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I wanted to, in a bloggy fashion, briefly introduce and touch upon what my friend Myk Habets has called elevation theology. I have written on this before at the blog, but more pointedly, in those instances, I emphasized the related doctrine of the primacy of Jesus Christ over and for all creation. Since I am finally just now reading Edwin Chr. van Driel’s book Incarnation Anyway, I thought it timely to write something up on this theological locus. I will be referring to an essay Myk wrote years ago, and then to Philip Ziegler’s amazing book Militant Grace (2018). What I want to do is bring together a simple point of contact between elevation theology, and the apocalyptic theology that Ziegler alerts people to through his writings. I sort of had one of those aha moments while at work the other night; as I was reflecting on the implications of elevation theology, ‘incarnation anyway,’ and the logic of grace attendant to so called apocalyptic theology. What I put down in this post might not be that meaningful to you, but to me it represents a light-bulb.

Habets introduces his essay On Getting First Things First: Assessing Claims for the Primacy of Christ, this way:

According to Christian tradition Jesus Christ is pre-eminent over all creation as the Alpha and the Omega, the ‘beginning and the end’ (Rev 1.8, 21.6; 22.13). This belief, when theologically considered, is known as the primacy of Christ. The specific issue this doctrine addresses is the question: Was sin the efficient or the primary cause of the incarnation? This essay seeks to model the practice of modal logic in relation to the primacy of Christ, not to satisfy the cravings of speculative theologians but to reverently penetrate the evangelical mystery of the incarnation, specifically, the two alternatives: either ‘God became man independently of sin,’ or its contradiction, ‘God became man because of sin’. Examining historical responses to the primacy of Christ will lead to a consideration of how some recent theologians have taken up these themes and sought to develop them. This in turn provides resources that contribute towards an understanding of the incarnation assuming that the efficient cause was human sin. Finally, an argument will be presented defending the primacy of Christ and a justification for the hypothesis that there would have been an incarnation of the Son irrespective of the fall.[1]

The thought that hit me had to do with the idea that creation, if the ‘primacy of Christ’ doctrine is true, has an inherently extraneous source to its ‘being.’ If so, creation itself, as a contingent reality (creatio ex nihilo) only has a taxis or order to it as that is supplied to it by the gift of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. As corollary, Apocalyptic theology maintains a disruptive notion in regard to creation vis-à-vis the recreation that takes place in the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. Ziegler cites Gaventa in this regard:

As Gaventa concisely puts it, “Paul’s apocalyptic theology has to do with the conviction that in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has invaded the world as it is, thereby revealing the world’s utter distortion and foolishness, reclaiming the world, and inaugurating a battle that will doubtless culminate in the triumph of God over all God’s enemies (including the captors Sin and Death). This means that the Gospel is first, last, and always about God’s powerful and gracious initiative.” Inasmuch as it is an expression of specifically Christian faith, “apocalyptic theology always and everywhere denotes a theology of liberation in an earth that is dying and plagued by evil powers.

In the words of Donald MacKinnon, its subject matters in nothing less than “God’s own protest against the world He has made, by which at the same time that world is renewed and reborn.”[2]

Following, Ziegler expands further this way:

For my own part, I am certainly drawn to the task of envisaging an apocalyptic theology for “ardently Protestant” reasons. For it seems to me that, understood as it is here, apocalyptic is a discursive idiom uniquely suited to articulate the radicality, sovereignty, and militancy of adventitious divine grace; just so it is of real import to the dogmatic work of testing the continued viability of Protestant Christian faith. . . . The apocalyptic idiom starkly illumines at one and the same time both the drastic and virulent reality of human captivity and complicity in sin, and the extraordinary power of saving divine grace that outbids it, reminding us that things are at once much worse yet also paradoxically far, far better than we could possibly imagine them to be.[3]

Now, I’m leaving many moving parts out of this (because of space constraints), but when you allow elevation theology and apocalyptic theology to implicate each other, what stands out, at least to me, is how if creation itself is fully determined to be what it is, always already in God’s eternal and pre-destined life to be for us, for creation rather than against it, then attempting to find logics and ratio inherent within the created order—like natural law and natural theology do—in an attempt to discover a theological epistemology prior encountering God in Christ leads to a dead end.

What I’m tortuously attempting to draw out is the idea that: If creation never had an absolute or ‘pure’ ground in herself, but instead only finds that ground in the grace of God in creation/recreation as that is conditioned by Christ, then a genuine basis for a theological ontology/epistemology is only given in and through God’s Self-revelation and exegesis in Jesus Christ. Do you see what I’m attempting to highlight? If God’s proton is inextricably bound up in the eschaton of his life revealed in Christ, if his first Word of creation is grounded in his choice to be for the world in the grace of Christ, just as his last Word is indeed His first in the resurrection of Christ, then the only ground for knowledge of God can be found in that grace; in that relation that Jesus is for us as the eternal Logos made flesh. In other words, there is no general or profane logic embedded in the created order awaiting discovery as the bases for doing theological work; there is only theo-logic as that is grounded in the Christo-logic as that serves as the basis for the reality of the world—the world first and last, created and recreated.

What I am simply attempting to say is: if the incarnation was always the plan of God for the world, with or without sin entering the picture, then this at least suggests that there has always been a higher plane, an unattainable plane for achieving a genuine knowledge of God; outwith Christ. Apocalyptic theology helps to reinforce this sort of ‘primacy of Christ’ doctrine insofar as it emphasizes the disruptive nature of the incarnation and resurrection as that has to do with this present world order (in its in-between and anticipatory status). More practically I think it offers the Christian with a theology that fits better with the experience of the Christian life, as that is understood in the light of the cross of Christ itself. In other words, there is a ‘logic’ available to the Christian that reposes in the fact that they, by the Spirit, have become able to call ‘Jesus, Lord.’ It is in this practicality of the Christian life that the normal Christian can live a life steeped in the revelatory reality of Holy Scripture and its reality as that is given in Jesus Christ.

The proposal, if you hadn’t noticed, is a uniquely Protestant one that majors on a theology of the Word as the basis for thinking and living the Christian life. It doesn’t elide the tradition or history of the church’s mind, but it recognizes that the warp and woof of the Christian life is one that is ultimately grounded in a theological reality (ontology) that is always already contingent upon creation’s reality as that is given newness and freshness in the recreation realized in the resurrection and ascension of Christ. It keeps the Christian looking up, and allows God’s grace to supply the sort of optics that it only it/He can as the Christian seeks to know God in ever increasing ways. Theologies, of the absolutely ‘classical’ sort, sneer at this sort of grace only conception of creation, and its impact on a theological ontology/epistemology. But I think such sneer should be repented of precisely at the point that Christians aren’t ultimately or slavishly beholden to the ‘tradition’ of the church, per se, but instead we are captivated by the life of God for us as we come into union with that reality in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ.

I fear I have failed to really capture the gist I wanted to go after and articulate in this post, but hopefully something coherent made it through. There is a profound idea going on here between what we are given by so called elevation and apocalyptic theologies, and I think further thought needs to be given to this.

 

[1] Myk Habets, “On Getting First Things First: Assessing Claims for the Primacy of Christ,” Journal compilation C _ The Dominican Council/Blackwell Publishing Ltd, (2008): 343-44.

[2] Philip G. Ziegler, Militant Grace: The Apocalyptic Turn and the Future of Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2018), loc 162, 171 kindle.

[3] Ibid., loc 214, 224.

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I just started reading, not only Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age, but just this evening, Terry Eagleton’s new book: Radical Sacrifice. They are in tandem percolating my wits in a certain direction and mode of feeling. This particular post will reference Eagleton’s work, in discussion with a burgeoning theological mode that someone like Philip Ziegler is at the forefront of developing; viz. I will bring Eagleton’s thinking into some con-versation with Ziegler’s work, and then not to mention, I will touch upon some of Karl Barth’s thinking as distilled by Robert Dale Dawson (meaning I will be drawing off of previous posts as I bring those into passing with Eagleton’s). The point I want to press has, once again, to do with Apocalyptic Theology, but in this instance, I want to fill that out with Eagleton’s thinking on sacrifice as irruption and representative of a primordial new. To start with I will help refresh our understanding of what apocalyptic theology entails; I will then illustrate that by referring to Dawson’s thinking on Barth’s theology of resurrection; and then use that to lead into Eagleton’s notion of sacrifice.

Here Ziegler refers us to two other thinkers to help us understand what an Apocalyptic Theology is after:

As Gaventa concisely puts it, “Paul’s apocalyptic theology has to do with the conviction that in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has invaded the world as it is, thereby revealing the world’s utter distortion and foolishness, reclaiming the world, and inaugurating a battle that will doubtless culminate in the triumph of God over all God’s enemies (including the captors Sin and Death). This means that the Gospel is first, last, and always about God’s powerful and gracious initiative.” Inasmuch as it is an expression of specifically Christian faith, “apocalyptic theology always and everywhere denotes a theology of liberation in an earth that is dying and plagued by evil powers.

In the words of Donald MacKinnon, its subject matters in nothing less than “God’s own protest against the world He has made, by which at the same time that world is renewed and reborn.”[1]

We see this idea that the ‘world is renewed and reborn’ through God’s ‘invasion’ in Christ, the sort of ostensibly discontinuous discord between the world now and the world to come/came in Christ in Barth’s theology as well. Here Robert Dale Dawson unfolds how that looks in relation to Barth’s doctrine of resurrection:

A large number of analyses come up short by dwelling upon the historical question, often falsely construing Barth’s inversion of the order of the historical enterprise and the resurrection of Jesus as an aspect of his historical skepticism. For Barth the resurrection of Jesus is not a datum of the sort to be analyzed and understood, by other data, by means of historical critical science. While a real event within the nexus of space and time the resurrection is also the event of the creation of new time and space. Such an event can only be described as an act of God; that is an otherwise impossible event. The event of the resurrection of Jesus is that of the creation of the conditions of the possibility for all other events, and as such it cannot be accounted for in terms considered appropriate for all other events. This is not the expression of an historical skeptic, but of one who is convinced of the primordiality of the resurrection as the singular history-making, yet history-delimiting, act of God.[2]

I provide these two ideational vignettes in order, as I noted, to lead us into some similar thinking from Eagleton. The theme to grasp from these previous interlocutors is the idea of disruption; Divine disruption. There is a tumult that occurs in the crucifixion of God in Christ. The fact itself, that it requires God to enflesh, and assume blood and oxygen for us, ought to suggest to us that something alien (meaning radical and extraneous to us, by way of antecedent and determination) has occurred, of the sort that out of its ashes only something new and elevated could arise. In other words, the sacrifice of God’s Son for us, ought to let us know that the depth of sin’s pollution is beyond the scope of a simple remodel (of presently available materials — as if nature simply needed to be ‘perfected’); it ought to alert us to the idea that what was required was a decreation in order for a recreation to enter in and bring us to the heights that God had freely chosen to pre-destine for us according to His eternally gracious and lovely good will to be for us rather than against us in the election of His dearly beloved Son. It is in this vein that Eagleton helps us think about the in-breaking of God’s life for us in Christ, and the sort of radical irruption that necessarily occurred thusly. You’ll notice that Eagleton speaks in more profane and less theologically driven terms than I am.

The most compelling version of sacrifice concerns the flou-rishing of the self, not its extinction. It involves a formidable release of energy, a transformation of the human subject and a turbulent transitus from death to new life. If sacrifice is a political act, it is not least because it concerns an accession to power. As one commentator remarks, ‘almost all sacrifice is about power, or powers’. The ritual is indeed about loss and waste, but in the name of a more fruitful form of life. Julian of Norwich sees it in terms of childbirth, where pain is a prelude to joy. If sacrifice involves yielding something up, it is in order to possess it more deeply. As Hubert and Mauss observe, ‘there is no sacrifice into which some idea of redemption does not enter’. It is true that the institution has a number of retrograde features, as its critics have been at pains t point out. As we shall see, it has been for the most part a profoundly conservative practice. Yet there is a radical kernel to be extracted from its mystical shell. Sacrifice concerns the passage of the lowly, unremarkable thing from weakness to power. It marks a movement from victimhood to full humanity, destitution to riches, the world as we know it to some transfigured domain. It is this disruptive rite of passage that is known among other things as consecration. To make an object sacred is to mark it out by investing it with a sublimely dangerous power. If sacrifice is often violent, it is because the depth of the change it promises cannot be a matter of smooth evolution or simple continuity.

In this sense, the practice of ritual sacrifice nurtures a wisdom beyond the rationality of the modern, at least as its most callow. It sets its face against the consoling illusion that fulfilment can be achieved without a fundamental rupture and rebirth. The consecration of the sacrificial victim is a matter of wholesale transformation, not some piecemeal evolution. One cannot pass from time to eternity while remaining intact. Since the gods are totally other to humanity, any contact with them involves a metamorphosis as fundamental as the passage from living to dying. The idea of sacrifice broods among other things on the mystery by which life springs from death, seeking a passage through loss and devastation in order to thrive. Dennis J. Schmidt writes of how for Hegel, ‘conflict, contradiction, negation, sacrifice, and death saturate the life of the spirit so thoroughly that they define the very truth of the spirit’. In a similar vein, Miguel de Beistegui observes that ‘one should recognise that [for Hegel] the greatness of Spirit in history or of man in his action reveals itself primarily in sundering and in death, in sacrifice and in struggle, and that thought itself derives its depth only from taking the full measure of this tragic grandeur’. Pre-modern societies are conscious in a similar way of a secret complicity between living and dying. If the fumes of burnt offerings no longer waft to the nostrils of petulant deities in our own time, it is partly because modernity enforces a rigorous distinction between the two states.[3]

The basic gist I’d like to leave with is this: There is much more going on in the ‘death, burial, and resurrection’ of Jesus Christ than often meets the prima facie eye. There is, as Torrance would say, a ‘depth dimension’ to the reality of the Gospel that pushes deeper and more vertically, while operating within the horizontal flatland, than we often realize.

I think Eagleton’s initial thoughts on sacrifice, while from a different vantage point than a proper ‘apocalyptic theology,’ helps us delve deeper into the history of ideas of what might be informing the way we ought to think a biblical notion of ‘sacrifice.’ It helped illumine things further for me, and hopefully it has done the same for you! PAX CHRISTI

 

[1] Philip G. Ziegler, Militant Grace: The Apocalyptic Turn and the Future of Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2018), loc 162, 171 kindle.

[2] Robert Dale Dawson, The Resurrection in Karl Barth (UK/USA: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2007), 13 [Emphasis is mine].

[3] Terry Eagleton, Radical Sacrifice (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2018), Loc. 138, 147, 154, 162 kindle.

I have referred to Apocalyptic Theology before here at the blog; this post is going to get into what that is with more detail. I will refer to Philip Ziegler’s recently published book, Militant Grace: The Apocalyptic Turn and the Future of Christian Theology, and then to illustrate what that looks like in real life theological form I will refer us to Karl Barth’s thinking in his Church Dogmatics I/1. I think this is an important exercise because outside of only a certain niche within academic Christian theology, apocalyptic theology is an unknown. My hope is that with this post (and others following in days to come) exposure will be elevated and people in the church and other sectors of Christian academia will come to have an appreciation for what I take to be a central theological pillar in regard to understanding just what God’s economy (ad extra) entails.

In his introduction Ziegler refers us to the work of some New Testament scholars. Did you catch that?: New Testament scholars. While apocalyptic theology, formally, is a work of constructive Christian Dogmatics it takes its cue premises from the work of biblical studies; in particular the shape of apocalyptic theology flows from the Pauline corpus and theological thought world (that’s the premise and argument). Thus, to help introduce us to apocalyptic theology we will follow Ziegler’s introduction as he offers a quote from Beverly Gaventa (et al.):

As Gaventa concisely puts it, “Paul’s apocalyptic theology has to do with the conviction that in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has invaded the world as it is, thereby revealing the world’s utter distortion and foolishness, reclaiming the world, and inaugurating a battle that will doubtless culminate in the triumph of God over all God’s enemies (including the captors Sin and Death). This means that the Gospel is first, last, and always about God’s powerful and gracious initiative.” Inasmuch as it is an expression of specifically Christian faith, “apocalyptic theology always and everywhere denotes a theology of liberation in an earth that is dying and plagued by evil powers.

In the words of Donald MacKinnon, its subject matters in nothing less than “God’s own protest against the world He has made, by which at the same time that world is renewed and reborn.”[1]

Following, Ziegler expands further this way:

For my own part, I am certainly drawn to the task of envisaging an apocalyptic theology for “ardently Protestant” reasons. For it seems to me that, understood as it is here, apocalyptic is a discursive idiom uniquely suited to articulate the radicality, sovereignty, and militancy of adventitious divine grace; just so it is of real import to the dogmatic work of testing the continued viability of Protestant Christian faith. . . . The apocalyptic idiom starkly illumines at one and the same time both the drastic and virulent reality of human captivity and complicity in sin, and the extraordinary power of saving divine grace that outbids it, reminding us that things are at once much worse yet also paradoxically far, far better than we could possibly imagine them to be.[2]

As we can see apocalyptic theology, in contrast to much of classical theistic theology, presses into the idea that ‘nature’ is need of “death, burial, and resurrection.” In other words, when we think alongside the past, the anecdote that is pervasive is what we find funding Thomas’ (Aquinas) theology: i.e. ‘grace perfects nature.’ Implicit to this classic notion of grace perfecting nature is the idea that there is something inherently salvageable to the original (lapsed) creation; as such it simply needs a reinjection of God’s grace (a superadditum) to elevate it to where it once was in the pristine world of Genesis 1—2. Apocalyptic theology says Nein! Apocalyptic theology maintains, along with the New Testament, that the fallen world was so fallen (which we know through God’s Self-Revelation in the Incarnation and Cross of Christ) that it didn’t need to be “perfected,” but instead utterly re-created from the ground up. The premise is an eschatological one. In other words, contra the classicist, the apocalypticist maintains that in the thematic of creation (which is what we are concerned with in this discussion i.e. a doctrine of creation) the source of continuity between God’s original work in creation and then in the recreation of the resurrection is not an abstract ‘nature’, but instead the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Thus, the goal of creation has always already been sourced in and from its purpose (telos) in Jesus Christ. In this frame the creation’s orientation was always intended to be elevated beyond its original status (see the Scotist thesis) by coming into the fullness and plenitude of God’s life as that can only be realized in participatio Christi (‘participation in Christ’). It is in this ‘freedom’ that creation/nature is given lassitude to ‘groan and wane’ for its release from its futility unto ‘the revealing of the sons of God’ (cf. Rom 8.18ff).

What is important to grasp in this complex is that there is nothing redeemable in the ‘old world.’ That what is required is a Divine invasion, such that the old order is put out of its misery and the new order of God’s new creation in Jesus Christ (cf. II Cor 5.17; Gal 5—6) comes in a radical super-ordering way wherein sin is shown to be what it is by its utterly radical death knell given power by God’s Yes and Amen in the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. What is required in this new order is a ‘forgetting what lies behind, and reaching forward to what is ahead; pressing on to the upward call in Jesus Christ.’ What is required is a life that can say ‘for me to live is Christ and to die is gain,’ because to gain is to step fully into the realization and beatific vision that can only now be apprehended by those who ‘walk by faith rather than sight.’

As I noted previously, I said we would refer to Barth to help provide an example of how apocalyptic theology looks in its Dogmatic form. Here we have Barth discussing the relation between the Father-Son in the triune life. You will notice an interesting corollary that he draws between the persons in relation (in se), and how that gets cashed out in the economy of God’s life in the history of salvation (historia salutis) vis-à-vis a doctrine of creation/recreation.[3] What you should be keying in on as you read the quote is how Barth refers to the importance of recreation relative to the old order, and how new creation is not contingent upon an elevation of the old creation; but instead upon the life of Godself as that is given contingency for us in His assumption of flesh (asumptio carnis) in the eternal Son.

The inconceivable element in revelation as such, in revelation as reconciliation which can be a reality only as it comes from God, is the fact of the Son of God who is the Lord in our midst, and therefore amid our enmity towards God. Because the love of God manifested in this fact cannot be identical with the love of God for the world which He willed to create and did create, for sin and death lie between this world and our world; because the love of God manifested in this fact is rather His love for the lost world of man who has become guilty before Him (Jn. 3.16), for the world whose continuity with the original one is completely hidden from us, therefore we cannot confuse God’s lordship in the one case with God’s lordship  in the other, or directly identify them, but in relation to the one (creation) we must speak of a first mode of God’s being and in relation to the second (reconciliation) we must speak of a second mode of His being. For as we have to say that reconciliation or revelation is no creation or a continuation of creation but rather an inconceivably new work above and beyond creation, so we have also to say that the Son is not the Father but that here, in this work, the one God, though not without the Father, is the Son or Word of the Father.[4]

As is typical there is much nuance and intricacy informing Barth’s thought (that we would have to unpack later), but for our purposes I simply want to underscore how apocalyptic theology is at play in the theology of someone as significant as Karl Barth (indeed we might contend that Barth was one of its first proponents).

The point I have wanted to iterate most in my post is what I have emboldened above in the quote from Barth. In apocalyptic theology there is an emphasis on God. As such, what the apocalyptic theologian is looking for is not a world-affirming God, wherein an abstract (from God’s purposes in Christ) conception of creation/nature is given an independent gravitas; no, instead the apocalyptic theologian is lit up by the pursuit of a God affirming God. What I mean is that the apocalyptic theologian is more interested in focusing on God, and then allowing that focus in Christ to shape how we think about his relation to the cosmos as the Soter that this broken world is in such desperate need of. By focusing on God, and his choice to be for us in Christ (which = GRACE), which is the basis of creation/recreation, the apocalyptic theologian can be said to be a theologian in pursuit of a ‘this-worldliness’ that only has form as that is given by the alien otherness of God’s (inner) world as that comes to us in the grace of his Kingdom to Come in the Face of Jesus Christ. So the apocalyptic theologian is world-affirming, but only insofar as that world is apprehended by faith not sight; only as that world is understood in correspondence to its givenness in and from the logic of grace unveiled most fully in the resurrection/ascension of the risen Jesus.

I need to distill further (as this post is me thinking things out and out-loud). But this will have to suffice for now.

 

[1] Philip G. Ziegler, Militant Grace: The Apocalyptic Turn and the Future of Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2018), loc 162, 171 kindle.

[2] Ibid., loc 214, 224.

[3] Barth is also pressing a Creator/creature distinction.

[4] CD, I/1 §11, 117 [emphasis mine].

Theo-politics have been somewhat of an uninterrogated reality for me. As a conservative evangelical, growing up, I sloppily and haphazardly went the way of the Republican party as “the lesser of two-evils” in our representative government in North America. As time has progressed, and I have developed more (at least I like to think that) I have become what might be called unenthralled and agnostic when it comes to politics, but the reality is that this just cannot be. As a Christian politics is always a present reality; the fact that Jesus is Lord (kyrios) is in itself a call to action, and to be engaged in such a way that requires that I be intentionally thoughtful about theopolitical action. The theo attached to the political is of upmost and adjectival significance for me; it might be better, just for sake of clarity and specificity to call this concern christopolitical. So this has caused me a bit of anguish—although the realities of daily life often keep me preoccupied such that I have less time to critically contemplate such verities with the type of acuity that I’d like—as a result I keep seeking ways to think about my relation to the state as a member of Christ’s church (catholic).

In seminary I took a class called Church and Culture; this class was taught by Paul Metzger, and in it we worked through Karl Barth’s concepts on the relationship between the sacred and secular—we spent our time working through Metzger’s PhD dissertation on the subject helping him get it ready for publication. It was in this class that I really began to see a critical way to think theopolitics, but that remained an inchoate reality for me; nevertheless the frame was set for thinking such things through the analogy of the incarnation and the Chalcedonian pattern which the hypostatic union provided the component concepts towards. Not too long ago I read Barth’s book Against the Stream, which represent some post-second world war talks and lectures he gave, as I recall, in Hungary and Poland. In these published lectures I gained an even better grasp for what I was introduced to in Metzger’s class; in regard to how to think of the relationship between the state/church in a Christic frame. Most recently (like tonight) I have continued to read through Cornelius van der Kooi and Gijsbert van den Brink’s Christian Dogmatics, and have come to the section where they are sketching the various approaches that have developed in the history of ecclesial interpretation in regard to how Christians have thought the relation of church/state together. Here I want to share two of the four frames that I find most attractive (and leave the other two frames to the side since they are less attractive to me). What you will find is that Barth’s approach juxtaposed with a sort of Reformized Anabaptist tradition is what comes to the fore in my own proclivities relative to thinking state/church, and ‘kingdom theology’ together (and apart in some ways). Here is what Kooi and Brink have to offer us:

The church as a Christ-confessing church for all people. After the Second World War the Dutch Reformed Church promoted the ideal of a Christ-confessing church for all people; in this way it tried to connect distance from and commitment to public affairs. The model followed Barth’s proposal that the church, by its proclamation, should fulfill a public role for the common good. This “theology of the apostolate” has also been referred to as proclamation-theocracy: the church does not directly interfere in the government and does not attempt t usurp its powers but rather, on the basis of the Bible, holds up a prophetical-critical mirror before those who govern. The ideals of the World Council of Churches and other efforts to have the church assume a prophetic role in the world also belong in this category. The supporters of this view were optimistic about its possibilities, but in the Netherlands their attempt failed because the forces of secularization were stronger than expected.[1]

They continue with the fourth frame, which is that much more amenable with an Apocalyptic theological frame that I am oriented from (see Philip Ziegler’s new book Militant Grace: The Apocalyptic Turn and the Future of Christian Theology); but also with an Anabaptist tenor in the flux of this frame of understanding.

The church as a counterculture or contrast community. A recent and popular image for the church’s role in the public domain proposes that it be a “contrast community” (Yoder, Hauerwas; but also  more and more theologians from mainline Protestant churches feel attracted to  this model; e.g., see Bruijne 2012). That is, the church is not primarily an association with some good ideas; its vitality is found by living under a new life order, namely, that of the kingdom. This kingdom produces its own politics, a structure of practices in which people bless each other, wish each other well, forgive each other, and reject all forms of violence. It only bears witness of the heavenly kingdom but is itself a witness through its praxis. This praxis, in fact, answers the question of how the church may speak.

This position strongly emphasizes the difference between the church and the world; it may indeed be called Anabaptist to the extent that the orders of heavenly and earthly citizenship are kept far apart. Practically, it leaves the political order to its own devices. But it can also take a more Reformed or Catholic shape through a new appreciation of the Augustinian doctrine of the two kingdoms—by recognizing, in other words, that in real life the two realms cannot be totally separated. They are intertwined here below and will be separated by God only in the eschaton. (see Matt 13:29-30). In this world Christians must live with this tension. When they try to escape and eliminate that tension (as in the Anabaptist view), they withdraw from the ongoing course of history, in which God ordains that his church live. A real continuity connects the fallen world and redemption, and the work of the Holy Spirit is not confined to the domains of the church and believer; it seeks to have an impact upon the world. What we noted in chapter 8 about a responsible doctrine of sin is relevant at this point. It enables us to take a realistic view of the world and to implement damage control from the perspective of God’s new reality. This attitude differs from that of older Protestant positions in consciously leaving behind the quest for relevance, and with it the majority strategy that for many centuries burdened and plagued the church in the public domain.[2]

Between these two frames, particularly the latter paragraph in the latter frame emerges a semblance of my own approach to the relationship between the state/church-secular/sacred. I alluded to Ziegler’s work in his book Militant Grace, the themes he identifies and develops therein also provide the sort of theological depth that I like to appeal to in order to thicken what these sketches only present in introductory form. What’s at center for me in all of this, from a theological perspective (what other perspective is there for the Christian?), is that the doctrine of the primacy of Jesus Christ orients all considerations about Everything. In other words, this whole discussion takes place, for me, between the two poles of protology and eschatology, original creation and disruptive recreation in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. There still yet remains agnosticisms in regard to how all of this gets applied in daily life, and in my own perceptual encounter with the complexities foisted upon us by the travail and groaning that this old creation, and the human governments therein present; but this ought to let you in on how I intend to approach this world, in its highly charged christopolitical context, for the glory of God in the name of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

[1] Cornelius van der Kooi and Gijsbert van den Brink, Christian Dogmatics: An Introduction (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2017), 636-37.

[2] Ibid. 637-38.

Pauline, and thus canonical apocalyptic theology fits where I am at to a T. Philip Ziegler continues to unpack for us what such theology looks like in its various iterations scattered throughout the theological past and present. Here he is engaging with Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s own style of apocalyptic theology, and in this instance how that gets fleshed out in the realm of ethics and the ‘moral life.’

As Bonhoeffer comes to argue in the Ethics, only trust that reality has in fact been decisively constituted by God’s apocalypse in Christ underwrites “serious” grappling with moral life in the world. Against abstract “sectarian” and “compromise” postures toward the world, he says this:

Neither the idea of a pure Christianity as such nor the idea of the human being as such is serious, but only God’s reality and human reality as they have become one in Jesus Christ. What is serious is not some kind of Christianity, but Jesus Christ himself. In Jesus Christ God’s reality and human reality take the place of radicalism and compromise. There is no Christianity as such; if there were, it would destroy the world. There is no human being as such; if there were, God would be excluded. Both are ideas. There is only the God-man Jesus Christ who is real, through whom the world will be preserved until it is ripe for its end. [Bonhoeffer, Ethics, 155]

The realism that Bonhoeffer sets over against all idealism in church and theology is thus apocalyptic. Since “revelation gives itself without precondition and is alone able to place one into reality,” he says, serious theological ethics, is no less than dogmatics, must struggle for forms of thinking appropriate to God’s apocalypse in Christ Jesus. The ages having turned, Christians are alert to the fact that they stand together with all others in a world who reality has been both taken apart and put back together with effect by God’s redemptive triumph through the cross: it has become Christ-reality.[1]

This is radical stuff; the stuff of what it means to think Christianly. As the Apostle Paul asserts: ‘we walk by faith not by sight.’ I would suggest that a Scripture reader, one who reads it consistently and often, will arrive at this conclusion about reality and the world.

Personally, when I apply this perspective to daily life it blows my mind; in a good way! As I look out at the heavens, at the trees and birds, at the sporadic coyote that comes across the rail every morning at work, as I look at the mass of humanity, I see it through this lens; the cruciform lens  offered by God’s life for the world in Jesus Christ. We cannot go back, the old order has been disrupted by the in-breaking of God’s life in Christ; the older order lived in proleptic service to the new that would eventually invade it, disrupt it, disorient it, and re-constitute it by the order always already present in the antecedent, the inner triune life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This calls the Christian to look at the world with fresh eyes, eyes full of anticipation and hope that all is not lost; that the perceptively crooked has already been made manifestly straight in the ruling life of the King of kings and Lord of lords, Jesus Christ. This fills me with great hope and assurance, not only for the present reality, but with the realization that this life now is contingent and in repose upon the life of God that sustains it moment by moment with his upholding Word. I don’t think I can articulate just how much of an upheaval this way of thinking is; at least for me. I like to think that I live in a world that is enchanted with a splendorous life, with an uncontainable pleroma that has been particularized immemorial in the Lamb of God, slain but risen. There is power here, like that found in the Lion from the tribe of Judah; a power, a perception that cannot be ameliorated by an unbelief of the old order, but that instead reigns supreme in the regnant belief of the Son in the Father for us. This is an all consuming reordering of things; not something simply inchoate, not just a seedling, but a full grown blossoming tree full of lively leaves and effervescent fruit with the power to heal the nations. We walk by faith, the faith of Christ, but in this Kingdom, faith is sight; it is not grasping, it is not jumping into a fantastical world of our own projecting, it is instead a world fully contingent upon the indestructible life of God. While the world continues to languish in despair and unbelief, the life of God’s belief for the world concretized in the eternal Logos will not be intimated or vanquished; no, God’s life cannot be stopped. There is hope. This is what I take apocalyptic theology to be offering.

[1] Philip G. Ziegler, Militant Grace: The Apocalyptic Turn and the Future of Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2018), 180 kindle.

I wrote my Master’s thesis on a Pauline pericope, an exegetical analysis of I Corinthians 1.17-25. I was inspired to write a thesis of this nature, in the realm of New Testament studies, based upon Martin Luther’s theologia crucis (theology of the cross). At that point, in 2002, I was only nascently aware of the division between the disciplines of Systematic/Dogmatic theology and biblical studies. This post will veer, as is usual these days, towards the side of systematic theology; more focusedly, to the side of apocalyptic theology in its current and developing iteration. I brought up my Master’s thesis because the content of this post touches upon that passage, and other Pauline passages. For the remainder of this post we will engage with apocalyptic theology and what that entails in regard to not only knowledge of God, but knowledge of ourselves in a world that has been ‘twice-invaded,’ by sin and the Christ.

Natural Law, and as corollary, natural theology are continuously present in the theologizing and the hermeneutics of not only the Roman Catholics, but remain present for the repristination of the Post Reformed orthodox tradition that continues to surge in the Western Christian world; at least in significant parts of that tradition (I think of the work that Davenant Institute is doing for example). Natural Law theorizes that not only is their intelligibility in the created order, but that it is accessible to the sentient human creatures who inhabit that order; that it is not only accessible to the regenerate mind, but also to the unregenerate (to a degree), and thus can be appealed to in order to construct civil law that both Christian and unChristian alike can flourish under. In other words, natural law presumes that there is a remainder within the created order, even after the ‘fall’, wherein a common nature can be appealed to in order to develop a common natural law and ethics that is equally available to the Christian and the nonChristian; that there is a degree to which all humanity can discerningly live under God’s order embedded inherently within the taxis of creation.

But there is a counter-proposal, one that I believe is more fitting with the Gospel story. The counter-proposal comes from the so called apocalyptic reading of Paul wherein the created order is understood to be in a place of rupture twice over. In other words, apocalyptic theology understands the world to have been disentangled from its rightly ordered relationship with God once sin entered the world (Gen. 3); at that decisive point the noetic capacities of humanity lost their ability to rightly discern God’s order for the world, and thus their ability to establish governments and ethics that would allow the human species to flourish as God had intended were likewise lost. Yet, this is of course is not the end of the story in the Christian narrative; for the Christian we realize that God entered this world in the Incarnation, and in his atoning work he reconciled humanity unto God (II Cor. 5) through the recreation and new creation that occurred in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. For the apocalyptic theologian, though, this does not bring the sort of dénouement that some might suspect; no, instead it further problematizes things, not for the Christian but for the world at large. Indeed, the new creation has set things to rights with God with an eye to and from the eschaton, but it has also so disrupted the created order that any latent perception that this ‘world’ might have of an order is negated by the reality of the cross and the new creation. In other words, for the apocalyptic theologian there is no space for natural law or ethics in the new creation; what is appealed to for that construct to work, under the apocalyptic has been put to death and recreated. As such the only possibility for discerning an order in creation or recreation is that we ‘walk by the faith of Christ rather than by the sight of our fathers and mothers.’ I would only note, before sharing Philip Ziegler’s thoughts, as he sketches Louis Martyn’s thinking in the apocalyptic direction, that as we look out at the governments of the world, I think the apocalyptic reading is given the type of empirical realization that we might (ought to) conclude that this apocalyptic reading is onto something; in other words, the world is in utter chaos, a chaos that bears witness to its negated reality and need for something outside (extra) of itself in order for genuine flourishing before God to take place. Here are Ziegler’s comments on this Pauline evangelical reality, and with this we will close (hopefully it is readable, if not click on each section):

.[1]

 

[1] Philip G. Ziegler, Militant Grace: The Apocalyptic Turn and the Future of Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2018), 132-33 kindle.

Death is a deplorable reality. We often attempt to avoid thinking about it until we can’t; until we or someone close to us is faced with it either through disease, sickness, or accident, or they die themselves. We have constructed a society, as Arthur McGill notes that attempts to sanitize death, indeed attempts to segregate it out away from our daily experience. We have created insane asylums, cancer wards, homeless and refugee camps all hidden away behind well groomed gardens and ornately architectured buildings; we have constructed facades that attempt to keep the reality of death away from us. But in the end we can never really escape its reach; we feel it, it touches us, even when we don’t want it to. It’s not that death has an inherent power of its own, but the way we treat it in society you would think it does.

Christians fall prey to this line of culturally formed thinking as well. We are like everyone else, so often. But in reality we really aren’t. We live in a Kingdom where death has no power, yes it still has sting, but its actual power has indeed died. This is the evangel, the Good News hope that us Christians live from and for; we live to bear witness to this inbreaking reality. The reality that God in Christ has broken the surly bonds of the frailty of a fallen sub-humanity, and entered into it by his own self-humiliation clothing himself with the dust of our broken humanity in order to redeem and reconcile us unto God from the inside out. We might even see this as apocalyptic; i.e. that God has entered into our situation, assumed it for himself, and in this assumptio, in this wonderful exchange (mirifica commutatio) he has annihilated the ‘last enemy’ which is indeed, death. Christians live from this reality on a daily basis whether we acknowledge it or not; whether we live with the gravitas that this ought to engender in our daily lives. This reality, what Christ has done by accomplishing the death of death, ought to inject a sense of transitoriness into our lived lives as Christians; we ought to recognize that the shadow of this earth is passing away such that the new creation has already come (‘now’ and ‘even more so’ in the eschaton).

Philip Ziegler in his book Militant Grace The Apocalyptic Turn and the Future of Christian Theology develops what death and life look like in the frame offered by what is being referred to these days as ‘apocalyptic theology.’ Here he engages the locus of death in the theology of Eberhard Jüngel in an apocalyptic frame:

The theme is even more sharply present in Jüngel’s theology. Evangelical faith obediently trusts that “the God who in participating in man’s death gains victory over death” has done so for me. As Jüngel sees it, the antithesis between God and death structures the gospel itself. “God and death are opponents,” he writes, “they are enemies. The style in which God deal with death, and in which death also has to deal with God, is the history which faith tells about Jesus Christ.” As the annihilating power and consequences of sin, death is aggressively active, “repudiate[ing] life by hopelessly alienating men and God from one another.” Salvation is the business of dealing with death, as it were. For Jüngel, the death of Christ accomplishes the death of death: in the identity of the living God with the dead man Jesus, God meets death, taking its enmity and contradiction into himself in virtue of his own divine life. Death is thus overcome in and by the outworking of the eternal vitality of God’s love. When this victory is consummated “even then” in the final judgment, human beings will be given to know that it is by grace that they are “undying, or better . . . plucked from out of death.”

The final judgment is judgment unto eternal life because it means final deliverance from that annihilating power of death, which is “God’s enemy and mine.” And we should recognize that it is exactly the apocalyptic form of the saving work of cross and resurrection and its close identification with final judgment that makes it possible and then necessary to link the philanthropy of saving divine justice with the vision of God’s ultimate triumph over death’s inimical misanthropy.[1]

One thing that ought to immediately stand out is what God has accomplished in the atoning work of Christ; the frame is not primarily forensic. In other words, what we see in Jüngel’s theology is something akin to what us Evangelical Calvinists refer to as the ontological theory of the atonement. The idea that what God came to do was greater than (not lesser than) the juridical (i.e. pay for a penalty); he came to deal with the depth issue that leads to sin or rupture in the first place; the issue of our discordant and deceitfully wicked hearts. We see a creational and recreational theme funding Jüngel’s thought, such that what takes place in the saving work of Christ is that humanity is recreated to a place wherein humanity can actually be humanity as originally intended; that is humanity can be in a right and koinonial relationship with the living God. This is nothing short than apocalyptic; nothing short of God breaking into his own world, working it from the inside out in his humanity in Christ, and reversing the curse that sought to sublimate humanity into nothingness.

On a personal note, as someone who has survived a normally terminal incurable cancer all I can say is that God’s apocalyptic presence is real and vivacious. Whatever his purposes, he chose to break into my life and put to death a monster that would have liked to kill me. But God’s prevailing grace in Christ decided that that wasn’t going to happen, at least not yet (and I pray never!). There is life in Christ, concrete life; we live in and from it, and death has no hold on us because of it. Death is indeed dead in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It couldn’t hold him down, and it can’t hold us down; at least if we are full participants in his type of indestructible life.

[1] Philip G. Ziegler, Militant Grace: The Apocalyptic Turn and the Future of Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2018), 109 kindle.

I just started reading Philip Ziegler’s new book Militant Grace: The Apocalyptic Turn and the Future of Christian Theology. Because of the influence of Karl Barth and Thomas Torrance (and others) on the development of Evangelical Calvinism, at least upon this Evangelical Calvinist, apocalyptic theology, as a particular domain of theological reflection has been an important source for my own theological formation. I was first introduced to this genre of theology by reading Nate Kerr’s book Christ, History and Apocalyptic: The Politics of Christian Mission when that first came into publication years ago (Ziegler references Kerr’s work). Thus far (I’m starting chapter three) Ziegler’s book is helpfully orienting what Kerr first introduced me to years ago. At this point you might be asking “what in the world are you talking about, Bobby?” Let me explain through providing some quotation from Ziegler himself.

As Ziegler introduces his book he engages with Lutheran theologian Gerharde Forde and the apocalyptic theology present in his work. After he has developed that, a bit, Ziegler, in order to provide further explication, offers three indicatives of what apocalyptic theology entails in its eschatological mode. Let’s consider what he has to say in order to fill out what apocalyptic theology itself actually is as a theological type. Ziegler writes:

What makes Christian dogmatics eschatological is, first, a proper preoccupation with understanding salvation as the advent of the radically new, and only thus as a divine act. An eschatological grammar is required to explicate the sense of the Christian gesture of pointing to Jesus and uttering, “God. God did this new thing for us.” This is the abiding truth in Barth’s assertion that Christianity must be utterly eschatological if it in fact arises from the coming of God to save. Forde concurs, claiming the cross is a saving event because, and only because, in it God conquers our dissolution and “ends it for us by coming.” We might say that dogmatics is eschatological first and foremost because it conceives of and emphasizes salvation as God’s very own action.

Second, Christian theology requires an eschatological grammar because the outworking of salvation in Christ is a matter of ends. Following the contours of Paul’s apocalyptic gospel rather closely, the cross, for Forde, proves to be the axis for the turning of the ages, a macrocosmic of human being. The finality of this revolution and the creative force of the new thing it inaugurates can only come to full expression in an eschatological register, for when “God quickens, he does so by killing,” as Luther famously put it. So too, it seems, must the once-for-all character of salvation’s accomplishment—what Forde denotes as its “christological anchor”—be articulated in eschatological terms. For only if what takes place in cross and resurrection is unsurpassable in time—only as Christ’s person and work is the “unsurpassable new which does not grow old and which therefore makes all things new”—can it be the final ground of Christian faith and future hope. The decisiveness of the passion and resurrection of Christ is signaled fully when set forth as the “invasion of God’s sovereign future” into time, the preemptive deliverance unto a destiny not of creation’s own making. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is truly “a first swing of the sickle” (cf. 1 Cor. 15:23). Dogmatics is also eschatological in that it acknowledges and bespeaks the finality, singularity, and unsurpassable effectiveness of the saving judgment that God renders in Jesus Christ.

Third and finally, Christian dogmatics must be eschatological if it is to do justice to the very logic and form of divine grace as such. This is a particularly strong emphasis in Forde’s work: “The question about grace—whether it is a quality in the soul or the sheer divine promise—is a question of ontology versus eschatology. Is ‘grace’ a new eschatological reality that comes extra nos and breaks in upon us brining new being to faith, the death of the old and the life of the new, or is it rather to be understood in ontological terms as an infused power that transforms old being?”

It is the very graciousness of grace that is at stake here. The full force of the classical Reformation devices that serves to emphasize this—for example, the logic of imputation, the alien character of the righteousness that grace delivers, the unconditional character of the divine promise that “while we still were sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8), the insistence that grace comes on us from outside (ab extra) so that we are justified by faith alone (sola fide)—is only fully acknowledged when they are understood eschatologically. Nothing militates against synergism as fully and finally as the reality of the death of the sinner; and nothing affirms the divine monergism of salvation as fully and finally as its designation as “new creation.” If, as Forde discerns, God’s grace is pronounced in Christ so as to “establish an entirely new situation,” if it is nothing less than “a re-creative act of God, something he does precisely by speaking unconditionally,” then such a thing must be set forth in an eschatological discourse or not at all. Dogmatics is finally eschatological because and as it admits and articulates the victorious grace of the God of the Gospel.[1]

These loci ought to tune you into what the entailments of what apocalyptic theology is about in the eschatological key (at least as Ziegler engages with that in Forde’s theology). It takes the implications and inner-logic of the Christmas story as that unfolds in the Easter story, and sees this as the premise of all that is in regard to God’s dealings with creation. The story of the Gospel in apocalyptic hue recognizes the discontinuity that the invasion of God in Christ into this world pronounces upon the old order of things; it pronounces its death. Apocalyptic theology recognizes that this pronouncement continues, even as we live in-between the first advent and the coming advent of Christ; and as such it calls us to ‘reckon ourselves dead to sin and alive to Christ.’ Apocalyptic theology sees the need that the cross of Christ pronounces as the penultimate step required in order to come to the ultimate reality of re-creation which the resurrection of Christ proclaims as the evangel of God to the nations.

Ziegler, as he pushes forward into chapter two, brings Karl Barth’s theology into the discussion. He notes the way that some current apocalyptic theologians have understood Barth, but then how they have moved beyond Barth’s own type of apocalyptic theology. This reminded me of something I read in Robert Dale Dawson’s book on Barth’s doctrine of resurrection. What Dawson identifies in Barth’s doctrine of resurrection coheres with the impulses we just surveyed through Ziegler’s development; indeed, what Dawson identifies in Barth’s theology resonates deeply with me, and I think resonates deeply with the aims of apocalyptic theology in general. Dawson writes:

A large number of analyses come up short by dwelling upon the historical question, often falsely construing Barth’s inversion of the order of the historical enterprise and the resurrection of Jesus as an aspect of his historical skepticism. For Barth the resurrection of Jesus is not a datum of the sort to be analyzed and understood, by other data, by means of historical critical science. While a real event within the nexus of space and time the resurrection is also the event of the creation of new time and space. Such an event can only be described as an act of God; that is an otherwise impossible event. The event of the resurrection of Jesus is that of the creation of the conditions of the possibility for all other events, and as such it cannot be accounted for in terms considered appropriate for all other events. This is not the expression of an historical skeptic, but of one who is convinced of the primordiality of the resurrection as the singular history-making, yet history-delimiting, act of God.[2]

The emphasis, for Barth, according to Dawson, is upon God in Christ; upon his act in being-in-becoming. Dawson elucidates the way that resurrection, for Barth, is a global ground-clearing; of the apocalyptic sort. The event of resurrection, for Barth, according to Dawson, is a sort of re-creatio ex nihilo, a new creation out of nothing but the ‘stuff’ of God’s living Word.

I hope you have found this post enlightening, particularly if you have never been exposed to ‘apocalyptic theology.’ There are many personal and spiritual implications that can be gleaned from this. The primary one that stands out to me is Hope. Without the new creation, I’d have no hope; no hope of overcoming death, or the torments of sin in my daily life. There is hope in the new creation because it is grounded in the very life of God; the immovable unflinching life of God.

 

[1] Philip G. Ziegler, Militant Grace: The Apocalyptic Turn and the Future of Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2018), 10-12 kindle.

[2] Robert Dale Dawson, The Resurrection in Karl Barth (UK/USA: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2007), 13.

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Hello my name is Bobby Grow, and I author this blog, The Evangelical Calvinist. Feel free to peruse the posts, and comment at your leisure. I look forward to the exchange we might have here, and hope you are provoked to love Jesus even more as a result. Pax Christi!

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A Little Thomas Torrance

“God loves you so utterly and completely that he has given himself for you in Jesus Christ his beloved Son, and has thereby pledged his very being as God for your salvation. In Jesus Christ God has actualised his unconditional love for you in your human nature in such a once for all way, that he cannot go back upon it without undoing the Incarnation and the Cross and thereby denying himself. Jesus Christ died for you precisely because you are sinful and utterly unworthy of him, and has thereby already made you his own before and apart from your ever believing in him. He has bound you to himself by his love in a way that he will never let you go, for even if you refuse him and damn yourself in hell his love will never cease. Therefore, repent and believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour.” -T. F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ, 94.

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