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.

A Convertskii Reading List for Those Leaving

I routinely accuse convertskii of not understanding Reformed theology before they get enamored with high church claims. It is only fair that I offer a survey of texts that one should know before declaring the Reformed faith wrong.  People will say, “But that’s too intellectual.  Christianity is a life.”  Perhaps, but people will always default back to logical decisions, sneers at “Westernism” notwithstanding.  And I have read most of your top guys, so it’s only fair.  And Bradley Nassif agrees with me, so there.

I am not saying you have to read all of these before you go to a different tradition.  What I am saying is if you publicly assert that Protestantism is wrong because of ____________, and the following men have addressed your arguments, and you do not engage their arguments, then you do not have good warrant.

Muller, Richard.  Calvin and the Reformed Tradition.  The high-point of Calvin studies by the world’s leading Reformation scholar.  It will teach readers to stop saying silly things like “Calvinism” or “TULIP is Reformed theology.”

Hodge, Charles.  Systematic Theology volume 3.  If you can give competent responses to Hodge’s defense of justification by free grace, then you know Reformed theology.

Turretin, Francis. Institutes of Elenctic Theology volume 2.   Best defense of Reformed anthropology and Christ’s priestly intercession.  If you still believe in talking to dead people after Turretin, then I tip my hat to you.

Horton, Michael.  Lord and Servant: A Covenant Christology.  If you still hold to a pure Christus Victor atonement theory, or you still hold to estrangement ontology, then you’ve earned your keep.

Jenson, Robert.  Systematic Theology volume 1.  If you believe that the Essence/Energies is logically, biblically, and theologically tenable, you must address Jenson’s critique of it.

McCormack, Bruce.  Orthodox and Modern.  You don’t have to read the whole book–just pages 205, 218-222.  If you can answer McCormack, then you are warranted in believing in a God behind the Persons who are behind the Energies.

Muller’s Rebuttal of the “Calvinism” Paradigm

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)

 

Free Choice in Reformed Thought: An Introduction

I listened to Muller’s lecture “Jonathan Edwards and the Absence of Free Choice” today.   Much of it was review but it did reinforce some points.  The following are taken from Muller’s Dictionary.

  1. Will is distinct from intellect (intellectus) [330].  The intellect is that which knows objects, and the will is that which has a desire for them.  Will and intellect are the two highest spiritual powers.  The question immediately arises as to which of these faculties stands prior to the other.  The Protestant Orthodox frequently state the problem of priority without really solving it (but also avoiding Thomist and Scotist difficulties, though I personally lean towards the Thomist reading).  The Reformed acknowledge the relationship between intellect and will and focus on the problem of fallen man.
  2. Will, defined as the appetitive faculty of man, must also be distinguished from choice.  Will is the faculty that chooses.  Arbitrium (choice) is the capacity of will to make a choice or decision.  Thus, the will can be described, even post-fall, as “free” and unconstrained but nonetheless limited by its own capacity to choose particular things.

Kind of have read Muller’s Calvin Reformed Tradition

After touting how important (essentially) Muller’s corpus is for the Reformed world, I just realized:  have I read his Calvin and the Reformed Tradition?  It would be rather hypocritical of me to say he is essential reading to the anchorites but not have read this most important volume myself.  The answer is:  kind of.   The book is a collection of essays over the past three decades.  I’ve read all of the essays.  So if you ask me to refer to what Muller said on page x, the answer is “I have no clue.”  I have read the content, though.

Ensuring a proper understanding of Reformed prolegomena

I get many Anchorites annoyed when I tell them that some generic essay against mainstream Baptist culture does not count as a “Refutation of Reformed Theology.”   I then tell them to read Turretin and Muller.  They get really annoyed.  I then told them that Bradley Nassif recommended Muller (LOL).  I got the hint to leave.   I decided, not only for their sakes but also for anyone else who is interested.  Here is a brief collection of talks (and later essays) by men who are world-renowned authorities on Reformed scholasticism.   Most of these talks are reasonably short (fewer than 45 minutes, which is a lot better than my slugging through an hour and a half Carlton lecture on the energies with bad sound recording) and Muller is a very gifted speaker.

Recovering the Past.

Was Calvin a Calvinist?  (Please listen to this first and stop with silly terms like “Calvinism.”   Calvin was actually a younger Reformer and deferred to Bucer and Vermigli.  Is it fair, or even rational, to call the latter two “Calvinists?”)

Calvin on Assurance.

Jonathan Edward’s Break with the Reformed Tradition.  This helps you understand the difference between the types of necessity and how facile it is to say “Reformed don’t believe in free will!”

Summary notes of Church Dogmatics §19

§19, chapter 1 deals with Scripture as a witness to God’s revelation.   Resisting the urge to attack Barth because he “doesn’t believe the Bible is the Word of God,” let’s actually see what he is saying and what it means for our own situation.   A witness to a thing is not the same thing as the thing (and if anyone maintains it is, he or she will have to explain precisely why transubstantiation is wrong).  Further if we collapse the sign into the thing signified, is this not a movement towards nominalism?  The sign is pointing beyond itself to the “real.”  If we remove the “sign,” how can we have access to the real?  We are then saying that the “sign” is merely a “name” for the thing signified.

Before people fear too much, Richard Muller, while perhaps not necessarily endorsing this view, does allude to several Reformed scholastics who said something similar.

For whatever demerits Barth’s project may have, one cannot help but notice Augustinian themes.  If you attack Barth, then you must continue and attack Augustine.

Chapter 2:  Canon

    Barth gives an unusually careful discussion on the nature of canonization.  Surprisingly, given his anti-Roman polemic throughout this series, he faults the position of Luther and Calvin and gives more weight to the role of the church.   However, this can only work when the Church submits to the same revelation.

    Towards the end of chapter two he gets into why he doesn’t believe Scripture should be considered “inerrant.” I can’t follow him at this point, though Evangelicals really haven’t reflected hard enough on his concerns.  We believe the Word of God is self-attesting.  If we leave the discussion of “self-attesting” in the arena of the Triune God, well and good.  Because then self-attestation is truly a triune act, and if you deny it then you deny God.  If we maintain, however, so Barth reasons, that self-attestation is an act of the text of Scripture, then we open ourselves to lots of devastating criticisms by Anchorite traditions.

    Barth tries to play the “Calvin vs. Calvinists” card.  Historically, such a claim is simply false.   However, even Richard Muller admits that the epistemology of later 17th century scholastics was such that they really couldn’t avoid the later criticisms of the Enlightenment.

    We should be all means reject Barth’s conclusions–at least, if we want to stay in good position in conservative, American churches–but be forewarned that Barth’s position can avoid all the pitfalls facing Evangelicals in their debates with anchorites.   The downside, though, is that it is particularly difficult on Barth’s gloss to say, “Thus saith the Lord.”  To Barth’s credit he emphasizes the preaching of the word.  However, at this point in Church Dogmatics Barth is not clear on how his view of the Bible can be authoritative for the church.

Reading notes on Muller’s PRRD, volume 3

I usually don’t take copious notes when I read books.  This book, though, is of importance.  Further, it is out of print (I will forgo the usual slams against Baker Academic at the moment) and I acquired it temporarily via ILL.  So anything I learn from the book has to last permanently. Hence, the notes.

 

Notes on Muller, PRRD 3

Simplicity in pre-Reformation

The scholastic understanding of “identity” assumes various levels of identity (essential and formal), so the term “identity” does not indicate radical equation in every sense posssible (40 n. 63).

The goal is “to argue a certain manner of distinction (for the sake of manifesting the three) while at the very same time denying other kinds of distinction (for the sake of confessing the one)” (41).

Normally speaking essence and existence are not identified. The essence “humanity” is not synonymous with any one human (52).

Simplicity and Predication

Many critique absolute divine simplicity as eliminating the possibility of any real predication (on our part) of the divine essence. But when medievals used this term, all they meant was that God is not composite (54-55)

Plurality in God is secundum rationem, not secundum re (55).

Development and Decline of late orthodoxy

Interestingly, the medievals viewed “space” and time,” not as things but as relations (148).

Existence and knowledge of God

The orthodox followed three ways of approach to the problem of the knowledge of God (166):

  1. via causationes (a cause can be known in some manner from its effects)
  2. via emimentiae(we attribute to God all the perfections known to creataures)
  3. via negationis (we remove from God the imperfections known to creatures)

Rules of predication

“Predication is the logical act of attribution by which a subject is united with a predicate” (197).

Disproportionality between finite and infinite.

Bradley Nassif said what?!?

The author [Richard Muller] has painstakingly provided us with the means to master the technical vocabulary of the Protestant heritage.  The dictionary is clear, concise, and carefully nuanced.  It is a trustworthy and precise reference tool that deserves wide acceptance from seminaries and libraries.  The book will accomplish its goals for its intended audience with great success.  It will also go far to promote a more responsible understanding of Protestant scholasticism among those outside the Reformed or Lutheran traditions.

Who is Bradley Nassif, you ask?  Just one of the top EO commentators today.  And yet people accuse Muller and me of making this stuff up.  Admittedly, while I appreciate Nassif’s remarks, he was a bit naive on that last sentence.

(From the back blurb of the 1995 edition)

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.