A Tolkien Map of the Holy Land

Recently I’ve continued to work on a number of maps inspired by the artwork of Christopher Tolkien’s maps of Middle Earth. I’ve completed a map of the Lake District and recently finished a map of the Holy Land.

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20180701_132510As part of that I bought a book called The Art of Lord of the Rings for visual reference. The book is a compendium of the various different art works, maps and calligraphy that Tolkien developed in the writing of his books. It’s a fantastic book, and is full of excellent pictures. I particularly like Christopher Tolkien’s map of the Shire. Taking my cue from Tolkien I’m considering drawing maps of the local area in Tolkien’s style and trying to sell them in local shops. It’s been therapeutic just sitting in front of the telly or listening to music and spending an hour or so drawing mountains.

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A Review of Michael Allen’s “Sanctification”

No, this isn’t a critical assessment of Michael Allen’s faith journey, but it is a review of the most recent installment of the New Studies in Dogmatics series being produced by Zondervan. The series approaches the core elements of systematic theology from a Reformed perspective in the tradition of G. C. Berkouwer’s Studies in Dogmatics. Drawing on the catholic heritage of the church and retrieving some of its most profound insights, the authors in the series present the riches of theological thinking to a modern evangelical audience.

Before 20180612_085040delving into the details of Allen’s specific volume on sanctification it’s worth spending some time praising the format of this series. The design of both the cover and the contents is top notch. Seeing all of the current volumes stood next to each other is rather satisfying. The pages are laid out in an easily readable font and the author’s notes and references are placed in the footnotes at the bottom of the page. Time and time again I’ve been frustrated by volumes of theology that leave all the references to the end notes, but here the line of thought and the sources are readily available. The indices are exhaustive too with subject, scripture and author indices. All of this is provided in a handy paperback format which makes the series surprisingly affordable.

Allen begins the volume by outlining his approach. What Allen is keen to do is to place sanctification canonically. He doesn’t just want to analyse the usual proof texts associated with sanctification but wants to approach the concept of holiness as it is revealed across the whole Bible, if not explicitly then implicitly. As such Allen begins with the doctrine of God, moves through the doctrine of creation, then covenant, eventually reflecting on how our relationship to Jesus impacts the doctrine of sanctification.

As part of this section Allen includes two really excellent chapters on what it means to be ‘in Christ’ and how justification relates to sanctification. What this allows Allen to do is to place the doctrine of sanctification within a broader soteriological context. This is particularly important since Reformed approaches to soteriology are so often caricatured as almost exclusively interested forensic justification. What Allen does so well here is in pointing out how Reformed soteriology is multifaceted and well rounded. I think it paves the way for Michael Horton’s two volume contribution to the series on justification since Allen sets the scene so well and helps us to see the big picture.

The breadth of the study and the depth of the content of Allen’s volume will repay frequent visits. I heartily recommend this volume to anyone interested in systematic and constructive theology in the Reformed tradition. I think that as a result of Allen’s work we’ll be better equipped to understand the Christ focused nature of sanctification. Since, “Sanctification by faith really does involve God’s setting apart your habits, practices, actions, and self. Such transformation springs first and foremost from a renewed sense of reliance, no longer upon self but in the Savior, yet it flows over into vital activity of all sorts.” (286).

 

 

Trinity Sunday

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It’s that time of year again; Trinity Sunday. Or at least it was, last week. The date is one of the most dreaded in the liturgical year since, at first glance, the Trinity seems so complex as to be impossible to communicate without heresy or total confusion. With that in mind, I thought I’d share some thoughts that might help shape our thinking when preaching about the Trinity.

The first thing to note is that the good news of Jesus Christ just is trinitarian. Some think that the doctrine of the Trinity; the idea that God is one being in three persons is a totally abstract concept disconnected from the biblical narrative of salvation. But the gospel is fundamentally trinitarian in shape. The theologian Fred Sanders tells us that we might summarize the entire story of the Bible by saying that it is the story of God the Father, who sends God the Son, and pours out God the Holy Spirit. Each member of the Trinity is inseparably linked to what God was doing in Christ. The story of salvation reveals the trinitarian character of God. In other words, God doesn’t simply save us he also reveals to us who he is, namely, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Which, we might add, is to be expected from a God who seeks relationship with his people. Salvation doesn’t consist in the forgiveness of sins only, but in relationship with the living God. John writes, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (17:3).

In this case, an understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity will be of great value for preachers who seek to preach the gospel of Jesus in its fullness. The doctrine of the Trinity helps us to speak accurately and truly of what Jesus did through his life, death and resurrection. If preaching is the proclamation and communication of the good news of Jesus Christ it will be trinitarian either explicitly or implicitly.

But what of those who say that the Trinity is a fourth century invention of the church fathers? I think they do the church fathers a disservice. The church fathers came to articulate the doctrine of the Trinity in reflection on the biblical data. They reflected on the story of salvation and the Father’s work in Christ through the Spirit. Such a doctrine could only develop through attention to divine revelation. This point is demonstrable by the fact that there appears to be a direct correlation between the rejection of biblical infallibility and the rejection of the doctrine of the Trinity. With the rise of naturalistic approaches to historical criticism following the enlightenment there was a similar rise in the rejection of an understanding of God that was essentially shaped by that revelation.

In preaching the Trinity then, we must pay close attention to God’s revelation of himself in Scripture. We must see that the gospel is Trinitarian in shape. And we must acknowledge that the gospel consists not simply in the forgiveness of sins, though that is essential, it also consists in the knowledge of God. And so the Trinity, “Though it can be stated propositionally and in the form of information, it was not given primarily as information. Rather, this knowledge came along with the carrying out of God’s work of salvation.” (Sanders, The Triune God, 239).

Is ‘covenantal nomism’ Protestant?

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One of the interesting developments in Pauline scholarship over the past few decades has been the rise of what has been called the ‘New Perspective on Paul’ (NP). The NP has had a number of benefits, namely its call to take the Jewishness of scripture seriously, as well as unpacking what salvation entails more broadly, without reducing salvation to forensic justification. The main point of contention, however, focuses on the doctrine of justification that many advocates of NP put in the place of traditional Protestant accounts.

E. P. Sanders, who was the primary catalyst for NP exegesis, characterizes the soteriology that results as ‘covenantal nomism’. By that he means that the new covenant is continuous with the old one in significant respects to the extent that one enters into the new covenant that Jesus Christ has made by his blood, through faith, (as such the people of God is a multi-ethnic community) but remains in by works.

N. T. Wright puts it this way, “Finally, as is already clear from the above, this lawcourt verdict, implementing God’s covenant plan, and all based on Jesus Christ himself, is announced both in the present, with the verdict issued on the basis of faith and faith alone, and also in the future, on the day when God raises from the dead all those who are already indwelt by the spirit. The present verdict gives the assurance that the future verdict, when given, will be seen to be in accordance with the life that the believer has then lived.” (Justification, Wright, 223).

Clearly, the NP doesn’t get rid of the idea of justification as a forensic judgement or pronouncement of acquittal or pardon. Wright is adamant that the language of justification is legal in this sense. As such both him and Dunn are quite happy to say that they are in fundamental continuity with the insights of the Reformers.

“As Dunn aptly notes, the “Judaism of what Sanders christened as ‘covenantal nomism’ can now be seen to preach good Protestant doctrine: that grace is always prior; that human effort is ever the response to divine initiative; that good works are the fruit and not the root of salvation.” (12-13).

Wright adds, “Everything Luther and Calvin wanted to achieve is within this glorious Pauline framework of thought.” (Wright, 224).

And yet, I’m not convinced that covenantal nomism is adequately continuous with the fundamental concerns and contours of Reformed theology. As to the scriptural faithfulness of covenantal nomism, I’ll leave that to the exegetes. But in terms of systematic theology I think a number of discontinuities are readily apparant. This can be helpfully drawn out by Alister McGrath’s summary of the key elements of Protestant theologies of justification.

“McGrath has helpfully noted three points that distinguish the mature Protestant doctrine of justification: (1) Justification involves a forensic declaration of righteousness that effects a change in legal status before God, as opposed to a process that actually makes one righteous. (2) There is a clear conceptual difference between justification (“the act by which God declares the sinner to be righteous”) and either regeneration or sanctification (the actual “internal process of renewal by the Holy Spirit”). (3) Justifying righteousness is understood as an external, “alien” righteousness, graciously imputed to the Christian through the act of faith. ” (Justification Five Views, 25).

So how does covenantal nomism measure up? Well, both Dunn and Wright are quite happy to agree that justification involves a forensic declaration. But we begin to meet discontinuity with both (2) and (3). The regenerative work of the Spirit is clearly integral for Wright in the final justification of the sinner, which will be on the basis of the whole life lived in the power of the Spirit. And as a result of the denial of (2) this also entails a denial of (3). If final justification is to some extent dependent on my inherent righteousness produced by the Spirit (even though it is produced by grace), then justifying righteousness cannot be wholly external. So two of the essential features of a mature Protestant theology of justification are denied by covenantal nomism. Additionally, given the recent work of John Barclay in Paul and the Gift it is clear that the priority of grace isn’t the only dimension of grace that needs to be taken into account when searching for a Protestant theology of justification. Things like non-circularity, superabundance, and gratuity, need to be taken into account as well.

So while N. T. Wright might be ‘Protestant’ in affirming the forensic nature of justification as a result of non-imputation (as per Wesley), he begins to be on much more fragile ground in providing a doctrine of justification that also requires the inherent righteousness of the believer produced by the Spirit. This is slightly odd because early on in his response to John Piper in Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision, Wright states,

“‘Righteousness’, within the lawcourt setting – and this is something that no good Lutheran or Reformed theologian ought ever to object to – denotes the status that someone has when the court has found in their favour. Notice, it does not denote, within that all important lawcourt context, ‘the moral character they are then assumed to have’, or ‘the moral behaviour they have demonstrated which has earned them the verdict’.” (Wright, Justification, 69).

And yet, as we have seen, the final verdict of justification will be on the basis of a moral character that they have, which we immediately add, is produced by the Spirit. So in actual fact, according to Wright, justification does depend on the inherent righteousness produced in the believer by the Spirit, not simply pardon alone. At this point, it is clear that there is a rather glaring tension in Wright’s system. Is justification on the basis of pardon alone or does it also require a positive righteousness (either inherent or external) of the believer? It can’t be both. If we opt for the former then we can happily join the likes of John Wesley and others. If we opt for the latter without affirming that righteousness as alien or external to us, then we join the great swathe of Catholic theologians from Augustine to the present.

On the other hand, if we opt for a traditional Reformed understanding of justification as entailing both the imputation of our sins to Christ, and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us then we can continue to maintain that justification has been achieved in Christ as both pardon and the positive attribution of Christ’s righteousness to us. We are pronounced righteous on the alien or external righteousness of Christ in addition to the pardon that he achieves for us by the cross.

So is covenantal nomism Protestant? It is to the extent that it argues for justification as a forensic declaration, and inasmuch as a number of Protestants follow E. P. Sanders’ exegetical maneuvers. But it isn’t Protestant in terms of its rejection of two fundamental features of traditional Protestant justification theory.

 

 

John Wesley & ‘non-Imputation’ Revisited

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Over the last couple of months I’ve posted a few times on imputation and non-imputation in relationship to the doctrine of justification. As part of that I was trying to understand how Wesley’s theology of non-imputation influenced his view of the atonement.

Just to recap, instead of adopting the language of imputation, where Jesus becomes legally culpable for our sin without being inherently sinful (see Hebrews 4:15; 2 Corinthians 5:21), Wesley opted for the language of non-imputation. In other words our sins are no longer held against us on the basis of Christ’s work of atonement. Justification is proclaimed on the basis of pardon alone.

I postulated that since Wesley preferred to understand justification in terms of non-imputation then he would have to reject a theory of penal substitution. How could it be just for God to punish someone who wasn’t legally culpable for sins (which can only take place through imputation)? I took this to mean that Wesley would adopt an Anselmian satisfaction theory of atonement whereby Jesus life of righteousness and obedient death acted to propitiate God’s wrath and satisfy the demands of divine justice.

But this isn’t entirely accurate. Neither is it entirely accurate to say that Wesley adopted a theory of non-penal substitution. It isn’t totally false, but it’s not totally true either. Wesley agrees that sin demands punishment, but this punishment isn’t wholly averted on the basis of Christ’s righteous life, or life of merit (a la Anselm). Instead, Wesley would seem to say that God’s justice is satisfied, not by punishing Christ in our place, but by Christ suffering the penalty that we deserved. There is a distinction to be made between punishment and penalty. For example, someone deserves to be punished for stealing, perhaps the penalty is that they have to pay a fine. Someone who didn’t steal offers to pay the penalty in the thief’s place. That doesn’t mean that they are punished for stealing, rather they pay the penalty that is the thief’s punishment.

In this way, Wesley’s account of atonement wouldn’t be totally non-penal, in contrast to Anselm’s satisfaction theory. Rather, we deserve punishment and that punishment is averted justly by Jesus’ payment of the penalty that we would have had to pay. In this way Wesley can retain a form of penal substitution while using the language of non-imputation.

It also wasn’t entirely accurate to say that Wesley rejects the language of imputation or the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. In actual fact, on a number of occasions Wesley refers positively to the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us, but with some subtle caveats. Collins in Justification: What’s at Stake in Current Debates writes,

“…in his sermon “The Lord Our Righteousness,” produced in 1765, Wesley contends that the righteousness of Christ is imputed to believers in the sense that they are now accepted by God not for the sake of anything that they have done, whether it be works of charity, mercy or the like, but solely because of what Christ has accomplished through his life and death on their behalf.” (187).

Collins sums up Wesley’s view of positive imputation in the following,

“2. Justification includes the imputation of the righteousness of Christ to sinners with the result that they are declared righteous. Imputation, however, must never be viewed as a “cloak” for ongoing unrighteousness.” (194-195).

Clearly Wesley was critical of the traditional understanding of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us, fearing that this doctrine would lead to antinomianism. But he still retained the ‘imputation of Christ’s righteousness’ language while changing its definition. Instead of the phrase referring to a positive righteousness in addition to pardon, the ‘imputation of Christ’s righteousness’ simply indicates the fact that we are justified on the basis of a work external to us. We are justified by Christ alone.

In sum then, Wesley seems to hold to a view of the atonement that falls in between a traditional account of penal substitution and an Anselmian satisfaction theory while rejecting the traditional understanding of double imputation.

 

The Fall as Scrumping

ApplesIn one of my recent posts I spoke briefly about John Wesley’s use of forensic language in his sermon Justification by Faith. While noting the motivations and subtlety of the language of ‘non-imputation’ I also said that I disagreed with Wesley on this fundamental point. Our justification is the result, not simply of the non-imputation of our sins to us, but the imputation of our sins to Christ and his righteousness to us. There is a kind of exchange that takes place.

Recently the language of double imputation has been criticized by a variety of writers, perhaps the most prominent being N. T. Wright. Usually the objections are stated in such a way as to say that someone is counted righteous simply in virtue of non-imputation. Since someone is forgiven their sins, they can therefore be pronounced ‘justified’.

However, the persuasiveness of such a statement is largely dependent on some underlying assumptions regarding the nature of sin. If sin consists in the failure to pay a debt and we are then released from that debt by the work of Christ in forgiveness then any positive attribution of Christ’s righteousness to us seems superfluous. But what if sin isn’t like this? What if sin is less about human incapability and more about human rebellion. Or as C. S. Lewis puts it in Mere Christianity, “Fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms.”

We might think of sin in these terms. Imagine you steal a ticket to some event in order to procure the benefit of the ticket but are caught in the act. The person who catches you, and who, coincidentally was the one supposed to be selling the tickets forgives you. But notice, simply being forgiven for stealing the ticket doesn’t give you the right to using the ticket or its benefits. If anything you’ll have to give the ticket back. You still need a means of rightfully procuring what you sought to steal.

If sin is more similar to this situation, and I think C. S. Lewis’s statement is instructive on this point, then our justification and all the benefits that are inherent to that will involve both forgiveness and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us. By that righteousness (the ticket) we have the benefit of being justified in God’s sight. Essentially, then, the Fall doesn’t simply involve an inability to act righteously, but involves the conscious decision to try and procure something by illegitimate means. Our first parents’ sin was a kind of stealing, and since it was an apple, it was, in essence, a type of scrumping.

There are other problems with the language of non-imputation, namely its tendency to undermine theories of penal substitutionary atonement (though perhaps many would see this as a positive). For example, Wesley seems to think that God’s wrath is propitiated by Jesus’ death. However, since our justification is by non-imputation and not the imputation of our sins to Christ it seems very difficult to say that Jesus was punished for our sins when he wasn’t being held legally culpable. It is more likely that Wesley has a kind of Anselmian satisfaction theory in mind. The kind of satisfaction that provides satisfaction for sin in a propitiatory way without any element of punishment being involved. A kind of non-penal substitution. However, I haven’t read extensively enough to know how accurate a reading of Wesley this is. Despite this, the contours of a theology of non-imputation seem to lead to these conclusions.

 

A Review of Christopher Holmes’s ‘The Holy Spirit’

Dove depicting Holy Spirit pictured in stained-glass window in Georgia church

One of the more interesting theological series that is currently in development is New Studies in Dogmatics, following the tradition of G. C. Berkouwer’s Studies in Dogmatics published in the mid twentieth century. The series provides “thoughtful, concise, and constructive treatments of major theological topics” and does so in the context of a thoroughly Reformed theological vision. One of the ways in which the series seeks to achieve this end is through a theology of retrieval, mining the riches of historical and classical Christian doctrine in order to make them available to a contemporary evangelical audience. The volumes in the series seek to find a middle ground “between introductory theology textbooks and advanced theological monographs.” (Series Preface)

That said, in this book (which is one of the first in the series), Christopher Holmes develops a theology of the Holy Spirit rooted in the doctrine of the Trinity which leans more towards the advanced theological monograph. The basic thesis of the book is to demonstrate how the role of the Spirit in the economy of salvation is rooted in the Spirit’s role in the Godhead as the one who ‘proceeds’ from the Father, through the Son. In the process of saving human beings God not only saves people but reveals who he is eternally. As Holmes puts it “It is the task of a theology of the Spirit to articulate, however haltingly, where this mission comes from. The question of the Spirit’s origin is indeed a matter of material consequence.” (212). Holmes develops his thesis in dialogue with Augustine, Aquinas, and Karl Barth, in reflection on passages of John’s Gospel, such as Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus on being born of the Spirit, and the promise of the Spirit of truth in John 14.

The major strength of the book is Holmes’s demonstration of how talk of the Spirit’s proceeding from the Father and the Son best explains the language of the New Testament, and how such a ‘relation of origin’ helps us to understand the working of the Spirit in salvation history. Having been rather suspicious of ‘relations of origin’ to begin with, I can now see how helpful such an understanding of the Trinity can be as a framework for understanding the work of God in the New Testament as well as in the world today. The implications of this trinitarian framework are drawn out more thoroughly in one of the final chapters of the book on ‘church and tradition’. In this chapter Holmes makes it clear that Pentecost was something permanent, that the church continues to live in the power of the Spirit, and that as such church tradition (the Rule of Faith) is Spirit led and is therefore a fantastic tool for pointing beyond itself to Jesus Christ, since the Spirit is the Spirit of the Son.

However, despite being a fairly slim volume, I found it rather ‘stodgy’. I think this was the result of three factors. Firstly, I found the language to be rather dense. Often it felt theological for the sake of being theological, rather than theological for the sake of clarification. And more often than not certain terms or phrases would be employed without immediate clarification or definition, which I found frustrating. For example, questions about the Holy Spirit existing as the relation of love between the Father and the Son preceded a clarification of what it meant for the Holy Spirit to be a ‘subsistent relation’ by 20 pages. And even when an explanation of subsistent relations was provided I still felt like it hadn’t been shown how a person could be identical with a relation. Holmes seemed to make a nod in this direction, but didn’t pursue it. “The Spirit is, put simply, equivalent to an originating relation. The person of the Spirit, if you want to use the language of person, is nothing but the being breathed by Father and Son. How does the Spirit originate? By the breathing of the Father and Son. “There is nothing here but relatings, no somewhats doing the relating. The language strains.”” (141).

Secondly, I think the density or stodginess of the work wasn’t helped by the choice of dialogue partners. No doubt each had something relevant to add to the development of Holmes’s thesis, and the development of a Reformed perspective on anything has to at least mention Karl Barth in passing. But I think that dialoguing with theologians like Barth often means that a theologian slips into using a kind of Barthianese. That isn’t to say that Barth doesn’t have helpful things to say. It’s just that his theology often assumes a language and framework rather alien to contemporary evangelicals which make understanding what he has to say rather difficult. I would have liked to see Holmes’s dialogue with Barth supplemented by the work of other Reformed theologians who are perhaps not as immediately inaccessible. For example, John Calvin, who has been described as a ‘theologian of the Holy Spirit’ only gets mentioned on three pages. I’m not a Calvinist, and I know that Reformed theology is much broader than ‘Calvinism’ as such, but I would have expected a greater engagement with such figures. On the other hand, you can’t dialogue with everyone, and as it stands Holmes’s choice of dialogue partners gets him where he wants to go. Nevertheless, in the development of his argument I think it would have been helpful to engage B. B. Warfield critically in his criticisms of ‘relations of origin’, or Jurgen Moltmann on ‘trinitarian hermeneutics’ and the reversibility of divine relating.

One final thing that I think contributed to the stodge is Holmes’s lack of reference to the practical reality of the Spirit in the life of the church. I’m thinking specifically of how the doctrine of the Holy Spirit relates to a church that exists in the wake of charismatic renewal. In seeking to provide a theology of the Spirit for a contemporary evangelical audience I was hoping for a constructive application of Holmes’s thesis to the fruits and gifts of the Spirit. However, not a single mention of charismatic renewal was made. On reflection a reader could make these applications in his own time, but I would have liked Holmes to address charisms specifically.

In conclusion, despite being rather stodgy, Holmes provides a theological vision of the Holy Spirit which seeks to explain the mission of the Spirit in relation to the Spirit’s origin in the Godhead. Doxologically, this leads to a worship of God the Father, through God the Son, in the power of God the Holy Spirit. Anyone seeking to reflect theologically or write academically on the Holy Spirit will need to engage with this volume.Book Cover

You can purchase The Holy Spirit here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Holy-Spirit-New-Studies-Dogmatics/dp/0310491703/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1523725422&sr=8-1&keywords=the+holy+spirit+new+studies

 

How to use 2 Timothy 3:16

What is Scripture? The typical answer is that Scripture is the inspired Word of God. It is theopneustos, God-breathed. This is generally taken to mean that Scripture is the normative criterion for theology. When we think theologically we measure our theological judgments and have those judgments guided and rooted in Scripture. The word theopneustos is derived from 2 Timothy 3:16 and 17,

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

But more often than not, when this passage is taken to support the authority or normativity of Scripture, it will be replied that Paul only had the Old Testament Scriptures in mind, if that.  As such we can’t take it as a proof text for Scriptural inspiration.

In response to this objection I think it important to make a distinction which will help us to parse how this passage can be used. If the passage is taken to be a way of establishing what should be included in the canon, then this is clearly a mistake. If, as seems obvious, Paul was referring to the OT Scriptures then at most this passage will only serve to establish the canonicity of certain OT texts. However, when one talks about the inspiration or normativity of Scripture one isn’t making claims about the texts that should be included in the canon, but what kind of texts canonical texts are. In other words, whether Paul was referring to OT texts, NT texts, or whatever, his key point is to establish the authority of Scripture, whatever that Scripture contains.

To put it another way, the statement that Paul makes concerning Scripture is a ‘universally quantified statement’. William Lane Craig writes that ‘universally quantified statements’, “are true with respect to all the members of the domain of quantification7, existentially quantified statements are true with respect to some of the members of the domain of quantification.” (48, God Over All). When Paul writes that ‘all Scripture is God-breathed’ this is a universally quantified rather than an existentially quantified statement. Paul is referring to all the members of the class ‘Scripture’ whatever that class contains.

For example, if we ask the question ‘Is the gospel of John Scripture?’ And we reply in the affirmative, then the universally quantified statement, ‘all Scripture is God-breathed’ will apply to the gospel of John whether or not Paul had the gospel of John in mind. In which case I think that we can be confident that 2 Timothy 3:16 gives us ample warrant for believing in the authority of Scripture whether or not it tells us what can be included in the canon. For more on how to deduce what should be included in the canon B. B. Warfield has written helpfully and extensively. You can find one of his articles here: http://www.reformed.org/master/index.html?mainframe=/bible/warfield_canon.html

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Finding a Successful Theological Methodology.

You would have thought that a Christ centered theological methodology would guarantee a commitment to Christian orthodoxy; wouldn’t you? When a theologian like Karl Barth or Kathryn Tanner proclaims the centrality of the person of Christ it’s easy to shout a loud “Amen!” in response. But a Christ centered theology won’t always guarantee orthodoxy. The orthodoxy of a Christ centered theology will ultimately depend on the orthodoxy of the Christology, or the way in which an orthodox Christology is applied. The peculiar danger of a Christ centered methodology is with the application of that Christology without that application being itself informed by God’s revelation in his word.

The idea is, that the Logos became incarnate within salvation history, and that it isn’t up to us to apply that event theologically independent of that salvation history. Henri Blocher (below) writes in his book Original Sin: Illuminating the Riddle,

“If one starts with the cross, the character of Christ’s work as a remedy for sin, as redemption, is obscured; simply to read the meaning of original sin off the Christ-event is to act as if we were masters of revelation. Far from it!” (17)

And again,

“Sound theological method requires that we listen to Scripture as a whole, according to the analogy of faith, and only then perceive how precisely the doctrine is proclaimed and, so to speak, reinforced in the Christ-event.” (17).

We are led to Christ by Scripture, and so should apply Christology within a canonical framework. If we seek to be christological without the Scriptures moderating and leading us, then the result will be a theology which is informed by a christology of our own construction. Instead, the scriptures are the normative authority by which we are led to Christ. Only after having come to the scriptures and being led to Christ, will we then be able to reflect christologically in an appropriate way. This creates a hermeneutical circle in which scriptural exegesis leads us to christology, then that enables appropriate christological reflection on exegesis.

When faced with a theological problem we go first to scripture, trusting that it will eventually lead us to a Christologically informed solution. In this way we’ll have a christologically focused theological methodology tempered by the Scriptures.

 

Henri Blocher

 

John Wesley, Justification and the non-Imputation of Sin

I’m currently doing research in preparation for my MA dissertation on defenses of justification by faith; both it’s forensic basis and its appropriation by faith. As a result, while reading I’ve been particularly attentive to justification language and the use of ‘imputation’ as it relates to the doctrine of justification by faith. Having been brought up within the Wesleyan tradition I was interested to see what John Wesley had to say on justification as well as its relation to imputation, so yesterday I read his sermon Justification by Faith. In this sermon Wesley endeavors to show,

“1. What is the general ground of this whole doctrine of justification;

2. What justification is;

3. Who they are that are justified; and,

4. On what terms they are justified.”

Interestingly, when speaking of imputation, Wesley is careful to avoid saying that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us. Imputation might be understood as the legal category whereby Christ becomes legally culpable (though not actually sinful) for our sin, and whereby Christ becomes our legal representative so that his righteousness is reckoned to us. Wesley is reluctant to accept this double imputation, or exchange that takes place, where our sin is reckoned to Christ and his righteousness reckoned to us. In his sermon he writes,

“Least of all does justification imply, that God is deceived in those whom He justifies; that He thinks them to be what, in fact, they are not; that He accounts them to be otherwise than they are. It does by no means imply, that God judges concerning us contrary to the real nature of things; that He esteems us better than we really are, or believes us righteous when we are unrighteous.” (53).

This short passage indicates that Wesley is dissatisfied with the idea that God might view us as righteous on the basis of the righteousness of another. It would seem to imply, for Wesley, that God is somehow duped or made blind to the truth of what we are in and of ourselves. One recalls the language of being ‘hid’ in Christ, or the pithy statements of popular theology where someone might say that, “God doesn’t see us when he looks upon us, instead, he sees Jesus”.

So instead of opting for a kind of double imputation, Wesley opts for single imputation. The logical alternative is to say that we are proclaimed righteous, not in virtue of Christ’s righteousness being imputed to us, but by our sinfulness being imputed to him. By Christ’s death on the cross, he bears the judgement for sin, and since our sin is put to death on the cross we can be proclaimed forgiven, or justified, by God.

But this isn’t entirely sufficient. In fact, it suffers from the same difficulties as double-imputation. Christ pays the penalty for sins which he hasn’t actually committed. Jesus is seen as though he has in fact committed sin when he has not.

Notably, Wesley seems to have recognized this and instead of getting rid of the category of imputation altogether he tweaks the way in which it is used. Wesley writes,

“‘Blessed are they,’ saith he, ‘whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered: blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin’; To him that is justified or forgiven, God ‘will not impute sin‘ to his condemnation.” (53).

Rather than speaking of our sins being imputed to Christ, or his righteousness being imputed to us, we are justified because our sins are not imputed to us. God is aware of our sinfulness, but no longer holds that sin against us in virtue of Jesus’ work on the cross.

This raises a number of interesting questions surrounding the impact of this tweak on Wesley’s broader soteriology. If Jesus isn’t punished for our sin, does that entail an account of non-penal substitution? And, can Wesley still believe Christ’s sacrifice to be propitiatory as well as expiatory? I get the impression that the answer to both questions is “yes” for Wesley. If one holds that God’s wrath at sin is satisfied by Jesus’ death on the cross then whether that’s the result of penal or non-penal substitution Jesus’ sacrifice will remain propitiatory. Wesley writes,

“…for the sake of His well-beloved Son, of what He hath done and suffered for us, God now vouchsafes, on one only condition (which Himself also enables us to perform), both to remit the punishment due to our sins, to reinstate us in His favour, and to restore our dead souls to spiritual life, as the earnest of eternal life.” (52).

Interestingly, it is only now, having spent some time studying the doctrine of justification by faith that I’ve noticed Wesley’s careful use of theological terms in this regard. While I disagree with Wesley’s argument against double-imputation, it’s fun to be able to recognize some of Wesley’s subtle theological moves that I hadn’t seen before.

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