Union with Christ (Letham)

Creation

“Triadic manner of earth’s formation represents God’s character. He is a relational being” (11).  We see Spirit of God and Speech of God.

Man in the image of God.   Letham spins the Greek image-likeness into First and Second Adam.  All of humanity shares the image with First Adam.   Christ, the Second Adam, is also the image of God.   Regenerate humanity participates in this image.   Letham tries to claim this is what the Greek Fathers said, but he doesn’t offer any references and it doesn’t appear that they said this.  They said all of humanity is created in the image but must achieve the likeness of God.  I like Letham’s proposal. I just don’t think this is what the Greek Fathers said.

So ends chapter 1.  It’s well-written, if somewhat simple in style, and makes good points.  I simply dispute that the Fathers mean what Letham means by it. I think Letham’s model is superior.

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Zero-Sum Glory

Robin Phillips has written a facebook article seeking to note the connections between philosophical nominalism and Reformed Eucharistic thought.  I plan to address that in due time.   One argument he makes there, which Arakaki picks up on here, is that Reformed (and Lutheran) theology reduces to a “zero sum theology.”  If we get glory, God gets none and vice-versa.  Arakaki writes (p.13),

What we see here is what Robin Phillips calls a zero-sum theology. The term comes from game theory. In a zero-sum game there is a fixed amount of points which means that one player’s gain can only come from the other player’s loss. Similarly, in a zero-sum theology for any human to possess the capacity to freely love and have faith steals glory from God. Phi llips wrote: A zero- sum mentality towards grace assumes that God can only be properly honored at the expense of the creation, and where this orientation is operational it feels compelled to limit or deny altogether the important role of instrumental causation in the outworking of Providence. The zero- sum mentality is thus highly uncomfortable acknowledging that God’s decrees are outworked through secondary means, and prefers to emphasize the type of “immediate dependence” upon God that bypasses as much human instrumentality as possible.
When I first read this I was thinking of the verse in Isaiah 42:8. “I am the LORD, that is my name.  My glory I give to no other.”  I don’t know if the prophet Isaiah wrote this with game-theory in mind.  I find it odd that Reformed folk get accused of this, but Isaiah gets a free pass.  But what prompted Arakaki to make such a statement?   We need to look at an earlier statement in his article.  He quotes Phillip Schaff as saying,
Augustin and Calvin were intensely religious, controlled by a sense of absolute dependence on God, and wholly absorbed in the contemplation of his majesty and glory. To them God was everything; man a mere shadow (1910:539)
I somewhat suspect Schaff is using poetic license.  Even so, I don’t find anything problematic in what he said, provided we can qualify it.  In any case, I would be hesitant to make a blanket statement about the Reformed faith covering 500 years and various philosophical backgrounds on three continents (Afrikaaners in South Africa) using one line from a church historian.
All of this is in the context of Arakaki noting the synergism of the Eastern church contrasted with the monergism of the Reformed Church.   I have already demonstrated that the Reformed faith allows for liberum arbitrium, so Arakaki’s statement that we are strictly monergistic is factually wrong.  True, the Reformed faith does teach that salvation is mongergistic with respect to regeneration, but synergistic with respect to conversion.    With the Anchorite only seeing the process terminating with regeneration, he can’t help but assert that the Reformed faith is monergistic.  I suppose, strictly speaking, that one could make an argument that the Reformed faith contains an element of monergism vis-a-vis the dyothelite controversy, but we are a far cry from the standard “Reformed are monothelites” accusation.   The issue, though, is deeper than this.
Instrumental Salvation
As leading Maximus scholar Demetrios Bathrellos (The Byzantine Christ)  noted the monothelites usually affirmed two wills in Christ, but merely asserted that the human will is passive.   On the surface this sounds a lot like Reformed theology.  So this means Calvinists are monothelites, correct?  Maybe not.   The simple reason is that the Reformed deny that we are merely passive in salvation.  First of all, salvation is not synonymous with regeneration (or justification).   Using instrumental causality models, we can say that we are active via faith as an instrument.    We are instrumentally causally active in salvation.
This is in stark contrast with Arakaki’s view (and that of the Eastern church).  Arakaki notes, accurately I think,
The alternative approach is Orthodoxy’s synergism, the belief that salvation is the result of human will cooperating or working with divine grace (syn = with, ergos = energy, effort, cause). Thus, where Orthodoxy’s synergism allows for human free will or choice in salvation, Calvinism’s monergism excludes it (Arakaki, 14).
Is he saying that the human will on his gloss is an efficient cause in salvation?  I don’t see how to avoid the conclusion.   If this is the case, then how can he not boast in his own glory?  If man is an effecient cause in his own salvation, then he has reason to boast (glory).    But Paul says, “What of boasting then?  It is excluded” (Rm. 3:27).   Further, if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God” (4:2).     Paul ends elsewhere by saying, “May I never boast save in the cross of Christ” (Gal. 6:14).    Is the Reformed theologian forbidding any such glorying?  Of course not.   We glory in the cross et al.   We do not glory in our own doings.   It is somewhat shocking that people suggest we do.
Addendum:
Phillips made an interesting statement,
The zero- sum mentality is thus highly uncomfortable acknowledging that God’s decrees are outworked through secondary means, and prefers to emphasize the type of “immediate dependence” upon God that bypasses as much human instrumentality as possible. (emphasis added)
This floored me when I read it.   All I could think was what the Confession said,
God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass;[1] yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin,[2] nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established (WCF III.2)
II. Although, in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first Cause, all things come to pass immutably, and infallibly;[8] yet, by the same providence, He orders them to fall out, according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently (V.2)
And yet Phillips/Arakaki suggests that we are “uncomfortable” with the language of secondary causes?   I don’t know what to make of that.   I had my suspicions in an earlier post that these guys really weren’t familiar with Reformed theology outside a few popular presentations of TULIP.  Now I have proof right here.   But here are more Reformed resources on the topic

Retractare: NPP and “Works of the Law”

Even when I was in seminary I held to the New Perspective thesis that the phrase “works of the law” means simply “Jewish identity markers.”  A superficial reading of Galatians and how the Jews react to non-Jews getting saved in the New Testament lends support to that thesis.  Further, it functions well as a sociological commentary for today:  it illustrates modern Judaism’s violent hostility to the rest of mankind.    Further, for non-Evangelical traditions it offers a neat harmony between Paul and James:  these traditions get to affirm the Pauline warning against works (simply by defining them as Jewish rituals) yet base the rest of it on works, pace James.

Unfortunately, this thesis suffers from a number of problems:

  1. The New Testament never defines works of the law as such.
  2. Galatians 3:10 does deal with “works of the law” by referencing Deuteronomy 27:26.  At the end of chapter 27 it says “cursed is everyone who fails to do all these things.”  Yet not one of “these things” is a Jewish identity marker; they are all moral and political laws.   This is the inverse of the above point:  The New Testament does define works of the law and it is the opposite definition of the NPP thesis.
  3. If works of the law is Jewish identity markers, and Paul preached we were free from works of the law, then no one would have accused him or antinomianism and moral license  (Romans 6).
  4. If works of the law is Jewish identity markers, and the gospel is simply the freedom from such, then the gospel has no meaning to anyone who isn’t a Jew.

The day bourgeoisie Reformed thought failed

Iain Murray wrote a book titled The Day Church and State Failed.  I don’t really know what it is about, but I will borrow the title.  I am trying to figure out why I ditched middle-of-the road “vanilla Presbyterianism” and read Eastern Orthodoxy so sympathetically?

My senior year in college I was thoroughly imbibing the biographies and writings of the Scottish Covenanters.  I listened to all of Joe Morecraft’s lectures on the History of the Reformation.  These lectures, I might add, were wildly theocratic.   Yes, I was a theonomist, and I do reject theonomy now.   (However, it must be said that the Reformed community never came up with a response to theonomy that didn’t sound like either pure Dispensationalism or the Platform for the Democratic National Convention. )  This caused me no small grief in seminary.

Before I start bashing RTS, which I intend to do mercilessly, I need to first say where I was wrong and wrong-headed.  I was wrong on theonomy (though RTS certainly was not right on the matter, being quasi-dispensational).  Still, I went to seminary thinking we would carry on the great, magisterial Presbyterian tradition.  I thought we would thoroughly read and pass down the teachings found in Dabney, Rutherford, the parts of Calvin no one wants to talk about (Sermons on Deuteronomy and Book IV chapter 20 of The Institutes).

I was underwhelmed upon arrival.   The campus was still in a hang-up over theonomy and the Federal Vision controversy was raging.   On one hand, there felt an air of suspicion of whom you could quote as a source and not be seen as a Federal Visionist or theonomist (I quoted Berkhof in a covenant theology paper, but deliberately left the name blank, and the prof said i was using “federal vision” theology.   Seriously).  I do almost understand their fear/paranoia.  Fifteen years ago a Jackson pastor became a theonomist and shot an abortionist.   I guess most of the people in Jackson had trouble making distinctions.

In any case, the fear of theonomy precluded them from truly appreciating their Reformed heritage.    If theonomy is so evil, what do we make of John Knox, George Gillespie, Samuel Rutherford, Thornwell, and the parts of Calvin we don’t like (Servetus, anyone?).  Now, I reject theonomy simply because the exegesis “almost works, but not quite.”  Anyway, the moral vision of the Covenanters and even men like Gustavus Adolphus give you roughly the same thing without all the grief.

But politics isn’t the gospel and the preaching ministry, one might object.  And they are correct.  However, the presuppositions behind these objections carry over into other areas.   The presuppositions more often than not reveal a post-Jeffersonian view of America that is wildly at odds with historic Reformed teaching (remember the changes to the Confession?).  The presuppositions reveal an underlying “Americanism” that will condition the rest of one’s framework.  Among other things, this will subtly redefine what it meant to be Reformed (I realize how silly that sentence is because in the Federal Vision debate, everyone accused each other of doing that, yet none could demonstrate that).

I’ll expand upon that last claim.  I am taking Reformed as largely meaning those who come from the magisterial Reformation and in some sense seek to embody those principles (including that of the civil magistrate!!) in their faith and spirituality today.   (As a result, Baptists can claim to be four or five point Calvinists, but not really Reformed.).  Among other things, this will also include a magisterial defense of these principles.  Inability on the latter is not that great a fault (it is if you are a prof, though).  Inability on the former is a culpable fault.

The Reasons I am staying in the Magisterial Protestant Tradition

Eastern Orthodoxy, especially for those whose worldview has been shattered by Reformed ineptitude, is a powerful attraction.  While I’ve sung its praises in the past, here are the reasons I will not go (for now; unless I am convinced by reason and plain scripture, etc).  Some of these reasons are my own reflections.  Others are taken from Drake, whose tone I don’t always appreciate nor am I using his arguments in the same way, but I will give credit where credit is due.

  1. The EO argument against Sola Scriptura backfires and becomes a good argument against reading the Scripture in light of the Fathers.  Yes, the fathers were holy men and we should read Scripture in light of the Fathers. I myself have read about 5000 double-columned pages of the Fathers.  Here’s the problem:   when the Fathers say things that are mutually exclusive–like when Athanasius says the Son is begotten of the essence and the Cappadocians say the Son is begotten of the Father–who adjudicates?  Who is right?  We can’t say we have to interpret the two passages in light of the Patrum Consensus, because these two passages are themselves part of the same Consensus.   Orthodox apologists have said we have to interpret the fathers in light of the church councils.  Great.  Which church council adjudicates these two fathers?
  2. John 6 speaks of limited atonement.   2 Peter 2:1 seems to deny it.  How shall we decide which is right?  Orthodox and Catholic apologists love to say “what good is an infallible bible without an infallible interpreter?”  This claim, practically speaking, is useless.  The Church has not given us anything like a list of infallibly interpreted verses.
  3. The idea of doctrinal development and liturgical development is inevitable.  While I agree with the Christology behind 2nd Nicea, the fact remains that there aren’t any defenses and presentations of iconodulism in the early Fathers.  yes, I know about Dora Europa.  That, however, is not a passage from the fathers. It is a picture on a wall.  Most importantly, it is not functioning as the Patrum Consensus.
  4. Great heroes like Fr Seraphim Rose warned against basing theology and liturgy on private visions.   What do we do about several prayers to the Theotokos?  These date from the 9th century and seem to come from a vision.  Yet, as Fr Seraphim rightly points out (and one can only think of the Fatima vision), this principle is highly dangerous theology.
  5. On the practical side, I have to think of my family’s well-being.  The local Greek parish, the only option for 200 miles, is a handful of people, the service is mostly in Greek, and there is deliberately no preaching.   Good theology aside, this isn’t good for my family’s spiritual development, to which I, the father, have been entrusted to guard.
  6. That and the Ecumenical Patriarchate has always remained too close to the higher levels of Freemasonry.  Sharing the Eucharist with a Freemason, or with a jurisdiction that tolerates Freemasonry, is sharing and communing with Freemasonry.
  7. EO requires the convert to renounce his former theology and theologizing.  Yet, it is those very things that would have led me to EO.  Therefore, I have to condemn the road that led me here.
  8. St Ignatius of Antioch said to join a schismatic is to lose the Kingdom of God.   Well, did ROCOR “schism” from Moscow Patriarchate?  I agree with their reasonings, but it still kind of looks like a schisming from the Established Church.   Few, however, will deny that St John of Shanghai is not going to inherit the Kingdom of God.
  9. I have other reasons concerning the various jurisdictions and how that isn’t working in America, but I’ll save that for later.

Can American Reformed Thought be Salvaged?

It doesn’t seem likely, but we’ll try.  If American Reformed thought wants to maintain its identity in the face of a distinction-eroding American culture, it must consider the following options.

  1. Go back to the original confession on the civil magistrate.  This will provide a safeguard against the worst aspects of American culture.
  2. The seminary education in the South needs to be revamped whole-scale.  When I saw a youth minister out-debate a Reformed professor of 20+ years on the doctrine of sola scriptura, I knew that the Reformed world would be in for some rough treatment if this were the norm.    How should the professor have handled himself?  He should have relied on the arguments from Richard Muller’s Post Reformation Reformed Dogmatics.   It’s not just a series of books.  It’s an outlook.  The key principle is the archetype-ectype theology.  God’s principium essendi is the archetype.  God’s principle of essence (call it aseity, simplicity, whatever).   Such a God can only make himself known through Revelation, which is the principium cognescendi of theology.  This is only an example of a deeper problem.
  3. The problem is that Reformed people really don’t care about their roots in the magisterial and scholastic Reformation. I was interested in Eastern orthodoxy for so many years simply because reading the current Reformed world, and examining major Reformed seminaries in the South left me with the only conclusion that the Reformation in America had failed.   I was wrong, of course, but I was working on very good (available) evidence.
  4. Continuing the Reformation can work provided we draw upon stronger Reformed sources.   I have in mind the men in Muller’s four volume work.  This means the seminaries need to have a stronger emphasis on Reformed scholasticism, the Scottish Reformation (I don’t remember the Solemn League and Covenants ever being mentioned), and the strong moral and political vision found in men like Hodge, Dabney, and Thornwell.   A thorough diet of these men can help the young minister not only explain his faith, but explain the internal causal connections of his faith (that is what made Dabney so great).  If someone can explain the internal connections, then he knows his faith and won’t be shaken.  Someone–and institutions–that simply parrot pop “Reformed” arguments by big-city preachers won’t last five minutes against Dave Hodges or Perry Robinson.

What should the seminaries do?

  1. My immediate thought was “shut down.”  But anyway, they need to revamp the entire project and give stronger emphasis on historical theology.  Yeah, we were told how cool it would be to just focus on Hebrew and Greek and one day we would be able to do our quiet times in Greek.  That’s wonderful.   We also missed out on most of the Reformed heroes.
  2. I suspect that one could integrate historical theology and epistemology in one project.   Keep in mind that the archetype/ectype distinction covers both.
  3. Get rid of most “adjunct professors” who are actually pastors and best friends with the Board of Trustees.  I understand you are saving money, but at the cost of a good education.  You haven’t been in a seminary class until you’ve seen the “professor” literally go insane and call you (and your pastor, and your pastor friend at the church you are attending) a “homosexual Marxist feminist” because you believed in theonomy (if you are scratching your head about the relevance, don’t bother).  The next best thing was watching your friends leave the class and just holler the “F” word because it was so bad.
  4. While you might think it is nostalgic to have a deep South school that is nothing more than a “preacher mill,” the implications are actually quite bad.  Because the focus of some of these institutions is simply to “churn out pastors,” the grading scale is quite insane and at the detriment of the student’s future goals.  If you are simply going to be a pastor at Bodunk Presbterian Church in Tarwater, MS, then you don’t need no fancy schooling beyond a Master’s.  So what that we gave you a D- on a B- paper?  Passing is passing and Old Aunt Bessie May on the front pew don’t care.    Well, she might not care but the Admissions Office at a PhD school will care.  I actually got denied for the first grad school I applied to after RTS because they didn’t understand that 1) RTS was on crack, and 2), like Law Schools, the grading scale isn’t 1:1.   Why is this a problem?  Well, it is keeping young minds from getting PhDs and defending the very faith that someone forgot to do.

Difficulties (still) with Calvinism

I am not ready to affirm a full-orbed Confessionalism (though I am probably more Confessional than Yankee PCA pastors).

  1. While I affirm predestination, I do not read Election the way the “U” in TULIP reads it.  Every time “elect’ is mention in the OT it is mentioned as “elected unto service.”  And before you quote Romans 9, even apostate Israel was “elect.”
  2. I would take an exception on images of Christ.  Mind you, I don’t have any icons in my house of Christ.  I don’t venerate them.   But I agree with Rushdoony:  an Incarnation that cannot be demonstrated is a contradiction in terms.
  3. I agree with rulership by elders, but the word “bishops” is also used in the NT and it doesn’t always mean “elders.”  If it did, why bother using two different words?
  4. I can agree with imputation provided it is first grounded in union with Christ.  Otherwise it is a legal fiction.
  5. I agree with justification by faith alone 100%.  But when Paul is worrying about the gospel  being threatened in Galatians, he and Peter are talking about table fellowship and who is a member of the covenant, not Roman catholic works righteousness.
  6. As to the presence of Christ at the Supper and the Person of Christ, I am with the Lutherans on this one.  I won’t drop the Nestorian bomb anymore, but I have my own issues with WCF 8.2.

Christ and the Decree

Part of this post is a book review of Muller’s Christ and the Decree.  The other part is a critique of Calvinist Christology.

Richard Muller’s work begins on a promising note:  he refuses to view election in any way apart from the Person of Christ, specifically regarding the role of the mediator.   Part of the difficulty in this review is noting what is Muller’s own view and what is John Calvin’s.    Assuming Muller wants to identify his position with Calvin’s, I will use “Muller” and “Calvin/Calvin’s contemporaries” interchangeably.   One of the so-called caricatures of Reformed theology is that it posits an angry Father making an arbitrary decision on who gets to go to hell and to heaven.   Muller reconstructs Calvin’s work to show that Calvin spoke of election in the context of Christology; therefore, election and the saving work of Christ can never be separated.  By the end of the review one will see how successful Muller was.

This review will examine the historical development of Reformed perspectives on predestination as they relate to a specifically Reformed approach to Christology.   The reviewer intends to offer a critical evaluation at the end of the review, documenting shortcomings in Reformed Christology.   Until then it is the reviewer’s intent to use a fairly appreciative tone and highlight some very important arguments Calvinists have made on this topic.  Also, whether or not the doctrine of unconditional election is true or false is independent of Muller’s historical thesis.   If election is false, that in no way validates whether Muller’s reconstruction of these Reformers is true or false.

Muller begins his book with a review and reconstruction of Calvin’s Christology.  There are some difficulties in evaluating Muller’s line of argument on Calvin.   When Muller speaks of the “church fathers,” it is not always clear to whom he is referring.   Sometimes by “fathers” he means simply Augustine.    Occasionally he will contrast Calvin and Augustine with “the Eastern Fathers,” but then he arbitrarily divides “the Eastern Fathers” from “Hilary of Poitiers,” who did his most formative work in the East.

As to the Christology itself, Calvin distinguishes the Person of the Son from the Son as God, which leads to the Reformed doctrine of aseity and autotheos (Muller 29).  Much of the book will hinge on the connections between aseity, autotheos, and extra calvinisticum. This leads to Calvin’s important doctrine of mediation, which is framed according to the Son’s two natures.   Muller claims that Calvin’s Christology is a historical Christology that focuses on the covenant-keeping God who acts in history to save man.   Muller claims this is a genuine innovation.  In fact, it is the covenant-keeping Christology that sets Calvin apart from the Eastern and Chalcedonian Christology (33).  Presumably, the East is more interested in a Divine Person who assumes a human nature to himself, whereas Calvin is more interested in the mediator who acts in history to save his people.  (By the end of the review one will see if this claim can be substantiated.)

The rest of Muller’s book tracing the development from Peter Martyr Vermigli to William Perkins documents how these writers viewed election “in Christ.”   There is no such thing as a nude Deos absconditus who makes deals “behind the back” of the Son.   Starting with Vermigli, we see an emphasis on grace as mediated (57), putting a Reformed slant on a very Roman Catholic doctrine and structure (showing how much a child of Rome Protestantism truly is). One side-note related to this, and important for Muller’s thesis, is that election is mediated by Christ while reprobation is im-mediate (80).   In other words, Christ actively saves the elect while no person actively damns the reprobate.   Obviously, Muller is putting a very infralapsarian spin on the matter.

Criticisms of Calvin’s Christology

It is curious that Muller thinks Calvin’s Christology is robustly historical, while the Eastern Christology is more concerned with abstract speculations.  Is it true that the East does not focus on the “historical dimension” of Christology?    In his landmark study on Cyril of Alexandria, John McGuckin notes concerning the Alexandrian tradition, “It began its consideration of all theology in terms of the narrative of the eternal Lord’s acts of salvation towards his people” (McGuckin, 176, emphasis added).   Elsewhere Brian Daley notes, commenting on the pre-Nicene and Nicene theological method, that the Fathers did speak of the work of Christ in a historical manner, “he [Eusebius of Caesarea] distinguishes such language from the narrative of what God has done in history through Jesus, the plan that he calls ‘the economy’” (Daley 42, emphasis added).   One could object that McGuckin and Daley are offering reconstructions of older Christologies in newer terminologies.   Fair enough, though if that is true then Muller is doing the same thing with Calvin.
Joseph P. Farrell writes concerning what he calls “First Europe” (Eastern and Western Patristic Orthodoxy), that the God they speak of is this God who does these things for His people.   Concerning St Ambrose Farrell writes, “For him, the ultimate reference in this passage is to God the Son, Christ in his Incarnation.  This fact gives the context an historical specificity” (Farrell 3-4, emphasis author’s).  Therefore, one must conclude that Muller’s assertion that the Fathers were not concerned with the historical dimension of Christology is simply false.

The Problems of Triadology and Christology are Inter-connected

One of the more common complaints against Calvinist Christology is the specifically Nestorian structure it takes.   In other words, Reformed Christology has a tendency to speak of the separate natures of Christ as ultimately (and logically and temporally) prior to the Person of the Son.    The Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter eight, paragraph six, speaks of the Person of the Son as both “divine and human.” It says this because it sees the two natures constituting the Person, rather than simply the divine person assuming a human nature.

Calvin gives this specifically Antiochene Christology a more rigid structure.   Starting with Calvin we see the office of mediator replacing, if only in emphasis but likely exceeding that, the Person of the Son.  In other words, as Muller hints, “Office has replaced person” (180-181).  This is not accidental.  If the extra-calvinisticum be true, if there is the divine nature still outside of the Person of the Son, then there has to be, for Muller, priority on the office of the Mediator.  But more importantly, this goes back to the Reformed emphasis on the finite non capax infiniti:  the finiti cannot contain the infinite.

The most Nestorian moment in Reformed Christology is the idea that the two natures constitute the Person.    This is seen specifically in the Westminster Confession of Faith, but also in the Reformed Scholastics.  Peter Martyr Vermigli says “Christ is constituted out of both natures” (Muller 59).   Theodore Beza calls Christ a medius, a mean between the two natures (92).   Ursinus will go even further and assert that the Logos is not the whole Person of the Mediator (102).   Interestingly, although Muller does not draw this out, we see here a connection between the doctrine of autotheos—the Son as fully God in and of himself—a Nestorian structure of the hypostasis, and the extra-Calvinisticum.  Anglican John Milbank summarizes this admirably by noting that Calvin’s Christology “…has a somewhat Antiochean dynamic interaction between the divine and human natures of Christ, as if this were some kind of schizophrenic interplayof different persons” (Milbank 33).

With the heavy emphasis on the extra-Calvinisticum and the doctrine of autotheos, it is questionable if Reformed Christology can remain faithful to Nicea.  Nicea said Christ was “God of God,” emphasizing that Christ does derive his divinity from the Father.  In fact, it is precisely this that the Niceans meant by “God.”  God was ho theos kai pater tou Iesou Christou.   We call upon God as Father, not as simplicity itself.  The doctrine of the extra-Calvinisticum falls prey to the same problems that St Gregory of Nazianzus noted of earlier, problematic doctrines of the Trinity:  it lacks a personal principle of unity.   True, the Reformers do want to confess that the Son is of the Father, but they immediately confess that he is also God of himself.    At best this is very confusing.  Somewhat worse, and more likely, it is simply contradictory, at worst…

St Gregory notes, and his argument is worth quoting in full,

“The three most ancient opinions concerning God are anarchia, polyarchia, and monarchia.   The first two are the sport of the children of Hellas, and may they continue to be so.  For anarchy is a thing without order, and the rule of many [polyarchia ] is factios, and thus disorderly, and thus anarchia.  For both of these tend to the same thing, namely disorder; and this to dissolution, for disorder is the first step to dissolution.
But monarchia is what we hold in order…” (Gregory of Nazianzus 301).

One would think Gregory is simply discussing different political systems.  While that is in the background, and Gregory’s presentation of sacerdotal monarchy is certainly to be preferred, he is primarily talking about the doctrine of God.  It is true that he defines monarchia as the Holy Trinity in one sense, but in another Gregory is simply restating the traditional view that the Father is the monarchia of the Son and Spirit.

Finally, given the doctrine of autotheos, one is reminded of the often standard confusion of person and nature.   Given Calvin’s construal of the Son of God per his autotheotic divinity and the Son of God the Father, it is often difficult to know concerning which “Son” Calvin is speaking.  The charges of Nestorianism are not groundless.

On a side note, Muller does admit that Calvinism has a Scotist and nominalist structure:  God’s will is prior to his goodness (89).

Conclusion

The problems in Reformed Christology notwithstanding, Muller’s book deserves high praise.   He has done yeoman’s work synthesizing a large amount of material, the nature of which is prohibitive to the average layman.   On the other hand, many will have trouble with Muller’s turgid prose.   There are a few problems, however.   In the background of the book is the recent “Calvin vs. the Calvinist Debates,” which posits that the later Reformed scholastics warped Calvin’s pure message.   I am not competent to discuss the ins and outs of the debate, nor is it relevant to the current review.  Muller wants to posit a clear continuum between Calvin and the scholastics, and he makes a convincing case.  On the other hand, every time he comes across contrary material which seems to posit election within the arbitrary decrees of God, Muller simply brushes it aside, often with no more than a few words of argument, if that much.

Secondly, while Muller highlights the interconnections between various Reformed loci, and he rightly places the Reformers in their Anselmic and Augustinian contexts, he does not seem to be aware of some the main implications of an Augustinian ontology.   Augustine was famous for saying that God is his attributes. He writes, “The Godhead is absolutely simple essence, and therefore to be is then the same as to be wise” (Augustine 106).   Therefore, if God’s attributes = his essence, and his essence is immutable, then an attribute such as “will” is also immutable. Consider the argument, understanding “simplicity” to be a great “=” sign.  If A = B, and B = C, then A =D.    Further, per this Augustinian gloss, then one must come to the conclusion that “to foreknow = to predestine.”   If foreknow then equals predestine, and God foreknew the damned to reprobation, then given Augustinian simplicity one must conclude that God also predestined the damned to hell.  This forces a reevaluation of the earlier claim that election is mediate while reprobation is immediate.
Future Reformed historical theologians need to come to grips with a number of questions:   given Augustinian simplicity entails the filioque, and given that Reformed Christological and soteriological distinctives stem from said simplicity, how then does the filioque impact Reformed soteriology.    I do not fault Muller for not dealing with these questions.  The scope of his work is simple (no pun intended) enough.   Further, it is to his credit that he notes the connections between simplicity, extra-calvinisticum, and autotheos.  It remains to future Reformed historians to face the challenges to Augustinian simplicity.

Works Cited

Augustine.  “On the Trinity.”  Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (First Series).  Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishing Co., 1994.

Daley, Brian.  Gregory of Nazianzus.  New York: Routledge, 2006.

Farrell, Joseph P.  God, History and Dialectic: The Theological Foundations of the Two Europes, no publisher, 1995.

Gregory of Nazianzus.  “The Five Theological Orations.”  Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Volume 7. (Second Series).  Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishing Co., 1994.

McGuckin, John.  Saint Cyril of Alexandria and the Christological Controversy.  Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2004.

Milbank, John.   “Alternative Protestantism.”  Radical Orthodoxy and the Reformed Traditon. eds. Smith, James K. A. and Olthuis, James H.  Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005.

Muller, Richard.  Christ and the Decree:   Christology and Predestination in Reformed Theology from Calvin to Perkins.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Baker Academic, 1986 [2008].

Ecclesial Election

Ephesians 1:4,

Just as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world

“in Him” = the Person of Christ, including his “body.”  His body cannot be separated from the church.   Therefore, election is in the context of the church.

Further biblical thoughts,

In the OT, election is almost always corporate (in fact, I think it is always corporate, but I am not 100% sure).  If one acknowledges the corporate force of election in the OT, which is not debatable, one has to ask why the bible suddenly shifts to personal unconditional election in the New Testament.  Are the Baptists right after all?  But if one assumes a corporate reading throughout, this problem does not exist.

On losing your soul

One of the more powerful cultural idioms on the Devil is the Southern legend about the Negro guitar player who walks the crossroads at night and signs a deal with the devil, selling his soul in exchange for musical ability (okay, that was a reference to “O Brother Where Art Thou?,” which you need to watch right now, whether or not you have already seen it).   While creating powerful cultural expressions (see Aaron Lewis’ incredibly awesome song “Country Boy“), the idiom is also misleading in how we speak of salvation and the devil.   While I certainly believe that individuals do sell their souls to the devil ( Kate Perry and Bob Dylan did exactly that), I think something insidious is at play.   Losing one’s soul isn’t simply signing on a dotted line to a pale man wearing a dark suit and a top hat (again, this is why the South has better culture than the North), it is becoming so in love with the world that one is simply unable to open himself or herself up to the love of God.  His or her heart is no longer capable of receiving the simple and loving revelation of God in Christ.

If the Devil came up to you and offered you riches in exchange for your soul, you would probably recognize the trap and say “No.”  But could you recognize the trap if you were given riches anyway (no strings necessarily attached),maybe not  knowing these would choke out the revelation of God to your heart?

I’m the worst of sinners, as this Great Lent seasons has already taught me.   While I’m not that smart, I’ve also seen how power has changed people.  I didn’t say “corrupted” people, though that’s possible, too (thus tipping my hat to Lord Acton).   The danger is not so much in corruption, but in the silent snare of affluence.  The ancient wisdom of the king is evident here–Lord, deliver me from both riches and poverty.

I’ll be honest here:  I sometimes wish for that million dollar check in the mail so I can buy more books (especially the horrendously overpriced books in the Oxford Early Church Studies series).   On the other hand, I’ve seen what happens when people get just a little extra money.  Aww shucks, it ain’t even the money that’s bad–it’s the extra power and the desire for more power that’s bad.

Christ have mercy on me, for I see myself in the above picture.