Call To Die

Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24, HCSB)

My Photo
Name:

Follower of Christ, husband of Abby, member of New Georgia Baptist Church.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Jesus Without Mistakes: Christ as the New Adam and Inerrant Word

Someone has made a mistake:
either the Lord of glory,
or this gentleman preaching
in a Mickey Mouse T-shirt.
[This blogpost was originally published on the ninth of this month. As I was re-reading Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective, I found a pertinent quote from Klaus Issler, so I'm re-publishing this with the Issler quote.] 

To Be Human is to Err?

"To err is human..." This proverb, though not found in Scripture, is certainly reflective of our normal daily experience. But is the obverse true as well? Is 'to be human to err'?

Mark Driscoll, in discussing the true humanity of Christ, seems to think that the answer is 'yes,' and-responding to objections against Driscoll on this issue-Sam Storms has emphatically answered in the affirmative. Driscoll and Storms both believe that in order to be truly human, Jesus must have made errors or mistakes.

Driscoll and Storms are both careful to say that they are not asserting that Jesus made any moral errors or mistakes. Rather, Driscoll believes-and Storms asserts-that Jesus made factual errors or mistakes.

On The Distinction Between Moral and Factual Errors

5, 280!
The distinction between moral and factual errors or mistakes can indeed be meaningful. The antiChrist himself (as a Reformed Baptist, I mean Pope Francis) may be able to say how many feet are in a mile (or meters are in a kilometer) without making a factual error or mistake. Yet, due to the radical corruption of human nature through Adam's fall, none of us can relate even the most commonplace facts in a way is free from moral error. This is because God created all things for His own glory, but when we consider the things that He has made and principles that He has established, we never glorify Him to the level we ought. When we fill out our multiplication tables in elementary school, even if we make no factual errors, we never perform this activity in a way that is characterized by complete, untainted love for God: heart, soul, mind and strength.

So, making moral errors or mistakes is a necessary part of what it means to be a fallen human being. But-laying aside the question of fallenness, as Jesus was (and is) sinless-is making factual errors or mistakes a necessary part of what it means to be a human?

On the Proper Distinctions Between God and Man

What are the necessary characteristics of humanity? Specifically, what are the necessary characteristics that distinguish God and Man (considered apart from the Fall)? Most obviously, Man is embodied: as the Baptist Catechism declares, "God made the body of Adam out of the ground and formed Eve from the body of Adam" (Gen 2:7, 21-23; 3:19; Psa 103:14). On the other hand, "God is a Spirit, and does not have a body like men" (John 4:24; 2 Cor 3:17; 1 Tim 1:17).


The other necessary characteristics of humanity-the characteristics that distinguish people body and soul from God-are summed up in two terms: finitude and mutability. Man is finite and mutable, which is to say that people (unlike God) have limits and are subject to change. God alone is infinite and immutable. Jesus' (post-resurrection) statement to His disciples that He is with us always, even unto the end of the age, as we go into all nations (Matt 28:19-20)-a statement indicating that He is limitless-and the declaration by the author of Hebrews that "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever" (Heb 13:8): these are indicative of His divine, not His human, nature.

Jesus is fully human. Jesus is embodied (even now, as Colossians 2:9 declares in the present tense). Touching His humanity (at least during His earthly ministry), Jesus was finite and mutable. During His time on earth, "Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man" (Luke 2:52).

Growth in Wisdom: Some Needed Distinctions
Sam Storms

Driscoll and Storms believe that the human characteristics mentioned above imply that Jesus must have made factual errors. Sam Storms writes, "[D]id Jesus ever 'mistakenly' think that 5x5=30? ... When, as a young boy, he looked up at the sky, did [Jesus] ever wonder whether the sun might orbit the earth?" Storms gives a few other examples, and he asserts that these kinds of questions should be answered "yes."

Not all of Storms' examples are alike, and when writing about Jesus' education, Storms fails to distinguish between ignorance, confusion, and false assertions.

In His human experience, Jesus-like all other people-went from not knowing to knowing. In this sense, the Son of Man experienced ignorance, which had to be overcome through education. There is no culpability in this. As with all other children, Jesus had to learn to walk and talk, and He had to be educated day by day. The experience of ignorance, and having one's ignorance overcome through education, does seem to be a necessary part of human experience.

But not knowing is different from being mistaken. I believe that Driscoll and Storms go astray-and lead others astray-from a right understanding of Christ when they indicate that He experienced confusion and seem to indicate that He may have made false assertions concerning matters of fact.

Unlike ignorance and growth in knowledge, confusion is not a necessary part of what it means to be human. When God created Man and declared him "very good" (Gen 1:31), was Man in a state that necessarily included confusion and error? Is the promised paradise of God (Rev 2:7) a place-because people are present-that will contain confusion and error? (I have no doubt that we will be ignorant about many things when we arrive in the new heavens and new earth, and that we will spend eternity growing in knowledge.) God is not the author of confusion (1 Cor 14:33). Without diabolical influence, the people in Eden would have lived in simple faith: growing in knowledge certainly, but never experiencing confusion.

Even more problematic is the idea that Christ may have made false assertions concerning matters of fact. Notably, Storms-in making inferences concerning Jesus' education-never directly states that he believes Jesus spoke statements contrary to fact. Storms clearly believes that Jesus would have, at times, held to mistaken notions about factual subjects like Math or Astronomy. Would He have ever spoken about such mistaken notions? If not-if He actually held to erroneous beliefs concerning matters of fact, but was somehow prevented from speaking these beliefs-then His experience of human life was certainly unusual. (Storms seems zealous to promote Jesus as having a rather normal daily human experience, including confusion and error.) If, on the other hand, the Son of God spoke factual errors, then hopefully no one wrote them down!

The Practical Importance of This Consideration

The idea that Jesus would have thought-or possibly voiced-false assertions leads to a matter of practical importance in this consideration. While the distinction between factual and moral errors is meaningful on one level (as noted above), a great deal of overlap between these categories seems unavoidable. Klaus Issler sees this clearly, noting, "That Jesus would not develop fallible beliefs in these important matters [the 'important matters' Issler has been discussing include categories such as Literature and History] is crucial for maintaining his sinlessness." Even the most basic factual error (say, to take one of Storms' examples, an assertion that 5x5=30) improperly reflects the created order. In this sense, factual errors are indicative of something broken or marred in the way that humans display the image of God. This is one reason, when defending biblical inerrancy, the Chicago Statement declares, "We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science" (more on this below).

You say Jesus made mistakes?
I agree!
But many questions of fact have even more immediately apparent, long-lasting spiritual consequences. To give two examples: in Matthew 19, Jesus gives authoritative statements concerning marriage, divorce, and adultery; in John 14:6, Jesus declares that He is the exclusive way to the Father. Both of these passages involve assertions of fact. Now, if Driscoll and Storms are correct, then Jesus was liable to making factual mistakes. Isn't it possible, taking this view, that Jesus was unknowingly wrong concerning questions of fact touching the doctrine and practice of the Church? If Jesus-like the rest of us-is liable to make factual mistakes, then maybe we should reexamine His statements and see if we should take different views: re-defining marriage; being more inclusive in our view of other religions. This is the position held by many liberal theologians.

Evangelicals who follow Driscoll and Storms' line of thinking on this subject, and who wish to avoid giving credence to liberal questions or denials of Jesus' teaching, may wish to assert that the words of Jesus found in Scripture are free from mistakes or errors. But on what basis are the words of Christ in Scripture inerrant? Isn't it because the Holy Spirit superintended the writing of Scripture? As the Chicago Statement again declares, "We affirm that inspiration, though not conferring omniscience, guaranteed true and trustworthy utterance on all matters of which the Biblical authors were moved to speak and write."

In writing true and trustworthy Scripture, free from error, the prophets and apostles did not become omniscient. They did not become more than human. In writing the New Testament, the apostles received prophecy and clarity concerning Christ from the Holy Spirit (John 2:22; 16:13-14). They began in ignorance concerning some of these matters, and they grew in knowledge. On the other hand, when penning holy Scripture, the apostles were never confused about what they should write down. They certainly never included false assertions in the Bible.

The beliefs that evangelicals readily affirm concerning the production of the Spirit-inspired written Word of God should also be affirmed concerning the life of the Spirit-anointed incarnate Word of God. Scripture, though penned by humans, is inerrant. Jesus, though truly human, is (and always has been) without error or mistakes.

Ignorance Without Errors

If I am correct, then Jesus, while having experienced ignorance and growth in knowledge as a human, was never confused, nor did He make any false assertions. How could this distinction be maintained in Christ, practically speaking? Certainly, no mere human being knows another's thoughts (1Cor 2:11), and we can never come close to fully comprehending the thought-life of a theanthropic Person who is able to read our thoughts (and was able to read other's thoughts during His earthly ministry, even before the resurrection: Matt 9:4; 12:25; Luke 11:17). But I believe that Mark 13:32 provides a helpful basis for considering how Jesus could be ignorant without being confused or led to false assertions. As recorded in this verse, Jesus declared concerning the destruction Jerusalem, "But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone" (NASB).

As a human being like us, Jesus-during His pre-ascension earthly ministry-experienced ignorance concerning certain matters of eschatology. How, then, did Jesus deal with ignorance in a way that did not involve confusion or false assertions? He admitted it! Jesus was perfect in humility. When-as a Man-He did not know something, He did not offer up fallible speculations. Instead, He said, 'I don't know.'

This presupposes, of course, that Jesus-as an unfallen human being, not suffering the noetic effects of sin-did not experience confusion. He never thought He knew something that He didn't actually know. In this way, He was free from the error of making false assertions.

Conclusion

Driscoll and Storms are correct to declare that Jesus was and is truly and fully human. We should understand this to mean that touching His humanity (at least during His earthly ministry), Jesus was like us in being finite and mutable. Jesus experienced ignorance, which had to be overcome through education. This placed Jesus in the position of needing humility.

In their consideration of His humanity, I fear that Driscoll and Storms have failed to properly account for certain aspects of Jesus' human existence. Jesus is the new and better Adam (Rom 5:14b; 1 Cor 15:45). Taken out of the mass of humanity-as the seed of the woman (Gen 3:15) and the descendant of David (Rom 1:3; 2 Tim 2:8)-Jesus became a new beginning. Sinless like Adam, Jesus did not experience the noetic effects of sin. He never experienced confusion. When His disciples woke Him up during the middle of a storm (Matt 8:23-27)-though He was obviously very weary (showing His real humanity)-Jesus did not respond to the situation with the shock and confusion that we all would have likely experienced. He did not make any confused statement, which He did not really mean.

Driscoll and Storms also fail to properly consider the inerrancy of the Word. They would, I believe, affirm the inerrancy of the written Word of God. The inerrancy of Christ should be affirmed on the exact same principles as scriptural inerrancy. I sincerely pray that they-and those on whom they have influence-will see that the incarnate Word of God is (and always has been) free from errors or mistakes.

Labels:

Friday, July 25, 2014

Learning From What We Don't Know

Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. (John 21:25 ESV)
---
The above verse indicates that the wonderful actions of Christ, even during His short (approximately three year) public ministry, were innumerable. Though we have sufficient material to inform our faith, practice, and worship, an earth-sized library would not hold the volumes that the apostles could have written about the activities they personally witnessed between the Lord's baptism and ascension.

In addition to Jesus' unrecorded works, it is also interesting to note how many basic personal facts go unmentioned in the Gospel accounts. Four different kinds of biographies of Christ are recorded in Holy Scripture. Yet there are a host of details that-in this world-we will never know concerning the Son of Mary.

We're pretty certain that Jesus
looked nothing like this guy.
What did He look like? Though He was apparently physically unremarkable, and certainly no Aryan superman, given the prophecy in Isaiah 53:2b and the genealogies in Matthew 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-38, we have no details concerning His height, eye and hair color, etc.

What did He sound like? Now that He has been glorified, Christ's voice is overwhelming, like a trumpet blast (Rev 1:10). During His pre-ascension public ministry, Jesus spoke with unusual authority (Matt 7:29). But what was His tone as He delivered His authoritative teaching? Did He speak with the Middle Eastern equivalent of a country twang, or was His voice a booming baritone? There is no way to know.

What was His favorite food? This is a question that my six-year-old son asks. I've told him that the answer might be "fish," since Jesus-after His resurrection-apparently ate fish with His disciples on at least two occasions (Luke 24:42-43; John 21:9-15). However, we can't be sure.

What was He like as a child? Prior to when He amazed teachers in the temple at twelve years old (Luke 2:46-47), we know basically nothing about Jesus' personality and experiences as a child, except that He grew in wisdom, stature, and God's favor (Luke 2:40). The lack of biblical information concerning the childhood of God incarnate has successfully tempted some authors to wild mythologizing. The Infancy Gospel of Thomas asserts that the boy Jesus gave life to clay birds and that He struck another child dead then raised him back to life. Some Arthurian legends clam that Jesus travelled to Britain with His uncle. More recently (and less fantastically), I read an article by an evangelical leader who portrayed the infant Jesus living as an illegal alien in Egypt (though we obviously have no information on what steps Joseph did or didn't take-or exactly what societal expectations were-regarding possible immigration laws).

What were His political views? Jesus definitely believed in a kind of separation between Church and state obligations, and He upheld the propriety of paying taxes (Mark 12:17). But notice how many important political issues Jesus did not address. For example, Jesus did not speak about slavery, torture, or Caesar vs. republican rule. If the burning political issues in the Roman Empire of His day were reduced to a political platform, it is hard to know where Jesus would have stood on every issue or how He would have ranked the relative importance of each plank.
---
Set His face like flint:
not this Flint.
The lack of personal information concerning the incarnate Word is no mere oversight. Near the end of His ministry, Jesus set His face like flint to go to Jerusalem, full of determination to accomplish His atoning work on the Cross and to be restored to His rightful glory in the ascension (Isa 50:7; Luke 9:51). But even before that time, Jesus-during His entire public ministry-has a laser-like focus on His mission: to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10) through the crucifixion and resurrection (Mark 10:33-34).

Jesus' ministry on earth was a ministry of humiliation. In humility, Jesus did not glorify Himself. He glorified the Father, trusting the Father to vindicate Him and to return Him to the state of glory that they had together "before the world began" (John 17:4-5).
---
The lack of personal information concerning the incarnate Word is especially instructive to us in the digital age. We live in a situation where it is possible, accepted, and almost expected that we broadcast a great amount of personal information. Especially with smart phones, which can keep the Internet at our fingertips 24/7, our public presence can become dominated by personal pictures and likes or dislikes on gourmet food, fashion, cars, entertainment, political issues, etc., etc.

I am NOT suggesting that we cannot speak or write about anything unaddressed by Jesus. We have a whole Bible-not just the Gospel accounts-for a reason. The Apostle Paul, for example, gives instructions on how Christians should think about a wider range of issues, such as: homosexuality, divorce due to abandonment, ecclesiology, etc.

Also, I recognize that Jesus' ministry was unique. He alone came to live, die, and rise again in order to bring justification before God to undeserving sinners. Followers of Christ must proclaim the good news of who Jesus is and what He has done, but we cannot replicate His work.

Christians today may find ourselves in all manner of various vocations. It may be appropriate, and even necessary, for a Christian for a Christian chef to constantly broadcast information concerning recipes, a Christian politician to broadcast information on healthcare or immigration reform, or a Christian film critic [I'm thankful for resources such as Plugged In Online] to broadcast information about movies.

I am concerned, however, with how we Christians often spend our discretionary time, as reflected by our presence on the Internet. Many Christians have Facebook status pages (for example) that are dominated by personal information, entertainment likes, or political views. I believe that, if we are not careful, this kind of public presence will have two results:

1. We may make much of ourselves and little of Christ. John the Baptist said, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30). This must be the attitude of every follower of Christ.

2. We may tacitly present the gospel as relatively boring or unimportant. What captures our minds' attention and our hearts' affection? What gives us the most joy? Is it the entertainments of this world or the hope that we have for the world to come? What causes us the most concern? Is it the agenda of a political part, or the condemnation faced by anyone who does not accept Christ (John 3:18)?

Remember, beloved: Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do [even post to the Internet!], do everything for God's glory. (1 Cor 10:31 HCSB)

Labels:

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

True God and True Man: Reflections on the Hypostatic Union, Part 5

For since one of the Holy Trinity has been made man, viz.:  God the Word, the Holy Trinity has not been increased by the addition of another person or hypostasis. (From: the Second Council of Constantinople, Capitulum V.)

Summarizing the findings of the Second Council of Constantinople (553), Fred Sanders writes in Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective [page 31]: “The human nature of Christ, therefore, is both anhypostatic (not personal in itself) and enhypostatic (personalized by union with the eternal person of the Son).”

Sanders notes: “The fifth council has always been suspected of being a covert return to the Apollinarian error [the heresy stating that Christ’s humanity only consists of a human body, with a divine–but not a human–soul], because it seems that the human nature is missing something that it takes to be fully human: human personhood” [page 34].

Obviously, an affirmation that Christ has both human personhood and divine personhood is the very definition of the Nestorian heresy, but is a denial that Christ has human personhood a form of Apollinarianism? Sanders denies this conclusion, but gives little detail as to how this conclusion is to be avoided.

The key to understanding how Constantinople II avoids Apollinarianism lies in a robust understanding of nature. As the person of Christ IS the eternal, divine second person of the Trinity, and as Christ, in order to accomplish our salvation, must must have assumed every facet of true humanity–for “what is not assumed is not healed”–then human nature must include a soul. The soul, likewise, must have faculties including a will. This is why dyothelitism [the teaching that Christ, according to His two natures, had both a divine and human will] is so important, and why modern affirmations of monothelitism [see, for example, J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, page 611] are so troubling. Monothelitism and related errors do make the affirmation of Constantinople II into a kind of Apollinarianism. And these kinds of errors have direct consequences for us and our salvation. If Christ had no human will, then the human will–which is certainly fallen–has not been redeemed.

Labels:

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Necessary Relationship Between Poetic and Technical Theological Language

[Does technical theological language lead to dead orthodoxy? Does poetic theological language lead to intellectual sloppiness? Fred Sanders helpfully addresses these issues in Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective. The following blogpost is quoted from pages 14-16 of that work.]

The difference between saying "Jesus is Lord" and saying "the two natures of Christ are hypostatically united without confusion, change, division, or separation" is striking. The transition, however, is not only necessary, but also tremendously helpful, fruitful, and nourishing for Christian faith and understanding.

Consider, for example, how Chalcedonian categories helped a Christian poet express himself. In one of his hymns, Charles Wesley wrote: "O Love divine, what has thou done! The immortal God hath died for me!" This is a bold thing to say, because it claims so much: "God... died." The Bible itself says it that bluntly in a few places, such as Acts 20:28, "God purchased the church with his own blood." This is how the voice of faith speaks when it confesses what God has done. This is a good Christian sentence. When theologians get hold of stark, paradoxical statements like "God died," they have an instinct to clarify what is being said. They do not want to remove the shock or the force (that would be very bad theology), but they do want to make sure that the true paradox rather than something else is being communicated. They want to rule out misunderstandings that either take away the shock, or substitute for it the fake shock of logical incoherence.

For example, it is possible to think "God died" means something like, "just as there is a human death for humans to die, there is apparently a divine death for God to die, and that is what happened at Calvary." But the analogy is nonsense. Death is a concept that only works inside the context of a creation. You need a finite, contingent existence to have its eclipse or dissolution in death. "Divine death" as an analogue of "human death" is probably not even a coherent idea. It seems to belong to the category of "neat tricks you can do with language," by combining any adjective with any noun: square circle, blue height, quiet toddler, cold heat, divine death. When you remove the chimera of a properly divine death, you can see that "God died" means that God experienced the only kind of death there is to experience, and that is creaturely death. How could that have happened? This is precisely where Chalcedonian categories come into play, and rather than stripping away the poetic power of Wesley's words, the incarnational theology of Chalcedon, so to speak, put the poetry into the poetry. According to the Chalcedonian explication of the incarnation, the Son of God took into personal union with himself a complete human nature, and thus existed as one theanthropic (divine and human) person. He did not cease to be God, but he took up human nature into hypostatic (personal) union with himself. He made that humanity his own, and in that appropriated humanity he appropriated real human death. He died the only death there is to die, our death.
....
So with all the elaborate distinctions in place, the sentence "God died" can also be said in this longer form: "The eternal second person of the Trinity, God the Son, took into personal [and perpetual] union with himself, without confusing it, changing it, dividing it or separating it from his eternal divine nature, a complete human nature through which he experienced death." It is no surprise that Charles Wesley did not set that longer sentence to music. On the other hand, there is no doubt that the longer sentence is precisely what he meant by the shorter one. To the suggestion that he could have meant anything else by it, Charles Wesley would have replied that, being an orthodox Christian and no heretic, he could not possibly have intended anything else. Furthermore, there is no trickery and no sleight of hand in that expanded paraphrase of "God died." The longer sentence is what the shorter sentence means, and both sentences are true precisely insofar as they mean each other.
....
God died on the cross! Charles Wesley certainly knew the value of the incarnational and trinitarian framework, because when he sang "O Love divine, what has thou done! The immortal God died for me!" he immediately paraphrased it in terms of the second person of the Trinity's vicarious action on our behalf: "The Father's coeternal Son bore all my sins upon the tree."

Labels:

Monday, July 21, 2014

True God and True Man: Reflections on the Hypostatic Union, Part 4

Texts to Consider

"But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone" (Mark 13:32 NASB).

The Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him. (Luke 2:40 NASB)

And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men. (Luke 2:52 NASB)

Introduction

Each Christian must personally confess with Thomas that Jesus Christ is "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28), that Jesus-the Word-was God (John 1:1), that Jesus-God the Son-shared in the glory of the Father before the world began (John 17:5). This divine person-the second person of the Trinity-is the person who took on a human nature (Phil 2:7) in order to fulfill the Law (Matt 5:17; Gal 4:4) and to die for our sins (1 Cor 15:3). Having been raised from the dead on the third day (1 Cor 15:4), Jesus freely offers eternal life to all who will believe in Him (John 3:16), and He is now present with believers always, even to the end of the age (Matt 28:20).

In considering the truths just mentioned, along with the biblical texts cited at the beginning of this blogpost, certain questions arise. How can a divine person-a person who is fully God-be said to increase in wisdom? How can such a person indicate that He did not know something that the Father knows?

In considering these questions, we must more fully explore what we MUST CONFESS about the Person of Christ and what we CANNOT KNOW.

What We MUST CONFESS About the Person of Christ

The second person of the Trinity is immutable according to His divine nature (Psalm 102:25-27; Malachi 3:6; James 1:17). "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Heb 13:8 NASB). Thus, as to His divinity, Jesus cannot grow in wisdom or knowledge.

According to the eternal plan in the divine will-from before the world began (Eph 1:3-12; Rev 13:8)-the second person of the Trinity was predestined to become incarnate-taking on a human nature-in the fullness of time (Gal 4:4). The human nature of Christ had all the necessary attributes of humanity. Christ became like us in all ways, sin excepting (Heb 2:17; 4:15). In His human nature, Christ experienced physicality, limitation, change, humility, temptation, and the need to grow in wisdom and knowledge (as expressed in the verses at the beginning of this blogpost, along with others, such as: Matt 4:2; John 4:6; Phil 2:7; Heb 4:15).

The incarnate Christ (before His glorification) normally related to people through His human nature. Except at His transfiguration (Matt 17:1-2; Mark 9:2-3; Luke 9:28-29), those looking upon the human Christ would have considered Him physically unremarkable. As the Prophet Isaiah declared, "He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him and no beauty that we should desire Him" (Isa 53:2b ESV).

Even so, the second person of the Trinity is the divine subsistency through whom creation is sustained (Col 1:17; Heb 1:3). This consideration-along with the confession of divine immutability-means it is impossible that Christ, in taking a human nature, surrendered His divine being or His divine activity when becoming incarnate.

Moreover, though some theologians have claimed that Christ, during the entirety of His incarnate earthly ministry, only acted as a Spirit-empowered human being, the Gospel writers certainly record instances in which Jesus manifestly exercised divine power. Matthew 9:1-8 (paralleled by Mark 2:1-12 and Luke 5:18-26) provides two examples. First, Jesus forgives sins, an activity that His enemies rightly understand as indicative of deity. Second, Jesus knows the thoughts of the scribes and Pharisees, exercising a feature of divine omniscience (1 Cor 2:11; Psa 44:21; 139:2). While having a human nature and experiencing true humanity, Jesus still consciously exercised divine power at least on occasion.

What We CANNOT KNOW About the Person of Christ

Though we may sometimes think that marriage would be easier if we could just read our spouse's thoughts, it is a fact that no mere human can listen in on what someone else is thinking. Much less can we discern the uncommunicated thoughts of God. As the Apostle Paul notes, "For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God" (1 Cor 2:11 ESV). Therefore, we cannot possibly imagine the inner thought-life of a Person who is both God and Man.

What parents have not gazed into their baby's eyes wondering what manner of thoughts an infant might have? Christ-at one time-was an infant, normal in all ways that do not involve sin, yet He was also-at the same time-the eternal second person of the Trinity, sustaining the universe. How could Mary and Joseph ever have guessed at the thoughts of their child?

We know the thoughts of Jesus Christ as the Holy Spirit has revealed them in Scripture. We who love the Lord should seek to know Him better through searching Scripture, praying for the illumination of the Holy Spirit. We should seek to deepen our understanding of Christ through careful comparison of Scripture with Scripture. We should NOT be too quick to throw up our hands and say "mystery!" or otherwise give up in seeking to understand the fulness of Christ as presented in divine revelation simply because it takes sustained mental effort.

Yet there is certainly a limit to what our finite minds can comprehend concerning Christ. There are "secret things" that belong to the LORD (Deut 29:29). His thoughts are immeasurably higher than ours (Isa 55:9). So we must praise Christ, giving Him glory BOTH for what we can know about Him through divine revelation AND for being greater than we can ever fully know.

Labels:

Thursday, July 17, 2014

True God and True Man: Reflections on the Hypostatic Union, Part 3


Two Persons?

In order to be faithful to the doctrine of the hypostatic union (and thus, I would argue, faithful to Christ Himself), one CANNOT speak of Jesus as if He is two people: as if there were a human person Jesus who can be divided out from the divine person of Christ. The idea that Christ is two persons is the heresy called "Nestorianism" (named after Nestorius, a fifth century archbishop, who apparently taught some version of this heresy). This heresy destroys the unity of Christ, which is expressed in Bible passages such as 1 Timothy 2:5, "For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus" (emphasis added).

Theotokos

In order to combat Nestorianism, the Council of Ephesus (431)–following Gregory of Nazianzus and other great theologians–affirmed the practice of calling Mary theotokos (meaning: "God-bearer" or "mother of God"). In using this term, the Council of Ephesus was NOT suggesting that Mary was/is the "God-bearer" or "mother of God" in the sense of being a source for Christ's divine nature, but they WERE strongly affirming that the baby in Mary's womb was more than a mere human person: Mary bore a person who was and is fully God.

Communicatio idiomatum

The affirmation of Mary as theotokos also raises the issue of Communicatio idiomatum, meaning, “the communication of attributes.” Though there are some denominational differences concerning how we should understand Communicatio idiomatum, at its most basic level, Christians agree that–due to the hypostatic union from the Incarnation–when we speak about Christ, we should not be hesitant to speak of Him as a single Person, who has attributes from both His divine and human natures.  Due to the Communicatio idiomatum, the NT authors can even speak of the Lord of glory as having been crucified (1 Cor 2:8) and the church as purchased with God’s own blood (Acts 20:28). Jesus certainly suffered and died on behalf of sinners according to His human (rather than His divine) nature, yet because it was Jesus who died, it is proper to speak of God shedding His blood and the Lord of glory having been crucified for our salvation. Because it was Jesus who died-one with a human nature, but who is also fully God-it was impossible that death should hold Him (Acts 2:24).

Dear reader, if You call out to Christ to save you from sin, death, and Hell, you will find one Person-one Mediator between God and men-who is fully God and fully Man: compassionate and mighty to save.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

True God and True Man: Reflections on the Hypostatic Union, Part 2


One Nature?

In order to be faithful to the doctrine of the hypostatic union (and thus, I would argue, faithful to Christ Himself), one CANNOT speak of Jesus as if He has only one nature following the Incarnation: as if He were divine without being fully human (body and soul) or as if He has a nature that is some kind of synthesis between divinity and humanity. The idea that Christ, following the Incarnation, has one nature is the heresy called "monophysitism" (from mono, meaning "one," and phusis, meaning "nature").

Monophysitism and Gospel Matters

Monophysitism is a serious heresy for a number of reasons:

1. It misrepresents the clear biblical record. While there are Bible passages that speak of Christ as God (for example, Titus 2:13) and passages that speak of Christ as Man (for example, 1 Timothy 2:5). There are no passages that speak of Christ of having a nature that  is some kind of hybrid.

2. It misrepresents the divine nature of Christ. In the orthodox view, the divine Word takes on a human nature. The divine nature does not become human in the sense of changing or being synthesized into something that it was not. Such an activity (if possible) would imply a change in God's nature. God, however, is immutable (unchangeable), as the Bible declares in passages such as Psalm 102:25-27; Malachi 3:6; James 1:17.

3. It misrepresents the human nature of Christ. Scripture declares in Hebrews 2:17 that Jesus was "made like His brethren in every respect." From several passages (including Heb 4:15; 7:26; 1 Peter 2:22) we know that the humanity of Christ did not include sin. But in every respect necessary for Christ to experience a true (yet sinless) humanity, Jesus was just like us. This would not be the case if His human soul was replaced by a divine soul or if His soul was some sort of human/divine mixture.

4. It undermines the gospel:

a.   The good news of salvation is based on the immutable nature of God. As Scripture declares in Malachi 3:6, “Because I–the LORD–do not change, therefore you–the sons of Jacob–are not consumed.” By asserting change in the divine nature, monophysitism erodes the basis of our hope for salvation. If God can change as to His very nature, how can we be sure that He will not change His mind concerning the salvation of His elect?
b.   The good news of salvation is based on the true, full humanity of Christ. As Scripture declares in Hebrews 2:17, "Therefore, [Christ] had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people" (NASB emphasis added). Christ our great high priest had to become like us and He had to be chosen out from among men (Heb 5:1). One reason that "it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins" (Heb 10:4) is because these animals are fundamentally NOT like us, and so they are improper as substitutes. But in the monophysite view, Jesus in His humanity is fundamentally NOT like us in that He lacks a human soul. As Gregory of Nazianzus righly asserted:

If anyone has put his trust in [Christ] as a Man without a [fully] human mind, he is really bereft of mind, and quite unworthy of salvation. For that which He has not assumed He has not healed.
Christ HAD to take on a fully human nature, body and soul (with a mind) in order to be a substitute for human beings: making propitiation, bearing our penalty for sins that we have committed in body and soul, and bringing healing to our souls (and eventually to our bodies as well, in the resurrection).

Labels: ,

Monday, July 14, 2014

True God and True Man: Reflections on the Hypostatic Union, Part 1


Basic Definition

The divine nature of God the Son (the second Person of the Trinity) subsists in a hypostatic (personal) union with a human nature. The hypostatic union has existed from the moment that the Word became flesh (John 1:14), being conceived in the virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit (Matt 1:18; Luke 1:35). The hypostatic union continues on everlastingly: For in Christ all the fullness of deity dwells [present tense] in bodily form (Col 2:9 emphasis added). As the second Person of the Trinity existed before the Incarnation (John 1:1; John 17:5), what the hypostatic union means is that in the Incarnation, the Word of God (a divine Person) took upon Himself a human nature. On the other hand, the humanity of Christ consists in a nature, which derives its personhood from the eternal Word. (The idea that the Word took on a distinct, non-divine human person is the heresy called "adoptionism.")

Labels:

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Jonathan Edwards on Original Sin, Part 2 (The Universal Natural Tendency to Sin)

[The following post is re-edited from notes originally published on this blog on December 7, 2010.]


  • Edwards asserts that proof of universal sinfulness and universal guilt provide evidence for a universal natural tendency to sin.
  • Several arguments by analogy are given; for example, if a person were to cast dice repeatedly and always get the same number, then it would be reasonable to assume that there was something in the nature of the dice that caused them to tend toward that number.
  • Those who seek to argue against the idea of a universal natural tendency to sin end up using language that assumes such a tendency anyway.
  • It is not sufficient to argue that people sin due to external circumstances rather than a natural tendency; the circumstances of this world may be so corrupt that people everywhere, who would otherwise be naturally good if they were not in this corrupt world, fall into sin. But sinfulness is characterized by a wrong relationship of people to the world in which God placed them, and if they consistently fall into sin, then they must be thought of as having a natural tendency to sin.

Labels:

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Mission of the Body of Christ: Sermon Notes from Matthew 16:13-20 (Sermon by Keith Stell)

[These notes are taken from the evening service this past Lord's Day at New Georgia Baptist Church.]

Matthew 16:13-20.
Keith Stell

I. "But who do you say that I am?"

A. This is the single greatest question we might be asked.

B. This question implies mission, as we are to be saying something about Jesus, and it is important that we say something correct.

C. This question was a kind of catechism.

II. What is the Church on Mission?

A. Ecclesia = "called out" ones; we are called out of sin.

B. The Church is a congregation: a body gathered for a purpose.

C. The Church is designed to reflect the glory of God's grace.

III. Whose Church is It? What is Its Guarantee?

A. Peter is not the foundation of the Church.
1. Peter, after the statement in Matt 16:18, denied Jesus three times.
2. Peter, after the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, was rebuked by Paul, as recorded in Galatians.
3. In 1 Peter 5:1, Peter refers to himself as a fellow elder.
4. The question of "who is the greatest?" which the disciples posed to Jesus, was not answered by an appeal to Petrine primacy.
5. The different terms for "rock" point away from Peter being identified as the foundation of the Church.

B. The Role of the Apostles is Foundational to the Church
1. Ephesians 2:20.
2. Revelation 21:14.
3. Acts 2:42.

C. Ultimately, the Rock is Christ
1. Jesus said, "My Church."
2. Christ has preeminence in all things.

Labels: