Finitum Non Capax Infiniti

This Latin dictum means “the finite does not (or cannot) comprehend the infinite.” The phrase originated in the Lutheran-Reformed debates about the Lord’s Supper as it related to Christology. The Reformed typically accused the Lutherans of transferring divine qualities to Jesus’ humanity such that Christ could be everywhere, including the Lord’s Supper. Sometimes this resulted in the charge of Eutychianism (mixing Christ’s human and divine natures). The Lutherans typically accused the Reformed of rationalism as well as Nestorianism. The former was thrown at the Reformed because they thought the Reformed depended too heavily on philosophical pre-commitments. There was also the problem of supposedly separating Christ’s human from His divine nature (Nestorianism).

The phrase “finitum non capax infiniti” is related to what is called the “extra Calvinisticum.” The latter phrase refers to the fact that Jesus as God is everywhere, whereas Jesus as human is in heaven at the right hand of the Father. The “extra” then refers to the omnipresence that the divine has outside the human body of Jesus. I just read a brief but interesting article by a Lutheran pastor on this issue, and his claim is that the Lutheran view does not entail a change of the human nature, but rather a display of the very infinity of the divine. He defines the Lutheran capax this way:

In order to see this, it is important to observe what is meant by the Lutheran capax. As the Swedish Lutheran theologian Gustaf Aulén notes, the Lutheran argument is not that the finite has some sort of inherent capability of containing the infinite, but rather that the infinite God is capable of communicating himself to the finite.

This is how he attempts to avoid the communication of divine attributes to the human. He says further, “if the infinite is truly infinite, then it must logically contain an infinite number of possibilities and one of these possibilities must be being contained by the finite.” There are several things that need to be said in response. Firstly, there is simply no way for the infinite to communicate itself to the finite without bursting the boundaries of the finite. We are talking here about the incommunicable attributes of God. So, while initially sounding plausible, the author has not answered the question. Instead, he has tried to shift the question.

Secondly, in answer to his hypothetical situation of the infinite needing to have “being contained by the finite” as a possibility, this fails to take into account the other attributes of God. He is singling out one attribute and separating it from the others. The other attributes include an inability to deny Himself. That God would not communicate divine attributes to the human is not due to inability, but rather to character. This question is in the same category as the age-old conundrum “Can God build a rock so big that He cannot move it?” The answer is no, but not because of a lack of ability on God’s part, but because it is not in God’s character to contradict Himself.

If God communicated the divine to the human, the simple fact remains that the human would no longer be human. It must be noted here that very few Lutherans seem to grasp Calvin’s actual doctrine as expounded by, say, Keith Mathison. We have all the divine and the human that we need in Calvin’s construction of the mechanism of the Lord’s Supper. The Holy Spirit bridges the gap between us and Jesus such that Christ’s humanity is fed to our souls by faith. So Christ is physically given to us in the Supper, but not in the bread and wine. Our reception of it is (S)piritual.

Another son of God movie

Why I’m NOT Seeing the Movie Son Of God

by Reed DePace

Yeah, expect some will disagree with this. Follow this argument with me:

  • Is Jesus God?
  • If you say “yes”, does the 2nd Commandment (Ex 20:4) apply to Jesus?
  • If you say, “yes”, nuff said – you better not go see the movie.

If you say, ‘yeah but” … A common objection to my argument is the idea that the context of the 2nd commandment is about images of God for purposes of worship. I.e., as long as the image made is not for worship (e.g., teaching), its ok. Well, let’s follow that argument:

  • What is the only proper, biblical response to God?
  • Worship (Dt 10:12; Ps 99; Mt 22:37)
  • If Jesus is God (Joh 1:1-5),
  • Then what is the only proper, the biblical response to Him?
  • Uh, worship.

Think about the response on the Mt of Transfiguration (Mt 17:1, ff.) – worship. Think about John’s response on Patmos Island (Rev 1:17) – worship. Think about the response of Doubting Thomas (Jh 20:28) – worship. Think about what Paul says is the proper response to Jesus in light of His great salvation (Rom 12:1)– worship. It is only when folks DO NOT recognize Jesus as God that they give a wrong response (Mt 4:9; 11:31; Mk 6:51; Jh 12:37) – NOT worship.

Think about the response of the 24 elders in heaven, responding to Jesus (Rev 5:8-14) – they worship the ascended, enthroned Jesus. Who are they attempting to picture in the movie Son of God? The ascended, enthroned Jesus!

Even the producers of the movie hope for a worship response to their portrayal of Jesus:

Mark Burnett: “The disciples, they don’t know they’re in the Bible. They’re following their charismatic leader. They later realize it’s the son of God. It’s God on earth. So they fall in love.” (I.e., they worship!)

Roma Downey: [In seeing the movie] “And you get an opportunity to fall in love with him [Jesus], I think. You understand who he is and what he was doing and that he came and did that for us. I think it’s very humbling.” (I.e., worship!)

(http://www.aintitcool.com/node/66327)

Respectfully, I’d ask those who allow themselves this exception, “Images of Jesus for non-worship purposes are not violations of the 2nd Commandment” to re-think their understanding of their relationship with Jesus. Do you really think that even once in the New Heavens/New Earth you will ever respond to Jesus with something less than worship? “Yo! Jesus Dude, hey Baby, how’s it, er, oops, sorry God.”

Do you think there is some exception in the Already/Not-Yet of our present relationship with Jesus? When you preach, teach or witness to people, do you want them to think of Jesus as anything less than God to whom they owe all the love of their heart-soul-mind-strength? I.e., do you want them to not worship Him?

So, no, I’m not going to see this movie. But I don’t think this is not a matter of mere private conviction. I am very concerned that I live amidst a Church in America that thinks so little of the 2nd Commandment that the argument I just made is not even worthy of consideration. “Legalism!” and with a sweeping gesture, the issue is ignored.

In recent preparation for a sermon on Jeroboam II I ran across a comment (can’t find where now) in which the person observed that the reason this king, great in many ways, was still considered evil, was because he followed his namesake in violating the 2nd Commandment (2Ki 14:24). Why is that so bad? Why is it wrong to image God? Because if you get the image of God wrong, you get your understanding of God wrong. If you don’t understand God, who He is, His nature, there is no hope. Remember, true wisdom begins in fear of the Lord. (Pro 1:7) Getting God’s image right requires submission to His own self-description. Nothing is more foundational to this than His command – don’t image God!

I.O.W., blowing the 2nd Commandment results in worshiping God according to your own understanding. Need we be reminded that left to ourselves we worship and serve the creation rather than the Creator? (Rom 1:25, read the context!)

  • So, if Jesus’ self-description is that He is God (Joh 10:58-59), and
  • The only proper response to God is worship (Ps 99; Rom 12:1), and
  • God judges getting His image wrong as an evil worthy of His highest condemnation (Rom 1:18-32),

What might we expect to see in a Church that willy-nilly ignores Jesus at this point of command?

The Church in America is already experiencing the discipline of generations of getting the gospel wrong (the essence of Jesus’ self-description). Could it be that one factor in the Church’s failure is her eagerness to support portraying Jesus on film? Since the first movie went on the reel, one estimate is that there have been over 1,000 movies made about Jesus (IMDB listing, top 30). Over a dozen actors have portrayed Jesus. If putting Jesus on film is so valuable, such a great tool for the Church, why is the Church in America so sick?

Numerous “leading” pastors are actively supporting this movie, seeing it as a great tool for the support of the Jesus they preach and teach (bit.ly/Pastors4SofGmovie). Among them is a man who denies the Trinity. Another teaches the prosperity-gospel heresy. Others are hardly stalwarts in proclaiming the Jesus imaged in the Bible.

Seriously, this is going to be another Passion of the Christ (2004). That movie was so great that a wave of remorse and repentance swept our land; abortion was ended, no fault divorce was reversed, and sexual immorality was reigned in. Oh, wait, um …

God is not mocked. We are reaping what we’ve sown. Even if this movie followed the gospel accounts word for word, it would still violate the 2nd Commandment. Yes, God can draw lines with crooked sticks. But He does that in mercy. He certainly does not use crooked sticks who celebrate their crookedness, and flaunt it as a strength to be used to achieve God’s will.

Think about what Jesus said to Thomas, who would not believe and worship until he saw with his own eyes, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have NOT seen and yet have believed.” (Joh 20:29)

Don’t put Jesus to the test on this one. Don’t go see this movie. You’ll find He more than strengthens your faith!

by Reed DePace

Job and Bunyan Versus The Shack

I am reblogging this book review of The Shack (originally posted January 7,2009), as it was a post most people found to be helpful.

The book entitled The Shack has been a marketing phenomenon among “evangelicals.” Blurbs compare the Shack to Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. I am here to tell you that the hype is a bit forced. Let’s do a bit of comparison, first with the book of Job, then with Bunyan, interjecting a bit of C.S. Lewis in for fun.

The Shack is the story of a man whose beautiful daughter is brutally murdered. The man leaves the faith, only to receive a message from God to meet him at the shack, the very place where his daughter was murdered. He then meets God. The Father is a big jolly black woman, the Son is a Jewish carpenter, and the Holy Spirit is a wispy, mysterious Asian woman (we’ll get to that blasphemy in a moment). The upshot of the plot is that God explains to the main character the why’s and the wherefore’s, and the man is healed. The theological upshot is that God is good, but not all-powerful. Young takes Rabbi Kushner’s prong of the dilemma. What is important to notice here is a combination of rationalism and experientalism. On the one hand, Young tears at the heart strings, making the reader bleed for the main character. On the other hand, in order for the man’s faith to be “restored,” God has to explain himself.

Contrast Job. Job lost much more than the man in the story (ten children!), and it was due to the prince of demons being opposed to him, not a mere man, even if Job didn’t know that. He lost all his possessions, and then finally his health. He had much more to complain about than the man in The Shack. He too wanted God to explain. He wanted to vindicate himself as well. But when God finally has His say, He tells Job that He does not have to come to the bar of human reason. Humans have to come to the bar of God. This is where C.S. Lewis comes in. In his brilliant essay entitled “God in the Dock,” he makes the point that the really important thing for autonomous man is that he is the judge, and that God is in the dock. The man may very well be a kindly judge and acquit God of wrong-doing, if God shows Himself up to the task of defending himself. But the really important thing is that man is the judge, and God is in the dock (on trial). Job shows us that the reverse is true. God is the judge, and man is in the dock.

Rationalism always results in God losing one of His attributes. If God is all-powerful and all-good, then how come evil exists? The Bible does not allow us to lessen the difficulty of this question by jettisoning one of these attributes. The reason the problem is so acute for the believer is that God is both all-benevolent and all-powerful.

Just to begin an answer (and not leave the readers hanging), God allows evil to exist for various reasons, but evil will not continue to last. God has dealt with the problem of evil on the cross and the empty tomb, and will finally eradicate the very presence of evil in this world in the future. No other religion, by the way, or atheism, has an answer to this question. Pantheism believes that evil is naturally part of the world. No hope of eradication there. Atheism cannot define right and wrong, so his faith in his own reason becomes shockingly apparent when he confidently talks about the problem of evil. Deists don’t believe that God has anything to do with the world. These all lack hope and eschatology.

Bunyan and Young go in fundamentally different directions. Christian’s journey is to the bar of judgment as a defendant whom God will acquit based on the spotless righteousness of Christ imputed to him. The man’s journey in The Shack is to the bench, where he magnanimously acquits God of wrong-doing, once it becomes evident that God is really powerless to stop it. Of course, if God is powerless to stop evil, then He is also powerless to eradicate evil, and so that road is also a dead end eschatologically speaking.

In talking with one of my friends, he made the very interesting point also about faith. What moves Christian? It is the scroll, the evangelist, the Interpreter, the fellow believers he meets on the way, the key of faith in Doubting Castle. It is the means of grace which compels Christian to a life of faith. In The Shack, it is a one-time rationalistic showdown where God pleads and begs with the man (in effect) not only to give Him a hearing, but to acquit Him of wrong-doing. Ultimately, the man’s faith is in himself.

My friend also noted the contrast between the way in which God is portrayed in the Bible as opposed to how God is portrayed in The Shack. The God of The Shack is hardly a God with the least little hint of awe and majesty. He is not the God of the whirlwind, which is how God treated Job. He is not the God before whom all bow their faces to the ground. Instead, He is a God whose booty sways to the music. Anyone who cannot see the blasphemy and rank heresy of this portrayal of God is seriously lacking in discernment. God is Spirit, and only the Second Person of the Trinity has a human body which exists only in hypostatic union with the divine nature, and is currently a glorified body. I choose to believe the God of the Bible, who will eradicate evil because He is completely omnipotent and completely free of sin.

Niceness or Love?

Among members of the PCA, there is a huge dissatisfaction with how blogs are run today. Lack of love, harshness, unfounded accusations, and many like things are par for the course, they say. There is certainly an element of truth to this. Many people do not exercise self-control in what they say on the internet, because it is more anonymous. They say things to another person or about another person, which they would probably not say if that person were standing there in front of them. This is a large problem on blogs, and I certainly cannot claim that my blog (including my own statements) has been immune from this problem.

However, there is another side to this question, that raised by the title of the post. Most of the people I have seen talk about this issue are confusing niceness and love. By the former term, I mean never saying anything harsh towards someone else. By the latter, I mean seeking the best interests of the other person in an unselfish way. These are not the same things! Let me demonstrate from the actions of Jesus, surely one of the best places to go in examining this question.

Jesus used the proverbial carrot or the stick, depending on the audience. If He was talking to sheep, or to the disciples, or to ignorant Gentiles, He typically used the carrot (though He addressed His dense disciples on occasion with somewhat sarcastic harshness, and Peter once with downright non-sarcastic harshness). He was patiently instructing them about Himself, and about salvation in Him. When He was talking to the wolves (the scribes and the Pharisees), He wasn’t “nice” but rather quite harsh. If Jesus were to blog today about FV guys and use the words “whitewashed tombs,” would He fall foul of the niceness police? He probably would. But would anyone dare to accuse His words against the Pharisees of being unloving? I would hope not. He was loving the sheep by protecting them! It is possible to be loving and yet harsh. This does not compute with the niceness police of today. It is not even a possibility, if you read some accounts. Again, I am not panning exhortations to patience, kindness, politeness or anything else. Those are excellent and wonderful things. What I am doing is saying that there are wolves about, and we should not be “nice” to the wolves. If we are, matters will result in fully satisfied, content, sheep-filled wolves. We will “nice” the wolves straight to the dinner table full of lamb chops. Unless the niceness police wish to deny that there are any wolves about whatsoever, they need to be more discerning about distinguishing the audience. At the very least, they could extend the benefit of the doubt, the judgment of charity, towards those who believe they are addressing wolf problems, and not impute wrongful motivations to bloggers who are trying to protect sheep from the depredations of wolves. Instead, the least harshness, the least lack of niceness, is automatically judged to be from the devil, and lacking completely in the fruit of the Spirit.

One last thing I would ask the niceness police. Is it possible for a teaching elder to be in good standing in the PCA and be a wolf at the same time? Does being in good standing require niceness from everyone else? If so, I could complain about treatment I have received from the FV guys, and others in the PCA. I am not going to do so, however, because defending the sheep means getting scratched by the wolves. What I notice, however, is that the niceness police never slap the wolves’ hands when they take a swipe at confessional ministers in the PCA, if those confessional ministers have been outspoken against liberal creep in the PCA. Something to ponder.

Hebrew Roots, Unhelpful Fruits

by Reed DePace

I first was compelled to examine the Hebrew Roots Movement (more broadly, Messianic Christianity) because of a beloved Christian father in my circles who had a relative drifting into the movement. This relative has a sincere faith, spending a part of life working for a reformed ministry of some renown. Circumstances in life led this relative to some understandable and rightly placed disillusionment with some reformed churches. In response to these hardships the relative sadly and unwisely in my view latched onto a Messianic congregation/ministry. Hence, in order to help this Christian father, I did some research on this movement.

I’ve concluded that MOST of the folks involved with what Lane has aptly titled the Hebrew Roots Movement are dissatisfied Protestants looking for THE explanation/interpretation that will bring to life the full realization of the promises for the Christian Life taught in the Scriptures. Rightly NOT satisfied with the experience of ordinary Evan-jellyfish Christianity that makes a great blasting trumpet sound but has no extraordinary follow through, these folks, motivated by a sincere desire to believe Christ, are looking for the answer somewhere other than the tradition they’ve come out of.

Thus they follow in a long line of similar seekers of the fulfillment of what Calvin called “Golden Jewish Dreams.” They are the descendants of the Anabaptists, the various movements into spiritualism, mysticism and pietism. They are the next heirs of the higher life movement, the Pentecostals, and late born cousins of Dispensationalism and prosperity gospel preachers. Like all such movements, they claim a “New” understanding of the gospel that is also recovery of the gospel as taught in the Early Church.

And, in a manner they do not suspect, they are indeed right. They do have ancient roots and they are the latest new version of an old error. These folks yet again, in the end, propose a relationship with God that is synergistic for its fulfillment. For them it is not Jesus + fundamentalism, or Jesus + sacerdotalism, or Jesus + mysticism, or Jesus + signs and wonders, or Jesus + prosperity. No, for them it is Jesus + a modern expression of the oldest form of fundamentalism known in the Church. They are indeed a new expression of the old Judaizers. Like some of the early profession-making Pharisees (the party of James), these folks in the end teach a Jesus + Talmudic-Torah-observance, a Jesus + the necessity of some sort of a Jewish informed lifestyle.

They don’t realize that they are making (at least) two tragic mistakes. First, like most imbalanced Jesus + something else movements, they have an over-realized eschatology. They are expecting the experience of things now that are reserved for the eternal state. Specifically they are expecting a fleshly experience of what is only a spiritual experience of the Christian life now. They mistakenly think that fleshly practices in some way secure the dramatically powerful experience of the Spirit’s work in day to day life. In this they are no better than the forms of Evan-jellyfish they left behind. Missing that the ordinary experience of the Christian life is one marked by fleshly suffering and weakness this side of eternity, they are pursuing just another expression of the “Kingdom NOW” lie so common in the Church today.

Second, these Hebrew Roots Movement folks unwisely are adopting practices and habits, accouterments of a “Jewish” lifestyle that actually are derived from a heretical source. These folks do not seem to realize that with the destruction of the Temple the practice of a Jewish form of Christianity ceased to be an option. The core of OT worship was the sacrifices; all of Leviticus, the key book in terms of Jewish life and worship (i.e., life = worship, worship is life), is built around the sacrifices. They were essential to the maintenance of even the smallest component of the law of cleanliness, etc.. Without sacrifice one CANNOT rightly practice any of the OT worship system.

And when the Temple was destroyed – that was it. All that was left was the Pharisaical/Rabbinical traditions. All that was left was the ethical teaching of the rabbis (the Talmudic tradition) coupled with the imitative worship practices, the “616” applicatory traditions of the Pharisees. Outside the book of Acts we actually do not have any Church exclusive sources of what first century Jewish Christianity was like. All we have are sources that at best seek to interpret what Jewish Christianity must have been like based on similarities with second and later century Diaspora Judaism. It is amazing that Messianic Christians think they are practicing a purer form of Christianity. In reality, they are practicing a form contaminated by unbelieving Jews who maintained their rejection of Jesus as the Messiah.

These modern day “Jewish” Christians fail to grapple with what Jesus said:

And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” (Mar 7:6-8 ESV)

Quite simply, those who would restore a Jewish form of Christianity are actually restoring the Pharisaical form at best, something condemned by Jesus and done away with at his express command (e.g., Acts 10, 15, the books of Galatians and Hebrews in total). All the practices adopted in Messianic congregations have as their source Rabbinic Judaism, that branch of Judaism that refused to repent of their rejection of the Messiah when in A.D. 70 God removed the earthly temple and left standing only the true spiritual temple, the Church of Christ.

Looking for the transformative power of the Christian life, these sincere but misguided folks ignore the warning of the Spirit who is the source of this transformation:

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, (1Ti 4:1-3)

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations– “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)– according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (Col 2:20-23)

But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. (Tit 3:9)

The Hebrew Roots Movement, Messianic Christianity, while well intentioned, is yet another deflection from the simple, pure gospel of Jesus Christ. It is based on the heresy of rabbinic Judaism, NOT first century Jewish Christianity. It in the end, like all forms of Jesus + me Christianity, teaches a defective gospel.

For more information, and helpful “inside” critiques of the movement, see the following resources:

Stan is a Jewish believer in Christ, former pastor, and lately a missionary with Jews for Jesus. Raised in American Judaism, he speaks from first-hand knowledge of the Messianic Christian movement. One interesting tidbit he shares: upwards of 80% of the members of Messianic congregations are NOT Jewish by birth. Instead they are Gentiles, mostly disaffected evangelicals attracted to the Hebrew Roots Movement by a promise of a restoration of “authentic” Christianity.

Baruch is a born and raised Israeli Jew. He grew up actually Jewish, served his mandatory term in the Israeli army, and lived a thoroughly Jewish life before being converted. And after conversion, he continued to live a Jewish lifestyle – but one that does not involve the restoration of rabbinic Judaism in the Church seen in Messianic Christianity. A reformed pastor, he has a long-term credible missionary-pastoral-writing ministry based in Israel. If anyone can speak with credibility to the non-Christian aspects of the Hebrew Roots Movement, it is Baruch.

In the end, I conclude on a sad but hopeful note. The sadness is that these folks have saddled themselves with the old law-slavery that Jesus lamented: 

And he said, “Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers.” (Luke 11:46)

The hope is that it was to just such a people Jesus called out with this promise: 

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Mt 11:28-1)

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NOTE: significant in the misunderstandings of these folks is the role of the Levitical regulations. It is these that make up the bulk of the “Jewishness” that Messianic Christians strive to adopt in their worship and life.

Consequently, both to understand where these folks get off track and in order to help them, getting a handle on how Leviticus works is important. Consider the following sources:

For some really deep background and seminal thinking on the nature of clean/unclean, holy/common themes in Leviticus, one ignores Mary Douglas to their own hurt: The Forbidden Animals in Leviticus and Leviticus As Literature. While you may not agree with all she says, her insights are very helpful in rightly interpreting the meaning of these concepts.

For some thinking on the role of the Mosaic law in the Church/Christian life, see:

As well, one will find great help, simple and sound investigations of the Scripture via the Westminster Confession of Faith. See Chapter 19, Of the Law of God,  especially paragraph three (scroll down to page 83).

Reed DePace

The Hebrew Roots Movement

There is a movement afoot (small, but rather persistent) to return to the Old Testament way of doing things (and they would argue that the New Testament changes pretty much nothing). This (usually) involves a return to Saturday Sabbath, celebration of the Old Testament feasts (and even non-OT feasts like Hanukkah!), and observance of the Old Testament dietary laws. There have been Messianic Jews around for quite a while, but what is happening now is that previously Reformed people are becoming persuaded by this viewpoint. What I want to do in this post is examine some of the architectonic issues at play, and then respond to some specific things in the blog post linked above.

The first and most important question, when it comes to the relationship of the Old Testament to the New Testament is this: how do we read our Bibles? This is the question of hermeneutics. What are the principles by which we come to the conclusions we do? Is there such a thing as an apostolic hermeneutic? That is, do the apostles read the OT in a certain way that might not seem obvious to us at first? I do not have time or space to lay this out in full. There are many excellent books on the subject. I would recommend this one. When we look at John 5 and Luke 24, the following picture emerges: the NT is the lens through which we see the OT, and not the reverse. We read the OT in the light of the end of the story, which is Jesus. Jesus Himself tells us in Luke 24 and John 5 that if we read our Old Testaments and do not see Jesus, then we are misreading the Old Testament! This principle can be taken to an extreme, as in the case of Arthur Pink, who, while having many helpful things to say, went a bit overboard on typology. Not every detail is specifically about Jesus. The story as a whole is about Jesus. It organically unfolds in such a way that Jesus is the climax of the OT. To put it mildly, the Hebrew roots movement does not read the Bible this way. For them, the OT is the lens through which they see the NT. As a result, they misread the OT. A very simple question can point out how misguided this is: if the OT is clearer than the NT, then why did we need the NT at all? Hermeneutically, we read the more difficult parts of the Bible in the light of what is clearer.

A second issue I wish to treat is the ignoring or denial of the three-fold division of the law into moral, civil, and ceremonial. Jesus says that there are weightier matters of the law. He castigates the Pharisees for harping on the minor matters, while ignoring the heavier ones. This indicates a distinction within the OT laws. The fact that the Ten Commandments were written by God’s finger on tablets of stone, whereas the rest of the law was written by Moses on more perishable materials also indicates that the Ten Commandments are the most important section of the law, as reflecting the very character of God. The reason this issue is important is that the HRM (Hebrew roots movement) puts all laws in the same category of permanence. There is no such thing, in their minds, as a built-in expiration date of a law. For them, anyone who changes the law is automatically abrogating the law. For them, there is no possibility that there might be underlying principles (general equity) that carries over, but appears in different form in the NT. However, if the three-fold division of the law is an appropriately biblical way of thinking (and see this book for an excellent argument in this direction), then we are not in fact forbidden to wear 50% polyester 50% cotton shirts (two different kinds of threads), nor are we anymore forbidden to take the mother with the eggs. The principles underlying these laws continue today (be discerning about what is holy and what is not, what is conducive for spiritual growth and what is not: don’t mix the world and the church). But they do not apply in the same way today as they did in OT times.

A third issue is that of sources. He quotes this website as “proving” that it was the Roman Catholic Church that changed Saturday to Sunday, and that the NT says nothing of the sort. Is this a credible website, if it claims that the Vatican was at work in the Council of Laodicea in 321 A.D.? Surely Rambo could be more discerning in his choice of sources. All internet sites (including this blog!) must be tested, and not believed simply because they are out there, and because it happens to agree with one’s position. He also quotes this website which gives a quotation of Spurgeon completely out of context. If he had looked at the sermon from a more reputable website, he would have seen Spurgeon’s rather important qualification immediately following the quotation in question: “Nevertheless since, the current of men’s thoughts is led this way just now, and I see no evil in the current itself, I shall launch the bark of our discourse upon that stream, and make use of the fact, which I shall neither justify nor condemn, by endeavoring to lead your thoughts in the same direction. Since it is lawful, and even laudable, to meditate upon the incarnation of the Lord upon any day in the year, it cannot be in the power of other men’s superstitions to render such a meditation improper for to-day.” Precisely. And this is the position of most in the Reformed world who celebrate Christmas. It is an historic position in the Reformed world to reject all holy days except the Sabbath. But it is not a question of choosing between paganism and the biblical position, if there is a third option that is defended as biblical. Hence, Rambo commits the fallacy of false dichotomy in addition to misquoting sources (which, incidentally, is a violation of the ninth commandment).

A fourth issue that I wish to bring up is a brief discussion of Ephesians and Galatians in regard to these very matters. Paul castigated Peter for not eating with Gentiles in Galatians 2. Why did Paul do that? Because Peter was forcing the Galatian Gentiles to live like Jews in order to be saved! See in particular Galatians 2:14. To re-erect the barriers between Jew and Gentile is false teaching. Gentiles do not have to live like Jews in order to be saved. In Ephesians 2:15, Paul says that Jesus has “abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace.” First question is this: what does “katargeo” (the word translated “abolished”) mean? According to BDAG, the most reputable Greek Lexicon for the study of the NT, there are 4 possible meanings (context must decide which one is in use here): 1. “to cause something to be unproductive, use up, exhaust” (this does not seem likely, as commandments are not like some sort of usable substance) 2. “to cause something to lose its power or effectiveness, invalidate, make powerless” (BDAG lists Ephesians 2:15 under this definition). This is definitely possible. 3. “to cause something to come to an end or to be no longer in existence, abolish, wipe out, set aside” This is also possible. 4. “to cause the release of someone from an obligation (one has nothing more to do with it), be discharged, be released” This is also possible. About which laws is Paul speaking? In context, it must be the laws that separate Jews from Gentiles. In verses 11-13, Paul speaks particularly of how Gentiles have been brought near, having before been aliens to the people of God. Then, in verse 15, the effect of Christ’s action is to make one new man out of the two. There is now neither Jew nor Gentile in Christ (as he would also say in Galatians). So, the laws that separate Jew from Gentile are “katargeo’ed.” Any of the last three meanings means that Gentiles do not have to observe those laws in order to be part of the body of Christ. What Rambo is doing, then, re-erects the wall of separation between Jew and Gentile. It creates barriers between people.

Now, to get to some specific things in the blog post. His overarching issue is anti-semitism, which he expands quite a bit beyond what most people would define as anti-semitism. I would define it simply as hatred for the Jews (and I certainly do NOT hate Jews!). However, Rambo defines it pretty much as anything that is not his viewpoint on the OT. So, if we do not observe the OT feasts, we hate Jews. Or, if we do not observe Saturday Sabbath, we hate Jews. One charge that blew my mind into smithereens was this one:

I called Yeshua by a Greek name, ‘Jesus,’ thus denying, with each use, His real heritage and even who He is. Yeshua means ‘salvation, deliverer.’ What does Jesus mean? There isn’t even a letter ‘J’ or ‘j’ sound in the Hebrew alephbet/language or in Greek!…Changing the name of Yeshua to Jesus denies His Jewishness and is antisemitic to the core. Think about it.

So, transliterations of Hebrew names into Greek and into English constitute anti-Semitism and hatred for Jews? So, why doesn’t he use Hebrew letters instead of English letters? One could argue that even transliteration itself is anti-Semitic. Why does having a “j” instead of a iota or yodh (which is a VERY standard transliteration practice) have any relevance whatsoever to anti-Semitism? If it does, then he is still being anti-Semitic for saying “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” instead of “Avraham, Yitzhaq, and Ya-aqov” (gotta make sure that it’s a “q” and not a “k” to represent the letter qav, or else I’m being anti-semitic!). Furthermore, he is not quite correct in his assessment of the name “Yeshua,” which means “The Lord is salvation,” not simply “salvation” or “deliverer.” And, yet further, the name Jesus means exactly the same thing! The Greeks did not change the name when they wrote “Iesous,” nor did English writers change a thing when they wrote “Jesus.” They all mean exactly the same thing, which is not quite what Rambo says it means.

He accuses Presbyterians, Lutherans, and the Reformed denominations of advocating a “covert dispensationalism.” This redefines the term “dispensationalism.” The Presbyterians and the Reformed (and to a lesser extent, the Lutherans) believe in one covenant of grace extending from the proto-evangellion in Genesis 3:15 through the end of the New Testament. There are different administrations of this same covenant, but it is always the same covenant, building later additions on to the earlier ones. There is a progression of the covenants culminating in the new covenant that Christ instituted by His death and resurrection. This is not dispensational in any historical understanding of the term. Rambo seems to think that any change from the OT at all is dispensationalism. If that is true, then we don’t need Jesus at all. Jesus then adds absolutely nothing.

On his quotation of Calvin and Luther, one must be careful to put these quotations into historical context. I would not excuse Luther’s attitude towards the Jews. Neither would just about anyone else alive today. They were different times, however, and we must be careful not to judge the Reformers by our modern cultural situation. As for Calvin, that statement that Rambo quoted is quite mild compared to how he blasted the Roman Catholics. This kind of statement is not something unique in the writings of Calvin, as if he had it in for the Jews in particular. Furthermore, Calvin’s point is that anyone who rejects Jesus as Lord and Savior deserves to have this end. Calvin would have said the same thing about anyone who rejected the Messiah.

This supposed anti-Semitism is then applied as an across-the-board poison that infected everything they wrote. This is HIGHLY fallacious. He says that their anti-Semitism “permeates every doctrine.” This is stunning. Should I accuse Rambo of anti-Semitism because of his mis-transliteration or his mistranslation of a Hebrew term? Or is Rambo simply using this as an excuse to reject anything and everything the Reformers said? Aside from the problem of whether he has interpreted (particularly Calvin) correctly, there is the issue of an illegitimate extension of Calvin’s sayings into all areas of doctrine.

Third Plenary Session: Adam, the Lord of the Garden (Liam Goligher)

Genesis 2:4ff is the text.

A hermeneutical point: we start with a completed canon, and so we start from the end.

The garden of Eden is a proto-tabernacle and proto-temple (this insight comes from Beale). The image-bearers of God are required to multiply the image of God and fill the earth with God’s image. The image-bearers would extend Eden to include the entire earth. Adam was to serve and to guard in the garden. He is more than gardener. He is required to do what the priests would later do. Again, these insights come from Beale. The words “serve” and “guard” are only ever used together when referring to priestly activities, guarding and serving the tabernacle and temple. They are supposed to keep out unsanctified beings from the Garden. This is why Adam’s very first sin is actually letting Satan into the Garden of Eden at all.

Adam is given a covenantal role. The word “covenant” is not used in Adam’s relationship. Neither is it initially used in David’s covenant. Goligher’s take is that the word is much more used later on in history, and it would be somewhat anachronistic for Moses to have used the term. However, Adam’s situation is still truly called covenantal. This covenantal relationship is a matter of life and death. The meaning of the tree of life is suspended until the book of Revelation: it means eternal life, resurrection life, transformation of the universe. (LK: did Adam not then eat of the tree of life? The evidence seems to point to Adam eating of the tree before the Fall: it is possible, of course, that the tree of life in the respect that Liam means, is a sacramental tree, as Calvin would say. In this sense, the tree did not itself bring those things, but signified them).

The first covenant was a covenant of works: eat of the tree and you die (that’s a work!). If Adam had obeyed, he would have filled the earth with image bearers, and expanded the garden until it covered the whole earth. We have to exclude foreign elements from the church. Elders need to guard the church from false teaching.

Eve was the first theological liberal: she added to God’s Word in the temptation, and paraphrased. We do not paraphrase when we are quoting God. The command is changed into something jealous, small, and mean. Knowledge is the lure for Eve. The first doctrine that is ever denied explicitly is the doctrine of judgment. Denial of Hell and judgment is nothing new, obviously. Temptation attacked reason first. Sin is an assault on the truth of God. If we want to look at sin, don’t look first at the whorehouse, look at the academy. This is why Enns has fallen for the lie of the devil, when he says that science has a consensus on evolution, and that therefore biblical theologians must follow suit. Why is the academy more authoritative than God?

Schaff, Hodge, and Murray on Jesus’ Natures

I spent all day Wednesday scouring my systematic theologies on the doctrine of the two natures of Christ, the hypostatic union, and what can be said about it. Most of them were not terribly helpful. Three, however, stand out as the very best on the topic: Schaff, Hodge and Murray, Hodge more so than Murray. I found Hodge a model of lucidity and carefulness that I have not seen in any of the commenters on the blog on this particular subject. This blog post will be my final word on the subject. I have come to a place of comfort in what Hodge says, ALL of what Hodge says, mind you, the qualifications being as equally important as the statements they qualify. Hodge will be supplemented by Schaff’s notes and Murray’s insight.

The difficulties that I have had with statements like “God died” have to do with the fact that such statements are simply not qualified enough. They are too slippery. If you screw up your face and look at them cross-eyed, they can be orthodox. But they can just as easily be understood in a heretical direction. What to do? We will start with the Chalcedonian definition, which I find very helpful, when related in full. Here it is in full, as translated by Phillip Schaff in Creeds of Christendom, volume 2, pp. 62-63:

We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body; consubstantial [coessential] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ, as the prophets from the beginning [have declared] concerning him, and the Lord Jesus Christ himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.

Several grammatical points need to be made about this formulation. Firstly, the phrase “according to the Manhood” modifies the noun in the genitive “God-bearer” (theotokou). Schaff comments on this that “Mary was the mother not merely of the human nature of Jesus of Nazareth, but of the theanthropic person of Jesus Christ; yet not of his eternal Godhead…but of his incarnate person, or the Logos united to humanity…In like manner, the subject of the Passion was the theanthropic person; yet not according to his divine nature, which in itself is incapable of suffering, but according to human nature, which was the organ of suffering” (p. 64). I like this care and precision. Furthermore, Schaff notes that it was the Monophysites who “taught only one composite nature of Christ…making his humanity a mere accident of the immutable divine substance, and using the liturgical shibboleth ‘God has been crucified’ (without a qualifying ‘according to the human nature, or ‘the flesh,’ as the theotokos is qualified in the Symbol of Chalcedon)” (p. 65). In other words, it is Chalcedonian to utter the qualifying “according to the Manhood.” It is Monophysite to say “theotokos” without the qualification.

Hodge adds a level of sophistication that is quite helpful. I recommend everyone read it. The sections I am going to highlight (with quite a few ellipses: I encourage everyone to read the original, so that they can see that I am quoting him entirely in context) are located in volume 2, pp. 390ff:

No attribute of the one nature is transferred to the other…the properties or attributes of a substance constitute its essence, so that if they be removed or if others of a different nature be added to them, the substance itself is changed…The union of the two natures in Christ is a personal or hypostatic union. By this is meant, in the first place, that it is not a mere indwelling of the divine nature analogous to the indwelling of the Spirit of God in his people…it is intended to affirm that the union is such that Christ is but one person…the personality of Christ is in the divine nature…It was a divine person, not merely a divine nature, that assumed humanity, or became incarnate. Hence it follows that the human nature of Christ, separately considered, is impersonal…To personality both rational substance and distinct subsistence are essential. The latter the human nature of Christ never possessed. The Son of God did not unite Himself with a human person, but with a human nature. The proof of this is that Christ is but one person…the person is the koinonos, or partaker of the attributes of both natures; so that whatever may be affirmed of either nature may be affirmed of the person…it is on this principle, that what is true of either nature is true of the person, that a multitude of passages of Scripture are to be explained. These passages are of different kinds…Passages in which the person is the subject, but the predicate is true only of the human nature (Murray says the same, as does a’Brakel and a number of others, LK). As when Christ said, “I thirst;” “My soul is sorrowful even unto death…” There are two classes of passages under this general head which are of special interest. First, those in which the person is designated from the divine nature when the predicate is true only of the human nature. “The Church of God which He purchased with his blood.” “The Lord of glory was crucified…” The forms of expression, therefore, long prevalent in the church, “the blood of God,” “God the mighty maker died,” etc., are in accordance with Scriptural usage. And if it be right to say “God died,” it is right to say “He was born.” The person born of the Virgin Mary was a divine person. He was the Son of God. For, as we have seen, the person of Christ is in Scripture often designated from the divine nature, when the predicate is true only of the human nature…It is instructive to notice here how easily and naturally the sacred writers predicate of our Lord the attributes of humanity and those of divinity, however his person may be denominated…his person may be denominated from one nature when the act ascribed to Him belongs to the other nature…Such being the Scriptural doctrine concerning the person of Christ, it follows that although the divine nature is immutable and impassible, and therefore neither the obedience nor the suffering of Christ was the obedience or suffering of the divine nature, yet they were none the less the obedience and suffering of a divine person…It is to this fact that the infinite merit and efficiency of his work are due.

Now, some of my readers will be saying, “But we’ve included these qualifications all along.” I have not seen it. I have seen many unqualified statements being bandied around as shibboleths. I have felt that if I was not willing to say what they wanted me to say (and without the careful qualifications of Hodge), then I was a Nestorian, or bordering on being one. Interestingly, and a slight side-note here, the work of Harold Brown (entitled Heresies) is fascinating here. He argues that although Nestorius the person was condemned by the council (which was due largely to political and Machiavellian machinations), it was actually Nestorius’ doctrine which is more comfortable with the Chalcedonian formulation than Cyril’s was.

Murray adds something which I felt was very helpful when one is considering the relationship of the divine nature to the human nature in the suffering of Christ, and especially in His death. He writes, “The death meant separation of the elements of his human nature. But he, as the Son of God, was still united to the two separated elements of his human nature. He, as respects his body, was laid in the tomb and, as respects his disembodied spirit, he went to the Father. He was buried. He was raised from the dead. He was indissolubly united to the disunited elements of his human nature” (from the collected works, volume 2, p. 139).

I agree with these formulations of Schaff, Hodge, and Murray. Read carefully, and then re-read carefully so that ALL the qualifications are firmly fixed in your mind. I agree with (especially) Hodge’s qualified way of saying these things, not the commenters’ unqualified way of saying them. In particular, the way Hodge speaks of the biblical way of writing (actions and effects of one nature are often attributed to the person which can be designated by either nature) is so carefully thought out and helpful. It reminds me of how sacramental union works: there is a union between the sign and the thing signified whereby the names and effects of the one are attributed to the other (WCF 27.2). It doesn’t mean that the effects of the thing signified actually belong to the sign itself (as the WCF goes on to carefully qualify). Rather, because of the union, one can be spoken of in terms of the other.

Nestorianism?

Charges of Nestorianism are floating about with rather alarming looseness.

Folks, one isn’t Nestorian unless one believes in Christ having two separate persons. And it isn’t Nestorian to say that something can happen to one nature and not the other, any more than it is Nestorian to say that Jesus sometimes acts according to one nature, and sometimes acts according to the other nature. What is true for the activities of Jesus is also true of the passivities, especially since Jesus actively took upon Himself the suffering.

One must make a distinction, if you will pardon the pun, between the distinction of Christ’s two natures (which is Chalcedonian!), as opposed to the separation of the two natures (which is Nestorian). But again, here we must say that just because something happens to one nature and not the other does not mean that we are separating the two natures. That is a definite confusion I am seeing in some of the comments. Just because one does not scrape one’s violin bow across the tuning pegs of a violin does not mean that one has separated the violin strings from the tuning pegs. Now, every analogy will break down, of course. My only point here is that positing suffering of only the human nature of Christ does not constitute Nestorianism in any way, shape, or form.

The Communication of Attributes

The issues in Christology post has raised a very important point regarding the natures of Christ in relation to His person.

The phrase “communication of attributes” (in Latin, communicatio idiomatum) refers to the way in which we can say things about Christ’s person that more specifically relate to one of His natures. In other words, whatever we can say about Christ’s human nature, we can also say about His person. Whatever we can say about His divine nature, we can also say about His person.

However, here is where a difference occurs between the Reformed and the Lutheran. The Lutherans believed in a different communication than the Reformed do. The Lutherans believed that what can be said about Jesus’ divine nature can also be said about His human nature. This is how they undergird their doctrine of consubstantiation. If the attributes of God can be communicated to Christ’s human nature, then there is no obstacle to saying that Christ is physically present here on earth in, around, through, and under the elements of bread and wine.

The Reformed did not believe in this form of the communication of attributes. Instead, they believed that Christ’s human nature stayed human, and Christ’s divine nature stayed divine, and that those two natures did not communicate attributes to each other, but rather to the person of Christ. I have tried to draw a little graphic design that will help illustrate the point. The lines represent the natures of Christ, and the arrows represent the communication of attributes. Now, some who are calling themselves Reformed on this blog have been arguing for a Lutheran version of Christology. And these people have suggested that I have been undervaluing the hypostatic union of the divine and the human. As one can see from this diagram, however, the Reformed view of the communication of attributes draws one’s eye to the apex, which can be said to be the hypostatic union. So, on the contrary, the hypostatic union is what prevents us from attributing human characteristics (or suffering!) to the divine nature. The hypostatic union is precisely the point at which the inseparability and distinction of the two natures meets.

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