Torrance’s Theological-Exegetical Gloss on Romans 8:31-39: And a Word of Encouragement About God’s Unrelenting Love For Us

As I have been rereading TF Torrance’s The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being Three Persons, I came across a passage that struck me as a sort of theological-exegetical gloss of Romans 8:31-39. Torrance is often accused of not doing any biblical-exegetical work; but I would counter, that in his role as a Christian Dogmatist his work is saturated in the thematics that allow Scripture to say what it does about God and His works. I would contend that, Torrance, as a Christian Dogmatist, par excellence, has Scriptural themes and their reality in Christ, pervading all of his writings. What is required for the reader though, is that they be familiar enough with Scripture, as Torrance was, to be able to discern just how Scripturally rich and informed his theologizing is. In the following we will compare Romans 8:31-39 and the passage I came across from Torrance; and then in conclusion offer some reflection on its theological and spiritual implications.

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?33 Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” 37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And Torrance:

In the outgoing movement of his eternal Love God himself has come among us and become one of us and one with us in the Person of his beloved Son in order to reconcile us to himself and to share with us the Fellowship of Love which he has within his own Triune Life. Since in the Lord Jesus Christ the fullness of God dwells bodily we must think of the entire Godhead as condescending in him to be ‘God with us’ in our human life and existence in the world. This does not mean of course that the Father and the Spirit became incarnate with the Son, but that with and in the incarnate Son the whole undivided Trinity was present and active in fulfilling the eternal purpose of God’s Love for mankind, for all three divine Persons have their Being in homoousial and hypostatic interrelations with one another, and they are all inseparably united in God’s activity in creation and redemption, not least as those activities are consummated in the incarnate economy of the Son. In refusing to spare his dear Son but in delivering him up in atoning sacrifice for us all, God the Father reveals that he loves us with the very Love which he bears to himself, and that with Jesus Christ he freely gives us all things. If God is for us in this way what can come between us? And in giving us his one Spirit who proceeds from the Father through the Son and sheds abroad in our hearts the very Love which God himself is, God reveals that there is nothing that can ever separate us from him in his Love. Through the Son and in the Spirit, we are taken into the triune Fellowship of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Thus in an utterly astonishing way the Holy Trinity has committed himself to be with us and among us within the conditions of our human and earthly life in space and time, but, it need hardly be said, without being subjected to the processes and necessities of created space and time, and without in the slightest compromising the mystery of his divine transcendence.[1]

We see Torrance creatively interweaving classical trinitarian locus like the opera trinitatis ad extra indivisa sunt (‘the works of the Trinity on the outside are indivisible’) into his thinking on God’s “for us-ness,” which in itself places an emphasis on the oneness of God in recognition of his works toward us in the economy of His life become revealed for us in the Son. Beyond that, we see how the canonical themes, and in particular in this passage, the themes of Romans are informing Torrance’s thought in regard to God’s love for us; and then what that love implies in its grounding in Jesus Christ.

More practically, the great hope this provides us with is without measure! I often feel like I’m just going through the motions of life; getting caught up in the necessary busy-ness of it all, and not really living into the full participatio Christ that I’ve been called to in Christ. What this passage from Torrance, as a gloss on Romans, encourages me to remember is that no matter what, it is the whole God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—who is holding me deeply in His grasp, and who cannot be deterred in His tremendous Love for me. I find great hope in knowing that no matter what the goings on of my life are, that God in Christ for us, for me will never allow me to be separated from Him; that I am as close to Him as the Son of God is to His Father in the bond of the Holy Spirit. While daily requisites of life seem to plague my existence moment by moment; while my energy is zapped by the long hours of work, and the financial responsibilities that seem to be at every turn and corner of life; while health issues, and other anxieties and fears seemingly seek to suck up the time that ought to only be God’s; while all of these things and more are present in our daily lives as Christians, what Torrance and the Apostle Paul encourage us with is the reality of “so what!” God is God, and He will not be thwarted in His great love for us; just as sure as His great Love just is who He is, and He has shown us that in His undivided work for us in the three persons, as revealed first in the Son.

[1] Thomas F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being Three Persons(London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016), 162.

The Surd of Sin Juxtaposed with the Glory of Heaven

I just wrote the following reflection for Twitter, then cross-posted it to Facebook. I become overwhelmed by all of the evil and chaos in the world, quite frequently these days. It keeps me coming back to the living Hope we have in Jesus Christ. Out of necessity I must meditate on the reality of reality in Jesus Christ. If I don’t the darkness of this world would attempt to rob me of the great joy and light I have in our dear Lord.

Evil is a surd; sin is absurd. There is nothing rational about evil. You can’t reason with it. Jesus didn’t come to reason with it. He came to destroy it from the inside out. He assumed it in his flesh, and put it to death. He left it in the grave, with the last enemy: death. He’s coming again, and when He comes again He’ll take that old grave, where He left death, and the earth and rock that founds it, and irruptively re-create it; the heavens and the earth. In the re-creation there is no death, that last enemy; for it will have finally been put under His feet in the reprobate of outer darkness. Just as the seed falls into the ground, dies, and springs to new life, so too Christ, the image of God, rose and became the firstborn from the dead; the first fruits! At His coming this earth, being subjected to futility, will rise again where there is no longer any possibility for disease, sickness, anxiety, panic and death. The only reminder of that old world will be the scarred hands, feet, and side of the Lamb of God slain and resurrected before the foundation of the world. Jesus is King!

God Alone is Good

17 And as he was setting out on his way, one individual ran up and knelt down before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do so that I will inherit eternal life?” 18 So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.’” 20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have observed from my youth.” 21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: Go, sell all that you have, and give the proceeds to the poor—and you will have treasure in heaven—and come, follow me.” 22 But he looked gloomy at the statement and went away sorrowful, because he had many possessions. -Mark 10:17-22

“No one is good except God alone.” Ponder that, think about it. I have been lately, it’s the premise of the whole thing. If we are going to see God, we must likewise be good. But we are creatures, and fallen creatures at that. How are we supposed to bridge the gap between God, who alone is good and Holy, and we ourselves, who are fallen and sinful human beings? We somehow have to come to have ‘eyes to see and ears to hear’ the Holy face and voice of God.

Humans are worshipping beings by design. Born into a fallen and ruptured state with the living God, we think ourselves to be all knowing gods, and this by nature. God alone is good according to Jesus. If we are to see and hear God, we must also be good. Good not in the sense of relatively good (i.e., compared to our neighbors), but good in the absolute sense; like God. This is the only avenue that leads to being able to see God in His fullness, and not die.

Many in the world falsely comfort themselves with the idea that: “I’m not that bad, I’m a good-hearted person etc.” But where does the notion of good even come from for such people; where do they derive their notion of goodness from? For people in the culture, writ large, goodness, as alluded to above, is largely derived from what counts as good in their own eyes. They look around at people who are “worse” than them, societally speaking, and conclude from their that they are a relatively good person. Even if that’s the case it still doesn’t explain where the notion of goodness comes from in the first place.

Some natural theologians would appeal to the idea of natural law, natural theology, general revelation, and conscience to explain how people seemingly just have some flickering notion of what goodness is. But I protest (surprise!) I would argue that the notion of goodness that Jesus has in mind is of another world, the world He came to mediate us into; as He came into the far country of His fallen creation as one of us. In other words, as we read above, Jesus’ interlocutors, as a matter of simple and seemingly self-evident engagement with Jesus, simply presumed to call Him ‘good.’ But He knew they were doing so based on superficial appearances, by what they could see with their own eyes. He knew that they couldn’t see the depth dimension of goodness, like He could as the Son of God. And it was this goodness that He was calling people to, a goodness that can only obtain as the heart of stone is replaced with the living heart of flesh that Christ alone formed for them, for us in His resurrected humanity. What Jesus was telling them, telling us, is that there is an alien (relative to us) goodness that can not be perceived by the human mind alone; that there must be an irruption, an in-breaking from the heavens if human beings are to experience goodness as it really is in the triune God.

Hence, there is nothing ‘natural’ about goodness according to Jesus. Goodness doesn’t underwrite this world system, nor any of its children. Goodness can only be encountered as a person is confronted by God’s goodness for them in Jesus Christ. So, the idea of a natural theology, a general revelation, or a conscience funding some sort of abstract or general notion of goodness is confounded. According to Jesus, God is good, and the only way this can be known is through Jesus. Even in the account we are looking at in Mark, ironically, it is Jesus telling his questioners that the goodness they thought they knew was more than flesh deep. That goodness is more than humanity alone can imagine; that goodness must break into this world afresh anew, each and every moment, by the Holy Spirit’s Christ conditioned ministry for the world; that goodness isn’t something any human being possesses, but can only become possessed by as the Holy Spirit comes to reside in them, and He unioning them, us to the goodness of God in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ (who is God for us enfleshed).

This is why Christian witness is so significant. The world has a sense of goodness not because it is something inherent to them, to the ‘natural’ universe. The world has a sense of goodness because God broke into this world in Jesus Christ, and revealed Himself to the world; even while ‘hidden’ in the flesh of a man of sorrow acquainted with grief. It is the Christian witness that serves as the Light to the world, that Christ is risen and God is good. But as is typical of the world, and those Christians who subscribe to natural knowledge of God, this reality of God’s goodness, as given in Christ, by the Holy Spirit, and in the Christian witness to Christ, is abstracted and collapsed into a notion of goodness that they discovered. And it is this notion of goodness that gets superimposed onto a natural construction of godness through which people come to have control over God; that they are then able to make Him a predicate of their wills, their desires, their suppositions about metaphysics, so on and so forth.

Jesus came to tell the world that this notion of goodness, one abstracted by the human mind (by whatever means, and under whatever conditions) is false. His interlocutors presumed to know what ‘good’ entails, but Jesus clearly confounded them by pointing them to God alone as the circumscription of what goodness is. He pointed away from Himself, only for the Father, by the Spirit, to point back to Him and say: “this is my dearly beloved Son, hear Him!” This is how the triune God operates, by finding their life in their relationship with the other; this is God’s oneness in action. Likewise, our life, and the goodness therein can only come to be known and lived as we look away from ourselves, and look upward to God, as He has made a way for that in and through Christ’s vicarious eyes for us. As we participate in this vision, in this life, we can bear witness to genuine goodness, to the living God, and provide the salt the world needs to come to have the flavor of heaven it needs to “taste and see that God is good.”


On the Virtue of Theological Jargon

I post lots of things that are full of theological jargon, and I’m sure leave many scratching their heads. But I think it’s elevating. One of my former Bible College profs, Dr. Rex Koivisto, used to say “I like your altitude,” if he could tell you were tracking with things; stretching, and thinking deep thoughts about the Bible and the living God. If nothing else it is important for other Christians to understand that deep thoughts are available, often signified by “precision language,” or jargon. Theological jargon might appear to be merely academic jargon, but it isn’t. The best of theological jargon is intended to be doxological (worshipful), and to signify that people can attempt to talk about our wondrous God who is ineffable, and far beyond all comprehension; save Christ. The big words, relative to the God they are intended to articulate, are at the very outer reaches of what human language can “handle.” For me, as for the Apostle Paul, this is how worship irrupts; that is, coming to an end of our capacity to speak of the ineffable God, and yet still knowing that He simply is.
33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
35 “Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”
36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. -Romans 11

The Christian Life: Sorrows, Griefs, Battles, and Victory

My current header picture is a rendition of Jesus’ wilderness’ temptation. It depicts, I think rather well, who the promised ‘Man of Sorrows’ would indeed be. It reminds me of the famed Messianic text of Isaiah 53:

53 Who has believed what he has heard from us?
    And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
    and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
    and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
    a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
    he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
    so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
    and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
    stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
    and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
    and there was no deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
    he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
    he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
    make many to be accounted righteous,
    and he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
    and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
    and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
    and makes intercession for the transgressors.

American, and Western Christianity in general, do not fellowship in sufferings; we do the opposite. We attempt to live a life of façade wherein we jovially smile and shake each other’s hands in the narthexes of our local churches. We pretend like the rest of the culture that we’re all put together, and that life is upwardly mobile. As Arthur McGill has called it, we attempt to be the ‘bronze people,’ with our bronzed bodies, and white veneered teeth. But in reality, the Gospel says that as we are participants with Christ, that we will constantly be given over to His death that His life might be made manifest in our mortal bodies. The Apostle Paul said:

But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, 11 if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3)

We’re in a spiritual battle. The ancient church recognized our stead here in these bodies of death as being the church militant. We wrestle against the principalities and powers, not because we’re special per se, but because we are participant in the life of Christ; a life characterized by sorrow and grief. As Christians when we step up, and are willing to enter the fight, particularly by living righteously and bearing witness that Jesus is Lord in all that we do, we step into this stream of spiritual warfare that is going on all around us every minute of everyday. And yes, we are on the triumphant side, but that doesn’t mean we don’t experience the serious heat of the armory we are facing as soldiers for Jesus Christ.

When Christians feel the pressure to hide what they are being assailed by, because they are genuinely Christians, it makes everyone feel isolated and alone. Instead we ought to be transparent about the battles that are pressing in on us, and thus come to have the capacity to bear each other’s burdens, by the Spirit, just as the church has been intended to do from its inception. We do ourselves no favors by living fake Christian lives, as if what that entails is ‘living our best lives now.’ That anecdote is about as antiChrist and demonic as it can get. We are living for Christ and His Kingdom now, and that involves the very types of things Jesus endured as He was in the wilderness for forty days, while He was on the cross feeling as if the Father had forsaken Him. Be in the fight, Christian! The LORD never disappoints.


The No-Death of the Kingdom of Heaven

Death is so anti-climactic relative to the world at large. You can live 80 good years on this earth, and then simply die. Those you leave behind will grieve and mourn the absence, but the world at large keeps going as if nothing happened. And yet in the Kingdom of Heaven every death is charged full with God’s death for the world in Jesus Christ. There is no more death, in fact, in the Kingdom. In the Kingdom what was once death, in the fallen world, was put to death in the death of Christ. As a result, there is only life, that is for those spiritually (not just carnally) in Christ. This world might continue on in its character of spiritual blindness (and deadness), but in the Kingdom what appears as death to the naked eye, that is for those spiritually in Christ, is not death at all; it is consummation, it is glorification (currently in an intermediate status). Jesus said (and demonstrated) that He is ‘the resurrection and life,’ and thus ‘though you die, yet shall you live.’ Death in the Kingdom is the most climactic event currently unfolding in this in-between; for it is really only a transition into the resurrected life that stands behind, above, and in this world by the Spirit. It is the realization of what we once only saw by the faith of Christ.

The world at large only goes on phenomenologically, to those who live by sight. For those of us who see and hear with the faith of Christ we know that the world at large is circumscribed by the re-creation and resurrection of Jesus Christ (cf. Rom. 8:18ff). We know that the resurrected humanity of Christ is the ground of all reality in the Kingdom. We know that the new creation, that the new time, is first and foremost in the One who is the firstborn from the dead; the One who is the firstfruits of God for the world. In the Kingdom there is no world at large, as if some generic habitat that abstract souls construct meaning for themselves within. The Kingdom is the new world, the new creation, and its King and reality sits at the Right Hand of the Father. Yes, death remains an enemy, but a vanquished one. It has been triumphed over, made a public spectacle of at the cross of Jesus Christ. Death now stings, but it loses its sting when we can walk in step with the Spirit and see the beauty of God’s Kingdom come and coming in the face of Jesus Christ. We can repose in the reality that death has no reality in the Kingdom, and as sons and daughters of the Kingdom, as co-heirs with Jesus Christ we can stand boldly before the throne of grace, which is the ground and reality of Kingdom reality, and stand victorious before the fear and dread the world at large lives with in the face of last enemy.

We are here, then, as ambassadors, as emissaries of the Kingdom life. We are not of this world, but of the Kingdom. The Kingdom is not of this world, but stands on architecture that God alone has constructed from the dust of Christ’s glorified humanity. While, as ambassadors, we might experience the travail and tempest of this far country we’ve come to inhabit as harbingers of the Kingdom, but at the same time we understand that we are simply here for the other. We understand, as Christ did first, that there is a joy set before us that allows us to endure whatever crosses and deaths we might experience here and now. We recognize, as emissaries of the risen Christ, the King of the Kingdom, that there is no death at the gates of Heaven. We experience loss and grief, but not as those without hope.

Christ Crucified and the Perfect Tense of Corinthians

The following is an excerpt from my Master’s thesis on first Corinthians 1: 17-25. This will be a quick discussion on the phrase “Christ crucified” found in verse 23. I will follow with a closing word.


This phrase serves as the content of the proclamation of foolishness, back in verse 21. The term Christ crucified is a perfect passive participle, and it is functioning as an adjectival- substantive participle, meaning the one who was crucified. The perfect participle carries the force of,” … describing an event that, completed in the past …,” and “… has results existing in the present time” (Wallace, “Greek Grammar beyond the Basics,” 573). Thus, Christ crucified carries with it the notion that Christ’s crucifixion stands as a past reality with its effects coming into the present. Lenski succinctly summarizes this phraseology:

The perfect participle Christ crucified states that, one crucified, Christ now stands before us continuously as such. The fact of his crucifixion has become something permanent and enduring from the very moment when that fact occurred. This crucified Christ is both the sum of the Gospel and the Center from which every part of the Gospel radiates, and in which all of its parts meet.[1]

The proclamation of Christ crucified is what serves as a stumbling block to the Jews and as folly to the Greeks.




The above represents our blessed hope as Christians! The power of God, not in abstraction, but in the concreto reality of the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ demonstrated for all who will see. Its power preceded it in the inner-life of God who freely chose this way for Himself; that is, to not be God without us. It crescendoed as He actualized it in that particular time on that particular day when He cried out “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken Me.” In this cry the Son of Man evinced what is at the heart of every fallen heart (even though His heart was not fallen, although He was dying for ours); a sense of utter loss and despair; anxiety and heaviness that is indescribable. But that cry does not compare to the shout of victory that the Son yelled out as He broke the graves doors, resurrected and ascended to the Right Hand of the Father. This victory has perfect force. Once started it never ends. It is a force a power that death cannot hold down, that anxiety cannot broach; it is a force that steamrolls the fears and angsts of all of humanity. This is the ‘perfect’ power of the living God. When tempted to shrink back just remember that God’s life is an indestructible life, and that His life literally stands as your life as a Christian. Press into that, not by might, nor by power, but by the Spirit. Ask the Lord to let you realize what this power can do in your daily life as a Christian, that He might be magnified in all the blessings He pours into your life, from His life for you, as you live in this obedient way.

[1] Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul’s First and Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 66.


The Father’s Loving Discipline

You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons,

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
Nor faint when you are reproved by Him;
For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines,
And He scourges every son whom He receives.”

It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. 11 All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. -Hebrews 12:4-11


I was just reflecting on this passage tonight. As I’m going through a particular trial right now—some of it having to do with my personality and the way I’m wired—I was thinking about how the LORD might be using this literal fire in my life right now. There are certain areas in my life that have been unhealthy, I think. That I have been living in an undisciplined way in certain aspects of my life; that I have been allowing certain pet sins to go unchecked and unmortified; and that the LORD as a faithful and loving heavenly Father only allows His children to stay wayward in certain ways for so long, then He acts. But He doesn’t act with vindictive, but with the heart of a Father for a son or daughter that He has unmatchable love towards. And so, in His ways that aren’t our ways, He brings discipline into our lives in ways that might, in the moment seem like a touch of hell. Of course, it isn’t a touch of hell, but in fact, and instead, it is Christ’s death, which is greater than hell, that we come to experience as sons and daughters of the living Father. Nevertheless, this taste of Christ’s death can and does feel precisely like hell, at points. And yet as the author of the Hebrews, by the Holy Spirit, is noting: God’s ‘scourging’ reflects His deep Fatherly love for us; even though in the moment it might ‘feel’ like He hates us. He is able to reverse this ‘scourging’ in such a way, and at such a time (usually at the point that you feel beyond capable) that we come to recognize that He loves us just as much as He loves the Son who first died for us, that we might die, and then live with Him. Part of the Father’s discipline of us is what Paul identifies in II Corinthians 4:10 as: “always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death works in us, but life in you.” It is this reality of Christ’s death in us, by the Spirit, that the reality of Christ’s life becomes ever more effervescent and apparent as we grow and walk with Him as maturing sons and daughters of the eternal Father.

I feel like I’m on the ‘death’ side of this dialectic right now. It is not fun, and yet the Father is being the Father. He remembers our frames are but dust (apparently dust is a lot sturdier than I realized, or had hoped for), and thus takes us as far as a wise Father knows He can before it is finally too far (and that is a statement of faith). God isn’t the punisher, but the Father; and as such, He disciplines so that we’ll look more and more like the ground of our life in the eternal Son, Jesus Christ. As a corollary, He also knows each one of us intimately. In other words, He knows how to work the soil of our lives in such a way that it is tailored to who we are as individual members of the body of Christ. This is why when Peter is wondering about John’s future vis-à-vis his, Jesus says the following to him:

18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.” 19 Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He *said to him, “Follow Me!”

20 Peter, turning around, *saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; the one who also had leaned back on His bosom at the supper and said, “Lord, who is the one who betrays You?” 21 So Peter seeing him *said to Jesus, “Lord, and what about this man?” 22 Jesus *said to him, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!” 23 Therefore this saying went out among the brethren that that disciple would not die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but only, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?” -John 21:18-23

Each one of us has a different story being told through us of God’s poetic work of re-creation that first took place in the one for the many, Jesus Christ. Peter’s story, and the way the Father through the Son by the Spirit was working in Peter’s life would end up looking completely different from the way He ended up working in John’s life, in regard to their trajectories, and even their deaths. I can’t help but think that Jesus didn’t have Isaiah’s teaching in mind, in regard to the way that Yahweh works sensitively per the “soils” He has before Him:

23 Give ear and hear my voice,
Listen and hear my words.
24 Does the farmer plow continually to plant seed?
Does he continually turn and harrow the ground?
25 Does he not level its surface
And sow dill and scatter cummin
And plant wheat in rows,
Barley in its place and rye within its area?
26 For his God instructs and teaches him properly.
27 For dill is not threshed with a threshing sledge,
Nor is the cartwheel driven over cummin;
But dill is beaten out with a rod, and cummin with a club.
28 Grain for bread is crushed,
Indeed, he does not continue to thresh it forever.
Because the wheel of his cart and his horses eventually damage it,
He does not thresh it longer.
29 This also comes from the Lord of hosts,
Who has made His counsel wonderful and His wisdom great. -Isaiah 28:23-29

Our Father knows how to “work us over,” but with a Father’s love. It might not ‘feel’ like love in the moment, but in the end, based on the fruit cultivated it will be ‘a sweet-smelling aroma leading to life.’




A Devotional with Martin Luther and his Theology of the Cross

The following is a repost I originally wrote approximately in and around 2009. I am currently, and once again, being pressed with a really challenging spiritual attack. I’ve walked through many years of these seasons in the past, but that doesn’t necessarily make the heat right now that much cooler. If you could remember me in prayer at this time I would really appreciate it. And with that I’ll leave you with the following word on Martin Luther’s theology of the cross, and some of its devotional implications for our edification and encouragement.

I was first introduced to Martin Luther’s theologia crucis, or “Theology of the Cross,” in seminary, in my Reformation Theology class. Once I heard of it, I was hooked! It is absolutely brilliant, and represents the best of Martin Luther’s theological offering for the church. My previous post was a tribute to Rory Wheeler, who just went home to be with the Lord as a result of the effects of cancer. Death, even for the Christian, presents lingering questions; the primary one being “why dear Lord, cannot you just vanquish this curse, right now?” It is obvious to all of those with eyes of faith, that the Lord works in ways that would appear “hidden.” He became man, a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths in a manger. He was born into a poor-man’s family from ridiculed Nazareth. The list of God’s hiddeness (Deus absconditus), of course, can be enumerated over and again. Indeed, this is where Luther’s theology of the cross finds its footing; that God works in ways that to the naked eye seem foolish (see I Corinthians 1:17-25, the passage of my Master’s thesis, and motivated by Luther’s theology of the cross). Randall Zachman provides one of the best descriptions of Luther’s theology of the cross that I have ever read. Here is Zachman in full:

In the context of theologia crucis, faith means believing with certainty that God’s Word is true even when the whole world, the heart of the believer, and even God himself contradict the truth that is revealed in the Word, particularly the Word of promise. Thus, when God begins to show mercy, God does so by first revealing wrath (in law); when God makes alive, God does so by slaying. The same contradictions apply especially to those who have already come to faith. God promises the forgiveness of sins, yet our conscience feels nothing but sin and wrath; God promises life, yet we see nothing but death. Faith, therefore, is the art of believing the Word while experiencing, seeing, and feeling the opposite. We believe that Christ is the Son of God, even though we see and abandoned man on the cross; we believe that God cares for the church, even though we see nothing but a church persecuted by the world and apparently abandoned by God; we believe in eternal life, even though we see and feel nothing but death.

However, the primary locus of the theology of the cross is the experience of trial or tribulation (Anfechtung), when the very heart and conscience of the believer sense that God’s promise of grace and forgiveness is a lie. The believer must regard the promise of forgiveness as true and certain even though the conscience testifies to the contrary.

But under the cross which we experience, eternal life lies hidden. . . . We, too, experience the cross, and death appears to us, if not in fact, yet in our conscience through Satan. Death and sin appear, but I announce life and faith, but in hope. Therefore, if you want to be saved, you must battle against your feelings. Hope means to expect life in the midst of death, and righteousness in the midst of sins.

This is the very meaning of being simultaneously righteous and a sinner (simul iustus et peccator): to believe that we are righteous coram Deo even though we feel like condemned sinners.

Within the context of the theology of the cross, the grace of sanctification and its attestation in the testimony of a good conscience would necessarily be subordinated to the grace of justification and the promise of the forgiveness of sins. This is because the testimony of the good conscience confirms one’s faith in the promise, whereas the theology of the cross emphasizes that testimony of the conscience that contradicts faith in the promise; that is, Anfechtung. Therefore, although Luther continually insisted upon the necessity of sanctification and of the testimony of the good conscience, within the framework of theologia crucis he could not help but consistently subordinate the grace of sanctification to that of justification.

Luther’s concentration on the theology of the cross also accounts for his refusal to involve the Reformation directly in the external reform of the church. The Word of God does not deal with external, temporal things, but rather with invisible, eternal things; and such invisible things are revealed under an external appearance that contradicts what is being revealed. The theology of glory, in contrast—such as Luther found in the papacy—emphasizes externals to the point of neglecting the invisible truths revealed by the Word: indeed, to the point of calling God’s Word a lie. Thus, those in the Reformation who would introduce concern for externals—such as Karlstadt with his rejection of idols and the papal mass—misunderstanding the whole nature of the Word of the cross, and divert the attention of believers from the invisible, eternal things of God’s promises to the visible, temporal things of human reason and senses. Yet it is precisely reason and the senses that must be mortified if we are to believe that the Word of the cross is true.

Luther’s theologia crucis also explains his suspicion of those, such as the Anabaptists, who emphasized the external holiness and moral behavior of the church. If the Word of the cross reveals the truth of God under a contrary appearance, then one would expect the true church not to look like the church at all, but rather to look like God-forsaken sinners. The “synagogue of Satan,” on the other hand, with its theology glory, would look like the true church of God and would demonstrate a superior holiness externally—as in the monks and friars—but inwardly it would be rejected by God. The theology of the cross would therefore lead one not to stress the conformity of the appearance of the church with its faith, but rather stress the ways in which the appearance of the church denies its claim to be the people of God. The church looks like a gathering of sinners rejected by God and the world, whereas it is in truth the beloved people of God. The church cannot be judged by its appearance, but only by whether it has the Word of Christ crucified. Hence the primary task of the church is to preach the Word of God, while letting externals take their course.[1]

How can that not bless you?! There is a lot in this, too much to talk about in toto; as far as the implications and applications, let me grab just a couple. But first I should also notice something else for us. You see Zachman refer to Luther’ “theology of glory,” this was in contrast to the theology of the cross; and it refers to (oversimplified) focusing on doing things for the praise and glory of men, instead of God (just do a word study or theology of glory study in the Gospel of John, you’ll see how this plays out) [Luther attacked the scholastic theology of his day as based upon the “theology of glory” instead of the “cross”]. Now to my applications.

1) It seems like a loving God would vanquish death so that humanity would no longer have to endure the torment of it. Indeed, he has, but it is only with eyes of faith that we understand the significance of the cross and resurrection and ascension. To the world if God is all powerful, and loving (David Hume) why doesn’t he do something about it now? The wisdom of God is displayed in hiddeness, in the unexpected; God is the God whose ways are not our ways, but the way of the cross, the unexpected! Why did the holocaust happen? Why do little kids die from cancer, or starvation? We have to interpret these kinds of questions through the hidden ways of God, through the cruciformity and cross-shaped work of God’s life. That’s the answer to Luther’s theology of the cross; the wisdom and knowledge of God is only penetrated by those who are wedded to him, in Christ, by the Spirit. And it is when we are pressed up against the most dastardly things of this life—tribulations—that we quit depending on ourselves, and throw ourselves on God’s mercy that we enter into the kind of life that God gives himself in his inner-life of mutual and interpenetrating love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is when we are pushed beyond ourselves that God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ is just waiting to smile on is in the midst of our thlipsis, tribulation! Here is the wisdom of God, to take what is intended to destroy, and bring resurrection life out of it!

2) The second application here is a quicker observation. This one has to do with Luther’s/Zachman’s point about how the church should look vis-á-vis the theology of the cross. Frankly, it shouldn’t look like what Western, and in particular, American, upward mobile churches strive to look like. It shouldn’t look like people who have it all together. It should look like people who are broken, needy, and beggarly. When did Jesus do his greatest work of atonement? What was the crescendo of his work? When he went to the cross. When he was most broken. It was here that he brought life to all of humanity, through his death; by rupturing the bonds of self love (homo incurvatus in se), with the unbreakable bond that he shares consubstantially with the Father and Holy Spirit. That is, a life is given shape, by self-giveness; between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is through this kind of brokeness, in the mirror image of the cruci-shaped Son, that we can be the church for the world. That we have something to offer them; only when we are broken, and realize that we receive life as gift from the Father, in Christ, by the Holy Spirit.

Much more to say, but this has run long enough. I think I will talk more about the theologia gloriae “theology of glory,” in the near future.


[1] Randall C. Zachman, The Assurance of Faith, 9-10.


Kataphysics. TFT’s ‘stratified knowledge of God’ and the Christian Existence

Either something is, or it isn’t. Surely, there are nuances on a continuum, and we should all be aware of that as we approach any system or maybe better, organism of thought. Nonetheless, in the end, either a framework of thought is sound and corresponds to reality or it doesn’t. This seems like a good working definition of critical realism. If we apply this to a theological prolegomenon, what, in the end, will obtain, is that we will use various criteria to determine whether or not some belief structure, that we may or may not adhere to, is actually true or not. This process is undertaken, often unspoken, and uncritically, by the masses, in our case, the Christian masses, as we approach whatever interpretive tradition, we think is most proximate in regard to explicating the entailments of the kerygmatic (‘Gospely’) reality as revealed in Jesus Christ. But is this process as smorgasbord as I’m making it sound?

According to TF Torrance, Christian theology, if it is to avoid being Pelagian, is an exercise pre-determined by God’s Self-revelation in Jesus Christ. In other words, for TFT, the theological task is either kata physin (‘according to the nature of thing’ under inquiry) or it is simply a self-projection of the would-be knower in regard to thinking God; and thus, self. So, for TFT, who God is, is not known by a prior optics developed by people attempting to think an idea of an abstract infinite, or actus purus (‘pure being’), a part from Godself. For TFT knowledge of God is purely ordered by God’s free choice to be for us in Jesus Christ. It is this antecedent, extra nos (‘outside of us’) reality that is the ground by which any true knowledge of God will obtain. This is, for TFT, the basis for a theological or critical realism. That is, that knowledge of God is not discovered, but instead it is Self-revealed by God for us, because of who God is as triune love, that a potential theologian might actually come to know the true and the living God. TFT calls his approach to a knowledge of God a ‘stratified knowledge of God.’ He explicates what that entails in his book Christian Doctrine of God. Ben Myers offers a nice distillation of what TFT is after with his theory of a stratified knowledge of God:

Thomas F. Torrance’s model of the stratification of knowledge is one of his most striking and original contributions to theological method. Torrance’s model offers an account of the way formal theological knowledge emerges from our intutive and pre-conceptual grasp of God’s reality as it is manifest in Jesus Christ. It presents a vision of theological progression, in which our knowledge moves towards an ever more refined and more unified conceptualisation of the reality of God, while remaining closely coordinated with the concrete level of personal and experiential knowledge of Jesus Christ. According to this model, our thought rises to higher levels of theological conceptualisation only as we penetrate more deeply into the reality of Jesus Christ. From the ground level of personal experience to the highest level of theological reflection, Jesus Christ thus remains central. Through a sustained concentration on him and on his homoousial union with God, we are able to achieve a formal account of the underlying trinitarian relations immanent in God’s own eternal being, which constitute the ultimate grammar of all theological discourse.[1]

This movement of knowledge of God, as Myers helpfully details, starts when even as a mere child a person is confronted by the reality of God in a simple Gospel presentation. As the child responds to the ‘Good News,’ that is as objectively grounded in Christ’s vicarious response for them first, this movement into a more and more refined knowledge of God starts the process. It is a movement from an evangelical to a theological knowledge of God. Where the child matures and grows in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, moving into the Holy of Holies of God’s life as the One who has eternally been in the ‘bosom of the Father’ takes us into the bosom, even as He first took our humanity for Himself. But this is the kataphysical (V metaphysical) basis upon which the child comes to see God from within His inner triune life, as that has been revealed and provided access to through His outer life for the world in Jesus Christ.

For TFT, the aforementioned is the basis by which a genuinely Christian theological framework can be ‘verified’ as to its veracity as truly corresponding to the reality of the living God or not. Insofar that various theological systems stray from this kataphysical center in God for us in Christ, it can be determined whether or not a system of thought and theological reflection ought to be pursued or not. These are the critical bases by which the would-be Christian theologian might come to have a genuinely accessing approach to God. All other approaches, approaches grounded in abstract and speculative metaphysics, with pure beings, actual infinites, unmoved movers, and the like are understood as imposters in regard to genuinely offering an accessing entrée into the throne room of the living God. Since God in Christ, our high priest, and the mediator between God and humanity / humanity and God is the only one who has penetrated either side of the Creator/creature distinction, it is only through Him, in an intensive and principial way, that the would-be theologian could ever hope of crossing into the near country of God’s inner life of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

So, as you are confronted by a host of seemingly competing theological systems, all claiming, to one degree or another, to be the most proximate way to think God; ask yourself, are these systems radically grounded in God’s Self-revelation of Jesus Christ or not? Are they based in an intensive understanding of what it means to be in union with Christ (unio cum Christo), and thus founded in a ‘participatory’ ground, in Christ, for thinking God with Christ by the Spirit? Or are they offering an alternative way that presumes an abstract natural way for thinking God from an abstract analogy to an abstract humanity for thinking God from abstract effects in the world back to their abstract and monadic first cause in a simple pure being known, abstractly, as God? Depending on what way you choose to go at this fork in the road will determine, really, the trajectory of your whole Christian life. Indeed, that is what these matters reduce to. Ultimately, whether or not we have a good way to think God, or not, that does not change the objective de jure reality that God is for us in Jesus Christ; i.e., it doesn’t change a confessing Christian’s eternal destiny. But what does potentially change, is how a person’s Christian life unfolds here and now. Will it be based on a solid foundation, the foundation that God alone has laid for us in Jesus Christ (cf. I Cor. 3.11), or instead, will it be based on a self-asserted construct for thinking God that presumes as if the person’s own abstract givenness, and collectivistically and historically so, is good enough for thinking God; as if nature only needed to be perfected and not re-created. Without orthodoxy there can be no orthopraxy, and it is the latter that is really of ultimate concern for the Christian existence.

[1] Benjamin Myers, “The Stratification of knowledge in the thought of T. F. Torrance,” SJT 61 (1): 1-15 (2008) Printed in the United Kingdom © 2008 Scottish Journal of Theology Ltd doi: 10.1017/S003693060700381X.