures refer.” The “this-worldly reality,” the human aspect of hermeneutics is inherent in the genre of Scripture itself. This is best seen in the parables of Jesus. As they relate their humanness to the humanity of Christ, they point to Christ as the real text of Scripture. “He is God’s exclusive language to us and He alone must be our language to God.” It is a mark of the New Testament authors, according to Torrance, that

Far from obtruding themselves and their own spirituality upon us, the New Testament writers serve the gospel by directing us back to the representative and vicarious humanity of Christ as the creative ground and normative pattern for actualization of every response to God on our part. It is in fact the humanity of Jesus Christ himself which is the real text underlying the New Testament Scriptures; it is his humanity to which they refer and in terms of which they are to be interpreted. [Christian D. Kettler, The Vicarious Humanity of Christ and the Reality of Salvation, (Euguene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2010), 135-36]

By the way, I have taken this quote from the above bibliographic information; and this is a review copy sent to me by James Stock (of Wipf and Stock), of which I am rereading (currently)—since I failed to do the review after I finished reading it the last time, and thus need to refresh myself in order to do a proper review—anyway, you can purchase this book (and you should) by clicking here.

So, there is a lot in this quote. And I would imagine for the typical Evangelical or Reformed person that what is communicated about Torrance’s approach on all of this won’t go down too smoothly. But, understand that Torrance’s view is not “amening” the higher critical method which seeks to undercut the “authority” and centrality of Scripture as God’s Word to humanity. Just the opposite! Torrance (and Barth) are seeking to articulate a doctrine and ontology for scripture that sees it in its rightful dogmatic place relative to Jesus Christ’s Self-revelation as God’s first and last Word for us. We, in America, especially, are obsessed (still!) with scripture meeting some kind of external and public mode of criteria for verifying whether or not it can be trusted or not (as God’s Word). But rest assured, scripture is God’s Word not because we say so, but because God has said so through his Self-revelation in Jesus Christ. God’s Word, as it finds its groove and grip in its rootedness in God’s triune speech to us, has the capacity to contradict all of our thoughts (including verification models for adjudicating whether or not scripture can be trusted), ‘all the way down’.

In effect, when we ask whether or not Barth, Torrance & co. believed that the Bible was “errant,” we need to ask these questions cognizant that Barth, Torrance & co. were not antagonistic toward scripture (as is the case of most of the critics who are usually, and modernistically, trying to punch holes in scripture); instead they were highly driven by their devotion to the God of scripture’s giving. Just bear this in mind.

*Editor’s note: I am replacing the former comic strip (satire) picture I had with a more evocative one that reflects the actual people in the OWS movement.

The so called Occupy Wall Street (OWS) continues on now; it has been over two months. This movement is a patchwork of folk, mostly college age, demographically, who are protesting the Capitalist Free Market System that has made the American world, in particular, and the Western world, in general, turn. The outcry is against corporate greed perpetrated by the military might of our country as we have engaged in nation building, and then lived off of the backs of the poor and down trodden in the developing and third world nations which we have conquered; either militaristically, or through “diplomatic” moves that impose our will upon the world-wide populace. Much of the OWS has taken shape, intentionally, through Marxist ideology and its theological corollary, Liberation Theology.

I am continuing to read Christian Kettler’s excellent book, The Vicarious Humanity of Christ and the Reality of Salvation. In the first section of the book he surveys various modern theologians and their respective approaches to a theological method and how that impacts their understanding of humanity and Christology, in particular. One of the theologians Kettler has focused on is Leonardo Boff, a Roman Catholic Latin theologian who is best known for his articulation of so called Liberation Theology. I thought Kettler provided a timely word for us in his critique of Boff’s Liberation Theology; and so I wanted to share it with my reading audience. Kettler shares the pronouncement made by, then Cardinal Ratzinger against Boff’s Liberation Theology; Ratzinger highlights the problems associated with the kind of revolutionary activity that liberation theology advocates and fosters. We will start with the Ratzinger quote, then we will here a little commentary from Kettler, and then we will here two more quotes from Michael Novak with the problems that he also sees with Liberation Theology and Marxist theory. Here we go:

[M]illions of our contemporaries legitimately learn to recover their basic freedoms, of which they were deprived by totalitarian and atheistic regimes which came to power by violent and revolutionary means, precisely in the name of the liberation of the people. This shame of our time cannot be ignored: while claiming to bring them freedom, these regimes keep whole nations in conditions of servitude which are unworthy of mankind. [Ratzinger]

These sad consequences, which we are all too familiar with in the twentieth century, reveal the intellectual shallowness of utopian ideals through their refusal to consider the alternatives to the status quo or the consequences of their alternatives, if they have any. As Michael Novak puts it incisively, the practical question must be asked:

[W]hich sorts of economic institutions, in fact, do lift up the poor? . . . What institutions will it [liberation theology] put in place, after the revolution to protect human rights? Through which institutions, will it open its economy to the initiative, intelligence and creativity of the poorest of its citizens? [Novak]

The utopian element in liberation theology should be at odds with the concern for praxis, for concrete political and social experience. But this is not so, ironically. As Novak comments,

[O]ne of the most disappointing features of liberation theology is its abstractness and generality. Far from being descriptive, concrete and practical, it is intricately speculative, ideological and academic. [Novak] (Christian D. Kettler, The Vicarious Humanity of Christ and the Reality of Salvation, 113)

I think this is a very apt observation for the day in which we live. Revolution sounds noble to many the young ear, but what, in our case, does the ‘Occupy’ movement hope to replace the current ‘Global system’ with? I despise the greed and money-mongering of the Capitalist elite as much asthe next activist (to be honest); but I also despise the alternative that seems to be fueling most of the activists continued drive to thwart the powers that be. In other words, I repudiate Marxist, Liberation Theology and its ideals (metaphysically and ethically); I repudiate the Social Democratism that perpetuates much of the labor movement element that helps to spawn the ‘Occupy’ movement in its global effort. I think both and all systems are equally malevolent and deleterious to the soul of humanity. The history of Marxism, whether in its socialist/communist or fascist forms, illustrates the repressive and oppressive policies that they would foist upon humanity. There is no utopia without Christ!

One could push back at me with; ’Well, isn’t, at least, Marxist communist ideology situated upon better ideals and premises? The principle of alleviating the oppression of the poor and down trodden; the strangle hold that the rich elite in the world have on the 99%?’ And my reply to this is that there is, in principle, no gradation of right and wrong before a Holy God. There is either right, or there is wrong; there is no political or social theory that is more or less proximate to God’s ways in Christ. We cannot collapse God’s system into the political ideology of humanity. That is not to say that God has not broken into our systems and humanity through Christ. But instead it is to recognize that at a systemic level, humanity continues to follow the broad way that leads to destruction; they do this because they love the darkness rather than the light. So even if their ’intentions’ appear to be good; we know (Deus absconditus) that appearances aren’t always what they seem, one way or the other. We know that humanity is still homo incurvatus in se (turned in on their selves), and that movements without Christ as their shepherd only lead to destruction in the end.

So I cannot endorse the ’Occupy’ movement as some of my Christian friends seem to. The quotes above from Kettler help explain why, and then my comments just above also provide some rationale for why I reject both Capitalist and Socially Democratic (so called) political theories as well. And no, I’m not a Christian anarchist either; I am a prophet from what some have called ’the far country’.

Christian Universalism is making in-roads within certain sectors of the Evangelical community like never before (as a recent book I’ve done a review for illustrates). Here Christian Kettler comments on theologian, John Hick’s kind of thinking that has led to Hick’s Pluralistic Universalism. In the brief sketch (from Kettler), you will notice overlap between his appeal (to God’s love and mercy), and the Christian Universalist appeal.

[H]ick proposes a “Copernican revolution” in the Christian understanding of other faiths. No longer should we consider religions from a “Christianity-centered” paradigm, but rather from a “God-centered” paradigm. In the universe of faiths, we find differing responses to the same Reality. The Reality remains the same, but the various religions show us that there can be varied responses to the same Reality. This is the basic weakness of the traditional theologies of religions: their doctrine of God. To say that the majority of humanity is bound for hell is contrary to the Christian doctrine of God as loving and benevolent. The other more modern alternatives are certainly better, but lack of a certain respect for the particularity of each religion and the mutual enrichment which they can experience among each other. [Christian D. Kettler, The Vicarious Humanity of Christ and the Reality of Salvation, 68]

‘Evangelical Universalists’, so called, make a distinction from Hick; they press the particularity of the Christian revelation of God in Christ as the only way to eternal life (contra Hick). But if not careful, if there is not a robust doctrine of God (and I mean a Christian Trinitarian doctrine of God) in the background and foreground of the Christian Universalist’s approach; then they will fall prey to the kind of weak kneed “God-centric” proposal that we see described above (pace Hick).

That book I reviewed, by Jackson Baer; his thinking, while very undeveloped, does not have an adequate doctrine of God (in fact I see none that is prominent in his thinking other than sporadic assertions about the Christian God). Baer’s little book falls prey to the kind of “theo-logic” that Hick’s position founders under. An exegete or Christian thinker can’t simply appeal to God’s love and mercy and call it good; they must also attend, in thick ways, to engaging the particularity of that love revealed in God-self in Christ. Without the anchor of Christ’s person, God’s love and mercy becomes a trojan horse for, what is in the end, a Pluralistic Universalism. [In other words, the critique of Hick, or anyone following in his footsteps (and their tribe is legion in the Evangelical ranks today) is; that if we disjoint the work[s] of salvation from the person of salvation (God in Christ), then we have placed a rupture into God’s life from which we will never be able to recover. We will abstract salvation from God and collapse it into creation (or humanity); thus allowing for the kind of pluralism present in Hick; allowing salvation to be understood as the result of a human product. We must maintain, as Christians, that salvation is ultimately interior to God’s life (antecedently so); in this way we will be able to speak in ways that honor the integrity of the Christian’s pedigree to a Christ-centered salvation versus Hick’s “God-centered” approach.]

What does the term “Humanity of God” mean to you? Figuring out, developing what this means, for the Christian, is what my doctoral research is focusing on. I am at the very early inchoate stages of my research on the vicarious humanity of Christ. My first focused book on the subject is (a review copy from Wipf & Stock) Christian Kettler’s excellent volume The Vicarious Humanity of Christ and the Reality of Salvation (his PhD dissertation completed at Fuller Theological Seminary in the late 80’s). I am jumping us into a brief synopsis he is providing on the question I open this post up with ‘The Humanity of God’. He is summarising this by sketching Christopher B. Kaiser’s understanding of Karl Barth’s answer to this question, in Kaiser’s The Doctrine of God (Westminster, IL: Crossway Books, 1982), pp. 116-118. This synopsis should help some of you understand better some of things I will be considering in my research for my own dissertation on an overlapping issue (the ‘vicarious humanity of Christ’). Here is Kettler,

[G]od acts because of his desire to be a partner with humanity “though of course as the absolutely superior partner.” This is an expression of God’s freedom, for he is under no compulsion to be in communion with humanity. And this freedom defines the essence of God’s deity. “It is precisely God’s deity which, rightly understood, includes his humanity.” How is this known? This is known only through Jesus Christ, in whom God is not isolated from humanity, nor humanity from God. Jesus Christ as the Mediator and Reconciler comes forward as human being in behalf of God and to God on behalf of humanity.

If Jesus Christ is the only place where both true deity and true humanity are found, then this leads us to another meaning of the humanity of God, according to Kaiser: God himself in Jesus is the foundation of true humanity. That which is hinted at in Barth’s essay “The Humanity of God” is developed further in the Church Dogmatics III/2. In the midst of discussing the nature of the covenant between God and humanity, Barth observes that its origin is in God himself. The covenant is not an afterthought, but is ontological. It becomes “revealed and effective in time in the humanity of Jesus,” but he hastens to add that this is something which “we might almost say [is] appropriate and natural to Him.” In the covenant, God makes a “copy” of himself. “Even in His divine being there is relationship” as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

He is Himself the One who loves eternally, the One who is eternally loved, and eternal love; and in this triunity He is the original source of every I and Thou, of the I which is eternally from and to the Thou and therefore supremely I.

However, Barth does not want to deny that Jesus’ incarnate humanity was creaturely humanity. Since Jesus belongs to this creaturely world, his humanity is like our humanity. This is not an analogy of being, therefore, but an analogy of relationship. The relationship between the being of God and that of humanity, and the relationship in the being of God himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is an analogia relationis. Barth puts this in the context of God’s freedom. God is free to posit himself in relation as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit from all eternity. So, also, he is free to create humanity in his own “image.” Therefore, we need not look for the meaning of true humanity elsewhere than in the humanity of Jesus Christ. We shall see that this can be the basis for a decisive critique of contemporary soteriologies. [Christian D. Kettler, The Vicarious Humanity of Christ and the Reality of Salvation, 84]

What do you think?

Welcome

Hello my name is Bobby Grow, and I author this blog, The Evangelical Calvinist. Feel free to peruse the posts, and comment at your leisure. I look forward to the exchange we might have here, and hope you are provoked to love Jesus even more as a result. Pax Christi!

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A Little Thomas Torrance

“God loves you so utterly and completely that he has given himself for you in Jesus Christ his beloved Son, and has thereby pledged his very being as God for your salvation. In Jesus Christ God has actualised his unconditional love for you in your human nature in such a once for all way, that he cannot go back upon it without undoing the Incarnation and the Cross and thereby denying himself. Jesus Christ died for you precisely because you are sinful and utterly unworthy of him, and has thereby already made you his own before and apart from your ever believing in him. He has bound you to himself by his love in a way that he will never let you go, for even if you refuse him and damn yourself in hell his love will never cease. Therefore, repent and believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour.” -T. F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ, 94.

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