Theology Terms

Accommodation — associated with Calvin, the term refers to God’s ‘coming down’ to meet us at our level and make himself known in human language and in ways the human mind can understand.

Active and Passive Obedience — active obedience refers to Jesus’ active fulfillment of the will and law of God and his life of positive human righteousness, while passive obedience refers to his suffering the consequences and judgment of sin.

Adoptionism — the theory that Jesus was born human but adopted to be the Son of God.

Anabaptist (literally ‘re-baptising’) — a term generally referring to movements of the 16 th century which rejected infant baptism and advocated the baptism (rebaptism) of believers able to decide for themselves.

Anhypostasis and enhypostasis — anhypostasis refers to the fact that the humanity of Jesus had no independent reality of its own apart from the incarnation of the Son, while enhypostasis refers to the fact that the humanity of Jesus did have real personal being in the person of the Son as a result of the incarnation (Gk, an-hypostasis, literally ‘not-person’, ie. with no personal being except in the Son; en-hypostasis, literally ‘in-person’ or ‘person-in’ [the person of the Son]’, ie. having real personal existence in the person of the Son).

Apollinarianism (Apollinarius c. 310-c. 390) — the doctrine that in the incarnation the eternal Word took the place of the human spirit or mind (nous). This was condemned at Constantinople in 381 on the ground that it impaired the perfect humanity of Christ because it meant Jesus did not have a normal human mind.

A posteriori — from experience, by empirical investigation (Lat, ‘from after’, hence following events or experience).

A priori — from first principles, by reason alone, independent of experience (Lat, ‘from the first’).

Arianism (Arius c. 250-c. 336) — the doctrine condemned at Nicaea in 325, that Jesus was not the same being as God and therefore not God but the highest of creatures, created by God for a mediatory and creative role.

Arminianism (Arminius 1560-1609) — a system of doctrine which attempts to hold together divine sovereignty and human free-will, teaching that Christ died for all and that God’s predestination is based on foreknowledge of human decision to accept or reject Christ.

Atonement — the divine work of covering and putting away sin, thus creating ‘at-one-ment’ between God and man. The term is especially used of Christ’s work of salvation which culminated on the cross.

Christian Dogmatics — the church’s orderly understanding of scripture and articulation of doctrine in the light of Christ and their coherence in him.

Contingency — the fact that the universe is not necessary and does not have to be the way it is, but is ‘contingent’ on the freedom of God to create it and might have been otherwise.

Councils — the great ecumenical councils were formal gatherings of bishops of the whole church assembled together to take key decisions on doctrine and creed. The most important councils, listed together with their central affirmations, were:

(i) The Council of Nicaea in AD 325, which affirmed that Jesus Christ is truly (alethos) God, in an affirmation of faith against the Arians.

(ii) The Council of Constantinople in AD 381, which affirmed that Jesus Christ was perfectly (teleos) man, against the Apollinarians whose teaching impaired the perfect humanity of Christ.

(iii) The Council of Ephesus in AD 431, which affirmed that Jesus Christ is one person, against the Nestorians who divided Christ into two persons.

(iv) The Council of Chalcedon in AD 451, which affirmed that in Jesus Christ there are two distinct natures in one person, and that in the one person of Christ they were hypostatically united ‘unconfusedly, incontrovertibly, indivisibly, inseparably’, or ‘without confusion, change, division or separation’. This was affirmed against the Eutychians and Monophysites.

(v) The Council of Constantinople AD 680, which asserted that Jesus Christ possessed a human will as well as a divine will, against the Monothelites, who asserted that in Jesus Christ there was only one single will.

Those are the five main stages in the Patristic doctrine of Christ, but to them we must add two more from modern times, which we shall consider in due course.

(vi) The Reformation, which sought to state the whole historic doctrine of Christ in East and West more in terms of Christ’s saving and reconciling mission, that is, in more dynamic terms.

(vii) Early Scottish theology (as in the teaching of Robert Boyd of Trochrig), and the theology of Karl Barth in our own day (after the assessment of the vast documentary study of the historical Jesus), where anhypostasia and enhypostasia are brought together to give full stress upon the historical Jesus Christ as the very Son of God. (Thomas F. Torrance, “Incarnation,” 196-97)

Creatio ex nihilo — ‘creation out of nothing’.

Decalogue — the ‘ten commandments’ (from deka logoi, ‘ten words’, the Greek translation of the Hebrew equivalent).

Deism — the view of God as the creator who, having brought the universe into being, leaves it to run according to natural law.

Docetism — the theory that while Jesus was God, he only appeared to be human (from the Gk, dokeo, to seem or appear). Generally, any theory which denies the full reality of Jesus’ humanity.

Dogma — the church’s authoritative formulation of doctrine in accordance with apostolic teaching.

Dogmatics — see Christian Dogmatics.

Doxological — giving praise or glory to God (from the Gk, doxos, glory).

Dyophysitism — the view that after the incarnation Christ had two natures, divine and human (from the Gk, ‘duo’ two, and ‘physis’ nature).

Ebionism — the view that Jesus was not God but an ordinary man, adopted to become Son of God.

Enhypostasis — see Anhypostasis and enhypostasis.

Exegesis — the interpretation of biblical texts.

Epistemology — the philosophy of knowledge, its nature, methods, sources and limits.

Eschatology — generally, the doctrine of ‘the last days’ or end of history (from the Gk, eschatos, last). New Testament eschatology thinks in terms of ‘the last days’ as having begun in the coming of Christ and of his second coming as imminent, not simply in terms of time, but in terms of Christ’s nearness through his resurrection as the beginning of the new creation and through his continual breaking into history in the Spirit.

Eschaton — the end, the last word and final act of God in Christ. The eschaton is the end of history, but not an event beyond it but within it, which means its transformation into the new creation.

Eutychianism (Eutyches c. 378-454) — a doctrine of ‘two natures before the incarnation and one after’. This was condemned at Chalcedon in 451 on the ground that it implied Christ’s human nature was no longer the same as ours but had bee swallowed up by his divinity.

Existentialism — the philosophy which emphasises personal existence, courageous decision and living in the present moment.

[This glossary was taken directly from: T. F. Torrance, ed. Robert T. Walker, “Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ,” —- except for the two sub-categories noted otherwise under ‘Councils’ which were taken from elsewhere (as noted) in this book.]

Feel free to interact, ask questions, that is the point of my doing this. I want to internalize and understand each of these terms better, and hopefully we can do this together. More to come . . .

Ethics Terms

Absolute: Moral norm that allows no exceptions (although some say an absolute is binding unless it is overridden by a higher duty in a particular situation); sometimes absolute means a moral norm that applies to the conduct of all human beings (i.e., a universal).

Act-orientation: Approach to ethics that emphasizes the uniqueness of particular ethical decisions; contrasted with rule-orientation; also called situationism.

Antinomianism: Ethical viewpoint that rejects all ethical norms and rules; literally, “against law.”

Cardinal Virtues: Prudence, courage, temperance, justice. See also theological virtues, virtue, virtues.

Character: The combination of natural and acquired features and traits that constitute a person’s nature or fundamental disposition, from which specific moral responses issue. See also narrative ethics, virtue, virtues.

Conflict of duties: Another term for moral dilemma.

Consequentialist ethics: Often used as another name for teleological ethics.

Contextualism: Act-oriented view of ethics that stresses the role of unique contexts or situations in determining ethical decision; often equated with situationism. Not all contextualists agree with situation ethics specifically because of its antinomian tendencies.

Creation ethic: Theological approach to justifying ethics that stresses the similarities between Christian thought and the generic modes of thinking that God created in all persons; contrasts with kingdom ethic.

Deontological ethics: any view that grounds ethical norms intrinsically not by looking to results only; an ethic that sees ethical principles as matters of duty.

Descriptive ethics: The first level of ethical analysis; a statement of what people actually believe and practice that makes no claim about ethical normativeness; often contrasted to prescriptive ethics.

Descriptive relativism: The fact that different people and cultures have different moral values and practices.

Distributive justice: The fair allocation of societal goods and benefits (such as natural resources) and societal burdens (such as taxation) among individuals and social groups.

Divine command theory: View that God’s will grounds ethics; the same as ethical voluntarism.

Emotivism: A kind of noncognitivism that sees ethical statements as expressions of emotion.

Epistemology: Investigation of the sources, methods, and status of human knowledge claims.

Essentialism: Ethical theory that grounds obligation in the nature of God rather than in the will of God; contrasted to voluntarism to divine command ethics.

Ethical egoism: Any teleological ethic that says one ought to act in self-interest.

Ethics: Analysis of morality; includes descriptive, normative, and metaethical levels.

Generalism: Theory that considers some ethical norms binding in most situations; however, generalism allows in certain cases all norms are subject to exceptions.

Graded absolutism: Theory maintaining that when two or more absolute ethical norms come into unavoidable conflict, the right and nonculpable action is to follow the higher norm.

Hierarchicalism: Another name for graded absolutism.

Human rights: A concept with many possible meanings, but most commonly those basic prerogatives, powers, and expectations of all people by virtue of their being human beings a society.

Ideal absolutism: Theory stating that when moral dilemmas occur, one’s duty is to choose the unavoidable lesser evil and then seek forgiveness for sinning.

Justice: A trait of individuals or societies that seeks to achieve and enforce impartially those conditions that foster human flourishing, by rendering to each person what is due to him or her.

Kingdom ethic: Theological approach to justifying ethical claims that emphasizes the distinctiveness of Christian ethics and the centrality of biblical teaching; contrasts with creation ethic.

Legalism: Ethical systems, condemned in the Bible, that overemphasizes law and develop detailed rules for many specific matters without regard for justice or mercy; legalism tends to universalize norms that are relevant in particular cultures only; contrasted with antinomianism.

[all terms are taken directly from: David K. Clark and Robert V. Rakestraw, “Readings in Christian Ethics: Volume 1, Theory and Method,” 311-313]

**work in progress—-more to come**


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