Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Drinking From The Deep Creedal Wells: Nicaea, Christology, and Salvation-History

This is intended as a reflection on the Creeds in Relation to New Testament Christology and the Christian Life

In reflecting upon this past quarter, one is hard pressed to consider a topic more pressing and pertinent than Christology. The topics of the virgin birth, subordinationism, and Christ’ sinlessness—or inability to sin—are persistently being debated in academic institutions and seminaries, with little end in sight. Often the relationship between theoretical dogma and ordinary life is overlooked, as the academic world and pastoral ministry can be seen as at odds with each other. However, in light of the Christian existence and the need to actually live a life based upon Scripture, one then needs to know the Scriptural reciprocity Scripture and the Creeds. The goal of this paper is to reflect upon the nature and witness of the Creeds for New Testament Christology, and the implications for daily life in the Church.

The Creeds of Nicaea (325AD) and Nicene-Constantinopolitan (381AD) are considered a vital part of the Church’s historical testimony. I confess that I had never read either Creed in its entirety until this past quarter, so perusing the ancient literature provided a theological jolt that would press anyone into more serious study. Thus, there are three crucial issues one may find within the Creeds that present Christian theology with some measure of doctrinal preeminence.

First, the Creeds have centralized key doctrinal issues that most consider to be top tier. For example, Christ’s equality with God the Father, his preexistence, virgin birth, death, and resurrection. Second tier subjects such as church government, differing views on eschatology (eternal conscious punishment or annihilationism), and even the inerrancy of Scripture are not present in any of the early Creeds—although baptism appears quite prominently as a feature as the universal church favors “one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.” This of course does not mean the aforementioned doctrines are not important doctrines—far from it! —But rather the early church did not view them in an ‘essentialist’ manner. Christology was—and is—more important than Christian views of church and government. So, in a way, this Creedal first order has helped provide an essential result of the basics of Christian orthodoxy, confirmed by Paul (1 Cor. 15:1-4 and passim) as Christ’s bodily resurrection from the dead.

Second, the Creeds have really teased out a lot of the theological themes in the New Testament. A classic example is the doctrine of the Trinity. Nowhere in the New Testament—disregarding the textual interpolation in 1 John 5:7-8—is the doctrine of the Trinity clearly and systematically laid out in a manner that would provide unequivocal support. However, given the data regarding Jesus’ divinity (John 5:18; 10:30), some form of his preexistence (1 Cor. 10:4; Col. 1:15-20), his equality with God (Phil. 2:6-7), and his possibly being called God (θεὸς in Rom. 9:5; c.f. Titus 2:13 if by Paul) all offer some strong possible glimpses of the relationship within the Godhead, or as Richard Bauckham says, “the divine identity.” The inclusion of Christ and the Holy Spirit in the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20 is a classic example of an early proto-Trinitarian doxology (c.f. 1 Cor. 12:4-6). Christ is also spoken about in the same way as YHWH, where 2 Thess. 1:8-9 speaks of “the Lord Jesus from Heaven” (τοῦ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ ἀπ᾿ οὐρανοῦ) in the same way YHWH is spoken of in the Old Testament (c.f. Isaiah 66:15-16), bringing judgment upon the oppressors of the church. This all seems to culminate in our fulfilled affirmation of Christ:

“And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all things, Light of Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one substance/being with the Father.”
This teasing of doctrine out of the New Testament is helpful, insofar as it finds common threads among the diverse authors of Scripture and manages to intertwine them in an embroidery—an embroidery that illustrates the beauty of Scripture as she dances throughout history, leaving footprints in the sands of time for us to follow.

Third and finally, the Creeds place a definitive capstone on the salvation-history narrative that Scripture seems to point towards. They tell the story of the preexistence and consubstantial Son who was sent into the world “who for us [humans], and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made [human].” In a world driven by personal and corporate narrative and the accumulation of particular experiences, this salvation story offers humanity a glimpse into the divine reality. This narrative categorically rejects other competing narratives, such as sexual, racial, and economic exploitation in favor of a life of humbleness and service. It tells a story of God waging a war against the forces of evil and death, being subjected to these forces in a state of humiliation, and rising in triumph over the grave. It assumes the unity of the holy Catholic Church (Eastern, Roman, Protestant), and where we place our hope: in the resurrection of the dead and in the life of the world to come. It is to stand with the Prophets of old who denounce injustice and corruption, whether secular or religious. It presents to us an ecologically minded framework for the care of the earth, as this earth was given by God the Father through Christ (1 Cor. 8:4-6), and thus demands our care as viceroys, as caretakers. It confirms the unique humanity of both male and female, as Christ died for “us humans” (ἀνθρώπους) and was made human for us (ἐνανθρωπήσαντα), that neither male nor female are excluded from the drama of redemption.

This new creation under the reign of the eternal Godhead will have no end. Thus, fear is no longer a necessity, but a memorial. Our salvation narrative ultimately trusts in the final defeat, abolition, and annihilation of evil and death. It proclaims hope for the dearly departed in Christ, and requires our action within this very page-turning narrative. It is a call for holy living ‘in Christ’ where we place ourselves within his paradigm and partake in his church. Ours is a pursuit of theosis, a dance towards the divine, nearing a place where the streets have no name. It is the rejection of darkness and an assumption of never ending light (Rev. 21:25), where God dwells with mortals (Rev. 21:3).

The richness of the Christian tradition is indeed a comfort for many, offering to us chances of reflection and refinement as we seek to offer our faith in an increasingly unique and challenging world. The Creeds offer us a chance to offer a concise look at this faith, with its potential and implications for the future. It demands allegiance in a military manner, and confirms our trust in the working out of our lives with fear and trembling. It calls us to think of the future as an approaching reality, not as a distant unattainable goal. Our τέλος requires working towards this now. This is why we exhort people to now be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5), and why we proclaim his coming—where he is both Judge and King. 

The Creeds thus are relevant, necessary, and vital to the Christian understanding of God and our understanding of how we relate to the world. 


Thursday, March 12, 2015

Born of a Woman

This was written for Oliver Crisp's course. I'm actually not a huge fan of this paper, and have plenty to improve upon. In my defense, I had less time than I would have liked to prepare this project, and I had an extra few thousand words that I wanted to include. So if this feels trimmed, that is likely why.


The Coherence of Preexistence and the Virgin Birth in Pauline Theology 

For many, the doctrine of the virgin birth (VB) is a clear testimony found in the New Testament, but for others it is a conundrum—whether it is for scientific or doctrinal reasons. The theological issues continue when St. Paul’s affirmations of the preexistence (PE) of the Son of God arise in the New Testament. When many theologians view VB and PE side by side, both doctrines become remarkably difficult to embrace. This paper endeavors to explanation how the doctrine of PE and the VB are not at odds, but are rather coherent and compatible concepts within Pauline theology.


The Nicene Creed manages to affirm both the PE of Jesus Christ and his VB. Although many scholars accept some form of PE in Paul’s writings, many are quick to point out that he does not affirm (or is silent about) the VB. Andrew T. Lincoln concedes St. Paul’s high Christology, “which includes the notion of the pre-existence of Christ,” but is quick to counter with “but a virginal conception plays no part in this and it is almost certain that he did not know of such a tradition.”[1] Eminent theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg writes that the VB “stands in an irreconcilable contradiction to the Christology of the incarnation of the preexistent Son of God found in Paul and John.”[2] Raymond Brown also mentions this tension.[3] The belief is that the gospel ‘legends’ “Jesus first became God’s Son through Mary’s conception.”[4] This is further compounded by Lincoln’s emphasis that the Pauline texts affirm Jesus’ humanity, not his VB. He writes, “all three passages [Gal. 4:4; Rom. 1:3; Phil. 2:7] simply assume Jesus’ full humanity in his birth and show no interest in the circumstances of the birth itself.”[5] These are serious charges—coming as they do from serious Christians—and they help lay out the task before us: is the PE of the Son of God and the VB at odds with one another within the contours of Pauline theology?


The Gospel of Matthew confirms that Joseph had not known Mary, as the phrase “but before they lived together” states (Matt. 1:18). This would imply that sexual activity would commence upon their living together, which is in the near future. Luke simply affirms her virginity and simultaneous engagements to Joseph (Luke 1:26-27). Pannenberg sees these accounts as presenting us with an adoptionistic Christology[6] and seems to agree with Emil Brunner who should be quoted in full: “If it is true that Matthew and Luke are simply dealing with the question: how did the Person of the Redeemer come into existence? And not with the Incarnation of the eternal Son of God, this is a Christological view which the church cannot accept.”[7] These objections are surely not benefitted by an either/or mentality. It is not immediately clear that Matthew and Luke are operating with adoptionistic tendencies, and it is also uncertain that one can completely bifurcate the ‘coming into existence’ and the ‘incarnation’ as two separate claims. Certainly Brunner is inconsistent in affirming the second point of the eternal Son (a phrase that nowhere occurs in the New Testament) while downplaying the ‘historical’ nature of the Gospel accounts, as both present themselves as history. He is indebted to history and simply seems to prefer one type to the other.

Pannenberg and Brunner’s welcomed concerns also face two additional objections: first, these accounts are chronologically post-Paul and Paul clearly affirmed the PE of the Son maybe 20 years before the completion of the Gospel of Mark. Thus, PE is an early theological concept and would rule out adoptionism as a major theological player in the arena.[8] Whether or not Paul’s theology is compatible with the VB remains to be argued. Second, the accounts are of a different genre, intentionally so, and are working with a wider pool of historical accumulation. To dismiss these as ‘legendary’ is to ignore too much of Church history and to downplay the important witness of Paul’s material. It may even be possible that Matthew and Luke were aware of Paul’s writings and had data that fills in the gaps. Thus we have sufficient reasons to affirm the general historicity of the Gospel accounts. Now, we turn to the Apostle Paul.


As already mentioned, Lincoln proposes three Pauline texts and rejects them as simply affirming the humanity of Christ. Although this is certainly not untrue, it overstates a key point of contention. The contention is this: Gal. 4:4 and Phil. 2:7 are far closer to an affirmation of the VB than they first appear. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law.” Paul does not use the term for virgin, and uses the standard noun for a woman/wife (γυναικός). However, contextually, there is nothing to suggest that Paul did or did not have a VB in mind. Gal. 4:4 may include a nod to PE, as the phrase “fullness of time had come” indicates a prior interval before a birth where the Son existed.[9]

It is also worthy to note that Paul does not mention any of the sexual impropriety of the Son’s birth in any form, whereas the Gospel accounts may include various elements of such things. For example, the inclusion of various women such as Bathsheba (Matt. 1:6) may indicate some form of sexual indecency. Lincoln notes that early sources attempt to attribute ‘legitimate’ means of the Son’s birth, such as Mary committing adultery with a Roman soldier named Panthera.[10] This is significant because illustrates the fact that Paul didn’t view Jesus’ birth as sexually licentious. Other forms of ancient Judaism held that sin was transmitted through women, as Sirach 25:24 suggests that sin came into the world through Eve. It reads: “From a woman sin had its beginning, and because of her we all die.” 1 Esdras 4:27 suggests that men have become sexual slaves to women, or sinned because of women, thus implying (coarsely) that it was sinful women who were the downfall of men.[11] Some strands of Judaism held that sin entered the world through Eve (or women in general), and this may give us some perspective on women in Judaism around the time of Paul These concepts are curiously absent in Paul, who specifies that sin came into the world through Adam, not Eve.[12]

Rather, Paul’s conclusion of the Son’s birth is the affirmation of his full and sinless humanity; in this he can affirm that Jesus was one who did not know sin (2 Cor. 5:21). If Christ was without sin for his entire human life—as Paul and other New Testament writers maintain[13]—then it may be held that the Son was without sin and Paul did not envision Mary as being in sin within his conception. The sinlessness of the Son means that he was not affected by the sinfulness of the human race. This belief may be compounded in speculating about the nature of “taking”[14] enacted by the Son in Phil. 2:7, where he took the form of a slave by being born in human likeness. The fact that the Son was without sin in his entire earthly life and in his previous state in eternity may indicate that this was a state he willingly entered into, and the belief that he assumed non-sinful flesh, being born through a sinless woman. Either he was unaffected biologically by the transmission of sin, or Mary, being a virgin, did not pass this onto him. Therefore, the continuity between PE and VB seems to be assumed in Paul, even though he never explicitly mentions the latter or fulfills our systematic concerns. His coherence may aide us in a further perspective found in the Old Testament.


Paul states in Romans 3:25 that Christ was the ἱλαστήριον (variously translated ‘place of atonement’ or ‘mercy seat’) by his death. This is an explicit Old Testament echo referring to the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant (Ex. 25:17-22). For Paul the sinless nature of Christ is what is important. What makes this interesting is that a female animal could be offered as a sin offering in the Torah. Leviticus 4:27-35 specifies that a female animal may be offered as a guilt or sin offering, where “the priest shall make atonement on your behalf” (v31). The specificity of an unblemished female animal is remarkable, since this is a section dedicated not to rulers or kings but to lay people[15]—a social status that suits Mary perfectly. In order for atonement to be made, the Holy Spirit required a woman who had no blemish. This would include chastity. Without her being pure within that specific cultural context, one wonders to what extent God, who knows no sin, could produce the human and sinless Messiah. It seems that the Holy Spirit, in order to produce a human nature free from sin, needed a woman who knew no sin or blemish. Thus, there may be—and I stress the tentative nature of my proposal here—some Old Testament reasons to consider the non-blemished feminine emphasis in relation to the Virgin Mary as the one who bore the eternal Son of God. A person (or animal as “type”) without blemish is not a foreign concept in Paul’s Scriptures and his view of the atonement.


While Paul’s writings nowhere explicitly state that he affirmed the VB, his broader theological and cultural context does seem coherent with a view of the ‘fittingness’ of the birth of the Son of God.[16] The Son was without sin his entire human life. The VB is a key and clear bridge between the eternal Son and Jesus the Messiah. This may be confirmed for two reasons: first, his sinlessness from PE to his assumption of humanity requires a perfect gateway in order to maintain his sinlessness in order for atonement. The VB fulfills this as it explicitly rules out sexual impurity and affirms Mary’s high standing as Θεοτόκος. The Son was sent in the likeness of “sinful flesh” (Rom. 8:3), though he was not himself sinful.[17] The ontological nature of the Creedal phrase “light from light, true God from true God” may be invoked in this way: we affirm that the sinless may beget the sinless, but the sinful cannot beget the sinless.

Second and finally, the VB seems to rule out adoptionism. Rom. 1:3-4, while a difficult Christological text, seems to emphasize the kingship of Jesus by the reference to the “seed” (σπέρματος) of King David and Christ’s human nature. The mention of King David is meant to affirm Christ’s role in salvation history as King and Messiah, not explain his ontological orientation. Rom. 5:14 speaks of Death[18] as King, and a possibly Pauline extrapolation is on the theme of kingship, the Human One coming to destroy the destroyer of life. Joshua Jipp of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School points out that several church fathers, including Athanasius, used Romans 1:3-4 to affirm Christ’s true humanity.[19] If Jipp and the Fathers are correct, then the VB is certainly coordinate with Rom. 1:3-4. Adoptionism is thus ruled out because Mary’s relationship to King David’s genealogy emphasizes Jesus’ birth of a specific line of Kings, not that God adopted the eternal Son. Thus, the gospel accounts are consistent with Paul. Coupled with this, the VB is consistent with the sacrifice of atonement and with the humanness of Christ expressed in Romans 1, as flesh without blemish is required under the Old Testament sacrificial system.

Because of the VB we can lay claim to the miraculous nature of Son’s incarnation, as it affirms a main Pauline theme of Christ’s sinlessness. A miraculous birth demands our attention and is no more a scandal than the idea of a PE person becoming flesh, or that the immortal would dare to become mortal, to dwell among us. The VB presents us with a truly unique historical event that defies easy categories.


I have attempted to bring together two variegated threads in Pauline theology, as well as several wider Pauline and Old Testament themes. The sinlessness of Christ is upheld as a central pillar in Paul’s thought, and when coupled with the nature of a spotless atonement yields some surprising fruit. The VB is, I argued, is necessary to maintain Pauline coherence and does no damage to Christian theology. We have seen that the dismissal of the Pauline witness as regards the doctrine of the VB is unwarranted, and that when one brings the threads together a beautiful tapestry begins to form. It is because of Paul’s witness that we can confess:

“I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. Under Pontius Pilate, He was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day He rose again.”

[1] Andrew T. Lincoln, Born of a Virgin? Reconceiving Jesus in the Bible, Tradition, and Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2013), 22.
[2] Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jesus—God and Man, 2nd ed. (Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press, 1977), 143.
[3] Raymond Brown, The Virginal Conception & Bodily Resurrection of Jesus (New York, New York: Paulist Press, 1973), 45.
[4] Pannenberg, 143.
[5] Lincoln, 21.
[6] Pannenberg, 149.
[7] Quoted in Pannenberg 149 n.84.
[8] One cannot be both the eternal divine Son and yet adopted. The two seem contradictory.
[9] Gordon D. Fee concurs and believes PE is assumed here. Pauline Christology (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2007), 211-220.
[10] Lincoln, 153-154. However, given the polemical nature of many critics of Christianity, it is likely that such criticism itself has a biased edge.
[11] As remarkably sexist as some of this material is, we find none of this in Paul’s letters—a remarkable reversal is even found in 1 Cor. 11:11-12.
[12] Rom. 5:12-21; 1 Cor. 15:20-28.
[13] The author of Hebrews asserts that Jesus was like us in every way—except as regards sin. Heb. 4:15.
[14] Λαβών (taking) is an active participle. This shows the self-actualization of the preexistent Son who took a form he previously did not have—namely, flesh.
[15] Nobuyoshi Kiuchi, Leviticus (Downers Groves, IL: IVP Academic, 2007), 97-99.
[16] C.f. Oliver D. Crisp, God Incarnate: Explorations in Christology (New York, NY: T&T Clark, 2009), 77-102.
[17] It may also be noted that other New Testament writers speak of Christ as sinless: Heb. 4:15.
[18] “[The] Death reigned…” (ἐβασίλευσεν ὁ θάνατος), with the definite article seems to suggest Death’s kingship over humanity. Christ, as King and Messiah, gives us the gift of righteousness, which now reigns “in life” through Him.
[19] Joshua W. Jipp, “Ancient, Modern, and Future Interpretations of Romans 1:3-4: Reception History and Biblical Interpretation.” Journal of Theological Interpretation 3.2 (2009): 252.

Friday, February 27, 2015

4 Reasons to Rethink Hell

In order to resist making terrible puns about eternal punishment, I’m going to dive right into this rather short blog post. Several others have already made some observations and I don’t claim to have read their posts. If there is overlap, that’s pretty cool actually. So here are 4 reasons why you should rethink hell.
  1. The Bible does not teach the traditional doctrine of eternal conscious punishment. I feel like I could drop the mic and walk away from the computer now, but I should clarify. A great think the Reformation did was fan the flames and push us all back to Scripture. The problem is, well, we didn’t consistently adopt the mentality of “Scripture alone” and “always reforming.” So, Scripture does not teach the doctrine known to us as ECT.
  2. You should rethink hell because other people are rethinking hell. They do this in the form of point 1, and are offering sophisticated arguments in favor of various interpretations of hell i.e., universalism. You should rethink hell in order to further nuance your perspective, or change your mind, or settle yourself more firmly. There is a veritable library of resources available to you. Either way, always be in the process of reforming yourself.
  3. The mainstream media is in on the game, and this is a good thing. People are interested in hell. Think about it: that’s like getting kids being excited to eat their veggies. An example of this is Edward Fudge being interviewed by the New York Times. This could be a great opportunity to engage culture. Especially if one is into apologetics. Think about it: death is on the mind, we are in the midst of global unrest. Why not rethink hell and also heaven?
  4. You should rethink hell because, as a Christian, you claim to speak for God. We speak about his character and we are to act accordingly. So, in the spirit of humility and Christian charity, you should rethink it afresh in order to determine what God has said in his word.
There’s also a really cool conference in Pasadena that I am helping to put on. Its called the Rethinking Hell Conference. Its about hell (obviously), and challenging universalism. Its under $100 to attend the three-day event (June 18-20), with some variety in prices and some incredible speakers: Oliver Crisp, Jerry Walls, David Instone-Brewer, and others. Please come rethink hell with us!

As an aside, I’m almost positive that someone has already used this title, or some form of it. But after a brief Google search, I couldn’t find much of anything related. So, I guess I’m ahead of the Internet curve for once? Either way, thanks for clicking the link.


Saturday, February 21, 2015

Resurrection as Liberation (Rom. 8:23)

τὴν ἀπολύτρωσιν τοῦ σώματος ἡμῶν.

“…the liberation of our bodies.” Romans 8:23b.

All of creation has been groaning under the bondage of slavery and the forces of death. In some sense, human beings are tied to this. A certain echo can be found in Exodus, where Israel was under the oppression of a foreign power.

Paul seems to press this into something more unique, as we await the “ransom” or “liberation” of our bodies. The genitive use indicates that this ransom is not “from” or “out of” our bodies, but rather ransoming’ of our bodies.

The flesh (that is, the entirety of the human person) is ransomed, likely from death.

The reference to the “απαρχηε” (first fruits) is likely in line with Paul’s view of resurrection, with Christ as the “απαρχηε” of the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:20-28). In that context, Death is seen as task-master, and death-dealer, as king or as one who reigns over (ἀλλὰ ἐβασίλευσεν ὁ θάνατος). The personification of θάνατος (with an article) likely indicates that Paul viewed Death as an impersonal yet ‘living’ force, something that had the ability to dominate or control. Yet, through the resurrection of Christ, θάνατος has no power over those who attach themselves to Christ. In this sense, we are liberated from the oppression of death. In the same way as Israel was oppressed by Egypt, Assyria and Babylon, so did God ransom them from said oppression.

Yet this is uniquely personal. It affects a corporate group of those in Christ, and yet it affects their bodies as well. It is the setting free of something from something.

The writer also indicates that Christ is a ransom in 1 Timothy 2:6 “αντιλυτρον,” though death is not within the immediate context and it is not certain what we are ‘ransomed’ from. Perhaps the “kings and those in authority” in v2. See also the ransoming of Titus 2:14 (λυτρώσηται), the purification of the people of God.

The adoption of us is the salvation of a people from death, from oppression. The body, both individually and corporately, is healed and restored. Resurrection, then, is liberation.

Just some thoughts.


Thursday, February 19, 2015

Christ the One and Only, A Review

In thinking about world religions, one is forced to recognize the tensions inherent in confessing a particularistic faith in the marketplace of ideas. This tension is especially true for many in western evangelicalism, and the current work—edited by Sung Wook Chung—is an attempt to grapple with the uniqueness of Christ in a pluralistic milieu. Since the thesis of this work is to illustrate Christ’s uniqueness in relation to world religions (x-xi), the essays that most illustrate this thesis will be reviewed.

Elias Dantas offers the initial essay entitled “The Incarnation of Christ and its Implications to the Ministry and Mission of the Church” where the topic under consideration concerns the incarnation and its implications for our modern world. Dantas rightly stresses the importance of this doctrine and is correct to place so much emphasis upon the virgin birth: it is, after all, a part of the historic Christian faith. He then goes on to offer seven assessments, each one indeed dire and problematic—though some more than others. For example, he asserts that the denial of the virgin birth leads to the denial of all miracles and into liberalism (4), and this does not follow. One could affirm the mythic nature of Christ’s birth and passionately affirm the historical resurrection of Jesus Christ (c.f. Pannenberg, Jesus—God and Man, 141-150). One would be hard pressed to place someone like Pannenberg in the liberal category on par with one who denies miracles! While Dantas’ passion is well placed and his emphasis is certainly noteworthy, he is quick to castigate those with whom he disagrees and he seems most interested in reflecting a highly dogmatic point of view instead of the intended ecumenical nature of the project as a whole—especially when he quotes almost exclusively male and Reformed voices.

Clark Pinnock takes us next through “The Uniqueness of the Life and Teachings of Jesus” and by means of introduction, he points to a gap in the Apostle’s Creed where there is nothing said about the life of the Messiah. Intending to fill this gap, Pinnock surveys the various controversies in the Gospels surrounding Christ’s birth, charges of illegitimacy, ministry, place in society and some of his theological contributions. Pinnock tells us that Jesus uniquely emphasized the Kingdom of God and coupled this with his emphasis on justice, on “a God who gives priority to the ethical above the cultic” (30). Pinnock offers us a compelling glimpse into the mystery of Christ as he related to a world that was both ‘other’ and ‘one another.’ This Jesus “embodied what he had announced” (33) and thus his life was unique compared to the religious leaders of his day.

Beginning with the historical context of Scripture, Graham Tomlin surveys Scripture’s early reflections on the meaning of Christ’s death on the cross and especially St. Paul and Corinthians. The uniqueness of the cross is not in the manner of death, but in how the early Christians applied meaning to the death of the Messiah, which makes the meaning of Jesus’ death significant and confounding. Much of Tomlin’s essay centers on Luther and Blaise Pascal (who is a surprising addition). He places Pascal alongside St. Paul and shows how both of these theologians had to react to the various worldviews of their day, and this is applicable to the modern Church, as she must grapple with the question of those not in Christ and those who seek a more pluralistic inclusion of other religions. The final simple comparison between Muhammad and Jesus is compelling: “both knew the struggle of being a persecuted and misunderstood prophet…” (61), and yet Jesus chose the path of nonresistance, making him distinct from Muhammad—thus the similarities seem to end where Golgotha begins. Tomlin’s historical assessments are certainly helpful and necessary, but one is left wondering where the ancient church fathers and mothers fit into his framework, as he jumps from Paul over them straight to Luther.

All of Christian orthodoxy depends upon the resurrection of Jesus. So contends Gabriel Fackre, and his essay is intended as a grand theological narrative sweep across the entirety of Scripture. Those who share a love of storytelling and cinema will be delighted by this unique structure. He starts with the stories of creation and fall, moves through the patriarchs of the Old Testament, and lands upon Jesus of Nazareth, who is the intersection of history. What makes Fackre’s contribution unique is the structure he utilizes, namely the great themes of systematic theology: creation, incarnation, and the last things to name a few. This is not unlike the structure of a film: acts one through three, culminating in the grand finale of the last things. Those familiar with these grand topics will not doubt enjoy the novel arrangement and Fackre’s presentation, though he breaks no new theological ground and does not quite address the central topic of Christ’s uniqueness in resurrection. For instance, resurrection was not an uncommon belief in the world of Jesus, and exploring ancient concepts such as reincarnation and karma could have helped explore this needed issue.

The sensitive topic of Jewish/Christian relations is the subject of Ellen Charry’s work and her words are hard-hitting and frustrating. For instance, “Paul had to pervert scriptural texts” (148) in his attempt to bring the Gentiles into Christ. This is frustrating because the scholarly debate between Paul and his Jewish background is extraordinarily complex from a historical point of view and Charry shows little awareness of the complexities of this. To describe Paul’s interpretiv
e methods in terms of ‘perversion’ is unfortunately distracting. Paul’s method of interpretation, though idiosyncratic, does not seem to be far from the Jewish mainstream (c.f. Richard B. Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul). Paul is certainly not above criticism, however well deserved, but Charry’s essay often takes the form of harsh criticism of Christianity, and the tone and rhetoric are indeed a shock compared to the rest of the volume. While one cannot ignore the one problem of Jewish/Christian relations, Charry answers the ‘uniqueness of Christ’ question in purely negative terms (i.e. Christians aren’t Jews) and appears to interpret Paul in the least attractive light possible. She does not mention the recent proposals of the New Perspective and their works could help alleviate some apprehension regarding Christianity and Judaism, especially as regards the law. The work of James D.G. Dunn could have been of further assistance but no NPP proponent is considered. A further problem is that Charry cites few historical sources to bolster many of her historical claims, most of which are not substantiated or annotated. In short, this essay is more polemic than is necessary, making it stand out negatively in comparison to the other essays.

The spread of Islam in the modern world demands an essay like Ng Kam Weng’s. He highlights the similar views of Jesus found both in Islam and Christianity (i.e. both view Jesus as a prophet), and surveys the vast data found in the Quran regarding Jesus and his role in history: while Jesus is important, he is thoroughly subordinate in Muhammad (196), pushing Jesus away from such high Christology texts such as John 1:1 and 14. No prophet is ever said to be “in the form of God” (c.f. Phil. 2:6) and one wonders where the writings of Paul fit into Islam’s conception of Christ’s identity with the Father. The singular strength of this chapter is Weng’s charity towards the faith of Islam.

KK Yeo’s essay is remarkable in its tackling of the theme love as a means to connect Confucius (ren) and Paul (agape). Concise, intimate and genuine, Yeo’s work is a breathe of sincere ecumenical air. While an evangelical, he is dedicated to teaching the “law of Christ” as mutual bearing of one another’s burdens, seizing upon Galatians 6:2 (though more could be mentioned, c.f. Eph. 5:2, 21). Love is a term that has gone largely untouched in this volume and Yeo states unequivocally that “to be human is to be bound to God” (218), pushing both concepts together in a way that does not minimize the differences. What makes this applicable is that Yeo concludes on the practicality of his findings, finding that the love of neighbor is a key ethical grounding.

The editor Sung Wook Chung has the final word, and he further presses the “points of contact” (233) between Buddhism and Christianity. After discussing their differences—the doctrine of creation, where Christians affirm an actual creation, whereas Buddhism affirms an eternal universe—Chung points to four main similarities, with one of them being suffering. This is a key Christian concept as well, as the suffering of Christ on the cross will attest, and this has practical implications. Suffering is an unfortunate reality in our world and thus both faiths are in some sense yoked together in this reality. This finds its application in that we seek the similarities among one another, and do this in love and reverence for Christ.

In summation, Pinnock, Sung Wook Chung, and Yeo offer essays that sparkle with verve, creativity, and clarity. However, there is no engagement with patristic sources and liberation or feminist theologies, thus the uniqueness of Christ is not fully explored from an ecumenical perspective. It rightly affirms the uniqueness of Christ yet does not fully exhibit a consistent ecumenical spirit in part because of unnecessarily polemic arguments (Dantas/Charry). The volume also lacks a Scripture and subject index, making navigation difficult. Ultimately, although the volume has some marvelous essays, it contains too many caveats for a whole-hearted endorsement.


Friday, February 6, 2015

Paul on Slavery (Part V)

PAUL: The Pastorals

Titus 2:9-10

The author (questions of authorship aside) begins this section by telling Titus to “teach what is consistent with sound [healthy] doctrine”(2:1). He goes with gender (2:3-5),[1] younger men (2:6-8),[2] and then to slaves.[3] The slaves are told not to give satisfaction by “not talking back and “pilfering.”[4] Tellingly, the institution of slavery isn’t rooted in creation or a divine ordinance. Instead, they are to be ‘attractive’ (κοσμῶσιν, adornment, ornate) to their masters for the doctrine of God our Savior.

The follow up shows an impartial salvation that has appeared to all,[5] training them to renounce the world and live in ways that please God (v11-14). No one is to look down on us (v15).

1 Timothy 1:10

In this vice list (which begins in v9 and ends in v11), the author implicates many people as a result of their actions. This is in conjunction with the 10 Commandments. The ‘murderers’ (6th Commandment), ‘adulterers and sodomites’ (7th Commandment), and ‘slave traders’ (8th Commandment).[6] Paul lists these as “contrary to sound doctrine” (v10). What is curious in this brief analysis is that Paul has in mind Exodus 21:16, for which the penalty for “anyone who kidnaps another and either sells him or still has him…”[7] is death. This is coordinate with Paul’s Jewish unease with slavery, and indicates that he does consider some form of ‘slave-dealing’ as contrary to healthy doctrine.[8] Paul most probably still has false teachers in mind with this list.[9] While not entirely conclusive, this brief indictment shows that Paul viewed the trading of human beings as incompatible to “sound doctrine.”

1 Timothy 6:1-2

Why are slaves who are under the “yoke of slavery”[10] their masters[11] regard them as “worthy of all honor?” Simply stated, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be blasphemed.[12] While it is difficult to swallow this admonition, it is still important to realize that Paul is concerned with the church’s standing in society[13] (1 Tim 2:2 3:7). That is, if those in Christ haul off their yokes, this would be seen as a rebellion within the Greco-Roman context.[14]

Instead of a rebellion, Christian slaves are told to serve their Christian masters “all the more.”[15] Paul’s side comment[16] about all being “members of the church” implies a desire for unity within the community.

SUMMATION: Paul & Slavery

Paul - and his predecessors - in some sense significantly undermined the institution of slavery during his time. His influence upon subsequent traditions, who ransomed slaves, cannot be ignored. The terrible tragedy is that people would misuse Paul to shame the honor and dignity of African-Americans, especially in the name of God. While Paul can certainly be misused, we must remember that for his time, Paul was doing his best with an old world. While it is not enough for some of us, I do think it meant the world to people like Onesimus.


[1] This “submission” is not grounded in creation, respect or the husband’s authority. Rather, they are told to submit so that “the word of God may not be discredited.” This pattern of not bringing dishonor to God is a repeated emphasis throughout 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus.
[2] Again, the reason is that an opponent “will be put to shame, having nothing evil to say of us” (v8).
[3] As with 1 Timothy 1:10, masters are given no exhortation.
[4] Gordon D. Fee, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus, 190, notes that “slaves were often entrusted with buying goods and also often had a degree of private ownership.” This shows that if slaves had a degree of freedom that they were not to use it against their owners. Or, even, if they had no freedom, to still not steal.
[5] Notably, women and slaves are included in this.
[6] Fee, 46.
ἀνδραποδισταῖς”; see BDAG 76, LSJ 127-8. Philip Payne pointed this in out. Man and Woman, One in Christ, 274. Gordon Fee points out that many early rabbis considered the 8th Commandment to be opposing slave dealing. 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus, 49 additional notes 1:9-10.
[8] Much could be be said about the ἀρσενοκοίταις but that will have to wait.
[9] The notation of sexual improprieties and murderers could be a hint towards the activities of the various cults in the area. It is very likely that prostitutes and priests were close in the temples. While this does not excuse homosexual practice, it does show that Paul has such things in mind as a reason to indict them.
[10] Galatians 5:1.
[11] This would be Christian slaves and Christian owners, though the owner may not be a Christian. Christian slaves would likely be told to submit to their masters, regardless of religious affiliation.
[12] Fee suggests that slaves are still viewed as still “in the old social order.” 137.
[13] Indeed, that may be a key hermeneutical device to understand these household codes, especially in regards to slavery. Perhaps these are viewed as ad hoc. A key argument against this is that Paul is already an ad hoc theologian. While certainly true, an ad hoc admonition can still be applicable to a relevant modern situation.
[14] If history is any indication, the failed slave rebellion of Spartacus shows that a slave uprising would be crushed, and anyone who associated with it would likely suffer the same fate.
[15] Most probably, the masters here are Christians. The shift to the specific would indicate this, especially if masters in v1 are said to be “worthy of honor” so that God may not be blasphemed. If a Christian slave was disobedient or acting in a dishonorable way, it would follow that such slave masters would not view their religion in the highest opinion.
[16] Fee, 138, calls 6:2a an “ad hoc reason for this short section.”

Sunday, February 1, 2015

If Paul Didn't Write Ephesians, What Then?

This is an excerpt from my notes on episode 5.If you are interested, click here to listen.

So a few people might be wondering about why I’m not bothered, or why we should or should not be bothered by this question of authorship. I suppose for me, I’ve more or less accepted a critical mindset once I graduated from Biola (though I don’t think Biola would want to take credit for this criticism) and began to read material about the New Testament in greater depth.

In doing this, I told myself over and over that the truth is what the truth is, regardless of how I felt about the matter. So that is, in small part, why this doesn’t bother me.

It also may be the case that the Holy Spirit saw fit to include Ephesians in the canon of Holy Scripture. The same reason that the Holy Spirit had no issue with there being at least two (or three) Isaiah’s in Holy Scripture.

A text can be timeless regardless of who wrote it. It speaks from history to our history and communicates truth that God wants taken to heart.

So Ephesians is a bit of an enigma and we’ll explore this a little bit more in the next episode. Until then, thanks for listening and blessings. For my money, if it turns out Paul did not write Ephesians (and I’m leaning that way at the moment), it would matter very little in relation to interpretive authority. It would cause issue only if one were doing strictly Pauline theology, but as far as its use in general theology, it is fair game and has been damn near essential in formulating Christian doctrine since …

Well since the early times.

That means something.


Saturday, January 31, 2015

Christology: A Global Introduction (Parts III and IV)

Part three (109-188) is by far the most substantial part of Kärkkäinen’s work, dealing with theological luminaries such as Pannenberg, Barth, Tillich, Moltmann and Bultmann. His treatments of each theologian are incisive and his ability to summarize their key points of emphasis is respectable. He rightly emphasizes the ‘dialectic’ that captivated Barth and even includes lesser-known theologians such as evangelical Stanley Grenz. The only complaint one could offer in this section is that the more interesting writings from Grenz were published posthumously (c.f. Rediscovering the Triune God) and only one main text (Theology for the Community of God). from Grenz appears to be consulted at the time of Kärkkäinen’s publication. Throughout, Kärkkäinen is charitable and displays the views of in question with grace. All theological discussion ought to be conducted in such a manner and our author models this well. However, Kärkkäinen does not shy away from difficult questions that result from a theologian’s construction of theology. For instance, he questions Tillich’s contribution to modern theology and asks, “if the Fall was a necessary event?” (131-132), and calls his approach “idiosyncratic” (132). As regards Rudolph Bultmann, Kärkkäinen notes the ‘missionary’ aspect of why one would be interested in the ‘mytholgical nature’ of the New Testament (123). This reveals two key truthes in modern theology: first, we are products of our times, and second, that we ought to consider how to best offer the gospel to an increasingly pluralistic world. Though Bultmann denied the literal resurrection, nonetheless it held him emotionally captive, exemplifying the power of the Gospel to cause both one to see and yet another to stumble. For better or worse Kärkkäinen has wet the appetite of evangelicals and offered us a strong reason to now read Bultmann!

The final part of Kärkkäinen’s work in part four concerns various Christological ideas that include black and feminist theology—among many others. For readers—and this reviewer—this section is the final bite of a rather fast-paced sweet. Kärkkäinen’s summation of black Christology is especially powerful in light of modern events (Ferguson), presenting his students with the problem of ‘otherness’ and the necessity for reconciliation ‘in Christ.’ The emphasis of James Cone on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ offers evangelicals a firm starting point of identification. This creedal affirmation, found in 1 Cor. 15:1-8, is a strong primer for black Christology, and it’s a parallel belief that all evangelicals can embrace. “Liberation and reconciliation,” [Cone] said, “presuppose one another” (211).

The chapter on feminist Christology is both a painful and necessary reminder for all who profess the liberating message of Christ: the use of Holy Scripture to subordinate women. This injustice must be acknowledged and rectified. A helpful comment by Stanley Grenz of the previous section is this: “Jesus [is] not only essential deity but also essential humanity” (174). A point that could have been noted by Kärkkäinen concerns the continual use of “ἄνθρωπος” (generic: person, human) in the Gospels, and also by Paul in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15: since Christ is commonly referred as a ‘ἄνθρωπος’ instead of ‘ἀνήρ’ (specific, male/man) this has some intriguing assumptions that may already press against the mistaken belief that “Jesus’ maleness has often been used as an argument against the full humanity of women” (198). Christ’s humanity is most often in view, not his maleness. Christ, as savior of women and men, is identified as the one who became σάρξ in John’s prologue. The humanness of the person, as complete in the image of God, is what matters in Christ; of note is Galatians 3:28 which directly quotes Gen. 1:27, indicating that the flesh of the Son of God who died and reconciled us of Paul’s primary concern. Thus, there is sufficient biblical warrant to elevate that status of Christ’s humanity and not overplay his gender in a manner that would disregard women, especially when both genders are active in ministry (Rom. 16; Phil. 4:2-3) and mutually yield to one another (Eph. 5:21). A helpful addition to this section would be the succinct and classic defense by the late T.F. Torrance who argues persuasively that the Christological excuse to exclude women “conflicts with the orthodox understanding of the incarnation as the saving assumption of the whole human being, male and female, and as the healing of our complete human nature.”[1] These additional considerations would have helped present some of the biblical witness that has been pressing back against patriarchy from the very incarnation.

There is much to commend about Kärkkäinen’s work. It is fast-paced and yet not without considerable substance, passionate without being pedantic. The diverse offerings are a breath of genuinely ecumenical air. Kärkkäinen offers us a wide feast of Christian history and theology that pushes all beyond the limits of the evangelical scholastic subculture. While there are some weaknesses—mostly due to the aforementioned brevity of the textbook–nearly every major portion of Church history is discussed, most major modern theologians are represented, and the major biblical difficulties are examined with a creedal and critical eye. Kärkkäinen’s theological distillation can only inspire further study and he is to be thanked for his work.


[1] Torrance, T.F. "The Ministry of Women." Touchstone Archives:. January 1, 1992. Accessed January 22, 2015.