A Trinitarian & Christologically Determined Ecclesiology: the Essential Role of the Holy Spirit

churchDespite delays, we continue in our series on the Trinitarian and Chistologically determined doctrine of the church (short hand: ecclesiology). Because the Holy Spirit is a vital part of this theological endeavor, we will spend this post fleshing out the Holy Spirit’s person and work in some detail.

To begin with, Jesus, in the gospel of John, speaks of “another helper” (14:16 ESV), who, it becomes clear, is “the Spirit of truth” (v. 17; 15:26), that is, the Holy Spirit (14:25). Before we go into depth as to the meaning of “helper,” a few other things must be noted.

The Spirit comes from the Father and he will be with God’s people “forever” (14:16). Moreover, there is fellowship between the Spirit and the people of God and antagonism between the Spirit and “the world,” which can be understood in this context as that which is opposed to the things of God. We read in John 14:17:

… the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.

The Spirit is not only sent by the Father, but also comes in the name of Christ, the Son of God (14:26). The Spirit, Jesus tells us, has irrevocable importance in the economy, the plan of salvation for “he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” Moreover, the Spirit, whom Jesus himself “will send from the Father” (15:26), will “bear witness about [Jesus].” Jesus further elaborates on the role of the Holy Spirit:

… he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

There is much that could be said about this, but, for brevity’s sake, we’ll note a few things. First, the Spirit will speak to unbelief toward Jesus. Second, the Spirit will speak of Christ’s true identity as the risen, ascended and exalted one. Third, the Spirit will speak of the eschatological judgement of God against the “ruler of this world” and therefore implicitly of those who still belong to this world.

Further, we hear in typical Johannine fashion that the Spirit does not speak of his own authority, but only what he hears (this same language is used of Jesus’ relationship to the Father throughout the gospel of John). The Spirit glorifies the Son just as the Son glorifies the Father. Put differently, to behold the Spirit is to behold the Triune God; indeed, to behold any of the persons of the Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) is to be drawn toward the others for without the others, we do not understand the one—without the Holy Spirit we do not know the Son, without the Son we do not know the Father, and without the Father we do not know the Son or the Spirit.

Throughout Jesus’ statements on the Holy Spirit, it is clear that they are couched in the broader context of Jesus’ coming ascension (cf. e.g., 14:1-3, 18, 28; 16:7). Most strikingly, he tells his disciples that it is to their (and our) “advantage” that Jesus ascends, leaving his disciples behind. Why? Because by going, he will in turn send the Holy Spirit. Christ does not leave room for a Christology without a Pneumatology or a Christomonism where the Spirit is treated as some obscure, less-than-important person. Rather, the sending of the Spirit for the sake of God’s people and for the world is of utmost importance; indeed, were Jesus to remain on the earth, not ascending, it would be to our complete detriment!

To summarize, the Spirit teachings, guides, instructs God’s people; he convicts regarding unbelief, vindicates Christ, the ascended one, and impresses on our heats the coming judgment, already begun. The Spirit, moreover, witnesses to Christ, is sent by and is in union with the Father and the Son in his ad extra work, and, he glorifies the Son. This brings us then to the Spirit’s identity as the “helper.”

This is a difficult word for translators, which in the Greek is παράκλητος. Louw-Nida (L&N) summarizes the problem well:

The principal difficulty encountered in rendering παράκλητος is the fact that this term covers potentially such a wide area of meaning. The traditional rendering of ‘Comforter’ is especially misleading because it suggests only one very limited aspect of what the Holy Spirit does. A term such as ‘Helper’ is highly generic and can be particularly useful in some languages. In certain instances, for example, the concept of ‘Helper’ is expressed idiomatically, for example, ‘the one who mothers us’ or, as in one language in Central Africa, ‘the one who falls down beside us,’ that is to say, an individual who upon finding a person collapsed along the road, kneels down beside the victim, cares for his needs, and carries him to safety. A rendering based upon the concept of legal advocate seems in most instances to be too restrictive … (1:141).

Johannes Behm (TDNT 5:813-814) and G. Braumann (NIDNTT 1:89-91) agree to the difficulty of conveying the sense of παράκλητος in John 14-16, yet they do see “helper” as the most adequate of the translation choices available. This is mainly due to the fact that helper is general enough to capture the other nuances that could be being conveyed by the word. With that said, the gloss provides by L&N should be kept in mind when one reads Jesus’ teaching on the Spirit in John 14-16: ‘Helper, Encourager, Mediator’ (1:141).

The Spirit brings to bear on the hearts and minds of people the reality of God; in particular the reality of God the Father seen in the face of Jesus Christ.[1] The Spirit is the Spirit of the Father and the Spirit of the Son. The Spirit comforts, assists, guides, and convicts the believer; but, this must be stressed again, the Spirit does not do so in abstraction but rather the Spirit does so by declaring the things of Christ, which are, in turn, the things of the Father. Here, the vital and necessary connection between the ascended Christ and the given Holy Spirit cannot be missed or minimized. The Spirit is the Spirit of the ascended Christ and Christ is in and with us by his Holy Spirit; truly, both the Father and the Son are in us by the Holy Spirit. We are able to know and enjoy rich fellowship with the Triune God because of the Holy Spirit. Put differently, it is because of the essential ministry of the Holy Spirit that we are able to apprehend the face of the ascended Christ by faith and, through Christ, the Father (John 14:6, 10-11).

We will briefly look at Eph 4 to close this portion of our discussion. Paul tells us that the unity between believers is one established by the Spirit (v. 3). Moreover, Paul writes, “one body and one Spirit.” The connection between the body of Christ and the Holy Spirit is not an accidental one. Rather, it is purposeful and in fact another way of stating his connection between the unity of the body and the Spirit in the preceding verse.

Put negatively, there would not be the body of Christ without the Spirit, who holds together the body; for if, following Paul’s metaphor, the Spirit holds together the body in unity and the body is said to be “joined and held together,” then it follows that the Spirit is the one who is responsible for this, otherwise a disjointed and dysfunctional body would be the result (or perhaps some sort of vegetative state). Now, to be clear, the Spirit is not working independently of Christ, the head of the body, but neither is the Spirit somehow subpar or unimportant. Rather, the Spirit is that very grace given by Christ to equip the saints (vv. 7, 12; cf. Matt 7:11 // Lk 11:13) and bring forth the unity and maturity that Paul envisions.

As we mentioned in the introduction to our series, the Holy Spirit is undivided in purpose with the Father and the Son in the redemption of human beings, whether this redemption is construed in forensic or transformational terms (or, preferably, both). With the picture that the John 14-16, Eph 4 and numerous other texts give us (e.g., Rom 8), it should be without a doubt that the Holy Spirit is not a “third wheel” with regard to how we are to understand the doctrine of the church. In sharp contrast to such thinking, the Spirit, as God himself in and with us, glorifies and witnesses to the Son, with the latter bringing us to a vision of the Father. Already, we have seen to some degree and will see further as we progress that to neglect the Spirit is to distort grace, the spiritual gifts given for the church, the relationship between God  and the world, and even our very salvation. By placing this emphasis on the Spirit, we are placing our emphasis on the Trinitarian determination of our ecclesiology for to move toward the Spirit is to, if understood correctly, be propelled toward the Son and the Father.

[1] We are unable to give reference to the biblical data supporting some of what will follow due to time constraints.


A Trinitarian & Christologically Determined Ecclesiology: an Introduction to a Series

churchIn a prior post, I presented a dogmatic sketch of Christ’s ascension, drawing from this reality some further implications. In the next series of blog posts, I will attempt to both offer, as I put it earlier, a “thoroughgoing Trinitarian understanding of Christ’s work as well as a pneumatologically rich one”; more particularly, I will be focusing on Christ’s work as it pertains to Christ’s body: the bride of Christ. Earlier I wrote:

Christ then is speaking to his church through the Holy Spirit; and, the Holy Spirit is empowering Christ’s body. The prophetic and kingly function of the Spirit is clear. Moreover, the Spirit comforts us as well as interceded for us as “another advocate” (Rom 8; John 16), pointing to the Spirit’s priestly work, if you will.

To state it differently, the Holy Spirit reflects the munus triplex of Christ; that is to say, the threefold office of prophet, priest, and king is reflected in the Spirit’s activity. While perhaps a novel way of putting things, this shouldn’t be a surprise. The Spirit glorifies Christ (John 16:14), and, therefore, his activity reflects that of Christ. Moreover, the munus triplex, as Robert Sherman persuasively argues, reflects the Triune Lord. Rather than reproduce his argument, I will offer some thoughts of my own at this point.

If the each person of the Trinity shares one singular, undivided will, it follows that, if Christ is prophet, priest and king in his divinity, then the Father and the Spirit reflect this in their ad extra activity. Now, one may wonder how this could be; where is it biblically stated that the Father is a priest? Teasing this out somewhat, we can see how the munus triplex is reflected in the person of the Father. The kingly office is self-evident: the Father reigns and acts as king. The Father speaks thus the prophetic office. He speaks through his Son (Heb 1), clearly, but he speaks nonetheless. The priest office is less clear, but, at base, what does the priestly office denote. God’s reconciling love toward sinners. Why does Christ intercede for sinners (Hebrews) or why does the Spirit (Rom 8)? They do so because of God’s reconciling love toward these same sinners. Does this reconciling love exclude the Father’s activity? May it never be. Rather, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son” (John 3:16).

The Father, Son and Spirit are not at odds; therefore, while each person of the Trinity expresses the munus triplex in their own peculiar ways, this peculiarity (or, perhaps better, specificity) does not undermine their unity—the one indivisible will which they share (see Sherman’s monograph for further argumentation along these lines).[1]

One may ask: how is this important? It is our contention that in order to understanding the person and work of Christ, and, in turn, the ad extra work of the Trinity, one must attend to the relationship between the Triune Lord and the church. Putting it more programmatically, to truly apprehend the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one must apprehend the activity of the same especially in relation to the church. Ecclesiology is not divorced or abstracted from theology, Christology or pneumatology; rather, ecclesiology is unintelligible apart from them; and, it warrants rephrasing, theology, Christology, and pneumatology is inapprehensible without ecclesiology. It is the revealing of the Triune Lord in the lives of once-fallen-now-redeemed human beings that we come to truly see God. This has profound implications for how we understand God, ourselves and even the world, and, as such, it will be our concern in the coming weeks (or months) to make an attempt at drawing out the implications of our above noted programmatic statement.

As we begin to move in this direction and set the stage (or the table) for things to come, we will elucidate some fascinating statements made by two theologians—John Owen and Kathryn Tanner.

Commenting on Isa 6:6-7, Owen writes of the Holy Spirit that the “burning coal … from the altar” (ESV) represents the Holy Spirit, “or his work and grace.” He then goes on to say:

… having touched the lips of his prophet, his sin was taken away, both as to the guilt and filth of it. And this is the work of the Holy Ghost, who not only sanctified us, but, by ingenerating faith in us, and the application of the promise unto us, is the cause and means of our justification also …[2]

 The Holy Spirit, for Owen, is the sanctified and justifier of the believer. The burning coal is placed upon the lips of Isaiah, who represents faithful, believing Israel, and the angel says of him: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for” (v. 7). Or, to repeat Owen’s summary, “the guilt and filth” of sin is taken away by the Holy Spirit, with the forming denoting justification and the latter sanctification.

Here, we see an expression of the duplex gratia (famously taught by John Calvin) which teaches that we receive the double grace of justification and sanctification in our union with Christ. These two benefits, while distinguishable, are inseparable, finding their ground in the believers union with Christ. Yet, Owen connects this same duplex gratia to the work of the Holy Spirit, drawing on Isaiah 6, and, we believe he is correct in seeing this connection. Often though, it must be admitted, we do not conceive of the Holy Spirit in connection with justification. Beyond this is a deeper implication, this two-fold grace in virtue of our union with Christ can, at the same time, be described as a direct activity of the Holy Spirit.

In sum, Christ, and our union to him, is intimately bound up with and expressed by the Holy Spirit’s activity in the life of the believer, who brings forth both justification and sanctification. It is for this reason that we can affirm with many theologians that the Holy Spirit does not merely apply salvation to us, but, in fact, gives himself to us and it is by this gift of himself that we are saved. This enforces the deep and abiding connection between the work of Christ and the Spirit, which has further consequences for how we are to think of the divine work of redemption.

Moving on to Kathryn Tanner’s statement, we catch a glimpse of the powerfully Trinitarian shape that our redemption takes. She writes:

The Spirit radiates the humanity of Jesus with the Father’s own gifts of light, life and love; and shines through him, not simply back to the Father, but through his humanity to us, thereby communicating to us the gifts received by Jesus from the Father. In this way, the gifts of the Father indwell us in and through the gift of the Spirit itself shining through the glorified humanity of the Son. Thereby the Spirit in us effects created gifts in and for our humanity.[3]

Breaking this down, we see that the Spirit “radiates” Jesus’ humanity “with the Father’s … light, life and love,” i.e., the Spirit manifests the Father through the humanity of the Son, which, in turn, has a two-fold direction: upward to the Father and outward to us. Jesus has received gifts from his Father, as the true and natural Son of God, and the Spirit communicates these gifts “to us.” Thus, the reciprocity between the persons of the Trinity informs, shapes and determines what we receive in our fellowship with the Triune God. God gives to the Son, and the Spirit, through the Son, applies these same gifts (light, life and love) to us in a magnificent way: by “shining through the glorified humanity of the Son.” The Son who assumed human flesh, also resurrected that same flesh from the grave, ascended to the Father, and dwells in glory (“taken up in glory,” 1 Tim 3:16).

This requires that an adequate account of redemption must be led by the two central truths of (1) Christ’s hypostatic (fully God and fully man) union and the salvation wrought by this union, moving from his birth to glorification, with every step in-between being completely essential, and, (2) the Trinitarian reality of this same redemption, which necessitates explicit connection of salvation to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. To put it negatively, without these two fundamental truths, we cannot speak rightly of the church, of the people of God called out by God to live a life of eternal fellowship with him.

The church is, at base, constituted by the Triune Lord; and, she cannot understand herself apart from this. Moreover, this must train her how to think of herself in theory, in practice and toward the world. By looking on how she is beheld (Eph 5:26-27), we will behold something of God. And it is at this point that we conclude our discussion, awaiting opportunity for attempts at further elaboration.

[1] Robert Sherman, King, Priest, and Prophet: A Trinitarian Theology of Atonement (T&T Clark, 2004).

[2] John Owen, Pneumatologia, in the Works of John Owen (Banner of Truth, 2009), III: 77.

[3] Kathryn Tanner, Jesus, Humanity and the Trinity: A Brief Systematic Theology (Fortress Press, 2001), 53

A Case for Christian Proclamation as a Theologico-Prophetic Act


Christian proclamation in general (which includes, at the very least, preaching and evangelism) is often seriously misunderstood. This is the case because what the very act entails is often not adequately grasped. It is our suggestion here that Christian proclamation (or kerygma) is a theological, or, to put it more controversially, prophetic act. After surveying some reasons why this is the case, we will offer further implications this has for evangelism in particular.

To being with, we think it is helpful to tease out what we mean by theological act. The word theology, of which theological is the adjectival form, is the combination of two Greek words: ‘theos’ and ‘logos’; thus, theology, at base, means words about God. Here, we are meaning it in a rather full sense; that is to say, by theological act, what we are attempting to convey is that Christian proclamation is a speech-act on the part of God through the person speaking. So, this act is not, at base, mere words about God, but rather, words from God hence the description of this act as a prophetic act.

Now, applying the designation ‘prophetic’ may seem, at best, unwarranted by some, and, at worst, grossly mistaken, but, we believe there are various theological strands that do indeed warrant such a designation.

The crucial text for this understanding is 2 Cor 5:17-21 where Paul writes:

… if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new    come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Paul stresses in this passage that we believers have been entrusted with “the ministry of reconciliation.” What is this reconciliation? It is that “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them,” and it is this message which we are to speak. He further elaborates what this message is in v. 21: “For our sake he [God the Father] made him [Christ, God the Son] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Christ, in sum, substituted himself for us so that by our union with Christ (“in him”), “we might become the righteousness of God.”

This message, this ministry of reconciliation leads Paul to say, furthermore, that we are “ambassadors for Christ.” That is, God is “making his appeal through us” who are participating in God’s reconciling work. Notice the prophetic dimension of this ministry: God is making his appeal through us. Paul switches to the first person after making this statement. “We implore you on behalf of Christ.” This first person language combined with on behalf of Christ is clearly prophetic in orientation: God is speaking through us a message of reconciliation to those who are as of yet not reconciled to God and, making this even clearer, we can rightful describe this act as one of an ambassador.

An ambassador (Gk πρεσβεύω) is someone who stands as a representative for someone else (BDAG, p. 861; cf. LSJ, p. 1462; L&N 37.88). So, by describing those who are given the ministry of reconciliation as ambassadors, what Paul is sayings is that we are, in effect, standing in the place as his representatives as we participate in the ministry and deliver the message of reconciliation. Thus, there is a third person and first person element to such a message. Third person in the sense that we can say, “God says,” but first person in the sense that we can, in God’s stead, say, “We implore … you.” If this isn’t a prophetic act, it is hard to imagine what it could be. It is unlikely that anyone would suggest that were a prophet to emerge in our post-Enlightenment day, the person him/herself would disappear as they speak forth the message they have been given by God. Rather, the prophet is truly there, in flesh and blood, and truly human, yet, this same prophet is speaking on behalf of someone who has given the prophet the authority to do so.

Before we belabor the point, we would point the reader to one more Pauline passage to substantiate our contention. Paul writes in 1 Cor 3:9, “We are God’s fellow workers,” that is, we work alongside God. Earlier in the same passage he writes, “Servants through whom you believed” (v. 5). In sum, it is through these servants that the message of reconciliation was received by faith (“you believed”).

Turning now in a more dogmatic direction, we can note further reasons why Christian proclamation is a theologico-prophetic act. First, those who have placed their faith in Christ are united to Christ; in other words, we are an extension of Christ, or, in biblical terms, we are his body (Eph 4); that is, Christ is speaking through us, offering himself for the salvation of the hearer.

Second, those united to Christ are united by the Holy Spirit (John 3; Rom 8); therefore, when we participate in God’s reconciling ministry, we are empowered to speak by the power of the Holy Spirit. This becomes abundantly clear when we realize that it is the same Spirit that lives in us that raised Christ from the dead and who also breathed forth the Scriptures (2 Tim 3:16; 2 Pet 1:21), but, more to the point, the main aim of the Holy Spirit is to glorify the Son and make known those things pertaining to the person and work of the Son (John 16-17). Thus, when we proclaim the very message of reconciliation, the Spirit is ever so near and intertwined, as it were, with this word for it is by this word that the Son is most glorified; as it is stated in Rev 19:10: “… the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” In sum, to testify of Christ is the height and true aim of prophecy and, as such, faithful Christian proclamation can be nothing less than prophesy.

Third, it’s because of the love of the Father that the only begotten Son of God was sent to redeem the world (John 3:16), and, we, as ambassadors for Christ, go forth knowing that this love of the Father, which has been revealed perfectly by the work of his Son, for fallen human beings at enmity with him is what undergirds our being sent, just as it did the Son of the Father to whom we are united. In other words, Christian proclamation, as prophetic act, has a Triune shape with each person of the Trinity helping us to see the different nuances of this act.

Having presented, in brief manner, our case for Christian proclamation as theologico-prophetic act, we will offer at this point some ways this can inform evangelism.

We must recognize that as we desire to share the good news of the reconciliation accomplished between God and man by Christ that we are in fact sharing in the same desire which moved God himself to (speaking humanly) plan and execute the redemption of the world. Moreover, God in Christ and by the Holy Spirit is speaking through us. An ambassador does not have to be concerned about the message he is delivering nor does the message rest on the insights, wisdom, or what have you of the messenger, for the message does not rest on the authority of the one who stands as representative, rather, this authority is found in the one who sends, namely, God. Thus, this message is of divine authority. Taking this two things together—the love and authority of God—which undergird the proclamation of this message, we represent God have nothing to fear, but rather, can, indeed must, offer this message freely with love knowing that “perfect love casts out all fear.”

It is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit who is appealing to the disinherited image-bearer, the person consumed with dissolution of a most pernicious variety, and who is speaking through us to them. Hence, we can speak both in the third person, “the Father loves you, see, his Son,” and, we speak in humble, hushed, urgent, pleading tones of the first person: “I know the Lord loves you, he loves me, for look: his Son.” This is prophetic not random, not unplanned. For us to speak the very message which reflects the love of the Father, brings glory to the Son, and shows the heinousness of our sin and the deep, unfathomable love of God in Christ is to speak of something of cataclysmic and cosmic import—it is to speak of the collapse of this history and the beginning of a new one that will not fail; it is to speak of the predestined and undefeatable plan of God to redeem a people for himself and to place every enemy of God underneath his feet; it is to speak of a work which transcends the servile, pale notions of chance, randomness or fate, replacing them with the steadfast intentions of the Triune Lord. Unless we grasp that evangelism, and Christian proclamation in general, is finally, from beginning to end, rooted, driven by and deeply embedded in the plan of God, then we lose sight of the fact that we are without question sent to represent one who is indeed speaking, calling, and inviting shattered human beings made to bear his image.

Does 1 Timothy 2:12 Prohibit Women Professors of Theology/Bible?

profesOne of the most heated and long-standing debates in the modern era has been whether or not women are permitted by God to become pastors and elders in God’s church. This is a debate that has divided denominations, churches, and probably even households. On the one side, complementarians argue that the Bible prohibits woman elder/pastors; on the other side, egalitarians argue that no such prohibition exists. Our purpose here is to explore the question of whether women can be professors at a bible college or seminary; that is, as educators of future church leaders, many of whom would be male.

Often it is argued by the complementarian side that due to the prohibitions regarding the question of women as pastors, it follows that women also cannot be educators of future church leaders by way of a seminary or bible college. They argue that this is the case because women are explicitly prohibited from teaching men or having authority over them (1 Tim 2:12) and by holding a post in a seminary or the like is in fact teaching and wielding authority over men. As a complementarian myself, I will argue that this line of argumentation, while on first appearance seems sound, is in fact flawed and actually undermines the exegesis supporting the complementarian understanding of 1 Tim 2:12 (and surrounding context).

It is not my purpose to provide a full exegesis of 1 Tim 2:12 in support of the complementarian view (the reader can consult my thorough analysis of this passage here) but some things must be noted about the main teaching of this passage in order to come to a clearer understanding of what it does and does not imply.

Paul writes, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” It is commonly acknowledged in this debate that Greek word underlying “authority” is a hapax legomenon. Because of this, much controversy has swirled around this word, with the complementarians arguing that it merely denotes authority pure and simple and the egalitarians arguing that is means usurping or abusive authority.[1] The latter is a negative construal of the term and the former a positive.

The overall syntax of the sentence, as well as the chiastic structure of vv. 11-12, is enlisted by scholars to demonstrate the validity of the complementarian understanding of v. 12. The argument goes as follows: the negating conjunctions “(I do) not” (οὐκ) and “or” (οὐδὲ), when joined together, connect either two (or more) positive or two negative concepts, thus, a negative and a positive cannot be joined together by the combination of οὐκ … οὐδὲ but only a positive + positive or negative + negative. Not only in the New Testament but in ancient Greek literature is this syntactical rule attested.  This is important for determining what “authority” denotes in 1 Tim 2:12. There is strong reason to suggest, given the syntax and the positive sense attached to “to teach” and its noun cognates in 1 Tim as well as the broader context of the so-called Pastoral Epistles (1-2 Timothy, Titus), that “authority” in this case does in fact support the complementarian reading of this passage. Continue reading “Does 1 Timothy 2:12 Prohibit Women Professors of Theology/Bible?”

‘Can’t We All Just Get Along?’; or, A (Very) Brief Theology of Public Life

parlIn our day, anything approaching politics is a bane to the church. With a society fractured by the liberal/conservative divide, to name just one of many significant dividers, Christians choose to speak of politics in a hushed tone, fearing the reprisal of those on the other side of the divide; or, on the other extreme, Christians make their politic views (whatever they may be) the thing most expressed and defended even if this means failing to love those with whom they disagree.

In response to this, we would like to offer a (very) brief theology of public life, inspired by and largely based on the excellent work of Charles T. Mathewes.[1] At this point, it is important to distinguish public life from politics. Public life is engagement with the Other for a common end, which can entail the use of political apparatuses. As such, public life, while certainly including politics, is not reducible to the same but is rather a broader concept which we will flesh out as we move forward.

First, a correct diagnosis of the problem surrounding politics is in order. Politics often reflect two basic trajectories: (1) idolatry and (2) resignation. Now, before we can flesh this out in more detail, some preliminary remarks need to be made. We are at base, as Augustine insightful suggested, lovers. Any time we are speaking of competing ideas, as in the case of politics or religion, we are speaking about love, or, to put it more politico-militarily, allegiances. Yet what do our identities as lovers ultimately reflect? We would suggest that this reflects our doxologically orientation; that is to say, we, as beings made in the image of God, are worshippers. Except for perhaps the most crass, animistic sorts of religion, worship usually denotes a love for something. We esteem, we exult something because it brings perceived benefits to us and therefore we love it. In sum, concerning politics, or, more broadly and to our actual point, public life is one of competing loves.

We implied in our introduction that the twin approaches to politics are in error. The one chooses the path of resignation or defeat; the other chooses the path of battle. These twin approaches are in fact, we would suggest, two sides of the same coin. To be apathetic or defeatist regarding public life is to lose faith, hope and love and hence to collapse into idolatry; to put on ‘battle fatigues’ against the Other for the sake of one’s own public motivations is to enlarge this-worldly concerns beyond their intended scope and thus to collapse into idolatry. The former commits the sin of omission, namely, fear; the latter commits the sin of commission, namely, false love, or, idolatry. Improper fear and false love are in fact two-sides of the same coin and this coin is idolatry. Put differently, allegiance to self (self-preservation) or unwarranted allegiance to something else (e.g., nationalism) are allegiances to idols.

All this talk of love and allegiances clearly raises the question: what then is true love? By answering this and all this entails one approaches something closer to a true articulation of a theology of public life. Jesus says in Matthew 22:37-39:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

We are told that true love is God-ward and Other-ward. To truly love we must love God and our neighbor, or, as we are putting it here, the Other. This designation is significant for our purposes especially when we consider “neighbor” in light of Jesus’s famous exposition of the concept in Luke 10—the famous parable of the Good Samaritan. It is important to catch what Jesus was teaching here. The neighbor must include someone from whom we are divided socially, politically, economically and even religiously; that is, the neighbor must include the Other in every sense of the word. Truly, we are called to serve any and everyone who differs from us even to the most extreme degree, even if it is an ‘us vs them’ type of thing, as ourselves. To fail to do so is to fail to love God (cf. 1 John). Unfortunately, the vehemently defended political divisions that so easy slide into personal attack by way of demonization of the Other betrays the true nature of the love undergirding such positions.

So, if false love is failing to love God with all of our entire being (by the Holy Spirit’s continual and necessary help) and our neighbor, yes, even our enemy, as ourselves, then what does this say of true love? True love, as is likely obvious at this point, is to love God and love one’s neighbor self-sacrificially. Now, this love does not stand by itself. Rather, love is accompanied by two other “theological virtues”: faith and hope. We love God because we trust him; we trust God because he first loved us and, while we were yet sinners and thus at enmity with God, gave his only begotten Son to die in our place in order to secure our reconciliation back to him. Yet, trusting God is not for the faint of heart. It is at times hard and vexing. To trust God means to trust him in the face of suffering. It is undeniable that engaging with the Other is going to be at least on occasion, and perhaps often, a form of suffering. This is most especially the case because even though we are called to love the Other, this does not mean we are called to forsake our consciences or God’s self-revelation in the process. Thus, in order to love God, we may be called to trust and love him even in the face of direct opposition from the Other.

This then brings us to the third theological virtue: hope. The very earth-bound nature of political ideology points to the adverse and parasitic relationship it can have toward hope. Hope for the Christian is ultimately in the coming kingdom of God. Hope is in the substance of that final event. Yet, we have to be careful here. An over-focus on other-worldly concerns can reduce the Christian approach to public life to the defeatist stance noted above, which we’ve already argued is an untenably one. The kingdom has not been consummated but it has been inaugurated. Christ began the building of his kingdom with his first advent and will see to the completion of it in his second advent. So, there is a real sense in which those who our citizens of the coming kingdom of God are also, at the same time, albeit temporarily, citizens of this world. To put it more theologically, citizens of the kingdom of God point to and in fact demonstrate this kingdom and its concerns to those who are not yet citizens. This means, in turn, that Christians by their hope challenge the ‘this-worldly’ kingdom and, at the same time, invite, indeed, beckon her citizens to place their hope in something beyond the temporary, fading kingdom of this world—the kingdom of God.

Applying these three theological virtues of faith, hope and love to public life helps us to see the fruitfulness of this approach. It is often easy to imagine loving, enduring with and inviting individuals to the placing their faith, love and hope in the living and true God and his kingdom, and yet, we fail to realize how this easily expands to the public sphere. In fact, we would suggest that much of what we think, do and say as Christians is very much public. Perhaps the Samaritan in the aforementioned parable was only loving and caring for a private person, yet, it would be a grave oversight to suggest that this act of the ‘enemy’ of the robbed, near-to-death man did not have deep public ramifications. Truly, he powerfully challenged the prevailing prejudices, false loves and idols of his society. Therefore, to be cynical, defeatist, or ‘this-worldly’ toward public engagement is also to be these same things toward every individual one encounters that can be deemed in any degree Other than oneself. Put differently, the Christian faith is necessarily public; it cannot be, despite persistent secularist attempts, relegated to some private sphere away from the hearts and minds of human beings who are made to love and worship that which is worthy of worship, namely, the Triune God who is the author of creation and redemption.

To conclude, inasmuch as we, Christians, seek to love God, to trust in him, and to place our hope in his eschatological kingdom, we will publically challenge this-worldly sociopolitical, economic and religious structures while at the same time beckoning, pleading with and inviting its citizens to come to the God who is worthy of all honor and praise. This challenge will be at the same time an invitation of love thus it will not be merely a war-time scenario, but it will be a humble, patient, gentle, loving invitation which will include, at times, joint cooperation between the one heavenly citizen and the Other earthly citizen toward goals that will proleptically and prophetically point to that which is to come. Sometimes one has to be invited to a few family dinners before one is ready to belong to the family.


[1] A Theology of Public Life (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007).

Is the Covenant of Works an Aberrant Theological Construct? Part III: the CoW Christologically Understood

christ deathThis is the final installment of our series on the covenant of works. See here and here for the first and second installments.

V. The Covenant of Works Christologically Understood

It has been persuasively argued by biblical scholars that the original human beings expressed their divine image-bearing natures as priest-kings. Thus, Adam and Eve were to tend the garden of God, which was in fact a temple-garden, and cultivate this garden as it spread into the untamed wilderness. The functional approach to being divine image-bearers takes pains to place the priestly and kingly roles of humanity as what being “the image of God” primarily denotes. Yet, we would suggest that Adam and Eve functioned in this way because of their ontological identity as a son and daughter of God, respectively. That is to say, as children of God they were to trust in their father, namely, God, and, by doing so in the face of evil and temptation, receive an inheritance, namely, life forever, with all the benefits and privileges that come with it.

Now, as the reader may suspect, this is a programmatic statement, one which pulls together those threads which we, albeit briefly, have touched upon. So, with that, we will bring together prior thoughts and apply them to that prelapsarian scene oft-called the covenant of works (CoW).

In our first post, we argued that the Bible does not cast positive light on the notion that any activity that is pleasing to God can be so if it is not preceded by faith or trust in God for “everything apart from faith is sin” (Rom 14). In the second post, we hinted at a connection between Israel as God’s son and his priestly and kingly roles given by and for God. This then was followed by the NT connection between Christ as God’s son and God’s image. In addition to this, it is beyond dispute that Christ also fills and indeed fulfills the role of priest and king. Here, we can see protology and eschatology kiss; or, more specifically, the protological and eschatological man, Adam and Christ, respectively.

With all the points made, it is our contention that for Adam and Eve to bear God’s image meant that they were God’s own children. Israel, as a priest-king nation and God’s son, was a recapitulation of Adam and Eve; Christ, as a priest-king and God’s Son, was the new and better Adam (Rom 5; 1 Cor 15) and the true Israel. Hence, following Girardeau, the 19th century Southern Presbyterian, we would argue that Adam was a son of God who as a consequence of the first sin became a disinherited son.

Thus, we can reimagine Gen 1-3 in this way. God created male and female in his image, he created them to be in filial relationship with him. Since evil already existed, as is indicated by the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the serpent, God called Adam to trust in him who is invisible (and whose appearance in the garden was therefore likely a theophany) despite what they see. We recall that Heb 11:1-3 and 2 Cor 5:7 that faith is contrasted with that which we apprehend with our senses or even understanding; yet, in Gen 3:6 we read, “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise …”.  Notice the words “saw,” “eyes” and “desired” (cf. vv. 5, 7: “eyes … opened”). This ‘sight’ contrasts with the childlike trust in a heavenly and good father that relies on God despite what is ‘seen.’

One of the reasons we would suggest why Christ is portrayed as the antitype to Adam is this: Christ was the faithful son who believed in his father despite temptation (Matt 4 // Luke 4) and the prognostication of immense suffering (Matt 26 // Luke 22), that is, despite what circumstances or senses may dictate. Thus, there is continuity between Adam and Christ. Both knew God before sin, both were sons of God who had a filial relationship with their father, and both are representatives of a broader collective. Yet, there is discontinuity as well. Christ is the image of God in virtue of his divine sonship, whereas Adam is made in God’s image as a created being. Moreover, Christ as divine son became also a human son who did not lose trust in his Father. In sum, Christ fulfilled, as it were, the CoW.

Something else must be highlighted at this point. Adam and Christ had the same prelapsarian faith in their father. That is to say, they both had a truth in their father (or at least an opportunity thereof) that preceded any activity good or bad. No other human beings have been in such a position of trust in God the Father; no other human beings can existentially conceive of a trust that exists prior to their own sin or, in the case of Christ, lack thereof. This is, we would suggest, one reason why Adam and Christ stand as representatives of large swaths of human beings for only Adam and Christ were, as humans, in this unique position of trust in relation to God. This furthermore highlights the reasons why this one sin brought death to all of Adam’s progeny.

God created Adam to be his son. “Trust in me,” he called. “Believe in me though you cannot fully see or comprehend me. Trust in me for you are my child. Look, I have given you every good thing on this earth; I have given you life.” (There is evil in my creation that will confront you and challenge my goodness and love.) “So, trust in me!” To break trust then with the Father was to admit a rupture into their filial, dare we say, covenantal bond. God knew and knows though that a single even seemingly infinitesimal breach was to undo the very psyche, the very sanity, the very moral aptitude of the first man. Such a breach was to, in truth, turn to an idol, which is what can be seen, grasped, and comprehended.

Now, there is another layer to this. Christ is said to be the image of God. We have already enlisted this to support our contention that Adam should be understood as made to be a son of God. Further nuance should be teased out at this point. Adam was in fact made to be the image of Christ for Christ is the true son of God the Father. The unbreakable filial bond that the Son experiences with his Father, the eternal generation which is the mysterious result of Son’s relationship to the Father (if result is the proper word), was to be experienced and imaged by the created son Adam. He was to reflect this bond between God the Father and God the Son for, though created and indeed generated (we hasten to add in time and not eternally), he was created in order to have such a deep, intimate bond with his God and Father, reflecting, in turn, in a limited, creaturely yet nonetheless true way the bond shared with the true divine image of God, the Son of God, with his Father. Therefore, just as it is inconceivable for God the Son to break filial bond with his Father so it is inconceivable that God’s creaturely image, Adam (and Eve), would rupture this bond without the direst of consequences: death, a spiritual seed giving way to totalizing effect.

It is in this way that the CoW still stands. The penalty for its rupture, its violation, is death. Death has not yet been fully defeated though the beginnings of its defeat has been assured and sounded by the resurrection from the dead of the son of God/Man. Here, we must flesh out the importance of the CoW. It is clear that this covenant is not devoid of faith on the part of man (or, at least the necessity thereof), nor, we would suggest, is it devoid of grace for God’s grace is not some energy or substance abstracted from God himself, but rather grace is found in by being in the presence of God.

So, if grace and faith are characteristic of the CoW, then one might ask how this differs from the covenant of grace usually seen as distinct from the CoW. We would understand the difference in this way: with the CoW, the failure on the part of the first humans to trust in their father resulted in a dramatic break in the divine-human relationship with such a break requiring a powerful, drastic act on the part of God– namely, Christ incarnate, crucified, resurrected and ascended–to remedy this and restore man back to God. The CoW, while having some continuity with the covenant of grace, is to be distinguished by the penalty resulting from the break of this covenant. The covenant of grace–or Christ’s person and work–is the answer to (or resolution of) the death resulting from the breaking of the first covenant (which is, as we’ve mentioned, failure to trust God) and, as such, the two must be distinguished.

To conclude, the CoW, rightly, that is, Christologically understood, pays great theological dividends. By reframing Adam’s divine image-bearing nature in a manner that is equivalent to Adam’s sonship with God, we avoid reducing humankind’s essence to a functional, priest-king anthropology instead recognizing that Adam was a priest-king because he was first a son. Moreover, we do not relegate Christ’s person and work narrowly to the eschatological breaking-in of God’s kingdom, but recognize that Christ is the eschatological man because he was first the proper protological image of the protological man; that is, Adam pointed to Christ, as type to antitype, but, perhaps more fundamentally, Christ lay behind Adam as the true son which the created son was called to reflect. If Adam had not broken trust with his Father, he would have, after a short trial/temptation (cf. Gen 3), enjoyed eternal fellowship with the Triune God. Thus, this man of the dust would have been joined with the image, the son of heaven.

In addition and lastly (though much more could be said), the richness of Christ’s person and work is brought into even sharper relief with the CoW as we’ve described it. God the Father loved his creaturely son so much that he sent his son to assume a human nature, in turn, having a life-long, creaturely trust in his heavenly Father that remained unbroken even in the face of trials and temptations beyond anything the first creaturely son could have imagined. Yet, even more, he assumed the penalty of death which the first son received in the stead of the first son, undeservingly yet willingly. By assuming this penalty and overcoming/undoing it, he radically opened the way for the covenant of grace whereby man could be restored back to filial, covenantal relations with the Father despite man’s weak and fleeting faith, which is so often overcome by trials and temptations, so-called sight and understanding. It is a covenant of grace because those human partners of this covenant trust in one who fully trusted in and continues to trust in his Father on their behalf; their faith is not in their own faith, their faith is in Christ’s, the image/Son of God’s, faith.

These dividends, to bring it around to the beginning of our series on this topic, is congruent with and in fact, we would argue, taught by representative expressions of the CoW such as that found in the Westminster Standards. Now, this contention does not minimize the fact that the truths summarized above are not always emphasized or placed in the forefront as they should be by those who adhere to a CoW, but this failure on the part of some is not necessary to or indicative of the CoW as it is expressed confessionally. Thankfully our faith is one defined by a living, personal God and not mathematical formulae; or, for that matter, merit-earning devoid of grace and faith.

Is the Covenant of Works an Aberrant Theological Construct? Part II: Christ, the Son and Image of God

image of gIn our prior post regarding the so-called covenant of works (CoW), we looked briefly at some of the implications of a standard articulation of the CoW as well as some essential teaching of the NT on the nature of faith especially as it relates to work. Now, we will continue with our exploration of the CoW.

III. Old Testament Teaching on Sonship

Throughout the Old Testament, Israel is called God’s son. In Exod 4:22, we read, “Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn son …”. Hosea 11:1 alludes to this passage when the prophet writes, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” Paul confirms this understanding of Israel when he writes, “… and to them belong the adoption” (Rom 9:4; cf. v. 8). Other passages in the OT also support this (Jer 3:19; 31:20; Deut 14:1; 32:5). The theme of inheritance found throughout the OT in relationship to Israel, most particularly the Promised Land, is also bound up with Israel’s sonship.

Beyond this, sonship is bound up with the Davidic covenant (2 Sam 7:14). Although less clearly connected to the Davidic covenant, Psalm 82:6, like 2 Sam 7, connects sonship with royal authority. Pss 1-2, usually considered messianic in import, also makes this same connection (cf. esp. Ps 2:7, 12). This connection of sonship with royal authority has implications, which we will develop more below, regarding the Lord’s statement that Israel “shall be to me [the Lord] a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exod 19:6; cf. 1 Pet 2:9).

Although somewhat obscure, it is clear enough that Israel, at least collectively construed, is considered to be a son of God. Yet, as is often recognized, that there is a relationship and interplay between the individual and the community such as is found in the so-called Servant Songs of Isaiah (Isa 52:13-53:12; cf. Daniel 7). This appears also to be the case with the Davidic line; i.e., the Davidic king represents the people of God. Thus, Matt 2 is warranted in connecting Hosea 11:1 directly to Jesus. As a consequence, the sonship of Israel, while having a collective emphasis in the OT, cannot be narrowly restricted to collective Israel but must also have individual Israelites in mind, though likely not all as Paul takes pains to argue in Rom 9-11.

IV. Christ, the Image of God

It is a clear New Testament teaching that Christ is the image of God (cf. Rom 8:29; 1 Cor 15:49; 2 Cor 3:18; 4:4; Col 1:15; 3:10; Heb 1:1-4). Moreover, in many of these same passages Christians are described as being comforted to that image that is Christ (Rom 8:29; 1 Cor 15:49; 2 Cor 3:18). Christ as the image of God is crucial to understanding what we are as humans as well as who God is in Christ. To understand this further, we must ask: what can it mean that we are conformed to the image of Christ when we learn in Genesis 1 that we are made in the image of God?

The most obvious thing to be noticed is that this implies that Christ is God. In fact, Col 1:15-20 and Heb 1:1-4 are not shy in expressing this fact. Christ in both of these passages is described as active in creating and preserving the world. Moreover, Christ’s humanity is highlighted in both passages. In fact, the assumed flesh of the son of God, while asserted, is more of an assumed reality than something argued for.

But, something even more striking is to be noted for our purposes. Christ is described as both the Son of God and image of God at the same time. Hebrews 1 is burdened to assert Jesus’ sonship as a distinguishing feature over against angelic beings, but notice also v. 3: “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.”  Paul in Colossians makes the same connection when he joins Christ as “the image of the invisible God” with his role as “firstborn of all creation.” The latter phrase is taken by those who deny Christ’s deity to be a support for such a contention, but that would be to grievously miss what is being communicated. The “firstborn” was the son and heir of the father; here, Christ is the Son of the Father and thus heir of “all creation” (cf. Heb 1:2). In sum, Paul and the author of Hebrews joins Christ’s divine sonship with being the image of God.

Briefly, a further observation in this connection will prove helpful. 1 Cor 15:49 states that we believers will “bear the image of the man of heaven,” namely, Christ, which is set in contrast to the image “we have borne of the man of dust.” 1 Cor 15 is a classic text alongside Rom 5 which explores the connection between the first man, Adam, and the second man, Christ. Although the Adam/Christ connection will be explored further below, it is important to register the fact that language of “image” is used regarding this connection.