Union with Christ: Letham (5)


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.


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.

Christological basics

Hypostasis: not 100% identical with “person,” but that’s generally the accepted definition.  Jesus only has one of those. Not synonymous with corporeal body (per the Father and Spirit).

Nature:  The “what-ness” of a thing.   Jesus has two of them, divine and human.  A human nature is not completely synonymous with a human body, but the latter is certainly included in the former.

Enhypostasis:  personal natures exist in persons.   There is no such thing as a free-floating human nature.  In other words, have you ever looked up in the sky and seen a “nature” just floating around? Therefore, Jesus’s divine and human natures are always in his person (or his person is of two natures).   Every tradition–Roman, Orthodox, and Protestant–agrees with this.

Nestorianism:  textbooks define it as “two persons” of Jesus.  That’s a bit crass and the better Nestorians never said that.   The more subtle point is that the one hypostasis of Jesus is formed from two previous hypostases.  That said, I’ve never actually met someone who holds that view.  In any case, if Jesus’s human nature is going to be in two places at the same time, and if what we said about enhypostasis is true, then Jesus’s person must be in two places at one time. Thus, two persons of Jesus.  That is Nestorianism.  It is a heresy.

Sessional Reign of Christ:  Jesus bodily ascended to the right hand  of the Father.  He is ruling there.  He will stay there until the Parousia.  If Jesus only has one hypostasis, and we rule out Nestorianism, then he cannot be bodily in a million Eucharists.  Acts 3 says “Heaven must receive him until the times of restoration.”  That means Jesus’s person must stay in heaven.  (I do not deal with the issue of people who say they saw visions of Jesus.  Perhaps they did.   I dispute whether Jesus personally, bodily appeared to them).

Spirit as Vicar:  If Jesus is in heaven, then who is his vicar on earth?  Jesus said the Spirit.

A Dialogue on Eucharist and Symbol

Anchorite:  Show me where in the first 9 centuries someone held to your view of the Supper.

Covenant:  Does Ratramnus count?

Anchorite:  No, he is a Westerner.  Show me someone else who held that the Supper was merely a symbol?

Covenant:  Who says I believe that?

Anchorite:  OrthoBridge says you do.

Covenant:  Sadly, I am aware of that.  Even worse, neither he nor his Reformed interlocutor knows what Calvin said.

Anchorite:  Well, here is what he said:

Something similar to Socrates’ Cave can be seen in Protestantism’s emphasis on the profound gap that separates us from God.  It is grounded in ontology (God’s infinity) and morality (God’s infinite goodness and man’s utter depravity).  The moral gap is resolved by Christ’s atoning death on the cross for our sins.  The ontological gap is bridged primarily by the divinely inspired Scriptures and faith in Christ.

Covenant:  Yikes, that’s bad.  The ontological gap is not bridged by Scriptures.  Saying it “bridges” it is misleading.  The ontological gap is always there, but there is an analogical, sacramental union between sign and thing signified.  Orthodoxy simultaneously holds to both univocal and equivocal models:  it is equivocal on their gloss when I approach the bible for I can never know what the words really mean, but it is univocal when they approach the supper because the bread is Jesus’s DNA.  I would critique the Orthodox for not knowing what this is, but Federal Vision guys don’t know either. Orthodox philosophy stayed in the dark ages after Nicea II, so it is not surprising that they don’t have a category for analogical union.

Anchorite:  See how he refutes you here:

However, this is at odds with the first century Liturgy of St. James of Jerusalem which has a twofold epiclesis: upon the congregation and upon the Eucharistic elements.

Covenant:  Did I miss something?  How is throwing a counter quote at me a refutation?

Anchorite:  Well, you all are Johnny Come Latelys:

One striking aspect of the Reformed worship tradition is the omission of the epiclesis.  The epiclesis — the calling down of the Holy Spirit on the bread and the wine — is key to the Orthodox understanding of the Eucharist.  The denial of the local presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist along with the omission of the epiclesis points to the Reformed tradition break from the liturgical theology of the ancient church.

Covenant:  Maybe we omit the epiclesis because we don’t need it.  We aren’t magicians.  We aren’t “changing” anything, so we don’t need a magical incantation.

Anchorite:  It is evidence of a gnostic attitude to history.  It seems that for many Protestants history doesn’t matter, that all we need is the Bible and faith in Christ.

Covenant:  If that is so, then why does the Westminster Confession speak of ministerial authorities?

Anchorite:  Many Protestants honor the early church fathers for combating the heresies of Gnosticism, Arianism, Sabellianism, and accept the early orthodox definitions of Christology and the Trinity but then show no respect to the way the early church worshiped.

Covenant:  That’s because God says people who worship the Queen of Heaven and pictures “hate him.” I agree with their conclusions but I don’t see why I am eternally bound to hold to substance metaphysics and sometimes bad exegesis (see the glosses on Proverbs 8).

Anchorite:  If the Reformed Christians are right on this, then the whole premise of II Timothy 2:2 must be called into question and so also the promise of the Spirit’s guidance in John 14:25-26 and 16:12-15.

Covenant:  No, we just don’t believe asserting the consequent is a good logical argument.  It does not follow that because you do something, and you claim “tradition,” that the apostles meant the same thing you do.

I will concede that Calvin had a Platonic streak in him. I find it hilarious that the Orthodox try to critique him on this point.  You guys think Yeshua is actually hyper-ousia, you have an ontology of “overcoming embodiment,” and you hold to chain of being–but no, Calvin is wrong because he is Platonic.

Which tradition is closest to Jesus’s Liturgy?

If someone says, “Yeah, but we can trace our complex liturgy back to St Ignatius who was John’s disciple and you can’t,” then I simply respond, “I don’t care.  This is what those aforesaid disciples said Jesus did.” (And at this point it is obvious that Ignatius trumps the disciples on their gloss).

What Jesus Did

Institution of the Lord’s Supper

26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the[c] covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

Jesus Foretells Peter’s Denial

30 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Roman Catholic Liturgy (and to be fair I’ll quote the more traditional one and not the Novus Ordo Clown Masses)

Why do we ring the chimes or bells during the Eucharistic Prayer? I was once told that before microphones were used, the bells would be rung to let the people who couldn’t hear know that the most important part of the Mass was taking place.
The bells originally had a practical purpose. The Mass was in Latin, and the words were spoken quietly by the priest – so even microphones were not an issue. The bell was rung one time when the priest extended his hands over the chalice in blessing right before the Consecration. This was a signal to the congregation that the Consecration was about to take place. Then, when the words of Consecration had been spoken, the priest would genuflect, raise the Host (Chalice) to be visible to the people, and then genuflect again. The bell was rung at each of those steps – so the triple ring became common.

Nowadays, with the Mass in the vernacular language, and the words spoken aloud, the bells are rung in some parishes more as a continuity of tradition than as a practical matter.

Eastern Orthodox Liturgy

Most of the Proskomedia happens in the sanctuary behind the iconostasis. While the priests prepare the offering, the congregation participates in further litanies. Every part of the service except the homily is chanted, and normally a choir sings while the congregation does not. Clouds of incense fill the church at specific moments, signifying the prayers of the congregation rising to heaven, and signifying the presence of the Holy Spirit.


High Reformed Liturgy:

The Sacrifice of Peace
Prayers of Thanksgiving & Memorial !
Communion Hymn: #583 (Psalm 25) “Lord I lift my soul”! ! TH!
Communion in the Body & Blood of Our Lord!
†The Song of Simeon (Nunc Dimittis): Luke 2:30-32!

Baptist Liturgy

The pastor transubstantiates the wine into grape juice because we are holier than God.   He then passes out the chiclets while a lady on stage sings an emotional solo.



A Typology of Wine

Taken from Hart’s Beauty of the Infinite, 108.  Not only is this an excellent manifesto for the godly enjoyment of wine, it is also a subtle critique upon Greek ontology (as it is embedded in a specific mythology).

The wine of Dionysius is no doubt of the coarsest vintage, intended to blind with drunkenness rather than enliven with whimsy; it is fruit of the same vine with which Dionysius bridged the Euphrates, after flaying alive the king of Damascus, so that he could conquer India for viniculture (so we know from Plutarch et al…); and of the same vine for which Lycurgus mistook his son Dryas when driven mad for offending the wild god, causing him to cut Dryas down for “pruning” (as Homer and Apollodorus report); the vine that destroyed the pirates who did not bear Dionysius to Naxos (again, Homer and Ovid); it is the wine that inflamed the maenads to rend Pentheus limb from limb, led by his own mother; the wine repeatedly associated with madness, slaughter, warfare, and rapine (one need only consider the Dionysian cult at Orchomenus with its ritual acts of frenzy, infanticide, cannibalism).

The wine of Christian scripture, on the other hand, is first and foremost a divine blessing and image of God’s bounty (Gen. 27:28; Dt 7:13…the texts are too numerous to count) and an appropriate thank offering by which to declare Israel’s love to God (Exodus 29:40 et al); it is the wine that cheers the hearts of gods and men (Judges 9:13), to be drunk and shared with those for whom nothing is prepared on the day holy to the Lord (Neh. 8:10), the sign of God’s renewed covenant with his people (Isaiah 55:1-3), the drink of lovers (Song 5:1), and the very symbol of love (7:2, 9; 8:2), whose absence is the eventide of all joy (Is. 24:11); it is, moreover, the wine of agape and the feast of fellowship, in which Christ first vouchsafed a sign of his divinity, in a place of rejoicing, at Cana–a wine of the highest quality–when the kingdom showed itself out of season; the wine, again, forsaken with all good things of creation, when Christ went to his death, but promised to be drunk anew at the banquet table of his father’s kingdom (Mark 15:23).

Review of Horton, Covenant Ecclesiology Part Two

Horton recapitulates the argument of his book in chapter 6. Chapter 1 argued the where of Christ’s presence (Ascension), chapters 2-5 argued the how of Christ’s presence (Covenantal Speech-Act), and chapter 6 argues the what of identity on earth. In what sense is the church one and many?

Horton makes several key distinctions between “unity” and “unicity.” Unity is a healthy respecting of differences best seen in a covenantal community. This can only be by the Spirit. Noting Leslie Newbigin’s poignant remark, when we make the church an “extension of the Incarnation,” we confuse sarx (Christ’s flesh) with soma (his body as the church). In such a move any union is at the level of fused essences flowing downward in a hierarchy (as is necessary in all Platonic and Dionysian visions; 187). Rather, our union with Christ is through the Spirit in anticipation of the age to come.

This has important practical applications. When faced with high-church claims to “unity over Protestant divisions,” one may rightly ask if unity is even possible on a Roman or Orthodox position? Does not their own version of unity reduce all to sameness, in a sense losing unity altogether for unicity? If they hold to a Dionysian ontology in which differences are overcome through an ascent on the divine ladder (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, section 34), do they not lose the many to the one? Indeed, to borrow a line from the postmoderns, does not differance become violence?

Throughout this discussion Horton engages in some very important analyses of John Zizioulas and Miroslav Volf, thus adding a particular relevance to his work

Horton correctly condemns the political maneuvering of Urban II (259ff), but fundamentally misses the point and result of the first crusade. While many knights did see themselves as waging war against the infidel, the first crusade is better seen as a sustained defensive measure against Islam (remember, the Muslims invaded first). Further, he then invokes–ironically, in almost a religious manner–liberal democracies litany of “bad guy countries:” South Africa, “colonialism,” and Serbia.

Normally, I would let it slide but since I probably know more about Serbia than 90% of Americans, I feel compelled to expand the point. Serbs before 1999 simply did not see themselves as King David. Milosevic remained an atheist until shortly before his murder in The Hague. He only claimed the mantle of Tsar Lazar on Kosovo Poltje in the final days of the war–and that for political, not religious reasons. As Orthodox theologian Vladimir Moss points out, Serbia was the most secular post-Communist country in the 1990s (with also the highest abortion rate). As C.I.A. analyst John Schindler (Unholy Terror) remarks, “The sad irony is that Serbia was already close to Hilary Clinton’s vision of a secular state in the new world order.” To make the irony worse, Serbia only became interested in its religious heritage as a response to Hillary’s War. I only belabor the point because it seems to contrast with Horton’s earlier (and admirable) resisting the collapse of cult and cultus. Is not his endorsing–however seriously he meant the statement–the litany of liberal democracy a similar collapsing? (To be fair, he later critiqued the nigh-ubiquitous equation of the Kingdom with liberal democracy, p. 287 n.100) I share his suspicion to Christian Reconstructionism, for example, and I am equally skeptical of Van Tillians’ chanting “No neutrality,” but this may be the one area they actually have a point.

Concerning the Temple (or “Temple-speak” as I shall call it), Horton is correct to note that the person and work of Christ replaced the Temple economy with its sacrifices (268ff). Further, he is correct that we should not as Christians seek a rebuilt Temple. While Horton’s final conclusions may indeed be correct, the inference does not follow that because Revelation “spiritualizes” (whatever that word means) a Temple that all prophetic references to “Temple-speak” are necessarily about Jesus. What then is the point of a temple, one may ask? The answer to that question hinges on several eschatological presuppositions, but those aside, one may posit that a newly-built temple, while having no relevance for Christian worship (indeed, it would be blasphemy) is necessary to Anti-Christ’s false covenant with the Jews.

Oddly enough, Horton quotes Jurgen Moltmann with approval (Moltmann elsewhere has given one of the most penetrating critiques of ideological amillennialism). At this point, almost without warning (270-271), Horton shifts from his “spiritual temple” to why Christian activism in politics is wrong.

While his section on “Holy War” has much promise, I am skeptical of Horton’s invoking Meredith Kline’s “intrusion ethics” (272). Whatever merits intrusion ethics may have, and while it does mitigate some of the harsher passages in the OT for today’s application, I doubt it would have been of much comfort to the Canaanites! (Admittedly, Horton realizes “intrusion” is a terrible ethical term, as it implies relativistic ethics. His use of “irruption,” while perhaps not allaying all of the difficulties in his position, is much better and doesn’t have the situation-ethics overtones). While “irruption ethics” sounds good in broad, general outlines, it is by no means clear that it automatically follows “mean texts” (which itself is a subjective judgment). Horton, in responding to Kant, says that “imprecatory psalms” are delayed because God delayed his judgment (277). Maybe so, but he is reading that into the passage.

Intrusion ethics becomes particularly troubling in this quote, “Other examples of intrusion ethics appear in the ‘sacrifice’ of Isaac and Hosea’s marriage” (ibid). Admittedly, these are ethical nightmares (the former more so than the latter) for any systematic theologian, but Horton’s position at this point seems to reduce to a voluntaristic Divine-command ethic, which is odd given his commitment to natural law.

While perhaps not a criticism of Horton, in another place we see how tenuous the sharp divide between cult and cultus is. While we should be wary of “killin ‘em terrorists for Jesus” (GOP?), Horton himself shows, even if does not realize it, how difficult it is to dichotomize one’s life: “As throughout the history recounted above, the cosmic battle is waged through earthly agents; personal and institutional; religious and social; cultic and cultural; rhetorical and political. Yet the church knows the real enemy behind behind these penultimate agents” (283). He is correct that this battle is taking place in history. And he is correct that we cannot take an AK-47 against the “real agents,” but the unspoken conclusion hangs heavy in the room, a conclusion I suspect he would disavow: may we not, acting as good citizens in the Kingdom of God’s Left Hand (actually a good name for a political party!), take the AK-47 against the penultimate agents? On a 2 Kingdoms ethic it’s hard to see why not (all other things . Even more, as Horton states this battle is in history, we are historical beings (per his correct critique of Karl Barth), we cannot divorce our lives from this history. As Aragorn tells King Theoden, “Open war is upon you, whether you wish it or not.” This has always been the fatal flaw in neo-Two Kingdoms ethics: as long as the state says its not acting as the church, it’s hard to see how any one program the state is wrong. Natural law ethics helps but only to an extent.

A Primer on Study Bible Polemics

This is in response to a comparison between the Orthodox Study Bible and the Geneva Bible.

In regard to the claim that justification is an ongoing process.

Point 1:  If we are justified (aorist) then how is it an ongoing state?  At best that is vague language.   The aorist tense suggests a completed action, not an ongoing one.  It seems the OSB is conflating “salvation” with “justification,” but Protestants do not hold that. The study bible says,

Faith is more than the conviction that something is true

This is classic Reformed 101.   Reformed define faith in a 3-fold way.  This is further evidence that for all of the irenicism, Orthodox simply do not bother to understand what Reformed teach.

Stated:  In its reaction to medieval Roman Catholicism Protestantism became allergic to the role of good works in salvation.

This is ironic since the Puritans are usually accused of being legalists.  We simply deny that works are the instrumental and efficient causes in our salvation.  How hard is that to understand?

About tradition:  Quick question:   give empirical verification that the traditions you have today are the same as the apostles’.  Do not employ the fallacy of asserting the consequent.

About the real presence:  essentially the Protestants are wrong because they are ambivalent on the real presence.  Maybe so, but that’s not an argument that it is logically true.  Also ironic is that the Scriptures suddenly become clear, objective, and literal when proving a pet doctrine.  But I come back to a question:  Is the divine nature present in the Eucharist?  Presumably the OSB will say yes.  Can the divine nature exist outside of a hypostasis, whether that of Father, Son or Spirit?   The OSB will have to say no because of the doctrine of enhypostasis.  This means logically that the hypostasis of Jesus is present.   But this becomes problematic when multiple Eucharists are being celebrated at the same time, for then we will have multiple hypostases of Jesus!  Nestorius didn’t even teach this!

Then there are the usual calls tha tProtestants need to own up to their own traditions.   Have these people not heard of the presuppositional school?   Of course Protestants know that.  We also know that our understanding isn’t infallible.