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Ok, so we've noted the danger of fiting Jesus into a pre-fab system of truth. We don't want to do that.  But Missy has asked the $64 000 question.  It's basically this: What do we do when speaking to a non-Christian - isn't it desirable at least sometimes to bring Christ to them according to their preferred programme??

I'm not going to be able to answer this very well.  But I'm just going to give some thoughts as they occur and then I'd love if others chimed in with how they go about this.

My first thought is this:  If we're doing evangelism then we are necessarily relating Christ to non-Christian thought-forms.  Even if all we do is read out the sermon on the mount it will be heard from within a pre-existing mindset.  What's more it will be heard as remarkably similar, if not completely continuous, with human philosophies.  Think about it.  We all live in a universe made by, through and for Christ and which proclaims Him in every detail. Everyone is working with the same conceptual raw materials and can do no other than come up with some re-arrangement of Christian truth.  When the pure stuff is brought to bear on discussion people will say 'Yeah, yeah.  That's just like X.'

But is it?  And is it ever true to say to a person 'You know it is just like X.  And I'll add Y and Z to your X and we'll build towards saving knowledge of Christ.'

Well let's think about the nature of truth.  Paul says we find truth in Christ - hidden in Him in fact (Eph 4:21; Col 2:3).  Jesus says He is truth (John 14:6) and even goes so far as to say that God's word (which He also calls 'truth') when not related to Him, leaves people in terrifying ignorance.  (John 5:39f; 17:17).

Truth is relative.  It stands in strict relation to Christ the Truth (good name for a blog I reckon).  His subjectivity is the one objectivity.  What is there outside of Him in Whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden?  Rearrangements of Christian reality yes - but because of that re-arrangement they are rendered blasphemous falsehoods.  The true test of a proposition is not its conformity to an abstract notion of reality or reason or scientific law.  The true test is its relatedness to Jesus.

It is simply not the case that discrete parcels of truth lie around the universe largely intact.  It is even less true that sinful humanity has some capacity (or inclination!) to assess these propositions, divorced as they are from Christ.  It's outright Pelagian heresy to imagine that such 'discrete propositions' and such 'objectively assessed' truth will lead a person to Christ.  Christ leads us into the truth.  Study of abstract truth does not lead us to Christ.

Now, what about non-Christian philosophies?  Can a Christian take a sentence from Homer (either Simpson or the poet!) on their lips and use it to testify to Christ?  Of course!  But in doing so they have vindicated Christ not Homer.  They have not given testimony to the rightness of that proposition in its own context.  They have commandeered it and pressed it into Christ's service - the service it should have always rendered.  This is precisely the language of 2 Corinthians 10:5 - taking every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ.

In this verse Paul paints the picture of these renegade 'thoughts' that have gone AWOL from Christ.  We arrest them and press them back into the Lord's service.  But what we don't do is grant these thoughts a civilian existence, as though they'll do the Lord's service no matter what uniform they're wearing.  No.  Either they're in obedience to Christ (explicitly wearing the uniform) or they're a pretension setting itself up against the knowledge of God (2 Cor 10:5).

Ok, but now we're back to the inescapable problem.  Here is a non-Christian with all their presupposed notions of truth that can only lead them to error.  Now here comes Christ the Truth.  And we've already conceded that the non-Christian cannot but hear Christ according to their presupposed notions.  So what do we do?

Well here's one tempting response.  Simply oppose everything they say.  They buy into post-modernism - we counter with modernism.  They're comfortable with irrational claims - we respond with rationalism.  They say 'truth is relative' - we insist 'truth is absolute.'  They indulge in immorality - we preach morality.  Well you may well get a discussion going.  But have you brought them to Christ?  Or to the 1950s?

Tim Keller ministers among the groovy lefties of Manhattan.  What's his approach?  Traditional religious values?  No, as he likes to say the bible is not left wing or right wing - it's from above.  Whatever we say into these debates must make that clear.

Another thought.  Jesus did not come onto the world stage addressing 'universal human concerns'.  He wasn't born into the Areopagus as the Ultimate Philosopher.   He did not open with: 'We all know the truth about relationships, money, power etc.  I've come to bring you the ultimate experience of these.'  No.  He comes specifically and almost exclusively onto the Jewish scene, addressing Jewish hopes and concerns.  He comes as Messiah into a very specific, encultered setting which He had been meticulously preparing for Himself for centuries.  A people had been formed, a law had been given, a land, kings, prophets, priests, the Scriptures.  And the understanding, ideals, hopes and problems of this people are actually quite strange to the natural ear.

They worried about ceremonial cleanness and atoning sacrifice; about land and exile; about Sabbath and the throne of David.  They were a particular people with particular patriarchs and a particular God called Yahweh who was (and is), among other things, their tribal deity.  They were concerned about His particular promises - His covenant - and their particular fulfilment.  The Jesus-shaped hole at the heart of Israel was a very peculiar shape indeed - at least to modern sensibilities.  It is, in many ways, very different to what contemporary evangelists consider as the Jesus-shaped hole of today's 'enquirer'.

And so when the LORD incarnate comes as His own Prophet, He does a couple of peculiar things that we modern evangelists don't really do.  First He comes in fulfilment of the Scriptures.  All the Gospel writers do this but Matthew especially introduces Jesus as the fulfilment of the Old Testament.  Here is the One at the centre of this history and this people and these hopes.  Do we present Jesus like that?

The other peculiar thing Jesus does is to begin by saying 'Repent and believe the gospel.'  That's not His punchline - that's His opener.  'Repent and believe the gospel' He commands.  And then He unpacks the life of the kingdom.  On those terms He speaks of relationships, money, power etc.  First the beatitudes - the gatehouse to the kingdom - then a description of this kingdom life.

What would evangelism look like that followed this pattern?  Something like this I think: "You've been speaking to me about love / freedom / fear / power / addiction / sexuality / abortion / capital punishment / healthcare / education / the state / animal rights / whatever.  Jesus has a lot to say on those issues but I'm going to have to back up from our discussion and give you a bird's eye view.  Let me give you the bible's view on X in three minutes."  If your friend isn't willing to do this then they're not willing to have a serious discussion anyway.  Present your biblical theology of the issue with Jesus at the centre.  Now Jesus is your non-negotiable.  He is the vantage point from which you address the subject.  He is not in question - everything else is.  Even use language like "For the sake of argument, work with me on this.  I'm describing Christ's universe - He made all things, He came into the world to reconcile them etc etc...  Doesn't that explain perfectly what we find when it comes to X?'

What you don't want to do is say 'X is absolutely true.  Now please investigate Jesus and I hope you find that He fits the criteria already established by X.'  I find Karl Barth's warning on this particularly salient:

The great danger of apologetics is “the domesticating of revelation… the process of making the Gospel respectable. When the Gospel is offered to man, and he stretches out his hand to receive it and takes it into his hand, an acute danger arises which is greater than the danger that he may not understand it and angrily reject it. The danger is that he may accept it and peacefully and at once make himself its lord and possessor, thus rendering it inoccuous, making that which chooses him something which he himself has chosen, which therefore comes to stand as such alongside all the other things that he can also choose, and therefore control.” (II/1, p141)

More Barth quotes here.

Anyway I've got a few more things to say but I've rambled on too long.  Maybe a worked example or two would help.  Perhaps that's what I'll blog next.

But I'll leave it there for now.  What do you think?

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The purpose of creation

In a key passage of De Incarnatione, Athanasius defines the purpose of creation:

…why should God have made them at all, if He had not intended them to know Him? But, in fact, the good God has given them a share in His own Image, that is, in our Lord Jesus Christ, and has made even themselves after the same Image and Likeness. Why? … [so that] they may be able to perceive the Image Absolute, that is the Word Himself, and through Him to apprehend the Father; which knowledge of their Maker is for men the only really happy and blessed life. (De incarn. 11)

The creature is willed by God out of His abundant goodness as the overflow of His triune life.

It is absolutely foundational to Athanasius’ doctrine of God that He is ‘good’.  On the Incarnation abounds with the ‘goodness’ and ‘sheer goodness’ of the ‘All-good God.’ E.g.:

For God is good—or rather, of all goodness He is Fountainhead, and it is impossible for one who is good to be mean or grudging about anything. Grudging existence to none therefore, He made all things out of nothing through His own Word, our Lord Jesus Christ. (De. Incarn. 3)

Athanasius' doctrine of God is a decidedly happy one!

Therefore from God's overflowing goodness, He does not will to be God alone.  And so the creature is brought into being, not in independence but in happy dependence to know God.  As one made after the true Image – the eternal Word – the proper destiny of man is to participate in the divine life.  Man, in union with Christ – who is "Man among men" – is to be taken up to the Father, by the Spirit, and so to participate in God.

This participation is described variously by the two:

For Irenaeus it's ‘passing into God’ (Adv. H., IV. 33.4.); being ‘promoted into God’ (Adv. H., III.19.1.).  And most famously he says:

Our Lord Jesus Christ… did, through His transcendent love, become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself. (Adv. H., V. pref.)

For Athanasius:

He, indeed, assumed humanity that we might become God.’ (De incarn., 54);

The Word became flesh in order both to offer this sacrifice and that we, participating in His Spirit, might be deified. (De Decret., ch 14)

What is the essence of this participation in God?  Obviously neither of the Bishops could speak of this deification in ethereal ways.  For theologians who look to Christ to see the fullness of deity, 'becoming God' couldn't possibly mean becoming less human.  Any more than Christ's becoming Man meant His becoming less God!  No, participation in God is not about dissolving into a divine stuff.  It's about participating in the relationships of the trinity - being loved by the Father in the Son and through the Spirit.

Listen to Irenaeus explain deification:

“Those who receive and bear the Spirit of God are led to the Word, that is to the Son.  But the Son takes them up and presents them to the Father, and the Father bestows incorruptibility.  Therefore one cannot see the Word of God without the Spirit, nor can anyone approach the Father without the Son.  For the Son is the knowledge of the Father, and knowledge of the Son of God is through the Holy Spirit.  But the Son, in accord with the Father’s good pleasure, graciously dispenses the Spirit to those to whom the Father wills it, and as the Father wills it.” (Demonstration. 7)

Participation in God does not mean participation in some omni-being of attributes.  It means being properly related to our triune Creator.

Creation has come out of the triune love of God and its goal is to be drawn back in.  Not in dissolution we must add.  Creation remains truly itself as it participates in the love that birthed it.  As all things are drawn by the Spirit under the feet of Christ, the world maintains - and actually achieves - its concrete otherness because the love of God does not dissolve but affirms distinction and difference.

But this is the goal of creation – many brought into God in the Son.

In the heresies we have met, the divine could not be divine in its engagement with the creation.  Nor could the creature attain to the divine without escaping the created.  Yet the Triune LORD’s relationship to the creation allows the Eternal Word to be Himself even as He works immanently in, with and through His world.  And we can truly participate in this triune God even as we live our creaturely lives.  We can be truly spiritual and truly physical all at once without falling off one side of the horse or the other.

The fall, though, threatens to thwart God’s goal.

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Creation

Where has creation come from?  There are three popular options.

1) Maybe it's come out of some problem in the heavenly realms.  Perhaps it's the body of a slain monster as in the Babylonian myth Enuma Elish - literally a monstrosity.  Perhaps, as the Gnostics would have it, creation arises after a member of the spiritual realm has been sin-binned for some misdemeanor.  Again, this being who is outside the spiritual constitutes creation.  Perhaps - a popular one today - it's arisen from explosions and endless struggle.  In these variations on a theme the underlying belief is that fall precedes creation and gives rise to it.

2) Another option is to say that creation has always existed.  It's just an immovable, eternal fact - godlike in its own right.  Here, if you believe in God, he's got his hands tied and basically does his best with the materials available.

3) A third option is to say creation is a matter of the will.  There is first a God (or some power or principle), and creation exists alongside as a demonstration of his power.  To get to the heart of all things is not to find a heart at all but only force.

Interestingly our modern creation myth is a synthesis of all these errors.  We are the result of explosions, chaos, death and struggle; God (if he exists) is a far-off clockmaker and really the only way to live in such a world is to acknowledge that might is right and propagate our selfish genes.

But there is another way to see creation.  And the trinity is crucial.

As Irenaeus and Athanasius saw it, the Father of all was first Father of the Son Whom He loves.  And this Father-Son love in the Spirit provides the key to understanding creation rightly.  Robert Jenson puts it well:

The Father’s love of the Son is... the possibility of creation.  Insofar as to be a creature is to be other than God, we may say that the Father’s love of the Son as other than himself is the possibility of creation’s otherness from God. (R.Jenson: Systematic Theology, vol 2, p48.)

The massive significance of this can be seen when we ask the question, what is it like to be 'other' than God?

With option 1) above, to be other than God is to be a cosmic embarrassment, the fruit of a defect.  With option 2) to be other than God means to be a cog in an impersonal machine.  With option 3) to be other than God is to be a slave.  But with the triune God, to be Other than God is to be beloved and included.

In eternity the Son has been Other to God.  He is the Father's eternal complement as Body to Head (1 Cor 11:3).  Otherness is therefore not competitive or defective but corresponding and desired.  And creation that is in Christ and through Christ and for Christ is the extension of this eternal love-for-otherness.  Colin Gunton says:

To create in the Son means to create by the mediation of the One who is the way of God out into that which is not Himself.  (Triune Creator, p144)

Before creation there was not nothing and there were not wars, there was a Loving Father eternally anointing His Son in the Spirit.  And as Irenaeus has said, that Son is called Christ "since through Him the Father anoints and adorns all things." (Demonstration §53)

That's worth meditating on!

For Irenaeus, even our individual formation in the womb comes through Christ.  (Ad. Her. IV.31.2; V.15.3)

The Father of Jesus brought all things into existence from nothing through His two hands – the Son and the Spirit, His Word and Wisdom.

For the hands of God in Scripture see, for e.g. Isaiah 48:13, 51:9; Psalm 98:1; Ezekiel 3:14,16; Daniel 5:5; 10:10f; Matthew 12:28; Luke 11:20.

So Irenaeus says:

This hand of God which formed us at the beginning, and which does form us in the womb, has in the last times sought us out who were lost, winning back His own, and taking up the lost sheep upon His shoulders, and with joy restoring it to the fold of life.  (Ad. Her. V.15.2);

And, because God is rational, he therefore created what is made by his Word, and, as God is Spirit, so he disposed everything by his Spirit. (Demonstration. 5.);

For with Him were always present the Word and Wisdom, the Son and the Spirit, by whom and in whom, freely and spontaneously, He made all things. (Ad. Her. IV.20.1)

On all these points, Athanasius was in agreement.

The key advance which Athanasius made with regard to a Christological doctrine of creation was his definitive differentiation between the Son’s eternal generation from the Father and creation’s in-time manufacture.  Irenaeus would surely have agreed with Athanasius on these points but he didn't have an Arius forcing him to articulate his position in quite the same way.

The issue arose because for Arius the world was willed by a God who is not essentially Father and therefore not essentially Lover.  The world is a product of will.  And Christ too is the off-shoot of this will since he must be made as a demi-god mediator in order to (somehow!) bridge the infinite otherness-gap of God and creation.  All of this is the absurdity of unitarianism.  Yet it was Arius who found trinitarian thinking absurd.

He would ask Athanasius, "Why do you say there was a time when creation began to exist, but not a time when the Son began to exist? What convincing distinction can be made between begetting and making?"

Athanasius answers that there is a crucial distinction between what is begotten and what is willed.  Paternity is a matter of essence, not will. As soon as a father has a son he is a father.  Therefore the Father has always been Father just as the Son has always existed.  Yet creating is a matter of will not essence – one can be a maker before one actually makes.  Therefore, just because God has always been Maker does not mean that there has always been something that is made (i.e. creation).

So creation has a beginning in time but the Son does not.  Jesus is the Father’s Son by nature (or essence), creation is God’s handiwork by will. He is Begotten not Made as the creed now says.

But here's the good bit - the Father has willed a commitment to the creation that is very much tied to His essential commitment to the Son.  The creature is lovingly and purposefully willed by the Father as that which is ‘after’ His eternal Image Whom He loves. His love for the creature corresponds to His love for the Son, for when He beholds the creation He delights ‘in seeing the works made after His own Image; even this rejoicing of God is on account of His own Image.’ (Contra Arianus. II.82)

Because of the mediation of the Son, creation could never be a matter of indifference to the Father.  The love with which He has loved the Son is now bound up in the world He has made for Him.  But precisely because it is for Him then Athanasius has successfully reversed Arius’ heretical proposition:

It is not He who was created for us, but we are created for Him. (Contra Arianus, II.31)

A properly trinitarian account of creation has therefore preserved the honour of Christ as Divine Creator but also the honour of the world as beloved creature.

Where have we gotten to?

I do not live in a monstrous reality arising from chaos.  I don't live in a grand, impersonal machine.  And I don't exist for the magnification of might.  I am from the Father, created purposefully out of His overflowing love through the Son, and - by the Spirit - for Him.

It's that "for Him" that's we'll discuss next time.  We will consider the purpose for creation.

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To know Christ is to know the ‘one Lord… through Whom all things came and through Whom we live.’ (1 Cor 8:6).  Therefore, without a Christological doctrine of creation, it is not simply that Christ’s work will be incomprehensible, Christ Himself will be blasphemed.

Thus, against the heresies of the sub-Apostolic era, it fell to theologians such as Irenaeus (c. 130 – c. 200) and Athanasius (c. 297 – 373) to uphold the continuity of creation and redemption.  They were able to do so precisely because, for them, Christ and His work was not a metaphysical conundrum to be solved - how can the Creator-Word become flesh? Instead, the Word-become-flesh was the Rock upon which they built (cf Col 2:8f; John 14:6; Matthew 11:25-27; Colossians 1:15; John 1:18)

Trevor Hart makes this analysis of Irenaeus:

[he made] the person of the Incarnate Son his dogmatic starting point, rather than the dualistic framework provided by the categories of Greek thought.

(T. Hart, ‘Irenaeus, recapitulation and physical redemption’, Christ in Our Place, Ed: Trevor Hart and Daniel Thimell, Paternoster, 1989. p.179)

Athanasius’ starting point is similarly Christocentric:

The first fact that you must grasp is this: the renewal of creation has been wrought by the Self-same Word Who made it in the beginning. There is thus no inconsistency between creation and salvation for the One Father has employed the same Agent for both works, effecting the salvation of the world through the same Word who made it in the beginning.  (De incarn. 1)

These men were not concerned to hold creation and redemption together in an abstract sense (so as to keep a balanced theological ledger).  Rather their commitment to Christ as Beginning and End of all things forced them to think through creation and redemption as the one divine work of the One Divine Word.  The Bishops of Lyon and Alexandria were therefore able to maintain the coherence of creation and redemption in Christ and therefore to guard the gospel that still speaks powerfully today into our confusions.

To begin with, we will look at the confusions of their day as the context for their theology.

 

Heresies

The early Church was assailed on all sides by those who divorced their understanding of Christ and His work from their understanding of the creator God.  Those heresies which were most pernicious were precisely those which insisted on the centrality of Christ to redemption.  Yet immediately the question must be raised ‘Redemption from what? And to what? And by Whom?’

The answers given by Marcion (c.80 – c. 160) were disturbing.  Christ saves us from the Creator God of the Old Testament who is bad (viz. involvement with creation), capricious, legalistic and not the Father of Jesus.  The death of Christ purchases salvation and His soul’s rising from death gives hope for our own soulish afterlife.

The Gnostic, Valentinus (in Rome from c. 136-165), provided Irenaeus with his chief ‘whipping boy’.  He taught that the creator is not the Supreme Being but, as Irenaeus caricatures, ‘the fruit of a defect’ existing in a long chain of deity (the pleroma) which kept the created order at a great (almost by definition, unbridgeable) distance.  Christ is simply one emanation from this pleroma (lit. 'fullness') as opposed to the One in Whom all the fullness of God dwells (Col 2:9).  He came to save the true pneumatikoi (the 'spiritual') from this material world through imparting secret gnosis ('knowledge').

Arius (c. 250 – c. 336), was perhaps the most serious threat to orthodox Christianity because his account of Christ’s saving work was so apparently Scriptural.  The ‘what’ of the cross was set forth plainly.  Yet the ‘Who’ of the cross proved the decisive error.  Arius committed the fundamental mistake outlined in the introduction – that of deciding his doctrines of God, of man and of creation in advance of considering the God-Man Creator.  For him, the Divine Being is unitary and without distinctions, must be un-begotten, can have no contact with creation and can never partake in human (i.e. changeable) existence.  Of course he could subscribe to none of these views if Christ were his dogmatic foundation. Thus it fell naturally to Athanasius, whose Christocentricity we have noted, to defeat this terrible heresy.

All of these heresies fail, not only on the point of Christ’s identity but also on the goal of His redemption.  And such failures have contemporary echoes.  If God and the created order are necessarily incompatible then you may have an earthy salvation but not true fellowship with God (think of Islam where paradise is exceedingly carnal but a place from which Allah is conspicuously absent).  On the other hand you might have a spiritual future but only by escaping the creation (think of Buddhism or the new age movement).  But how do you have both?

You need to affirm what Irenaeus and Athanasius saw so clearly: creation and salvation are part of the one divine work of the one divine Word.

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Famously Adolf Von Harnack asserted in the History of Dogma that much of Christian theology betrayed the “work of the Greek spirit on the soil of the gospel.”  Now to be fair, the old liberal didn't have much gospel himself but the observation has something to it.

On the one hand we have the Scriptures beginning with a very good creation, full of promises of land and seed and a Saviour taking flesh to renew heaven and earth.  On the other we have a Hellenizing spirit which pits body and soul, earth and heaven, time and eternity against each other.   When this spirit meets this gospel - and Harnack was right, this is a perennial danger - it always yields bad fruit.

But in this series I want to look at two towering exceptions in the history of theology - Irenaeus and Athanasius.  In their day they resisted ‘the Greek spirit’ and called the church back to the fertile soil of the gospel.  There they found the Fountainhead of those unities which escaped the philosophers of this age.  In Jesus Christ they saw creation and salvation held together as one work performed by one Word.  And from there flowed a unified account of all reality.

In our own day we would do well to hear their voices.  Because we too find it completely obvious to fall for the old dualisms.

In the realm of the body, we see self-harm and eating disorders, promiscuity and confusion over sexual identity, compulsive dieting and body-building, cosmetic surgery and gender re-assignment.  These are problems commonly found in the world but also in our churches.  We seem deeply uncomfortable with our bodily existence.

In the realm of the environment, we see the extremes of those who simply consume the earth and those who worship it.

In worship there are the ritualists who consider their sacramental practice to work ex opere operato and there are the low church minimalists running scared from anything physical.

And theologically, as we consider the relationship of creation and redemption, some mistake political harmony, social justice or economic liberation for salvation.  In reaction, some cut loose creation from salvation with an anti-physical gospel and an escapist eschatology.  And some will dissolve any final distinction between creation and redemption and opt for universalism.

In view of this, the proper co-ordination of creation and redemption (and its attendant co-ordinations of body and soul, time and eternity, etc, etc) is a vital task for us all.

Irenaeus and Athanasius are going to help us massively.  And they will help because they put Jesus Christ at the centre of their thinking.

More to come...

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PLEASE NOTE:  John Frame is not 'a baddie'.  It would be hard to find a contemporary systematic theologian as engaging, clear and humble-hearted as Frame.  He is very easy to like.  And my beef here is down to a certain way of doing trinitarian theology and a certain dislike of scholastic theology and of the doctrine of simplicity in particular.  Those views of mine probably make me the baddie in many minds.  But hopefully we can get beyond caricatures and affirm what is good, be challenged where we need challenging and keep sharpening our intellects and softening our hearts.

What started me thinking about Frame was a great post Pete's written against the idea of "balance": Balance is tritheistic.  We do not seek to walk a tightrope between divine sovereignty and human responsibility or between transcendence and immanence or between unitarianism and polytheism or between faith and works or between evangelism and social action or between any other supposed polarities. As Pete says, such thinking assumes that the 'many' are over against the 'one' - it's tritheistic.

To view this as a trinitarian question is exactly right.  But at one point Pete speaks of 'perspectivalism' as though it was doing the same job as trinitarian thinking.  I don't think it does.  From my reading of Frame, perspectivalism  stems from a consideration of the three Lordship attributes (authority, control, presence) and how they are ultimately identical in the simple divine essence.  What's more when this kind of triadic thinking is applied to the actual Trinity you get modalism (as Frame admits).  Perspectivalism is triadic.  But then Plato's god is triadic.  Allah has an eternal word and a spirit.  Triadic doesn't mean trinitarian.  And I think we're missing a major trick if we think we're being trinitarian every time we co-ordinate a group of three.  There are right and wrong ways to do it.

My fear is that if 'perpectivalism' is seen as the answer to 'balance', then tritheistic balance will just be replaced by modalistic balance.   Both modalism and tritheism share a concern to uphold the equal deity of the Three.  The tritheist does it by cutting them loose from one another while the modalist does it by equally smushing them into the same divine stuff.  Balance for the former means equal air time for the three separate entities.  Balance for the latter means blurring the distinctions and saying they're all deep down the same.

And both are as bad as each other.

Perichoresis on the other hand is the way the ultimate Triad relates.  And I believe this provides a far more helpful way to co-ordinate other relations.  Not least because perichoresis upholds the need for a starting point and a structure.  With perichoresis there is a Beginning and a Way.  And you have to get the Beginning right (you can't start just anywhere).  And you have to continue according to the Way (you can't proceed any old how).

To know God you must begin with Jesus illuminated by the Spirit as He reveals the Father.  That is the only beginning you can make.  Because there is an inherent and non-reversible structure to the relation.  And as you proceed in your knowledge of God your method will be determined by the concrete and asymmetrical (functional) hierarchy of Father, Son and Spirit.

Perspectivalism won't give you this.  If perspectivalism pure and simple is your guide then you are meant to look deep enough into God's 'presence' and you'll get his 'control' and 'authority' thrown in.  Or you'll look deep enough into his 'authority' and you'll see the other two.  Perspectivalism won't give you a starting point or a method.  Not in any hard and fast sense.

But that's a problem.  Because in so many of those polarities mentioned above there are right and wrong ways to relate them.

Take for instance the way Keller uses perspectivalism in preaching.  We need preaching that is doctrinal (normative), personal (existential) and culturally transformative (situational).  Now perspectivalism might be able to tell you to hit all three bases but, by itself, it won't allow you to have a priority nor give you a right method for how to co-ordinate them.  But, in my opinion, you can't just preach cultural transformation trusting that, in the end, this perspective will naturally include the other two.  Rather I'd want to make a strong case for proclaiming Christ's finished work extra nos and only then, on that basis, making personal and cultural applications.  There is a Beginning and a Way inherent to those relations. 

Pete also mentions the relation between evangelism and social action.  I have some very particular views on this relationship.  We must not simply balance up the two "like two wings of a bird" as some would have it.  There is a Beginning and a Way.  The Beginning is gospel proclamation.  And the Way to continue in that relation is under the banner of explicit gospelling. 

Perhaps my biggest beef is in the realm of theological method.  Frame assiduously avoids talk of 'starting points' in theology.  (I'm sure it sounds all too Barthian!)  The centre of theology is, for him, every word that proceeds from God's mouth.  Yet Scripture speaks of matters "of first importance" (1 Cor 15:1ff) and in particular Christ is set forward as the Way, the Truth, the Word, the Image, the Revealer, the Mystery, the Hiding Place of God's revelation (John 14:6; John 1:1-3; Col 1:15f; John 1:18; Col 2:8f; Matt 11:25-27).  There is a perichoretic structuring of revelation that cannot be ironed out.  In theology the Beginning and the Way is Christ or else you have nothing of God. 

I commonly hear people reacting against 'starting points' and 'christocentric methodology' and often this objection is registered with Frame's name somewhere on the horizon.  "Because of perspectivalism we shouldn't get too hung up on certain ways of approaching X, Y and Z."

That's a major, major pity.  And it's absolutely wrong.  The ultimate relational principle is not perspectivalism.  It's perichoresis.  And this gives us every reason to approach theology (and everything else!) expecting structure and hierarchy, beginnings and ways.  Our starting points and methodology are absolutely crucial - the trinitarian nature of reality guarantees it.

A fuller essay on Frame is here

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If you ever say Amen it's usually a response to what someone else has said or prayed, right?

And it's usually after what they've said, right?

And only if it's really good do you repeat it: 'Amen, Amen!', right?

So it's an affirmation that someone else has just spoken truth (Amen is straight from the Hebrew for truth).

But when Jesus comes along, what does He do?  He gives Amens to His own sayings: 30 times in Matthew alone!  And in John's Gospel He gives a double-Amen to 25 of His own teachings!

e.g. Amen, Amen I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life (John 5:24)

What's Jesus doing by prefacing His teaching with 'Amen, Amen'?  Well let me put words to what this means.  Jesus is basically saying:

"You don't stand in judgement on my word.  I won't even wait for your Amen.  Your Amen could only ever be the faint echo of my own Amen!  You do not and cannot stand in judgement on my word.  Before you've even heard a syllable of it, I tell you on my own authority that this is truth.  This is the only authentication or approval these words ever could or should have - my own.  This is true because I say it, not because you have some vantage point from which to assess these words.  Let my Amen recalibrate everything you consider to be truth.  You must simply accept my words as the gold standard of truth because it is I who speak them.  In short: It doesn't matter what you think - this is the truth, deal with it!"

Who speaks like this?  Only God's Faithful and True Amen (Rev 3:14).

Imagine if our bible reading, our theology, our apologetics, our Christian obedience was shaped, not by whether we thought in all good conscience we could give our Amen to Christ?  What if we stopped trying to assess Christ's word with our Amens and instead simply received His Amen in glad submission?

May we hear His word in the Spirit in which it was spoken - as truth itself. (John 17:17)

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  1. Through Christ, the Triune God has already revealed Himself unmistakably in every aspect of creation so that humanity is without excuse.
  2. Against Christ, humanity has taken knowledge into its own hands and so barred the door against all claims from above.
  3. In view of Christ, God has handed humanity over to its chosen futility, locking the door from His side too.
  4. In Christ, God has entered this prison and manifested His eternal glory in time and space, even in human flesh.
  5. As Christ, humanity now has a perfect mind with which to comprehend God (and everything else) - one that is not only human but also in God.
  6. Out of Christ, His Spirit has been poured to incorporate us into the Man who knows.

This is what has already happened.

Here's what happens when we forget 1:

We think:

  • That the universe is basically mute (when actually it's preaching day and night)
  • That humanity is not really deaf - they're listening hard but the sermon's too quiet
  • That we, therefore, have to piece together proofs to amplify the sermon
  • That 'evidence' for God exists only in some limited aspects of the creation (e.g. fine-tuning)
  • That there are certain obvious pointers to "God" but 'Jesus' and 'Trinity' are actually pretty obscure
  • Therefore, that evangelism is a three-part process from creation to God to Jesus. (It's the very opposite!)

Here's what happens when we forget 2:

We think:

  • That humanity (or at least some humans) are actually truth seekers
  • That the mind is somehow less fallen than the rest of the person (rather than the centre of our enmity)
  • That fallen humanity is genuinely questing after the capital-T Truth when it makes its enquiries
  • That the way forward is to agree to their own systems of truth verification
  • Therefore that we need to find 'evidence' to submit to their systems

Here's what happens when we forget 3:

We think:

  • Perhaps if our faulty grasping after knowledge was the problem, our true grasping after knowledge will be the solution. (Instead we should realize that the grasping was the problem!)
  • If we now reason properly we can reverse the fall. (But no, God has confirmed our decision and locked the door from His side).
  • Maybe God is pleased by our efforts to ascend to knowledge (rather than thwarting them - catching the 'wise' in their craftiness)
  • Maybe God will aid our efforts to shepherd an unbeliever up the mountain. (In His grace, He might aid the unbeliever but not our efforts)

Here's what happens when we forget 4:

We think:

  • Christ is the cherry on the epistemological cake.
  • We can (or even should) should reason from creation to Christ (rather than Christ to creation).
  • Christ is one relevation among many (rather than the one Lens through which all must be seen)

Here's what happens when we forget 5:

We think:

  • There remains within Adamic humanity a capacity for knowing God (rather than realizing that this capacity lies in Christ alone).
  • That the quality of our conversion, or ongoing knowledge of God, finally depends on our own reasoned response to God.  (At base it relies on Christ's reasoned response to God).
  • Christians are rational individuals raised to a higher intellectual plain (rather than fools united to a Person who is Wisdom).
  • Once we have come to Christ we can know God autonomously.  (No, only in Him by the Spirit can we go on knowing God)

Here's what happens when we forget 6:

We think:

  • Maybe we need Jesus to bring us to God, but it's up to us to get to Jesus.  (No, it's the sovereign work of the Spirit through the gospel word).
  • Maybe there are ways and means to get to Jesus apart from the Spirit-empowered word.  (No.  While the whole universe screams 'Jesus is Lord', the Spirit unblinds our eyes to these things only as He shows us Christ in the word).

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So then, these six events have already happened.  Acting like they haven't happened or they need bolstering by our own efforts betrays the gospel that we proclaim.

The only thing that needs to happen now and the only thing that can happen now to remedy our situation is for the Spirit to sweep the unbeliever up into the Son's knowledge of the Father.

And, lest we divorce the Spirit from the word, the only means by which the Spirit does that is the gospel word.

So get proclaiming.

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I'm always banging on about the trinity here.

One thing I particularly emphasize is the fact that the distinct Persons maintain their distinct-ness in the unity of the Godhead because this unity is the perichoresis (mutual indwelling) of the Persons.  In fact the distinct-ness is upheld in these relations.  The Father is truly Father because of His paternal relation to the Son in the Spirit etc, etc. God's One-ness does not steamroller the distinctions, it's a One-ness that includes (and is even constituted by) this mutual, interlocking one-ness.  (Just click the Trinity tag on my sidebar and you'll soon come across many such posts).

One implication is this: We can all just breathe a sigh of relief and let Jesus be Jesus.

What do I mean by that?  Well let me ask a few questions.  When you read the Gospels, do you ever wonder:

  • Why doesn't Jesus just say 'I am God'?  Why all this 'I am sent...' stuff?
  • Why does Jesus keep saying things like: 'I can do nothing by myself'? (e.g John 5:19,30)
  • How come Jesus sleeps?
  • How come Jesus doesn't know when He's returning?

He seems to walk around doing divine things (like forgiving sins), but at the same time He seems to go out of His way to show how dependent He is.  Think about the paralytic in Matthew 9. He forgives his sins - which only God can do (v3) - but He does so as the Son of Man (v6) and the overwhelming reaction of the people is to glorify God for giving such authority to men. (v8)  Even the most blatantly divine action is done in a distinctly human and dependent way.

Do we get worried about Jesus' weakness which comes out of every page of the Gospels?  Are we concerned that Jesus doesn't say "I am God"?  Instead He seems most often to claim a dependence on God and He walks around unashamedly humanly, showing Himself to be a complement (not a clone) of the One He calls Father.

Does this infuritate us as we seek to prove from the Scriptures the divinity of Jesus??  It shouldn't do.

It is a revelation of His divine nature (and not a concealment) that we see in Jesus such dependence on the Father.  When He says 'I am sent' it reveals His divine nature as the eternal Son of the Father.  When He says 'I can do nothing' it reveals His divine nature as the eternal Servant of the LORD.  When He sleeps it reveals His divine nature as One dependent upon the ever-wakeful Father.  When He says He doesn't know when He's returning He reveals His divine nature as One sent from God.  He waits on the Father's command and does not initiate His first or second coming.

He really can't do anything by Himself.  He really does sleep.  He really doesn't know when He's returning.  But for all that He is no less divine.   For He belongs to the other Members and as the dependant Son, filled without measure with the omnipotent Spirit, He is a full participant in the communion that is God.

We don't need to assign these differences in Jesus to some 'human nature' locked off from a special sphere of uncorrupted, independent deity.  Jesus' deity is not insulated from these differences, it includes them.  It is the human Jesus who says 'If you've seen me you've seen the Father.'  It is the human Jesus who says 'Son, your sins are forgiven.'  In His differences, even in His complete humanity, He is the living God.

His divinity is on show on every page of the Scriptures because His divinity is His anointing with the Spirit and consecration to the Father.  That's why the key title for Jesus is not "God" but "the Christ, the Son of God."  This title is the most clear expression of His divinity.

So let's let Him be who He is in the Gospels.  Let's not fit Him into some pre-conceived notions of divinity.  Let's let Jesus be Jesus.

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