Living in the ‘Feeling’ and Reality of Freedom from Sin that God Desires For Us In Christ: From Gestation to Resurrection

I really struggled with a false sense of guilt and condemnation for particular sins from my past for years upon years. The enemy of my soul kept me living under ‘a yoke of bondage’ that Jesus said I ‘would be free indeed’ from. The Lord did not leave me as an orphan though, by the Spirit he ministered to me through a sort of rigorous exercise of training me to think rightly about reality as declared in the evangel of His life as borne witness to in Holy Scripture. After many years of anxiety and depression, particularly stemming from living under this false yoke of condemnation the Lord used the reality of creation and recreation to bring the freedom that I so desperately desired. I am sure that I am not alone in this walk, and so I thought I would share a little bit of how this ‘training’ from the Lord looks; at least the way it looks for me.

As I just intimated a doctrine of creation and recreation, along with God’s sovereign providential care of all reality, played the required roles for me to finally see that I truly was and am free (for God and others). As already noted this sort of education from God was motivated by a crisis—we might refer to it as a theology of crisis—a crisis that brought the realization home that I did not have the resources in myself to bring the freedom that God alone could bring.[1] So how does this relate to God being Creator; and not just in an intellectual sense, but how does that reality relate to these real life spiritual issues in a existential felt manner?

In order to help explain what I’m attempting to detail let me offer a very brief definition of the theological concept creatio ex nihilo (‘creation out of nothing’). Keith Ward offers this definition:

Creatio ex nihilo (Latin for “creation from nothing”) refers to the view that the universe, the whole of space-time, is created by a free act of God out of nothing, and not either out of some preexisting material or out of the divine substance itself. This view was widely, though not universally, accepted in the early Christian Church, and was formally defined as dogma by the fourth Lateran Council in 1215. Creatio ex nihilo is now almost universally accepted by Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Indian theism generally holds that the universe is substantially one with God, though it is usually still thought of as a free and unconstrained act of God.[2]

There are many important theological implications we could explore simply based upon this brief definition, but for our purposes I wanted to inject this definition into this discussion to elevate the idea that God is the Creator, and thus all of creation is contingent upon his Word. It was this idea that God started to use in my life, years ago, before I ever had any understanding of ‘creation out of nothing’, that I could have freedom from my past. This concept, before I knew the theological parlance was captured for me in this Bible verse, “3And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high….” (Heb. 1.3). Interesting how even in this verse the concept of being purified from sins and God’s ‘upholding all things by the word of His power’ are connected. It was this connection that God used to bring freedom for me. The lesson took many years, and was full of ‘anfechtung’ (trial-tribulation). The Lord allowed me to existentially feel the weight of what this world might look like without him as the One holding it together. It is very hard for me to verbalize the sense that I experienced, but it was as if I was questioning all of reality; even physical reality. I would look out at the world and based upon the sort of nihilistic logic that had infiltrated my mind (as a Christian!) over the years I would have this excruciating condition of feeling the transitoriness of all of reality. It was living in this reality, accompanied by ‘intellectual doubts’ (not spiritual) about God’s existence, that of course!, threw me into great pits of despondency and despair. But it was also through this that my perception of reality was transferred from one contingent upon my word—and this world system’s word—to God’s Word. It was this process, ironically, that allowed me to finally understand that “If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?33 Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; 34 who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.” (Rom. 8.31–32) Again, like with the Hebrews passage, we see here in Paul’s theology that a connection is made between freedom from condemnation and the creational reality of God’s Word; except here what is emphasized is not creation in general, but creation in particular as that is particularized in the re-creation of God in Jesus Christ’s resurrection. Once I’d been schooled enough with the reality that ‘reality’ is God’s reality based alone upon his given and sustaining Word; once I could ‘feel’ that weight, not just intellectually, but spiritually-affectively, the resurrection and re-creation therein had the real life impact I personally needed to be ‘free’ and stand fast in the freedom that the Son said I would be free within (Jn. 8.36); his freedom in the re-creation; the resurrection; the new creation; the new humanity that is his for us.

So I had this doctrine of creation out of nothing in place, in a ‘felt’ way; with the emphasis being upon the reality that God alone holds all of reality together. It was within this conceptual frame that the doctrine of re-creation and resurrection came alive for me; in an existential-spiritual-felt and lived sense. This is why Karl Barth’s doctrine of resurrection has resonated with me so deeply. It is tied into the type of ‘primordial’ thinking that creatio ex nihilo operates from—as part and parcel of God’s upholding Word—and then explicates that from within a theology of God’s Word wherein the primacy of Christ’s life is understood as the telos the fulcrum of what created reality is all about. Robert Dale Dawson really helped me to appreciate this sort of connection between creation out of nothing and Barth’s doctrine of re-creation as he wrote this:

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.[3]

Threading out the academic technicalities (that are important in their original context), and focusing on the concepts that serve our purposes, what I draw from this is the significance of what Dawson identifies in Barth’s theology as ‘the primordiality of the resurrection as the singular history-making, yet history-delimiting, act of God.’ Can you see how all of this might provide the sort of apocalyptic freedom we are in need of in order to live the sort of ‘free’ life that God wants us to before him? It does seem rather mechanical and academic; I agree. Let me try to summarize and draw together the themes I’ve been attempting to highlight in order to provide you with a maybe-way forward in your own spiritual walk and life as a Christian.

The Conclusion. It is actually rather basic, but deeply profound; at least for me. What is required is that we ask for eyes of faith to see what God sees in Christ. He will school us in his ways as we seek him first in the Scripture’s reality in Christ. He will work things into our lives that will shorn away the accretions of the ‘worldly-system-wisdom’ with his wisdom; the wisdom of the cross. He will allow you to ‘feel’ the existential weight of his life, and the reality that that upholds, and within this, this apocalyptic reality of his in-breaking life into ours, the reality that the God who could rightly condemn us has broken into the surly contingencies of our sinful lives and become the ‘Judge, judged.’ If the God who holds all reality together by the Word of his power in Jesus Christ invades this world in the Son, takes his just condemnation of our sins (no matter what they are!) upon himself for us, puts that death to death in his death on the cross, and then re-creates all of reality in his resurrection; then there remains no space for condemnation. The One who could condemn me stands in the way and has eliminated the sphere for condemnation insofar that he has re-created a world wherein only his righteousness reigns and dwells in his enfleshed life for us in his Son, Jesus Christ. What I just noted is the key to grasp. There is another world in Christ; a world accessible by the eyes of faith, provided by the eyes of Christ, in his vicarious humanity which we are enlivened into by the Holy Spirit. This is the real reality that Christians live in and from; and it is this reality that I cling to whenever the enemy of my soul wants to bring me into a life of bondage that belongs to the world that he is king over; a world that is dead and no longer real by virtue of the reality of God’s new world re-created and realized in the primacy of Jesus Christ.

I hope this small reflection might help provide some liberation for some of you out there as well. I realize this all might seem pretty academic, but I don’t really see things that way; I’m hoping you’ll see as a result of this post why I don’t see things in terms of the ‘academic.’ I think good theology, whether people think it is “academic” or not can begin to see that at spiritual levels these ideas can have real life impact and consequences, and that God can use them for the good; he did so, and continues to work this way for me. Just recently, as recent as yesterday, the devil tried to bring me back into a sense of false condemnation and guilt, and I found relief in the very ideas I’ve just outlined. The process, in the head, can be somewhat mechanistic, when working through things this way, but, at least for me, it is what is required for to live a life of freedom that God wants me to live in and from his Son, and my Savior, Jesus Christ. Soli Deo Gloria.

 

[1] This might also explain why I have so much resonance with Karl Barth’s theology. Early on Barth was known as a theologian of crisis. Martin Luther’s theology was spawned by deep angst, and his theology is often related to what is known in German as Anfechtung (trial/tribulation). This is why I have found these theologians, among others, as some of my most insightful teachers; they understand that the ‘wisdom of the cross’, that a theologia crucis and a theologia resurrectionis are the key components for knowing God and making him known to others. This is where God meets us; it’s where he knows we must be met if we are going to meet him.

[2] Keith Ward, Creatio Ex Nihilo (Encyclopedia.com), accessed 05-18-2018.

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

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Using Apocalyptic Theology to ‘Re-fund’ the Doctrine of Total Depravity with the Hope of ‘De-funding’ the Pelagian-Impulse in the Christian Church

I don’t have any quotes from someone else in this post; I simply wanted to state something very briefly. Many of my posts are in critique of what I have called classical Calvinism, which is a designation I use to classify the dominant form (in its reception) of ‘Reformed theology’ or Calvinism in its common expressions in the 21st century west (whether that be an elaborate form of federal theology, or a reduced form of five-pointism). That notwithstanding, Evangelical Calvinism, as myself and Myk Habets articulate it (and in this post I am really just speaking for myself) have a strong doctrine of total depravity. That is, we believe that at a moral/spiritual level, theological-anthropologically, there is nothing in humanity but a homo incurvatus in se (human incurved upon themselves); a very Augustinian concept, or more pointedly, I’d argue, Pauline. It is at this point that Evangelical Calvinists can lock-arms with their classical Calvinist cousins; yet, I’d argue, that in many cases this is only in principle (de jure). The intention of articulating a doctrine of total depravity is to take away any sort of Pelagian notion that within humanity there is a neutral spot, a point of contact that remains lively between God and humanity; a point of contact that is not contingent upon God’s choice to be for humanity, but instead upon humanity’s choice to be or not to be for God. We see this principle, the ‘Pelagian-principle’ rearing its head over and over again through the history of interpretation in the church. Whether that be in Pelagius himself, John Cassian following, the Roman Catholic church with its teaching on created and cooperative grace, certain iterations of Reformed federal theology that have a doctrine of preparationism (quid pro quo contractual conception of salvation), or what have you. I contend that this impulse, this Pelagianizing impulse remains a pernicious devil that wants to remain present at all costs; and as such through many forms of sophistication and subtleties we do indeed see it remaining, even in various iterations (significant ones) of so called Christian theology.

As a proponent of what has come to be called ‘Apocalyptic theology’ I think that theology, which I take ultimately to be heavenly and Pauline, has the realistic resources to counter this Pelagian-impulse; in the sense that apocalyptic theology takes seriously the radicality required in order to deal with the human-inspired desire to continuously inject itself into the realm that alone belongs to God. Apocalyptic theology ultimately recognizes that creation is in such a dire place of irreconciliation with God that its only hope is if God breaks into his creation in Jesus Christ, puts it to death, resurrects and recreates such that creation itself only has hope if it lives from this new creation whose name is Jesus Christ. Apocalyptic theology sees nothing of value left in the old creation (in the sense of a moral component left in humanity before God), and by consequent, Pelagianism, and all its Genesis 3.15ish iterations go the way of the ‘stony ground.’ Humanity, soteriologically, only has hope as it lives from the reality of the new creation, from the new humanity in Jesus Christ; the humanity whose reality is only realized by the person of the eternal Logos, the Son of God, who we now know as Jesus Christ (an/enhypostasis).

We need to constantly repent and live from Christ. Total depravity recognizes the dangers of presuming a place in humanity that has spark for God apart from God’s intervention in Christ. Sometimes people who are proponents of total depravity in word, in deed end up undercutting the intention of total depravity by offering theological models and constructs that end up re-inserting the very premises that total depravity was intended to guard against (think of ‘created grace’ for example).

The AChristological Focus of Covenant Theology: A Note on What in Fact is Being Retrieved in the Reformed ‘Resurgence’

The ‘resurgence’ of Reformed theology in the conservative evangelical sub-culture and beyond continues, but what is being retrieved in this recovery of the so called ‘doctrines of grace?’ In this post I wanted to briefly highlight an emphasis, or lack thereof, that is present in the style of Reformed theology that is currently being recovered. It might be argued that the English and American Puritan forms of Reformed theology represent a type of flowering or blossoming of the Post Reformed orthodox theology that developed most formidably in the 16th and 17th centuries; indeed we see an organic overlap between these developments, something of the theoretical/doctrinal (i.e. ‘school theology’) moving to the applied practical outworking in the Puritan experiment. It is this period that is being looked to as the resource that is supposed to revitalize and reorient the wayward evangelical churches of the 21st century. But again, I ask, what in fact is being recovered; what is present, theologically, by way of emphasis that is informing the reconstructive work being done by the theologians presently involved in this effort?

Janice Knight in her book Orthodoxies in Massachusetts: Rereading American Puritanism offers some helpful insight on the role that reception of William Ames’s form of Puritanism, his ‘Intellectual’ style, had in regard to shaping what we even now are seeing in the recovery of Federal or Covenantal theology. What you will note, and this has been the source of my own critique, along with others of Federal theology, is the lack of focus on the personal Christ, with an alternative focus, instead, on a legal contract (Divine Pactum) and its conditions. You will notice, through Knight’s analysis, that Christ is seen more as an instrument of meeting the conditions of the covenant (of works/grace). Knight writes at length:

Students of the period have long regarded this preference for the functional rather than the personal Christ as characteristic of all Puritan preachers. John Eusden, for example, draws a sharp distinction between Lutheran and Reformed christology, arguing that Luther’s emphasis on the mystery of incarnation was never of crucial importance to English divines: “The Christocentrism of Martin Luther is not shared by most English Puritans . . . The incarnation . . . was not a mystery in which man should lose himself.” A chorus of scholars has echoed this conclusion, arguing that Puritans “minimized the role of the Savior in their glorification of the sovereignty of the Father.” Their means was to focus on the ascended Christ and their purpose was “as far as mortals could” to emphasize the distance between heaven and earth.” The only bridge was the contractual covenant, not the personal Christ.

This argument is confirmed by the structure as well as the content of the Marrow. The person and life of Christ are only briefly treated, and again in language that is figurally abstract. Christ as agent of the covenant assumes center stage in the Marrow. This emphasis on Christ’s legal function effectively forces Ames’s discussion away from godly essence and toward divine omnipotence.

Ames’s real interest is indeed the efficiency or the “working power of God by which he works all things in all things.” Other aspects of God’s nature are subordinated to this application of power. “the meaning both of the essence of God and of his subsistence shines forth in his efficiency.” In this somewhat surprising move, Ames collapses distinctions he had been careful to establish: “The power of God, considered as simple power, is plainly identical with his sufficiency.” In these statements Ames shifts the focus of divinity from a mediation on the being of God (esse) to his performance (operati) in the world—from God’s nature ad intra to his being ad extra.

This stress on the exercise of power is inscribed in the works of Ames’s disciples as well. Again, the caveat obtains: while they celebrated the beauty of Christ and the blessings of grace, on balance preachers like Hooker, Shepard, and Bulkeley focused on the functional application not the indwelling of Christ. It is not God as he is in himself, but as he deals with the sinner that engages them—God as exacting lord, implacable judge, or demanding covenanter. God is imagined as the creditor who will “have the utmost farthering” due him, or the landlord pressing his claim. Repeatedly, Hooker refers to Christ as “Lord Jesus,” or “Lord Christ”—terms which are found with far less frequency in the writings of Sibbes and Cotton. To be sure, this is a loving God, but he is also a “dreadful enemy,” an “all-seeing, terrible Judge,” a consuming infinite fire” of wrath.

And when these preachers use familial tropes to describe God’s dealings, they often warn that loving fathers are also harsh disciplinarians; there is “no greater sign of God’s wrath than for the Lord to give thee thy swing as a father never looks after a desperate son, but lets him run where he pleases.” Though God is merciful, if is a mercy with measure, “it is to a very few . . . it is a thousand to one if ever . . . [one] escape this wrath to come.” Such restriction of the saving remnant is of course an axiom of Reformed faith, but one that Sibbes rarely stressed. On the other hand, Hooker and Shepard’s God often acts by “an holy kind of violence,” holding sinners over the flames or plucking them from sin at his pleasure. This God wounds humankind, hammers and humbles the heart until it is broken.

Divine sovereignty also animates Hooker’s description of conversion as royal conquest and dominion: Christ is like “the King [who] taketh the Soveraigne command of the place where he is, and if there be any guests there they must be gone, and resigne up all the house to him: so the Lord Jesus comes to take soveraigne possession of the soule.” With sins banished and the heart pledged to a new master, the saint begins the long journey of sanctification. This repetition of the language of lordship insists not only on the centrality of domination in conversion but in the general tenor of human/divine relations—abjection replaces the melted heart so often imagined by Cotton and Sibbes.[1]

This helps summarize what I have been writing on for many years; writing against in fact! It is this harsh version of ‘Calvinism’ that became orthodoxy in New England and North America at large; it is this version of Reformed theology that is currently being retrieved for purposes of revitalization for the evangelical churches in North America and elsewhere. But we see the emphasis that is being imported into the evangelical church world; an emphasis wherein Jesus Christ is underemphasized as the centrum of salvation, instead instrumentalized as the organ that keeps the heart of Federal theology pumping.

The concern, at least mine, is that pew sitters sitting under such ‘recovery’ are getting this type of theology; one where Jesus Christ is not the center, instead the contract, the covenant of works/grace is. The emphasis of salvation, and the correlating spirituality present in this framework does not provide the type of existential contact with the living God that there ought to be; at least according to Scripture. We see Knight mention folks like Richard Sibbes and John Cotton; they offered an alternative focus juxtaposed with what we just surveyed. They offer an emphasis upon God’s triune love, and his winsome character; they focus on God in Christ as the Bridegroom and we the Bride. Evangelical Calvinists, like me, work within the Sibbesian emphasis, albeit informed further by folks like Karl Barth’s and Thomas Torrance’s theological loci. I invite you to the genuinely evangelical focus we are offering by seeing Christ as the center of all reality, in particular salvation, and within this emphasis we might experience what it is to have a participatory relationship with the living God mediated through the second person of the trinity, enfleshed, Jesus Christ.

 

[1] Janice Knight, Orthodoxies in Massachusetts: Rereading American Puritanism (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1994), 77-8.

*Artwork: Gwen Meharg, He Will Not Snuff Out!accessed 05-09-2018.

The Prius of God’s Life IS God’s Life of Triune Personal Love: An Alternative Account of Predestination Referred to God’s Life

Predestination that shibboleth of Reformed theology; it has been shibboleth to me as well. Predestination is the idea that God arbitrarily elects particular people to eternal life, and chooses that others either remain (passive) reprobate or are (active) reprobate with no actual hope for eternal life. This approach to a God-world relation relies upon a philosophical theory of causation of the sort that we find in Aristotle’s theology; a theory of causation that relegates God’s relation to the world to a set of necessary commitments—primary of which is that God is the Unmoved Mover (e.g. impassibility; immuatability). Without getting into the details of what this theory of causation entails specifically I will refer us instead to the Westminster Confession of Faith’s (WCF) chapter three where it confesses what it thinks about a God-world relation in the doctrine of Predestination:

Chapter III

Of God’s Eternal Decree

I. God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established. II. Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions; yet has He not decreed anything because He foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions. III. By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death. IV. These angels and men, thus predestinated, and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished. V. Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to His eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of His will, has chosen, in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of His mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith, or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving Him thereunto; and all to the praise of His glorious grace. VI. As God has appointed the elect unto glory, so has He, by the eternal and most free purpose of His will, foreordained all the means thereunto. Wherefore, they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ by His Spirit working in due season, are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by His power, through faith, unto salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only. VII. The rest of mankind God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of His own will, whereby He extends or withholds mercy, as He pleases, for the glory of His sovereign power over His creatures, to pass by; and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praise of His glorious justice. VIII. The doctrine of this high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care, that men, attending the will of God revealed in His Word, and yielding obedience thereunto, may, from the certainty of their effectual vocation, be assured of their eternal election. So shall this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God; and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation to all that sincerely obey the Gospel.[1]

For its time and place this might have been the best the Westminster Divines could do; viz. with the theological categories they had available to them—although that is contestable, given the reality that there were counter voices within the Reformed world at that time who emphasized a God of immediate personal love (think, Richard Sibbes). But we live in the 21st century, and time has passed; reflection has been undertaken; theological categories have developed; and I would suggest that the Gospel can be better for it. Thomas Torrance under the influence of Athanasius and Karl Barth (and Michael Polyani, Clerk Maxwell, Einstein et al.) offers an alternative account of Predestination wherein the reference is not individual people scattered throughout the annals of created history, but instead the reference is God’s life in Christ. In other words, Pre-destination, in Torrance’s theology, and Evangelical Calvinist theology after, refers to God’s life in Christ, his choice to be for the world and not against it, his prothesis grounded in who he is as eternal Triune love. For Torrance God’s life of love just is the inner-factor that grounds his choice to be Immanuel, God with us. This is counter the ad hoc choice of God we see orienting the doctrine of predestination in the theology of the Westminsterians; a choice that he makes based upon his secret will hidden in the recesses of his remote life that remains inaccessible (Deus absconditus) even with the revelation (Deus revelatus) of Godself in Christ. In other words, again as both Barth and Torrance would say, there is a ‘god behind the back of Jesus’ in the Westminsterian schema such that we aren’t ultimately sure of why God does what he does; only that he indeed does it. But this isn’t concordant with Holy Scripture or the reality it attests to in Jesus Christ. What we know is that God does what he does because he is love, of the sort that shapes his response to the human predicament by electing to be human, and giving his life in Christ for the sheep. What we know is that God acts in personal and intimately driven ways, filial ways, of the sort that inhere eternally between the Father and the Son by the fellowshipping love of the Holy Spirit. Place this up against the Westminsterian conception of God in the doctrine of predestination and see if it coheres.

Paul Molnar, as he develops Thomas Torrance’s theology (and Barth’s) of predestination offers a wonderful account of all that we have just been sketching. Let me offer, at length, his considerations, and commend them to you. As Evangelical Calvinists, what follows, by way of description of Torrance’s theology, is what shapes our own approach to a doctrine of Pre-destination.

The second important thing to notice is that Torrance insists that in Jesus Christ we are confronted with “the eternal decision of God’s eternal love. In Jesus Christ, therefore, eternal election has become temporal event.” But that means that election is not “some static act in a still point of eternity.” Rather it is “eternal pre-destination, moving out of its eternal prius into time as living act that from moment to moment confronts people in Jesus Christ.” Hence, “the ‘pre’ in predestination refers neither to a temporal nor to a logical prius, but simply to God Himself, the Eternal.” This is a vital insight. For Torrance, while we tend to think of eternity “as strung out in an infinite line with past, present, and future though without beginning and without end, in the form of an elongated circular time,” this must not lead us to suppose that there is a “worldly prius” in God, because that would introduce immediately a “logical one” as well. If and when predestination is brought within the compass of created time, then it would be thought of within the “compass of the temporal-causal series” and “interpreted in terms of cause and effect,” and this would necessarily lead to determinism, which is the very opposite of what is actually affirmed in the “pre” of predestination. Torrance says the “pre” in predestination, when rightly understood, is “the most vigorous protest against determinism” known to Christian theology. Since the “pre” in predestination does not refer to a “prius to anything here in space and time,” it cannot be construed as “the result of an inference from effect to first cause, or from relative to absolute, or to any world-principle.” Rather, because election is “in Jesus Christ,” the “pre” does not take election “out of time” but “grounds it in an act of the Eternal which we can only describe as ‘per se’ or ‘a se.’” That means it is grounded “in the personal relations of the Trinity” so that “because we know God to be Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we know the Will of God to be supremely Personal—and it is to that Will that predestination tells us our salvation is to be referred.”

But we can make that reference only “if that Will has first come among us and been made personally known. That has happened (ἐγένετο) in Christ, and in Him the act of predestination is seen to be the act of creative Grace in the communion of the Holy Spirit.” Election thus refers to God’s “choice or decision” and “guarantees to us the freedom of God. His sovereignty, His omnipotence is not one that acts arbitrarily, nor by necessity, but by personal decision. God is therefore no blind fate, no immanent force acting under the compulsion of some prius or unknown law within His being.” The importance of emphasizing choice here concerns the fact that election cannot involve any necessity without becoming immediately a form of determinism. Instead, election refers to God’s freedom “to break the bondage of a sinful world, and to bring Himself into personal relations with man”; election refers to a personal action from God’s side and from the human side. Hence it is an act that creates personal relations. While God freely creates our human personal relations, human freedom is “essentially dependent freedom,” while “the divine freedom is independent, ‘a se’ freedom; the freedom of the Creator as distinguished from the freedom of the creature.” In this connection Torrance describes election as “an act of love.” It means that “God has chosen us because He loves us, and the He loves us because He loves us.”

That may sound a bit strange. But it is loaded comment, because what Torrance means is that if we try to get behind this act of God’s love toward us to find a reason beyond the simple fact that God loves us because he does, we will end up turning God’s free love of us into a necessity in one way or another and thus once again compromise both divine and human freedom in the process. So Torrance insists,

The reason why God loves us is love. To give any other reason for love than love itself, whether it be a reason in God Himself, such as an election according to some divine prius that precedes Grace, or whether it be in man, is to deny love, to disrupt the Christian apprehension of God and to condemn the world to chaos! [Torrance, “Predestination in Christ,” 117]

Election is Christ the beloved Son of the Father, and the act of election in him is once and for all, a perfectum praesens, an eternal decision that is ever present. God’s eternal decision does not halt or come to rest at any particular point or result, but is dynamic, and ever takes the field in its identity with the living person of Chirst. [Torrance, “Predestination in Christ,” 117]

Hence it is “contemporary with us” and summons us to decision as to who we say he is. Here we must confront more directly the relationship between time and eternity. How exactly can one maintain that election is an eternal decision without reducing the eternal love between the Father and Son to the love of God enacted in the history of Jesus Christ for us? How can one maintain the strength of Torrance’s insight that creation and incarnation are new acts even for God without obviating the power contained in the assertion that Jesus Christ is the ever-present act of God’s electing love?[2]

Molnar leaves off with some questions that alert us to the discussion and critique he has been making in regard to a McCormackian reading of Barth’s theology, in particular. But that does not currently concern us. I wanted to share this very lengthy quote (and thus risk losing blog readers who typically won’t go beyond 1500 words) in order to provide insight into theology that I rarely see shared online; at least not in the context of Reformed theology. People need to know that Reformed theology is expansive, but they also need to appreciate that Christian theology in general isn’t ultimately about being able to align with that interpretive tradition, or this; but instead what we should really care about is whether or not what is being communicated is most proximate with the Gospel itself.

What I hope you have come to see is that God loves us because he just is, LOVE! I hope you can see that there is a way to think of soteriological issues from within the concrete revelation of God’s life in Jesus Christ; and that from that vantage point how we conceive of the God-world relation ought to be thought of in personal rather than abstract terms. Theological systems are often averse to thinking in personal and relational terms because they are afraid that this reduces God-thought to an existentialist frame of reference (oh no, not that!), or that it so subjectivizes God that theology becomes a form of anthropology (the boogeyman, Schleiermacher). But within the theologies of Barth, Torrance et al. what becomes apparent is that none of those fears are true. If we want to think about Predestination properly then we ought to think it from God’s Self-revelation itself; where the Son of the Father is the primary means by which we understand God to be—in other words in personal terms.

[1]Westminster Confession of Faith.

[2] Paul D. Molnar, Faith, Freedom and the Spirit: The Economic Trinity in Barth, Torrance and Contemporary Theology (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2015), 202-05.

Why Do Theology? On the Analogia Nebuchadnezzaro

Why do theology? Is it for the fame and fortune? No. It’s because, personally, without the constant pursuit towards a growing and intimate knowledge of God I could not function. After I came to Christ when I was 3.5 I was given a new heart, the ‘heart of flesh’ that the Apostle Paul and the Prophet Ezekiel wrote about; along with this my head was also rewired, hard-wired in fact, in such a way that reality from that point onward could only make sense if it found its ongoing ever afresh ever anew ground in a growing knowledge of the living God Self revealed in Jesus Christ. Outside of this reality, for me as a Christian anyway, everything else is non-real; there is only One reality that has the capacity to stitch all of reality together in an affectively and cognitively satisfying way. So I began to grow—in other words I didn’t stay 3.5 up and till now—and I lived into this reality, into real reality as the Holy Spirit worked and wooed in my life. As I grew older I had an ever greater appreciation for what Jesus had done, and the cylinders of my new mind and heart were firing rapidly. But a time came when I was subtly seduced into a realm where my mind and heart were completely out of place. There was a season of time that I didn’t really catch how out of place everything was. But because the God I have a relationship with is so merciful and full of grace He allowed me to see and feel (through anxiety) just exactly how out of place I had become. I had sown to my flesh continuously, to the point that great scales had grown over my eyes—the eyes of my heart and mind—and God removed those scales to let me see just exactly where I’d gotten myself. My heart and mind really had nowhere to rest; it was an excruciating experience that would extend out for years.

But remember, I noted that God graciously re-opened my eyes to the reality I had constructed for myself; a reality that was a house full of idols; a reality that my new heart and mind could not decipher or attach to. God, through His Word, began to deconstruct the false-realm I’d created, and displaced it once again with the concrete bodily reality of His recreated world that He had accomplished through His Self giveneness in His humanity in the eternal Son of God, the Man from Nazareth, the One who is homoousios with the Father and humanity, Jesus Christ. I began to feel a real peace, a real solidity in the world that God had called me into in the new creation of the Son. My affective and intellectual cylinders began to fire again, and the blood-life provided by the Son of the Father in my life, in and through my new heart, began to flow and brought life to my frontal lobe and the rest of my brain. I could once again look out at the world, and have a sense of place; and yet this time it was even lighter than it had been before in my younger years. This time I had to walk through a wilderness, a slough in order to come to the sanity that only comes as my new heart and mind are at coalescence with their source in the vicarious heart and mind that Jesus Christ has for me in His life pro me.

Even in this strange newer world there are these cycles where it seems the light of life ebbs even brighter, but then flows into a season of shadows; only then for the light to shine through the shadows with more clarity than before. Biblically all I can think of in order to illustrate this is found in II Corinthians 3: “18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” There is this ongoing transformative aspect, a growing-maturation process that is a work started by God in Christ that He will continue until beatific vision finally comes.

This is why I do theology. I have come to know, without question, that Jesus alone speaks the words of eternal life, and thus I have nowhere else to go. If I try to live a life without doing theology I experience cognitive dissonance of the sort that it literally will drive me mad. My soul needs theology like my body needs oxygen; without it I die, and dying sucks.

33 Immediately the word was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws. 34 At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; 35 all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” Daniel 4:33–35

18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. II Peter 3:18

 

 

A Response to Kevin DeYoung’s Response to Tom McCall’s Christianity Today Article on the Atonement: A ‘Depth Dimensional’ Consideration

Christianity Today shared an article written by professor Tom McCall (a friend of mine) just as we were upon Good Friday; it had to do with the atonement and the cry of dereliction ‘My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken Me?’ that Jesus cried out on the cross. Kevin DeYoung, a few days following offered a response article via The Gospel Coalition. In conclusion he challenges McCall’s reading this way:

Hodge would agree with McCall’s point that Christ did not suffer exactly what sinners deserve, but would McCall agree with Hodge that Christ suffered the weight of what sinners deserved? More to the point, would he agree with Hodge’s understanding of forensic satisfaction? “The essence of the penalty of the divine law,” Hodge writes, “is the manifestation of God’s displeasure, the withdrawal of the divine favor. This Christ suffered in our stead. He bore the wrath of God.” For sinners this would lead to “hopeless perdition,” but for Christ it meant “a transient hiding of the Father’s face” (473). And lest this be confused with a breach of Trinitarian relations, Hodges makes clear that the “satisfaction of Christ” was a “matter of covenant between the Father and the Son” (472).

Granted, McCall is from the Wesleyan-Arminian tradition, so he may deny all that Calvin and Hodge affirm. But at the very least, they show us a way to deny what McCall wants to deny—a crass Father versus Son Trinitarian breach—while still affirming a wrath-satisfying, God-appeasing, Father-turns-his-face-away penal substitutionary atonement. Whether this way is a better way is beyond scope of this post. But for my part, it’s hard to understand why Christ would ask for the cup to be taken from him unless he believed it to be the cup of God’s wrath that he would drink to the bitter dregs for sinners like us. (source)

DeYoung, predictably, is arguing, because he’s concerned, that McCall just might not really be on board with the classical Protestant understanding of Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA) after all. We see this particularly as DeYoung leaves off with this quip: “But for my part, it’s hard to understand why Christ would ask for the cup to be taken from him unless he believed it to be the cup of God’s wrath that he would drink to the bitter dregs for sinners like us.” Yet, this makes one wonder, at least it makes me wonder, does DeYoung really think that “God’s wrath” can only be understand from a forensic/juridical frame? Indeed, I’m positive this is the only way that DeYoung sees God’s wrath vis-à-vis the atoning cross-work of Christ.

But this clearly is not the only way, nor should it be construed as THE way wherein God’s wrath is most severely focused. As an Evangelical Calvinist I will contend, along with Thomas Torrance et al., that the source of God’s wrath is ultimately creational rather than juridical; that what God is most wrathful of is that his good and very good creation has been polluted by the dregs of sin to the point that God’s intended desire to fellowship with us in the ‘cool of the Garden’ was disrupted. In other words, what it means to be human was distorted to the point that its intended telos or purpose has lost orientation; that human being itself has become so sub-humanized that the only hope was for God to assume humanity, all the way down to the very heart of it all, and redeem through recreation/resurrection from that depth; to rehumanize through the recreation wrought by the resurrection of the forever God-human, Jesus Christ. This was the ultimate source of God’s wrath; that a foreigner like sin would seek to so disrupt his good and very good plan that his love fellowship with his graciously created counter-points in creation was lost. Yes, the forensic was present, but there is no forensic without the creation first—noting not only the logical but chronological and priority of the ground of ‘being’ that precedes all else.

In an attempt to detail this further let me share something I have written previously with the hopes of potentially identifying one way in which there is a greater depth, and as such, a greater wrath of God to be understood in and through the revelation of Godself in the atoning work of Jesus Christ; a work that started in the manger (temporally). You will see, I hope, how what I’ve written applies to this current discussion; and you might see further how it’s possible to think of God’s wrath with greater theological acuity than DeYoung himself seems to think. Beyond that, it identifies the type of space that I think McCall might just have been suggesting is needed in discussions like this one.

For Thomas Torrance the atonement is the contradiction of sin by which Godself inserts himself into the brokenness and fallen-ness of our humanity, through the humanity of Christ, and by so doing vanquishes sin—its death and destruction—by his very own and sui generis being as God and man in Christ. We left off in the last post referring to sin in the theology of Torrance, let me briefly touch upon that further here.

For Torrance sin isn’t simply a transactional or legal situation it is something that touches the deepest reaches of what it means to be a human being; it sub-humanizes people because it disintegrates the koinonial bond that was originally inherent to what it meant for a human to be a human created in the image of God as an image of the image who is Christ (cf. Col. 1.15). This is why for Torrance, and us Evangelical Calvinists following, what was required in the atonement was that our very beings as human beings be recreated in the human being that Jesus assumed enhypostatically as the man from Nazareth. You won’t find this type of penetrative consideration in the forensic framing of atonement that you find in Federal or Covenantal theology; or for that matter, as a subset, what you find in more basic accounts of Reformed theology as we see typified in what is popularly called Five-Point-Calvinism.

Here is an example of how Torrance thinks about the depth dimension of salvation/atonement:

On the cross, the oneness of God and man in Christ is inserted into the midst of our being, into the midst of our sinful existence and history, into the midst of our guilt and death. The inserting of the oneness of God and man into the deepest depths of human existence in its awful estrangement from God, and the enactment of it in the midst of its sin and in spite of all that sin can do against it, is atonement. In a profound sense, atonement is the insertion of the union into the very being of our alienated and fallen humanity. That insertion of oneness by atonement results in koinōnia, in the church as the communion in which Christ dwells, and in which we are made partakers of the divine nature. The koinōnia thus created by the atonement and resurrection of Christ is fully actualised in our midst by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and is maintained by the power of the Spirit as the church continues in the fellowship of word and sacrament….[1]

As we have been emphasizing, for Torrance, and then us Evangelical Calvinists in his wake, salvation is an ontological occurrence; of necessity. The Apostle Paul is quite clear about the depth and reach of sin’s impact, which is why he emphasizes creational and new creational themes so frequently (cf. II Cor. 5:17; Rom. 8:18ff; Col. 1:15ff; etc.). Torrance along with a part of the Christian tradition simply notes this reality in the Apostolic deposit found in the New Testament and seeks to develop the inner logic being presupposed upon by Apostles like Paul et al.

Here is one more example of how Torrance thinks salvation. Here we have an example of what Torrance calls the ‘ontological theory of the atonement,’ it is in line with what we just read from him previously:

It is above all in the Cross of Christ that evil is unmasked for what it actually is, in its inconceivable wickedness and malevolence, in its sheer contradiction of the love of God incarnate in Jesus Christ, in its undiluted enmity to God himself—not to mention the way in which it operates under the cover of the right and the good and the lawful. That the infinite God should take the way of the Cross to save mankind from the pit of evil which has engulfed it and deceived it, is the measure of the evil of evil: its depth is revealed to be ‘absymal’ (literally, ‘without bottom’). However, it is only from the vantage point of God’s victory over evil in the resurrection of Christ, from the bridge which in him God has overthrown across the chasm of evil that has opened up in our violence and death and guilt, that we may look into the full horror of it all and not be destroyed in the withering of our souls through misanthropy, pessimism, and despair. What hope could there ever be for a humanity that crucifies the incarnate love of God and sets itself implacably against the order of divine love even at the point of its atoning and healing operation? But the resurrection tells us that evil, even this abysmal evil, does not and cannot have the last word, for that belongs to the love of God which has negated evil once and for all and which through the Cross and resurrection is able to make all things work together for good, so that nothing in the end will ever separate us from the love of God. It is from the heart of that love in the resurrected Son of God that we may reflect on the radical nature of evil without suffering morbid mesmerization or resurrection and crucifixion events, which belong inseparably together, has behind it the incarnation, the staggering fact that God himself has come directly into our creaturely being to become one of us, for our sakes. Thus the incarnation, passion, and resurrection conjointly tell us that far from evil having to do only with human hearts and minds, it has become entrenched in the ontological depths of created existence and that it is only from within those ontological depths that God could get at the heart of evil in order to destroy it, and set about rebuilding what he had made to be good. (We have to think of that as the only way that God ‘could’ take, for the fact that he has as a matter of fact taken this way in the freedom of his grace excludes any other possibility from our consideration.) It is surely in the light of this ontological salvation that we are to understand the so-called ‘nature of miracles’, as well as the resurrection of Jesus from death, for they represent not a suspension of the natural or created order but the very reverse, the recreation of the natural order wherever it suffers from decay or damage or corruption or disorder through evil. God does not give up his claim that the creation is ‘good’, but insists on upholding that claim by incarnating within the creation the personal presence of his own Logos, the creative and ordering source of the creation, thereby pledging his own eternal constancy and rationality as the ground for the redemption and final establishment of all created reality.[2]

We see the ontological aspect noted once again, and even further we see Torrance, in step with Barth, highlighting how even the knowledge and depth of sin can really only be understood Christologically; as we understand its depths through dwelling upon the reality of what actually was required for salvation to be accomplished. We see in this quote components that we find in Patristic thinkers like Athanasius, and even Maximus the Confessor; particularly as the latter gets into proposing things along the lines of the logoi thread that is interwoven throughout the created order as its taxis or order.

These are ways into a discussion about the atonement and salvation that are lacking, typically, in the Western mode. John Calvin, though, is an exception to this rule; and we could say this is because of his hyper-Christ concentrated approach. If a thinker genuinely focuses on the deep Christologicalness we find in the New Testament it is almost an axiom that that thinker will end up pressing into union with Christ themes that look something like what we find in Torrance’s presentation. Federal theology and the Post Reformation Reformed orthodox theology does not have this emphasis when thinking salvation; it is framed forensically and under a legal strain, necessarily, precisely because their hermeneutical system starts with a Covenant of Works only to be succeeded by the Covenant of Grace. Some will argue that this does not give Covenant theology a necessary legal character, but I think the proof is in the pudding.

[1] Thomas F. Torrance, Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2008), 173.

[2] Thomas F. Torrance, Divine And Contingent Order (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981), 115-16.

‘Inheriting the Kingdom’: A Theological-Exegetical Consideration of Galatians 5:21b, Salvation Maintained, Lost, or Never Present

Recently I heard reference in a sermon to Galatians 5:19-21, this passage:

penance16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness,self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (ESV)

Since I don’t have the space to do an exegetical analysis of this whole pericope (or unit of thought), I will focus on the last clause of verse 21, since that, indeed, is what I want to discuss in regard to the sermon that I heard just last Sunday, and how this was appealed to and applied. The following will be a brief exegetical consideration, and then a theological engagement with the implications of taking this clause a particular way.

The appeal, almost in passing, that I heard made to this clause (v. 21b), “… I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God …,” was troubling. If I were to give the pastor the benefit of the doubt I might conclude that he just passed through this too quickly without giving the necessary context for what he actually meant when he appealed to it. But since he indeed did move too quickly with this passage, and this clause about not inheriting the kingdom if there is sin in our life, let me take it the way, by implication, that it could have been taken in the way it was communicated. In other words, let me tease out the negative conclusion one might draw if they were to internalize and take to heart what this pastor said about the relationship of sin, and the inheriting of the kingdom have with each other. To be clear, the pastor claimed that if a person has continual sin (of the kind listed in Galatians 5:18-21a) in their life, that they will not inherit salvation. Left to itself, this pronouncement could be very troubling for the thoughtful and internalizing among us. Left to itself here is what this sentiment could sound like: The Christian Thinker: I have sin in my life that I struggle with daily, in fact I am sure that I have sin in my life that I am not even aware of because I am a born sinner, and if I have continual sin in my life and person, according to what the pastor just communicated I am not going to inherit eternal life, I am not saved, nor will I be saved in the future if Jesus comes back or I die in a moment of sin. I am hopelessly lost then, even as a Christian; I mean I have continual sin in my life, and it is constant, it is as if I move from one sin to the next.*

There seems to be, underlying the premise this pastor is working from, a doctrine of ‘perfectionism.’ In other words, if we logically play this out and reduce it to its conclusion, the sentiment pronounced by this pastor seems to require a level of perfectionism achieved in the Christian’s life. Or at least there seems to be a requirement on behalf of the would-be Christian to stay in a posture of movement toward God, driven by their own ‘will-power’ which ultimately is rewarded with eternal life (i.e. ‘inheriting the kingdom’). In fact what this pastor communicated sounds eerily close to the medieval Roman Catholic conception of salvation articulated by theologians such as Thomas Aquinas, William of Ockham, and Gregory Biel. Aquinas provides the traditional Roman Catholic conception of salvation; Steven Ozment gives a summary of Thomas’ view of salvation:

1. Gratuitous infusion of grace 2. Moral cooperation: doing the best one can with the aid of grace 3. Reward of eternal life as a just due[1]

And here is William of Ockham’s and Gregory Biel’s variation of the traditional “Thomist” Roman Catholic view of and order of salvation:

1. Moral effort: doing the best one can on the basis of natural ability 2. Infusion of grace as an appropriate reward

3. Moral cooperation: doing the best one can with the aid of grace 4. Reward of eternal life as a just due[2]

Left to itself, without further explanation, I think this pastor’s pronouncement on Galatians 5:21b sounds most closely related to Thomas Aquinas’ view on the order of salvation. Knowing the pastor I do not believe what he said would fit well with Ockham’s or Biel’s variation of Thomas’ order of salvation (Ockham and Biel would both be a full Pelagian understanding of salvation, while Thomas’ would just be semi-Pelagian). Nevertheless, there is a deep theological problem with this; it has to do with number 2, in particular, vis-à-vis Thomas’ view. The way this pastor articulated what he did, ‘sounds’ like the idea that the person must cooperate with God in maintaining their salvation; ultimately rewarded with ‘inheriting the kingdom’ or eternal life. But in what way can this actually be said to be biblical when tempered with the weightier reality of what we know of God’s grace (ironically we know of some of this from the epistle of Galatians itself!)? If we can cooperate with God in our salvation with the aid of grace, what does this say about our concept of grace (it makes it sound like a thing a ‘created thing’ that we can manipulate per our own desire to have eternal life)?

I am going to have to end this post here; I will follow it up later with a part two getting further into some theological consideration, and exegetical analysis. But I wanted to bookmark this topic as it is on my heart even now, since I believe this is a serious issue, and not something we ought to gloss over or throw the mystery card at (we have too much teaching for that, in both the history of interpretation and with straight exegesis).

*A caveat is usually made here, the caveat is: “I am just referring to someone who habitually remains in sin.” But I will contest that this caveat, left to itself is too easy, and in fact is a cop-out, at least without further explanation. If the person/pastor is going to make this caveat (and I am not just referring to the pastor in my post), then they need to flesh out what this habitual continuation in sin means. It is too subjective to make such an assertion without explaining if there are certain thresholds of habituation in sin that must be met before becoming disqualified for eternal life or what. There is also the question here of whether someone believes salvation can be ‘lost’, or would Paul be talking about someone who was never saved to begin with? Or is there another way to understand this list of the ‘flesh’ up against the list of the ‘fruit of the Spirit?’ I think there is, and I will attempt to show what that looks like exegetically in a following post.

[1] Steven Ozment, The Age of Reform 125-1550: An Intellectual And Religious History of Late Medieval and Reformation Europe (New Haven • London: Yale University Press, 1980), 233.

[2] Ibid., 234.

*repost

Avoiding the Sin of Acedia: Living the Christian Life in Step with the Spirit of Christ

We come into the Christian life, whenever we do, and start the walk. At first, at least in evangelical circles, we identify new converts, often times with such phrases as “they are on fire,” so on and so forth. But after time passes, trials and tribulations face us, and we
gain experience[s] in the church we might become jaded, or at the very least start to experience a sense of dullness towards all things spiritual. We begin to domesticate and normalize our faith to the point that we conflate our experiences with the object (and subject) of our faith, Jesus Christ. Once we take this step—usually subconsciously—a vacuum is created. This is where things become tenuous, and spiritually dangerous. We will attempt to fill this vacuum with all sorts of new experiences, experiences that are more akin to ‘sowing to the flesh’ rather than ‘to the Spirit.’ We start to engage in daily practices that ‘grieve’ and ‘quench’ the Holy Spirit in our lives, and this all out of the seeming mundanity of our spiritual lives; out of the idea that we have arrived as Christians, had all or most of the experiences one can have, and now are seeking fulfillment in life by other means. I remember, as someone who grew up in the church, having a conversation with friends (who had similar backgrounds) when we were just recently out of high school, we thought we were all ‘veterans’ of the faith; that we’d already seen it all. It wasn’t long after this that I started to slide in my walk with Christ, and what I have been describing thus far began to overtake me; leading to actions that did not magnify Christ, but instead magnified me.

In the ancient monastic church the ‘sin’ I’m referring to was called acedia. Cornelius van der Kooi offers a wonderful description of this as he is discussing participation in the Spirit of Christ in his development of a Spirit Christology; he writes:

. . .  We do not have the unique relationship with God that Christ enjoyed. We are God’s adopted children. Yet this status in itself is a great mystery: it is the triune God who dwells in us, who has poured out his Spirit in his church! At the same time, this indwelling is not a matter of peace but involves warfare. We are often stubborn and do not readily incline to the Spirit and his work. In fact, the Holy Spirit may be grieved and even snuffed out. The house may feel or even be empty. Before we know it, we may be overcome by what in the monastic tradition is called the demon of acedia. It is the feeling of emptiness, boredom, and discontentment, bordering on melancholy. It refers to those times when we live in our own little world, are asleep, are unguarded, and try to put our restlessness to death with nervous distractions. Here no therapy can help us but only healing. God’s Spirit must come in order to fill us and make us complete. Outside of that movement, we are lost.[1]

This sort of creep can even happen to us as we are seemingly and actively walking with Jesus; even in seasons when we think we are genuinely in step with the Spirit. It might not be as overt as the discussion I had with my friends years ago, it might be more subtle; we might be reading the Bible daily, reading theology texts, be involved in church ministries and activities, and yet acedia could still begin to grab a hold of our hearts and put us into a place of spiritual deadness; a spot where we are going through the motions. My sense is that acedia is alive and well in the Christian church, and is one that we need to recognize and repent of.

What this sin points up to me is that within the Christian life there is a vigilance that is required. It is reliance upon the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit, that will provide the kind of vigilance we need to avoid this particular ‘demon.’ It is so subtle and ‘creepy’ that we might not know it is even happening to us until we have engaged in some sort of egregious sin that then makes our whole lifestyle all too apparent. This is why reliance upon the Holy Spirit in Christ is so important for the Christian life. He will ‘put us to death over and over again, that the life of Christ might also be made manifest through the mortal members of our bodies’ (II Cor. 4.10). I would suggest that this is what is required if we are to avoid acedia; we must, as the Apostle said of himself, ‘have the sentence of death written upon us that we won’t trust in ourselves, but in the One who is able to raise the dead’ (II Cor. 1.7-9). We can pray for this type of lifestyle, and God will and has provided that for us in Christ. But this type of lifestyle—the one that avoids acedia—is not comfortable. In fact this type of non-acedia lifestyle can cause great anguish, dark nights of the soul, bouts of depression and anxiety, physical tumults, and a host of other means through which the Holy Spirit in God’s providence in Christ, will produce his death in our lives that his life will also be present for the world to see, and for us to experience. If you dare, ask the Lord to arrest any sort of acedia in your life and see what he won’t do. His grace is sufficient (I say with fear and trembling).

 

[1] Cornelius van der Kooi, This Incredibly Benevolent Force: The Holy Spirit in Reformed Theology and Spirituality (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2018), 104-05.

The Love of the Triune Life as the Reality of Salvation in the Theology of Hugh Binning

Here is young Scottish theologian (1627–1653), Hugh Binning. He died at a very young age, but in his short life he was able to communicate some beautiful things about God, and how the Triune life was involved in the reality of salvation. Here is a short snippet from him on a Trinitarian salvation,

our salvation is not the business of Christ alone but the whole Godhead is interested in it deeply, so deeply, that you cannot say, who loves it most, or likes it most. The Father is the very fountain of it, his love is the spring of all — “God so loved the world that he hath sent his Son”. Christ hath not purchased that eternal love to us, but it is rather the gift of eternal love . . . Whoever thou be that wouldst flee to God for mercy, do it in confidence. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, are ready to welcome thee, all of one mind to shut out none, to cast out none. But to speak properly, it is but one love, one will, one council, and purpose in the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, for these Three are One, and not only agree in One, they are One, and what one loves and purposes, all love and purpose.[1]

[1] Hugh Binning cited by Thomas F. Torrance, Scottish Theology, 79.

God’s Wrath, Eternal Hell, and Contra Evangelical Annihilationism

In lieu of writing that full fledged paper I’ve been saying I might write here is TF Torrance’s theo-logic contra Annihilationism. As we read Torrance what also is touched upon are God’s wrath, hell, theological anthropology, sin, and a few other superstructural doctrines. I have been alerted to the need to write contrariwise annihilationism primarily because of the movement of annihilationists among evangelicals that have come to collaborate at the ReThinking Hell think-tank. If Torrance’s theo-logic is ascribed to what the annihilationist or so called evangelical conditionalist bases their teaching on crumbles. In other words, if human being is inimically tied to Jesus’s vicarious human being for all of humanity; if Jesus is the image of God whence human beings are created (e.g. as ‘images of the Image’ cf. Col. 1.15; 3.10); then it is not possible for human being to be ‘annihilated’, since its reality is grounded in the indestructible life of the Son of Man, Jesus Christ.

Torrance writes at length:

The law as the primary sign of God’s grace and mercy — judgement within relation to God

That was the reason why the Jews regarded the law itself, with all its judgement, as the primary sign of God’s grace and mercy — they were the commandments and ordinances that presupposed the covenant of grace. But although wrath speaks also of God’s reclaiming of the perverted creature for himself, it speaks nonetheless of utter judgement, of damnation. God’s wrath says that man belongs to God body and soul; that is why even if the sinner in his or her ultimate reaction should deny God’s claim upon them, God’s judgement cannot be equated with annihilation, but only with utter and final judgement within existential relation to God.

That must be clearly understood as we look at sin in the light of the cross and look at the cross in the light of what it reveals of the terrible guilt and sin that is judged there in Jesus’ atoning sacrifice. The cross makes good God’s claim upon humanity and reveals the depth of sin within its relation to its creator. Sin in itself is not simply an act done by  man — it is sin against God. That is why the psalmist, in voicing confession, has to say, ‘Against thee, thee only have I sinned.’ The fact that sin against God means that sin takes its form and nature from being against God. It is not simply because it is against love or goodness or even against man, but because it is ultimately against God himself. As such sin is ‘cursed’ by God — it comes under his total ban.

(ii) The curse of God — banishment into outer darkness

But let us be clear about what the curse of God means. When the Bible speaks of curse, it means that the cursed is no longer within but without, outside the covenant of God. Without the covenant relation with God man is condemned to exist as one who does not belong to it, but is an outsider. Curse means the reprobation of the elect, the casting away of those whom God has made and loves; it means separation from the face of God, banishment from creation into outer darkness. That is what Paul calls the act of God in giving mankind up to their own uncleanness and to their own reprobate mind, to their own self-destruction. Cursing does not mean annihilation, the sending of the cursed into nothingness, into the nihil out of which man and woman were created, but a banishment to their own denial of their being in God, that is, into the very darkness upon which God has for ever turned his back in creation on the cross.

That is the import of the Old Testament sheol, existence in darkness behind God’s back, the darkness from which he has turned away in creation when he divided the light from the darkness. Sheol is existence in man’s self-chosen perversity and blindness. That curse lies upon all sinners as their destiny in their sin and it already casts its shadow over them. In the Old Testament sheol is, however, a sort of suspended darkness, a suspended existence behind the back of God, waiting for his final acts of judgement and or deliverance, although the final act will mean justification for those who cast themselves on his judgement, and utter banishment for those who choose to remain in their alienation. But the Old Testament saints were all aware that the curse is the ultimate and final judgement, and that preferable to that is to fall into the hands of the living God in his wrath and judgement.[1]

The theo-logic, the funding theoanthropology in Torrance’s thought should be apparent. But beyond that what we also see is that for Torrance God’s wrath is real, and requires a response. God’s wrath, though, for Torrance, has to do with God’s ever present love for his creatures; a wrath that is come to precisely because those he has pledged his love for in Christ have alienated themselves from the very reality, the very being for which God had originally created them for; for a life in joyful participation within God’s own self-given Triune life of love. This is the source of God’s wrath; he hates sin, it makes him angry precisely because such alienation from him destroys the bases from whence human creatures, and the creation in general, can flourish coram Deo. It is because of this love, this purpose which God created with, in, for, and from Christ, that God’s wrath has been kindled. It is because of this love that God had always already pledged his life and being for us (pro nobis) that it is not possible for human life to be snuffed out or annihilated; this would require that God’s life in the Son, God’s humanity be snuffed out, because his life, in Christ, is what humanity has always already been yesterday, today, and forever. In other words, God’s life in Christ necessarily rules out the possibility of human being, Christ’s for us, and any human after Christ (which is all of humanity) to be relegated to the oblivion of nothingness precisely because what it means to be human is always already generated from the humanity of God in Jesus Christ. Annihilate his humanity, and then the rest of humanity has the potential to be annihilated; but given the character and quality of what it means to be human (i.e. think Jesus), there is no such potency latent in human being that would ever allow for its being unspoken into non-existence. QED.

 

[1] Thomas F. Torrance, Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008), 250-51.