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Friday, December 30, 2011

All Things In Christ: Jesus Christ as Both Agent and Content of His Threefold Ministry

For many ages, God in dealing with His covenant people Israel sent them prophets who would teach spiritual truths of God's revelation as well as set before them the covenant sanctions divinely appointed in God's Law for covenant faithfulness and obedience to the Law or for unfaithfulness and disobedience to the Law.

God also appointed priests in Israel who would uniquely function to act on behalf of the covenant people in offering worship to God in the tabernacle (and later the temple), especially in the form of animal sacrifices. They would also represent God to the people in declaring people's sins atoned for once the appropriate sacrifices had been given, or declaring people ceremonially clean once the appointed washings and sacrifices had been made on behalf of someone who had become ceremonially unclean.

Moreover, God eventually raised up a number of kings in Israel, who were to rule with righteousness and integrity over the people, proclaiming and executing their royal decrees and judgments with equity and in accordance with God's revealed will in His Law. There was almost always a close connection between the uprightness of Israel's king and the spiritual state of the nation as a whole: when the king was wicked, the people often followed suit in neglecting God's Law and falling into gross idolatry; when the king was upright and for the most part sought to follow God's Law, the people respected the king, lived in peace, defeated their enemies at war, and worshipped the true God alone (even though there were definitely exceptions to this general principle).

All of these leaders acting in their distinct offices shared a special anointing of the Spirit of God in order to help them perform their tasks in Israel. By the power of the Spirit, the Word of the Lord came to the prophets, and the Spirit enabled them to speak boldly on behalf of God, and even to perform miraculous signs and wonders at times. The Levitical priests were ceremonially anointed with the blood of animal sacrifices, symbolizing the anointing of the Holy Spirit that came upon them and gave them the authority to perform the tasks of sacrifice and other services in the temple. The kings, and even some of the earlier judges of Israel, also received an anointing of the Holy Spirit that was supposed to enable them to rule well. Therefore we often read of David referring to king Saul as "God's anointed."

In the New Testament, we learn that Jesus Christ fulfills all three of these offices as God's Messiah. It is not surprising, then, to learn that "Messiah" actually means God's "Anointed One." When Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit came down upon Him in a unique way in order to empower Him for His public ministry (Mt. 3:16; Mk 1:20; Lk 3:22; Jn 1:32). In fact, Jesus received the Spirit without measure (cf. the most probable interpretation of John 3:34 in context) in order that He, in the operation of His human nature apart from independent use of the powers of His divine nature, may be for us the ultimate Prophet, Priest, and King sent from God.

We understand that just as God promised in Deuteronomy 18:15 and 18:18, He has sent His final, eschatological prophet in the person of His own Son, Jesus. That much is clear from Hebrews 1:1-2, where we read that "God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son..." We also read in Matthew 21, in the parable of the landowners, that Jesus clearly compares Himself to the landowner's son who was sent only after the landowner had sent several other slaves to the vine-growers to gather the produce, only to be beaten, stoned, and killed--a clear reference to the prophets of old in Israel. The woman at the well in John 4, after hearing Jesus describe her marital history despite her never having known Jesus, correctly identifies Jesus as being at least a prophet (John 4:19).

In the New Testament we also read about Jesus being our great High Priest. Nowhere is this clearer than the book of Hebrews. At what is arguably the "crown" of the argument in the book of Hebrews, which describes and defends the ministry of Jesus as our divine and human sympathizer and high priest, in 8:1 we read, "Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens,"

Finally, at a number of points in the New Testament, we see a picture of Jesus as the great Lord, King, and ruler of all things. In Philippians 2, we read that one day everyone will confess Jesus as universal Lord (kyrios). In Revelation 19, we read of Jesus as the "King of kings" and "Lord of lords" (19:16) as well as the "Alpha and Omega" and "first and last" (22:13). When questioned by Pilate as to His kingship, Jesus replies "You say correctly that I am a king" (John 18:37). Other passages about Jesus' lordship and kingship could be multiplied, especially in light of the fact that the "kingdom of God" is associated with the lordship of Jesus, and the New Testament is replete with references to the kingdom of God, or "kingdom of Christ" or "kingdom of His beloved Son" (cf. Ephesians 5:5 and Colossians 1:13).

So we see from a variety of texts that Jesus clearly expands and fulfills in His own person all three of these Old Testament offices, as the mediator between God and men, and as God's anointed Messiah.

What is even more amazing than this, though, is that what we have seen so far does not exhaust Christ's involvement in God's ministry to His people as mediator in these three offices. So far we have seen that Christ is the agent of--that is, the one doing all of the things that prophets, priests, and kings did in ancient Israel. But Christ is much more than that. He is also the direct content of the ministry carried out in each office.

With respect to the office of prophet, Jesus is not only the One who perfectly speaks and reveals the clearest revelation of God's truth; Jesus is also Himself God's eschatological Word and the focus of His own teaching. This is one reason Jesus is called the Word, or the Word of God, in places like John 1:1 and Revelation 19:13. Jesus' public teaching ministry was focused on explaining the Old Testament Scriptures, and we read in multiple places that the revelation of God in the Old Testament is Christo-centric. For example, the disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24 encounter the resurrected Christ, and were prevented from recognizing Him until He opened up all the Scriptures beginning with Moses and all the prophets, showing them how all things in those writings pointed forward to Him and His saving work. In the gospel of John, moreover, most of Jesus' encounters with the apostate Jewish religious leaders focus on issues of His own identity as the unique Son of God. This is true especially of chapters 5, 8, and 10. Therefore, whether teaching from the Old Testament about Himself, teaching with His own fresh words about His identity, or simply going about the other aspects of His Messianic mission, Jesus is both the eschatological prophet of God and the personification of the very Word of God Himself.

With respect to the office of priest, we have already seen that Jesus is our great High Priest who shares in our humanity and sympathizes with us in our weakness. However, we must also understand that Jesus, as our High Priest, is One who makes sacrifice to God on our behalf in order to atone for our sins, and this sacrifice is not another animal or human being outside of Himself. Rather, Jesus Christ as our great High Priest offers His very own life on the altar of Calvary as a final sacrifice for our sins. Pure and undefiled, He is the perfect fulfilment of the typological Paschal Lamb (1st Corinthians 5:8). In Hebrews 10:10 we read, "By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." In Romans 8, Jesus is described as being sent as a sin offering for us, in the likeness of human flesh. In the prophetic words of Isaiah 53, we read of God's promise to His suffering Servant (fulfilled in Jesus) that He would see His offspring and prolong His days on the condition that "He would render Himself as a guilt offering" (v.10b).

With respect to the office of king, Jesus doesn't merely rule distantly over many subjects, making royal decrees to be carried out (although it is true that His people in a sense act as "vice-regents" over Creation with Him). Rather, it is in Jesus Himself that all things hold together (Colossians 1:17). In Hebrews 1 we read that Jesus Himself actually upholds all things by the Word of His power (v.3). There may also be an idea similar to Colossians 1:17 latent in John's use of the language of "Word" ("Logos") in the gospel of John. After all, it is likely that John is adopting language that would be very meaningful to both ancient Greeks and ancient Jews in helping to describe who exactly the Son of God is in His divinity and as God's creative agent. The Greeks would have understood "Logos" to mean something like an "overarching organizing principle or power governing the whole cosmos." The Jews would have probably associated it with the personified "Wisdom" of God from sections of Jewish wisdom literature like Proverbs 8 where "Wisdom" was with God in the beginning and was the agent through which God created the world. Both the Jewish and Greek view fall short of the fullness of John's meaning, since by "Logos" John was referring to the personal, eternal Son of God who was both a distinct person from and a sharer in the divinity of the one Creator God the Father, as well as the One who "became flesh, and dwelt among us," (John 1:14). Nevertheless, the point would have been understood: Jesus, the "Logos" of God is not only the personal, ruling King of all the cosmos, but is also One who sovereignly exercises and functions as the power that organizes and upholds all Creation. Together with the Father and the Spirit, it is only in Him that we "live and move and exist" (Acts 17:28).

Therefore we see that in all three offices--that of prophet, priest, and king--Jesus Christ is both the agent and the content of His ministry. As God's ultimate Anointed One, He is both the Giver and the Given. He reflects God the Father's self-giving nature perfectly in His redemptive mediation.

No wonder union with the person of Christ Himself is such a central soteriological category for Paul and the other New Testament writers, as well as for contemporary Reformed theologians. No wonder Paul can talk about things like "the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth" (Ephesians 1:10). And no wonder we are to entreat each other to worship and give thanks to the exalted Christ all the more every day for our salvation and continued fellowship with Him.

Friday, December 23, 2011

God In Christ: A Brief Critique of J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig's Modified Apollinarian Christology

As many are aware, Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. But according to Christians, it is not simply about the birth of a great man of God who was a powerful prophet, insightful moral teacher, or a critic of hypocritical and oppressive religious leaders in Israel. Rather, we affirm that the birth of Jesus marked the very literal entrance of deity into humanity. When Jesus was born, the eternal Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, was born as a human being so that He could identify fully with us and redeem us. He became a man in order to live a life of perfect obedience to God the Father, ending in a sacrificial death on our behalf, followed by a triumphant bodily resurrection.

Christmas is, then, not merely the celebration of the birth of the man Jesus, but a celebration of the miraculous fact that God became man. This act of God in history is commonly referred to as the "Incarnation."

Ever since the First Advent of Christ, followers of Christ have debated and discussed the meaning, mechanics, and implications of this great miracle. To this very day, Christians who would place themselves within the realm of catholic orthodoxy (the set of beliefs held by all true Christians at all times) disagree on the details and implications of the Incarnation. Christian theologians and philosophers alike still talk about what it means that "God became a man." Among modern scholars, J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig represent respected Christian philosophers who have written on these things. In 2003, they published a large work called Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, which studies historical issues of philosophy from a Christian perspective, as well as attempts to provide philosophical defenses of distinctive Christian doctrines like the Trinity.

Among the latter discussion of distinctive Christian doctrines, they include a section on Christology--the nature of the person of Christ and His Incarnation. They first outline the basics of the historical issues that the Church has dealt with relating to Christology, then go on to propose a unique view of Christ that I find very interesting and creative in the way it solves some traditional problems of Christology. Nevertheless, I also find their view problematic for several reasons.

Let me first follow suit in outlining some of the historical background of the Christology debate. Then I will go on to explain and critique the view espoused by Moreland and Craig.

Early on, the Church believed that the man Jesus who had died and risen again was also the divine Son of God. This is reflected in the portions of the New Testament now recognized by scholars as having their origin in earlier hymns and traditional creeds passed down orally by the earliest church. One example is the Carmen Christi, or 'Hymn of Christ' recorded in Philippians 2:6-11, which reads "...who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus 'Every knee will bow', of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

In the centuries following the ascension of Christ, the church had to wrestle with just how it is that Jesus is both man and God--just what it meant that the One on whom their worship of the one true God of Israel was now focused had truly become man.

Two tendencies emerged, eventually resulting in two positions condemned as heresy by ecumenical councils of the Church.

On the one hand, there were those of more of an "Alexandrian," or "Logos-flesh" persuasion who argued for ways in which Jesus could have a single nature which merged the human and the divine. Their chief concern was how to maintain a truly united and single person of Christ, and their views are broadly referred to as varying types of "monophysitism." Among these proponents, the most prominent theologian was a man named Apollinarius. His view of Christ was that the Logos, the eternally divine and immaterial second Person of the Trinity, functioned as the mind or soul of Jesus. In other words, the eternal and divine Logos took the place of the "rational soul" connected with the human flesh belonging to Jesus of Nazareth. Apollinarius thought that it was impossible for Jesus to have both a complete divine nature and a complete human nature, as he argued that that would result in a mere "indwelling" short of a true incarnation.

The problem with Apollinarius' view is that it results in a truncation of human nature in Jesus, because it denies that Jesus has a human soul. Thus under that scheme Jesus neither fully assumed true human nature, nor could he have truly redeemed humanity on the cross as a covenant representative. Therefore this view was eventually condemned as heresy by the Church. Along with it, "monothelitism," the view that there is only one will in Christ (not a distinct human will and divine will), was also condemned.

On the other hand, there were proponents of an "Antiochene," or "Logos-man" perspective. They argued for the view that Jesus Christ possessed two complete natures, one divine and one human. This position, in contradistinction to "monophysitism," is called "dyophisitism," or "dyophisite" Christology. Of special concern to the dyophisite theologians was maintaining that Jesus possessed a truly human "rational soul" distinct from the divine nature. It is only in this way that Jesus can identify truly and fully with our human nature in the completeness of body and soul.

Eventually in dyophisite Christology, the name of a man called Nestorius became associated with the view that because there must be two complete natures in Christ, one human and one divine, that there must necessarily be two persons in Christ. The Church found this position inconsistent with biblical and intuitive data about the person of Christ and therefore also condemned it as heresy.

After several centuries of debating Christological doctrine, the Church finally came to some basic conclusions at the council of Chalcedon in 451 A.D. The members of this ecumenical council outlined some essential doctrinal limits on future Christological speculation that would seek to remain orthodox. They basically endorsed dyophisite Christology as discussed above, but also affirmed the necessity of confessing Jesus Christ as one undivided Person. They believed Jesus must possess two natures which neither mixed with each other nor were separated, but which were united together in the one Person of Christ, each nature retaining its distinct essential properties.

Here is a famous paragraph expounding the conclusions of the council:

"We...confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in mahood, truly God and truly man, of a reasonable soul and body; consubstantial with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the manhood, like us in all things except sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God according to the manhood, one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures without confusion, without change, without division, without separation, the difference of the natures being by no means taken away because of the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not divided or separated into two Persons, but one and the same Son and only-begotten God, Word, Lord Jesus Christ."

Some of the basic disagreements of the old controversy between monophysites and dyophisites resurfaced again, however, during the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation and the years following.

Lutherans tended (and still do to this day) to conceive of the two natures of Christ as distinct and complete in and of themselves (in basic agreement with Chalcedon), yet seeing the human nature of Christ being in such close union with the divine nature, being even "permeated" by it in some sense, that some attributes of the divine nature are communicated to the human nature. Luther took this concept, together with distinguishing several different senses in which a thing may be "in place," and came to understand something of what may be called the "ubiquity" of Christ's flesh. That is, according to Lutherans, there is a sense in which even Christ's human nature is able to be present in more than one restricted locality, for instance, present in multiple places where the Lord's Supper is being celebrated at once. Therefore Lutherans believe that even Christ's flesh is truly sacramentally united to the elements of the Lord's Supper such that communicants physically partake of Christ's body.

The Lutheran view seems problematic in its idea of the communication of attributes between the divine and human nature. After all, once human, creaturely nature begins to share in essential divine attributes, in what sense could it be said to still be truly human nature? The gap between the infinite being of the Creator and the contingent and limited being of the creature seems too wide to traverse in any ontological sense. Therefore critics of the Lutheran view see a real danger of it lapsing into a kind of monophysitism antithetical to Chalcedon.

Reformed, or more Calvinistic, theologians, differed with the Lutheran view. While they said that the hypostatic union of Jesus' two natures was even more intimate than the union between the soul and body of a normal human being, they sharply affirmed the necessity of maintaining the perpetual distinctness of Jesus' two natures such that neither ever shared any of the essential attributes of the other. So, for instance, Reformed theologians to this day deny any local presence of Jesus' flesh in physical connection with the elements of the Lord's Supper (although they still affirm the objective 'Real Presence' of the whole Person of Christ such that partakers relationally commune even with Jesus' human nature but only by the operation of the Holy Spirit and the omnipresent divine nature of Jesus received through faith, united forever to Jesus' humanity). The problem with the Reformed view of Jesus' two distinct natures, minds, and wills, is that it tends toward an extreme dyophisitism, inevitably bordering at times on a Nestorian view (two whole persons in Christ).

There are others, especially in the last couple of centuries, who have held to a kind of "kenotic" view of the incarnation of Christ, such that the meaning of Christ "emptying Himself" is to be interpreted as Christ somehow divesting Himself of His divine attributes when He enters into our humanity. There are different nuances within the views of specific proponents of broadly "kenotic" Christology, but the main problem with pretty much all the views is that they seem to imply that Jesus actually changed in His divine nature. Such an implication goes against almost all traditional Christian philosophy of theism, the biblical data on divine immutability, and the biblical data on the deity of the incarnate Christ. Therefore truly kenotic views are not really options for faithful Bible-believing Christians.

Where is the Church to go from here, then? It seems one must either affirm some kind of unity of the natures of Christ that is so "of a piece" that it mixes or obliterates the distinctions between the two natures, or one must end up at least implicitly affirming the reality of two complete persons in Christ--one divine, one human.

It seems William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland have come up with an interesting alternative to traditional Lutheran and Reformed Christologies. It is very creative and effectively solves some important problems of Christology; nevertheless, I'm afraid it comes up short in some highly significant ways, and cannot be consistently maintained as an orthodox option.

I regard the two men as faithful evangelical Christian scholars with great minds for philosophy, from whom I have learned much about epistemology and other issues of Christian apologetics and philosophy. So I hope what I offer here is a charitable critique. I don't believe either of these men are heretics; no fallible human theologian is fully self-consistent, or else every theologian would be a heretic! For the smallest mistakes in their premises would lead to very, very bad conclusions. So here I only hope to point out inconsistency and unavoidable heretical implications of their Christology, not that their view as they themselves present it is inherently heretical.

One other note: I'm not actually even 100% sure that both men agree at every point in their book. For simplicity's sake I just assume that they wrote the Christology section of their book together and are in basic agreement with each other. I suppose I should also say that I do not know for certain that they hold the same view today as they did back in 2003. So again, for simplicity's sake (and because a very brief investigation of online articles revealed no change in their view), I am assuming that they still hold a similar view today.

Craig and Moreland affirm three basic points in the outlining of their Christology.

1) They affirm the limits of Chalcedon as orthodoxy. They believe that Christ has one "individual essence" and two "kind essences" (one united person and two distinct natures).

2) They postulate together with Apollinarius that the eternal Logos functions as the "rational soul" of Jesus. They actually believe that Apollinarius may have been misunderstood, and that what he was really getting at was that the Logos exemplified perfect human personhood as an archetypal man minus the human flesh. Thus, the "human nature" of Jesus was completed only and precisely by the union of the Logos with Jesus' human flesh. They argue that there is biblical support for understanding the Logos as possessing all the qualities of perfect human personhood in the doctrine of the creation of man in the imago Dei, or the "image of God." They escape the charge made against the condemned version of Apollinarianism because in their view Jesus truly has a "human" soul...that soul just happens to be more than a human soul. It is consubstantial with all the eternal divinity of the Logos, and all the human aspects of that Logos become for Jesus the immaterial human soul connected with His flesh. Therefore the union of the Logos with mere human flesh is sufficient to constitute true humanity and Jesus can identify fully with us.

They claim this "rehabilitation" of Apollinarius' view illuminates the doctrine that came to be known as "enhypostasia," the teaching that Jesus' human nature only receives subsistence from its union with the Logos. That is, not just any human person could have been the incarnate Son of God. Jesus' human nature only becomes hypostatic in union with the eternal Logos. There could not have been a "Jesus" the Son of God walking around apart from the Logos, even if he possessed a complete human nature of body and soul and was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Craig and Moreland claim that enhypostasia may be incoherent apart from something like their Christological model.

3) They believe the divine aspects of the Logos were voluntarily made largely "subliminal" or "subconscious" during Jesus' humiliation (the period of time spanning mainly from His birth to His death and burial). They appeal to depth psychology--psychoanalytic approaches to therapy and research that take the unconscious into account. In this way, they attempt to preserve Jesus' true human experience, identifying Himself fully with the weakness of our finitude, despite the fact that His soul, or the immaterial component of His humanity, is the divine Logos. And they speak of these "subliminal" divine attributes and abilities coming to the surface in Jesus' life recorded in the gospels, for example, in His performance of miracles or times when He exhibited supernatural knowledge beyond that acquired by normal human means.

They admit that this view of Christ implies monothelitism (one will). But because of their view of the Logos as exemplifying nothing less than perfect human personhood minus a physical body, the theological charge against monothelitism leading to its historical condemnation is considered vitiated. Also, in response to one who would point to Jesus' prayer in the garden of Gethsemane before His arrest (a prayer that the Father's will, not His own, be done), as a counterexample of monothelitism, Craig and Moreland seem to want to say that the distinction of wills made here is not between a human mind and divine mind in Jesus, but between the Father's will and the Logos' will as incarnated and subjected to human weakness, the essentially divine attributes of the Logos being made more subliminal, and the independent use of such not being made available to Jesus' human nature during His state of humiliation. After all, Jesus was obviously not praying to Himself, but to the Father.

What shall we say by way of critique, then? I have three overlapping points to make about why I think this model of the nature of Christ is too problematic to accept.

First of all, the Logos cannot function as the human soul of Jesus because even if there is a sense in which the reason humans are said to be made "in the image of God" is that there is an analogical likeness to the being of the Logos, the Logos Himself nevertheless is an infinite and divine ontological unity. There simply is no way to parse out truly "human" aspects of the Logos and say that that is what constitutes the immaterial side of Jesus' humanity.

Second, saying that the divine attributes of the Logos were largely "subliminal" or "subconscious" during Jesus' humiliation does not offer much of a solution to the first problem, not least of all because it still cannot posit a truly human and finite ontological status to Jesus' soul. Another problem, however, is that true humanity includes a truly human subconscious or subliminal mental life. That subconscious aspect of human nature cannot be replaced by a set of divine attributes--or consciousness of divine attributes--or else human nature is compromised. And if Craig and Moreland wanted to posit a duality in the subconscious life of Christ, such that there was divinity or consciousness of divinity there as well as the normal human subconscious mind, I suppose that could help their case. But it would be very strange, indeed, and it may even be incoherent insofar as the human subconscious would seem to have to be in direct contact with the subliminal divine consciousness, compromising the limitedness of human subconscious knowledge, etc.

Third, on Craig and Moreland's proposed model, Christ's atoning work on the cross would not seem to be possible. There are several reasons for this. First of all, at a fundamental level, once the criticisms laid out thus far have been established, Jesus' human nature is seen as being compromised and He can therefore not identify fully with humanity as a head covenant representative, especially in becoming a substitute sacrifice on the cross. Their Christology lapses quickly into monophysitism; Jesus no longer has both a divine and a human nature, but rather a divine nature with human flesh, and the old charges against historical Apollinarianism hold.

There is another problem related to the atonement on Craig and Moreland's model, though, as well. According to a traditional penal substitutionary understanding of the atonement (which I believe is demonstrably biblical), Jesus undergoes physical and spiritual death according to His human nature. He bore in His body and soul the full wrath of the curse of God's Law against our sin, including physical death and full relational estrangement from blessed fellowship and spiritual communion with God.

In the case of this modified Apollinarian Christology offered by Craig and Moreland, though, how is this kind of atonement possible? Jesus would have no truly human soul to be spiritually estranged from God or to bear the wrath of God against human sin; there would necessarily either be an ontological and relational breach in the immanent Trinity between the Father and the Logos-Son, or we would have to understand the expression of divine wrath which fell on Christ for us as being restricted to the physical death of Jesus--the separation of soul and body and the cessation of bodily animation.

The former option is extraordinarily problematic because even though there is an anthropomorphic/analogical (nevertheless real) sense in which God can suffer in contingent covenantal relationship to us (for example, in the grieving of the Spirit by our sin), there is no biblical or logical way in which deity itself can ontologically or metaphysically suffer as we do, change as we do, or die. Therefore the eternal divine Logos can never be immanently divided from the rest of the Godhead or suffer the wrath of the curse of divine Law against sin as Jesus is said to have done on the cross.

The latter option is just as problematic because the wrath of God against sin--the covenant curses of His Law--involve more than physical death. As we see in the case of the eternal fate of the wicked described in places like the final judgment passages of Revelation, the punishment for sin is not only the introduction of physical death into the world, but also the administration of what is called the "second death." In Jesus' teaching on Gehenna, the fate of the wicked is an utter ruination of both body and soul that is of an eternal quality (an eternal duration for sinners, and of an eternal worth for Christ given His identity as the sinless and divine Son of God). This is the ultimate punishment for sin that Jesus must be understood as undergoing in His human nature on the cross if He is to atone for sinful human beings, and it cannot fit within Craig and Moreland's Christological scheme.

In sum then, even though Craig and Moreland's proposal--a modification (or perhaps "clarification") of Apollinarianism--provides unique conceptual solutions to traditional Christological problems like how to affirm both enhypostasis and a truly dyophisite incarnation (one person of Christ with two natures), or how to avoid letting belief in two complete and distinct natures in Christ lapse into belief in multiple persons in Christ, the proposal presents far weightier problems than it solves.

It fails to provide the incarnate Christ with a truly human "rational soul." It fails to provide Jesus with a truly human and finite subconscious mind. And it fails to account for the reality of the atonement, where the atonement is understood as Christ bearing the wrath of God against human sinners and suffering both physical and spiritual death according to the human nature.

What of Jesus' miracles during His earthly ministry? Are they not the result of Jesus' latent divine nature springing up occasionally into the volition and power of His humanity? That's hardly a necessary conception of Jesus' miracles. As God's eschatological prophet who would come and fulfill all the Law and the Prophets, Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit and in His human nature depended on the empowerment and illumination of the Holy Spirit throughout the course of His humiliation, just as any other human being would have to. And what of the garden of Gethsemane? Craig and Moreland are right to point out that, with personhood in view, Jesus' human nature was not praying to Jesus' divine nature. Jesus was indeed praying to the Father. However, in defense of dyothelitism (two wills in Jesus), we may respond by pointing out that there is no possible way Jesus' divine nature possessed a will different than that of the Father's own divine nature, as both are eternal, omniscient, and omnipotent. It was only Jesus' truly human soul which in its limitedness and weakness had come to tremble at the prospect of Golgotha and the pending events which were to transpire there in a few short hours.

Whereas Lutheran tendencies toward monophysitism result in essentially divinizing Jesus' flesh (if not also His human soul), Craig and Moreland's tendency toward another kind of monophysitism logically end up at least divinizing Jesus' human soul, still compromising His humanity in an important way.

While some questions remain unanswered, not least of which how two complete natures including distinct minds could ever be united in a single "person," it seems we must continue to affirm with Reformed theologians a traditional dyophisitism that is ever so careful to keep the two natures of Christ eternally distinct from one another with regard to their essential properties, even when intimately united in the one Person of Christ. For it is only through the truth and reality of this doctrine, established long ago by our wise fathers at the council of Chalcedon, that the eternal Son of God could have come, been born of a woman, grown, lived in true dependence on the Father and the Spirit, died an atoning death for sinners, risen again from the dead victorious over human death, and can stand offering prayers of intercession for us today before the Father in heaven, as our truly human High Priest and immortal Savior.

Merry Christmas and worthy is the Lamb forever!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Baptist Faith & Message Ch. 2 "God" Sec. B. "God the Son"

"Christ is the eternal Son of God. In His incarnation as Jesus Christ He was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. Jesus perfectly revealed and did the will of God, taking upon Himself human nature with its demands and necessities and identifying Himself completely with mankind yet without sin. He honored the divine law by His personal obedience, and in His substitutionary death on the cross He made provision for the redemption of men from sin. He was raised from the dead with a glorified body and appeared to His disciples as the person who was with them before His crucifixion. He ascended into heaven and is now exalted at the right hand of God where He is the One Mediator, fully God, fully man, in whose Person is effected the reconciliation between God and man. He will return in power and glory to judge the world and to consummate His redemptive mission. He now dwells in all believers as the living and ever present Lord."

Nothing in this section is questionable in light of Scripture. I only wish there were more detail; it's difficult to squeeze every bit of biblical doctrine on a particular topic into a confession of faith focused on articulating central non-negotiables. This section does focus on the important things about the person of Christ: His identity and nature as the incarnated Son of God, His personal obedience to the Law, and the crown of His work of mediation at Calvary. Still, I wonder if the writers couldn't have easily included statements about Jesus' three offices (Prophet/Priest/King), and about how He fulfilled all of the major covenant promises of the Old Testament (especially the covenants made with Abraham and David).

In this section it is said that the cross made "provision" for the redemption of men from sin. While this is wholly true, I would personally want to also include a statement about the effectual nature of Christ's atonement for His people. It is a perfectly legitimate choice by the SBC to leave open the possibility of interpreting the Faith & Message (and the Bible) in a Calvinistic way or not with regard to the atonement. I am glad to see that the F&M at least uses the language of reconciliation being "effected" in the Person of Christ. Still, this can be interpreted in either way.

Even though it's a very specific doctrinal issue and the F&M takes neither a specifically positive nor negative position on it, the doctrine of the extent and effects of the atonement of Christ is an important enough doctrine to me that I must say a few words about it.

The Bible affirms a universal offer of the gospel (e.g. "Christ died and rose again for sinners such that if you put your trust in Him, you will be saved"). However, the Bible also affirms an electing particularity in God's saving love which is connected, not disconnected, with the means by which God saves--the cross of Christ. The limited extent of the atonement, though, is not a mere theological inference from unconditional election. It has both theological and biblical support, controversial as the interpretation of some passages may be.

I am not going to take the time to spell out in full detail here all the reasons particular redemption has strong biblical support. I can only mention several lines of reasoning and direct readers to an essay I wrote a while back which more fully fleshes out a few of these points:

Several lines of support for particular redemption include:
-Trinitarian agreement in the sovereign accomplishment and application of redemption
-The explicitly limited priestly intercession of Christ in Scripture (see John 17, Romans 8), which cannot be separated from His priestly work of atonement
-The objective nature of penal substitutionary atonement, as pictured in the Old Testament sacrificial system and fully accomplished in Christ (this is where John Owen's "double payment" argument comes in, and remains a forceful argument as long as one is careful to make important distinctions of the objective (decretal) and subjective (historical) aspects of a person's position before God, as well as affirming the truly objective nature of the atonement and it's direct connection with imputation)
-The blood of Christ explicitly purchases the New Covenant promises which in Ezekiel 36 and Jeremiah 31 portray unilateral divine activity in regeneration of His covenant people
-In Scripture, there are many places where the atonement is explicitly described in effectual (rather than merely provisional) terms. For example: (John 11:51-52; Revelation 5:9; and even 2nd Corinthians 5:14, one of the passages using universal language often used to argue against particular redemption, despite the fact that the "all" are said to die [in union with Christ according to Pauline categories], and hence are saved).

In summary, I love sections of evangelical confessions of faith about the person and work of the Son of God. These doctrines represent the very heart and center of the Christian faith. They also represent what will be the focus of our worship throughout the endless ages in glory, if Revelation has anything to say about the matter.

Details aside, we can all agree that Jesus has died for sinners, risen from the grave, reigns from heaven, is coming again, and offers all who hear the gospel eternal life through faith in His name. And for this I sing, "Hallelujah to the Lamb for He is worthy!"