A Book Review Article on Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church. Eds. Myk Habets and Bobby Grow. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Pub., 2012. Xxii + 458 pp.


by Thomas Haviland-Pabst

EC, vol. 1Evangelical Calvinism is a fascinating volume which seeks to capture a theological “mood” rather than a movement attached to a particular denomination, seminary, or “high profile media stars” (pp. 2-3). Thus, the purpose of this volume, which is a collection of essays from various authors, is to take “steps toward articulating what that mood might look like,” with the recognition that, as a mood, there will be diversity of expression in the attempt. But, by way of continuity of vision (or mood), Evangelical Calvinism seeks to place an accent on the evangelical of their chosen name, and, as such, proponents of it see themselves as in contrast to Federal Calvinism (p. 3).

The editors of the volume, who write the introduction to the same, see elements of their “mood” in such men as John Calvin, John Knox, The Marrow Men, T. F. and James Torrance, and Karl Barth, to name a few (p. 4). This claim is substantiated as Calvin, T. F. Torrance, and, (although less prominently) Barth feature strongly in the many essays contained within Evangelical Calvinism; as do some of the other names and schools mentioned by the editors. By taking up the “baton passed on by Torrance and others,” the editors seek to offer a “theological and spiritual ethos”; aligning more with confessional stance of “the Scots Confession (1560) than with the Westminster Confession (1647)” (p. 5) (with the latter representing Federal Calvinism). With this ethos in mind, the editors understand this volume as primarily an exercise in “constructive theology” (p. 7). Seeing their mood or project (the latter being our own description) as “true to … [the essence of] the Reformed faith,” their project seeks to explore “the adiaphora within their traditional commitments” (p. 10; cf. p. 8).

Moving to the main body of the volume, it is divided in to four sections: (1) Prolegomena/Historical Theology; (2) Systematic Theology; (3) Applied Theology; and (4) Prospect. Because of the length of the volume and the lack of length of blog posts (even our own), we will give attention to some basic contours of the volume, leaving space for some strengths and weaknesses of the volume.

Already in the first division or part of this volume, one gets a sense of the ways in which Evangelical Calvinism sets itself apart from that of the Federal variety. Charles Partee, in the second chapter, relates three types of Calvinism—conservative, liberal, and evangelical (represented by Charles Hodge, Friedrich Schleiermacher, and Karl Barth, respectively)—to three distinctives of Reformed Protestant theology, namely, sola Scriptura, sola fide, and solus Christus/solo Christo, respectively. That is to say, by and large, each type or version of Calvinism gives priority to an aspect of Reformed theology in a way that the others do not. Although we will relegate our comments regarding this essay to a later point, suffice it to say, Partee effectively highlight some ways in which, at the very least, these forms of Calvinism see themselves as set against the others.

The third chapter, by Adam Nigh, explicates T. F. Torrance’s teaching on the depth dimension of Scripture, which “differentiates the divine Word and human words while yet refusing to divorce Scripture from th economy of God’s self-revelation” (p. 67), in order to offer a prolegomenon to the “mood” under question. Here, we see a clear distancing from fundamentalism, biblical and traditionalism. Bobby Grow, in the fourth chapter, argues that Evangelical Calvinism, in line with Barth, grounds its approach to theology in the analogy of faith rather than the analogy of being, with the latter as indicative of classical theists (and, consequently, classical or federal Calvinists), following Thomas Aquinas. He then compares how these two different approached “play out” confessionally, looking at “The Westminster Confession of Faith, The Belgic Confession of the Faith, The Scots Confession of Faith [and] The Heidelberg Catechism” (pp. 105-106). Without commenting on Andrew Purves contribution to this part of the volume, it must be noted that it is in this part of the volume that we find the strongest polemic against Federal (or Classical) Calvinism, albeit each essay reflects this to different degrees.

The second part of this volume deals with such topics as our knowledge of God (chapter 6), election (chapter 7), original sin (chapter 8), union with Christ (chapter 9), Christ’s vicarious ministry (chapter 10), and the destiny of infants and the severely mentally disabled (chapter 11). Throughout we see a concern for a personal God, for the evangel of Christianity, and a continual eye toward the centrality of Christ’s person and work. Also, we see some ways in which this mood distinguishes itself from Federal/Classical Calvinism. Most notably, we see a rejection of so-called limited atonement (pp. 185-186) and the eschewal of a rigid adherence to logic thinking (p. 191), especially concerning election/reprobation, and a move away from a distinctly federal schema of original sin (chapters 8, 11).

The third part contains sophisticated essays on applied theology. Chapter 12 is a beautiful look at how Calvin’s Institutes provide much in the way of material for the Christian life. Chapter 13 is a sophisticated, theologically-nuanced look at prayer, with much attention given to Calvin’s understandings of prayer. Chapter 14, taking an existential slant, looks at worship, with some attention given to the Eucharist and baptism. In the fourth and last part of the volume, the editors offer fifteen theses which helpfully and clearly demonstrate some of the major distinctives of Evangelical Calvinism, concluding this part and thus the volume with a “Post-Reformation Lament.” Continue reading “A Book Review Article on Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church. Eds. Myk Habets and Bobby Grow. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Pub., 2012. Xxii + 458 pp.”


The Moabitess Ruth: Prefiguring the Mystery of the Inclusion of the Gentiles?

by Thomas Haviland-Pabst


RuthThe book of Ruth that has an endearing quality to most readers of the Bible, yet, beyond the basic outline of the story, some of the implications of the book can be missed. Although it is not our purpose to produce something entirely original, it is our purpose to look at portions of Ruth with a particular eye to the book of Judges and, in turn, other periods of redemptive history more broadly.

The book of Ruth takes place “[i]n the days when the judges ruled” (Ruth 1:1), i.e., during the period of the judges; therefore, it is not out of bounds to attempt to understand Ruth in relation to the book of Judges (hereafter Judges). Judges can be summarized in this way: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg 21:25 ESV). Thus, idolatry and apostasy, with the corollaries of moral and societal decay, is characteristic of this period. Yet, God, in his faithfulness, continually raised up judges, or delivers, when, after experiencing the burden of the consequences of their idolatrous ways, the people of Israel cried out to the Lord.

So, with that, we will touch on some key stories in Judges so as to illuminate some of the significance of the book of Ruth. To begin with, it is important to note that the Lord does not allow Israel to drive out all of the nations that live in the land of Canaan “in order to test Israel by them, whether they will take care to walk in the way of the Lord as their fathers did or not” (Judg 2:22; cf. 1:27-36).

First, although Samson, the last judge of Judges, was used by the Lord to render a powerful defeat to the Philistines (16:23-31), the Lord used Samson’s sin, namely, his attraction to Philistine women, to, ultimately, bring about this defeat (14:4). Second, Judg 17-18 describes the brutality of the tribe of Dan against “Laish … a people quiet and unsuspecting” (18:27) and the blatant idolatrous state of the people of Israel.

Third, Judg 19-21 describe the brutality of the Benjaminites against the concubine of a Levite and the consequences that arise from this brutality. Some features of this pericope are worthy of more attention. For one thing, this story has obvious parallels with the story of Sodom and Gomorrah (cf. Judg 19:20-26; Gen 19:1-11). Also, on their journey, before arriving in the fated Benjaminite territory, the concubine urges the Levite to “turn aside to this city of the Jebusites,” which the Levite refused to do saying instead, “We will not turn aside into the city of foreigners, who do not belong to the people of Israel” (19:11-12). Yet, remarkably, he does not find safety and hospitality with the people of Israel (v. 18, “no one has taken me into his house”), but rather a corporate brutality (v. 22, “the men of the city”) very reminiscent of the Sodom and Gomorrah scene.

Now, we are prepared to look at the book of Ruth. At the outset, we see a scene in which a man and his wife with their two children, in order to avoid a famine in Israel, leave for Moab (Ruth 1:1-2). With the woman Naomi’s husband passing, her two sons take Moabite wives (vv. 3-4). The marrying of foreign women was clearly prohibited in Scripture, which Samson’s story is a striking example. But, moreover, Israel has had a checkered past with Moab. In fact, following the Sodom and Gomorrah story, the people of Moab were born when the daughters of Lot committed incest with their father in order to continue their line (Gen 19:36-38). There is obvious enmity between the Moabites and Israel, despite the fact that both were Semitic people; even an early prophesy highlights this (Num 24:17). Moreover, the men of Israel, after joining with “the daughters of Moab,” turned to worshipping their gods (Num 25:1-2), which is the very reason why intermarriage with non-Israelite women was prohibited (Deut 7:3-4). With this, the enmity between Israel and the Moabites give rise to the latter being prohibited from “the assembly of the Lord … [e]ven to the tenth generation” (Deut 23:3-4); this same prohibition is notably applied to those “born of a forbidden union” (v. 2).

Yet, with Ruth, a Moabite woman, something is different. Unlike the Moabite women of Num 25 who lead the men of Israel to idolatry, Ruth, instead of returning to “her people and her [former] gods,” she tells Naomi, her mother-in-law, “Your people shall be my people, and your God my God” (Ruth 1:15-16). Ruth’s decision to follow the Lord stands in stark contrast to the idolatry and apostasy of the people of Israel. In fact, the narrative would seem to suggest that Naomi and her husband’s departure to Moab was a mistake, as is indicated by their sons’ marriage to foreign women, yet, despite the sin of these men, the Lord uses it (cf. Samson’s story) to bring about his good purposes.

Ruth, in her self-sacrificial love toward her mother-in-law (which, it could be argued, is derived from her faith in Naomi’s God) stands in contrast to the brutality and inhospitality of the Israelites during the period of the judges (cf. the story of the Danites and the Benjaminites, discussed above). Boaz, her soon to be husband, recognizing this fruitful faith, treats her, in turn, with kindness and hospitality (cf. esp. 2:8-13).

But, even more powerfully, this foreign woman turned faithful woman of God serves as a ray of hope for Naomi, and, in turn, all of Israel. Naomi, a woman advanced in years, would likely not be able to procure a husband nor produce children (1:12), and, as such, would live a life of destitution. Yet, Ruth, by taking her place, and marrying her kinsman-redeemer, Boaz, is able to produce heirs for Naomi, delivering her, as it were, from this state (cf. 4:14-15). And, beyond this, Boaz and Ruth produced Obed, the grandfather (or, at least near ancestor) of David (4:13-22). So, rather than serving as a means of testing or of temptation like foreign women of the past, Ruth provides hope and restoration for Naomi.

Two further things can be mentioned. First, the mention of David in 4:22 answers the conclusion of Judges (Judg 21:25, “there was no king”). The social anarchy that characterized the period of the judges points for the need of stability found in the daysdays of David and Solomon’s reign, which, in turn, pointed to the everlasting kingdom of the son of David, the son of God, Christ (2 Sam 7; Daniel 7; Ps 110; Rom 1; Rev 4-5; 20-22).

Second, remarkably, something of an abolishment of the cult noted in Deut 23 above is prefigured in Ruth. If a Moabite and a child born of a forbidden union could not admitted into the assembly of the Lord, even to the tenth generation, then, at the very least, this should cast a shadow on David, who is at least genetically part Moabite and whose grandfather was clearly, according the letter of the law, born of a forbidden union (in this case, marriage to a foreign woman).

Yet, there is some reason to suggest why this isn’t a problem. Ruth was no ordinary Moabite woman, for she put her faith in the God of Israel, the Lord of heaven and earth. Therefore, she was not a foreign woman, or even a Moabite, but rather, she belonged to Israel. Ironically, by serving as a substitute for Naomi, she received the privileges which Naomi enjoyed, namely, a part in the inheritance of Israel. She was, as the apostle Paul later describes it, “a Jew … inwardly,” for, “circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter” (Rom 2:29). Consequently, her marriage to Boaz was a legitimate one, and her child belonged to and enjoyed the privileges of every other Israelite. So, the faith of Ruth is a mitigating circumstance in the application of Deut 23:2-4, which, we would suggest, points to something deeper, namely, the mystery of the inclusion of the Gentiles in the people of God (Eph 2:11-3:13). The “law of commandments expressed in the ordinances,” which highlighted “the dividing wall of hostility” between Jew and Gentile (read: Moabite) (Eph 2:14-16), was abolished in Ruth’s case, and she pointed to the “mystery … that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Eph 3:4-6). The de facto grandmother of David (with Naomi as the de jure grandmother) points to the universal, Gentile inclusive significance of the Messianic, yes, Davidic, king to come (Eph 3:6, “the partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus”).

Can a Christological Approach to Dogmatics be too Radical? Some Clarifying Remarks.

By Thomas Haviland-Pabst

In my last post, I argued that, while Christology is central to Christian dogmatics, that there is, still, a too radical approach to Christology. I thought it important to clarify some of what I meant by this so as to avoid any confusion and also streamline (minus anecdotal stories, rhetoric, etc.) what I said previously.

First, it would fail to be faithful to Christian dogmatics if we did not affirm the supremacy and centrality of Christ in dogmatics. So, with this, I would not want to assert two competing claims to such an approach as valid or true, namely, Judaism or Platonism/Aristotelianism (not that the latter two are equivalent but that they both represent approaches to theology that derive from a Hellenistic context and as such can be grouped together). Some elaboration may be helpful at this point. It would be in contradiction to the gospel and the revelation of God in Christ to affirm that Judaism or Greek philosophy worships the same God as that of Christians.

Starting with Judaism, Paul writes:

For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their [the Jews] hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit (2 Cor 3:14-18; cf. vv. 3, 5).

Put simply, if one remains in Judaism, or, better yet, God’s self-revelation in the OT, and does not embrace Christ, who gives life and freedom by his Spirit, then one is blinded to the knowledge of God and, implicitly, is still in bondage to one’s sin. Thus, let not what we said previously be taken to suggest, in any way, that a Jew and a Christian are basically worshiping and enjoying fellowship with the same God. If one does not place their faith in Christ, one has not seen the Father (John 14:9). From this, it would be even more egregious to assert that the Greeks worshiped the same God. If the Jews, who were the covenant people of God (Rom 9-11), are blind and bound to their sin apart from Christ, how much more would be those who were strangers to God (Eph 2).

Second, this might make clearer what I was getting at before. The OT cannot be a stand-alone for a Christian. It must always be recognized as pointing toward and finding its fulfillment in Christ. Moreover, Greek categories cannot be the main categories which we use to speak of God. Yet, this does not preclude another possible line of thinking, namely, that the OT (of God’s self-revelation in the same) and, to a lesser degree, Greek philosophical categories do not have some use for understanding who God is.

With regard to God’s self-revelation in the OT, it is exegetically and theologically indefensible to assert that God did not say something of himself in the OT. Nowhere in the NT do you get the impression that the OT, in every sense, is obsolete. Now, I am not getting into the debate regarding covenant theology versus the various hermeneutical permutations to the contrary. What I am saying is that, no matter how you cut it, the NT is deeply embedded with OT categories; so much so in fact that you can’t go very far in the NT without stepping into OT waters (cf. Matt 1). So, there is then a very real sense in which God has revealed himself in the OT. But, an important caveat must be made: God did truly reveal himself in the OT, yet, Christ brings into sharper relief who God is than any prior self-revelation of God and, as such, fills up and draws out what was incomplete or hidden in the OT. Put simply, God, in Christ, is the full revelation of God.

Yet, we have to be careful here. Does not mean that the OT is relegated to an antiquated understanding of God? No; not at all. Rather, God truly did reveal himself in the OT; and this revelation still stands. But, it stands in light of and is inseparably joined to the Father’s self-revelation in his Son, by his Spirit.

With this, we must assert, as we did in our previous post, that Christ’s antitype-to-type relationship to the OT cuts both ways. Christ as God enfleshed is significant because of God’s prior self-revelation in the OT. YHWH, the one who is (Exod 3:14), truly is holy, majesty, sovereign, etc. And YHWH assumed a human nature and dwelt with us. If God’s self-revelation in the OT is not still considered as a viable revelation of God (whether implicitly or explicitly), then the very mystery and significant of the incarnation is lost, reducing it to something closer to an example a superman or perhaps something approaching a demi-god. Thus, just as God’s self-revelation in the OT does not stand alone, so it is also with God’s self-revelation in the NT. If Christ is understood apart from the OT, we fail to appreciate who Christ really is.

Now, though of far less importance, a word or two must be said regarding the use of Greek categories in describing God. If such categories truly do describe who God has revealed himself to be in biblical literature, then it should not be a problem if we use them, as long as the necessary qualifications are made when these categories seem to imply something beyond or other than the God of the Bible. That is to say, a word, to some degree, can be used even if redefined. This does not mean of course that such a redefinition can be ripped entirely from its prior context. But, if one is to use such words, one should be able to substantiate their use not because of tradition, as helpful as that may be, but because it is biblically warranted. Part of why I affirm the useful of such things is that words can help summarize a concept, which, in turn, can facilitate ease of conversation about such things. That is to say, words can serve as something of a short-hand for a concept. So, rather than, e.g., describing omniscience every time one wants to speak about it, one can merely use the word, assuming its definition is understood, which enables then conciseness of speech about theological (and other) matters.

Third and finally, our overall contention is this: theology proper (who God is), if it is to be faithful to the Bible, must lead to Christ; and, Christology, if it is to fully and faithfully biblical, must return back to God’s self-revelation in the OT. Now, admittedly, failure to return back is not as consequential as failure to move toward Christ. One can be, as it were, a ‘red letter’ Christian (or, roughly equivalent, an NT-only Christian), yet, if one does so, one will, at the very least, have a reduced understanding of who God has revealed himself to be; and, at the very worst, is susceptible to less-than-orthodox teachings concerning theology proper. As we said another way earlier, the NT does not categorically pit itself against the OT … and neither should we. To know God in Christ is to know God in Christ in the OT as well as the NT for the God’s self-revelation in the latter mutually enforces and is supported by God’s self-revelation in the former.

Can a Christological Approach to Dogmatics be too Radical?


It is without a doubt that Christology, or the person of Christ, is central to dogmatics. I can’t think of any modern or even pre-modern theologian worth their ecclesiastical salt that would disagree with such an assertion … at least if we’re speaking about distinctively Christian dogmatics. So pervasive is the recognition of this truth that there have been scores of books published on Christ’s person and work from the grand encyclopedia that is the theological disciplines; and, again, we must be quick to add: Amen! May recognition of and glory given to Christ’s name—with all that that entails—never be diminished. Yet, with this, we must ask, however counter-intuitively, is there such thing as too much Christ? Or, to put it perhaps more helpfully, how radical must our Christology be to be faithfully Christocentric?

Many will, in the vein of Karl Barth, say, in effect, “as radical as possible.” That is to say, some would argue that Christ is to be, in a word, the “all and all” of Christian dogmatics. It is hard, it must be admitted at the outset, to resist such logic. After all, isn’t Christ the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end? Is he not, in fact, the full and final revelation of God the Father? Well, yes, but that is, in a sense, beside the point. Our purpose then is to explore our aforementioned question: is a radical, all-consuming Christological approach to dogmatics, in the vein of such theologians as Karl Barth, a necessary or even desirable move?

At the first, it may be helpful to explore how the “yes” to this question plays out. It is hard to imagine something less than a radical Christological approach to dogmatics? Christ is quite obviously the culmination of the word of God; of God’s self-revelation as it is enshrined in the biblical text. He is the prophet greater than the prophet with whom God spoke directly and personally, namely, Moses. He is greater than the most acclaimed prophetic ministry, namely, that of Elijah’s. He is greater than the entire cult of the temple of Jerusalem. He is greater than the greatest manifestation of God in the biblical narrative; neither the angel of the Lord, the theophanic appearance in the burning bush, or the various and assorted other displays of God are greater than that of God enfleshed in the person of the Son. The Son undergirds and interpenetrates, as antitype, the types of the OT to such a degree that there is something of the substance of Christ in them even as we behold the types per se; insofar as this is the case, can we affirm with John Owen that the passions (read: emotions) of God, as displayed in the OT, are only intelligible in light of the incarnation.

So, mustn’t we agree then that our doctrine of God, which is, in turn, the essence of that grand exploration commonly known as theology (notice the theo) is thoroughly and decidedly Christocentric in orientation? Isn’t it clear that there is “no God behind the back” of Jesus Christ, the God-man? If Christ is most assuredly all that we have said he is in the prior paragraph, then, this must be the case, right? Well, even somewhat surprising to myself, we must say that the answer to these further questions is a tentative “yes and no.”

Katherine Sonderegger coins this (perhaps not original with her) “… the Christological turn in modern theology” (ST, vol 1, loc. 172; Kindle). This turn argues that to describe a naked God, that is, a God without the shape of Christ, is to be most blatantly unbiblical. Yet, there are some reasons why this line of argumentation may be off base. Before going further into the more technical realm regarding our line of inquiry, an anecdotal story of my theological journey, one that has admittedly fallen into the background of my memory, may serve, at least by way of illustration before the fact, our argument here.

I remember one of the first times I really took the time to mediate on the hypostatic union of Christ, that is, the union between the divine and human natures in the one person of God the Son. Before this, I had studies theology proper in some detail, including the doctrine of providence, God’s simplicity and attributes, his names, just to name a few. So, I was very cognizant of such ideas as omnipresence, omnitemporality, omnipotence, immutability, impassibility, and others, before I really meditated on the thought of God, while retaining full divinity, taking on and becoming fully united with human flesh. Moreover, my initial readings of the Bible consisted of reading from the very first book, Genesis, to the very last, Revelation, in the order that they are presented in our English Bibles; so, my concept of God was very much entrenched in the OT.

Putting these two together, one could argue that my concept of God was pre-Christ, and thus, not sufficiently Christ honoring, and overly Hellenistic, imbibing in Greek (cf. Plato and Aristotle) categories rather than Biblical ones. And, in some sense, they may have been right. But, I would suggest that the reason for my apparent lack of epistemic fullness, as it were, was not due to the OT or, more pejoratively, the Greeks, but rather, my need for progress in spiritual maturity (that is, if I were to grant the validity of such a critique).

Yet, turning to our investigation, I would argue along another line. Sonderegger is helpful at this point. She writes,

… this [Chalcedonian] theology affirms that the God-world relation is both unique and sui generis; indeed it is this very claim that allows Incarnation to be, in its own sphere, both unique and sui generis. The Hypostatic Union is not more greatly honored, I say, by becoming the pattern or genus into which all Creator-creature relations are subsumed. Rather, I believe that Christ is fitly honored by recognizing and reserving for His alone the personal relation of Deity and humanity in the Mystery of His own personal Life (loc. 178).

I would like to suggest that “[m]ystery” is the key word here. There is something of a mystery beyond human expression or comprehension that lies behind the incarnation. How could it be that the God who manifests himself in wrath and fury, in love and grace, in holiness yet condescendence, in utter, sublime sovereignty yet persistent hesed, be the same God who, in fact has, indeed forever, joined himself with man, with, may we say, human flesh. Please, if you will, allow me to wax more poetically for a moment.

Christ is God. Yes, God. Not just some god in some mythology; but, the God who creates, sustains, upholds, invigorates, and subdues his creation. He is God; supremely and pervasively ruling over every ruler; whether Assyrian, Babylonian or Pharisaical. Christ is God who is, in fact, unknowable, incomprehensible, ineffable. Why, one might ask, is this the case? Well, let’s not pull back: because he is, to be redundant, GOD.  And God is Sui generis. That is, God is unique; not belonging to or even the head of a category known as “God.” No; rather, God is truly and completely distinct. There is no other God but God.

But, one might ask, what that have to do with what you have attempting to discuss? It is most pertinent to our discussion for when one approached the Gospels one ought to approach them in continuity with the prior history of biblical revelation; i.e., the many and diverse ways which God has chosen to reveal himself comes to the fore at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Of course, we would not want to suggest that Christ is something less than the full and complete revelation of God; yet, we would only want to do so while recognizing one thing, namely, that the OT, which is often described in Greek metaphysical terms (cf. omni), is a significant backdrop and background to this final revelation. Putting it negatively, our understanding of Christ could not be intelligible apart from God’s self-revelation prior to Christ. God’s full self-revelation in the Son assumes and builds upon the prior revelation of God in the OT.

Speaking typologically, it is because Christ, as antitype, penetrates the prior types, that we enjoy the substance of Christ in them (hence, the salvation of believers prior to Christ), yet, this cuts both ways. If one minimizes or diffuses the importance of these types (which are, moreover, revelation of who God is), one, in turn, undermines and undoes that to which they point, namely, Christ. Providentially speaking, God, in his infinite wisdom, ordered the revelation of himself in such a way, moving from OT to NT. So, in sum, imbibing in a radicalized Christology wherein theocentricity is rendered theological incoherent (note the irony) is to, at best, diminish the mystery that is the incarnation, and is, at worst, to render theological unintelligible the incarnation by undermining its revelatory precursor. Rather, we would suggest, theocentricity moves toward Christocentricity and Christocentricity toward theocentricity. Thus, rather than construing theo- or Christocentricity as two horns of a dilemma; we would argue that they are reciprocally related and mutually reinforcing. The Son is truly the Son of the Father, and he is irreducibly so.

John Owen’s Christology: Against Stereotypical Portrayals to the Contrary


John Owen (1616-1683) is regarded highly by those who are classically or confessionally Reformed, such as those who subscribe, whether strictly or essentially, to the Westminster Standards or the Three Forms of Unity. He was clearly a theological genius, who, while devoted to the life and health of the church, was a man of deep knowledge, logical precision, and a master of nuance. Yet, among those who are less-than-classically Reformed or otherwise theologically persuaded, his theology gives off a repugnant, offensive stench.

This is in large part due to his treaty entitled, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. This volume has garnered the praise of some (confessionally Reformed) and the infamy of others (broadly Reformed and otherwise inclined/persuaded). This is due to the fact that it was one of the most in-depth pre-Enlightenment defenses of the doctrine called, by proponents, definite redemption, and, by opponents, limited atonement (i.e., the idea that Christ died to secure the salvation for a particular people rather than for every person; hence, the words ‘definite’ and ‘limited’). Unfortunately, the notoriety of this specific treatise of Owen’s has had a negative effect which originates from both the confessional and more broadly Reformed, namely, that the high point of Owen’s theological contribution is centered on a theological concept as controversial as definite redemption/limited atonement.

It is not our purpose to argue for or against Owen’s explication of this particular doctrine. Rather, our purpose is to, however briefly, counter the common charge against the confessional Reformed that they were not thorough enough in how they related the person and work of Christ to the rest of theology.

Before we begin with something outside of the above noted and contested treatise, it is important to note at this point that the Death of Death is a treatise which is thoroughly Trinitarian and Christological in its explication. Owen begins the volume with detailed discussion of the role of each person of the Trinity—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—in the plan of redemption. This shouldn’t be something easily overlooked or minimized. In other word, if one wants to take serious objection to Owen’s articulation of definite redemption, one must address his Trinitarian starting point. And, as a warning, whatever else one wants to believe about Owen, he was a profound Trinitarian theologian who was aware of the many nuances that characterize the same; and, he maturely incorporated this into his explication of many a doctrine.

In addition, the next two “books” of Owen’s Death of Death are, for all intents and purposes, a Christocentric explication of redemption, dealing with his life, death, resurrection and ascension. The crux of the work of Christ, for Owen, is this: Christ making satisfaction for our sins as our great High Priest; that is, by the sacrifice of himself once and for all, removing the need for any further sacrifice. Again, as with our warning regarding his Trinitarianism, if one is to refute Owen’s understanding of definite redemption, one must address his thorough and mature Christology. A brief survey of the vast corpus of Owen will demonstrate his concern for and emphasis of the Triunity of God and the central role of Christ for us. In other words, Owen does not admit of ‘cheap shots.’ Rather, one must refute his Trinitarian-Christological logic to refute his, perhaps monstrous, explication of definite atonement.

Moving on from this rather long introduction, we will look at (again, only briefly—this is a blog post after all) a connection that Owen makes between Christ’s person and work and God’s revelation of himself. In Owen’s Christologia, he argues for the centrality of Christ’s person and work in God’s revelation of himself. In fact, he arguably anticipates a known antagonist to that most (un)popular aspect of Owen’s theology noted above. This antagonist is Karl Barth, the famous 20th-century Swiss theologian who walked away from liberalism and walked against, so to speak, some main aspects of confessional Reformed theology.

According to Owen, God determined that a representative was necessary for humans to know him. The fundamental reason for this is that God, in his transcendent and holy (ontological and moral, respectively) separateness from man, was unable to be known by a broken, sinful humanity. Moreover, pre-Christ revelations of God were not sufficient in themselves; that is, God’s revelation of himself in creation (i.e., general revelation) and in the Old Testament did not, so to speak, encapsulate and fully express who God is. Additionally, true apprehension of God’s nature is determined and limited by God making himself known in us. Looming largest is Owen’s contention that our never-ceasing drive toward idolatry and sinful rebellion is the strongest reason for the need of a “representation” of God who displays God’s immanence in the face of our radical separation from God (both ontologically and morally).

This representative is Jesus Christ, the God-man, or, the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, incarnate (i.e., assuming a human nature). Why? Because Christ is the “complete and perfect representation of the Divine Being and excellencies” (Works, I:69). This expands, as one might expect, given our prolonged introduction to this rather short body, to Trinitarian concerns. Christ is, first, autotheos; that is, very God in his essence, and, thus, co-equal with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit in every way. Christ is, with regard to his person, eternally generated from the Father; thus, he receives the divine attributes and his sonship from God the Father. In this connection, Christ is, for Owen, the essential image of God. Distinct from yet dependent on this, Christ, as God in the flesh (incarnated), is the sole “representative image” of God, which speaks most particular of his mediatorial role as the High Priest par excellence between God and man (Works I:70-73).  

This means for Owen that Scripture, as the word of God, cannot be equivalent to the essential and representative image of God (with the latter being dependent on the former), namely, Christ. Rather, Scripture is God’s revelation and declaration of Christ, the one in whom God is near to us, which makes Christ, in turn, the end and the object of it and the faith in God which it solicits. It is in the true object of faith, Christ, who is God assuming human flesh (i.e., Christ’s person and work), that the two means of God—Scripture and the illumination of the Holy Spirit—proceed and find their effectualness. It is therefore impossible to effectively and thus truly know God apart from Christ;  therefore, even Scripture is rendered useless, never mind all other ways in which God reveals himself, apart from Christ. Christ is the totality of the revelation of God; he is the sum, the beginning, and the end of it (Works I:74-78).

The Book of Job: Wisdom in Suffering


The book of Job is an odd book in the biblical canon. Many people understand the basic premise of the book, namely, that Job suffered greatly, then all that he lost was restored and more. Yet, this understanding of the book merely touched on three or four chapters of the forty-two chapter book. So, while these mere three or four chapters should frame how one is to understand and interpret the basic thrust of Job, one has to ask: what about all the other chapters? So, it is our purpose, however briefly explored, to suggest some other things that the book of Job teaches us.

Job is a man who not only lost his children and his possessions, and, was encouraged by his wife to curse God, but, he was also afflicted with extreme physical debilitation (Job 1-2). In fact, this latter form of suffering, more than anything else, seems to be the cause of his consternation in the subsequent chapters (cf. Job 1:20-22).

One thing we can gather from this is that there is a form of suffering that is internal to a person which is harder to bear than any external suffering which one may be undergoing. We can have people in our lives whom we care deeply about pass, we can even suffer great financial and material loss, yet, these are really external to our being. That is to say, we can observe and even mourn for these losses yet they do not have to impact us internally. Now, of course, the acts of mourning or observing are internal acts, so to speak, but we are really speaking of a matter of degrees. In other words, the type of suffering mentioned is external to us until we internalize it. For example, I can observe and mourn for a loss, yet, this mourning will be likely temporary and, in a very real sense, forgettable. But, when suffering is internal or, in this case, internalized, it becomes a part of us, or, at least it can feel that way. Thus, rather than being temporary and forgettable, we carry it about like a heavy weight on our frame. This kind of suffering, it is important to add, can be physical, mental, or spiritual; or, as we’ve already suggested, internalizing external suffering can, in effect, transform it into an internal suffering.

This weigh of internal suffering in turn moves us to question the very heart of justice, which is a theme that occurs repeatedly in the book of Job. Job, under the weight of physical affliction, asks, in diverse ways: why? Why do the wicked, the ungodly, the evil, the you-name-it, prosper while the righteous and godly suffer? This is a theme that is not unique to Job but is repeated on numerous occasions by the prophets. Why must I, who loves God and his ways, suffer when the wicked, who do not love him and despise him, prosper and have lives void of suffering? Yet, with this wrestling regarding justice, especially, the justice of God, Job remembers the steadfast character of the Lord, who truly is just and true. This teaches us that trusting in the goodness and justice of God in the face of suffering is a sure source of comfort and strength. Reading Job Christocentrically, this becomes even clearer for the One God whose good and just character we rely on is the same God, in the person of Jesus Christ, who suffered as our great high priest and who thus knows quite intimately the suffering which befalls humankind … indeed, even the righteous.

Moving beyond this, there is a clear relational lesson from the book. Job, as is well known, is surrounded by friends who question his moral and spiritual integrity, and, therefore, argue with Job that the cause of his suffering is God’s rebuke and discipline toward him. Yet, we know from Job 1-2 and 42:7-9 that this is a reductionistic understanding of Job’s plight. Therefore, instead of seeing Job’s plight rightly, with humility and love, they choose to pass judgment on his suffering, assuming rather presumptuously the cause thereof. Thus, his friends become the foils of the book.

This teaches us a number of things. When we see someone else suffering, we should pause before rendering a judgment. We must ask the right questions; we must search diligently as to the matter, as far as we are able; we must have love, compassion, and mercy toward them. This is so very hard to do, we’ll be the first to admit.

There’s a most obnoxious form of pride that rises within us when we see someone suffering which seeks to impute evil or defective motives to the sufferer thus providing a cause for their suffering. Yet, this pride moves us from a place of love to a place of hate. We are then blinded by our hate, no longer able to see ourselves or the suffering ‘other’ rightly. We no longer recognize that we, with all of our presumptuousness, deceitfulness, self-seeking, you name it, are just as deserving of suffering as the next person. It is not because we are “special,” “morally superior” or possessing a refined moral compass relative to others that we are not suffering; rather, it is a gift from God, as is every other good thing. The absence of suffering is a sign, a reflection, of the goodness of God, not our own goodness.

As Job rightly and wisely declares, “the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). In contrast to the “friends” of Job, we are to lay down our lives for our friends, consider others better than ourselves, be willing to give to others even if it brings suffering upon us, and, mourn for and have love, compassion and mercy toward those whom we see suffering. For, as Jesus tells us, we should treat others as we would want to be treated (Luke 6:31).

While more could be said, we will close with this. Job is fundamentally a book about wisdom, especially wisdom in relation to suffering. Job states, “the fear of the Lord is wisdom” (Job 28:28). Commending ourselves to God, and him alone, regardless of what happens, regardless of who supports or denounces us, regardless of whether we have or lack, internally or externally, is the path to wisdom for all the good that we experience in this life, and, truly, in the one to come, is from the hand of the good God who is steadfast and never changing (cf. Job 42:10-17).

Software Development and Ministry: A Theology of Work


Today I am offering a guest post from my friend James Pavilic (@jtpavlic). By way of introduction, James is a bi-vocational pastor who has worked in software development for almost 20 years and currently lives in Mesopotamia, Ohio where he is on the journey of rural church planting.

Software Development and Ministry

As a bi-vocational minister and software developer, I hope to bring a unique perspective to encourage church planters and pastors in their relationship and dealings with the unique personalities and perspectives of software developers.

The Necessity of a Biblical Theology of Work

Why work?

Well, most of us (whether believer or non-believer) don’t want to starve. So, we drag ourselves to work 5 or 6 days a week for anywhere from 40-80 hours a week. Some people fight their way through the week living for the weekend (using the common expression “TGIF”). Others are ok with work and accept it as part of life. Still others love work so much that you can hardly get them to stop.

Why the broad range of views? I believe that this is because of each individual’s theology of work. This is why it is necessary to have a biblical one that is both accurate and balanced.

Some believers think that work is post-fall, meaning that this was part of God’s curse on humanity for their rebellion against Him. Is this true? Others believe that work is a blessing and part of God’s design for humanity which should be delightful all the time. Is this realistic?

A balanced view

Genesis 1-3 seems to paint a different picture. Let’s quickly look at it. In Genesis chapter 1 we see God at work. This is clear from Genesis 2:2 where it says two times that God finished the “work that he had done.” The idea found in the Hebrew word for work is labor, something that is done or made. If God does it, then it certainly isn’t sinful or bad.

Why does this matter? In Genesis 1:26 we are told that humanity was made in the image, or likeness of God. But how do we know that work is something that is imaged? Genesis 1:28-30 seems to tell us this. Here we see that humanity was to be fruitful and multiply, have dominion, tend the garden, and harvest food from the plants. Moreover, it also points us to the fact that humanity was to take the luscious garden they were in as a kind of template which was to be used as a model for the rest of the world.

If this were not enough, we see in Gen. 2:5 and 2:15 that humanity was to work and keep the ground. This working and keeping was not a curse, but was simply what humanity was to do as they imaged God as His “earth keepers and beautifiers”.

Some big implications

In Genesis 1-2 we see a happy picture of life and work. But there is a slight problem…this happy picture doesn’t continue. The fall happened (Gen. 3:1-19). Humanity thought they knew better than God and rebelled against him. Wanting to do their own thing they brought down God’s curse not only upon all of humanity, but the earth as well.

One major curse was that getting food (work) would no longer be easy and pleasant, instead, it would be difficult and work would be hard or toilsome (Gen. 3:17-19). Thus, work, a thing that was meant to image God and be done with delight, was cursed. Working would not always be a delight, it would be hard.

But how does this translate to today? Many of us don’t till the ground. We work in the service industry, the healthcare industry, the financial sector, IT, childcare, teaching, etc. If you work in one of these sectors, or another, you could probably come up with your own ways that your work is cursed. The same is true in IT as there are hardware failures, software bugs, malicious hackers, loss of data, poor programming, poor design, terrible people to work with, and a litany of other things that make work hard. Thus, the reality of the curse meets us every day when we wake up and take our short or long commute to work.

A ray of hope

However, this isn’t the end of the story. There is hope. It is possible to actually enjoy our work and have it benefit us and others, it can be redeemed. Every day doesn’t have to be a waiting to say “TGIF”, or having others ask us if we have a “case of the Mondays”, nor does Wednesday have to be “hump day.” Work can be redemptive—making the world a better place while also blessing people too.

Jesus Christ came to redeem our souls and our interactions and attitudes toward the world, other people, and God. He demonstrated by His own life that He wasn’t afraid of work, and it wasn’t bad to Him. He showed us that work was to be done to the best of our ability and to the glory of God.

When He regenerated us, He gave us a new heart that would reform our relationship with God, our relationship with humanity, and our relationship with the world. He gave us purpose and meaning not only in our minds and hearts, but in our hands. He blessed us with redemption so that we might be a blessing to the world. Our work can be used to glorify God and bring delight to Him and others.

“I don’t work for you”

One day after a season of very long hours and difficult projects, my boss called me into his office and thanked me for my hard work, dedication, and the good attitude which I had been doing it with. He then asked me why I was such a good worker. My response to him was, “I don’t work for you. I work for God first and foremost. He tells me that I am to work for Him, giving Him my best and my all. So consequently, I give my best to you, and will continue to do so.”

This was a chance to share my raison d’être (reason or justification for existence). I was able in that brief moment, without being too preachy, to share a little of the reason for the hope is in me (1 Peter 3:13-17). Our lives should be all about God and for Him. Why? Because all things are through Him and to Him (Col. 1:16).

A vision for every profession

Work is not primarily to make money, to make us great, or to simply get us the food we need to survive and have the fun we want. Work is something we do because it is in our DNA. God made us to image Him, to work hard and to do our work well. We are to be craftsmen/women who create excellent product by doing excellent work. We should delight in being able to do this because we are a new humanity in Christ Jesus. We are created for good works that are more than loving others, feeding the hungry, caring for the poor, and stopping oppression. We must do these things, this is part of the good works Christ has called us to, but it is more than this. It is doing all our work with a full heart and to the Lord (Col. 3:23-24).

Our work is to image God in the manifold ways that He has blessed us with gifts and talents. To the artist, creating beautiful and stirring art. To the chef, incredibly tasting and well-presented meals. To the stay-at-home mom, caring and nurturing children as God does us. To the software developer, designing, creating, fixing, rebuilding, correcting, and ordering software with craft. To the IT professional, running projects on time and within budget, fixing computers, teaching others how to use computers, managing databases, etc.

Doing all we do for the Lord and doing it well. This is what the result of being given a new humanity produces.