Thoughts of a Living Christian

Musings of an amateur theologian and hopeful writer

Archive for the category “Christian Thought”

Jesus – God and Man

Introduction

Wolfhart Pannenberg’s Jesus – God and Man[1] set a Christological precedent. He approached the doctrine of Jesus’ divinity with rigorous rational thought and historical-critical methodology, contemporary philosophical enquiry and sensitivity to tradition and ecumenacy, concluding that the majority of the core tenants of Christian orthodoxy are, in fact, sound doctrine, whilst placing high importance on Jesus’ resurrection. This latter point is what makes Pannenberg’s Christology distinctive: the resurrection must be the point of departure and the central concern for any discussion regarding Jesus’ divinity.

This essay shall analyse the theological landscape from whence Pannenberg’s Christological triumph emerged, through the turbulent responses to Enlightenment thinking, differing historical-critical arguments, philosophical, existential and eschatological speculation, to the theological positions that influenced Pannenberg’s Christology ‘from below,’ his desire to go behind the New Testament texts and assertions that Jesus’ resurrection is the key to unlocking the mystery of Jesus’ being. First shall be discussed the several broad categories of differing Christologies, before analysing the first two “historical quests for Jesus” and then how these have influenced theological approaches to Jesus’ resurrection in recent history. The essay shall conclude with a discussion of how Pannenberg emerged out of this theological landscape as a distinctive theologian in his own right.

The Theological Landscape

‘Types’ of Christology

Hans Frei broadly categorizes Christian theology into five ‘types.’ The first places theology within a purely philosophical discipline; the second gives weight to Christian self-description, but remains predominately a philosophical discipline; the third ambiguously merges the disciplines of philosophy with Christian self-description; the fourth gives Christian self-description superiority, but includes philosophical reflection; and the fifth has solely to do with Christian self-description, rejecting any other influence.[2] Ford expands these categories into a Christological context, and provides the following examples:[3]

  • Kant falls into the first Christological ‘type,’ arguing Jesus was a prototype for human morality.
  • Bultmann is an example of type two, who, engaging with the distinctive elements of the proclamation of Jesus, argued Christology has more to do with immediate and present experience of Jesus than anything else.
  • Schleiermacher fits into type three, for whom Jesus was both an historical person and the mediator of Christian experience.
  • Barth falls into type four, giving precedence to Christian self-description, arguing Jesus was both a particular human and God, and thus beyond normal human experience.
  • D. Z. Phillips, arguing there is no place for philosophy in the discussion about the biblical Jesus, is an example of the fifth type.

Apart from these five types, there are two distinct methodological approaches, commonly labelled as either Christology “from above,” and “from below.”[4] The former are exponents of traditional Chalcedonian Christology, insisting that the basis of Christological understanding is Christian kerygma, not historical-critical analysis, nor upon rational argument. Occasionally caricatured as Docetism, examples include Barth, Bultmann, and Brunner. Those who fall into the latter approach assert a necessity upon historical research, that the possibility exists to arrive at the divinity of Jesus as a conclusion rather than a presupposition. Käsemann and Pannenberg are examples of a Christology “from below,” and have received criticisms of reviving elements of Nestorianism.[5]

Historical Quests

A precursor for these two approaches to Christologiy is what has been labelled the “historical quest” for Jesus. The Enlightenment thinking of the 18th century began to question with unprecedented vigour the historicity (or lack thereof) of the Gospel narratives. A succession of authors in the 19th century sought to reconstruct the life of the ‘historical Jesus’ through stringent historical-critical scholarship, most concluding that the Jesus of the Christian faith was an invention of Christianity. Feuerbach (1804-1872) argued Christianity was mere introspection and Strauss (1808-1874) argued the supernatural elements in the gospel were myth, primitive expression of spiritual ideas. Strauss’ work demanded objectivity in historical research of Jesus, for the Gospels were not historically reliable. Strauss’ work influenced many others, including Renan’s Life of Jesus in the 1860s. Drews (1865-1935) argued the historical Jesus was a myth and hence the quest for the historical Jesus was pointless, and then Schweitzer (1875-1965) wrote The Quest of the Historical Jesus: A Critical Study of Its progress from Reimarus to Wrede in 1906, tracing the history of this quest, and insisted these attempts at the historical Jesus should stop, for they domesticate Jesus and had become more about the historian than the history. Schweitzer’s attack on the historical quest effectively stopped this first ‘quest.’

Kähler also had a significant role in the cessation of this Quest through his critique of its methodology in The So-Called Historical Jesus and the Historic Biblical Christ, in 1896. He argued it was impossible to separate the Jesus of history from the Christ of faith; the only Christ academics should be interested in is the one preached through the ages. Searching for the historical was not only unsuccessful, but counterproductive. He also, however, argued faith should not be dependent on historical research, this latter statement greatly influencing Tillich and Bultmann who focussed not on the historical events of Jesus, but on the faith and teachings of the church, wherein meaning is found in existential encounter.[6] Witherington argues this separation causes problems, for Christian faith is based on historical events and thus separating the Jesus of history from the Jesus of Christian kerygma leads to a form of Gnosticism.

Until the second half of the 20th century, the academic quest for the historical Jesus was nonexistent. However, in 1953 a gathering of Bultmann’s former students launched a new revitalized quest for the historical Jesus, particularly in Käsemann’s (1906 – 1998) work. He argued against Bultmann’s assertion that the Gospels had no historical credibility and that Bultmann was too extreme in his scepticism about what could be known of Jesus. Bornkamm (1905 – 1990) had an influential role in this second quest. His publication, Jesus of Nazareth in 1956, argued that by applying critical scholarship we can know something about the historical Jesus.[7] This paved the way for Pannenberg, who insisted that, in fact, we can know something about Jesus only by applying critical scholarship.

The Resurrection

Fergusson begins his historical analysis of the doctrine of the resurrection with the simple question: “Is the resurrection an event in the life of Jesus or an event in the life of the believer?”[8] He argues the different doctrines can be divided into three broad positions: radical, liberal, and traditional. The ‘radical’ and ‘liberal’ positions argue there was no historical resurrection; the former posits the resurrection is a reference to faith itself, the latter that it is myth emerging out of faith. The ‘traditional’ position claims the resurrection was an historical event in Jesus’ life which gave rise to that faith. Bultmann and Marxsen are examples of theologians who fit into the ‘radical’ position, Küng and Schillebeeckx into the ‘liberal’ position, and Barth and Pannenberg into the ‘traditional’ position.[9]

According to Schleiermacher (1768-1834), the only support for the resurrection of Christ comes from Scripture, which is historically unreliable. After a detailed historical analysis of the Gospels, he concludes that much of what was said during Jesus’ life, pre- and post-resurrection, were the result of redaction. He then questions why Jesus would devote his time after his resurrection strictly to a few, rather than many, which would clearly have a greater impact. Furthermore, he argues the resurrection has no significance for Christ or the individual, for the cross itself has no redemptive significance.[10] However, he does not deny the historicity of the resurrection, for that would mean Jesus chose his disciples poorly as unreliable testimonies, or that he intended to deceive humanity. The resurrection is therefore a kerygmatic tool arising out of the disciples’ faith who “recognized in Him the Son of God without having the faintest premonition of His resurrection and ascension.”[11]

There seems to be some tension present in Schleiermacher’s understanding of Scripture. On the one hand he refuses to acknowledge the reliability of the resurrection accounts, but on the other does not question the disciples’ statements about Jesus. Furthermore, while the biblical accounts attest to the disciples’ acknowledgment of Jesus as Christ, none of them addressed Jesus as God until Thomas did so after the resurrection. Hieb details a further inconsistency within Schleiermacher’s theological schema, in particular regards to his positivistic nature-system which inherently disallows supernatural miracles. His doctrine of reconciliation denies the need for resurrection and his nature-system denies the possibility of resurrection – yet he refuses to deny Christ’s resurrection.[12] As is evident, there is ambiguity to Schleiermacher’s interpretation of the resurrection and unresolvable tensions. His doctrine is thus irrevocably untenable.

Strauss interpreted all stories through the lens of myth and thus any hint of supernaturalism was denied from a historical perspective. He “regarded the Gospels as a hopeless conglomeration of mythical stories from which no trustworthy picture of Jesus could ever be won,”[13] arguing that either Jesus had not really died, or he had not really been raised. The resurrection was, rather, a primitive myth. Similarly, Tillich (1886-1965) rejected the notion of Christ’s bodily resurrection and insisted it was a metaphor, a reference to the return of Jesus to Christ in the minds of the disciples.[14] For Troeltsch (1865-1923), historical-critical methodology threatened traditional dogmatics. If certain traditions or ‘facts’ did not correspond to present experience – such as the resurrection – it is deemed improbable. His aim was to present Christianity purely as an historical phenomenon compatible with historical-critical methods.[15] Ruling out any supernatural explanation, he concluded that “Christianity is in actuality the strongest and most concentrated revelation of personalistic religious apprehension.”[16] While viewing Christianity as the highest religious truth, in regards to morality, the resurrection must be denied on a historical basis – we do not experience people resurrecting today, therefore we cannot say that anyone has in the past.

Bultmann (1884 – 1976) believed that what is significant is the ongoing, existential meaning of the cross and resurrection. More important than any historical evidence is the individual’s experience of Christ in the present. Like Tillich he viewed the resurrection as metaphor, but insisted that the resurrection should not be understood as an event of past history, nor can its saving significance be proven historically. Instead, it represents “the elevation of the Crucified One to the status of Lord,”[17] a belief arising out of the early Christians’ proclamation to be prepared for his imminent return. According to Bultmann, “The resurrection of Jesus, Pentecost and the parousia of Jesus are one and the same event, and those who believe have already eternal life.”[18]

For Barth (1886 – 1968), the resurrection was entirely a work of the Father, and it was unnecessary for redemption. Reconciliation occurred in and through Jesus’ obedient life and death, and so Christ’s resurrection was a sovereign act of God’s free grace as an entirely new act – as was the creation of the cosmos. However, the resurrection functions epistemologically; “In His resurrection He reveals Himself as the One He is – the genuine, true and righteous man, the real man, who kept the covenant which all others broke.”[19] It does not alter who Jesus is, yet there is definite transformation. He is “the same whole man, soul and body,” who “rises as He dies,”[20] yet it “crowns this event [of Jesus’ ministry on Earth] as its disclosure and revelation.”[21]

For Barth, “The resurrection is an event in the life of Jesus that gives meaning to the disciples’ faith and to ours today through the power of the Holy Spirit and thus through faith.”[22] Furthermore, “It is…an objective event within history whose meaning is always tied to Jesus himself as subject and object and thus requires faith in him to be understood.”[23] Jesus was a particular man in a particular time, and is saviour only so long as he, his incarnation and resurrection, are historical events. However, understanding these events cannot come through normal historical-critical methods, rather can only be understood through faith, given through our unification with the risen Jesus by the Holy Spirit. He argues that his death and resurrection “must be understood in the flesh, as a real event, yet not as a single event or as many single events, but as the totality of the event of the existence of Jesus.”[24] For Barth, the resurrection is an historical event but is unlike any other historical event; it is God’s history with humanity, more than it is empirical human history.[25]

Rahner (1904 – 1984) attempts to hold the resurrection as both an event in Jesus’ life and as an event within the faith of the disciples. He insists the resurrection be linked to the cross, arguing it is “the manifestation of what happened in the death of Christ,”[26] and in his resurrection, the transfiguration and renewal of the world has begun; in his death and resurrection, Christ is the fulfilment and consummation of all of creation.[27] According to Rahner,

The resurrection of Christ is essentially…the event in which God irrevocably adopts the creature as his own reality, by his own primordial act, as he had ‘already’ done in the incarnation of the Logos. It is likewise the event in which God so divinizes and transfigures the creature that this glorification is accomplished as the total acceptance of this divine assumption by the freedom of the creature itself.[28]

The resurrection was an actual, historical event that gave rise to faith, but without faith there would be no resurrection, as Molnar notes, “The resurrection of Jesus is not a historical fact existing independently of the disciples’ faith and ours.”[29] While it was an historical event, it cannot be understood as any other historical event, for it does not exist within our normal realm of experience of empirical and recurring data. The resurrection cannot be separated from faith for “it is only in this faith that its own essential being is fully realized.”[30] In this faith we receive and experience Christian hope, for since Jesus has been raised, we can hope for our own resurrection, which shall be a resurrection into Jesus himself.[31]

Where Rahner links the resurrection to hope, Schillebeeckx (1914 – 2009) links it to Christ’s glorification: “Jesus’ resurrection is directly associated with his exaltation.”[32] The empty tomb tradition did not lead to the belief in Christ’s resurrection, rather God exalted Jesus to the heavenly places after his death, which in effect was his resurrection, and thus resulted in the tales of the empty tomb as a consequence. He argues the early Christians would have reflected upon Apocalyptic texts such as Wisdom of Solomon, and concluded that upon his death, Jesus lived on in God. Therefore, the resurrection of Christ is merely a reference to his exaltation into the heavenly places, and not a literal historical event. Yet through this exaltation, “God’s definitive saving action has been accomplished.”[33] Macquarrie, reflecting upon this position, concludes that simple contemplation upon a passage would not result in the dramatic turnaround in the disciples’ lives – something had to have happened to cause them to insist, to their deaths, that Christ was risen.[34]

For Moltmann (1926 – present), the resurrection represents the antithesis to Christ’s crucifixion. The former represents death and the absence of God, the latter represents life and the presence of God. Despite this contradiction, Jesus remains the same man, though in his cross he is identified with sin and death and in his resurrection is identified with God’s promises. The Christian hope arises out of this resurrection, wherein the general resurrection, the coming of the Kingdom of God, and the new re-creation of all, are ensured.[35]

Conclusion: The Arrival of Pannenberg

This essay has attempted to outline the major theological currents that paved the way for Pannenberg’s Christological publication, Jesus – God and Man. To be noted, of special interest, is the sheer diversity of Christological assertions and how these conclusions have been influenced by an even greater diversity of factors, including philosophical presuppositions and approaches to the role of historical research. The essay began with an overview of Ford’s five ‘types’ of Christologies; with Bultmann, Pannenberg fits into the second type, in that his study of Jesus had as its foundation a rigorous historical-critical methodology. He refused to accept, without question, Christian self-description and kerygma, seeking to go behind the early church proclamation to find the real, historical Jesus. He insisted that “the task of Christology is to establish the true understanding of Jesus’ significance from his history,” and thus “all statements…are to be tested in the light of Jesus’ history.”[36] Emerging out of the ‘Second Quest’ for the historical Jesus, Pannenberg argued that it’s not just possible to discover the real Jesus through historical-critical methodology, but, in fact, we can discover the real Jesus only through historical-critical methodology.

Evidently, Pannenberg approaches Christology from below and provides three reasons why a Christology from above is not feasible:[37]

  1. It presupposes Christ’s divinity. Determining who Jesus was and is is the primary task of Christology, and thus nothing can be presupposed or assumed.
  2. It does not fully recognize the distinctive elements and attributes of the historical human figure. For example, if a universal nature is presupposed in Christ’s being, Jesus’ relationship with historical Judaism loses importance.
  3. It assumes a position any human interpreter cannot inhabit: the position of God himself. We can only ever think from a humanly, historical perspective.

While he would fit into Fergusson’s ‘traditional’ position on the resurrection, with Barth, Pannenberg’s position is very different to Barth’s, due to Barth’s methodology being a Christology from above. Where Barth placed emphasis on the epistemological significance of the resurrection, Pannenberg prescribed it a greater ontological significance, arguing,

Only because in Jesus’ resurrection the end of all things, which for us has not yet happened, has already occurred can it be said of Jesus that the ultimate already is present in him, and so also that God himself, his glory, has made its appearance in Jesus in a way that cannot be surpassed. Only because the end of the world is already present in Jesus’ resurrection is God himself revealed in him…[and] in Jesus, God himself has appeared on earth.[38]

In other words, the resurrection – and the eschatological significance inherent within it –ontologically determines Jesus’ divinity. McClean expands,

[Pannenberg] argues that the Easter event ‘determines’ the meaning of Jesus’ life and his relationship with God. That is, the proper understanding of Jesus’ life and his identity depend on the resurrection, not simply for their being known, but for their being what they are.[39]

Pannenberg’s Christology in Jesus – God and Man is progressive and groundbreaking. Though his thought didn’t change dramatically as he aged,[40] it did develop and thus there are evident differences in his Christology in his later publication Systematic Theology, where a greater anthropological emphasis leads to slightly different conclusions regarding Jesus’ humanity and our relation to him.However, the purpose of this research is on his early work and as such, such discussion is best left elsewhere. Though technically falling into Fergusson’s ‘traditional’ position, he clearly is anything but.

 

References

Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics. Ed. G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance. Trans. H. Knight, G. W. Bromiley, J. K. S. Reid, R. H. Fuller. Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1960.

Bauckham, Richard. “Jürgen Moltmann.” In The Modern Theologians, edited by David F. Ford.2nd ed. Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers, 1997.

Bloesch, Donald G. Jesus Christ: Savior and Lord. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1997.

Bradshaw, Timothy. Pannenberg: A Guide for the Perplexed. London: T&T Clark International, 2009.

Bray, G. L. “Christology.” In New Dictionary of Theology, edited by Sinclair B. Ferguson, and David F. Wright. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1988.

Bultmann, Rudolf. Jesus Christ and Mythology. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1958.

Edwards, Denis. “The Relationship Between the Risen Christ and the Material Universe.” Pacifica 4, no 1. (1991)

Eitel, Adam. “The Resurrection of Jesus Christ: Karl Barth and the Historicization of God’s Being.” International Journal of Systematic Theology 10, no 1. (2008)

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 1998.

Fergusson, David. “Interpreting the Resurrection.” Scottish Journal of Theology 38, no 3. (1985)

__________. “Barth’s Resurrection of the Dead: Further Reflections.” Scottish Journal of Theology 56, no 1. (2003)

Ford, David. “Christology.” In The Oxford Companion to Christian Thought, edited by Adrian Hastings, Alistair Mason, and Hugh Pyper. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Ford, David F. and Mike Higton. Jesus. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Frei, Hans W. Types of Christian Theology. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992.

Gilbertson, Michael. God and History in the Book of Revelation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Grenz, Stanley J. and Roger E. Olson. 20th-Century Theology. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

Haight, Roger. Jesus: Symbol of God. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1999.

Harris, Horton. David Friedrich Strauss and his Theology. London: Cambridge University Press, 1973.

Hieb, Nathan D. “The Precarious Status of Resurrection in Friedrich Schleiermacher’s Glaubenslehre.International Journal of Systematic Theology 9, no 4. (2007)

Janssen, Claudia. “Bodily Resurrection (1 Cor. 15)? The Discussion of the Resurrection in Karl Barth, Rudolf Bultmann, Dorothee Sӧlle and Contemporary Feminist Theology.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 79. (2000)

Johnson, Luke Timothy. The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospel. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1996.

Macquarrie, John. Jesus Christ in Modern Thought. London: SCM Press, 1990.

McClean, John. From the Future: Getting to Grips with Pannenberg’s Thought. Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster, 2013.

McGrath, Alister E. The Making of Modern German Christology. Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell Inc., 1986.

Molnar, Paul D. Incarnation and Resurrection: Toward a Contemporary Understanding. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007.

Pannenberg, Wolfhart. Jesus – God and Man. Translated by Lewis L. Wilkins and Duane A. Priebe. London: SCM Press, 2002.

Rahner, Karl. Theological Investigations. Vol. 4. Trans. Kevin Smyth. London: Darton, Longman & Todd Ltd., 1974.

__________. Foundations of Christian Faith. Translated by William V. Dych. London: Darton Longman & Todd Ltd., 1978.

Schillebeeckx, Edward. Jesus: An Experiment in Christology. Translated by Hubert Hoskins. London: William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd., 1979.

Schleiermacher, Friedrich. The Christian Faith. Ed. H. R. Mackintosh and J. S. Stewart. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1968.

__________. The Life of Jesus. Ed. Jack C. Verheyden. Translated by S. Maclean Gilmour. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975.

Schwӧbel, Christoph. “Wolfhart Pannenberg.” In The Modern Theologians, edited by David F. Ford.2nd ed. Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers, 1997.

Smith, J. W. D. “The Resurrection of Christ: Myth or History?” The Expository Times 72, no 12. (1961)

Thiselton, Anthony C. The Two Horizons. Exeter, UK: The Paternoster Press, 1980.

Tillich, Paul. Systematic Theology. Digswell Place, Great Britain: James Nisbet and Company Ltd., 1968.

Troeltsch, Ernst. The Absoluteness of Christianity. Translated by David Reid. London: SCM Press Ltd., 1971.

Witherington III, Ben. The Jesus Quest: The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth. 2nd ed. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1997.

 

Footnotes

[1] Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jesus – God and Man, trans. Lewis L. Wilkins and Duane A. Priebe (London: SCM Press, 2002).

[2] Hans W. Frei, Types of Christian Theology (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992). 28-55.

[3] David F. Ford, “Christology,” in The Oxford Companion to Christian Thought (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000). 116-118.

[4] G. L. Bray, “Christology,” in New Dictionary of Theology, ed. Sinclair B. Ferguson, and David F. Wright (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1998). 137-140. He argues this splits Christology into two opposing camps.

[5] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 1998). 684. Cf. Pannenberg. 1-11.

[6] Ben Witherington III, The Jesus Quest: The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1997). 6-11. Also, Michael Gilbertson, God and History in the Book of Revelation (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003). 11-16.

[7] Witherington. 11. Though the second quest was largely a reaction to Bultmann, his influence remained, portraying Jesus as an existentialist philosopher (p. 11).

[8] David Fergusson, “Interpreting the Resurrection.” Scottish Journal of Theology 38, no 3. (1985). 287.

[9] Ibid. 287-305. Cf. Paul D. Molnar, Incarnation and Resurrection: Toward a Contemporary Understanding (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007).

[10] It is not within the scope of this essay to detail and critique Schleiermacher’s understanding of redemption, but in short the satisfaction of sin is found not in the suffering, but in the active obedience of Christ throughout his life. If humanity’s sin is infinite then the punishment must equally be infinite. Christ’s death, having occurred within time and space, is not infinite and thus cannot satisfy the punishment for sin. Reconciliation comes through Christ’s obedience, and that obedience is transmitted to those who have fellowship with Christ (Cf. Nathan D Hieb, “The Precarious Status of Resurrection in Friedrich Schleiermacher’s Glaubenslehre.” International Journal of Systematic Theology 9, no 4. (2007). 401-03).

[11] Friedrich Schleiermacher, The Christian Faith. Edited by H. R. Mackintosh and J. S. Stewart (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1968). 418. Cf. Friedrich Schleiermacher, The Life of Jesus. Edited by Jack C. Verheyden. Translated by S. Maclean Gilmour (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975). 392-465.

[12] Hieb. 399, 407-14.

[13] Horton Harris, David Friedrich Strauss and his Theology (London: Cambridge University Press, 1973). 272.

[14] Stanley J. Grenz, and Roger E. Olson, 20th-Century Theology (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992). 129; Paul Tillich. Systematic Theology (Digswell Place, Great Britain: James Nisbet and Company Ltd., 1968). Cf. Alister E. McGrath, The Making of Modern German Christology (Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell Inc., 1986). 37-38.

[15] Gilbertson. 3-4.

[16] Ernst Troeltsch, The Absoluteness of Christianity. Translated by David Reid (London: SCM Press Ltd., 1971). 111-12.

[17] Grenz and Olson. 95.

[18] Rudolf Bultmann, Jesus Christ and Mythology (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1958). 33. Cf. J. W. D. Smith, “The Resurrection of Christ: Myth or History?” The Expository Times 72, no 12. (1961). 372-73.

[19] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics. Ed. G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance. Trans. H. Knight, G. W. Bromiley, J. K. S. Reid, R. H. Fuller (Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1960). III/2, 214. Cf. Adam Eitel, “The Resurrection of Jesus Christ: Karl Barth and the Historicization of God’s Being.” International Journal of Systematic Theology 10, no 1. (2008). 38. Cf. p.40 – “Barth understands Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead as the event in which God the Father acted unnecessarily and graciously.”

[20] Barth. III/2, 327.

[21] Ibid. III/2, 337.

[22] Molnar. 1.

[23] Ibid. 6.

[24] Barth. III/2, 337.

[25] Ibid. 8-14. Cf. Claudia Janssen, “Bodily Resurrection (1 Cor. 15)? The Discussion of the Resurrection in Karl Barth, Rudolf Bultmann, Dorothee Sӧlle and Contemporary Feminist Theology.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 79 (2000). 64.

[26] Karl Rahner, Theological Investigations. Vol. 4. Trans. Kevin Smyth (London: Darton, Longman & Todd Ltd., 1974). 128. Furthermore, the death of Christ was “the imposed and enforced handing over of the whole bodily man to the mystery of the merciful loving God, by the concentrated freedom of Christ as he disposes of his whole life and existence,” (p. 128).

[27] Denis Edwards, “The Relationship Between the Risen Christ and the Material Universe.” Pacifica 4, no 1. (1991). 11-12.

[28] Rahner. Theological Investigations. 128-29.

[29] Molnar. 63.

[30] Karl Rahner, Foundations of Christian Faith. Translated by William V. Dych (London: Darton Longman & Todd Ltd., 1978). 267-68.

[31] Molnar. 45-66. Cf. Rahner. 267-68 – “Jesus is risen into the faith of his disciples…that faith which knows itself to be a divinely effected liberation from all the powers of finiteness, of guilt and of death, and knows itself to be empowered for this by the fact that this liberation has taken place in Jesus himself and has become manifest for us.”

[32] Edward Schillebeeckx. Jesus: An Experiment in Christology. Translated by Hubert Hoskins (London: William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd., 1979). 533.

[33] Ibid. 543.

[34] John Macquarrie. Jesus Christ in Modern Thought (London: SCM Press, 1990). 311-312.

[35] Richard Bauckham, “Jürgen Moltmann,” in The Modern Theologians, edited by David F. Ford. 2nd ed. (Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers, 1997). 210-213.

[36] Pannenberg. 12. Emphasis mine.

[37] Ibid. 17-18.

[38] Ibid. 59.

[39] John McClean. From the Future: Getting to Grips with Pannenberg’s Thought (Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster, 2013). 99-100.

[40] It should be noted at this point that his earlier work is marked but a focus on methodology, as seen in his works Revelation as History and Basic Questions in Theology, thereby establishing his theological schema for healthy growth and development. Hence his overall direction taken in his theological work remained true and did not change or wave.

No Other Name

Thought this was pretty awesome…

https://hillsong.com/en/blogs/collected/2014/may/no-other-name-times-square-shoot/#.U2wxNPmSw1J

“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matt. 24.14)

Thomas and I

Sometimes I feel sorry for Thomas.

He’s gone down in history as “Doubting Thomas,” when, upon hearing from the disciples that Jesus had risen from the dead, he says, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” 

I get that. I, too, would be hesitant to immediately believe that someone I saw die was once again living.

But what I find fascinating about this passage is Jesus’ response to Thomas’ skepticism:

“A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

More to the point, what’s fascinating is what Jesus didn’t say.

Elsewhere, Jesus was pretty short with his disciples, quick to rebuke and not exactly prone to holding any punches (such as Matt. 16.23). He got exasperated and exhausted and desperately hoped the disciples would stop being so darn   s   l   o   w   . His divine patience was regularly tried.

Yet here, there is no rebuke, but rather a simple extending of his hands for Thomas’ doubts to be squelched. And then Thomas’ declaration is astounding: “My Lord and my God!” An undeniable recognition of Jesus’ divinity. In fact, this is the only explicit statement of Jesus’ divinity made by any disciple…and he goes down in history as “Doubting Thomas.”

There is nothing wrong with questioning, and seeking reason and proof. There is nothing wrong with applying a rational way of thinking to matters of faith. If we didn’t, we would believe anything and everything that came our way, and we would be guilty of one of the most dangerous attitudes possible to humanity: blind faith.

We need not see to believe, but that does not mean there aren’t other ways of knowing and finding truth.

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” But I refuse to believe that Jesus is advocating blind faith, as elsewhere we are told to “always be ready to give a defense for the hope that is in you,” (1 Pet. 3.15). Nor was Jesus claiming that Thomas’ faith was inferior – for Thomas’ declaration of Jesus as Lord and God functions as a climax for the Johannine narrative.

Jesus’ statement in verse 29 has more to say to the present reader than to the figure of Thomas. He is speaking directly to us today. Blessed are those, he says, who will be recipients of the Holy Spirit, through whom faith in the church’s proclamation shall become truth.

There is nothing wrong with questioning, testing and seeking proof, but we must be willing to allow the Holy Spirit to guide us and direct us toward the truth of Christ – the Risen Lord.

What Part of “Free Will” is Free?

The contemporary concept of freedom pertains to the capacity to objectively decide on a single, particular course of action, out of a numerous array of possible actions. Freedom is the ability to do whatever one pleases without limitation, having recognized and understood all possible actions and inevitable consequences. To an extent, however, this freedom does not exist. All human action is influenced by feeling and emotion, subjective experience and influence, particular worldviews and value systems, and all human action is held in tension with laws, societal customs and norms, common etiquette, etc. We cannot simply do whatever we please if it is forbidden by law, or previous experience tells us it results in negative consequences. Of course, we can do this, but reason compels us to do otherwise.

But if feelings and experience influence our reasoning capacity – a wholistic view of the human, as opposed to Hellenistic division between psyche and soma – doctrines of sin and anthropology, and inevitably soteriology, are affected. It’s clearly biblical that at our core, humans are sinful and in fact hostile toward God (Rom. 5; Eph. 2). James tells us that what is at our core will come out in our actions and speech (James 2). In other words, our innermost emotions influence our cognitive processes. What we think to be reasonable is determined by what we have learned. What we think is reasonable, therefore, is determined by sin; we are all slaves to sin (Rom. 6; John 8). Hence, humanity cannot be anything other than hostile toward God, thus we do not – we cannot – have the freedom of will to turn toward God.[1]

The debate between Erasmus and Luther reflect similar perspectives, but I have difficulty with both. Luther’s perspective leads inexorably, despite Forde’s objections otherwise, to a deterministic perspective of God’s divine will.[2] Luther makes a distinction between the will over those things that are below us, such as time and money, etc. and that which is above us, such as God and the life he offers. The former is under our free control, the latter is not. For Luther, we, as humans, literally do not have the strength to break our bondage, for we are prisoners of sin and of Satan. We are justified, not by our own merit, for we have none, but through God’s gift of righteousness. Furthermore, we are justified, not on our ability to trust God, for we cannot, but on God’s calling and creating within us the capacity to respond.[3]

It is that last little part of Luther’s argument that bothers me tremendously. He argues that we are slaves either to Satan or to God, and it is entirely up to God to decide which, for even Satan is under God’s control. You cannot deny it: Luther’s God elects some for salvation, and elects others for damnation. This I believe is a serious problem. John 3.16 says God loves the world and 1 John 2.2 says Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. Luther’s absolute rejection of free will leads him to an abhorrent God. And he defends this position as an attribute of God’s love by essentially arguing we should ignorantly put our heads in the sand; God’s hidden purposes are not to be questioned, and we cannot know these purposes until the end of time. This to me seems to be a copout.[4] Barth argued vehemently against this dualistic nature of God; there is no hidden purpose to God, for God is revealed fully in Christ. The picture we have of Christ is one of love, whose teachings underscore the universal scope of his activity (not a limited atonement theory).

Either none of us are elect, or all of us are elect. Either we are all permanently bound to reject God, or we all have an opportunity to respond to God’s gift of righteousness. Our will, clouded by darkness, will always shrink away from the light. Like gazing into the sun, our eyes adjusting to the brightness, we can uncomfortably allow the light of the Son to overcome us until it is no longer uncomfortable, or we can turn away, retreating back into the darkness that we for so long have found so comfortable.

 

References

Forde, G. O., The Capitvation of the Will: Luther vs. Erasmus on Freedom and Bondage (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 47-59.

Packer, James I., “Luther Against Erasmus” Concordia Theological Monthly, Vol. 37 no. 4 (1966), 207-221.

Rupp, E. G., “The Erasmian Enigma” in Luther and Erasmus: Free Will and Salvation (Library of Christian Classics Vol. XVII; London: SCM, 1969), 1-28.


[1] Forde recounts part of Luther’s argument, arguing that we cannot accept God’s predestination and election, for as humans our inability prevents us – we are bound to say no to God, (Gerhard O. Forde, The Captivation of the Will: Luther vs. Erasmus on Freedom and Bondage (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2005). 50).

[2] Forde, The Captivation of the Will. 47-59.

[3] James I. Packer, “Luther Against Erasmus” Concordia Theological Monthly, Vol. 37 no. 4 (1966), 207-221.

[4] NB: I use that term cautiously, for Luther was an incredible man and an excellent theologian.

Once saved, are you saved forever?

The purpose of this paper is to present a biblical and theological discussion of the highly debated and controversial topic of eternal security. Eternal security is the doctrine that once a person has become a Christian, they are Christian permanently and cannot slip out of salvation. There are varying theological positions, such as the Calvinist ‘Perseverance of the Saints’ (though many argue for the ‘Preservation of the Saints’), or ‘Once Saved, Always Saved,’ largely held by Reformed and Presbyterian traditions to varying degrees; or the belief that a Christian can, in fact, lose their salvation, held largely by Arminian, Wesleyan and Methodist traditions.

However, this paper is not a debate over tradition. When approaching any biblical interpretation, a presupposed theological bias will inevitably result in distorted exegesis and hermeneutics. Any systematic theology must be formed as a result of biblical interpretation, not vice versa. It is vital to avoid eisegesis. This does not disqualify the importance of systematic theology, but rather stresses the importance of correct order and methodology. Hence, this paper begins with a survey (albeit brief and certainly not exhaustive) of the relevant biblical material.[1]

Old Testament

A central theological theme in the Old Testament is that of covenant. The covenantal connotations pertinent to this discussion lie in, firstly, the Abrahamic Covenant (Gen. 12-17) wherein Yahweh promised to build a nation out of Abraham’s descendants, and secondly, the Mosaic covenant wherein this nation would be blessed if she is obedient to the Torah or cursed if she is disobedient (Exod. 19-24). But above all is the promise that Yahweh would never leave, nor forsake Israel (Deu. 31).

Isaiah 54

This is like the days of Noah to me: just as I swore that the waters of Noah would never again go over the earth, so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you and will not rebuke you. For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the Lord, who has compassion on you. (9-10)

vv. 1-17 of this chapter begin with a discussion on abandonment and loss, then leads to the sorrowful recognition that Yahweh had turned his face from them (v. 7), before recounting his oath made to Noah. God is shown as agent and source of transformation, whose covenant is more reliable than creation itself.

Jeremiah 14

Although our iniquities testify against us, act, O Lord, for your name’s sake; our apostasies indeed are many, and we have sinned against you. O hope of Israel, its saviour in time of trouble, why should you be like a stranger in the land, like a traveller turning aside for night? Why should you be like someone confused, like a mighty warrior who cannot give help? Yet you, O Lord, are in the midst of us, and we are called by your name; do not forsake us! Thus says the Lord concerning the people: Truly they have loved to wander, they have not restrained their feet; therefore the Lord does not accept them, now he will remember their iniquity and punish their sins.

In the previous chapter Yahweh was threatening to ruin Judah and in this case it seems he is doing so through drought. And so they cry out to him, but their request – “act…for your name’s sake” – was a challenge against his character. They had it wrong, however, for this was a covenantal curse and thus it was the responsibility of Judah who needed to act. And so no assurance of salvation was offered. In fact, Yahweh then warned Jeremiah to not even pray for the people.[2] Not only had Israel wandered, but they enjoyed wandering, and so Yahweh would destroy them.[3]

 

These two passages are a snap shot of the Old Testament promises to the prophets of Israel regarding the fulfilment of the covenant. The former reveals that Yahweh did turn his face from the people in their time of sin, but then reassures them that it will never happen again; the latter reveals Yahweh’s justice, for the people sinned and, as was promised, punishment was given.

Many times these passages are used to argue either for or against the doctrine of eternal security, depending on how one interprets them. However, Old Testament texts such as these are irrelevant in the discussion. The covenants prior to Christ were entirely different to the Christocentric, New Testament covenant, as discussed above. Obedience led to blessing whereas disobedience led to cursing. Furthermore, Hebrew tradition focused predominately on a corporate context, rather than individuals. The covenant regarded ethnic Israel as object of Yahweh’s love, whom he would never forsake, rather than the individual Israelite.

Hence, texts commonly used in support of eternal security that are taken from the Old Testament are quite often taken out of context purely for the reason that the context is generally in relation to the Mosaic covenant of blessing/curses. From a New Testament perspective, Jesus has promised never to forsake his Church. He has promised to be with his Body and protect it from the gates of hell. But this cannot be immediately related to the individual Christian, just as the Mosaic covenant cannot be immediately related to the individual Israelite. In other words, the Old Testament covenants should not be used to support eternal security arguments, for they refer primarily to the corporate, whereas the issue at hand relates primarily to the individual.

Christ came to spread salvation beyond the property of Israel; the Gentiles were now a part of the family. As the Gospel spread it became evident that it was now about far more than just an ethnic group, for other people groups were now grafted onto God’s people. Hence there was more concern surrounding the issue of individual salvation, as opposed to corporate salvation. It is to these texts we now turn.

Matthew Texts

There is very little reference to eternal security in the synoptic gospels. The Johannine literature has an abundance of predestinarian theology, including eternal security, but interestingly there isn’t such an abundance in the synoptics. However, Matthew’s gospel does contain several references to this issue, which we’ll now look at.

Matthew 7

“Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire…Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of my father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.” (19, 21-23)

The people Jesus is talking about in this passage are clearly people who at least thought they were Christians. And why shouldn’t they think they are Christians? Their list of credentials are impressive! I would be very happy to be able to say Jesus, “Look, Lord, at what I have done: prophesying, exorcisms, demonstrating your power!” But still Jesus says, “I never knew you.”[4] However, Jesus is here is pointing to a more important theme than outward actions. He is saying that more important than anything we could possibly do, even actions as impressive as this list, is to know our Lord Jesus Christ, implying a deep, intimate relationship. If we do not have this intimacy with Christ it does not matter what we do in his name. For Christ cares more for relationship than showmanship. Hence I do not believe this passage should be used, as has been used, to argue against eternal security. The emphasis of this passage, as with its surrounding context (Sermon on the Mount), is less about individual actions and more about the state of the heart. The question still remains however: can non-Christians do impressive acts such for Christ, such as prophesying, driving out demons, etc.?

Matthew 18

“Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven. What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that any of these little ones should be lost.” (10-14)

This passage seems to make it very clear that God will not allow any to follow away. He is the Good Shepherd and will protect us. Should we stray, he will come after us and bring us back into the flock. Why? Because the Father would hate to see us be lost. However, I don’t think this passage should be used to argue for eternal security. The implication in this passage is the sheep was lost out of mere ignorance. It lost its step and fell away, because it didn’t know any better. We don’t know why the sheep was lost, perhaps it couldn’t hear the voice of the shepherd, perhaps it got distracted and went in a direction it wasn’t supposed to go, or perhaps it found a piece of particularly delicious grass and the flock moved on without it. Hence, the passage implies that God will not allow any of his sheep to fall away as a result of ignorance – this, then, doesn’t rule out the possibility of deliberately turning away from the shepherd.

Pauline Theology

A great deal of predestinarian theology comes from the Pauline corpus, which invariably is linked with the doctrine of eternal security. The great difficulty of Pauline theology of placing the particular epistle within its context, and placing the particular passage within its broader argument. One cannot simply read Galatians as though it were meant for the Colossians, nor the Corinthian correspondence as though it were meant for Timothy. The theology breadth, depth and variation of argument and themes within the Pauline corpus are vast and intimidating; it is only possible to understand the Pauline argument within their particular context.[5]

Romans 2, 10

For he will repay according to each one’s deeds: to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honour and immortality, he will give eternal life; while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. (2:6-8)

For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. (10:10)

These two passages essentially deal with the same issue: how one receives salvation. And they both a) place some responsibility on the individual, and b) imply an ongoing and continuous activity. Firstly, those whom God will justify and give eternal life must “by patiently doing good…seek for glory and honour and immortality,” and “believes with the heart and…confesses with the mouth.” Yet this does not imply a work-based salvation, rather it argues justification comes solely through believing, not works. Secondly, the implication is that salvation is a process. In 10.10 Paul makes a distinction between justification and salvation. Of course, this is more of a literary device than a precise dogmatic soteriological statement; to be justified is to be saved, and to be saved is justified.[6] Yet he seems to be making a distinction between a once of justification and an ongoing sanctification, similar to the idea of “patiently doing good.” Those who will be saved are those who patiently endure.[7]

Romans 8

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (38-39)

The central issue in this passage is the protective nature and vast love of God. God loves us so much he will protect us from anything that comes our away. Of course this protection pertains to our spiritual wellbeing, rather than to our physical bodies; there is nothing so powerful that can overcome God’s love for us. It has been argued that this passage reveals that we are protected even from our own will. Nothing can separate us from God’s love, not even us! This, I believe, is an unsatisfactory argument, for the passage says nothing about us and everything about God’s love.[8] Paul is emphasizing God’s great love for us, similar to Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Sons. To argue that this passage means we cannot wilfully leave the protective love of God is eisegesis, nor does it mean, however, that we can leave God’s protective love, for that is not the purpose of this passage.

1 Corinthians 15

Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you – unless you have come to believe in vain. (1-2)

The function of this ­­­chapter is to correct those Christians who have gone astray. Some have argued against the physical resurrection of Jesus, and Paul, in this chapter, says that the resurrection is, in fact, vital for salvation. But here it implies that salvation is an ongoing action. He says the Corinthians are “being saved,” and then he uses the biggest theological word in the Christian language: “if.” Salvation comes, thus, if the Corinthians would hold firm to his teaching. Notice the ordering of this: Paul is not saying, “You are saved, so you will now stand,” rather he is saying, “Stand so that you will be saved.”

Ephesians 2

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast. (8-9)

This passage is fairly self-explanatory: Humans cannot possibly save themselves; it is only by the grace of God, his gift to us, that we can be saved. This is relevant to the discussion because a common argument against the Arminian/Wesleyan/Methodist position – that it is possible to lose salvation – is that this becomes a work-based soteriology. However, this is an incorrect assumption. The bible is extremely clear on the fact that humans cannot save themselves, and the Arminian position does not deny this. It is possible to reject the doctrine of eternal security and still place God and God alone as the source of salvation. Cf. James 2.24.

Philippians 1

I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ…And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God. (6, 9-11)

Throughout Philippians there is tension between human and divine activity. According to Silva,

A point often ignored by commentators yet fundamental to this epistle [is] the tension that exists between the believers’ accountability for their own spiritual conduct and their need to rely totally on God’s grace to meet that obligation.[9]

That God will finish what he started is quite a clear indication of God’s activity, particularly in regard to internal sanctification. However, later the Philippians are urged to work out their own salvation in Christ (2.12). The implication is that God is doing something, but it will efficacious only when the Philippians allow it to be. They must work out this salvation for themselves.

1 Timothy 4

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will renounce the faith by paying attention to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared with a hot iron. (1-2)

This passage is fairly straightforward: some will renounce Christianity, turning to “deceitful spirits and teachings of demons.” This is a very scary thought, that there are some who follow the teachings of demons. However, this passage is neither an assertion for or against eternal security, for there is no mention of whether those who renounce the faith were previously Christians or not. For all we know, this passage is warning us against atheism, or any other religion for that matter.

2 Timothy 2

Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, so that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. The saying is sure: if we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he will also deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful – for he cannot deny himself. (10-13)

The immediate thing that jumps out of this passage is the number of times “if” appears.


[1] Texts taken from the NRSV.

[2] Just as a sidenote, this a very interesting commandment. Why should Yahweh care if, and for what or whom, Jeremiah prays, if Yahweh had already made up his mind? The implication is that Jeremiah could indeed persuade Yahweh to change his mind.

[3] On a pastoral note, Yahweh then declared that the teachers were prophesying lies, leading the people astray. What struck me was the responsibility that is placed on those who preach the Word of God. Today, are we leading our people astray, or are we leading them toward righteousness? We are warned several times throughout the scriptures that leaders will need to give an account for what they have said and done, and will be responsible for the spiritual wellbeing of those we lead – tough words! Of course, God is a just and merciful God, but the bible places a lot of responsibility on church leaders!

[4] This is reminiscent of Jeremiah 9, where Yahweh is bringing justice upon Israel because “‘they refused to know me’ says the Lord,” (v. 6) which is probably one of the saddest things the bible records God of saying.

[5] This is, of course, required of any aspect of biblical interpretation. Accurate exegesis will never neglect context. The reason I stress this point is that far too many interpreters read Paul as though the epistles are 20 minutes old, written specifically to the Baptists in Western Australia, or the Evangelicals in the United States, in such a way that the epistles are amalgamated into one, rather than appreciating the texts as thousands of years old, written to specific groups of people that no longer exist with traditions that would seem alien to us, in a language not even spoken any more, paying close attention to the particular, specific and nuanced arguments of the individual epistles.

[6] I would probably argue that this a good example of how Paul argues for both a propitiatory and expiatory atonement.

[7] Scot McKnight’s book, The King Jesus Gospel, deals with this issue in great depth and well worth a read. His essential argument is that the mantra “justification by faith alone” has destroyed any need for an understanding of the broader narrative of Israel, which culminates only in the eschaton. God’s story has not finished, he argues, but will finish at the general resurrection. This is similar to Bonhoeffer’s ‘Costly Grace.’ I think I am inclined to agree.

[8] Of course, in saying that God loves us, Paul is indeed saying a huge amount about us. God loves us and so we are of infinite worth to him. However, the focus of the passage is entirely on God.

[9] Moisés Silva. Philippians (Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2005). 45.

King Jesus

Reading McKnight[1] I found myself happy that questions I have had for some time are being answered – or at least being discussed in some way. Evangelicalism has for a long time, in my opinion, squashed the Gospel (and, indeed, much of theology and Scripture) into a nice, neat package, easy to unwrap and admire from all angles in one’s own palm. To be sure, I have much to be indebted to Evangelicalism for, and there is much to be admired, but a heavy emphasis on a personal salvation, as present in much Evangelical theology, results in a distortion. I would certainly not remove the need for a personal response to God’s grace, as well as the need for personal repentance, but building one’s understanding of the Gospel on the foundation of an individualistic, personal salvation has a high probability of leading to what I think is a major weakness in many Gospel presentations, certainly not limited to Evangelicalism: the Gospel is simply about getting as many people as possible through the Pearly Gates.

This portrayal of the Gospel – as seen, for example, in Packer and Oden’s portrayal[2] – becomes strictly about justification,[3] with little space for sanctification and discipleship. McKnight’s incorporation of the history of Israel, ongoing obedience, and greater focus on the resurrection results in a more comprehensive account of the Gospel. He argues, “The word gospel…belongs to the story of Jesus as the resolution of Israel’s story,” and is thus “a story about Jesus as Messiah.”[4] Perhaps the only problem I have with McKnight’s portrayal is its tendency to lean solely toward a propitiatory atonement, with indeed very little reference to individual sin and repentance. There is definite need for greater discussion on personal justification without severing it from sanctification, etc. as many Evangelical presentations have done.


[1] Scot McKnight, The King Jesus Gospel (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2011).

[2] Thomas C. Oden J. I. Packer, One Faith: The Evangelical Consensus (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004). 35-36.

[3] Seen especially in their statement: “The heart of the Gospel is that our holy, loving Creator, confronted with human hostility and rebellion, has chosen in his own freedom and faithfulness to become our holy, loving Redeemer and Restorer,” (p. 187). The very heart of the Gospel, they say, is a reaction to the problem of sin, rather than Jesus being Israel’s messiah, as McKnight argues.

[4] McKnight. 44, 55. Cf. p. 51 – “Salvation – the robust salvation of God – is the intended result of the gospel about Jesus Christ that completes the Story of Israel in the Old Testament.”

Female Priests…?

I found this interesting…

http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/sexandgender/7237/excommunicated_for__grave_scandal__of_ordaining_women/

Life in the Age to Come

Check out Scot McKnight’s post on the millennium:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2013/08/15/life-in-the-age-to-come/

“We believe life has the final word, not death; we look death in the eye and through death into life, endless and boundless.”

Costly Grace

There can likely be no life which epitomizes the costliness of grace more than those who have given their lives for their faith. There is no action which emulates Christ more than giving one’s life. One such martyr was Bonhoeffer, who, more than anyone else, was sufficiently equipped to talk about the costliness of grace. Horrified by how ‘cheap’ grace had become in churches, he scornfully laments,

Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing. Since the cost was infinite, the possibilities of using and spending it are infinite. What would grace be if it were not cheap?[1]

Though such an outcry was in response to the liberalism that pervaded his German context, the same cry can be made today, indeed in any generation. For when grace is watered down, perhaps so as to make it as appealing and easy as possible, the Gospel is distorted. We see timid and tame Jesus and hear his teachings on tolerance, but we don’t see the pain and passion or hear his preaching on persecution. Bonhoeffer insists that true grace must lead to justified living; he claims “the only man who has the right to say that he is justified by grace alone is the man who has left all to follow Christ,” for “such a man knows that the call to discipleship is a gift of grace, and that the call is inseparable from the grace.”[2] We need, therefore, “to recover a true understanding of the mutual relation between grace and discipleship.”[3]

Grace must be costly, he argues – and I agree – for cheap grace seduces us toward mediocrity where Christ urges us toward action (cf. John 7.21-23). Willmer explains that for Bonhoeffer, the Christian life is not about achieving a certain religious life, but about acknowledging Jesus as Lord. It’s about separation from everything except the Lord so as to follow him exclusively.[4] Hence grace is costly because it does not lead to the freedom of comfort, living as though Christ died purely so we can go on living as we were without consequence; rather it leads to the freedom of servitude (cf. Gal. 5.13; 1 Pet. 2.16). Integral to discipleship is imitating Christ’s self-sacrifice, and thus is a cost. According to Willmer,

Costly grace is necessary because grace endangers salvation. The church too often (as with some German Christians) yielded to plausible pastoral and evangelical temptations to make grace cheap in order to ease the way of outsiders into church while excusing them from discipleship.[5]

The question I ask is: “Bonhoeffer’s calls to discipleship are roughly 80 years old – are they still relevant today?” My answer came swiftly: Yes, of course! Howard argues that today’s social climate requires us to uphold Bonhoeffer’s legacy and call the contemporary church to recover the costliness of grace.[6] It doesn’t matter the generation, complacency will always lead to mediocrity. I see many presentations of the Gospel wherein “justification by grace” is the be-all and end-all, to get people through the doors. The Gospel is simplified and saturated and there is no sanctification. Kerygma requires the uncomfortable proclamation of discipleship and persecution; Jesus never made it easy, so why should we?

References

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship. New York: Touchstone, 1959.

Howard, Evan Drake. “Bonhoeffer’s Legacy for American Christians.” In The Reformed Journal, (April, 1985).

Willmer, Haddon. “Costly Discipleship.” In The Cambridge Companion to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, edited by John W. de Grunchy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.


[1] Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship. New York: Touchstone, 1959. 43. Furthermore, “Cheap grace means the justification of the sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything, they say, and so everything can remain as it was before,” (p. 43).

[2] Ibid. 51.

[3] Ibid. 55. Cf. p. 56 – “Discipleship means the life which springs from grace, and that grace simply means discipleship.”

[4] Willmer, Haddon. “Costly Discipleship,” in The Cambridge Companion to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, ed. John W. de Grunchy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999). 173-188.

[5] Ibid. 177.

[6] Howard, Evan Drake. “Bonhoeffer’s Legacy for American Christians,” The Reformed Journal (April, 1985). 14-17.

Thoughts on Integrity

My new daily reading program this morning took me to Romans 2. This initial chapters are quite familiar and I skimmed over the verses but several verses seemed to jump out at me:

Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and boast in God; if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of little children, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth – you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? As it is written: ‘God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you. (Rom. 2.17-24)

I admit, when I was reading this I didn’t immediately feel it was talking to me, I certainly don’t call myself a Jew! So I kind of skimmed over the verses, but something pulled me back. It doesn’t matter whether you or I are a Jew or not, this passage speaks to us!

Paul was warning the Romans to DWYSYWD.

DWYSYWD. It’s a fancy Greek word.

Actually it’s not Greek. It’s an English acronym: Do What You Say You Would Do. Another way of saying it is “Practice what you preach.”

This passage is all about integrity. Anyone, whether you are a religious leader, CEO, parent, teacher, preacher, band manager, Hungry Jacks manager…… At some point, every single person will be expected to do something. If you say you are going to do something in a particular way, and you don’t do it, it’s really not good. People rely on you to get the job done.

In a Christian sense, this is particularly relevant.

We tell Jesus we will follow him. So what should we do? A person with integrity will follow Jesus because that’s what they said they would do.

My question is this: Can a person who has no integrity be a Christian at all?

Let’s say a person – Joshua, we’ll name him – wants to be a basketballer, so he says, “I’m going to play basketball,” and then doesn’t play basketball. Can Joshua rightly be called a basketballer?

Proverbs 28:18 says “Whoever walks in integrity will be delivered, but the one whose ways are crooked will suddenly fall.” 

Now of course when we accept Christ as our saviour, he send the Holy Spirit to live within us, who replaces our old heart with a new – we become a new creation. The Spirit guides us, directs us, instructs us and encourages us. Thus as we pay attention to the Spirit, which we do as we do the spiritual disciplines (regular prayer, bible reading, etc.), our hearts are centered and our vision focused on Christ and we will live with integrity.

Integrity in the Christian life means Doing What You Said You Would Do, and we have said we would, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, deny ourselves, daily taking up our cross and coming after Christ.

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