The ‘Internal History of Jesus’ and the Gospel According to Wilhelm Herrmann

In the following Bruce McCormack sketches out, what Wilhelm Herrmann believed about the ‘historical Jesus as the ground of faith.’ Herrmann was Barth’s teacher while Barth studied at the University of Marburg. As you read this, from your own perspective as a Christian, do you find anything objectionable about the way Herrmann conceived of Jesus and salvation therefrom? If you know anything about the school that Herrmann represented in his day, then you will understand that there were some attending problems with his theology; as Barth later would come against himself. But as a stand-alone representation of Herrmann’s thought on this locus, let me know what you think:

(iv) The Historical Jesus as the Ground of Faith

How is the experience of revelation in which new life is bestowed upon a person related to the historical person called Jesus of Nazareth? For Herrmann, the historical Jesus is the revelation of God, the uncontestable saving fact in which our faith in God is grounded. But of course, When Herrmann spoke of the “historical” Jesus, he did not mean Jesus as he might be known with the tools of historical-critical research. Historians, in so far as they seek to reconstruct what really happened, work merely with external features; with events and teachings, with facts and forces. Historians deal only with external history. To that extent, the “object” of their scrutiny falls under the generative laws which govern all theoretical knowing (as described by Cohen). But for Herrmann, there is also an internal history—a history of spiritual effects to which the historian qua historian has no access. The locus of divine revelation in Jesus lies not so much in what he did and said as it does in his “inner life”, which is hidden to view. The incomparable moral purity of that inner life exercised a redemptive power on Christ’s first disciples by which their lives were transformed. The effectiveness of their witness in turn, lay not so much in what they said but in who they were; in the lives they led. And so it comes about that, two thousand years later, we first catch a glimpse of that inner life of Jesus through the effect it has had on other believers in the Church. The become to us a source of revelation, helping us to see that it is possible to live a truthful, authentic existence. Through their witness, we are enabled to come to the Gospel accounts with eyes that have been opened to the reality which lies hidden there. We see the picture of a man who lived in perfect surrender to God, who was able to love all people without exception, and who knew himself to be without sin. We are so startled by this incomparable phenomenon that we are only able to attribute it to the power of God. In that we do so, we too experience that power which Jesus experienced. We come to understand that His Father will not reject us in spite of our failures, but rather, accepts us as children. It for this reason that Jesus alone is the revelation which grounds our faith in God.[1]

There is mention of Cohen, by McCormack, in the above sketch. As is typical of any theological developments they are always in conversation with others. Herrmann’s theological viewpoints were no different than anyone else’s in that sense. Cohen represented a particular school within the philosophical-theological milieu of Herrmann’s day; which in the Protestant world was shaped primarily by Ritschl and Schleiermacher and Kant. Herrmann, according to McCormack, stood out from these schools in his own independent way; even while being in-formed by them, as he was responding to them and attempting to potentially correct them.

Even so, as the sketch goes above, what do you think; could you affirm what McCormack’s Herrmann thinks in regard to Jesus and salvation?

[1] Bruce L. McCormack, Karl Barth’s Critically Realistic Theology: Its Genesis and Development 1909-1936 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 61-2.

Recognizing and Repudiating False Gospels: With Reference to JMac Et Al.

I’ve been thinking a lot, once again, on how many in the evangelical and Reformed churches have constructed a Gospel that emphasizes law-keeping and performance as the means by which a so-called genuine Gospel reception has obtained in a person’s life. In other words, I have been thinking about how the Law (which is really culturally conditioned categories on a sliding scale) has sublimated the Gospel, such that it isn’t possible to distinguish the two any longer. People like John MacArthur, John Piper, Paul Washer, Steven Lawson, and that whole ilk have presented an ethos in the Church, when it comes to the Gospel, wherein the only way someone can supposedly really know that they are saved is if they have some modicum of a transformed life. And yet, they never indicate what in fact the ‘bar of transformation’ is in order for the seeker to know whether or not they have experienced a genuine salvation or not. Note John MacArthur:

. . . They’ve been told [Christians in the typical evangelical church in the West] that the only criterion for salvation is knowing and believing some basic facts about Christ. They hear from the beginning that obedience is optional. It follows logically, then, that a person’s one-time profession of faith is more valid than the ongoing testimony of his life-style in determining whether to embrace him as a true-believer. The character of the visible church reveals the detestable consequence of this theology. As a pastor I have rebaptized countless people who once “made a decision,” were baptized, yet experienced no change. They came later to true conversion and sought baptism again as an expression of genuine salvation.[1]

This is contrariwise to the actual Gospel. What it takes to be genuinely saved, according to Scripture, is to simply believe on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. That’s it, period.

There is a history to JMac’s et al. Gospel, it can be found in precisianist Puritan origins (on the Protestant side), and back further, of course, in medieval nominalism and even in many of the Church Fathers. Here Theodore Dwight Bozeman comments on the ‘precisianist’ background to the frame that people like JMac are thinking from (even if he/they don’t know that):

English penitential teaching expressly echoed and bolstered moral priorities. In contrast, again, to Luther, whose penitential teaching stressed the rueful sinner’s attainment of peace through acknowledgment of fault and trust in unconditional pardon, several of the English included a moment of moral renewal. In harmony with Reformed tendencies on the Continent and in unmistakable continuity with historic Catholic doctrine that tied “contrition, by definition, to the intention to amend,” they required an actual change in penitent. For them, a renewal of moral resolve was integral to the penitential experience, and a few included the manifest alteration of behavior. They agreed that moral will or effort cannot merit forgiveness, yet rang variations on the theme that repentance is “an inward . . . sorrow . . . whereunto is also added a . . . desire . . . to frame our life in all points according to the holy will of God expressed in the divine scriptures.” However qualified by reference to the divine initiative and by denial of efficacy to human works, such teaching underscored moral responsibility; it also adumbrated Puritan penitential and preparationist teaching of later decades.[2]

This teaching is so far removed from the simple Gospel message found in Scripture that it should not be entertained as a genuinely in-formed Gospel teaching. The sin of Pelagianism is never far from the human heart. We always want to have a part in our ‘salvation,’ even if we attribute ‘our part’ to the work of Jesus. We want to have a sense of self-sanctification by our natural human nature, but this is anathema. We need to recognize and quickly repudiate such Law based nomist Gospels, and simply repose in the fullness of God’s all-pervasive graciousness that He has provided for Himself, for us, in the grace of His life for us, in Jesus Christ. Rest and worship.

[1] John MacArthur, The Gospel According to Jesus,  17 [brackets mine].

[2] Theodore Dwight Bozeman, The Precisianist Strain,  20-21 [italics mine].

How the Inscrutable unReality of Darkness Keeps Barth and the Athanasian Reformed from Incoherence and a Dogmatic Christian Universalism

I want to talk about God’s shadow side. The rip against Thomas Torrance, Karl Barth and the Athanasian Reformed is that their respective doctrine of election leads to some form of Christian universalism (some are okay with that). But in fact, it doesn’t. People like Keven Vanhoozer, Robert Letham, Roger Olson et al. have critiqued Torrance, Barth, and Evangelical Calvinists, like myself, with reference to what they take to be our theological Achilles heel. Because they think from within an Aristotelian or Stoic theory of causation in a God-world relation, they cannot imagine how the Evangelical Calvinist, after Barth, Torrance et al. can escape the conclusion of a dogmatic Christian universalism, or to a total incoherence in our respective proposal. Their problem revolves around the Athanasian Reformed’s understanding of a universal atonement. Because of their a priori commitment to said theory of causation (as already noted), in their minds, if Jesus died for all, as archetypal humanity, then all humanity eo ipso must be justified, saved before God. This is why they can only affirm particular redemption or limited atonement; it is because of their respective theory of causation. God, like the originating spoke in the wheel of salvation is necessarily committed to that particular wheel. He cannot be related to other wheels, but only the wheel He has first chosen to be a spoke in; that is, in the one particular wheel that makes the vehicle of salvation turn (not to mention what God is). God becomes enslaved to a certain type of authority as conceived of by Aristotle vis-à-vis His relation to the created order. In order, for this type of authority to be effectual what He decrees must obtain; otherwise, as the story goes, His creation can thwart His power, by undercutting His choice to redeem. So, to ensure this thwarting cannot happen, the absolute decree (decretum absolutum) says that God will save this s-elect group of people, who He has arbitrarily chosen based upon His remote and hidden will; and there is nothing the created order can do to undercut His authority in this program of salvation. But again, remember this all stems from a theory of Divine authority that has first been concocted by some sort of profane discovery the philosophers have made about divinity, without ever being confronted with that Divinity in the face of Jesus Christ.

If the above theory of authority (sovereignty) is repudiated, that is, the one constructed by the profane philosophers, based upon speculative means, then the whole double jeopardy such theologians fear, as they think from their theory of salvation, no longer exists. This is what Karl Barth et al. do; they elide this dilemma by thinking God as God has first thought and spoken Himself for us in the face of Jesus Christ. When the theologian is committed to the idea that theology can only be done after Deus dixit (‘God has spoken’) then they are freed up to think revelationally about the ways of God in the economy of salvation, and all else. Barth’s reformulation of a Reformed doctrine of election offers just this type of salve. He sees reprobation as part of the realm of darkness; in other words, as part of the non-elect ‘shadow side’ only observed because of God’s Light. So, for Barth, there isn’t a viable explanation for explaining the inscrutable reality of darkness (as a metaphor for evil and sin). In other words, the theologian cannot know what God has not revealed; indeed “the secret things belong to God, but the things revealed belong to us” (Deut. 29:29). Under such conditions we can know why those who get saved, get saved; it is because God has pre-destined Himself for us, in order that they might be saved according to His gracious will of election for us in the elect humanity of Jesus Christ. And this is precisely the point at which people like Vanhoozer et al. claim some type of incoherence in the doctrine of election/reprobation in the theology of Barth et al. They for some reason haven’t accepted the fact that Barth et al. are attempting to think from the interior rationality  of the Gospel implications itself, rather than from a speculative and discursive understanding of how divine causality ostensibly is supposed to work.

Let’s hear from Barth in his own words as he comments on Genesis 1:

. . . The one confronts the other; light darkness, and darkness light. Nor is there any question here of symmetry or equilibrium between the two. They confront one another in such a way that God separates the light, which He acknowledges to be good, from the darkness. “In darkness and night remnants of that primal state intrude into the ordered world” (Zimmerli). The reference can be only to the darkness mentioned in v. 2 as the predicate of chaos, for otherwise it would mean that darkness was also created by God and found good in its own way. Since this is not the case, it is obvious that the antithesis to light, and therefore to the good creation of God, is chaos. And it belongs necessarily and integrally to the creation which begins with the creation of light that God rejects chaos, that He has for it no creative will or act or grace, but has these for light and light alone. Commencing in this way, creation is also a clear revelation of His will and way. Whatever may become a reality from and for chaos, by the commencement of the divine creation it is separated as darkness from light, as that which God did not will from that which He did, as the sphere of non-grace from that of His grace. Only from the majesty and supreme lordship of God is it not separated. Since darkness cannot offer any resistance to the emergence of light; since it has to acquiesce in the fact that light is separated from it; since it is later given a name as well as enough that it is not exempt from the sway of God, but has to serve Him in its own way, so that there can be no question of an absolute dualism. Here, then, and at root in the processes depicted in v. 6 f. and v. 9 f., to “divide” does not mean only to “distinguish” and “separate” but to “create order.” At the same time it is to set up an impassible barrier. Whatever else may take place between light and darkness, light will never be darkness and darkness will never be light. It is also to establish an inviolable hierarchy. However small and weak it may be, light will always be the power which banishes darkness; and however great and mighty it may be, darkness will always be the impotence which yields before light. It is light that is. Of darkness it can be said only that, as long as light is, it is also, but separated from it, marked and condemned by it as darkness, in opposition to it, as its antithesis, and at the same time serving light as its background. Darkness has no reality in itself; it is a by-product. It would like to be something in itself. Again and again it claims to be this. But it cannot make good its claim. It necessarily serves that which it tries to oppose. It is obviously in view of the place and role assigned to them in the hierarchy of creation that the existence of light and darkness are described in Job 38.19 as the secret of God, and that Is. 45.7 can and must say of darkness that God has “created” it. In this striking application of the verb bara’ there is revealed the reverse side, the negative power, of the divine activity, which we cannot, of course, deny to the divine will. The best analogy to the relationship between light and darkness is that which exists between the elect and the rejected in the history of the Bible: between Jacob and Esau; between David and Saul; between Judas and the other apostles. But even this analogy is improper and defective. For even the rejected, even Satan and the demons, are the creation of God—not, of course, in their corruption, but in the true and original essence which has been corrupted. But darkness and the chaos which it represents are not the creation of God any more than the corruption of the corrupt and the sin of the rejected. Thus a true and strict analogy to the relationship between light and darkness is to be found only in the relationship between the divine election and rejection, in the eternal Yes and No spoken by God Himself when, instead of remaining in and by Himself, He marches on to the opus ad extra [work outside of God] of His free love. When God fulfils what we recognise in Jesus Christ to be His original and basic will, the beginning of all His ways and works in Himself, He also accomplishes this separation, draws the boundary and inaugurates this hierarchy. This is what is attested by the story of creation in its account of the work of the first three days, and particularly in its account of the work of the first day.[1]

Barth’s theology, et alia after Barth, is slavishly kataphatic in orientation. In other words, like many of the Patristics, his theology focuses on the economy of God, and what God has freely chosen to reveal about Himself and His ways. What Barth develops from this, as it pertains to election/reprobation, is that only what God creates is indeed elect. In an asymmetrical relationship to this, that which is not created remains in the realm of the reprobate and inscrutable. In the incarnation, the Son does the impossible: the Son assumes the nothingness of the darkness, which humanity itself had been plunged into in rupture with God’s goodness, by assuming flesh (assumptio carnis), and dissolves the nothingness of nothingness, banishing it into outer darkness in the shadow of His resurrection Light. Even with its banishment the realm of nothingness, or hell, remains; but only in inscrutable ways, since the conditions for all to be ‘saved,’ to experience God’s election for them in the humanity of Jesus Christ, has already been actualized in the only real humanity around—which is Christ’s resurrected and ascended humanity.

When Vanhoozer et al. want to claim that Barth, and those following him, are incoherent if they don’t accept a Christian universalism, err. They err because they are attempting to impose a procrustean bed of their own making on top of Barth’s et al. thinking when it comes to a doctrine of election and salvation. It is procrustean, as noted earlier, because Barth starts with a different theological ontology than they do. As a result, he, and those following, can boldly claim that Christ died for all, and at the same time reject a dogmatic Christian universalism; and then still be operating from within the rationality of the implications that the Gospel hisSelf presents through His Self-exegesis of God for the world (see Jn. 1:18; 3:16 etc.)

[1] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics III/1 §41 The Doctrine of Creation: Study Edition (London: T&T Clark, 2010), 121-22.

The Miracle of the Gospel as Theological Ontology-Epistemology

The Gospel, the Incarnation is a miracle not of this world. This is why abstract philosophical constructs cannot handle the weight of the Gospel, they end up distorting it. The Gospel comes with its own rationality, one that is funded by the miracle of the Incarnation. The rationality of this world, of the type that the ancient philosophers have developed, cannot scratch the surface of the miracle of the Gospel. The world and all of creation is contingent upon this miracle, the Gospel; the world was created for the Gospel, not the other way around. As such, in order to “discover” the meaning, the purpose of this world, the person must be grounded in the concrete of a miracle that has broken into this world in the flesh and blood humanity of Jesus Christ. His life circumscribes and delimits all of history, all of reality. So if the Christian, the theologian wants to think rightly about the things of God they will look over and over again, by the Spirit, through the miracle of the Gospel, the Incarnation. They will think reality through the categories revealed therein rather than from the speculative malaise presented by the profane philosophers among us.

No Vision or Knowledge of God without God’s Holiness: The Role Christ’s Sanctification for Us Plays Towards Having Genuine Knowledge of God

Εἰρήνην διώκετε μετὰ πάντων, καὶ τὸν ἁγιασμόν, οὗ χωρὶς οὐδεὶς ὄψεται τὸν κύριον,

Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord . . . Hebrews 12:14


ὄψεται (lexeme: ὁράω), translated in the NKJV above as ‘will see’ is in the future tense third person middle indicative. I have a theological-exegetical theory:

P1. Divine holiness and peace are required in order to have vision and knowledge of God.

P2. Knowledge and vision of God are eschatological realities available now and for eternity to come.

P3. Only Jesus Christ for us has divine holiness and peace to give us vicariously through Him.

P4. Only Jesus Christ is God’s eschatological vision and knowledge of God for us.

P5. Only people in spiritual union with Jesus Christ who are actively and repentantly participating in Jesus Christ’s life can have divine holiness and peace.

P6. Only people in spiritual union with Christ who are actively and repentantly participating in Jesus Christ’s life can have eschatological knowledge and vision of God.

C. Therefore, people in spiritual union with Jesus Christ who are actively and repentantly participating in Jesus Christ’s life can have the type of divine holiness and peace required to have eschatological knowledge and vision of God both now and for eternity to come.

I still need to work on my above syllogism, but you should get the gist: my contention is that what Hebrews 12:14 is referring to is that the type of life the Christian is leading will have direct impact on whether or not said Christian can arrive at any type of proximate knowledge of God. That is, especially pressing the notion of ‘holiness,’ I take it that if a Christian is living in unrepentant sin, whether actively, or simply attitudinally (which would be an aspect of ‘actively’) that said Christian will not be participating in the holiness and peace of Christ in such moments, to the point that their knowledge of God, particularly a growing knowledge of God, will be quenched.

If what I am getting at is true it ought to motivate Christians to live repentant lifestyles. Not in legalistic fear, but out of a compellation of love of Christ. The repentant lifestyle shouldn’t be one of burden and despair, but of great joy, and even happiness, knowing that we serve such a magnificent King (and Bridegroom). There should be an earnestness about living in the holiness and peace of Christ because we have such a burning and passionate desire, and intimate love relationship with our Lord, such that we would not risk allowing anything to hinder our vision, and thus true and dialogical knowledge of Him.

Really, what I am suggesting is that the Christian vision and knowledge of God is a matter of orientation and posture coram Deo. If it is, then our postures before God, as those are grounded for us first in the vicarious humanity of Christ, ought to be ones that echo, that reflect the Son’s for us. The Son, Jesus Christ, submitted Himself to the will of the Father, He was obedient for us, so that we too might, from His mediatorial life for us, do the same by the Holy Spirit. When we sin (and we will because he who says he has no sin is a liar and the truth is not in him), the orientation provided for us by the set apart life of Christ for us will be to obediently recognize our sin, repent, as Christ first repented for us (unto death), and continue on our way growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.

The moral is this: if a Christian is living in sin, if they are being disobedient and unrepentant continuously, then I would argue that they cannot have a genuine vision or knowledge of God. The result will be at that point, only a compounding of sins, and thus loss of vision and knowledge of God amplified. The Christian in this status can only see God in idolatrous terms. The Israelites illustrate this status well in Deuteronomy 1:

26 “Yet you were not willing to go up, but rebelled against the command of the Lord your God; 27 and you grumbled in your tents and said, ‘Because the Lord hates us, He has brought us out of the land of Egypt to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites to destroy us.

Notice the progression of disobedience: 1) they doubt or rebel against the command of the Lord (in echo of Adam and Eve in Gen. 3); 2) once they abandoned their ‘union’ with God by rejecting God’s vision and knowledge for them they no longer had a genuine vision and knowledge of God; 3) the result was that they had an idolatrous and skewed vision and knowledge of God leading them to arrive at conclusions about God that were ultimately blasphemous. I would take it that at the heart of sin is the bent of humanity to doubt God’s Word, or command, in favor of their own words (and thoughts). When this status is lived into, even (and especially) for the people of God, they no longer can have an accurate understanding of who God is; they have lost all proximate vision and knowledge of God. In the Levitic and Aaronic system, of course, it required sacrifice/atonement to bring people back into a status where they could be under or in God’s Word with the proper orientation and posture with the result that vision and knowledge of God was once again possible and restored. Once the ‘fulness of time’ had come, the ‘schoolmaster of Law’ gave way to its reality in the ‘faith of Christ.’ Either way, what is required, and thankfully for us post-Christ’s first advent, is that the people of God are actively and repentantly participating in Christ’s vicarious life for them, such that we might indeed see God, truly, in the shining face of Jesus Christ. As long as the Christian chooses not to live this type of ‘active life,’ this will determine how long they have a skewed and even blasphemous vision and knowledge of God; just as Israel did in the wilderness scenery.

The implications of this are sobering, I think. If a Christian is living an unrepentant lifestyle then their relative capacity to see God has been lost; not in the sense of losing justification, but in the sense of seeing their Father in a way that only an obedient child can. So, our vision and knowledge of God, as I’m suggesting, is participatory, and it is subjectively contingent upon how we choose to walk with Him daily. Are we going to take up our crosses daily, deny ourselves, and walk with Him; or are we going to be little snotnosed brats who throw fits all day disallowing us to encounter God in the way He would have us to; in a way that allows us to truly see Him in all of His beauty and grandeur—indeed, insofar that we can see Him through the pure eyes of Christ even as we inhabit these simul bodies of death yet to be glorified.

A final word: What I am suggesting throughout this post, based on Hebrews 12 and illustrated by Deuteronomy 1, is that an intellectualist anthropology (such as Aristotle and Thomas present) cannot serve as a basis for developing a proper theological ontology, and thus theological epistemology. What I am suggesting, throughout, is that vision and knowledge of God is based on a moral compunction; that it is an ‘affective’ basis upon which vision and knowledge of God can be gained. In other words, if the Christian is going to have capacity to actually ‘see God’ they can only do so as they first, are one spirit with Christ, and second, are actively walking in that relationship in a way that corresponds to the basis of that relationship as that has been conditioned and established in Christ’s obedience in His vicarious humanity for us. So, I am contending that knowledge of God is contingent on us ‘keeping in step with the Spirit,’ having our hearts of stone replaced with Christ’s heart of flesh, and allowing His heart to beat as our heart as love for the Father by the Holy Spirit. It is in this triune and koinonial relationship that I contend the Christian can have an active and accurate knowledge of God; but only insofar as they are living repentant lifestyles from Christ’s for them.

In end: the holiness and peace of God in Christ matters, as matter of concrete practice. Not for eternal justification, per se, but that too; but in the now, God’s holiness and peace matters in a way that allows us to actually set worshipful eyes on our Holy and triune God. If the Christian continuously lives in sin, which I think they can, they cannot have a right knowledge of the holy God. He has a made a way for that to be actualized, but we do have to do something in order to experience that way. And we’ve been given that capacity in the ground of our lives in Jesus Christ. We look to Christ (outside and come in us) in order to live this visionary and knowledgeable life of seeing God.

PS. Maybe my above theory will better inform the reader on why I have struggled so much with Barth!

In Defense of Lonnie Frisbee’s Salvation; In Defense of Salvation for All

I was planning on writing a blog post on what death is; what Incarnation Anyway entails; and life everlasting. But for lack of energy, and time at the moment, I am going to simply post three separate Facebook/Twitter posts I just posted; as you’ll see they are thematically related. It was really prompted by a video I just watched made by Lonnie Frisbie’s best friend. If you don’t know, Frisbee was the catalyst that started the ‘Jesus People’ movement with Pastor Chuck Smith at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa back in the late 60s early 70s. As an aside: I attended Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa from 95-98 (would go five times a week), and also did one year at Calvary Chapel Bible College. I was just reading the Twitter noise about the recently released movie: ‘The Jesus Revolution,’ which features the story of Frisbee, Chuck Smith, and the beginnings of Calvary Chapel. There has been some legalistic and underinformed reference to Lonnie Frisbee, and the way he died (of AIDS as a result of homosexual experimentation he engaged in). So, that’s the context and impetus behind this vignette of postings.

This first one was in response to the following Tweet (I’ll leave its author anonymous):

“What would a movie telling the whole true story of Lonnie Frisbee look like? It wouldn’t look pretty. It wouldn’t have a happy ending. It definitely wouldn’t be rated PG-13. And it definitely wouldn’t pull in $15 million on opening weekend. ”

Me in response: It would look like the thief dying on the cross to whom Jesus said “today you will be with me in paradise.” Lonnie died in repentance; and even if he hadn’t he would’ve been saved. Not because of what he had done, or not done, but because of what Christ has done for him. I’m not a promoter of the theology he followed, or anything like that. But at the end of the day Lonnie trusted Christ for Christ’s eternal life for him. He died in that hope, and thus into the joy of the Lord forevermore.

And now the rest of the posts that were really subtweeting, thematically, the above:

1. The Gospel is not nomist. IOW, it is not Law based, it is triune God based; which is to say: grace based in Jesus Christ. When people pretend like the juridical religions of Calvinism and Arminianism have no real life effect, they fail to grasp the basis of the Gospel itself. You get a Law based Gospel when you start with a Law based notion of God. When you get God wrong from the get-go, everything else that outflows from there is skewed just the same. God is not the big teddy bear in the sky, but He’s not merely the Judge either. Indeed, God is the Judge judged! Think about that when thinking out the implications of the Gospel; it might well save your life (pun intended). It is better to start where Jesus starts with God, as Son of the Father; thus, informing us, that the Father is Father of the Son by the bond of the Holy Spirit. We have a Father-Son-Holy Spirit God who has freely elected all of humanity for Himself; He’s jealous that way.
2. I have a propensity, I’ve noticed, to defend sinners when they die; even in their sins. I’m referring to people who had already come to Christ at some point, and because of varying circumstances “fell off the wagon.” They became bruised reeds. Those in fact are the elect of God. I have this propensity because I’m under no delusion that if they aren’t saved then neither am I; and thus the Gospel has failed to be Good News, it simply became a mask for the Law without Christ (a Judaizing gospel).
3. The One who performed the Gospel, and continues to, is the One who in His triune person is the Gospel; that is, Jesus Christ. We don’t perform anything for our salvation; salvation is the gift of God’s life for all of humanity, especially the sick and disgusting people.

On Assurance of Salvation and the Practical Syllogism: William Perkins

I was going to write a new post on assurance of salvation with reference to the theology of Puritan, William Perkins. But then I searched my archives, and this post, which I think I originally wrote in 2012, pretty much gets at what I wanted to say.

I am currently reading Richard Muller’s newish book Calvin and the Reformed Tradition: On the Work of Christ and the Order of Salvation. I have skipped ahead to read the last chapter first which is titled: Calvin, Beza, and the Later Reformed on Assurance of Salvation. I am going to be writing a chapter in our next Evangelical Calvinist book (which we are under contract for) on the doctrine of Assurance of Salvation. So, this chapter by Muller is very apropos, and will definitely make some impact (at some level) on what I end up writing for my chapter.

That said, what I want to focus on throughout the remainder of this post is a discussion that Muller has on William Perkins and his doctrine of assurance of salvation (which he is quite famous for, Perkins that is). The context I am taking the quote from is where Muller transitions from a long discussion on how he believes that Theodore Beza and John Calvin are univocal in their respective doctrines on assurance of salvation for the elect. Not getting into that, as I noted, I want to focus on William Perkins, which Muller does as well. Muller highlights the fact that Perkins fits the charge better (than Beza) of promoting an idea of moving from sanctification to justification, as if the fruit of sanctification is the ground upon which assurance for the elect is based (but of course, Muller wants to caution us from accusing Perkins of too much failure as well). Perkins, as are many of the English Puritans, is known for his Golden Chaine of salvation, which is a series of steps that he uses (from Romans 8) to demonstrate that someone is one of the elect for whom Christ most definitely died; this was also known as the practical syllogism. Here is what Muller writes in regard to William Perkins (he also introduces us to another Puritan who he engages with later, Johannes Wollebius):

William Perkins and Johannes Wollebius are among the later Reformed writers who used one or another forms of the syllogismus practicus in their discussions of assurance of salvation. In Perkins’ case, the syllogism is both named and presented in short syllogistic form. As is clear, however, from the initial argumentation of his Treatise of Conscience, the syllogisms are all designed to direct the attention of the believer to aspects or elements of the model of Romans 8:30, where the focus of assurance as previously presented by the apostle was union with Christ and Christ’s work as the mediator of God’s eternally willed salvation. In other words, as Beeke has noted, Perkins draws on links–calling, justification, and sanctification–in what he had elsewhere referenced as the “golden chaine” of salvation. Thus, Perkins writes, “to beleeve in Christ, is not confusedly to beleeve that he is a Redeemer of mankind, but withall to beleeve that he is my Saviour, and that I am elected, justified, sanctified, & shall be glorified by him.” Perkins’ syllogisms will be variants on this theme.

In addition, Perkins does not so much advocate the repetition of syllogisms as argue the impact of the gospel on the mind of the believer, as wrought by the Holy Spirit. Speaking of the certainty that one is pardoned of sin, Perkins writes,

The principall agent and beginner thereof, is the holy Ghost, inlightning the mindand conscience with spirituall and divine light: and the instrument in this action, is the ministrie of the Gospell, whereby the word of life is applied in the name of God to the person of every hearer. And this certaintie is by little and little conceived in a forme of reasoning or practicall syllogism framed in the minde by the holy Ghost on this manner:

Every one that believes is the childe of God:

But I doe beleeve:

Therefore I am a childe of God.

What is more, Perkins identifies faith as a bond, “knitting Christ and his members together,” commenting that “this apprehending of Christ [is done] … spiritually by assurance, which is, when the elect are persuaded in their hearts by the holy Ghost, of the forgiveness of their owne sinnes, and of Gods infinite mercy towards them in Iesus Christ.[1]

Notice what this understanding of assurance of salvation turns on; on a particular conception of election, so called: ‘unconditional election’. If Christ died for only the elect (i.e. particular redemption, limited atonement, definite atonement), then psychological angst could (and should) be produced for the recipient of salvation; the recipient of salvation (or hopeful recipient) should wonder if they are one of the elect for whom Christ died (?). It was this scenario that Perkins, in his English Puritan context sought to remedy by producing his form of the so-called practical syllogism.

What is concerning about Perkins’ approach is the mechanical-logistical nature that salvation takes on, and the unhealthy focus on the individual person’s attempt to discern whether they are elect or not. There clearly is a piety charging Perkins’ approach, but the approach, even with piety intact, is unnecessary if his doctrine of election can be reified in a way that does not ground it in the individual’s capacity to discern whether they have genuine belief or not (therefore making them one of the elect for whom Christ died). If Christ died for all of humanity (i.e., universal atonement), the framework Perkins offers never needs to be offered, and a doctrine of assurance of salvation need not be articulated in the way that Perkins et al. attempts to do that.

I would want to argue that the doctrine of assurance of salvation is not a truly biblical category, and that it, categorically and materially has come to us as a result of the salvation-psychology created for us in our English-American Puritan heritage. It is natural to want to know if we are saved (John thought so in his first epistle), but we are not the ones who determine that, God in Christ is. He is the ground of life, and in him we have life. I think a better category, instead of assurance, is hope. We have a genuine hope of salvation in Christ, because he is salvation, and he is both for us and with us by the Holy Spirit. We know this simply because he has said this is so, he is the last and first Word on salvation; he is salvation.

[1]Richard A. Muller, Calvin and the Reformed Tradition: On the Work of Christ and the Order of Salvation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012), 268-69.


The Christian Life: Sorrows, Griefs, Battles, and Victory

My current header picture is a rendition of Jesus’ wilderness’ temptation. It depicts, I think rather well, who the promised ‘Man of Sorrows’ would indeed be. It reminds me of the famed Messianic text of Isaiah 53:

53 Who has believed what he has heard from us?
    And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
    and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
    and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
    a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
    he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
    so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
    and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
    stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
    and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
    and there was no deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
    he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
    he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
    make many to be accounted righteous,
    and he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
    and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
    and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
    and makes intercession for the transgressors.

American, and Western Christianity in general, do not fellowship in sufferings; we do the opposite. We attempt to live a life of façade wherein we jovially smile and shake each other’s hands in the narthexes of our local churches. We pretend like the rest of the culture that we’re all put together, and that life is upwardly mobile. As Arthur McGill has called it, we attempt to be the ‘bronze people,’ with our bronzed bodies, and white veneered teeth. But in reality, the Gospel says that as we are participants with Christ, that we will constantly be given over to His death that His life might be made manifest in our mortal bodies. The Apostle Paul said:

But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, 11 if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3)

We’re in a spiritual battle. The ancient church recognized our stead here in these bodies of death as being the church militant. We wrestle against the principalities and powers, not because we’re special per se, but because we are participant in the life of Christ; a life characterized by sorrow and grief. As Christians when we step up, and are willing to enter the fight, particularly by living righteously and bearing witness that Jesus is Lord in all that we do, we step into this stream of spiritual warfare that is going on all around us every minute of everyday. And yes, we are on the triumphant side, but that doesn’t mean we don’t experience the serious heat of the armory we are facing as soldiers for Jesus Christ.

When Christians feel the pressure to hide what they are being assailed by, because they are genuinely Christians, it makes everyone feel isolated and alone. Instead we ought to be transparent about the battles that are pressing in on us, and thus come to have the capacity to bear each other’s burdens, by the Spirit, just as the church has been intended to do from its inception. We do ourselves no favors by living fake Christian lives, as if what that entails is ‘living our best lives now.’ That anecdote is about as antiChrist and demonic as it can get. We are living for Christ and His Kingdom now, and that involves the very types of things Jesus endured as He was in the wilderness for forty days, while He was on the cross feeling as if the Father had forsaken Him. Be in the fight, Christian! The LORD never disappoints.


God’s Wrath Towards Sin: In Ontological Perspective

God is angry about sin, just to be clear. He judged sin, because there was actually a legal penalty associated with sin. But that isn’t the crux of what was judged. The crux was the ground, the source of sin; it has ontological depth. The human heart loves the darkness rather than the Light. It has competing affections that all are premised upon love of self. Unless this was put to death, and unless a new heart was re-created, the problem of sin wouldn’t have ultimately been dealt with. God surely hates sin, but only because He first loved us so much in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. God has wrath towards sin, but only because He loves His very good creation and desires fellowship and intimacy with us through the Son, Jesus Christ. Sin destroys and eats away at the very good creation, and as a result the good (or rest of) creation is corroded and thrown into chaos. The requirement then wasn’t simply a penalty paid—even if that is an outer aspect of the atonement—but a new heart created (cf II Cor 3; Ez 36). It is this inner reality, this depth ontological reality that was required if and fact creation was going to be elevated to its ultimate telos (purpose) in abiding and eternal fellowship within the bosom of the Father in union with Christ by the bond of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Trinity’s Act Becomes the Gospel

The Gospel is Light in the Light of the Holy Trinity. The Gospel is the center of the way of the Triune insofar that the eternal Logos, the Son of God in coinherence with the Father and the Holy Spirit, freely chose to be human. This choice signals that God has freely chosen to not be God without us, but with us; and this choice was made before the foundations of the world. This ineffable reality, that is the God who has always already been Father, Son, and Holy Spirit funds the very ground of the Gospel. The Gospel is God’s life for us, in action by way of incarnation for the world. The world has materiality and concrete reality only because the Son first chose to become material for the world. In this choice the world came to have a telos, a reason for being. The material world was only created because the Son, in the bosom of the Father, wooed by the Holy Spirit, desired to have flesh and blood, so that we might have glory and co-inheritance with Him. Torrance captures these things well:

While the Lord Jesus Christ constitutes the pivotal centre of our knowledge of God, God’s distinctive self-revelation as Holy Trinity, One Being, Three Persons, creates the overall framework within which all Christian theology is to be formulated. Understandably, therefore, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity has been called the innermost heart of Christian faith and worship, the central dogma of classical theology, the fundamental grammar of our knowledge of God. It belongs to the Gospel of God’s saving and redeeming love in Jesus Christ who died for us and rose again and has given us the Holy Spirit who has shed the love of God abroad in our hearts. The doctrine of the Trinity enshrines the essentially Christian conception of God: it constitutes the ultimate evangelical expression of the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ who though he was rich for our sakes became poor that we through his poverty might become rich, of the Love of God who did not spare his own Son but delivered him up for us all, for it is in that personal sacrifice of the Father to which everything in the Gospel goes back, and of the Communion of the Holy Spirit through whom and in whom we are made to participate in the eternal Communion of the Father and the Son and are united with one another in the redeemed life of the people of God. Through Christ and in the Spirit God has communicated himself to us in such a wonderful way that we may really know him and have communion with in his inner life as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.[1]

[1] Thomas F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being Three Persons, 2.