The Mind of Christ

If I were to ask you how your Christology impacts your ecclesiology would you know what in the world I was talking about? Sometimes theological jargon can sound like a foreign language. I’m really just asking this: How does what you believe about Jesus affect what you believe about other people in the church? You see, this is exactly how Paul is teaching in this passage. He says that Jesus’ person and work ought to lead us to submit our interests and desires to the desires of others. He wants us to have “this mind” in us “which was in Christ Jesus.”

This passage is one of the most famous passages in all of Scripture as it describes the pre-existence of Jesus and His equality with God, His humiliation unto death for our salvation, and then His exaltation unto lordship and glory. But what is often missed is that this glorious piece of high theology is being used by Paul to achieve very practical purposes. Leading into those majestic verses 5-11 and then immediately following them is the same word, “therefore.” Since Jesus is Who He is and has done what He has done, therefore, we must do something. We must relate to one another in a posture of humility. Continue reading

The Light of God

Text: John 1:1-18

Christmas is a story of enlightenment. This concept presupposes a situation of darkness, a need for new light. The secular world is familiar with this idea, but its take on the story tends to be all about education. Much like Prometheus bringing down fire from the gods, they say that human race is slowly being elevated through the accumulation of knowledge. The darkness was ignorance, and the light is progress. There are some parallels with this and the Christian gospel, but on the basic level Christianity is something very different. It tells a story of an original light— righteousness and communion with God— which was lost through man’s sin, the misuse of his will. This original light is brought back, not by man or some intermediary between God and man, but by God himself, through the person of His divine Son, Jesus. We find out that Jesus’ light is not a new light at all, but rather the old light, the original light of God which made all things. And it is because Jesus is the light of creation that he can also be the light of recreation, which is what He has come to do. Salvation means that Jesus came to make us new.

Jesus is God Come into the World

John’s prologue is clear that Jesus is God. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.” Continue reading

This is the Word

John 1:1-18

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.  In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.  And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it…

He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him.  He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.  But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth… And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace.  For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.

The prologue of John’s gospel is as majestic as it is mysterious. The Apostle is giving us a picture of deity, a view from eternity, as well as what it means for that Eternity to enter into time. John is telling us that God became man, and this message can find no more appropriate time of the year than Christmas. As we celebrate so many things: family, gifts, and love, let us remember the foundation of it all. God loved us so much that He gave us His son so that we might become His children. In response, we should show forth His son to the world so that they too might become children of God through faith in His name. Continue reading

Christology and Reformation

I finally stopped ripping him off, and I decided to just come out and co-author a paper with Peter Escalante.  We were energized to take on the recent misuse of Christology in anti-Calvinist polemics.   The paper is over at the Credenda Agenda site now.  

The paper will read like inside baseball to a lot of y’all, and I apologize.  We felt that we needed to get down and dirty with a few points for the sake of those most intrigued by modern (and postmodern) “Christology.”  The thesis is actually pretty basic though- The traditional history is actually pretty close to correct when it comes to Christological theology.   The Reformed knew about this stuff and weren’t just poking their hands in the sand.

And most importantly, Christology should be about messiah and salvation.  Whenever other interests take up the majority of your interest, you’re misusing the categories.

Simplicity and Communicatio

The doctrine of divine simplicity is a necessary description of God’s infinity. It states that all attributes of the divine nature are coextensive with that nature and indeed, they are the nature. There is nothing between the attributes and the nature. There is nothing that separates them, for that something would need to be other than divine in order to maintain the distinction. Since this is unthinkable- that is, since all the divine attributes are infinite and omni- well, omni-everything- the confession of simplicity is a proper conclusion of the via negativa.

This doctrine is very useful because it helps keep our dogmatic speech orderly and consistent. It forbids any talk of disharmony among the divine attributes, and it forbids giving primacy to any one of the attributes. It should likewise be applied in other loci of systematics to continue to preserve consistency and harmony.

My roommate recently pointed out that divine simplicity is particularly effective as a critique against the position, often espoused by Lutherans, that in the person of Christ there is a communication of attributes. This position argues that the divine gives some of its qualities to the human, and the human gives some of its qualities to the divine. This has long been criticized by Calvinists as a confusion of the natures, even tending towards Eutychianism, and I think the charge basically sticks. To go further, though, divine simplicity forbids the giving of some attributes, but not others because again, all of the attributes are equal with the essence. Therefore, it is simply not possible to affirm the communication of omnipresence, but not the communication of infinity. Ubiquity cannot be communicated without also communicating eternality, and this would be nothing more than to make the created the Creator.

And so we see how Christology affects Theology and how Theology affects Christology.

Zanchi: For It Was the Blood of God

‘When therefore the fullnesse of time was come’, wherein the promise of redemption made unto the first man was to be accomplished by the second, God, the everlasting Father, sent his onely begotten Sonne and eternal and therefore true God, of the same nature with the Father, made of a woman alone, and without the seede of a man and therefore true man, but without sine and so true Christ, made subject to the lawe and therefore circumcised, that he in most perfect obedience might fulfill that law in the name of us all, made obedient to his Father even unto death, namely for us (for he, being without sinne, deserved not to die) that he might redeeme those which were under the law and all the elect even by his obedience, by his death and bloodshedding, that is, by a sacrifice of exceeding vertue (for it was the blood of God) and a most effectual antilutro, ransome, that he might, I saie, redeeme us from sinne to the old image of God and to perfect righteousness, yeah, from death to eternal life, and from the kingdome of Satan to the kingdome of God; and that we might receive adoption of children and so in the ende bee taken into full and perfect possession of the heavenlie inheritance as sonnes and lawfull heires.  And lastile, that he might gather together all thinges in heaven and in earth under one head and ioyne them to himselfe for the glorie of God the Father.

~ Confessions of the Christian Religion XI.1

From John Donne’s La Corona

LA CORONA.

Deign at my hands this crown of prayer and praise,
Weaved in my lone devout melancholy,
Thou which of good hast, yea, art treasury,
All changing unchanged Ancient of days.
But do not with a vile crown of frail bays
Reward my Muse’s white sincerity ;
But what Thy thorny crown gain’d, that give me,
A crown of glory, which doth flower always.
The ends crown our works, but Thou crown’st our ends,
For at our ends begins our endless rest.
The first last end, now zealously possess’d,
With a strong sober thirst my soul attends.
‘Tis time that heart and voice be lifted high ;
Salvation to all that will is nigh.

ANNUNCIATION.

Salvation to all that will is nigh ;
That All, which always is all everywhere,
Which cannot sin, and yet all sins must bear,
Which cannot die, yet cannot choose but die,
Lo ! faithful Virgin, yields Himself to lie
In prison, in thy womb ; and though He there
Can take no sin, nor thou give, yet He’ll wear,
Taken from thence, flesh, which death’s force may try.
Ere by the spheres time was created thou
Wast in His mind, who is thy Son, and Brother ;
Whom thou conceivest, conceived ; yea, thou art now
Thy Maker’s maker, and thy Father’s mother,
Thou hast light in dark, and shutt’st in little room
Immensity, cloister’d in thy dear womb.

NATIVITY.

Immensity, cloister’d in thy dear womb,
Now leaves His well-beloved imprisonment.
There he hath made himself to his intent
Weak enough, now into our world to come.
But O !  for thee, for Him, hath th’ inn no room ?
Yet lay Him in this stall, and from th’ orient,
Stars, and wise men will travel to prevent
The effects of Herod’s jealous general doom.
See’st thou, my soul, with thy faith’s eye, how He
Which fills all place, yet none holds Him, doth lie ?
Was not His pity towards thee wondrous high,
That would have need to be pitied by thee ?
Kiss Him, and with Him into Egypt go,
With His kind mother, who partakes thy woe.

Limited Atonement

As Dabney points out, the very term “atonement” is unclear. What do we mean by this word? It comes from the older English, literally at-one-ment, which would imply reconciliation. We can also recall various “atonement models,” which include Christus Victor, the ransom theory, and penal substitution. Dabney, as well as Warfield, also include postmillennialism in many of their understandings of the “world” passages, and thus we could add the cosmic eschatological atonement to our list.

Most people, however, (at least in Reformed circles) usually mean “expiation” when they say atonement. If this is the definition, then we most certainly do not hold to “limited atonement.” Dort is clear on this matter:

Since, however, we ourselves cannot give this satisfaction or deliver ourselves from God’s anger, God in his boundless mercy has given us as a guarantee his only begotten Son, who was made to be sin and a curse for us, in our place, on the cross, in order that he might give satisfaction for us.

It continues:

This death of God’s Son is the only and entirely complete sacrifice and satisfaction for sins; it is of infinite value and worth, more than sufficient to atone for the sins of the whole world.

And it gives a reason for this infinite value. It is not due to an amount of deeds, but rather the value of the single divine person:

This death is of such great value and worth for the reason that the person who suffered it is–as was necessary to be our Savior–not only a true and perfectly holy man, but also the only begotten Son of God, of the same eternal and infinite essence with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Another reason is that this death was accompanied by the experience of God’s anger and curse, which we by our sins had fully deserved.

This is, consequently, one reason why we need to have proper Christology prior to engaging in the question over the “extent of the atonement.” Christ’s “merit” or his “worth” ultimately stems from his deity, a fact that Calvin was keenly aware of (see here and here).

This infinite satisfaction is to preached to the whole world:

Moreover, it is the promise of the gospel that whoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish but have eternal life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be announced and declared without differentiation or discrimination to all nations and people, to whom God in his good pleasure sends the gospel.

Notice that the call is to believe in Christ crucified. The Marrow Men of a later period would implore people to believe that “Christ is dead for you.” Similarly, Luther, Calvin, and the vast majority of the Reformed orthodox taught that to believe the gospel was to believe that you were forgiven. Faith is a particular thing. To doubt is not to believe, and thus the inclusion of assurance within the definition of faith by the early Reformed and Continental Confessions is fully consistent with their understanding of the free offer of the gospel. It really was for everyone.

Dort squarely places the blame for damnation on the unbelievers:

However, that many who have been called through the gospel do not repent or believe in Christ but perish in unbelief is not because the sacrifice of Christ offered on the cross is deficient or insufficient, but because they themselves are at fault.

At this point is important to review the 1st head of doctrine. So far I’ve been in the 2nd, but at this point we need the context. Dort initially begins with this:

Since all people have sinned in Adam and have come under the sentence of the curse and eternal death, God would have done no one an injustice if it had been his will to leave the entire human race in sin and under the curse, and to condemn them on account of their sin. As the apostle says: The whole world is liable to the condemnation of God (Rom. 3:19), All have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23), and The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23).

It then gives the message of God’s love:

But this is how God showed his love: he sent his only begotten Son into the world, so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

And again, Dort states the free offer:

In order that people may be brought to faith, God mercifully sends proclaimers of this very joyful message to the people he wishes and at the time he wishes. By this ministry people are called to repentance and faith in Christ crucified. For how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without someone preaching? And how shall they preach unless they have been sent? (Rom. 10:14-15).

We must note once more that the faith is in Christ crucified. That is what, or perhaps who, sinners are called to put their trust in. The very fact that you are preaching to them gives the implication that the message is for them.

And to prevent any impious and blasphemous doctrine from cropping up around the truth of particular election, which all Calvinists and Augustinians affirm, Dort adds this qualifier:

The cause or blame for this unbelief, as well as for all other sins, is not at all in God, but in man.

Also:

The fact that some receive from God the gift of faith within time, and that others do not, stems from his eternal decision. For all his works are known to God from eternity (Acts 15:18; Eph. 1:11). In accordance with this decision he graciously softens the hearts, however hard, of his chosen ones and inclines them to believe, but by his just judgment he leaves in their wickedness and hardness of heart those who have not been chosen. And in this especially is disclosed to us his act–unfathomable, and as merciful as it is just–of distinguishing between people equally lost. This is the well-known decision of election and reprobation revealed in God’s Word. This decision the wicked, impure, and unstable distort to their own ruin, but it provides holy and godly souls with comfort beyond words.

Dort adds more:

Moreover, Holy Scripture most especially highlights this eternal and undeserved grace of our election and brings it out more clearly for us, in that it further bears witness that not all people have been chosen but that some have not been chosen or have been passed by in God’s eternal election– those, that is, concerning whom God, on the basis of his entirely free, most just, irreproachable, and unchangeable good pleasure, made the following decision: to leave them in the common misery into which, by their own fault, they have plunged themselves; not to grant them saving faith and the grace of conversion; but finally to condemn and eternally punish them (having been left in their own ways and under his just judgment), not only for their unbelief but also for all their other sins, in order to display his justice. And this is the decision of reprobation, which does not at all make God the author of sin (a blasphemous thought!) but rather its fearful, irreproachable, just judge and avenger.

In the later section on “rejecting the gospel,” Dort states:

The fact that many who are called through the ministry of the gospel do not come and are not brought to conversion must not be blamed on the gospel, nor on Christ, who is offered through the gospel, nor on God, who calls them through the gospel and even bestows various gifts on them, but on the people themselves who are called. Some in self-assurance do not even entertain the Word of life; others do entertain it but do not take it to heart, and for that reason, after the fleeting joy of a temporary faith, they relapse; others choke the seed of the Word with the thorns of life’s cares and with the pleasures of the world and bring forth no fruits. This our Savior teaches in the parable of the sower (Matt. 13).

Let us clearly note that Dort says that Christ is offered through the gospel. Christ is the gospel. And reprobation is a way of describing the truth that certain people will reject the gospel (or never hear it- in the absence of preacher, in which case their sin is ample ground for condemnation).

When dealing with assurance it is worth noting that Dort begins with the the promises of God. The gospel is the primary ground of assurance:

Accordingly, this assurance does not derive from some private revelation beyond or outside the Word, but from faith in the promises of God which he has very plentifully revealed in his Word for our comfort, from the testimony of the Holy Spirit testifying with our spirit that we are God’s children and heirs (Rom. 8:16-17), and finally from a serious and holy pursuit of a clear conscience and of good works. And if God’s chosen ones in this world did not have this well-founded comfort that the victory will be theirs and this reliable guarantee of eternal glory, they would be of all people most miserable.

It seems that Dort understands the testimony of the Holy Spirit to be directly associated, if not fully identified, with the revealed Word of God, since it excludes private revelation. Thus we are not relying on how we feel the Spirit to be working, but rather in the Spirit’s objective testimony in the Word.

This is why assurance is included in the definition of faith. Dort later acknowledges that believers can fall into times of doubt, but assurance is still objective, and it is part of what doubters are called back to. Believe it because it is the case.

This understanding of the atonement is consistent with Dabney’s teaching which I posted yesterday, and I think it is of immense importance that we understand this today.  The decree to call specific individuals is limited, but the expiation provided by Christ’s death is unlimited.  Since Christ’s death infinitely satisfies God’s wrath and the decree is secret, thus we have no access to it, we should point all men to Christ crucified.  We should ask them to believe that Christ is for them.  They must repent and believe, and the thing that they are to believe is that Christ has brought them salvation.  Whenever doubt arises, the gospel is there to combat it.  Just say no to hyper-Calvinism.

Believing the Promise


Saying “postmillennialism is the gospel” strikes many as an exaggerated rhetorical statement.  And on some levels it may be.  However, the basic sentiment that goes by the term “postmillennialism” today is that all of the nations of the world will be made holy prior to the consummation of the current time-space situation ie. before Jesus comes back.

In other words, the gospel message is that in Abraham’s seed, Jesus Christ, all of the nations will be blessed.

This is what Abraham was called to believe in, and it is what the apostles preached all throughout the book of Acts.  What the New Perspective on Paul has sometimes failed to do is connect the Jew and Gentile relations in Pauline literature with the larger Old Testament promises.

It was always God’s plan to have a glorified creation.  This is, after all, why he created Eve.  The fact that God did not abandon his creation is testified to in the incarnation, and the fact that He will not discard his creation and start anew is testified to in the resurrection of Jesus.

And so away with invisible remnant religions!  Away with anti-cultural quietists!    Away with forensomonism!

Give us back the gospel!