Christology is the via for My Theological Existence

Christology is the via for my theological existence. If the Spirit’s ministry is to point to Jesus; if Jesus thinks Holy Scripture is all about Him; if the very beginning of the Bible has Jesus (‘seed of the woman’) as the protagonist of the whole thing; then it is Christology for me all the way down. I see no other way for actually coming to know the living God, if in fact the Word enfleshed (Logos ensarkos) has come exclusively for that very purpose. If the Son, the One who has always already been in the womb of the Father for us (Deus incarnandus) is said to be God’s ἐξήγησις (‘exegesis’) for us, then who am I, little ole’ Bobby Grow, to impose any other strictures on that. As a Christian, as one who says that Jesus is Lord by the Spirit, I have already acknowledged that I take God at His Word; and His Word, is of course the Father’s Son; it is He who is the res, the reality of the hidden God made visible pro me/nobis. I am willing to be naïve, and take God at His Word; to participate in His second objectivity in His economy for me as that is given ad extra in the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. My life knows no other orbit than the one that keeps me in the pull of God’s Son. If He is the ‘firstborn from the dead,’ the ‘firstfruits’ of God, then I am bound to His life as the origin of it all. If Jesus is the reason for all of creation, if ‘the earth was made so that Christ might be born’ (Fergusson), and if I’m part of that creation, my reason for being is grounded in Christ.

My point is simply this: there is no theological theology outwith the Christology of God for us in Jesus Christ. He is the fundamentum of every molecule and atom, even proton, even the invisible elements; as such, I am eternally at his behest. He is Lord, and I am not. I am at His gracious mercy; indeed, I’d rather be a doorkeeper at His pearly gates than a wandering star for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever. When a theologian pontificates about grace perfecting nature all I can think is: no, God in Christ disrupts nature to the point of putting it to death, and re-creating. This must be the warp and woof of my theological way, or I have no way; I am like a wandering star at that point.

Solo Christo 

‘My God, You Have Forsaken Me!’: Gregory of Nanzianzus, Karl Barth, and Psalm 22

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? -Psalm 22:1

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” -Matthew 27:46

περὶ δὲ τὴν ἐνάτην ὥραν ἀνεβόησεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς φωνῇ μεγάλῃ λέγων, Ηλι ηλι λεμα σαβαχθανι; τοῦτ’ ἔστιν, Θεέ μου θεέ μου, ἱνατί με ἐγκατέλιπες; – ΚΑΤΑ ΜΑΘΘΑΙΟΝ 27:46

Here is how Gregory of Nazianzus or Gregory the Theologian (329 – 390 A.D.) understands this passage:

He who destroyed my curse was Himself called a curse for my sake (Gal. 3:13). He who takes away the world’s sin was Himself called sin (2 Cor. 5:21). He who took the place of the old Adam was called a new Adam (1 Cor. 15:45-47). Likewise, He makes my disobedience His own, as the Head of His whole body. For as long as I am sinful and rebellious, by my rejection of God and by my sinful passions, for just so long Christ Himself is called sinful on my account! But when He has brought all things into obedience to Himself, through their acceptance of Him and their own transformation, then His state of humble obedience to the Father will be over, as He brings me to God in a state of salvation…

Thus in carrying our salvation, Christ makes our condition His very own. This, I think, is how to understand the words, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matt. 27:46). It wasn’t the Son, in His own person, whom the Father forsook. Nor was He forsaken by His own divinity, as some think, as if His divine nature were frightened of the cross, and fled from Him in His sufferings. After all, one forced the divine Son to be born on earth in the first place, or to be impaled on the cross! But as I said, Christ was, in Himself, representing us — and we were the ones who were forsaken and rejected, before He came to save us. But now, by the sufferings of Him who could not suffer, we have been reconciled to God and saved. Likewise, He makes our foolishness and our sins His own. This is why He says what we read in the Twenty-First Psalm. It’s very clear that the Psalm is speaking of Christ.1

In the first paragraph we see the theme of mirifica commutatio (‘wonderful exchange’), and doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Christ that motivated Karl Barth in his doctrine of election. He writes (as we have observed in a recent post):

The election of grace is the eternal beginning of all the ways and works of God in Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ God in His free grace determines Himself for sinful man and sinful man for Himself. He therefore takes upon Himself the rejection of man with all its consequences, and elects man to participation in His own glory.2

This is an important aspect to emphasize, in a history of interpretation sense, with particular effort to demonstrate that Barth wasn’t making a novel claim in his doctrine of election; even if it was ‘novel’ in its juxtaposition with scholastic Reformed and modern readings.

But beyond that, and this is what I want to underscore most prominently in this post: we can see how someone as early as Nanzianzus was wrestling with the relationship between the two-natures in the singular person of Jesus Christ. He doesn’t defer to a Lutheran sort of communicato idiomatum, but instead operates with an almost Nestorian-like (which the Lutheran would charge Calvinists or the Reformed with latterly, relative to Nanzianzus) focus on the vicarious humanity doing the suffering [on the cross] whilst the ground of His person, in the eternal Logos, remains untouched. Here’s a nice summary of how the various traditions understand the ‘communication of properties’ (communicatio idiomatum), and how that implicates the Christ’s ‘forsakenness’ on the cross:

Roman Catholics and Lutherans hold their respective views based on their shared understanding of the communicatio idiomatum, the communication of properties or attributes of the two natures of Christ. For both traditions, the divine nature of Christ communicates (or shares) divine attributes such as omnipresence to His human nature; thus, Christ’s physical body can be in several locations at once.

Reformed theology rejects this view of the communication of attributes as violating historic, orthodox Christology. According to the Council of Chalcedon, the two natures of Christ are inseparably united in the one divine person of the Son of God without confusion, mixture, or change. The divine nature remains truly divine and the human nature remains truly human, each retaining its own attributes. This must be so. If Christ’s humanity acquires a divine attribute, Jesus is no longer truly human and cannot represent other human beings before God or atone for their sin.

For Reformed theology, the communicatio idiomatum means the attributes of each of Christ’s natures are communicated to the person of Christ. We can predicate what is true of each nature to Christ’s person. So, the person of Christ is omnipresent, but not according to His human nature. He is omnipresent according to His divine nature because only deity is omnipresent. Likewise, the person of Christ died on the cross, but Jesus experienced death according to His human nature, for the divine nature is not subject to death and decay.3

According to the above description, Gregory is simply being a good proto-Chalcedonian Christologian; that is prior to the convening of the Council of Chalcedon in 451 A.D. For the Chalcedonian, or more accurately, the Reformed perspective, the natures of Christ, both human and Divine, find their predication in and from the singular personalis of Jesus Christ. So, from this frame, Christ’s humiliation in the incarnation and atonement has grounding in the single person of the whole Christ, but within the whole Christ (think from a qualified Christus totus) it is possible, and necessary, to think in terms of the operations of both his Divine and human natures per those natures as defined by Christ’s person (so there is a dialectic afoot). This gets into the Reformed understanding of what has been called the extra Calvinisticum as well; but let us simply acknowledge that for the moment, and develop that later.

I think the Theologian’s take above is adequate, but requires further theological development; which my friend Darren Sumner does in his book titled, Karl Barth and the Incarnation: Christology and the Humility of GodSumner offers a constructive, and yet Reformed retrieval of this important doctrine; in regard to thinking about the ‘forsakenness’ of Christ, from both Lutheran and Reformed trajectories. But of course, Darren does so, admirably, from within the Christological dialectic that Barth offers in his theology in general, and in his doctrine of election, in particular. Suffice it to say, what remains the major thrust is the significance of emphasizing how the natures of Christ are predicated within the person of Christ, and to think these things from there; even if that negates (or not) what some have called the Logos asarkos. 

Conclusion

I sort of got lost in the underbrush of the trees in my sketch of things here. But hopefully the reader can appreciate the complexities involved with thinking about how the sui generis reality of God become human in Jesus Christ ought to impact this discussion. What remains true, from my perspective, is that the Son of Man freely chose our forsakenness, so that we might ultimately participate in his exaltedness through His resurrected and re-created humanity (pro nobis). God surely ‘suffered’ in the incarnation and crucifixion, and yet His divinity remained divine; and this is the mystery of it all. God has humanity in Jesus Christ, and chose freely to forever be defined by that humanity for-our-sakes (Deus incarnandus). And yet, His choice to be defined by Christ’s elected humanity, for-our-sakes, is grounded first in who He eternally is as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So, God is who God has always already been, it is just that within His who-ness as God, because of this, He freely chose to become something ‘new,’ in the sense that enfleshment is distinct from God, but now eternally who God has chosen to be for us in Christ. It is within this remaining mystery that God suffered; and He did so, as Nanzianzus rightly underscores, as the Theanthropos, or as the God-man, who came to have capacity to suffer as a human insofar as God has humanity in Jesus Christ.

Does this solve things for you? Probably not in the way you would like, or the way I would like. But this is what happens when us plebeians are confronted by the Novum of God’s life for us in Jesus Christ. I prefer to worship at the majestic reality of God’s forsakenness for us in Christ. But to do so with some understanding; which includes his exaltedness in the same breath. He is the God who makes the impossible possible, and it is because of this that we have been allowed to participate in the eternal life of the triune God; that is because He chose ‘to become us that we might become Him’—this is God’s Grace.

1 Gregory Nazianzus, The Early Church Fathersedited by Nick Needham (Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2017), March 16th reading. Gregory refers to Psalm 21 rather than 22. That is because he was referring to the LXX or the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament that he would have had available at his time. The chapterification was off by one relative to our translations today. 

2 Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II/2 §32-33: Study Edition (New York, New York: T&T Clark, 2010), 99. 

3 Ligonier Ministries, A Communication of Attributesaccessed 06-10-2021.

 

 

An Ontological-Relational Framing of the Bondage of the Will: The Vicarious Humanity of Christ as Antidote

I am not a classical Calvinist; by now most of you know what I mean when I say that. I am not a classical Arminian; indeed, I’m not Arminian at all. I am Athanasian Reformed (aka Evangelical Calvinist). I affirm something like total depravity; I prefer to call that homo incurvatus in se, like Martin Luther did. Either way, I believe all of humanity, at the fall, was plunged into a rupture with the triune God, such that humanity lost all capacity to be for or with God in any way. In other words, as some refer to this more popularly, in regard to salvific matters, I am a proponent of ‘total inability.’ This means that I reject the (‘Pelagian’) notion that humanity retains an abstract (from God) freewill that would allow humans, apart from a radical in-breaking of God’s Grace in Christ, to be for God and not fundamentally against Him. I maintain that all of humanity, along with Adam and Eve in the garden, fell into a ruptured relationship with the triune God, such that postlapsarian humanity inhabits a status that keeps them incurved upon themselves, motivated by a saucer of competing affections that never allows them to see God as anyone but themselves. One manifestation of this, among others, is that such humans will construct rationalist citadels of anthropological heft wherein their reason, incurved upon itself as it were, becomes the standard for all that is real (think cogito ergo sum, or tabula rasa). 

In light of that you might think that I must, then, rely on some notion, in an ordo salutis (order of salvation), of God’s ‘regenerating grace’ (ie grace as a quality) entering into the ‘elects’’ heart in order for that particular person to come to have capacity to finally see[k] God for who He really is in Christ. But I don’t endorse the model of substance metaphysics that funds that sort of theory of anthrosalvation. Instead, as you also know of me by now, I think from the largely After Barth tradition. Within this tradition we have figures such as Thomas Torrance, Dietrich Bonhoeffer et al. For Barth and Torrance, in particular, they are both in-formed by Athanasian categories, in particular, and Patristic, in general; among other (modern) influences. Even so, they operate from a complex when it comes to the particular issue of thinking about the so-called Bondage of the Will; they both affirm it, but from within an ontological/filial frame. For them the issue of rupture between God and humanity isn’t primarily juridical, instead it’s a relational matter. For them, in the fall, humanity’s being has lost its human being in the sense that it has been spliced out of God’s image (imago Dei) in Christ (cf. Col. 1.15). Because of this plunge into ‘sub-humanity,’ humans no longer have the capacity to be free for God; since God alone is genuinely free. You see, for the tradition I think from (which is the biblical one), human being only has being and orientation, insofar as it is in right relationship with the triune God. Outwith this relationship the ‘abstract human’ has no capacity to operate with any notion of primal freedom; of the sort that God alone possesses. In order for that seemingly impossible possibility to become a possibility, for my tradition (which is the biblical one), it requires that God does something for us; viz. that He ‘disrupts’ the state of affairs an abstract humanity finds itself in, and from this act, humanity comes to have an objective ground to be towards God once again. Albeit, in the resurrection of Christ, this ground is now greater than the soil the first Adam provided for; in the resurrection of Christ humanity now has the fertile soil it requires to grow towards God from in and through the second and greater Adam’s vicarious humanity for the world.  

Jens Zimmerman offers insight on how the aforementioned lineaments operate in the theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer: 

These differences notwithstanding, Bonhoeffer still shares with Heidegger the basic hermeneutic axiom that human knowledge consists in the interpretation of a reality in which one already moves, lives, and has one’s being. For Bonhoeffer as a Christian theologian, this reality is of course determined by Christ alone. Knowledge of one’s participation in this Christ-reality comes only by God’s grace as one is drawn into communion with the Trinity. Bonhoeffer’s solution to the mind-world dichotomy is thus very similar to Heidegger’s, albeit based on a specifically Christian ontology. Already in Act and Being, he develops the fundamentally hermeneutic concept that faith is not cognitive assent to doctrine, but ‘a mode of being’ (DBWE 2: 118). Believing in God is not merely a mental act but involves being drawn into a reality that is ‘prior to the act of faith’ (DBWE 2: 117). This ‘being-in-Christ’ is characterized by an intentionality directed purely to Christ (a fides directa or actus directus), so that the self is transformed by this reality. For Bonhoeffer ‘everything hinges on faith’s knowing itself not as somehow conditioning or even creating this being, but precisely as conditioned and created by it’ (DBWE 2: 118). Human reflection on this reality is a necessary, secondary interpretation of this existential reality. This kind of secondary reflection is called theology, ‘which is not existential knowledge’, but rather an interpretation of the church’s experience of God as crystallized and sedimented in tradition over time through preaching, creeds, and dogma. In this way, theology acts as the ‘preserving and ordering memory [Gedächtnis]’ of the living, ‘spoken word of Christ in the church’ (DBW 2: 131, …). Preaching draws on this memory of Christ’s presence and also shapes it at the same time. 

Participating in this Christ-reality does not constitute some Hinterland or parallel universe allowing the Christian to escape from the world. Bonhoeffer states: 

Like all of creation, the world has been created through Christ and has its existence only in Christ (John 1:10; Col. 1:16). To speak of the world without speaking of Christ is pure abstraction. The world stands in relationship to Christ whether the world knows it or not. (DBWE 6: 68) 

Bonhoeffer is well known for his insistence that the Christian’s participation in the Christ-reality does not negate the world but rather founds proper human responsibility for the world. On account of God’s becoming human, God and humanity, and therefore God and world, must be thought together. Bonhoeffer avers that ‘where the worldly establishes itself as an autonomous sector, this denies the fact of the world’s being accepted in Christ, the grounding of the reality of the world in revelational reality, and thereby the validity of the gospel for the whole world’ (DBWE 6: 60). For Bonhoeffer, the incarnation itself—God’s transcendent truth entering into human history and temporality—sets the hermeneutical pattern for Christian knowledge, wherein the sacred is known only in the profane, the revelational in the rational, and the supernatural only in the natural (DBWE 6: 59). [1] 

Maybe this is your first encounter with this sort of salvific conniving, but hopefully not your last. This is why as Athanasian Reformed types we say there is an historia salutis rather than an ordo salutisThe focus on salvation in this frame is on the pre-history (ad intra) and history (ad extra) of God’s life for us in Jesus Christ. We see His life as the Via by which all of humanity comes to have an objective ground as the pre-condition from whence they come to have the Spirit generated capacity to say Yes to God; that is from Christ’s Yes and Amened life for them in the resurrection humanity that ascended and is now seated at the Right Hand of the Father. This might raise some ‘causal’ questions for the Aristotelian-minded among us, that is in regard to how this avoids ‘universalism’ implications, and we have response for that. I have already addressed that more than once elsewhere here on the blog, and in our books. But to be sure, as an Evangelical Calvinist, I affirm humanity’s need for newly-created ground that we might come to genuinely think God from prior to our acknowledgement of God. As has been pressed throughout this post: I maintain, along with the biblical tradition I think from, that it is only in and from the elect and primordial humanity of Jesus Christ that humanity is raised up with His archetypal humanity, and it is from here, from this sacred space of liminal humanity for all, that sub-humanity can rise from the ashes of its desolate life and breathe from the lungs of Christ’s Yes for them coram Deo. 

____________________________________________

[1] Jens Zimmerman, “Bonhoeffer and Contemporary Philosophy,” in Michael Mawson and Philip G. Ziegler eds., The Oxford Handbook of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019), 439-40. 

 

A Devotional Reflection on Jesus Pro Me / Pro Nobis

I was going to write on the homoousios; this is related, but more devotional. The post I had in mind will come later, here is what it will argue later: If you affirm the two/natures::one person Christology of Chalcedon, this necessarily commits you to a theological hermeneutic/exegesis of ALL of Holy Scripture. What I will be writing in this post will be in reference to how I love Jesus.  

Holy Scripture shapes the type of encounter I have with its reality. Whether it be through lists of genealogies, lists that index various sins, lists that state the Fruit of the Spirit, literature that goes into great prose about salvation history, Hebrew Poetry that elevates the heart into the fresh atmosphere of God’s inner sanctum, so on and so forth. Scripture as God’s signum (sign) brings me into its res (reality) every time I read a word off its pages. Scripture is lively and active full of the resurrection energy of its ascended reality in Jesus Christ. Thus, I seek to read and meditate on its words all the days of my life that I may be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water. It is in this ontic relation with the living and triune God in and through the prosopon (face) of Christ that I find my daily sustenance in order to make trek into the wild west of this rabid world. As I meditate on Scripture I hear God’s still small voice, and it sounds just like Jesus’ voice. This is the warp and woof of my theological existence. Indeed, as the Psalmist, King David bore his heart ‘what have I on this earth, LORD; all I have is You, and Your Word to serve as a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. When I think theologically I am only thinking about the One I’ve encountered in the pages of this antique Holy Book known as the Bible. I gain my life and reason for living as I inhabit the canon of Holy Writ; not because the text itself is Holy, but the One it finds its reality from is. It is through Holy Scripture that I have come to encounter afresh and anew the One who was dead but is now alive! As a result, I live. I don’t live because of a power resident in me, but I live as I find ecstatic existence, moment by moment, by the life-giving reality of the Son of God. It is through His vicarious humanity, from His life pro me as the imago Dei wherein I find mine. As I find my life from Christ’s life pro me, it is here that Scripture’s reality moves and breathes through me by the breath of the Holy Spirit. Not as if I am spirated with Apostolic breath; no, as if I am participatio Christi, and through this participation with Christ ‘I am as He is in this world.’ Through this analogia fidei/relationis (analogy of faith/relation) the Son of God, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Ancient of Days with His white flowing hair is borne witness to through my broken vessel. This is the miracle of new creation breaking into this world of futility that brings the Light of Hope that all humanity, indeed, all of creation screams out for.  

Knowing, through Holy Scripture’s reality, that I am in bond, indeed, a slave of the risen Christ’s, I find rest for my soul; indeed, for the very limbs of my body. As I’ve come to taste and see that God is good, it is in this tasting that I continue to live fides quaerens intellectum (faith seeking understanding). But this isn’t a life of a self-generated faith, it is the vicarious faith of Christ that I know God from. As for Calvin, as for the Apostle Paul, the faith of Christ is the knowledge of God pro me. It is as God’s being for me as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit has freely chosen to be pro me, it is from His being in becoming for me in the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ that I am transformed from glory to glory; a transformation that is confronted by the Holy Godman of Jesus Christ, and in His confrontation of my old Adam, he brings me into the theological knowledge of God as He just is the Greater and Second Adam; an Adam who while a man of dust, has through his death, burial, resurrection, and ascension re-created the natural dust He assumed and miraculously made it heavenly dust. This heavenly dusted Godman now sits at the Right Hand of the Father, and He has taken me with Him. I now find my inhabitatio Dei in the very life of the God who was, is, and always will be. In this ascendent and exalted status, through the vision of God mediated by the faith of Christ, as I am seated in the heavenly places with my Lord and Savior, it is here that I know Who God is. Indeed, I have come to know God as a Who, as my Father, Brother, and Holy Comforter rather than an abstract What. My status in the ascended Christ, my status as an adopted son of God by grace, in and from the nature of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, allows me to speak to God face-to-face as it were. I don’t know God as the philosophers know the Pure Being or the Unmoved Mover; I know God as the Son of the Father; and in this knowing I know Him as a son knows His Heavenly Father, as a co-heir with Christ. amen  

  

The Vicarious Prayer of Christ as the Inner Reality of the Atonement: TFT’s Homoousios

The homoousios reigns supreme in Thomas Torrance’s theology. The doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ is sui generis in his theology, in regard to the way he deploys it throughout every loci considered. It is TFT’s hermeneutical key, and is what has drawn me to him like unto no other theologian (not even Barth). In the passage I am going to share from him we see him applying this doctrine to a theology of prayer and intercession vis-à-vis the reconciliation that obtains through Christ’s vicarious life for us. Here we see what a doctrine of vicarious prayer looks like in the theology of Torrance. For me, personally, there is great spiritual depth available in what Torrance explicates in this regard; a doxological component that is the sign of any healthy theology. He writes:

Christ’s human prayer is the innermost heart of his atoning obedience to the Father and of his conversion of humanity to God

All through there was an utterly unbroken life of fellowship in unsullied confidence and trust in the Father, and unrelenting prayer, in which he not only repelled the assaults of darkness but so presented himself before the Father in worship in adoration that he made and perfected the positive self offering of man to God. It is here in Jesus Christ, in this worshipping and praying obedience of the creature to the heavenly Father, that all creation is turned and brought back to God the creator and Father almighty. That is the great palingennesia, the great conversion of humanity to God, which receives its ultimate and eternal answer in the divine satisfaction and good pleasure when God the Father raised Jesus Christ from the dead, and for ever affirmed the reconciliation and restored fellowship effected in the obedient life and death of his Son, thus placing it eternally beyond all the assaults of evil and all possibility of undoing. Thus the covenant will of God for fellowship with man was translated into eternal actuality.

Now if Christ’s human prayer is an essential part of his atoning obedience offered to the Father, then it is not only the prayer of the victim but of the priest made on our behalf. Just by being what it was, his own life of petition and clinging dependence upon the Father was a life of intercession to God for us. In his steadfast obedience and life of prayer, Jesus penetrated into our life and recreated the bond between man and God, and therefore also between human beings. It is on that ground, of the recreated bond that he prays for us, intercedes for us, and acts as our mediator, high priest and intercessor, our substitute and representative before God, praying, and offering himself in prayer, standing in for us as our advocate, and pledging us in himself before God — and so he opens up through his flesh a new way to prayer and worship of God.

Or to put it the other way round, as Calvin does so frequently: Christ in his intercession joined to the shedding of his blood prayers that our sins might be pardoned. In and through his passion he bore our word in our name before the Father and prayed for us in our unclean life. Therefore he also puts his own prayer in our unclean mouth that there, on the ground of his obedience and prayer, we may pray with him, ‘Our Father who art in heaven’. As a sign of the recreated bond of the covenant between man and God, and as a sign of the special redemptive form that the covenant will of God took in Israel, Jesus formed round him, as one body with himself, the disciples as the twelve pillars of the new covenant, and it was into their mouths that he put this prayer, ‘Our Father which art in heaven’, teaching them to pray in his name.

Jesus draws us into his own prayer

Then at last, as the prayer life of Jesus pressed towards its climax in Gethsemane he gathered the twelve disciples together at the last supper and formally and solemnly established with them the new covenant in his body and blood. At that supper he interceded for the disciples and for us who would believe on him through their word, and we are allowed to overhear his prayer in John 17. In that prayer, added to his vicarious passion set forth in the supper, he presented himself before the face of the Father and presented us to the Father as included in himself who had come just for this purpose to stand in our place. Then he went forth to Gethsemane and to the cross, where in high priestly intercession and sacrificed he fulfilled in deed and in death the prayer of his whole incarnate life, the prayer of obedience, ‘Not my will, but thine be done,’ and so was obedient unto the death of the cross. Therefore it is that when we in his name celebrate the supper, we also are given to have in our mouth his own prayer, and to pray in echo of his prayer in life and death and eternal intercession, ‘Our Father who art in heaven’, and in that prayer we engage in the fellowship of the new covenant as sons and daughters of the heavenly Father. It is on the ground of this fulfilled covenant from within our alienated will, on the ground of the reconciliation it achieved, that Christ’s victory becomes ours, his payment does away with our debt, his life enables us to be well pleasing to the Father. But it is also on the ground of this bond recreated in him that we are given to share in his prayer of covenant obedience and share in the new covenant inaugurated and established in himself. It is in the name of Jesus, that is, it is in this prayer which Jesus lived out, in sacrifice and petition to the Father, that we are allowed to pray, and so engage in the fulfilled reality and all the fruits of the new covenant as God’s dear children. That is what we do when pray ‘in the name of Jesus’, but it is above all in the heart of the Lord’s supper that we that when we pray ‘Our Father who art in heaven’.[1]

This stuff preaches too well to be the theology of the schoolmen. Oh well.


[1] Thomas F. Torrance, Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ, edited by Robert T. Walker (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2008), 119-21.

The Jesus of History is the Jesus of the Vicarious Faith

You can’t simply do historical analysis of the New Testament and expect to come to right conclusions about Jesus. And yet this is where so much of ‘Evangelical’ scholarship (and Christian scholarship in general) resides. You can’t use analogies that start with yourself and work your way to Jesus from there, and expect to find the genuine Jesus; you’ll just end up finding the Jesus who looks oh so much like yourself–the Jesus molded in your own image. So the irony of what I just asserted is that I am saying that you can’t ‘solely’ rely on historical Jesus studies and expect to find the true Jesus, and at the same time I am asserting that we must avoid somehow importing our own historical culturally situadedness back onto the face of Jesus. So what’s the answer to this dilemma? What get’s us beyond this impasse of dualism between studying Jesus through historical empiricism and isolated subjectivism? I mean isn’t Christianity a religion based in history? Yes. But history by itself does not have the proper traction or orientation to provide humanity–embedded within history–with the proper epistemological antennae needed to penetrate the depths which gives history its right relation to the one who gave us history to begin with. Am I speaking too cryptically for you yet?

Here Thomas Torrance speaks somewhat less cryptically about how we ought to dogmatically consider the relation between history and revelation through the optic of Faith:

All this means that any Christological approach that starts from the man Jesus, from the historical Jesus, and tries to pass over to God, and so to link human nature to God, is utterly impossible. In fact it is essentially a wrong act: for it runs directly counter to God’s act of grace which has joined God to humanity in Christ. All Attempts to understand Jesus Christ by starting off with the historical Jesus utterly fail; they are unable to pass over from man to God and moreover to pass man to God in such a way as not to leave man behind all together, and in so doing they deny the humanity of Jesus. Thus though Ebionite christologies all seek to go from the historical Jesus to God, they can make that movement only by denying the humanity of Jesus, that is by cutting off their starting point, and so they reveal themselves as illusion, and the possibility of going from man to God is revealed as likewise illusory.

No, it is quite clear that unless we are to falsify the facts from the very start, we must face with utter and candid honesty the New Testament presentation of Christ to us, not as a purely historical figure, nor as a purely transcendental theophany, but as God and man. Only if we start from that duality in which God himself has already joined God and man, can we think God and humanity together, can we pass from man to God and from God to man, and all the time be strictly scientific in allowing ourselves to be determined by the nature of the object.[1]

So Torrance’s premise is that what has happened in the incarnation is totally unique, and has only been made accessible through the purview of faith. Not blind faith, but faith that takes it shape as it is given to us through the revelation of God himself in and through the vicarious humanity of Christ for us; the humanity that grounds all of humanity as the image of God (Colossians 1:15)–so faith is the eyes to see and the ears to hear with that Jesus so often challenges his audiences to employ.

What does this tell us about historical Jesus studies that seek to tell us the truth about Jesus, but then fail to do so through the mode of faith? It tells me that these approaches are trying to find a public square, a common ground through which to substantiate and situate Jesus in such a way that he has respectability amongst the world. Once this respectability has been established, and Jesus rightly reconstructed, then we can attend to the issues of faith (so there is an implicit competition, then, in this scenario, between the Jesus of Faith and History). To be clear, none of this is to reject the usage of historical tools, but it is to call attention to the need that these tools have; the need is to provide for them a prior Christian dogmatic order that will allow those tools to not chisel a Jesus into something he is not (e.g. first a man, then God added on). He is God first, who becomes man; and this is such a unique event that it in itself can only be its own analogy.

*Repost from March 2016.


[1] Thomas F. Torrance, Incarnation,edited by Robert Walker, 10.

An Enchanted World: The Theologians’ Enlightened World

There is a lot of fog out there right now, I get that. But it is very disturbing to me to see almost all theologians and pastors out there simply writing off the idea that there could be an evil cabal of globalists attempting to steer the world toward a one world government as some sort of fanciful dystopian novel that only so-called conspiracy theorists could maintain. This is quite disillusioning to me, really. It’s as if all the talk that these folks do about the triune God, Jesus Christ, creation, the fall, human nature, redemption, the church, eschatology so on and so forth is merely a discussion taking place in a parallel universe. In other words, I am starting to think that most Christians, insofar as they follow the lead of many pastors and theologians, are in fact functional Docetists. The Catholic Encyclopedia defines Docetism this way:

Docetism is not properly a Christian heresy at all, as it did not arise in the Church from the misunderstanding of a dogma by the faithful, but rather came from without. Gnostics starting from the principle of antagonism between matter and spirit, and making all salvation consist in becoming free from the bondage of matter and returning as pure spirit to the Supreme Spirit, could not possibly accept the sentence, “the Word was made flesh”, in a literal sense. In order to borrow from Christianity the doctrine of a Saviour who was Son of the Good God, they were forced to modify the doctrine of the Incarnation. Their embarrassment with this dogma caused many vaccinations and inconsistencies; some holding the indwelling of an Aeon in a body which was indeed real body or humanity at all; others denying the actual objective existence of any body or humanity at all; others allowing a “psychic”, but not a “hylic” or really material body; others believing in a real, yet not human “sidereal” body; others again accepting the of the body but not the reality of the birth from a woman, or the reality of the passion and death on the cross. Christ only seemed to suffer, either because He ingeniously and miraculously substituted someone else to bear the pain, or because the occurence on Calvary was a visual deception. Simon Magus first spoke of a “putative passion of Christ and blasphemously asserted that it was really he, Simon himself, who underwent these apparent sufferings. “As the angels governed this world badly because each angel coveted the principality for himself he [Simon] came to improve matters, and was transfigured and rendered like unto the Virtues and Powers and Angels, so that he appeared amongst men as man though he was no man and was believed to have suffered in Judea though he had not suffered” (passum in Judea putatum cum non esset passus — Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. I, xxiii sqq.). The mention of the demiurgic angels stamps this passage as a piece of Gnosticism. Soon after a Syrian Gnostic of Antioch, Saturninus or Saturnilus (about 125) made Christ the chief of the Aeons, but tried to show that the Savior was unborn (agenneton) and without body (asomaton) and without form (aneideon) and only apparently (phantasia) seen as man (Irenaeus, Adv. Haer., XXIV, ii).[1]

Even though, as this definition rightly notes, Docetism did not arise out of the church’s teaching, as a negation, it did penetrate the thinking of the churches in regard to the way some attempted to think the relationship between the human and divine natures of Jesus Christ. But I underscore this definition in order to use it as an analogy to help me think about the aloofness of the many pastors and theologians out there when it comes to concreto realities taking place in the socio-political spaces of our world system. It’s as if this class of people in the church cannot fathom, cannot imagine that just maybe what the Bible trades on over and over again, particularly in its Old Testament witness, just might be present and formative in our 21st century period.

What I have come to realize through this last year is that even those who claim to be theologians of retrieval, i.e. those most steeped in the desire to leap-frog the modern period, in regard to their theologizing, is that they are slavishly ensconced within Enlightenment rationalist categories. In other words, to refer to Charles Taylor’s category, they function within a disenchanted frame when it comes to thinking a God/world relation. It’s as if they cannot imagine a world, a modern secular world wherein devils and goblins still inhabit the heights and the depths of all that is and takes place in the world. It’s as if they cannot imagine a world wherein the darkness of the human heart is so great that it seeks space and power with the devil himself. It’s as if they believe sin and evil is a theological and abstract principle, a ‘Docetic’ principle that has no real life correspondence with the shape of this current world order. It’s as if they cannot imagine that Baal, Moloch, and a host of other Ancient Near Eastern deities, you know the ones we are confronted with constantly in the Old Testament witness, could be a real and present danger, not just theoretically, but concretely in the real and lived world we inhabit day to day. What kind of theology is this?!

Beyond this the Apostle Paul writes: “And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it (Colossians 2:13-15).” Is this merely a theoretical, a Docetic world that has no concrete contact with this world system? Did Jesus in the incarnation&atonement not enter into this world, in our humanity, into a world that was thoroughly ecclesiopolitical in the sense that the sacred and secular were so intertwined that they mutually implicated each other? In other words, did Jesus operate in a world just like ours, with the same satanic and demonic spirits that filled the world with their dark presence back then as they do now or not? When you read pastors and theologians summarily write off the idea that the rulers of this world system, the ones in flesh and blood, just might be operating in concert, quite overtly, with the satanic and demonic underworld that has always already been pervasive as the shape of this world system I have to wonder if these pastors, theologians, and the Christians who follow them actually believe that the reality of the biblical world is real or not. Jesus believed it was real, and He acted like it.

At the very end of the day why do these pastors, theologians, and Christians who follow them simply write off the possibility that our world system just might be EXACTLY like the one that shaped the Ancient Near East; save the fact that we live in a modern “enlightened” period wherein such ‘spiritualism’ has been superseded by the saeculum. But the secular hasn’t subtracted anything from the ANE understanding of the spirit filled world; instead it has materialistically collapsed and conflated that world into an ostensibly disenchanted world that in fact remains just as enchanted by satanic worship as was the ancient pagan world. And the people of God are no different now than they were in the Old Testament ANE context. The church and her leaders are just as syncretistic as the priests of Israel were. And the world leaders we have seated in the ‘high places’ are just as spiritualistically and syncretistically oriented as the ancient pagan world was; but just under the gloss of a materialist and secular world-frame. The idea that this is all a conspiracy theory—that there is a satanic world cabal that worships the creation and power (climate change) rather than the Creator, and that they are attempting to enact their vision of the world onto the world writ large—is a phantasmal world that only the overly educated could take seriously. In other words, you have to be into Docetism, and other abstractions (for whatever reason) to simply not see what is happening in the world right now.

Maranatha


[1] Catholic Encyclopedia: New Advent.

If Christ’s Vicarious Humanity Doesn’t Matter, Nobody’s Does: The Centraldogma of Prayer

This will be a post that will off-put some of my readers, but so be it. Some have complained to me via comments, and email, that they aren’t a fan of my “politics,” and recent political posts; they simply prefer my stuff on theology. Apparently, folks have failed to understand that theology and politics go hand-in-hand; they do all throughout the Bible, and therefore, any theologian worth their salt will read these things together as well. Remember, Jesus is King of kings, and Lord of lords; that sounds pretty political to me! What is going on in the world currently is abnormal, and yet evangelical leaders, and other Christian leaders seemingly are attempting to operate as if we are in a turbulent, but yet, status quo moment where we ought to operate with the usual optics that evangelical leaders offer in times of national and global crises. That’s not my read of things, not at all! Clearly, we don’t know when Christ is coming again; but He said to live in a mode of WATCHFULNESS (cf. Mk 13)! With the events currently unfolding in the world, if the Christian’s watchfulness antennas aren’t up, then maybe the Christian ought to check their spiritual pulse. This might sound harsh, but I am sincerely baffled at the state of the evangelical churches right now.

The rest of this post, maybe abruptly, relative to my introduction here, will be about the spiritual attack the satan launched against Jesus Christ as He became human to bring ultimate reconciliation between God and humanity in His consubstantial person as both God and human pro nobis. I will highlight, through reference to Thomas Torrance’s thinking, how the role of prayer ought to function in the midst of the onslaught of satan, as satan attempts to thwart the plans of God; first in the incarnation, and then in echo of that, in our lives and world as we find our lives in participatio Christi (participation with Christ). Whether people recognize it or not we are in a spiritual battle, and the hater of our souls is in an all-out blitzkrieg to destroy all that is sacred and pure.

 13 And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs coming out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. 14 For they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty. –Revelation 16:13-14

As I reflect on what is occurring in the world, the above passage keeps popping into my mind for some reason. It feels like we’re in a moment like this; as if ‘unclean spirits’ have been released from the abyss and are attempting to destroy this world as an affront to the God who holds it together by the Word of His Power. These spirits have seemingly cast a great delusion on the masses, even seemingly, taking hold of many Christians. The only way to be an ‘overcomer’ in this sort of battle is to be in a dialogical or prayer-bond with the living God. The Son of Man knew this; as His co-heirs we ought to know this. Prayer keeps our focus on the only One who can intervene and bring life rather than death. Here is how Torrance explicates this with reference to the incarnation, and how the Son of Man bore up under the wicked onslaught that unleashed as a counter-assault to the coming of God to the world in Christ:

(ii) The attack by the powers of evil on the bond of prayer between Jesus and the Father

But now let us look at the prayer life of Jesus from a slightly different point of view, from the point of view of the attack upon it by all the powers of evil. Jesus Christ the perfect communion between God and man was actualised, not only through the incarnation of the Word of God in this man, but through the obedient reliance of this man upon God the Father. In that double movement of God’s faithful seeking and assuming of man back again into fellowship, and of man’s faithful return in Christ to God and complete dependence upon Him, the holy and loving will of God for humanity was realised in the midst of its isolation and estrangement. The bond between God and man is recreated and actualised in the midst of our humanity in the very life lived by Jesus and signalised so fully by his life of prayer. Therefore all the powers of evil launched their attack upon Jesus; fearful temptations and assaults fell upon him, all in order to isolate him from God, to break the bond of fellowship between them, to snap the life of prayer and obedient clinging to the heavenly Father; to destroy the life of obedience to God’s will and word, and so to make impossible any meeting between God and man in Jesus ; to destroy the ground of reconciliation, to disrupt the foundation for atonement being laid in the obedient and prayerful life of the Son of Man.

Against all that fearful temptation in which all the hosts of darkness were mustered against him, Jesus resorted to prayer and unswervingly held fast to God the Father throughout it all. That holding fast to God in prayer, that battle against the powers of darkness doing their utmost to isolate him from God, and so to isolate man from God for ever, the fearful struggles of prayer with strong crying and tears, ‘not my will but thine be done’, all that belongs to the innermost heart of the reconciling and atoning life of Jesus reaching from the very beginning to the very end, and increasing in its unbelievable intensity right up to the cross. ‘Father into thy hands I commit my spirit.’[1]

The evil forces present at Christ’s coming, are present now. I remain baffled, to be honest, at the lack of appreciation of this, which I have seen particularly in the so-called thought leaders of the Christian church. I hear a lot about social justice, critical race theory, Liberation theology, so on and so forth; but I hear almost nothing, except crickets, when it comes to the idea that in fact ‘we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities and powers’ of this ‘present evil age.’ Because we ostensibly are unable to discern this as Christians, we are allowing the deceiver to thrust us into an artificial division between us and our black brothers and sisters. This division, in the blood of Christ, in the resurrected and new humanity of Jesus Christ, in His Triumphal Victory for all humanity, in His vicarious humanity (what TFT just referred us to) has re-conciled all of humanity to God; of all colors, tribes, tongues, and nations. This is the premise of the incarnation that the devil fought so hard to destroy as he came against the Son of Man; and it is the same premise the devil still desires to destroy, in and through an artificial division that the cross of Jesus Christ, the wisdom of the living and triune God, has utterly vanquished into the abyss of hell. Jesus was not ignorant of the enemy’s devices; remember when He said this:

25 But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand. 26 If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. 28 But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house. 30 He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad. –Matthew 12:25-30

If Jesus knew this, then why wouldn’t we as His co-heirs? Just because the world, the media tells us blacks and whites are divided does not mean we are; the devil brings division, the Son of Man brings unity in His Gosepeled Life for us. As Christians we are to bear witness to this reality, not give into an artificial lie that we need to somehow bring reconciliation to systemic injustices that no longer exist in the very power of God. If this is not our starting point, if the logic of God’s grace in the incarnation, actualized in the resurrection of Christ is not our major premise, then there can be no lasting reconciliation between any of us. But we are reconciled one with the other in Christ. If we cannot identify with the broken life of Christ, if we cannot see Him as primary, and understand that if His humanity doesn’t matter: then nobody’s humanity will matter; because there will be none!

And if we aren’t in a constant dialogue of prayer with God, participating in the priestly and intercessory ministry of Jesus Christ (cf. Heb. 7:25), then we will be deceived by the satan and give into his divisive lies that will indeed conquer, at least in the immediate, the efforts that the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ has already wrought. But we only ontically stand in this reality insofar as we are in constant con-versation with the living and triune God; as we participate with and are partakers of the divine nature in and through the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ. Take our eye off this all-important reality of praying without ceasing, and we will be divided and destroyed. Jesus knew this, and as His brothers and sisters, through our adoption in His filial relationship with the Father by the Holy Spirit, we ought to know this and stand in this reality as well. Yes, as we move into this, the onslaught continues, but we are bonded into the very life of the everlasting and immortal God. Maranatha

[1] Thomas F. Torrance, Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ, edited by Robert T. Walker (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2008), 118-19.

Jesus is the Image of God For Us: How This Centraldogma Changes Everything

I’ve written, more than once, on the theological anthropological theme of humanity being images of the Image of God or imago Dei. This theme, and its importance cannot be overemphasized, since it is directly related to how humanity is related to God. The primary point of the theme is that when the Christian refers to the imago Dei, what or who we are really referring to, according to the Apostle Paul, is Jesus Christ; he writes:

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. 18 And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.[1]

Notice, for Paul, to be created in the imago Dei is really to be created and recreated in the imago Christi (‘image of Christ’). Our humanity is a gift, it is extra nos (outside of us), it is continuously mediated to us through the intercessory life of Jesus Christ for us (cf. Heb. 7:25). This, what we might call, centraldogma, of the ‘image of Christ,’ is interconnected to a swarm of other theological themes; in particular a doctrine of God, doctrine of Creation (inclusive of protology and eschatology), doctrine of Sin, doctrine of soteriology/anthropology (inclusive of a doctrine of Scripture) so on and so forth. This makes sense, since as Jesus says: “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me” (Jn 5:39). In other words, if all of Scripture, if all of creation, if the whole cosmological sweep is centered upon Jesus Christ as its telos (or purpose), then it would only make sense to see Jesus Christ as the centraldogma of all theological reality. Our humanity, or our image of Godness, is contingent upon Jesus’s image of God for us. All of reality is contingent upon His choice to be this for us. It is a reality that presses into the very essence or esse of what it means to exist before and with God at all.

As my earlier posts have made clear, this theme of the imago Christi, among the Patristics, was of significant importance to Athanasius (later we would be right to think of Maximus the Confessor as well). But even before Athanasius, someone else noticed this theme, mostly in the Pauline corpus; Irenaeus, the theologian who can be closely linked to the Apostle John (through Polycarp), thought in these imago Christi terms as well. He writes:

The Word has saved His creation, humanity, which had perished. Seeking its salvation, He established through Himself that fellowship which should exist between humanity and God. Now, perishing humanity had flesh and blood. . . He Himself, therefore, took flesh and blood, summing up in Himself the Father’s original creation, seeking the race that had perished. That’s why Paul in the Epistle to the Colossians says, “Though you were formerly alienated, and enemies to His knowledge by evil works, yet now you have been reconciled in the body of His flesh, through His death, to present yourselves holy and chaste, and without fault in His sight” (Col. 1:21-22). He says, “You have been reconciled in the body of His flesh,” because the Lord’s righteous flesh has reconciled the flesh that was enslaved in sin, bringing it back into comradeship with God.

If, then, anyone says the Lord’s flesh was different from ours in that it didn’t sin, neither was falsehood found in His soul, while we, conversely, are sinners, this would be true. Yet if anyone claims the Lord had some other substance of flesh than ours, he overthrows the biblical teaching on reconciliation. What is reconciled is what had previously been hostile. But if the Lord had taken flesh from some entity other than humankind, He wouldn’t have reconciled to God the flesh that had become hostile through disobedience. Now, however, through human nature’s union with Himself, the Lord has reconciled humanity to God the Father, by reconciling us to Himself in the body of His own flesh, and redeeming us with His own blood. As Paul says to the Ephesians “In whom we have redemption through His blood, the remission of sins” (Eph. 1:7) . . . Indeed in every Epistle, Paul clearly testifies that we have been saved through the Lord’s flesh and blood.[2]

Reading, Irenaeus words, we might for a moment think we are reading John Calvin on unio cum Christo (union with Christ), or Martin Luther on mirifica commutatio (the wonderful exchange), or Karl Barth and Thomas Torrance, respectively, on a doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ. There is this silver thread woven throughout the whole of historical theology; it is a thread that finds its brilliance and splendor in the fabric of God’s flesh and blood in Jesus Christ.

I am afraid that what has been thwarted upon the Western evangelical churches of the 21st century has kept it from ever delving into the depth dimension of what we are considering here. This focus on Christ, even a so called ‘conciliar Christ,’ is the focus of the New Testament, in particular, and the whole of Holy Scripture, in general! Without this focus the Christian will slide off into abstract scholastic philosophical or turn-to-the-subject discussions that have little to do with these riches. I commend this theme and Christ concentrated focus to you. Start trying to think all things theological from this christological reality. Start thinking the duplex consubstantiality of the singular person of Jesus Christ, who is both fully God and fully human, into all of your theological machinations; you won’t be sorry. You’ll only be sorry if you don’t.

[1] Colossians 1:15-18, NKJV.

[2] Irenaeus cited by Nick Needham in, “Daily Readings, The Early Church Fathers: February 17th ‘Our Flesh and Blood’,” (Scotland: Christian Focus Publications Christian Heritage Imprint, 2017).

Confronting Monuments and Institutions Made in the Name of Christ: Ecstatic Life V Insular Life

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross…. 17 Yes, and if I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. –Philippians 2.5-8; 17

I want to take the ecstatic life of God noted in the above passage, and apply it to a discussion about what I will call the insular life. Right away you might notice the contrasting nature of the sorts of ‘lives’ I will be referring to. I take this issue to be at the very base of the Christian existence. As such, it requires further development and sobriety of thought; hopefully this brief excursus achieves some level of that.

So, I have introduced two terms—‘ecstatic life’ and ‘insular life’—ecstatic life is the sort of life that defines God’s life in Christ for us. In other words, Jesus’s humanity is a life that He is constantly given as the Son of God. It is not something He possesses, per se, but something He constantly, by the work of the Holy Spirit, is given, as He has chosen this givenness for us. What this implies for the way of the Christian, as they find their life in participation and union with Christ, is one that is always already shaped by looking away from ourselves, and to God who gives us life. It is a life, like the triune life, that is shaped by ‘in-relation-to-the-other-and-for-the-other.’

Contrariwise, the insular life is one that only operates for the self. As Luther might say it in soteriological terms homo in se incurvatus (the incurved in oneself human). This is in contest with the ecstatic life, and one that can only be cured by the ecstatic life. The insular life is in bondage to itself; it is a self-possessed demonic chaos that nihilistically seeks and asserts its self to an eternal destruction. It requires a life from outside of itself, an ‘alien-righteousness’ to invade it ‘from above’ and set it free from its inveterate desire to self-destruct. The irony of the insular life is that even when it has been set free by the ecstatic life and vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ, it continues to desire itself. Again, referring to Luther, he identified this schizoid type of existence as simul justus et peccator (‘simultaneously justified and sinner’). The Apostle Paul identifies this human duplex in warfare terms: ‘For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish’ (Gal 5.17).

We have a struggle, when we refer to ecstatic life and insular life, in biblical terms, between the Spirit anointed humanity we have been brought into in and through union with Christ versus the insular life which is of the seed of the first Adam who Christ put to death in ultimate ways. No matter what our station in life, priest, pastor, professor, physicist, pharmacist, philanthropist, pilot, or plebian we are all prone to fall back into the dead self-affirming way known as the insular life. Indeed, we might even build whole cathedrals, sub-cultures, halls, cliques, so on and so forth that institutionalize the insular life, and do it in the name of the ecstatic life. In other words, the insular life does not want to go away easy. Even though it has been put to death, as Paul says further ‘The last enemy that will be destroyed is death.’[1] This ‘enemy,’ this insular life, seeks to seduce us into thinking that it is actually the ecstatic life after all. As such, many partakers of the ecstatic life have fallen prey to this seduction, and in the name of ecstatic life, have constructed monuments that, at the end of the day, like the ‘Last Day,’ are actually idols made in the image of residual insular life still that is simultaneously present in the lives of those who are partakers of the ecstatic life.

It seems like I am speaking in code, a bit. But hopefully what I am attempting to impress is impressive enough. What I am really hoping to get across is the point that being a Christian requires dogged vigilance to be for Christ rather than against Christ every second of every day. This requires energy and endurance that we do not have in ourselves. So, I am calling the Christian to a ‘Lord-have-mercy’ (Kyrie eleison) existence wherein we are in prayerful moment by moment contact and posture with the God who is Life in and from Himself; the Life from whom we receive life (so ecstatic life). I am afraid positions, statures, and postures in the Christian world seduce people into thinking that they are in fact living in and from the ecstatic life as the mode of their daily lives when in fact they really aren’t. I’m afraid we have institutionalized things, even good things, like churches, seminaries, the ‘Christian intellectual life,’ so on and so forth in ways that are more in step with the insular life rather than the ecstatic life. As Thomas Torrance has noted we need to be in a constant posture of ‘repentant thinking’ before God, and simply ask Him moment by moment to keep us ‘in step with the Spirit’ rather than in step with the ‘enemy-life’ that is the insular life. Kyrie eleison

[1] I Corinthians 15.26 (NKJV).