Our Terrorist Hearts Outwith Jesus Christ: On the Ontological Depths and Reach of Sin

It seems as if we have domesticated everything in our culture, even sin. But this is precisely what Jesus will not let us do; this is precisely what the reality of the cross will not let us do. The prophet Jeremiah writes in 17.9:

“The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?

And the Apostle Paul following writes in Romans 3:

10 As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one; 11 There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. 12 They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.” 13 “Their throat is an open tomb; With their tongues they have practiced deceit”; “The poison of asps is under their lips”; 14 “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.” 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 Destruction and misery are in their ways; 17 And the way of peace they have not known.” 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Karl Barth famously, and in keeping with his normal way, believes we can only know the depths of evil and sin by its reference to Christ. He believes that only as we concentrate on whom Christ is in His righteousness, can the gravity of sin come to be known. Barth works out his doctrine of evil (or ‘nothingness’) through his doctrine of election. For Barth, nothingness, or ‘evil’ is what God passes over and negates through the incarnation and cross-work of Jesus Christ. Mark Lindsay, after much development, writes the following:

At this place, we must qualify our earlier comment that God is not threatened by Nothingness. In the incarnation, God Himself becomes a creature and thus takes upon Himself the creature’s sin, guilt and misery. In “what befalls this man God pronounces His No to the bitter end.” The entire fury of Nothingness – and of God’s wrath directed towards it – falls upon Christ “in all its dreadful fulness…” Precisely, however, because this man is also God, “Nothingness could not master this victim.” It had power over the creature. It could contradict and oppose it and break down its defences. It could make it its slave and instrument and therefore its victim. But it was impotent against the God who humbled Himself, and Himself became a creature, and thus exposed Himself to its power and resisted it.

By confronting and decisively triumphing over Nothingness in Jesus Christ, God has relegated it to the past. In the light of the cross and the empty tomb, “there is no sense in which it can be affirmed that nothingness has any objective existence…” Barth rejects outright the suggestion that radical evil exists in the form of an eternal antithesis. On the contrary, he insists that it has no perpetuity. It is neither created by God, nor maintained in a covenantal relationship with Him. Thus, “we should not get involved in the logical dialectic that if God loves, elects and affirms eternally he must also hate and therefore reject and negate eternally. There is nothing to make God’s activity on the left hand as necessary and perpetual as His activity on the right.” Nothingness has been brought to its end, no longer having even the transient and temporary existence it once had. On this note of “cosmic optimism”, Barth concludes his presentation of his doctrine.[1]

We are reminded of Athanasius’ thinking on evil and sin in his little book On the Incarnation as we read Barth’s own uniquely worked out conception of evil and sin. Inherent to Barth’s understanding there is genuine hope. Because he doesn’t give evil (and its expression in sinful acts) a symmetrical place to God’s work and righteousness in Christ, he offers a way to think of evil/sin as a vanquished foe that in the end will be fully wiped out in a realized way. What stands out, in Lindsay’s description, is how it took God in Christ alone to overcome the wiles of evil’s reach into the human heart; and thus into all of creation.

It doesn’t seem as if folks appreciate just how deep rooted and satanically conditioned their ‘old hearts’ are outwith Jesus Christ. When you hear the ‘world’ speak you would think that they have seemingly overcome evil all by themselves; as if they have an objectively established goodness inherent to who they are, through which they are able to look ‘out’ and make judgments about good and evil as if the latter doesn’t ultimately affect them. On the contrary, the incarnation and cross of Jesus Christ asserts and proves just the opposite. There is no one good, and all our hearts are just as evil as the terrorist’s who shot up the mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. The cross of Christ will not allow any of us to escape the terror embedded in each and every one of our hearts.

To press this further, Thomas Torrance underscores just how deep our darkness is by, like Barth, focusing on the depths God had to go to de-root it from our very ‘beings’ as human beings. Torrance writes on the ontological character of the atoning work of Christ, this way:

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

Like Barth, Torrance points up the hope we have because of what Christ has won for humanity. But at the same moment, he also points out just how deep and pervasive sin is in the hearts of men and women, boys and girls. If it took God to become human to deal with each of our ‘desperately wicked’ hearts, how wicked do you think that makes us left to ourselves?

If the world is able to look out and recognize evil, it is only because they live under the grace and mercy of God given for it in Jesus Christ. And yet even as they rightly look at the despicable act that just took place in New Zealand, and condemn it as evil, they condemn themselves; that is, if they remain in an unrepentant state before God. Not only that, they confirm, unconsciously, the righteous judgment of God that not only hangs over terrorists’ heads, but their own. The spiritually dead heart can fabricate a state of self-righteousness only insofar as it borrows that righteousness from the economy of God’s Kingdom in Christ as that has invaded and continues to invade the world through the risen Christ’s life. Christ’s life for the world, the resurrected humanity, in itself, while standing as God’s Yes for the world, at the same moment issues a resounding No to the evil and sin that ALL humanity lives within (realized at various degrees or not). God’s Yes has already run its course and been actualized in the new humanity of Christ, as such anything outside of that lives in God’s No; which ultimately is hell.

Christians do not have ultimate solidarity with the world, even when the world, in parasitic fashion comes to some sort of sense of the heinous nature of evil. This does not mean Christians are superior to their pagan friends, it just means that Christians have an actual basis from which to rightly call darkness darkness and light light; this doesn’t mean Christians consistently live this way. Often Christians operate more like the pagan culture than the heavenly; which is why God’s Grace and Mercy will always remain so important.

[1] Mark R. Lindsay, Barth, Israel, and Jesus: Karl Barth’s Theology of Israel(UK/USA: Ashgate Publishing, 2007), 48-52.

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

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Some Probing Thoughts on My Constructive Position on CredoBaptism as that is Funded by the Vicarious Humanity of Jesus Christ

I am baptistic in orientation. I grew up as the son of a Conservative Baptist pastor. I have shed many distinctives that Baptist doctrine is comprised of, but one doctrine I haven’t shed is the Baptist understanding of Baptism; some would call it Zwinglian, or the memorial position. What I affirm can also be identified as credobaptism; in other words, my position is that a person who is baptized in water must first be a believer in Jesus Christ. I see baptism as a witness to the church and the world that a person has confessed faith in Christ, by the faith of Christ. As a constructive innovation on my position, or we might say, as a ‘dogmatic’ turn, I also maintain that the reality of baptism is first grounded in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ. I take Christ’s baptism for us to be decisive, indeed the baptism that sets Christ himself a part for us unto God; indeed in the perfect tense. As such, it is as we are brought into union with Christ’s humanity, by the Holy Spirit, that we partake in the sanctified humanity, the initiate humanity of the risen Christ wherein baptism comes to make sense. As a result, I see baptism as a signum (sign) of God’s reality (res) for us in Christ. As such I see the faith of Christ as the ground upon which baptism makes ultimate sense, in regard to its relationship to justification before God. In this way I can see baptism in a riffed way on the Calvinian motif of what he calls duplex gratia (double grace); I say riffed because I am taking that holistic way of thinking, in regard to salvation, and applying that to what takes place in the baptism of Christ. It is because Christ first trusted the Father for us that we might trust in God. It is in this Spirit moved trust that we see the Son lovingly condescend and assume humanity with the purpose of dying, being buried, and rising again as the new creature of God that we might, in and through union with His humanity, also partake in the new creation that God has destined us for in His pre-destination to not be God without us, but with us. It is in this frame that I see baptism making sense as a ‘sign’ to the world that we have become participants in the Divine nature through the new life we have entered into through the baptized humanity of Jesus Christ.

As a result of my position on baptism I see it grounded in a reality that has objective or ‘carnal’ reality whether we affirm it or not. This is, again, is why I see baptism primarily as a locus that has to do with witness-bearing to the world that God in Christ is for us and not against us. It bears witness to the reality of what Christ has accomplished for us as a work that only God good undertake in our stead as He entered into our status that we might enter His through the risen humanity of Jesus Christ. In this frame baptism is not grounded in the ‘believer’ per se, but in the One who believes for us; in Jesus Christ. So, there is a de jure and ontological character to baptism that is not contingent upon my belief, per se. But it is as I come to a spiritual union with Christ, as that is actuated by the Spirit in and from the faith of Christ that I as a believer come to the point that my confession, grounded in Christ’s, is attested to by entering into the waters of baptism that Christ alone entered first for me. It is in this action that the new creaturely reality I have already entered into, first because Christ entered into it for me in his vicarious humanity that becomes formally acknowledged as my purposeful confession of and for Christ; as that has been realized and fully realized in the reality of Christ’s baptism for us.

‘The Unassumed is the Unhealed’ in the Forsakenness of Christ in the Theology of Gregory Nazianzen

The cry of dereliction and Jesus’s assumption of our humanity go hand in hand; at least that’s what Gregory of Nazianzen maintained. Here in a commentary on the theo-logic and exegetical prowess of I Corinthians 15.24-28, Nazianzen opines on this in a rich way (h/t to my friend Jerome van Kuiken for referring to this quote in his published dissertation Christ’s Humanity In Current And Ancient Controversy: Fallen or Not?).

The one who releases me from the curse was called ‘curse’ because of me; ‘the one who takes away the world’s sin’ was called ‘sin’ and is made a new Adam to replace the old. In just this way too, as head of the whole body, he appropriates my want of submission. So long as I am an insubordinate rebel with passions . . . which deny God, my lack of submission will be referred to Christ. But when all things are put in submission under him, when transformed they obediently acknowledge him, then will Christ bring me forward, me who have been saved, and make his subjection complete. . . . Thus it is that he effects our submission, makes it his own and presents it to God. ‘My God, my God, look upon me, why have you forsaken me?’ seems to me to have the same kind of meaning. He is not forsaken either by the Father or, as some think, by his own Godhead. . . . No, in himself, as I have said, he expresses our condition. We had once been the forsaken and disregarded then we were accepted and now are saved by the suffering of the impassible. . . . He made our thoughtlessness and waywardness his own, just as psalm [Ps. 22], in its subsequent course, says.[1]

The doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Christ features greatly in this Nazianzenian quote; not to mention the eschatological suspension between now and the consummate day. We see Nazianzen placing our status in Christ’s [pro nobis – for us], and Christ’s status in ours as our Great High Priest; holding us up and over in the grace of His life until the eschatological now of God’s life for us becomes the realized now for us—that we only currently experience by faith (which doesn’t make it any less real, just unrealized until its fully realized reality in beatific form).

As Jerome [van Kuiken] is developing (in the context I take this from), the above quote is in reference to and in development of the famous Nazianzus dictum ‘the unassumed is the unhealed’; a dictum that figures largely in TF Torrance’s theology as well!

We will have to visit the ‘forsakenness’ aspect of this later.

 

[1] Gregory Nazianzen, Or. 30.5 cited by Jerome Van Kuiken, Christ’s Humanity In Current And Ancient Controversy: Fallen or Not? (London/New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2017), 115.

How Does the Christian ‘Get’ the Holy Spirit; Or How Does the Holy Spirit ‘Get’ the Christian: The Locus: Christ’s Vicarious Humanity

Have you ever wondered how you might construe a Christ concentrated understanding of how the Christian receives the Holy Spirit; how the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ serves as the basis through whom Christians come to participate in the lively reality of the Holy Spirit? Often we abstract the Spirit’s work from the Son’s (and the Father’s) as if the Spirit is the divine agent who imbibes or woos faith into the forthcoming believer, and by this creative act of Divine plenitude the would be believer comes to the confession of faith in Christ. Indeed, the Spirit has his own unique and active work in regard to the salvific reality, but as Thomas Torrance points out it would be wrong to think this work abstract from the person and work of the Son in Jesus Christ, or indeed, abstract from the Triune life itself. But in a very specific way here we see Torrance’s bringing together of the Spirit and the Son as the place wherein salvation first inheres, in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ; and as an echo of that reality, we as images of this image (Jesus Christ cf. Col. 1.15), as we are brought into union with the vicarious humanity of Christ, indeed by the Holy Spirit, come to participate in the humanity, Christ’s humanity for us, wherein the Holy Spirit is fully operative as the One who leads and casts out, as the One who directs our steps in the way they should go; to the right hand of the Father. Torrance writes:

Our receiving of the Spirit is objectively grounded in and derives from Christ who as the incarnate Son was anointed by the Spirit in his humanity and endowed with the Spirit without measure, not for his own sake (for he was eternally one in being with the Spirit in God) but for our sakes, and who then mediates the Spirit to us through himself. As one of us and one with us he sanctified himself in the Spirit that we might be sanctified in him and thus be sanctified in the truth. Our receiving of the Spirit, therefore, is not independent of or different from the vicarious receiving of the Spirit by Christ himself but is a sharing in it. Since he received the Spirit in the humanity he took from us, we on our part receive the Spirit through union with him and through him with the Father. This was the point Athanasius had in mind when he wrote: ‘Our being in the Father is not ours, but is the Spirit’s who is in us and dwells in us . . . It is the Spirit who is in God, and not we viewed in ourselves.’[1]

For one thing, just from an identity point of view for the Christian, this should let us know that our salvation is not our salvation, but instead is a reality extra nos (outside of us); a reality that we have no control over, but who is in control of us as we submit to his reality for us in Christ by the Spirit of Christ who is the Holy Spirit of the Triune life. This should let us know that we do not find what we need, as the ‘world’ and liberal theologies call us to, by recessing deeper and deeper into ourselves. The fact that our very ‘being’ is grounded somewhere alien to ourselves, and in Christ’s being as we are brought into union with his humanity by the creative and recreative work of the Holy Spirit in his humanity and now our humanity in union with his, ought to alert us to the reality that there was and is nothing good that dwells here (that is in our ‘old person’).

I can’t help but think of the reality of the cross in this context; in order for us to come to this Dogmatic point of reasoning requires something greater than an abstract or discursive moment in our intellectual lives. What is required for these categories to work is both the Incarnation&Atonement; more pointedly, what is required is a putting to death of our ‘old man’ and resurrecting of the ‘new man’ in Jesus Christ. This is where the ‘being’ of humanity brought to breath by the Holy Spirit comes to reality; as THE man, the mediator between God and humanity, Jesus Christ, is breathed into life by the Holy Spirit in concert with the Father and in the strength of his own life Divine, and in this reality we can come to speak in the terms that Torrance and Athanasius do.

[1] Thomas F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being Three Persons (London: Bloomsbury/T&T Clark Publishing, 2016), 148.

Thinking Salvation from the Primacy of Christ’s Humanity and TheAnthropology Rather than From Other Anthropotheological Avenues

The doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ is of the highest import for us Evangelical Calvinists. We see, following Torrance and Barth, this doctrine providing a foundational reality for thinking about theological ontology, epistemology, soteriology, ecclesiology etc. This focus reorientates the way we think about salvation in the sense that we start from the premise that salvation must start with a doctrine of God and ‘work its way down from there’ (think of incarnation). As we think this alongside Barth what stands out is an emphasis on God’s humanity; that is, an emphasis on the idea that without God freely choosing to not be God without us that there would be no gracious basis or space wherein salvation could obtain. We think this approach avoids the problematic that often attends the Augustinian emphasis of salvation as that is thought from below; as illustrated by Augustine’s doctrine of predestination (i.e. that God chooses particular individual humans to be saved in contrast to the Barth understanding wherein salvation is first grounded in the union of God and humanity in the hypostatic union realized in the person of Jesus Christ; thus all humanity is represented in the salvation event just as the humanity Christ assumes before the foundation of the world is a catholic humanity of the sort that all of humanity came to be in the first Adam in the original creation).

To help us appreciate what I am referring to let me refer to David Congdon (I’m reading his big book on Bultmann off and on) as he details how the humanity of Christ functions in the theology of Barth. We pick up with Congdon as he is comparing and contrasting Barth’s Christology with Bultmann’s; we won’t concern ourselves with the comparison so much, and instead focus on the good description that Congdon provides for us in regard to Barth’s understanding on the primacy of the humanity of Jesus Christ.

While we have isolated those aspects of Barth’s later work that highlight the conflict between him and Bultmann, we should not fail to note that, seen from another perspective, the theology in the fourth volume of Kirchliche Dogmatik draws nearer to Bultmann. This is because, compared to the period of dogmatic dissonance (1929–1939), the mature Barth unites deity and humanity in a way that permits, even requires, him to make the question of anthropology and human existence internal to the nature of theology, hence the humanity of God. The fruit of this is seen most clearly in KD 4.3, especially §71, where Barth develops his account of human vocation as something that “concerns us personally and affects us ‘existentially.’” But the human existentiality included within the divine existentiality is of a very particular sort, namely, it is the existence of the human Jesus (primary humanity) in distinction from all other human beings (secondary humanity). Beginning with his lecture on “Evangelische Theologiae im 19. Jahrhundert” on January 8, 1957, Barth defines his position as “theanthropology,” which he would later set over against what he calls “anthropotheology,” a term that replaces “natural theology” as the umbrella category for all the various theologies—from Schleiermacher to Bultmann, from pietism to mysticism, from the analogia entis to existentialism—that, in his judgment, talk about God by first talking about the creature. Theanthropology lets the particular humanity of Christ define what counts as genuinely human, whereas anthropotheology concerns itself with human presuppositions and conditions apart from and anterior to the Christ-event.[1]

There are a variety of loci and implications to what Congdon is developing here, but what I want to highlight is the aspect that has to do with the primary humanity of Jesus Christ and Barth’s Theanthropology.

For Evangelical Calvinists the doctrine of the primacy of Jesus Christ reigns supreme. We believe that all of creation is oriented to and from the reality of God’s choice to pre-temporally be for us in his choice to not be God without us in the incarnation. As such we see the teleology of creation (or its purpose) ultimately grounded in the joy that the Father has in his Son in the bond and fellowship of love they share one with the other, one in the other by the Holy Spirit (that is pretty trad right there). Following along with the Apostle Paul’s creational themes in Romans 8 (as he riffs on Genesis) and Colossians 1, there is a primacy to humanity vis-à-vis creation in general just as humanity is grounded in the reality of God’s life ‘to be human’ in the Son. That is the stewardship human beings have been given ‘over’ creation is only a mirroring and actualization of God’s reign over all of creation as that is realized in the effulgence of the Son’s eternal relation of the Father to the Son. In other words, creation’s inner-reality is grounded in God’s choice to be for the creation in the Son; as such creation’s orientation has always already been a teleology that has order and intelligibility insofar as that reality is realized in its magnification of the Son of God; insofar as the crowning reality of the creation has always already been grounded in the Kingly humanity of the Son; a humanity that is the point of creation to begin with—that God might share his Fatherly love, that he has always shared with the Son, by creating a world wherein counter-parts, individuated human creatures could participate by grace in the divine nature, and en-joy the fellowship and beauty that the Son and the Father by the Holy Spirit have always and eternally shared one with and in the other as the One True and Living Almighty God.

Along with Barth we want to see a Dogmatic primacy to the humanity of Christ; we want to see his humanity as archetypal of what it ultimately and redemptively means to be humanity as new creatures. We don’t want to attempt to grasp the humanity of God from our humanity as if our humanity comes prior to or in simultaneous relation with the humanity of God. No, we want to recognize that if there is going to be a meaningful and genuinely Christ-ian understanding of what it means to be a human we will not see that from our experiences as humans, but realize that, both protologically and eschatologically in and from the humanity that God has decided on as the norm of what it means for humans to be in relation with himself. We will think of humanity as if it is grounded in the eikon of God, in the imago Dei who is Jesus Christ (cf. Col. 1.15), and we will understand our humanity as it is recreated in the imago Christi as we then serve as images of the image of God in this world and bear witness to all of creation what its purpose is before God.

As we closed off with Congdon we see him referring to Barth’s reference of anthropotheology as a reference to all modes of theological reasoning that start with an anterior humanity that is thought of in abstraction from God’s Self-revelation in Jesus Christ (from a prior ‘above’); in abstraction from what it means to be human from a God-given orientation. We could add into the list that Barth thinks this label umbrellas, Augustinianism, at least in regard to Augustine’s doctrine of predestination and its from below soteriological orientation. It is an interesting mix to include someone like Schleiermacher and Augustine when thinking a doctrine of salvation, but probably not too far off (indeed Schleiermacher himself is quite Augustinian in certain important ways).

 

[1] David W. Congdon, The Mission of Demythologizing: Rudolf Bultmann’s Dialectical Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015), 212-13.

Irenaeus of Lyon Against the Annihilationists and Evangelical Conditionalists of the 21st Century

Remember in the past when I said that I was going to write a paper refuting annihilationism or evangelical conditionalism? I haven’t forgot about that, it’s just that I have a lot of other things going on (including the ongoing trial of putting together my PhD proposal). In my reading of my friend’s published PhD dissertation for the University of Manchester, Jerome van Kuiken’s Christ’s Humanity In Current And Ancient Controversy: Fallen Or Not?, as he gets into engaging with Irenaeus of Lyon’s theology/Christology, Jerome refers to Irenaeus’s theological-anthropology. If you remember, part of my thesis in arguing against annihlationism was going to be to refer to the immortality that grounds what it means to be human being as construed from the elect human being of Jesus Christ for us. As Jerome develops Irenaeus’s theology he refers to something therein that helps underscore my own thesis contra the annihilationist position. Note Jerome’s reference to this pertinent point in a footnote he offers on Irenaeus’s theology:

In passages like Haer. 3.20.2 and Epid. 15, Irenaeus can speak of humanity’s possessing immortality prior to the Fall; however, Haer. 5.12.1-3 explains that humanity lost its life in Eden because it had only the ephemeral breath of life, not the eternal Spirit of life available in Christ. Cf. Haer. 5.3.1, which says that humans are naturally mortal, and 5.7.1, which interprets Gen. 2.7 as teaching that human nature comprises an immortal soul and a mortal body (i.e. a soul incapable of decomposition and a body capable of it). Cf. Lane, ‘Irenaeus’, pp. 145-6.[1]

As a reminder the conditionalist position is this (at least for those over at the ReThinking Hell consortium):

Conditionalism is the view that life or existence is the Creator’s provisional gift to all, which will ultimately either be granted forever on the basis of righteousness (by grace, through faith), or revoked forever on the basis of unrighteousness.

Evangelical conditionalists believe that the saved in Christ will receive glory, honor and immortality, being raised with an incorruptible body to inherit eternal life (Romans 2:7). The unsaved will be raised in shame and dishonor, to face God and receive the just condemnation for their sins. When the penalty is carried out, they will be permanently excluded from eternal life by means of a final death (loss of being; destruction of the whole person; Matthew 10:28).[2]

For the conditionalist, contra Irenaeus, immortality is a contingent reality that is only given with the gift of eternal life in Jesus Christ. Irenaeus, according to van Kuiken’s observation, held that immortality was an inherent property to what it means to be human, albeit a property ultimately grounded in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ.

My original thesis was going to be to argue the Irenean position, albeit in a modified form through Thomas Torrance and Karl Barth’s theologies, contra the ReThinking Hell conditionalist position. My thesis, now bolstered by Irenaeus’s own reasoning, was and would be that humanity’s ontological grounding in the humanity of Jesus Christ necessarily requires that humanity itself, once originated and created in and from the image of God in Christ’s vicarious humanity is ultimately immortal or unable to be distinguished once created. This, because, to reiterate, what it ultimately and archetypically means to be human is grounded in the singular humanity of Jesus Christ’s humanity for us (pro nobis). On my account, since humanity is always already ‘immortal,’ or unable to be annihilated, the definitional distinctions that must be made come to how we think ‘immortality.’ For my treatment, there is an asymmetrical symmetry between people who experience the light side of immortality—which would be equal, potentially, to the conditionalist position on the univocal relationship between immortality and eternality language vis-à-vis ‘salvation’—and the many people who will experience the shadow side of immortality. The light side of human immortality is to fully experience the divine plenitude of participation within the Triune life, mediated through the gracious humanity of Jesus Christ to those who believe; the shadow side of human immortality would be for those who have chosen to reject the beauty and resplendence of full immortality available for them in the humanity of Jesus Christ; nevertheless, de jure, by virtue of the ground of human being, even those who reject the experience of what it means to be human, and live out of the immortality that is available in the humanity of Christ for them, remain ‘human’ and thus ‘immortal’ insofar as their humanity has ultimately and creationally/recreationally been grounded by Christ’s.

This is a thesis I continue to ponder. And maybe someday I’ll have the time to actual work it out in paper form. Until then I’ll just keep throwing out dispatches about it, like this one, until the time comes for me to finally write the darn thing.

 

[1] E. Jerome van Kuiken, Christ’s Humanity In Current And Ancient Controversy: Fallen Or Not? (London/New York: T&T Clark Bloomsbury, 2017), 94 n.14.

[2] ReThinking Hell, Statement on Evangelical Conditionalism, accessed 03-05-2018.

The Athanasian, Thomas Torrance: How Soteriology is Christological in the Vicarious Humanity of Christ

Thomas Torrance is one of the, if not the most Athanasian english speaking theologians one might come across. His focus on the mediation of God’s life to humanity and humanity’s life to God in the hypostatic union of God and humanity in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ attests to these Athanasian impulses. Indeed, personally, this is what I have found so compelling and attractive about Torrance’s theology over the years; and it is why I keep coming back to it over and over again. It is the Christological focus and how that conditions all that Torrance writes—again this is the Athanasian influence—how he sees the hypostatic union and God’s Self-revelation therein as the inner-reality of how Christians ought to think salvation (soteriology).

But there is a controversial aspect to this, for some. You will notice in the following quote from Torrance how he understands salvation to be fully participationist; i.e. fully charged with God and humanity’s reality in the singular person of Jesus Christ. In other words, and this is the controversial part, for Torrance salvation is ontological rather than just declarational; for Torrance what it means to be human coram Deo is tied into salvation, such that Incarnation, recreation/resurrection is determinative of what takes place in the justificatory and sanctificatory aspects of salvation in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ. So, for Torrance, the conditions for salvation to take place are all inherent to God’s predetermined or pre-destined choice to be for us given full expression in the ensarkos of the eternal Logos; or, salvation is fully actualized and realized in the incarnation of the Son of Man resulting in the elevation and exaltation of humanity, in the resurrected humanity of Christ; in other words, Jesus’s humanity is justified humanity, sanctified humanity, and glorified humanity for us, our only hope is to be united to his—that impossible possibility itself made possible by Jesus’s entering into our humanity opening us up for God in and through his freedom to be for us and for God all at once in, again, his vicarious humanity. As we are spiritually joined to his humanity (a reality that takes place out of his vicarious humanity in the Spirit) we participate in the eternal life that is his priestly life for us (pro nobis), in us (in nobis). Torrance writes:

We have to do here with a two-fold movement of mediation, from above to below and from below to above, in God’s gracious condescension to be one with us, and his saving assumption of us to be one with himself, for as God and Man, the one Mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ ministers to us both the things of God to man, and the things of man to God. This has to be understood as the self-giving movement of God in Christ to us in our sinful and alienated existence where we live at enmity to God, and therefore as a movement in which the revealing of God to us takes place only through a reconciling of us to God. The incarnation of the eternal Word and Son of God is to be understood , therefore, in an essentially soteriological way. Divine revelation  and atoning reconciliation take place inseparably together in the life and work of the incarnate Son of God in whose one Person the hypostatic union between his divine and human natures is actualised through an atoning union between God and man that reaches from his birth of the Virgin Mary throughout his vicarious human life and ministry to his death and resurrection. It was of this intervening activity of Christ in our place that St Paul wrote to the Corinthians: ‘You know the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ who though he was rich yet for our sakes became poor that you through his poverty might be rich.

We may express this two-fold movement of revelation and reconciliation in another way by saying two things.

a) Since the Father-Son relation subsists eternally within the Communion of the Holy Trinity we must think of the incarnation of the Son as falling within the eternal Life and Being of God, although, of course, the incarnation was not a timeless event like the generation of the Son from the Being of the Father, but must be regarded as new even for God, for the Son of God was not eternally Man any more than the Father was eternally Creator.

b) Correspondingly, since in Jesus Christ the eternal Son of God became man without ceasing to be God, the atoning reconciliation of man to God must be regarded as falling within the incarnate life of the Mediator in whose one Person the hypostatic union and the atoning union interpenetrate one another….[1]

We see then, for Torrance, how knowledge of God is also part and parcel with the salvific reality precisely because the ontological is tied into the epistemological and the epistemological into the ontological just as the Father is in the Son and the Son in the Father and we in their life as the Holy Spirit, by the faith of Christ, brings us into this eternal fellowship of resplendent love.

Truly, this is a different way to think about salvation; it is neither juridical nor Augustinian in any meaningful sense; as such it departs most basically from classical Reformed soteriology just at this point. Nevertheless it presents in the spirit of the Reformed teaching insofar as salvation is understood as fully contingent on the gracious unilateral movement of God for humanity in Christ; it’s just that the absolutum decretum or way of the decrees, and attendant theory of causation associated with that, is elided insofar, for Torrance, salvation is a fully personal event mediated directly and immediately by Godself in the Son. Further, sin, total depravity is taken very seriously by Torrance; which again is why it is so necessary for the Son Incarnate to be the all in all of salvation for us—left to ourselves homo in se incurvatus we could never, nor would ever choose God; we’d simply continue to choose ourselves as our highest love.

[1] Thomas F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being Three Persons (London: Bloomsbury/T&T Clark, 2016), 144.

The Pure and Utter Centrality of the Homoousion in the Theology of Thomas Torrance: God Become Man and What That Means for Us

The homoousion is the key piece of language the council of Chalcedon borrowed from the Greeks in order to put it in the service of grammarizing a way towards speaking of the reality of the eternal Son, Jesus Christ, as being exactly consubtantial with the Father (and Holy Spirit) in nature as Theos (God). It was also used dually to speak of the reality of the eternal Son as being consubstantial in nature with humanity; which resulted in the further language of hypostatic union. That’s my very rough entrée into introducing you all to the homoousion. The reason, in particular why I’m bringing this up is because I want to highlight something very important in regard to what serves as a touchstone for T.F. Torrance’s theological realism and hermeneutic; he places central weight upon the homoousion as the basis upon which humanity has touch with God and God with humanity—so not only is there an epistemological component to it, but antecedently and as a prius there is ontological import, for TFT, in emphasizing the significance for a truly Christ conditioned/centered reality. Whether that has to do with hermeneutics, a doctrine of creation/re-creation, the eschaton, or what have you.

I want you, the reader, to see how this works in Torrance’s theology, and in so doing I want you to see what stands behind my own approach to all things theological; it is in echo of Torrance. I want you, the reader to understand how important the homoousion is for my and Myk Habet’s understanding of what Evangelical Calvinism entails, and is, indeed, entailed by. Here is what Torrance writes about the homoousion, in brief:

As the epitomised expression of this truth, the homoousion is the ontological and epistemological linchpin of Christian theology. It gives expression to the truth with which everything hangs together, and without which everything ultimately falls apart. The decisive point for Christian theology, and not least for the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, lies here, where we move from one level to another: from the basic evangelical and doxological level to the theological level, and from that level to the high theological level of the ontological relations in God.[1] In that movement a radical shift in the basic fabric of theological thought takes place along with a reconstruction in the foundations of our prior knowledge. This is evident not least in the fact that in formulating the homoousion of Christ in connection with both his creative and redemptive activity, Nicene theology laid the axe to the epistemological dualism latent in Greek philosophy and religion that threatened the very heart of the Gospel; and as such it gave powerful expression to the indissoluble connection in Act and Being between the economic Trinity and the ontological Trinity, between οἰκονομία and θεολογία, which secured the Church in its belief that in the Lord Jesus Christ and his Gospel they had to do directly with the ultimate Presence and downright Reality of God himself. Jesus Christ does for us and to us, and what the Holy Spirit does in us, is what God himself does for us, to us and in us.[2]

There are many things that could be noted in regard to the various high points evinced in this one paragraph from Torrance. But let me just highlight a couple: 1) We see how Torrance believes (and I’m with’m) the Hellenic language of homoousion was taken and ‘reminted’ (that’s his language from just prior to this paragraph) under the pressure and reality of the Revelation of God in Christ. He believes that the way the early church was able to appropriate this language was in a way that re-texted said language to the point that it became a brand new, even “Christianized” grammar that was made fitting for the church’s edification precisely because of the power of God in Christ as the coordinating reality of all things; even language. 2) The homoousion for Torrance, as we already noted, has both ontological and epistemological import for us because it shows how the Godward movement towards us is in intimate, even perichoretic relation to the humanity he assumed, and how the Humanward is in intimate relation with Godself which is the ground of the singular person, Jesus Christ. It is as this hypostatic union inhered in Jesus by the creative power of the Holy Spirit that the bridge between God and humanity/humanity and God was accomplished. It is this reality, the personalizing personal reality of God in Christ, that as we participate in and from it, from Him, that we now have access to the holy of holies of God’s life; we have both the ontic (being) and epistemic (knowing) capacities necessary to actually have access to God’s life (Eph. 1.18-9)—the Holy Trinity, mysterium Trinitatis!

 

[1] Torrance has what he calls a stratified knowledge of God, that’s what he’s referring to here in regard to the ‘levels’. I’ve hyperlinked to a brief quote from Ben Myers who gives a nice summary of what this is all about in Torrance’s theology.

[2] Thomas F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being Three Persons (London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016), 95.

George Hunsinger Clarifies the Doctrine of Vicarious Humanity in TF Torrance’s Theology

Here is something I originally posted at another blog way back in December 2008. At this point I was still in the process of just cutting my teeth on Torrance’s theology, and grasping better how central the doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Christ (and the homoousion) was in his theology. I had already been reading TFT at this point for around two years, but I found this blog comment christcenteredfrom George Hunsinger very clarifying; I am sharing it because maybe it will be the same for you. You will note at the end of this post that I offer a bit of critique of classical Calvinism; I wasn’t even the evangelical Calvinist at this point yet, but it was in the making 🙂 .

The following are some thoughts presented by Professor George Hunsinger (Princeton Theological Seminary) over at Ben’s site Faith and Theology. He is discussing T. F. Torrance’s understanding of the mediation of Christ, and how this relates to the incarnation, at an ontological level. He is highlighting how the incarnation (assumptio), for Torrance, is ‘mediation’ where fallen humanity, united with Him, finds ‘healing’ through Christ’s acts of obedience to the Father; in this sense, Christ vicariously achieves regeneration ‘for us’, and prior to us, through which we, by His faith, find life super-abundant. Here is Prof. Hunsinger’s initial statement, and then his further elaboration, per a commenter’s request:

Torrance’s idea about “ontological healing” was an attempt to re-think the doctrine of sanctification. It attempted to place it within the frame of Christ’s incarnational mediation, in which our Lord “took this conflict into his own being” and “took part in it from both sides,” including therefore from the human side. Like Barth, only more so, Torrance explained both our justification and our sanctification by means of Christ’s obedient humanity. For sanctification this meant that regeneration took place in Christ before it took place in us. For Torrance there was one sanctification common to Christ and the church, and it was ours only by virtue of our participation in him (unio mystica).

Torrance maintained that the Incarnate Son’s assumptio carnis involved the assumption of our human nature, not in a neutral sense but in the sense of our fallenness, our “flesh.” In other words, Christ made “the status, constitution and situation” of the fallen human race his own.

Torrance interpreted Rom. 8:3 to mean that Christ “condemned sin in the flesh” by bearing God’s judgment on sin, for our sakes and in our place, in his own humanity.

However, Christ’s human obedience meant not only that he submitted to God’s judgment in our place, but that he also brought about the regeneration (“ontological healing”) of the very humanity he had assumed, again for our sakes and in our place. Christ was, in this sense, the “firstborn” of the new creation.

The regeneration of the faithful was then understood to take place through their participatio Christi, that is, through their union and communion with Christ. Those who entered into union with Christ by grace through faith were given a share in his regenerate or sanctified humanity. What had been perfected in him was imparted by the Spirit to them, and this spiritual impartation was understood to occur through mystical union with Christ.

He joins himself to us, and us to himself, by means of his body and blood.

Regeneration was therefore vicarious first, and then a matter of union with Christ. It was a matter of internal rather than external relations. Christ and the church were one mystical body. Christ’s giving of himself to the church meant, among other things, his imparting to the faithful of the regeneration he had accomplished for them in the flesh. For them it was a matter of participation, not merely of repetition or imitation. [Quote taken from: here — see both the body of the post, and subsequently, the comment section for full context]

I find this very helpful, and clarifying, I hope you do as well! The emphasis in this framework is on Christ’s ‘assumption of us’, prior to our reception of Him, by faith. This framing identifies the stress Torrance placed on the need for ‘ontological healing’ to occur on our behalf, through Christ’s vicarious mediation, in order for us to ‘participate’ in His life, through ‘Spirit-enlivened-union’ with Him. This goes beyond the typical and classical (Calvinist) framing of mediation as an ‘act’ of juridical (‘law-based’) duty on the part of Christ for us—this goes to the crux of humanity’s problem, and deals with the heart of the matter—our ‘inner-sin’ problem expressed in ‘outer-behavioral-patterns’ (it is an inner to outer movement, instead of, say a ‘Thomistic’, outter to inner movement). Be edified! And thank you Prof. Hunsinger for sharing these thoughts!

‘Vicariousness’ in TFT’s Theology illustrated by the Eucharist and Reported by Molnar: Against Dualistic Thinking in Salvation

Here’s a post that I bet none of you have seen; it is from another blog of mine, probably around nine years old.

The following is going to be a long quote from Paul Molnar (the Roman Catholic😉 on Torrance’s theology. I want to quote this for those of you, especially, who are more prone towards a “classically” conceived Calvinism; or even a Roman Catholic perspective. In this piece I hope that you will get a feel for Torrance’s insistence upon a thoroughly Christ-centered, Spirit-centered approach that holyeucharisthe believes we must take if we are going to ground all of life and reality in life — viz. that we must “ground” all of life in Christ’s life (God’s life), or else we will fall into an array of theological problems. Let’s begin this quote:

What can be learned from Torrance’s emphasis on Christ’s high priestly mediation and his rejection of dualistic epistemology and ontology in understanding the Eucharist in a Trinitarian way? First, God gives himself to us in Jesus Christ; the Gift is identical with the Giver. If our understanding of God’s relation with the world is ‘damaged’ because of a dualistic perspective, then we will assume that God has not actually given himself within created time and space ‘but only something of himself through a created mediation’. A dualistic perspective actually divides the Gift from the Giver. The Catholic tendency focuses on the Gift in its concern for real presence, thought of ‘as inhering in the Eucharist as such’. The Protestant tendency focuses on ourselves as receivers over against the Giver. Torrance insists, against both of these tendencies, that because the Gift is identical with the Giver, God is immediately present in his own being and life through Jesus Christ; this self-giving ‘takes place in the Holy Spirit who is not just an emanation from God but the immediate presence and activity of God in his own divine Being, the Spirit of the Father and the Son . . . this is a real presence of Christ to us’.

Second, with respect to the Eucharistic sacrifice, the Offerer is identical with the Offering: what ‘the Incarnate Son offers to the Father on our behalf is his own human life which he took from us and assumed into unity with his divine life, his self-offering through the eternal Spirit of the Father’. Because the historical offering of his body on the cross is inherently one with himself as the Offerer, it is a once-and-for-all event which remains eternally valid. Understood dualistically, the Offerer and Offering are not finally one; ‘neither is his offering once and for all nor is it completely and sufficiently vicarious’. He becomes only a created intermediary and the offering is seen as a merely human offering so that no real mediation between God and creatures has taken place. Torrance insists that if Christ’s human priesthood is seen within a Nestorian or Apollinarian framework ‘then it becomes only a representative and no longer a vicarious priesthood, for it is no longer unique but only an exemplary form of our own’; thus it is no longer uniquely substitutionary.

This directs us to rely on ourselves ‘to effect our own “Pelagian” mediation with God by being our own priests and by offering to him our own sacrifices’. Even if this is done ‘for Christ’s sake’ and motivated by him, since it is not done ‘with him and in him we have no access through him into the immediate presence of God’. If, however, ‘Jesus Christ is himself both Priest and Victim, Offerer and Offering’ who has effected atoning reconciliation and so for ever ‘unites God and man in his one Person and as such coinheres with the Father and the Holy Spirit in the eternal Trinity, then, we participate in his self-consecration and self-offering to the Father and thus appear with him and in him and through him before the Majesty of God in worship, praise and adoration with no other sacrifice than the sacrifice of Christ Jesus our Mediator and High Priest’.

When the Church worships, praises and adores the Father through Jesus Christ, it is the self-offering and self-consecration of Jesus Christ ‘in our nature ascending to the Father from the Church in which he dwells through the Spirit;’ ‘it is Christ himself who worships, praises and adores the Father in and through his members’ shaping their prayers and conforming them in their communion in his body and blood.

T. F. Torrance’s achievement here is immense. By focusing on ‘God as Man’ rather than upon God in Man’, Torrance embraces a high Christology which concentrates on the humanity of the incarnate Son of God and a view of Eucharistic worship and life ‘in which the primacy is given to the priestly mediation of Jesus Christ’:

It is in fact the eternal life of the incarnate Son in us that ascends to the Father in our worship and prayer through, with and in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. While they are our worship and prayer, in as much as we freely and fully participate in the Sonship of Christ and in the whole course of his filial obedience to the Father, they are derived from and rooted in a source beyond themselves, in the economic condescension and ascension of the Son of God. The movement of worship and prayer . . . is essentially correlative to the movement of the divine love and grace, from the Father, through the Son and in the Spirit.

This leads to a more unified soteirology which views incarnation and atonement as a single continuous movement of God’s redeeming love which accentuates Jesus Christ’s ‘God-manward and his man-Godward activity’. Focusing on Jesus’ vicarious humanity emphasizes that Christ has put himself in our place, experiencing our aliented human condition and healing it. Eucharistic anamnesis is no mere recollection of what Christ has done for us once for all, but a memorial which ‘according to his command’ and ‘through the Spirit is filled with the presence of Christ in the indivisible unity of all his vicarious work and his glorified Person’. . . .[1]

The vicarious point is a very important one for TFT, and his “Evangelical Calvinism.” I hope that you’ve found this quote from Molnar enlightening (I realize Molnar is controversial for some, nevertheless I find his thoughts here spot on, relative to highlighting TFT’s ‘theology of vicariousness’).

[1] Paul Metzger, ed., Paul Molnar, Trinitarian Soundings in Systematic Theology, 184-86.