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.

Advertisements

Christ in Eastern Thought: Desert Spirituality (6)

Theme:  Spirituality and soteriology are tied together.  Further tying these two are three sub-themes:  doctrine of the imago dei, rejection of original sin, and deification (114).

Meyendorff begins with this interesting concession:  “There is no patrum consensus for a complete exegesis of Genesis 1:26-27) (114).   Another point where Orthodox Bridge is wrong.

“Image implies a participation in the divine nature” (114).  Commenting on Cyril, Meyendorff says “It appears from this passage that the proper dignity of human nature, as conceived by God and realized by Adam, consists of going beyond itself and receiving illuminating grace” (115).  This is the Eastern version of the Latin donum superadditum.

On freedom:  “The original existence of man presupposed a free participation in God through the intermediary of the superior elements of the human composite, essentially the intellect” (116; cf. McCormack essay and comments on Damascene).

Sin, for Cyril, is conceived as an illness (117).

A Thought:  If salvation is simply participation, does this mean that salvation is in some sense an arising upward of the inner man?  How does this square with the extra nos that comes by preaching?  Further, how does it escape Feuerbach’s critique?

Prayer: principal means of liberating the mind.  “This liberation implies for Evagrius a dematerialization…a prelude to the immaterial gnosis” (121).

Meyendorff is aware that desert spirituality, which seem a communion in the Archetype, borders on semi-Pelagianism.  He assures us this is not the case, for this is a real communion between image and archetype (125).  Perhaps, but if this paradigm is seen to be nonbiblical and neo-Platonic, then it is in trouble.

Rather than shying away from this neo-Platonic language, Meyendorff embraces it:  “All things exist by participation in the Only Existing One, but man has a particular way in which he participates in God, different from that of other beings. He communicates with him freely, for he carries in himself the image of the Creator.  Deification is precisely this free and conscious participation in the divine life” (128-129).

Reflections on Jenson’s Second Volume

I sang the praises of volume 1, for it was truly brilliant and beautiful.  It is with much regret that I say volume 2 is not the same.  First, the good.

Good

  1. His theme is the identity of God in the narrative of Israel.  It’s a strong theme and more often than not, he is successful in anchoring his loci in this theme.
  2. While the chapter on Scripture was weak, his narrative-theme does provide the ground for helpful reflection on the nature of canonization.
  3. Humor:  He is savagely funny.   He never fails to ridicule the NRSV translation, as all of us are morally obligated to do.
  4. Great chapter on sexual ethics and the nature of polity.
  5. Fairly decent chapter on anthropology.  He notes the inherent problems in Rome, the East, and in some inadequate Reformed responses.

Bad

  1. He adopts Barth’s view of election.  That is not my specific critique.  Others have given better critiques of Barth on that point, so I refer you to them (e.g., Horton).  My problem is that his chapter on anthropology (where he basically summarizes Luther’s Bondage of the Will) seems inconsistent with his chapter on Election.
  2. He had a good section on the canon, but a weak chapter on Scripture.  He points out that the true honoring of Scripture is not in the churches that give it honorific titles (e.g., infallible) but in those who hear and obey (meaning mainline churches).   I call bullsh*t.  The PCUSA struck down a motion to save post-born infants from botched abortions.   Mainline churches openly advocate after-born murder.  They don’t care what scripture says.
  3. The chapter on justification was plain bad.   It was so bad it seemed like a good chapter on sanctification.   I am less optimistic that the Finnish Interpretation of Luther really works.
  4. The chapter on church government, while helpful in pointing out to the East where they evolved on some points, basically argues that we need a monarchical patriarch to establish unity.  He is aware that V1 made papal infallibility a condition for individual salvation (or damnation), and he admits he is uncomfortable with this language (!), but like other ecumenicists, he does not realize that Rome–even with the liberal pope today–will never budge on this point.   This is why Ecumenicism always falls to the Pope’s Jesuit Shock Army Troops.
  5. Flirts with universalism.  To be fair, he doesn’t affirm it but you can tell he really wants to.

Horton has given other critiques of Jenson on these points, so I refer you to them (cf Lord and Servant: A Covenant Christology and Covenant and Salvation: Union with Christ, esp. pp. 153ff, 174-176,

Reflections on 3 Views: EO/Evangelicalism

As far as the Zondervan Counterpoints go, this is a better volume.   I will forgo a thorough review, since expositing some essays would take many, many pages (and I plan to do that in my book on EO).  So here is a short overview, with strengths and weaknesses:

Thesis:  Are Evangelicalism and Eastern Orthodoxy compatible?  Notice that the thesis is not whether one position is true or not (though that inevitably comes up).  The answers:

Yes:  Bradley Nassif.  My favorite of the EO writers today.  While I enjoyed his essay, sadly he does not represent most Orthodox. He criteria of compatibility, as dissenter Berzonsky noted, were drawn from Evangelical, not Orthodox sources.

No:  Michael Horton and Vladimir Berzonsky.  Horton notes that Orthodoxy’s own criteria precludes any real “compatibility.” He then does  explicates the NT teaching on justification and compares it with EO sources.  If Evangelicals cannot budge on this point–and they cannot–and if EO cannot incorporate it into their own theology, instead of making sublating everything into theosis, then there isn’t much possibility of compatibility, much less union.

Berzonsky’s essay does little more than offer numerous assertions on why Evangelicals should reject their sinful identity and become Orthodox.   At least he is honest.   He thinks everyone is a radical Anabaptist and doesn’t make any attempt to interact with Horton’s arguments.   In the final reflections, he is quite silent on Horton’s specific rebuttals.

Maybe:  George Hancock-Stefan and Edward Rommel, Romanian Baptist and American orthodox respectively.  Stefan gives a very interesting, but anecdotal essay of his life as a convert in Romania.  He explains how the Romanian Orthodox elite silenced and stifled evangelical voices.  I sympathized with his essay but it isn’t much in the way of logical argument.  However, he did point out that in Orthodoxy the church mediates everything through the priest.  This is the theology of False Dionysius.

Conclusion:  Horton and Berzonsky are correct.   Per the latter, if Orthodoxy is the fullness of the faith, then what precisely does Evangelicalism have to offer?  On the other hand, if Orthodoxy is indeed the fulfillment, then please deal with Horton’s arguments.

Announcement as Theosis

All reality is infused with language.  Language mediates everything.   We do not need “substance-altering” models of soteriology in order to avoid nominalism.  The very nature of speech itself demonstrates this.   Sound echoes in vibrations in the air.  These are real.  God speaks and creation happens.   That is real.   Why is it less real when God speaks “not guilty” in our justification?

God speaks and it echoes throughout both soul and body.  Call this the beginning of theosis, if you will.

Christology and the Instrumentalization Thesis

Chalcedon followed St Cyril in saying that the acting subject was the divine Logos, the Logos asarkos.  This was a clear rejection of Nestorius’ two-sons Christology and an admitted throwback to Apollinaris. This had the effect of viewing the human nature of Christ instrumentally (for a discussion of organon and its uses in Christology, see Anatolios, 71)..  The human nature on this model cannot act of its own. It has no acting principle.  Just how the Logos acts upon the human nature instrumentally is less clear, but the main point is already established.  Further, as Anchoretic apologists are wont to point out:  all of these fathers interpreted the union in divinization models.   I think they are correct with that reading, though they are largely unaware of the problems it entails.

Does this prove the death knell to Reformed Protestantism?  It is true that the Chalcedonian tradition operated off of divinization models.   Further, a strict divinization soteriology is at odds with forensic justification.  How can Protestantism be salvaged?  Protestants would be wise to avoid attaching themselves blindly to creeds.  We love to spout “sola scriptura” but few of us really know how that helps us.  I will try to show.  Before someone accuses me of rejecting the creed, I accept what Chalcedon coherently delivers: Christ had a two-ness element and he did represent humanity fully.  I reject the divinization presuppositions behind this model and will show how these presuppositions are in tension one with another.

1. Is the acting subject really the Logos asarkos or is it the God-man?  Formally, Cyrillians say the former, but then when we talk about the communication of attributes, we notice a subtle shift to the latter, and the reason is obvious:  any communication of human attributes to the Logos Asarkos destroys impassibility; therefore, the communicatio is simply the transfer of some divine attributes to the human side of the God-human Jesus.  But problems remain:  what right do they  have to shift terms midway in the debate?

2.  Apropos of (1), did God die on the cross? Anchorites love to make fun of RC Sproul Jr on this one, and true, I don’t think he really understands the Patristic issues in the debate, but any answer to this question will be a bad answer–at least while we are still on this plane of presuppositions.  On their gloss, Did God-the-Logos-Asarkos experience death on the cross? If so, how do you maintain your doctrine of impassibility?  Or did God-the-divine-human die on the cross, with only the human nature experiencing death? If the latter, can we really say that God died?  If not, how are you different from Sproul?  Further, how is this different from the charges that Reformed soteriology is Nestorian?  On both glosses, something is affirmed as true which is not true of the taxonomy.

3.  How does the Logos act instrumentally upon the human nature of Christ?   Anatolios attacks Grillmeyer’s contention that the Logos acts mechanistically, and perhaps Grillmeyer’s phrasing is a bit crude, but it’s hard to see any other alternative.  If the human nature of Christ does not have a self-determining principle, which it mustn’t if we are to avoid Nestorianism, and the only acting principle is the Logos asarkos, making the human body the instrument (organon, pace Athanasius et al), then how are we to avoid Grillmeyer’s conclusion:  the Logos acts mechanistically upon the human nature/body?

4.  If (3) then we have precisely the thesis that they attack Calvinists of.

5.  If (4), how is the 6th Ecumenical Council (Dyotheletism) not Nestorian?  Remember, in order to avoid Nestorianism, the Cyrillenes insisted that the human nature of Christ had no self-activating principle.  By the time of the 6th Council, however, we are moving closer to that position.  If the human nature has a will that always acts in synergy with the divine will, how is this not a self-activating principle?

6.  Further reflections on (5): modern understandings of the human person, though they may not always be biblical,  are the way we use the term person today.  Such a use, however, appears to posit a principle of emotional maturation and self-activation in that what it means to be human.  Further, the Jesus in the New Testament appears as a guy who underwent emotional maturation (grow in the knowledge of God, etc) and acted in the power of the Holy Spirit (of course, all the while remaining of one nature with the Father).

Conclusion:

Is there a way out?  I think so, and I think we can still maintain the same truths that Chalcedon wants to.   In a future post I hope to reconstruct the doctrine of the Logos asarkos as the Logos incarnandus.  In any case, if any Calvinist is being attacked by Anchorites on these points, then hopefully this post will provide a handy cheat sheet.

Extra-calvinisticum and Philippians 2:7

The extra-calvinisticum teaches that Christ had a little left over from his hypostasis.    While the Calvinist wants to affirm Christ is both God-nature and man-nature in one hypostasis–never mind the problems he creates in getting there–he ends up affirming, given the reformed dictum that the finite cannot contain the infinite, that there is an extra to the divine nature outside of the hypostasis.

It’s hard to square that with either Cyrillian or kenotic Christology.   Cyril, ala McGuckin, said that Christ assumed the entirety of our human existence.  He had a fully divine nature in his hypostasis.    Phillipians 2:6-8 says that Christ did not consider equality with God something to be grasped…took on the form of the slave.  While we don’t believe that negates the divine nature, at the very least the language and narrative suggests that there isn’t a little bit of the divine nature “floating around” in heaven, either.