A limited appreciation of non-Jesus icons

I have to wonder:  could iconic art reinvigorate a culture?  I ask my Protestant friends:  if you take away the bowing down to images and the making of hypostases of the Logos outside of the hypostasis of the Logos, what exactly is the problem with icons?  Nothing really.  Nothing that wouldn’t apply to art in general.  Orthodox iconography is beautiful.  It is infinitely superior to Roman Catholic art.   Indeed, my favorite icon is of the Norwegian king, Olav Ogre-Bane.

St Olaf of Norway_b

Union with Christ (Letham): 2


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).


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.

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.

Some thoughts on the extra-Calvinisticum

When I was examining Eastern Orthodoxy I was especially impressed by their (and the Lutheran, also) critique of the so-called “extra-Calvinisticum.”  It means some of the Logos exists outside the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  The reasoning behind it is fairly obvious:  If we hold that Jesus has a really divine nature, and omnipresence is an attribute of divine nature, then it stands to reason that some part of Jesus will be outside Jesus.  The equally obvious critique is that this is Nestorian, since it posits a division in Christ.  If we left it at that, it would seem that the Calvinists have a unique problem.  What was equally problematic, though, was that many Eastern fathers held to precisely the same view!

So who is right?  I’ve gone back and forth on this, and for a while I was a closet-Lutheran on Christology, but I think the truth of the matter is that both sides make equally legitimate points.   The reason both can be right–and that I am not contradicting myself when I say that–is that both are holding to substance-metaphysics.  Both sides are positing a God behind God.   Palamas does this when he makes the divine nature (and divine persons) hide behind the divine energies.  Calvin does this, if McCormack’s reading is correct, when he posits the decree to save after the decree to elect:  this means that the Logos already has a fully-formed identity before the decree to save and become Incarnate.

What is a tentative response?  Let’s remember what the Cappadocians said in their better moments:  God’s ousia exists as his divine life, existing as Father, Son, and Spirit.   There can be no extra outside the persons because that “extra” is rather the Spirit and the Father.

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.

Explorations in a post-dispensational theology

Blaising and Bock advanced (but did not develop) an interesting argument that weaves together Christology and Eschatology.  Its standard fair to charge one’s enemies of being Nestorians (EO never tires of this canard).  Usually it’s something along the lines of “Your theology separates Christ’s humanity and deity.”  Blaising and Bock took it a step further:  any eschatology or Christology that downplays Jesus’s Davidic Jewishness is more apt to be Nestorian (or more likely “Docetic”).  They call this the “Gentilization” of Christ (298).  Unfortunately, Google Books stops the page at that point so I can’t read what they said.  I have an idea, though.   The Alexandrian Christological argument (Apollinaris, Athanasius, Cyril, Origen) held that the Logos assumed the universal human form into union with his hypostasis.  While this makes for a beautiful metaphysics, it suffers from several problems:   1) Scripture never really says this and 2) what does a universal human form even look like?

Those are the typical responses to Alexandrianism.  I think Blaising and Bock are right to take it a step further:   the positing of a universal human form seems to negate the specific, Davidic Jewishness of Jesus.  I don’t want to say more because the free preview ends at this point.


I think Blaising and Bock are going to suggest that any muting of the Davidic element in Jesus will lead towards a Docetic theology.  I think that is correct, but here is where we need to be careful.   I am all for embracing the Hebraic and Davidic Jesus.  That is the only way to read the OT with integrity.  But I don’t want to do so in a way that ends up with the Judaizing heresy.

Addendum:  This is in line with the above point but not developed by Blaising and Bock.  I want to ask another question:  in what way does the post-Constantian church (I am not using that term in the hippie Anabaptist sense) commit this error?

Reflecting on an old debate

About three or four years ago, “J.D.”  issued a number of challenges to Reformed Theology that he figured were deal-breakers.     They were along the lines of “if you believe this, then the following absurd results come.”  These challenges had some teeth at one time.  They were different from the standard Roman and Arminian claims.   They’ve since been answered by folks of varying degree.   A few years later they began to lose some of their “bite,” because the gentleman in question began investing in a theological tradition, only to attack it some months later.  Still, I want to offer my own comments on them.  Turretin fan did a decent job with them, though my answers will be different.

The Nestorian Accusation

1) “[A consistent Calvinist must be] Nestorian, in that the Logos cannot assume a fallen human nature.”

The thrust of the challenge is this:  does a “fallen” human nature = a sinful one?  If yes, then Jesus has a sin nature.  If no, then one must give up certain claims about Reformed anthropology.

Response:  We need to first make a distinction about man’s essential qualities and his accidental qualities.  Pace the essential qualities, man does not have a positive principle of sin in him.  Hodge is very clear on this.  Man can take a “blow to his morality” with regard to original sin and yet his essential human qualities remain in tact (e.g., rational creature, etc).   With regard to our identification in Christ, all that the Reformed need to do is demonstrate that Christ has the same essential human nature as we do (rational faculty, etc) and yet identifies with us in terms of federal representation.

The Manichean Accusation

2) “[A consistent Calvinist must be] Manichaean, in that nature is inherently evil.”

We’ve already rebutted this: we do not posit that man has a positive principle of sin.  To the degree that we say human nature is “evil,” we are simply using Scriptural language (Ephesians 2:3).  The question is what do we mean by nature and evil.   If we want to see who is really Manichean, ask how some traditions view sexual pleasure in marriage (here an EO theologian openly admits his tradition is Manichean in practice).


3) “[A consistent Calvinist must be] A Monothelite, in that in conversion, the divine will supplants the human will. And this would go for Christ’s divine will as well.”

This one is tricky because any answer denies a “package deal.”  At the most basic the 6th ecumenical council said there are two wills in the person of Christ.  We agree.  The problem is that a lot of the theology and argumentation under girding this claim doesn’t hold water for more than five minutes, and historic Reformed theologians were very wise not to put all their eggs in this basket.  The specific challenge is wrong because for Reformed theology, conversion, salvation, and regeneration are not synonymous terms.  We believe that the will is passive in regeneration but very active (sometimes) in conversion.  This is a very elementary mistake.  The apologist in question comes (originally) from the Federal Vision tradition, which has a very shaky understanding of good Reformed theology.


4) “[A consistent Calvinist must be] A tri-theist, because God the Father cuts off His own Son in the crucifixion (and maybe the Holy Spirit as well?): but Jesus, in all orthodox Trinitarianism, shares the same divine will as His Father.”

This is an an example of where refined, Patristic metaphysics simply fails on Scripture.  The Bible routinely talks about the Messiah being “cut off.”  His problem is that he is reading the language of “cutting off” in almost a physical-ontology manner.  Cutting off is covenantal language, and since these chain-of-being theologies do not have a concept for a robust federalism, they really can’t incorporate this idea.  Even worse, what do we make of Jesus’ cry, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”?   We do not believe that the divine nature was separated from the human nature, but we do believe (as Scripture teaches) that the person was cut off (covenantally judged). To reject this is to make hash of the Bible.


5) “[A consistent Calvinist must be] A gnostic iconoclast, because the Logos cannot be imaged.”

Close (except for the gnostic charge).  A better way would be, “The Logos cannot be imagined by those to whom he has not hypostatically appeared.”  And as we know, an imagined Christology is a docetic Christology.  Here is where the debate between the two sides turns into a Mexican standoff.  The Reformed accuse the iconodule of Nestorianism, since they are separating the divine nature from the human.   The iconodules accuse the Reformed of Nestorianism for precisely the same point.  Neither side acknowledges the elephant in the room:  the doctrine of enhypostasia.  This implication of Chalcedon means that all natures have to be in a hypostasis.  So the issue then becomes:  are you truly imaging the divine person?   No.  The divine nature can only be imaged in the hypostasis of the Word.  Is the Word locally present in the icon? Obviously not.  This is where the Nestorian charge returns:  by imaging the human nature of Christ apart from the hypostasis of the Logos, you are dividing the two natures.


6) “[A consistent Calvinist must be] A pagan, in that the Father can damn the Son of His love in wrath, splitting the Trinity: something more akin to Zeus.”

I think we have already dealt with this:  there is a “cutting off of the Son” in some sense, for Scripture says precisely that.    I admit that Patristic metaphysics is very neat and beautiful at times, but that’s the problem:  it is too neat and cannot account for the 53rd chapter of Isaiah.   I will acknowledge Jay’s point on one thing, though:   Reformed (mainly English-speaking) dogmatics haven’t really dealt with this issue after Hodge.  We have already established that the Father “cuts off” the Son in some sense.   The question remains as to the mode of the cutting off.    Francis Turretin’s comments are beautiful (vol 2, section 13):

  • The desertion is not absolute, but temporal and relative.
  • It is not according to the union of the nature, but in respect to the joy and felicity of the Son to the Father.
  • In defending Calvin from Bellarmine, Turretin notes: But:(1) who does not see that ‘damnation’ is put here for ‘condemnation,’ according tothe most customary style of the French language at that time? (2) If Christ is called ‘a curse,’ why cannot damnation be ascribed to him?


7) “[A consistent Calvinist must be] A Pelagian, in that you have the same view of pre-lapsarian man as Pelagius, and what must be lost is human nature, because nature is grace.”

This is actually an excellent critique of the Federal Vision.  By admixing faith and works, the Federal Visionist mixes nature and grace.  We do acknowledge a works-principle in the pre-lapsarian Covenant, but that’s not particularly the charge J.D. makes.  He doesn’t develop the charge, but I think he is saying that if we have a 1:1 identity with Adam, and Adam lost something in the fall, and Christ is the second Adam, then either Christ is representing us according to a pristine human nature (which we don’t have) or a fallen human nature (which pre-lapsarian Adam didn’t have).   That’s the essence of the critique, though he never really explains it.

In response we may say, again quoting Hodge, that there is a distinction between the essential imago Dei and the accidental imago Dei.  The latter is not necessary to human nature.  Further, the Pelagians denied man was created originally righteous because this would violate man’s neutrality towards good-evil.


8) “[A consistent Calvinist must be] An ecclesiastical relativist, because there is no authoritative Church.”

Depends on what we mean by “authoritative Church.” If unity is glossed as “everybody under the same expression of praxis and authority, then we do not share their view of a united Church.  Nor is it apparent from Scripture that we should.  It’s ironic that the EO reject absolute divine simplicity, but affirm it with regard to the unity of the church.  However, I can blunt the charge entirely:   The Scottish Covenanters believed in an established church.


Each of these points can be developed more fully.   The gentleman in question was originally a Federal Vision Reformed, then Roman Catholic, then Eastern Orthodox, then ????  He recently invited me to a debate at his website.  I don’t have time for it at the moment so I had to decline.  My goal here was to give a decent enough rebuttal to these original attacks.   They are far sharper attacks than what Reformed people normally deal with.   About three years ago these attacks caught a number of Reformed people with their pants down.  I think now Reformed folks are learning their older theology which in having dealt with Roman Catholic theologians like Bellarmine, are now able to respond to these neo-Palamite attacks.