Why Listening to Joe Rogan Depresses Me: The Hope of Jesus Christ as the Antidote

I just finished listening to another episode of the Joe Rogan Experience. In this episode he had virologist/immunologist/pathologist, Robert Malone on the mic. This episode was on the heels of his viral podcast with a colleague of Malone’s, Peter McCullough. If you are staying informed on things, Malone and McCullough are of a cadre of high profile, and pre-eminent, MDs and scientists (including epidemiologists) who are critical of the mRNA and DNA vaccines; along with the lockdowns, and other measures being deployed in an attempt to ostensibly quell the Sars-Cov2 pandemic. I stand with these doctors in their respective efforts to descent against the machine. But this post isn’t about that effort per se.

As is typical with me, the issue I am having, particularly as I’ve listened now to a few of Rogan’s higher profile podcasts, is the lack of hopeful prescription. In other words, he, and his guests, at least the ones I’ve watched, while describing the utter insanity of the world right now, have no substantial hope to offer the world, i.e. they only have the indomitable human spirit to look to in order to make an attempt at providing a way of salvation out of this socio-cultural morass. But that is the problem: the indomitable human spirit, and that sort of turn-to-the-subjectivism is precisely what has led to the global conditions that would allow for this current mass psychosis to obtain. Their respective lack of viable prescription is precisely because they have opted out of revelational insight about the status of a fallen humanity (so theanthropology) and collapsed that into their own immanent lights. They simply operate on the horizontal in absolute ways. This is the very condition that gives rise to the sort of brute naturalism, and the hierarchy of being therein, that funds the authoritarianism that they rightfully are standing against. Because they have no genuine knowledge of self—which as Calvin notes in his duplex cognitio Domini only comes when the person has a genuine knowledge of the living God—they are unable to properly diagnose the real problem at play: viz. the fallen human condition.

While this ought to be expected with pagans, such as Joe Rogan et al., what has become more troubling in these times, is how it is that so-called spiritual leaders (pastors, theologians, Christian thought practitioners) are ostensibly operating with the same sort of “blind-spot” that their pagan counterparts are operating with. This is nothing new, as I argued in Master’s thesis on I Corinthians 1:17-25 (with a broader focus on chapters 1—4), the Apostle Paul confronted the Corinthian church for adopting the wisdom of the world in the name of the wisdom of the cross. This made them just as ‘carnal’ as the world they were supposed to be contradicting (with the wisdom of the cross), and as such they came to see the wisdom of the cross as both foolish and weak. Human nature, fallen human nature, has remained the same. The Church is populated largely by people who are held in a sort of ‘Babylonian Captivity’ (as Luther might intone) wherein a theologia crucis (theology of the cross) has given way to a theologia gloriae (theology of glory); indeed, given way as if the theology of glory was actually the theology of the cross.

As I walk away from podcasts like Rogan’s, or from a verity of church services and/or theological podcasts, the level of ‘carnal’ wisdom at work leaves me with a sense of nihilistic darkness. I feel the weight, not of God’s glory, but of nothingness that this world is guided by. It’s as if satan’s breath, eggy as it is, has filled the lungs of these ‘carnal’ practitioners (secular or sacred) with the sulfur of his forthcoming abode (and potentially theirs, God forbit it!). The answer to what ails the world isn’t a new Bab-el (the ‘coming together of a united humanity’), at least not one generated by the self-possessed, incurved humanity that is the abstract and aloof (from God) world. The answer, of course!, is God’s answer and purpose for the world enfleshed in His humanity for us in Jesus Christ. It is only this Pentecost[al] reality that has the power to turn this current world-order upside down, with a baptism of flaming tongues of fire that all cry out in their variegated unison, that Jesus is Lord. It is only this humanity, the singular humanity of God in Christ for the world, wherein a genuine denouement, an actualist reversal can obtain. This is the eschatological hope for which this world has been created, and now re-created in the resurrection of the Theanthropos, Jesus Christ.

The Apostle Paul, Feuerbach, and Bonhoeffer in Convo: On a Crucified Knowledge of God

“For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” -Galatians 1.11-12

“God did not, as the Bible says, make man in His image; on the contrary man, as I have shown in The Essence of Christianity, made God in his image.” – Ludwig Feuerbach, Lectures on the Essence of Religion

The Apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit writes the aforementioned; the philosopher, Ludwig Feuerbach writes the aforementioned under the inspiration of the Spirit of antiChrist. Nevertheless, both identify important aspects about ultimacy, or as Christians we might say: God! Paul understands that knowledge of God is not based on philosophical speculation; whereas Ludwig reflects a person who takes philosophical reflection to its logical conclusion. Philosophical speculation, as it programmatically starts with the self can only end with the self. Thus, Feuerbach concludes that God is only a human projection; a projection of what the self would like to imagine itself to be. Ironically, the self under Feuerbach’s machinations ends up relying on classically understood divine revelational categories, or philosophical categories, and imagines that this is in fact representative of what humanity actually is in se. This is ironic, to me anyway, because Ludwig helps to illustrate just what a god imagined under the constraints of philosophical reasoning naturally reduces to; viz. it reduces or collapses the classically philosophical categories for divinity into the human being as the ultimate terminus for who and what ‘God’ is. I can agree, as a Christian, with Feuerbach. If our notion of God is based upon philosophical speculation, and the subsequent imagining that this speculation fosters, then this God, indeed ends up being a God who “man … made . . . in his image.”

Contrariwise, as already alluded to, the Apostle Paul doesn’t know the God that Feuerbach, or the philosophers in general have imagined. Paul’s knowledge of God is purely based on God’s confrontation of Him, quite literally, on the road to Damascus. Paul’s theological schooling, post-first-encounter, is given to him directly by the risen Christ. Paul doesn’t claim to imagine or construct his notion of God based on philosophical speculation, but he bases his knowledge of God in the category of revelation. Revelation, for Paul, is based on God’s irruption into the world, in and through the risen Christ, and in an ongoing way, as the risen Christ actively and event-ually continues to confront him, and all Christians (and all would-be Christians) through personal encounter; and thus, the disruption of Grace for the world. Paul’s God, clearly, is grounded in a Hebraic understanding, such that God just is the One who freely has chosen, and continues to choose, to confront us with His life of new-creation for the world in Jesus Christ. This notion of God cannot be reduced to a mode of human projection, precisely because it definitionally begins in a question proposed to us from without rather than from within us. Ben Quash gets at it this way as he develops the way Dietrich Bonhoeffer comes to think God:

[T]he opening up of a ‘third term’ in the confrontation between the recipient(s) and the medium of revelation is something that all good theologies of revelation in the modern period have had to attempt in different ways. Dietrich Bonhoeffer has left us with what is arguably one of the most suggestive and fruitful, with his affirmation of the penultimate (the rational, empirical, social domain) in its intimate closeness-in-distinction to the ultimate. The ultimate opens up within the penultimate in the form of a question, as we confront and examine the phenomena of our earthly existence. It is not our own question—it is given to us. And although it is given to us phenomenally (in the penultimate), its answer is not. The question is “Who Is Jesus Christ for us today?’ (Bonhoeffer 1966: 30: 1971: 279). This question draws us along the way of the cross into dispossessive relationship with one who is the non-circumscribable ultimate of existence. We find him incognito, ‘hidden in empirical history as empirical reality, “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Romans 8:3)’ (Janz 2004: 220). He is the definitive revelation of God by allowing himself to be pushed out of the world onto the cross, in this way showing us the God who is not an agent in competitive relation to other agents in the world—not just one who makes particular differences—but one who makes all the difference, in but not in addition to all the differences that there already are. [Ben Quash, 342.]

This, in my view, represents the genuinely Christian way for thinking God. It isn’t something that we construct, but something we are proposed with, actively, as our very capacity for thinking God is put in its rightful place. The Christian way for knowing God is, we might say: staurological (that is, it is a crucified knowledge). The Incarnation and cross of Christ itself shows us that the human animal, left to its own abstract self, can only arrive at the reality that God is us. This is what we see finally in Feuerbach, and the sort of theological modernity he represents. An uncrucified knowledge of God can only be one that starts and ends in the circle of the self; this, ironically, is the pronouncement of the cross of Christ. The cross of Christ, the ‘wisdom of God’, takes Feuerbach, and the spirit he thinks from, to its ultimate conclusion; it shows how the humanly conceived notion of God finally has an end. It is out of the ashes of this projected god that the living God rises victoriously, and in and through recreation of humanity, in Christ’s resurrected vicarious humanity, human beings have come to have the capacity to think and know God as God genuinely is in Himself for us.

One cash out of the aforementioned, from my perspective, is that what is implied is that any notion of God that is based on our own inner-desires, rather than being based on the One who confronts us from outside of ourselves, even from within ourselves in the humanity of Christ, is as Barth says: the No-God (Isaiah says this too). And so, many unbelieving Christians end up counting on a God who indeed represents a projection of the God that they want God to be. This God allows them to live in any variety of sin that we could imagine; this God, this Jesus Christ, smiles on and affirms them in their sinful lifestyles. This God does not contradict or confront them, or tell them to repent. I would suggest that this is the God who largely funds the American religion known as evangelicalism, progressivism, and mainlinism.

Ecce Homo, Jesus is the Man! He was First Human for Us that We Might Be Human in Him

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the lawof the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. —Psalm 1.1-2

I once read a biblical exegete, H. A. Ironside, ironically, identify ‘the man’ in Psalm 1 to be none other than, Jesus Christ. This interpretive tradition goes way back into theological history. Some might think this is just Barth, or Torrance, or maybe some Germans in the modern period, like Emil Brunner or Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who emphasized the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ; the Son of Man; the Son of David. But we see these emphases found in Calvin, Luther, Athanasius, Irenaeus, Augustine, Cyril of Alexandria, and Nicene theology in general. Here is a succinct statement on this interpretive tradition provided by a German, and teacher of mine, named, Helmut Thielicke:

This character of the imago Dei as an alienum, something alien, is supremely brought out by the fact that as a proprium, as a true ontic possession, an attribute in the strict sense, it is ascribed solely and exclusively to Jesus Christ. It is is ascribed to him as a proprium, not merely in the sense that in him alone it has remained intact, but above all in the sense that it is present in him. In the absolute sense Jesus Christ is the only man. More precisely, he is the only man who fulfills humanity; he does not possess humanity merely in the negative mode, as an unrealized possibility. We can say this, of course, only if we at once add the safeguard that “humanity” cannot here be understood as an a priori concept expressing a knowledge of man enjoyed prior to and apart from Jesus Christ. If it were so understood, then Jesus Christ would be understood as merely fulfilling, or having to fulfill, an idea of humanity deriving from our own sovereignly creative consciousness. Our thinking must take the very opposite course. We must first learn from Christ and perceive in him—ecce homo!—what man is. We must first learn from his divine likeness wherein the divine likeness of man consists. For man’s divine likeness is fulfilled only in Christ, in our participating in his divine likeness.1

This changes everything! There is no humanity prior to Christ’s humanity. There is no imago Dei outwith the Deus Incarnandus, the eternal Son, to be incarnate for us. He was not created in our image, but we His! When you encounter theologies that attempt to think of an abstract humanity, as we find in classical Calvinisms and Arminianisms, as that is provided for by their respective doctrines of election and reprobation, you ought to run. Jesus, the elect of God for us, the Anointed One, He is the Man, Christ Jesus, the mediator between God and humanity in his hypostatic unioned person. This is in fact, the Word of the Lord; in flesh and blood.

Human Freedom vis-à-vis God: With Reference to the Theanthropology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. –John 8:32, 36

15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”  18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. –Romans 8:15, 18-25

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by[f] him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. –Colossians 1:15-20

I wish I had the time and space to do a proper exegesis of the above passages, but for now they will simply have to hover in the background; I’ll leave it to the reader to discern how they might relate to the rest of what I write in this post.

Freewill has been a matter of deep consternation in the history of the church; not to mention in the history of the Philosophy departments on the university campuses. Whether it be the infamous Augustine/Pelagius binary (the historical particularities notwithstanding); Luther/Erasmus; Calvin/Pighius; Dort/Remonstrants; so on and so forth. While this locus has occupied the minds of many, and still does, I want to argue that it is not a genuinely biblical theological point of doctrinal consideration. In order to aid my argument, I will appeal to a reading of Bonhoeffer’s anthropology (or Theanthropology) which will point up how a genuine doctrine of human freedom vis-à-vis human agency actually functions theologically in the biblical text. Following, I will reflect further on Bonhoeffer’s anthropology, per the report of his reader, and also make a note on how theological ideation, in general, is what’s at stake in these discussions more than is getting personal biographies of past theologians completely right (even though this has its own relative significance). Here is Rachel Muers on Bonhoeffer and freedom:

Freedom is one of the key terms Bonhoeffer uses to specify what it means to be human. In discussing Genesis 1:26 he specifically locates the image of God in human freedom: ‘To say that in humankind God creates the image of God on earth means that humankind is like the Creator in that it is free’ (DBWE 3: 62). At several points—and in terms that we shall discuss later because of the problems they raise for contemporary theological anthropology—he contrasts freedom with necessity as the distinctive mark of human life over against non-human animal life (see DBWE 6: 196).

In the context I have outlined, however, in which the human person is given his or her ‘boundary’ by the other, and this very boundary is what makes the person, just what does human freedom actually mean? Clearly it cannot mean the freedom of unlimited self-assertion or self-creation. In fat, for Bonhoeffer, the attempt to exercise that kind of freedom, to be ‘like God’, to live without limits, is at the heart of sinful existence (DBWE 3: 116). Moreover, and linked to this, in Bonhoeffer’s account freedom is not a built-in human capacity at all. There is nothing about me, taken in isolation, that makes me free: not my rationality, not my will, not even my ‘thrownness’ into the world.

For Bonhoeffer, the freedom proper to humanity is freedom in relationship, both to God and to the neighbour in community. As creaturely freedom, it is received before it is possessed or exerted; it is ‘freedom for’ or ‘freedom in relation to’ another, rather than ‘freedom to’ do something. Insofar as it is ‘freedom from’ anything, it is freedom from the endless circle of the ‘heart turned in on itself’—Luther’s cor curvuum in se (see DBWE 2: 46)—the attempt to secure one’s own existence and meaning, perhaps the prisoner’s ‘lonely question’, to which the sinful human being, excluded from community, is condemned. Again, Creation and Fall makes it clear that this freedom—precisely as freedom-in-relation, freedom-towards-the-other and freedom-for-God—is creaturely freedom and not only redeemed freedom. It is the freedom for which humanity is made, but this is not a freedom to which people ‘reading from the middle’ have access apart from redemption in Christ.

The Imago Dei—i.e. that in humanity which reflects God—is thus given in the relationship of humanity to God that begins as a relationship of God to humanity, the free act of the creator. A key point to note here, of course, is that God’s own freedom, seen in creation and redemption, is freedom-for and freedom-in relation. Humanity images God in receiving freedom-for-God and freedom-for-the-other; and as God calls humanity into relationship and humanity responds, God’s own way of being free is present within creation. In a telling and undeveloped aside, Bonhoeffer suggests that this is the meaning of the patristic texts on the ‘indwelling of the Trinity in Adam’ (DBWE 3: 64): God’s own ‘freedom-in-relation’, God’s triune being, is imaged in human life not just because the human being in some way resembles God, but because human life receives and reflects the freedom that God has.[1]

I submit the above to you as the biblical way to think human freedom vis-à-vis God’s freedom. The problem typical discussions have, in regard to freewill, is that they ALWAYS go beyond Scripture and its reality in Christ; and instead they start having a philosophical discussion that has no ‘point of contact’ with the ‘Scriptural witness.’ Philosophical discussions about human agency and freewill, by definition, think humanity in an abstract manner; or we might want to say in a ‘purely profane’ manner. In other words, to think human freewill in abstraction from humanity’s groundedness in God’s image for humanity in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ, is not to think from God’s Self-revelation to humanity about humanity, but to think humanity from an independent humanity (from God’s for us) and then, post-factum project that onto a discussion about Godness. This mode, or hermeneutic, is to attempt to speak for God, instead of to think of God Deus dixit, after ‘God has spoken’ Himself for us in His Word for us (pro nobis), in Jesus Christ.

An Aside on Historical Biography and the Popular

I just watched an interview with Dr. Ali Bonner via vlog done by host, Warren McGrew. Bonner recently released her book The Myth of Pelagianism. It was an informative interview, and the history discussed is important and very interesting. But I am afraid that McGrew, and those of like-mind, become too enamored with the biographical history itself rather than the theological ideation under consideration. Whether or not Pelagius, for example, would affirm what has come to be known as Pelagianism, and he probably would, is beside the point. The issue is whether or not what this doctrine, which has come to be known as Pelagianism, if it actually has correspondence to something like what we just discussed with reference to Bonhoeffer’s understanding of human freedom. McGrew, Leighton Flowers&company do not seem to grasp this, and continue to suppose that simply because Pelagius’ thinking might have been considered the ‘orthodox’ teaching at one point, that this does not mean it should have been per the Scriptural realities. Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda. There must be greater depth, a broader perspective deployed if these folks want to avoid the errors of the Socinians et al. Soli Deo Gloria

[1] Rachel Muers, “Anthropology,” in Michael Mawson and Philip G. Ziegler eds., The Oxford Handbook of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019), 202-03.

Spitting Out the Caricature-Water: An Anatomy Lesson on Pelagianism

In my last two posts I have made reference to the theological heresy known, historically, as Pelagianism. In an effort to provide further theological development and engagement with this locus I want to refer us to a description of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s understanding of the cor curvum in se (heart turned in on itself) provided for by Philip Ziegler. There is a facile understanding of so-called Pelagianism, by some (of my interlocutors), wherein they seem to think that the conceptuality that the language of Pelagianism signifies is theologically unproblematic. In other words, some of my interlocutors believe that if they can exonerate Pelagius himself from the ‘heretic-label’ that his teachings have gained via the councils of 2nd Orange, Ephesus, and Carthage, that they can espouse his teachings, in the main, and avoid the heretical label altogether (since in their view Pelagius wasn’t really a heretic anyway, particularly, because according to them Pelagius didn’t teach what the whole history of the Church believed he taught). But this naively misses the whole point: whether or not Pelagius taught the idea of a neutral morality and human-will, indeed in need of an aide of grace, is not the point of critique in regard to Pelagianism simpliciter. What is at stake is, oriented by biblical faithfulness vis-à-vis whether or not someone’s theological anthropology in fact coheres with the teaching of Scripture in toto. In other words, does Scripture teach that humanity simpliciter is born with a freewill that has the capaciousness to respond to the offer of the Gospel on its own strength or not? This is what some of my interlocutors have attempted to argue, all the while either by way of acquitting Pelagius himself, or by suggesting that they aren’t corollary with the historic tenets of Pelagianism proper; particularly as understood by almost ALL within Church history.

Bonhoeffer, according to Ziegler’s accounting, maintained the common notion that Luther et al. have maintained in regard to the biblical anthropology of homo incurvatus in se. That is, “and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (Jn 3.19); further, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God” (Rom 3.11). The case can be made further, from Scripture, that the human problem is unsurpassable save someone extra nos (outside of us) entering into our incurved and sinful situation, and redeeming us from the inside out; guts and all. According to Ziegler this is what Bonhoeffer maintained; here is how Ziegler illumines that for us:

Whatever else will be meant by divine freedom and transcendence, in the first instance they mean that God is not at the disposal of fallen human reason, neither ‘to hand’ or ‘in hand’ to be deployed in schemes of metaphysical and existential explanation. Bonhoeffer conceives of human reason as such to be verkrümmten—warped and turned in upon itself—fully conformed to sin’s distortion of humanity…. As such it is ‘imprisoned in itself, it sees only itself, even when it sees another, even when it wants to see God (DBWE 2: 45). To the extent that such reason does think and speak of ‘God’ it can only do so as an epiphenomenon of its own religious ambitions, as an idea firmly resident in and subservient to its own self-reflection (DBWE 2: 44, 50, 51). Since, as Bonhoeffer explains, ‘thinking is as little able as good works to deliver the cor corvum in se from itself’ (DBWE 2: 80), the truth of God must come upon reason ‘from beyond and break in upon it in such a way that one is placed ‘into the truth by Christ in judgment and grace’ (DBWE 2: 96). Thus the axiom ‘deus non potest apprehendi nisis per verbum’ (it is impossible to apprehend God apart from the word), which Bonhoeffer approvingly cites from the Confessio Augustana (DBWE 2: 53, 67). The saving address of the Word has the form of God’s transcendent freedom: it is God giving himself ‘without precondition’ (DBWE 2: 89) to be known across the otherwise unbridgeable chasm of unlikeness, most concretely the unlikeness of human sin and divine righteousness (DBWE 2:54, 79).[1]

For Bonhoeffer, according to Ziegler, and I would maintain for the teaching of Scripture itself, the human condition is so enslaved to sin that it has no hope in itself to surpass its condition. In other words, the fallen human being, which is what all human beings apart from Jesus Christ’s vicarious humanity are, is so trodden down by the effects of sin that there isn’t one part of it, not its affections, intellect, or will, that hasn’t become constrained by its own weight of ineptitude; that isn’t only always for the self rather than for God. And this is precisely why ‘He who knew no sin, assumed sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.’ The fact that it took God to become Theanthropos (Godman) ought to illumine the minds and hearts of those who would be tempted to think that they have anything in them (even if claimed to be from a God -givenness), that could say Yes or No to God; that this is utterly and biblically fallacious. And yet this is what some of my interlocutors want to maintain; and to do so with a straight (and even smug, at points) face.

The heresy of Pelagianism, in the history, apart from debates surrounding the man Pelagius, is what Bonhoeffer, according to Ziegler maintained in the aforementioned. Some of my interlocutors will assert that Bonhoeffer is just a good Augustinian; but that reply is simply an attempt to poison the well with caricature-water. What Pelagianism, the doctrine, has come to signify is: that people have a God-given and grace aided capacity in themselves to respond positively or negatively to the Gospel offer; that is Pelagianism. Some of my interlocutors believe that this teaching is in fact the biblical teaching, eo ipso they are Pelagians, by any historic standard for understanding that terminology and the conceptuality it signifies. But the biblical teaching, as we have just been noticing, with help from Bonhoeffer, is that humanity requires resurrection and the new creation of Christ’s human body in order to have capacity to say Yes to God. Some of my interlocutors, though, have an anemic understanding of what the atonement entails (and this ironically is where they are in lockstep with the Calvinists they claim to be in critique of). The atonement involves ontological depth, as TF Torrance rightfully emphasizes; along with the Apostle Paul. This implies that the Gospel isn’t simply about whether or not someone gets to go to heaven or not; the Gospel, under this pressure, involves what it in fact means to be fully human coram Deo (before God) in the prosopon Christi (face of Christ). Some of my interlocutors don’t understand the depth dimension of the Gospel implications in regard to what it actually did; i.e. it fully recreated humanity by the resurrection humanity of Jesus Christ. This ought to enlighten some of my interlocutors; they ought to be able to infer that if the Gospel goes this deep, then it went this deep for a reason. The reach of sin has a primal orientation such that its effects denude the human capacity in itself, even if so-called God-given and aided by grace, in such a way that it takes God Himself to stoop down and recreate the capacity for us to be for God and not against Him in and through the Yes and Amen of His life for us (pro nobis) in Jesus Christ!

My next post, or some post in the near future will be in reference to the Apostle Paul against Pelagianism and its contemporary proponents. I’m afraid some of my interlocutors believe they have the scriptural teaching on their side, but they really don’t!

[1] Philip G. Ziegler, “God,” in Michael Mawson and Philip G. Ziegler eds., The Oxford Handbook of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019), 140.

Jeremiah Contra the Intellectualist Priestcraft Beguiling the 21st Century Churches

9 Concerning the prophets: My heart is broken within me all my bones shake; I am like a drunken man, like a man overcome by wine, because of the Lord and because of his holy words. 10 For the land is full of adulterers; because of the curse the land mourns, and the pastures of the wilderness are dried up. Their course is evil, and their might is not right. 11 “Both prophet and priest are ungodly; even in my house I have found their evil, declares the Lord. 12 Therefore their way shall be to them like slippery paths in the darkness, into which they shall be driven and fall, for I will bring disaster upon them in the year of their punishment, declares the Lord. 13 In the prophets of Samaria I saw an unsavory thing: they prophesied by Baal and led my people Israel astray. 14 But in the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen a horrible thing: they commit adultery and walk in lies; they strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that no one turns from his evil; all of them have become like Sodom to me, and its inhabitants like Gomorrah.” 15 Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts concerning the prophets: “Behold, I will feed them with bitter food and give them poisoned water to drink, for from the prophets of Jerusalem ungodliness has gone out into all the land.” 16 Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. 17 They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’” 18 For who among them has stood in the council of the Lord to see and to hear his word, or who has paid attention to his word and listened? 19 Behold, the storm of the Lord! Wrath has gone forth, a whirling tempest; it will burst upon the head of the wicked. 20 The anger of the Lord will not turn back until he has executed and accomplished the intents of his heart. In the latter days you will understand it clearly. 21 “I did not send the prophets, yet they ran; I did not speak to them, yet they prophesied. 22 But if they had stood in my council, then they would have proclaimed my words to my people, and they would have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their deeds.

23 “Am I a God at hand, declares the Lord, and not a God far away? 24 Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord. 25 I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, ‘I have dreamed, I have dreamed!’ 26 How long shall there be lies in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart, 27 who think to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, even as their fathers forgot my name for Baal? 28 Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? declares the Lord. 29 Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces? 30 Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, declares the Lord, who steal my words from one another. 31 Behold, I am against the prophets, declares the Lord, who use their tongues and declare, ‘declares the Lord.’ 32 Behold, I am against those who prophesy lying dreams, declares the Lord, and who tell them and lead my people astray by their lies and their recklessness, when I did not send them or charge them. So they do not profit this people at all, declares the Lord.

33 “When one of this people, or a prophet or a priest asks you, ‘What is the burden of the Lord?’ you shall say to them, ‘You are the burden, and I will cast you off, declares the Lord.’ 34 And as for the prophet, priest, or one of the people who says, ‘The burden of the Lord,’ I will punish that man and his household. 35 Thus shall you say, every one to his neighbor and every one to his brother, ‘What has the Lord answered?’ or ‘What has the Lord spoken?’ 36 But ‘the burden of the Lord’ you shall mention no more, for the burden is every man’s own word, and you pervert the words of the living God, the Lord of hosts, our God. 37 Thus you shall say to the prophet, ‘What has the Lord answered you?’ or ‘What has the Lord spoken?’ 38 But if you say, ‘The burden of the Lord,’ thus says the Lord, ‘Because you have said these words, “The burden of the Lord,” when I sent to you, saying, “You shall not say, ‘The burden of the Lord,’” 39 therefore, behold, I will surely lift you up and cast you away from my presence, you and the city that I gave to you and your fathers. 40 And I will bring upon you everlasting reproach and perpetual shame, which shall not be forgotten.’” Jeremiah 23:9–40

I wrote the following on another social media platform with reference to the above passage (although I focused on verse 10): ““Both prophet and priest are ungodly; even in my house I have found their evil, declares the LORD.” –Jeremiah 23:11 It is as if Christians could never imagine this. What’s even stranger is that many Christian scholars cannot seemingly imagine this about experts in other fields. There is this pervasive hypermodernist notion that experts have achieved überman critical status. As if the “intellect” really wasn’t touched by the fall, thus allowing natural humanity to be reasonable and ethical in their daily praxis; and allowing them to be of pure intention in regard to their research in whatever fields they may be operating within. Most scholarship these days, whether it is Christian or other, operates off the premise furnished by an anthropological intellectualism. This keeps Christian scholars, pastors, and the laity in general operating with this notion that humanity can still be “good” in its intentions even though the cross of Christ reveals the exact opposite! Let me expand further on this below.

As we read Holy Scripture canonically what we see is that the above sentiment, voiced by Jeremiah as a mouthpiece for the living and triune God, is ubiquitous from the very beginning till now. As a Bible reader, whose spirituality has been formed by the contours of this canonical reality, it is hard to not be cynical about the sphere known as academia. Academia is where our postmodern day priests are cultivated. When they leave the monasteries of their training, they leave as experts in their field. Given the pervasive nature of scientism in our present (and evil) day, no matter what discipline said expert (or priest) inhabits they have been anointed with the imprimatur of the gods (their doktorvaters). In this immanentized world of holiness, the experts have been granted the authority to speak with ex cathedra pronouncements. By their demiurgical standing they can speak reality into existence as if ex nihilo. And all of this from the certitude they have achieved by simply operating from the intellectual capacity they have been born with, and cultivated into by the college of cardinals who hold the keys to the straight and crooked.

I mentioned ‘intellectualism’ in my original commentary. Theologically, particularly with reference to the Latin (Catholic and Protestant) tradition, Thomas Aquinas immediately comes to mind. He offered a theological anthropology, which Norman Fiering has identified as Thomist Intellectualism, wherein the fall of humanity suffered not from a noetic or intellectual impact. In other words:

So three things oppose virtue: sin (or misdeeds), evil (the opposite of goodness), and vice (disposition unbefitting to one’s nature). Whatever accords with reason is humanly good, whatever goes against reason is humanly bad. Human virtue that makes men and their deeds good befits human nature by befitting reason, whilst vice goes against man’s nature by going against reason. Man’s nature is twofold: he lives by his reason and he lives by his senses. It is through sensing that he learns to reason, but many men never mature beyond the level of sense. Vice and sin result from our following of sense-nature against our rational nature. And going against human rational nature is going against eternal law.[1]

This is only a sampling from Aquinas; this sentiment, in regard to the ‘rational nature’ can be enumerated at almost exponential levels. But this should suffice in illustrating the broader point being made: the intellect or ‘rational nature’ has held a primacy of place not only for the profane or pagan scholars among us, it is also primal in regard to the way Christian scholars think and operate. And it is this point of contact, based in natural law, and as a subsequent, a natural anthropology as understood, broadly, from within the Thomist intellectualist tradition (there are other intellectualist anthropologies that parse things from different angles, but typically end up with the same praxis), wherein intellectuals, and the experts in general find their common or ‘natural’ fellowship. But this is a dangerous ‘venture of faith.’

If God is to be trusted, along with His prophet Jeremiah, it is possible, more, it is likely that we all are susceptible to fancies of elevating our imaginations and ‘original and constructive thinking’ to the level of the Divine Word. The priests and prophets of Israel did it; what makes us any better or more ‘critical’ than them? But this doesn’t seem to stop the expert class, in particular, and in whatever field, to speak as if they are speaking for God (or the gods, as the case may be in our hypermodern times). There is this implicit belief that the intellect has the capaciousness to transcend the mundane ‘man,’ and reach into the heavenly certitudes thus transversing the antinomy between the altitudes and the vicissitudes of this fleshy and phenomenalistic world. It is by this transpositioning between the heights and depths vis-à-vis the critical component present within the expert class wherein they lose the capacity to see things as God does. This is the remainder of the serpentine seduction that elusively leads us all to the altar of an abstract human certitude to be slaughtered. It is here where the forbidden fruit continues to poison the gullets of the masses, whether it is the expert or ‘fleshy’ classes, and seduces us to think that we can think and speak as God does from our own intact intellectual capacities; all along under the beguilement that we are only bearing witness to God (or the gods as the case may be).

The cross of Jesus Christ indicts us and puts us to death every single minute of every single day. The resurrection of Christ justifies and makes us alive every single minute of every single day. This is the Christian’s ground, and anthropological basis for thinking the self. It is not to turn to the subject, but instead it is to turn to the new creation of God’s life for us in Jesus Christ. The scholar is either confounded by the foolishness and weakness of the wisdom of the cross, or they only continue on as if they have a natural divinity within and from themselves. It is advisable for all Christians to live a life of ‘repentant living’ (a riff on TF Torrance’s repentant thinking), and only show deference for God and no one else. Herein there is an order and fruit of the Spirit that can genuinely bear witness to the living God. May the Lord have mercy to keep us from seeking the glory of others rather than the glory of God in Jesus Christ.    

[1] St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae Concise Translation, 270-71.

The Relational Imago Dei in Imago Christi

Helmut Thielicke offers an excellent argument for thinking the imago Dei from the ad extra of human interrelations. He extrapolates from this, from the biblical witness, that if this is so, then speculative thinking about Godself ought to likewise be abandoned. In other words, as Thielicke intones, if this is how the biblical witness depicts the imago, then this, as a prius, ought to be the way that we develop a theology proper itself; that is as we think God from God in Christ. Let me share his argument, and then offer my own constructive adaptation of what Thielicke is after.

The divine likeness is thus a relational entity because it is manifested in man’s ruling position vis-à-vis the rest of creation, or better, because it consists in this manifestation, in this exercise of dominion and lordship. The attempt to differentiate the essence of the image from its manifestation, and therefore to understand man’s ruling position of lordship only as a result of the true properties of the image (reason, will, freedom, etc.), has no foundation in the Bible and betrays a Platonic mode of thinking. The image of God consists in the manifestation, for it is of the very essence of a picture—that is its point!—to “effect” something, for example, in the person who looks at it; it “consists” in this effect, not in the variety of colors. The imago Dei does not consist apart from its specific operation. Luther’s repeated insistence that God is always actuosus, in action, holds true also of God’s image. The same approach is to be seen in Melanchthon’s view that the nature of Christ is to be seen in hi benefits, in his operation in salvation history, rather than in his metaphysical attributes. It is an approach which opposes differentiation between capacity or ability on the one hand, i.e., an attribute which enables us to do something, and activity on the other, i.e., this attribute in operation. We have to see the nature of God, not in his attributes [Eigenschaften], but in his outward relations [Aussenschaften], in what he does with us, in his relation to us, in his being “Emmanuel” [God with us]. The image of God in man is to be similarly defined. It is not a constituent capacity inherent in man but a relational entity, namely, man’s ruling function vis-à-vis the other creatures.[1]

I think Thielicke offers a nice development on the entailments of a biblical conception of what the imago Dei is. But I don’t think this goes far enough. As someone who thinks After Barth and Thomas Torrance, who both thought After Athanasius, it is important to point out that in fact Scripture itself, beyond Thielicke’s helpful development, refers to Jesus Christ, who is both consubstantial God and humanity in His singular person, as the imago Dei (cf. Col. 1.15). Khaled Anatolios provides a really instructive treatment of this development as it occurs in an Athanasian frame, he writes:

A helpful way to synthesize the argument of Against the Greeks—On the Incarnationand to integrate it with Athanasius’s later and more explicitly polemical work is to focus on the trintarian-christological-anthropological nexus that forms the guiding motif of the work: only the One who is true Image can renew humanity’s being according to the image (kat’ eikona). The trinitarian ground of this nexus is the immediate relation (though we do not find the later technical vocabulary of “relation” in this treatise) whereby the Son is the Image of the Father. The soteriological consequence of this immediacy is that the Son is uniquely able to grant direct and immediate access to the Father. The statement that humanity was created according to the Image is simultaneously anthropological and christological: to be created according to the Image is to be granted a participation in the one who is the true and full Image of the Father. When humanity lost its stability, which depended on remaining in the state of being according to the Image, the incarnate Word repaired the image of God in humanity by reuniting it with his own divine imaging of the Father. Jesus Christ is therefore both eternal divine Image and restored human image. The saving union of divine and human image in Christ is characterized by immediacy. One foundational principle of Athanasius’s theological vision is this stress on the continuity of immediate connections between God and humanity and a corresponding abhorrence of obstacles and opaque mediations. As perfect Image, the Son is immediately united to the Father and transparently reflects knowledge of the Father; anything short of this immediate and transparent relation would deconstruct our immediate connection with the Father through the Son from the divine side. Through his incarnation, the Son repairs our human participation in his imaging of the Father from within the human constitution; anything short of a full incarnation would leave humans disconnected from both Father and Son. Thus, incarnation and the full divinity of the Son are both integral to the immediacy of our contact with the Father. Far from indicating inferior divinity, the human life and death of Jesus Christ extend the efficacy of is divine imaging of the Father in the face of humanity’s loss of the state of being according to the image. It is a wonderful display of the loving-kindness that belongs to the divine nature as such, the philanthrōpia that is equally shared by Father and Son.[2] 

I think this is the needed expansion that Thielicke’s treatment needs. In order to have a properly construed theological-anthropology, in my view it must be grounded in and from the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ. If He is God’s image for us, then it only makes sense to think imago Dei as imago Christi; or that we are ‘images of the Image.’ In this Thielicke’s good insight can flourish in properly theological ways as those are constrained by the conciliar grammar provided for us in the Chalcedeno-Niceno-Constantinopolitan faith. But this is the point: we ought to think ourselves from God’s thinking and reality for us in Jesus Christ. If we do we will end up, necessarily so, with a relational understanding, first of God, and then of ourselves. We won’t think of ourselves as static quantities, but dynamic personalities as we are ‘personed’ in and from the life of God pro nobis in Jesus Christ.

[1] Helmut Thielicke, Theological Ethics: Foundations (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966), 157.

[2] Khaled Anatolios, Retrieving Nicaea: The Development and Meaning of Trinitarian Doctrine,(Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2011), 107-8.

Human Agency in Salvation: With an Allusion to an Evangelical Calvinist Ordo Salutis

As is often the case I have an urge to write on a particular topic, and so I’ll do a search internal to my blog. This post is a result of that search. It hits on the very issue I had planned on writing on this morning. But there really isn’t any reason for me to reinvent that wheel, so I offer up this older post for your newer consideration. It has to do with human agency in salvation; an ordo salutis, if you will. Read on.

This is The Evangelical Calvinist blog, as such you’re probably expecting posts on Calvinism. I used to post much more in this area, and still do at points—this will be one of those points. In this post we will engage with a doctrine of human agency in salvation. Since this is the Evangelical Calvinist we will work through a lengthy passage from TF Torrance, and deal with the way he treats this topic. I am happy to own what he communicates in this area as my own. Fair warning: it will leave the classical Calvinist and Arminian rather frustrated. TFT rebuffs the mechanical theory of causation we get from Aristotle as that is imbued into Westminster Calvinism. In Torrance we get a filial approach to these issues, one that is grounded in relational and Triune Grace that thinks in terms of personal relationships rather than in the logico-causal and necessitarian ways that other classical theisms typically work in and from.

Torrance, and Evangelical Calvinists following, receive critique over the very issue this post will seek to redress. We are accused of being either, Universalists or incoherent in our soteriological understanding. The critique is solely based in the fact that we don’t answer the question about human agency in salvation in the ways that our opponents would like us to. They, in petitio principii terms, simply presume that their causal framework for understanding how God works in the world just is and must be the way that God indeed, works in the world. Torrance had a way of undercutting their Aristotelian universe, and theory of causation therein; he did that by appealing to a ‘modern’ development by referring to the work of Albert Einstein, John Clerk Maxwell, and others. He uses, for example, Einstein’s theory of relativity to undermine the sort of stable and static and mechanical universe that Aristotle, Ptolemy, and Newton gave us in their respective theories of the cosmos. But I digress, yet I do so to make the point that Torrance, and us Evangelical Calvinists, work from different premises in regard to a God/world relation; which for us, presents us with a way to articulate the inner-grammar of the Gospel in differing ways from our counterparts in the other iterations of classical theism.

The aforementioned noted, all to get us into this lengthy, but important passage from the very Scottish, TF Torrance. After we read through this pericope from Torrance, I will follow up by further contrasting our respective view on this issue with what we get in classical Calvinism and Arminianism. Torrance writes:

(v) The virgin birth the pattern of grace, the model of faith

That brings us to the point that in the virgin birth we are given at the very beginning Christ’s life a revelatory sign, a semeion, which tells us what the divine act of grace is. Grace takes a form in the birth of Jesus which we may take as a pattern or norm for all our understanding of grace. Here God takes the initiative and approaches Mary through the word of his angelic messenger – the word proclaimed to Mary is the word of election or grace: she is chosen and told God’s choice. She has nothing to do in this matter except what is done in her under the operation of the Spirit. What Mary does is simply to receive the word, to believe, which she does not in her own strength but in the strength given her by the Lord, and she is blessed because of that, not because of her virginity. John of Damascus remarked that Mary conceived through the ear: she heard the Word and the Word spoken by the Spirit in her ear begot himself in her and through her, and so the Word which Mary heard and received and obeyed became flesh of her flesh. That is the normative pattern for the believer in his or her attitude toward the Word announced in the gospel, which tells men and women of the divine act of grace and decision taken already on their behalf in Christ. Mary’s attitude is beautifully expressed in the words: ‘Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.’ It is an act of glad and thankful and humble submission and surrender to the will of God. And within her there takes place the incomprehensible act of God, the birth of the Son of God in human form.

By that we are guided to think and given to understand something of our own salvation and recreation. As in the annunciation of the word to Mary, Christ the Word himself became flesh, so in the enunciation of the gospel, we surrender in like manner to Christ the Word now made flesh, and there takes place in us the birth of Jesus, or rather, we are in a remarkable way given to share through grace in his birth and to share in the new creation in him. That is the Christian message – the Christmas message. It is not of our self-will or free-will that we are saved and born anew from above. ‘But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.’ Here there is a ‘become’ dependent on the ‘become’ of ‘the Word become flesh’, grounded in it and derivative from it. What happened once and for all, in utter uniqueness in Jesus Christ, happens in every instance of rebirth into Christ, when Christ enters into our hearts and recreates us. Just as he was born from above of the Holy Spirit, so we are born from above of the Holy Spirit through sharing in his birth. Just as in the birth of Jesus there was no preceding action on our part, or human co-operation, such as the co-operation between a human father and a human mother, just as there was no prior human activity there, so in our salvation and in our knowledge of God there is no a priori, no human presupposition, no Pelagian, semi-Pelagian or synergistic activity.

It is from first to last salvation by grace alone – even our faith is not of ourselves for it is a gift of God – salvation for humanity, among men and women and within them, but a salvation grounded on an immediate act of God himself, and not on both God and man. We are saved by faith, but faith is the empty vessel (as Calvin called it) that receives Christ, faith so to speak is the empty womb through which Christ comes to dwell in our hearts. Faith as our reception of Christ, our capacity for Christ is itself a gift of grace. It is not a creation out of nothing, however, but a creation out of man, out of the human sphere of our choices and decisions, capacities and possibilities, a creation out of our fallen humanity but a creation of God – and therefore faith is something that is far beyond all human possibilities and capacities. It is grounded beyond itself in the act of God. In faith we are opened from above and given to receive what we ourselves are incapable of receiving in and by ourselves. Faith is not therefore the product of our human capacities or insights or abilities. The relation between faith and the Christ received by faith is the Holy Spirit: conceptus de Spiritu Sancto. Just as Jesus was conceived by the Spirit so we cannot say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit. It is by the operation of the Spirit that we receive the Word of God which is ingrafted into our souls, and, as it were, conceive the truth in our hearts and minds. We do not bring Christ in by our own power, by our own decision or choice, nor do we make Christ real to ourselves or in ourselves. How could we do that? That is entirely the work of the Holy Spirit – our part in being addressed by the Word is to hear the gracious decision that God has already taken, hear the word of the gospel that God has set his love and favour upon us, although we do not in the least deserve it. Although we have done nothing and can do nothing to bring it about, yet when he works in us what he has been pleased to do, it is ours to work it out in obedient living faith.[1]

Plenty there to sufficiently understand Torrance’s offering as ‘Calvinist,’ but in such a way that the ground is fertilized from a variant foment as that is sourced from a doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Christ and a corollary doctrine of Christ condition election. We see how Torrance uses the analogy of the Virgin Birth to do work that we might not normally think it to do. It presents us with a picture of God’s unilateral work of salvation as that is graciously imparted into the life of Mary from above. It is God’s choice, in Christ, according to Torrance that serves as the ground that we ought to think about how human agency is operative in the salvific process. In other words, for Torrance, the choice for salvation has already been made, whether we believe it or not, in God’s election to be for us and with us in the Grace of Christ. For Torrance, if God works this way, over our heads as it were, then we have no place to presume that we have any ground in ourselves to make a choice for Him that He hasn’t ‘already taken’ for us in the Yes of Jesus Christ for us.

This analogy bothers the classical Calvinist, and even the Arminian in significant ways. It doesn’t address the issue of particularity and the individual in salvation under the terms that they would prefer. They do not think about election through the prism of the cosmic Christ; instead they think of individually elect people whom God arbitrarily chose in abstraction from Christ, and under the absolute decree of election. In this scenario, they believe they have found a key for unlocking the ‘problem’ that Torrance seemingly slips right past. They believe they have a way of positing how someone might come to Christ, while also maintaining the effectual means by which that is accomplished. They believe that God has not only ordained the ends of election, but also the means. The means, they posit, is a created grace given to the elect through which the elect will say yes to God and confirm His choice for them. Torrance, clearly, does not think from these terms; he thinks from the mystery of the Incarnation and its inherence in the Virgin Birth of Mary. This troubles classical Calvinists greatly!

Interestingly, I haven’t ever lost any sleep from this apparent conundrum. I don’t see it as a dilemma whatsoever. We know why and even how people come to faith in Christ; it is through the faith of Christ, and God’s choice to present that to all of humanity through the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ. Evangelical Calvinists, following TFT, aren’t much different than Calvin here. Calvin held to an asymmetry between the doctrines of reprobation and election. He believed election was a revealed reality come in the mirror of Christ, but he also believed that reprobation remained a secret in the hidden will of God. This presented some problems for Calvin’s overall theological presentation (which I’ve written about here), but on analogy, Torrance can follow the same distinction. He can say: ‘sure, I can tell you, like any good Calvinist, that people say yes to God because God first chose to say yes to them.’ But Torrance can also say: ‘under these conditions we are at a loss for understanding why people continue to say no to God in Christ; all we can do is recognize the inscrutable mystery of sin and evil operative in the world. We know it’s a reality, but we don’t understand how or even why it is.’ This is not a satisfactory response for the classical Calvinist, or the classical Arminian following (you realize Arminianism is not much different than Calvinism, right?).

But I will only respond with the realization that when we read the Apostle Paul or the dominical teaching itself, ‘freedom for God’ is always already associated with the ‘in Christ’ or union with Christ loci; such that to have this discussion at all leads us into the positive affirmation that to be human, and thus free, in God’s economy is to be in Christ. Torrance believes that this freedom, or to be human before God, is fully available for all of humanity as that is grounded in the archetypal humanity of Jesus Christ. He believes, as we just read, that Christ is the new creation of God, and that in order to spiritually experience this reality we must be in active union with Christ. All of humanity, by virtue of Christ’s humanity for them, has the capacity to say yes from His Yes for them. This is, I would contend, the Pauline teaching; one that focuses on the positive of what God has accomplished for the world through His gracious choice to be for humanity rather than against it; to take our no as His No, and give us His Yes, and allow it to be ours by the grace of the Spirit.

[1] Thomas F. Torrance, Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ, edited by Robert T. Walker (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008), 100-02.

Ceasing to be Human::Being Made Human from God’s Humanity For Us

‘For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.’ At a theological level what does this imply as we think about the effects of the fall as that impacts, in particular, anthropology—or what it means to be human coram Deo (before God). We might be tempted to think along with the Great Tradition, when we think sin, in terms of a forensic relationship with God; God who is Lawgiver and Judge—emphasis on Law. But what if we go another direction, a direction that has been in the church’s tradition for just as long or longer than the Western Great Tradition; what if we think sin from within the [onto] relational or filial reality that co-inheres in the triune life of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? In other words, what if we think, in a God-world relation, that sin represents a disjunction or rupture, for the creature, from being participant in the triune life of eternal fellowship as God has desired from before the foundations of the world? If we think sin under this pressure, what we might end up with is the idea that what it means to be genuinely human, a fulsome creature before God, is that we must be in right relationship with this life; God’s triune Life. We get this sense, as we think what it means to be human from God’s imago Dei pro nobis; as we think humanity from God’s elected humanity to be for us in the image of God, who is the Christ (cf. Col. 1.15). Because God is gracious we find our esse as humans by way of being grounded and created in the image of Christ, who is the image of God for us. When the fall occurred this image was necessarily shattered insofar as God is Holy, thus our image bearing could no longer obtain; as such, it was no longer possible for those created in the image of Christ to be considered human in the sense of what that means in God’s economy and telos.

Philip Ziegler offers a nice script on this discussion as he continues to treat Wolf Krötke’ theology. In this instance it is with reference to theanthropology, and what it means to be human before and from God in Christ. You will note that Krötke’s perspective is both deeply Barthian and Athanasian; you’ll notice this when we see him using language like annihilation (not to be confused with soteriological annihilationism or with what some call ‘evangelical annihilationism’). So Ziegler and Krötke:

Further, the close association of reconciliation with the determination of humans as creatures reflects Krötke’s judgment that the denial of this status is close to the heart of sin. Concurring with Bonhoeffer’s remark that “God became human so that the human might become human,” Krötke admits that the situation into which God comes to save is one in which the human has ceased to be human. Sin is “an absurd destruction of creatureliness” which occurs “without meaning and which culminates in on other achievement than the nothingness of annihilation.” Human beings actively cease to be human, in Krötke’s view, by disregarding the limit God himself represents for the creature, i.e., in struggling variously to make good on the hollow promise of eristis sicut dei (Gn 3:5) and so to “accrue to itself unlimited value or limitless power.” Sin is the “tendency towards and idolatrization of human beings which destroys the humanity of the human in the most wicked way: for a human being is a ‘good god’ neither for himself, nor for others.” Krötke here takes up an important theme from Luther, who identified the root of human sin as the inhuman desire “that [one] should be God, and that God should not be God,” the fruit of which is the dissolution of true creatureliness and the transformation of human society into a collection of “unholy and arrogant gods.” Pursuit of self-deification results  in “the human destruction of the relation with God,” since a human being without limits is also thereby without relations. For Krötke the basic form of sin is the inhuman effort variously to lord it over others—including God himself—in absurd parody of divine lordship. As Jüngel has summarized this view, in active denial of our humanity, “we assume the role of lupus (man is a wolf to man).” This characterization of sin trenchantly affirms Luther’s own anthropological axiom, “we ought to be humans and not God—this is the summa.”[1]

If there was ever a time that being human needed to be fully lived into, it is our current moment. None of being human is shaped by cultural mores, or societal movements, it is shaped, sui generis, by what it means to be human in participation with God’s life, as we are participant in that life through the grace of God’s humanity for us in Jesus Christ. It is out of this vacuum—lack of participation in God’s life—that inhumanity flourishes in the broader world and society; indeed, in our own lives even as Christians (simul justus et peccator). Christians are called, at such a time as this, to bear witness to what it means to be human from the alien life of God, as that has been concretized in the flesh of Jesus Christ pro nobis. Humanity, in God’s economy, has never been an abstract sociological category; it has always already and only been a properly theological category insofar as what it means to be human, indeed, comes through an christological conditioning that has been actualized for us, from before the foundation of the world, in the elected humanity of Jesus Christ. This is the Evangel.


[1] Philip G. Ziegler, Doing Theology When God Is Forgotten: The Theological Achievement Of Wolf Krötke (New York: Peter Lang, 2007),

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

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

Pelikan writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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