Dedicated to the devotional, exegetical and philosophical study of theological paradox in Conservative, Thoroughly Biblical, Historically Orthodox, Essentially Reformed theology . . . to the glory of God alone!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Taking the Mystery Out of the Incarnation? Not Recommended.

This is interesting . . .

With all due respect to Dr. Moreland, there are some problems here.

First, on the positive side, and in agreement with Dr. Moreland, we must affirm that Scripture's propositions are ultimately logically coherent. No problem there. However, Moreland's exaltation of human reason is unhelpful. To affirm that God is logical is not equal to affirming that we can discover the logic by which God knows the Truth to be coherent. This claim would be the height of arrogance.

Next, the Church Fathers were NOT so committed to logic that they worked for 400 years to give us a non-contradictory result. They were so committed to Scripture that they worked for 400 years to give us a paradoxical result! That is, a result which might appear contradictory to us, and surely defies the limitations of human logic, but is nonetheless true.

During the 400 years prior to Chalcedon, there were plenty of "logical" approaches offered:
Docetism - taught that Christ only appeared to be man
Ebionism - taught that Christ was a holy man who kept the law
Sabellianism - taught that Christ was the Father incarnate, but only temporarily
Paul of Samosata - taught that Christ was a mere man influenced by God
Arianism - taught that Christ was more than man but less than God
Apollinarianism - taught that Christ was a compromise mixture of divinity and humanity
Nestorianism - taught that Christ was two persons, one divine and the other human
Eutychianism - taught that Christ's humanity was simply absorbed into His deity
(See Martin Bleby, The Incarnation of the Son of God, p. 19) 
None of these "logical" approaches were willing to go the whole way and affirm what is undeniably taught in Scripture. Each of them was correctly labeled heresy as a result!

Then there was the Council of Chalcedon, which concluded that Christ was ONE PERSON with TWO NATURES, the one nature divine and the other human, and that these two natures now coexist perfectly (and we might add "unfathomably") in the ONE PERSON. There is a certain logic to this, to be sure, but endless truckloads of mystery as well!

Moreland ignores the fact that there are ways in which the logical faith we profess might appear, to us, to be illogical. He pays no attention to the next obvious question: How can this One Person with two natures be both Creator and creature, omniscient and ignorant, omnipresent and localized, omnipotent and powerless, at the very same time? Any attempt to gut the paradoxicality from the doctrine of the Incarnation is shortsighted and doomed to be unsuccessful. Read over the Definition of Chalcedon once or twice, and see if Moreland's rationalistic assumptions are supported there:
Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the fathers has handed down to us. (Definition of Chalcedon, 451 A.D.)
The Church Fathers who arrived at these conclusions were obviously not rationalists trying to explain their statements in a way that could never be perceived as paradoxical. They boldly exalted the Word of God above human logic. Today's apologists ought to do the same, without hesitation.

Moreland seems to be trying to paint Christian faith in a way that will appeal to rationalists. He attempts to convince them of the truth of Christianity while leaving their unchristian presuppositions intact. Instead, he ought to call them to humble themselves in admitting that there are truths which their best logic will never fully grasp. He should counsel them to repent of their rationalism and hold fast to the words of their Creator. This is their only hope, after all.

Bearing in mind that Moreland is a philosopher by trade, I applaud his willingness to go out and act as an apologist for the faith, address difficult questions, engage with those who are hostile to Christianity, and generally promote an orthodox viewpoint. At the same time, he should not allow the pressures of debate to skew his presentation.

In our estimation, the approach taken by Geoffrey Bingham is much wiser, though far less satisfying to the idolization of logic which is ever present in human hearts:

What has always been difficult to understand is how the deity
and the humanity of the Son subsist in the one person Of Jesus
Christ. Understanding is difficult because we have no precedent
in human history, and no parallel in creation. When it comes to
the work of Christ, we must affirm two things clearly:  
(a) all that the Son did upon earth, he did as man. That is– as is
indicated in Acts 10:38, Matthew 12:28 and similar passages–he
was anointed with the Holy Spirit and power, and so did the
works given to him to do;
(b) whilst not effecting these works from the resources of his
own deity, he was nevertheless Emmanuel, i.e. ‘God–with–us’, or
‘God–become–man’. We might wish to refer to the  kenosis  of
Philippians 2:5–8 (i.e. his self–emptying), as a setting aside of the
prerogatives and powers of his deity, but these must certainly
have continued as he still had to uphold the creation (Col. 1:17;
Heb. 1:3).  
Since we do not understand how deity and humanity exist
together, we must remain agnostic on that score. We must
emphasise, however, that he was  truly man, and not merely the
appearance (or charade) of a man.
(Things We Firmly Believe, pp. 57-58)
Let us therefore hold fast to the ever-paradoxical Truth of the Incarnation of the Son of God. Let us not attempt to re-frame it in more palatable terms for the sake of impressing logic-worshipers. Let us adore and worship the eternal LOGOS of God, who is beyond us, above us, and--thanks to the incredible Incarnation--WITH US!

Dear friends, have a very Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

An Outline of Biblical Christology

The Lord has graciously allowed me the opportunity to teach a class on the Incarnation. What a grand topic!  The outline below was developed to help view the Incarnation in its wider theological context. You may find it useful for your own edification and Gospel meditation, and perhaps also for study and teaching. 

This type of systematic Biblical study highlights the fact that the doctrine of the Incarnation is dependent upon the doctrine of the Trinity; the doctrine of the Cross is dependent upon both the Trinity and the Incarnation; the doctrine of Christ's Final Victory is dependent upon the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the Cross. And the doctrines of Salvation, Sanctification, and Glorification are inextricably tied to all of the foregoing. In other words, if Christ was not God and Man, and Suffering and Victorious, we would have no hope. Thank God He IS, and therefore we DO!


      I.        I. Pre-Incarnate Glory
And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed. (Jn 17:5)
a.     Divinity
… the Word was with God, and the Word was God (Jn. 1:1); He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature (Heb. 1:3)
b.    Sonship
… He gave His only Son … (Jn. 3:16)
c.     Work as Creator
For by Him all things were created … all things were created through Him and for Him (Col.1:16)
d.    Revelation as Messiah
Immanuel (Isa. 7:14); A Prophet like Moses (Deut. 18:15-19); The seed of the woman who will crush the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15)
See also Isa. 9:6; Mic. 5:2; Ps. 45:6-7
    II.        II. Earthly Life (Humiliation)
            He was manifested in the flesh … (I Tim. 3:16); But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman … (Gal. 4:4)
a.     Virgin Birth
Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son … (Isa. 7:14, Mt. 1:23); … for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit (Mt. 1:20); … the angel answered her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God (Lk 1:35)
b.    Humanity
Since … the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise partook of the same things (Heb. 2:14); And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us … (Jn. 1:14); … the man Christ Jesus (I Tim. 2:5)
                                                    i.    Suffering
Despised and rejected … a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief (Isa. 53:3); … He learned obedience through what He suffered (Heb. 5:8)
                                                  ii.    Temptation
… One who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15)
c.     Holiness & Sinlessness
 We… have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. (Heb. 7:26)
                                                    i.    Innocence from Evil
… who knew no sin (II Cor. 5:21); He had done no violence … there was no deceit in His mouth (Isa. 53:9); … in Him there is no sin (I Jn. 3:5)
                                                  ii.    Practice of Good Works
… how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. (Acts 10:38)
                                                 iii.    Faith & Devotion to the Will of God
In the days of His flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to Him who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverence. (Heb.5:7); … continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly (I Pet. 2:23)
d.    Sacrificial Death
He has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself (Heb. 9:26); Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Eph. 5:2)
                                                    i.    Shedding of Blood
… the church of God, which He obtained with His own blood (Acts 20:28)
                                                  ii.    Bearing of Sin, Guilt & Wrath
He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree (I Pet. 2:24); … the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isa.53:6)
                                                 iii.    Vicarious, Substitutionary Atonement Accomplished by His death
… who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness (Titus 2:14); It is finished (Jn. 19:30)
   III.        III. Ultimate Glorification (Exaltation)
Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name (Php. 2:9); … that in everything He might be preeminent (Col. 1:18)
a.     Resurrection from the Dead
God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it (Acts 2:24)
b.    Ascension into Heaven
He … was carried up into heaven (Lk. 24:51); … He was lifted up, and a cloud took Him out of their sight (Acts 1:9)
c.     Enthronement at the Right Hand of the Father
We have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven (Heb. 8:1)
When Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God (Heb. 10:12)
d.    Intercession & Mediation for Believers
… He is the mediator of a new covenant (Heb. 9:15); … there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus (I Tim. 2:5); He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them (Heb. 7:25)
e.     Second Coming & Final Victory
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself.  (Php. 3:20-21)