Forerunner of the Charismatic Movement (Dallimore)

Dallimore, Arnold.  Forerunner of the Charismatic Movement: The Life of Edward Irving.  Chicago: Moody Press, 1983.

Edward Irving’s more noticeable errors–e.g., speaking in tongues, lack of discernment–distract from the root problem.  Irving’s problem was not simply that he sought to revive the apostolic gifts.  Rather, he sought to meet Christ outside of where Christ promised to be found. Although Arnold Dallimore is a critic of Irving, he is quite fair.  The book is well-written.

Irving’s early life includes the curious incident where he stopped attending the local Church of Scotland and visited a Seceder church, and he did so on principled grounds.  What is strange is that it does not appear that Irving was actually converted.  Moreover, unless I missed something, Irving, despite his problems with the Church of Scotland, stayed in the Church of Scotland.

Irving’s initial problem, one perhaps common to many talented young men, was his initial rise to fame. He got too famous too quickly. While it did go to his head, he quickly lost much (but not all) influence.  The high and mighty of London were initially attracted to him as an orator.  Once he started preaching about the end times, they went elsewhere. It seems he embraced something like premillennialism, though his system was by no means coherent. By itself this is not all that remarkable.  What it did was point Irving to the idea that before the return of Christ, the apostolic gifts must once again manifest themselves.

Something else happened before that, however.  Irving was accused of preaching “the sinful nature of Christ’s humanity.”  Whatever else he might have meant by it, he was out of his depth as a thinker. Dallimore does a decent job outlining the position (95ff), although not all of the tenets are heretical:

  1. When Christ came to earth, he took postlapsarian nature, not prelapsarian.
  2. Christ was subject to the same sinful tendencies as we are.
  3. Christ’s battle was a real one.
  4. Christ was victorious by the power of the Holy Spirit, not because of his divine nature.
  5. This same Holy Spirit is equally available to all of us.
  6. Christ presented to the Father a perfect human nature.

The above terminology is mine, not Irving’s.  Irving was quite inept at explaining his position.  Several of these points are indeed problematic.  Irving could have appealed to numerous Eastern fathers and at least blunted the charge of heresy.  It is doubtful he knew of them, however. Let us work through these points.

1’ The reason he said postlapsarian is obvious. Does Jesus assume all of my human nature?  Gregory of Nazianzus in his second letter to Cledonius said he did. Prelapsarian humanity did not need to be redeemed.  The problem, however, in simply saying that Christ took postlapsarian humanity is that our fallen human nature has sinful tendencies that go far beyond that of mere temptation.  In other words, concupiscence is sin.

2’ Tendencies is a stronger word than temptation.  Had he said temptations, I doubt any would have been concerned.

3’ This seems true enough.

4’ This is mostly true. We are not Lutherans.  We believe Jesus was gifted with the graces of the Holy Spirit above his companions. The synoptics often mention that Jesus did his miracles by the power of the Holy Spirit. There is more to the story, however. 

4* It would have behooved Irving to very clearly state that the Holy Spirit immediately sanctified Jesus’s human nature in the womb of the Virgin Mary. That would have allowed him to say Jesus took a real humanity while avoiding concupiscence.

5’ If Jesus was gifted with the graces of the Holy Spirit beyond his companions, then we cannot simply say, pace Irving, that we can do the same things by the power of the Holy Spirit.  On the other hand, Jesus is not stingy with the Holy Spirit.

6’ By itself that is a true proposition.

In any case, it is not surprising that Irving was eventually deposed for this teaching.  I do not think that slowed him down, as his “charismatic” ministry was just beginning. That Irving was wrong on the charismatic gifts should go without saying.  Let us take the position of a charismatic, however, and see if Irving’s practice holds up.  It does not.  Paul’s admonitions to the churches are clear: all things should be done decently and in good order.  That means one or two prophesy (presumably at most!). If any speak in tongues, let them be interpreted. None of that happened. It was chaos.  

In what is perhaps a different angle from today’s charismatics, the Irvingites said the tongues were actual foreign languages, not a “heavenly language.” In any case, the Irvingites were pressed to defend the interpretations, which were never more concrete than “Behold He cometh!”

You can probably guess the rest of the story.  Here is what is remarkable, though: many stalwarts of the Scottish church actually spoke highly of Irving as a person.  See Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s touching words. 

In light of today’s experience, Irving comes across as quite normal. We are used to seeing Pentecostal churches.  His prophecy talks pale in comparison to Left Behind.  In terms of talent, Irving seems to be quite similar to Mark Driscoll, except that Irving did not have the abuse scandals and by all accounts was a quite gentle person.  

While by no means a scholarly account, the book covers most of the relevant material and was no doubt a welcome addition to material on Irving.


Confession of Faith (AA Hodge)

Hodge, A. A. The Confession of Faith. Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1869 [reprint 1958].

A. A. Hodge’s genius is in organization, much like that of his father, Charles. There is some overlap with his Outlines of Theology, but there is also new material relating to the law of God, the civil magistrate, and church courts.  Of particular interest are the study questions at the end of each chapter.

The Decree

Hodge distinguishes between “an event conditioned on other events, and the decree of God with reference to that event being conditioned” (65).  “The decree determines the nature of the events” (66).  In other words, an event is not always reduced to God’s efficient cause only.

The system of events is absolutely certain.  That in no way impedes the free actions of free agents.


Another evidence of the harmony between God’s decree and our free actions is our own self-consciousness. So Hodge: “We are conscious of acting freely according to the law of our own constitution as free agents” (96). Hodge is only noting that even given the truth of the divine decree, we have no evidence that we are automatons, quite the opposite.

Christ the Mediator

Christ’s mediation is indexed to his being Savior and Head of the Church. We prove this by noting what he specifically received when he discharged the terms of the covenant: upbuilding of the redeemed church (137).

When Hodge explains the unity of the two natures, he is on very dangerous ground. He writes, “It is impossible for us to explain philosophically how two self-conscious intelligences, how two self-determined free agents, can constitute one person” (141). At first glance it seems that this is Nestorianism, since he places two self-conscious intelligences within the God-man. I don’t think he is saying that, though.  Intelligences are minds, not persons. This is very thin ice, but Hodge is able to run across it quickly.

Free Will

We have free actions because “we are conscious, in every deliberate action of choice, that we might have chosen otherwise.” Moreover, we act from a “purpose or desire,” with “the internal state or heart, which prompted the act” (160).

Effectual Calling

Men are “entirely passive with respect to the special act of the Spirit whereby they are regenerated; nevertheless, in consequence of the change wrought in them by regeneration, they obey the call….” and are active (169). Regeneration and conversion are not identical. After regeneration, “the soul itself, in conversion, immediately acts under the guidance of this new principle in turning from sin unto God through Christ” (171).  “Making a man willing is different from his acting willingly” (172).


If one holds to the moral influence of the atonement, it’s hard to see how justification is any different from sanctification (180).

Faith = “assent of the mind to the truth of that of which we have not an immediate cognition” (202).

Knowledge = “perception of the truth of that of which we have an immediate cognition” (202).

Faith doesn’t mean there is no evidence.  It simply notes that the evidence is not immediately apparent to cognition.

Good works

Hodge has a good section refuting “works of supererogation.” Such a work, in theory, goes beyond what the law demands. This is false because God’s law is perfect and one cannot go beyond it.  Moreover, even the best saint in this life is unable to perfectly meet God’s law (225).

Following this, Hodge refutes the distinction between “commands” and “counsels.” He notes “that which is right under any relation is intrinsically obligatory upon the moral agent standing in that relation. If it is not obligatory, it is not moral.  If it is not moral, it is, of course, of no moral value or merit.  If it is obligatory, it is not supererogatory” (226).


Every covenant God made with mankind included children (346). The Old Testament church is the same as the New Testament church. “Infants were members of the Old Testament church” (347). Christ and his disciples speak and act on the assumption that the children are in the same relation as they have always been.

The Lord’s Supper

The church must use “the common bread of daily life” (358). (No stale chiclets.)

Transubstantiation contradicts our senses and reason, for “reason teaches that qualities cannot exist except they inhere in some substance” (360). 

The true, Reformed position, rather, teaches “the body and blood are present, therefore, only virtually” (362). We receive Christ by faith, not by the mouth. The reader can decide for himself how close to Calvin’s view this is.

This is a handy volume on the Westminster Confession for study groups.

John of Damascus, On the Orthodox Faith

May 13, 2015

I read through Damascene’s On the Orthodox Faith in 2009.  At the time I had hyper-Palamite lenses on and really didn’t let Damascene speak for himself.  I am rereading him now, years and paradigms later.  He’s really quite interesting.  Contrary to the neo-Palamite Orthodox today, he isn’t afraid of “rationality” or using proofs for God’s existence.  In fact, he sounds VERY Aristotelian.  To be fair, he does anticipate later Orthodox mysticism by calling God “hyper-ousia” (I.4).

Existence and Nature of God

He does use Scripture and does allude to the Fathers, but the main thrust of his argument is natural theology. His argument for God’s existence is as follows:

(1) All things that exist are either created or uncreated. 

(2) If created, then mutable and subject to change and perishing

(3) But things that are created must be the work of some Maker

Damascene anticipates the infinite regress rebuttal and handles it in an amusing (if not entirely convincing manner)

(4) “For if he had been created, he must have been created by someone, and so on until we arrive at something uncreated.”

Perhaps not the most persuasive argument, but historically it is very telling.  The holy fathers were not averse to using “logic,” even logic apart from Scriptural and Patristic considerations, to prove points about God.

Damascene follows standard Patristic and classical usage in that the nature of God is incomprehensible.

(5) His essence is unknowable

How then can we speak about God?  In what sounds like a later Palamite move, John says, “God does not show forth his nature, but the qualities of his nature” (1.4).  Is this the same thing as saying “We can’t know God’s nature but only his energies”?  Not quite.  John does not use any of the cognates of energein.

A note on apophaticism

If we say, as John does, that God is not “darkness,” but above darkness.  Not light, but above light–why can’t we carry it through and say “God is not love, but above love.”  God is not a, b…z.  If God is above every reference point, then how can we truly predicate anything of him?  We are no longer using analogous language but equivocal language.

Pre-Notes on the Word

He doesn’t deal with Christology until Book 3 but he gives short comments here. 

(6) God always possesses his Word, proceeding from and existing within Himself (I.6).

John reasons analogously from our words proceeding from our minds, and is not identical with mind but not separate from it, so the Word has its subsistence from God.  Probably not the best analogy in the world.I find it ironic that we are always warned against Theistic Analogies, but John and Augustine go haywire on them.

(7) If a Word, then the force of the Word, which is the Spirit (1.7).

God and Being

(8) God is outside of being, yet the fountain of all being (I.8).

Along with this John gives the classic summary that God is one essence, one divinity, one power, one will, and one energy. John then gives a classic summary of the Trinity, but I want to highlight one point:

(9) “Whenever we say God is the origin of and greater than the Son, we mean in respect of causation.”

Here is the problem: Isn’t a cause different in substance to an effect?

Back to Divine Attributes

(5*) Goodness et al belong to the nature but do not explain it.

What does that even mean? 

(5′) We do not apprehend the essence itself, but only the attributes of the essence.

Will this hold water? Later thinkers, with echoes from Athanasius, identify attributes and essence.  If we apprehend the attributes, how are we not apprehending the essence also?

Angelic Personalities

(10) Angels are not spatial entities, but a mental presence and energy.

This is quite interesting and is backed up by numerous accounts of spiritual warfare.  An angel cannot be in more than one place at one time (“cannot energize two different places at the same time”).

Concerning this Aeon or Age

John notes that “age” has many meanings (II.1).

(11) An age is used to denote the temporal motion and interval that is co-extensive with eternity.


John has a really interesting section on angels.  It’s too long to replicate here, except to note several points:

(12) Angels are immaterial, mental presences. He notes some are set over nations, and ceterus paribus, this would apply to demons as well (though John fails to cite the most obvious texts to prove his point, Daniel and Revelation).

Days of Creation

John’s discussion of the days of creation is more on the nature of air, winds, constellations et al than concerning timing.  Interestingly, John says the four rivers are Tigris, Euphrates, the Nile, and the Ganges (I didn’t see that last one coming, though I suppose it could work).

Man in Creation

John’s view is markedly different from later views and apparently from the text.  He writes, “He meant for us to be free from care and have on work to perform, to sing as do the angels” (II.11).  This is no doubt true, and I suppose we wouldn’t have anxiety, but God very much intended us to subdue the earth and fill it.

God dwells in the soul, not in the body, and the soul is far more glorious than the body.  To be fair, this isn’t gnosticism or even chain of being, but a hard push can make it so.  However, he does speak of the Tree of life as “a divine thought in the world of sense and we ascend through that to the cause.  Here is the heart and definition of later monastic anchoretism.  The Christian life is one of participation and ascent from sense to hyper-ousia.

John correctly affirms substance-dualism (II.12).  Unfortunately, he holds to the flawed image/likeness dichotomy which can’t stand up to scrutiny.

Free will:  John affirms it, but what does he mean by it?  He says “there is no virtue in mere force,” which seems to be a rejection of materialistic determinism, which no Christian tradition holds today.

On the Soul

While John takes the body-soul dualism in an unhealthy direction, he does have some perceptive remarks on the soul:

  1. Mind is the purest part of the soul.
  2. The soul is free.  (Remember, R.L. Dabney argued that the soul, not the faculty of will was where true freedom lay).
  3. It is mutable because it is created (II.12).
  4. Sensation is the faculty of soul whereby material objects are discriminated (II.18).  This is a remarkably modern observation.  Sensation is not reducible to the matter.  We do not feel the faculty of sensation.  Rather, by sensation we feel pain, pleasure, etc. John reduces sensations into numerous sub-faculties, which need not detain us.
  5. The soul also has the faculty of thought, and it is this faculty which prophecies to us.
  6. Faculty of memory.
  7. Faculty of conception.

Energy:  energy is that which is moved of itself (II.22) and in harmony with nature. .  Our energy is the force within our nature that makes present our essence (II.23).  However, John will call our natural faculties “energies,” as well.  Most importantly, an energy is moved of itself (and here is where the Reformed will ultimately differ with John).  

Our soul also possesses the faculties of life:  

The Movement of the Will

Given that Maximus the Confessor was tortured less than a century earlier for his dyotheletism, it is understandable John will devote a lot of space on the will.   Here we go:

  1. Will as thelesis: faculty of desiring in harmony with nature.
  2. Will as boulesis: a wish for some definite object.  We can only wish for something within our power.
  3. Will as gnome: inclination.  Jesus’s soul did not have a gnomic will
  4. The faculties of will are called energies (II.23).

Jesus has two wills, natural and divine, and his volitional faculties aren’t the same.  However, since the subsistence is one, the object of his will, the gnomic will, is one.

The Act of Choosing

(13) A voluntary act is one which originates from within the actor (II.24).  

John does make distinctions between providential necessity (seasons, laws of nature)

(13*) John says all mental and deliberative acts are in our hands.

This is no different from Reformed Scholasticism, which affirms that we have freedom of contradiction and freedom of contraiety (Muller 1995, 2007)..  

Side note: Elsewhere, John says that Christ, strictly speaking, did not have judgment and preference (gnome; III.14). Judgment and preference imply indecision and unknowing, which Christ, as fully God, could not have had. 

(14) Free-will is tied with man’s rationality (II.27)

If we are going to say, with John, that will is the faculty of willing, we must make a further distinction between that faculty and “choice” (arbitrium), arbitrium being the capacity of will to make that choice.  


John divides the works of providence into things that come from God’s will and God’s permission.  John justifies the misfortunes men experience under providence with the assumption that it works for a greater good (teaching, lead to repentance, etc).  


God knows all things but does not determine all things (II.30).


Much of what John says on the soul and the will is quite good.  This allows the Reformed an opportunity to robustly affirm what we believe about the will, given the confusion of the day. I do think his sub-categories of the will simply become unwieldy and his discussion is too minute.  

John is simply following Maximus, but I wonder how coherent Maximus’s discussion of dyotheletism is.  I affirm dyotheletism, but how many people can understand the difference between will, act of willing, and a mode of the act of willing?  


The Divine Economy

Gives an extended discussion of the two natures.  Standard classical Christology

(15) “But this is what leads heretics astray: they look upon nature and person as the same thing” (III.3)

Communicatio Idiomata

(16) “The Word appropriates to Himself the attributes of humanity” (III.3)

This is good Reformed Christology…so far.  The attributes of humanity are predicated, not of the divine nature but of the Person.

(16*) … “And he imparts to the flesh his own attributes by way of communication”

And here John sounds like a Lutheran.  The flesh receives the attributes of deity.  John wants to preserve several values:

(16a) The flesh is deified (which as to be the case if his teaching on the Lord’s Supper holds water).
(16b) Divine impassibility is not threatened (which is why the communication appears to be a one-way street).

Does John elucidate upon this problem?  

(17) Essence signifies the common, subsistence (person) the particular (III.4).

This lets John say in III.3 that the flesh receives the Word’s attributes while in III.4 he can claim that the flesh doesn’t receive the properties of divinity.

(18) Conclusion: “Each nature gives to the other its own properties through the identity of the Person and the interpenetration of the parts with one another.”

How are they united?

(19) The Word of God was united to flesh through the medium of mind, which stands midway between purity of God and grossness of flesh (III.6).

(See Bruce McCormack’s lecture on Patristic Christology where he deals with this passage).   Does this work?  It seems like “mind” is acting as a metaphysical placeholder between the two natures.  “The mind is the purest part of the soul, and God the purest part of the mind.”  It looks like this:

(gross matter) body—-> soul——>mind ——> better part of soul—>God (Pure Spirit)


“And so the Word was made flesh and yet remained wholly uncircumscribed” (III.7)

John comes back to the question of communication and sounds a Lutheran strain:

(18*) “It [The Divine Nature] imparts to the flesh its own peculiar glories”

Make of it what you will.

From Christology to Liturgy

John demonstrates that Christology informs our liturgy, and gives a defense of the Trisagion

“Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us” (repeat 3x).  The church learned it when a lad was snatched to heaven and taught the hymn by angels, and so the city averted disaster (III.10).  


Energy is the efficient activity of nature (III.15).  Therefore, Christ has two energies.  John says he works his miracles through the divine energy.  This is false.  He works his miracles because of the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Matthew 12:28: “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of god has come upon you.

Acts 10:38: “You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and power…”

Luke 4:1, 14, 5:17: “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness…And Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit…and the Power of the Lord was present for him to perform healing.”

(19) The flesh acted as the instrument of the divinity (ibid).

John mentions this in passing, but it is at the heart of Orthodox deification soteriology. What does this mean?  A deified flesh is not one that changed its nature, but received the permeation of the divine nature.  

I think we have a potential contradiction at this point.  John is very clear that Christ’s human nature has a human energy, which is its efficient power.  I have no argument with that.  But if the human energy is what John says it is, then what is its relevance in an instrumental humanity?  If humanity is just the instrument of divinity, then why bother speaking of energy at all?  Further, since the subsistence of the Word does everything, then there is no way to say that the human energy of Christ ever activates.

(19*) The flesh received the riches of the divine energies (III.17).  

What is the upshot of all of this?  John says he was able to cleanse the leper because of his divine will.  Will this hold water?  Maybe.  We’ve already established that Christ did his miracles because of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  However, the text elsewhere speaks of Christ’s power going forth from him.  Further, those engaged in deliverance ministries speak of a heightened sense of Christ’s power after they have fasted.  

(19’) The riches of the divine energies heighten the power by which the Holy Spirit works in the believer.

Can John maintain both impassibility and divine suffering?  Maybe.  He has an interesting argument.  

(20) The soul shares in the pain but is itself not changed by the pain (III.26).

John gives an example:  if I cut myself with a knife, my soul feels the pain but the soul, being simple and immaterial, is not cut by the knife.  This is consistent (at least on the first level) with what John said in (19).  If the soul is the medium between God and man, or God’s nature and man’s nature in Christ, then the divine person can be truly present in the suffering without his immaterial nature undergoing change.

This seems to work, but it opens another question:  if the soul participates in the divine nature, and if there is an open street between them, it’s hard to see how the divine nature isn’t also experiencing perturbations.  

Book IV

Book IV is something along the lines of “soteriology” and the “life of the church.”   

Concerning Baptism:  While John, like most of the fathers, probably holds to baptismal regeneration, it’s interesting he doesn’t take it in extreme directions. He says others who have not had a Trinitarian baptism should be rebaptized (IV.9).  Regeneration takes place in the spirit, not necessarily in the act of baptism (p. 78, col. 2).  John justifies the church’s use of oil in baptism because of Noah and the flood (p. 79 col. 1).

The Power of the Cross

The power of God is the Word of the Cross (p. 80 col. 1).  All of this sounds good but John now moves into dangerous waters:

(21) We ought to worship the sign of the Cross because the honor passes from the image to the prototype.

A warning sticks in my head:  something about not worshiping man-made pesels.  

Further, we should worship towards the East (IV.12). John argues:

(22) Since God is spiritual light, and since the sun rises in the East, we should worship towards the East.

This doesn’t follow–at least not yet.  John refines his argument:

(22*) We are composed of visible and invisible nature.  Therefore, our visible nature corresponds to the physical sun rising and our invisible nature corresponds to God’s being spiritual light.

I’m not convinced.  Perhaps there is one other argument:

(22’) Christ will appear in the East and our worshiping towards the East is a joyful anticipation of his return.

It’s a pious sentiment and I suppose it hearkens us to vigilance, as long as we don’t make it a law.  John acknowledges this tradition is unwritten and he says many apostolic traditions are.  The problem he now faces is proving that tradition x is part of the apostolic tradition.  It simply cannot be done without asserting the consequent (and that one argument is why Orthodox Bridge is terrified of me). 

The Sacraments

(23) The bread and wine are changed into God’s body and blood (p. 83 col. 1).  

John warns us not to ask how.    Nor does he give any argument.  He does deny ex opere operato, for he says it only forgives sins for those who receive it with faith.  John appears to contradict himself:

(23*) The bread of communion is not plain bread but bread united with divinity (p. 83 col. 2 paragraph 3).

If the bread is changed into God’s body (23), then how can it be united with God’s body (23*).  It doesn’t make any sense to say that my body is united with my body.  

(24) The bread (used metonymically for “bread and wine”) is our participation and communion in Christ’s body.  

On Mary

(25) Mary did not have pain in childbirth (p. 86 col 1).

John has to make this claim if the EO view of Mary’s being uncorrupt holds.  To put it crudely, her “lady parts” were not damaged in childbirth, for how could the one who heals corruption (death, physical destruction) cause physical corruption in someone?

Of course, he holds that Mary never had sex with Joseph and that the phrase “first born,” simply means Jesus was born first, not that there were others.   This is strained almost to credulity.  Further, the argument that Mary knew that she gave birth to God and wouldn’t pollute herself with sex won’t work, for Mary often showed ignorance to Jesus’s identity.

Venerating the Saints

John says saints had God dwell in their bodies, and so should be venerated.  But the verse he quotes to prove his point (2 Cor 3:17) simply proves that God dwells in all of the believers.  The only way John’s discussion makes sense is if “saints” refers to departed believers.

Should we venerate their relics?  John says yes and this is his argument:

(26) God did amazing things like springs from the desert and killing people with the jawbone of an ass, so why should we be surprised that God works miracles in the relics of his saints?

This isn’t an argument.  I suppose it’s possible that oil can burst forth from a martyr’s remains, but even if that is true (and I’ll grant for argument that it sometimes happens), how does it follow that we are to bow down and venerate created pesels?  We can rephrase John’s position:

(26*) We should give honor to these heroes.

No one disputes this.


(27) The honor given to the image passes to the prototype (IV.16)

John says the warning in the 2nd Commandment doesn’t apply because it only concerns worshiping false gods (the demons of the Greeks).  Further, God the Father is incorporeal, so he can’t be imaged by art.

This isn’t John’s full argument.  He spells that out in Three Treatises on Divine Images (St Vladimir’s Seminary Press).


He has a good and profitable section on Scripture.


John posits a future Antichrist (IV.26). He is aware of John’s admonition but uses Antichrist as short-hand for the Man of Sin/Beast.  Enoch and Elijah will come and witness against him, which will convert the Jews to Christ.  Much needs to be filled in, but I agree with John. 

We Believe in One Lord Jesus Christ (ed. McGuckin)

cGuckin, John. ed. We Believe in One Lord Jesus Christ Ancient Christian Doctrines, volume 2. Downers Grove, IL: IntervarsityPress, 2009.

John McGuckin gives us an outstanding, yea even world-class compendium of Patristic Christology. It nicely succeeds the first volume in the series. McGuckin notes a set of “ciphers” that explain the theology behind the Nicene Creed:

“‘Christ’ becomes a cipher by which the Fathers consider the corpus of Scripture as a proleptic description of the Incarnation” (McGuckin 10).
“The image of Light from Light inspired whole generations of patristic theologians across many centuries, who saw it as a vivid cipher of the divine unity and harmony of action” (49).
The ‘coming down’ (katabasis) was a cipher for the great theophanic epiphanies of God in the Old Testament, notably at Sinai and in the pillar of fire that God used to symbolize his presence in the desert” (96). It is God’s self-revelation and his compassionate stooping down to mankind.
“The Logos is not merely ultimate Truth but also the perfect beauty of God” (xxi).

We Believe in One Lord

Gregory of Nazianzus: “…the Father who experiences through the Son nothing corporeal, since he is Mind” (Poema Arcana 1.25-34).

Gregory of Nyssa: “that while we confess the invariable character of the [divine] nature, we do not deny the difference in respect of cause (to aition) and that which is caused (aitiaton), by which alone we apprehend that one person is distinguished from another” (On Not Three Gods).

Jesus Christ

Ephrem the Syrian: “The letter yodh of Jesus, our King, is queen of all the numbers” (Hymns on the Nativity 27.13-16).

The Only Son of God

A key element in this treatment is St Basil’s Letter 236, where he outlines how to gloss ousia and hypostasis. Thus, Basil:

The distinction between οὐσία and ὑ πόστασις is the same as that between the general and the particular; as, for instance, between the animal and the particular man. Wherefore, in the case of the Godhead, we confess one essence or substance so as not to give a variant definition of existence, but we confess a particular hypostasis, in order that our conception of Father, Son and Holy Spirit may be without confusion and clear….Hence it results that there is a satisfactory preservation of the unity by the confession of the one Godhead, while in the distinction of the individual properties regarded in each there is the confession of the peculiar properties of the Persons.

Gregory of Nazianzus: The Son is related to the Father as Word is to Mind….This follows from his passionless generation and from the union, and is part of his revelatory function” (Oration 30.20).

Eternally Begotten of the Father

Gregory of Nyssa: [as] the existence of the Son is not marked by intervals of time and the infinitude of his life flows back from before the ages and onward beyond them in an all-pervading tide, he is properly addressed with the title of eternal” (Against Eunomius 1.42).

Origen: [The Son is generated from the Father] as an act of will proceeds from the mind without cutting off a part of the mind” (On First Principles 1.2.6).

Gregory of Nyssa: “The idea of cause differentiates the persons of the Holy Trinity, declaring that one exists without cause and another is of the Cause….but in speaking of cause and of the cause, we do not by these words denote nature….but we indicate difference in the manner of existence” (On Not Three Gods).

Gregory of Nyssa: The Characteristics of the Father’s person (hypostasis) cannot be transferred to the Son or the Spirit, no, on the other hand, can that of the Son be accommodated to one of the others” (On The Lord’s Prayer 3).

True God from True God

Clement of Alexandria alludes to “Cthonic daimons” against whom the Christian faith wars (58 n. 40).

Begotten not Made

Athanasius: He is the proper Word of the Father, and we cannot, therefore, suppose any will existing before him, since he is the Father’s living counsel and power….By the act of will by which the Son is willed by the Father, the Son himself loves and wills and honors the Father” (Against the Arians 3.63, 66).

Of One Being With the Father

Basil: community of ousia is taken to mean an identical principle of being (Against Eunomius 1.19).

For Us

Gregory of Nazianzus: “….in order that I too might be made God so far as he is made man” (Oration 29.19).

And for our salvation

Irenaeus: “The glory of God is a living, human being” (Adv. Haer. 4.20.6).

He came down

Ephrem the Syrian: “The scattered symbols you have gathered from the Torah towards your beauty, and you set forth the prototypes in your gospel as well as powers and signs from nature….The types have come to an end, but the allusions persist. The flash of the symbols has been swallowed up by your rays” (Hymns on Virginity 28.2-5).

By the Power of the Holy Spirit

Cyril of Alexandria: For though the Holy Spirit has a personal existence (hypostasis) of his own and is conceived of by himself, he he is not therefore alien from the Son. For he is called the Spirit of Truth, and Christ is the truth, and he is poured forth from him just as he is also from God the father” (3rd Letter to Nestorius).

Cyril of Alexandria: “For the Holy Spirit proceeds from God the Father but also belongs to the Son” (Homilies on the Gospel of Luke 11).

He Became Incarnate

Cyril of Jerusalem: “Let us never be ashamed of the Cross of Christ. Others may want to hide it, but you should mark it on your forehead, so that the devils may behold the royal sign and flee trembling far away” (Catechetical Lectures 4.14)

From the Virgin Mary

Gregory of Nazianzus: “Anyone who does not admit that holy Mary is the mother of God is out of touch with the Godhead” (Letter 101.5)

And was made man

Athanasius: “He became man, and did not come into a man” (Against the Arians 3.30; here Athanasius rebuts the Aristotelian container notion of space).

Theodoret of Cyr: “For even though souls are immortal, they are not immutable but constantly undergo many changes” (Letter 146).

Key terminology

Ousia: nature or being

Cause: the proprium of being the uncaused Cause is the unique attribute of the Father (3 n7).

Idiomata: personal characteristics (25 n7).

Trinitarian Christology of Thomas Aquinas

Legge, Dominic., O.P. The Trinitarian Christology of St Thomas Aquinas. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018.

There are a few theology books which demonstrate complete mastery of a field.  These are the books that you keep nearby and treat as manuals.  Richard Muller’s scholastic dictionary is one.  This is another. Far from being a survey of Thomas Aquinas’s Trinitarianism, we get the grammar of how we are supposed to speak of the Trinitarian processions and missions.  In a previou review I had said Matthew Barrett’s book on the Trinity was a near-perfect book. Legge’s book is perfect.

Legge unpacks what Thomas means by processions and missions (sending).  According to him, “The eternal processions ground both the exitus of the creatures from God and the reditus of creatures to God” (Legge 12).  Legge sees the eternal processions as a “path” of our return to the Father.

Legge gives us some groundwork on what is meant by procession and mission.  A mission involves two relations: one is the relation of one sent to him from whom he is sent; another is the relation of the one sent to the terminus” (Thomas Aquinas ST 1 43.a.1).  A procession, on the other hand, is an immanent act within God that remains in God. 

Key idea: “The eternal processions of both the Son and the Holy Spirit are the origin, ratio, cause, and exemplar of our return to the Triune God in the dispensation of grace” (Legge 17).

Another difference between a divine mission and an eternal procession is that the former includes a created effect.  This is the temporal aspect.  It is the sending of a divine person as really present in time.  A mission relates “to a divine person in a new mode” (18). The divine person is the effect’s terminus.  There is now a created effect, a relation of reason, between the divine person and the creature.

The divine mission is how the divine person’s eternal procession is made present in the creature.

From here he notes how an invisible mission is “the sending of a divine person to a human being (or an angel) ‘through invisible grace’ and signifies a mode of that person’s indwelling” (25). This involves a habitual grace, a quality of the soul, which acts as a formal, not efficient, cause. Habitual grace is related to the essence of the soul as infused virtues are related to the powers of the soul (28).  Legge notes that habitual grace elevates the nature of the soul while the virtues perfect the powers of the soul (29).

Habitual Grace and Causality

Efficient causality: the three Persons are the singular principle of habitual grace.

Exemplar causality: This is the pattern of what comes forth from the processions. This is how the soul is assimilated “to a likeness of the divine persons” (39).

Final causality: in a wonderful phrase, Legge notes that “the gifts of charity and wisdom act as vectors that lead us or bear us back to the whole Trinity” (39).

Summary: “God’s efficient causality, common to all three persons, is shaped by the pattern of the Trinitarian processions…and thus it impresses on the creature an effect that bears the distinctive marks of divine persons” (43-44).

The Hypostatic Union

Aquinas’s account of the hypostatic union is valuable for the attention it gives to the terms “assumption” and “terminus.”  According to Legge, the “act of assuming proceeds from the divine power (common to all three persons) but terminates on the Son” (104).  This allows Thomas to say that God has a relation with his creatures without making it an essential relation.  The relation is a vector into the divine person (105).

We also need to keep in mind the subtle nuance of the term “esse.”  It is an act of being, not being qua being.  Christ’s humanity has a secondary act of being.  The being of the three persons is identical; their mode of being is distinct…The personal property designates the relational mode of being proper to each person” (109).

Key quote: The Trinitarian processions are the vectors of our return to God” (120).

Habitus and Grace

Key question: is Christ holy by virtue of the union or by habitual grace?  Our initial answer is that Christ is made formally holy by the same grace by which he justifies, namely, his fullness of habitual grace” (141).  This safeguards the numerous Scriptures that say he was anointed with the Holy Spirit.

The grace of union signifies the invisible mission of the Son while habitual grace signifies the invisible mission of the Holy Spirit (148).  The former orders and structures the latter.  Habitual grace is a created effect.  It is how the divine persons are made present in man according to their distinct modes (e.g., the Son as Wisdom; Holy Spirit as charity, etc.).

Christ’s human nature needs a habitus to dispose him to act.  Christ’s habitus was perfect from the beginning.  It did not increase.  The visible effects, however, did (167).

Christ’s Human Knowledge

This is fairly standard Thomism.  Christ’s human soul has an immediate vision of God in the highest (Rational) part of the soul.  Human nature needed to receive something in that human nature so that his soul can see the essence of God.  This is a habitus of divine light (178 n22).

Christ also has an infused knowledge.  It is a supernatural gift infused in Christ’s intellect.  Christ as man knows all that man is capable of knowing.  This is analogous to prophetic knowledge, albeit perfectly.  This is known through the gifts of the Holy Spirit.


I cannot praise this book highly enough.  It does assume some technical knowledge of Thomas Aquinas, so that is the only thing keeping it from the moniker of “greatest Christology book ever.”

Works of William Perkins, vol 5

Perkins, William. The Works of William Perkins, Volume 5. Reformation Heritage Books, 2017.

Recent Reformed theology can be sadly described as a generation arising “which knew not the scholastics.” To paraphrase Galadriel in The Fellowship of the Ring: Some things that should not have been forgotten were lost.

Perkins defines faith as “a supernatural gift of God in the mind, apprehending the saving promise with all of the promises that depend on it” (Perkins 11).

Doctrine of God

God is a spiritual essence. His nature admits of no composition or form (19). Concerning his nature, Perkins notes that “By nature is meant a thing subsisting by itself that is common to many” (24). A person is a thing or essence that subsists but is incommunicable.

Side note: Perkins says “plain reason will show there is a God” (494).

The whole Godhead is “communicated from the Father to the Son, and from both Father and Son to the Holy Ghost” (24). Because of this, we must have doctrines like eternal generation. We distinguish the Father by his personal property of begetting. Moreover, “We distinguish between generation itself and the manifestation of it (Ps. 2) (109).”

The personal relations are notionally distinct from the divine essence, but realistically (in the traditional sense of the term) one with it (27). This does not make a quaternity, as the persons are modes of the Godhead, not distinct entities.

Perkins anticipates and rebuts the wicked heresy of eternal subordination. He notes that the Father is not set before the Son “in regard of time or dignity….but in regard of order only” (28). Commenting on 1 Cor. 11:3, the Father is “head of Christ” only as he is “God incarnate or made manifest in the flesh and in respect of the office to which he willingly abased himself” (11). Concerning 1 Cor. 15:24, this means only that his kingdom shall cease in respect of the outward manner of administration” (111).

Continuing with his treatment of classical theology, Perkins discusses the inseparable operations. The actions of God are twofold, inward and outward. An inward action is one “which one person does exercise toward another, as the Father does beget the Son” (43).

His take on the Filioque is quite interesting. He argues that when a divine person sends another, he communicates his whole essence to him. If both the Father and the Son send the Spirit, then they communicate their one essence to him (308). As it stands it needs more argument, but it is an interesting idea.

God’s Counsel and Man’s Sin

God’s counsel does not hinder the will of man, “but only order and dispose it” (46). God’s counsel is necessary in regard to the highest cause, but contingent regarding secondary causes, which include the wills of man. Regarding Adam’s fall, God did not take away his free will; he only ordered it (86). “God is a moving cause of the wills of evil men” (87). This does not entangle him in the defect of evil.


Perkins has an excellent section on the theologia unionis. Christ was anointed by the Holy Spirit and his human nature received certain created gifts. The first is the “sanctification of the mass or lump which was to be the manhood of Christ” (126). The sanctification stopped the propagation of original sin and guilt. The second part infused holiness into the human nature.

Perkins has a good take on the autotheos controversy. In regard of the Son’s person, he is from the Father; in regard to the Godhead he is of himself.

On the Cross

When Jesus cried “why have you forsaken me?” did that entail Nestorianism? Did it imply a severing of the human nature from the divine nature? (This was always a danger latent in saying Jesus experienced hell). Perkins notes it in no way implied a severing. Rather, “the Godhead of the Father did not show forth his power in the manhood but did as it were lie asleep for a time, that the manhood might suffer” (188).

Death of the Body

The body dies when the soul is separated from it (83). When Christ died “his body and [human] soul were really and wholly severed” (197). This is common-sense. Perkins then adds a degree of precision that probably isn’t found elsewhere in the literature: “For as when he was living, His soul was a mean or bond to unite his Godhead and his body together, so when he was dead, his very Godhead was a mean or middle bond to unite the body and soul. To say otherwise is to dissolve the hypostatic union, by virtue whereof Christ’s body and soul, though severed from each other, yet both were still joined to the Godhead of the Son” (228).

The Fathers believed that Christ’s human soul was the middle point, or interface, between the divine nature and the flesh. This makes sense, as it is both created and immaterial. When Christ died, his Godhead held body and soul together.

Perkins realizes that “descended into Hell” wasn’t part of the Creed originally. He wants to avoid the idea that Christ accidentally (or maybe intentionally) got roasted a bit in his humiliation. Both sides kind of miss the point, though. The Creed collapsed several Greek words into the word “Hell.” Jesus probably raided Sheol or Hades. He didn’t go into Dante’s Hell. Even the passage in 1 Peter where the Spirit of Christ preached to the souls in prison isn’t referring to Hell. It would either be Taratarus or Sheol, not the lake of fire.

On Witchcraft

Perkins is unafraid to address hot topic issues. He argues, quite rightly, that Christ’s ascension protects believers from curses. He notes that “no witchcraft nor sorcery (which often are done with cursing) shall be able to hurt us” (259). Those not covered by the ascended Christ have no such protection. It is important to keep in mind that Perkins was once involved in the occult before he received better teaching.

The Church

The efficient cause of the church is God’s predestination. The formal cause is the mystical union (324ff). Of predestination, we note that the will of God appoints the estates of the creatures. (The following section is an exegesis of Romans 9). When God decrees something, there is no succession of moments. Nonetheless, we make logical distinctions. First, God purposes “what he will do and the end of all things.” The second is where he decrees the execution of the former (331).

God’s Will and Subordinate Means

Does God will evil? This seems to be the implication of predestination, yet it isn’t. Perkins notes three actions in God’s willing of a thing. God can absolutely will a thing as something he delights in. God can absolutely nill a thing. “There is also a third action which comes as a mean between the two former, which is remissly or in part to nill and will a thing” (356-357). God does not approve a thing, yet he wills the permission of it.

God’s willing of causes can be set in a hierarchical structure. A highest cause of a thing overrules all. As Perkins’s notes, this is God’s will (358). This is the cause of all things that have being. From this are secondary and tertiary causes. This allows Perkins to rebut something like Molinism. A thing cannot have hypothetical options before it even has being.

Side notes:

Perkins condemns the prayer lives of those involved in usury (436).

Perkins believes reading forms of prayer are lawful (468).

Following his exposition of the Lord’s Prayer is a poem in rhyming couplets. It’s surprisingly good. Not as good as Alexander Pope, to be sure, but still quite good overall.


While the work is structured around the Apostles’ Creed and so lends itself to a natural organization, Perkins’ Ramism, of which I am generally a fan, sometimes gets the better of him. His method is to set forth the doctrine, the uses, the benefits, and probably some other stuff. None of that is wrong, but by the time we get to the fourth or fifth “use,” itself probably a subdivision of a previous use, one sometimes forgets which article of the creed he is on.

While Perkins gives the classic formula of “the practical syllogism,” his take on assurance leaves much to be desired. We are told not to pry into heaven, which is true. Rather, he tells us “by signs and testimonies in ourselves to gather what was the eternal counsel of God concerning our salvation” (337). The syllogism itself isn’t wrong. I know Beza and Perkins take a lot of heat for it, but I like how Perkins frames it: “an application of the promises of the gospel in the form of a practical syllogism.” I’m just concerned that he leaves out one of the very places where Christ has promised to meet us: The Lord’s Supper. In his shorter catechism he rightly notes that the Supper strengthens us in our doubts (506). Very true. He just missed a good opportunity to tie it in here.

Bavinck: Sin and Salvation in Christ

Bavinck, Herman, John Bolt, and John Vriend. Reformed Dogmatics: sin and salvation in Christ. Vol. 3. Baker Academic, 2003.

Bavinck continues his theme that “grace restores nature.” He addresses all of the loci of theology following anthropology, which he dealt with in his previous volume. This volume is not as philosophically heavy as the first two, so it might be easier to read for some.

Origin of Sin

As is the case with most 20th century Dutch writers, Bavinck was quite attuned to the reality of spiritual warfare. “Then we learn that involved in the struggle of evil on earth there is also a contest of spirits and that humanity and the world are the spoils for which the war between God and Satan, between heaven and hell, is waged (Bavinck 35).

Sinful Flesh

He gives a careful discussion on the contrast between “spirit” and flesh.” For Rome Adam’s transgression resulted in the loss of the superadded gift (43).  In this case fallen nature is identical with uncorrupted nature. This is one of the reasons that Thomas Aquinas, while perhaps knowing better, gave the appearance of reducing flesh to the physical. Bavinck writes, “In this sense flesh is contrasted with spirit, though not with the human pneuma, which, after all, is also sinful and needs sanctification….but with the Holy Spirit, which renews the human spirit….and also consecrates the body and puts it at the disposal of righteousness” (54).

The Spread of Sin

The Reformation stressed that original sin is not just the loss of something but simultaneously a total corruption of human nature (98).

Good take on free will: Humans have lost “the free inclination of the will towards good” (121).

The Nature of Sin

Sin is not a “substance” or a thing, but an “energeia” (137).

Bavinck has a good section on “The Kingdom of Evil” (146ff). He notes the numerous subordinate spirits, which have their own subdivisions. He explores the connection between “devils” (a most inaccurate word) and the spirits of dead persons (he rejects this identity; it’s just interesting that he explored it).

The Covenant of Grace

Bavinck’s discussion of the pactum salutis is fairly standard, but in it he makes some comments which appear to give the Son an eternally subordinate role.

This doctrine of the pact of salvation… is rooted in a scriptural idea. For as Mediator, the Son is subordinate to the Father, calls him God…, is his servant… who has been assigned a task… and who receives a reward… for the obedience accomplished… Still, this relation between Father and Son, though most clearly manifest during Christ’s sojourn on earth, was not first initiated at the time of the incarnation, for the incarnation itself is already included in the execution of the work assigned to this the Son, but occurs in eternity and therefore also existed already during the time of the Old Testament… Scripture also clearly… sees Christ functioning officially already in the days of the Old Testament (214)

The language of subordination is clearly there.  There is no denying it.  Several other things are going on, though. Bavinck says the Son is subordinate as a mediator, and this mediation preceded time (in one sense).  That’s all Bavinck is saying.  He isn’t trying to drive an ideology with it.  Moreover, in one sense Christ gives up his kingdom to the Father at the end, which would seem that his subordination is tied to that giving up the kingdom. Finally, in the previous volume Bavinck affirms the single divine will and the inseparability of operations, something no advocate of ESS can accept.

Later, Bavinck says that Christ’s mediatorial work is finished when he delivers the kingdom to His Father (481).

Covenant of grace: “The essential character of the covenant of grace, accordingly, consists in the fact that it proceeds from God’s special grace and has for its content nothing other than grace” (225).

Covenant and Election

“The covenant of grace is the channel by which the stream of election flows towards eternity” (229).  Bavinck doesn’t make a strict identity between election and the covenant of grace, but for all practical purposes he does identify them.

The Person of Christ

Bavinck sees the Christological history as “East — unity of person,” West — distinction between natures” (255).

Rome and the East see a communication of divine gifts, but not attributes to the hypostasis.  Lutherans see it to the attributes.

The Reformed say the person of the Son was immediately united with the human nature, and the divine nature was mediately united with it (276, citing Zanchi).

Nature and Person

Hegel said nature and person are related as essence and appearance (306).  This, obviously, will not do.  Rather, nature is the substratum, the “principle by which” a thing is. “Person” is the owner of the nature.  He acts through the nature.

We Reformed say that Christ had an infused knowledge, but that knowledge was only gradually completed. “He did not yet share in the beatific knowledge here on earth” (312).

The Work of Christ

Christ’s Humiliation

 Survey of relevant passages dealing with redemption, sacrifice, etc.

“Christ is the mediator of both creation and re-creation” (363). Christ is a mediator in both natures. 

Christ’s Exaltation

Regarding the atonement, Bavinck points out that intercession and sacrifice have the same range.  If the former is particular, so is the latter (466).

Salvation in Christ

Old Testament righteousness: it was not a personal quality of theirs but the case they represented (494).

Rome: Baptized children receive justification/infused grace.  They receive “sufficient grace” later on (515).  This illumines the intellect.

Reformed:  regeneration, faith, and conversion are not preparations that a person has to meet, but they are fruits which flow from “the covenant of grace, the mystical union, the granting of Christ’s person” (525).

The Reformation captured the idea of grace much better.  There was no opposition between natural and supernatural, but of sin and grace.  “The Reformation rejected this Neoplatonic mysticism” (577).

It is not a substance, but “a restoration of the form of the creation originally imprinted on humans and creature in general” (578).

This is required reading for all interested in the history of dogmatics.

Christian Church and the Old Testament (Van Ruler)

Van Ruler, A. A. The Christian Church and the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. trans. Bromiley.

The book’s initial purpose is to justify the Christian’s use of the Old Testament. He does, however, put the brakes on more fanciful readings. For the reader today much of it is dated, as is most OT work post-Vos (and certainly post-Beale). Nonetheless, there are a few fascinating and controversial sayings that are worth engaging.

He wisely points out that the OT’s identifying God as “Yahweh” and even “The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” puts to rest any generic “God-in-general” god of the ecumenical movement (Van Ruler, 17; the comments on the ecumenical movement are mine, not his).

He argues that Calvin used the model of progressive revelation (II.x.2). On one level this is obvious. God didn’t give Adam and Eve a complete canon of Genesis-Revelation. That sounds silly, I know, but there are super-internet-covenanters today who say that any use of “history” or “organic” or “progressive” = pantheism. I leave that to you. On a more substantial note, however, we must question how glibly we can say that “Jesus” is in the Old Testament. He certainly is (1 Cor. 10; he is the Rock from which our fathers drank). Here’s the problem, though. If Scripture (and texts in general) have only one meaning–the meaning for the original audience is the intended meaning–then we need to ask if the original audience saw Christ as the rock. Indeed, that’s a tall (but not impossible) claim. Van Ruler questions that we can simply put Jesus wherever we want in the OT, since such knowledge, at least for the original audience, needed the death and resurrection at the very least (21).

Good quote by Kuyper: If our ideas of the Old Testament can’t incorporate national Israel in them, then those ideas are wrong” (Uit het Woord, II, 1, 180). Outstanding. In our conservative circles we might not realize how radical this claim is. A particular Israel is hard to square with “universal messages” or “timeless truths” or the ecumenical movement.

If you are somewhat familiar with Van Ruler, then you know the dangerous area he is now taking us. “The whole concern with Scripture is not with Jesus Christ” (69). That’s a fairly startling claim. What does he mean by it? He says the Spirit embraces more than Jesus does. That’s a vague statement and I am not sure how to take it. He then echoes 1 Cor. 15 that the Son’s mediatorial kingdom will come to an end. (Side note: Berkouwer claimed in The Return of Christ that Van Ruler said Jesus’s humanity will fade away, but Van Ruler doesn’t say that here). Van Ruler does leave us with a startling suggestion, though: “Jesus Christ is an emergency measure that God postponed as long as possible.” Suffice to say he probably isn’t a supralapsarian.

He does point out the wisdom of Reformed Christology and how it is anchored (and further develops) in Reformed anthropology. We believe that original righteousness “was natural rather than supernatural.” Rome believed in a pure nature to which was super-added a gift of grace. So far this is standard dogmatics. From it Van Ruler draws the inevitable but not always obvious conclusion: this means that Jesus doesn’t add a “higher life” dimension to created life. This is why with Reformed we say that grace restores, rather than perfects nature.

Jesus Under Fire (ed. Moreland)

Wilkins, Michael J., Moreland, J. P. eds. Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995.

If all we had were the remarks by Josephus, Tacitus et al about Jesus and the prima facie reports of the empty tomb, we would be fully warranted in believing Jesus of Nazareth lived, died, and rose again.  The Jesus Seminar rejects that and rejects that we can know most anything about Jesus.  This book is an early response to the juvenile methods of the Jesus Seminar.  It also serves as a great text for an intro to a Synoptic Gospels class.

I. The Seminar’s Method

Aside from their ludicrous coloring system, the Seminar says:

a. If an utterance isn’t a parable or an aphorism, then Jesus didn’t say it.  That’s rather strange; why would they say that?  They want Jesus to be a wandering Cynic or guru.  In other words, he’s from Woodstock.  Of course, no other body of scholarship would dream of applying such restrictive criteria to any other religious figure.

B. Jesus’s Jewish heritage is exorcised(!) from his ministry.  This makes sense, since a Hebrew prophet wouldn’t have been a Greek Cynic.  Of course, even critical New Testament studies would reject that today, since if anything all the emphasis is on Jesus’s Jewishness.

C. The Gospel writers either borrowed from the Gospel of Thomas and/or the Secret Gospel of Mark.  Oddly enough, the stringent criteria above is not applied to these texts.

Craig Blomberg gives a good rebuttal to the above points.  We especially note the oft-made claim that Jesus expected the end of the world (and was likely disappointed).  The problem is that he gave a bunch of instruction which presupposed a long interval of time (Blomberg 31). He mentioned mundane issues such as paying taxes, divorce, and marriage.

And to say the early church made up the texts simply won’t work.  If the church “invented” Jesus’s deity, then why are there passages where Jesus seems to downplay it?  

The most important essay is Darrell Bock’s essay on the historiography of the Gospels.  Is the reporting of the gospel events designed to be a memorex, live, or jive?  In other words, given the standards of ancient writing, did the authors write dwon the exact wording of Jesus (memorex), nothing of Jesus (jive), or the “gist” of Jesus (live)?  Bock makes a convincing case for live.

If you hold to the memorex view, then you have a hard time affirming inerrancy in light of different sequences (or even worse, did Jesus heal the blind man as he was going into Jericho or leaving Jericho?).

The live view seeks to reproduce the “voice” or Jesus, not the exact words.  Compare this with Thucydides account in 1.22.1.  Thucydides admits he is summarizing, and perhaps reordering, a speaker’s thoughts and words, yet scholars recognize him as a model of accuracy and good reporting.

Other comments:

Gary Habermas remarks on the Seminar’s disavowal of miracles:  the Seminar says we can’t trust the miracle narratives because the authors wanted to believe in them.  Whether they did or not is irrelevant.  It’s called the genetic fallacy.

Strangely enough, skeptics like Marcus Borg believe in the exorcism stories, but he gives us no reason for accepting the attestation of all Gospel writers on these stories while excluding the nature miracles.

William Lane Craig offers his standard defense of the Resurrection.  I’ll forgo it here because I think it is better presented in Craig’s later works (cf. On Guard). He does note that the Resurrection can’t be a hallucination on the disciples’ part.  Hallucinations can only show what is already in the mind, and Jesus’s resurrection isn’t identical with the Jewish afterlife (Craig 161).

Edwin Yamauchi’s concluding essay is  fine survey of “Jesus studies” after the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  He also touches on Josephus’s writings, including the controversial passage in Antiquities 18.  It’s mostly authentic.  Eusebius’s edition is somewhat doctored, but it is clear that Josephus knew of Jesus and his miracles.

This is an outstanding short response to the Jesus Seminar.  It is somewhat dated as N.T. Wright’s refutation of the Jesus Seminar came out soon afterwards.

Pannenberg, Systematic Theology vol 2

Pannenberg, Wolfhart. Systematic Theology volume 2. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991. Translated by Geoffrey Bromiley.

(His name is pronounced “Volf-hart,” not “Wolf-Heart.” He is not a character in a Twilight fan fiction).

What would a Christology from below look like if it were written by someone who also affirms the eternal pre-existence of the Logos? Pannenberg gives us an idea. This volume covers the standard loci one would find in volume 2 of a three volume dogmatics (anthropology, sin, possibly Christology).

His methodology is most obvious in how he approaches the doctrine of Christ. He doesn’t begin with Chalcedonian formulations and then from those deductions, also affirm particularities like the resurrection. Rather, he begins, as with the apostles, “with what our hands have handled and eyes have seen, the Word of Life.” The apologetic value of such a move is enormous.

This book is quite difficult and is not intended for anything under grad school level readings. You are in the presence of a master who has read almost everything on everything. This is the type of theological reflection you did not find in North America until quite recently.

Pannenberg pushes back on the axiom that all outward acts of the Trinity are indivisible. He says it is a postulate from an extreme view of divine simplicity. The problem is that “the scriptures speak quite freely and expressly of a variety of divine acts….These can be summed up in a collective plural” (Pannenberg 8).

Refiguring Hegel

Hegel erred in seeing the Son as the emergence of finitude from the Absolute. This made creation logically necessary, since the Infinite must produce the Finite. WP argues that if we see the life of the Trinity in terms of mutual relations we can avoid this problem. Self-distinction for the persons is a condition of their fellowship in the divine life (29).

We see the idea of the world’s contingency in the Father’s preservation of it in providence. He has a disappointing take on evolution, since he agrees with it. But aside from that, he raises an obvious point that Darwin missed: Darwin operated under the strange assumption that creation meant God created every instance of variety all at once. WP shows there is no reason to believe that, as creation manifests a sequence of forms.

The Spirit of God

Spirit is Life-Giving breath of God (Ezek. 37.9, p. 78).

Spirit as Field and Force

“Classical dynamics tried to trace the concept of force back to that of the body and impulses that move it, and in this way to base all physics on the body and the relations between bodies” (79).

We are now able to move away from inertial views of force and closer to something like the Bible’s view. Per Leibniz, force (or its manifestation) is not linked to bodies but to spatial points. Per Faraday, bodies themselves are forms of forces.

Drawing upon his insights in ST 1, WP argues that our view of God-as-Spirit shouldn’t be read in a Middle Platonic nous, but the Spirit of God as a dynamic field that is structured in “Trinitarian fashion, so that the person of the Holy Spirit is one of the personal concretions of the essence of God as Spirit in distinction from the Father and Son….The Person of the Holy Spirit is not himself to be understood as the field but as a unique manifestation (singularity) of the field of divine essentiality” (83).

Personal Unity of Body and Soul

WP urges that we are psychosomatic unities, rather than two juxtaposed essences. So he rejects substance dualism, which is a problem, but he also refuses to reduce the soul to the body, unlike tendencies of some at Calvin College.

He argues that the soul is deeply rooted in the body (182). I agree. In older language we would say the body “traduces” the soul. He begins with Genesis 2:7. We are ensouled bodies, a nephesh hayya.

What is a Spirit

WP is very clear that spirit/Spirit means vital creative force, not merely intellect (185). Whenever we have ruach, we are alive. If God were to withhold his ruach (Job 34:14ff), we would die. Further, a ruach or a pneuma is not the independent creaturely station. While Paul does speak of human beings as spirit, soul, body, he makes several moves which prove difficult for seeing spirit as soul.

The Image of God

WP gives a thorough survey of “image-theology” in post-Reformation history. His unique insight is that a theology of the image of God must be linked to human destiny. This avoids certain conceptual pitfalls in both the Patristics and Post-Reformation thinkers. It also has a Christological thrust to it.

The Method of Christology

WP gives a rough outline of his “Christology from below.”

  1. The historical Jesus is the starting point for all Christological statements about his person (279-280).
  2. Any such historical presentation would also have a systemic character (283). This assumes an inner relation between Jesus himself and the apostolic proclamation of Jesus.
  3. Any talk of resurrection must be about the historicity of the resurrection, and not nonsense about the “faith-dimension” of it.
  4. While this is a Christology from below, the “material primacy belongs to the eternal Son” (289).

The Economy of Christ

The particularity of Jesus is the origin of a new human image, per 1 Cor. 15:49ff (Pannenberg 295). The link lies in the eschatological event of the death of Christ.

The Deity of Jesus

WP notes that the church’s rejoicing over Jerusalem’s destruction (as perhaps in modern preterism) forgets Jesus’s own weeping over it, as well as Paul’s ministry. It also the future restoration (342).

The Case for the Resurrection

  1. The starting point for the work of Christ must be the in-breaking of God’s kingdom (329).
  2. Those who believe in them have this future already.
  3. It is much more difficult methodologically to begin with Jesus’s own understood authority for his message, for then we are faced with the problem of why he kept it a secret for most of the time (338).
  4. The Resurrection of Jesus forms the starting point of the apostolic message (343ff). The Easter-event determines the pre-Easter message.
  5. Metaphorical language was necessary because this was a unique event.
  6. The Resurrection is a Jewish concept.
  7. WP starts with the biblical material relating to the Lord’s appearance to Saul (354), as it is the earliest testimony. Saul’s testimony also links the resurrection and ascension. The disciples also accepted Saul’s testimony, which means they saw it as similar to their own experiences.
  8. The earliest critics of the Resurrection acknowledged the empty tomb. The debated question was what it meant.
  9. If there were no empty tomb, the Christian message couldn’t have spread (modus tollens).

The Christological Development of the Identity of Jesus with God

WP wants to link the pre-existence statements to those of exaltation

Thesis: “The relation of the Son to the Father is characterized in eternity by the subordination to the Father by the self-distinction from the majesty of the Father, which took historical form in the human relation of Jesus to God” (377). Jesus’s participation in the attributes is “mediated by the self-distinction of Jesus from the Father in the course of his earthly history” (387).