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?
2 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.
3 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.
4 Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 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.
6 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.
7 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.
8 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?
9 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:
7 But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. 8 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 9 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.
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.
CHRIST IS RISEN!
A Talking-Theology Rather Than A Thinking-Theology
I am a proponent of what we have called Dialogical Theology. This form of theology is given its most pointed development, as far as I’m aware, by Karl Barth and Thomas Torrance. There are different aspects of this type of theology, but the primary point of interest for me, at least in this post, has to do with the conversational nature of theology. For Athanasian Reformed types doing theology as if God has spoken (Deus dixit), and continues to speak with us, is the basis for all subsequent theologizing. We are not theologians of an artifact; we are not archeologists seeking relics to serve as means of grace between us and God; we are theologians first and foremost because we have come to personally know the living and triune God as we have been confronted by Him, and continue to be, afresh and anew, through the voice of the living Christ.
Contrariwise, my sense with much that passes as Christian theology these days doesn’t start with this dialog between the theologian and the LORD in the way I have been describing. This stems, I’d argue, from a theological methodology at odds with the biblical way of engaging and/or encountering God in Christ therein. That is, classical theology tends towards starting with God as object rather than subject; to think What God is rather than Who He has personally revealed Himself to be by the Spirit in Jesus Christ. As such, classical theology, or neo-classical theism, because of its awry taxis vis-à-vis God, starts with their thoughts about God, and bring those to the God revealed in Christ. Once they synthesize their thoughts, or that of the god of the philosophers, with the God revealed to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in Jesus Christ, they feel that they have established a solid foundation from whence the conversation between them and God can get started. This is not the way of the Man from Nazareth.
Jesus, the Son of Man, didn’t approach God through the god of the philosophers prior to starting discussion with His Father. He simply worshipped, praised, lamented, petitioned, and con-versated with the Father, by the Spirit, from the get-go. This is the model of dialogical theology. It is one that starts from within the center of God for us in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ. The dialog is an evangel-shaped discussion that starts from the within the mysterium Trinitatis, as that is given for us in God’s Self-revelation in the Logos ensarkos, Jesus Christ. This is the condition, the basis of dialogical theology; it is the simple, but profound notion that we have an immediate audience with the triune God through the torn veil, the broken body of Jesus Christ. It starts from the premise that we are co-heirs with Christ, adopted sons and daughters of the living God, and that God is thus our Father. As such, dialogical theology is a talking-theology, it isn’t a “thinking” theology, per se. That is, it isn’t the theology of the schoolmen, but instead the theology of the paideia, the children of the living God.
The above might sound ‘more-pious-than-thou.’ But that isn’t my fault, I am simply pointing out that the theology of neo-classists is not the theological way revealed in Jesus Christ. Dialogical theology is a theology of immediacy before God as that is supplied for through the mediatorial humanity of Jesus Christ. Neo-classical theology, or the speculative way, is a theology of mediacy that comes through abstract human speculation about God, which then becomes the self-proclaimed holy ground upon which the theologian must think God; and at some point, gets around to talking with God. Some might call what I’m referring to as neo-classical theology, as foundationalism, if we were having a discussion about postmodernity; but we aren’t. My suggestion to all, as Christians, those would-be theologians: just start talking to the God revealed in Jesus Christ, and authoritatively borne witness to in Holy Scripture. In this discussion, the theologian will be transformed from glory to glory, able to behold the Glory of the living God with that much greater clarity and intimacy. Soli Deo Gloria
A Devotional Reflection on Jesus Pro Me / Pro Nobis
I was going to write on the homoousios; this is related, but more devotional. The post I had in mind will come later, here is what it will argue later: If you affirm the two/natures::one person Christology of Chalcedon, this necessarily commits you to a theological hermeneutic/exegesis of ALL of Holy Scripture. What I will be writing in this post will be in reference to how I love Jesus.
Holy Scripture shapes the type of encounter I have with its reality. Whether it be through lists of genealogies, lists that index various sins, lists that state the Fruit of the Spirit, literature that goes into great prose about salvation history, Hebrew Poetry that elevates the heart into the fresh atmosphere of God’s inner sanctum, so on and so forth. Scripture as God’s signum (sign) brings me into its res (reality) every time I read a word off its pages. Scripture is lively and active full of the resurrection energy of its ascended reality in Jesus Christ. Thus, I seek to read and meditate on its words all the days of my life that I may be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water. It is in this ontic relation with the living and triune God in and through the prosopon (face) of Christ that I find my daily sustenance in order to make trek into the wild west of this rabid world. As I meditate on Scripture I hear God’s still small voice, and it sounds just like Jesus’ voice. This is the warp and woof of my theological existence. Indeed, as the Psalmist, King David bore his heart ‘what have I on this earth, LORD; all I have is You, and Your Word to serve as a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. When I think theologically I am only thinking about the One I’ve encountered in the pages of this antique Holy Book known as the Bible. I gain my life and reason for living as I inhabit the canon of Holy Writ; not because the text itself is Holy, but the One it finds its reality from is. It is through Holy Scripture that I have come to encounter afresh and anew the One who was dead but is now alive! As a result, I live. I don’t live because of a power resident in me, but I live as I find ecstatic existence, moment by moment, by the life-giving reality of the Son of God. It is through His vicarious humanity, from His life pro me as the imago Dei wherein I find mine. As I find my life from Christ’s life pro me, it is here that Scripture’s reality moves and breathes through me by the breath of the Holy Spirit. Not as if I am spirated with Apostolic breath; no, as if I am participatio Christi, and through this participation with Christ ‘I am as He is in this world.’ Through this analogia fidei/relationis (analogy of faith/relation) the Son of God, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Ancient of Days with His white flowing hair is borne witness to through my broken vessel. This is the miracle of new creation breaking into this world of futility that brings the Light of Hope that all humanity, indeed, all of creation screams out for.
Knowing, through Holy Scripture’s reality, that I am in bond, indeed, a slave of the risen Christ’s, I find rest for my soul; indeed, for the very limbs of my body. As I’ve come to taste and see that God is good, it is in this tasting that I continue to live fides quaerens intellectum (faith seeking understanding). But this isn’t a life of a self-generated faith, it is the vicarious faith of Christ that I know God from. As for Calvin, as for the Apostle Paul, the faith of Christ is the knowledge of God pro me. It is as God’s being for me as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit has freely chosen to be pro me, it is from His being in becoming for me in the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ that I am transformed from glory to glory; a transformation that is confronted by the Holy Godman of Jesus Christ, and in His confrontation of my old Adam, he brings me into the theological knowledge of God as He just is the Greater and Second Adam; an Adam who while a man of dust, has through his death, burial, resurrection, and ascension re-created the natural dust He assumed and miraculously made it heavenly dust. This heavenly dusted Godman now sits at the Right Hand of the Father, and He has taken me with Him. I now find my inhabitatio Dei in the very life of the God who was, is, and always will be. In this ascendent and exalted status, through the vision of God mediated by the faith of Christ, as I am seated in the heavenly places with my Lord and Savior, it is here that I know Who God is. Indeed, I have come to know God as a Who, as my Father, Brother, and Holy Comforter rather than an abstract What. My status in the ascended Christ, my status as an adopted son of God by grace, in and from the nature of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, allows me to speak to God face-to-face as it were. I don’t know God as the philosophers know the Pure Being or the Unmoved Mover; I know God as the Son of the Father; and in this knowing I know Him as a son knows His Heavenly Father, as a co-heir with Christ. amen
Jesus’s Eternal Life as the End and Beginning of All Things: Applied to the death of Ron Grow
16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. –II Corinthians 4
I am continuing to process my grief at the loss of my dad. My dad suffered like Job in many ways. Although much, if not most of my dad’s suffering was brought on by the [bad] choices he made. Nonetheless, he suffered immensely, and he did so as a child of the living God. He struggled with prescription drug addiction; deep doubts about his salvation (which actually led to the drug addiction); he endured unending sense of loss; he went through a divorce from my mom after 36 years of marriage that he never recovered from; he lost many close to him, the last was his cousin, Tommy, who was like a brother to him (Tommy wasn’t a Christian when he killed himself approx 3 years ago). My dad suffered immensely, and in ways that my short list does not adequately capture (I didn’t even mention all the physical stuff he dealt with). But in this all there was redemption. You see, my dad is the type of person that Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, came for. Jesus came for the bruised reed, the smoldering wick, the downcast and broken; my dad qualified. The wisdom of God, a staurological wisdom, is of the sort that assumes sinful humanity all the way down. In this assumption the Son ensarkos takes all the blights, even our unbelief and disobediences, and puts these many deaths to death in His singular death for us. The Son of God, the Christ penetrates so deeply into the warp and woof of our sinful beings that he captures our bone marrow itself and redeems it. He did this for my dad. Even in, especially in my dad’s broken and tattered status, the Son of God, who is the Christ, vanquished all the dark nights of the soul at their very fountainhead, and brought eternal life as a well-spring that flows throughout all the ages. My dad’s sinful and battered status was assumed by the Son of God in the incarnation, and redeemed from the inside/out. And yet, and this is the Wisdom, God was able to use all of the suffering, even of the self-inflicted sort that my dad suffered from, and bring new creation through the resurrected and vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ, the Son of Man. There is no loss where Jesus Christ sets His foot, there is only always gain. My dad experienced this gain in seedling form in 1970, and now in penultimate blossomed form in his currently intermediate status now.
Samuel Rutherford (1600 – 1661), Scottish theologian and pastor, wrote the following with reference to trial and tribulation vis-à-vis eternity:
For your afflictions are not eternal; time will end them, and so shall you at length see the Lord’s salvation. His love sleepeth not, but is still working for you. His salvation will not tarry or linger; and suffering for Him is the noblest cross that is out of Heaven. . . and this is the fruit, the flower and bloom growing out of your cross, that ye be a dead man to time, to clay, to gold, to country, to friends, wife, children, and all pieces of created nothings; for in them there is not a seat nor bottom for soul’s love. Oh, what room is for your love (if it were as broad as the sea) up in heaven, and in God!
We may indeed think, Cannot God bring us to heaven with ease and prosperity? Who doubteth but He can? But His infinite wisdom thinketh and decreeth the contrary; and we cannot see a reason of it, yet He hath a most just reason. We never with our eyes saw our own soul; yet we have a soul. We see many rivers, but we know not their first spring and original fountain; yet they have a beginning. Madam, when ye are come to the other side of the water, and have set down your foot on the shore of glorious eternity, and look back again to the waters and to your wearisome journey, and shall see, in that clear glass of endless glory, nearer to the bottom of God’s wisdom, ye shall then be forced to say, “If God had done otherwise with me than He hath done, I had never come to the enjoying of this crown of glory.”
Don’t lose hope. God in Christ is hope. No matter what our plights in this vanquished life Christ is its end; and if He is its end He is its beginning too. Jesus is, indeed, the Alpha and Omega of God for the world; Jesus is this world’s telos, and only reason for existence. It is as we are participatio Christi that we begin to experience what this existence is all about. Unfortunately, since we still inhabit these bodies of death, our experience is shaped by bouts of death. But as Christians, even as we are constantly being given over to the death of Christ, it is only so that His life might be made manifest through the mortal members of our bodies; our bodies of death. This is what Rutherford is on about; he understood that this life isn’t our life at all, but Christ’s! Our lives, according to the Apostle Paul, aren’t ours, they are Christ’s. This means, once we are born again of the imperishable seed of baby Jesus’s life that no matter what sort of peril or trauma enters our lives, it isn’t ours, and it belongs to Christ. The Christian understands that we never live in abstraction from Christ; the Christian knows that the ground of their human being is Christ’s human being for them. The Christian recognizes that there is a correspondence between our lives and Christ’s, and this precisely because the Son freely chose to make His all circumscribing life correspond to ours; that by His poverty for us we might be made rich through the election of His resurrected humanity pro nobis.
My dad knows this hope. He travailed and kicked in suffering such that I could hardly bear it. There is a paradox in his loss. I miss him in ways that are hard to articulate. But when I think of his suffering, and the state he would be in right now, if he had survived, I find great joy in knowing that he has finally been released from the surely bonds that his body of death shrouded him in. Thankfully, those bonds were Christ’s, and Christ shrugged them off once and for all in the resurrection. My dad lives in the resurrection fully now. Maranatha!
 Samuel Rutherford, Selections from His Letters, cited by Nick Needham, 2000 Years Of Christ’s Power: Volume 4: The Age Of Religious Conflict (London: Christian Focus Publications, LTD, 2017), 440.
The God of the Sinners not the Metaphysicians: Luther’s God is Concrete Love
I grew up a Christian, came to Christ as a very young child; it was real. By time I got out of high school I had become very lukewarm (not realizing I had, of course). The Lord, through some extremely difficult and prolonged circumstances got a hold of me and brought me to the point where I knew my reality was either going to have to be Him, or insanity. I chose life, not death. From that point on I came to habitually inhabit Holy Scripture; read through it non-stop, memorize it, meditate on it. Then I went to school and was formally trained in biblical studies and theology; I learned of philosophical, metaphysical, and grammatical approaches to think God—some of these ways having greater value than others, some having almost no value at all. But the Lord always kept me close to Him, and He did that through this sort of relational and experiential reading of His Word. No matter how prominent these other ways have attempted to rise up, and habituate me in their ways of thinking God, I have always come back to this personal-relational understanding of God; and as that comes through afresh and anew in encounter with His face in Jesus Christ as realized by meditation upon Scripture.
I am sure there are many people out there who have a vibrant relationship with Christ who are also enslaved to highly metaphysical ways for attempting to think God, but I typically fail to see the evidence of that. When they talk about God I don’t recognize the God they are talking about. When they work out the minutiae and ‘angels on a pinhead’ in relation to the inner-workings of God, I do not recognize that as a discussion of the God that I know. I didn’t commit myself to a God who is a math problem, a Gordian Knot, or a quantum algorithm; I committed myself to a God who has a face, and His name is, Jesus Christ! This might sound all so melodramatic to the metaphysicians, but I assure you: it is not! I do understand the theo-metaphysicians fear; that is, they might fear that the God I know might be sublated to my experiences, to our collective experiences—thus falling prey to the Schleiermacherean collapse to the subject, turning theology into anthropology. But I am not talking about that when I refer to experience. I am referring to the fact that I am a constant sinner, who also is now justified (the simul). The God I am referring to confronts humanity, by assuming our humanity, and invites us into a participatory relationship with Him through Christ. The God I am referring to desires fellowship with us, and He has made the way for that to happen through the sending of His sin into the ‘far country’ of our fallen humanity, and raising us up with Him in the new creation of His resurrected humanity. The God I am referring to is all about being in union with us, that we might be in union with Him; this is a personal God, who does what He does because in His inner life is triune and eternal love. This isn’t a God who is accessible to metaphysicians or philosophers; they might talk about some pure being or monad, but that has zero correlation with the God who calls us sons and daughters.
Mark Mattes, a Lutheran theologian, makes these points crystal clear as he describes some of these very themes in Martin Luther’s theology:
The doctrine of justification bears on how God’s goodness is to be understood. Unlike his contemporaries and forebears, Luther has no confidence in either metaphysics or mysticism to establish God’s goodness, in spite of the fact that both approaches influenced his theological development. Luther’s is a highly experiential theology—not that experience is a criterion for truth but that sinners can never detach emotionally when doing theology, and at some point in their lives all sinners will do theology.
Luther was vitally concerned to address the question of God’s goodness. It bears on salvation. His point was that people do not need merely an incentive and an example to be good. They need in fact to be made good from the core of their being, their hearts. Counterintuitively, God does this by granting sinners his favor and promising them new, eternal life in Christ. As believers’ status with respect to God is changed, so is their identity. The law accuses old beings who seek to be their own gods for themselves and so control their lots and the lots of others to death. Humbled by the law, despairing of self, sinners can look to none other than Christ for salvation. In Christ they have a new identity and a new calling—to serve as Christ served in the world—and so to help especially those in need. The gospel promise unites believers with Christ, and Christ impels believers to serve their neighbors freely.
All this grounded in God’s own goodness. Outside of Christ, God is encountered as sheer power, a terror and threat to humans because such omnipotence jeopardizes sinners’ own quest for power, status, and authority. But Luther admonishes sinners not to neutralize this power by harmonizing it with some modicum of human power, such as establishing a free will. Instead, only God has a free will (though humans indeed make choices with respect to temporal matters). If we are to see the content or center of God and find him as good, then se must cling to the gospel alone. It establishes God as wholly love and goodness, indeed overflowing generosity, and serves as a basis from which to affirm life and explore mystery in the world. Goodness can no longer be established as a transcendental through metaphysics. Instead, goodness as a proper name for God and as a means by which every creature can participate in God is established only on the basis of how God acts in Christ, and that is to reconcile, redeem, and renew. Insofar as beauty is tied to goodness, it too will only be established through the gospel and not through metaphysics.
We can see how Matte’s conception of Luther was to think God in purely concrete and relational terms; and this, because Luther was so beat down by his personal sense of sinfulness juxtaposed with a sense of God’s grandeur and holiness. When Luther had his break through of a solafidian, it transformed his whole understanding of just who this God is for him; indeed, he finally realized that God was for him in Christ, and not against him as the theo-metaphysicians had drowned him with. Luther was groomed in a theological world where the conception of God was one that took shape under the specter of Aristotle’s categories. Once he realized that Aristotle’s god was not commensurate with the God he encountered in the New Testament, Jesus Christ, he was able to chart out contra mundum. As Heiko Oberman called Luther, he was now a man between God and the devil. This is what happens when are able to push off the god of the mathematicians and metaphysicians; we are able to realize that God is purely interested in having an ongoing and personal fellowship with each and every one of us. You realize that you are free to press on for that upward call, and live a poured-out life for and from God, and thus for others. This is where the power of God is realized in the Christian’s life. This is why Luther began to be a ‘man between God and the devil,’ a theologian who had epic almost hand-to-hand combat with the devil himself.
This has been my experience too. As I dug into the Bible years and years ago now, I came to encounter this God of Luther’s. I have experienced heavy spiritual warfare, not typically when attempting to think God along with the metaphysicians, but when attempting to proclaim this God who desires to have fellowship with all who will. None of this is to say that God isn’t high and transcendent; it is just to say that to confuse what the metaphysicians are talking about with that doctrine is rubbish. God’s transcendence comes down for us, before it goes up. God’s life is independent and extra from ours, but He has freely chosen, as revealed in the incarnation, to not be God without us. So, for us, to think God’s transcendence we always must think it from who God has revealed Himself to be, not who we speculate Him to be from our own resources and powers. God resists the philosopher’s machinations, and is only and always known by the sinners.
 Mark C. Mattes, Martin Luther’s Theology of Beauty (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2017), 54.
 Ibid., 66-7. [emboldening mine]
The Determination of the Church’s Witness as the Ground of Theology for the Church and the World: A Reflection Prompted by Robert Jenson
Theology is as Barth would intone early on in his Göttingen Dogmatics, Deus dixit ‘God has spoken.’ In other words, theology, genuinely Christian theology cannot be done from a prethought framework that comes as a prius to God’s speaking to us first. If so, if this was indeed the Christian theological way then how could we ever determine whether or not we were actually hearing from God rather than men and women? This is an important point that I’m afraid much of the theological endeavor has failed to appreciate; not that it hasn’t appreciated it in principle, but I don’t think it has attended to this type of reception-from-God nature of theology that real Christian theology must attend to and be determined by. In other words, so much of the theological task through the centuries, the type that has been done in and from the church, I would contend, has been underdetermined by the church’s reality in Jesus Christ; and instead has focused too much on the mediatorial nature of the church; thus getting lost in its own self-referential and traditioned ways rather than actually doing theology in intentional terms such that the Lord of the Church is both the object and subject of the theologian’s grammar and articulation. Yes, the theologian, in the best of cases, speaks for and to the church, for her edification, but this can only be done as it works from and attempts to elucidate the good news it has received and continues to receive as it reflects upon the Word of God not only written but proclaimed ever afresh anew. Robert Jenson says it this way:
The characterization of theology as reflection internal to the attempt to speak gospel must therefore be amplified. We do not in any unmediated way have this gospel that we are to speak; we have it only as we receive it. To state the full case we must therefore say that theology is reflection internal to the act of tradition, to the turn from hearing something to speaking it. Theology is an act of interpretation: it begins with a received word and issues in a new word essentially related to the old word. Theology’s question is always: In that we have heard and seen such-and-such discourse as gospel, what shall we now say and do that gospel may again be spoken?
We don’t presume that we could ever speak the Gospel, or think it out loud with all its effervescent realities in face outwith our location and situadedness within the church; it’s just that the church itself, depository as she is, has an instrumental function. The church is made up of a thousand voices, that only have gravitas and foundation as it repeats for each and successive period, in the lingua franca of her admirers, what gives her first and last orientation; an orientation that comes from, over and again the fact that God has spoken, and that he speaks. The church operates in such a way that she goes on mission, starting in Jerusalem and going as far as Samaria and Timbuktu; she seeks to bear witness to the Gospel reality, the always already determinate reality of the church, as she exegetes and translates the depth dimension of the Gospel as that is given as gracious gift through the womb of Mary.
As Jenson underscores, there is a continuity between the ‘old word’ and the ‘new word’; and I would want to suggest that this continuity is sustained because the old word and the new word are always and only circumscribed by the first and last Word of God, Jesus Christ. As the church seeks to speak the new word from the old word we have the freedom, because he who the Son has set free is free indeed, to imagine creative grammars that seek to ‘amplify’ the Word given in the broken body and shed blood of the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world. This is the gift the church has, as it seeks to do theology only after God has spoken, we have the gift of prophecy which is the spirit of Christ to speak the evangel in gracious ways wherein those we speak to will have manifest ways and endless tributaries to imagine a way from the Way that explicates what it means that Jesus is supreme; that all things have been reconciled by his shed blood, and given new life from his dead body born again as the firstborn from the dead.
Even as I am writing this post I can only really conclude that the process the church has been invited to, of being sanctified from glory to glory, as she seeks to get lost not in the substructures of the church, but instead in the effulgent reality of the Church’s Head and primary Voice, is a doxological act. The act of speaking the old words in new words from the Word is an inherently worshipful endeavor consisting of seeking Christ first, his righteousness and then all these other words will be given to us to speak in concert with the words already spoken before. We will, as genuine Christian theologians, continue to speak these words, upon their reception by the Spirit, not without the past words but with and from them as they have found their fresh and vivacious grammarizations from the plenitude of the first and last Word spoken in the eternal Logos, the Son of God, Jesus Christ. If the church collapses that voice into her own voice, conflates the two without distinction, we will no longer genuinely be bearing witness to the Church’s reality, but instead we will sadly only be found to be bearing witness to ourselves; there’s nothing truly doxological about that.
“What shall we now say and do that the gospel may be spoken?” We must attend deeply to the voice of God in Jesus Christ. Meditate on the rivulets the Gospel opens in the sanctuaries of our hearts and minds, and allow the Spirit to kindle anew and afresh the songs, hymns and spiritual songs that repose in and from the heart of God in Jesus Christ. As we participate in the interpenetration of God’s Triune life, from the anchor of our souls in Jesus Christ, we might come to know how we ought to respond to Jenson’s question.
 Robert W. Jenson, Systematic Theology: Volume 1: The Triune God (New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 14.
The Mystery of Godliness in Flesh: Engaging with K Sonderegger’s “Immutable-Mutability” in the Hypostatic Union
Katherine Sonderegger’s recently released (2015) Systematic Theology. Volume 1, The Doctrine of God is a theology text that is textured and dripping with doxological prose towards a God who you sense is truly holy as you work your way through it. She is someone I would say who writes in the same type of reverent style as John Webster did in his writings; with a kind of poetic and sacred flare.
For the rest of this post I wanted to share with you some of Sonderegger’s thinking on the immutability of God, or what she calls “Immutable mutability.” Here she has just been working through the Old Testament book of Numbers, and offers her thoughts on how God is both immutable and mutable (in a qualified way), using the themes of God’s stooping down to meet His covenant people where they are. She reifies the Torah revelation of God, the tabernacling God, by bringing Christ as the substance of that reality into the cultic picture offered by the salvation-history disclosed for us in Numbers. You will notice as you read this quote from her that she brings prayer or intercession into this discussion, just briefly, as she has previously been discussing that within the context of Numbers and God’s immutability. You will also notice that she refers to “omni” theology, i.e. God’s “all-knowingness,” and God’s “all-powerfulness,” so on and so forth. These are surely classical grammarisms for referring to the Christian God, but ones, that I think there might be better language for; at the very least, just as the language of immutability should be, I think so should the language of the “omnis” be qualified and conditioned from within a Christ concentrated frame of God’s Self-explication.
Furthermore, what you will also see in Sonderegger’s following quote is a reference to Barth. Sonderegger, ultimately, is not a fan of Barth’s Christ concentrated or principial approach for doing theology; indeed, as you read the whole of her Systematic Theology she makes that clear. That said, as is illustrated even here, she does make constructive appeal to Barth here and there (when she is not critiquing his Trinitarian approach to a doctrine of God). If you are familiar with Barth studies you will also see that she defers to a more Bruce McCormack reading of Barth wherein the Logos asarkos is essentially nullified. Of course as George Hunsinger and Paul Molnar are only too ready to argue, it is not the case that Barth has this allergy to the Logos asarkos lurking in his theology, or in particular, in his touchstone doctrine of election. Even so, Sonderegger, as you will see, works constructively with her reading of Barth and attempts to somewhat synthesize (that might be too strong of a word), constructively, her understanding of God’s “immutable-mutability” in the Incarnation with Barth’s concentration on the Logos ensarkos. These are technical things, in regard to Barth, that are indeed important, but for the purposes of this post, don’t let that deter you from being enriched from what Sonderegger offers here. As you read this your appetite might be whetted, as mine is, for her volume 2 which is focusing on Christology. What you will read is a rare flourish into some Christological thematic; for the most part in this volume 1 of hers she avoids much if any discussion of Christology (which that in and of itself should tell you volumes about how she differs from Barth — Barth wouldn’t even attempt to develop a doctrine of God without first starting with Jesus Christ — Sonderegger believes Barth is in serious error here, of course I disagree with her!). Here is Sonderegger:
In the mystery of the Incarnation, creaturely time is bent. It is taken up into the eternal, even as our flesh is taken up into Deity. What takes place under Caesar Augustus, in a shed in David’s city, takes place in another sense, yet altogether really, in the wilderness beyond the Jordan. Just this is what we mean when we say that time and eternity have met in Christ. Time and its order, its direction and impulse, are not destroyed—precisely not that! No, the movement from death to life, from exile to return, cannot be shaken: it is the Lord’s promise to His creatures. But our time is taken up into His, and in that way, receives as communicated, the Eternity that is God.
Our intercessions and commerce with the Lord God take place in that bent and hallowed time. The Mutability that is also the Lord’s Power is the Incarnation as it exists—“preexists”—in eternity. We want to be precise here. We do not purpose that the Divine Son is mutability within the Godhead, nor a “readiness” for Incarnation among the Triune Persons. No! This is a rather rarified form of Arianism, but Arianism, all the same. What we hear in the book of Numbers, rather, and aim to set out here, is the conviction that God’s very Nature, His own fiery Omnipotence, is “disposed” to Incarnation, the entire Godhead. Perfect Power is Humility in jus this sense. The fiery Dynamism that just is Omnipotence is Life, Movement, Energy. It eternally consists in and anticipates the Incarnation through its Divine Mutability. Just this is spiritual Nature. Though we must take up this task more directly in Divine Omniscience, even here we must say that the act of Incarnation is no novelty in God, no decision to be realized or adopted, no remedy. Rather this Mutability is the Divine Power in its dynamic Life. It is Eternal: immutable Mutability. This is what Barth means, I believe, when says that Christ makes us His contemporaries: we are drawn, as by the good Teacher, to His time, the eternal temporality. Perhaps this gives us another avenue into the perplexing doctrine of the Logos Ensarkos, beloved by Barth. Even as the apostle tells us that the Mind of Christ is exemplified and enacted by the lowering of Christ into the form of a slave, so the Humility of the Lord God is exemplified and enacted in His lowly readiness to hear, to bend down to His creatures in the dust, to have real commerce with those who are perishing. He will do this. It is not too little a thing for Him to take the form of a slave, to attend to us, to turn His Face toward us. That is His Goodness, His astonishing Humility. He asks, in that merciful exchange, What will you have me do for you? For just this reason the Incarnate Christ ask this very thing of the supplicants who come His way. He hears. He communicates His own Life to us in prayer, His own Vitality and Blessing. And as we cannot say, from our exiled home, east of Eden, just how the Eternal Word could become and live and die as one of us; just so we cannot say, as creatures of the earth, how the Eternal can assume our time, our days and years, into His Presence, so that we may speak and He may hear. But with the full realism that is the Incarnation, we may affirm, Yes, the Lord God, the omnipotent One, is mutable in just this way.
What stands out to me most about this is the strong appeal to mystery that Sonderegger relies on in her constructive offering relative to how she tries to frame God’s “immutable-mutability” embodied by and within the hypostatic union of God and humanity in the singular person of Jesus Christ. This appeal to mystery, as J.N.D. Kelly reminds us is very patristic, and sounds somewhat like what Leo famously summarized in his Tome, which helped lead to the Chalcedonian settlement (we will have to explore how Leo brought all of this to summary in the next post).
I realize this has been somewhat of a fragmented post, but it is a blog post after all. Hopefully at the very least you’ve been given something to think about as a result of reading Sonderegger’s thoughts. Like I noted, I don’t fully endorse her approach, but her thinking on things is worth engaging with and being edified by at some level.
 Katherine Sonderegger, Systematic Theology. Volume 1, The Doctrine of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015), 297-99.
God’s Plight as Our Plight in Christ; Death Couldn’t Hold Him Down
I have read loads of theology books over the years, but I can’t ever recall being moved to tears as a result of reading them. That just changed as I’m finishing up Robert Dale Dawson’s book (published PhD dissertation) The Resurrection in Karl Barth. In the closing chapter he is offering up some critical constructive points in regard to Barth’s theology of resurrection and doctrine of God (prior to this, the whole of the book is affirmative of Barth in every way). Here, in the quote I am going to share from Dawson, he is offering a word of development relative to what he sees as somewhat of a lack in Barth’s relating of resurrection and Trinity. So that’s the context of the quote, but the quote really stands on its own, materially. The reality of what is being communicated is so deep, profound, and worship-inducing that indeed it actually did cause me to cry for a moment; because of the depth of love that God has for us. As you read this quote just reflect on what is being communicated, and allow it to cause worship. Dawson is reflecting on what has happened on the cross, and in the Triune life (as that implicates the being of God):
For what then is the Son appealing to the Father, except that the Father should restore him (and all who are gathered in him) to eternal life and fellowship with the Father? That is, he commends his Spirit into the hands of the Father in order that he may, by the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit, be raised (that is, begotten as ever and always) into the being and perichoretic fellowship of the Trinity; that he may yet again and despite all assume his place as the Son of God bound eternally both to the Father and to humankind, the God-man who is alive and forevermore. This is not to say the Trinity has been dissolved in the death of the Son of God and remade in his resurrection, but that the Son of God has so bound himself to humankind that death’s threat against humanity must now also become a threat directly against the trinitarian being of God, a threat which can never be victorious for God simply lives in his freedom to exist as Trinity. The God-man has so bound himself to sinful men that he takes their plight, even their death and destruction, upon himself, such that their end is inextricably bound up with his. Yet it is the very nature of the being of God to will to be God not in isolation, not imprisoned in monadic aloneness, but in fellowship with himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Because it is the will and essence of God to be God in this manner, death has no victory, for God precisely in this moment reaffirms his eternal trinitarian being, this time with human being bound to himself in the being of the second Person. The resurrection is the outward form of God’s reaffirmation of himself as trinitarian being. That is God so binds himself to humankind in Jesus Christ that the very trinitarian being of God is threatened, by virtue of the fact that the God-man, the Son of God and the Son of Man, goes into death. The Son of God surely dies, and humankind with him, but not without hope. Beacause it is the very nature of God to elect himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit; that is, because God continues to elect himself as the Father who is the fount of the eternal begetting of the Son and the eternal procession of the Spirit, the threat of the dissolution of God as Trinity is utterly – in the grace and freedom of the Father – nullified. What is more, the thread of the dissolution of creation and humankind is also removed forevermore. In other words, God removes the thread of death against humanity by securing human being in his own trinitarian life, against which death has no avail.
 Robert Dale Dawson, The Resurrection in Karl Barth (Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2007), 222.