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.

Review Moltmann Coming of God

Moltmann, Jurgen.  The Coming of God.  Fortress Press.

Alternates between promising and atrocious.   He has some great sections on the nature of death and time, which are about as good as any I have read.  He shows nicely how Revelation 1 contrasts with Greek thought:  Christ is the one who is, and was, and is to come (notice he did not say “will be,” which is what a good Greek would have said).  This shows in a nutshell that the future is the coming of God.

Then proceeds with an analysis of Constantinian and Augustinian models of eschatology.  If the Kingdom has come in the presence of the State (the former) or the Church (the latter), then while a future coming of Christ might still be hoped for, such a hope will be marginalized because the Kingdom is already now.

He then torpedoes his own ship with a strange rant–and there is no other way to describe it–with a plea to save the environment and third-world countries.  I felt like I was at an Al Gore eco-terrorist conference.  I am not a free-market capitalist, and I admit horrible things have been done to the environment, but his analysis is simply off.  He claims that the evil white man made Africa poor.   Granted, the evil white man did horrible things, but a better claim would be that the European exacerbated an already bad situation. Even before the European came, many tribes were selling each other into slavery, practicing magic, and worshiping idols.  The European didn’t cause that.  (I do agree with him on forgiving third-world debt.  I’m not sure it will fix anything, but it is a nice sentiment:  if a civilization doesn’t have a strong work ethic and a future-oriented vision, change will simply not happen.).

He ends with a nice section on the future feast of God, which is a much better model of the afterlife than merely contemplating the Platonic Forms for all eternity.

Empire and anti-chiliasm

“The Constantinian Imperial churches condemned early Christian millennarianism because they saw themselves in the Christian imperium as “the holy rule” of Christ’s Thousand Year empire.  So every future hope for a different, alternative kingdom of Christ was feared and condemned as a heresy” (Moltmann, xv).

I am not making the claim that a Christendom-model is necessarily bad.   I just find it interesting that condemnations of chiliasm by the church happened around the same time that the Imperium became officially Christian.  I need to reread Oliver O’Donovan’s Desire of the Nations and see if he specifically interacts with this point.