Monthly Archives: October 2009

Calvin, Bucer, and Roman Catholic convergance on justification

I haven’t had a chance to look much at this site, Regensburg and the Spirituali, but it promises to be interesting.  Much of the Diet of Regensburg was a non-starter between the Roman Catholics and the Reformed and the Lutherans (Melanchthon).  But on justification they reached a formula that with which all could agree.  Calvin wrote to a friend:

Our friends have thus retained also the substance of the true doctrine, so that nothing can be comprehended within it which is not to be found in our writings; you will desire, I know, a more distinct explication and statement of the doctrine, and, in that respect, you shall find me in complete agreement with yourself.  However, if you consider with what kind of men we have to agree upon this doctrine, you will acknowledge that much has been accomplished.

Of course, both the Pope and Luther freaked out and dismissed the document.

Really though, it wouldn’t have mattered if the had accepted it.  There were still great issues that divided Christians.

What Martin Bucer learned from the Marburg Colloquy

If you immediately condemn anyone who doesn’t quite believe the same as you do as forsaken by Christ’s Spirit, and consider anyone to be the enemy of truth who holds something false to be true, who, pray tell, can you still consider a brother? I for one have never met two people who believed exactly the same thing. This holds true in theology as well.

Martin Bucer in Cambridge to John Calvin in Geneva, 1549

I am spending my old age in exile, far away from my native country, banished from my church I loved so dearly, my school, and my city—where I was able to accomplish a few things by God’s grace—separated from my beloved friends and brethren: all of this in order to live now in a country that may be kind a gracious to me, but whose language I do not know, whose food I cannot get used to, whose way of life is unfamiliar—and finally, a country in which I see no clear perspective of achieving something for the Lord through my efforts.

Martin Bucer explains why God allowed Roman Catholic forces to defeat the German rulers

And so for the most part they seem to have learned only these things from the gospel of Christ: first to reject the tyranny of the Roman Antichrist and the false bishops.  Next, to throw off the yoke of any kind of discipline, penitence, and universal religion which was left in the papacy, and establish and do all things according to the desire and whim of their flesh. Thus it was not displeasing to them to hear that we are justified by faith and not by good works, in which they had no interest. They never seriously considered what was explained to them about the nature and power of true faith in Christ, and how necessary it is to be prolific in good works.  A number of them accepted some preaching of the gospel only in order that they might confiscate the rich properties of the Church.

De Regno Christi

N.T. Wright, and “Federal Vison” FAQ 3 (substitutionary atonement, propitiation, faith)

Part One

Part Two

You promised more about Jesus, Holiness, and the Politics of Jesus.

Yes, but I haven’t had time to write about that, so I took that out of the last line of part two in this series.

You had questions about specific issues.  And thought I hate to go out of order, it might be good to get some of them in the open now.

There has been accusations made that Wright disbelieves that Christ died in our place so that his righteousness is ours and our sins are punished in Him.  True?

No that is a lie.  We find Wright affirming Evangelical orthodoxy over and over again in both popular and academic works.

For instance, in his first book of essays on Pauline theology he establishes that for Paul, the sin of Adam is central to his whole thought about the salvation in Jesus Christ.

I thought Wright cared more about Israel and ignored the role of Adam and creation?

Yeah, that shows when you tell one lie about a man you are forced to make up more of them.  Here is what he writes:

It is true that in the resurrection Christ became the prototype, and source of life, for the future resurrection of believers. But his task as last Adam was not confined to this. His role was that of obedience, not merely in place of disobedience but in order to undo that disobedience. That is the point made in [Romans 5] vv. 18-19, where the “act of righteousness,” the “obedience” of the one man Jesus Christ, undoubtedly includes a reference to his long pilgrimage to Calvary. This perhaps needs spelling out in more detail. Since Paul does not call Christ “last Adam” in Romans 5, it may be risky to build too much on the passage in answering what is at best the rather artificial question, as to when Christ became “last Adam”; but since the parallel (and imbalance) between Adam and Christ is worked out in more detail here we are perhaps able to gain a more precise grasp of the theology that underlies both this passage and 1 Corinthians 15. There are two tasks, undertaken by Christ, which may be identified. The first, involving the obedience unto death, is essentially (in Paul’s mind) the task by which the old Adamic humanity is redeemed, that is, the task with which Israel had been entrusted. There is a sense in which this is not “Adamic,” in that it was (clearly) not Adam’s task; this is why vv. 15-17 emphasize the initial imbalance between Adam and Christ. The second task, in which there is the more obvious balance, is the gift of life which follows from Christ’s exaltation; this, underscored in vv. 18-21, corresponds more directly to the task envisaged in 1 Corinthians 15.20-28, 45. In this latter task, Christ is the obedient human through whom the Father’s will for the world is put into effect (5.21: through Jesus Christ). If this were all that needed to be said, there might have been something in the view that the post-resurrection task of Christ is more truly “Adamic” than the pre-resurrection one; but this is not the whole story. The obedience because of which he is now exalted is precisely the obedience unto death. And … this obedience is itself, however paradoxically, “Adamic.” The weakness of the view that sees Christ as last Adam only in his resurrection is that … it fails to provide what Paul achieves: an adequate soteriology (Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology [Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993] p. 38-39).

Wright further argues that for Paul (and, no doubt, for Wright as well), Xpistos bears an “incorporative” meaning: “Paul regularly uses the word to connote, and sometimes even denote, the whole people of whom the Messiah is the representative” (boldface added).

But why should “Messiah” bear such an incorporative sense? Clearly, because it is enemic in the understanding of kingship, in many societies and certainly in ancient Israel, that the king and the people are bound together in such a way that what is true of the one is true in principle of the other.

Wright elaborates:

In Romans 6.11, the result of being baptized “into Christ”… is that one is now “in Christ,” so that what is true of him is true of the one baptized–here, death and resurrection. This occurs within the overall context of the Adam-Christ argument of chapter 5, with its two family solidarities; the Christian has now left the old solidarity (Romans 6.6) and entered the new one. 6.23 may be read by analogy with 6.11; whose who are “in Christ” receive the gift of the life of the new age, which is already Christ’s in virtue of his resurrection–that is, which belongs to Israel’s representative, the Messiah in virtue of his having drawn Israel’s climactic destiny on to himself. Similarly, in Romans 8.1, 2 the point of the expression “in Christ” is that what is true of Christ is true of his people: Christ has come through the judgment of death and out into the new life which death can no longer touch (8.3-4; 8.10-11), and that is now predicated of those who are “in him.” In Galatians 3.26 the ex-pagan Christians are told that they are all sons of God (a regular term for Israel…) in Christ, through faith. It is because of who the Messiah is–the true seed of Abraham, and so on–that Christians are this too, since they are “in” him. Thus in v. 27, explaining this point, Paul speaks of being baptized “into” Christ and so “putting on Christ,” with the result that (3.28) [translating Wright’s reproduction of Paul’s Greek here:] you are all one in Christ Jesus. It is this firm conclusion, with all its overtones of membership in the true people of God, the real people of Abraham, that is then expressed concisely in 3.29 with the genitive [again translating]: and if you are of Christ… When we consider Galatians 3 as a whole, with its essentially historical argument from Abraham through Moses to the fulfillment of God’s promises in the coming of Christ, a strong presupposition is surely created in faovor both of reading Xpistos as “Messaiah,” Israel’s representative, and of understanding the incorporative phrases at the end of the chapter as gaining their meaning from this sens. Because Jesus is the Messiah, he sums up his people in himself, so that what is true of him is true of them (pp. 47-48; boldface added).

As is evident from this quote, and is elaborated many other places in Wright’s work, Paul argues that all who believe the Gospel are now the true Israel so that Jesus’ role as Israel’s “representative” means that he is the representative not of unbelieving Israel (if they remain in unbelief) but of believers whether Jew or Gentile (so that even “the ex-pagan Christians are told that they are all sons of God”).

An example of how this “incorporative” sense of Christ works itself out in Wright’s understanding of the atonement can be seen in his commentary on Philemon [The Epistles of Paul to the Colossians and to Philemon: An Introduction and Commentary Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Vol 12, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988)]. There we builds on his essay on Philemon 6 in Climax of the Covenant and shows how Paul uses the doctrine of Christian “interchange”–that each Christian through Christ is a member of all others. Wright argues that there is a double exchange between Paul, Onesimus, and Philemon in vv. 16, 17:

So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account.

Here we have two interrelated requests:

  1. Paul is requesting that Philemon regard Onesimus positively as he would regard Paul–and thus receive him with Paul’s standing.
  2. Paul is requesting that Philemon draw on the credit Paul has with him to compensate for and make restoration for Onesimus’ debt–confident that he can more than pay (v. 18)

Wright also argues that Romans 8.3 should be translated “… God sent his son… as a sin offering.” Wrights argument is straight out of Leviticus and the context of Romans. He writes:

The person who sins in this way delights in God’s law (Romans 7.22) yet finds again and again that he fails to keep it. The remedy which the Old Testament offers for this very condition is the sin-offering, and when we meet, in the very passage where Paul is showing how God deals with the condition of 7.14-25, the phrase which elsewhere in the Greek Bible regularly means “as a sin offering,” there can no longer be any suggestion that the context does not support the sacrificial interpetation. Though Paul can view Christ’s death in various ways (in, for instance, Romans 3.24ff, First Corinthians 5.7) he here draws attention to that death seen in one way in particular, the way relevant for dealing with sin precisely as it is committeed in 7.13-20… The death of Jesus, precisely as the “sin-offering,” is what is required… (Climax of the Covenant, pp. 224, 225).

Or consider Wright’s much more popularly written commentaries. He writes in one his “For Everyone” commentaries on Mark 1.9-13:

The whole Christian gospel could be summed up in this point: that when the living God looks at us, at every baptized and believing Christian, he says to us what he said to Jesus on that day. He sees us, not as we are in ourselves, but as we are in Jesus Christ. It sometimes seems impossible, especially to people who have never had this kind of support from their earthly parents, but it’s true: God looks at us, and says “You are my dear, dear child; I’m delighted with you” (Mark for Everyone, pp. 4, 5).

In the same series, he writes on the meaning of the Lord’s Supper instituted at Passover and then the exchange of Jesus with Barabbas:

It was, first and foremost, a Passover meal. Luke has told us all along that Jesus was going to Jerusalem to “accomplish his Exodus” (9.31). he has come to do for Israel and the whole world what God did through Moses and Aaron in the first Exodus. When the powers of evil that were enslaving God’s people were at their worst, God acted to judge Egypt and save Israel. And the sign and means of both judgment and rescue was the Passover: the angel of death struck down the firstborn of all Egypt, but spared Israel as the firstborn of God, “passing over” their houses because of the blood of the lamb on the doorposts (Exodus 12). Now the judgment that had hung over Israel and Jerusalem, the judgment Jesus had spoken of so often, was to be meted out; and Jesus would deliver his people by taking its force upon himself. His own death would enable his people to escape…Luke describe the event in such a way that we can hardly miss the point. Barabbas is guilty of some of the crimes of which Jesus, though innocent, is charged: stirring up the people, leading a rebellion… Jesus ends up dying the death appropriate for the violent rebel. He predicted he would be “reckoned with the lawless” (22.37), and it has happened all too soon… [T]his is in fact the climax of the whole gospel. This is the point for which Luke has been preparing us all along. All sinners, all rebels, all the human race are invited to see themselves in the figure of Barabbas; and, as we do so, we discover in this story that Jesus comes to take our place, under condemnation for sins and wickedness great and small. In the strange justice of God, which overrules the unjust “justice” of Rome and every human system, God’s mercy reaches out where human mercy could not, not only sharing, but in this case substituting for, the sinner’s fate (Luke22.1-3; 23.13-26; Luke for Everyone, 262, 279, 280; emphasis added).

But has Wright specifically affirmed propitiation?

Yes, he does.  His lectures on Romans rip into the NIV for using “expiation” instead of that term in Romans 3.  In his commentary on Romans he writes:

The idea of punishment as part of atonement is itself deeply controversial; horrified rejection of the mere suggestion has led on the part of some to an unwillingness to discern any reference to Isaiah 40-55 in Paul. But it is exactly that idea that Paul states, clearly and unambiguously, in Romans 8:3, when he says that God ‘condemned sin in the flesh’—i.e. the flesh of Jesus. Dealing with wrath or punishment is propitiation; with sin, expiation. You propitiate a person who is angry, you expiate a sin, crime (N. T. Wright, The Letter to the Romans, 475-476).

What about the claim that Wright “redefines justification.”

This is an area where I’m only familiar with the earlier absurd accusations.  I haven’t followed up in the many rehashings that have gone on in this area.  Wright was defending Paul for continuity with the OT against the Liberal E. P. Sanders.  In that context he has said some things about justification not being how one becomes a Christian.  I haven’t always understood Wright on this point, but he has been asked to clarify himself.  So I agree precisely with what N. T. Wright says in The Shape of Justification:

The lawcourt language indicates what is meant. “Justification” itself is not God’s act of changing the heart or character of the person; that is what Paul means by the ‘call’, which comes through the word and the Spirit. “Justification” has a specific, and narrower, reference: it is God’s declaration that the person is now in the right, which confers on them the status “righteous.” (We may note that, since “righteous” here, within the lawcourt metaphor, refers to “status,” not “character,” we correctly say that God’s declaration makes the person “righteous, i.e. in good standing.)

This distinction should seem awfully familiar to Reformed pastors. Compare these two questions from the Westminster Larger Catechism:

Q67: What is effectual calling?

A67: Effectual calling is the work of God’s almighty power and grace, whereby (out of his free and special love to his elect, and from nothing in them moving him thereunto he doth, in his accepted time, invite and draw them to Jesus Christ, by his word and Spirit; savingly enlightening their minds, renewing and powerfully determining their wills, so as they (although in themselves dead in sin) are hereby made willing and able freely to answer his call, and to accept and embrace the grace offered and conveyed therein.

Q70: What is justification?

A70: Justification is an act of God’s free grace unto sinners, in which he pardoneth all their sins, accepteth and accounteth their persons righteous in his sight; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but only for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, by God imputed to them, and received by faith alone

Not sure why this should be controversial to Anglo-American Calvinists.

What about the accusation of “redefining faith as faithfulness.”

Another lie: As Wright affirms above, Christ died as a substitute for sinners. And this is received from outside oneself by faith apart from anything that is true of one’s own behavior: “faith looks backwards to what God has done in Christ, by means of his own obedient faithfulness to God’s purpose (Rom. 5.19; Phil. 2.6), relying on that rather than on anything that is true of oneself (“The Shape of Justification”; emphasis added).

To be continued (Wright & imputation)

Between monarchism and anarchism–Tolkien

My political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning abolition of control not whiskered men with bombs)—or to ‘unconstitutional Monarchy.’ I would arrest anybody who uses the word State (in any sense other than the inanimate realm of England and its inhabitants, a thing that has neither power, rights not mind); and after a chance of recantation, execute them if they remained obstinate! If we could get back to personal names, it would do a lot of good. Government is an abstract noun meaning the art and process of governing and it should be an offence to write it with a capital G or so as to refer to people. If people were in the habit of referring to ‘King George’s council, Winston and his gang,’ it would go a long way to clearing thought, and reducing the frightful landslide into Theyocacy. Anyway the proper study of Man is anything but Man; and the most improper job of any man, even saints… is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity. The mediaevals were only too right in taking nolo episcopari as the best reason a man could give to others for making him a bishop (The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, 63-64).

via “The Hands of a Healer”: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Understanding of Kingship by Lauren Calco.

United States Federal and States’ government death panel takes shape

I don’t believe in the welfare state.  This program should never have started up.  It claimed compassion but what it ended up doing is allowing people to “farm out” (for free!) their responsibilities to their relatives.

And now after we’ve created a dependent populace of whom some (how many?) have no other recourse, we take away their food.

I’d like to see OK budget and see what is being spent on “higher education” at the 13th grade (i.e. community colleges).  Are you telling me that the cuts just happen to come from the populace with the least social and political clout?  Doubt it.  This is just the other end of the bell curve from abortion.

We should be cutting all the money being given to the able-bodied young before we ever touch the senior dependents on government funds.

And who really cares?  None of us have had to be personally involved in helping such people for a long long time.  The government was supposed to keep them closeted so our consciences are clear.

WANTED: More individualism in Evangelical Churches


(I decided to repost this with a picture)

If it surprises you that I would write this, then you need to distinguish metaphysical individualism from intellectual independence and integrity. It might help to read Nevin’s scathing attack on “sects” in his series entitle “Antichrist” where he talks about how much groupthink one gets in American denominations.

What I mean is this:

  • If you are hostage to reading long documents or debates about whether or not you can play dress-up with your children on the night of October 31, and get and give away candy, you need to be more individualistic.
  • If you are afraid to put a light in a carved gourd outside your house this month, you need to be more individualistic.
  • If you are ashamed of bottle-feeding your child, you need to be more individualistic.
  • If you feel a need to defend the size of your family, you need to be more individualistic.
  • If you don’t want people to know that you let your kids watch TV, you need to be more individualistic.

Et cetera.

I’m fine with people making judgment calls for themselves. And it is good to get wisdom from friends. But you know quite well that the tribal pressure that festers in congregations is on a whole different level. You’re not worried about being unwise. You’re worried about being judged. If that voice is really in your own head and represents your own better judgment, than take steps to change your behavior. But it rarely does. It is mostly just the bizarre anxiety we feel for not fitting into the tribe. And the tribe is always dominated by those who raise themselves by looking down on others. If you think churches are not overflowing with such practices, then you need to repent and go to Church regularly as God commands, because you are obviously not going now.

In fact, it such practices are not restricted to Evangelical Christianity. It is basically in every social group. It is what holds most groups together. Churches should not be like other groups, but they are.

And this is the truth at the congregational level. There is always an undocumented standard that is much more important than anything written. Until people get out of the habit of caving to pressure, the churches will continue to drown in judgmentalism and obscurity.

Be an individualist. Stop fearing your neighbors (and stop giving them reason to fear you). Show some backbone and respect for others.