A bit of the divine nature left over…

A few posts back on the extra-calvinisticum, some questions were raised and they got me thinking more and realizing on one level that the Calvinist claim to the extra Calvinisticum (Jesus retained part of his divine nature in heaven apart from his ministry on earth) is thought-provoking.

I think many Calvinists assume that if Jesus is fully divine, that means the divine nature is exhausted in the humanity of Jesus.  And since there is only one divine nature, and that divine nature is in Jesus, that means that God is only present in one geographical location in Palestine (at least pre-Ascension).

Obviously that is incorrect, and Calvinists are right to point out that God is not geographically limited to a certain locale.    On the other hand, there are numerous confusions happening:

  1. There is a confusion between person and nature.   A person can possess the divine nature without being that divine nature.
  2. Natures are enhypostatic–they are in a hypostasis.  They are not “floating around” apart from a hypostasis.
  3. Per (3), that means Jesus can fully possess the divine nature and be everything the father is in terms of the nature, and at the same time not “use up the divine nature so that there is none left over” (thus removing the Calvinist concern).

Extra-calvinisticum and Philippians 2:7

The extra-calvinisticum teaches that Christ had a little left over from his hypostasis.    While the Calvinist wants to affirm Christ is both God-nature and man-nature in one hypostasis–never mind the problems he creates in getting there–he ends up affirming, given the reformed dictum that the finite cannot contain the infinite, that there is an extra to the divine nature outside of the hypostasis.

It’s hard to square that with either Cyrillian or kenotic Christology.   Cyril, ala McGuckin, said that Christ assumed the entirety of our human existence.  He had a fully divine nature in his hypostasis.    Phillipians 2:6-8 says that Christ did not consider equality with God something to be grasped…took on the form of the slave.  While we don’t believe that negates the divine nature, at the very least the language and narrative suggests that there isn’t a little bit of the divine nature “floating around” in heaven, either.

Rushdoony gets it…sort of

When I was first becoming Reformed the guy I mainly read was RJ Rushdoony (and many would say that’s a problem; that he is not a real Calvinist, and I should have spent years reading Berkhof instead; perhaps, though that would only have deferred the problematic issues and not removed them).

I was so excited to read Rushdoony’s book on the early church councils.  Admittedly, it was a terrible introduction to the early church.   Even where Rushdoony did not get it wrong, he often missed the main point (e.g., Athanasius was fighting Arius, not Karl Barth; reading Rushdoony one often got that impression).   That said, it was a fun read.

I get annoyed when Calvinists say doctrine is important, but the Filioque is simply trifling over words (cf Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology).  To be fair, what difference can  three words make to your spiritual life (or to your social order)?

Now that I think of it, Rushdoony was onto something.    He believed there is a direct relation between Triadology and social order.   So did St Gregory Nazianzus:

The three most ancient opinions concerning God are Anarchia, Polyarchia, and Monarchia. The first two are the sport of the children of Hellas, and may they continue to be so. For Anarchy is a thing without order; and the Rule of Many is factious, and thus anarchical, and thus disorderly. For both these tend to the same thing, namely disorder; and this to dissolution, for disorder is the first step to dissolution.

Rushdoony upholds the Filioque, and he tries to show how it is important.  On p. 189ff (I think; I am quoting this from memory.  If I am  off on the pagination, it is only by a few pages) he says the addition of the Filioque destroyed the remaining vestiges of subordinationism in Christian theology.  Further, it reduced the power of the State in the West and saw the triumph of the Church.

My thoughts:

The Filioque destroyed a form of healthy subordination by negating the monarchia of the Father (and all must admit this is a new move in theology). The only way one can remove all forms of subordinationism in the Trinity is to opt for something like Calvin’s autotheos, the Son (and presumably Father and Spirit) is God of himself.   But one must then ask, “given the denial of the monarchia, and what autotheos entails, how can one affirm a personal source of unity in the Trinity?”  One can’t.  One is left with “God popping up all over the place.”

The problem is that Rushdoony gets the best and worst in one swoop.  He removes the healthy form of subordinationism by moving away from the monarchia of the Father, and with his emphasis on autotheos he does have the persons of the Trinity fully God–even if he can no longer show how they are connected, something the monarchia safeguarded–but even with the Filioque one must admit subordinationism is not yet gone.

This is a point that is rarely seen.   If the ancient view of the monarchia is subordinationist because it has the Son and Spirit deriving from the person of the Father, and the Filioquists say that the Filioque destroys this subordinationism of the Son, how can one avoid the conclusion that the Spirit is now subordinate to the Son and the Father?   The Spirit has been made the Son’s lieutenant.  It won’t do to say as Berkhof that the Spirit receives the entire divine essence.  That’s not the issue under contention–the monarchia of the Father said the same thing.

The Social Order

The above are arguments and counters- you will find in any Filioquist discussion.  Rushdoony makes a number of correct observations if wrong conclusions.  He notes that one’s view of the Trinity is directly tied to one’s view of social order.

  • Rushdoony noted a connection between subordinationism in the Trinity and the development of the Byzantine state.   Actually, he used more loaded terminology, but let’s look at it.  I think he (correctly) assumes a correlation between the monarchia of the Trinity and political monarchy.   Of course, he sees that as statism and “developing the Byzantine state.”  While the Byzantines were autocrats in a certain sense, this is still far removed from the “state” in any modern sense.
  • Rushdoony (correctly) says the Filioquist West saw the rise of the Church above everything else in society.   He’s not entirely accurate on this point.   It’s not so much that the Filioque let to the rise of the Church–especially not in the free, volunteer church that Rushdoony espoused!–but to the rise of the papacy.   The East said that the Holy Spirit is the principle of unity in the Church.   While the West may affirm that, too, one more likely sees the papacy as the principle of unity in the Church.    That’s what Thomas Aquinas said,

“The error of those who say that the Vicar of Christ, the Pontiff of the Roman Church, does not have a primacy over the universal Church is similar to the error of those who say that the Holy Spirit does not proceed from the Son. For Christ himself, the Son of God, consecrates and marks her as his own with the Holy Spirit, as it were with his own character and seal, as the authorities already cited make abundantly clear. And in like manner the Vicar of Christ by his primacy and foresight as a faithful servant keeps the Church Universal subject to Christ. It must, then, be shown from texts of the aforesaid Greek Doctors that the Vicar of Christ holds the fullness of power over the whole Church of Christ.

Did Calvin Confuse Person and Nature?

The irony is that I am now reading Calvin more carefully (and sometimes more eagerly) than the days when I was a Calvinist.  The following is from his commentary on Matthew 24:36 (good luck finding it;  “Harmonies” of the Gospels are useless and make research and cross-referencing virtually impossible.  That said, if you have the 30 odd volume Commentary set published by Baker or Hendrickson, look for volume 17, page 154.

For we know that in Christ the two natures were united into one person in such a manner that each retained its own properties; and more especially  the Divine nature was in a state of repose, and did not at all exert itself, whenever it was necessary that the human nature should act separately, according to what was peculiar to itself, in discharging the office of Mediator.

We can note several things here:

  • The Person of Christ as subject (per Cyril) is pushed to the background and emphasis is on the Office of Mediator.
  • We see an explicit statement that natures, not Persons, act.   This is an open confusion of person and nature.  I suppose one could reply that Calvin really meant that the person acts, and the first sentence of the quote does suggest that Calvin thought he was being faithful to the Tradition.  That said, given the later Calvinian emphasis on the extra calvinisticum, Calvin’s words here are internally consistent (if wrong).
  • Some people think that Nestorianism means “two persons of Christ.”  It does not.  It means “two subjects.”   Cyril’s theology was that the Logos is the sole subject of all Incarnate actions.  Nestorious explicitly rejected that point.  If Calvin has natures acting, then he is positing multiple sources in his Christology.  The structure of his Christology is openly Nestorian.

I will admit, though, I do not yet know what Calvin means by the divine nature is in a state of repose.

EDIT:  I actually do know what Calvin means by the “state of repose.” The extra calvinisticum is clearly wrong, but that’s not my contention here.

Keys to a recapitulatory Christology

Ephesians 1:10 says Christ sums up all things in himself, both in heaven and on earth.  Christology, then, recapitulates–or sees the recapitulation–of all things (including Scriptural exegesis) in Christ.

I think this is a lot more helpful than making verses say that Christ earned some legal status and transfered that legal status onto us.  One could argue that I am forcing the biblical text onto a recapitulatory grid.  That’s true, I suppose, but everyone does that and indeed, given what van Til taught us, it’s hard to avoid doing that.

The following verses seek to show that Christ “recapitulated” Israel’s story, Israel’s promises, and Israel’s inheritance.   We receive this, not by having some fictional legal status transfered to us, but in sharing in the body of Christ.  Christ gained these promises and in sharing in his body, which is Christ, we participate in these promises.

There are  hundreds of verses to that point, and I suppose dozens of counter-arguments, and I do not have time to examine either in full detail.   However, I will quote and refer to a Protestant author who has effectively reshaped the debate. Richard Hays has decisively and convincingly argued that Galatians 2:16 should be read as “the faith(fulness) of Jesus Christ” rather than “faith in Jesus Christ.”   While the actual Greek grammar is the subjective genitive (Hays’ reading), I won’t go into the technical details here, but will rather focus on the implications of Hays’ argument.

If Hays is correct, then saying the “faithfulness” of Jesus Christ makes Christ the active agent in salvation.   It means Jesus is doing something.  At this point the Calvinist will say, “Yes, Christ is doing something.  He is obeying the law and transfering that to our account.”   Technically possible, I suppose, but let’s place Christ within the narrative of Israel.   If Hays is correct, then this reading corresponds nicely to Romans 5–the Second Adam.   Jesus is not only acting as another Adam, but he is also acting as another Israel.  He is the faithful Israelite.  He is, in other words, recapitulating Israel’s story (when I do a book review of Hays’ work I will bring out other points).   To follow up on the previous line, Hays placing Jesus in the climax of Israel’s story.

Hays notes in his book that a weakness of traditional Protestant readings of justification and Galatians fail to show how justification and Christology have any real connection.  This is another way of paraphrasing Sanders’ complaint that justification is a side-issue to the real Pauline core:  participation in Christ.   Sanders is wrong, but he is onto something.  Justification is not a side-issue, but it doesn’t fit into the schematic the way Protestants typically make it fit.  When I finish Hays’ work I will bring out this argument.

One final point, if Hays is correct, then this argument makes better sense of baptism.  If Jesus is the True Israelite (indeed, the True Israel itself; cf. Matthew 2:15), and in Christ’ baptism he continued the story of Israel in a new way (or better yet, he recapitulated Israel’s story), then we, too, find ourselves in this saving, healing story if we also participate in Christ.   How do we identify with Christ?  We do so in baptism.   This doesn’t confer “magic salvation” points to us ala some crass construals of “baptismal regeneration.”  Baptism does save, not because of the magic powers of __________, but because it brings us into the locus of salvation:  Christ and his body the Church.

It was always hard to see how the sacraments were important given a hard reading of sola gratia.  If grace alone truly saved (indeed, especially if we were elect from all time), then we really didn’t have to get baptized.  I know, I know, God works through secondary causes.     But that’s just ad hoc theology.  If pressed to the edge, one has to admit that nothing, not even baptism, contributes to our salvation.   Yes, there are appeals to obedience and what not, but remember what sola gratia claims.   Baptism ends up being a fifth wheel.

On the other hand, if Hays’ reading is correct, then baptism, while “salvific,” does not become a “work” that gets me into heaven (the meritorious scheme has since been abandoned.  Merit has no place in narratival ontologies).

Introductory explorations on the new perspective on paul

The New Perspective on Paul, falsely so-called, is not a recent phenomenon.   I doubt I have any “new” light to shed on the topic.   On the other hand, I think I can pinpoint the key issues in the New Perspective and why the Reformed tradition reacted so wildly against it.

Obviously, there are many areas of contention between the NPP and Reformed camp, but I will only pick one area.  It concerns the phrase “works of the law.”  Does “works of the law” equal “man’s attempt to gain righteousness before God on his individual works” or does it mean “the ethnic boundary markers of Judaism”?

I maintain, with the NPP, that “works of the law” means “ethnic boundary markers.”   This reading actually makes sense of the whole fuss on circumcision in Galatians.   On the other hand, if Paul truly wanted to combat works-righteousness, then he wasted a lot of (precious) ink talking about Jewish rites.   Rather, if we say “boundary markers,” then the narrative (deliberate use of the word) of Galatians (and Romans) flows more smoothly.

The problem is not “how can I find a gracious God?” but “Given the mess Israel and the world are in, and the strange events of Jesus the Messiah, how can God be in the right?”

Test Cases

In Galatians 2:18 Paul says “if I rebuilt what I tore down I make myself out to be a sinner.”   The language of “rebuilding” and “tearing down” implies some kind of fence or wall.  What do fences and walls do?  They demarcate boundaries.   They say, “this and not that.”  What is Paul fussing about in Galatians?  He is dealing with the problem of circumcision and Jews and Gentiles eating at different tables.  In other words, he is angry because men are acting like they have different identities even though there is one Messiah.  Nobody is trying to “earn” his or her salvation by “merit” ala Pelagius.

Therefore, when Paul is rejecting works of the law, he is doing so in the context of circumcision.  But what was circumcision for in the Old Covenant?  It demarcated the identity of the covenant people of God.   If we keep this reading in mind, Paul’s exegesis of Genesis 12, 17, and 18 in Galatians 3 actually stays relevant to the point (on the other hand, insert “works righteousness” and it’s hard to see how the nations being blessed before Abraham was circumcised makes any sense).

Therefore, “works of the law” = “circumcision” = “Jewish identity rites.”

But why does the Reformed faith get so angry over the above exegesis?  While I reject sola fide the way Calvinists define it, nothing I’ve written above contradicts even their reading of justification.  Nothing above advocates earning “medieval merit” (in fact, I think the above reading refutes that).   Sure, they have to change the mindset of their systematic theologians, and perhaps need to start asking different questions, but since they chant “sola scriptura” even that should not be a problem).

So what is the problem?  The problem is if they accept this reading they can’t immediately start bashing Roman Catholicism.  (Yes, I reject Catholicism, too, but not for those readings.)  This is a big deal because Calvinism, being formed in the Augustinian dialectic, necessarily demands Catholicism as an antithesis.  (Keep in mind that Hegelianism isn’t simply thesis versus antithesis = synthesis.  Rather, the thesis posits it’s antithesis while simultaneously remaining the thesis.  I’m accepting Charles Taylor’s reading of Hegel on this point).   Therefore, if Galatians wasn’t written as the blast against Roman Catholicism, then Calvinists are in trouble.

I think it is more than that, though.  All traditions and communities have metanarratives.   Calvinism’s metanarrative, in its more honest moments, is that Roman Catholicism teaches merit-righteousness and Galatians and Romans refutes precisely that.

I think it is even more personal than that.  We can’t admit our heroes were on the wrong track.  The hagiography surrounding Luther and Calvin would put any Orthodox monk-author to shame.  Some go so far to identify their experiences with Luther even to falsifying their own childhood experiences (God pulled me off of a Harley at age 9, etc).  If Luther’s reading of Galatians is wrong, so the argument goes, then Luther is wrong.

While I do think Luther was wrong, the above argument is logically fallacious, and even when I was a Calvinist I told them as much.   They didn’t listen, though.   Narratives are powerful stuff.

Is the Law-Gospel dialectic proto-liberalism?

I didn’t know whether to categorize it as “law-gospel” or “Republication of Covenant of Works,” or simply “Klinean theology.”  You get the idea.     The “law-gospel” divorce is much broader than the other two, but it includes them.  Truth be told, though, “Klineanism” is the more accurate term for the discussion below.

Many decades ago CH Dodd praised the apostle Paul for anticipating higher criticism (JEDP:  the vile heresy that there are multiple–and often conflicting–authors of Torah).   Paul, per Dodd’s gloss, saw different strands of Deuteronomic teaching.   Now, we all know Dodd is wrong and few Reformed authors would want to associate themselves with liberalism, but I have to ask:   are they also Doddians, too?

How far removed from Dodd and the Documentary Hypothesis is the Reformed view that Torah contains both a faith principle and a works principle?  It was not without reason that post-liberal William Willimon said today’s evangelicals are tomorrow’s liberals.  Indeed.

The Klinean–and the unwitting Calvinist who follows Kline–posits a dialectic within Scripture which will ultimately deconstruct his worldview.