A Trinitarian and Christologically-Determined Ecclesiology: Sanctification

crossThis is my third installment of a blog series on the notion of a Trinitarian and Christologically determined doctrine of the church (or, ecclesiology). The topic which I will be discussing here is sanctification. The Westminster Shorter Catechism provides a good, brief definition of sanctification. It reads, “Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness” (WSC Q/A 35).

I will not unpack this definition because our purposes are not narrowly concerned with sanctification but rather with sanctification as understood in relation to the church—more specifically, a Trinitarian and Christologically-determined church. So, I will ask the reader to refer back to the definition supplied if it is unclear what I mean by sanctification in what I write below.

Jesus, throughout the gospels, calls his disciples, and by proxy us, to follow him; to follow him no matter the cost—whether the loss of life, limb or family. Furthermore, by following him he meant dying to this world. In Luke 17:33, Jesus says, “Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it.” This is a paradigmatic statement; a revolutionary statement. Everything and around us is calling us to preserve ourselves, to protect ourselves. Everything in us is calling us to attempt to “keep” our own lives; to preserve our lives. Notice the emphasis on effort. We are summoned by the Devil, the World and, yes, even Ourselves, to, by our own self-sufficiency, strength, understanding, et al, make every effort to keep our own lives. Yes, Jesus says that whoever follows this path—of self-protection, self-aggrandizement, self-worship—will lose the very thing that they are seeking to preserve.

If you strive for such a thing, we are told, you do not understand anything. We have lost sight of reality; we have lost sight of that in which life consists. We must ask ourselves: is life some arbitrary thing determined by my own efforts or understanding? Or, to go at it a different way: is life something that can even be preserved, kept, by sheer effort? Or is life something else?

John Webster, a recently deceased English theologian, reminds us that God’s role as creator is essential to Christianity.[1] The locus of creation permeates many if not all different areas of theology, so he argues, and as such, we cannot have a truly rich theological outlook apart from creation. Why? The reason is that creation is a sheer gift from God. The Triune Lord ad intra created everything ad extra. Thus, creation signals something about God. God did not create out of necessity, nor did he create out of obligation; rather, he created as a free act of his creative (fecund) love. The prospect of us somehow meriting or earning our existence is impossible, never mind meriting anything else. So, we are faced then, if we accept this, something of weighty import. If we cannot earn or deserve our very existence, our very lives, than any efforts to “keep” such a thing are the height of absurdity, or, dare I say, insanity. One barely has to step outside one’s house to recognize how frail and unpredictable life is; that is, how precarious any such notion of protecting something that is already given as a gift and so easily slips out of our want of a grasp. To fall into this extreme error of protecting and striving to keep what was never yours to keep in the first place is the height of delusion. Moreover, this kind of mindset (or, perhaps better, psychosomatic, spiritual bent) collapses into the very earthly and godless mindset that Christ is implicitly condemning. To climb to the heights of such folly is to move into a functional if not real atheism; it is, in a word, to reject the living God. Let’s put it more positively: if we only take stock of what it even means to be alive, i.e., that this is a gift given by the Triune Creator, then it follows that it is only to him that we ought to (must!) entrust our lives.

This brings us to the second clause of Jesus’ statement: “…whoever loses their life will preserve it.”  Jesus is neither promoting suicide nor utter self-abnegation on the lines of merit-based asceticism. Jesus is not offering a natural law of the universe. He is not saying, “despise yourself and you will live.” Rather, he is saying something more radical. If we give up our striving to “keep” ourselves, we will, as paradoxical as it may seem, gain life. If we lose ourselves and willing relinquish our self-protectionism, if we embrace the death of our self-constructed kingdoms, lives, what-have-you, we will gain something far more precious, we will gain the author of life found in the face of Jesus Christ.

You see, Jesus is not saying this as some proverb, maxim, or law, he is speaking to the matter of discipleship, of being conformed to his image, of walking with him who is “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14). He is telling his audience that if you want to have the kind of life that lasts, you have to embrace the death of yourself and trust Jesus, knowing that you will live with him eternally.

Numerous biblical passages tell us that we who believe in Christ are no longer our own but our hidden in and owned by Christ. Can you imagine being such a one and yet holding on to the idea that you have to “keep” yourself? In lieu of a detailed summary of the Bible’s teaching on this matter, for my purposes I am going to wax poetic for a minute.

When we belong to a community of believers, a church, we belong to something more than a voluntary society, than a social club, than even a family in the most normal sense of the term. We belong to a heavenly people, a Spirit-shaped, Spirit-transformed and Spirit-indwelt people. The heavenly, eschatological Spirit of God lives in our midst, giving spiritual gifts and producing spiritual fruit. Yet, there is an end, a goal to this. The Spirit is in and among us for the purpose of conforming us to the image of the Son, to the image of the once-humbled-now-risen-and-ascended-Christ (Phil 2). Hans Urs Von Balthasar’s statement is helpful. He writes:

… the world, both inside and outside the Church is always resisting being transformed into the Body of Christ … this means that crucifixion and the piercing of the heart are always going on, and God is ceaselessly wooing man in the Person of the Crucified who, for his part, can do nothing but take ‘all who receive him’ with him unto his Cross (Theo-Drama, vol. 5).

There is something painful about belonging to the body of Christ; it is not somewhere you rest content with yourself, at least not in this life. We resist being transformed to the Son for to be transformed, to be shaped by, to image Jesus is to be taken with him “unto his Cross.” The Spirit of God cuts us; he pierces our hearts. But, he does so not maliciously but rather for our good. The Spirit does so to point us to Christ, driving us to cling to him, and, if we accept that call, as we accept it, we begin to take our place on the dreaded, blood-stained execution instrument: the Cross. We must ask at this point what we are dying to. We are dying to a sin-riddled world; to the just judgment of God’s wrath against us; we are dying to the many crimes that stand against us, indicting us. This is true because the Crucified one did not decay in the grave but defeated death and is risen! And we who are united will rise as well.

Paul writes in 2 Cor 3:3:

And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

Earlier in v. 2, he says, “[y]ou yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts.” There is a mutual exchange here. The ministry of Paul among the Corinthians is a letter of recommendation of his ministry, “written … with the Spirit of the living God,” and this letter is “written on” Paul’s heart as well (and that of his fellow co-laborers). That is to say, Paul was used by the Spirit to transform the Corinthians, and, at the same time, Paul was shaped by them.

This is important for how we understanding the necessity of the church of our sanctification. The Spirit of God calls us to give up ourselves and trustingly cling to Christ by piercing our hearts with those in the church. Every time we are faced with those who part of the visible people of God gathered together, we are called to die to ourselves and live to Christ. There are two basic reasons for this. When we are confronted by someone other than ourselves, we are either encountering someone who is a “letter from Christ,” that is, who speaks of Christ, or, we are encountering someone who is “of the world.” So, in the former, we should see Christ; in the latter, we are called to love in a self-giving manner.

If we are honest with ourselves, we fail to do this. We fail to really receive a brother or sister in Christ as if we are receiving Christ; we fail to love those outside of Christ as Christ loves them. We fail to see beyond our own fears, anxieties, sorrow, or even joy. We are self-absorbed, and, it is only by the Spirit of God that we are able to ascend to the brutality that is the Cross since our thoughts, emotions, and bodies are so far beneath the sublime dignity of this rugged instrument of shame-filled death. We fail to give up our lives and walk with him, trusting that he will truly give us a life that is imperishable. The Spirit, gently yet persistently, convicts us of our lack, of our ever-persistent failure to truly heed the words of Christ, but, as he does so, he is also wooing us to embrace, to cling to Christ. It is as we see, by the Spirit, our lack of faith and love toward God and, as a direct consequence, our lack of love toward those other than ourselves, that the beauty, the glory of the Cross and, for some, the horror of it, is displayed and Christ Crucified is commended to us, and we, in turn, are invited to draw near to him. It is beauty to those who smell the sweet savor of the gospel of God’s unmerited love displayed on the Cross; it is a horror to those who discern that the Crucified Christ is calling them to die, yes, even to themselves.

Yet, let not the horror that we sometimes feel when we hear Christ’s call by his Spirit deter us from coming, from responding. Remember, despite everything that is screaming at you to turn inward, to turn against the Other, if you walk with Jesus, take up your cross, and trust him with your life, loving others as he loved you, though it may feel like death, it can only bring life for the one who you are entrusting yourself to holds “the keys of Death and Hades” and is “alive forevermore” (Rev 1:18).

 

[1] God without Measure (Bloomsbury T&T Clark), vol. 1.

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The Beatific Vision and the Totus Christus

visionRecently, I have been reading a fascinating book by Hans Boersma entitled Seeing God: The Beatific Vision in the Christian Tradition. In this book, he surveys how a variety of theologians have viewed the idea of seeing God. While at this point it is not my purpose to side with one theologian’s articulation of the beatific vision over another, I would like to offer some of my own thoughts on the subject, and especially how this vision of God relates to the concept of the totus Christus (the whole Christ).

The reality is that, at the end of the day, all the suffering along under duress, under temptation, under the cares and burdens of this life, and under the distance that we feel between God and ourselves — something even the most pious of us — is a suffering that will end, that will give way to beholding God not by a trust in him who is as of now hidden from our view, but a trusting response to him who we actually see.

Yes, we will see God, I believe. But, something more must be said to make sense of this; or, better, to bring it into fuller perspective.

It is considered to be a naïve assertion both by theologians I respect and some I don’t that there was truly no death before the fall. Some argue that it is crude idealism which would posit such a scenario. It is argued: “Of course there was death before the fall. To suggest otherwise is to press the language of Scripture too literally. The type of death that was not present pre-lapse was a spiritual one.” Yet, the very naïve, idealistic understanding that death did not arrive ‘on the scene’ is what we will assume at this juncture. We would argue that both physical and spiritual death is what occurred when the first humans turned away from the living and life-giving Lord.

Romans 8:18:25 is a pivotal passage for understanding the beatific vision and its relationship to the totus Christus. It reads:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Paul awaits the glory that will be revealed to us, the glory of God. Later, he contrasts the hope of our “adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” with sight. We wait for this eschatological completion or consummation of our salvation, “the redemption of our bodies,” which is indeed the completion of our “adoption as sons.” We wait patiently and we wait with inward groaning. Yet, it is clear this waiting in hope for the completion of our salvation is not done by sight by in hope. What are we waiting to see, according to Paul? First, as we’ve said, the redemption of our bodies, or, being clothed with immortality where the sting of death is no longer felt or feared (1 Cor 15). Second, we await the revelation of the glory of God; the unveiling of God for “we shall see him as he is.”

Notice though the connection this revealing of God’s glory has with our own redemption. Just as we await the revealing of God’s glory, “the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” (v. 19). We look forward to seeing God; creation looks forward to “the revealing of the sons of God.” Why? Because creation has been subject to the bondage of corruption (v. 20), and, it will be released from this bondage, it is implied, when the sons of God are glorified. Or, as Paul puts it, “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (v. 21). The creation will be set free when the sons of God are glorified, i.e., receive the “redemption of [their] bodies.” For the adopted sons “have the firstfruits of the Spirit,” the eschatological, life-giving and regenerating Holy Spirit. The new creative work begun in the sons of God is the foretaste and promise of the complete release of the entirety of creation from corruption, from death.

Death, you see, is not some benign thing; it is not something that we can just affirm as a brute fact of rather impartial significance. Rather, death is described as an enemy of God. This becomes more understandable when we take stock of who God is. Death, destruction, corruption, bondage, and the like, these are not descriptors of who God is or what he does. God is instead life-giver, regenerating agent, death-defeater, and restorer.

Imagine a life without death. Imagine a world where there is not even an ounce of corruption or decay. Imagine a world, a reality, in which life is unfettered and unhindered. God has life in himself, and, we would argue, upon defeating death finally and completely, life abounds continually. I don’t think we can really imagine such a thing. Death is always in the background if not foreground of our imagination, of our consciousness, from the first day we are conscious of anything. Without death, there would be no limits to the expansion of life.

So, I believe we await the beatific vision, but, because of what we are, beings bearing God’s image, we also participate in his glory. Christ will present his bride, the church, in splendor (Eph 5:27). Now, there is something of the deep unity that exists between Christ and his church which must inform this picture. The Whole Christ – Christ and his church – is to be glorified. We are hidden in Christ, we are Christ’s. Something of Christ will be revealed in his body, in his bride, that has never been revealed previously. Christ’s glory will shine in a peculiar manner which all of creation, all of the armies of angels, will experience for the first time. In sum, as creation, as the angelic host, looks upon the bride of Christ arrayed in splendor, being the firstfruits of a new creation, it, they, will see something more of Christ than had been formerly seen or revealed.

Christ will be shining in and through his body, his bride. So, as we look upon God, seeing him in the face of Christ, we will see something of ourselves, for we are to be glorified with, by and in him. By seeing his glory, by seeing God, we truly see ourselves. Thus, rather than pitting the beatific vision of God against our identity as image-bearers of God, we should see the two informing and expanding on each other. The beatific vision intersects with, informs and is informed by anthropology, cosmology, and soteriology. We will one day behold the Whole Christ in glory, with life and love abounding unhindered and unrestrained.

War is for the Warring: a Plea for an Ecumenical and Evangelical Theology

ecumen

The language of the Bible is a strange one mixed with metaphors and analogies drawn from many different parts of life: agriculture, athleticism, war, shepherding, and many more. There are wolves, there are sheep. There is battle and yet there is peace. There is running; there is an aim and a goal. Planting, watering, and the like are illustrative of spiritual growth. There is a unique domestication in or of these figures of speech. Most wouldn’t imagine a farmer and a soldier existing in one person, at least in equal manner. It seems clear enough that to farm is not to war, and vice versa. Nor is shepherding equivalent with farming or soldiering. There is a built-in tension to these figures of speech as they relate to other equally prolific figures of speech.

The life of the Christian, the life of one who is held up by and has placed their faith in the risen one, namely, Christ, is the life of a farmer, warrior, shepherd, athlete, and, perhaps most offensively, a weak, dependent child. The tension that exists speaks to the theological (or ideological, political, social, ethical) discourse with which we find ourselves engaging. If we are both a child and a warrior, a child and an athlete, subduing our body by training, then what does this say about ourselves as theologians?

By using the word ‘theologian’ I am using the broad sense, that is, every Christian is a theologian. Yes, this has been reduced to something of a truism, but the depth of this cannot be missed. If one is a thinking being, which all human beings are (and one cannot be a Christian without existing as a human being), then one naturally formulates thoughts, i.e., theologizes about God, the world, oneself, and many and various other objects of reflection. This theologizing can be for better or for worse, and it would be wrong to abstract theology from worship. What we think reflects what we love, and what we love reflects what we worship, though obviously it is the greatest love which we most readily and obviously worship.

So, if we are all in at least the broad sense (yet, by broad sense, this denotes the least escapable sense) theologians, then what does it mean to be a warrior-child theologian or a farmer-athlete theologian or a shepherd-child theologian. To put it colloquially, shoot what should be shot and tend and help grow what needs growing and tending. Be patient with things deserving patience yet be militant against that which needs to be warred against.

This brings me to my plea, as suggested in the title, a plea toward an ecumenical, evangelical theology. It is not common for me to use labels to describe my own stance, and I have done this for a reason. Labels often admit of caricature more readily than they do of nuance. I am much more inclined to describe my position than to say, “I am a so and so.” Unfortunately, it is our human tendency to war against that which needs tending and care, and shepherd, in turn, our own pride and sectarianism(s). When we reverse God’s priorities and love and worship, indeed adulate over, ourselves in our theological musings, we pervert the great and wonderful beauty that ought to characterize theology.

So, to put it on the table, which labels would I most easily attach to myself? First (non-belligerently), Christian, if by Christian one means one who believes in the risen and exalted Son of God, sent by the Father, and empowered and carried along by the Holy Spirit. Second, I would describe myself as catholic. Catholic in this context denotes universal; that is, I see myself in broad agreement with and part of the universal church. Third, I would describe myself as Reformed. Now, of the labels I have used, this is the most controversial. I can almost hear it in my ears, “You mean, you believe that we are robots? You believe that God only loves the elect and died for them and no one else?” It’s easy to see now why I would be reticent to use any label other than ‘a mere Christian.’

Having moved through that unpleasantness, I would like to elaborate a bit further. I am a ecumenically and evangelically-oriented Reformed person. By ecumenical, I am emphasizing the universal (‘catholic’) orientation of my faith; by evangelical, I am emphasizing a living, real faith in the real, living God who has revealed himself in Scripture, and, comprehensively, in his Son (Heb 1).

There is a question that looms in my mind with all this. Why stay Reformed? Why inhabit a theological space that in many circles is known to be belligerent, full of hubris, cantankerous and dreadfully comfortable with such hauntingly wrong (or, grossly aberrant) views about God (seen esp. in the majority Reformed adherence to so-called limited atonement).

To start with, I am (at present) fully convinced of my Reformed stance, and, as such, I believe that the best of every competing perspective can be incorporated into this stance without modification to the point of departing from the essence of the stance. Now, some reader may present the counter-argument that I can only assert this because I am shouting in an echo chamber and all I hear is my own voice and that of my compatriots. Perhaps.

I want to be clear on one thing. Notice the phrasing I just used: … without modification to the point of departing from the essence …. . I would be hopeless theologically if I thought that Reformed theology was in no need of modification, correction or challenge. Rather, I believe quite the opposite. All theology, this side of glory (as some say), is anticipatory and as such incomplete. Put simply, all theology must admit of imperfection, no matter how dutiful, precise, thorough and the like a thinker or theologian may be. I read and will continue to read thinkers both within the Reformed tradition and without who challenge and seek to correct perceived errors or incomplete formulations, and, by God’s grace and the leading of his Spirit, I will continue to incorporate these corrections, when they prove sound, into my own theology.

So, I offer my plea most forcibly at this point. I believe that in my own person and thinking I am striving to live out a theology that is both evangelical and ecumenical in orientation. I believe that this is a necessary aspect of being an honest theologian (whether broadly or narrowly construed) for the Christian life consists of a balance between a warrior and a child, an athlete and a farmer. Furthermore, I cannot, in good conscience, suggest that one’s understanding of the universal (catholic) Christian faith is not a living faith if it does not fit the mold of my own lived out faith. This does not give way to relativism in theology; truth is real and it does matter. Rather, it suggest that because theology is necessarily an incomplete and as such imperfect endeavor we must exercise great caution, humility and, most of all, love when evaluating the theological claims of others, while at the same time recognizing that there are claims to truth which must be warred against for they clearly depart from or destroy the Christian faith. On the other hand, some claims are much less malevolent in intent and rather need to be dealt with as the farmer tills the soil, that is, patiently, for behind claims of this type lay a person the tending and care of whom is a worthy, noble and beautiful thing indeed.

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

procl

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?”