“The Third Day He Rose Again from the Dead”

posted by R. Fowler White

As we continue to work our way through the Apostles’ Creed, examining its articles in the light of Scripture, we come now to Article 5: The third day He rose again from the dead.

There is no doubt that this is what Scripture teaches. Moreover, this is what the church of Jesus Christ, following Scripture, has confessed throughout its history. That is, with Scripture, the true church continues to confess that Christ really and truly did rise from the dead, and in rising His soul was really and truly reunited with His body, inasmuch as the two had been separated at death. He really and truly did come out of His tomb in which He had been buried, despite the steps that the Roman guards had taken to make the tomb secure. He rose again the same Person, the same Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man—only now glorified! The same body, the one that had fallen victim to death and burial, rose again—only now it was a glorious body (Phil 3:21).

The particular phrase that the Creed uses to affirm Christ’s resurrection is noteworthy: He rose again. Elsewhere we read that He was raised again. What’s the difference? The Creed’s word choice puts an emphasis on Christ’s power to rise from the dead, to raise His body from the grave. In other words, the Creed bears witness that Christ rose again from the dead because Scripture teaches that, as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself (John 5:26). In this connection, we remember that Jesus had declared, speaking of His body: Destroy this temple, and I will raise it up in three days (John 2:19). He had also proclaimed: I have authority to lay down My life, and I have authority to take it up again (John 10:18).

It’s equally noteworthy that the Creed specifies that Jesus Christ rose again on the third day. The Apostles’ gospel (e.g., 1 Cor 15:4), to which the Creed bears witness, was (and is) not a novelty. The resurrection that they preached and documented was the NT fulfillment of the promises of God in the OT Scriptures. Moses, the Prophets after him, and the Psalms testified that the Christ would suffer and rise again from death on the third day. Strikingly, Scripture provides many pictures (foreshadowings) of resurrection, including birth from barrenness, return from exile, release from a death sentence, release from prison, deliverance from the waters of death, deliverance from thirst, hunger, sickness; deliverance from the sting of the viper, and the raising up of a fallen tabernacle. In the places where we find these themes, we find that life comes from death after three days, on the third day. The Apostles’ gospel, then, was the OT gospel. 

So what difference does Christ’s resurrection make? How does it benefit us? First, by His resurrection He has overcome death, so that believers share in the righteousness that He obtained for them by His death. In other words, through faith, God reckons to sinners Christ’s righteousness in exchange for our sins. By Christ’s resurrection, God our Judge declares: “Debt paid in full!” And not only that. By Christ’s resurrection our Divine Judge declares to us who believe: “Accepted as righteous in Christ; in Him you have all the righteousness I require.” Second, by His power we are raised up to live a new life of obedience to God. United to the resurrected Christ by faith, we have been raised from death in sins to a new life of seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Third, Christ’s bodily resurrection is to us believers God’s sure pledge of our own glorious bodily resurrection. Christ is the firstfruits of those who have died (1 Cor 15:20), the first one to have been raised from the dead to die no more. Christ is God’s down payment in guarantee of more to come, the assurance of a full harvest. For believers, then, their resurrection is as sure as Christ’s resurrection. Particularly as believers get older, the more they appreciate God’s pledge of their own resurrection, a pledge that holds true because Christ is the firstfruits of the full resurrection-harvest to come.

Of course, our pagan culture is flooded with skepticism of the miraculous, particularly about the resurrection of Christ. Yet we forget that the original skeptics of His resurrection were His first disciples. Some folks like to portray them as a gullible, superstitious group that simply took resurrection as a given. But that portrait is fake news. For example, the NT Gospel writers make a considerable effort to show their readers that Jesus’ earliest followers did not go to His tomb believing in His resurrection or presuming His resurrection. No, they went to His tomb with spices because they expected to find a decaying dead body there. There was no hint that they anticipated His resurrection. In fact, it was a surprise to them. Now don’t get me wrong: the resurrection of Jesus should not have been the surprise to His disciples that it was. After all, what they found at His tomb was exactly what He had predicted on at least six different occasions. In fact, what they found at the sepulchre was exactly what they had been told they would find and what they could and should have remembered and expected. But they did neither of these things. In truth, so-called “Doubting Thomas” turned out to represent, to some degree, all of Jesus’ earliest followers when he said: Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.

The point is, Jesus’ initial followers became convinced of His resurrection as God bore witness to them in word and deed and as they saw Him, heard Him, and touched Him (1 John 1:1-3). The first followers of Jesus became what they were not at first. They became eyewitnesses of His resurrection. This is why the message of the Apostles, documented in the Scriptures, is what it is. Of the resurrected Christ, the Apostles all ended up confessing with Thomas, My Lord and my God! Readers and hearers of Scripture, then, are not expected to be gullible. No, they are expected to take seriously what the historic church of Christ persists in confessing forthrightly with the Apostles’ Creed, following the Scriptures of the Prophets and the Apostles: the third day Jesus Christ rose again from the dead.

Our meditations turn to Article 6 of the Creed here.

“He Descended into Hell”

posted by R. Fowler White

It’s an understatement to say that the last phrase of Article 4 of the Apostles’ Creed—He descended into hell—has generated a lot of controversy. Because its appearance in the Creed came later than its other articles and because its meaning is open to question, some advocate for removing it from the Creed’s publication or, at the very least, for excluding it from the Creed’s public recitation. Those opinions deserve our attention, but they are not conclusive. For our purposes here we’ll take our point of departure from J. A. MacCulloch’s work, The Harrowing of Hell (1930). He provides a fair and reasonable basis for the article’s acceptance for the church’s continued consideration and recitation as follows: “Although the confessional use of the Descent doctrine was only sporadic and occasional before the eighth century, on the other hand the doctrine itself was mentioned repeatedly by the Fathers and in the religious literature of the early centuries.” So it remains appropriate for us to look more closely at the interpretation of the Creed’s words He descended into hell.

Even with repeated mention of the Descent, there remains no consensus on its interpretation. Early on, the received text of the Creed’s Descent clause was typically taken as a simple declaration that Christ, having humbled Himself to be crucified, dead, and buried, had also been consigned to the common ignominious place of the dead, namely, the grave (as distinguished from the place of suffering-beyond-the-grave, namely, hell). As time moved on, however, various other views of the Descent arose. Some believed that after His death Christ’s disembodied soul went to hell in order to complete what was lacking in His suffering on the cross. Others affirmed that His soul went to the place of waiting for disembodied souls (aka limbus patrum) in order to facilitate the transport of the souls of pre-Christ saints to heaven. Still others believed that Christ’s soul went to hell in order to achieve and announce His victory over it.

Strikingly, despite their variety, common to these views is the belief that between His death and His resurrection Christ’s disembodied soul relocated to a place other than and in addition to the heavenly paradise of God to which He referred on the cross (Luke 23:43, 46; cf. Matt 27:50). Furthermore, as we look into the attempts to justify this belief, we realize that basically they involve imposing dubious interpretations of Eph 4:8-10 and 1 Pet 3:18-20 onto the supposed chronology and theology of events related to Christ’s soul between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Suffice it to say here that neither Eph 4:8-10 nor 1 Pet 3:18-20 refers to a relocation of Christ’s soul to hell. To the contrary, the Ephesians text affirms His descent from heaven to earth for His incarnation, while the First Peter passage contemplates His ascension (not His descent), in which was proclaimed His victories over sin, death, and all the fallen angelic host. In short, Scripture provides no witness to the relocation of Christ’s soul after His death to any place other than the paradise of God in heaven. In fact, the Creed itself seems to point the way to a better understanding of its Descent clause. That clue appears when we notice the likeness between the second article and the words dealing with Christ’s suffering. Even as the second article presents distinguishable perspectives on Christ’s person in the two phrases His only Son and our Lord, so the words about His suffering present distinguishable perspectives in the two phrases was crucified, dead, and buried and He descended into hell. We can elaborate briefly by looking first to Scripture and then to the Westminster and Heidelberg catechisms.

Turning to the Prophets and Apostles, we find that they vividly narrate the incarnate Son’s suffering in both soul and body from Gethsemane to the grave. For example, Isaiah, cited by Peter (1 Pet 2:22-25), prophesied expressly about the anguish of soul and body that would arise in the Lord’s Servant as He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows (Isa 53:4), was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities (53:5), endured our chastisement (53:5), and bore the iniquities and sin of many (53:11-12). Isaiah saw that, despite His innocence, the Servant would be stricken for the transgression of the Lord’s people, enduring even the degradation of being cut off from the land of the living (53:8) and swallowed up into the belly of the grave (53:9). Indeed, the Prophet discerned that deepest misery would be His because it was the will of the Lord to crush Him and cause Him to suffer, and because the Lord imputed to Him the iniquity of us all (53:6). Isaiah thus envisioned the Lord’s righteous Servant voluntarily subjecting Himself to be for His many seed their guilt offering, their sin-bearing substitute, their surety (53:10-12). Fittingly, we find Matthew reporting Jesus’ words to His disciples in Gethsemane: “My soul is very sorrowful even to death.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” Climactically, Matthew records Jesus’ dying words as those from David’s prophetic psalm about God’s royal Son who had put Himself in harm’s way for His people: About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46; Ps 22:1; cf. Heb 5:7).

Reading such words, we have to ask ourselves: what is Jesus’ lament if not the incarnate Son’s disclosure of the otherwise indiscernible truth that, on the tree (Deut 21:23), He had become a curse for us (Gal 3:13), that for our sake God had made Him to be sin who knew no sin (2 Cor 5:21)? Is His lament something other than His testimony to the gravest torment of a soul subjected to divine judgment, a torment compounding the sheer agony in a body brutalized by human hands? Are those words anything but His witness to the hellish suffering that He underwent in accord with divine foreordination and prophecy, while drinking the cup of God’s holy wrath against us sinners (Matt 26:39, 42) and bearing and feeling the crushing weight of God’s just anger against our iniquities imputed to Him? Reading this sampling of what the Prophets and Apostles tell us about Christ’s suffering, we realize that it is not the case that between His death and His resurrection His soul relocated to hell. Rather it is the case that, in God’s reckoning, when He laid our iniquities on His incarnate Son, He effectively relocated hell onto Christ Himself such that from Gethsemane to the grave His humiliation for sinners reached its nadir in both soul and body.

Compelled by Scripture texts like those above, we appreciate the help offered for our understanding of the Descent clause in the Reformed catechisms of Heidelberg and Westminster. Heidelberg instructs us why the Creed adds the clause He descended into hell in these words: “To assure me during attacks of deepest dread and temptation that Christ my Lord, by suffering unspeakable anguish, pain, and terror of soul, on the cross but also earlier, has delivered me from hellish anguish and torment” (Q & A 44). In a complementary fashion, Westminster takes us back to the earliest interpretation of the Creed’s most contested clause. After expounding Christ’s humiliation in His death in the Larger Catechism Q & A 49, we read in Q & A 50 that His “humiliation after his death consisted in his being buried, and continuing in the state of the dead, and under the power of death till the third day; which hath been otherwise expressed in these words, He descended into hell.” Taken together, these catechisms assist us to see in the Descent clause what Ursinus suggested in his Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism (p. 232): “the descent into hell in the Creed follows the burial of Christ, not because it was accomplished after his burial; but because it is an explanation of what precedes concerning his passion, death, and burial, lest something should be detracted from these.” In that light, many will find good reason to include and recite the words of the Descent clause. In them we confess that the benefits of Christ’s suffering for us sinners extend from the visible to the invisible, even from the least extreme to the most extreme torments, pains, anguish, and ignominy of both soul and body. Certainly, we recognize too with Olevianus (see his A Firm Foundation, p. 71) that “the further Christ humbled Himself for us in all His anguish, and the more dearly He paid for our salvation, the more firm our trust in the love of God and in the satisfaction of Jesus Christ becomes.”

We reflect on Article 5 of the Creed here.

“Crucified, Dead, and Buried”

Posted by R. Fowler White

Continuing our reflection on article four of the Apostles’ Creed, we examine what it means to confess faith in Jesus Christ crucified, dead, and buried.

In the ancient world crucifixion was believed to be an effective way to maintain law and order. The Romans reserved it for dangerous criminals, slaves, and the populations of foreign provinces. In the province of Judea, for example, it proved to be generally effective against resistance to Roman occupation. Applied as a form of execution, it was so frequent, and its details such common knowledge, that people in the first century were all too familiar with crucifixion. Despite its frequency—or maybe because of it—written descriptions of the act of crucifixion are rare. The more refined writers were hesitant to dwell long on an act so horrifying, brutal, and shameful. Reading the NT Gospel accounts, we realize that none of them goes beyond the barest minimum when they describe it. All that they say is they crucified Him. It is hard to describe a more cruel and unusual form of capital punishment, but we will have to try.

Imagine the shape of the cross: X, T, and were the most common. Imagine the height of the cross: ordinarily the victim’s feet were no more than two feet above the ground—to give wild beasts and scavenger dogs easy access to the dead body. Imagine the nails of the cross, the spikes used to impale the victim. Imagine the small wooden peg or block, often placed midway up the vertical post to prolong the victim’s agony by preventing his premature collapse.

Once impaled on the cross, the victim endured a seemingly endless cycle of pulling, pushing, and collapsing—pulling with his arms, pushing with his legs to keep his chest cavity open for breathing, then collapsing in exhaustion until the body’s need for oxygen demanded more pulling and pushing. The combination of flogging, blood loss, and shock from pain, all produced agony that could go on for days. The end ordinarily came from suffocation, or cardiac arrest, or blood loss. When there was reason to speed up death, the executioners would smash the victim’s legs. Death followed almost immediately, either from shock or from collapse that cut off breathing.

The shame of crucifixion compounded its pain. In fact, so intense was the combination of shame and pain that it was expressly prohibited that a Roman citizen be executed in this manner. Crucifixion was always public, at an intersection, in the theatre, or elsewhere on high ground. Victims were usually crucified naked to intensify the experience of humiliation, though Jewish sensitivities would have demanded that the victim wear a loincloth. More than nakedness, however, the act of raising the victim up off the ground on a cross was meant to make manifest the level of criminality and heinousness of his transgression. The cross itself was thus a visible symbol and physical embodiment of all that was morally shameful and aesthetically offensive, and crucifixion was referred to as “that most cruel and disgusting penalty.” As such, it is understatement to say that the crucifixion of the innocent, sinless Jesus was the most monstrously obscene act ever committed.

Here, we have to note that it was significant that Jesus was crucified instead of dying some other way. Death on a cross was cursed not only by human standards but also by God’s standard. Already by the first-century AD, victims of crucifixion were viewed in terms of Deut 21:22-23: he who is hanged on a tree is accursed by God. The form of Jesus’ death tells us that it was for lawbreakers that He endured the curse of God. His crucifixion was neither by chance, by accident, nor by the sole decision of Romans and Jews, but by God’s special providence and counsel (Acts 2:23). Christ had to be crucified to bear our curse and to share His blessing with us, to satisfy God’s justice and to free us from the curse. He had to be crucified to make peace for us with our offended, estranged Creator, to rescue sinners from bondage and misery by the payment of the price. Consequently, we must confess that Jesus Christ was crucified.

Confessing Jesus Christ crucified, we also confess Him dead, redundant to say so though it seems. Joseph of Arimathea, attended by Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James, took His dead body down from the cross and laid Him in a tomb. He had died in the sight of men—and also in the sight of God. He did not die of natural causes; nor did He die for His own sins, since He was without sin. The death He died was for our sins. He laid down His life as an offering for sin, as the sinless Substitute, putting Himself in harm’s way for His people, for His sheep, for His bride. He took the punishment to which God had sentenced sinners, and, as a result, He satisfied God’s displeasure against them. The death He died was according to the Scriptures. We confess, therefore, Jesus Christ dead.

We also confess Jesus Christ buried. His body was placed in a tomb, a grave. And again we wonder, as perfunctory as it sounds, why would Scripture and the Creed give such prominence to His burial? Because, if satisfaction for our sins came in no other way than by the death of the Son of God, we must have proof of His death. It was burial of His body, together with the women’s determination to anoint His buried body with spices and ointments, that proved the death of His body. Thus, the incarnate Son of God really and truly died, and His burial was the certificate of His death.

In the words of the Creed, then, we confess Jesus Christ crucified, dead, and buried: three stark words bearing witness to the horror, brutality, and debasement of His humiliation.

We consider the last phrase of Article 4 in the Creed here.

“Suffered under Pontius Pilate”

Posted by R. Fowler White

We turn here to article four of the Apostles’ Creed, in which we confess our faith in Jesus Christ, who suffered under Pontius Pilate. Three times Pilate pronounced Jesus innocent of all charges against Him, yet Pilate had the authority to release an innocent man or to have him crucified. He was the one human being who had the most to do with Jesus’ crucifixion. He chose the latter to preserve his political career. In the Gospel of Matthew (ch. 27) the Evangelist gives a terse but vivid portrayal of Jesus as He suffered under Pilate and the soldiers in his charge. The details of our Lord’s suffering before He suffered on the cross are expressed in eight brief, heartbreaking statements. They provide a disturbing picture of unspeakable atrocity and unbearably sadistic torture. For they show us that under Pilate the King of Glory was in the hands of angry sinners. 

Despite Governor Pilate’s threefold finding of innocence, the official process of Jesus’ execution by crucifixion began. Now, for the first time, the Roman military had Jesus, the royal wannabe (as they saw Him), in their hands. They will proceed to act out a mock ceremony of coronation, mixing brutality with sarcastic barracks humor. Since Jesus was on His way to execution, nothing will curb their enjoyment of this opportunity to humiliate this King of the Jews, this ludicrous example of a Jew who, as they saw it, had dared to challenge the world’s super power. Like no one else, they would see to it that this one suffered under Pontius Pilate. Merciless soldiers were never more cruel or crude than they were with the King of Glory. 

Faced with the outcry of the unruly crowd in Jerusalem, Pilate caved in and decided to punish Jesus by having Him flogged in anticipation of crucifixion. So, first, they tore off the outer garments and undergarments of Jesus. Stripped of clothing, He endured the shame of public nakedness that Jewish persons in antiquity earnestly sought to avoid. Naked, He was most likely tied to a post or pillar with His hands secured tightly above Him; if not in that position, thrown to the ground would have worked too. Next, the military guards took their positions standing on either side of Him, brandishing the whip(s) made from cords of leather, with pieces of metal and bone braided into the leather strands. Then they flogged Him, repeatedly lashing his back, his chest, or both, likely leaving strips of flesh hanging from His wounds, perhaps exposing even bones or organs. While the Jews only allowed thirty-nine lashes, the Romans had no such limit. This gruesome assault was designed, if not to kill Jesus, at least to weaken His overall constitution before He was nailed to the cross, shortening the time it would take Him to die there.

The flogging left Jesus a pathetic sight: His appearance severely altered, His form marred beyond easy recognition, barely able to stand or walk, and certainly humanly powerless to resist. Putting His garments back on Him, the soldiers took Jesus into Pilate’s official residence and the military barracks housed there, and they gathered the whole battalion before Him. There stood a company of the 600 men normally stationed in Jerusalem at the fortress on the Temple Mount, reinforced by troops who accompanied Pilate to the Passover feast in case they were needed for riot control. They had Jesus to themselves inside their barracks, and it was time for a little macabre theater. Their mocking coronation play began, each new action a parody of a king’s regalia.

After they again stripped His garments off, leaving Him naked, the staring, chuckling battalion put a loose robe (a reddish-purple outer garment worn by soldiers and travelers) on Him, pretending He was a royal warrior. Arrayed in knockoff royal regalia, He needed a crown. After all, those who held national office wore crowns as a sign of their exalted status. The Roman victor’s crown was a bent twig or perhaps two twigs tied together. Often a single wreath of grass or one made of flowers and leaves was used to adorn the brow of the wearer. So, continuing their little coronation charade, the soldiers crowned Him with a crown all right. In their contemptuous, sadistic ridicule, they designed a crown of thorns to puncture and scrape His forehead and scalp. This was no sign of exalted standing. It was a derisive imitation of the crown worn by Rome’s rulers, a sign of utter disdain.

But their parody was not done yet. What else did a king need but a scepter, a monarch’s symbol of his authority and power? So, they placed a scepter in His right hand: in fact, an imitation of a scepter, a bamboo cane often used in military floggings. And still the ceremony for their cartoon king was not complete. It remained for them to show Him what homage they owed Him. They knelt before Him and mocked Him, pretending to recognize Jesus’ royal majesty and throwing in His face that sneering taunt, King of the Jews. Kneeling before Him was not enough, however: they spat on Him. Nothing of the expected kiss of homage (e.g., Ps 2:12) for this king, these soldiers repeated the insult that Jewish leaders had inflicted on Him earlier. And still the abuse continued as they ripped the fake scepter from His hand and beat Him about the head with it, every blow driving the thorns of His crown more deeply, more painfully into His forehead and scalp. Having shown Him what homage they owed Him, the torture of their coronation play was over. They stripped Him of His royal regalia, dressed Him again in His own garments, and led Him away to be crucified.

Ordinarily, as the person condemned to execution by crucifixion, Jesus would Himself have had to carry the thirty- to forty-pound horizontal beam of the cross on which He was to be nailed out to the site where the upright stake stood. But it was physically impossible for Him to do so. So, to carry the beam, the soldiers pressed into service Simon from Cyrene (roughly modern Libya), probably a Jewish pilgrim who had travelled to Jerusalem for Passover. Onward they would walk, until they arrived at the site on Calvary where the upright stake stood.

Thus do we confess Jesus Christ … suffered under Pontius Pilate.

We take up the second phrase of Article 4 in the Creed here.

“Conceived by the Holy Spirit and Born of the Virgin Mary”

Posted by R. Fowler White

Having focused in the second article of the Apostles’ Creed on Christ’s relation as God the Son to God the Father and on His relation as Lord to believing sinners, we turn next to the third article and the events that resulted in His incarnation. What was required of the eternal Son of glory whom the Father sent from heaven to earth? The Creed affirms that, for our sakes, He was required to humble Himself in incarnation through conception and birth. That being the case, we learn that His nativity began His earthly humiliation, and the Creed summarizes that nativity in two phrases.

Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit. The Son was pleased to humble Himself in incarnation through conception. Though from all eternity God the Son had been in the presence of God the Father and God the Spirit, He emptied Himself, poured Himself out, made Himself of no reputation, condescending to be made in human likeness and fashioned as a man. Pleased to take on human flesh, He did so when the fullness of time had come, when all the events of history that had to occur for His arrival on earth had occurred, just as the OT prophets had predicted. In fact, before His mother and His adoptive father would come together in marital union, it would become obvious that she was with child. Yet, because Mary and Joseph were chaste before their marriage, it would be revealed that His conception as to His human nature was not just ordinary conception, but conception that could not have been other than by the power of God the Holy Spirit, such power as preserved Him from sin’s defilement throughout His gestation in His mother’s womb. For this reason, we Christians confess Him to be the holy Child, the Son of God, in the unique sense of the incarnate Son.

In due course, the Child conceived by the Holy Spirit became the Child born of the virgin Mary. We can only marvel at the truth condensed here in the Creed’s brief phrasing. Though He was the glorious eternal Son, He was born of a young virgin woman, thus taking part in all human properties, except sin, through His mother. Just as His conception was anything but ordinary, so we know that His birth was also: born of a virgin, born without a man. The commissioned Son, in taking on human flesh, was not only made and formed in woman; He was of her, of her flesh and blood.

Knowing as the Apostles did that Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary, they proclaimed Him to us as the Word of Life who was from the beginning with the Father (1 John 1:1-2; John 1:1-2), the eternally preexistent Son of the Father, now one Person with two natures. The facts of His nativity are among the reasons they could document for us and preach to us the audible words of His that they had witnessed with their own ears; the visible deeds of His that they had witnessed and had looked upon with their own eyes; the tangible flesh-and-blood physicality of His body, before and after His death and resurrection, that they had witnessed with our own hands. The Apostles’ references to their ears hearing, their eyes seeing, and their hands touching can hardly be explained as anything other than first-hand, empirical, sensory experiences. As such, their confession stands in stark contrast with that of the world, ancient and modern. The world, then and now, either denies that knowing God is possible or claims to know God through objects made with hands or concepts fabricated in our imaginations (as in “God is a concept by which we measure our pain” [John Lennon]). By contrast, the Apostles saw and heard and touched the Source of true knowledge of God, and they proclaimed that revealed knowledge as morally binding on all who read or hear them.

With the Creed, therefore, we confess that Jesus Christ was God with God, God the Word, God the Son who has permanently taken to Himself sinless human nature with all its properties, and will remain forevermore one Person with two natures, the God-man, fully God and fully man. Let’s be careful not to underestimate these affirmations concerning Christ’s conception and birth. To deny that Jesus of Bethlehem is God who became man is not merely to reject the Creed. It is to reject the Christ of the authentic gospel of Scripture; it is to exchange the truth for a lie.

We consider the first clause of Article 4 of the Creed here.

“Jesus Christ, His only [begotten] Son, our Lord”

Posted by R. Fowler White

Who is Jesus Christ? There are many voices with many answers to that question. Some pretend not to care about the answer at all. Even in the “evangelical” world there are voices leading folks away from the historic confession of Christ. They deny the necessity of His role in salvation, or His death as a substitute, or His obedience in both life and death. Not only do challenges come from among professing Christians, there are also challenges from the spread of Islam, the collapsing morality of Western culture, and the rise of those who have no religious affiliation at all. Our post-Christian era is a time of confusion and pluralism. These realities push us to make sure we’re equipped with clarity and conviction regarding who Jesus Christ is. With that in mind, we turn for help to the Apostles’ Creed, article two, where we confess our faith in Jesus Christ. Who, then, is Jesus Christ?

Following Scripture, the first part of the Creed’s answer is, of course, that He is Jesus. Heaven itself mandated that name for the eternal Son of God who became man. Messengers from heaven’s court told His mother Mary and His adoptive father Joseph to name Him Jesus. When we read that name, we do well to think Yeshua, or even better Joshua, meaning “Yahweh saves.” We remember that after Moses died God appointed Joshua to bring Israel into the Promised Land and to enforce God’s law in Canaan. Despite partial victories in Canaan, Joshua secured neither the nation’s obedience to God nor their rest in the Land because he was powerless to save them from their sins. Yet when the eternal Son became man, the Angel Gabriel proclaimed that Jesus, this new Joshua, would succeed where the old Joshua had failed: He will save His people from their sins (Matt 1:21). Conceived by the Spirit, filled with the Spirit, equipped with the full armor of God, Jesus went into spiritual combat for our souls against the devil, the powers of this dark world, and the spiritual forces of evil. As He delivers people from disease and even death, we learn that He is able to save from sin’s penalty, power, and presence. By His obedience in life and in death, Jesus did what Joshua could not do: He satisfied the demands of God’s law and saved His people from their sins. This new Joshua is the Savior who showed Himself to be God-with-us who alone redeems His people from all their iniquities (Ps 130:8).

We confess that this Jesus is also Christ, the Anointed One, the one and only Mediator, fulfilling all three of the Mediator’s offices. He is Prophet: because we’re ignorant by nature, by His word and Spirit, Christ as Prophet reveals to us God’s will for our salvation (see. e.g., Heb 1:1-2). He is Priest: because we’re guilty of breaking God’s law, Christ as Priest offered Himself up, once and for all, to pay the debt we owe for our sin (Heb 9:14) and to reconcile us sinners to God (Col 1:20). And He now always lives to pray for us (Heb 7:25). He is King: because we’re powerless against our enemies, Christ gathers us to Himself (Acts 15:14-16), rules and defends us (Ps 110:3), and restrains and conquers all enemies, His and ours (1 Cor 15:25).

We also confess that Jesus Christ is His only [begotten] Son. His Son: whose Son? The Son of the Father. The Son, before He was sent, born, or given the name Jesus, was a Person in the Godhead, indeed a Person distinct from the Father (and the Spirit). Yet there was (is) harmony between Them. God the Father determined to send God the Son, and the Son agreed to be sent by the Father to fulfill the Greatest Commission of all. Once incarnate, the Son declared, I have come down from heaven … And this is the will of Him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that He has given me, but raise it up on the last day (John 6:38-40). Thus we confess Jesus Christ, His only [begotten] Son. These simple words take us into the background of the Son’s coming from eternity into history. Whether our translations of the Creed include or exclude the word begotten, the point of the Creed’s original terms is that the Son is without beginning, is not a creature, is not made, shaped, fashioned, formed, or adopted. He is unmade, unbegun, uncreated. The Son simply has been from eternity. He was in the beginning, as the Father was and as the Spirit was in the beginning.

Moreover, we confess that Jesus Christ is our Lord. This confession we make only by the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:3b). In the ancient world, to confess someone as Lord was to acclaim that one’s majesty and to swear absolute allegiance to that one as our royal Deity, as our Savior and Judge. Among God’s covenant people, the one called Lord was the God of the patriarchs, Yahweh, I AM. To confess “Jesus is Lord,” then, is to confess “Jesus the Crucified is, by His resurrection and enthronement, Lord of all from whom, through whom, and to whom are all things.” In the NT world, this confession was shocking, for Jesus had endured capital punishment at the behest of Jewish and Roman authorities. Nonetheless, our confession, worked in us by the Spirit, is nothing less than a triumphant acclamation of Jesus Christ’s exaltation over a hostile world.

Further, we confess that He is our Lord. Confession of Jesus’ lordship is a two-sided coin. It’s a declaration not only of who Jesus is, but also of who we are. All who confess with their mouths and believe in their hearts that Jesus Christ is our Lord belong to Him as slaves whom He redeemed from bondage with His blood. That being the case, Jesus takes responsibility for us believers as our Lord, and He is the authority to whom we believers answer and from whom we believers learn what to believe and how to behave. To confess Jesus is Lord is, as one commentator has put it, a declaration … of personal devotion and commitment that is part and parcel of a Christ-centered worship and lifestyle. Therefore, to confess that Jesus is our Lord is to set ourselves apart from all others.

In our post-Christian era of confusion and pluralism, the Apostles’ Creed has us Christians confessing the truth that the Holy Spirit speaks in Scripture: Jesus Christ is His only [begotten] Son, our Lord. To confess these truths is to declare that we’re under the care of Him who is our Lord and our God, the One to whom we answer, the One on whom the Father bestowed the name that is above every name (Phil 2:10).

Our reflection turns to Article 3 of the Creed here.

The OPC, GRACE, Diane Langberg, and Critical Theory

Part 2: Diane Langberg’s Redeeming Power and Critical Theory, by Rev. Michael Grasso

In part 1 we looked at Critical Theory and saw that it is rooted in (neo)-Marxism and postmodernism.  With this overview in mind, it will be helpful to see the way in which Langberg’s book on abuse fits into the framework of Critical Theory.  In Redeeming Power Langberg attempts to show the roots of abuse by explaining the way power is abused in order to hurt the vulnerable.  This part of the articles is highly critical, but this does not mean there is nothing of value in Langberg’s book.  She has much experience working with abuse victims, and there are positive things that can be gleaned from her writings.  Her perspective, however, ultimately is in line with Critical Theory and therefore is dangerous.

Intersectionality

Langberg adopts the basic framework of Critical Theory in her repeated use of intersectional categories, adding one’s church and theology to the list typically used by Critical Theorists.  She writes:

  • “We believe our denomination or our church has the only correct doctrine. We believe our race is superior and needs to be protected above others at all costs.”[1]
  • “We believe only one gender, one race, one group is capable of holding power.”[2]
  • “We follow the One who said, ‘I am . . . the truth’ (John 14:6 ESV)—not I will show you the truth; not if you memorize these things , you will have the truth; not if you are in the right church, race, or nation, you will know the truth.”[3]
  • “We are not seeking pure theology, a pure race, or an appearance of purity. The only purity we seek is that of having a heart governed by the Lord Christ.”[4]
  • “Have we, children of the Most High God, sorted precious humans by earthly categories of politics, economics, race, gender, religion, denomination, education, employment, or citizenship? Have we created divisions as we reductively use such categories to separate, dismiss, and condemn the other? ‘We’ are this; ‘they’ are that.”[5]
  • “And our Head, in his love for humanity, broke down every barrier, including the barriers of race, gender, class, ethnicity, religion, and morality.”[6]

The assumption in all of these quotations is that viewing people intersectionally is the standard position of the church and the reason why abuse happens.  Abuse is produced by intersectional realities and oppression.  Fighting against abuse in the church means opposing the idea that one gender, race, group, even religion is better than another.  There are two potential meanings of these quotes.  First, if what is meant is simply that the church should not see through the lens of intersectionality, these quotes would not be a problem.  If, however, what is meant is that the church’s problem is not the use of intersectionality but rather that it has focused on the wrong classes, i.e., the church has favored the oppressing class rather than the oppressed class, then Langberg is making use of the framework for Critical Theory. 

Langberg, unfortunately, means the latter as will be shown.  One element of Critical Theory is that there is an assumption that those in power are guilty of making use of intersectionality in the ways Langberg describes.  This is to grant a major premise of the Marxist system of Critical Theory.  If the problem is defined in accordance with Critical Theory, that is, the church has sought to elevate one race, gender, group above another, then the solutions sought must be along the lines of Critical Theory as well.

This is not to say that the church could never be guilty of preferring one group over another.  This, of course, is possible, but it needs to be proved with concrete examples that do not make use of a Marxist/postmodern framework.  Langberg’s understanding of the corruption of systems of power, however, is exactly in line with Critical Theory where the assumption is that those in power also see themselves through intersectional lenses.  One application of intersectional thinking to Critical Theory used consistently throughout the book is feminism.

Feminism

Langberg defines abuse along intersectional lines for more than just gender.  She adopts the basic framework of Critical Race Theory in her discussion of race in chapter 8, but the most consistent and adamant intersectional category Langberg appeals to is gender.  Critical Theory applied to gender manifests itself in feminism.  This can be seen in a number of ways in Langberg’s writing, particularly as she tries to deny the biblical position of male headship, reinterpreting it in a radical egalitarian way.  First, she uses Genesis 1:26-27 to argue that men are not to rule over women:

“What did God tell them to rule over? Over the fish, the birds, the cattle, the whole earth, and every creeping thing. Note the stunning omission in God’s directive: nowhere does he call humans to rule over each other! The man is not told to rule over the woman; neither is the woman to rule over the man. They are to rule together, in a duet, over all else God has created.”[7]

For Langberg this implies that men and women are equal in authority.  This exegesis fails as it is based on the logical fallacies of a negative inference and an argument from silence.[8]

Second, she argues that Genesis 3:16 teaches that male headship is a result of the fall and therefore not a part of God’s original creation.  This is a classic feminist argument used to oppose male headship.[9]  She writes,

“Deceived by God’s archenemy, they acted outside the realm of God, and life was forever changed. In response, God spoke with them about the outcome of their choice. To Eve, he said in part, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (3:16 NIV). We have lost sight of the fact that this is part of what we call the curse. This is not instruction for the man. It is a consequence of wrong and sinful choices.”[10]

Such exegesis flies in the face of 1 Timothy 2:12-14 and 1 Corinthians 11:2-12 where Paul clearly grounds male headship in creation, not the fall.

Third, she argues that Christ came to serve, not to rule, and he is the model of all headship.  She writes,

“To be a head means to turn the curse upside down, not to rule over others. The Son of Man did not rule, though his disciples longed for him to do so.”[12]  These arguments misunderstand Christ’s statements.  He exercised his headship by serving others, but he still maintained that headship and authority throughout.  Christ’s statements give insight into how men in proper contexts (e.g. marriage) are to use authority, not whether or not they have it.  In an effort to deny male headship her misunderstanding leads to the strange statement that Christ “did not rule”.  Surely one of the most basic elements of the Christian confession is that Christ is our King and he has all authority (cf. Matt. 28:18-20).  Langberg admits this in other places but denies it in this context inconsistently to make room for a feminist conclusion regarding headship. 

Her position becomes clear when she writes, “Yes, pastors and elders have authority over the sheep. Husbands and wives have power over each other.”[13]  This is immediately followed by a false dichotomy created between love and authority, implying that if a relationship has an authority structure there can be no love.  That this is a false dichotomy can be seen in one’s relationship to Christ, which is one where there is both authority and love.

For Langberg, the traditional and biblical view of gender is the cause of some of the abuse in the world and in the church.  She writes,

“Abuse of power is a cancer in the body of Christ. How Christendom uses terminology regarding gender is sometimes an aspect of the disease. We need to let the light of a holy God expose us and our systems… We simply keep repeating theological words almost like a mantra: leader, head, submission, authority, God ordained . We need to drag into the light those things we cover with familiar and good words and test them to see whether our labels and our applications are of God. Many are not.”[14]

Again she writes, “Sadly, authoritarian treatment of females (and all church members) is often supported using the concept of headship.”[15]  The question, however, is this: Does abuse of authority invalidate its proper use? Do examples of people abusing headship mean that headship as a whole must go?  This is one of the strategies used in Critical Theory to undermine authority.  Abuse of authority in some situations means the entire system must go.  The traditional view of gender, however, rooted in Scripture, was given by God for the good of both men and women.

Truth Dependent on One’s Intersectional Class

Langberg undermines the traditional view of gender and more particularly femininity, not on the basis of Scripture, but on the basis of intersectional perspective: “Much has been said throughout the centuries about what it means to be female. Men have said most of it. Women have been labeled the weaker sex, the second sex, the subordinate sex, and the devil’s gateway.”[16]  Not all of these titles are the same, but the first is the clear teaching of 1 Peter 3:7.  The thing important to see for the purposes of this article is that the gender of those who taught on the differences between men and women is significant for determining whether or not it is true.  Note: “Men have said most of it…”  This is a very clear example of a postmodern view of epistemology.  There is a prejudice against the perspective of men as they speak to the nature of women. 

Langberg’s prejudice against men’s speech (the oppressing class) is matched by her deference to women (the oppressed class) when determining truth.  She recounts the early days of her career when she dealt with women who came to her with stories of abuse.  She writes,

“Women asked to see me because I was female, not because I knew anything. I was twenty-three. I listened, asked questions, and told them honestly that I knew nothing and would have to be their student first. I was told by male supervisors not to believe their hysterical stories and lies about “good” men. I chose to listen to the women rather than to my supervisors.”[17]

Note the emphasis on the gender of supervisors as well as that of the abused.[18]  Her choice to believe was greatly affected by the gender of those she interacted with.  This is the hallmark of postmodernism and intersectionality.  There is a “truth” specific to a class.  When the “oppressed class” receives automatic deference because of intersectional identity, this moves into the realm of Critical Theory.  There is an abiding, deep mistrust of “systems of power” ruled by men.  Against this postmodern view of truth, however, the only criteria that should be considered when there are competing stories in a purported abuse situation is the truth.  This will mean believing men sometimes and women sometimes but never because of their gender.

This feminist postmodern framework undermines the authority of Scripture and all ecclesiastical authority.  Langberg’s statement concerning what men have said in the past about women opens the door for questioning the Bible, as it was also written by men.  If Langberg does not like that men have historically called women “the weaker sex”, will she take issue with the Apostle Peter (cf. 1 Pet. 3:7)?  This has always been the logic used by radical feminists to cast off the authority of the Bible going back to the 19th century.  Davies notes that first wave feminists complained about “male interpretations” of the Bible.  This produced a “vicious cycle” wherein subordinated women were unable to engage in theology established by men which taught women were to be subordinated.[19]  According to Davies, in light of this, Elizabeth Cady Stanton “claimed that the Bible, owing to its profound religious and cultural authority, had been instrumental over the centuries in establishing and consolidating patriarchal exercise of power and in denying women some of their basic rights and freedom.”[20]  The result was the dismissal of the Bible.

This view presents a problem for all biblically based ecclesiastical authority as well.  The reality is the teachings of the Scriptures on the nature of men and women will always be said “mostly by men” because men are the only ones who can have ordained teaching positions in the church.  The only way to rectify the situation would be to do away with male only ordination.

Langberg’s postmodern epistemology goes beyond feminism.  She makes the same moves with regard to race/ethnicity:

“We tend not to even see how culture has shaped us. Many years ago, I heard a white pastor speak about a meeting he had with an African American pastor who told him, ‘You white folks don’t even know you have a culture. You think your way is simply right and the rest of us have cultures.’ That observation exposes both the blindness and the arrogance of a dominant culture.”[21]

To keep this article from reaching a tedious length, her view on race will not be expounded further.  The same general features regarding feminism can be applied to race, making her view consistent with Critical Race Theory.  Note that modern feminism and Critical Race Theory are manifestations of the same Critical Theory applied to different intersectional categories.  Advocates of Critical Race Theory openly admit this connection: “As the reader will see critical race theory builds on the insights of two previous movements, critical legal studies and radical feminism, to both of which it owes a large debt.”[22]

All of this is highly problematic and shows that Diane Langberg’s general framework is postmodern and embraces Critical Theory, especially as it is expressed in feminism.  Part 3 will continue the critique of her working focusing on the implications for the church.


                [1] Diane Langberg, Redeeming Power: Understanding Authority and Abuse in the Church (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Brazos Press, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2020), 37.

                [2] Ibid.

                [3] Ibid, 41.

                [4] Ibid, 42.

                [5] Ibid, 55.

                [6] Ibid, 156.

                [7] Ibid, 5.

                [8] A negative inference is where positive examples of a thing are put forward and these examples are used to prove that a negative is true.  An example that Carson gives in his Exegetical Fallacies (101ff) is “All Jews like Moses”, “a certain person is not a Jew”, therefore “that person does not like Moses”.  The problem is that other kinds of people besides Jews could like Moses, i.e., Christians.  So here: males and females rule over all creation (positive), a woman is not part of the creation being ruled in Genesis 1 (negative), therefore there is no hierarchy of authority between the males and females (negative). 

                [9] Cf. the CEB’s statement on “Defining Biblical Gender Equality”, point 5 under Creation: “The Bible teaches that the rulership of Adam over Eve resulted from the Fall and was therefore not a part of the original created order.”  For an exegetical discussion of the passage as it relates to feminism and egalitarianism, see Zachary Garris, Masculine Christianity (Ann Arbor, MI: Zion Press, 2020), 120ff, where he interacts with Davidson.  See also  Raymond C. Ortlund Jr., “Male-Female Equality and Male Headship: Genesis 1–3,” in Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, ed. John Piper and Wayne Grudem (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006), 110ff where he interacts with Bilezikian.

                [10] Ibid, 102-3.

                [11] Ibid, 103.

                [12] Ibid, 104.

                [13] Ibid, 179.

                [14] Ibid, 93-4.

                [15] Ibid, 103.

                [16] Ibid, 95-6.

                [17] Ibid, 92.

                [18] My point is not to say that a woman should never seek counsel from another woman.  It is simply that the gender of the supervisors and the gender of the abused are factored into one’s view of truth.

                [19] Eryl W. Davies, Biblical Criticism: A Guide for the Perplexed, Guides for the perplexed (London ; New York: Bloomsbury, 2013), 37-8.

                [20] Ibid, 38.

                [21] Diane Langberg, Redeeming Power, 46.

                [22] Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, Critical Race Theory, 3rd ed. (New York: NYU Press, 2017), 5.

Thoughts on Sermon Prep for Narrative

Posted by R. Fowler White

Whenever I’m preaching or teaching regularly, one thing I do is to reflect on what I’m doing (or not doing) in preparation and trying to figure out how to prepare better. This is particularly the case when I’m surveying a major narrative division within the canon (such as the five books of Moses) or expounding the pericopes in a specific narrative document (such as the Gospel according to Mark).

In seminary I was taught exegesis and homiletics, first in the NT letters and later in Ruth and the Psalms, with basic references to the literary dimensions of the text. As you can see from that synopsis, the instruction I received was customary but light on narrative. Understandably, the emphasis, as I remember it, was consistently on details of the original text, with a view to expounding the text verse by verse (sentence by sentence). Missing was instruction on expounding the text scene by scene. Over time, I’ve found that, though there is some overlap between the two, the work on each is a different, sometimes very different, skill set. As a result, I’ve reflected more on my approach to narrative in particular. Here, then, are some thoughts on what I’ve found expounding OT and NT narrative.

The approach I’ve settled on over time seems to revolve around four sequential steps. First, I identify the discreet component scenes of a narrative section. Second, the most challenging step: I summarize “the story/plot/drama developments” from scene to scene, trying to avoid simply retelling the details unless they were crucial. Third, with that summary in mind, I seek to discern the (biblical- and systematic-) theological point(s) being made in each scene. Last, I answer the question, what does the Holy Spirit speaking through the text want readers or hearers to know, or be, or do in light of this passage?

I’m sure that the preceding comes off as fairly basic and commonplace advice. Then again, the more I’ve dealt with narrative, the more I’m pushed to see that responsible exposition, particularly in a survey narrative series, necessitates giving folks the macrostructures and major storylines of the Bible tethered to the theology being develop in the text. This is usually the case because folks don’t generally know the Bible as well as they must to hear an exposition of its narratives, especially in the OT, with profit. For example, in general, I’ve found that, when it comes to the OT narratives, their theology seems to keep coming back to the ways in which they expose transgressions, on the one hand, and to evangelize transgressors, on the other. As the actors in the text keep failing, the Lord keeps calling them to repent and trust Him alone as their Redeemer or to face Him as their Judge, especially once Jesus, the Son of Abraham and David, appears in history.

To fill out the picture even more fully, maybe it would help to combine the points above with a grid of questions and tasks for exposition that I’ve found myself using. That grid includes the following questions: what does the text indicate that God wants readers (or hearers) to know, to be, or to do? What are the topic and the purpose of the text? What are the doctrine and the duty in the text? With answers to the preceding questions in mind, my focus turns to more specific tasks. Here’s what I have in mind. Develop an outline and fill in its details so that it lays out the argument of the text. Wherever there are connections between the teaching of the text and the teaching of the Reformed confessions and catechisms, bring out those connections in your outline or exposition. When it comes to expounding an OT or NT narrative, make conscious reference to the Apostle’s instruction in 2 Tim 3:15-17, highlighting in the text the person and work of Christ, the offers of grace, and the warnings of judgment. When it comes to expounding an OT text, keep before yourself the Letter to the Hebrews and Christ’s example in Luke 24:25-27, 44-46. Regardless of the narrative’s place in redemptive history, present God’s gospel, His law, and His Christ in His sufferings and glory.

I’m sure that there are readers who can identify and provide more and better thoughts than those above.

“God the Father Almighty”

Posted by R. Fowler White

The twelve articles that make up the Apostles’ Creed are extraordinary anchors to the historic Christian faith, even if we recognize that they are not the rule of faith and practice that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are. Yes, it will be crucial to understand that the Holy Spirit speaking in the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testament Scriptures is our final authority, the supreme judge of all controversies of religion and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and claims to private revelations. We are taking the Apostles’ Creed, then, as a help and a tool, not as a rule, to help us organize our reflections on what the Scriptures teach us in regard to faith and practice. Then we can use what we gain to evangelize our family and friends and to defend the Christian faith against its detractors.

We begin where the Creed begins: with our confession concerning God the Father and creation. Scripture and history show us that no individuals, families, churches, or nations can ever rise above the faith that they have in the God of their worship. When some declare, “In God we trust,” we must ask, “Who is the God in whom you trust?” Their answer and ours determines everything in our lives. If the object of our trust is wrong, we’ll get the whole world—ourselves included—wrong. There is scarcely any falsehood in our faith or any failure in our practice that doesn’t go back to false and faulty thoughts about God. The importance, then, of right beliefs about God simply cannot be overestimated. Who, then, is your God: the God revealed in Scripture, or the God envisioned in your imagination? Don’t shrug off the question: we cannot just “believe in God” and be saved. No, we must believe in the one true God: that is, as the Creed (following Scripture) expresses it, the God who is is God in three Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

With questions and realities like those above, we take up the first article of the Creed, wherein we Christians confess faith in God the Father Almighty. We realize, first, that to confess faith in God the Father Almighty is to confess faith that God can and will do all that He intends. Whatever the Lord pleases He does (Ps 135:6). He is the one and only omnipotent Being (Deity) who reigns over His world. By contrast, man cannot do whatever he pleases. Man’s power to do what he intends is conditioned by creatureliness and sinfulness; his power is limited, dependent. God’s power to do all that He intends is not limited, not dependent, not conditioned by anything or anyone whom He has made. As the Apostle Paul declares, He works all things according to the counsel of His will (Eph 1:11). And note well: God’s almightiness extends to His power over evil and sin. Because He is most holy and righteous, He is not and cannot be the author or approver of evil and sin. Granted, there is mystery related to the origins of evil and sin in God’s creatures, but this much is revealed to us: evil and sin originated in the creatures alone and not from the Creator God. No, the one true God displays His power and wisdom as, without fail, He accomplishes good purposes even out of the evil designs of man (as Joseph confessed before his brothers, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good [Gen 50:20]). Because of His almightiness, then, God the Father overrules even evil and sin.

We Christians who confess faith in God the Father Almighty also confess faith in Him as Maker (Creator) of heaven and earth. The one true God is before creation, eternal, far above time and space. He is other than the world; the world—“the Universe” as it is sometimes personified these days—is not God, personal or impersonal. Before the world came to be, there was only God and nothing else, and it is He who created the world from nothing.

Moreover, the Creator God, though invisible, is revealed in the visible world He created. In the words, deeds, and products of creation documented in Genesis 1-2, we are made wiser about God’s person, word, work, and will. We learn that He created the world to be inhabited (Isa 45:18), to be constructed of places in which His creatures would exist, and He with them. By revelation, we know that the earth was given form and fullness in six creation days. In the first three God gave the earth light and form: where there had been only darkness and deep, there was now light, sky, land, and sea. In the second three days God gave the earth fullness: where there had been emptiness in sky, land, and sea, there were now residents. As a result of those six days of creative word and deed, we are made wiser to see that it is the Creator God who rules over the world He created. And we should note: the world is not about His creatures, as glorious as they were at their origin. The world is about His glory, His weightiness, His name, His fame; His perfections, His grandeur, His beauty.

Having exchanged the glory of the Creator for the glory of the creation and of creatures, our post-Christian world prefers an alternative narrative of the world’s beginning. And do note: it is a narrative that has made us foolish. “Nature” with her Forces, we’re told, is our Mother goddess whom it’s not nice for us to fool. Allegedly, her Forces control life and death, prosperity and adversity, victory and defeat. It is Mother Nature that determines who lives or dies, who succeeds or fails, who wins or loses. It is the Mother goddess that determines that only the fittest survive and flourish, and it is She who identifies the fittest as—surprise, surprise—none other than those who worship and serve themselves as divine and the rest of creation as divine.

By contrast, the Creator God revealed in Scripture is the architect and builder of heaven and earth. It is He who gave form to the world so that it is His palace, heaven His throne and earth His footstool. It is He who also gave fullness to the world: heaven and earth are full of His glory. It is He who controls life and death, prosperity and adversity, victory and defeat. By this revelation, we are made wise, learning that nothing in creation is divine. All worship and service are for the one true God, who alone is Maker of heaven and earth. In Scripture, the first fact of life that we must face is that the Creator of heaven and earth is alone God, and that His claim upon us humans and upon the non-human world is absolute. Indeed, the Creator-creature distinction is the crux of all true thought about all that is, seen and unseen.

As we said above, the identity of the God in whom we believe determines everything in our lives. If we doubt the validity of that point, stop for a moment and consider the confusion rampant in our culture. Although we know the Creator God through all that He made we do not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him. We have become futile in our thinking and our foolish hearts have become darkened. If our society is to recover from its confusion, and if we Christians are to avoid its confusion, we must hold fast and hold forth the historic truth we confess: we believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.

We consider Article 2 of the Creed here.

The OPC, GRACE, Diane Langberg, and Critical Theory, Part 1: Critical Theory

Guest Post By Michael Grasso

Should the OPC hire GRACE to investigate potential instances of abuse in its churches?  This question came before the 87th General Assembly (GA) in the form of a motion to add a docket item called “Ministering to victims of abuse”.[1]  The motion needed a 2/3 majority to be added to the docket, and it failed to reach this threshold.  This motion did not come in a vacuum.  Aimee Byrd had called on the OPC to hire this organization on April 5, 2021.[2]  Following the GA’s decision not to take up the question of hiring GRACE, Aimee Byrd publicly condemned the decision of the GA in two blog posts on July 21[3] and 26[4] respectively.  A few months after GA, on October 8-9, the Presbytery of Philadelphia hosted a fall conference on the subject of spiritual abuse with Diane Langberg as the speaker.  Diane Langberg is the author of Redeeming Power: Understanding Authority and Abuse in the church and is a former board member of GRACE.  The connection between the conference and the motion brought before the GA was made explicit by the bringer of the motion, Larry Westerveld, whose church hosted the fall conference.[5]  It seems clear from these actions that one of the goals of the conference was to move the denomination in the direction of hiring GRACE at a future GA.

While abuse is something the church must always take seriously, the thesis of these articles is that hiring GRACE would be a mistake, that the ideology driving all of these actions is Critical Theory, and that embracing this ideology, exemplified in Langberg’s book Redeeming Power, would not help abuse victims but remove God-ordained protections for them as well as move the church towards a new form of liberalism.  This will come in four parts.  In the first part I will give an overview of Critical Theory.  In the second and third parts I will review Diane Langberg’s Redeeming Power: Understanding Authority and Abuse in the Church to show the connection with Critical Theory.  Then in the last part, I will try to draw some connections between this ideology and the move to hire GRACE.

Critical Theory

Critical Theory is the ideology of the Frankfurt School established in the 20th century.  Corradetti gives a succinct history:

The Frankfurt School, known more appropriately as Critical Theory, is a philosophical and sociological movement spread across many universities around the world. It was originally located at the Institute for Social Research (Institut für Sozialforschung), an attached institute at the Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany. The Institute was founded in 1923 thanks to a donation by Felix Weil with the aim of developing Marxist studies in Germany.[6]

Critical Theory is a Marxist ideology that makes use of Conflict Theory, a theory that separates people into two classes (oppressors and oppressed) and seeks to explain the problems of society in light of the systems controlled by the oppressors.  Critical Theory is called “critical” in the sense of being critical of existing authority structures. Pluckrose and Lindsay define Critical Theory as a theory that is “…chiefly concerned with revealing hidden biases and underexamined assumptions, usually by pointing out what have been termed ‘problematics,’ which are ways in which society and the systems that it operates upon are going wrong.”[7]

What is distinctive about Critical Theory is its expansion of Conflict Theory into other areas of life.  Marx applied conflict theory to class divisions.  Critical theorists apply the distinction to areas such as race, gender, and sexuality.  This broader application of Marx’s Conflict Theory is known as “cultural Marxism”.[8]  Critical Theory applied to race is Critical Race Theory, which posits “systemic racism” on the basis of “implicit bias”.  When applied to gender, Critical Theory manifests itself as feminism.  When applied to sexuality, it is the LGBTQ movement.  In each case the “oppressed class” (blacks, women, homosexuals) are abused by the system of power held by the “oppressing class” (whites, men, heterosexuals).  In popular thought, these movements are expressed under the name “Social Justice Movement”.  One who adheres to the movement is “woke”, that is, he has been awakened to the realities of systemic injustice understood on the basis of these categories, or intersectionalities.

There are three distinctive things that bind these movements together under the heading of Critical Theory: First, extreme skepticism about the use of authority, that is, the systems of power are corrupted and cannot be trusted; second, a Marxist view of oppression or abuse, often combining real forms of oppression with those that are unfalsifiable; and third, intersectionality, i.e., the process of dividing people on the basis of race, gender, sexuality, etc.  Intersectionality leads to seeing one’s intersectional identity, one’s relationship to the group, as the most significant thing about a person.  If a person is a woman, then she is automatically in an oppressed class even if wealthy, in a position of prestige, etc.  In this scheme a person’s success or failure in the world is determined not by individual choices, but by one’s adherence to a particular group. 

The concept of intersectionality also bears an important relationship to postmodernism.  In postmodern thought objective truth is impossible to attain.  It is a reaction to modernist thought which claimed that a person could reach objective truth by being detached and unbiased.  When people became disillusioned with the possibility of being detached and unbiased in the way Modernists claimed, the result was a denial of objective truth.  If objective truth depends on being “unbiased”, then it is impossible to attain because everyone has some sort of perspective that “colors” one’s view of a thing.  Schüssler-Fiorenza, a postmodern feminist, explains this posture: “This modern posture of value-detached inquiry in the interest of pure reason and its claims to universality has been thoroughly challenged by diverse (post)modern discourses such as philosophical hermeneutics, the sociology of knowledge, ideology critique, and Critical Theory.”[9]

Doing away with objective truth does not mean that truth of every kind is gone for postmodernists.  It means that objective truth is replaced by truth as it is received by a community.  Grenz notes, “The conviction that each person is embedded in a particular human community leads to a corporate understanding of truth.”[10]  This fits very well with the idea of intersectionality and makes the truth claims of the oppressed class unassailable by definition.  If those in the oppressed class feel oppressed, then this is truth for them and no data or objective reasoning can be brought to bear to show that they are not oppressed.  In fact, in postmodern thought, to try to do so is a form of oppression.  It is nothing more than the oppressing class imposing its biased view on the oppressed class.  This is why today on the issue of abortion, the pro-abortion side demands that women, not men, make the decision.  If a woman determines that an abortion is the correct decision for her, this is the truth for the oppressed class of women that must be defended in order to protect women from the oppression of men.  A man telling a woman that abortion is wrong is a form of oppression since his view is just as biased as hers.

The view of oppression is distinctive for another reason.  In Critical Theory the oppression is seen, not on an individual level, but on a societal level.  Oppression further becomes anything that promotes inequality of outcome.  Beisner links this view of equality to the French Revolution and notes the common slogan of the day: “Not only equality of right, but equality of fact, is the goal of the socialist art.”[11]  In this view equality as an outcome, i.e., “fact”, not equality in the sense of a person’s “rights”, is true justice.  The problem is that this form of justice is contrary to biblical justice and requires a perversion of justice to implement.  Justice in biblical terms entails giving to each person his due according to what he has done.[12]  Equality of outcome means giving the same to every person regardless of what he has done.

The promotion of this form of justice comes with a deceptive trick.  Very real examples of oppression and abuse are put forward, but then abuse and oppression are defined so broadly that many other things can be lumped into the category of abuse or oppression that are quite different. 

An example from Critical Race Theory may illustrate this point.  Slavery, lynchings, Jim Crow laws are defined as racist; however, racism is more than these.  It is any systemic injustice that keeps black people down.  Further, these systemic injustices may be invisible.  They may be implicit, unconscious biases of people who do not even know that they are racist or have not done a racist thing.  If a person does not stand with Black Lives Matter, even though its stated goals are neo-Marxist, anti-family, and anti-Christian, then a person is guilty of the same kind of racism that produced slavery, lynchings, etc.  One is a racist if one does not stand with the oppressed class in the neo-Marxist sense.

The purpose of this article is not to suggest that everyone who advocates for hiring GRACE is guilty of adopting Critical Theory in its entirety.  It is to suggest that this is the ideology that undergirds the mistrust in the authority structures of the OPC and that hiring GRACE would give a foothold to this ideology.  It is also to suggest that the view of “abuse” is taken from Marx’s Conflict Theory expressed in the Frankfurt School’s Critical Theory.  It ought to be noted further that this ideology is very popular today even if many do not understand where it comes from.  For many, it is the air they breathe and the position accepted uncritically. 

This is one of the great dangers of the Social Justice Movement.  Ideas like “abuse” or “racism” or “oppression” are used to garner support.  Who does not want to oppose racism?  Who does not want to take down all oppression?  It is easy to sell ideas about liberation from oppression generally, but what is meant by “oppression” and “liberation” has been given Marxist content in the Social Justice Movement.  The goal of these articles is to draw out these connections so that the Scriptures might be applied faithfully to the situation.  In part 2 we will look at Diane Langberg’s Redeeming Love to see how it related to Critical Theory.


                [1] Minutes of the Eighty-Seventh General Assembly, July 7-13, 2021, item 214, The Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Pennsylvania , USA.

                [2] Aimee Byrd, “An Open Letter to the OPC on Abuse,” Aimee Byrd, April, 5, 2021, https://aimeebyrd.com/2021/04/05/an-open-letter-to-the-opc-on-abuse/

                [3] Aimee Byrd, “Reflections on the OPC GA Meeting: Part 1, The Purpose of Church Order and the Vote on G.R.A.C.E.,” Aimee Byrd, July 21, 2021, https://aimeebyrd.com/2021/07/21/reflections-on-the-opc-ga-meeting-part-one-the-purpose-of-church-order-and-the-vote-on-g-r-a-c-e/

                [4] Aimee Byrd, “Reflections on the OP General Assembly, Part 2: Trauma-Informed Ministry and a Traumatizing Process,” Aimee Byrd, July 26, 2021, https://aimeebyrd.com/2021/07/26/reflections-on-the-op-general-assembly-part-2-trauma-informed-ministry-and-a-traumatizing-process/

                [5] Westerveld opened the conference by saying, “And you may have also heard that an attempt was made to engage the services of a third party, an independent party to help us in our diagnoses and so on.  That had very little traction.  What is less known, perhaps, is that another motion was made simply to add to our docket a chance to discuss ministry to abuse, victims of abuse, and that also failed, sadly, but the presbytery of Philadelphia believes these are discussions worth having… So we approved the planning and hosting of this conference for your benefit and the benefit of the whole church.”

                [6] Claudio Corradetti, “The Frankfurt School and Critical Theory,” The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, n.d., https://iep.utm.edu/frankfur/#H2.

                [7] Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay, Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity-and Why This Harms Everybody, First Edition (Durham, North Carolina: Pitchstone Publishing, 2020), 13-4.

                [8] Scott David Allen, Why Social Justice Is Not Biblical Justice: An Urgent Appeal to Fellow Christians in a Time of Social Crisis (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Credo House Publishers, 2020), 51-2.

                [9] Elisabeth Schüssler-Fiorenza, “The Ethos of Interpretation: Biblical Studies in a Postmodern and Postcolonial Context,” in Theological Literacy for the Twenty-First Century (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 212.

                [10] Stanley J. Grenz, A Primer on Postmodernism (Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 1996), 14.

                [11] E. Calvin Beisner, Prosperity and Poverty: The Compassionate Use of Resources in a World of Scarcity (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2001), 54.

                [12] Cf. Rom. 2:5-6.

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