A Christmastide Theo-Anthropology: What Christmas Tells Us About What It Means To Be Human

Christmas time, for the Christian, is an intensity of time to reflect on the season of advent, and what it means for God’s Son to become human for us. At a surface level we don’t often ponder the deeper theological ramifications of what the incarnation of God entails for humankind. In this post we will get into the deeper thinking of Christmas’s implications with particular reference to the theological-anthropological import of the incarnation. Maybe you have never thought of Christmas from this perspective, but it is the sine qua non of what Christmas is all about. Christmas is about what Irenaeus writes: “The Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, who did, through His transcendent love, become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself.”[1] Do you see the implicit questions in Irenaeus’s statement? When he writes ‘what we are’ and ‘what He is Himself,’ these are the questions of theological-anthropology; points of reference that press us into asking what in fact we are as humans, and who Christ is as the human that we might become through union with Him.

Rene Descartes famously is known for his cogito ergo sum, ‘I think, therefore I am.’ Helmut Thielicke, among others, notices that Descartes was among the very first to start thinking what it means to be human in abstraction from God. In other words, as Thielicke argues, prior to Descartes humanity was never thought of as a singular “I,” or in abstraction from relationship with God. In the “pre-critical” period, prior to Descartes’ turn to the subject, Thielicke notes that humanity, for the Christian, was only and always thought in and through its fellowship with God; indeed, this ‘ground of being’ was taken for granted, according to Thielicke. In order to grasp this seriously important point we will read along, at length, with Thielicke, as he sketches what it meant to be human pre-Descartes and post-Descartes. Following, we will apply some of the implications of Thielicke’s thinking towards Christmastide, and what it means to be human as found in concreto in Christ.

Second, concentration on the “I” and the “I think” tells us more. In the Middle Ages, as in Aquinas or Luther, self-knowledge means knowledge of the relationship to God. The nature of the self cannot be abstracted from the fact that it is created by God, that it has guiltily broken free from him, and that it is visited and redeemed by him. We are those who have a history with God. This is the point of our existence. The point is not to be found—primarily—in ontic qualities, e.g., the possession of reason or the upright stance. If the history with God constitutes our being, this being can only be defined relationally. It is a being under judgment and grace. Our worth is also relational. Ours is an alien dignity.

We can thus know who we are only as we know who and what God is. But we learn about God only as he reveals himself in Jesus Christ. We can know ourselves, therefore, only as we relate ourselves to this self-revelation. We find our humanity in the humanity of Jesus Christ. We see in him the original of humanity. We perceive our goal in a living person. We cannot say of ourselves who we are, for we cannot say of ourselves who God is. In this sense anthropology is always for Christians a part of theology.

Epigrammatically, one might say that we learn our nature through revelation. We are ourselves an object of faith. To try to know our nature by listing ontic qualities is thus pointless. As Norbert Wiener says bluntly and ironically, it leads us only to the definition of ourselves as “featherless bipeds,” puts us in the same category as plucked hens, kangaroos, and jerboas, and does not seize on anything specific to us. In contrast, Augustine’s Confessions is the classical expression of a Christian anthropology. This biography is in fact a history of divine leading. The underlying relationship finds formal expression in the fact that it conceived of as a prayer.[2]

In this instance we might as well be reading Karl Barth or Thomas Torrance; Thielicke like the Swissman and Scotsman, has a significant notion of the vicarious humanity of Christ as the fund of what it means to be human before God. What is significant for our purposes is to simply notice, along with Thielicke, that prior to Descartes’ turn to the subject anthropology, humanity could never be thought apart but only from Christ’s humanity for us. As an aside: Barth (and Torrance) is singled out as a modern theologian. But at the very base of Barth’s theology, in particular, his infamous doctrine of election is this return to the pre-modern theological anthropology that Thielicke is referring us to.

Even so, the joy of Christmas is that God has become human that we might become genuinely human before God; human in and through the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ. This is the Good News of Christmas: we were plunged into sub-humanity at the Fall (cf. Gen 3), but elevated to the ultimacy of what it means to be human as that is understood through the archetypal humanity of Jesus Christ. We have been elevated from the straw of the manger’s bed, to the Kingly throne-room of the Almighty. Christmas, as understood through this theological-anthropological lens, tells us that the sanctity and nobility of what it means to be human only comes as that is refracted in the light of God’s light in the face of Jesus Christ. He has invited us to partake of His humanity so we might feast with Him at the banqueting table of the Father. He has called us into relationship with Him; this is the pinnacle of what it means to be human according to the analogy of the incarnation: viz. we are thoroughly relational beings insofar as what it means to be human is to be participants in the eternally relational life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We have been brought into this eternal life; this is the good news of Christmastide. Maranatha.

 

[1] Irenaeus, “Preface,” in Against Heresies, book 5.

[2] Helmut Thielicke, Modern Faith&Thought (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990), 53.

What is the Ground of Christian Salvation?: A Reference to God’s Vicarious Humanity in Christ as the Basis for “Christian Everything”

Confession is enough. According to Holy Scripture becoming a Christian requires the following:

For Moses writes about the righteousness which is of the law, “The man who does those things shall live by them.” But the righteousness of faith speaks in this way, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ down from above) or, “ ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. 11 For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. 13 For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” –Romans 10.5-13

And there is a theological ground to this that is rarely to never discussed or acknowledged. When we reflect on the theo-logic implicate to the Incarnation of God, what we start to see is that God in Christ has freely chosen our humanity for His. In this assumption of our humanity He does for us what we could never do for ourselves; given our incurved predilection to seek first our kingdom and our rightness. He chooses what is best for us; what we were created for; He chooses the life of the Triune God for us, and re-conciles us to Eden lost into the Greater recreation of Jerusalem restored. In other words, and this is the Calvinist aspect of the Evangelical, because of our sub-human totally depraved statuses we could never seek God first; so, He has freely chosen to say Yes for us. It is this doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Christ that informs everything I say, do, and think as a Christian.

Here is the Athanasian Creed which articulates the significance of the Incarnation in regard to eternal life obtaining for each of us:

But it is necessary for eternal salvation that one also believe in the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ faithfully. Now this is the true faith: That we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, God’s Son, is both God and human, equally. He is God from the essence of the Father, begotten before time; and he is human from the essence of his mother, born in time; completely God, completely human, with a rational soul and human flesh; equal to the Father as regards divinity, less than the Father as regards humanity. Although he is God and human, yet Christ is not two, but one. He is one, however, not by his divinity being turned into flesh, but by God’s taking humanity to himself. He is one, certainly not by the blending of his essence, but by the unity of his person. For just as one human is both rational soul and flesh, so too the one Christ is both God and human. He suffered for our salvation; he descended to hell; he arose from the dead; he ascended to heaven; he is seated at the Father’s right hand; from there he will come to judge the living and the dead. At his coming all people will arise bodily and give an accounting of their own deeds. Those who have done good will enter eternal life, and those who have done evil will enter eternal fire.[1]

We might want to quibble with the idea of the performance based understanding of salvation that the last clause makes things sound like; but in a theosis theory of salvation, we might also want to frame this in the Luther-esque understanding of a ‘bad tree producing bad fruit’ and a ‘good tree producing good.’ The point being, the Incarnation is the key logic that should stand behind any theory of salvation.

TF Torrance eloquently articulates these truths in regard to salvation, and its Christological conditioning this way:

God loves you so utterly and completely that he has given himself for you in Jesus Christ his beloved Son, and has thereby pledged his very being as God for your salvation. In Jesus Christ God has actualised his unconditional love for you in your human nature in such a once for all way, that he cannot go back upon it without undoing the Incarnation and the Cross and thereby denying himself. Jesus Christ died for you precisely because you are sinful and utterly unworthy of him, and has thereby already made you his own before and apart from your ever believing in him. He has bound you to himself by his love in a way that he will never let you go, for even if you refuse him and damn yourself in hell his love will never cease. Therefore, repent and believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour.[2]

In order to press this further let me refer us to my friend, Jason Goroncy. Here is something he wrote in his chapter for our first Evangelical Calvinism book. He is detailing what this Christ-conditioned lens of salvation looks like; in particular, as that was developed in the soteriology of the Scot, John McLeod Campbell (someone TF Torrance admires, among other Scottish theologians):

While Western orthodoxy has mostly stressed the Godward side of the atonement, Campbell laid the weight on the creaturely side, following Anselm: “None therefore but God can make this reparation . . . Yet, none should make it save a man, otherwise man does not make amends.” Campbell recognized that an adequate repentance by those disabled by sin, while required, was morally impossible, and therefore if such were to be offered it would have to be by God, albeit from our side—that is, God in fallen flesh. This is because, Campbell argued, genuine repentance involves seeing the sin (and sinners) “with God’s eyes,”11 viewing broken humanity from within, feeling the deep sorrow  that sin creates and confessing the righteousness of God’s judgment upon it. As R. C. Moberly recalls, sin “has blunted the self’s capacity for entire hatred of sin, and has blunted it once for all.” Only one, therefore, who could see things as they really are could make an adequate confession both of God’s righteousness and of human sin. Such confession is not made in order to avoid sin’s consequences but precisely that sin’s consequences may be embraced in all their dreadfulness, “meeting the cry of these sins for judgment, and the wrath due to them, absorbing and exhausting that divine wrath in that adequate confession and perfect response on the part of man.”

Genuine repentance and confession for “The sin of His brethren” would have to come from one who, as it were, stood on God’s side in the human dock.14 What was impossible for sinners was possible for this man who in the fullness of the hypostatic union penetrated into the depths of our humanity to see sin as God sees it, and to condemn sin as God condemns it, and yet do so from our side and as our head. That is, in “The High Priest of redeemed humanity” such confession and condemnation of sin happened not only with “great sorrow” but from the side of sin. So Campbell: “This confession as to its nature, must have been a perfect Amen in humanity to the judgment of God on the side of man. Such an Amen was due in the truth of things. He who was the Truth could not be in humanity and not utter it—and it was necessarily a first step in dealing with the Father on our behalf. He who would intercede for us must begin with confessing our sins.”

Christ’s “perfect Amen in humanity to the judgment of God” has value for humanity insofar as Christ, ‘spiritually speaking . . . is the human race, made sin for the race, and acting for it in a way so inclusively total, that all mortal confessions, repentances, sorrows, are fitly acted by him in our behalf. His divine Sonship in our humanity is charged in the offering thus to God of all which the guilty world itself should offer,” as Horace Bushnell notes. In offering that perfect response from the depths of humanity Christ “absorbs” the full realization of God’s judgment against sin. Standing as God, Christ knows “a perfect sorrow” regarding sin. And, standing with no “personal consciousness of sin” but fully clad in fallen flesh, Christ is able to offer “a perfect repentance” that is required from humanity’s side offering that perfect “Amen” to God’s mind concerning sin. With this response—even in the midst of Calvary’s darkness—God re-speaks those words first heard over Jordan’s waters: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” And in response, humanity cries out “Our Father, hallowed be thy name.”[3]

Goroncy helps fill things out for us. The most important aspect to grab onto is how the logic of the Incarnation is brought to its soteriological conclusion. In other words, and I think this is an inescapable conclusion, if the eternal Word of God became human, His humanity becomes the fully ‘in-stead’ humanity for us. Not as a cipher or instrument, per se, but as the ‘personalising humanity’ that genuinely gives us space, in our own particularity, to be human before God; that is, human in and from the recreated/resurrected humanity of Jesus’s priestly and vicarious humanity for us. This is the Word of God’s Grace; it is Christ become human and in this downward trajectory He unites us to an upward vector that He has always already and eternally shared in glory with His Father by the bond of the Holy Spirit.

Conclusion

I still have Kanye West’s conversion on my mind. I have been shocked, once again, by how much apparent confusion there is ‘out there’ in regard to what Christian salvation actually entails. Kanye, like all of us, has an antecedent voice, a voice that has said, and continues to say Yes to the Father for Him. It is this that gives substance and heft to West’s confession of faith before the world; it is the confession of Jesus’s faith being echoed in and through the vocal cords of Kanye’s voice—through every Christian’s voice. This is the miracle and mystery of salvation, and it is one we should rejoice in whenever and in whomever we see it obtain. We are seeing the miracle of God becoming human borne witness to; not directly, but indirectly as we someone else come to the realization that they are now participants in the plenitude of the Triune Life. This is the Evangel, and it has already succeeded in West’s life, just as sure as Jesus’s Yes can never be turned into a No.

 

[1] Source.

[2] T. F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ, 94.

[3] Jason Goroncy, “Tha mi a’ toirt fainear dur gearan:” J. McLeod Campbell and P.T. Forsyth on the Extent of Christ’s Vicarious Ministry,” in eds. Myk Habets and Bobby Grow, Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2012), 255-57.

The Weight of God’s Glory in the Vicarious Humanity of Jesus Christ: In the Theologies of John Calvin and Thomas Torrance

To be without Christ is to be without the possibility for salvation; for reconciliation with the living God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jesus Christ is the ‘point of contact’ between God and humanity; He is the mediator; the high priest that the Aaronic and Levitic priesthoods could only foreshadow; He is the Melchizedekian priest of the tribe of Judah with no genealogy, other than being the Word of the Father. It is this canonical reality that paves the way to the census road to Bethlehem, and finally to the via Delarosa. Jesus Christ, He is the scapegoat, and the Passover Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. ‘In Christ’ the crescendo of all the ages is given the resounding boom of the Father’s thunderous voice that simply states: ‘this is my beloved Son, hear Him.’ He alone bears the weight of all the governments of the world; who alone is wonderful; who by Him all things hold together in the seen and unseen reality of the Triune God’s cosmos which serves as the theater of His beatific glory.

John Calvin understood how central Jesus is to the whole plenitude of God’s economy. Calvin maintained that Christ embodies both God’s justification and sanctification for us in Himself. He further understood that without union with Christ by faith alone we could never hope to be freed from the squalor of our sin-soaked existences; that without Christ there is no elevation to the holiness God requires in order for us to be participants in the fellowship of His perichoretic life of filial bliss. And so, Calvin wrote the following:

From what has been discussed previously, we clearly see how people are devoid and stripped of all good, and how they lack all that pertains to their salvation. That is why, if a person wants something to help him in his need, he must go outside himself and seek his help elsewhere. Morevoer, we explained that our Lord presents Himself freely to us in His Son Jesus Christ, offering us in Him all happiness in place of our misery, all abundance in place of our poverty, and opening to us in Him all His heavenly treasures and riches so that all our faith may look to His very dear Son, all our expectation may be in Him and all our hope may rest on Him. This is a secret, a hidden philosophy which cannot be understood by syllogisms; but those people understand it whose eyes our Lord has opened in order that in His light they may see clearly. We are taught by faith to know that all the good we need and which we lack in ourselves is in God and in His Son our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom the Father has established all the fullness of His blessings and abundance so that we may draw everything from there as from a very full fountain. Now it remains for us to seek in Him and, by prayers, ask from Him what we have learned is there. For otherwise to know God as the Master, Author, and Giver of all good who invites us to ask them from Him, and four us not to address Him, not to ask anything from Him, would not benefit us at all. It would be as if someone disdained and left buried and hidden under the earth a treasure about which he had been told. So we must now treat more fully this point about which we have previously spoken only incidentally and in passing.[1]

Embedded in Calvin’s thinking is what we (as Evangelical Calvinists), along with Thomas Torrance and Karl Barth, have called a ‘doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Christ.’ It is the idea that all God’s Grace for us is actualized and embodied in the singular person of Jesus Christ. Calvin, at an early stage (relative to Barth’s and Torrance’s development of it latterly) presses what he calls unio cum Christo (or union with Christ); and what he more pointedly identifies as the duplex gratia (or double grace) of salvation that, again, is found in the extra (outside) life of God for us in Jesus Christ. The key aspect, of course, is to be found in union with Christ. If He remains outside of us, and we Him, then the salvation He is does us no good, it only remains an abstraction that has objectivity to it, but no subjectivity as we might remain in a state of carnality and in the deadness of our sins; apart from what Christ has won.

In order to understand and develop this doctrine further, a doctrine I think we see in Calvin’s own thinking, let’s turn to Thomas Torrance and allow him to explicate just how soteriologically rich this christological reality is; particularly as it finds its repose in a theology proper of Triune proportion:

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.[2]

There is too much depth to unpack all of the implications offered by TF Torrance in the space we have, but suffice it to say: that within this frame of understanding, salvation is first and foremost understood not from forensic categories, but from relational ones. For Calvin, for TFT, for Barth, the ground of salvation has always been one that has been generated from within the processions of God’s life as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; a genuinely personalist rubric for thinking salvation. These are heavy things; glorious realities; and doxological posits that we must continue to ponder with God’s help.

 

[1] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion: 1541 French Edition, trans. by Elsie Anne McKee (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009), 458.

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

The Doctrine of the Vicarious Humanity of Christ Cannot Be Overstated for The Evangelical Calvinist Understanding of All Things

For Karl Barth, Thomas Torrance, and us Evangelical Calvinists following, what it means to be human is grounded in our participation in and from Jesus Christ’s vicarious humanity for us (pro nobis). This has broad reaching implications for theoanthropology, soteriology, and other important theological loci. I know I have iterated this before, and multiple times, but I thought I would reiterate it again because the significance of this point cannot be overstated if you are going to be an adherent to the mood of Evangelical Calvinism we are presenting to the church catholic. I am just now starting to read Jeff McSwain’s published PhD dissertation Simul Sanctification: Barth’s Hidden Vision for Human Transformation, which he accomplished under the watchful eye of Alan Torrance at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. He offers a nice precise description of what the doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Christ entails in the theology of Barth. He writes:

For Barth, when God becomes a human being he lives not only as a singular Jewish man of humble origins, but  he also represents in himself every human being—the whole spectrum of the human race. Jesus Christ is the true and original human being beloved by God, and at the same time the representative human sinner—and therefore “the greatest of all sinners”—being forsaken by God. In his person, Christ defines the goodness of humanity, and he also delimits the evil and brokenness of humanity. The implications are somewhat startling: every single human being exists in the human being of Jesus Christ, eternal Son of God. In terms of Barth’s beloved Colossians, we describe the simul iustus et peccator as the simultaneous, twofold, “Christ is your life” (see 3:4) and “Christ is your death” (see 3:3). In Barth’s view, then, righteousness is not primarily a forensic term to be fitted into a legal scheme of atonement but signifies true life from above, life derived solely from the life of God. Righteousness and life cannot be separated in Barth’s view any more than sin and death.[1]

We see foreshadowing’s of McSwain’s thesis on Barth’s simul, but for our purposes we get a sense of the radical nature of Barth’s understanding of the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ. We see what Luther and the tradition calls the mirifica commutatio (‘wonderful exchange’), or what the Apostle Paul notes here, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (II Cor 8.9). We get a sense of Barth’s doctrine of election, even though McSwain doesn’t explicitly refer to it; to be sure, that is what is underwriting this understanding of the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ: viz. in eternity past the eternal Logos freely elected, with the Father, by the spiration of the Spirit, our humanity for Himself thus by becoming us He has graciously allowed us to become what He is for us in His elected humanity; and all that implies vis-à-vis participation in God’s triune life.

Much more to be said, but this will have to suffice for now. I simply wanted to elevate this doctrine once more because I do not think it can be overstated for those who are seeking to affirm an Evangelical Calvinist posture. Without this doctrine, grounded in the primacy of Jesus Christ as it is, the Evangelical Calvinist project doesn’t work. As McSwain underscored, “righteousness is not primarily a forensic term to be fitted into a legal scheme of atonement but signifies true life from above, life derived solely from the life of God.” This represents the deeper reality, the depth dimension of what Evangelical Calvinists are seeking to offer the church catholic as it reflects upon the reality of God become man, and how that affects all else. We don’t ultimately elide the forensic aspects of the atoning work of Christ, but we don’t see that as the frame of how atonement theory ought to be understood; instead we see the frame grounded in the ‘ontological’ reality of the God-human relationship rooted in the hypostatic union of God and human in Jesus Christ. Herein is the emphasis that Evangelical Calvinists promote in regard to the way we see God’s relationship to and for us; it isn’t ultimately based on a legal brief, but in a marriage proposal of the Son of Man for us (cf. Eph 5.18ff).

[1] Jeff McSwain, Simul Sanctification: Barth’s Hidden Vision for Human Transformation (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2018), 4.

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.

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.