Pastors Will Be Held to a Higher Standard than Group Think; The Elder Said ‘God just is Wrath’: Miscellanies on FaceBook Posts

This post will attempt to expand and clarify upon two FaceBook posts that seemed to cause some people confusion and even consternation. I mean this is usually the case on such platforms, isn’t it? People share context-less anecdotes, or enthymemic notions that are usually sub a greater and more fulsome context of meaning. This post will attempt to provide some of that for these two little ‘posts.’ Here’s the first one:

Much theology is adopted for purposes of pastoral polity and expediency, not necessarily because it represents the best alternatives critically available.

What I had in mind with this one isn’t all that profound, but here’s the context of thought: Growing up as an evangelical Baptist Christian, particularly as a ‘pastor’s kid’, it has made me sensitive to trends in the evangelical churches; as I’m sure it has for many of us. As someone who has been trained formally to be involved in some sort of Christian ministry, and been involved in pastoral and evangelical ministry over the years, what I’ve come to recognize in the Free churches, is that they are largely driven by trends. Usually because of time and personnel constraints, which is almost always driven by fiscal issues, pastors and leadership teams in churches are simply attempting to stay afloat among the rigors of daily ministry. As a result, there isn’t seemingly a lot of time for doctrinal reflection or development, so they fall back on whatever their ‘denomination’ or ‘tradition’ has adopted or gravitated towards. In the baptistic oriented churches, if they are wanting some sort of doctrinal bases, they seemingly have looked to outlets and ministries like The Gospel Coalition, John MacArthur’s ‘Grace to You’, Mark Dever’s 9Marks, or even Paul Washer (so on and so forth); but something in this range of theological trad. What, of course, is common to these various outlets is that they are largely shaped directly by what I call soteriological (versus Federal/Covenantal) Calvinism. But this is what is expedient and in the air for those who want to be doctrinally astute, at least at some level. So, the churches are being fed this sort of theological fare, whether that be in a more aggressive or passive way, respectively.

This is really all I was getting at with my FB post. Most local churches, for mostly administrative reasons, and then the way that pastors are trained to think to be pastors these days, are caught in this doctrinal web. If not, then they’ve caught other trends, like: moralistic therapeutic deism, self-help, seeker sensitive, market-based churching. But my basic premise is: That churches, largely because of their pastor[s], end up going along with theological group-think, rather than being critically reflective on what in fact the Bible might actually teach; and then the attending theological grammar and thought that comes along with that. Pastors will be held to a higher standard than ‘group think.’

My second post was this (this one was more doctrinally focused):

We attended a church for a while where one of the elders, as he was going to lead us in prayer stated: we just thank God for His wrath. Everything has a theological background. Do you want to guess the theological background that would lead someone to say something like this, in an abstraction?

Knowing me, this one should be pretty clear already. The theological background I’m referring to is classical Calvinism, of the sort we’ve already mentioned in the last explanation. The stunning thing to me about this pronouncement, from this elder, was that there was no qualification. He just got up, and as a matter of fact, he simply stated what I’ve noted; I’d never heard, not even a Calvinist be so blatant in language like this before (that was actually our last Sunday at this church). Does God have wrath? Yes, but in the sense noted by Thomas Torrance:

God loves you so utterly and completely that he has given himself for you in Jesus Christ his beloved Son, and has thereby pledged his very being as God for your salvation. In Jesus Christ God has actualised his unconditional love for you in your human nature in such a once for all way, that he cannot go back upon it without undoing the Incarnation and the Cross and thereby denying himself. Jesus Christ died for you precisely because you are sinful and utterly unworthy of him, and has thereby already made you his own before and apart from your ever believing in him. He has bound you to himself by his love in a way that he will never let you go, for even if you refuse him and damn yourself in hell his love will never cease. Therefore, repent and believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour.[1]

Or in the Barthian sense that God in Christ is the Judge, judged. The point being that God’s first Word of wrath is one of love. He first loved us that we might love Him, and in this God’s wrath begins to make theological sense. To simply state that we thank God for his wrath without explicitly grounding that first in His life of triune love gives the impression that God just is wrathful, full stop. But we know that this isn’t the case. We know who God is first, as Athanasius says (paraphrase): as Father of the Son; we know Him filially, and familially, as a child knows their parent—but in a primal, ultimate way. To unhinge God’s wrath from His love, from His being that is shaped by Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is to give the people a No-God; at least not a God who the Christian first has come to know as their Lord and Savior.

Clearly, there is an interpretive tradition this particular elder has been formed by; one that I’ve spilled much cyber-ink over. What this elder illustrated for me once again, is that theologies have consequences; of the sort that could potentially destroy people’s recognition of the true and living God; the God Christians only know, by definition, through the biblical reality who is the Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria.

 

 

[1] T. F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ, 94.

Advertisements
Pastors Will Be Held to a Higher Standard than Group Think; The Elder Said ‘God just is Wrath’: Miscellanies on FaceBook Posts

A Quick Response To Union Theological Seminary’s Recent Anti-Christ Twitter-Storm

The following is a “tweet-storm” that Union Theological Seminary recently posted on Twitter. It is actually prompted as a clarification to another tweet-storm they offered in response to John MacAthur’s Statement on Social Justice and The Gospel. Leaving that issue to the side for the moment, what this tweet-storm reveals, not surprisingly though, is the depths that Union has come to. They have been known since their inception of being a bastion of liberal theology, and so this might seem unremarkable to some. I just wanted to comment a bit on it. So read it in full below, then I will offer a brief comment.

Some people have asked why a Christian seminary would say that Christianity is not the only path to salvation. The short answer is that this in no way violates the Christian faith and, moreover, is integral to honoring and respecting our community. 2. For too long, Christians have misread verses like John 14:6 as implying that God is found exclusively through the Christian faith, many going as far as to say that people of other faiths face eternal damnation. This is an incredibly narrow reading of the text. 3. To box God neatly within the Christian tradition is to reveal a profoundly limited understanding of the divine. Who are we to say that God can’t speak to humanity through a multitude of messengers? 4. “No one comes to God except through me,” is simply Jesus’ prophetic announcement that—to know and enter into relationship with God—emulate Jesus: Embrace folk on the margins, stand against imperial abuses, love one’s neighbor. These aren’t exclusively Christian values. 5. And this isn’t a “good people from other faiths are Christians and just don’t know it” argument, just an admission of Christian humility that the way we’ve come to know and follow God isn’t the only path. Admitting this, however, by no means precludes Christian identity. 6. One can still uphold the Bible’s authority, personally; still believe fervently that Jesus is God-made-flesh; still worship in Christian community; still be a Christian in every meaningful sense, without saying anyone who believes differently is destined for hellfire. 7. Union is by no means disavowing Christianity, only admitting it is not the sole way to know God. And, in doing that, we open the door to genuine interreligious engagement that not only deepens Christian faith, but honors others’ religious experience as equally deep and valid. 8. Union now proudly offers programs in Buddhism & Interreligious Engagement and Islam & Interreligious Engagement. In our classrooms, Buddhist, Muslim and Christian students study side by side—exploring their faith together. 9. This is simply not possible in an institution that believes non-Christian students are destined for damnation. And this dynamic, while particularly acute in an educational setting, is just as true for the world at large. 10. We need faith leaders who can cross religious borders to strive together for God’s justice, not ones who demand everyone believe as they do. The globe is stricken with far too much religious violence: We need to deepen interreligious understanding, not add to this pain. 11. And this begins by letting go of narrow conceptions of salvation that harm others, building walls instead of bridges.[1]

Here is how I responded to it on my twitter feed:

I mean honestly there isn’t much to say other than UTS is apostate. They operate under the mythology of something like John Hick’s pluralistic universalism. They also, as indicated in their twitter-storm only make bald-faced, limp-wristed, snowflake like assertions about the traditional view of salvation being too narrow. So what! Really, what does it matter what they or I think?! Has God spoken clearly with force in and through His living Word or not? Is there ‘no other name given under heaven by which people might be saved’ except Christ’s name, or not? They said reading John 14:6 as presenting an exclusive way to God through Christ alone is too narrow and rigid. Really? How did you come to that conclusion, and who allowed you to crawl into God’s mind and tell the rest of the world, and the church catholic what he ‘really’ meant? Don’t you—the authors of this tweet-thread—see the slippery slope you have slid down? Aren’t you aware, historically, of the ideational antecedents that have led you to the sort of neo-Cartesian/Gnostic theory of authority you are operating from when you presume to speak as God? May God have mercy on your ever-self-loving-souls.

 

[1] Union Theological Seminary, Twitter-Storm, accessed 09-20-2018.

A Quick Response To Union Theological Seminary’s Recent Anti-Christ Twitter-Storm

The No-God of Jordan Peterson: And the Conservative Evangelical’s Love Affair with Power in the Public Square

Credit: ZachDrawThings

Jordan Peterson, that lightning bolt of a character these days, even for many Christians, just recently tweeted the following on his Twitter account:

God is the mode of being you value the most as demonstrated or manifested in your presumption, perception and action. –Jordan Peterson, June 25th 9:13 pm (Twitter)

In some of my reading I’m doing on Barth’s theology (actually some rereading in this case) I came across the following quote from Harvard theologian, Gordon Kaufman:

The concept “God” arises formally as ground and limit of the concept of “world,” and materially it arises out of the richness of human experience: for example, the experience of creativity, but also that of need and desire. God must be the ultimate reference point for human cultural and moral concerns. The two functions of the concept of “God” thus are the relativizing and the humanizing of the world. Since the concept “God” is not a report on information, and since the concepts that theology scrutinizes are employed to help us solve problems of meaningful moral and cultural living, theology is a practical rather than a theoretical discipline.[1]

As McCormack notes “The influence of Immanuel Kant on Kaufman’s perspective should be clear.”[2]

I couldn’t help but see some similarity between what Peterson recently tweeted and the ethos distilled in the Kaufman quote. For both God is a human projection, something immanent within the processes of the world ‘spirit’ and experience. Which makes one wonder, in some ways, why so many conservative evangelical Christians have become fan boys of Peterson; there seems to be dissonance between what conservatives creedally confess, as Christians, and who they pragmatically affirm in the greater struggle of the culture wars. There seems to be this sense that Peterson represents conservative evangelical values, and as such is worthy of carrying the torch that burns all progressive and liberal opponents at the stake of all that is unworthy in the realm of ideas in the public square.

Yet, ironically, it strikes me as odd, at least, that the poster-boy for conservatives is, in regard to his thinking on God, as progressive and ‘turned-to-the-subject’ as the Progressive and Liberal theologians are; as Kaufman helps to illustrate. Sooner or later Peterson’s commitments, on no-God, will come back to bite the very conservatives who are currently giving him platform and voice.

 

[1] Gordon Kaufman, “Essay on Theological Method,” in Hans Frei, “Types of Christian Theology,” cited by Bruce L. McCormack, Orthodox and Modern: Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 117.

[2] Ibid., 117.

The No-God of Jordan Peterson: And the Conservative Evangelical’s Love Affair with Power in the Public Square

Miscellanies on How the Order of a Doctrine of Election Affects the Pyromaniacs and The Gospel Coalition

The Gospel is Kingdom initiating, Kingdom grounding; indeed it could be said that the Gospel is the disruptive orientation of the original creation’s ultimate purpose as that is realized in the re-creation of God in Jesus Christ and his resurrection from the dead. As David Fergusson has written, “the world was made so that Christ might be born;” this adage captures well the inherent value or the inner reality that the creation itself has. It is one born only in and from God’s reality to graciously be for the world and to do so in himself, in the Son, by the Spirit and thus to pretend as if the Triune reality is not the ground and grammar of ALL of reality—inclusive of morality—is to reduce the Gospel to a pietist individualism that only has to do with me and my salvation/me and my eternal destiny. While personal salvation, its appropriation, is very important, it is grounded more objectively and universally in the reality of redemption that God in Christ has proffered for all of creation, with Jesus being its crowning reality and jewel. In other words, the cosmic reality of salvation, grounded in the humanity and divinity (an/enhypostasis) of the eternal Logos become flesh, Jesus Christ, encompasses all aspects of created reality. It is not simply a matter of sufficiency but of efficacy; in other words, in the Kingdom, in the recreation there is not a delimitation of that to particular parts (i.e. classic election/reprobation) of the creation; no, the Kingdom of God in Christ (which is given reality in the Gospel which is embodied and lived in the Christ) is a macrocosmic reality (Rom. 8.18ff) that indeed disruptively impacts individuals who are willing, by the Holy Spirit’s wooing, to participate in this new created reality in and through the priestly-vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ. This is why when people like Phil Johnson want to attempt to reduce the Gospel reality to its more individualistic provenance they end up critiquing work like The Gospel Coalition is engaging in as it sees the whole of reality implicated by the Kingdom Gospel; he fails to recognize that the Gospel is about a broader work and doctrine of creation/recreation than it simply being about ‘fire-insurance’ for an elect group of people elevated over and against the rest of creation (what TF Torrance identifies as ‘The Latin Heresy’ or an inherent dualism that comes to pass when we start denominating parts of creation from the mass of the creation). In this vein note what Johnson recently wrote in critique of The Gospel Coalition and its engagement with popular culture:

The “gospel-centered” movement that many of us were so enthusiastic for just one decade ago has gone with the drift. The Gospel Coalition has for some time now shown a pattern of embracing whatever new moral issue or political cause is currently popular in Western culture by arguing that this, too, is a legitimate “gospel issue.” They are by no means alone in this. Everything from the latest Marvel movie to gun control legislation has been deemed a “gospel issue” by some savvy evangelical writer at one or more of the most heavily trafficked evangelical websites. But if everything is supposedly a gospel issue, the expression “gospel-centered” is rendered meaningless.

As I said in a Tweet earlier today, we must not abandon the focused simplicity of Luke 24:46-47 in favor of a social gospel that encompasses a large complex of racial, economic, and political issues. Every denomination, every educational institution, and every church that has ever made that error has seen a quick demise. I for one don’t intend to watch in silence while the current generation repeats that mistake.[1]

In response to this I have read others on Twitter raise the question of sufficiency; in other words, is Scripture itself sufficient in responding to race or human sexuality questions, or in Scripture’s overt silence on these things are we able and responsible to turn to other resources—latent within God’s good creation (i.e. common grace)—to seek responses to the ills that the fallen world presents us with in an attempt to ultimately point people to the ultimate sufficiency of the living God as that is provided for in Jesus Christ? So the response seems to be: not all things are intensively or directly related to the narrower message of the Gospel, instead they are related but only in an extensive or indirect matter which allows for and even calls for Christian thinkers to respond to questions not explicitly spoken to in Scripture in such a way that honors the general reality of the Gospel; and within that space has freedom to address issues that might not otherwise seem to have to do with the Gospel in any meaningful sense, but in fact are Gospel issues insofar as they are indirectly impacted by the ultimate reality of it (in other words: natural law, or a natural ethic is going to be appealed to—something that in this line of thinking does not undercut the sufficiency of Scripture to speak to what it intends to speak to, but in fact works in a complementary way to Scripture with the a priori recognition that all of creation belongs to God and is within the realm of his Providential care, governance, and sustenance).

There is a certain irony to these views (Johnson’s and Twitter’s). Both of these approaches share a similar doctrine of creation, theologically/soteriologically. They both share a particular view on the sufficiency of the Gospel and Scripture, but apply that differently (because of broader hermeneutical differences). They denominate parts of creation out from the greater mass of creation, believing that one part is the elect of God while the rest is damned. Johnson focuses on the elect part of creation, but dispensationally neglecting the whole of creation, while the other side also focuses on the elect part of creation, but they see that as the seed that ultimately cashes out in the new creation; they place election into a cosmic understanding of salvation and Providence while Johnson places election into an individualistic and pietist understanding of salvation wherein what ultimately matters is not this creation simpliciter, but the legal salvation of an elect people from an eternal hell. The irony is that they share some overlapping soteriological assumptions, in regard to election, but where that doctrine is placed in their respective theologies cashes out differently in the way that they see the Gospel itself implicating the whole of creation. The Twitter-view works from a cosmic doctrine of salvation, while the Johnson view works from a pietistic, individualist understanding of salvation that is discontinuous from creation as a cosmic reality. The difference in the end is that the Twitter view is Covenantal while the Johnson view is Dispensational. The Twitter view reflects a historic confessionally Reformed perspective, while the Johnson view reflects his Calvinist-lite perspective which is the reduction of Reformed theology to the so called five-points.

Just take this post for what it’s worth. I was going to totally go in another direction and refer us to Oliver O’Dononvan and Philip Ziegler (and apocalyptic theology), but the above is what came out instead. It’s just me thinking out loud. But I think there might be something to my theoretical meanderings. And I only think this is a worthwhile exercise because I think it illustrates a substantial theological polarity that is present within the so called Reformed world. I’ll want to return to how I opened this post up, and get into the relationship of the Gospel and the Kingdom within an Apocalyptic Theology and how I think that informs discussions like these.

[1] Phil Johnson, The Root of the Matter, accessed 05-28-2018.

Miscellanies on How the Order of a Doctrine of Election Affects the Pyromaniacs and The Gospel Coalition

Beyond the Culture Wars: Christian Theology and the Hard Sciences in Communicatio

We live in a period of history wherein scientism—the belief that modern scientific progression still has the inchoate capacity to unlock the mysteries of the universe one observation at a time/the belief that science has become the new magisteria, the new authority and foundation upon which human knowledge and progress will flourish—by and large underwrites the confidence of our age; the confidence in the indomitable human spirit to overcome and meta-narrativalize reality (although postmodernity seeks to deconstruct most of that mentality; nevertheless, it is still present, I would contend, in society at large). That said, I wanted to share a word from Thomas F Torrance on how he sees the relationship between the ‘hard’ sciences and Christian theology; it is rather illuminating relative to how the culture wars so often paint things in stark and competitive terms. Torrance writes:

It is towards the encouragement of that kind of dialogue that this book is offered, in the hope that it may help people who are interested in natural science as well as those interested in Christian theology. What is intended here is not that theology should take into its material content ideas that derive from natural scientific knowledge of the universe, any more than natural science should incorporate into its developing stock of ideas distinctly theological conceptions. That would be both unscientific and untheological, and could only bring theology and science into useless conflict with one another. What is envisaged here is an exercise in conjoint thinking where theological science and natural science have common ground with the rationalities and objectivities of the created order but where they each pursue a difference objective. So far as theology is concerned, the claim is advanced that theology cannot be pursued in any proper and rigorous way in detachment from the determinate framework of the spatio-temporal universe with which God addresses his Word to us and calls us to know and love and serve him. It is, I believe, indifference to that framework of objective rationality, or the isolation of theology from natural science, that lies behind the sense of lostness and bewilderment, as well as the sloppiness and ambiguity of thought, so often manifest in contemporary theological literature. On the other hand, it is through that framework seriously that we are enabled to hear the Word of God in such an objective way that we do not confuse it with the creaturely things we tell ourselves about one another and are tempted to project into God. It is through deep-going dialogue with science and submission of our own theological conceptions to the critical questions it addresses to us that we are helped to purge our minds of pseudo-theological as well as pseudo-scientific notions, and so are enabled to build up theological knowledge in a positive way on its own proper ground: God’s self-revelation and self-communication to us in the incarnation of his eternal Word in Jesus Christ.[1]

When you read Torrance, no matter what it is from him, you will always have this underlying sounding of the patristic voice therein. Even here we can get a sense of Torrance’s enjoyment of patristic thought on the logoi derivative of the Logos of God built into the fabric of intelligible reality (intelligible precisely because the order of the universe is contingent upon the living Word of God—creatio ex nihilo). And as is also typical with Torrance, no matter what he writes it will always be conditioned by his concentrated effort to see the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ as regulative of all things; that all reality has it teleology from and in the Alpha and Omega, Jesus Christ. Beyond that, and this is quite fruitful I think (in regard to opening vistas towards a protagonistic relationship between hard science and Christian theology), Torrance wants science and Christian theology to be framed in a harmonious dialogical combine; one which is not currently present for many a Christian and/or scientist. This book (from whence I take the quote), helps offer a way forward for thinking Christian theology and Science together; while at the same time honoring their proper distinctions relative to disciplinary realities and subject/object material.

[1] Thomas F. Torrance, Christian Theology&Scientific Culture (Belfast: Christian Journals Limited, 1980), 8-9.

Beyond the Culture Wars: Christian Theology and the Hard Sciences in Communicatio

What Hath Benedictine Monks to do with the Mammon of Capitalism?

I just started rereading a book we read in undergrad worldview class back in 1998; the book is the late Neil Postman’s Technopoly. He makes an interesting observation about the invention of the clock and capitalism/mammon. He is noting how there are unseen consequences to the development of technology that can be both good and bad; I like the way he interprets how the clock was turned into a bad as it was put into the service of worshiping Mammon rather than the living and Triune God (which was its original intent). He notes:

But such prejudices are not always apparent at the start of a technology’s journey, which is why no one can safely conspire to be a winner in technological change. Who would have imagined, for example, whose interests in and what world-view would be ultimately advanced by the invention of the mechanical clock? The clock had its origin in the Benedictine monasteries of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The impetus behind the invention was to provide a more or less precise regularity to the routines of the monasteries, which required, among other things, seven periods of devotion during the course of the day. The bells of the monastery were to be rung to signal the canonical hours; the mechanical clock was the technology that could provide precision to these rituals of devotion. And indeed it did. But what the monks did not forsee was that the clock is a means not merely of keeping track of the hours but also of synchronizing and controlling the actions of men. And thus, by the middle of the fourth century, the clock had moved outside the walls of the monastery, and brought a new and precise regularity to the life of the workman and the merchant. “The mechanical clock,” as Lewis Mumford wrote, “made possible the idea of regular production, regular working hours and a standardized product.” In short, without the clock, capitalism would have been quite impossible.” The paradox, the surprise, and the wonder are that the clock was invented by men who wanted to devote themselves more rigorously to God; it ended as the technology of greatest use to men who wished to devote themselves to the accumulation of money. In the eternal struggle between God and Mammon, the clock quite unpredictably favored the latter.[1]

While this is noting a negative in regard to the mechanical clock, it doesn’t emphasize the various positives the clock has also brought. Nevertheless, I thought the juxtaposition was an interesting one, and one that we all live under the weight of in our daily lives for good or ill. It illustrates how a medium can be used for good or for bad; in this case the mechanical (now digital) clock served to help revolutionize society as a whole—in such a way that we couldn’t even imagine living in a world without one that is regulated by the Almighty Clock.

[1] Neil Postman, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (New York: Vintage Books, 1993), 14-15.

What Hath Benedictine Monks to do with the Mammon of Capitalism?

Chalcedonian Logic and the Diminished Christology of The Nashville Statement

When we separate the work of Jesus Christ from his person, or vice versa we will necessarily end up with not only a deflated expression of the Gospel, but also attendant with that, a weakened sense of ethics and holiness. It is the Chalcedonian logic to keep these two realities inseparably related—the person and work of Jesus Christ—while not failing to continually recognize that there is a distinction between the human and divine natures in the singular person of Jesus Christ. I just conflated two different things, but they too are related; I conflated a discussion about the two-natures/one person reality that Chalcedon sought to provide orthodox grammar for, with the idea that we should never separate the person and work and the work and person of Jesus Christ one from the other. The reason the conflation is present, I think, is by design. It’s the realization by the early church Fathers that any statement about God become man was one with deeply grounded soteriological impact. George Hunsinger, as he develops the Chalcedon logic, interacting with a pithy and elegant statement by George Herbert notes this:

“In Christ two natures met to be thy cure.” When George Herbert wrote these words, he captured the essence of Chalcedonian Christology, with all its strange complexity and simplicity, in a single elegant line. It is sometimes overlooked that the interest behind Chalcedonian Christology has always been largely soteriological. Herbert’s line, however, makes the point very well. It is the saving work of Christ—to be thy cure—which serves as the guiding intention behind the Chalcedonian definition of Christ’s person, just as the definition of his person (following Herbert) — in Christ two natures met — serves as the crucial premise of Christ’s saving work. Change the definition of Christ’s person — make him less than fully God and fully human at the same time — and the saving cure Christ offers changes drastically as well. In other words, just as it makes no sense to have a high view of Christ’s person without an equally high view of his work, so a high view of Christ’s work — in particular, his saving death — cannot be sustained without a suitably high view of his person. The work presupposes the person just as the person conditions the work.[1]

Hunsinger in a following footnote comments further on the relationship between the person and work of Christ, and how, if diminished in any way, one from the other or vice versa, that diminishes one side of the equation or the other. Here, in particular, Hunsinger is offering elaboration in the last sentence we just read from him above:

This latter sentence, by the way, states a basic rule of all Christology, although as applied here it sheds light on a particular type, namely, the Chalcedonian. In any Christology, at least when internally coherent (which cannot always be presupposed), the person (p) and the work (w) of Christ mutually imply each other: if w, then p; and if p, then w. Insofar as modern Christology has typically abandoned a high view of Christ’s person, it has also abandoned the correspondingly high conception of Christ’s saving work that Chalcedonian Christology is meant to sustain. Only a high Christology can state without equivocation, for example, that Jesus Christ is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). If Christ’s saving work consists in no more than his functioning as a spiritual teacher, a moral example, a symbol of religious experience, or even a unique bearer and transmitter of the Holy Spirit, a high or Chalcedonian view of Christ’s person is logically unnecessary. As modernist Christologies typically evidence (though not always forthrightly), such a saving figure need only be “fully human” without also being “fully God.”[2]

Application

This discussion can be taken in a variety of ways, but I want to take it towards ethics; I actually prefer a discussion on holiness, but ethics is a related loci (at least for the Christian). I simply want to state that: insofar as Christians talk about what it means to be holy before God, and more generally how that works out in a theory of ethics, that this should never be done in abstraction from the person of Jesus Christ. I think this is a symptom of a faulty theological endeavor; i.e. to somehow think the church  could ever talk about holiness without in the same breath tying that concretely into Christology. Without the person of Jesus Christ there is no work of salvation, and without the work of salvation there is no way for Christians to participate in and from the holiness of God; and without that participation there is no way to develop a Christian ethic.

I am really trying to get past the Nashville Statement, but I think this is another reason I really really dislike it so much. It actually reflects a way of thinking that thinks about things in abstraction from Jesus Christ. Thomas Torrance would say that this is because of what he calls the ‘Latin Heresy,’ or a dualistic way of conceiving of God’s person and work in Jesus Christ. I see a lack of the Chalcedonian pattern and logic funding evangelical statements like the Nashville Statement, and maybe this all flows from my years and years long critique of evangelical and classical Reformed theology in general; indeed, I’m sure it does flow from this.

To attempt to speak about being holy before God is not possible without first speaking about the person and work of God in Jesus Christ. The picture is too flat, and Christologically speaking, too adoptionistic when Christians attempt to make statements about being holy (no matter what that entails: i.e. human sexuality, race issues, age issues, socio-economic issues etc.). If we sever, even in our speech, the work of Christ from the person of Christ, on the Chalcedonian logic we inevitably diminish the person of Christ. It’s interesting that many of those, or at least some of the more prominent signers of the Nashville Statement endorse the heretical view of the eternal functional subordination (EFS) of the Son to the Father. I wonder if there is a tacit relationship between that, and the diminished Christology we see functioning in statements like the one from Nashville?

I clearly have more work to do in regard to tying many of the loose ends I’m leaving us with together, but such is a blog post. I am seriously going to make this the last post I write on the Nashville Statement.

 

[1] George Hunsinger,Disruptive Grace: Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2000), 131.

[2] Ibid., 131-2 n.2.

*I stole the picture of the Chinese Jesus from Paul Metzger’s usage of it in his post.

Chalcedonian Logic and the Diminished Christology of The Nashville Statement

What Kind of Church Culture Can Produce a Declaration like the Nashville Statement? Bearing Witness to Ourselves Rather than to Jesus Christ

I have had a chance, as the day unfolded, to reflect further on the so called Nashville Statement; the statement that a hundred and fifty evangelical signatories signed their names to. It seems to be their attempt to draw a line in the sand in regard to what they see as a pressing problem for the church, and in particular, their evangelical church. The problem for them, of course, is the progression and in-roads of the LGBTQ, homosexual gay agenda, as they see it transforming not only the body politic of culture in general, but its pressing into the church itself.

But I have a problem with it. For me, the problem has more to do with these leaders’s conception of how the church ought to operate in regard to its witness to the Gospel in relation to the world at large. As I see it, they are presuming upon an us versus them dynamic that the Gospel itself does not presume; instead, the Gospel is an equalizing reality. The Gospel as the Word of God in Jesus Christ stands as judge not just over those guys and gals out there, but as judge of the church itself; as Peter notes: “17 For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?”[1] In other words, the Nashville Statement places itself in the place of God’s Word, as if its signatories are the judges; it actually and ironically displaces the Word of God with its own word over against others. If these signatories were to listen to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and his admonition to the American churches, as he saw it back in the 30s, they may well not have penned such a statement. Bonhoeffer wrote:

American theology and the American church as a whole have never been able to understand the meaning of “criticism” by the Word of God and all that signifies. Right to the last they do not understand that God’s “criticism” touches every religion, the Christianity of the churches and the sanctification of Christians, and that God has founded his church beyond religion and beyond ethics. A symptom of this is the general adherence to natural theology. . . . But because of this, the person and work of Jesus Christ, must for theology, sink into the background and in the long run remain misunderstood, because it is not recognized as the sole ground of radical judgment and radical forgiveness.[2]

Do you see what Bonhoeffer is getting at, particularly when he references ‘natural theology?’ It is when churches displace her reality, founded in Jesus Christ alone, with a perception of herself as possessor of God’s absolute Word, and not just as possessor, but as dispenser, that she has presumed too much. She begins to elevate herself beyond the culture of which she is ensconced, and presumes that she has divined things, and thus has become able to pronounce things in absolute and damning ways, that in reality belongs to the Lord of the church alone; the living Word of God. Bonhoeffer’s point, is that when the church sees herself as coextensive with the Word of God itself, in an absolute way, that she actually loses her voice to bear witness to the living Word of God who not only stands in judgment of his church, but of the world at large.

Similarly, John Webster, as he comments on Barth’s critique of the liberal church in Germany is somewhat and ironically parallel with Bonhoeffer’s critique of the American church as he saw it. Here Webster, in line with Bonhoeffer points out how, in the thought of Barth, morality and ethics become too much aligned with the ‘moral and absolute self’ such that the Word of God loses its place for the Christian, and at the same time becomes coterminous with the Christian’s perception of the world at large and her pronouncements toward the world. Webster writes:

A large part of Barth’s distaste is his sense that the ethics of liberal Protestantism could not be extricated from a certain kind of cultural confidence: ‘[H]ere was … a human culture building itself up in orderly fashion in politics, economics, and science, theoretical and applied, progressing steadily along its whole front, interpreted and ennobled by art, and through its morality and religion reaching well beyond itself toward yet better days.’ The ethical question, on such an account, is no longer disruptive; it has ‘an almost perfectly obvious answer’, so that, in effect, the moral life becomes too easy, a matter of the simple task of following Jesus.

Within this ethos, Barth also discerns a moral anthropology with which he is distinctly ill-at-ease. He unearths in the received Protestant moral culture a notion of moral subjectivity (ultimately Kantian in origin), according to which ‘[t]he moral personality is the author both of the conduct with which the ethical question is concerned and of the question itself. Barth’s point is not simply that such an anthropology lacks serious consideration of human corruption, but something more complex. He is beginning to unearth the way in which this picture of human subjectivity as it were projects the moral self into a neutral space, from which it can survey the ethical question ‘from the viewpoint of spectators’. This notion Barth reads as a kind of absolutizing of the self and its reflective consciousness, which come to assume ‘the dignity of ultimateness’. And it is precisely this — the image of moral reason as a secure centre of value, omnicompetent in its judgements — that the ethical question interrogates. [3]

The Nashville Statement exudes this sense “of [the] absolutizing of the self and its reflective consciousness, which come to assume ‘the dignity of ultimateness.” The Word of God has now been conflated with the Nashville Statement, as if a hundred and fifty signatories, backing fourteen theses on homosexuality are what God himself believes about the state of affairs in regard not just to homosexuality but other moral proclivities.

What concerns me most is the culture, in the evangelical church, that fosters the idea that such statements are healthy and good. In what way do such statements bear witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ; to the living Word of God? It ends up reducing the church to an organization of people who appear to be oriented around a cluster of ethical principles and mores instead of an organic reality who finds her sustenance in and from Christ. Whether or not homosexuality is contrariwise to the ethics of the Kingdom[4], the church herself should be more concerned with her own blights and inadequacies. The church should evidence humility before God wherein she is constantly crying out to him for his mercy and grace, such that this posture, before the world, bears witness to the reality of God in Christ. The church should avoid placing herself in positions where she appears to believe that she has become the absolute mouthpiece for God, in regard to perceived moral inequities, and instead submit to the personal reality of God herself. It is this repentant posture before God and the world wherein the power of God will be most on display. It is up to God in Christ to bring transformation into the lives of people; he alone justifies and sanctifies, the church does not!

Who do we think we are? Jesus is LORD, not the church!

 

[1] I Peter 4.17, NIV.

[2] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Protestantism without Reformation,” in No Rusty Swords, ed. Edwin H. Robertson (London: Fontana Library, 1970), 88-113 cited by George Hunsinger,Disruptive Grace: Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2000), 71-2.

[3] John Webster, Barth’s Moral Theology: Human Action in Barth’s Thought, 35-6.

[4] Which personally I believe it is.

*Artwork of Dietrich Bonhoeffer from Mark Summers.

What Kind of Church Culture Can Produce a Declaration like the Nashville Statement? Bearing Witness to Ourselves Rather than to Jesus Christ

Did Hank Hanegraaff Convert to Greek Orthodoxy on Palm Sunday, April 9th 2017?

I came across this picture, ostensibly of the Bible Answer Man, Hank Hanegraaff. He was someone, I’m sure like many, who I listened to and even relied upon some 22 years ago as I was struggling with doubts and had new theological and biblical questions I needed answered (even though I was raised in the church)—this was all before I attended Bible College or Seminary. Anyway, this picture (there were actually 2) was posted on St. Nektarios’ Greek Orthodox Church’s Facebook page. After I “grabbed” this particular picture I went back to take a look later and the picture (and another one of Hank) had been taken down. It is a rather shocking picture, at least for me, because I really had no inkling that Hank had ever considered becoming Orthodox; that is until recently (like within the last couple of weeks) when I was alerted to how Hank answered a question about theosis on his BAM broadcast. He almost sounded defensive of Orthodoxy in the clip I listened to of him, and now that would make sense if in fact the picture I have of him is indeed legitimate. I shared it on Facebook, and some folks have voiced skepticism about the picture being authentic. But I found it by simply browsing St. Nektarios’ Facebook page, and there are no signs of it being foul play. If it was foul play why would they bury it on an obscure Facebook page that is not even in the public eye? I see no evidence of the picture being fake thus far, and I am currently waiting to hear back about my inquiry to the Christian Research Institute (CRI) as to the veracity of the picture and whether there is reality to this picture or not. But I thought I would share the picture; I think if Hank has in fact converted to Orthodoxy, along with his wife, that it could have some serious blow back on his Bible Answer Man broadcast (which is a kind of staple of popular evangelical apologetics), and the Christian Research Institute in general. This might explain, if in fact Hank has converted, why they would want to keep it as hush-hush as possible.

I don’t have any insider’s knowledge, or secret source giving me the inside scoop on this. But the picture itself, if authentic (and I see no evidence as to why it wouldn’t be), speaks for itself. Here’s the blurb that was posted above the catalog of pictures I found this picture of Hank in on St. Nektarios’ Facebook page:

On Palm Sunday, we commemorate the Entrance of our Lord into Jerusalem. At this morning’s services we blessed the palms during Matins, witnessed the Chrismation of four new members to the Orthodox Church during Liturgy, and concluded services with the traditional Palm Sunday procession.

Addendum: A guy named Fr. Thomas Soroka, an Eastern Orthodox Priest, is also announcing that Hank Hanaegraaff, his wife Kathy, and two sons have indeed been Chrismated into the Eastern Orthodox tradition. He wrote this on his Facebook wall:

Many years to Hank Hanegraff (aka “The Bible Answer Man”) and his wife Kathy, newly Chrismated Orthodox Christians as of this morning in Charlotte​, NC.

Did Hank Hanegraaff Convert to Greek Orthodoxy on Palm Sunday, April 9th 2017?

Barth to the Hungarian Youth of 1948: On Human Freedom

Freedom is such a misunderstood concept, by believers and non-believers alike. To be sure, in the Bible, when human freedom is referred to it is not in reference to some sort of abstract, philosophically conceived idea of ‘free-will’ or some such nonsense; no it is in reference to what it means to truly and genuinely live before God. In our modern/post-modern 21st century we have barthsoldierall become mired down by being so “free” that we haven’t stopped to notice that we actually live in bondage to ourselves. This is precisely what Barth was attacking as he finished up his talk with some Hungarian youth back in the Spring of 1948. He said:

I have almost finished. If your freedom is to be strong and genuine it will have to have a foundation. What was called freedom in the European age now passed collapsed, and was bound to collapse, because for a long time and at an amazingly deep level it had degenerated into a freedom for godlessness and inhumanity—not merely in its secular and evil form but in its religious and moral form too. Do not hesitate to describe and treat anyone as a ‘reactionary’ who attempts to commend this kind of freedom to you under whatever name. Freedom means freedom for God and one’s neighbor. Wherever it is something different from that it is not freedom for responsibility. In the freedom for God and one’s neighbour you will find the right words and instinctively take the right steps and grow into defiance against the idols of yesterday and those of today. You will not become doctrinaires! The New Testament calls this freedom the freedom of the children of God, our freedom in Jesus Christ. Why? Because as true God and true man Jesus Christ has brought God and man together. ‘If the Son shall make you free ye shall be free indeed.’ This Word was also spoken to our generation. We did not understand it very well. Will it be granted to your generation to understand it a little better? May it be granted to you! What is certain is that we the old and you the  youth of today, are members one of another as we listen to the Word.[1]

[1] Karl Barth, Against the Stream: Shorter Post-War Writings 1946–52 (London: SCM Press Ltd., 1954), 61.

Barth to the Hungarian Youth of 1948: On Human Freedom