Our Terrorist Hearts Outwith Jesus Christ: On the Ontological Depths and Reach of Sin

It seems as if we have domesticated everything in our culture, even sin. But this is precisely what Jesus will not let us do; this is precisely what the reality of the cross will not let us do. The prophet Jeremiah writes in 17.9:

“The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?

And the Apostle Paul following writes in Romans 3:

10 As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one; 11 There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. 12 They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.” 13 “Their throat is an open tomb; With their tongues they have practiced deceit”; “The poison of asps is under their lips”; 14 “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.” 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 Destruction and misery are in their ways; 17 And the way of peace they have not known.” 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Karl Barth famously, and in keeping with his normal way, believes we can only know the depths of evil and sin by its reference to Christ. He believes that only as we concentrate on whom Christ is in His righteousness, can the gravity of sin come to be known. Barth works out his doctrine of evil (or ‘nothingness’) through his doctrine of election. For Barth, nothingness, or ‘evil’ is what God passes over and negates through the incarnation and cross-work of Jesus Christ. Mark Lindsay, after much development, writes the following:

At this place, we must qualify our earlier comment that God is not threatened by Nothingness. In the incarnation, God Himself becomes a creature and thus takes upon Himself the creature’s sin, guilt and misery. In “what befalls this man God pronounces His No to the bitter end.” The entire fury of Nothingness – and of God’s wrath directed towards it – falls upon Christ “in all its dreadful fulness…” Precisely, however, because this man is also God, “Nothingness could not master this victim.” It had power over the creature. It could contradict and oppose it and break down its defences. It could make it its slave and instrument and therefore its victim. But it was impotent against the God who humbled Himself, and Himself became a creature, and thus exposed Himself to its power and resisted it.

By confronting and decisively triumphing over Nothingness in Jesus Christ, God has relegated it to the past. In the light of the cross and the empty tomb, “there is no sense in which it can be affirmed that nothingness has any objective existence…” Barth rejects outright the suggestion that radical evil exists in the form of an eternal antithesis. On the contrary, he insists that it has no perpetuity. It is neither created by God, nor maintained in a covenantal relationship with Him. Thus, “we should not get involved in the logical dialectic that if God loves, elects and affirms eternally he must also hate and therefore reject and negate eternally. There is nothing to make God’s activity on the left hand as necessary and perpetual as His activity on the right.” Nothingness has been brought to its end, no longer having even the transient and temporary existence it once had. On this note of “cosmic optimism”, Barth concludes his presentation of his doctrine.[1]

We are reminded of Athanasius’ thinking on evil and sin in his little book On the Incarnation as we read Barth’s own uniquely worked out conception of evil and sin. Inherent to Barth’s understanding there is genuine hope. Because he doesn’t give evil (and its expression in sinful acts) a symmetrical place to God’s work and righteousness in Christ, he offers a way to think of evil/sin as a vanquished foe that in the end will be fully wiped out in a realized way. What stands out, in Lindsay’s description, is how it took God in Christ alone to overcome the wiles of evil’s reach into the human heart; and thus into all of creation.

It doesn’t seem as if folks appreciate just how deep rooted and satanically conditioned their ‘old hearts’ are outwith Jesus Christ. When you hear the ‘world’ speak you would think that they have seemingly overcome evil all by themselves; as if they have an objectively established goodness inherent to who they are, through which they are able to look ‘out’ and make judgments about good and evil as if the latter doesn’t ultimately affect them. On the contrary, the incarnation and cross of Jesus Christ asserts and proves just the opposite. There is no one good, and all our hearts are just as evil as the terrorist’s who shot up the mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. The cross of Christ will not allow any of us to escape the terror embedded in each and every one of our hearts.

To press this further, Thomas Torrance underscores just how deep our darkness is by, like Barth, focusing on the depths God had to go to de-root it from our very ‘beings’ as human beings. Torrance writes on the ontological character of the atoning work of Christ, this way:

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]

Like Barth, Torrance points up the hope we have because of what Christ has won for humanity. But at the same moment, he also points out just how deep and pervasive sin is in the hearts of men and women, boys and girls. If it took God to become human to deal with each of our ‘desperately wicked’ hearts, how wicked do you think that makes us left to ourselves?

If the world is able to look out and recognize evil, it is only because they live under the grace and mercy of God given for it in Jesus Christ. And yet even as they rightly look at the despicable act that just took place in New Zealand, and condemn it as evil, they condemn themselves; that is, if they remain in an unrepentant state before God. Not only that, they confirm, unconsciously, the righteous judgment of God that not only hangs over terrorists’ heads, but their own. The spiritually dead heart can fabricate a state of self-righteousness only insofar as it borrows that righteousness from the economy of God’s Kingdom in Christ as that has invaded and continues to invade the world through the risen Christ’s life. Christ’s life for the world, the resurrected humanity, in itself, while standing as God’s Yes for the world, at the same moment issues a resounding No to the evil and sin that ALL humanity lives within (realized at various degrees or not). God’s Yes has already run its course and been actualized in the new humanity of Christ, as such anything outside of that lives in God’s No; which ultimately is hell.

Christians do not have ultimate solidarity with the world, even when the world, in parasitic fashion comes to some sort of sense of the heinous nature of evil. This does not mean Christians are superior to their pagan friends, it just means that Christians have an actual basis from which to rightly call darkness darkness and light light; this doesn’t mean Christians consistently live this way. Often Christians operate more like the pagan culture than the heavenly; which is why God’s Grace and Mercy will always remain so important.

[1] Mark R. Lindsay, Barth, Israel, and Jesus: Karl Barth’s Theology of Israel(UK/USA: Ashgate Publishing, 2007), 48-52.

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

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Bone and Flesh of the Christ: An Imaginary Grounded in the Bloody Cross for Knowledge of God

Something I just tweeted and want to expand upon: “If Heaven and the coming eschaton are pervaded by the face of Christ, all the way through, then what use do I have for discursive and abstract theologies that only attempt to work their way up to Him from other places. Why not start and end with Christ; the Alpha and Omega?” Nothing too off theme from what I often post on, but I keep coming back to this over and again. We live in a barrage of theological methodology—at least we do if we inhabit theological-social-media—that is constantly telling us that the only real, historic, orthodox, and conservative way to do theology is to follow the canons handed to us by our forebears in ecclesial history. We are constantly told that in order to be orthodox—and not heterodox—we must simply follow in the foot-steps of what is understood as classical theism; that we must follow the consensus καθολικός. But why?

As Protestants (sometimes Reformed, or Lutheran etc.) who are committed to the Reformation Scripture Principle, and the attending Theology of the Word, why is it required that we affirm what I take to be a petitio principii? Why must we simply presume that ‘Church Tradition’ just is what God mandates for theological consumption?; as if we can access God’s mind through the panoply of the ecclesial historical offering. Alarm bells usually start going off for folks at this point. If they have insight into the divergencies of doctrinal development in the history, they start to think that I might be veering off into Socinian or Arminian heresy. But in reality, what I am really doing is challenging the common notion that Church Tradition is so concretized that it cannot be challenged, or improved upon in any way. I am not saying that the trad has no value, or that it doesn’t set some sort of baseline parameters by which Christians might move out and in constructively. But what I am suggesting is that tradition, even the ecumenical kind, is purely eschatological. In other words, it is of only proximate value insofar as it represents the machinations of men and women through the centuries as they have been confronted with the living reality of Jesus Christ. In other words, the trad is relative; it is only valuable insofar as it accurately accesses the Holy of Holies of God’s inner life as that is revealed in Jesus Christ. As such, Church Tradition, and the conciliar reality that stands behind that, at least for the Protestant, is not something that has sacerdotal force over the confessing Christian. And this, precisely because we are not bound by the creedal but by the living Christ who the creedal is attempting to grammarize and bear witness to the best it can.

It is this ‘best it can’ reality that my tweet is attempting to draw attention to though. My conviction, as so many of you know by now—and this is why Barth has been such an important character for me—is there is only One possible way to the Father, or to the inner-life of God; and that, is through Jesus Christ alone. I am slavishly committed to the reality that Jesus Christ, alone, is God’s Self-exegasto (exegesis), and that without Him there is absolutely no way for the Christian, or non-Christian to arrive at an accurate or compelling knowledge of who God is. And this is important as well; I am committed to the idea that Christian theology is fully and only circumscribed by engaging with Who rather than What God is. Indeed, this is precisely the point that I go off the rails, just as theologians presume to speak as if they know what God is prior to meeting Him as the who. The moment we start thinking in terms of ‘whatness’ God ceases to be a personal God who can only be known by encounter with Him. To bring whatness to God, and allow that to be regulative for the theologically proper task, from the start, subjugates God to human whims and imaginaries. The God Revealed is a Who; I know Him as my elder brother, and my Holy Father; I know God in and from this filial stand-point. It is because of this stand-point, because God is not simply a brute-being, but my loving Father, that I come to know Him as I speak with Him by the Spirit’s breath as I participate in that from the mediatorial-humanity of Jesus Christ.

Ultimately, I don’t want to imagine God. I don’t think the developers of church tradition ever had that as their goal either. Nevertheless, the metaphysics they had available to them in the past were only of relative value; just as the tools we have at our behest have relative value as well. But I am persuaded that we can and should advance forward in our knowledge of God. That we can learn and retrieve from listening to the past, but at the same token we can do so constructively. There are too many passages in the New Testament that call us to be growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ; to keep pursuing knowledge of God until we are all united in the One faith delivered once and for all to the saints; and to be being transformed from glory to glory as we grow in the eternal life of God which is the knowledge of Jesus Christ as an eternal well-spring that keeps bursting forth with depths of knowledge that cannot be contained by discursive means of contemplation and speculation.

I see so much of what is happening in the sacred halls of the conservative evangelical seminaries and universities as motivated by fear. They seemingly are afraid that we will fall back into the Socinian, Romantic, Rationalist, Enlightened traps and compromise the genuinely evangelical Gospel that they believe was sufficiently cordoned off by our 16th and 17th century fathers. But this is not the way I think. I am just as conservative as these guys and gals in mood and ethos. Yet, I am persuaded that God is bigger than the fear this approach seemingly operates from. I am convinced that God’s Ways are not our Ways, and His Thoughts not our Thoughts; as such, this supplies the ‘orthodox’ Christian with the hope that it’s possible to know Him in greater ways than even our fathers did.

And I happen to think that this quest to know Him in ever in-creasing ways only comes as we are open to seeing Him in the sorts of imaginative and beautiful ways that He alone has revealed in His glory, as that is observed in the inviting Face of Jesus Christ. I believe that only God can reveal God, and that to presume upon some sort of latency or vestiges of God in the created order (taxis) can only lead us to self-project our fancies upon God rather than allow Him to speak to us who in fact He actually is. I don’t think there is any sort of epistemic warrant for humanity to simply come and say ‘well, this just is the way God is … we can know this by observing, and negating the created order, and then use that as the negative mold by which we positively come to understand God.’ Clearly, I am referring us to a theological taxis at this point. I am concerned that we have placed a doctrine of creation/salvation prior to God, through which we subsume God to this order and then assert that the rationality embedded in the created order must be effect[ually] determinative of just what God is as God; as if God left a treasure map in the sand for us to discover Him through. But I am pretty sure that just the opposite is the case.

As far as I’m concerned, the Bible is perspicuous on all of this. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no man comes to the Father except through Him. Yes, we have ‘dogmatized’ this verse and sublimated it by our dogmatic category of justification; but I think it attests to something much grander than that (that is, not less than that, but much more and even prior to that in a theological ordo). I think when it says that Jesus is the way, truth, and life that this circumscribes everything! That this means that anterior to any sort of human-cognizing of God, that God in His pre-determined life for us, that His way as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as the pre-cognate reality, as that is given ‘whoness’ in His eternal and antecedent (to us) plenitude is the only basis upon which humanity might come to a genuine knowledge of God. Only as God stoops down in the bone and flesh of Jesus Christ and confronts the world, it is here that the scales can be peeled back, and the sons of men can finally see God afresh and anew. I take this to be the Gospel reality; the Gospel reality is a limiting reality, such that it puts humanity in its place with Christ on the cross. And only as such a time as this, as that reality of being constantly given over to the death of Christ might we also know the life of Christ; the life of God. The classical theologies do not give us this God, not in their methods. They have become drunk with the god of the philosophers rather than being drunk with the Holy Spirit (cf. Eph 5.18). Yes, they might say “oh, dearest Bobby, we have heard this all before” . . . okay, then repent.

Some Personal Reflection On What it Means to Be A Christian After Barth’s Isenheim Altarpiece

I was going to write a piece, simply, On Being a Christian; but I was reading Barth, and instead I thought I would report on his interpretation of Grünewald’s Isenheim altarpiece. His exegesis aligns with what I really wanted to say on being a Christian; only better, of course. Barth shares his insight just as we are entering §15 in his CD I/2; the section on The Mystery of Revelation. Just prior to his offering on Isenheim, he writes this in regard to church dogmatics: “If dogmatics cannot regard itself and cause itself to be regarded as fundamentally Christology, it has assuredly succumbed to some alien sway and is already on the verge of losing its character as church dogmatics.”[1] This kind of thinking allows him to launch into his reflection on the Isenheim altarpiece, and in such a way that it sets us nicely to contemplate upon what it means to be a Christian; a Christian coram Christi. Barth writes:

This condition under which alone Christology is possible takes visible form in the main picture on the altar at Isenheim by M. Grünewald. Its subject is the incarnation. There are three things to be seen in the picture, and it is difficult to say where the observer should begin. In the background upon the heights of heaven, beyond earth’s highest mountains, surrounded by innumerable angels, there is God the Father in His glory. In the foreground angels, but inexorably separated from the background by an immensely high, gloomy partition. But towards the right a curtain drawn back, affording a view. And at this point, at the head of the whole world of Advent looking to see the Messiah, stands Mary as the recipient of grace, the representative of all the rest, in adoration before what she sees happening on the right side. Over there, but quite lonely, the child Jesus lies in His mother’s arms, surrounded with unmistakable signs reminding us that He is a child of earth like all the rest. Only the little child, not the mother, sees what is to be seen there, the Father. He alone, the Fathers, sees right into the eyes of this child. On the same side as the first Mary appears the Church, facing a distance. It has open access on this side, it adores, it magnifies and praises, therefore it sees what is indeed the glory of the only-begotten of His Father, full of grace and truth. But it sees only indirectly. What it sees directly is only the little child in His humanity; it sees the Father only in the light that falls upon the Son, and the Son only in this light from the Father. This is the way, in fact, that the Church believes in and recognises God in Christ. It cannot run over to the right side, where the glory of God can be seen directly. It can only look out of the darkness in the direction in which a human being is to be seen in a light, the source of which it cannot see itself. Because of this light streaming down from above, it worships before this human being as before God Himself, although to all visual appearance He is literally nothing but a human being. John the Baptist too, in Grünewald’s Crucifixion, can only point—and here everything is bolder and more abrupt, because here all indication of the revelation of the Godhead is lacking—point to a wretched, crucified, dead man. This is the place of Christology. If faces the mystery. It does not stand within the mystery. It can and must adore with Mary and point with the Baptist. It cannot and must not do more than this. But it can and must do this.[2]

Jesus is beautiful. This is the first thought that came to mind as I finished this passage from Barth. This is what it means to be a Christian; a theologian. It means that we see Jesus, and we think He is beautiful; it means we stand in the presence of His face, and we never want to leave, we just want to point—but we want to point like Mary, with utter adoration and awe (even in the midst of brokenness). This is what it means, at least to me, to be a Christian. I cannot get enough of Jesus Christ. I cannot get passed the reality that He is a real and living person, who is not simply high and lifted up; but who because of His loftiness, and its cruciform shape, is the High and Lofty One who came to a tree and became a curse for us. When I contemplate the beauty of His majesty, and recognize that Jesus isn’t just a principle for me, but instead my Savior; I cannot but love Him. It is hard to put into words what Jesus means to me. Even though I am a wretched broken sinner, He loves me; He will never leave or forsake me. He will never leave or forsake any of us. He loves us, and He sits at the Right Hand of the Father, for and with us, even now. He intercedes for us, and invites us into His intercessory and Priestly ministry for all. He intercedes for us as our mediator, but not simply as our mediator; no, He is our brother, which makes His Father our Father. I need to know these things, as a Christian. I need to know that I am caught up in the heavenlies ‘in Christ,’ and that He is not some sort of metaphysical being aloof up and out there somewhere. No. He is flesh and blood, and has become us that we might become Him (Irenaeus inspired).

Being a Christian in this Christic reality is the Blessed Hope for all of humanity; it is the only hope, and one that is sorely needed. The world is seemingly unraveling, but it cannot unravel more than the cross of Christ. He has unraveled for the world, for us, that the world, that we might be raveled up with Him in the womb of the Father, in His resurrection body. To God be the Glory in Jesus Christ.

 

[1] Barth, CD I/2 §15, 124.

[2] Ibid., 126. I hope you noticed the prominence he gives Baptists in the third to the last clause [italics mine].

Did Karl Barth Believe in a Historical Bodily Resurrection of Jesus Christ; Yes or Nein?

Did Karl Barth believe in the historicity of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ? Yes! But you have to understand the way he understands time and history in order to appreciate just how he thinks this reality. In Church Dogmatics I/2 §14 he communicates very clearly on how he thinks the resurrection. There seems to be some confusion out there in regard to Barth’s position. What I have found is that reading the person directly rather than secondarily (through interpreters) is the best way to understand just what a thinker thinks. In this case there is some obfuscation, I often think for click bait, when it comes to online communication; and other cases the obfuscation is driven by a general animus towards Barth—in an attempt to smear or demonize Barth. I recommend simply giving Barth a read for yourself; you might actually be surprised to find that he affirms all the historic and orthodox doctrines us evangelicals like to say we affirm—the difference between Barth and so many evangelicals though, is that Barth knows why he affirms these various doctrines. Sure, Barth reformulates many of the ‘classical’ doctrines, but not in an attempt to thwart the crystalline reality of the Gospel; instead, Barth’s hope is always to allow Jesus Christ to be the limit or canon by which all else is connived. Insofar as he believes that has been undertaken insufficiently—maybe only because in the passage of time other helpful categories have developed that help enhance and not detract from the classical—he seeks to redress doctrines, again, in such a way that the Gospel, or Jesus Christ Himself becomes the centraldogma by which all else is developed and communicated for the Church.

I wanted to share a longer passage from Barth on resurrection, but because my time is limited this evening let me share a shorter passage that should get the point across. As you read this passage you’ll see how Barth has a hyper-venerated view of the resurrection; such that it transcends all known human categories or analogies, and therefore requires that we submit to its reality rather than attempt to capture or grasp it. Barth writes:

The Easter story is not for nothing the story whose most illuminating moment according to the account of Mark’s Gospel consists in the inconceivable fact of an empty sepulcher, a fact which (in producing a trembling and astonishment) lays hold of the three woman disciples and reduces them to complete silence for they told no one of it, for they were afraid (Mk. 16.8). Everything else related by this story can be heard and believed in the very literalness in which it stands, but can really only be believed, because it drops out of all categories and so out of all conceivability. It cannot be sufficiently observed that in the most artless possible way all the New Testament Easter narratives fail to supply the very thing most eagerly expected in the interests of clearness, namely an account of the resurrection itself.[1]

When the resurrection of Christ is reduced to an apologetic problem that apologists feel they must given an account for, to an unbelieving and critical world; the resurrection loses its intended theological value as the source for Christian well-being. In other words, when the resurrection is only thought of in terms of its historical veracity, or not, it ends up being emptied of its theological majesty and ability to succor the Christian in all their neediness. The resurrection is intended to be the limit by which all else in reality is processed. Just because an unbelieving world is critical of it, doesn’t mean that this unbelief should be allowed to determine the way Christians develop a theology of resurrection.

In Barth’s case, because of his Christ concentrated prolegomenon, the resurrection becomes determinative for all of his theologizing; just at the point that the resurrection represents the point of re-creation and thus gives us a new-logic given shape by the eschatological expectations of the Heavenly Kingdom and life of God. It is from these bases that Barth attempts to reformulate the classical doctrines of the Church; not in competition with them, but instead with a goal to take them to a more christo-logical conclusion that finds its regulation in the categories supplied by the interior logic of the incarnation itself.

[1] Barth, CD I/2 §14, 115.

The Theme of Road to Emmaus, Resurrection, and New Creation: A Critique of Barth’s Conception of Resurrection and the Eschaton

The Road to Emmaus has to be my favorite setting and theme in the whole of the Bible; other than Revelation 21–22. So when I come across studies that engage with this theme I am always enthralled by it. I just finished Edwin Chr. van Driel’s book Incarnation Anyway (an excellent study and read!). Because I am severely time-pressed I won’t be able to adequately engage with the critique he offers of Barth on resurrection, but I at least wanted to share a short revealing passage of the way van Driel’s critique works. Full disclosure: I agree with van Driel in regard to his critique of Barth’s conception of time and how that implicates a doctrine of resurrection and new creation. Indeed, this is the theme I am so enthralled by; i.e. New Creation! After much prior development, here is, in a nutshell, van Driel’s critique of Barth and the idea of resurrection as it functions in Barth’s theology of time and recreation:

Eschatological human beings are thus embodied creatures—Christ as the firstborn, than, in the general resurrection, followed by all others. If this is true, it will not do to say, as Barth does, that the being of Jesus Christ was perfect and complete by the time of his death, and that resurrection and ascension are no more than the revelation of Christ as the man he had been. Nor will it do, as Barth’s recapitulation model does, to conceptualize eschatological consummation as the preservation of the lived life, instead of the continuation of the creature’s temporal life. Embodiment implies a continuation of time. Bodily actions are, essentially, temporal events. Breaking bread, eating a fish, embracing a friend—these are actions that cannot take place in a timeless existence. Further, a life that still unfolds in time cannot be called completed. Therefore, Christ’s being, Christ’s life and identity cannot be presented as completed by the time of his death, nor can the resurrection be analyzed as solely a revelation of a life lived. A completed life has no future, but Christ does. A life lived no longer participates in time, but Christ does. The recapitulation model needs to be rejected: it falters on the embodied nature of the resurrected One. The eschaton is not the conservation of a life definitively ended by death. Instead, the eschaton is the harvesting of a new life; a life born out of the old as the crop is born out of the seed.[1]

As I noted, we won’t have time to address the technicalities that van Driel has treated in a much fuller and developed form; prior to this critique. But suffice it to say, I think van Driel is right to critique Barth on this front. Don’t worry, I still love Barth; but I don’t want to read anyone uncritically.

In summary: Barth thinks things in terms of an actualist and completed event; including Christ’s parousia. When applied to certain doctrines this does things to them; sometimes I find it helpful and beneficial for the theological task, other times I do not. The point van Driel is raising contra Barth is a point at which I think Barth’s theology falters indeed. I think actualism, by-and-large, is the better way to go; I think Barth’s “post-metaphysical” narratival mode (attempting to think things as narrated in the history of salvation as attested by Holy Scripture) is still the better bend we can take in the road of theological methodology. But at certain points I think we must demur; or at least I must.

[1] Edwin Chr. van Driel, Incarnation Anyway: Arguments for Supralapsarian Christology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 148-47.

Karl Barth, The Reformed Theologian Par Excellence: Christ Rather than the Confessions as the Canon

This might seem rather pedantic, like at the level of: who cares? But, apparently I do. Others do too, but only those ensconced in the confessional of so called Protestant Reformed orthodoxy; theological identity is important in these sectors. For me it’s mostly important as a matter of fact, rather than proving an identity [for Barth] that in itself does nothing, one way or the other, with reference to his constructive theological offering for the Christian churches. Maybe you are tracking already with what I am referring to. Barth is denied entrée into the genuinely Reformed branches of the Protestant churches, pretty much because those in those churches believe he is still too liberal and modern; that he doesn’t submit, in slavish ways, to the confessional traditions in the purist ways they ostensibly do.

But Barth was a Reformed theologian. He might not fit in with the ad hoc standards the “standardizers” have set, but that’s no matter; that’s ad hoc. As is typical though with Barth his approach to all things, at a formal level even, is always Christ concentrated. Of course when we read Barth, as with any theologian, we must be attentive to their point of maturation. The early Barth, or we might say the Göttingen Barth, was clearly a Reformed theologian; just at the point that demarcated Lutherans from the Reformed, even in the magisterial days—the days saturated with the Eucharistic debates about Christ’s presence. This debate, surely, stemmed from a broader discussion and implication grounded in the Christological quarrels that we can trace into the patristic period.

At the very minimal we can say that the early Barth was a Reformed theologian. But I would contend that he remains largely Reformed throughout his career as a theologian; even after he reforms the classical understanding of election in Church Dogmatics II. Here Darren Sumner notes Barth’s self-conscious Reformed location, contra the Lutherans, as he works out his dogmatics in Göttingen:

Finally, it should be noted that here Barth is self-consciously Reformed. The lectures are given as a contrast to Lutheran Christology—which Barth regards as an innovation (particularly with respect to the communicatio idiomatum) doomed to fail just as Eutychian monophysitism failed. There seems to be no possibility of harmony between these two Reformation schools on the matter of Christology. Both lay claim to parts of the Chalcedonian Definition. One must decide between the two, and Barth acknowledges that the place from which he speaks is Reformed and not Lutheran: “One cannot be both, as far as I can see and understand.” But at least, Barth adds, the decision on the Reformed side has never been understood as exclusive: “Not No, but Yes!” The sense of this is that Barth believes that the Reformed may not have it all right in their Christology, but they did well in maintaining an attitude of theological openness while opposing the errors of their opponents. Theirs is a corrective, but not a replacement of one theological system with another, in a definite and exclusionary sense.[1]

I think this represents a better way towards identifying theological identity. In other words, why refer to the Reformed confessions as the standard for membership in the Reformed faith. Even among those who ostensibly adhere to them as their canons, even they have severe lassitude and disagreement on points of emphasis and articulation. Historically, I think referring to actual theological material as the theological identifier of someone is the better way. The Christological impasse represents an excellent standard for this, in and amongst the ancient and even contemporary Protestants.

Barth self-consciously falls on the Reformed side, particularly given his christological commitments. Even as he became more constructive, moving beyond Göttingen, he still retains his Reformed emphases. Just read his CD, in particular his footnotes and you’ll see his heavy engagement with the scholastics Reformed throughout.

At the end of the day, what Barth offered was a theological oeuvre that is fruitful and edifying because he attempted a theological endeavor that intentionally and obsessively worked from Jesus Christ. Whether or not this meets the standards of what counts as Reformed theology in the 21st century doesn’t ultimately matter. The eschaton will reveal what matters; the eschaton will be the time that shows that Barth’s attempt was the better way, just because he slaved himself to the Christ as the reality and centrum of all theological output for the churches. Even so, Barth was Reformed!

[1] Darren O. Sumner, Karl Barth and the Incarnation: Christology and the Humility of God (New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2014), Loc. 1965, 1973.

Jesus, the ‘Great Shema’ of Israel in I Corinthians 8.6

I am currently working my way through Richard Bauckham’s book Jesus and the God of Israel: God Crucified and Other Studies on the New Testament’s Christology of Divine Identity. In it, he offers an important exegetical analysis of I Corinthians 8.6; the passage where Paul refers to Jesus as LORD in terms of the ‘Great Shema’ of Deuteronomy 6.4. Bauckham is making the broader argument that Jesus’ inclusion in the monotheistic faith of Israel is not an artificial amendment, but instead in keeping with the monolatry of the Hebrew faith and reality vis-à-vis its theology proper. Within this broader argument Bauckham offers this important development of I Cor 8.6. Let me share that for us, and allow it to stand as a future reference for my own purposes; and maybe yours.

Paul’s concern in this context is explicitly monotheistic. The issue of eating meat offered to idols and participation in temple banquets is an instance of the highly traditional Jewish monotheistic concern for loyalty to the only true God in a context of pagan polytheistic worship. What Paul does is to maintain this Jewish monotheistic concern in a Christian interpretation for which loyalty to the only true God entails loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ. He takes up from the Corinthians’ letter (at the end of verse 4) the typical Jewish monotheistic formula ‘there is no God except one’ in order to agree with it and to give, in verse 6, his own fuller monotheistic formulation, which contrasts the ‘many gods and many lords’ of the Corinthians’ pagan environment (verse 5) with the one God and one Lord to whom Christians owe exclusive allegiance.

Verse 6 is a carefully formulated statement,

(a) but for us [there is] one God, the Father,

(b) from whom [are] all things and we for him,

(c) and one Lord, Jesus Christ,

(d) through whom [are] all things and we through him.

The statement has been composed from two sources, both clearly recognizable. One is the Shema, the classic Jewish statement of the uniqueness of God, taken from the Torah itself, recited twice daily by all observant Jews, as we noticed in section 1. It is now commonly recognized that Paul has here adapted the Shema and produced, as it were, a Christian version of it. Not so widely recognized is the full significance of this. In the first and third lines of Paul’s formula (labelled a and c above), Paul has, in face, reproduced all the words of the statement about YHWH in the Shema (Deut. 6:4: ‘The LORD our God, the LORD, is one’), but Paul has rearranged the words in such a way as to produce an affirmation of both one God, the Father, and on Lord, Jesus Christ. It should be quite clear that Paul is including the Lord Jesus Christ in the unique divine identity. He is redefining monotheism as christological  monotheism. If he were understood as adding the one Lord to the one God of whom the Shema speaks, then, from the perspective of Jewish monotheism, he would certainly be producing, not christological monotheism, but outright ditheism. The addition of a unique Lord to the unique God of the Shema would flatly contradict the uniqueness of the latter. The only possible way to understand Paul as maintaining monotheism is to understand him to be including Jesus in the unique identity of the one God affirmed in the Shema. But this is, in any case, clear from the fact that the term ‘Lord’, applied here to Jesus as the ‘one Lord’, is taken from the Shema itself. Paul is not adding to the one God of the Shema a ‘Lord’ the Shema does not mention. He is identifying Jesus as the ‘Lord’ whom the Shema affirms to be one. Thus, in Paul’s quite unprecedented reformulation of the Shema, the unique identity of the one God consists of the one God, the Father, and the one Lord, his Messiah. Contrary to what many exegetes who have not sufficiently understood the way in which the unique identity of God was understood in Second Temple Judaism seem to suppose, by including Jesus in this unique identity Paul is certainly not repudiating Jewish monotheism, whereas were he merely associating Jesus with the unique God he certainly would be repudiating monotheism.[1]

Bauckham explains himself well; not much left for me to say. Other than that, it is clear that Jesus’ divinity, within a Hebraic monotheistic framework, is not incompatible, but quite coherent. For the Jew, Paul, to advocate for worship of Jesus as Lord, either makes him a proponent of rank idolatry, or instead makes him a faithful Jewish reader of Torah, who understood, along with the rest of the Jews of his day, what Jesus’s claim was, and how that ought to be understood for the Christian complex and shape as a whole.

Jesus, according to the Apostle Paul, is the ‘Great Shema’ of Israel. This should not be understood, as Bauckham argues, as an artificial imposition of some foreign category (like from the Greeks) of divinity onto the monotheistic faith of the Jews; but instead, a natural occurrence of it in keeping with the Promises of the TaNaKh.

I Cor 8.6 is one of the most important passages in the New Testament that attest to the divinity of Christ within the monotheistic framework of the Hebrews. When thinking the identity of Christ all of these types of data must be critically considered by Jesus’ detractors; or at least by those who operate under confused or abstract presentations and thus understandings of who the Christ actually is. According to the New Testament witness, and Christ’s own witness therein, he is the Holy One of Israel, who is Yaweh, One with the Father, and the One who is the Shema or Name that Israel has been chosen to bear to the world-cosmos at large.

 

[1] Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the God of Israel: God Crucified and Other Studies on the New Testament’s Christology of Divine Identity (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008), 27-8.

Jesus is God’s ‘Space’ for Us: In Contest with ‘Container’ Notions of Space

An important undervalued or critically engaged with locus in current Reformed retrievals of theology has to do with ‘space’ vis-à-vis God. The way we think space, and its other corollary, time, has important features attendant to it that implicate the way we think God’s relationship to us. In other words, theories of causation, participation, and koinonia are given shape by the way we approach this particular locus and/or loci. Thomas Torrance argues that the Patristics, particularly, Athanasius, imbibed a critical conception of space that was oriented by a relational conception that was given impetus by reflecting deeply into the paradeigmata (pointer) of the Incarnation itself. In other words, as Torrance maintains, with reference to Athanasius et al., the normal (of the time) Platonic, Aristotelian, or even Stoic conceptions thought space in ways that ultimately were antithetical to the Gospel’s Revelation of God’s relation to us; albeit, Torrance does acknowledge that the Stoic notion of an embodied space had closer resonances to the implications of the Gospel features versus other alternatives. Torrance’s greatest concern was to move away from what he calls a ‘container’ notion of space-time wherein the limit of space was dictated by a stable center that ultimately was unmoved; thus, injecting a mechanical notion into time-space wherein there is no room for a dynamic relational understanding of space that is demanded by the Incarnation itself. Torrance writes, after giving a sketch of Aristotle’s conception of space,

Two problems may be noted here. Aristotle’s thought is clearly governed by his demand for a point of absolute rest as the centre of reference for the understanding of change and transition. If everything were in flux we would have no standard by which to gauge anything. That centre of immobility was supplied by Aristotle’s cosmology by the centre of the material universe, for although it rotated it did not move forwards or change place. Thus although from his approach to the notion of space through the examination of movement in and out of place, Aristotle appeared to offer a dynamic view of space, he offered instead a rather static concept grounded finally upon relation to a point of absolute rest, which was of course in line with his doctrine of the ‘unmoved Mover’. The definition of place as the first unmoved limit of the container involved a further problem, for in equating being in place with a particular volume, it also equated volume with a spatial magnitude. The effect of this predominately volumetric notion of space was not only to isolate the notion of space from that of time, with all the paradoxes that involves, but to import such a rigidity into the concept of space that it could only be made flexible through a highly artificial disjunction of substance from accidents—the endless difficulties of Western Medieval theology at these points may be taken as sufficient commentary upon these problems.[1]

But Torrance understands another way, along with Athanasius and others. The way Torrance proposes, with many of the Fathers, is the way that is certainly working with the grammar provided for by such systems of thought like Plato, the Stoics, and others provided; but this way takes the grammatical of such systems and reifies it under the pressure of God’s Self Revelation in Jesus Christ (Torrance calls this kata physin ‘according to the nature of’ way). The result of this is to think of God’s relations with us through a personalist and relationally charged ‘metaphysic,’ one that is given illumination by the bond that has eternally cohered between the Father of the Son and the Son of the Father in koinonia by the Holy Spirit. This presents us, according to Torrance, with an alternative, and even spermatic way to think of the space that God has provided for, in Himself, as His relation to, with, and for us. The space is charged with the pleroma, or fullness of God; God who is by nature a multiplicity of relation in the persons as the Singular God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Torrance writes with eloquence:

In the nature of the case, the paradeigmata . . . that we employ in theology are not those we choose, but those that are thrust upon us through divine revelation, and which have their ultimate ground, correction and validity in the relation between the Father and the Incarnate Son, and the Incarnate Son and the Father. That is the relation that bridges the separation . . . between God and man and supplies the epistemological basis for all theological concepts, and therefore for our understanding of the relation between their creaturely content and the reality of God Himself. It is in Christ that the objective reality of God is intelligibly linked with creaturely and physical forms of thought, so that the latter may be adapted and given an orientation enabling them to direct our minds to what God really makes known of Himself, although in view of His infinite nature they will not be able to seize hold of Him as He is in Himself.

It was by using paradeigma in this way that Athanasius sought to relate the being and activity of the Son of God to bodily place . . . when He entered into our human space . . . and became man, without leaving God’s ‘place’ and without leaving the universe devoid of His presence and rule. Since space is regarded here from a central point in the creative and redemptive activity of God in Christ, the concepts of space as infinite receptacle or infinite substance, or as extension conceived as essence of matter, or as a mere necessity of our human apprehension, and certainly the concept of space in terms of the ultimate immobile limit of the container independent of time, all fall away, and instead there emerges a concept of space in terms of the ontological and dynamic relations between God and the physical universe established in creation and incarnation. Space is here a differential concept that is essentially open-ended, for it is defined in accordance with the interaction between God and man, eternal and contingent happening. It is treated as a sort of coordinate system (to use a later expression) between two horizontal dimensions, space and time, and one vertical dimension, relation to God. In this kind of coordination, space and time are given a sort of trans-worldly aspect in which they are open to the transcendent ground of the order they bear within nature. This means that the concept of space which we use in the Nicene Creed is one that is relatively closed, so to speak, on our side where it has to do with physical existence, but is one which is infinitely open on God’s side. This is why frequently when Byzantine art sought express this ikonically it deliberately reversed the natural perspective of the dais upon which Christ was represented. The Son of God become man could not be presented as one who had become so confined in the limits of the body that the universe was left empty of His government. He could not be represented, therefore, as captured by lines which when produced upwards met at some point in finite space, but only between lines which even when produced to infinity could never meet, for they reached out on either side into the absolute openness and eternity of the transcendent God.[2]

Earlier I noted that current retrievals of Reformed theology have not really attended to the subject matter we are considering alongside Torrance. They have failed to recognize what Torrance has emphasized; that is, that the mechanical and ‘static’ world of Aristotle, which shapes so much of the Latin theology us Protestants are inheritors of, eschews what the Fathers were presenting the church catholic with. As such we end up with an emphasis on a Decretal God who engages with His world through an Absolute Decree that keeps the created order away from Him, but artificially brought near through artificial droplets of His will and power for humanity and the created order at large. In other words, Latin theology presents us with a conception of space wherein space becomes a series of self-enclosed concentric circles that only stop moving once they meet their stable center of the circle who turns out to be the cause and unmoved Mover; but not necessarily the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The original emphasis, that Torrance is pressing, places a primacy on God’s life as Triune relationality as the basis for how space and thus movement within that space between God and humanity inheres; it inheres in the mirifica commutatio (wonderful exchange) of God’s assumption of our flesh. In this inherence, and the eternally antecedent basis for it in the Father’s life with the Son and the Son’s life with the Father, in and through the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, is the space wherein we as God’s re-creatures have a place and a time to think out what it means to be a child of God; a Christian.

Further, we see Torrance noting the notion of the ‘open-endedness’ that this conception of Incarnated space inscribes for us. Of importance, we need to bear in mind that this openness is not understood in and from a container notion of space (which might lead us to ‘Open theology’), but instead it is an openness that recognizes the reality of the mysterium Trinitatis; that we are pressed up against an Ultimacy in God that will be and always already is forever giving (the logic of grace). This should supply us with great hope, and present us into a posture of utter adoration of a God like this; our Father who art in Heaven.

 

 

[1] Thomas F. Torrance, Space Time & Incarnation (London: Oxford University Press, 1969), 8-9.

[2] Ibid., 17-18. You can hear traces of ‘Calvin’s Extra’ in what is being communicated here as well; indeed Torrance previously refers to the ‘extra’ in the broader context of this discussion about space and the Incarnation.

‘But this Father of His is God.’: The Evangelical Mind and Its Lacuna

18 For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.[1]

After writing bloggy theology for so many years you start to wonder who you are writing for. Personally, I have always really written for myself in an attempt to articulate unarticulated thoughts racing around in my head. Writing helps to provide a semblance to my thoughts, and thus blogging turns out to be a great outlet in an attempt to bring order where there is only disorder (in my head) in regard to the various themes and theological loci running wild in my personal universe.

The previous paragraph was simply a notation of how I often feel when I write a blog post. I usually (as you know) just reflect on whatever I’m reading at the moment. Often I refer to theological antidotes that require some sort of theological context in order for the antidote to be seen as an actual need. But because of space limitations (because of this medium) I don’t have the time or space to problematize things to the point that my posts come with the sort of gravitas they actually do have in their particular contexts. This said: this post has to do with Jesus’ deity and its significance towards understanding who God is, and how it is that we come to know who God is. I’m not really sure these sorts of issues press upon the evangelical psyche in North America these days. I’m not really sure doctrinal matters matter anymore; that the average evangelical really gets how significant sound doctrine is. I’m not sure evangelicals really grasp that they are supposed to care about sound theological reflection; I’m pretty sure most evangelicals don’t even realize that there is such a thing as sound theological reflection, or that they’ve even heard of such grammar. For the average evangelical the deity of Christ is a given, but because of the lacuna of doctrinal teaching in the churches I’m almost positive that even this ‘given’ is no longer understood as such (that is if you asked the average evangelical to explain why the deity of Christ matters in regard to salvation and other important things).

In an attempt to help assuage some of the evangelical absence, when it comes to being mindful of the most important doctrinal matter we could imagine, I wanted to offer a quote from Karl Barth (most evangelicals, these days, don’t even realize that they should be “afraid” of Barth) with reference to the significance of the deity of Jesus Christ and how that relates to his humanity. You will note in this quote that Barth is addressing some ancient Christological heresies, namely ebionitism and docetism, respectively. Barth is pressing home what is noted in John 5.18 (etc.), and grounding the Son’s relationship to the Father as the basis for appreciating the type of Revelation that occurs in the Son become human. Of note, at least by implication (in my mind), is the way Barth understands deity; you will see that it is necessarily trinitarian, and thus not a philosophical concept of the Divine reality. Here I am pressing against a methodological turn that has developed in the history of theologizing; viz. the way Christians have deployed philosophical imagination towards conceiving God (or not). I’d suggest, stringently, that we not rely on philosophical imagination as the primary means by which we think Godness, but instead rely upon God’s special Revelation of Himself in Jesus Christ as sufficient for imagining the verities of who God is. Barth writes:

Jesus is Lord—this is how we think we must understand the New Testament statement in concert with the ancient Church—because He has it from God whom He calls His Father to be the Lord, because with this Father of His, as the Son of this Father, as “the eternal Father’s only child,” He is the Lord—an “is “ which we deny if we are unable to affirm it with those who first uttered it, yet which cannot be deduced, or proved, or discussed, but can only be affirmed in an analytic proposition as the beginning of all thinking about it. In distinction from the assertion of the divinisation of a man or the humanisation of a divine idea, the statement about Christ’s deity is to be understood in the sense that Christ reveals His Father. But this Father of His is God. He who reveals Him, then, reveals God. But who can reveal God except God Himself? Neither a man that has been raised up nor an idea that has come down can do it. These are both creatures. Now the Christ who reveals the Father is also a creature and His work is a creaturely work. But if He were only a creature He could not reveal God, for the creature certainly cannot take God’s place and work in His place. If He reveals God, then irrespective of His creaturehood He Himself has to be God. And since this is a case of either/or. He has to be full and true God without reduction or limitation, without more or less. Any such restriction would not merely weaken His deity; it would deny it. To confess Him as the revelation of His Father is to confess Him as essentially equal in deity with this Father of His.[2]

Barth is making an unusually syllogistic case for the deity of Christ; typically it is more paradoxical (or dialectical sounding). But what stands out is the way Barth ties the deity of Christ to the Father-Son relationship. If the Father is God, and the Father is indeed the Father, then this implies a Son; if the Son is the Son of the Father, then like the Father the Son is equally God. This seems rather straightforward reasoning, except for the fact that we are thinking a primordial reality that stands behind and not after how we think Father-Son (or offspring) relations. What comes through most sharply is that only God can reveal God; as such it is significant to understand just what is taking place in the Incarnation. It isn’t a projection of God into the world; it isn’t a projection of the world into God; it is God revealing Godself in the eternal Son as the express image of the relation He has always had as the Son of the Father by the communion-ing of the Holy Spirit.

I have never ever heard such verities referred to from the pulpits of evangelical churches. I have heard such pulpits wax eloquent about how they believe that the Son is both God and Man; but I have never heard that explicated with depth from evangelical pulpits. The most I’ve heard from evangelical pulpits, in this regard, is when they have a special speaker come and offer a primer on how to engage with Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons; but that is not what we are doing in this post with Barth. Christians need to understand the majesty of the God with whom they have to do. They need to have their minds blown by the concrete realization that their salvation and very breath is contingent upon the grace that God is and has become for them in His entrance into the fallen humanity of fallen humanity and from thence redeeming life anew in resurrection splendor. But evangelicals really have no time for this; at least most of the pastors don’t. If anything, evangelical pastors, if they are being tempted to think more deeply, are being shanghaied by the ‘retrieval’ movement wherein philosophy not Revelation serves as the bases by which they think they must think deeply about God.

[1] John 5.18, NASB.

[2] Barth, CD I/1 §11, 113.

How Does the Christian ‘Get’ the Holy Spirit; Or How Does the Holy Spirit ‘Get’ the Christian: The Locus: Christ’s Vicarious Humanity

Have you ever wondered how you might construe a Christ concentrated understanding of how the Christian receives the Holy Spirit; how the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ serves as the basis through whom Christians come to participate in the lively reality of the Holy Spirit? Often we abstract the Spirit’s work from the Son’s (and the Father’s) as if the Spirit is the divine agent who imbibes or woos faith into the forthcoming believer, and by this creative act of Divine plenitude the would be believer comes to the confession of faith in Christ. Indeed, the Spirit has his own unique and active work in regard to the salvific reality, but as Thomas Torrance points out it would be wrong to think this work abstract from the person and work of the Son in Jesus Christ, or indeed, abstract from the Triune life itself. But in a very specific way here we see Torrance’s bringing together of the Spirit and the Son as the place wherein salvation first inheres, in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ; and as an echo of that reality, we as images of this image (Jesus Christ cf. Col. 1.15), as we are brought into union with the vicarious humanity of Christ, indeed by the Holy Spirit, come to participate in the humanity, Christ’s humanity for us, wherein the Holy Spirit is fully operative as the One who leads and casts out, as the One who directs our steps in the way they should go; to the right hand of the Father. Torrance writes:

Our receiving of the Spirit is objectively grounded in and derives from Christ who as the incarnate Son was anointed by the Spirit in his humanity and endowed with the Spirit without measure, not for his own sake (for he was eternally one in being with the Spirit in God) but for our sakes, and who then mediates the Spirit to us through himself. As one of us and one with us he sanctified himself in the Spirit that we might be sanctified in him and thus be sanctified in the truth. Our receiving of the Spirit, therefore, is not independent of or different from the vicarious receiving of the Spirit by Christ himself but is a sharing in it. Since he received the Spirit in the humanity he took from us, we on our part receive the Spirit through union with him and through him with the Father. This was the point Athanasius had in mind when he wrote: ‘Our being in the Father is not ours, but is the Spirit’s who is in us and dwells in us . . . It is the Spirit who is in God, and not we viewed in ourselves.’[1]

For one thing, just from an identity point of view for the Christian, this should let us know that our salvation is not our salvation, but instead is a reality extra nos (outside of us); a reality that we have no control over, but who is in control of us as we submit to his reality for us in Christ by the Spirit of Christ who is the Holy Spirit of the Triune life. This should let us know that we do not find what we need, as the ‘world’ and liberal theologies call us to, by recessing deeper and deeper into ourselves. The fact that our very ‘being’ is grounded somewhere alien to ourselves, and in Christ’s being as we are brought into union with his humanity by the creative and recreative work of the Holy Spirit in his humanity and now our humanity in union with his, ought to alert us to the reality that there was and is nothing good that dwells here (that is in our ‘old person’).

I can’t help but think of the reality of the cross in this context; in order for us to come to this Dogmatic point of reasoning requires something greater than an abstract or discursive moment in our intellectual lives. What is required for these categories to work is both the Incarnation&Atonement; more pointedly, what is required is a putting to death of our ‘old man’ and resurrecting of the ‘new man’ in Jesus Christ. This is where the ‘being’ of humanity brought to breath by the Holy Spirit comes to reality; as THE man, the mediator between God and humanity, Jesus Christ, is breathed into life by the Holy Spirit in concert with the Father and in the strength of his own life Divine, and in this reality we can come to speak in the terms that Torrance and Athanasius do.

[1] Thomas F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being Three Persons (London: Bloomsbury/T&T Clark Publishing, 2016), 148.