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What is death anyway?

R.C. Sproul has recently written against the notion that "God died on the cross".  Big topic.  Not gonna jump in with both feet here.  But allow me to dip a toe...

Just listen to this key paragraph in his argument:

If the being of God ceased for one second, the universe would disappear. It would pass out of existence, because nothing can exist apart from the sustaining power of God. If God dies, everything dies with Him. Obviously, then, God could not have perished on the cross.

Now ask yourself - what definition of death is being used by Sproul?  The bible's?  Or Bertrand Russell's?

In the bible, death is a realm over to which the Father has handed humanity in its rebellion.  It's a realm the Son enters so as to be firstborn from among it.

Where on earth do we get the idea that death = non-existence?

Who knows where Great Aunty Beatrice is, but she's not nowhere. Sproul knows that the dead do not cease to be.  But, like so many other theologians who discuss this issue, they use the theist's definition of God and the atheist's defintion of death.

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0 thoughts on “What is death anyway?

  1. Si

    If the Son did not die, then there's a 're-incarnation' on Easter Sunday, because the natures have been divided on Good Friday (really rather gnostic - the divine Christ floats off, leaving the human Jesus on the cross, hence "eloi, eloi..."). I cannot see how Sproul reconciles his view that the human bit of Christ died, but not the divine nature with this line from the Chalcedonian creed: "one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably" He's putting a division, a separation between the two natures of Christ.

    Now RC is a wise and godly man, with many more years studying theology, the Bible and church history than me, which gave me great concern that I might be a heretic. Thank you Glen for putting up a direct challenge. (Paul Blackham's second talk on 'Understanding the Cross' on Theology Network was also very helpful).

  2. Heather

    In the bible, death is a realm over to which the Father has handed humanity in its rebellion. It’s a realm the Son enters so as to be firstborn from among it.

    I've always understood that the Father literally turned His back on the Son, thus leaving Him completely without the fellowship that had always been enjoyed from eternity past. This carries over into the way I have viewed the concept of "death" and as well. In my mind, it is similar to what I've quoted you as saying above.

    I wouldn't mind you wading in a bit deeper as we get Jehovah's Witness visitations a couple times a year and (although they have not yet used this line on me), a favorite challenge I have read that they like to throw out is "If Jesus is God, and God died on the cross, who ran the universe for those three days He was in the grave?" The obvious answer is "God did", but I'm at a bit of a loss as to how best to approach that sort of protest in a way that does not create more confusion.

  3. Dev

    i'm still curious if on the cross it is separation between Father and Son, or a change of relationship between Father and Son

    and also, how does the first death (if it means separation of body and spirit) relate to the second death (if that does not mean separation, but a similar thing to what happens on the cross? ?

  4. Paul Huxley

    This kind of talk is why most Christians these days would be on Nestorius' side. Consider this argument that could well come from Sproul, given the logic above:

    The Son of God has existed from the very beginning, of one substance with the Father. So Mary, Jesus' mother can in no sense be called the mother of God, since she was born thousands (or more?) of years after the universe was made. So we can't call Mary 'Mother of God', but should call her the mother of the human nature of Jesus.

    Virtually indistinguishable from Nestorius, isn't it?

  5. Glen

    Hey Si,

    I guess RC would say he's upholding the "without confusion, without change" of Chalcedon. But as Paul says - apply the same logic of his argument to the "mother of God" phrase and you get Nestorius's position.

    Hi heather - in short form I'd tell the JW just what you quoted from my post. If I had longer I'd go into how Jesus in fact reigns from the tree. In my reading this morning I came across Psalm 2 "You have poured out (literally) your King on Zion" - the way in which Christ *is* established as cosmic ruler is in His cosmic sacrifice. Andf the way in which He is Firstborn from among even the great enemy death is by entering it. His sovereign rule as Son is upheld by His death.

    Hi Dev - I reckon 'realm in opposition to God' might be a more fundamental definition of death than 'separation of body and spirit' - just cos Adam dies the day he eats and the second death is bodily.

    Hi Paul - yeah I think in our circles we drift naturally into modalism (with trinity) and nestorianism (with christology). It's *very* pervasive.

  6. Si

    I guess that's always a problem where a creed tries to take the road between two opposites - the bits that reject one opposite (monophytism (one-nature) in this case) are used to justify the opposite (Nestorianism).

    I was definitely thinking about the last two adjectives being problemative when thinking about RC's Chalcedon compliance.

  7. John B

    While only dipping a toe, you really do get to the heart of the question!

    It's so easy to jump the fence into a modern scholasticism where we can find ourselves synthesizing Scripture and Bertrand Russell!

    In the Crucifixion Christ manifests the immutability of God, who omnipotently forgives and redeems his worshiping people. In the person of the Son, God enters time and creation, assuming our destiny, so as to accomplish his eternal purposes.

    At the Cross, in "the fullness of time", the Son of God obediently entered into our sufferings and identified himself with us by his death. In his dying Christ reconciles God and man, mercy and judgment, time and eternity; and in so doing establishes the foundation of the new creation. It was a very Good Friday indeed!

    Si, Thanks for the reference to the series of Paul Blackham audio talks. I'm greatly enjoying listening to these.

  8. cath

    That's two intricate questions cobbled together and bouncing off each other. (1) What does death mean? (2) In what sense did a divine person die on the cross?

    I don't have a huge stake in (1), and would appreciate your thoughts on this, but Sproul's response to (2), which was apparently the point of his article, is exactly right. It isn't Nestorian, and the logic with the Mary argument doesn't hold. The person who died on the cross was (is) both God and man, in two distinct natures, and one person: God cannot suffer, God cannot die, on the cross God did not suffer, God did not die; on the cross a divine person with a human nature both suffered and died, in his human nature. Or so the church has confessed, at least since Chalcedon :-)

  9. Paul Huxley

    Cath; I'm confused about how the logic you've given there can apply only to the cross and not to the incarnation. I may well be being thick, but I can't quite see your argument there.

    Also, according to what you've said above, God did not die or suffer (and cannot), but "a divine person with a human nature suffered and died". Does that divine person (Jesus) continue to be divine while suffering, dying and dead?

  10. cath

    Yes, Jesus continued to be divine while suffering, dying, dead, but he suffered, died, was dead, in his human nature.

    I'm a bit confused about the logic thing too now :-) Setting to one side the various hang-ups about the "the mother of God" terminology, in this context, you can say that the person who was born to Mary was a divine person, but she was not the mother of his divinity, only of his humanity. All I'm trying to say here is, it's a clear mistake to pick up on a mention of the distinction between the two natures and call it Nestorian, as if there wasn't an equally egregious heresy to beware of at the other extreme - namely, of confounding and confusing the two natures, attributing the properties of the human to the divine or vice versa. What is true of the one nature is true of the person, but what is true of the one nature is not always true of the other nature.

  11. Paul Huxley

    I'm with you there, Cath.

    For what it's worth, I can relate very well to Nestorius himself and I don't think calling Mary Mother of God is very helpful at all.

    I'm also not suggesting RC is Nestorian, but the kind of talk referred to above, and similar passages from other popular Reformed writers makes it very hard to see what's wrong with Nestorianism.

  12. cath

    Ok phew! Scribbling this out while i should be working on something else, hopefully not too snarky sounding.

    Will also try not to be too alarmed at shocking confession in last para - can't be healthy to relate terribly well to heretics can it ? :-)

    Westminster Larger Catechism, questions 38-40 - why it was necessary for the Mediator to be God, and to be man, and to be God and man in one person

  13. Glen

    Having dipped my big toe in, here are four more little toes. But that's all for now...

    1) "The words of the First and the Last who died..." (Rev 2:8).

    Scripture is certainly happy to speak of a divine person dying.

    2) We have to be very careful whenever we speak of what divinity cannot do. Always safer to speak of what divinity has done.

    3) We also have to be careful that we don't make our theological positions impregnable to Scripture. Of course every statement of the kind 'God died' could be referred to a 'human nature' (a 'human *nature*' Scripture never speaks of and Chalcedon never defines). But if we are committed to that practice then we are committed to disqualifying any contradicting Scriptural evidence from the very outset.

    4) Relatedly, if Jesus is the perfect revelation of divinity we have to be very careful we don't go behind His back to some *real* divinity by which we judge the humanity.

  14. John B

    When we look to the ecumenical councils for guidance on this question, I think we should include the Fifth and Sixth councils along with Chalcedon. The church deliberated these matters for over 200 years!

    Constantinople II asserted that God, one of the persons of the Trinity, died on the Cross; not only the human nature of Christ. The two natures are united in the one person of Christ. The council was clarifying Chalcedon, which some were interpreting in a Nestorian manner. On the Cross Christ was truly uniting God and man by demolishing the barrier of separation caused by sin.

    Like other christological questions, this one has been with the church for a very long time, and is often called "Cyril's Paradox". So we should be charitable, meek, and patient with one another in considering differences. There is profound mystery here.

    "We needed an incarnate God, a God put to death, that we might live." - Gregory the Theologian (329 - 391)

  15. Si

    I agree totally with John - it's a mystery. As Wesley follows the controversial line: "'Tis mystery all! The Immortal dies: Who can explore His strange design?"

    Chapter 3 of Athananius' 'On the Incarnation', which is entitled "The Death of Christ" is rather brilliant - obviously it's not inspired scripture, but it's got really good points for us - as far as I can see, he doesn't stray to the edges of the (later) Chalcedon ring fencing of orthodoxy, either making no distinction or making a division between the two natures.

    "He Who suffered thereon in the body was not man only, but Son of God and Savior of all."

    "The body of the Word, then, being a real human body, in spite of its having been uniquely formed from a virgin, was of itself mortal and, like other bodies, liable to death. But the indwelling of the Word loosed it from this natural liability, so that corruption could not touch it. Thus it happened that two opposite marvels took place at once: the death of all was consummated in the Lord's body; yet, because the Word was in it, death and corruption were in the same act utterly abolished. Wherefore, the Word, as I said, being Himself incapable of death, assumed a mortal body, that He might offer it as His own in place of all, and suffering for the sake of all through His union with it, "might bring to nought Him that had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might deliver them who all their lifetime were enslaved by the fear of death.""

    Deals with the two natures distinctly (earlier Athy discussed how Jesus' body didn't constrain the divine nature's omnipresence, as well as this discussion of mortality - the divine nature is immortal, and the human nature is mortal. For Athy, the whole point of the incarnation was to allow the immortal and eternal Son to die), but doesn't divide them - the whole person of Christ dies, not just the human nature, and for that reason, death is defeated and both natures come out the other side, raised and incorruptible.

  16. Heather

    So we should be charitable, meek, and patient with one another in considering differences. There is profound mystery here.

    I love this!

    I think Craig would be pretty tickled to overhear the kids enthusiastically discussing what they thought Dad does at work all day long, even if they were mostly wrong. Even when he explains, they don't really understand. The fact that they want to be with him and that they display respect and desire to obey is more important to him right now than whether they have him all figured out.

    Some day, they will likely be mature enough to better absorb the information and he's tolerant of their current childishness. However, even the ones who have a fair grasp of his work would be in big trouble if he caught them all throwing rocks at each other over their differences of understanding.

  17. Dev

    I reckon ‘realm in opposition to God’ might be a more fundamental definition of death than ’separation of body and spirit’ – just cos Adam dies the day he eats and the second death is bodily.

    __________________

    isn't the first death then also bodily? since there is a bodily separation from God

    so can I define death then as bodily separation from THE Spirit?

    it happens both in the death of Adam, the death of humans, the death of Christ, the 2nd death?

  18. Bobby Grow

    Yeah, Sproul is dead wrong. Arthur McGill offers an excellent discussion of death and life in his little book : "Death and Life: An American Theology." Not sure you Brits can read this book, since it is "an American Theology." ;-)

  19. Bobby Grow

    Glen,

    Halden recommended it to me, it is excellent; I think you would really like it. It's very pastoral, I'm sure there is stuff in there you could use from your pulpit.

  20. cath

    Do y'all mind if I chip in again?

    Re Glen's four toes, I think we're all agreed that a divine person died, but the question is whether Christ's death involved his deity as well as his humanity. So (2) asking what divinity "has done" is always going to be a different question from what Christ "has done", partly because Christ is a divine person with a human nature, meaning that he can do and has done things that the two other divine persons cannot; and partly because you can't say "Christ" and mean "God", as someone whose theology is trinitarian. What we know about the divine essence, from the scriptures, includes the fact that God is self-existent, eternal, immutable, omnipotent, and so on. Which we can also understand by saying that God cannot go out of existence (whether or not that's what death really is!), cannot undergo suffering, and so on. Christ, who is divine, died, but Christ, who is divine, was capable of experiencing death only because he is a divine person with a human nature.

    (3) Saying he had a human nature is only a terminological shorthand for saying he was really and truly man. It wouldn't be helpful to refer every statement about Christ to one or the other of his two natures - agreed. That way lieth Nestorianism (no offence to the man himself, perhaps, but his legacy wasn't the best).

    (4) The perfect revelation of divinity - okay but what does that really mean in detail? God the Father is not a man, God the Spirit is not a man: that's not what was revealed when God the Son became incarnate. What Jesus reveals about God in the incarnation is primarily that God forgives sinners - his revelation is all connected with redemption - holiness, sovereignty, omnipotence, love, mercy, grace. As a divine person, he shares with the Father and with the Spirit the attributes of being, infinity, eternity, immutability, etc (Westminster Shorter Catechism!). As the Redeemer, he was still possessed of all these attributes - he was still, to coin a phrase, a divine person. As he needed to be, "that he might sustain and keep the human nature from sinking...", but of course it was also requisite that he should be man, so that he would be able to obey and to suffer (Westminster Larger Catechism).

    One of the persons of the Trinity died on the cross (the one who has a human nature). God did not die on the cross.

  21. Glen

    Hi Cath,

    Don't mind you commenting at all. Really insightful, clear, relevant points. Thank you.

    I think I just come back to my original line - the difficulty lies in the marriage of a theist's definition of God and an atheist's definition of death.

    On the death thing - it's just so important to state that death does not equal non-existence for me. And I would hope that all Christians would agree to that, but I find that this obvious point gets forgotten in these debates.

    (Which I guess means that what we're really discussing here is impassibility)

    On the theist thing - I think theist baggage needs checking at the door when we're talking about the triune God. Or at least majorly re-conceiving. For instance, you say "God is self-existent" - well ok, if you mean the Three together. But each One is very much dependent on the others. The Son is not self-existent, He is Son. It might sound like I'm picking a nit far away from the centre of this debate - but I think it's pretty crucial. Arius began with a theist's definition of God (unbegotten) and then *had* to relegate Jesus to demi-god. But the fact the Son receives His life and being from the Father is not a diminution of His deity - it *is* His deity. He *passively* receives the Spirit from all eternity. He is acted upon - not only an active Subject but a receiving Object - but no less divine for it.

    The reciprocity, deferment, mutuality, give *and* take of the triune life makes us think of passibility/impassibility in radically different ways to the philosophical theist.

    I'd say more but it's just gone midnight and I fear that my second foot has now firmly splashed down

    :)

  22. Bobby Grow

    Glen,

    Again, I think your points are right on; we serve a Trinitarian God and this has specific implications for how we define everything else, including death.

    I would say death is reflects a situation wherein man lives in a "self-possessed" state; cutting himself off from "life," which is always a "received" reality (which is what the Trinity implies).

  23. Heather

    cath's comment tied my brain in a knot.

    Would it be considered lazy to just relegate the finer points of this topic to the realm of the "secret things that belong to the Lord alone" as per Deuteronomy 29:29?

  24. John B

    When Sproul rejects the notion that the second person of the Trinity died on the Cross, he seems to be in complete accord with the Westminster Confession and Catechisms, and is probably fully consistent with Calvin as well.

    On this particular point, Luther and Wesley align much more closely with the early church catholic as expressed in the councils. Luther taught deipassionism. In 1540 he said: “What Christ has suffered should also be attributed
    to God for they are one.”

    But this raises the question of the communication of attributes. That would require diving in head first! Can't get there dipping toes and feet!

    With Luther's Theology of the Cross, and Wesley's magnificent hymns, they present a rather compelling tandem!

    (John 10:17, 18) "...I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again..."

  25. Bobby Grow

    I don't agree, John. The communicatio might have something to add; but I think Glen's touchstone's on trinitarianism and the perichoretic relationship between Father, Son, and Spirit is "all in."

    I'm curious, how do you think the "communication" applies to this discussion; at least in the depth that you think?

  26. Bobby Grow

    It's people who are inward curved, and live lives of "self-possession" cut-off from the life of God which is necessarily "other-centric."

  27. Heather

    ...and John B's latest comment caused me to sprain something.

    So, I'm going to lamely ask what is wrong with defining "death" as separation from fellowship with God?

  28. Dev

    i'm going to go with heather so far...

    not separation from God

    but separation from fellowship with God

    a dead relationship does not mean that one of the 2 persons has vaporized

    - on one hand that other person might as well not be there
    - but if you bring the 2 together - then there is hatred - not nothingness

    death then would imply a change of relation with the Spirit of God

  29. John B

    Hi Bobby, I also agree entirely with Glen's latest comment here. I hadn't yet read his when I submitted my last one.

    Cath's comments got me to thinking again about Sproul's blog that was cited in the original post here. While disagreeing with his view on the death of God on the Cross, it seems to me that everything that Sproul says is in accord with Westminster (and probably Calvin as well).

    As Cath observed in her first comment here, there are two questions at issue: "(1) What does death mean? (2) In what sense did a divine person die on the cross?" Like Sproul and Cath, my particular interest is in the second question.

    Luther holds that in the Incarnation the deity of Christ is brought into personal union with his humanity such that the one undivided person enters into suffering and death; God suffers and dies in Christ. Sproul rejects this view as violating the deity's attribute of impassibility. And we now consider, is Luther saying that the natures are mixed? Is Sproul saying that they are divided?

  30. Heather

    Nothing, but I just think that requires more nuance; since that could both fit Sproul’s and Glen’s points

    Thanks Bobby. I was afraid of that. It's discussion like this that causes me to fear I must be too simplistic to really be a Christian :S

    But I have to wonder...whether (and in what manner) God "died" on the cross is a pretty central issue to the historic, orthodox Christian faith, yes? It's a great topic for those who love to draw out the subtleties and so forth.

    Yet, it's exactly the sort of question our kids ask when their around age five. And, the JW's who show up on my doorstep hold to some concept of annihilation of a person as opposed to eternal punishment. I need something honest yet fairly simple.

    When I read Hebrews 4:12, it says that For the Word of God is living and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing apart of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

    it appears that there is a third realm of human existence (the soul) which has not been mentioned here (I don't think).

    Genesis 2:7 says And Jehovah God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

    I'm guessing that the breath of life is "spirit"? If so, man exists in 3 parts, (body, spirit, soul)--does this represent man being made in God's image?

    According to Hebrews, only the Logos is powerful enough to divide soul from spirit. Did Christ have a human body, spirit and soul which was fully infused with Divinity--or was He human body and spirit with Divine soul?

    Maybe I'm just muddying the water here but I've read plenty of stuff about the two natures of Christ and speculation as to how that "works". And I've always wondered where that third realm of existence fits into these "two natures".

    Maybe this isn't the discussion into which I ought to insert that question.

  31. cath

    @ Glen - yes, it's impassibility. I know that's a term which strikes dread into many a heart, but with the right safeguards attached it's only (well, and fully) biblical. Our God is a strong and impregnable fortress, everlasting, all-mighty, in and of himself blessed for ever, and so on. Not impersonal and cold, but he loves eternally what he loves and hates eternally what he hates. Not static but dynamic, not impassive but without parts or passions, etc. What can't he do? He cannot lie and he cannot die! I very much appreciate your stance against the God of the theists (it would be boring to stick comments simply saying 'approve' to all your posts on the topic, but you can take them as read!) - the orthodox understanding of impassibility has to include, and does include, for example, the eternal fellowship and communion of love between the three persons of the Godhead, loving and being loved. It's just that the triune God is not vulnerable, not susceptible to attack from puny man or rebellious principalities and powers, not thwarted or made to feel small by any forces of evil. Eternally, the triune God deserves, and Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each deserve, what the church adoringly ascribes to him - the kingdom, the power, and the glory, for ever. When God the Son became man, this was no less true of him incarnate as before, when he was daily the Father's delight etc - if you'll forgive another Scotto-centric reference, as proof conclusive, if proof were needed, that i am not at all Texan, the 19th century theologian William Cunningham's epigram ran, "he did not cease to be what he was, when he became what he was not."

    On self-existence I remember you had a post a long time ago about whether the Son is self-existent, which at the time I was indefinably uncomfortable with, but because i haven't come to any firmer conclusions on the topic, I'm going to shamelessly avoid engaging on this one if you don't mind...

    Death is not non-existence - by all means, and fire away on this one!

    On Heather's queries on Hebrews - I'd also like to know what people think about body, soul, spirit - but on the two natures, i don't think either of the two alternatives are right. Ie, it's not that the human was infused with divinity, nor that the human had something divine. In my view (although I hesitate to offer it as a definitive answer on someone else's blog!) you have to start with the Trinity - three divine persons - then say that one of these eternal persons, fully divine, took a human body and soul (or body, soul, and spirit, as an alternative way of describing what a human nature consists of). That may not be the most inductive way of reasoning out the doctrine, but it's one of the most helpful for understanding (i think). His body and soul(+/-spirit) were fully and truly human, exactly like ours, except without sin. But a right understanding (in my view) depends on confessing that he was both fully God and fully man, with no part of his humanity becoming divine at all:
    "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" ... "two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation" (Chalcedon)

  32. Heather

    Thanks, Cath, for taking a stab at offering an answer :)

    But a right understanding (in my view) depends on confessing that he was both fully God and fully man, with no part of his humanity becoming divine at all:

    This is similar to what I've believed without having any theological training.

    It seems to be at odds with the Lutheran view. But, maybe I don't understand that one well enough. I understand that Luther believed more along the line of Christ having been fully human--yet thoroughly infused with the Divine--with the two intermingling. That is how I've understood what I've read and what John B appears to be saying.

  33. cath

    It's this "intermingling" thing that I'm just not happy about. I hardly know a thing about Luther - there's something about the Saviour's glorified body having the attributes of divinity, or something, so that consubstantiation is possible in the sacrament, but whether that means the Lutheran view is explicitly at odds with the confession on "without confusion, without change", I wouldn't know. The human and the divine are united, but it just sounds plain wrong (sorry) to say intermingled.

  34. Heather

    The human and the divine are united, but it just sounds plain wrong (sorry) to say intermingled.

    Doesn't offend me. I'm not overly familiar with Luther's view, either and am still trying to sort out where the different views are essentially the same--and where they part ways.

  35. Glen

    Hi Cath,

    You said: "the triune God is not vulnerable, not susceptible to attack from puny man or rebellious principalities and powers"

    Well, the Person of the Son is crushed by the Father (Is 53:10). And, in the Father's providence, it's the rod of men that is used to strike Him (2 Sam 7:14). The creation (under God!) does attack and overpower the Son. He is the Lamb - which means Victim. And at the centre of the throne for all eternity is the Sacrificial Victim (Rev 5:6; 7:17).

    Now obviously Jesus lays down His life and no-one takes it from Him (as John B has reminded us). But we don't honour this self-sacrifice by saying He wasn't *really* a victim. In fact (counter-intuitively) we honour His sovereign Lordship by saying He succeeded in doing what He set out to do, which was to die at the hands of His enemies.

    Anyway - I think Calvinist Peter Leithart says it much better than me in this post on Trinity and passibility:

    http://www.leithart.com/2009/12/15/passibility-and-providence/

    Enjoying the conversation - even if I don't have time to respond to everything.

    God bless

  36. Bobby Grow

    I think everyone should read J. N. D. Kelly's "Early Christian Doctrines," at least this would help clarify and define some of the terminology and issues be dealt with here.

    And if not Kelly then Thomas Torrance's "The Christian Doctrine of God, One Being Three Persons ".

    All of this stuff has already been hashed out in church history, why not become more familiar with that; and then proceed? :-)

  37. Heather

    All of this stuff has already been hashed out in church history, why not become more familiar with that; and then proceed?

    Or.... maybe those who have already read and can comprehend such works would be generous enough to translate and abbreviate so pea-brains like me can grab hold of these concepts also?

    Please?

    I do believe it would be quite Christ-like for the better-equipped among us to bend down and help pull the less-scholarly sorts (such as myself) out of the intellectual quagmire. :)

  38. Bobby Grow

    Heather,

    I don't think you give yourself enough credit. To try and hash this out in this format, except for how it's been done thus far, will be rather difficult; I think.

  39. John B

    I think that both Luther and Calvin complement each other and both of their perspectives are needed in the church. I don't say this just to have a Kumbaya moment. There's evidence that both of these men saw things this way themselves. But of course most of their successors didn't look at it that way at all. With great trepidation and foolishness, I now venture forth to submit a summary statement about Barth; I think that he performed the immense and invaluable work of synthesizing Luther and Calvin where they needed to be synthesized.

    On their own the Reformed never seem to get past the impassibility problem, as suggested by the Sproul post that started this thread. They're locked into an understanding of impassibility as an attribute that they impose upon God as a precondition. Luther accepts God as Christ reveals him on the Cross, including his impassibility, without preconditions. There's truth to the old cliche that the fountainhead of Calvin's theology is God's sovereignty, while Luther's faith flows from the Cross.

    But Luther clamps down so hard on the "communication of attributes" idea that he needs in order to understand the Cross, and then makes it his own precondition, which he imposes on God in his revelation of the Ascension of Christ to the throne of heaven. It's at this point that Calvin's scripturally disciplined view becomes so essential to the church. I like Luther for Christmas and Easter, and Calvin for Ascension Day and Pentecost. But I've not yet found a church where this mixing of attributes fits! ;-)

    The perspectives of both men are needed, but I think that in some cases the confessions concretized ideas that needed to be synthesized.

  40. Heather

    Bobby,

    I'm really not stupid--I know that. And I realize this isn't the place to draw out all the intricacies of this topic.

    We already discussed my issue on your site. What I meant here is that you, and Glen, too, are able to run in the high-thinking theological circles. There is a lot of important information about the Christian faith that not everyone has the intelligence, resources or time to research. You have had the opportunity to enter this realm and seem to even thrive on the stuff.

    Yet, you both can turn around and pass on in a more digestible manner that information to others who are not gifted in this area.

    Not all who comprehend these things can do this, Bobby. They happily recommend highly detailed books to each other and their discussion remains way above the heads of most people. It's nice for them but doesn't bring "average" believers into close contact with their deeper understanding.

    The church today needs more people who are both able and willing to bridge the gap between seminary level discussion and that which happens amongst family members around the dinner table.

  41. Glen

    Hey Heather,

    I think when Bobby said 'you don't give yourself enough credit' he was saying that you understand and can express a lot more than you acknowledge. We're all groping around for the right language and concepts on this one and the arguments are still going 2000 years on.

    I hesitate to 'boil the discussion down' just because Cath has presented a very cogent case that I don't want to dismiss in unfair caricature. But... well, here goes ;-)

    The question for me is: Can we say of the living God what we say of Christ crucified?

    John's given us a helpful synopsis of Luther and Calvin's perspectives.

    Luther would look at the cross and say "Whatever else we say about God - here's the crux of the matter: a suffering victim."

    Calvin would begin with the supreme sovereignty of God and say "Whatever else we see in the Man Jesus, God is not a victim."

    Personally I love John's synthesis of these perspectives when he said:

    "In the Crucifixion Christ manifests the immutability of God, who omnipotently forgives and redeems his worshiping people. In the person of the Son, God enters time and creation, assuming our destiny, so as to accomplish his eternal purposes.

    At the Cross, in “the fullness of time”, the Son of God obediently entered into our sufferings and identified himself with us by his death. In his dying Christ reconciles God and man, mercy and judgment, time and eternity; and in so doing establishes the foundation of the new creation. It was a very Good Friday indeed!"

  42. Heather

    John B said The perspectives of both men are needed, but I think that in some cases the confessions concretized ideas that needed to be synthesized.

    That makes sense.

    Perhaps human attempts at understanding (and possibly pride which won't allow for "the other guy" to be right) have historically created false dichotomy in some areas that we need to just accept by faith as being paradoxically true?

  43. Heather

    Glen,

    It's possible that's what Bobby meant. I know I can be dense, though and have learned to be extremely cautious about claiming to "know" something.

    I really do appreciate that you guys will take the time to simplify some of this stuff for me.

  44. Bobby Grow

    Heather,

    Glen's right, I just meant I think you understand and are more alert than you seem to intimate --- more of a compliment than anything else.

    I agree, a gap needs to bridged; blogging differently can start that, it's just a hard place to develop things too acutely, though.

  45. Heather

    Thanks for the clarification, Bobby. Sorry about the over-reaction.

    No pressure to change your blogging format. But if you ever decide to publish a book that brings some of this stuff into the "real life" arena, I'd like to hear about it ;)

    So, now I've offered a good living example of why Paul told the Corinthians that women are to keep silence in the churches....

  46. Glen

    Now, now Heather. You must stop doing yourself down like this - not to mention womankind! New comment rules for you: No more apologies, modesty, self-deprecation or flattery for the next 5 comments. Then we'll review things.

    :)

  47. cath

    Glen - the dear Redeemer was really a victim. It was real suffering. He was the suffering servant. His visage was marred more than that of any man. What contradiction of sinners he endured against himself. I believe all this and I am sorry that I didn't make this clearer. Isaiah 53, Psalm 22, Psalm 69.

    Nevertheless. This suffering was possible only because he took to himself a true body and a reasonable soul. As God, he could not suffer. The two reasons why the Redeemer had to be man, in order to accomplish redemption, were to be able to act in the nature that sinned, and to be able to undergo suffering.

    The Redeemer is God and man, in two distinct natures, and one person. He suffered in his human nature, but because of the hypostatic union, we can say that he-the-person suffered and died. The suffering and the death were real. But so too was his divinity, with all that that entails. Very God of very God, "at once complete in Godhood and complete in manhood".

    I know next to nothing about Luther, and I'm not terribly well read in Calvin either. My theology all comes from sitting in the pew, from the preaching of men whose confession is Westminster in the old-school Scottish context. The bark of "impassibility" is worse than its bite, and too easily caricatured as the product of the cold stoical brains of philosophers over-keen on the Greeks. The God who is most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, etc, is the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the true God and an everlasting King, King from everlasting to everlasting, possessed of all blessedness, glory, strength and might and sovereignty. See then how Christ humbled himself, this divine person, taking to himself a human nature, and coming to obey and suffer and die. The suffering servant, the everlasting King. Crucified in weakness, the Rock of Ages. Purging our sins, upholding all things by the word of his power. Ie: God and man, in two distinct natures, and one person, for ever.

  48. cath

    Leithart doesn't mention the incarnation in that link, or its implications, or indicate at all that the Son acting or being acted on in redemption has a human nature.

    Also saying that the Father offers the Son as a sin-offering is at odds with the (Westminster-inspired, old-school Scottish context) Calvinistic understanding that the Son offered himself, was the priest as well as the sacrifice.

  49. Heather

    Um. Okay.

    I'm still wondering about the two natures and the three realms of human existence.
    *************************************

    In response to Cath's statement, I tend to think that Christ was a willing victim. Totally in control of the situation at all times--yet quietly restraining Himself so as to accomplish His task.

    When He was arrested, He knocked the soldiers over with His admission of being I AM. Then, He told Pilate the only reason he had any power over Him is because it had been given to him. He gave up His spirit and died much more quickly than was apparently normal...

    He certainly did suffer. But it was a choice.
    He said He'd allow His creation to abuse and despise Him...and He did.

    Apparently, Luther and Calvin are both correct.

  50. Si

    John B "I think that both Luther and Calvin complement each other and both of their perspectives are needed in the church." - yay for the Anglican via media (which is between Lutheranism and Swiss Reformed (Calvin/Zwingli) far far more than between Catholic and Protestant in the Book of Common Prayer)!

    I picked up Grudem and looked at this issue - as far as I can see, a lot of this debate is a bit of a shibboleth - it's over terminology, not so much theology. Grudem says that what one nature does/is, the person of Christ does/is. So the person of Christ dies, because his human nature does and because the divine nature is omnipotent, Christ is. Grudem then goes on to say that titles from one nature apply to the person - you can say that Mary is the Mother of God because the human nature has a mother - Mary, thus Jesus has a mother: Mary and Jesus has a title, because he has a divine nature: God.

    In the same way, you can say 'God died', 'God suffered' and mean simply that the human nature of Jesus died and suffered (and likewise you could mean that the divine nature also died, or even that the Father and Spirit also died). Sproul is caught up with a shibboleth designed to catch out Nestorians, but I'm fairly sure, re-reading what he says, he's more confused by the language than falling towards a Nestorian view.

    ---

    Cath - "Nevertheless. This suffering was possible only because he took to himself a true body and a reasonable soul. As God, he could not suffer. The two reasons why the Redeemer had to be man, in order to accomplish redemption, were to be able to act in the nature that sinned, and to be able to undergo suffering."

    Amen - this is Athanasius' 'On the Incarnation', pretty much. The divine nature couldn't undergo corruption or death - a body was needed, a human nature was needed. I'm not sure that God can't undergo suffering, but it depends on what you mean. The Father suffered loss as man rebelled, and as his beloved Son suffered as the cup of God's (all three persons') wrath was poured out - not a changing suffering, but an aspect of his unchanging love.
    ---

    Cath - "It’s this “intermingling” thing that I’m just not happy about."

    the classic debate on the two natures - imagine some oil in a glass, and consider that the divine nature. Now add some water (representing the human nature), they are both together, but remain separate. Now do the same thing again, but with wine, not oil, as representing the divine nature - there are still two liquids there, mixed together, but you can't separate them. The oil view was Nestorian, and the other view was Chalcedon. I guess falling off the other side would be mixing two liquids and them chemically reacting, creating one new liquid. It's a matter of emphasis in Chalcedon we're looking at here - Sproul is emphasising the "inconfusedly, unchangeably" bit, hammering that in, and I (and others) have been emphasising, in response and counter-reaction on the "indivisibly, inseparably".

    ---

    Heather - "The church today needs more people who are both able and willing to bridge the gap between seminary level discussion and that which happens amongst family members around the dinner table."

    Amen and Amen! We need to 'Dig Down Deep', to steal a phrase from Josh Harris' new book. Theology matters, and the church is, in some parts, coming to realise that and in other parts sadly downplaying theology because they (rightly) want faith to be something that isn't just brains, but hearts as well (which is annoying for me, being in a church that somewhat is like this, as I'm wired up so that attempts to move my heart and not my brain just don't work - I just end up feeling nothing, or worse).

  51. Heather

    I'm still inclined to say that death is a result of being cut off from fellowship with God.

    In the absence of light, there is darkness.
    Separation from the only true Source of life would be death.
    Eternal, conscious separation would be an unbearable torment.

  52. Jacky

    death is like being in deep sleep (or is it the other way round?)!

    maybe there's something in that

    (i haven't been following the string of thoughts closely - someone may have mentioned this already)

  53. Glen

    Hi all,

    Yes Heather - cut off from fellowship with God is as good a definition of death as any. It fits Adam, Christ and the second death.

    As for body / soul / spirit - I think I'm tripartite (1 Thes 5:23) though I wouldn't die in a ditch over it.

    Cath - love your penultimate comment. I find it a tremendous improvement on Sproul's comment, though I'd hope Sproul might say the same things on another occasion.

    Leithart certainly mentions that the Son is incarnate and it's a key part of his argument to say that the womb of Mary is employed in the sending forth of the Son in the flesh. But "human nature" is not a key part of his argument - and that's really the point. Given trinity and given providence suffering really isn't a problem for divinity - it's not something that needs referring to a 'human nature' only.

    Let me question the notion that the incarnation is the only thing that allows a divine person to suffer. I'll question it in two ways:

    1) The pre-incarnate LORD at least *appears* passible in the OT. Very passible at times! I find Calvin very unconvincing on passages like Hosea 11. Invoking "anthropopathism" every time suffering is mentioned is yet another way of making a theological position impregnable to Scripture. In addition to this, we could simply look at the grieving of the Spirit. He has no "human nature" yet He is grieved.

    2) Even *if* incarnation is the only means by which a divine person suffers and even if He suffers only according to that assumed nature, it is still entirely right and proper to speak of the depths of the divine nature being moved by that same suffering. This is because of yet another reformed shibboleth: 'election.' From eternity the Father, Son and Spirit have chosen this kind of life. Pre-incarnation the Word has always been "Deus incarnandus" and post-incarnation He does not lose His humanity (again Calvin is extremely weak on this - and much of the reformed tradition following him). But to be truly reformed is to say that this incarnate life is *chosen* from the depths of eternity past and the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world will be the Lamb at the very centre of the throne for all eternity future. Not that the centre of the throne has an impassible God but we praise Him that He set forth a Lamb to help us get to the real centre. No the Lamb is at the centre - push through to the very depths of deity and you find the Sacrificial Victim.

    So even if you say *only* incarnation makes suffering possible for God, you're still left with the fact that God has eternally determined to be the incarnate (and therefore suffering) God.

    "The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life, only to take it up again." (John 10:17)

    And now I'm drowning...

  54. Heather

    So even if you say *only* incarnation makes suffering possible for God, you’re still left with the fact that God has eternally determined to be the incarnate (and therefore suffering) God.

    Would it be appropriate to consider human-ness to be in some way a facet of the inherent nature of the second Person of the Trininty?

    Glen, would you mind if I shoot you a quick e-mail concerning my comment probation?

  55. Glen

    Hey Heather -

    "Would it be appropriate to consider human-ness to be in some way a facet of the inherent nature of the second Person of the Trininty?"

    In line with the Bible, Nicea has pronounced Jesus of Nazareth of one being with the Father so Yes. Immanuel is His name not just a project of His :)

    And feel free to email me any time. You should know that I've set my spam filter to pick up any undue apologies, so I hope yours makes it through! :)

  56. woldeyesus

    If vanquished by "the God of the living", in Christ's death on the cross, death is only for the dead (Matt. 22:31-32; 26:64; 27: 50-56).

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