Matthew Levering

Apostolic Succession, Theories of Ecclesial Authority, and Biblical Exegesis: Miscellanies

As I noted on my FaceBook wall I am planning on writing a mini-exegetical paper on the doctrine of Apostolic Succession, as held to by both Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox in their own respective and distinct ways (i.e. please don’t think I’m assuming that RC and EO are just different sides of the same coin, I’m not. But they do share a similar view of Apostolic Succession in regard to their theory of the church and theory of authority). My exegetical paper will be an analysis of the locus classicus texts found in both Matthew 16 and 18. I will argue how and why 16 should be read in tandem with 18, and if read in this way, paying attention to the Greek grammar, the idea of Apostolic Succession is severely undercut; at least in the Dominical teaching of Jesus Christ. But my ultimate conclusion will remain chastened to the reality that Apostolic Succession and its attendant theory of the church is more complex than simply defeating it through an exegetical analysis of some Matthean texts.

The above noted, in this post I simply want to share something from Matthew Levering’s book Engaging the Doctrine of Redemption. In his introductory remarks he offers a quote from a Catholic scholar named O’Collins (of course that’s his name!); O’Collins is delineating how he sees tradition, church, and scripture working together as an organic whole. I thought something like this would be good to share particularly in light of my forthcoming paper on Apostolic Succession. Levering writes:

Regarding Tradition, O’Collins first shows that its practical necessity has been ecumenically accepted, and so the question now is how to distinguish authoritative Tradition. With respect to the relationship between Scripture and Tradition, he points out that “if the community’s tradition, along with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, led to the formation of the Scriptures, one would expect tradition to remain active in interpreting and applying the Scriptures.”⁵⁵ The Bible in this sense cannot be separated from the Church, even though, as Dei Verbum affirms, the Church’s magisterium serves the scriptural word of God rather than the other way around. The Holy Spirit’s guidance of the Church includes working through the bishops (including uniquely—the bishop of Rome), rather than simply working through “individual believers reading the Scriptures, preachers expounding the Scriptures, and ministers using the Scriptures in administering the sacraments.”⁵⁶ It is the Holy Spirit that enables the Church to hand on Tradition—that is, to hand on the entirety of what has been revealed in Jesus Christ. O’Collins discusses eight elements that guide the Church and individual believers in discerning the true content of this Tradition: the magisterium, the Vincentian canon, the “sensus fidei,” continuity with the apostolic Church, the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds, apostolicity, Scripture, and the risen Lord. He remarks that the Church of each generation inevitably hands on Tradition in a somewhat different form from that in which it had been received, although “an essential continuity is maintained.”[1]

This thickens things a bit, at least in regard to how I might be writing my mini-exegetical paper on Matthew 16 and 18. At the least it illustrates how my exegesis of Matthew 16 and 18 will not be the silver bullet in undercutting a doctrine of Apostolic Succession; my goal is not that triumphant. Really what I’m hoping to accomplish with my paper is to simply have something I can refer to, online, when I encounter people who appeal to that as proof positive for Apostolic Succession.

In regard to what I just shared from Levering and O’collins, it might be somewhat difficult to overcome the theologic being articulated if someone like Karl Barth hadn’t come along. Yes, the whole Post Reformed orthodox period of development has many direct responses to all of these claims and theologic provided for by Levering/O’Collins, with particular reference to the Scripture principle (which Barth himself appeals to in his book The Theology of the Reformed Confessions and in his CD etc.) and Sola Scriptura, but honestly I really don’t think Post Reformed orthodox theology (think of the work of Richard Muller and his Post Reformation Reformed Dogmatics) has the actual ecclesiological chops to move away from the pressure provided by the theologic of Levering/O’Collins. In other words, I think any theology that appeals to natural theology will have a hard time escaping the ecclesiocentric approach to things that Rome is funded by; the Westminster Reformed types have the same ecclesiocentrism present in their theology. It is Barth, and really, modernity itself that supplies the type of theological escape route that one needs to be able to critically move away from the type of ecclesiocentrism that we find in both Rome and Post Reformed orthodoxy (with its heavy reliance upon its Confessional magisterium etc.).


[1] Matthew Levering, Engaging the Doctrine of Redemption: Mediating the Gospel through Church and Scripture, 26 Scribd.

Reading the Bible Theologically and Participatorily, Not Naturalistically and Linearly: Against Modern Bible Reading Practices

It has become almost self-evident that the way Christian persons are to interpret Holy Scripture comes from reconstructing history; through philological acumen; the ability to understand grammatical syntax, etc. While all of this, and more, is important towards culling the heft and riches of Scripture’s intent, in relation to its reality, Jesus Christ, it is not the only way to frame, nor I will suggest, the primary way we should approach the interpretation of the Bible.


And since I want this post to be meaningful, in a contemporary sense, I want to focus, once again, on how the above has been being played out at a popular level; particularly in and among Progressive Christians (which is a continuum of belief, no doubt) relative to Biblical interpretation. Suffice it to say, that the popular way, and not just for the Progressive Christians, to interpret Scripture is indeed by flattening Scripture out to a reduction of historical venettes that are purely naturalist in orientation. In other words, the Providence of God, and his life in Christ as the telos or purposeful ground for all of reality, inclusive of biblical reality and history, is no longer considered viable when constructing a hermeneutical theory alongside a text-critical apparatus. What I am suggesting in this post, is that this has deleterious consequences for the way that we as modern Christians conceive of a theory of authority (i.e. God and his Word), alongside, as corollary, a theory of history.

The theory of history that has become the dominant one among modern day Christian biblical exegesis is purely ‘linear’ (we will explain what this is just below). As Hans Frei has noted according to Matthew Levering, in regard to biblical vitality for us today: “[biblical history] can be brought to the highest degree of probability or the greatest possible moral certainty in accordance with all the logical rules of a historical proof” (Levering, 21). So, again, the Bible no longer is situated, by way of its ontology (i.e. in its ordered relation to God’s providential relation to the world) within God’s purposeful orientation, in Christ, for history; instead human history has become a naturalist thing, something that belongs to humanity as its own end. As such, when Scripture is placed into this ‘linear’ or human-alone matrix for understanding the relevance of history, it no longer has the possibility of being primarily steered by God’s providence and life-imbuing meaning; instead we (humanity) gets to decide what Scripture means, and this based upon our reconstructions of natural/human history as ends in themselves. In summary, then, the linear theory of history has abstracted humanity and ‘natural’ history from God’s life as the ultimate and primary ground of all reality and history. Modern day Christian exegesis is attempting to take this linear approach, do the ‘natural’ work of historical reconstruction, and then stuff God back into that conception of things (i.e. natural theology).

Matthew Levering in his very insightful way brings everything we have been sketching above together; he helpfully draws out the implications of following this naturalist linear theory of history, and its impact upon us modern day Christian exegetes. In his way, Levering asserts a better way forward, one of ‘participatory history,’ a theory that ought to ground the linear way, and bring us back to a submissive reading of Scripture wherein God’s life is the ultimate res or reality for a truly principled Christian reading practice of Holy Writ. Levering writes:

What happens, then, when Scripture is seen primarily as a linear-historical record of dates and places rather than as a providentially governed (revelatory) conversation with God in which the reader, within the doctrinal and sacramental matrix of the Church, is situated? John Webster points to the disjunction that appears between “history” and “theology” and remarks on the “complex legacy of dualism and nominalism in Western Christian theology, through which the sensible and intelligible relams, history and eternity, were thrust away from each other, and creaturely forms (language, action, institutions) denied any capacity to indicate the presence and activity of the transcendent God.” Similary, Lamb contrasts the signs or concepts that can be grasped by modern exegetical methods with the moral and intellectual virtues that are required for a true participatory knowledge and love the realities expressed by the signs or concepts. Lacking the framework of participatory knowledge and love, biblical exegesis is reduced to what Lamb calls “a ‘comparative textology’ à la Spinoza.” Only participatory knowledge and love, which both ground and flow from the reading practices of the Church, can really attain the biblical realities. As Joseph Ratzinger thus observes, the meaning of Scripture is consituted when

the human word and God’s word work together in the singularity of historical events and the eternity of the everlasting Word which is contemporary in every age. The biblical word comes from a real past. It comes not only from the past, however, but at the same time from the eternity of God and it leads us into God’s eternity, but again along the way through time, to which the past, the present and the future belong.

This Christological theology of history, which depends on a metaphysics of participation inscribed in creation, provides the necessary frame for apprehending the true meaning of biblical texts.

In short, for the patristic-medieval tradition and for those attuned to it today, history (inclusive of the work of historiography) is an individual and communal conversation with the triune God who creates and redeems history—and the Bible situates us in history thus understood. (Levering, 23)


We have covered a lot of ground, and too quickly (but such is the medium). In conclusion I simply want to assert that there are better ways to approach the interpretation of the Bible over and against what we have been told is the only way to interpret the Bible today as modern Christians (typified, popularly by Progressive Christians); i.e. in the linear alone frame (as described above). Clearly, we have more work to do if we really want to understand what reading the Bible from a participatory frame of knowledge is all about. We have seen in the quote from Levering that there is a complex of factors involved in the history of ideas that have led us to where we are today; yet even though there is this complex it is possible to identify general shifts in trajectory that have led us here to where we are, even now. Nominalism was mentioned by Levering, that is key to understanding things further. We will have to unfold that later. But even better you could pick up Matthew Levering’s book Participatory Biblical Exegesis: A Theology of Biblical Interpretationand feast.


Towards a Biblical Doctrine of Inspiration

Yesterday I attended the Evangelical Theological Society’s regional meeting for the Pacific Northwest, held at Western Theological Seminary in Portland, OR. I made a new friend there with a brother who is like minded, and shares a lot of concerns that I do, theologically. His area of emphasis (as he heads into the beginning stages of PhD study), in regard to research, has to do with a Christian biblical doctrine and understanding of inspiration. He in fact delivered a paper, which I listened to, where he proposed a kind of trajectory for developing a Christian Dogmatic frame for locating biblical inspiration relative to God. After he finished reading his paper, as is customary at such conferences, there was a short Q&A period. During that time one of the questioners brought up the issue of how the words of Scripture are somehow properties of divine disclosure; divine discourse. This led further to an even more general consideration, brought up by my friend in response, in regard to: ‘How is Scripture God’s Word for us today?’

I think these are very pertinent questions, and as such I would like to provide some response; response in engagement with two lights in this particular area: John Webster and Angus Paddison. Throughout the rest of this post we will consider some ways that might be helpful toward thinking about what in fact inspiration actually is (from a Christian Dogmatic vantage point), and how God’s Word might be God’s Word for us today. Shall we begin?

I would submit that as Matthew Levering has duly noted and developed[1] the primary way that Scripture is God’s Word for us today reposes upon the reality that Scripture lives and breathes within the web of God’s present (not just past) life for us. In other words the category of participation becomes a powerful resource for how we should conceive of how Scripture not only has signified God’s Word for us from the past, but continues to do that for us in the present. In other words, Scripture itself has an ontology or is webbed into a relationship of discourse from on high; i.e. it participates in the Divine discourse as an embassy of God’s Triune speech, speech that is enlivened by the Holy Spirit as He (the third person of the Trinity) bridges the heavenly discourse with our discourse and knowledge of God. This introduces a host of directions we could take (like: the internal witness of the Holy Spirit, the complex of divine and human agency relative to inscripturation, etc.), but let’s try to focus our attention, in this post, in one dominant direction.

Signum and Res (‘Sign’ and ‘Reality’); these are the two categories that best help us, I submit, towards understanding how we ought to think of ‘inspiration’, theologically, and attendant to that (definitively) how God’s Word for us is his Word for us today. I could put this in my own words, and will (by way of reflection below), but let’s allow Angus Paddison a word on this:

Seeing Scripture is an exercise in seeing the actions in which it is a participant, and so we should properly seek of not just seeing Scripture but also of seeing beyond Scripture. Karl Barth’s category of Scripture as a ‘witness’ is helpful here in reinforcing the kind of vision required. To have one’s attention grabbed by a witness is to look away from her and towards that which she witnesses. The aim of reading a text written by a biblical author like Paul is not to seek out the putative historical circumstances behind this or that pronouncement, but to look towards the reality which so radically reorientated Paul’s life. Just as when we look out of a window at people staring upwards and yet cannot see the plane they are doubtless staring at, so too Paul ‘sees and hears something which is above everything, which is absolutely beyond the range of my observation and the measure of my thought’. Reading Paul as a witness upturned by grace, rather than prioritizing his status as author, is to follow the direction of his gaze, daring to see that which he points us towards. Good witnesses urge us to look not at them but at that which they indicate to us – a ‘successful’ witness is one who recedes as his object of attention begins to absorb our attention. Scripture is then not the end point of our vision, but is rather an invitation to see in what kind of contexts it is intelligible as Scripture.[2]

Paddison identifies at least three helpful hooks we might hang our doctrine of Scripture (vis-à-vis doctrine of inspiration) upon: 1) the category of ‘participation’, 2) the Barthian category of ‘witness’, and 3) the category of ‘vision’ or ‘reality’. As you think about it, what encompasses all of these categories is an uber-category of ‘instrumentality’; this a category not far removed from John Calvin’s own thinking about Scripture as spectacles. But let’s not stop here, lets push further into what Paddison introduces us to by hearing from Webster on how this might relate even further to developing a theological understanding and doctrine of biblical inspiration and how understanding the word’s of Scripture as ‘signs’ might accomplish this for us; indeed, Webster’s thoughts dovetail quite well with Paddison as he writes,

To speak of these signs as divinely instituted is to say that they are brought into being by an impulse which simultaneously employs and sublates human authorship. This, we shall see, does not compromise the integrity of text or authorship and authorial intention, but it does set those realities and activities in a movement whose primary agent is God himself. God initiates and directs this movement; to say anything less would be to compromise the notion of revelation. This divine direction is such that the biblical signs bear the divine Word to their hearers. The speeches of the prophets and apostles are not simply a sort of linguistic wager, rather perilously reaching towards divine speech. They are the actual occasion and mode of its utterance, and the presence of its authority to judge, command and bless. And this, not by way of conversion or confusion – the prophetic and the apostolic signs remain human, not divine or angelic words – but by way of the mystery of divine institution. Here, as Augustine puts it, God did not ‘broadcast direct from heaven’ but spoke ‘from his human temple’.

There is, therefore, a relation between the words of the biblical text and divine speech. It is not that the sermo humana is just occasionally or accidentally related to the sermo divina, or that the divine Word is so loosely annexed to the fallible human word that all we may legitimately discover in Scripture are traces of divine speech rather than God’s self-utterance. As a divinely instituted sign, Scripture is not a response to a distant Word, a Word which does not take determinate creaturely forms into its service; nor does Scripture signify the divine Word merely by traces of ‘excess’. If scriptural signs do, indeed, constitute the temple from which God makes divine utterances, then we need not be overzealous in separating divine Word and human service, or too pessimistic about God’s capacity to sanctify human texts. God so acts as to make the text capable, fitting and fruitful in the publication of his Word. This is part of what is meant by verbal inspiration: God’s Word is not at risk when spoken through the ministry of the prophets and apostles.[3]


I walk away from this engagement with these thoughts: 1) God’s Word is God’s Word for us insofar as we understand its participatory relationship (i.e. its ontology) within the web of God’s Triune speech and discourse for us today bridged by the Holy Spirit’s witness bearing role in relation to the publication of Scripture’s words; 2) that the primary category under which a confessional and principled Christian doctrine of Scripture and inspiration ought to be framed is ‘instrumentality’, in other words, Scripture is not an objective end in itself, but given its ontology in relation to its direct giveness by God, it becomes the sanctioned instrument through which God intends to make his reality known; and 3) the words of Scripture do not have any capacity in themselves to be ‘revealing things,’ but they only become this continuously as they by the Holy Spirit’s charge point us beyond themselves to their reality (the ‘signum’/’res’ matrix), their living reality found in God’s eternal Logos, as he communes among himself in Trinitarian discourse and bliss – so it would be wrong, then, to attempt to reduce the words of scripture themselves down into a ‘qualitative’ understanding as if the words themselves could serve as ‘containers’ or ‘receptacles’ of God for us, they cannot (this takes us, later, into a discussion about the impact that substance metaphysics has had upon the Western church in regard to developing not just our relative doctrines of Scripture, but everything else theological and ecclesiological as well).


[1] Matthew Levering, Participatory Biblical Exegesis: A Theology of Biblical Interpretation (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2008), 1-310.

[2] Angus Paddison, Scripture a very Theological Proposal (New York, NY: T&T Clark. A Continuum Imprint, 2009), 2-3.

[3] John Webster, The Domain Of The Word: Scripture and Theological Reason (London/New York, NY: T&T Clark. A Continuum Imprint, 2012), 10.

Peter Enns and ‘Natural’ Bible Reading

Peter Enns just wrote a blog post in response to Andrew Wilson’s Christianity Today’s review of Enns’ new and rather controversial book (for many) The jeromebibleBible Tells Me So. In Enns’ article he identifies twelve rhetorical strategies “evangelicals” like Andrew Wilson use when responding to critiques of the Bible, like Enns’, where the Bible’s historical and textual contradictions are emphasized; emphasized through a certain historist-text-critical lens. Here Enns describes the “why” of these rhetorical strategies–deployed by evangelicals as they are–and in his description what Enns believes about Scripture (in contrast to his “evangelical” interlocutors) becomes apparent:

These strategies—which are not necessarily deployed consciously—are aimed at protecting evangelical theological boundaries but do so at the expense of those evangelicals, who, through the course of reading and studying scripture, come upon legitimate questions for which they are seeking thoughtful answers. Issues like the tribal violence of God, true (not apparent) contradictions, and historical problems are quite real and cannot long be kept at bay through these strategies.[1]

For the rest of this post, we will survey (sort of) some of the history that has led Enns to become an “anti-inerrantist,” which is ironic, to say the least.

Some Of The History

People haven’t always thought of the Bible through the lenses that people like Enns and inerrantists (usually associated with evangelical and Fundamentalist Christianity [being forwarded by today, most ardently, by neo-Reformed types like John Piper, Westminster Theological Seminary, et al]) do. Prior to the turn to enlightenment modernity, and the higher criticism of the bible that developed as a result (among other things), people used to think of the bible as the place where the God of history in Jesus Christ encounters and meets us; inviting us into his life which is history. Far from discounting the historical veracity of Scripture what was emphasized more was a participation of God’s people in the history of God’s life disclosed in Scripture which found its telos or ‘end’ (purpose) in his beloved Son, Jesus. Matthew Levering identifies this conception of biblical history (the one I just said that finds its ‘end’ in Jesus Christ) as a ‘participatory’ view of history; he labels the theory of history that Enns and the inerrantists follow (solely, as far as developing a doctrine of Scripture) as linear history. According to Levering (and others, many others) linear history by the eighteenth century had become the dominate way of thinking about the reality of Scripture and the way that people ought to approach it. Notice Levering (as he provides a brief survey and diagnosis on this very line of thought):

By the seventeenth century, the participatory understanding of historical reality was on its last legs among intellectuals, although the overall unity of the onward-marching linear-historical moments was still presumed.

Hans Frei finds a similar logistic conceptualism in Enlightenment biblical hermeneutics, although unlike Lamb he does not, so far as I know, draw the connection to late-medieval thought. Discussing the “supernaturalist” position on the Bible offered–within the context of the emergence of historical criticism–by the eighteenth-century Lutheran theologian Sigmund Jakob Baumgarten, Frei notes that for Baumgarten the accuracy of biblical history “ ‘be brough to the highest degree of probability or the greatest possible moral certainty in accordance with all the logical rules of a historical proof.’” By the eighteenth century, logical rules of historiography took priority over the Bible’s narrative as the ground on which Christians could understand themselves. These rules envisioned God’s action as radically “external” to human action, and thus extrinsic to historical accounts of Scripture’s genesis and meaning. In patristic and medieval hermeneutics, by contrast, not logical rules of historiography, but faith in a providential God grounded the assumption that the books of the Bible displayed the divine pattern of salvation. This faith nourishes and is nourished by the Church’s biblical reading, understood as a set of embodied and liturgical practices constituting the Church’s conversatio Dei.[2]

Just to reinforce Levering’s sketch of things, let me also refer to John Webster who writes similarly to Levering:

To simplify matters rather drastically: a dominant trajectory in the modern development of study of the Bible has been a progressive concentration on what Spinoza called interpretation of Scripture ex ipsius historia, out of its own history. Precisely when this progression begins to gather pace, and what its antecedents may be, are matters of rather wide dispute. What is clear, at least in outline, is that commanding authority gradually came to be accorded to the view that the natural properties of the biblical text and of the skills of interpreters are elements in an immanent economy of communication. The biblical text is a set of human signs borne along on, and in turn shaping, social religious and literary processes; the enumeration of its natural properties comes increasingly to be not only a necessary but a sufficient description of the Bible and its reception. This definition of the text in terms of its (natural) history goes along with suspension of or disavowal of the finality both of the Bible and of the reader in loving apprehension of God, and of the Bible’s ministerial function as divine envoy to creatures in need of saving instruction.[3]


Peter Enns and the “Inerrantists” come from this same trajectory, the linear historical one that both Levering and Webster highlight for us. Whether you are Enns or the inerrantist, Scripture is reducible to linear-historical reconstruction and the way that sentences are syntactically structured, etc. Enns and the inerrantists might want to get to a point where Scripture can become a ‘spiritual’ thing (Enns says as much at the end of that blog post of his I linked to above; and the piety of the inerrantists bears testimony to this exceedingly so … there is a heart warmed feeling and love for God, by both Enns and the inerrantists), but the bedrock of their doctrine of Scripture won’t ever really allow them to; there are too many hurdles to jump prior to ever getting there (to living in a participatory depth in regard to the Bible and what it is in relation to its order as given by God). And so Enns and the inerrantists end up developing theories of biblical interpretation (hermeneutics) that have taken shape by their acquiescence to the bible “as history,” natural history before it is supernatural history; and this ends up having a deleterious effect upon everything else.

It is because of this (and I am focusing on Enns in this post) that I see Enns as dangerous and not edifying to the larger evangelical body of Christ (the younger or millennial generation, so called, in particular).

I hope younger Christians, in particular, will turn to a more robust and participatory understanding of biblical history. Understanding that Scripture is part of God’s invitation to converse with him, the Triune God.


[1] Peter Enns, Source.

[2] Matthew Levering, Participatory Biblical Exegesis: A Theology of Biblical Interpretation (Notre Dame, Indiana: Notre Dame University Press, 2008), 21-2.

[3] John Webster, The Domain of the Word: Scripture and Theological Reason(London/New York: T&T Clark, A Continuum Imprint, 2012), 6.

The Christ Access to Biblical History and Hermeneutics

I think history is God’s history. And thus as Christians, why would we base our categories for engaging with the text of Scripture (and its historical location/locution) upon naturalistic assumptions about history, as if history does not have a Christological antecedent in God’s elect life for us; as if the ‘telos’ (purpose) of all creation, and all history is not Christ? As if what funds history is not God’s Triune and Providential life, but instead a metaphysical materialism wherein our universe is closed and natural history becomes absolutized and immanentized in way that becomes only accessible by empirical observation and reconstruction? Left to the natural mind (I Cor. 2), indeed, this would be the only access to biblical-history (and history in general) that we would have. But we have not been left to this (we are not orphans), and history is not naked; it is independently contingent upon God’s Triune life and His underlying speech, which is touchstoned in his everlasting Word, Jesus Christ. So the way the Christian engages with history, and the Bible’s location therein, is to access that through Christ; as if Scripture, and the history therein, is hung together, and contingent upon the contingency of the Incarnation of Christ for us. There is no neutral playground to engage the Bible from. And if the critical tools that we have developed over the years (esp. in the 19th century) are based upon naturalism, then in what way should these be viewed as the ‘primary’ means by which we are supposed to critically engage the text of Scripture as Christians? 

Real history is composed of human lives; and human life is metaphysics in act. To claim to constitute the science of history without any speculative preoccupation, or even to suppose that the humblest details of history could be, in the strict sense of the word, a simple matter of observation, is to be influenced by prejudices on the pretext of attaining to an impossible neutrality.[Blondel cited by Levering, p. 145]

I am not suggesting that the so called ‘critical tools’ have no value; but to me their value can really only be negative, in the sense that they illustrate their ineptitude to access the illumined reality of Scripture that only comes from the eyes of faith given vision by the Holy Spirit come conjoined with the vicarious humanity of Christ for us.

Sorry, this is just a quick teaser on a post I am planning on writing in the next couple of days :-).

Those Stupid Theologians, What Do They Know? ‘The Shepherd’s Voice’

Sixteenth century Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza didn’t like Christian Dogmatics or her theologian’s very much; in fact he sounds, unfortunately, very much so like many today—of course his reasons were a little different from many today, but not that much, at least not in the way that Matthew Levering describes it. Here is how Levering describes Spinoza’s relationship with the theologian:


Yet, as Spinoza sees it, the salvation of these common people is seriously impeded by the nonsense taught by theologians. As Spinoza argues, with much evidence on his side, “people in general seem to make no attempt whatsoever to live according to the Bible’s teachings. We see that nearly all men parade their own ideas as God’s Word, their chief aim being to compel others to think as they do, while using religion as a pretext. We see, I say, that the chief concern of theologians on the whole has been to extort from Holy Scripture their own arbitrarily invented ideas, for which they claim divine authority.” Theologians not only do not live piously, loving their neighbor, but moreover their work, motivated by greed and lust for power, simply fosters controversies that result in the common people equally displaying hatred of neighbor. In their passion to be believed and followed, theologians claim that the most profound mysteries lie hidden in the Bible, and they exhaust themselves in unraveling these absurdities while ignoring other things of value. Having invented these false complexities in the Bible, theologians insist that others must follow their ideas, and “the bitterest hatred” and contention results among the common people. In light of the peril faced by the common people, Spinoza seeks to outline better principles for interpreting “what the Bible or the Holy Spirit intends to teach.” [Matthew Levering, Participatory Biblical Exegesis, 114-15.]

Wow, this hits so close to home. Being a student of Karl Barth, Thomas Torrance and other such theologians I have been accused more than once of the same kind of gibberish that Spinoza accuses theologians from his day of. In fact, this kind of accusation was actually just made toward me today.

There are speculative theologians around, but then there are also revelational theologians (of which tribe I am); theologians who follow what historically was identified as the via positiva (positive way)  and the kataphatic approach instead of the via negativa (negative way) and the apophatic approach. Revelational theologians, by and large, seek to work a posteriori from what has been given in God’s Self-revelation in Jesus Christ, who exegetes or explains (John 1.18) His life with the Father by the Holy Spirit. Thomas Torrance has identified this kind of positive way as theological science, something that he picked up from Karl Barth. Torrance describes this kind of mode in Karl Barth this way:

[. . .] Barth found his theology thrust back more and more upon its proper object, and so he set himself to think through the whole of theological knowledge in such a way that it might be consistently faithful to the concrete act of God in Jesus Christ from which it actually takes its rise in the Church, and, further, in the course of that inquiry to ask about the presuppositions and conditions on the basis of which it comes about that God is known, in order to develop from within the actual content of theology its own interior logic and its own inner criticism which will help to set theology free from every form of ideological corruption. [Torrance, Theological Science, 7 cited by Bobby Grow, Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church Chapter 4, 102.

If only Spinoza would have been around later, he would have understood that the best of theologians think from Christ, and that Scripture is not a mystery waiting to be un-locked, but a hymn book waiting to be sung to its glorious reality, Jesus Christ.

It is this aspect that I would love to see many Biblical Studies folk and Theologians embrace; that is, that reading Scripture must be understood from its ultimate center (methodologically and in every way), in Jesus Christ (Jn. 5.39). And that doxology (worship) is the mode by which Scripture is most appreciated, as if the living voice of God in Christ can be encountered every time we crack its pages. This does not ignore that involving ourselves in this kind of koinonial (fellowshipping) exercise requires toil and hard work (II Tim. 2.15), and that there are critical tools available to engage in this process of encounter and sanctification; but it is to highlight that the purpose and aim of reading Scripture is only given shape by its Revealed reality and continual giver, God in Christ by the Spirit. And thus contra, Spinoza, and anyone else of like mind, approaching Scripture as a theologian is not intended as some sort of mysterious exercise of abstract speculation, but it is to repentantly and obediently to seek to hear from the Teacher and reality of Scripture in dialogical form. Because the sheep know their Shepherd’s voice and we listen!

Reading Scripture Theologically: Providing Relief From NT Wright and also the LGH

It is important to remember that the text of Scripture is not just Literature, it is that, of course, with all of its conventions and literary devices, to boot; but it is more than this as well. My North American Evangelical tradition has adopted a mode of biblical interpretation (which I think is actually changing in some sectors) known as the Literal Grammatical Historical method; it is this method, by and large, that has given us the various expressions of the dispensational hermeneutic we have (as Americans) become all too familiar with—indeed it was this methodology that I was largely trained in, in both undergrad and Seminary (and my Master’s Thesis on I Corinthians 1:17-25 employs in slavish form). Here is how I described the LGH in another post I once wrote years ago, and then what, I then, in seminal form was coming to see as a better way forward (and still do):


I think our epistemological approach shouldn’t be rooted, necessarily, within a “rationalist” framework . . . which is where the LGH was shaped. That is, the LGH developed out of the “History of Religions” school of thought, at the turn of the 20th cent., and from other “rationalistic” streams of thought concurrent with this time period. Fundamentalists revolted against the “higher criticism” inherent to these schools, and combined with “Scottish Sense Realism” developed an Evangelically charged hermeneutic that (and I’m oversimplifying a bit here) was still consonant with their “liberal” brethren . . . albeit Evangelically charged! So instead of allowing arbitrary readings of history to primarily serve as the “epistemology” of scripture; I think it serves us better to approach it with Christ-centered spectacles which assumes a “positive” Christian hermeneutic provided in the scriptures. So that, the “history of Jesus” is indeed the history of scripture; and not various socio/cultural reconstructions. Furthermore, instead of doing biblical intepretation, or approaching scripture with socio-analysis as the primary methodological apparatus (which is where the LGH comes from); Karl Barth gives us the best way forward for approaching scripture (even though his points have to do with “theology”). His way forward is to start with the historical person, Jesus of Nazareth, as determinative of theology and its method. Here is T. F. Torrance on Barth:

Because Jesus Christ is the Way, as well as the Truth and the Life, theological thought is limited and bounded and directed by this historical reality in whom we meet the Truth of God. That prohibits theological thought from wandering at will across open country, from straying over history in general or from occupying itself with some other history, rather than this concrete history in the centre of all history. Thus theological thought is distinguished from every empty conceptual thought, from every science of pure possibility, and from every kind of merely formal thinking, by being mastered and determined by the special history of Jesus Christ. [Thomas F. Torrance, “Karl Barth: An Introduction to His Early Theology 1910-1931,” 196]

So as I was thinking then, I think now a better way forward to interpreting Scripture must have Jesus himself as the principled reality that serves as the rule and regulator of our interpretive decisions. Scripture should be viewed sacramentally in the sense that it is only a ‘sign’ of which finally gives way to its depth as it finds that in its ‘reality’, Jesus Christ. Matthew Levering provides further insight into how a flat kind of literal interpretive mode of operation came to find its existence in the history of ideas; he writes:

[…] Levine argues that Erasmus “began to think of the Bible principally as a record of history, rather than an arsenal of theological texts, above all as the story of Christ on earth—Christ as the supreme exemplar to be followed and imitated.” Behind Erasmus, Levine finds the mid-fifteenth-century humanist Lorenzo Valla: “For Valla, grammar was the supreme science, or at least the indispensable preliminary that was required for understanding any writing, and hence any doctrine…. In these crucial matters, the philologist was above the theologian.” [Matthew Levering, Participatory Biblical Exegesis, 22.]

I would say this is true in my experience, and it seems to be the continuing reality even as Evangelical exegesis continues to develop into more sophisticated expressions; like in NT Wright’s work for example. I have nothing against learning the Biblical Languages (I have), and using historical reconstruction etc. as part of the tool box that we use to interpret Scripture. But what I do have a problem with is when there is not proper attention given to the inner-logic and theological depth upon which Scripture turns, and wherein Scripture finds its reality; this would be like trying to ride a bike with just the spokes and wheel with no tire, you might be able to ride the bike, but it won’t move at optimum performance, it might hurt, and you probably will even crash and burn.

This is how I see the Evangelical obsession with appealing to NT Wright, and others in this camp, as the definitive way for reading Scripture. Scripture has Triune-Christological-depth as its ultimate context and canon. If we fail to see this reality as that which gives the text its ultimate sense and meaning, then we might be able to produce elaborate socio-cultural-historico reconstructions of the text, but in the end, there is really no dialogue taking place with the living author of the text, Jesus Christ. I see modern Evangelical exegesis, mostly, as an horizontal endeavor done in the name of vertical reality; and thus without vertical reality giving it the life it truly has in its ordained capacity to serve as the communicative medium and instrument that it is. I will offer more (later) on the better way, that I see as an alternative to the LGH, and now the critical movement provided by the likes of NT Wright and others.

Learning How To Read Scripture As Christians, Through Understanding Scripture’s Proper Placement

If you have ever struggled with biblical interpretation and hermenutical theory (i.e. your philosophy of Biblical interpretation), maybe part of that struggle has been because of unconscious captivity to a certain mode or bible-cover-pagephilosophy of Biblical interpretation that you have inherited from your own Christian tradition (denomination, etc.). Maybe it is because you have been holding to a doctrine of Scripture (and an ontology or ‘reality’ of Scripture) that has been hindering you from fully engaging in a genuinely Christian attempt at reading Scripture.

I think my above hypothesis is probably true for most of us Evangelical Christians, in particular; but also true for so called Liberal Christians, neo-Orthodox Christians, and whatever other variety of Christian there might be. If so, then John Webster provides a good picture of the differences between the typical approach (with various expressions) of Biblical interpretation—and how that is previously related to a prior commitment to a particular doctrine of Scripture—and a truly and principled Christian reading of Scripture (as related to Scripture’s placement within a theological account). Here is what John Webster communicates:

[I]n Christian theological usage, Scripture is an ontological category; to speak of the Bible as Holy Scripture is to indicate what it is. In applying the designation ‘Scripture’ to the biblical writings, we are not simply or primarily indicating something about the place which these texts occupy in the religious or moral world of their readers; nor are we describing our own intentions and those who make use of these texts. ‘Scripture’ is not merely a morally or socially evaluative term, an epithet of honour which draws attention to the veneration bestowed upon these writings by a particular community. To say ‘Scripture’ is to say ‘revelation’, not just in the sense that these texts are to be handled as if they were bearers of divine revelation, but in the sense that revelation is fundamental to the texts’ being. Revelation engenders Scripture, and in that relation of being engendered Scripture is what it is. By ‘revelation’ here is meant the communicative presence of the risen one in the Spirit, his resounding divine voice ‘like the sound of many waters’ (Rev. 1.15; cf. Ezek. 43.2). Scripture has its being in the ‘word’  (the magisterial self-utterance) of the risen one. Brought into being by that word, made resonant by it, the biblical texts are caught up in the exalted Christ’s proclamation of himself and his glory.

Such affirmations resist the historical naturalism to which accounts of the nature of Scripture quickly succumb. Once the historia scripturae is allowed to be determinative of the way in which the ontology of Scripture is conceived, then the biblical texts become a subset of the larger category of ‘texts in general’. They may still, of course, be distinguished by certain contingent properties which pick them out from other members of the class; but in a naturalist textual ontology such properties indicate the attitudes, policies or evaluations of the users of the biblical texts, but do not give any direct indication of the place of the texts in a divine economy. The biblical texts may be lifted beyond other texts by virtue of their content (doctrinal, moral, experiential); but explanation of this difference remains at the level of interpretive or religious intention. No language of divine action is required for determining what the texts are, for they are essentially ‘historical’ entities. They are to be conceived as the products of human religious agency, occupying and doing their work in an immanently conceived communicative field. As such, investigation of their natural properties and the natural properties of the agents of their production, dissemination and interpretation, is sufficient. To such investigations, evaluations of their religious significance may be contingently attached, but must remain subsidiary to the definition of what the biblical texts are. [John Webster, The Domain Of The Word, 39.]

Most of what counts today as Biblical exegesis, even among Evangelical Christians has been given its reality by way of ‘historical naturalism’. Indeed, I could think of many academic Christian Biblioblogs, for example, that are given shape by this very mode of Biblical interpretation. It does not normally take its form from intentional Christian thinking about the Bible, instead it has allowed various historical-cultural forces (primarily from the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries) to impinge upon its existence as a discipline of Christian exegesis. This same drift is true and evidenced in Christian theology in general; except in this arena, the exemplification of this is that Philosophers of Religion and Philosophy of Religion (and all of its assumptions) are baptized for Christians, as their theologians—but there is nothing methodologically significant about this, since these same Philosophers of Religion, if they happen to be Muslim, could take their same mode and practice and just apply it in the direction of Islam instead of Christianity. So there is nothing unique or special, either about this kind of typical “Christian” Biblical exegesis, and/or this type of “Christian” theology. Matthew Levering identifies similar things as Webster does, when he writes:

[…] By the eighteenth century, logical rules of historiography took priority over the Bible’s narrative as the ground on which Christians could understand themselves. These rules envisioned God’s action as radically “external” to human action, and thus extrinsic to historical accounts of Scripture’s genesis and meaning. In patristic and medieval hermeneutics, by contrast, not logical rules of historiography, but faith in providential God grounded the assumption that the books of the Bible displayed the divine patter of salvation. This faith nourishes and is nourished by the Church’s biblical reading, understood as a set of embodied and liturgical practices constituting the Church’s conversatio Dei. [Matthew Levering, Participatory Biblical Exegesis: A Theology of Biblical Interpretation, 21-2.]

Neither, Webster, Levering, or myself are suggesting that engagement with the historical, grammatical and literary realities of the text of Scripture should not be the primary means by which we exegete Scripture. But what is being suggested is that without a proper understanding of Scripture’s placement (ontology) within God’s relationship to us (so Dogmatic), given its clothing by the humanity of Christ by His Spirit spiration, then Scripture and its interpretation becomes dislocated and lost in the wilderness of human proclivity; lost because it is not first and intentionally grounded in its reality in Christ. And thus Scripture is no longer read through the faith of Christ, but instead through the disorderly turns of natural history and man’s own disposition.

Silly Rabbit, Trix are for Kids: The Mythology of the Salvation-Atonement Distinction, ‘Sufficient for All, Efficient for the Elect’

Amongst the classically Reformed amongst us, it is common parlance to refer to a distinction, relative to the extent of the atonement of Jesus Christ (i.e. for whom did he die?, etc.), which goes like this: Christ’s death on the cross was sufficient to save and redeem the whole world, but in reality it is only efficient to save the elect; those whom God gratuitously chose to be saved from before the foundations of the world. So there is recognition of the fact that God’s life in Christ for us has the potential capacity and power to save all, but it only has the actual reach to affect salvation in those whom God particularly chose to reach. There is a somewhat devious (I think) conception of God, and his wills or acts that stands behind this kind of distinction between the ‘sufficiency’ of the atonement Versus its ‘efficiency’; maybe we will get into that at a later date.


Following is part of an argument and description of this ‘distinction’ provided by R. Scott Clark of Westminster Theological Seminary California’s faculty; he writes of this sufficient/efficient dichotomy:

In the midst of controversy over the nature of God’s sovereignty, Godescalc of Orbais defended Augustine vigorously and suffered for it. He taught that there are two “worlds,” that which Christ has purchased with his blood and that which he has not. Thus when Scripture says that Christ died for the “world” (e.g., John 3:16) it is extensive of all those Christ has actually redeemed, but it does not include everyone who has ever lived. 18 In the same way, those passages which seem to say that Christ died for all, in all times and places must but understood to refer to all the elect. Thus he saw 1 John 2:2 not as a problem passage, but a proof-text for definite atonement.19

The Lombard’s teaching on the atonement is most famous for his use of the distinction between the sufficiency of Christ’s death and its efficiency. Though they are not familiar to many of us today, from their publication in the late 12th century until the late 16th century, Peter’s Sentences were the most important theological text in the Latin-speaking world. Theological students even earned Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in the Sentences.

In Book 3, distinction 20 he taught that Christ’s death was “sufficient” to redeem all (quantum ad pretii) but it is “efficient” only “for the elect” (pro electis).20 This distinction, though not followed by all Western theologians after Lombard, was adopted by most until the nominalist movement (e.g., William of Ockham, d. 1347) overturned the “Old School” (via antiqua).21

In his great work, Summa Theologiae, Thomas distinguished between God’s will considered as his antecedent will, by which he could be said to have willed the salvation of all; and his will considered as consequent, i.e., what he actually decreed to exist, i.e., that only the elect would be saved and that some will be reprobated (damned).22 Later, Protestant theologians would revise this distinction to refer to his revealed and hidden will. With respect to his revealed will, God is said to desire certain things (i.e., that none should perish). It is his revealed will that we should know the existence of a hidden decree (who will be saved and who will perish) but the content of that decree is part of his hidden will.

Thomas also made it very clear that he adopted Lombard’s sufficient/efficient distinction but also taught unambiguously that Christ died effectively only for the elect.23 [full argument available here]

So as we can see, this distinction is a reality in theological parlance, first articulated by the seminal Roman Catholic theologian, Peter Lombard, in his infamous Sentences (which were the basis for subsequent Medieval and Protestant Reformed theologies to follow); and as observed, continue to have conceptual force for contemporary classically Reformed historians and theologians like Scott Clark. I thought of highlighting this distinction because I came across a rebuttal of it by Eastern Orthodox theologian David Bently Hart as I have been reading (10 pages from completion now) Matthew Levering’s book Predestination. Reference is made to this ‘rebuttal’ of Hart by Levering in a footnote on the first page of the last chapter of the book. Let me share that now, and we will see what you think:

Hart, ‘Providence and Causality’, 47. Hart explains further: “This entire issue, of course, becomes far less involved if one does not presume real differentiations within God’s intention towards his creatures. For, surely, scripture is quite explicit on this point: God positively “wills” the salvation of “all human beings” (1 Tim. 2.4). That is, he does not merely generically desire that salvation, or formally allow it as a logical possibility, or will it antecedently but not consequently, or (most ridiculous of all) enable it “sufficiently” but not “efficaciously”. If God were really to supply saving grace sufficient for all, but to refuse to supply most persons with the necessary natural means of attaining that grace, it would mean that God does not will the salvation of all. If God’s will to save is truly universal, as the epistle proclaims, one simply cannot start from the assumption that God causes some to rise while willingly permitting others to fall; even if one dreads the spectre of universalism, one cat at most affirm that God causes all to rise, and permits all to fall, and imparts to all—the ability to consent to or to resist grace he extends while providentially ordering all things according to his universal will to salvation. Or, rather, perhaps one should say that God causes all to rise, but the nature of that cause necessarily involves a permission of the will’. [Cited by Matthew Levering, Predestination, 177-78 n. 2.]

I would like to elaborate further, especially on what Clark refers to as God’s antecedent and consequent will and how that relates to this soteriological distinction of ‘sufficient/efficient’. Hart, as you read his quotable, also refers to this supposed distinction between God’s ‘antecedent’ and ‘consequent’ will; apparently, and to be sure, it is this prior distinction, made by theologians, in God’s life that funds the conceptual hangers upon which these ‘theologians’ hang the ‘sufficient/efficient’ distinction relative to the extent of the atonement. Suffice it to say for now, to appeal to this sufficient/efficient distinction introduces a rupture or break into God’s life, into his will for us (I don’t like appealing to the language of ‘Will’, but I will for sake of discussion). The important thing, and this is what we as Evangelical Calvinists do, is to maintain a unity in God’s Triune life; so following Rahner, Barth, Torrance & co. the ontological Trinity is the economic Trinity (and vice versa)— or, there is a unity to God’s life. The ‘antecedent’ life of God is the ‘consequent’ life of God Self revealed in Jesus Christ—so then there is ‘no God behind the back of Jesus’! If we dispose of these ‘two-wills’ in God, then we dispose of the foundation upon which the sufficient/efficient distinction is built, where it lives, moves, and has its breath. And, if we follow Hart’s rebuttal of this distinction it is even more simply stated than I just did; i.e. it cannot be said that God genuinely wills the salvation of all, and at the same time hold that God only provides the means for some to be saved (unless you want to affirm prior to this discussion by logical priority, that God has such a thing as an ‘antecedent’ will and a ‘consequent’ wherein the former is somehow distinct from the latter—this has terrible problems, doctrine of God-wise for you–so I can understand why you want to fall back into a strict apophaticism and mystery at this point, but God’s Self-revelation in Christ won’t let you retreat so fast!). He either truly desires all to be saved or he doesn’t (pace the modal law of logic: e.g. the law of non-contradiction).

We should discuss, at a later date, this idea and impact of God’s singular will, and the fact that who he is, how he acts in his inner (some would use the language of eternal) life, is exactly, univocally the same way he acts in Christ and the Holy Spirit in his outer life revealed in salvation history for us. We will talk about this soon, I have written on this in the past; but I will revisit it in the near future. Suffice it to say, ‘you don’t really believe that the atonement is sufficient for all, but only efficient for the elect’, do you? Silly rabbit, trix are for kids.

Reading Matthew Levering on Predestination, and Habets and Grow on the Same

I just picked up a new book to read, and I am very excited to read it! It is by Matthew Levering, and is on the doctrine of Predestination. Here’s the biblio:

Matthew Levering, Predestination: Biblical and Theological Paths, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).

I have just finished the Introduction chapter, and it makes me want to read it even more! Here is what the summary of the book communicates on the back jacket:

Predestination has been the subject of perennial controversy among Christians, although in recent years theologians have shied away from it as a divisive and unedifying topic. In this book Matthew Levering argues that Christian theological reflection needs to continue to return to the topic of predestination, for two reasons. Firstly, predestination doctrine is taught in the New Testament. Reflecting the importance of the topic in many strands of Second Temple Judaism, the New Testament authors teach predestination in a manner that explains why Christian theologians continually recur to this topic. Secondly, the doctrine of predestination provides a way for Christian theologians to reflect upon two fundamental affirmations of biblical revelation. The first is God’s love, without any deficiency or crimp, for each and every rational creature; the second is that God from eternity brings about the purpose for which he created us, and that he permits some rational creatures freely and permanently to rebel against his love. When theologians reflect on these two key biblical affirmations, they generally try to unite them in a logical synthesis. Instead, Levering argues, it is necessary to allow for the truth of each side of the mystery, without trying to blend the two affirmations into one.

Levering pairs his discussion of Scripture with ecumenically oriented discussion of the doctrine of predestination through the ages using the writings of Origen, Augustine, Boethius, John of Damascus, Eriugena, Aquinas, Ockham, Catherine of Siena, Calvin, Molina, Francis de Sales, Leibniz, Bulgakov, Barth, Maritain, and Balthasar. He concludes with a constructive chapter regarding the future of the doctrine.

Sounds great, right?! Before I even finish reading this book, I am going to recommend it to you 🙂 . Alongside this one, you ought to also read Suzanne McDonald’s excellent book: Re-Imaging Election: Divine Election as Representing God to Others & Others to God. 

These issues, Predestination and Election continue to represent perennial discussion that seems to never go away; and seems to cause confusion and appeal to mystery like no other doctrine[s]. As Levering notes in his Introduction John Milton depicts this kind of discussion as one that shapes the demonic; note: […] in Paradise Lost, John Milton depicts the demons in hell as conversing ‘of providence, foreknowledge, will, and fate, / Fixed fate, free will, foreknowledge absolute, / And found no end, in wandering mazes lost.’ (Levering, p. 1)

Myk and I don’t take such an negative view of this doctrinal reality; here is what we wrote in our edited book, and in our last chapter which we co-wrote wherein we present 15 theological Theses that we hold. This Thesis, obviously, is the one that seeks to capture what Myk and I think about this doctrine[s]:

Thesis Five. Election is christologically conditioned.

This follows on as a corollary from the thesis above. Christ’s work is perfect and requires no supplement, such as the faith of an individual. In forms of Classical Calvinism the subjective elements of salvation have tended to dominate its theology so that an experimental predestination (syllogismus practicus) developed and faith was separated from assurance in an unhealthy manner as Christ was separated from his work. The resultant crises of faith and assurance threw believers back onto themselves and their own works for assurance, rather than onto Christ our perfect mediator and redeemer. Christ has been sanctified, and in his sanctification he has sanctified the elect in him. Believers find their subjective sanctification in Christ’s objective work, and not the other way round. This reflects the duplex gratiaCalvin made so much about and yet contemporary Reformed theology has tended to separate—through union with Christ flows the twin benefits of justification and sanctification.25

Thomas F. Torrance is instructive as he comments on Scottish Calvinist, John Craig’s approach to articulating what a christologically conditioned doctrine of election looks like; with a carnal and spiritual union providing its orientation:

Craig regarded election as bound up more with adoption into Christ, with union with him, and with the communion of the Spirit, than with an eternal decree. The union of people with Christ exists only within the communion of the redeemed and in the union they conjointly have with Christ the Head of the Church. . . . Union with Christ and faith are correlative, for it is through faith that we enter into union with Christ, and yet it is upon this corporate union with Christ that faith and our participation in the saving benefits or “graces” of Christ rest. John Craig held that there was a twofold union which he spoke of as a “carnal union” and a “spiritual union.” By “carnal union” he referred to Christ’s union with us and our union with Christ which took place in his birth of the Spirit and in his human life through which took place in his birth of the Spirit and in his human life through which he sanctifies us. The foundation of our union with Christ, then, is that which Christ has made with us when in his Incarnation he became bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh; but through the mighty power of the Spirit all who have faith in Christ are made flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone. It is only through this union, through ingrafting into Christ by faith and through communion with him in his Body and Blood, that we may share in all Christ’s benefits—outside of this union and communion there is no salvation, for Christ himself is the ground of salvation. . . . 26 27

Thus election is grounded in a personal union with Christ through his “carnal union” with humanity in the Incarnation, and our “spiritual union” with him through his vicarious faith for us by the Holy Spirit. Christ, in this framework, is known to be the one who elects our humanity for himself; by so doing he takes our reprobation, wherein the “Great Exchange” inheres: “by his poverty we are made rich.”


24. Historical antecedents to such an approach in which a doctrine of God correctly shaped their doctrines of Christology and soteriology would include, amongst others, Richard St. Victor and John Duns Scotus. For both, Theology Proper was robustly Trinitarian, thus relational, personal, and pastoral.

25. See further in Johnson, chapter 9.

26. Torrance, Scottish Theology, 52–53.

27. See further in Habets, chapter 7.

-Taken from our book, Evangelical Calvinism, pp. 432-33

As you can see we are articulating our view of election, but this entails how we think of predestination as Christologically conditioned as well. For more depth you would need to read Myk’s personal chapter 7 on his Christologically Conditioned view of Election. We also hold to a Christological conditioned understanding of Supralapsarianism, which is our Thesis number 8. If I had more time I would share that one too, since it overlaps with this whole discussion (maybe another time).

As you can see from what I have shared, Myk and I follow some Scottish lines, some Barthian lines, some Torrancian lines, and hopefully some biblical lines. Our view follows from our commitment to a Depth Dimension hermeneutic which sees Christ, in principled ways, as the touchstone for exegeting all of Scripture’s depth and breadth. Having published a particular perspective on this, as Myk and I have, I look forward to being challenged by Levering in reading his conclusions, and how he gets there. What he writes might very well add depth and layers of nuance to my own perspective, and might even morph mine to one degree or another; one never knows—which is the exciting thing about studying such things, and growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ in this way.