If Christ’s Vicarious Humanity Doesn’t Matter, Nobody’s Does: The Centraldogma of Prayer

This will be a post that will off-put some of my readers, but so be it. Some have complained to me via comments, and email, that they aren’t a fan of my “politics,” and recent political posts; they simply prefer my stuff on theology. Apparently, folks have failed to understand that theology and politics go hand-in-hand; they do all throughout the Bible, and therefore, any theologian worth their salt will read these things together as well. Remember, Jesus is King of kings, and Lord of lords; that sounds pretty political to me! What is going on in the world currently is abnormal, and yet evangelical leaders, and other Christian leaders seemingly are attempting to operate as if we are in a turbulent, but yet, status quo moment where we ought to operate with the usual optics that evangelical leaders offer in times of national and global crises. That’s not my read of things, not at all! Clearly, we don’t know when Christ is coming again; but He said to live in a mode of WATCHFULNESS (cf. Mk 13)! With the events currently unfolding in the world, if the Christian’s watchfulness antennas aren’t up, then maybe the Christian ought to check their spiritual pulse. This might sound harsh, but I am sincerely baffled at the state of the evangelical churches right now.

The rest of this post, maybe abruptly, relative to my introduction here, will be about the spiritual attack the satan launched against Jesus Christ as He became human to bring ultimate reconciliation between God and humanity in His consubstantial person as both God and human pro nobis. I will highlight, through reference to Thomas Torrance’s thinking, how the role of prayer ought to function in the midst of the onslaught of satan, as satan attempts to thwart the plans of God; first in the incarnation, and then in echo of that, in our lives and world as we find our lives in participatio Christi (participation with Christ). Whether people recognize it or not we are in a spiritual battle, and the hater of our souls is in an all-out blitzkrieg to destroy all that is sacred and pure.

 13 And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs coming out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. 14 For they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty. –Revelation 16:13-14

As I reflect on what is occurring in the world, the above passage keeps popping into my mind for some reason. It feels like we’re in a moment like this; as if ‘unclean spirits’ have been released from the abyss and are attempting to destroy this world as an affront to the God who holds it together by the Word of His Power. These spirits have seemingly cast a great delusion on the masses, even seemingly, taking hold of many Christians. The only way to be an ‘overcomer’ in this sort of battle is to be in a dialogical or prayer-bond with the living God. The Son of Man knew this; as His co-heirs we ought to know this. Prayer keeps our focus on the only One who can intervene and bring life rather than death. Here is how Torrance explicates this with reference to the incarnation, and how the Son of Man bore up under the wicked onslaught that unleashed as a counter-assault to the coming of God to the world in Christ:

(ii) The attack by the powers of evil on the bond of prayer between Jesus and the Father

But now let us look at the prayer life of Jesus from a slightly different point of view, from the point of view of the attack upon it by all the powers of evil. Jesus Christ the perfect communion between God and man was actualised, not only through the incarnation of the Word of God in this man, but through the obedient reliance of this man upon God the Father. In that double movement of God’s faithful seeking and assuming of man back again into fellowship, and of man’s faithful return in Christ to God and complete dependence upon Him, the holy and loving will of God for humanity was realised in the midst of its isolation and estrangement. The bond between God and man is recreated and actualised in the midst of our humanity in the very life lived by Jesus and signalised so fully by his life of prayer. Therefore all the powers of evil launched their attack upon Jesus; fearful temptations and assaults fell upon him, all in order to isolate him from God, to break the bond of fellowship between them, to snap the life of prayer and obedient clinging to the heavenly Father; to destroy the life of obedience to God’s will and word, and so to make impossible any meeting between God and man in Jesus ; to destroy the ground of reconciliation, to disrupt the foundation for atonement being laid in the obedient and prayerful life of the Son of Man.

Against all that fearful temptation in which all the hosts of darkness were mustered against him, Jesus resorted to prayer and unswervingly held fast to God the Father throughout it all. That holding fast to God in prayer, that battle against the powers of darkness doing their utmost to isolate him from God, and so to isolate man from God for ever, the fearful struggles of prayer with strong crying and tears, ‘not my will but thine be done’, all that belongs to the innermost heart of the reconciling and atoning life of Jesus reaching from the very beginning to the very end, and increasing in its unbelievable intensity right up to the cross. ‘Father into thy hands I commit my spirit.’[1]

The evil forces present at Christ’s coming, are present now. I remain baffled, to be honest, at the lack of appreciation of this, which I have seen particularly in the so-called thought leaders of the Christian church. I hear a lot about social justice, critical race theory, Liberation theology, so on and so forth; but I hear almost nothing, except crickets, when it comes to the idea that in fact ‘we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities and powers’ of this ‘present evil age.’ Because we ostensibly are unable to discern this as Christians, we are allowing the deceiver to thrust us into an artificial division between us and our black brothers and sisters. This division, in the blood of Christ, in the resurrected and new humanity of Jesus Christ, in His Triumphal Victory for all humanity, in His vicarious humanity (what TFT just referred us to) has re-conciled all of humanity to God; of all colors, tribes, tongues, and nations. This is the premise of the incarnation that the devil fought so hard to destroy as he came against the Son of Man; and it is the same premise the devil still desires to destroy, in and through an artificial division that the cross of Jesus Christ, the wisdom of the living and triune God, has utterly vanquished into the abyss of hell. Jesus was not ignorant of the enemy’s devices; remember when He said this:

25 But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand. 26 If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. 28 But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house. 30 He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad. –Matthew 12:25-30

If Jesus knew this, then why wouldn’t we as His co-heirs? Just because the world, the media tells us blacks and whites are divided does not mean we are; the devil brings division, the Son of Man brings unity in His Gosepeled Life for us. As Christians we are to bear witness to this reality, not give into an artificial lie that we need to somehow bring reconciliation to systemic injustices that no longer exist in the very power of God. If this is not our starting point, if the logic of God’s grace in the incarnation, actualized in the resurrection of Christ is not our major premise, then there can be no lasting reconciliation between any of us. But we are reconciled one with the other in Christ. If we cannot identify with the broken life of Christ, if we cannot see Him as primary, and understand that if His humanity doesn’t matter: then nobody’s humanity will matter; because there will be none!

And if we aren’t in a constant dialogue of prayer with God, participating in the priestly and intercessory ministry of Jesus Christ (cf. Heb. 7:25), then we will be deceived by the satan and give into his divisive lies that will indeed conquer, at least in the immediate, the efforts that the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ has already wrought. But we only ontically stand in this reality insofar as we are in constant con-versation with the living and triune God; as we participate with and are partakers of the divine nature in and through the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ. Take our eye off this all-important reality of praying without ceasing, and we will be divided and destroyed. Jesus knew this, and as His brothers and sisters, through our adoption in His filial relationship with the Father by the Holy Spirit, we ought to know this and stand in this reality as well. Yes, as we move into this, the onslaught continues, but we are bonded into the very life of the everlasting and immortal God. Maranatha

[1] Thomas F. Torrance, Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ, edited by Robert T. Walker (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2008), 118-19.

An Evangelical Calvinist Concept of Grace: The Kind of Grace that Resists Thinking in Terms of Resistible and Irresistible Grace

Podcast that works through this same material.

I was in a theological discussion last night with someone on Facebook. He pressed me, as an Evangelical Calvinist, on whether or not we affirm the idea of ‘resistible grace’; i.e. the idea that the would-be Christian has the capacity to resist God’s offer of gracious salvation. This conception of grace, to think it in terms of being able to be resisted, comes from a metaphysic that Evangelical Calvinists eschew. Further, to think in these terms, in the history of ideas, is to think in the terms set by the classically Reformed understanding of ‘irresistible grace’ (the “I” in the TULIP). Irresistible grace, so called because of the acronym, represents a concept of grace that is grounded in the substance metaphysical (and its logico-causal necessitarian) framework that sees grace as a created quality given to the elect so they might respond affirmatively (and, subsequently, persevere) to the offer of salvation. Richard Muller writes the following:

gratia: grace; in Greek, χάρις;  the gracious or benevolent disposition of God toward sinful mankind and, therefore, the divine operation by which the sinful heart and mind are regenerated and the continuing divine power or operation that cleanses, strengthens, and sanctifies the regenerate. The Protestant scholastics distinguish five actus gratiae,or actualizations of grace. (1) Gratia praeveniens, or prevenient grace, is the grace of the Holy Spirit bestowed upon sinners in and through the Word; it must precede repentance. (2) Gratia praeparens is the preparing grace, according to which the Spirit instills in the repentant sinner a full knowledge of his inability and also his desire to accept the promises of the gospel. This is the stage of the life of the sinners that can be termed the praeparatio ad conversionem (q.v.) and that the Lutheran orthodox characterize as a time of terrores conscientiae (q.v.). Both this preparation for conversion and the terrors of conscience draw directly upon the second use of the law, the usus paedagogicus (see usus legis). (3) Gratia operans, or operating grace, is the effective grace of conversion, according to which the Spirit regenerates the will, illuminates the mind, and imparts faith. Operating grace is, therefore, the grace of justification insofar as it creates in man the means, or medium, faith, through which we are justified by grace…. (4) Gratia cooperans, or cooperating grace, is the continuing grace of the Spirit, also termed gratia inhabitans, indwelling grace, which cooperates with and reinforces the regenerate will and intellect in sanctification. Gratia cooperans is the ground of all works and, insofar as it is a new capacity in the believer for the good, it can be called the habitus gratiae, or disposition of grace. Finally, some of the scholastics make a distinction betweengratia cooperans and (5) gratia conservans, or conserving, preserving grace, according to which the Spirit enables the believer to persevere in faith. This latter distinction arises most probably out of the distinction between sanctificatio (q.v.) and perseverantia (q.v.) in the scholastic ordo salutis (q.v.), or order of salvation.[1]

I have emboldened the aspect, from Muller, that serves instructive for our purposes. If the theologian moves too quickly they might not pay close enough attention to what Muller is implying; it might seem that Muller is saying that the scholastics Reformed maintained that gratia operans is in reference to the Holy Spirit, and His regenerative work, personally. But that isn’t what the scholastics Reformed, or Muller following, maintain. As Muller notes, this sort of grace ‘creates in man the means,’ this is the key to understanding what actually is being said. You notice how this conception of grace is abstract from the personal agency of the Holy Spirit, it is someTHING that is infused or instilled into the accidents of elect humanity ‘through which’ they ‘are justified by “grace.’” Grace in this framework is a potency yet to be actualized in the life of the elect; and they will actualize it because they are indeed, the elect—and God has decreed that the potency given to them in this ‘created grace’ will be actualized; just as sure as God is sovereign God who decrees (decretum absolutum).

If, for the classically Reformed, grace is a created thing abstract from God, even as it is provided for by God, it’s conceivable that as a potency, it could be ‘resisted.’ This isn’t conceivable in the scholastic’s Reformed ordo salutis, but all it takes is for someone to come along, like Jacobus Arminius, to think this concept of grace from another ‘order of salvation.’ Without getting into all of that, and without attempting to develop the anatomy of saving grace in Arminius’ theology, the point being made, is that if grace is a created quality, abstract from the personal agency and life of God in the Holy Spirit, a quality that has potency waiting actualization by the elect (whether that’s Arminian or Calvinist understanding), that it has the potential to be resisted.[2] But this is a dilemma, or represents a material universe, that Evangelical Calvinists avoid.

The Evangelical Calvinist Alternative

It is no secret that my personal style of Evangelical Calvinism is informed largely by Barthian and Torrancean themes. As such the alternative I seek to offer to the aforementioned scholastic understanding of grace (as a potency that is either irresistible or resistible, depending on the broader theological tradition it is deployed within) will find its principal parts from the thinking of both Karl Barth and Thomas Torrance. And because of space restraints (e.g. since this is just a blog post), I will offer two full quotes, one from Barth, one from Torrance, and then simply reflect on how this shapes an alternative understanding of Divine Grace relative to the ‘created’ type we have just sketched.

Evangelical Calvinists, such as myself, think of God’s Grace, as just that: a personal reality grounded in God’s free choice (election) to be God for us, in us, and with us in Jesus Christ. If this is the case, then to think in terms of the possibility of grace being ‘resisted’ or ‘irresisted’ no longer has the gravitas it does in the scholastic conception we have visited. If God in Christ has always already elected to not be God without us before the foundation of the world, this implies that the foundation of the world is funded by God’s Grace ‘all the way down.’ When God made this choice to be for us (pro nobis), this implies that the inner reality of the created order, is God’s covenanted life of “for-usness.” Once this choice was temporally actualized in the incarnation (as given proleptic prefiguration in God’s tabernacling with Israel), what was once antecedently in God’s being, became actualized in the execution of God’s economy for the world in Christ. In other words, once God became human in Christ (Deus incarnatus), this actualization of God for us in His assumed humanity, cannot be thought of in terms of something that is resistible or irresistible; grace in this frame can only be thought of in terms of concrete actualization. George Hunsinger writes the following with reference to Barth’s concept of actualism, and how that functions for his theological program:

“Actualism” is the motif which governs Barth’s complex conception of being and time. Being is always an event and often an act (always an act whenever an agent capable of decision is concerned). The relationship between divine being and human being is one of the most vexed topics in Barth interpretation, and one on which the essay at hand hopes to shed some light. For now let it simply be said, however cryptically, that the possibility for the human creature to act faithfully in relation to the divine creator is thought to rest entirely in the divine act, and therefore continually befalls the human creature as a miracle to be sought ever anew.[3]

This helps explicate and move things forward. For Barth, according to Hunsinger, in his actualised frame, Grace would be a reality that simply has come to be as a result of God’s choice to be for the world. Thus, it is not something that can be possessed or grasped as a potency built into the accidents of the creature; instead, it is always already a happening that has been realized for us, because of God’s free choice to be with us. Therefore, grace is God’s person for us; He possesses us, we do not possess Him through this grace. It is a reality that encounters us afresh and anew by the miraculous in-breaking of the Holy Spirit’s work, as that is first actualized in the resurrected humanity of Jesus Christ, and then brought to us as the same miracle by which the human agent will say yes in correspondence to God’s Yes and Amen for us in Jesus Christ. But this simply is how it is; this is the state of the new creation; it is a state of ever refreshing Grace that funds the re-created order as that has been accomplished in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Humanity in this frame, salvation in this frame, is an actualized reality that comes to be, and has come to be, in the archetypal humanity of Jesus Christ. It is not possible to resist or irresist this grace, since it isn’t something we can operate or cooperate with, as if a commodity given to us to handle. No, we have been handled, as it were, by its actualized and concrete reality in Jesus Christ. This is what it means to be human now in God’s Kingdom; to be human is to experience God’s new creation in Christ; as such, this becomes salvation for all those in participation with Christ by the Holy Spirit.

For the Evangelical Calvinist, then, the idea of resisting or not being able to resist, is a non-starter. There is no space for such potencies in God’s Kingdom in Christ. But what about people who say no to God’s offer of salvation? That remains a problem for the inscrutable nature of sin to explain. And as Barth rightly notes, in his elaborate reformulation of election; sin is das nichtige (‘nothingness’), a reality outside of the realm encompassed by God’s life of Grace to be for us, for the world. I will come back later, and develop this further in another blog post. I have run out of energy. Let me leave us with a long quote from TFT. This passage should help elucidate further what I have been driving at:

To sum up: Grace in the New Testament is the basic and the most characteristic element of the Christian Gospel. It is the breaking into the world of the ineffable love of God in a deed of absolutely decisive significance which cuts across the whole of human life and sets it on a new basis. That is actualized in the person of Jesus Christ, with which grace is inseparably associated, and supremely exhibited on the Cross by which the believer is once and for all put in the right with God. This intervention of God in the world and its sin, out of sheer love, and His personal presence to men through Jesus Christ are held together in the one thought of grace. As such grace is the all-comprehensive and constant presupposition of faith, which, while giving rise to an intensely personal life in the Spirit, necessarily assumes a charismatic and eschatological character. Under the gracious impingement of Christ through the Spirit there is a glad spontaneity about the New Testament believer. He is not really concerned to ask questions about ethical practice. He acts before questions can be asked. He is caught up in the overwhelming love of Christ, and is concerned only about doing His will. There is no anxious concern about the past. It is Christ that died! There is no anxious striving toward an ideal. It is Christ that rose again! In Him all the Christian’s hopes are centred. His life is hid with Christ in God. In Him a new order of things has come into being, by which the old is set aside. Everything therefore is seen in Christ, in the light of the end, toward which the whole creation groaneth and travaileth waiting for redemption. The great act of salvation has already taken place in Christ, and has become an eternal indicative. The other side of faith is grace, the immediate act of God in Christ, and because He is the persistent Subject of all Christian life and thought, faith stands  necessarily on the threshold of the new world, with the intense consciousness of the advent of Christ. The charismatic and the eschatological aspects of faith are really one. In Christ the Eternal God has entered into this present evil world which shall in due course pass away before the full unveiling of the glory of God. That is the reason for the double consciousness of faith in the New Testament. By the Cross the believer has been put in the right with God once for all—Christ is his righteousness. He is already in Christ what he will be—to that no striving will add one iota. But faith is conscious of the essential imminence of that day, because of the intense nearness of Christ, when it shall know even as it is known, when it shall be what it already is. And so what fills the forward view is not some ideal yet to be attained, but the Christian’s position already attained in Christ and about to be revealed. The pressure of this imminence may be so great upon the mind as to turn the thin veil of sense and time into apocalyptic imagery behind which faith sees the consummation of all things. Throughout all this the predominating thought is grace, the presence of the amazing love of God in Christ, which has unaccountably overtaken the believer and set him in a completely new world which is also the eternal Kingdom of God.[4]

 

[1] Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastics Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1985), 129-30. [emboldening mine]

[2] All that is required is that this concept of grace be removed from its decretal framework as referred to in the ordo salutis of classical Calvinist soteriology, place it in a framework where human agency is independent from God’s decree, and this sort of grace can be resisted salvifically.

[3] George Hunsinger, How To Read Karl Barth: The Shape of His Theology(New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 16-18.

[4] Thomas F. Torrance, The Doctrine of Grace in the Apostolic Fathers, 34-5.

If All Humanity is Elect in Christ’s Vicarious Humanity Why Aren’t All Saved? TFT’s Response to Vanhoozer and Others

If all of humanity is elected in Christ’s vicarious and elect humanity; if Christ gave His life for all of humanity (i.e. universal atonement); then why aren’t all humans ultimately justified before God? These are questions that people like Roger Olson, Robert Letham, Kevin Vanhoozer have put to us, as Evangelical Calvinists, or to Thomas Torrance and Karl Barth more directly. Here is a snippet from Vanhoozer in his chapter length critique of us; this represents his summative conclusion in regard to his argument contra Evangelical Calvinism (which is why it comes off so triumphalistic):

The differences between Classical and Evangelical Calvinism here come into sharp contrast. First, as concerns election: Classical Calvinists associate being chosen in Christ with the Spirit’s uniting people to Christ through faith, whereas Evangelical Calvinists associate being chosen in Christ with the Son’s assumption of humanity in the Incarnation. Second, as concerns union with Christ: Classical Calvinists tend to follow Pauline usage, for whom “in Christ” serves as referring to the Spirit’s incorporation of saints into Christ (and hence the life of the triune God) through faith (i.e., a covenantal union of persons), whereas Evangelical Calvinists tend to follow a distinctly non-Pauline usage, viewing being “in Christ” as a necessary implication of the incarnation (i.e., an ontological union of natures, our humanity with Christ’s).[1]

The quote from KJV underscores the Evangelical Calvinist commitment to, after TFT, an ontological theory of salvation. We will leave KJV’s claims that his classical Calvinism represents the biblical side, and ours doesn’t, to the side for now. What I simply want to address in this short post is the question that KJV brings to us throughout his critique: again, if all are elect, why aren’t all ultimately saved? If I was motivated enough I have a quote from KJV, from the same chapter, where he identifies this question as the straw that breaks the Evangelical Calvinist’s camel back; but I’m not that motivated (you’ll just have to take my word for it). KJV et al. don’t like how Torrance responds to this apparent conundrum, but it is how we, following TFT, answer this conundrum, indeed. TFT simply remains in wonder about why all people don’t come to Christ either; why they would remain in their sins after Christ has elected them in His vicarious humanity (‘carnally’ or objectively). In short, TFT appeals to the incomprehensible / inscrutable nature of sin; he writes:

In the face of this it is utterly inconceivable to us that anyone, man or woman, should finally reject the saving love of God incarnated in Jesus and enacted in his vicarious and substitutionary death on the cross — yet that is incomprehensibly what can and does take place — an utterly irrational event which we can only leave to the Lord God himself in his infinite mercy and judgment.[2]

In a rather striking way, ironically, TFT’s presentation reflects the structure of Calvin’s own understanding of election and reprobation. Calvin’s understanding is an asymmetrical one in the sense that he sees election tied to God’s revealed will (so the via positiva), whereas he sees reprobation un-revealed and resident in God’s secret will (so the via negativa). Unlike Calvin, though, TFT doesn’t have the same superstructure informing the way he thinks of predestination, in the sense that TFT only has place for the revealed and actualized will of God in the person of Jesus Christ (you can read more about my thinking and critique of Calvin here). Nevertheless, there is this notion of relegating unbelief, even in Calvin, to per accidens, or the inscrutable nature of sin; even if TFT doesn’t have a decretal system in place, as Calvin does. I think Vanhoozer and others overlook this rather salient point. They also fail to recognize just how significant Athanasius is in TFT’s (and Barth’s) system; probably because they have the Augustine goggles on too tightly.

Anywho, this is TFT’s response. This is my response as an Evangelical Calvinist. And it should be your response, because it’s what the Bible teaches. Sola Scriptura!

[1] Kevin J. Vanhoozer, “The Origin of Paul’s Soteriology: Election, Incarnation, and Union with Christ in Ephesians 1:4 (with special reference to Evangelical Calvinism),” in Benjamin E. Reynolds, Brian Lugioyo, and Kevin J. Vanhoozer eds., Reconsidering the Relationship between Biblical and Systematic Theology in the New Testament: Essays by Theologians and New Testament Scholars (Germany: Mohr Siebeck) [pagination missing in my copy].

[2] Thomas F. Torrance, Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ, edited by Robert T. Walker (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008), 114.

Maximus the Confessor, Cyril of Alexander, and the East are not with Leighton Flowers on Freewill

In some of my more recent posts I have been engaging with a guy named, Leighton Flowers; and his ‘Provisionism.’ I have attempted to show how his position fits into, what historically, is understood as semi-Pelagianism. I still think that’s the case. In this post I want to get into a distinction that Flowers likes to appeal to himself; he likes to align his position with the pre-Nicene church fathers, with particular reference to what he takes to be their understanding of “freewill.” Mind you, Flowers isn’t really all that concerned with whether or not he can find historical catholic precedent for his soteriological view or not; but when debating Calvinists like, James White, or Lutherans like, Jordan Cooper—people who have been similarly framing Flowers’ position as semi-Pelagian—Flowers, in counter to their Augustinianism, which he takes to be a species, categorically, of Manicheanism, will attempt to find counter voices in the primitivism of said proto eastern church fathers. He believes that his understanding of freewill in salvation aligns with their respective understandings; particularly as that would stand in contrast to the mature Augustine’s doctrine of predestination/election and “determinism.” In this post I simply want to say to Leighton: not so fast! I will do that by way of reference to Jaroslav Pelikan’s The Christian Tradition: Vol 2: The Spirit of Eastern Christendom (600–1700), and his brief sketch of Augustine’s position in contrast to Maximus the Confessor’s. By this simple reference my hope will be to alert the reader to the fact that Flower’s attempt to appeal to the eastern understanding of “freewill” in salvation is equivocal; particularly because the eastern Church has a robust Christological condition underwriting the way they think humanity vis-à-vis freewill in salvation. Further, in my attempt, I will also refer to some of Cyril of Alexander’s thinking with hopes of fortifying what we find out about Maximus’s thinking.

Pelikan writes:

No less striking was the contrast between the Augustinian tradition and the Greek tradition in the understanding of grace and salvation. An epitome of the contrast is the formula of Maximus: “Our salvation finally depends on our own will.” For “one could not conceive a system of thought more different from Western Augustinianism; and yet Maximus is in no way a Pelagian.” This is because the dichotomy represented by the antithesis between Pelagianism and Augustinianism was not a part of Maximus’s thought. Instead, “his doctrine of salvation is based on the idea of participation and of communion that excludes neither grace nor freedom but supposes their union and collaboration, which were re-established once and for all in the incarnate Word and his two wills.” Even though the century following the death of Augustine saw his predestinarianism attacked by his critics and mollified by his disciples, the Augustinian understanding of original son and of grace continued to shape Western theology. Eastern theology, on the other hand, continued to emphasize, with Maximus, that divine sonship was a gift of God and an achievement of man, and neither of these without the other. Such diametrically opposed interpretations of the very hear of the Christian gospel would almost inevitably come to blows when the ecclesiastical situation had shifted and all the other doctrinal differences that we have been examining became matters of open controversy. Nevertheless, over the centuries of the controversy, it was neither in the doctrine of grace nor even in the doctrine of the church that East and West came into dogmatic conflict most frequently, but in a doctrine on which, supposedly, not only East and West, but even Nestorians and Monophysites, were all agreed: the dogma of the Trinity.[1]

On the face of things, it might sound like Flowers is onto something, in regard to the idea of freewill, as that is ostensibly operative in Maximus’s and the East’s soteriology. But what Maximus has, and Flowers doesn’t, is a soteriology grounded in a robust understanding of Christology and our participation in His humanity as the ground and frame of reference wherein we have capacity to finally say yes to God. In other words, following Athanasius et al. the east understands that apart from union with Christ, by way of His hypostatic union with us, the person, in and of themselves, does not have the capacity to say yes to God. In other words, the east has a heavy doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ operative in their soteriological understanding; so heavy that they referred to their soteriological doctrina as theosis. Flowers doesn’t have this doctrine funding his conception of soteriology, which again, is why he is left open to the charge of forwarding semi-Pelagianism.

To help further fortify this thinking on participatio Christi in the eastern understanding of salvation, let’s turn to Donald Fairbairn’s discussion on union with Christ in the soteriology of Cyril of Alexandria (another eastern father). This passage from Fairbairn is rather lengthy, and you’ll notice that he has a dialogue between Protestants, Orthodox, and Roman Catholics in mind, but I think the whole context helps to grant greater insight into just what Cyril’s union with Christ and/or doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Christ was all about. Fairbairn doesn’t get into the how of union with Christ in Cyril’s theology, but he does point out that for Cyril it is the indicative of being in union with Christ wherein the person has the capacity to be for God and not against Him. This is what Flowers doesn’t have in his soteriological conception, and again, why his view easily falls prey to the charge of semi-Pelagianism. Here is Fairbairn:

From what I have written, it is clear that there are important similarities and differences between Cyril’s understanding of justification and that of Protestantism. Cyril repeatedly writes of the believer’s righteousness as one that is given by another, by Christ, from the outside. This emphasis on Christ as the source of the Christian’s righteousness is similar to the Protestant understanding of the passive nature of the Christian’s righteousness. Cyril, as much as Luther or any Protestant subsequently, sees the righteousness or holiness of the Christian as that which belongs to Christ and which Christ actively grants to the believer, who passively receives it through faith and grace. But as we have seen, there are also differences between Cyril and many classical Protestant writers. Cyril does not adopt a forensic framework as the dominant aspect of his soteriology. He does not distinguish justification and sanctification to any great degree at all. And he certainly does not make justification the central idea of his soteriology. Thus, Cyril stands as a caution against the potential dangers of a theology that is too exclusively forensic or makes the justification/sanctification distinction too sharply.

When one examines Cyril’s relation to modern Eastern Orthodoxy, we find that there are also similarities and differences. The participatory nature of salvation shines very clearly in both Cyril and modern Orthodoxy. But on the other hand, two things about Cyril’s understanding of participation stand in partial contrast to some expressions of modern Orthodoxy. First, the basis for Cyril’s understanding of participation is not the qualities of God (whether they be the energies, as in later Palamite theology; qualities such as incorruption and immortality that dominate the attention of many Greek patristic writers; or even qualities like righteousness and holiness on which this article has focused), but the person of Christ. For Cyril, participation is at heart personal. We become righteous when we are personally united to the one who is righteous, to Christ. (Notice again that this exactly parallels the fact that we become sons of God when we are united to Christ, the true Son.) Second, the very fact that participation is at heart personal means that it is not fundamentally gradual or progressive. The outworkings of union with Christ are indeed gradual, but union with Christ himself, effected in baptism at the very beginning of Christian life, lies at the heart of Cyril’s concept of participation. To say this even more directly, for Cyril even deification is primarily the present state of the believer, rather than the culmination of a process, and his teaching on justification undergirds this fact.

At this point, readers from both Protestant and Orthodox traditions may object that their tradition does in fact emphasize personal union with Christ. This is true. There are some – perhaps many – voices within both traditions that possess such an emphasis. But my point is that in both Protestantism and Orthodoxy, the centrality of personal union with Christ tends to be obscured by these other emphases: forensic justification in Protestantism and a more mystical and/or progressive approach to union with God in Orthodoxy. I ask my readers to recognize these tendencies, even though the mistakes to which they can lead are sometimes successfully avoided.

With that caveat registered, I suggest that as one looks at these two sets of similarities and differences between Cyril on one hand and either Protestantism or Orthodoxy on the other, they expose a false dichotomy that has perhaps hindered dialogue between the two groups. Protestants, schooled in on-going disputes with Roman Catholicism, are often quick to point out the difference between imputed righteousness and imparted or infused righteousness, and the classical Protestant concept of justification is closely tied to the first of these, in opposition to the second. It seems to me, though, that Protestants sometimes extend this dichotomy into an opposition between imputed righteousness and participatory righteousness, thus unhelpfully applying concepts borrowed from anti-Catholic polemic to anti-Orthodox polemic. (Whether those concepts are appropriate even in dialogue with Roman Catholics is another question, but one I will not address here.) I believe Cyril’s thought demonstrates that this is a false dichotomy. Instead, Cyril teaches us that participatory righteousness – or better, our participation in the one who is himself righteous – is the very heart of imputed righteousness. To say this in Protestant terms, the righteousness of Christ is imputed to the Christian when the Christian is united to Christ, who is the righteous one. But to say the same thing in Orthodox terms, participation in Christ, because it is a personal participation granted to the believer at the beginning of Christian life, implies that his righteousness becomes ours.

As a result, I suggest that a deeper consideration of Cyril’s doctrine of justification can both challenge Protestants and the Orthodox, and help to uncover latent common ground between them. Protestants need to recognize that justification is not merely or even mainly transactional, but primarily personal and organic. We are united to Christ as a person, and as a result, his righteousness is imputed to us. The forensic crediting of righteousness grows out of the personal union. At the same time, the Orthodox need to recognize that the gradual process of deification (even the continual reception of life-giving grace through the Eucharist, one of Cyril’s greatest emphases) is grounded in an initial personal union with Christ, and thus, both righteousness and deification are at heart gifts that Christ gives us when he gives himself to us. Perhaps both Protestants and Orthodox can then recognize that as Christians, we are righteous, holy, and even divine, because – and only because – we are in Christ. And if we are righteous, holy, and divine in Christ, then throughout Christian life we will progressively become more and more who we already are.[2]

Lengthy, I know; but necessary to provide the whole context. These are details that Flowers never addresses when he almost casually refers to the eastern fathers and their conception of salvation and freewill. Their idea of freedom isn’t like Flowers’ understanding, which sounds more like libertarian free agency; their conception is drenched in a robust doctrine of participation with Christ (Calvin’s doctrine of unio cum Christo and duplex gratia actually sounds much more akin to someone like Cyril than what we find in Flowers’ naked conception of human freedom in the soteriological package).

Honestly, I’m not sure why I’m spending so much time with Flowers on these things. He has already doubled down over and over again on the idea that his position is not semi-Pelagian; but he dupes himself. My goal with this post was simply (in a bloggy way) to take away Flowers’ easy appeal to the eastern fathers, as if they stand with him contra, Augustine. They do stand against Augustine, but not in the way that Flowers does. Flowers, unfortunately, is more in the camp of Pelagius himself, and someone, early, like John Cassian. Pax Vobis

 

[1] Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: Vol. 2: The Spirit of Eastern Christendom (600-1700) (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1974), 182-83.

[2] Donald Fairbairn, “Justification in St. Cyril of Alexandria, With Some Implications for Ecumenical Dialogue,”Participatio Vol. 4 (2013): 142-44.

One More Response to Leighton Flowers and Semi-Pelagianism: How a Christ Conditioned Theological Ontology Corrects

Leighton Flowers; one more time. He continues to assert that his soteriological position is not semi-Pelagian; and this is understandable, who would want to have that as the label of their soteriological theory. Flowers has been under critique by folks like James White (someone I equally consider semi-Pelagian in soteriological theory), more recently by Jordan Cooper, and even by me (even though Flowers only seems inclined to publicly respond to people with bigger social media platforms). The charge from these guys, and me, is that Flowers’ theory of salvation suffers from what in the history would be identified as semi-Pelagianism. I have already attempted to sketch the basics of Flowers’ understanding of salvation here, so we won’t rehash that. But in response to this ongoing critique of his position he just posted another, more brief, response to his despisers here. Just watch what he says in this latest dispatch of his, and listen very carefully to how he tries to thread the needle between an anthropology (which is his) that is most definitely of the species, semi-Pelagian, and the opposite pole of God’s unilateral and de jure movement in the accomplishment of salvation in Jesus Christ. As you will notice, Leighton likes to use illustrations and analogies; we might say that Flowers is willing to die by the illustrations and analogies of a thousand deaths. You will also notice that Flowers often uses biblical ‘parables’ and superficial referral to descriptive events in Scripture in order to build his soteriological superstructure; this is not an advisable hermeneutic. For someone who says they only want to go where the Bible goes, you would think they would want to also operate with a critical biblical hermeneutic that pays close attention to the literary and theological features of said text.

At bottom, Flowers rejects the concept that a person is ‘born’ with a moral or spiritual incapacity to say yes or no to God in Christ in the Gospel offer. Flowers believes that a person ‘retains’ said ‘moral’ capacity, post-fall, to recognize their need for Christ when confronted with the Gospel. We might say that Flowers’ theory operates with a sort of occasionalism or situationalism in regard to the Gospel power. That is, Flowers seems to think that in any given moment a person can simply say yes or no to God, when confronted with God in Gospel, of their own resources. Flowers will say, along with his statement of faith, that he affirms that God takes the ‘first step’ towards humanity (this would be de jure or objectively)—and he believes this is a sufficient response and workaround the charge that he suffers from semi-Pelagianism—but that at the in se level the person confronted with this objective Gospel reality, even as the Holy Spirit has used a variety of occasions or situations to ‘woo’ said person, has the ‘moral capacity’ within themselves, some sort of inherent original creational capacity, resistant to the noetic effects of the fall, to say yes or no to the Gospel offer. As I noted in my last Flowers post, this fits well with, at least, semi-Pelagian theory.

One of the theologians Flowers depends on, in order to evade the charge of semi-Pelagian, is Adam Harwood of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (where Flowers earned his DMin degree). Harwood, in an article attempting to ‘shed’ the charge of semi-Pelagian, relative to his and Flowers’ et al. view, shares the pertinent articles of confession from their statement of faith:

Article 2, “(W)e deny that any sinner is saved apart from a free response to the Holy Spirit’s drawing through the Gospel.”

Article 4, “We affirm that grace is God’s generous decision to provide salvation… in freely offering the Gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit, and in uniting the believer to Christ through the Holy Spirit by faith.”

Article 5, “We affirm that any person who responds to the Gospel with repentance and faith is born again through the power of the Holy Spirit. He is a new creation in Christ and enters, at the moment he believes, into eternal life.”

Article 8, The call to salvation is made “by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel.”[1]

I have emboldened the parts of the articles that ought to illustrate, for the careful and perceptive thinker, of the sort of ‘sleight-of-hand’ this statement, and its proponents, like Harwood and Flowers represent, are attempting to engage in (albeit with genuine intention). In particular, we see the statement affirming that grace is God’s generous decision to provide salvation; this is the de jure or objective component I was noting earlier. In article five, as I’ve emboldened, it says that ‘any person who responds (this would be the de facto, in se, or subjective response) to the Gospel becomes a ‘new creation.’ These are exactly the points that demonstrate the sub-grace anthropology this position suffers from. I say sub-grace because it thinks of grace in qualitative or substantial terms, in abstract terms that only think grace as a mechanism that God brings salvation through to individual respondents. But this isn’t how the Bible thinks of God’s grace; the Bible thinks of God’s grace as the all encompassing reality of God’s life for us, for the creation itself. Just as ‘in the beginning God created the heavens and earth,’ was His first act of grace (as Ray Anderson so helpfully identifies), ‘in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,’ as riff on Genesis 1.1, is the climax of that first act of God to create to begin with. In other words, and this is where Flowers et al. goes clearly off the rails, and this because of his anemic biblical hermeneutic and commitment to a nuda or solo Scriptura, God’s grace cannot and should not ever be thought of apart from God’s free choice and election to be for and with us, and not be God without us, in Jesus Christ. This is what the original creation was funded by, as we see God’s first narratival act in Scripture is, indeed, to create when He didn’t have to; and it is this same creatio ex nihilo that funds the recreatio ex nihilo actualized in the resurrected humanity of Jesus Christ. This is what Flowers et al. fail to grasp in this whole discussion about an abstract moral or spiritual incapacity for God; they don’t think theologically whatsoever; they don’t seem to recognize that there is a theological taxis (order) to the canonical flow and deep-context of Holy Scripture. They fail to recognize that Scripture has a robust Trinitarian ground and grammar, and as such reduce this whole discussion of anthropology vis-à-vis moral incapacity for God, to an abstract locus (think of the Ramist methodology that funds the scholasticism of Post Reformed orthodoxy) that is detached from its theo-logical dimensional ground in the pleroma of God’s triune life for us in Jesus Christ.

In nuce: Flowers et al. is looking for a silver-bullet verse or cluster of verses from the Bible that proves that he is wrong, and the rest of the classical tradition is right in regard to this idea that humanity is or is not morally or spiritually capable to say yes or no to God of their own volition (even as the occasion of ‘wooing’ is set by the Holy Spirit). But this whole quest is a reductionistic one that ignores a doctrine of creation/recreation as that is taught and ‘understood’ by Scripture’s reality in Jesus Christ. Robert Dale Dawson gets at this in a very precise way as he is commenting on Karl 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]

Reference to this summative passage from Dawson might seem out of place in our current discussion, but it is not! Indeed, this passage is rather illustrative, and thus instructive for our purposes of critique towards Flowers&co. Flowers et al. get lost in a reduction of the text of Holy Scripture when they reduce it to a datum to be scoured for proving this abstract or that abstract doctrine. Doctrines that are strained out through a Ramist locus methodology that have no necessary attachment to the broader theological soundings and reality that the text of Holy Scripture bears witness to; viz. the ineffable and inexhaustible riches of God’s triune life. Because of this approach, Flowers’ et al. miss the creation/recreational themes that are present from the very first verse of the Bible. As such, they don’t even start to think of anthropology/soteriology and other ologies within and from a theological ontology that necessarily starts from the ‘new creation’ reality of the resurrection. They fail to realize, even as Barth realized it in full, the very fact and need for the incarnation and atonement of God in Jesus Christ for us, reveals to us (or it should!) that we indeed have been plunged into a spiritual incapacity for God; of the sort that what was required was that God assume our sinful humanity in Christ, take it to the cross, put it death, and raise it anew in the resurrected RECREATED vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ. This is God’s ‘grace all the way down,’ and it decimates any attempt to even start the discussion that Flowers et al. are currently lost within. The biblical discussion worth having is an Athanasian one (see his little book On Incarnation), not the Augustinian one that Flowers, along with his Calvinist and Lutheran orthodox counterparts are having. But this is the point: Flowers, for all his bluster about “being biblical” is starting his biblicism in just as strident of a theological place as anyone else; it is just that his starting point suffers from the entailments that give rise to debates about semi-Pelagianism, and other abstractions that a properly formed, Christ concretized theological ontology and hermeneutic elide from the get go.

The incarnation and resurrection of God in Christ itself indicates, without question, that humanity outwith God’s grace all the way down, is most certainly spiritually incapable of saying yes to God; since Jesus is God’s Yes and Amen for us. If Jesus, in His vicarious humanity, in His resurrected humanity is God’s Yes and Amen for us, then only those in ontic and ontological participation with Him, as He assumed our humanity that we by the Holy Spirit’s adoption might come to assume His, are spiritually capable ‘from there!,’ in echo of His Yes and Amen for us, to say yes and amen to the Father’s free offering of salvation in the Son’s choice to be us, for us, and in us. These are biblical categories, of Chalcedonian pattern, that Flowers et al. are clueless of. He is not open for correction in this area, and thus will continue on in the misguided foray of attempting to thwart “Calvinism” at the cost of his own theological soul. The bottom line point is that we are spiritually capable to say yes to God because of the recreational ground of God’s Grace that He has provided for in the new humanity of Jesus Christ. We are capable for God because God in Christ was first capable for us and in us. QED

Addendum: You all might be interested in reading this short post as a supplement to this post. While Flowers doesn’t speak in these sort of nuanced terms, it is hard to see him even thinking in the terms of ‘cooperative grace’ or the semi-Pelagian notion of grace that we see described in ‘habitus grace’, as that is operative in the Roman soteriological framework. I think I might another post using the definition by Muller with more direction focused on Flowers, hopefully for a final time. I just don’t think he is interested in thinking through these things in the sort of nuanced way required.

[1] Source.

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

Barth’s God of Wrath: The Judge Judged For Israel, For Us

The following comes after a long small print section from Karl Barth. I wanted to transcribe the whole thing, but I neither have the time nor the energy; the following will have to suffice. What we will be reading is a summary, by Barth, of the small print section I just mentioned. It is one of the richest things I have ever read on how a Christian ought to think the violence and brutality of the Old Testament. Rather than reading all of that away as reflecting a genocidal God of war, it does the canonical soul well if we simply read the Old Testament as if its whole telos is indeed Jesus Christ. If we do this, the seemingly futile brutality and judgment and wrath of God we see often displayed on its pages comes to make sense; but only if understood from the frame of reference that understands that Jesus Christ is the ineffable God who holds all reality together, ensarkos. Barth, a modern (but orthodox) theologian doesn’t attempt to explain away the violence of the “Old Testament God” (like Pete Enns et al does); instead, true to form, he contextualizes it in the cruciformed shape of God’s immortal and ultimate life. Barth writes (in brief):

The meaning of the death of Jesus Christ is that there God’s condemning and punishing righteousness broke out, really smiting and piercing human sin, man as sinner, and sinful Israel. It did really fall on the sin of Israel, our sin and us sinners. It did so in such a way that in what happened there (not to Israel, or to us, but to Jesus Christ) the righteousness of God which we have offended was really revealed and satisfied. Yet it did so in such a way that it did not happen to Israel or to us, but for Israel, for us. What was suffered there on Israel’s account and ours, was suffered for Israel and for us. The wrath of God which we had merited, by which we must have been annihilated and would long since have been annihilated, was now in our place borne and suffered as though it had smitten us and yet in such a way that it did not smite us and can no more smite us. The reason why the No Spoken on Good Friday is so terrible, but why there is already concealed in it the Eastertide Yes of God’s righteousness, is that He who on the cross took upon Himself and suffered the wrath of God was no other than God’s own Son, and therefore the eternal God Himself in the unity with human nature which He freely accepted in His transcendent mercy.[1]

If you read closely you can see Athanasius (i.e. annihilation language) informing Barth; and you can see his thinking forming towards what is only nascent in Barth’s thought in regard to a doctrine of election (which comes in the next volume II/2). This is an extremely aesthetically pleasing statement from Barth, for all types of reasons. It is conceptually rich with thinking on God’s No hidden in the Yes of God; with a way to read the OT in a Christ concentration; with a conception of atonement theory wherein God’s wrath is taken by God Himself in the Son, the Judge judged. The mystery, majesty, and yet concreteness of it all, particularly as Barth is able to explicate things in his way, is rather astounding; it is an occasion of worship for me. To contemplate the depth dimensional realities of the Christ, in the sort of symphonic ways that Barth is masterful at, is such an edifying experience. This is why I read Barth, because he points beyond his frail and sinful self, and points to His Savior, and mine, Jesus Christ.

[1] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II/1 §30 The Doctrine of God: Study Edition (London: T&T Clark, 2009), 145.

Is Leighton Flowers a Pelagian? The Answer Might Be Concerning

What did the infamous, Pelagius, teach about human agency, within the broader category of anthropology? This is a question that has seemingly plagued the church throughout her history. We have Augustine/Pelagius; Luther/Erasmus; Calvin/Pighius; The Council of Dort/Remonstrants so on and so forth. This struggle will not go away. I have, once again, been provoked to enter this fray myself; not because I think this binary is a useful one, but because it continues to ensnare others within the broader Christian body. The provocateur for me has been popular-level podcaster and youtuber, Leighton Flowers. I have engaged with him before through a few blog posts, you can read up on those here. Without rehashing the nitty-gritty of Flowers’ approach (which he calls Provisionism), what is at greatest rub with his whole proposed system reduces down to the question that Pelagius has come to be known for (indeed, Pelagius, has come to be known as the heresiarch of the church because of this). Flowers just did a podcast where this issue takes centerstage (i.e. the human agent’s moral capacity to know or not know God); I responded, here, via a podcast of my own. For the remainder of this post we will attempt to offer a precis of Pelagius’ view on human freewill, and compare that to what Leighton Flowers presents. What should stand out by the end of this post, is that to Flowers’ protestations, his position fits with Pelagius’ perspective much more than he would like. It will be concluded that Flowers’ position isn’t simply equivocally related to Pelagius’, but instead, that Flowers operates with a form of the Pelagian position, that in the history has come to be called semi-Pelagianism.

In order to make a genuine attempt at representing Flowers’ view accurately I will quote directly from the statement of faith he has posted at his website. The statement of faith is said to be representative of the majority of Southern Baptists; Flowers is, by self-confession, within this ‘majority.’ I will quote a large section of the statement (for context), since it has to do with the very question under consideration:

ARTICLE ONE: THE GOSPEL

We affirm that the Gospel is the good news that God has made a way of salvation through the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ for any person. This is in keeping with God’s desire for every person to be saved.

We deny that only a select few are capable of responding to the Gospel while the rest are predestined to an eternity in hell.

Genesis 3:15; Psalm 2:1-12; Ezekiel 18:23, 32; Luke 19.10; Luke 24:45-49; John 1:1-18, 3:16; Romans 1:1-6, 5:8; 8:34; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21; Galatians 4:4-7; Colossians 1:21-23; 1 Timothy 2:3-4; Hebrews 1:1-3; 4:14-16; 2 Peter 3:9

ARTICLE TWO: THE SINFULNESS OF MAN

We affirm that, because of the fall of Adam, every person inherits a nature and environment inclined toward sin and that every person who is capable of moral action will sin. Each person’s sin alone brings the wrath of a holy God, broken fellowship with Him, ever-worsening selfishness and destructiveness, death, and condemnation to an eternity in hell.

We deny that Adam’s sin resulted in the incapacitation of any person’s free will or rendered any person guilty (?) before he has personally sinned. While no sinner is remotely capable of achieving salvation through his own effort, we deny that any sinner is saved apart from a free response to the Holy Spirit’s drawing through the Gospel.

Genesis 3:15-24; 6:5; Deuteronomy 1:39; Isaiah 6:5, 7:15-16;53:6;Jeremiah 17:5,9, 31:29-30; Ezekiel 18:19-20; Romans 1:18-32; 3:9-18, 5:12, 6:23; 7:9; Matthew 7:21-23; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; 6:9-10;15:22; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Hebrews 9:27-28; Revelation 20:11-15

ARTICLE THREE: THE ATONEMENT OF CHRIST

We affirm that the penal substitution of Christ is the only available and effective sacrifice for the sins of every person.

We deny that this atonement results in salvation without a person’s free response of repentance and faith. We deny that God imposes or withholds this atonement without respect to an act of the person’s free will. We deny that Christ died only for the sins of those who will be saved.

Psalm 22:1-31; Isaiah 53:1-12; John 12:32, 14:6; Acts 10:39-43; Acts 16:30-32; Romans 3:21-26; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:10-14; Philippians 2:5-11; Col. 1:13-20; 1 Timothy 2:5-6; Hebrews 9:12-15, 24-28; 10:1-18; I John 1:7; 2:2

ARTICLE FOUR: THE GRACE OF GOD

We affirm that grace is God’s generous decision to provide salvation for any person by taking all of the initiative in providing atonement, in freely offering the Gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit, and in uniting the believer to Christ through the Holy Spirit by faith.

We deny that grace negates the necessity of a free response of faith or that it cannot be resisted. We deny that the response of faith is in any way a meritorious work that earns salvation.

Ezra 9:8; Proverbs 3:34; Zechariah 12:10; Matthew 19:16-30, 23:37; Luke 10:1-12; Acts 15:11; 20:24; Romans 3:24, 27-28; 5:6, 8, 15-21; Galatians 1:6; 2:21; 5; Ephesians 2:8-10; Philippians 3:2-9; Colossians 2:13-17; Hebrews 4:16; 9:28; 1 John 4:19

ARTICLE FIVE: THE REGENERATION OF THE SINNER

We affirm that any person who responds to the Gospel with repentance and faith is born again through the power of the Holy Spirit. He is a new creation in Christ and enters, at the moment he believes, into eternal life.

We deny that any person is regenerated prior to or apart from hearing and responding to the Gospel.

Luke 15:24; John 3:3; 7:37-39; 10:10; 16:7-14; Acts 2:37-39; Romans 6:4-11; 10:14; 1 Corinthians 15:22; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 2:20; 6:15; Colossians 2:13; 1 Peter 3:18

ARTICLE SIX: THE ELECTION TO SALVATION

We affirm that, in reference to salvation, election speaks of God’s eternal, gracious, and certain plan in Christ to have a people who are His by repentance and faith.

We deny that election means that, from eternity, God predestined certain people for salvation and others for condemnation.

Genesis 1:26-28; 12:1-3; Exodus 19:6;Jeremiah 31:31-33; Matthew 24:31; 25:34; John 6:70; 15:16; Romans 8:29-30, 33;9:6-8; 11:7; 1 Corinthians 1:1-2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2:11-22; 3:1-11; 4:4-13; 1 Timothy 2:3-4; 1 Peter 1:1-2; 1 Peter 2:9; 2 Peter 3:9; Revelation 7:9-10

ARTICLE SEVEN: THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD

We affirm God’s eternal knowledge of and sovereignty over every person’s salvation or condemnation.

We deny that God’s sovereignty and knowledge require Him to cause a person’s acceptance or rejection of faith in Christ.

Genesis 1:1; 6:5-8; 18:16-33; 22; 2 Samuel 24:13-14; 1 Chronicles 29:10-20; 2 Chronicles 7:14; Joel 2:32; Psalm 23; 51:4; 139:1-6; Proverbs 15:3; John 6:44; Romans 11:3; Titus 3:3-7; James 1:13-15; Hebrews 11:6, 12:28; 1 Peter 1:17

ARTICLE EIGHT: THE FREE WILL OF MAN

We affirm that God, as an expression of His sovereignty, endows each person with actual free will (the ability to choose between two options), which must be exercised in accepting or rejecting God’s gracious call to salvation by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel.

We deny that the decision of faith is an act of God rather than a response of the person. We deny that there is an “effectual call” for certain people that is different from a “general call” to any person who hears and understands the Gospel.

Genesis 1:26-28; Numbers 21:8-9; Deuteronomy 30:19; Joshua 24:15; 1 Samuel 8:1-22; 2 Samuel 24:13-14; Esther 3:12-14; Matthew 7:13-14; 11:20-24; Mark 10:17-22; Luke 9:23-24; 13:34; 15:17-20; Romans 10:9-10; Titus 2:12; Revelation 22:17[1]

Keep the aforementioned in mind. Now we will turn to a reading of Pelagius’ understanding of human nature, and freewill. I will refer to my friend’s, Nick Needham’s synopsizing of that:

Unfortunately for Pelagius, his ardent zeal for holy living was wedded to a rather unorthodox theology. Although his doctrine of God was Catholic enough (he believed in the Nicene doctrine of the Trinity), his beliefs about human nature sparked off a storm of controversy which ended in his condemnation for heresy. Pelagius held that all human beings were born into the world as sinless as Adam was before he fell, the apostasy of Adam had not corrupted humanity’s nature, but had merely set a fatally bad example, which most of Adam’s sons and daughters had freely followed. However, there were some people (according to Pelagius) who had managed to remain sinless throughout their lives by proper use of their free-will, e.g. some of the Old Testament saints like Daniel. In fact, anyone could become sinlessly perfect if only he tried hard enough. Pelagius admitted, of course, that human beings needed God’s grace in order to be good, but he had his own peculiar definition of grace. For Pelagius “grace” really meant two things: (i) God’s gift of natural free-will to all human beings; (ii) God’s gift of the moral law and the example of Christ, which revealed perfectly how people should live, and supplied strong incentives in the form of eternal rewards and punishments. Pelagius’s theology therefore made the fruits of human goodness grow almost entirely out of human free-will and effort; entry into heaven, in the Pelagian scheme, became a just reward for living a good life on earth, rather than an undeserved gift purchased for helpless sinners by the blood of an all-sufficient Saviour.[2]

Based on Needham’s description (which is a good one, the common one you will come across in any sound patristic theology book) of Pelagius’s doctrine, we can see some similarities and dissimilarities between what Flowers and the Baptists affirm, and what Pelagius ostensibly affirms. It is the Deny section of Article 2 from the statement above where we find the greatest similarity between Pelagius and Flowers. To reiterate that section it says: “We deny that Adam’s sin resulted in the incapacitation of any person’s free will or rendered any person guilty (?) before he has personally sinned. While no sinner is remotely capable of achieving salvation through his own effort, we deny that any sinner is saved apart from a free response to the Holy Spirit’s drawing through the Gospel.” In comparison, Pelagius’s position, according to Needham is this: “Pelagius held that all human beings were born into the world as sinless as Adam was before he fell, the apostasy of Adam had not corrupted humanity’s nature . . . Pelagius admitted, of course, that human beings needed God’s grace in order to be good, but he had his own peculiar definition of grace. For Pelagius “grace” really meant two things: (i) God’s gift of natural free-will to all human beings. . . .” I selected the aspects of the respective anthropologies that I think present the greatest similarities between Flowers and Pelagius. While there is not a one-to-one correlation, there is a correlation between the way Flowers believes humanity ‘retained’ a person’s free will, post-fall, and the way Pelagius maintained that human beings were born with an ‘uncorrupted human nature’ as that refers to ‘freewill.’ And as Needham points, out, for Pelagius grace is what fortifies this ‘uncorrupted’ or ‘retained’ (that’s Leighton’s language in his podcasts when attempting to explain his perspective even further) freedom of the will within the human agent. There are some obvious distinctions between Flowers/Baptists and Pelagius, such as Pelagius’s sort of naturalist full-blown moralist soteriology, and the way that Flowers attempts to soften that within a more classical soteriological framework. But what is of concern is the way they share a highly similar theological anthropology, in regard to humanity’s capacity of freewill vis-à-vis salvation. This is the locus classicus that led the early church to identify Pelagius’s teaching as heretical.

There is so much more that can be said. I haven’t even started critiquing Flowers’ position from my own theological program; that will have to wait for another day (if that day ever comes). We haven’t even applied concepts like created grace, a Thomist-Intellectualist anthropology, or considered concepts like operative and cooperative grace when it comes to Flowers’ approach. But I wanted to at least attempt to show how there is a serious and substantial connection between what these Southern Baptists and Flowers teach when compared to what Pelagius taught in regard to the retention of the so called human freewill post-fall. Earlier in my post I noted that I would place Flowers’ position, when considered from the historical valence, into the semi-Pelagian category. I would do this just at the point where we see Flowers/Baptists attempting to dress their soteriological understanding within classical and even orthodox categories, at least linguistically. But when we dress that down, we still end up with this underlying and nagging understanding of a retained ‘freewill’, post-fall, that Pelagius himself taught and was anathematized for. Even in the Deny we paid attention to, the statement says that ultimately the choice is the person’s, as that is understood from what already was affirmed in regard to the retention of human freewill, even if the idea of Pneumatic wooing is referenced. This is what Flowers&company cannot get past. At bottom they affirm that internal to the human agent, it is within the human agent’s power to ‘respond’ or not to the wooing of the Holy Spirit’s prompting. If the person responds in the affirmative to the wooing, Flowers will say this was because of God’s grace; if they reject this wooing, he will say it was because it was in their prerogative to do so because of their freewill. Either way, the response isn’t motivated by grace or no-grace, it is funded by the human agent’s inherent capacity of freewill to either reach out and take hold of God’s grace or not (which if you have read any John Cassian you will also recognize this in him, and his understanding of ‘grace as a hook’). This doesn’t even fit into what Aquinas et al. would refer to as cooperative grace. Grace in Flowers’ et al. approach is always external to the human agent, and this is why Flowers’ soteriological position can rightly be labeled Pelagian. As I reflect on this now, even, the ‘semi’ might not well be applicable at all to his position.

Much to consider. I will leave us with this: good intentions, which Flowers has, a high-piety, which Flowers has, never covers up for bad theology. What Flowers and this set of Southern Baptists are offering is bad theology, and unscriptural at every turn; at least when it comes to thinking about how ‘freedom’ is understood in Scripture’s witness to Jesus Christ.

 

[1] A Statement of the Traditional Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation, accessed 05-17-2020. I have italicized and emboldened all of Article 2; this is where the comparison between Pelagius and Leighton Flowers, and his like-minded Southern Baptists is most acute.

[2] Nick Needham, 2000 Years Of Christ’s Power: Volume 1: The Age Of The Early Church Fathers (Scotland, UK: Christian Focus Publication, 2016), 276.

‘The 5 Points of Arminianism’ and How Evangelical Calvinists are Neither classical Calvinist or Arminian

We hear a lot about the so called 5 points of Calvinism, but rarely, if ever do we hear of the 5 points of the Remonstrants or Arminianism. This is ironic, since the 5 canons or points of Calvinism were in response to the points of Arminianism; this is why the Calvinists had 5 points at all. The Calvinist points were developed at the internationally shaped Council of Dort, held in the Netherlands. The Calvinists felt compelled to respond because the Remonstrants (or Arminians) were gaining too much theological and political ground, and so the Calvinists knew they needed to offer a united front in response. What is interesting about the 5 points of the Remonstrants, is that when you read them what the reader might be surprised by is just how “Calvinist” many of the points sound. For those aware, this makes sense, since historically, Arminius, and his followers were situated in the same sort of theological milieu as their Reformed counterparts. Arminius himself had an elevated view of John Calvin’s Institutes, and in many ways reflects many of the themes, that Calvin developed, in his own work. Further, the Remonstrants, were couched in the scholastic Reformed world, or what has now come to be called Post Reformation Reformed Orthodoxy. As such, the Arminians, as far as their grammatical soundings and theological material and method, will sound and look a lot like the scholastics Reformed. Of course, the Remonstrant theology veers rather dramatically away from Calvinist theology; particularly when it comes to the doctrine of predestination and election. Let’s read what the 5 points of Arminianism entail, and then reflect a bit further on the other side of that:

  1. In the decree of election, God has purposed to save those whom He foreknows will believe and persevere in faith to the end.
  2. Christ by His death has purchased salvation equally for all, but this salvation is enjoyed only through faith.
  3. Fallen human beings are enslaved to sin, and have no innate power to think, will, or do anything spiritually good, unless they are first regenerated by the Holy Spirit.
  4. Divine grace alone enables fallen sinners to think, will, or do anything good; yet this grace is always able to be resisted. The difference between the righteous and the unrighteous is that the former cooperate with grace, but the latter resist it.
  5. Believers are given all the help of grace to persevere to the end; but whether a true believer can reject this grace, return to his sin, and be for ever lost, is a question requiring further investigation from Scripture.[1]

If the reader is interested in reading Arminius’s theological developments in these areas, as those stand behind the 5 points, I would recommend they read his Declaration of Sentiments. It becomes clear why Calvinists would reject these points out of hand; as the TULIP (a 20th century acronym used to make the 5 canons of Dort more memorable) makes unmistakably clear.

As an Evangelical Calvinist I reject the Remonstrant points as they ostensibly make God’s election contingent upon the ‘seen’ faith of people who will believe and persevere; I think this does indeed collapse God’s will into the human will much too closely. Of interest, though, is point 3: it is here that the Calvinists and Arminians can hold hands with great affection. Often Arminians are charged with being Pelagian, or that they grant neutrality to the human will in regard to its capacity to be for God or against Him. As point 3 ought to clarify, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The problem that Calvinists have with the Remonstrants though, on this particular point, is how the Arminians develop that in point 4. The idea that someone could resist God’s grace when offered to them is intolerable to the Calvinist. The Calvinist has a heavy emphasis on God’s brute power as that is given form, in a God-world relation, in the so called decretum absolutum. If a person can thwart God’s will in salvation, which the Calvinist believes point 4 above entails, then the conception of God as almighty and sovereign is undercut; according to the Calvinist. This, of course, is why, in the 5 points of Calvinism (TULIP), we get the “I” of Irresistible Grace.

Some people have charged Evangelical Calvinism, as we have described that, as being more Arminian than Calvinist. They make this claim, because like the Arminian we affirm a universal atonement. They also seem to think that we can be construed as Arminian-like (so Kevin Vanhoozer’s critique of us) because we reject the absolute decree (decretum absolutum) of election and reprobation, at least as those are understood in the Reformed orthodox tradition. Vanhoozer, in particular, maintains that since we have the concept of universal atonement operative in our ‘system’ that this necessarily leads to the idea that either all people will ultimately be ‘saved.’ Since we reject universalism, Vanhoozer and Roger Olson, believe that we operate with an irrationalism in regard to election; since, for Vanhoozer, we don’t have a coherent strategy for understanding why not all will end up repenting, and on the other hand, for Olson, because we likewise do not ostensibly have a limiting factor in regard to who will end up turning to Christ. In other words, because Vanhoozer reads these things through his metaphysic of primary and secondary causation (and Aristotelian frame), he believes that if we affirm a universal atonement, that it only makes sense that all will end up turning to Christ; since there is a one-for-one causal relationship between God’s will in atonement, and God’s will in regard to whom the atonement is for. I.e. If God in Christ dies for all, eo ipso all MUST repent and receive Christ; or, God’s sovereignty has been thwarted and defeated by His creation.

But Evangelical Calvinists evade Vanhoozer’s critique, in particular, and the classical Calvinist critique, in general, insofar that we repudiate the ‘logico-causal necessitarian’ theory of causation that they operate from. In other words, we think it is artificial to think that God must operate from an Aristotelian or Newtonian, or mechanical understanding of a God-world relation. This is not required by Scripture’s disclosure, and more significantly, the Self-revelation of God in Christ of the triune relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit ought to indicate to the theologian that God’s relationship to the world, as His relationship has eternally been in se, is a filial and personal one. As such, if we are going to strictly follow the implications of God’s Self-revelation as the only means by which we might come to know God’s way in Himself and for us, we ought to reject the metaphysic that Vanhoozer and the rest of the classical Calvinists (along with the classical Arminians) operate with; viz. the theory of causation that thinks in the mechanistic terms we have already alluded to. Because Evangelical Calvinists reject the so called ‘classical metaphysic’ of the Great Tradition, and opt for a reified conception of that as that is understood within a so-called ‘Chalcedonian Pattern,’ we elide, indeed, the logico-causal critique against us as if we are Arminian. We might affirm similar things in regard to the extent of the atonement, but that is only a semantic connection, not a material one.

Truth told: classical Calvinists and Arminians have more in common with each other than we do with either Calvinism or Arminianism. Since they both operate from the same intellectual heritage, and seemingly have become stuck in the web of 13th century through 17th century theological metaphysics, they are unable to adequately read the Bible’s reality for all its worth. Thomas Torrance, patron saint of us Evangelical Calvinists, has charted a better way forward, in regard to constructively appropriating modern metaphysical insight towards the reification of theological concepts. In other words, as Torrance notes, we do not live under a Ptolemaic or Newtonian mechanical system; we have arrived at an Einsteinian moment wherein the theory of relativity has undone the way we think about the time-space continuum. Ah, this leads us into another blog post for another time.

[1] Nick Needham, 2000 Years Of Christ’s Power: Volume 4: The Age Of Religious Conflict (Scotland, UK: Christian Focus Publication, 2017), 134.

‘grace itself is mercy’

22 Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
23 They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“Therefore I hope in Him!” –Lamentations 3

Even as a small child sitting in Sunday school when I first heard of God’s mercy and grace, I was introduced to them as a couplet; as if they went together. As I began to read the New Testament for myself, as a small child, I came to see, that in particular, the Apostle Paul would use this couplet as the greeting to many of his epistles. But even back then I can remember trying to wrap my head around these concepts. I remember my Sunday school teacher telling us God’s mercy is Him (negatively) withholding what we do deserve, and on the converse, God’s grace was Him (positively) giving us what we don’t deserve. We can see how even the most basic of understandings, in a sort of ‘Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so’ way, we can, in an elementary approach appreciate some of the deepest truths revealed by God to us in the Gospel reality itself; both mercy and grace, in God’s economy in Christ for us, go hand-in-hand with one another. Can you imagine a God who simply withheld what we deserved from Him, a just God, and then didn’t give us what we don’t deserve: re-conciliation with Him? His mercy wouldn’t mean anything in that scenario; indeed, the only way we come to know of God’s mercy, is first as an experience of His grace embodied for us in the humanity of Jesus Christ. But in this grace, in Christ, we come to understand who God is, and realize that it was His mercy that became the occasion for His grace to assume sinful humanity for Himself, and in this election, to resurrect us afresh and anew as new creations in participation with Christ as the ‘firstborn from the dead.’

Karl Barth brings these realities together in a very beautiful way as he writes:

The mercy of God lies in His readiness to share in sympathy the distress of another, a readiness which springs from His inmost nature and stamps all His being and doing. It lies, therefore, in His will, springing from the depths of His nature and characterizing it, to take the initiative Himself for the removal of this distress. For the fact that God participates in it by sympathy implies that He is really present in its midst, and this means again that He wills that it should not be, that He wills therefore to remove it. We can see at once that the idea of the mercy of God is not evolved logically from a merely general notion of grace. Understood in quite general terms, as the free condescension of a superior to an inferior, it does not necessarily include the superior’s participation in, and determination speedily not to relieve, the distress of the inferior. Grace in itself and in general might equally well mean an unsympathetic and ineffectual inclination on the part of the superior. But we are speaking of the grace of God and therefore of the concrete relationship in which it becomes actual, of His grace towards the one to whom He is gracious. In this relation mercy is included in grace; grace itself is mercy. And by this mark and this alone we recognise the divinity of the love and grace of God: by the fact that it is merciful.[1]

We come to see how, in Barth’s thinking, ‘grace itself is mercy.’ Even in my elementary understanding as a child this would have made sense to me. It is because God enters into our world, our skin and bone, which is grace, that we also come to know that this act is God’s mercy; precisely because it is the obverse of His act, or grace to be us and with us. He gives us, in the concrete, what we don’t deserve—His riches—that by His poverty for us—His mercy (taking for us what we deserved::the Judge judged)—we can be participatio Christi (participants all the way down and up ‘in Christ’). This is the best news I’ve ever heard!

[1] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II/1 §30 The Doctrine of God: Study Edition (London: T&T Clark, 2009), 116.

Jesus is the Image of God For Us: How This Centraldogma Changes Everything

I’ve written, more than once, on the theological anthropological theme of humanity being images of the Image of God or imago Dei. This theme, and its importance cannot be overemphasized, since it is directly related to how humanity is related to God. The primary point of the theme is that when the Christian refers to the imago Dei, what or who we are really referring to, according to the Apostle Paul, is Jesus Christ; he writes:

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. 18 And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.[1]

Notice, for Paul, to be created in the imago Dei is really to be created and recreated in the imago Christi (‘image of Christ’). Our humanity is a gift, it is extra nos (outside of us), it is continuously mediated to us through the intercessory life of Jesus Christ for us (cf. Heb. 7:25). This, what we might call, centraldogma, of the ‘image of Christ,’ is interconnected to a swarm of other theological themes; in particular a doctrine of God, doctrine of Creation (inclusive of protology and eschatology), doctrine of Sin, doctrine of soteriology/anthropology (inclusive of a doctrine of Scripture) so on and so forth. This makes sense, since as Jesus says: “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me” (Jn 5:39). In other words, if all of Scripture, if all of creation, if the whole cosmological sweep is centered upon Jesus Christ as its telos (or purpose), then it would only make sense to see Jesus Christ as the centraldogma of all theological reality. Our humanity, or our image of Godness, is contingent upon Jesus’s image of God for us. All of reality is contingent upon His choice to be this for us. It is a reality that presses into the very essence or esse of what it means to exist before and with God at all.

As my earlier posts have made clear, this theme of the imago Christi, among the Patristics, was of significant importance to Athanasius (later we would be right to think of Maximus the Confessor as well). But even before Athanasius, someone else noticed this theme, mostly in the Pauline corpus; Irenaeus, the theologian who can be closely linked to the Apostle John (through Polycarp), thought in these imago Christi terms as well. He writes:

The Word has saved His creation, humanity, which had perished. Seeking its salvation, He established through Himself that fellowship which should exist between humanity and God. Now, perishing humanity had flesh and blood. . . He Himself, therefore, took flesh and blood, summing up in Himself the Father’s original creation, seeking the race that had perished. That’s why Paul in the Epistle to the Colossians says, “Though you were formerly alienated, and enemies to His knowledge by evil works, yet now you have been reconciled in the body of His flesh, through His death, to present yourselves holy and chaste, and without fault in His sight” (Col. 1:21-22). He says, “You have been reconciled in the body of His flesh,” because the Lord’s righteous flesh has reconciled the flesh that was enslaved in sin, bringing it back into comradeship with God.

If, then, anyone says the Lord’s flesh was different from ours in that it didn’t sin, neither was falsehood found in His soul, while we, conversely, are sinners, this would be true. Yet if anyone claims the Lord had some other substance of flesh than ours, he overthrows the biblical teaching on reconciliation. What is reconciled is what had previously been hostile. But if the Lord had taken flesh from some entity other than humankind, He wouldn’t have reconciled to God the flesh that had become hostile through disobedience. Now, however, through human nature’s union with Himself, the Lord has reconciled humanity to God the Father, by reconciling us to Himself in the body of His own flesh, and redeeming us with His own blood. As Paul says to the Ephesians “In whom we have redemption through His blood, the remission of sins” (Eph. 1:7) . . . Indeed in every Epistle, Paul clearly testifies that we have been saved through the Lord’s flesh and blood.[2]

Reading, Irenaeus words, we might for a moment think we are reading John Calvin on unio cum Christo (union with Christ), or Martin Luther on mirifica commutatio (the wonderful exchange), or Karl Barth and Thomas Torrance, respectively, on a doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ. There is this silver thread woven throughout the whole of historical theology; it is a thread that finds its brilliance and splendor in the fabric of God’s flesh and blood in Jesus Christ.

I am afraid that what has been thwarted upon the Western evangelical churches of the 21st century has kept it from ever delving into the depth dimension of what we are considering here. This focus on Christ, even a so called ‘conciliar Christ,’ is the focus of the New Testament, in particular, and the whole of Holy Scripture, in general! Without this focus the Christian will slide off into abstract scholastic philosophical or turn-to-the-subject discussions that have little to do with these riches. I commend this theme and Christ concentrated focus to you. Start trying to think all things theological from this christological reality. Start thinking the duplex consubstantiality of the singular person of Jesus Christ, who is both fully God and fully human, into all of your theological machinations; you won’t be sorry. You’ll only be sorry if you don’t.

[1] Colossians 1:15-18, NKJV.

[2] Irenaeus cited by Nick Needham in, “Daily Readings, The Early Church Fathers: February 17th ‘Our Flesh and Blood’,” (Scotland: Christian Focus Publications Christian Heritage Imprint, 2017).