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.

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.

In case these aren’t approved

I posted a number of comments at OB. We will see if the moderator approves them (they haven’t as of yet been approved).  I don’t know why I have been placed in that pending status.   That is a good thread simply because it shows the difference between a Reformed, covenantal, narratival ontology  on the one hand and a static Hellenic one on the other.

Just a thought:

I’ve never met anyone, Romanist or Protestant, who admits to short-changing the Incarnation. I was thinking about this the other day. The denouement of the biblical narrative is neither the Incarnation nor even the Cross, but the Resurrection (and possibly, the sessional reign or premillennial return). Therefore, to be faithful to the “flow” of biblical of the biblical narrative, emphasis should be on these other events.

Someone had correctly rebutted the neo-Socinians by saying that the shedding of blood was necessary, thus putting more emphasis on the cross.   The embarrassed replies and admissions to that comment were just hilarious.

This debate came up in Reformed Scholasticism as well. Some Reformed like Rutherford said that it could have been some other way. John Owen (correctly) pointed out the same thing you did. While I agree with Rutherford 98% of the time, I have to demur at this point.  Denying that blood was necessary can lead down the road to nominalism.

***my belief in total depravity and inherited guilt made me assume that Christ didn’t assume our totally depraved so called “sin nature”***

This sentence is a true summary of modern Reformed thought and publishing. Correcting it is part of my “project.” If you read the Protestant confessions and Charles Hodge, they specifically reject that gloss on depravity, but the modern Reformed world was interested in other things.

To the others,

The problem with “emphasis” arguments is just that: neither side is necessarily right or wrong. It’s similar to the claim that the East begins with the Persons and the West begins with the essence. Even if correct (and it is not) it doesn’t actually prove anything (since at the end of the day both sides agree).

Ironically, the fundamentalistic premillennialists might be closest to the truth: if the biblical narrative is dynamic and future-moving, then the denouement is in the future (the blessed return).

***I’m not qualified to articulate what are and are not differences in Orthodox vs. Calvinist anthropology***

Reformed anthropology follows Thomism, minus the donum superadditum.

The rest of what you wrote is rather unobjectionable from a Reformed standpoint.

***Not sure how Calvin’s theology of “total depravity” accounts for that.***

1) That’s not what total depravity means. It means our will follows our intellect and the latter is limited in its choice of the good.
2) God took Enoch and Elijah. There really isn’t anything more to the story than that. Surely you aren’t suggesting that they, in a Pelagian fashion, lived such a good life that God rewarded their works?

****As James cited from St. Gregory the Theologian, “what is not assumed in the Incarnation is not saved.”. This refutes the concept of total depravity since Christ was not depraved and thus man could not be saved if he were.****

No, it rebuts the idea, not refutes it. There is a difference. Both sides have a problem: if pressed to hard, the EO position comes close to Pelagianism and is hard-pressed to explain both the universality of sin and the fact that future generations act sinfully.

Crude reformed positions, such as are represented in pop culture, can lead towards Manichean views of human nature. However, the only person who ever held that position was Flavius Illyricus, the Lutheran, and he was condemned. Francis Turretin and Charles Hodge specifically denied that sin was essential to human nature.

***Even temptation is a sign of depravity according to that doctrine, so the temptation is often described as a temptation that is not akin to our own human temptation.***

That is more true of medieval Catholicism than it is of Reformation theology (I can’t help but note the absence of historic Reformed sources following these assertions). Medieval RCC had placed concupiscence before the Fall, ingraining it in human nature (which would make for an interesting discussion to see how Orthodoxy comes down on the question of donum superadditum).

***Calvin’s Total Depravity demands a totally corrupted human Nature able
ONLY to sin***

This is simply false. Calvin’s Institutes praise some of the pagan philosophers. Some of Calvin’s most lyrical lines are about common grace. CF Institutes II.3.3.

While it is true that Calvin does use words like depraved, one needs to take hyperbole into account, but even granting that one needs to ask, “Is so-and-so really saying that no one can do civic good?” If Calvin really believed that, then why did he praise Cicero and extol the common law of nations?

Saying the will is bent towards sin mainly means that humans cannot be the efficient cause in their own salvation. Full stop.

Calvin and the Irony: An historiographical victim

The wonderful thing about Calvin is how lucid and succinct he is.  Yes, the Institutes is quite long, but with a few exceptions in Book IV, it is rather focused and on-topic.  This means, whether you love him or hate him, he is very easy to read.  Almost too easy, I think.  To his credit he avoids most metaphysical speculation and anchors our attention (most of the time) in what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.  Here is where the problem arises: first because of the Federal Vision and later in certain attacks on the Reformed tradition, since Calvin is easy to read and there is a moniker floating around known as Calvinist, people draw the logical conclusion that Calvin is the universal representative of this thought.    Such a claim would have been historically impossible, not to mention laughable, prior to the 19th century.

As I’ve mentioned routinely, would it be fair to call Martin Bucer, a Thomist who operated independently of Calvin, who was older than Calvin, a man to whom Calvin looked up and considered the finest exegete in the world, does it really make sense to call Bucer a “Calvinist”?

William Perkins disagreed with Calvin on election and nearly the entirety of Book IV of the Institutes (Perkins was episcopalian; there’s your apostolic succession if you want it).  Does it make sense to call him a “Calvinist”?

Peter Martyr Vermigli disagreed with Calvin on double-election and whose Hebrew skills far surpassed Calvin’s.    Does it make any historical sense to say he “followed” Calvin?

A Challenge:  Can you find the Calvin Hiding in this Passage?

It would be an interesting exercise, though I have neither the time nor resources for it, to examine where Protestant scholastics do not rely on Calvin in their writings overly much.  I reject the Barthian narrative that the Scholastics ruined Calvin’s dynamic reformation, but it is interesting that one of the most important topics in the WCF is the Covenant of Works, something on which Calvin is rather silent (explicitly, anyway).   If the Westminster tradition is mindlessly copying Calvin and should be known as Calvinists, they are jumping way ahead of the evidence.  As Carl Trueman has argued, John Owen really couldn’t fit this description since his library, if such reflected his own learning and interests, far exceeded anything a parochial Calvinist would read.  As Rutherford’s biographer notes (Coffey: Cambridge University Press) he rarely quoted Calvin at all, and aside from a broad agreement on presbyterian government, election, and justification, he really doesn’t look much like a “Calvinist” at all.

If anything, the Westminster Confession, which is the authoritative document for Anglo-American Reformed, draws much more heavily upon Archbishop James Ussher’s Irish Articles than it does on Calvin.  If anything, we should be called….”Ussherites”!  (I actually like that name).

Reblogging some worship posts

My friend Daniel R. has some excellent sources on worship.  (Go to his site and read the rest of them.  I couldn’t quote all for space reasons) Particularly important is the idea that only God has the right to decide how he wants to be worshiped.  Remember Nadab and Abihu and fear.

Richard Cameron on instrumental music and the ceremonial law

Richard CameronThe Jewish way under the law of praising the Lord was upon the timbrel, the harp, psaltery, and ten-stringed instruments, and other instruments of music that belonged to the ceremonial worship that is now abolished.  Christ, who is the end of the law, has torn or taken away the ceremonies of the law, and there is no warrant now to make use of the organs, as they do in the Popish Church, and the Prelatic Church of England, and even among them that are more reformed, those over in Holland.  Oh, but we have a great advantage in being free of these!

Richard Cameron, ‘Sermon on Psalm 92 (undated)’ in Sermons in times of persecution in Scotland, by sufferers for the royal prerogatives of Jesus Christ, ed. James Kerr (Edinburgh, 1880), p. 421.

John Calvin: is worship a secondary issue?

April 28, 2013

John CalvinJohn Calvin answers the above question in the negative when he says, “[F]or nothing is more wicked than to contrive various modes of worship without the authority of the word of God.”

John Calvin, Commentary on the gospel according to John, trans. William Pringle (Geneva, 1553) in Calvin’s commentaries (22 vols, Grand Rapids, 1993), xvii, 154.

John Brown of Haddington on the imprecatory psalms

April 14, 2013

RevJohnBrownAs for those psalms which contain DENUNCIATIONS of divine vengeance upon the enemies of God and his church, we are to consider, that these expressions were dictated by the infallible Spirit of God; that the objects of them were foreseen to be irreconcilable enemies of Christ and his church; that those who sing them, only applaud the equity of the doom which God hath justly pronounced upon such offenders; and that they are to be sung with a full persuasion of the event, as a certain, awful and just display of the glory and tremendous justice of JEHOVAH.  Though we ought, therefore, never to apply them to particular parties or persons who have injured us, yet to decline using them, out of a pretence of charity, is to suppose ourselves wiser than him whose understanding is infinite, and more merciful than the Father of mercies, who is full of compassion, and delighteth in mercy.  Moreover, as these external enemies, devoted to destruction, were in some sense emblematic of our spiritual enemies, within or without the passages may be sung with application to ourselves, as directed against these principalities and powers, and spiritual wickedness, in high places, with whom we have to wrestle, while on earth, Eph. vi. 10-19. I Pet. v. 8, 9, Rom. viii. 13, Gal. v. 17-24.

John Brown of Haddington, The Psalms of David, in metre: allowed by the authority of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, and of the Presbyterian Churches in America.  With notes exhibiting the connexion, explaining the sense, and for directing and animating devotion (Pittsburgh, 1812), v-vi.

Johannes Wollebius on the regulative principle

February 3, 2013

True Religion is, whereby God is worshipped by Rites and Ceremonies prescribed by himself; and his Name truly sanctified both through the whole course of our life, and chiefly at the times by himself appointed.

Johannes Wollebius, The abridgment of Christian divinity, trans. Alexander Ross (3rd edn, London, 1660), pp 329-30.

George Gillespie on the regulative principle of worship and the kingship of Christ

June 27, 2012

But how much more will the King of kings condemn me if I practice the ceremonies which I judge in my conscience to be contrary to the will of God, and to rob him of his royal prerogative?

George Gillespie, A dispute against the English Popish ceremonies obtruded on the Church of Scotland (1637; Edinburgh, 1844), p. 12.

George Gillespie on Christian liberty in worship

May 11, 2012

Either, then, let it be shown out of God’s word that non-conformity, and the refusing of the English popish ceremonies, is a fault, or else let us not be thought bound by men’s laws where God’s law hath left us free.

George Gillespie, A dispute against the English Popish ceremonies obtruded on the Church of Scotland (1637; Edinburgh, 1844), p. 90.


The ambiguity with the term Calvinism

I’ve been accused of trying to weasel out of what Calvinists believed.   From my point of view, I don’t see why I am obligated to adhere to a term which Calvin himself rejected and which is anachronistic of most any Reformed thinker before the 18 century.   As to setting the context, it’s pretty obvious that people aren’t dealing with the sources.    But here goes again:

There were some misconceptions about my objections to Arakaki’s post on predestination.  I was not suggesting that we reread Reformed sources to mitigate the presence of predestination.   I argued, by contrast, that Arakaki had a surface level understanding of Reformed theology.  Some points of clarification are in order:

  1. I have no problem with his use of the Canons of Dordt.  I simply dispute that the Canons reduce to the issue of predestination, and then cover the entire Reformed faith with this reduction.

  2. I have even more problems with his reduction of Reformed theology to TULIP.

  3. This raises the larger problem of whether we can even speak of the term “Calvinist.”  It might apply to soteriologically Calvinistic Baptists, but as an appellation of a specific church body, it is illegitimate.   It is even illegitimate in regards to individual theologians.  As Richard Muller observed, “Should a theologian almost a decade older than Calvin, trained in the Universities of Padua and Bologna, who subsequently taught in Strasbourg, Oxford, and Zürich, and who, for all his general agreement with Calvin did not speak of a double decree of predestination but rather identified predestination with election, who drew more positively on medieval scholastics (notably Thomas Aquinas and Gregory of Rimini) than Calvin, who did not view himself as a follower of Calvin, and whose abilities in Hebrew extended far beyond Calvin’s be called a Calvinist? The theologian in question is Peter Martyr Vermigli, whose work was quite influential in the development of post-Reformation Reformed theology” (Muller 5-6).

  4. I’ll add my own observation:  Should Martin Bucer, a generation older than Calvin, a man whom Calvin called the greatest exegete living, who was trained a Dominican and retained his Thomistic epistemology all his life, be considered a follower of Calvin?   Phrased in this way the question and problematic is not only wrong, it is silly.
  5. In perhaps the most thorough rebuttal to the idea of TULIP = Calvinism = Reformed theology, Muller notes, “It is really quite odd and a-historical to associate a particular document written in the Netherlands in 1618-19 with the whole of Calvinism and then to reduce its meaning to TULIP. Many of you here know that the word is actually “tulp.” “Tulip” isn’t Dutch — sometimes I wonder whether Arminius was just trying to correct someone’s spelling when he was accused of omitting that “i” for irresistible grace. More seriously, there is no historical association between the acrostic TULIP and the Canons of Dort. As far as we know, both the acrostic and the associated usage of  “five points of Calvinism” are of Anglo-American origin and do not date back before  the nineteenth century (Muller 8).

In conclusion it must be restated that we affirm the propositions listed in TULIP.  We heartily reject, however, any reduction of the Reformed faith to a cute acrostic.  Where in TULIP, might I inquire, is any mention of the finitum non capax infiniti, the duplex cognito Dei, the archetypal/ectypal distinction, or even the Covenant?  I feverishly hate everything about the Federal Vision, but at least they were perceptive in this regard (if erring in the opposite direction). In some respects I retract my former post.  Not because I think it is wrong, but because in answering it I gave credence to a flawed and problematic understanding of the Reformed faith and Reformed historical sources.

For documentation Muller lists See Ken Stewart, “The Points of Calvinism: Retrospect and Prospect,” in Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology , 26/2 (2008), pp. 187-203. There are, of course, many early references to the “five points” or “five articles” in controversy between Reformed and Arminian: e.g., Peter Heylin, Historia quinqu-articularis: or, A declaration of the judgement of the Western Churches, and more particularly of the Church of England, in the five controverted points, reproched in these last times by the name of Arminianism  (London: E.C. for Thomas Johnson, 1660); and Daniel Whitby,  A Discourse concerning I. The true Import of the Words Election and Reprobation … II. The Extent of Christ’s Redemption. III. The Grace of God … IV. The Liberty of the Will … V. The Perseverance or Defectibility of the Saints . London, 1710; second edition, corrected, London: Aaron Ward, 1735), often referenced as “Whitby on the Five Points” or “Five Arminian Points”: note George Hill,  Heads of Lectures in Divinity (St. Andrews: at the University Press, 1796), p. 78. Occurrences of phrases like “five distinguishing points of Calvinism” also occur earlier, referencing the Canons of Dort without, however, specification of the points  themselves: see, e.g. Daniel Neal,  The History of the Puritans and Non-conformists … with an account  of their principles (London: for J. Buckland, et al., 1754), I, p. 502; Ferdinando Warner, The Ecclesiastical History of England, to the Eighteenth Century (London: s.n., 1756-57), II, p. 509; note also that the editor of Daniel Waterland’s sermons identified  justification by faith alone as one of the “five points of Calvinism”: see Waterland, Sermons on Several Important Subjects of Religion and Morality, preface by Joseph Clarke, 2 vols. (London: for W. Innys, 1742), p. xviii. 16.

The problem with simply reading Calvin…

Most do not realize that John Calvin’s Institutes, while a fine read, were originally meant for beginners in the ministry.  It is merely a guidebook for young pastors navigating through Scripture.  Yes, Calvin made important breakthroughs in epistemology and political theory, but even as incisive and advanced as they are, they are still elementary and surface-level.  This raises a problem with those who “convert” out of the Reformed faith to some other tradition.  Does simply reading Calvin make you an expert on the pros and cons of Reformed theology (this assumes that the interlocutor has even read through the Institutes; I know for a fact that this is rarely the case)?

One might reply, “Surely you can’t expect everyone to read everything before making a life-changing, heaven-and-hell decision?”   True, I don’t expect Aunt Lula May to read through all of Reformed scholasticism before evaluating whether the Reformed faith is true.   But admittedly, Aunt Lula May doesn’t consider herself an apologist and theologian. She doesn’t spend all day on the internet picking fights on blogs (and I rarely comment on other blogs myself).  She is held to a different standard.  For the convertskii who begins to attack Reformed theology, I do hold him to a different standard. It’s only fair.  If someone wants to “convert” out of Reformed theology because he finds inner peace or whatever in another system, I have no comment. That’s between him and God.  Every man stands or falls before his own master.  But if someone posits that the Reformed faith is categorically wrong and begins to offer what he thinks are systemic reasons, then I expect him to have read the best Reformed faith has to offer.  Let’s begin:

  1. If Protestantism is simply nominalism ala Gabriel Biel, then how come Biel’s system of salvation is virtually identical with the congruent merit schemes of Rome?
  2. If Protestantism is simply nominalism, then how do we account for the fact that Vermigli and Bucer were Thomistic realists?
  3. Are you familiar with Muller’s thesis? Which Muller works have you read? 1/3 of these articles can be found online; another five can be found on EBSCO. This is an important point, for once I started reading Muller, I realized my entire narrative about Reformation theology was wrong.
  4. Have you read Turretin?   Turretin’s genius is in precisely identifying the question at stake.  I wager few people have read Turretin (part of the blame lies with the seminary system).  You don’t even have to read all three volumes. Just read volume 1.
  5. Briefly discuss Aristotle’s causality scheme and how the Reformed modified and utilized it on the question of justification.  Explain why that is important.
  6. What do the Reformed mean by principium essendi and principium cognoscendi?
  7. What is the distinction between necessity of consequence and the necessity of the consequent thing?
  8. (Advanced) If the Scotist view of synchronic contingency was used by the Reformed, which essentially admits a free will (of sorts), then how can the charge of mono-energism stick?