Ancient Future Time (Webber)

Webber, Robert. Ancient Future Time.

This book is written in the same vein and format of Webber’s other ancient-future books: Christ is victor over the powers and Christians are now to live in terms of that victory. Webber takes that theme and applies it to the Christian year. In short, he argues for a return to the Christian calendar as a guide to spiritual formation.

The Christian year is thus: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, // Lent, Triduum, Easter.

The two cycles mirror each other: Anticipation (Advent, Lent), Fulfillment (Christmas, Triduum), and Proclamation (Epiphany, Easter). The Christian is to anticipate the coming of Christ/the cross of Christ; The Christian is to celebrate the fulfillment of the Story (Incarnation) and the defeat of the powers (Easter). Afterwards, the Christian is to celebrate the proclamation.

The book is not hard reading but it is unusual for most Western Christians (be they any tradition). We are not used to thinking like this so the book forces us re-read certain parts. And it raises some questions it didn’t intend.


I did enjoy the book and to my ability plan to incorporate its spiritual formation. It wasn’t on the same level as his Ancient-Future Worship, but it does provide much meat for the interested one. I appreciated his discussions on Christus Victor and his warning not to let apologetics eclipse the Easter message. I have one question that I would like to see someone in this model answer: Colossians 2 warns against Jewish festivals and asceticisms. While I love the idea of festival in AFT, how do we maintain festival without falling into the warning of Colossians 2? I am willing to be convinced.


Lament (Thomas Oden)

Oden, Thomas. Lament.

This isn’t so much Oden’s official memoir or autobiography.  Rather, it is the beginning of autobiography, for it seems this story must be told more than once.  He is documented his leaving of the liberal (or as he calls it, “liberated”) mindset.  This leads him to ask the question if the mainline seminaries can be reformed.

His narrative is structured around three feasts: Sophia, a Mass, and a charismatic eucharist.  In the first one a feminist polytheist came to Drew Seminary and preached a message on Divine Sophia. Oden knew he would have been communing with demons had he attended Eucharist afterwards, so he left.  The second one was a Roman Catholic Mass that he chose not to participate in.  The last one was when he accidentally found himself in a Chinese Holiness church in New York.

Oden writes this as he is leaving liberalism (or those whom he facetiously calls “liberated”).  It reads like a memo from the battle lines.  It’s depressing but he is moving in the right direction.  He has a good discussion of modernity, postmodernity, and how the classical/patristic position can address these problems.

Those whom we call “postmoderns” are simply hyper or ultramoderns.  They haven’t challenged the key assumptions (Note: whenever someone calls himself postmodern, ask him to deconstruct human rights and democracy).  Therefore, in Oden’s case postmodern simply means “after” modernity.

Systematic Theology vol 1 (Kelly)

Kelly, Douglas F.  Systematic Theology: The God who is: The Holy Trinity. Fearn, Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2008.

It is hard to explain how one feels about this volume from the highly-revered Douglas Kelly.  In many ways, this is not a normal systematic theology textbook. Some of Kelly’s chapters seem oddly placed.  Following every chapter, moreover, is an appendix (or appendices) that is highly technical and seems to detract from the flow of the book.  That is my one criticism of the book.  On the other hand, Kelly knows more about theological method and the Trinity than most professors, Reformed or otherwise, ever will.  

How do we Know?

Reality Comes First, and the mind second (Kelly ST I:41ff).  The question before us: how do you form beliefs in your mind? To which Kelly responds, there is a real world that imposes itself on your mind.  In other words, and with the historic Reformed (and classic) tradition, the order of knowing follows the order of being.  And the order of being is God himself.

As it stands, that paragraph is standard Reformed prolegomena.  Kelly takes it a step further. Kelly is one of the few Reformed theologians to include a section on how the mind, particularly the redeemed mind within the covenant community, forms beliefs. First, truth causes belief (17). “God’s reality imposes itself upon those whom He has made to know him” (17-18).

There is almost a “reflex-action” in the mind.  As Clement of Alexandria said, “Knowledge is excited by outwardly existing objects” (quoted in Kelly, 18). Faith, and here Torrance draws heavily from his mentor, Thomas Torrance, “involves a conceptual assent to the unseen reality.” Faith is the obedient response to truth.

Following the Stoics, though not blindly, Kelly remarks that the basis of the system “is the assumption that the real world imposes itself upon the recipient mind of man.”  An “outer reality presses in on the mind.”  This is “apprehensive presentation” (41).  Indeed, within the mind are “class concepts, which serve to give the mind clues into the objectivities of reality” (44). One can call them “proleptic pointers” that allow the mind to jump from clues to conclusion

Applied to theology, faith is the heart response to the aforementioned proleptic assent (46).

Kelly has several chapters on the Trinity, but no one chapter on the Trinity that neatly corresponds to standard treatments. At this point in the book (chapter four) he does not give a clear presentation.  What he does do, however, is press the meaning of the term “person” as it relates to the Trinity.  This represents a clear advance in modern systematic theology.  The key point is that the being of God leads itself to the concept of “person.”  That is good.  What is not so good, however, is Kelly’s use of John Zizioulas’s idea “being as communion.”  I think I know what Zizioulas means: being is being as communion.  It seems it means “the being of God” is the being as persons in communion.  Maybe.  The problem is Zizioulas will take the Person of the Father as the monarchy of the Trinity.  Kelly rightly rejects this move.  Athanasius (and for what it’s worth, Augustine) sees the being of the Father as the monarchy. This is much better, for it allows one to say that with the being of the Father, we automatically get the Son.  If we follow the Easter route of the Father as Cause, then we have introduced a sequence of causes in the Trinity.

I cannot go into detail here, but Kelly has a wonderful section on person and “modes of being” and why we prefer the former and not the latter (503ff). A person is inherently relational.  A mode of being is not. “The personal distinctions within God are constituted by eternal relations, as indicated by Father, Son and Spirit; or, by begetting and proceeding” (521).  With Didymus the Blind, we say the persons refer to the order of relations (kata schezein) rather than to the essence (521-522).

The later Cappadocians, excepting Gregory Nazianzus, account for the persons by the Father as cause or monarchy. They do not intend any latent Arianism by the word cause (since it happens before time), but, nonetheless, a person is now part of a causal sequence in the Godhead.


By no means is this a beginner’s textbook.  Kelly’s ordering of topics does not always follow the standard accounts.  Moreover, the reader risks getting lost in some of his appendices.  On the other hand, few Reformed authors today demonstrate Kelly’s grasp of Nicene Trinitarianism and the idea of person in the Godhead, and for that reason this volume is highly recommended to the intermediate student.

Sola Scriptura: Problems and Principles in Preaching Historical Texts

Greidanus, Sidney. Sola Scriptura: Problems and Principles in Preaching Historical Texts. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2001.

“Dare to be a Daniel!” What is the purpose of preaching?  Is it to tell the story of redemption or to preach a moralistic sermon that will give me a burning in the bosom?  Given the way I phrased that question, you might expect me to side with the former.  True, I intend nothing but the harshest criticism of pietistic preaching.  I agreed with every single criticism raised by the Schilderite school (or Redemptive-Historical [RH] school).  Unfortunately, the Schilderite school does not give us any realistic alternatives.

The RH’s challenge is quite simple: if the point of preaching is to give us moralistic advice, then you do not need the bible to do it.  Quite so.  The target is not just moralistic preaching.  Overly-subjective preaching or pietism is just as guilty. In pietism, the attention is on man and not on God’s finished work in Christ.

The exemplary approach sees the bible, particularly the Old Testament, as a source for illustrations (Greidanus 57). We will list a number of problems with moralistic/exemplar preaching:

* “Moralistic preaching is legalistic; it issues imperatives without the divine indicative” (79).

* Often the text itself does not tell us whether an action is good or bad (81).  A good example is David’s marrying Abigail.  David is clearly the hero of that story and the marriage, minus the dead husband, is quite beautiful.  The problem is that David already has a wife.  Such facts strain the “Go and do likewise” moment.

Problems with Subjectivist Preaching

* “The sad phenomenon of the scarcity in certitude also in our Gereformeerde Kerken is in no small measure due to the fact that these people have been taught to search for certitude where it cannot be found” (quoted in Greidanus 97).

Given the fatal problems with exemplarist preaching, do they have a comeback?  They have several, but only one of them is any good.  On a surface level reading it seems that the apostles appealed to Old Testament history as a model for today.  1 Corinthians 10 is such an example.  Paul writes, “Now all these things happened unto them for examples.”  Greidanus points out, however, that examples is tupoi/tupikos, types.  This is closer to redemptive-historical than moralistic preaching.

No matter, is not Hebrews 11 such a text?  It looks like it, but it might not help the moralist as much as one expects.  No one seriously preaches a “roll-call” text like Hebrews 11.  Maybe the author means something else.  On one hand, I do not find the RH rebuttals very persuasive.  On the other hand, this is not exactly what we would call a sermon today (yes, I know Hebrews was probably read aloud as a sermon).

The strongest text is James 5:16-18.  James clearly appeals to Elijah as a model for us today.

The RH have a ready solution to individualism:  the covenant and covenant history.  This seems right enough, and I do think the answer is in this direction, but there are some problems, which we shall note below.

Redemptive history is “the successive realization in time of God’s thoughts of peace for us according to his fixed plan, and the fulfillment in time of this work-program which Father, Son, and Spirit decided upon before time” (123). This approach points to Christ and not in a haphazard way.  It gives unity to history. It allows one to point to Christ without forcing Jesus into every river and house.

While such an approach is obviously superior to legalistic moralism, it has problems.

1) Schilder and other  RH guys use the eternal decree in a different way than Scripture does.  Schilder makes deductions from the decree concerning the course of history (174-175). Where Schilder might reason from the decree to history, sometimes Scripture moves in the opposite direction. 

2) Schilder sometimes has to look for the “new phase” in RH.  In some ways this is easy: Mt Sinai, Davidic covenant, and Pentecost.  In other areas it is not obvious and the preacher is thrown back upon the same speculation criticized in the moralistic preachers.  Even worse, this means the meaning is decided before the text is heard (179).

3) While progressive revelation is a legitimate category, Schilder more often uses it not to elucidate history, but eternal truths in God’s mind (182).

4) Scripture contains teaching (didache).  It is not clear how RH can include that within its narrative of redemptive history.

5) RH sermons run the risk of being lectures on redemptive history, and since there is only one redemptive history, the lectures start to sound the same.


As with many surveys of 20th century Dutch theological controversies, it is not always clear what the main point is.  Moreover, the book raises more questions than it answers.  To be sure, Greidanus has written several volumes explaining how to preach in such a way. In any case, this was a valuable text that serves as a cautious reminder to both sides of the debate.  It reminds us that neither moralistic legalism nor redemptive history fully exhausts the demands laid upon the preacher.

T. F. Torrance as Missional Theologian

Sherrard, Joseph.  T. F. Torrance as Missional Theologian: the Ascended Christ and the Ministry of the Church. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsityPress Academic, 2021.

I initially approached this book with some skepticism.  Whenever someone uses the term “missional,” it is often to baptize some new, edgy idea.  Moreover, Thomas Torrance does not make one think of “missional theology.”  I was intrigued.  This book far surpassed my expectations.  The problem with missional theology is not that it tries to be missional.  Its problem is that it largely ignored the Trinity.  To be sure, some astute readers might point out Barth’s phrase of the “Mission Dei.”  Understanding what Barth meant by that might be a more daunting task.  

Whatever else Sherrard might say about missional theology, this book is a fine primer to Torrance’s theology.  As any reader of Torrance knows, the chief culprit is dualism. Dualism infected the Western world by Plato through Newton.  It was halted by James Clerk Maxwell and Albert Einstein.

The hero of this story, as is the case with all of Torrance’s works, is Athanasius.  Athanasius was primarily influenced by the Markan tradition in Alexandria and the way of science in Alexandria.  This way of science is “kataphysical,” to use Torrance’s phrase.  We know a thing by submitting our minds to its inherent rationality.  According to Torrance, Athanasius employed this in his understanding of the Father-Son relationship.

Pre-Nicean Dualisms

Origen, Clement, and Alexandria understood the problem of dualism.  Unfortunately, they addressed dualism by reinforcing its basic assumptions.  Athanasius countered this, according to Torrance, with the claim that the revelation of Christ “exerted its own inner logic upon the term logos.”  Logos was no longer a Middle Platonic concept; it was now the Ha-Debar.  Logos did not mediate between God’s being and man’s being.  Rather, it was enousia logos; the logos internally inheres in the ousia of God (Contra Arianos II.1).  The relation between God and the logos is an internal relation.

Torrance and Calvin

Calvin was able to move somewhat beyond Augustine’s dualism of the mundus intelligibilis and the mundus unintelligibilis. This is best seen (though, to be sure, this is probably more illustrative of Torrance than of Calvin) with the fact that one cannot detach grace from God and make it inhere in a creature, such as we see in Roman Catholicism.  Grace is identical with Christ.


For the most part I do not care about this section because I do not care about Barth.  There are some perceptive comments on liberalism that are worth mentioning, though. Older liberalism upheld the same pernicious dualism.  Only now it was a dualism of correspondence between the divine and subjective structures in man’s self-consciousness.

At this point Sherrard pivots from the doctrine of God to the ministry of the ascended Christ to his church, as per the subtitle. In line with good Reformed theology, Sherrard points us to the threefold office of Christ as prophet, priest, and king. It is this framework that is “determinative” for “the church’s participation in Christ’s ministry.” Torrance does modify the traditional Reformed schemata in several ways. Torrance sees Christ’s offices as already embedded in the narrative of Israel by three Hebrew words: paddah, kipper, and Go’el. 

Torrance tends toward a “munus duplex” in some places, as the prophetic office is subsumed into the priestly one. If “homoousios” function as a cipher for his doctrine of God, the vicarious priesthood has a similar role for his Christology. Even if his account is overstated at points, he makes a number of important gains: his take on the vicarious humanity emphasizes the role of man to God in the mediator. Moreover, the humanity of Christ safeguards the reality of divine revelation.

Unlike some missional accounts, Torrance links the ascension of Christ with the Church’s ministry.  The church does not need to be “incarnational” for the sole reason that Jesus has ascended and give His Spirit.

The final chapters of the book contain some technical discussions about anhypostasia and enhypostasia and how they relate to the ministry of the church. As hinted at above, any discussion of “being incarnational” runs aground on the terms an/enhypostasis.


This book is a fine primer to the theology of Torrance.  Many of us who began our study of Torrance did so on the doctrine of God.  Sherrard’s work reminds us of other riches in Torrance’s corpus.

Is there a Meaning in this Text (Vanhoozer)

 Kevin Vanhoozer focuses on the metaphysical implications of “meaning.”  His work surveys the collapse of foundationalisms, their postmodern alternatives, and his own speech-act hermeneutics that paves the way forward from the postmodern morass, albeit sympathetic to some of Jacques Derrida’s criticisms.  

Risking some oversimplification, Vanhoozer sees the three eras as the Age of the Author (we can know the author’s meaning in a text), the Age of the Text (e.g., late Modernity; we can’t know the author’s psychological intentions, but we can find meaning by focusing on the structure of the text), and the Age of the Reader (there is no transcendent meaning in the text; we create meaning).

Vanhoozer characterizes postmoderns as either “Undoers” (Derrida, deconstruction) or “Users” (Rorty, pragmatism).  Vanhoozer goes to great pains to understand postmodernism, even if he doesn’t affirm it.  Derrida is correct there is no pure realm of meaning and presence of which we have hermetic access.  All such knowings and readings are situated knowings and readings.  But that doesn’t mean we can’t know.  Derrida himself admits he is not a relativist.  He simply says if all meanings are situated meanings and that there is no Transcendental Signifier, what privileges one reading over another?

Vanhoozer’s answer is along the lines of the Trinity.  God is first and foremost a communicative agent. Being and Speech is not reduced to a monad.  It is indeed deferred.  There is differance (though not ontological difference) but not violence in the Trinity.  His very being is a self-communicative act.  Trinitarian hermeneutics affirms both the One and the Many.  There is meaning and unity in the text, but arrived by a plurality of literary methods.

With Paul Ricouer Vanhoozer agrees that metaphor is not simply literary window-dressing.  It has ontological significance.  The goal of Matthew is not to get to Romans.  Metaphors can actually “break” deconstruction: they are determinate enough to convey stable meaning without being exhaustively specifiable (130).  With Derrida we agree that all language is ultimately metaphorical (and thus problematic for metaphysics). But with Ricoeur and against Derrida, we believe that metaphors are meaningful and do communicate truth, even if they don’t exhaust the truth.


This book is magnificent.  I sing its praises.  Aside from the brilliant crash course in continental philosophy, Vanhoozer introduces readers to speech-act philosophy. He has a sensitive reading of sola scriptura which nicely rebuts communitarian claims.


Many of the chapters were excessively long (several were 300+ endnotes).  

Derrida and Deconstruction

  1. Derrida is a good example of the relation of literary theory to theology (Death of God = Death of Author).  
  2. Derrida tries to “un-loose” (gr.  analusis; analyze) the structures, usually those made of binary oppositions (hot/cold, good/evil).
    1. Logocentrism:  a preoccupation with meaning, rationality, and truth. Privileging presence (speech) over absence (writing).
      1. pharmakon: poison or cure.  Writing is both poison and cure.  It is poison because it threatens presence,  but is necessary for the transmission of thought.
    2. nihilism: nothing real in the world.  Only human creations.  No real correspondence.  Only immanence.  
  3. Signs: for Derrida signs are sideways.  It is not a link between a thing and a name, but between a concept and sound patterns.
    1. differance.  signs acquire meaning only in difference to other signs.  
    2. Deferral: meaning is only deferred.  The play of signs goes all the way down
      1. Defers presence.
      2. Metaphysics is the science of presence.  Derrida, argues, by contrast, that that presence is always already mediated by the play of signs.  Thus, there is no pure presence.

Masters of Suspicion: The Turn from the Subject

  1. Freud, Marx, and Nietzsche all argue that the human subject is neither self-conscious nor self-present
    1. our “self” is subject to numerous social and psychological factors outside our control.
    2. The self does not stand behind language but in the thick of it (Lacan).  
  2. Lessening the suspicious blow:  against totalizing
    1. totalizing is trying to achieve a unified perspective.  Reducing difference to the One.

Towards a Christian Response

  1. Jesus is God’s Sign of God’s Being and Presence.  

Undoing Metaphysics

  1. Demeaning Meaning
    1. Aristotle saw words as signs that point to a determinate reference beyond themselves.  A true idea is when the form is present to the mind’s eye.
  2. Grammatology:  writing is the site of differance.
    1. Textuality means that there is no knowledge that is not mediated by some signifying system.
    2. To affirm textuality is to affirm the text as incomplete in itself. 
  3. Ricoeur and Metaphor (129).
    1. Metaphors are not window dressings to the real truth that is propositions.
    2. Metaphors are irreducible.
    3. Metaphors can actually “break” deconstruction: they are determinate enough to convey stable meaning without being exhaustively specifiable (130).
      1. With Derrida we agree that all language is ultimately metaphorical (and thus problematic for metaphysics).
      2. But with Ricoeur and against Derrida, we believe that metaphors are meaningful.
    4. Metaphors are intertextual.
      1. this (Israel’s history) means that (Jesus’s history).
      2. This means texts are open.
  4. Levinas and the Other
    1. “other” :  that which the self encounters.  
    2. Ethics should resist the attempt to reduce the Other to the Same. 
    3. Transcendence and Immanence:

The Text as Communicative Action

The text moves in terms of parole, not langue.  

God’s Word is something God says, something God does, Something God Is.

Austin and Serle on Speech acts

Locutionary (The speaker)

Illocutionary (what is spoken)

Perlocutionary (the effects of the speech)

This triad collapses Rortian pragmatism.  Texts aren’t just something we operate on, but rather are themselves acts which have continuing effects. 

Paul Ricouer says texts create a world.  Discourse refers to the World of the Text.  

A formula (226)

M = F(p) 

Meaning = Illocutionary Force AND proposition

M = F(p) + x

x = author’s ulterior purpose.

A text is a communicatory act with matter (propositional content), energy (illocutionary force), and purpose (perlocutionary effect), 228).

“meaning”–like mind–is an emergent property.

  • a property that characterizes a higher-order phenomenon (like the brain) that has attained such a level of organizational complexity that it displays new properties (e.g., consciousness, mental rather than physical) and requires new categories (e.g., mind) to explain them (249).  
  • There is some level of discontinuity between meaning and text (though not total).
  • meaning supervenes on the written marks. 

“I believe in the reality of the author’s intention, for without it I cannot explain the emergence of meaning, that is to say, how meaning supervenes on written marks” (249). 

Sola Scriptura

  • textual meaning is independent of our interpretive schemes and independent of our communities.
  • If the community is what gives meaning to a text, then how can the community ever err in interpreting the text?  Who is to challenge them?  By definition, any such individual challenge will be wrong, even sinful.  
  • The canon functions as an instrument of ideological critique and a check against totalizing communities.  

Trinitarian Hermeneutics

Do texts have singular or plural meanings?

  • Monists: Only one meaning
  • Pluralists: many meanings
    • plurality of authorial intentions
    • plurality on the level of the text
    • plurality of readers and readers’ contexts
    • plurality of reading methods

God is first and foremost a communicative agent.  His very being is a self-communicative act.  Trinitarian hermeneutics affirms both the One and the Many.  There is meaning and unity in the text, but arrived by a plurality of literary methods.

Review of Church Dogmatics I/2

Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics I/2.

I don’t think this is one of Barth’s more important contributions, but it is one on which most Evangelicals think he is “the bad guy.”  It is in this volume where he more explicitly denies that the text in your hands is the revelation of the Word of God.  Rather, it is a witness to that revelation.   What Barth is actually doing is making use of the divine/human model of Christology and applying it to Scripture.   

On other areas he explores how is model impacts dogmatics within the Church and the proper limits of Church authority.  He makes an important point that is often missed by evangelicals:  he is adamant to deny that the church is in any sense the custodian of God’s revelation (and keep in mind on Barth’s gloss, revelation does not necessarily equal Scripture).  When churches do this (EO and Rome), they make themselves above God’s revelation and beyond any real critique.  Barth’s model, by contrast, can assign a lot of authority to the church while never fearing of an abuse of infallibility claims.

Barth gives an unusually careful discussion on the nature of canonization.  Surprisingly, given his anti-Roman polemic throughout this series, he faults the position of Luther and Calvin and gives more weight to the role of the church.   However, this can only work when the Church submits to the same revelation.  

Towards the end of chapter two he gets into why he doesn’t believe Scripture should be considered “inerrant.” I can’t follow him at this point, though Evangelicals really haven’t reflected hard enough on his concerns.  We believe the Word of God is self-attesting.  If we leave the discussion of “self-attesting” in the arena of the Triune God, well and good.  Because then self-attestation is truly a triune act, and if you deny it then you deny God.  If we maintain, however, so Barth reasons, that self-attestation is an act of the text of Scripture, then we open ourselves to lots of devastating criticisms by Anchorite traditions.  

Barth tries to play the “Calvin vs. Calvinists” card.  Historically, such a claim is simply false.   However, even Richard Muller admits that the epistemology of later 17th century scholastics was such that they really couldn’t avoid the later criticisms of the Enlightenment.

We should be all means reject Barth’s conclusions–at least, if we want to stay in good position in conservative, American churches.  The downside, of course, is that it is particularly difficult on Barth’s gloss to say, “Thus saith the Lord.”  To Barth’s credit he emphasizes the preaching of the word.  However, at this point in Church Dogmatics Barth is not clear on how his view of the Bible can be authoritative for the church.

Barth also advocates a role for the laity perhaps more than other communions.  He doesn’t develop the point, but his model could alleviate a lot of the problems associated with subjectivity in Scripture.  In fact, one can even develop a robust personalism on this point.  If what it means to be a “person” is an opening to the other, and if everyone is engaged in the reading and practice of Holy Scripture, then everyone’s so-called subjective interpretation is taken into the “other’s” interpretation.”

Subjectivity is only a problem when each man is an island unto himself.  This is a problem for congregationalist models.  For Reformed (and Anglican and Lutheran) this isn’t near a problem.  I think Barth makes some valuable suggestions, but they won’t impress everyone.  He talks about fear and bravery at the end of this volume.   If we allow dogmatics to become a lay enterprise, and each one has to bring his interpretation for correction and critique, then there will be the fear of “I don’t have complete control.”  This is perhaps why anchoretic communities love to rail on the “subjectivity” of sola scriptura.   It is scary, but it is also how we grow.  

Outline of O’Donovan’s Desire of the Nations

With the current discussion of Christian nationalism, and the apparent lack of biblical exegesis in Stephen Wolfe’s book, it seemed appropriate to provide a clear model of real political theology from Oliver O’Donovan’s Desire of the Nations.

The Revelation of God’s Kingship (36-41)

Isaiah 33:22:   Yhwh is our king; Yhwh is our judge; Yhwh is our lawgiver.  He will save us.”  

Ideas are connected.  Kingship implies judgment, lawgiving, and salvation.  


The early Hebrews saw this element in the Psalms.   While it included salvation from sin, the term is often used to show God’s victories of his people’s enemies.   

What is the purpose of these victories? (Ps. 13:5; 85:7).   They show God’s hesed, his enduring commitment to those in his covenant.  Hesed often stands in parallel to the Hebrew word for faithfulness (Psalm 98.3).  

These victories also show God’s tsedeq, righteousness.  In the Psalms God’s righteousness is a public thing.   When he shows his right hand and holy arm, the nations will know (98.2). This is an important point in later Israelite history.   You are an Israelite living in Babylon.   While you are the chosen people of God, you have been publicly shamed by a pagan power (and presumably, so has your God).  Therefore, when God acts to show his righteousness, it must be public:  Is. 45.5; 46.13;51.5-8;56.1;61.10; 62.1).


The Hebrew root words relating to God’s righteousness often appear in connection with his shpt, judgment.  

This illustrates the problem with ancient Israel’s existence.  They were God’s chosen people yet they often worshipped idols.  If it is true that God vindicates his name among the pagans because he is a just God, how much more true will he vindicate his name among his people?  

What do we mean by the words “judgment” and “justice?”  The Hebrew word for “judgment” is mishpat.  When it is used in the Bible it is seen as a judicial performance.  When true “judgment” is present it is not a state of affairs but an activity that is carried out.  

The prophet Amos calls for mishpat to roll on like a river.  Isaiah says that the citizens of Jerusalem should seek mishpat by giving judgment in the cause of the fatherless and widow (1:17).  Isaiah even goes on to say that Zion will even be redeemed by mishpat (1:26ff).  

The judgments of Yahweh have lasting validity because all of his acts have lasting validity.  

This leads into what the Israelites believed about…


If you look at the Old Testament law code, it is strange.   But maybe it shouldn’t be.   For us Westerners there is a sharp distinction between history and law.    This was not so for the Hebrew.  For Israel “history” is the telling of God’s acts to future generations.  Law was the telling of his judgments (mishpatim). 

Psalm 119 is a case in point.  There are several terms of importance.   Testimony and decree. Interestingly enough, other Psalmists use the words in connection with a word we have just seen:  judgment.  See Psalm 81:4-5.  

When the kingdom of Judah had its reforming moments, it is evident that “testimony” and “law” were in the foreground.  2 Kgs 22:8-13.  Jer. 26:1ff.  In both cases we see that “law” is simply more than a “code.”  It is attesting that God will live out his judgments in Israel’s history. 

Look at how Psalm 96:10 unfolds:  the nations are to be told that Yhwh is king, that he established the world on firm foundations, and that he will judge the peoples with equity. 

Without the consciousness of something possessed and handed on, there could never be a political theology, since it could never be clear how the judgments of God could give order and sustain a community (48ff).  

In other words, something needs to be possessed and handed down.  This traditional possession was not always identified with “The Law.”  Originally, the existence of Israel was mediated through the Land.  Possessing the land was a matter of observing the order of life which was established by Yahweh’s judgments (Psalm 37:29ff).  

Land = material cause of Yahweh’s Kingly Rule

judgments = formal cause of Yahweh’s Kingly Rule

Victories = efficient cause of Yahweh’s Kingly Rule

Mediators of Yahweh’s Rule

Yahweh’s authority is image-less, like Yahweh himself.   However, Yahweh is immediately present in conquest, judgment, and law.  Israel still had a problem in its history:  it could never consolidate.  It had land, judgment, and victories (though never absolutely), but it had no stable means of passing it down.  Even acknowledging the sacred writer’s criticism of monarchy (1 Sam. 8), it must be acknowledged that monarchy exercised a stabilizing influence when contrasted with the Judges period.  Most importantly, monarchy allowed the passing down of the tradition (Land, Judgments, Victories).  

Dual Authority

Two cities; two rules.  Israel and Babylon side by side.  

The foreign sword, exile gives Israel a chance to separate from idolatrous connections (84).

Empire is necessarily unstable

The fulfilling of time

Jesus’s words of God’s reign were confirmed by power.  The point: instruction runs parallel to authority (Mark 1:22, 27: Luke:  4:36).  

The previous duality is transformed: The Two Cities (Babylon/Jerusalem) were indicative of Israel’s alienation.  They were soon to be replaced by the Two Eras (93).  Israel previously owed its existence (30-49) through Yahweh’s victories, Judgments, and gift of Land.  This is transformed in Jesus’s ministry

  1. Works of Power;  demonstration of God’s rule.  Their function was to draw attention to his preaching.   
  2. Jesus proclaimed the coming judgment of Israel:  Matt 8:11; this judgment creates new situations and new conditions.
  3. Jesus, Israel, and the Law:
    1. Sabbath:  The law is reinterpreted so man could fully realize God’s welfare for him.
    2. Disciples:  Forming a new community.  Authority has been refashioned on how God models his own authority.
    3. Fulfilling the law:  Law is treated as a kind of promise.  It anticipates a righteousness for which the faithful hungered.  

Triumph of the Kingdom pp. 120-157

The Representative (120)

Jesus proclaimed Kingdom; apostolic church did not.  This is no accident.  The latter proclaimed/illustrated what happens when the Kingdom came in conflict with principalities.

Progressive mediations: “God’s rule was discerned through the judicial tasks of angels and kings in all the nations; it was discerned in special covenant through the vocation of the Davidide line.   But now the last layer of the veil is drawn back”(124).

In Ezekiel we see the immediate disclosure of Yahweh’s rule in the Davidic line (Ez. 34:1-31).

OO’s critique of classic republicanism:  127.

Representation and Authority:  our life under Christ’s resurrection is service to righteousness (129).  Resurrection establishes authority of new life (NB: Note the important connection between resurrection and reigning).  

Representation of Israel → Representation of human race:  OO rejects “replacement theology” (131).  Jesus is Israel’s identity.  Servant passages in Isaiah.  Israel’s public tradition (Romans 9:1-4) is continuous.   

Moments of the Representative Act (133)

  1. Advent:  Jesus mediates kingdom in his personal being.  Fulfills all God intended (Isaiah 42).
  2. Passion:    judgment has two acts:  separation of innocent and guilty; and affirmation of the innocent.  Both are seen in cross/resurrection:  Christ is set in opposition to guilty Israel and vindicated before Israel.  Pilate’s irony:  “The answer to his (Pilate) question is that his own authority, which he tries to assert by threatening, is also dependent on a source.  Is that source Caesar, or is it God?  The question is left open for the moment, but the answer will come:  because it depends on Caesar, it depends on God, since Caesar is destined to fulfill the role God designed for him…(continuing 141).
  3. Restoration of Christ:  judges Israel’s sin and reaffirms Israel’s new identity in Christ.
  4. Exaltation:  royal imagery (Ps. 2:1).  Power put forth, judgment effected, gift of communal identity.  

Subjection of the Nations

To what extent is secular authority compatible with the Christ-mission?  

Romans 13:1ff; government’s purpose is judgment.  To this degree is secular authority compatible with the Christ-mission:  it has the role of judgment.  Mishpt.  This reflects the New Christian situation.  

Secular authorities do not mediate the rule of God (rule = judgment, victory, law); they merely mediate his judgment (151).  Their victories and such are rendered irrelevant by Christ’s victory.  

The church has no distinct social presence:  its witnesses call back to the Holy City.  Interestingly in Revelation 18ff we see a converging of Israel, the Eschatological Church, and the Antichrist Empire.

The Authorisation of the Church 

The dual authority assumes a distinct form. OO is somewhat confusing on this identity.  He says he isn’t defending Christendom, but its hard to see otherwise.  

  1. OO asserts the church is a political society.  At the very least this means that the church is an independent society (161).  It is authorised by Pentecost.
    1. The church prolongs the ancient faithfulness of Israel, not replaces it. 
  2. Its essential nature as a governed society is hidden, to be discerned by faith.  This helps protect us from claims that such-and-so a church government is the essence of the bride of Christ.  OO rebuts Ignatius on p. 168ff.  Ministerial orders are derived, not posited.  They are disclosed from heaven.  
  3. The relation of the church to Christ is a recapitulation of the Christ-event (171).  The church’s sacraments authenticate its ministry, not the other way around.  

Moments of Recapitulation

The Christ-event is the structuring principle for all ecclesiology.  

  1. In response to the Advent, the church is a gathering community.   (Some thoughts on unity form 176-177).  The unity inheres in the confession of Jesus as God’s Son.  This is only possible by the Holy Spirit (177).   [NB:  Unity is a spiritual thing, not a material or tangible thing.  Therefore, Protestants should not be embarrassed by supposed “fractures”] 
  2. The church is a suffering community. 
  3. It is a glad community (181).  A Delight in what God has done in Christ.
    1. Moral life of the church:  vindication of God’s rule in Christ’s resurrection.  
    2. Keeping of the Lord’s day:  Ground of all moral principles in the church (Barth).   OO tries to steer a mediating path between the Patristic denial of the Lord’s Day = Sabbath (radical newness) and the Reformation identifying the two (conservative sameness).  
  1. It is a prophetic community.  The church is authorised to deploy the powers of the kingdom of God.  These powers are displayed through speech.
    1. The presence of prophecy directs us to the charism.  
    2. To prophecy: to speak a word from God to the church in the here and now.  OO denies that it is merely synonymous with preaching.

Our narrative of the church is the inner logic of the sequence of the kingdom of God (191).  

The Obedience of Rulers

Christendom: The Doctrine of the Two

OO:  society and rulers have different destinies:  the former is to be transformed, shaped in conformity to God’s purpose; the latter to disappear, renouncing their sovereignty in the face of his (193).  Nice statement, but Revelation speaks of kings being healed by the New Jerusalem.

Contrary to critics, OO is not advocating Christendom.  He is merely noting it is a historical response to Christ’s witness (195).

OO offers good reading of Constantine and the interpretations that followed.  Per Eusebius, Constantine filled the place of the Parousia (which seems to echo Moltmann’s contention that the church ceased being premillennial because it became Constantinian).  

Redefining the Boundary

Church contrasted the roles of emperor and bishop as a transition from old age to new (199). This is best exemplified in Ambrose of Milan.  

Two Rules

Gelasius deconstructed Augustine:  he translated the duality from the level of society (two loves made two cities) to the level of government (two there are by whom this world is ruled; 203).  

Problem arose: who inherited the kingly aspect of Christ’s ministry, emperor or bishop?  

Supremacy of Spiritual Authority

soul of Christendom is church.  body is king.  Soul superior to Body.   highly neo-platonic (205). 

The Authority of Word Alone

What does spiritual authority mean?  property meant power; power meant jurisdiction; jurisdiction meant authority, and authority meant a proper role for the church’s shaping society (207).  Franciscans rejected this line of thought.

Marsilius of Padua offered a good, even eschatological perspective:  since Christ’s judgment is still future, it is impossible to represent it now by any single icon of political government (208).

Restoring the Balance


Mission or Coercion

The doctrine of the Two was best seen as a doctrine of two ages (211).  

State forms outer circle; church inner circle; kingdom the center.  The Church reminds the state and the state bears witness to Christ’s rule (per Barth, OO, 213).  

Antichrist: the convergence in one subject of claims to earthly political rule and heavenly soteriological mediation (214ff).  

Martyrdom is the witness of an alternative Lord. 

OO is at pains to say that a Christian state need not be a coercive state.  Logically, he is correct.   

Christendom and the Liberal Tradition

OO gently rebuts Chesterton’s Catholic neo-Medievalism.  OO notes that the sources of modernity lie within the Christendom tradition and not simply Protestantism (228).  

Space, Time, and Incarnation (Torrance)

At barely 90 pages of text, Thomas Torrance wrote a book on cosmology that shocked the theological world.  If his arguments in this book obtain, then all of modern Protestant theology (and Catholic modernists like Schillebeeckx) are not only biblically wrong, but scientifically wrong (which compounds the irony, given that they gut the faith to make it scientifically relevant).

Plato: Spoke of space as a receptacle, but only metaphorically.  It is that in which events take place.  A formless and passive medium (Torrance 4). The problem is that Plato had to use spatial terminology to refer to a world that was beyond space and time.

Aristotle: container notion of space (Physics, Book IV).  He saw the Platonic separation (χωρισμός) as the stuff or substrate.  It is associated with the category of quantity. It is a vessel (αγγειον).  There is a “relation of interdependence between the container and its contents” (7).  There is no void or empty space since the container is always in contact with that which it contains.

Problems: “in equating being in place with a particular volume, it also equated the volume with a spatial magnitude” (8).

Stoics: Space moves as the body or agent fills it.  Much closer to the biblical view, yet ended up making God part of the world, or the active principle of the world.  Degenerated.

Origen: accepted the Stoic contention that limit and comprehension go together.  God’s comprehending all things limits them.  He begins to form a relational notion of space.

Athanasius: doesn’t operate with the bifurcated worldview of Plato and Origen (the separation of cosmos aesthetos and cosmos noetos).  Torrance writes, “for the linking together incarnation and creation in the manner of Nicea made that impossible” (15).

The mediator who is also homoousion fulfils the space relations between God and man.   Mere creatures are unable to make room for God. Torrance writes, “The inter-relations of the Father and the Son must be thought in terms of ‘abiding’ and ‘dwelling’ in which each wholly rests in the other” (15).

The Son for us is the place (topos) where the Father is.  Therefore “place” “is here stretched beyond its ordinary use and must be interpreted elastically” (16).  Torrance then drops a cosmological hammer: “This forces theology into the construction of a sort of topological language in order to express the dispositional and dynamic inter-connection between topos and topos, or place and place” (16).

This requires, to use another Athanasian term, different paradeigma under the impact of divine revelation.  Space “is here a differential concept that is essentially open-ended” (18).  Torrance continues with the mathematical language: “It is treated as a sort of coordinate system (to use a later expression) between two horizontal dimensions, space and time, and one vertical dimension, relation to God” (18).

Modern and Reformation Conceptions

What is the “receptacle” mode of thought?  It is when we think of x being in y.  This works well on some level in classical physics.

For the ancient Greeks “finite,” “comprehensible,” and “limit” were all bound together.  An actual infinite was inconceivable.  This had to give once Christian revelation came on the scene, since God is infinite and maker of heaven and earth.  This “meant that God does not stand in a spatial or temporal relation to the universe” (23). 

The receptacle notion of space was applied to the sacraments.  Grace operates as though it is in a vessel.

Patristic notion of space: seat of relations or meeting place between God’s activity and the world.  It is a differential or open concept of space, as opposed to the closed Aristotelian system of limited bodies (24-25).                                                                                                                    

Duns Scotus began to correct the medieval problems by focusing on God’s creative will (29).

Extra Calvinisticum

One of the Lutherans’ problems with Calvinist Christology arose due to the former’s “container” notion of space (30ff). The Reformed were able to speak of Christ’s ascending to heaven or leaving heaven without abandoning his governance of the universe because they saw space in relational, and not quantitative terms.

Eternal Simultaneity in Luther

For God’s presence all spatial relations are reduced to a mathematical point (34). To his credit Luther recovered the biblical idea of the living and active God, yet Luther never escaped from the dualism embedded in a receptacle notion of space.

The problem: “If we posit any kind of spatial relation without extension in time we make it impossible to discern any real difference between the real presence of Christ in the days of his flesh, in the Eucharist, and at the Last Day” (35).


He held to the receptacle view but made it infinite.  Space and time are in God as in a container (38).  And since space and time are now infinite, they are now attributes of God.  This further mean that if God is the container, he can’t really become Incarnate.  A box cannot become one of the several objects it contains” (39).  This is partly why Newton was always suspected of being an Arian.

Incarnation and Space and Time


Receptacle notion: finite receptacle (Aristotle) and infinite (Newton).

Relational notion: Maybe Plato and the Stoics. Nicene and Reformers.

God’s relation to the world is an infinite differential, but the world’s relation to God is a created necessity (66). This means God is free from any spatio-temporal or causal necessity in relation to his creation.

Back to Einstein: the flow of time and the extent of material bodies depends on the velocity at which those bodies move.  The geometrical structures change according to the accumulation of mass within the field. If Einstein (or James Clerk Maxwell) is even remotely correct, then the old dualisms are necessarily false.

Theological Geometry: The Incarnation must create for us the field of organic connections “within which we are to develop our thought and language about it” (70-71).  “The interaction of God with us in the space and time of this world sets up, as it were, a coordinate system between two horizontal dimensions (space and time) and one vertical dimension (relation of God through his Spirit)” (72).

Economy: the orderly purpose and control of God as introduced by the Incarnation (79).

The analogy of topological language: we have to connect the different ways in which we must speak about topos and place in accordance witht he human and divine natures of Christ (81).

“Mind is not in time and space in the same sense in which ……

Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and ID

The book itself is good, though I imagine the editor would have done it differently.  The essays were fairly informative and well-written, though young earth advocates would no doubt have wished someone like Lisle or Doug Kelly would have replaced Ken Ham.

Ken Ham: Ham insisted he be allowed to have a longer essay than the rest since he, and he alone, “was defending the authority of the Bible vs the authority of Scientists.”  Ham’s outlook is simple: will we trust Scripture and let Scripture determine how we view science?”  That sounds noble, but can he pull it off?  Sadly, he cannot. Ham’s strength is his relatively clear portrayal of one interpretation of Genesis 1-2.  Note, however, that not only does Ham ignore other creation accounts (e.g., Job 38-39; Ps. 104), he refuses to bring them into the discussion because they are “poetry.”  Poetry, on his account, cannot teach truths.  Ironically, Ham is very close to liberalism at this point.

Hugh Ross: Ross presents “moderate concordism,” the view that we can have a testable model of creation that can give us historical predictions.  His science seems fairly accurate.  As one author noted, the layman is in the unfortunate prediction of trusting one scientific authority over another and just hoping for the best. 

Deborah Haarsma: This is the theistic evolutionist or “evolutionary creationist” account.  She has the unenviable task of defending evolution.  I do not think she succeeds.

Stephen Meyer: Updated Intelligent Design.  I agree with everything he says, but, as others note, his position does not really need the Bible.

Young Earth Creation

There are good scholars and defenders of Young Earth Creation.  Ken Ham is not one of those.  His essay probably set the movement back twenty years. He does not understand how biblical hermeneutics works and regularly confuses his interpretation with God’s interpretation. His essay is not all bad, though.  It is relatively clear and straight-forward.   

* According to him, his is the “clear and natural reading.”  

* Genesis 1-11 is history.

* Yom means a 24 hour solar day.

* When God creates, he creates supernaturally.

* The chronologies do not have gaps.

* No death before the Fall.

His chapter also touches on a worldwide flood, but that is actually irrelevant to the creation account, though it probably does touch on fossils and the like


That it is “a clear and natural” reading is precisely what one should prove.  I do believe Genesis 1-11 is history, but that is not all it is.  Yom has other meanings besides a 24 hour solar day, as a lexicon can show the interested reader Even today, the word “day” alternates between 24 hours and 12 hours.  If I worked “all day,” I do not mean I worked for 24 straight hours.

I do not dispute that when God creates, he does so supernaturally.  I think that point was more aimed at Haarmsa.  Moreover, as Ross points out, Ham contradicts himself.  He says humans were eyewitnesses to parts of the creation week, yet elsewhere says they were unobserved (Ross 31).

The biggest problem that Ham has to overcome is the issue of starlight.  If the universe is 6,000 years old, then how does Ham account for starlight that is obviously from much older stars?  The initial response is that God created the light, like he did Adam, fully formed and functional.  The problem is a bit deeper than that, though. On Ham’s reading, light is coming from stars that never existed.  Information is coming to us from no source at all.  This is a problem for all Christian justifications of science.  At this very point we cannot account for the rationality of the universe.  The comparison with Adam does not work.  We do not currently see Adam.  We do see starlight.

Old Earth Creation

Hugh Ross has probably the best argued chapter, though it is by no means perfect. He argues:

* The surface of the earth’s water is the frame of reference in Genesis 1.

* Poetry can convey truth, which means we are allowed to go to Psalm 104 and Job 38-39 for information about creation.

* Day Age creation.  The days were six sequential, non-overlapping long time periods.

* Even if one wants to say there was no death before the fall, there was entropy, as phenomena like metabolism suggest.

* The Bible itself hints at earth’s antiquity.  It speaks of the mountains as “ancient” and “everlasting,” which would not make much sense if the mountains were only a few days older than man.


The biggest problem with Ross’s essay, as one can imagine and as Ross himself anticipates, is the presence of death before the fall.  Ross points out that Romans 5 only mentions human death as a result of the fall.  It says nothing of animal and plant death. Even if all the carnivores were vegetarians before the Fall, it still has them consuming possible life.  Moreover, one would have to say that they all became carnivores after the fall.  

I am still not 100% satisfied with Ross’s account.  It is logically consistent, but something just does not set right.


There was no overall clear winner.  Ross had the best essay.  Ham had the worst.