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!

Sin as Primarily Relational Rather than Forensic

Often you will see me emphasizing the sin/grace matrix as a relational rather than a purely forensic reality. This bears out only if the One we have sinned against is in fact a personal rather than monadic law-like being. Sin is personal and relational because, first, God is a relation of triune persons. At root our relationship to Godself is indeed based upon the correspondence God has first (before the foundations of the world) established for us in His imago Dei (cf. Col. 1.15), in His free and gracious election to be with us in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ. So the ground of our relationship to God is necessarily relational and personalist insofar that our being, as human, is first grounded in God’s being to be human for us. When the first sin happened, Adam’s or ‘humanity’s’ being with God was ruptured requiring that our beings be restored or reconciled unto their originating ground as that was and is found in God’s triune life. Were there ‘legal’ consequences attending this fall as well? Yes. But those were only the external aspects of the real problem, which was a broken heart that no longer pumped from the vessels of God’s heart for us in Jesus Christ. That is to say, there is a deeper problem behind what might conclude in other expressions that may entail legal as well as other matters.

Matt Jenson offers good insight on how the aforementioned is fleshed out in the theology of Karl Barth:

Because sin is directed against a person rather than an abstract law of nature, relational rather than juridical categories are the fitting conceptual tools to describe it (IV/1, p. 140). The metaphor of incurvature, which carries with it the implication of having curved away from a relationship or relationships, fits well this relational character of sin. Sin is the refusal to conform to our determination in Christ to be relationally constituted and relationally directed. And the fact that even in isolation which the metaphor conveys one cannot escape the remainder of the relationships which have been shunned underscores Barth’s point that sin can only ever be self-contradiction, stopping short of self-transformation or the realization of a real, alternate possibility. Sin can only be an ‘impossible possibility’ (IV/1, pp. 409-10; IV/2, p. 495; IV/3.1, p. 463).[1]

[1] Matt Jenson, The Gravity of Sin (New York: T&T Clark a Continuum Imprint, 2006), 152.

God’s Wrath Towards Sin: In Ontological Perspective

God is angry about sin, just to be clear. He judged sin, because there was actually a legal penalty associated with sin. But that isn’t the crux of what was judged. The crux was the ground, the source of sin; it has ontological depth. The human heart loves the darkness rather than the Light. It has competing affections that all are premised upon love of self. Unless this was put to death, and unless a new heart was re-created, the problem of sin wouldn’t have ultimately been dealt with. God surely hates sin, but only because He first loved us so much in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. God has wrath towards sin, but only because He loves His very good creation and desires fellowship and intimacy with us through the Son, Jesus Christ. Sin destroys and eats away at the very good creation, and as a result the good (or rest of) creation is corroded and thrown into chaos. The requirement then wasn’t simply a penalty paid—even if that is an outer aspect of the atonement—but a new heart created (cf II Cor 3; Ez 36). It is this inner reality, this depth ontological reality that was required if and fact creation was going to be elevated to its ultimate telos (purpose) in abiding and eternal fellowship within the bosom of the Father in union with Christ by the bond of the Holy Spirit.

Thomas Aquinas’ semi-Pelagianism; Augustine of Hippo’s Relationalism; and Evangelical Calvinism’s Reception of Latin Theology

There is a lot of talk these days in certain (Baptist) sectors about retrieving the theology of Thomas Aquinas. The focus of discussion is typically on his Prima Pars—of his Summa Theologiae—and less on the full scope of Thomas’ theology. But what in fact is being retrieved, if in fact the ultimate desire is to recover Aquinas’ theology in a total way? What about Thomas’ theological anthropology, and as corollary, doctrine of sin; are these foci fulgently available for the Protestants to recover as well? If we look back into the 16th and 17th centuries of what is called the Post Reformed Orthodox development of Reformed (or Calvinist) theology what we find is an affirmative in regard to recovering more than just a doctrine of God from Thomas Aquinas. And so, Thomas’ theology, at least if we move beyond the 21st century Baptists, with an eye towards the Post Reformed Orthodox theologians (like William Perkins et al.), is indeed intent on bringing many of Thomas’ theological themes into the development of their own respective projects as Federally Protestant theologians. In order to gain a better understanding on Thomas’ (and Anselm’s, as the case may be) doctrine of sin let us turn to RN Frost’s treatment of that in his book Richard Sibbes: God’s Spreading Goodness. Frost writes (at length):

Aquinas on privative sin

The first major proponent of privative sin in the medieval period is Anselm whose pioneering work was followed and developed by Aquinas. In a matter crucial to the development of the nomist tradition, Anselm based his doctrine on Augustine’s early doctrine of privatio rather than his post-Pelagian view. The implication picked up by Pelagius—that salvation requires a free act of the volition in choosing God—was assimilated roughly a century later by Aquinas.

Aquinas, as a student of Augustine, was apparently alert to Augustine’s shift on the issue of privatio: he attributed privatio to Anselm and a positive definition (sin as habitus) to Augustine. Aquinas, in fact, sought to synthesize the views of Augustine and Anselm through an analogy much like Augustine’s lost-food solution: “As in a bodily illness there is privation, in that the balance of health is upset, yet also something positive, the disturbed bodily humours, so also in original sin there is privation [privatione], the lack of original justice, yet along with this there are the disturbed powers of the soul.” In this explanation, however, he failed to adopt Augustine’s solution that grace is God’s presence in the elect by the Spirit. This followed Aquinas’s premise that human nature and divine being are wholly incommensurate—a topic taken up in the next chapter. Significantly, Aquinas believed that Adam’s original state of righteousness was not something natural to his humanity but a gift of supernatural grace (donum gratiæ):

Original righteousness [justitia originalis] was a definite gift of grace [donum gratiæ] divinely bestowed upon all human nature in the first parent, which, indeed, the first parent lost in the first sin. Hence even as that original righteousness would have been transmitted along with human nature to the offspring of the first parents, so the opposite disorder is in fact transmitted.”

Thus, subsequent sin in humanity resulted from an incapacity, the loss of Adam’s original righteousness that the donum gratiæ had maintained. Adam had squandered humanity’s golden opportunity by failing to guard his original righteousness.

Aquinas, in these discussions, located privatio within nature, viewing sin as the loss of a created quality. The symmetrical cure for sin, with sin defined as a privatio gratiæ, is a resupply of grace. To this end, Aquinas held that grace has dual aspects, one created and the other uncreated. This doublet allowed him to resolve the tension between original sin and actual sin. When Adam fell he lost the created grace of original righteousness. The implicit ground for his fall was an absence of uncreated grace that was needed because of his human mutability.

This two-stage arrangement assumed that morality is defined by the use of a free will to choose either good or evil. Thus it was God’s purpose to generate a vulnerability in Adam in order to test and affirm his morality. His failure was then transmitted to his progeny by the absence of original righteousness. Privatio, in this arrangement, was twofold: a lack of uncreated grace that led to, but did not compel, Adam’s fall; and a subsequent lack of created grace after the fall due to Adam’s loss of original righteousness. Adam was therefore culpable because of his own initiative in the fall. After the fall Adam’s progeny now lack the grace, both created and uncreated, necessary for righteousness. We are therefore helpless and God’s twin resources of grace are needed for salvation.

Among the Puritans these were points of conversation. Perkins adopted the Thomistic solution with its reliance on a duality of grace. He believed it offered the most coherent solution to the problem of sin when sin is defined as privatio. Sibbes, however, came to see sin as self-love even though he first held Perkins’ view. And with that he also took up Augustine’s view of grace as God’s relational bond to the elect.[1]

We can see the way Frost is arguing in regard to making a distinction between two Puritans, William Perkins and Richard Sibbes, respectively. For our purposes what stands out in this treatment is the development of Aquinas’ doctrine of sin (and grace), as Frost identifies an Anselmian (and Aristotelian, not explicitly referenced in this context) background to said doctrine. What is significant, to my mind, is how Aquinas, if Frost’s treatment is accurate, thought of grace to begin with. What was needed, in his frame, for salvation to obtain in an individual person, was created grace. But this notion, even while funded by the broader reality of an ‘uncreated’ grace, was thought of in qualitative or substantial terms. And so we end up with a necessary separation between the work of God in salvation, and the person of God. This occurs, in the Thomist sense, insofar that grace is not in fact the act of God’s person for the world in Jesus Christ. And that the person of Christ by the Spirit is not understood, then, as the basis of what grace is in itself (ontologically). So grace becomes, in a Thomist sense, something that the elect must manage or cooperate with in order to appropriate God’s salvation for them. And it can become a ‘thing’ that is dispensed through the Catholic mass, as the Eucharistic body is given to the faithful. Frost will argue that the Federal theology of someone like William Perkins retrieved this Thomist frame for thinking grace, and built it into his own style of Federal (Covenantal) theology. That this frame, indeed, funds the theology of the Westminster Confession of Faith in general.

But there is a better way to think grace, even as that is understood in an Augustinian key (as Frost also argues). Personally, I think the best way to think grace in a relational frame is to do so in an Athanasian key; that is, to think it as distinctively relational and personal. What is interesting about Frost’s work is that he develops that possibility from Augustine himself. TF Torrance believes that Augustine is guilty of what TFT calls the ‘Latin Heresy.’ That is a type of nascent dualism as Augustine thinks the work of God vis-à-vis the person of God. But this might be too hasty of a characterization by TFT. If Frost is right about Augustine, in regard to his relational and ‘affective’ understanding of grace, then what we have in Augustine, while still neo-Platonic (thus TF’s charge that Augustine is engaging in the ‘Latin heresy’), is the very type of personalist and ontological understanding of grace that TFT attributes exclusively to Athanasius (and the Nicene trad). In other words, maybe there was more availability in Augustine’s theology, in regard to an ontological and relational understanding of grace, than TFT gave Augustine credit for. Based on Frost’s work it would appear, in certain ways, that TFT may have been reading Augustine through the Thomist and Westminster reception rather than reading Augustine himself. If so, this would open the door for an Evangelical Calvinism to have a good basis for working not just with Athanasian themes, but also with Augustinian ones as well. An Evangelical Calvinism is more concerned with recovering the ‘reverend teaching’ than it is with the genealogy of said teaching, per se.

Either way, Thomas’ doctrine of sin, based on an Anselmian theme, is not commensurate with an Evangelical Calvinism. And so, we must continue to eschew a Thomism, a Federal or Westminster Calvinism, a classical Arminianism so on and so forth. Evangelical Calvinists are focused, along with Frost’s Augustine, with understanding God from God as immediately Self-revealed by the Holy Spirit in Jesus Christ. An Evangelical Calvinist thus cannot endorse a Thomist doctrine of sin, nor any other receptions of that as that is developed in juridical and commercial ways as primarily observed in the theology of the Post Reformed Orthodox Protestants.

[1] RN Frost, Richard Sibbes: God’s Spreading Goodness (Vancouver, WA: Cor Deo Press, 2012), 124-26 (based on Frost’s PhD dissertation written at King’s College, University of London, 1996).

My Sinfulness as a Lot

This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. –I John 1:5-10


I came to Christ a broken sinner; I needed and continue to need a Savior. I constantly sin, in big and small ways. My heart is desperately wicked and wretched above all things. I am the chief of sinners. There is nothing good in my ‘flesh.’ Left to myself, I love the darkness rather than the light. If Christ wasn’t faithful and righteous to forgive my sins, I could not go on another day. I am unclean, unclean; if Christ was not God’s hot coal of righteousness for me, burning my sins away in His condemned and broken body for me, I would simply melt into my own nothingness. Oh, wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death?! I have been subjected to a futility, unwillingly, from whence I long to be released. I am as a wandering star, awash in the corn cobs and filth of the swine’s delight. I am as a thief hanging on a tree looking at the broken body of the Messiah of Israel in need of a paradisical baptism. My limbs, my kidney pulsates with self-possessed desires, and thisworldly fantasies. Who is this Man? Get away from me Jesus, I am unworthy! It’s as if thirty-pieces of silver were in my wallet, whose shine eclipses the Sunshine of the Christ’s face. I am like the man, Cain, who walks around with the mark of God. Pilate and the Pharisees my brothers, crucifying the King of Israel; this is my sinfulness, my putrid self, wallowing in angst and the darkness of the night’s soul.



The Good News that We Are Sinners: The Incarnation is Greater than Sin

Jesus is our life; He is God’s humanity all the way down. ‘He who knew no sin assumed sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.’ Our sin is ever before us, but it is only now before us in the glorified face of Jesus Christ. We can never deny that we were, and continue to be (in this in-between) sinners, insofar that the humanity of God bears witness of this reality to us all our live long days. But it is this grace of God that has shown up for us in these last days that anchors our souls by His, by His in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ. And in His victory, while underscoring our failure, we come to participate in the power of His resurrection, of His re-created humanity, as our new humanity, just as sure as it is His humanity for us as the imago Dei (cf. Col. 1.15ff). Thus, even in our sin, even as we stand justified before God in Jesus Christ (simul iustus et peccator), whether we live or die, we stand in the standing of God for us. This is the beauty of the incarnation of God, the Word enfleshed (Logos ensarkos); it tells us that we are not our own, that we have been bought with a price, the blood of Jesus Christ. It indicates that our humanity is gifted to us moment by moment, afresh anew, by the Holy Spirit, as the Spirit continuously bonds us to the resurrected humanity of Christ, just as sure as the Spirit continuously bonds Christ’s humanity to ours, as ours. And it thus can be said, ‘by His poverty we have been made rich.’

Karl Barth has his own way of explicating the themes I was just referring to:

It was and is His good will to give us in Him our Head and Advocate; to establish and ordain our whole relationship to Him in His relationship to His person, and therefore to reveal the truth of our existence in His. As this happens, as from all eternity, an in what God has done in Him at the heart of time, we are those who are loved and known by God in Jesus Christ, all self-judgment to which we might submit ourselves is absolutely subordinated to His judgment. Any reconstruction of our actual meeting with Him can be only a reflection of the meeting with man which He has willed and accomplished in the person of His dear Son. In this meeting we are in truth what we are. And there is no escaping the truth of what we are in this meeting. Before the voice of this reality, the voice of denial, my voice as the voice of the transgressor, is necessarily silenced. In place of every weak theory of our relationship to God and to His command there comes the powerful theory of this practice—the theory of our actual relationship to God. And in this place of the weak self-judgment in which we cause ourselves to be exculpated there comes the powerful self-judgment in which we must and will declare that we are guilty, because we ourselves, as the sinners we are, can only repeat the divine sentence, adding to it not at all either for good or evil. There, on the cross of Golgotha, hangs the man who in His own name and person represented to me, my name and person, with God; and who again in His own name and person represented God to me in my name and person. Everything, therefore, that God has to say in His relationship to me is originally and properly said to Him; everything that I have to say to God in this relationship is originally and properly said by Him. All that I have to do, therefore, is to repeat what is already said in this conversation between God and the Son. But what takes place in this conversation is that in the person of Jesus Christ I am addressed as a sinner, a lost son, and that again in the person of Jesus Christ I confess myself to be a sinner, a lost son. In this conversation the voice of denial is absolutely silenced. For in the death of Jesus Christ, this conversation between the Father and Son is conducted with me and about me—with me and about me in His person as my Advocate before God. Even in the soliloquy and self-judgment which I cannot escape in face of the divine colloquy and judgment the voice of denial cannot be raised. I am not one who, as a hearer of this divine conversation, and a participator in this divine judgment, can either hear or make any kind of excuse. At the point where God deals with me, where He has sought and found me, at the cross of Golgotha, I am exposed and addressed as a sinner. Indeed, I have found and confessed myself to be this. I have nothing to add to what is said and confessed there, nor to subtract from it. The transgression in all transgressions, the sin in all sins, namely, that I should refuse the name of a sinner, can only die. The only thing that I can do is recognise that my sin is really dead—the sin from which I cannot cleanse myself, the sin which I cannot even recognise and confess, the sin which I could only see awakening, and myself awaken, to constantly new forms of life if it were not already dead in the fact that God has pronounced and executed His sentence on His beloved Son in my place, and that the latter has accepted it in my place. This is the execution of the divine judgment which takes place as God gives us His command; for He gives it as He is gracious to us in Jesus Christ, as He gives us this His beloved Son to be our Head and Representative, as by Him He speaks to us and causes us to speak to Himself, as by the Holy Spirit He accomplishes our unity with His Son, for which He has destined us from all eternity. In the same Holy Spirit, in which that divine conversation is conducted and divine judgment fulfilled at the cross of Golgotha, it is also true that they both happen in our name and in our place and that we are actually made participators in them, called to faith in Jesus Christ, awakened to the knowledge of our unity with Him, and therefore given a share in the confrontation with God. In this confrontation, there is no escaping, or trying to escape, the recognition and confession that we are transgressors. On the contrary, we are ready to live as those who are in the wrong before God, expecting every good from our continuance in this knowledge and confession, and fearing nothing more than attempts to remove ourselves from this position.[1]

This is the liberating reality of the Evangel, God in Christ constantly declares to us, in His Yes and Amen for us, that He first became God’s No for us, in His free election to be human. This No is always borne witness to by the fact of His scars and stripes for us, and yet, dialectically, it is by these that we are healed moment by moment. ‘If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’ ‘If we say we have no sin, we lie, and the truth is not in us.’ It is the indicative of the incarnation of God whereby, and ironically, our sin becomes the occasion for God’s righteousness to break through with the bright healing ‘Sun of His Righteousness.’ And thus, it is our freedom, in God’s freedom to be with us in this way, in the humanity of Christ, that we can freely admit, we can genuinely confess that we are sinners yet redeemed. It’s as if Martin Luther understood this when he spit at satan thusly: “So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: ‘I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is there I shall be also!’”[2]

[1] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II/2 §39 [750-51] The Doctrine of God: Study Edition (London: T&T Clark, 2009), 175.

[2] Martin Luther, Reference.

‘If We Confess’

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. –I John 1.9

Without this passage as a paraclete I could not survive the Christian existence. It has been my soul-verse for as long as I can remember. I am a sinner, I confess, and I need the Savior on a moment-by-moment basis. Sometimes the intensity of my need rises when I find myself in the surd-moment of a heated sin. More than being irrational, sin is really the human incurved upon itself in all its asserted self-possessive inglorious ugliness. There is nothing pure or righteous that dwells in the inner-self, it remains uncured and unholy. I am just as much of a sinner today as I was when I was conceived in my mother’s womb. I have the same propensities for a variety of sins today as I did when I first came to Christ. There is a reason why the Apostle said to ‘reckon ourselves dead to sin’ and to ‘present our bodies [continuously] as instruments of righteousness unto Christ.’ The reason is that Jesus never came to repair anything, He came to put it to death; and that is exactly what He did in His body for us. And yet this points up the fact that we remain in these fallen bodies of death. We surely are mired in bodies of sin, even while at the same time finding our true being in the risen humanity of Jesus Christ. This is the power we have to actualistically reckon ourselves dead unto sin, to mortify our wanton desires in and through the vivification of the glorified blood of Jesus Christ. So, the good news is that there is hope, even while we our in the bloody battle of sin all our days.

Like you I sin, daily. I have my pet sins, some “bigger” others “smaller,” but sin plagues me nonetheless. Jesus knows this, in fact through John He tells us that if we claim we have no sin we are liars. It is better to be upfront about this, and yet at the same time not to wallow in the fact that we are lot of miserable yet redeemed sinners. We stand in the victory and power of the risen Christ. Even while death pulsates through the mortal members of our bodies, the life of Christ shines ever brighter, ever stronger than the death of sin. And so, we look to the ec-static reality of our lives in Jesus Christ; we look to the Holy Spirit to continuously surround us with the liberty of Christ, with the holiness of our High Priest, even as He sits at the Right Hand of the Father always living to make intercession for those who will inherit eternal life.

The reduction remains that no matter what our sins might be, no matter how heinous they might seem to us, we can rest assured that they were even worse before God. And yet because of who He is, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, He freely chose in Christ to assume sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. It is here that I flee to, I find refuge in this hope, knowing that I am dead and hidden in Christ, waiting anxiously for the revealing of the sons of God, only then to be relieved of this body of death. And yet the faith of Christ sustains me even in the midst of this great wait, I have hope knowing that I have the power of Immanuel’s veins running through mine, and in this I can say no to sin from the Yes and Amen of God for me in Jesus Christ. This is where I repose, sinner, yet justified as I am. ‘If anyone be in Christ, they are new creation, the old things have passed away, all things have become new.’

The Absence of Communion with God as the Status of the World: Sin as Hell

Being born into sin is akin to being born into hell. The Apostle Paul writes: “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.” Being spiritually dead, which of course is what Paul is referring to, has both spiritual and bodily consequences; ultimately, the final consequence is “for men to die once, but after this the judgment . . . .” Even while being born into a mode of “hell” the person, by God’s grace, has the opportunity to experience new life, the resurrected, ascended life in Jesus Christ: “ so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.” But for those who insist on persisting in the original life they were born into, this hope finally slips through their fingers, and what once was escapable becomes the consummate or actualized realization in the eschatological life of final judgment.

John Calvin, according to Julie Canlis, emphasized the idea of being in sin, as being in hell. He saw this as the experience, indeed, the objective status of all humanity who are intent on living in the ruptured state they fell into as they were first conceived in sin in their mothers’ wombs.

This situation is nothing short of hell on earth, a qualitative state of misery and alienation. Fallen humanity is alienated from the Word — its source of life — and hence lives in a state of death.:

We must also see what is the cause of death, namely alienation from God. Thence, it follows, that under the name of death is comprehended all those miseries in which Adam involved himself by his defection; for as soon as he revolted from God, the fountain of life, he was cast down from his former state, in order that he might perceive the life of man without God to be wretched and lost, and therefore differing nothing from death.

William Bouwsma has opened our eyes in new ways to the relation between the culture of fear in which Calvin lived, and to his own fears of the “abyss” and “labyrinth.” What perhaps needs more attention is how Calvin specifically describes the Fall as a fall into fear. Calvin says that creation is designed so that humanity should see the goodness of God and “from it pass over to eternal life and perfect felicity.” Instead, “[a]fter man’s rebellion, our eyes — wherever they turn — encounter God’s curse” (II.6.i). This new state of sin is the grand inversion. We now misinterpret those very things “by which he would draw us to himself”; “so greatly are we are variance with him, that, regarding him as adverse to us, we, in our turn, flee from his presence.” Broken communion brings not just alienation but terror. “But who might reach to him? Any one of Adam’s children? No, like their father, all of them were terrified at the sight of God [Gen. 3:8]” (II.12.i). Hell becomes not so much location as condition, occurring not at life’s end but throughout every moment lived out of communion.[1]

For Calvin, as Canlis treated prior to our reading, sin wasn’t as much forensic loss, but relational, communion with God that was lost. As such, when sin is understood in these terms, as the primary frame, the antidote to escaping the hellish existence of communion lost is, indeed, God’s presence for us, in the world, in the resurrected person, Jesus Christ. He exculpates fallen humanity from its chalice of hell — the status of being born into sin — by becoming hell for us. In this impoverished status, the enhypostatic humanity of God delves into the fires of the abyss, what we inhabit daily as sinners, and from the inner-recesses of this lagoon of blackness, he sets us on the new ground of the Heavenly Kingdom as that is given foundation in the resurrected blood flowing through the veins of God’s elect humanity for the world in Jesus Christ. As Canlis underscores elsewhere, for Calvin, salvation from the consequences of sin, or hell, comes for the person as they are participatio Christi (in participation with Christ). He alone is the human who inhabits eternity bodily, and in this ascended life for us (pro nobis), it is here where alienation from God, and thus hell, is vanquished by the parousia of Christ (presence of Christ), both now, by the Holy Spirit’s ministry of koinonial presencing Christ’s body for us, and in the eschaton, by the Holy Spirit’s ministry of realized presencing of Christ’s body for us as we come to finally see and touch the body of Christ; not just in the Eucharistic anticipation, but in the fulsome and glorified beatific vision of the blessed Lord in all His immortal ineffability, even as that is concretized in the continuous bearing of His scars for us.

The Evangel is that while we ‘who were dead in trespasses and sins’ no longer must abide such obstinacy and alienation from God. We no longer must inhabit the ravishes of hell and the destroyed life this world knows, and can only know, as it loves the darkness rather than the light. Calvin’s message, as a kerygmatic message, is not one of final loss and palpable gloom, but his is a message of the Good News! The world, insofar as we properly understand God’s election for the world in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ, no longer is one defined by hell, but heaven. Heaven is the great reversal the sinful human heart could never, and would never imagine, simply because it lives in an alienated status of self-love and dis-communion with the living God. This is why, in order for humanity to become the humanity it was originally created for, must be gifted to it ecstatically from the Father’s Right Hand. This is the imago Dei from whence genuine humanity was created; from the humanity of God, that God freely chose as He first chose to be human for the world in the particular humanity of the man from Nazareth (Deus incarnandus). This is the hope and the longing fulfilled for a sinful humanity that said humanity needs. And so we proclaim that Jesus is Lord!

[1] Julie Canlis, Calvin’s Ladder: A Spiritual Theology Of Ascent And Ascension (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010), loc 942, 946, 952.

Getting Deep into Sin: Moving Beyond Our Therapized Sin Through Christ

And Jesus answered and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” So he said, “Teacher, say it.” “There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?” Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And He said to him, “You have rightly judged.” Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.” Then He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” -Luke 7:40-8

So it was, as the multitude pressed about Him to hear the word of God, that He stood by the Lake of Gennesaret, and saw two boats standing by the lake; but the fishermen had gone from them and were washing their nets. Then He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little from the land. And He sat down and taught the multitudes from the boat. When He had stopped speaking, He said to Simon, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” But Simon answered and said to Him, “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.” And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking. So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” -Luke 5:1-8

Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. -II Corinthians 5:20-1

What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator. Now a mediator does not mediate for one only, but God is one. Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. -Galatians 3:19-25

The above passages are only a sampling of the many other pertinent passages that could have been added to this list. But I want to highlight something I think most Christians have lost sight of. That is, that without being pressed up and into the depth of our sin, as that is understood in the light of God’s Light for us in Jesus Christ, we fail to appreciate the gravitas of God’s holiness. Or inversely, without being participants in God’s life in Christ (participatio Christi), we have no capacity to know the depth of just how sinful we are. The Apostle Peter came to this realization on the fishing boat as he stood there with Jesus as the Son of God in his midst. When I think of Peter in this way I can’t but help to think of Isaiah as he similarly stood before God at the altar, “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The Lord of hosts.” This self-knowledge of our unholiness only becomes possible as God has freely chosen to elect our humanity for Himself in Jesus Christ, enter into it in actualized and ‘economized’ way, and penetrate the depth of our fallen humanity with the deeper depth of His majestic humanity made humble consonant with His already Life as the eternal Son of the eternal Father by the eternal Holy Spirit. He brings the inner-sanctum of God’s “Holy, Holy, Holy” Life into the dust of our unholy lives, and takes those lives where we could or never would take them ourselves; to the death of death. But it is in this taking that we come to have vision of just how dreadful our fallen status is; we come to have this capacity through the risen eyes of Jesus’ resurrected humanity for us. It is in this depth reality the Christian becomes enliven to the depth of their own inhumanity apart from the gracious adoption of God in His Son for us, Jesus Christ.

We live in a world of platitudes. We inhabit a sitz im leben where the Christian existence is clinicalized, therapyized, academized, and sensationalized. In this world the Christian loses touch with the concrete of God’s flesh and blood reality of His sacrifice and substitution for us. When we lose this Holy correspondence provided for by the skin and bone of Jesus Christ, it is easy for us to paper over just how sinful we are in an attempt to bridge the gap between God and ourselves through our own therapeutic efforts. But the salvation of God for the world knows no such Pelagian effort, it rejects all types of synergistic energies, and instead pushes the Christian’s face into the menstrual rags of their own self-generated-righteousnesses. Until the Christian feels and faces the depth of their own filthy and futile hearts, as that is provided space for through the Holiness of God for them in Jesus Christ, such Christians will not be able to ‘elevate’ into a knowledge and thus experience of God wherein the scarred and bruised heel of the resurrected Christ makes contact into their lives in meaningful ways. Outwith this ‘contact’ in a real way the Christian’s existence is doomed to a superficial type of Christianity that can only result in focuses on an incurved self-possessed existence that is given expression in a variety of vainglorious efforts of an ostensibly-formed Christian life.

Why Listening to Joe Rogan Depresses Me: The Hope of Jesus Christ as the Antidote

I just finished listening to another episode of the Joe Rogan Experience. In this episode he had virologist/immunologist/pathologist, Robert Malone on the mic. This episode was on the heels of his viral podcast with a colleague of Malone’s, Peter McCullough. If you are staying informed on things, Malone and McCullough are of a cadre of high profile, and pre-eminent, MDs and scientists (including epidemiologists) who are critical of the mRNA and DNA vaccines; along with the lockdowns, and other measures being deployed in an attempt to ostensibly quell the Sars-Cov2 pandemic. I stand with these doctors in their respective efforts to descent against the machine. But this post isn’t about that effort per se.

As is typical with me, the issue I am having, particularly as I’ve listened now to a few of Rogan’s higher profile podcasts, is the lack of hopeful prescription. In other words, he, and his guests, at least the ones I’ve watched, while describing the utter insanity of the world right now, have no substantial hope to offer the world, i.e. they only have the indomitable human spirit to look to in order to make an attempt at providing a way of salvation out of this socio-cultural morass. But that is the problem: the indomitable human spirit, and that sort of turn-to-the-subjectivism is precisely what has led to the global conditions that would allow for this current mass psychosis to obtain. Their respective lack of viable prescription is precisely because they have opted out of revelational insight about the status of a fallen humanity (so theanthropology) and collapsed that into their own immanent lights. They simply operate on the horizontal in absolute ways. This is the very condition that gives rise to the sort of brute naturalism, and the hierarchy of being therein, that funds the authoritarianism that they rightfully are standing against. Because they have no genuine knowledge of self—which as Calvin notes in his duplex cognitio Domini only comes when the person has a genuine knowledge of the living God—they are unable to properly diagnose the real problem at play: viz. the fallen human condition.

While this ought to be expected with pagans, such as Joe Rogan et al., what has become more troubling in these times, is how it is that so-called spiritual leaders (pastors, theologians, Christian thought practitioners) are ostensibly operating with the same sort of “blind-spot” that their pagan counterparts are operating with. This is nothing new, as I argued in Master’s thesis on I Corinthians 1:17-25 (with a broader focus on chapters 1—4), the Apostle Paul confronted the Corinthian church for adopting the wisdom of the world in the name of the wisdom of the cross. This made them just as ‘carnal’ as the world they were supposed to be contradicting (with the wisdom of the cross), and as such they came to see the wisdom of the cross as both foolish and weak. Human nature, fallen human nature, has remained the same. The Church is populated largely by people who are held in a sort of ‘Babylonian Captivity’ (as Luther might intone) wherein a theologia crucis (theology of the cross) has given way to a theologia gloriae (theology of glory); indeed, given way as if the theology of glory was actually the theology of the cross.

As I walk away from podcasts like Rogan’s, or from a verity of church services and/or theological podcasts, the level of ‘carnal’ wisdom at work leaves me with a sense of nihilistic darkness. I feel the weight, not of God’s glory, but of nothingness that this world is guided by. It’s as if satan’s breath, eggy as it is, has filled the lungs of these ‘carnal’ practitioners (secular or sacred) with the sulfur of his forthcoming abode (and potentially theirs, God forbit it!). The answer to what ails the world isn’t a new Bab-el (the ‘coming together of a united humanity’), at least not one generated by the self-possessed, incurved humanity that is the abstract and aloof (from God) world. The answer, of course!, is God’s answer and purpose for the world enfleshed in His humanity for us in Jesus Christ. It is only this Pentecost[al] reality that has the power to turn this current world-order upside down, with a baptism of flaming tongues of fire that all cry out in their variegated unison, that Jesus is Lord. It is only this humanity, the singular humanity of God in Christ for the world, wherein a genuine denouement, an actualist reversal can obtain. This is the eschatological hope for which this world has been created, and now re-created in the resurrection of the Theanthropos, Jesus Christ.