Becoming, not imputed

If no single verse “proves” imputed righteousness, then perhaps no single verse “refutes” it.   Fair enough?  I’ll look at the most commonly used verse for imputed righteousness:  2 Corinthians 5:21.   “He made him who knew no sin to be sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  (and for the record, this is not an anti-Calvinist post at all.  Many Calvinists do not hold to imputed righteousness.)  Let’s look at what the verse is and is not saying.

  1. There is nothing in the verse about Christ’s active obedience being transferred to our “account.”
  2. The language of this verse is not even “imputation” language at all!  I don’t have my Greek NT on me, but I am quite certain that the word used is a variant of ginomai (to become) and not logisthai (to impute, reckon).
  3. What is God’s righteousness?   Someone suggested “The Holy Spirit.”  I am not discounting that interpretation, and indeed I think I will come to something quite similar, but I have other reasons for just “playing it slowly” on that one.   Following something that Matthew Gallatin suggested:  the righteousness of God isn’t a static entity or “thing,” but the very life of God himself.   Without venturing into the scorched earth that is Greek semantic domain, I think this interpretation comes very near to the language of 2 Corinthians 5:21.  God isn’t saying he will pump some divine gas into us, but that we become part of his righteousness.  There is a dynamism at play, not a legal transfer.
  4. This is actually very close to the language of 2 Peter 1:4, where we become partakers of the divine nature.     Now, we need to get some concepts straight.    When we say we become partakers of God’s nature, we are not saying that we ourselves are subsumed under the essence of God. We are partaking of God’s essence, but through his energies.   Our partaking of God is neither hypostatic (per Christ and the union of two natures) nor is it essential (we do not become the very [incommunicable] essence of God), but energetic.
  5. But what is the life of God?  It is not God’s acts towards us?  Is not the life of God God’s energies?   As John Meyendorff writes, “The divine energies are not “things” differing from one supreme “thing,” God’s essence.  Grace is not something with which God rewards people, but a manifestation of the living God” (St Gregory Palamas and Orthodox Spirituality, pp. 122-123).

In conclusion, in becoming “the righteousness of God” (of course, all of this is focused around union with Christ, which we have not discussed here) we do not have some static entity transmitted to us, but are called to partake of the very life of God.   God in his acts toward us we know as God’s energies.  Since we do not see ourselves as becoming the very essence of God, we have to understand 2 Corinthians 5:21 as participating in the life of God.  Of course, God’s life as seen in his acting towards us is God’s energies.

Hilarious Lecture on NT Wright’s Theology

If anyone is considering or reevaluation traditional Protestant soteriology, or is just interested in theology and New Testament studies, then he or she must listen to Kevin Vanhoozer’s lecture on NT Wright’s theology.   Vanhoozer is a gifted speaker (almost as much as Wright himself!).  Vanhoozer is a Calvinist (PCUSA!  Yikes!) who actually agrees with Wright’s project, but he offers (rightly, I think) some helpful corrections to Wright.

More importantly Vanhoozer realizes that while Wright does not intend to sinister(ly) reintroduce semi-Pelagian Popish errors back into the Church (he effectively clears Wright of that charge), he does admit that Wright’s own project calls for serious reworking of Calvinist theology.

For example, while the Federal Visionists and Wright himself may label themselves as Reformed Calvinists, we must also point out that Wright rejects imputation (which many consider to be even more “heart of the gospel” than justification) and Wright also rejects the Calvinist readings of Romans 9 and Ephesians 1.

Vanhoozer understands the difficulties that Wright brings to Reformed theology.   Vanhoozer realizes that imputation theology as such cannot stand careful scrutiny (he does reference a John Milbank essay where Milbank runs a blistering critique on Calvin’s theology), but Vanhoozer wonders if some form of God’s righteousness being ours is still salvageable.

Therefore, Vanhoozer presents something like locutive righteousness.  He is drawing from his previous works on “speech-act theory.”  For example, many times when one says something, one is creating a new situation (e.g., “I pronounce you man and wife”).  Therefore, when God declares us righteous, it is not a legal fiction but God is actually creating a new situation.

So will this work?  (Never mind if it is actually correct for the moment).  Will Reformed pastors rally to “locutive righteousness?”   I say they won’t for the following reasons:

  • Not only do most Reformed theologians consider the substance of their system to be the sacred gospel itself, they also consider the words that describe the system as sacred.  And if you change the words, or even suggest materially synonymous words, on their gloss one is abandoning the gospel and embracing popish error.
  • If one stood up before being licensed in the Reformed camp and said, “I don’t believe that the way imputation is described is theologically tenable, but that’s okay because I think we can get the same truth by calling it “locutive righteousness,” not only will one not get the job, but will probably be run out of the room!   Vanhoozer is in the PCUSA and they don’t have these particular problems (though Vanhoozer would likely get in trouble for believing in…traditional Christianity or something).
  • Here’s the problem with using the latest philosophical categories to explain Christian truth–especially on sensitive subjects.  While your own position might be right (and I am impressed with how Vanhoozer construed it), you have to assume that your audience is up-to-date on the latest philosophical trends, but who is sufficient for that?  I mean, I read this stuff for fun, and I read more than most, but I maybe read 5% of the current theological  scene.

Still, kudos to Vanhoozer.

Review of *The Everlasting Man*

Chesterton, G.K., The Everlasting Man, Ignatius Press

Part of the difficulty in reviewing this book is the vague way in which Chesterton assumes you know his thesis.  He states something like an outline of the thesis early on (e.g., Jesus is not the same as other religious teachers for the following reasons, whose contraries entail reductios), but only tangentially advances the thesis at unexpected places in the book.  The book is actually quite difficult to follow, as are many of Chesterton’s works.   It is only Chesterton’s heavenly use of prose and wit that keep the reader reading.

Several things come to mind in this book:  Christianity is unique because it actually combines story and philosophy.  Chesterton sees a dialectic in the ancient world between philosopher and priest.  The priest’s stories were irrational and the philosopher did not understand the philosophy of stories (247).  Christ united both.

We often think there is something in the heart of man that yearns for the wild freedoom and beauty of the ancient European pagan, and this supposition is not far off the mark.  It is often said that Christianity fulfilled paganism, or that paganism was the glorious (if failed) prequel to Christianity, and this is certainly true.  (Sadly, this is not true of the American evangelical scene.  Ancient Roman and German paganism is far more glorious than the current megachurch scene, and the latter can in no way be said to fulfill paganism).

The fact is, the ancient pagan world was fading away by the time of Christ.  Chesterton describes it as “too old to die.”  The death of Christ also brought about the death of the old pagan order (David Bentley Hart makes the same point in The Christian Revolution).  Chesterton takes the most glorious civilization—Rome—and shows how even Rome had to die.   But in Rome’s death—like with all men—Christ was about to bring life to the world, and even Rome would be resurrected.

Chesterton’s point is that seeing Christ as a sage, guru, or a mere wise man does not explain his actions before Pilate nor his death on the Cross.   For the first time Greco-Roman philosophers and politicians looked “Truth” in the eye without intermediaries.   Could Pilate do anything else but wash his hands?

Concerning Christ’s burial Chesterton writes,

There was once more a natural symbolism in these natural proceedings; it was well that the tomb should be sealed with all the secrecy of ancient eastern sepulture and guarded by the authority of the Caesars.  For in that second cavern the whole of that great and glorious humanity which we all call antiquity was gathered p and covered over; and in that placec it was buried.  It was the end of a very great thing called human history; the history that was merely human.  The mythologies and philosophies were buried there, the gods and the heroes and the sages…

On the third day the friends of Christ coming at day-break to the place found the grave empty and the stone rolled away.  In varying ways they realized the new wonder; but even they hardly realized that the world had died in the night.  What they were looking at was the first day of a new creation, with a new heaven and a new earth; and in the semblance of a gardener God walked again in the garden, in the cool not of the evening but the dawn” (212-213).

The world died with Christ and was resurrected.  (Per the last pararaph the reader is encouraged to go to www.ntwrightpage.com and listen to Bishop Wright’s lecture on “Christ the World’s True Light.”

 

Is Monarchy an unrealistic fairy tale?

Hopefully and cheerfully, yes.  How can I, a monarchist, say that?  It is my goal that holy monarchy is restored and just economic systems and other, more humane political options become realities in this late western world.  And I honestly believe that could happen.

But let’s pretend this is wishful thinking and the cold, iron hand of technocracy democracy crushes the last vestiges of beauty in the world.   The Republic has become Empire.  Can monarchy prevail against that?  Again, we have to answer “probably not.”

So what good is monarchy, then? I have said elsewhere, following N. T. Wright, that monarchy is an “angled mirror” that allows us to see other worlds, or to see around the power games of this world.  We must define our terms.  By monarchy we certainly do not mean later republican stereotypes of the Middle Ages.  We certainly do not mean the Enlightenment variants.  By no accounts do we mean pale, gelding Constitutional Monarchies, which are paper gods who will not save.  We mean the monarch as icon of heaven; the leader of a free people who are both bound, not to some “contract” or constitution, but to liturgy and land.  We mean, obviously, fairy tale monarchs.

How does this help us in our current situation?  David Bentley Hart sums it up nicely,

In such a culture, one can be grateful of the liberties one enjoys, and use one’s franchise to advance the work of trustworthier politicians (and perhaps there are more of those than I have granted to this point), and pursue the discrete moral causes in which one believes. But it is good also to imagine other, better, quite impossible worlds, so that one will be less inclined to mistake the process for the proper end of political life, or to become frantically consumed by what should be only a small part of life, or to fail to see the limits and defects of our systems of government. After all, one of the most crucial freedoms, upon which all other freedoms ultimately depend, is freedom from illusion.

Sinclair Ferguson on the Filioque

A short time ago I looked at Donald Macleod’s short defense of the Filioque, taken from his The Person of Christ.  Today I will look at Sinclair Ferguson’s defense of the Filioque, taken from his The Holy Spirit (they are part of the same Contours of Christian Theology series published by InterVarsityPress).  First things first: I have tremendous respect for Sinclair Ferguson.  He is a Scotsman (!) and a true gentleman.  I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him twice (he signed my copy of The Holy Spirit) and in his talk on NT Wright, he remained serene at all times (proving himself to be an anomaly within the Reformed professorial camp).    I will first summarize Ferguson’s position and then respond:

{1} Ferguson rightly understands that the economic sending of the Spirit by Christ is not immediately obvious to be teh eternal proceeding of the Spirit from the Father and Son (pp. 72-73).

{2} Ferguson thinks the Cappadocian model–The Father as cause of both Spirit and Son–introduces subordinationism into the Trinity.  However, according to Ferguson the Western church really did not have a good model until Calvin’s autotheos.  (75).

{3} Ferguson says God must be (ontologically) what he reveals himself to be (economically).  The Father and Son send the spirit in economy; therefore, they must also send him in eternity (75).  Also notes this maintains the relationship between Spirit and Son.

{4} However, Ferguson admits the standard Protestant exegesis of John 14:26 and 15:26 is faulty, but he goes right on to assert that pempso (I will send) and ekpourei (proceeds) mean the same thing.  How does Ferguson respond to this obviously flawed exegesis?   He maintains that the integrity of theology means that God must be who he reveals himself to be (76).

{5}  Ferguson repeats the standard line that since the Spirit is “of” Christ, the Spirit must eternally proceed  from Christ (77).

{6} Ferguson argues that without the Filioque we would have a lacunae in our knowledge of God.  We would have knowledge of the Father’s ontological relationship between Son and Spirit but we would not have knowledge of the ontological relationship between Son and Spirit (77).

Response

Per {2} I deny that the Cappadocians are using causation in the Arian sense.   Orthodoxy denies that causation equals the creation of deity (per Arius and Eunomius), but that the Son and Spirit derive their deity from the Father (eternally). It goes  back to an Arian presupposition that causality = deity; therefore, since the Son and Spirit are caused by the Father, they are lesser deities.  Of course, I doubt that Ferguson has this chain of reasoning in mind, and admittedly for late Western minds this is exactly what causality connotes, but on the Cappadocians’ own terms, this is not how they are using causality.

Per {3} and {4} we agree that God must be who he reveals himself to be.   We also agree with Ferguson that Protestant exegesis is faulty.  What’s going on here?  As Ferguson notes (but then ignores) pempso and expourei are not the same word.  Per the economy, Christ says that the Spirit proceeds from the Father.   Ferguson wants symmetry between economy and ontology–there it is.

Ferguson does have a valid point on the relation between Son and Spirit (and in addressing this I believe I can shed some more light on the above paragraph).  According to Gregory II of Cyprus,

The Spirit exists from the Father but has existence through the Son. The former denotes mode of origin. The latter denotes the eternal manifestation. The former is the internal life of the Trinity. The latter is the external self-revelation of God (Papadakis, Crisis in Byzantium, 123ff). Thus, God exists not only in his essence but outside his essence. It is not the internal essence that is revealed but rather the divine life. Further, the Spirit goes forth and shines in the Son independent of mode of origin.

In saying all of this Gregory II anticipated St Gregory Palamas. The divine energies is God’s sanctifying grace which comes from the Father and from the Son in the Spirit (127). AP notes, “This manifestation, however, Gregory hastens to emphasize, is separate from God’s person and essence, for the divine is alone participable through its energies and manifestation. That is to say, God is unparticiable apart from his external revelation, or energies, or charismata, through which he is exclusively known. Otherwise, Christ, in breathing on his apostles, would have given them the very essence and hypostasis of the Spirit (127-128).

What is the eternal relation between Son and Spirit?  The Son eternally manifests the Spirit.  The Spirit shines forth through the Son, yet does not have his existence from him.   Therefore, Christ can say that the Spirit proceeds (eternally) from the Father but is sent (economically) from the Son, yet there is no asymmetry.

Per {5} we must point out that of =/= from.  Here is a reductio:  the Spirit is also said to be the Spirit of God (Romans 8:11).  Therefore, given the above gloss, the Spirit is either not God or he proceeds from himself.   Further, the Spirit is also said to be the spirit of “truth,” yet no one seriously maintains that the Spirit hypostatically proceeds from the attribute of truth!

Per {6} I believe I’ve answered part of this above with the excursus on Gregory II.  I would note one other thing.  I do find it odd that Ferguson is so concerned with knowing the inner essence of the Godhead.  Given that he was employed at a Van Tillian institution, I find this Clarkian reasoning quite strange.  I would simply deny–and I am standing with Van Til, I think–that we should claim to know the ontological structure of God.  True, Ferguson might mean something else and I don’t want to attribute a false position to him, for his comment was strange.  The Church, per her response to Eunomius, has always looked wary at claims to univocal knowledge of God.  Of course, I know Ferguson would deny univocal knowledge of God, but that is what his comment looks like.

Review of Hilary of Poitiers

Taken from NPNF (Second Series) vol 9.

In reviewing St Hilary’s thought, I will be relying primarily on Geofrey Bromiley’s Historical Theology for clarification on more difficult points.    In no way can Hilary’s work be considered a literary masterpiece.  It is about one hundred pages too long, repetitive, and wordy.  To be fair, he wrote much of it in exile and like Augustine, was not always privy to the more mature Eastern thinking (though Hilary rectified this in some ways).

Hilary begins his theology with God’s revelation.  We know God as he reveals himself to us.  However, our theologizing about God will always be opaque.  God is invisible, ineffable, etc., and the mind grows weary trying to comprehend him (ii.6).  Language itself fails us as words are powerless (ii.7).   Analogies offer some help but they only hint at the meaning (i.19).

Trinitarian theology for the church begins with the baptismal formula in St Matthew’s gospel.  The Father is the origin of all; the Son is the only-begotten, and the Spirit is the gift (ii.1).    As the source of all the Father has being in himself.   The fullness of the Father is in the Son.   Because the Son is of the Father’s nature, the Son has the Father’s nature.  Hilary’s point is that like nature begats like nature.

In a break with pagan thought, Hilary distinguishes between person and nature:  “nor are there two Gods but one from one” (ii.11).

Hilary and the Spirit

Did Hilary teach the Filioque?  It’s hard to tell, and neither camp should draw hard conclusions.  The facts are these:  1) in ii.29 the Schaff edition reads “we are bound to confess him, proceeding as He does, from Father and Son.”  However, the foonote points out that there are alternative, more probably readings.  It is acknowledged that throughout Hilary’s work the text has been corrupted at parts.   Even asssuming the present reading to be the correct one, one must ask if by procession Hilary would mean the same thing as later Filioquist writers?  The Latin word for proceed (procedere) does not have the same range as the multiple Greek words for “proceed.”  Roman Catholic scholar Jean Miguel Garrigues notes that one simply can’t read English translations of the Latin semantic domains of “proceed” and from that infer, quite simplisticly, that Hilary believed in the Filioque (L’Esprit qui dit «Père!» (Paris 1981), pp. 65-75.; [no, I don’t read French.  I found a link to this book on Perry’s blog, attendant with the relevant discussions).

2) Hilary goes on elsewhere to affirm that the Spirit is from the Father alone (viii.20) and the Father through the Son (xii.57); neither of these texts, obviously, are hard Filioquist reads, and in any case, this wasn’t Hilary’s point.

Evaluation

As an anti-Arian text, there is a reason why the Church spends more time with St Athanasius, Ambrose, and the Cappadocians.  The Cappadocians and St Ambrose would later refine Hilary’s argument.

On the other hand, Hilary provides the late Western reader with a number of valuable and often stunning insights to the nature of the Church, philosophy, and the evaluations of post-Reformation traditions.

The Eucharist: St Hilary draws an analogy between the “of one nature” with Father and Son and the utter reality of the Son in the Eucharist.  We receive the very Word make flesh in the Eucharist, not due to an agreement of will but because the Son took man’s nature to himself.

Denies monergism: Hilary denies there is a necessity on our will because that would impose faith on us (viii.12).

We know God by his operations or powers (later theologians would say energies):  God’s self-revelation displays his Name (Person).  This revelas his nature (i.27).   This is what Dr Joseph Farrell calls the ordo theologiae:  persons, operations, essence.  The persons do things and this reveals their essence.  In de Synodis para 69 Hilary warns that we must not start with the consubstantiality (or essence) when we do our Trinitarian reasoning, for this leads to confusion since the terms are not yet defined.  Rather, we must begin with the Persons.  (Critics of de Regnon be confounded!   Hilary clearly understands the importance of starting with the Persons, not the nature).

Rejects philosophical nominalism:  names correspond to realities (ix.69).  Therefore, are we justified in saying something is true of the Person of Christ that is not true of the taxonomy?  I admit:  this isn’t Hilary’s debate, since he hadn’t yet dealt with the Calvinist take on the extra Calvinisticum.  Hilary says “We must not divide Jesus Christ, for the Word was made flesh” (x.60-62).   Was there an “extra” to the divine nature outside the person of Christ?  Hilary doesn’t think so.

Prays to Saints:  “Be with me now in thy faithful spirit, holy and blessed Patriarch Jacob, to combat the poisonous hissings of the serpent of unbelief” (v.19).

On the Rock of Matthew 16.19ff:  “This faith it is which is the foundation of the Church; through this faith the gates of hell cannot prevail against her” (vi. 37).  The faith of the apostles, not the see of Peter, is the foundation of the Church.

Conclusion

It is not a literary masterpiece, nor is it really an outstanding apologia against Arianism.  However, it is a faithful reflection of the Tradition passed down, and it does give many remarkable “snapshots” of the Church’s belief which can inform, challenge, and hopefully change the minds of folk today.

 

 

 

Summary Notes on Eschatology

This will come as a surprise to any that know me. For a long time I defended theonomy and postmillennialism. Regarding theonomy, I don’t accept Bahnsen’s hermeneutics but I do advocate a form of social theory drawing heavily from the Old Testament reinterpreted by the Fathers in a community (e.g., taking the communal structure of Alasdair MacIntyre). An example of it can be seen here: National Anarchism, the Old Faith, and Rebellion.

Here’s the problem with eschatology (and for the record I am not considering the otherwise interesting views of mainstream theologians). And for the sake of simplicity I am only dealing with the mainstream Evangelical/Reformed views. Those are the easiest to describe and represent most of conservative Christendom.

A-, pre- and postmillennialism have equal explanatory power. They are tight systems and seem to explain away contrary evidence quite well. The problem I noticed with all three positions is they all engage in special-pleading. E.g., “These verses prove our position but the seemingly contrary verses don’t disprove our position because if you look at it this way, it can be seen to support or not-contradict our position.” While used by theologians and biblical scholars, this is actually a terrible form of argument. I point this out because I am going to posit some eschatological points that seem to disregard all three positions. While I won’t use many biblical texts (I could do that in a later post, I suppose), I hope it is in the spirit of the biblical evidence. So here goes:

With St Cyril of Jerusalem I say: “For I say that martyrs of the End Times will excel all martyrs. For the martyrs hitherto have wrestled with men only, but during that time, they should do battle with Satan in his own person.” (Catechetical Lecture 15).

Premillennialism got in trouble by (rightly) pointing out the rise of a future Anti-Christ. They erred in seeing that this anti-Christ will rule the world in the same way that a central computer rules a network. It does not allow for large-scale political resistance to the anti-christ (aside from not receiving the mark, per se). Sergei Bulgakov has good thoughts on this in his introduction to The Lamb of God. The current rebellion to Christ is merely the death-throes of the evil world order. Therefore, one can posit both resistance to the anti-Christ (and war upon him) while positing nations coming to Christ.

While every time sees their time as “the last days” because of “all the evil in the world,” it is not far-fetched to say that our generation has a few differences. Communication has gone global. Capital and wealth are highly liquid and it has never been easier to control such capital and wealth. While tyrants have always wanted to control their people, because of (1) liquid capital and (2) technology, tyrants can now control people on a global scale. It’s as simple as that.

So what is Russia’s role in all of this? I have gotten in trouble with Calvinists and Neo-Cons for being pro-Russian. Allow me to explain a few points. I do not endorse everything Putin has done. I do not see him as the resurrected King Arthur who will do battle with the Beast from the Sea (though not ruling out that possibility). Even good conspiracy theory sites (Henry Makow, for one) see Russia as the secret heart of oligarchy and New World Order Illuminatism. That could be possible, I suppose, but Putin’s actions, and the actions of the global elites against Putin, make that a tenuous claim. If Putin were truly an Illuminatist, why would he have crushed the Israeli and American-armed Georgian army in their genocide against Ossetia? Why does he oppose NATO’s desire for world domination? If Putin were secretly hoping for One-World Government, why does he advocate a multi-polar world?
Conclusions:
In many ways I see strengths in all three positions (sorry, not trying to sound like John Frame!). The postmillennialist is correct in seeing whole nations coming to Christ in this aeon (Russia, Serbia, Ukraine, Belarus). The amillennialist is correct in seeing this aeon as the millennium (I loosely follow the reasoning of St Augustine on this). The premillennialist is correct to see the rise of Anti-Christ in this aeon.

Of course, that leaves the identity of AntiChrist…