Orthodox and Modern (McCormack)

I originally wrote this in 2013. I still think McCormack has the correct reading of Barth. Because of that, though, I think Barth’s take on election is ultimately incoherent.

McCormack, Bruce.  Orthodox and Modern: Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth.  Baker.

Bruce McCormack suggests that the best model for understanding Karl Barth’s theology is Realdialektik–God is indirectly identical with the medium of his self-revelation.  It is dialectical in the sense that it posits both a veiling and unveiling of God. God is unveiled in Jesus’s flesh, but since it is in Jesus’s flesh, God is in a sense veiled (McCormack 145).   This is another way of using Luther’s Deus absconditus

What is Classical Metaphysics?

Barth’s project is in many ways an attempt to overcome the limitations of classical metaphysics.  Among other things, classical metaphysics (and it doesn’t matter whether you have in mind Eastern and Western models) saw the essence of God as an abstract something behind all of God’s acts and relations (140). 

The Cappadocian “Solution” and Further Problem

According to the Cappadocians, the Father is both the ground of divinity and a particular hypostasis of that divinity.  Taken together, we can now speak of a quaternity.  Secondly, the distinctions between the relations are empty of content.  What do the words “unbegotten,” “begotten,” and “proceeding” mean when any analogy between the divine essence and created reality is ruled illegitimate, as the Cappadocians insist (Tillich 77-78)?  The Augustinian-Thomist tradition at least tried to move this forward, even if its solution was equally unsatisfactory.

Further, with regard to the Person of Christ, essentialism connotes an abstracted human nature which is acted upon (McCormack 206).  Further, in essentialist forms of metaphysics the idea of a person is that which is complete in itself apart from its actions and relations (211).  A wedge is now driven between essence and existence.  Christologically, this means that nothing which happens in and through the human nature affects the person of the union, for the Person is already complete anterior to these actions and relations.

Election and the Trinity

Barth navigates beyond this impasse with his now famous actualism.  Rather than first positing a Trinity and then positing a decision to elect, which necessarily creates a metaphysical “gap” in the Trinity, Barth posits Jesus of Nazareth not only as the object of election (which is common to every dogmatics scheme), but also the subject of election.  How can this be?  How can someone be both the elector and the elected?

For Barth the Trinity is One Subject in Three Simultaneous Modes of being (218).  To say that Jesus Christ is the electing God is to say that God determined to be God in a second (not being used in a temporal sense) mode of being…this lies close to the decision that [Election] constitutes an event in which God differentiates himself into three modes of being (218).  Election is the event which differentiates God’s modes of being…So the event in which God is triune is identical with the event in which He chooses to be God for the human race” (ibid.)

Participation, not Theosis

Barth’s actualist ontology allows him to affirm the juridicalism within the Scriptures (which is markedly absent from many Eastern treatises) and the language of participating in the divine but without recourse to the theosis views so dependent on classical metaphysics.

Barth is historically-oriented, not metaphysically.  The divine does not metaphysically indwell the human so as to heal the potential loss of being.  Rather, the exaltation occurs in the history of Jesus Christ.  “The link which joins the human and divine is not an abstract concept of being, but history” (230).

For Barth, God’s ontology is the act of determining to enter human history (238).  God’s essence and human essence can be placed in motion–they can be actualized in history.

Exaltation, not indwelling

The terms describing Jesus’s history are agreement, service, obedience–they speak of the man Jesus standing before God, not being indwelt.

Reworking the Categories

If Barth’s criticisms of classical ontology hold, then a humble reworking of some categories is in order.  Instead of hypostasis, Barth uses the term “identification.”  The identification in question is an act of love.  Jesus is God, but God as self-differentiation.


I think the Barthian take on election is incoherent. That might be a bit strong. It is coherent enough. It is just unstable.

Here’s the problem.  McCormack said Barth’s theology necessarily posits that God’s identity is “constituted” by his decision to elect.  If true, this seems to mean:

  • God came into being via election.  Obviously, no one holds this but it is a problem.
  • I always get the funny feeling that it seems to mean that creation is in some sense necessary for God.  I do think this criticism is valid.  I’ve long said Barth was an Origenist.

The criticisms of Barth aside, and we in no way endorse his theology, McCormack’s work ranks among the definitive treatments of Barth.


Bavinck on Covenant and Election

Reformed Dogmatics Vol. 3 : Sin and Salvation in Christ by  Herman Bavinck - Hardcover - 2006 - from ThriftBooks (SKU: G0801026563I3N00)

or more specifically, the relationship between the covenant of grace and election. Taken from Reformed Dogmatics vol. 3.

“The two are not so different that election is particular while the covenant of grace is universal” (229).

This at first seems to rebut the Schilderite claim that election and the covenant of grace is coterminous. But Bavinck’s language about the covenant of grace being universal is misleading. I’m not sure who in the Reformed camp would claim that. In the next sentence or two Bavinck says,

“But the two differ in that in election humans are strictly passive but in the covenant of grace they also play an active role.”

Note that Bavinck is not positing a division between the two in the above sentence. He simply notes that “the covenant of grace describes the road by which these elect people will attain their destiny. The covenant of grace is the channel by which the stream of election flows toward eternity.”

On the next page he says in the proclamation of the covenant of grace “there are actually no demands and conditions.”

“The Covenant of grace is unilateral: it proceeds from God; he has designed and defined it” (230). It can only be spoken of in a bilateral sense when it is “to be consciously and voluntarily accepted and kept by humans in the power of God.”

So far Schilder and Bavinck do not really agree. Bavinck ends with some exhortations which the later Schilder would probably endorse: “The covenant of grace does not deaden human beings or treat them as inanimate objects. On the contrary, it totally includes them with all their faculties and powers…It does not kill their will but frees them from sin.”

At the end of the chapter Bavinck affirms “the external and internal sides of it” (232).

Muller: Christ and the Decree

Christ and the Decree: Christology and Predestination in Reformed Theology from Calvin to Perkins

Richard Muller’s work begins on a promising note: he refuses to view election in any way apart from the Person of Christ, specifically regarding the role of the mediator. Part of the difficulty in this review is noting what is Muller’s own view and what is John Calvin’s. Assuming Muller wants to identify his position with Calvin’s, I will use “Muller” and “Calvin/Calvin’s contemporaries” interchangeably. One of the caricatures of Reformed theology is that it posits an angry Father making an arbitrary decision on who gets to go to hell and to heaven. Muller reconstructs Calvin’s work to show that Calvin spoke of election in the context of Christology; therefore, election and the saving work of Christ can never be separated. By the end of the review one will see how successful Muller was.

This review will examine the historical development of Reformed perspectives on predestination as they relate to a specifically Reformed approach to Christology. Also, whether or not the doctrine of unconditional election is true or false is independent of Muller’s historical thesis. If election is false, that in no way validates whether Muller’s reconstruction of these Reformers is true or false.

As to the Christology itself, Calvin distinguishes the Person of the Son from the Son as God, which leads to the Reformed doctrine of aseity and autotheos (Muller 29). Much of the book will hinge on the connections between aseity, autotheos, and extra calvinisticum. This leads to Calvin’s important doctrine of mediation, which is framed according to the Son’s two natures. Muller claims that Calvin’s Christology is a historical Christology that focuses on the covenant-keeping God who acts in history to save man. Yet, Muller claims this marks a genuine innovation. In fact, it is the covenant-keeping Christology that sets Calvin apart from the Eastern and Chalcedonian Christology (33). Presumably, the East is more interested in a Divine Person who assumes a human nature to himself, whereas Calvin is more interested in the mediator who acts in history to save his people.

The rest of Muller’s book tracing the development from Peter Martyr Vermigli to William Perkins documents how these writers viewed election “in Christ.” There is no such thing as a nude Deos absconditus who makes deals “behind the back” of the Son. Starting with Vermigli, we see an emphasis on grace as mediated (57), putting a Reformed slant on a very Roman Catholic doctrine and structure. One side-note related to this, and important for Muller’s thesis, is that election is mediated by Christ while reprobation is im-mediate (80). In other words, Christ actively saves the elect while no person actively damns the reprobate. Obviously, Muller is putting a very infralapsarian spin on the matter.

Calvin gives this specifically Antiochene Christology a more rigid structure. Starting with Calvin we see the office of mediator taking a more prominent role In other words, as Muller hints, “Office has replaced person” (180-181).

Calvin isn’t saying that the office of mediator constitutes the divine person. That would be Nestorian or Adoptionist.  Rather, the office of mediator is recognized in his human nature (p.29 of the Labyrinth Press edition).


Muller’s book deserves high praise. He has done yeoman’s work synthesizing a large amount of material, the nature of which is prohibitive to the average layman.

Covenant and Election (Van Genderen)


Van Gendere, J. Covenant and Election.  Neerlandia, Alberta, Canada: Inheritance Publications, 1995.

Have you ever wanted to know the intricate details of 20th century Dutch covenant theology?  Van Genderen is here to tell you. It is a survey of Dutch responses to the problem of Covenant and Election in the early 20th century.  The problem is if we identify election with the covenant of grace, then election tends to crowd out the covenant. This had disastrous results with Abraham Kuyper.  On the other hand, if covenant is free from election, we have Arminianism (and today, the horrors of Wilsonism) creep back in. I am not entirely sure what his conclusion is.  On one hand, he fully rejects identifying election with the covenant of grace (or more precisely, the scope of the two aren’t identical). On the other hand, he doesn’t go as far as Klaas Schilder, either.

Van Genderen’s problem is that if the covenant is established only with the elect, yet Genesis 17 says Yahweh will be a God to us and our children, then on what basis do we put the sign of the covenant on the children and claim those problems?  This was the problem Kuyper faced. This is why some Kuyperian churches of 800 members might have only 14 take communion. For Kuyper only the baptism of true covenant children is a valid baptism (Van Genderen 25). Therefore, at every baptism the church must presuppose regeneration and election.  

Van Genderen has a fantastic section on Karl Barth’s problematic theology.  For Barth, election is identical with the doctrine of God. The problem with Barth’s claim that in divine election of Jesus as the elect and reprobate man makes faith superfluous.  True, Barth emphasized it, but there was no need. The divine “no” and “yes” in Christ reduces unbelief to an ontological impossibility (41).

Per covenant and creation, Barth has the wild claim that the first man was at once the first sinner.  

Van Genderen does move towards a construction of how we should see covenant and election.  The covenant is not a contract (63). God and man don’t negotiate. Rather, it is promise + demand + threat (69). Election doesn’t overshadow everything; the promise does.

He holds to individual election, but wants to place our experience of it within not only Christ, but the church community.

He ends with some thoughts on Schilder, which we can only wish were more developed.  With Schilder we see the covenant God as the speaking-to-man as responsible party. A proclamation always comes with an urgent call to accept it. The covenant is a legal status “defined by the speaking God, the God of the Word” (99).

This is a good historical survey in some parts but is woefully underdeveloped in others.  There is brief mention of Olevian and the substance/administration distinction, but no discussion of how Schilder himself would have interacted with it.

John Frame: Doctrine of God

In this volume John Frame applies his “perspectival approach” (Frame, 1987) to issues relating to the doctrine of God. In other volumes, Frame analyzed a topic by placing it within its normative (law), situational (fact), and existential (person) dimensions. The approach is quite clever and does shed light on many issues. In this volume, Frame approaches the doctrine of God in terms of authority (normative), control (situational), and presence (existential).

Aside from the above triad, Frame’s work covers much of the same ground as many other manuals on theology proper. The book’s value, though, is that it is quite recent and responds to issues that 300 year dead Puritans had not dreamed of. In this book Frame confesses God as “covenant lord” (Frame, 11). The covenant Lord interacts with his people according to the above triad: authority, control, and presence. Frame is obviously interacting with Meredith Kline’s work on suzerainty treaties (Kline, 1997). That is: The Name of the Great King; Historical Prologue; Stipulations; Sanctions; Continuity (Frame, 2002: 438).

Despite some of the hysteria that usually accompanies Frame’s works, this book remains solidly within the Reformed tradition, even if Frame questions large sections of that tradition at times. Sometimes, I suspect, Frame himself does not realize he is doing it. Frame deals squarely with issues relating to man’s interaction with God (free will) and with one another (ethics). In other words, as far as books concerning the doctrine of God go, this one is quite relevant.


It’s difficult to review a systematic theology textbook. They all follow the same general order and in reviewing one, you have already reviewed about 35% of the next one. Frame’s book is that, to be sure, but he also deals with specific issues that do require a response.

Libertarian Free Will

Frame ridicules the alternative to what he perceives the Augustinian tradition to be. He defines compatibilism (determinism) as the “view that every event has a sufficient cause other than itself” (136). Libertarian free will (not to be confused with the economic position) argues that humans have the power to choose between different alternatives (138). Frame then gives fourteen or so reasons why libertarianism is false (139-144).

His main interesting objection is that Scripture never grounds human responsibility in libertarian freedom.

The Triune God

Much of this section of the book reads like a proof-text list arguing for the deity of the Son or Spirit. That’s not a fault, but the question often facing people is not whether the texts say this person is divine, but how does his divine status relate to the questions of unity and plurality. Frame gives a helpful list on how the Church confessed the Trinity throughout history. There are very good critiques of Aquinas and Boethius. For example, take Boethius’ definition of a person as “an individual substance of a rational nature” (700). If this is the case, and there are three persons in the Godhead, then how are there not three (four?) natures in the godhead?

Frame draws upon the soon-to-be published work of Federal Visionist Ralph Smith (2003) in critiquing Thomas Aquinas. If the persons are simply alternative names for the divine essence, then how is this not modalism? Frame concludes, following Smith, “ And when we take Father, Son, and Spirit as names of relations…are we not reducing concrete persons to abstract entitites” (702)?

Frame’s take on the Filioque is interesting, largely because he doesn’t really care (718). He affirms the Western view and offers the same standard arguments for it, namely since there is an analogy between temporal sending and ontological procession, therefore they are the same (717).


This book is a welcome addition to the Reformed community. Frame passionately interacts with the texts and there is much material for sermons and lessons. The book has some weaknesses, though. There is little (nothing?) in the way of historical understanding and the student leaves the discussion without a real knowledge of how this worked out in history

Thomas Torrance: The Incarnation

Torrance, Thomas. The Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsityPress, 2008. Ed. Robert T. Walker.

These are collections of his lectures on Christology spanning his entire career. As far as Torrance’s works go, this book is quite easy. Parts of it are quite sermonic. He does get into heavier concepts in the second half of the book. There is a second commandment violation on the cover, which is quite odd. Thomas Torrance had very stern views on images of the divine (he would close his eyes real tightly when he prayed!).

Torrance warns us against using phrases like “messianic self-consciousness,” regardless of whether Jesus had it (conservative) or not (liberal). He writes, “If we begin with the self-consciousness of Christ and rest our own interpretation of Christ upon it, we will never be able to disentangle Christ’s self-consciousness from our own” (Torrance 18).

Enhypostasia and Anhypostasia

Standard treatment but Torrance notes some Scottish developments: “The ancient Catholic Church never really came to put anhypostasia and enhypostasia together in full complementarity in that way. We have had to wait until modern times to see it in its fullness, although it was set out by Robert Boyd in the early seventeenth century” (84). Torrance documents his own work on Boyd, but it would have been nice to have a paragraph summary.

Torrance’s fear is that of using some abstract, neutral category of human nature. It is his contention that a proper reading of anhypostasia secures our knowledge of Christ’s taking our humanity. Perhaps. I like the idea, but he never really develops it.

Knowledge of Christ

Our way of knowing Jesus must correspond to his order of being (94). He took upon himself our humanity in its aisthenia.

In Jesus there is no gap between a realm of truth and a realm of event. Being and Act are united in him. “His action is his presence in act….That act of the ever-living God is identical with Jesus” (107).

Election and Incarnation

Only at times does Torrance hint at what could be called a Barthian reading. He notes the prothesis (purpose) of God in election. Eternal election is brought about by Christ. “What God is in Christ as God and man in union, God is antecedently and eternally in himself, and so the prothesis speaks of the recession of the hypostatic union into God and its grounding eternally in the communion of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” (174). In other words, there is no behind the back of God. God doesn’t “do God” with his fingers crossed.


The book itself is quite easy to read. Torrance does have several long endnote chapters that discuss the evolution of German Christological liberalism. He also has a nice survey of different uses of the concept “Person.”

Augustine: the image of the Trinity is one person (shades of Van Til!), but the Trinity himself (singular personal pronoun!) is three persons (De Trin. XV.23).

Boethius: individual substance of rational nature.

Richard of St Victor: Divine person is the incommunicable existence of the divine nature (De Trin. IV.22).

Duns Scotus: Person is the incommunicable existence of an intellectual nature (Opera Omnia, Ordinatio, 1.23.1

Theology of the Old Testament vol 1 (Eichrodt)

“That which binds together indivisibly the two realms of the Old and New Testaments…is the irruption of the Kingdom of God into this world and its establishment here” (26).  

The Meaning of the Covenant Concept

  • Factual nature of divine revelation (37).  “God’s disclosure of himself is not grasped speculatively.”  As “he molds them according to his will he grants them knowledge of his being.”   
  • A clear divine will is discernable.  “You shall be my people and I shall be your God.’ Because of this the fear that constantly haunts the pagan world, the fear of arbitrariness and caprice in the Godhead, is excluded” (38).  
  • The content of that will is defined in ways that make the human party aware of the position (39).  
  • Divine election and kingdom:  Jer. 2:1; 1 Sam. 8:1-10; this dual pattern provides the interpretation of Israelite history.  
  • The bond of nature religion was broken (42).  The covenant did not allow an inherent bond in the believer, the order of nature, and the god.   Chain of being is broken. Divinity does not display itself in the mysterium of nature. Election is the opposite of nature religions (43).  Israelite ritual does not mediate “cosmic power.” “One indication of decisive importance in this respect is the fact that the covenant is not concluded by the performance of a wordless action, having its value in itself, but is accompanied by the word as the expression of the divine will” (44).  

The History of the Covenant Concept

Eichrodt discusses the dangers the covenant idea faced.  Canaanite ideas quickly muted the sharp sounds of the covenant.  “The gulf set between God and man by his terrifying majesty was levelled out of existence by the emphasis laid on their psycho-physical relatedness and community” (46).  It is interesting to compare this description with Paul Tillich’s claim that the church placed the intermediaries of saints and angels over the Platonic hierarchy of Forms.  

Refashioning of the Covenant Concept

Dt 4.13, 23 understands berith simply as the Decalogue.   A shift to the legal character. Man can violate the conditions of the covenant, but he cannot annul it (54).  

The Secular LAW

The Cultus

“Alien from primitive Yahwism, and introduced into the Yahweh cultus predominantly as a result of Canaanite influence, were the massebah, the Asherim and the bull image” (115).  The Canaanites believed this was a transference of the particular object of the divine power effective at the holy place as a whole.

  • Special places were always seen, by contrast, as memorials to Yahweh’s self-manifestation (116).

Pictorial Representations

“The spiritual leaders of Israel, however, always made a firm stand against this adoption of heathen image-worship, regarding it as an innovation which contradicted the essence of Yahweh religion” (118).  


“Indicative of the pattern of Old Testament piety is the fact that the dominant motives of prayer never included that of losing oneself, through contemplation, in the divine infinity.  There was no room in Israel for mystical prayer; the nature of the Mosaic Yahweh with his mighty personal will effectively prevented the development of that type of prayer which seeks to dissolve the individual I in the unbounded One.  Just as the God of the Old Testament is no Being reposing in his own beatitude, but reveals himself in the controlling will of the eternal King, so the pious Israelite is no intoxicated, world-denying mystic revelling in the Beyond, but a warrior, who wrestles even in prayer, and looks for the life of power in communion with his divine Lord.  His goal is not the static concept of the summum bonum, but the dynamic fact of the Basileia tou Theou” (176).

The Name of the Covenant God

Exodus 3:14:  “This is certainly not a matter of Being in the metaphysical sense of aseity, absolute existence, pure self-determination or any other ideas of the same kind.  It is concerned with a revelation of the divine will” (190).

The prophet Isaiah connects the fact of Yahweh is King with Yahweh’s eschatological act of salvation.



God of Israel and Christian Theology (Soulen)

Soulen,  R. Kendall. The God of Israel and Christian Theology. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1996.

Criticisms of supersessionism must be anchored in Romans 9-11.  Unfortunately, liberals, while rightly condemning the church’s treatment of Jews in the past, tend to posit dual covenants with Israel and the Church.  A better criticism of supersessionism acknowledges that God’s call is irrevocable and the church’s future is anchored in God’s covenant to Israel, not the other way around.

Thesis: Christians cannot claim to worship the God of Israel by making God indifferent to Israel (Soulen 4).  The question of supersessionism hinges on whether baptized Jews must negate their Jewish heritage in order to be Christians?  The post-Constantinian church said yes. The book of Acts appeared to say no.

Israel and Election

Soulen makes the argument that corporate election is just as offensive as “individual election.” What sense does it make for a universal God to elect a minority people?  This is the scandal of particularity. Soulen counters by noting that love can’t be merely abstract. A pure “agape” love abstracted from any particularity is meaningless.  

This determines whether the church will seek an “abstracted” divinity behind God’s election of Israel. Soulen frames his discussion around what he calls a “canonical narrative,” an understanding of “the inner configurations” and “interrelationships” of the canon (14).  All such construals, as in our example of supersessionism, contain their own promises and problems. They have their own “grammar.”

The standard model’s main problem is that it makes God’s dealings with Israel largely irrelevant for how God will deal with creation.  Soulen’s main problem with the standard model is that it makes Israel obsolete (29). This involves hermeneutics as well: on the standard model, do you need the Hebrew scriptures to make decisive judgments on how God deals with creation? Take the four points of the standard model:

1) God creates
2) Adam and Eve fall
3) 1st Advent
4) 2nd Advent

All four of these propositions (or if they are stated in propositional format) are true.  However, with the exceptions of Genesis 1-3, you can formulate this system without regard to the Hebrew Scriptures. We see this early on with Justin Martyr, who advocates what is sometimes called (fairly or unfairly) replacement theology (Dial. 11). 

How biblical is Justin’s Logos-theology?  Despite a surface-level similarity with John 1:1, it doesn’t have much biblical support.   It is “the principle of divine revelation that sprung forth from the transcendent God” at the moment of creation (35).  What it isn’t is the life-giving, creative Word of the Covenant God. To oversimplify, cosmic history replaces salvation history.

Irenaeus’s perspective, on the other hand, is a bit more ambiguous.  He championed the unity between the Old Testament and the New, yet Israel still functions like a 5th wheel.  Missing from Irenaeus’s account, however, is the center of the Hebrew scriptures: God’s covenant dealings with Israel (45).

Christian Divinity without Jewish Flesh: The Legacies of Kant and Schleiermacher

Schleiermacher saw only three true monotheisms.  Of the two, Judaism and Christianity are the better ones.  Since Judaism, though, is still committed to non-spiritual things like land and Torah, they can’t fully develop their “God-consciousness.”  Judaism and its doctrine of election is too particular.

Schleiermacher’s project removes the inner connection between Judaism and Christianity and leaves only an external relation. If Jesus were truly Jewish, he could never bring about our universal God-consciousness (76).

Consummation at the End of Christendom

Barth and Rahner do well to expose the semignosticism within the classical model, yet they never fully escape gnosticism. Barth begins on a promising note as he replaces Schleiermacher’s “God-consciousness” with “creation and covenant.”  Unfortunately, Barth never fully lets the covenant model rescue him.

God’s covenant actions, for Barth, “summon the human creature beyond the dynamism of its natural being” (Soulen 85).  Covenant is the internal logic of creation.  

Barth goes on to say that Israel’s election is the medium for God’s consummating work in the world.  This is a vast improvement over Justin and Irenaeus. Because of God’s fidelity to Israel, we believe he will be faithful to us (89).  

Unfortunately, what Barth gives with one hand he takes away with the other.  His “Christomonism” swallows up his emphasis on God’s particularity with Israel.  Christ isn’t just the center of Barth’s theology. It is the whole field. With the person of Jesus Christ, carnal Israel comes to an end.  So far that’s standard covenant theology. Barth then takes it in a bizarre direction: not only does Israel’s history in particular come to an end, human history in general ends (CD III/2, 582).

Soulen makes the poignant criticism that models of Barth and Rahner (and any such model that downplays “historical particularity”) finds itself unable to speak a new word.

Summarizing the problem: the traditional model makes God’s identity as the God of Israel largely irrelevant.  If Israel is just transient, why does God make a big deal of being the God of Israel?

Constructing a New Model (Or Finding an Older One)

Working Conclusions

1) “The God of the Hebrew Scriptures acted in Jesus for all the world” (178 n3).

2) Consider how the terms “Old Testament” and “New Testament” reinforce the standard narrative.  The apostles used the term “Scriptures” for the Old Testament. We could probably say something like “apostolic witness” for the New.  While Soulen doesn’t explicitly make this point, neither of these terms threaten issues about infallibility or authority.

3) Israel is the form of God’s intercourse with history.  God’s “history with Israel and the nations is the permanent and enduring medium of God’s work as the consummator of human creation” (110).

4) Instead of an “economy of redemption” where everything is subsumed under “getting saved,” Soulen posits an ‘economy of blessing,’ where Israel will bring shalom to the nations (however we want to frame that around Christ’s mediatorial work).  This blessing is anchored in Yahweh’s gifts to Israel of People, Torah, and Land.

5) God’s historical fidelity to Israel is the narrow gate that opens to the New Creation (133).

Isaiah 19 posits an economy of blessing where the distinctions between Israel, Egypt, and Assyria are maintained, yet all experience Shalom.


While we acknowledge that the standard model has big flaws, Soulen needed an extensive analysis of Galatians 3.  How do we tie in the blessing of the nations from Abraham to the promise of the Seed in Galatians 3? Further, he completely avoided Romans 11, which would have only strengthened his case.  This is baffling. He should have spent more time on Romans 11 and less on Bonhoeffer.

Notes on Muller’s PRRD vol 4

Roscellin: confirmed anti-realist.  This view led him to declare that every existent thing is a unique individual: so-called universals are “mere words.” (Muller 26).  

The problem with Boethuis’s definition of person:   The definition ultimately poses all manner of problems for the doctrines of Trinity and Christ when the concept of individual substance is taken to indicate a unique entity essentially distinct from other similar entities” (27).  

Anselm on Human nature:  Human nature refers to the conjunction of the several properties and predicates that identify the nature, generally considered, as human—and this is prior to the more particular consideration of the single person as human, as participating in human nature. (27)

Anselm on Filioque:  followed standard Augustinian line that the processions::psychological love

  • As for the Greek claim that the concept of double procession resulted in the error of two ultimate principles in the Godhead, Anselm could respond that just as the creation of the world by all three persons does not result in a theory of three ultimate principles, so does the procession of the Spirit from the Father and the Son not result in a theory of two principles: for the three persons create as one God, and the Father and the Son are one God in the procession of the Spirit (Muller)

Difficulty of Defining “Person.”

Alexander of Hales:  good is self-diffusive.   bonum est diffusivum sui.  “Thus, the “distinction” of the persons in the one divine essence is the “difference of relation or of mode of existing” that arises “by reason of origin.’  (Muller 39). Further, “Thus, according to Alexander, distinction in God between essence and person is not a real distinction (secundum rem), but only a distinction of the rational intellect (secundum intelligentiam rationis); nonetheless, the distinction between persons is real even in God

Alexander objects to the claim that the distinction between persons and essence or between relations and the divine substance must either be according to substance or such as subsists between a thing and another thing (secundum rem) or merely according to our intellect (secundum intellectum solum). The first distinction would rule out divine simplicity, the latter would render the Trinity a doctrine fashioned in the human mind. Alexander responds that, in its inward economy, the one and same divine essence, is disposed as Father, who is neither generated nor proceeded from another; as Son, who is generated from another; and as Spirit, who proceeds from both—and that this manner or mode of being is “not merely according to the acceptation of out understanding, but in fact according to the thing itself.” Thus the Godhead must be considered both in terms of “the identity of substance” and in terms of “a disposition according to the consideration of origin or first principle”—in the first instance, there is the essential identify of the divine persons, in the second, there is the disposition or plurality of the Godhead according to “the predicament of relation” (40)

Thomas Aquinas

Latin authors preferred to speak of the Father as principium rather than cause, unlike the Greeks.  An efficient cause, for example, is perceived of as a different substance than its effects (Muller 47)!

Aquinas’s denial of real distinction is a denial of a substantial distinction.   He wants to deny that any distinction that would make the essence one “thing” and the “persons” other “things.”

Attributes do not result in a conceptual opposition.  Relations do.

Early Reformation Doctrine of Trinity

Structure of the Book

Clarifying medieval discussions on filioque:  all Westerns agreed that the Spirit proceeded from Father and Son as from one principia.  Causal language was eventually abandoned, for it implied the Son/Spirit to be of a different substance (effects are not the same substance as causes).  Further, and right before the Reformation, the Trinitarian life ad intra was lining up with the work ad extra (Muller 59).

The Reformation forced thinkers to restate the doctrine of the Trinity anew.  Advances in historical criticism and typology meant that some exegesis needed revisiting.  Muller notes three basic issues: the inheritance of Patristic vocabulary, renewed exegetical battles against the Socinians, and a new philosophical vocabulary (62).  

Subordination:  talk of Christ’s subordination referred to his mediatorial kingdom, when he handed it over to the Father (115).

The Terms of Trinitarian Orthodoxy

Trinitas: equivalent to Trium Unitas: “the subject itself, in its primary definition, denies composition in the Godhead” (169). God is not unitary, but unum; not triplex, but trinum.

Substantia, essentia, ousia: with regard to substance, the individual is primary and the genus secondary in the ontic sense. A genus will always be the predicate of a primary.  We would say “Simon is a man” and not “man is a simon.”

Keckerman:  essence is the whatness or quiddity, substance the existing individual.


Tertullian: a persona is identified by one who has substantia (178).

Socinians: person is identified with primary essence, which would yield three gods.  This allowed them to exclude Son and HS from Godhood.

Turretin: person is an individual intellectual suppositum (III.xxiii.7).  See 2 Cor. 1:11.

Proprietates, relationes, and notiones:

Property:  a distinguishing characteristic of a subsistence not shared with other subsistences (187).

Notio: the way in which the three subsistences are distinct from one another.






The Trinity of Persons in their Unity and Distinction: Theology and Exegesis in the Older Reformed Tradition

Calvin: (see mainly Institutes 1.13.1).

Bullinger: Decades 4.3

Musculus: essence signifies that which is common; substance that which is proper to all persons.  Musculus follows Hilary and Jerome where substance is hypostasis, rather than ousia (Muller 206).

Order and Distinction of the Persons

Keckermann: the mode of God’s existence does not differ from the mode of God’s essence. The persons are distinct not by degree, state, or dignity, but by the order, number, and manner of doing (Trelcatius).

Objection: does essential identity demand personal identiy? The Reformed generally respond that this is true for finite essences (Muller 211).  The orthodox are slowly moving away from the old Cappadocian argument of three men having the essence of manness. The problem is that this moves from “genus (man” to “Genus (God)”, yet God isn’t a genus.

Nor is it a quaternity: the three persons plus the one essence.  Persons and essence are not distinct as a thing (res).

Exegetical Issues and Trajectories

The Reformers assumed a hermeneutic of movement from shadow and promise to fulfillment (214).

The Deity and Person of the Father

Covenant of redemption:

Eternal decree and election of Christ.  God works either by his decree or the execution of it (Perkins). As the Reformed saw that this was Trinitarian, they began to see the covenant of redemption.

The order of the persons ad intra in the opera personalia is mirrored ad extra in the opera appropriata (Muller 268).  These are modes of operation contributing to the ultimately undivided work of the Godhead ad extra. The works of the Son and Spirit terminate on their persons.  By terminate we mean the terminus is paired with a fundamentum. This pair means a relation of acts bringing about relations (268). The fundamentum is the source; the terminus is the conclusion of the action constituting the relation.

Venema: “The Father being the originating–the Son the efficient–and the Holy Spirit the Perfecting cause.”

The Person and Deity of the Son

The problem of subordination:   Col. 1:15 uses protokotos, not protoktistos.  Lordship, not creation (Rijssen).

Generation: a communication of personal existence without any multiplication or division of essence (284).

Aseity of the Son

The issue: Calvin denies explicitly that the Son is from the Father “with respect to his eternal essence” (Muller 325). The Son is generated per Sonship, not divinity.

However, Ursinus: the essence is absolute and communicable.  The person is relative and incommunicable.

Arminius rejected Calvin’s view, insisting that “Christ, as God, has both his sonship and his essence by generation” (329).

Procession of the Holy Spirit

The Reformed try to get around the asymmetry of the Father and Son generating a divine person while the Spirit does not, in the following way:  “in modo, since the way of generation terminates not only in the personalitas of the Son but also in a ‘similitude’, according to which the Son is called the image of the Father, and according to which the Son receives the property of communicating that essence to another person. In contrast, the Spirit does not receive the property of communicating that essence to another person, inasmuch as the way of spiration terminates only in the personalitas of the Spirit and not in a similitude of the Father

Always Obedient (Schilder)

I want to thank the Rev. John Barach for spurring my interest in Schilder.  Barach’s lectures on covenant and election were a big help, also.



History, including the covenant, is a unity because it is a work of the Triune God (ix).

Cultural Mandate

Schilder connects the cultural mandate to man’s office before God.

Schilder on the Covenant

In the covenant God treats man as a responsible being who is either for him or against him, all or nothing (alles of niets!).

Schilder starts from the historical deeds of God. God establishes the covenant ‘in time.’  God’s grace doesn’t touch our life the way a line touches the edge of a circle.  It enters into our existence.  The covenant of grace continues the covenant of works.  The difference is in means, not essence.

The New Covenant is bilateral.  There are “threats” in it.  This gives life to preaching and responsibility.  God speaks to man as a responsible partner.  Precisely because the covenant comes to us with legal warranties, it incites our trust in Him.

Baptism seals the promise of the Gospel.  But this promise demands our faith.  In my baptism I receive a concrete address from God–a message that proclaims to everyone who is baptized, personally: if you believe you will be saved (28-29). We do not identify election and covenant.

Schilder on Christ and Culture

Kuyper wanted to use the term “common grace” instead of culture.

Schilder:  Jesus can’t be isolated from his office, Christos.  If Jesus is king, then the world should be brought back to its rightful owner.  Christ regenerates his people back to obedience.  The result should be a Christian culture.

Def. of culture: the totality of work to be done in this world (42).  The cultural mandate implies that the world has to be developed. Key difference between Schilder and Kuyper: Kuyper explained culture as a result of common grace.  Schilder replaced common grace (at least for Christians) with a mandate (59 n35).  Kuyper sees it as the result.  Schilder sees it as the work.

Schilder rightly connected dominion with being created in the image of God.

Schilder on the Church

Kuyper’s view of the church (75ff):

  1. The institutional church is a mother.
  2. The church is an organism.  We are knit together in one body.
  3. Immediate regeneration.
  4. Local church is the basic unit of the church.
  5. Pluriformity of the church

Schilder agreed that the church is a mother. Schilder, unlike Kuyper, stressed the mediation of word and sacrament in the covenant.  Covenant is not defined by regeneration.

Schilder did break with Bavinck in one area: covenant faithfulness leads to institutional church faithfulness (79).  God makes his covenant with believers and their children.  There are not two sides to the covenant, substance and form, but rather two reactions to the single covenant of grace (80).

Church Militant, Church Triumphant

Earlier reformed view: the church militant is on earth; the church triumphant is in heaven.

Schilder: the church on earth triumphs daily by faith.  The church in heaven is not wholly at rest, as it still prays for the coming judgment (Rev. 5; 6).  The old distinctions are still good, but they can’t be absolute.

Summary of theses on the church

  • Visible/invisible church is misleading, because we can never observe the church in its fullness–since the final elect person has not yet been gathered.
  • Our ability to see the church is time-bound, historical.  This is good, since Schilder spoke of historical/eschatological long before Wilson.
  • Being/well being can be misleading.  Can never disengage itself from the “gathering/coming together” of believers.
  • We are co-workers with Christ in a real sense if we gather in obedience.

Schilder on Heaven

Proposition: it is only on earth that we can think of heaven” (102).  Schilder wants to avoid a static view of heaven.  That’s not as shocking today as we have fully embraced the idea of “new creation.”

Schilder holds to the pactum salutis (105).

Schilder on Revelation

He was one of the first to oppose Barth. How do we know God?  We know him because of his condescension to us in the covenant (118). There is a “boundary” between God and man, but it is not a “death line”–Barth’s great chasm between life and death.