Can non-monks be saved?

Hesychasts started to believe that whoever had not shared their special experience was not among the saved.   “Those who have not seen this Light, have not seen God; for God is light,” Symeon wrote.  “Those who have not yet received this this light have not yet received grace, for in receiving grace, one receives this divine light and God himself” (98).

William Placher, A History of Christian Theology.

St Symeon the New Theologian, Homily 129.2, quoted in Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, p. 218.

No one can accuse me of quoting unrepresentative Orthodox texts.   St Symeon is one of the few Orthodox to receive the vaunted title “The Theologian.”  This means he is more representative and authoritative than other Orthodox.

Looking at all of this I have to ask, “Where is the Gospel?”   If this is how we are to be saved–meditating and achieving the divine light, then what need to Jesus have to die?  This is the difference between covenant religion and magic/chain of being/estrangement ontology.

Union with Christ (Letham): 2

Incarnation

Good job describing Jesus’s real humanity.  I wonder if he will enter the debate of Jesus’s assuming a fallen nature.

He has an excursus on the Nestorian debate.  I will point out that Letham, contra to popular attacks on Reformed thought, understands Nestorius’s teaching that the prosopon was formed as a result or conjunction of the two natures (24).   No Nestorian claimed that there were two Persons of Jesus.

He does acknowledge some of the rhetorical and conceptual shortcomings of Chalcedon.   It “left the concept of the hypostatic union unclear” (28).

Enhypostasis

Drawing heavily upon Meyendorff, Letham has a lucid account of enhypostasis.  “Because Christ’s humanity has divine life hypostatically, we can–in union with Christ–receive divine life by grace and participation” (32).  This buries the contention that the Reformed reduce all of salvation to justification and forensicism.

Union with Christ: Letham (Resurrection)

Paul’s language connections “sharing” with “resurrection” (Phil. 3:10).  “Christ suffered because of who he is.  We suffer because we are one with him” (Letham 130).

Union with Christ in Death and Burial

I Thess. 4:13-17;  “hope for Paul relates not to uncertainty, but to futurity” (133).  God will make good on his promises in the future (interesting suggestions for the doctrine of assurance).

Some thoughts

The resurrection of Christ is a legal, judicial verdict.   He was raised for our justification.

 

Union with Christ: Letham (4)

Covenantal Representation

“There is a legal aspect to union with Christ” (57).  He introduces the theme of corporate solidarity: Josh. 7:1-26).  “Individuals are not identified in isolation: they are A the son of B the son of C of the tribe of D” (58).

Atonement

Substitution.  OT sacrificial ritual in Lev. 4-5

Representative.  All Jesus does he does on our behalf.

Letham finishes this chapter with a survey of Reformed and Puritan thought on Union.  Outstanding comments on Justification by faith only.  Gives a good rebuttal to Thomas Torrance who accused the Confession of bifurcating justification and union.

Union with Christ: Letham (5)

Transformation.

Lane Tipton: “Union with Christ allows Paul to speak in relational and judicial categories simultaneously, without conflating either into the other.”  “Union with Christ and Justification,” in Justified in Christ: God’s Plan for us in Justification, ed. K. Scott Oliphant (Fearn, Ross-Shire, UK: Mentor, 2007), 38.

Jesus’s resurrection is a forensic verdict (Horton).

Ordo Salutis

Explores Gaffin’s comments on the ordo.

Theosis

Humans remain human while deified.  “It is union and communion with the persons of the Trinity” (92).  While Letham is giving the East a fair reading, it must be acknowledged that the Palamite strands of Eastern Orthodoxy revert to an impersonal, energetic union.  See the comments by Vladimir Moss.  Romanides writes, “But in Patristic tradition, God is not a personal God. In fact, God is not even God. God does not correspond to anything we can conceive or would be able to conceive,” Patristic Theology (Uncut Mountain Press: Dalles, Oregon, 2008), pp. 139-140.

What is truly meant by the Athanasian claim that “man becomes God?”   According to Norman Russell, “It is either to emphasize the glorious destiny originally intended for the human race, or to explain that the biblical references to ‘gods’ do not encroach upon the uniqueness of the Word made flesh” (Letham 92-93, quoting Norman Russell, The Doctrine of Deification in the Greek Patristic Tradition, 168).   If that is all that is meant, then the Reformed tradition has no real argument, but would better see that under the teaching of “glorification.”

Metochoi (Partakers):  we are called to glory.  This is not alien to Reformed thought but sometimes it doesn’t receive enough attention.  It would be interesting to link this with the OT concept of the glory-cloud.  Points to our destiny.

Letham then quotes numerous sources (almost to overkill) pointing out that the Reformed had a rich and nuanced appreciation of Union with Christ (102-122).

  • Per Calvin, the Spirit unites the spatial difference between us and Christ in the Eucharist (Comm., 11 Corinthians; CO, 49:487, in Letham, 105; see also Institutes, 4.17.10).  “That a life-giving power from the flesh of Christ is poured into us through the medium of the Spirit, even though it is at a great distance from us, and is not mixed with us.”  Here Letham seems to contradict part of his narrative.   He notes (correctly) for Calvin that we participate in God’s attributes, not his being (107).  However, earlier he said that the Greek (Palamite?) view does not see theosis as participation in God’s attributes (92, “Nor, on the other hand, is it simply communion with God’s attributes.”  If, however, Letham means for the East that the communion with the persons is also a communion with the attributes, then there is no real contradiction.  Even still, I have my doubts that the East can truly avoid collapsing the communion with the Persons into a communion with the energies (see comments by Moss and Jenson).
  • Contra detractors, Calvin affirms that the body and blood of Christ are substantially offered.  He simply explains the mode: the Holy Spirit transfuses the flesh of Christ to us (Theological Treatises, 267).  We just reject a local presence.
  • Letham is aware of the Nestorian charge and sense that Calvin drifted there at times, given his comments on 1 Corinthians 15:27-28.   But see Richard Muller’s response to Jurgen Moltmann on that point.
  • Per Polanus there is a real sacramental union and a conjunction between signum and res.

While there are suggestions that Calvin was close to the East, I think Letham overplays that point (115).  However, Letham is correct to criticize Michael Horton’s claim that we participate in the energies of Christ (Horton, Covenant and Salvation, 285, 302). The East does not mean by energies what Horton means by it.

Union with Christ (Letham)

Creation

“Triadic manner of earth’s formation represents God’s character. He is a relational being” (11).  We see Spirit of God and Speech of God.

Man in the image of God.   Letham spins the Greek image-likeness into First and Second Adam.  All of humanity shares the image with First Adam.   Christ, the Second Adam, is also the image of God.   Regenerate humanity participates in this image.   Letham tries to claim this is what the Greek Fathers said, but he doesn’t offer any references and it doesn’t appear that they said this.  They said all of humanity is created in the image but must achieve the likeness of God.  I like Letham’s proposal. I just don’t think this is what the Greek Fathers said.

So ends chapter 1.  It’s well-written, if somewhat simple in style, and makes good points.  I simply dispute that the Fathers mean what Letham means by it. I think Letham’s model is superior.

Blog to check out: The Anglican Parson

Excellent stuff here on Calvinism from someone who used to be Orthodox and thoroughly knows both Orthodoxy and Augustinianism.  What particularly struck me with much force was this:

When we sin and repent, the pastoral answer should not be to impose a penance, but to encourage that repentance FOLLOWED by an announcement of why we should rejoice:  “GOOD NEWS! Christ died for that sin…

The “Anglican Catholic” pastor, along with the Roman Catholic pastor, the Orthodox pastor, and the Arminian Protestant pastor, has no such Good News to tell the penitent.  “If you do not master that sin, it could eventually result in your damnation.”  And the former three add, “Make sure you always come to me for confession and absolution, or else your eternal soul is at risk.”

If my readers want to know why I write so passionately (and sometimes angrily), or why I am so eager to enter into the controversies that I have with (Anglo, Roman and Orthodox) Catholics and liberal Protestants, I’ll simply say that I follow St. Paul in being a stickler for the Gospel.  And because I am a stickler, I want to name everything that so easily distracts us from or dilutes the Gospel, things like  “Christian” mysticism, monkish asceticism, theosis without a propitiatory atonement, liturgical exactitude, aestheticism (“smells and bells”), an inordinate devotion to philosophical theology, ethnic culture clubs posing as churches, humanism, modernism, feminism, ad nauseam.

Traditional Anglicanism vs. Eastern Orthodoxy (of course, I am not advocating Anglicanism.  Church govt issues simply play too big a role).

Transfer of guilt/righteousness is possible

One of the objections to the doctrine of the satisfaction of Christ is that the transfer of guilt (ours/Adam’s) and/or the transfer of righteousness (Christ’s) is morally and legally impossible.  Hodge answers:

“The transfer of guilt or righteousness, as states of consciousness or forms of moral character, is indeed impossible.  But the real transfer of guilt as a responsibility to justice, and as righteousness which satisfies that justice, is no more impossible than that one man should pay the debt of another.  All that the bible teaches on the subject is that Christ paid as a substitute our debt to the justice of God” (II: 540-541)

Samuel Rutherford and Baptist Scholarship

John Coffey has filled in a woeful lacuna in Reformed historical scholarship:  the absence of a good, critical, and thorough biography of the Covenanter Samuel Rutherford.  In fact, Coffey goes on to say that there is not a decent biography of an Scot between John Knox and figures early in the 18th century.

Coffey, John.  Religion, Politics, and the British Revolution:  The Mind of Samuel Rutherford.  New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Politics, Religion and the British Revolutions: The Mind of Samuel Rutherford Cover

In terms of scholarship the book is first-rate.  The bibliography alone is worth purchasing the book.  There is one problem, though:  Coffey is a baptist.  Now, I am not being mean or parochial in saying that.  Coffey himself admits it.  I bring that up because the Baptist worldview necessarily entails certain things about covenants, politics, and even how one views salvation.    Coffey himself admits this colors his conclusion somewhat (Coffey, xi).   At the end of the book Coffey will disagree with Rutherford’s worldview, but until then he does a wonderful job explaining it.   The book is divided into eight chapters, with six analyzing different aspects of Rutherford.

In terms of actual biography, Coffey stays to the main tradition and simply updates older scholarship. Of interest is his suggestion that Rutherford fornicated in his youth (37).  Coffey admits there isn’t decisive evidence for it, but suggests he did anyway.  Myself, I’ll stick with the evidence and just say, “I don’t know.”  In explaining his life Coffey points out how various religious communities have approached Rutherford.  Evangelical pietists (likely Banner of Truth) have focused on Rutherford’s letters and its warm piety.   Theonomists and the Christian Right in America focused on Lex, Rex, claiming Rutherford anticipated Lockean ideas of liberal democracy.   Thankfully, Coffey buries the Christian Right myth by pointing out, contrary to Francis Schaeffer, that there is no evidence that Locke or Witherspoon ever read Rutherford (12).

The Scholar

The chapter on Rutherford the scholar examines his academic upbringing.  Of particular note is the various strands of post-Renaissance and Reformation secular learning that was employed at various universities.  Rutherford will later synthezie Thomism and biblical law and the beginnings of the former regarding Rutherford are found here.  Coffey’s discussion of Ramism is intruguing.

The Pastor

Continuing with the more biographical strand, Coffey recounts the various troubles Rutherford got into as a pastor.   I won’t say more since this information is readily available elsewhere.

The Reformed Theologian

This is where the money begins.  Despite much of Coffey’s antipathy towards Rutherford, Coffey does a fine job explicating Rutherford’s high Calvinism.  He begins by burying earlier Calvin vs. the Calvinists theses, showing that they reflect more of Barth’s disciples than they do of Calvin.   Therefore, Rutherford can be seen continuing Calvin’s high predestinarianism within the framework of a covenant and using a different grammar than Calvin, but all the while staying faithful to the Reformed tradition.    First, we must see Rutherford’s foil:  Arminianism.

Arminianism:  divine election is based on foreknowledge of human choices. (this does touch on the Middle Knowledge debate, which will be discussed below).  Rutherford responds that this denies God as the author of second causes.  Arminians deny that grace determines the decision of free agency; claiming that both act together, this makes both “joint causes, the one not depending on the other…because second causes were denied, God was no longer master of events and altogether sufficient” (119-120). Even worse, Arminianism (and I will put all forms of full-syngerism and semi-Pelagianism under this umbrella for the moment) does not escape the problem of theodicy.  True, the Calvinist may have trouble explaining why God predestined some but not others, but the Arminian must explain why God created people whom he knew would reject him and burn forever (120).

Divine Premotion: in responding to the Molinists, Rutherford fell back on an old Thomist idea–God acts on secondary causes to produce actual effects (125).   Rutherford’s other views led to a supralapsarianism with its strengths and weaknesses.

Covenant theology:  This will come into play later in the section on politics, but I will deal with it now to show that Coffey misunderstands Rutherford on one key point (more on that below).  Coffey correctly places Rutherford in the line of John Knox, not John Locke.   Rutherford’s covenant theology also functions as a prism by which he will launch his political theology.   Coffey will later charge Rutherford with trying to force “Reformed Christian” rules on an ungodly Scotland.  Further, Coffey argues that this is inconsistent:  how can one force the covenant of grace on those who do not necessarily have grace?   There are many lines of response, but my main thought is, “So what?”   Anyone who’s spent more than fifteen minutes reading ethics knows that is does not always correspond to ought.  For example, I know unregenerate people in America might want to commit murder–they’ll never change.   Should I then, as a magistrate, not pass a law against murder?

Natural Law:  Coffey suggests that Rutherford forged an uneasy connection between natural law and biblical law.  Lex, Rex was written to justify resistance to the king.  Contra Locke, Rutherford argued that the fundamental unit is not the individual, but the covenant community.  The making of a king, therefore, has two dimensions:  his immediate authorization from God, and the mediate authorization through the covenant community.  Civil society, Rutherford would argue, is natural in radice and voluntary in modo.

Covenant and resistance:  The people (we will leave that term undefined for the moment) could resist an ungodly king if he broke the covenant.  Coffey suggests that Rutherford was embarrassed by the New Testament injunctions against rebellion.  I think Coffey is embarrassed.  True, the New Testament warns against lawless rebellion, but these ethical commands, like all ethical commands, have to be applied in day-to-day situations.  What about the numerous Old Testament commands to rebel against lawfully-ordained tyrants?  Did God change his moral standard?   Rutherford actually mentions these verses, but Coffey doesn’t deal with them

Coffey, however, is to be commended for calling to light some humorous comments from Rutherford.   One of the planks of natural law reasoning is the command to preserve our own life, other things being equal (interestingly, Jesus’ command to love others as ourselves is meaningless if the following premise is not granted).  Rutherford asks, “If an Irish criminal, who happens to be deputized by the king, is about to kill us, natural law requires us to unhorse him and then engage in reasoning.”  Rutherford does list a number of other situations where armed resistance is the only moral option:  if the deputy/king wants you to sodomize someone, violate a woman, etc., only a morally-diseased person will plead pacifism in that case.  That last line is from me, not Coffey.

Ecclesiastical Statesman: Coffey shows remarkable restraint on Rutherford’s presbyterianism.   There is not much to add to this chapter.

National Prophet:  This is where Coffey starts to get annoyed at Rutherford.  He suggests that Rutherford’s covenantal theology, which included the non-elect, was in tension with his ideas of a “purged and renewed Scotland.”  There is tension in how Rutherford applied it, and I think Rutherford can be justly criticized on those points, but I see no tension in the thesis itself.  Of interest is Rutherford’s exegesis of Isaiah 49, wherein he sees Scotland prophesied as one of “the isles.”  We may laugh at such exegesis, but I think there is something to it.  Rutherford’s point, though, is that Scotland had received and banqueted with Christ, and then her nobles forsook him.  Which leads Rutherford to his next point, judgment.

Apocalypticism.  Coffey has an interesting chapter on Rutherford’s apocalyptic language, but like all academics, he misses the larger point.  Not once does Coffey rightly identify this for what it is: historicist eschatology.  This is an old Protestant reading of Scripture and how Coffey, who has done thorough research on everything else, missed this point is beyond me.  Congruent with my own interests, though, is Rutherford’s awareness of that great champion of Protestantism, Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden (230, 239), whom Rutherford calls “a latter day Gideon.” (Coffey is somewhat smug in noting Rutherford’s dismay at Gustvus’ death, as though this disproved Rutherford’s eschatology.  I think there are answers here, but I won’t waste time responding to them).

Conclusion and Critique

In terms of thorough scholarship, this book is to be commended.  There are few modern (if any) biographies on Rutherford.  The price, unfortunately, will deter many from buying it.  The book has its imperfections, though.  Coffey criticizes Rutherford on the last page as pursuing the wrong causes.  He should have pursued an evangelical pietism instead (258).  This is ironic because Coffey earlier criticized pietistic readings of Rutherford.  We grant with Coffey that Rutherford faced a difficulty in applying the covenants to a largely unregenerate nation, but so what?  We must be faithful to the Lord regardless of what the situation looks like.  If the world and nation are dark and opposed to us, it is precisely at that moment that we press the Crown Rights.

Retractare: John Piper and the Origenist Problematic

As hinted in an earlier piece, I’ve been a fairly sharp critic of John Piper for the past few years. I have since moved back to earlier theological convictions and realized my criticisms were entirely fair.  To be sure, Piper does have some problems–some of them substantial ones–and I would certainly caution a young ministerial student in making Piper (or even Jonathan Edwards) the staple of my theological diet.  Still, few critics of Piper actually realize the good he has done.

The title of my post represents an ancient problem in theology.  The early Christian writer Origen fashioned his theology around the idea of “dialectic.”   Something has a corresponding opposite.   This isn’t new with him, but it did become problematic when applied to God.  Criticism was then made of Piper that Piper’s construction of God’s sovereignty necessarily entailed sin, the fall, etc.

Addressing this criticism of Piper will allow me to say where that position (the Anchoretic one, for lack of a better term) made some correct observations, but in doing so failed to come to grips with SCripture.  Even worse, their criticisms of Piper must also apply to Scripture.  So, does Piper’s construction of God’s sovereignty entail a dialectical corollary?    It kind of does, but in the long run it isn’t that big a deal.  First, Piper isn’t the first major thinker to suggest this.  He’s simply offering a new take on the whole “would the incarnation have happened if there were no sin” problem.  I am not actually convinced that the problem is a good one, nor does one even need to give an answer.  That Piper is addressing, however, is not that unusual.   The neo-Palamites made a mountain out of a molehill.

There might be another way to salvage Piper’s reading.  Does the fact that God’s knowing future events make them certain?  It seems hard to affirm otherwise.  If God knows something will happen, then will it happen of a certainty?   It seems so.   So when Piper hints towards a necessary connection between God’s glory and sin, he is simply making explicit the above premise (though I think men like Bruce McCormack have done a better job dealing with the problem).  Now, the sharp Anchorite will say, “Ah, but what about Molinism and all those problems?”  Well, I am at the point in my life where I really don’t care.   There are about five Eastern Orthodox guys alive who really understand that issue (which is highly ironic, given that Orthodoxy usually charges everyone with “rationalism,” yet these arguments  are the most insanely technical I’ve encountered).  The truth is, few people who do not have a Master’s degree in Medieval philosophy will care about these arguments, let alone understand them.   My argument, underlined above, is quite easy to understand.

However, as Piper’s sermons on Romans 9 make clear, the problem still remains, eschewals of the dialectic notwithstanding.  Here is the hilarious thing:  these guys will attack John Piper for saying this, but when Paul says, “vessels of wrath prepared beforehand for destruction,” there is silence.  Further, Piper in that sermon gives seven incontestable reasons why the phrase “he hardens whom he will” means that God first hardens those who have not yet done anything.  And at the end Piper says, “I haven’t removed the mystery.  I’ve simply stated it.  To say ‘free will’ solves the mystery is in truth to say nothing at all.   Free will only makes the problem worse. Free will doesn’t explain anything at all.”

So, I formally retract my earlier criticism of John Piper as an Origenist.   If he is an Origenist on the dialectic, so is Paul.    This is why studying Romans 9 is so exhilarating.  One gets to bask in the sheer majesty and saving power of God.   And if someone sneers “nominalist,” so be it.  My argument is simple:  Give a refutation of my system that does not equally apply to Romans 9:22.

Just read Chrysostom on Romans 9.  His reading of it is literally the opposite of what the text said.  This is not merely “oh, just a nuance of interpretation.”  It is literally the difference between A and ~A.

(Interestingly, the only decent non-Reformed interpretation is NT Wright’s:  Romans 9 is the recapitulation of the story of Israel.   Few non-Calvinists accept this reading, though.  Origen was the first to really deal with it in De Principiis.    Origen’s arguments haven’t really been improved upon by synergists in 1,900 years.  This is not surprising.  While I don’t agree with Wright’s interpretation, I know why synergists do not use it:  it does not exalt and magnify the free will of man.  Period).

Now, for some other thoughts on John Piper.

Pros of Piper:

  1. Like him or not, he is a dynamic speaker who impressed upon one the urgency of eternal things.   Few can match him as a preacher.
  2. He is probably one of the leading reasons in the revival of Jonathan Edwards among non-specialists.`
  3. His “Christian Hedonism,”while prone to problems and misunderstandings, very easily combine doctrine and application.
  4. His website made all of his lectures (and I think, books) free.   Few ministries truly understand this.  Piper does and he is light-years ahead of everyone in marketing techniques (which is ironic, since he is critical of the marketing ministry approach).
  5. I have normally sided with NT Wright over Piper, but I retract most of that.   Wright did make one good point, though:  few scholars accept Piper’s definition of God’s righteousness.   That’s true, but I now think Piper makes a good case.  If one takes corresponding passages between Exodus 33 and Romans 9, there is a clear connection between God’s righteousness, God’s glory, and God’s Name.
  6. I have always leaned towards continuationist views on prophecy; Piper’s arguments solidified those views.

Cons:

  1. I hesitate to make Piper and Christian Hedonism the focal point of my theological diet.   Men need systems and all men have them.   Piper’s system is not coherent enough for someone who doesn’t have a strong background in church history, philosophy, and theology.   On the opposite side, those who do little else but chant “Westminster Confession” have a remarkably coherent system, but they do not always go further.
  2. I think Piper got sidetracked on the “racial equality” issue.  I admit that racial problems exist in America, but when someone mentions “racial equality,” what they usually mean is how bad whites treat blacks today.   I’m sure that happens somewhere, though I haven’t actually seen that phenomena in fifteen years, but what is never mentioned, aside from the regular Department of Justice report, is the overwhelming percentage of black-on-white (and for what it’s worth, black-on-black) crimes.   In fact, to even mention this is to commit the heinous sin of “racism” (which is a Marxist construct).  I probably agree with 90% of what he says on this, but I am deeply troubled about  what is usually not said.
  3. I don’t agree with him about  his usual baptist conclusions, obviously.  But I also don’t agree with the corollaries to this:  separation of church and state and the general Baptist take on politics.    These are problems with Independency in general.