Saturday, July 27, 2013

Beyond Imputed Righteousness: A Reappraisal of the Great Exchange

I have posted an essay which contains many of the themes that will be expounded upon in my upcoming book Christification: A Lutheran Approach to Theosis. This essay presents an argument that Luther's "great exchange" formula is more than a legal transaction. Drawing on Patristic and Medieval sources, Luther's idea of the great exchange involves a concept of theosis alongside of forensic imputation. 

Here is the article. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

"How do I know if my child is a Christian?" A Response to the Gospel Coalition

Response to John Owen's "The Death of Death" Book 1, Chapter 6

Chapter 6: The means used by the fore-recounted agents in this work.

Owen discusses the means which God uses to accomplish his intended goal of redemption in light of his previous discussion of the value of means and ends. He states:

"Now, this whole dispensation, with especial regard to the death and blood-shedding of Christ, is the means we speak of, agreeably to what was said before of such in general; for it is not a thing in itself desirable for its own sake. The death of Christ had nothing in it (we speak of his sufferings distinguished from his obedience) that was good, but only as it conduced to a farther end, even the end proposed for the manifestation of God’s glorious grace." (I.6)

Owen makes this point based on his previous contention that means are not good in themselves, but only as regards their ends. I would retort, first, that the premise is flawed. There is no particular reason to assume that a means is useless without a proper and effectual end. In Owen’s view, the obedience of Christ is necessarily good in that it is obedience to God’s will, but his suffering is not. He demonstrates this by speaking of the evil accomplished by the human agents such as Pilate and the people of Israel at the crucifixion. However, there are several reasons to assume that Christ’s death is a genuinely good act in and of itself, even without forcing his desired ends upon creation. First, it was the desire of God the Father. In that sense, one cannot separate the active from passive obedience. Obedience to the Father is valuable for its own sake. Second, self-giving is the greatest work a human person can accomplish. This self-giving is valuable, not simply because of the effect it has on another person, but because this is a reflection of God’s own self-donating character. An act of kindness performed for the sake of another person is a valuable action, regardless of whether the individual for whom that act was performed takes advantage of such an action.

Another problem with Owen’s contention here is that he assumes Jesus didn’t accomplish his intended goal if his atonement was universal. Jesus’ goal at the cross was to die for the sins of the human race, ransom all people, and justify humanity by his resurrection from the dead. All that Christ intended was accomplished. In a Lutheran view, God has universally and objectively justified the human race. This does not mean, however, that God could not allow humanity the freedom to reject the justification won for them through the atonement. Though we confess divine monergism in regard to one’s regeneration, justification, and perseverance, it is admitted that those who are damned have only their own resistance to blame. Though this paradox may not satisfy Owen’s intellect, it reflects Biblical teaching on this subject.

Throughout the remainder of this chapter, Owen continues his argument that Christ’s intercession and crucifixion are connected acts. They are both intended for the same group of individuals with the same end in view. Owen concludes:

"The sum is, that the oblation and intercession of Jesus Christ are one entire means for producing of the same effect, the very end of the oblation being that all those things which are bestowed by the intercession of Christ, and without whose application it should certainly fail of the end proposed in it, be effected accordingly; so that it cannot be affirmed that the death or offering of Christ concerned any one person or thing more, in respect of procuring any good, than his intercession doth for the collating of it: for, interceding there for all good purchased, and prevailing in all his intercessions (for the Father always hears his Son), it is evident that every one for whom Christ died must actually have applied unto him all the good things purchased by his death." (I.6)

There are two aspects to this argument proposed. First is the contention that Christ intercedes for all those who he laid down his life for. As I mentioned previously, I think there is a connection between these two acts of Christ which cannot be severed. The book of Hebrews discusses Christ’s intercession in light of his atonement. However, it becomes apparent that both Christ’s crucifixion and intercession were made for all of the readers of the book of Hebrews, including those who would depart from the faith. Note the following texts:

"Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 4:14-16)

"We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek." (Hebrews 6:19-20)

"For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens." (Hebrews 7:26)

"Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven" (Hebrews 8:1)

"For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf." (Hebrews 9:24)

"And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." (Hebrews 10:10)

There is no qualification in this epistle; Jesus is both the high priest and sacrifice for those who this book is written to. This includes those who will remain in the faith, as well as those who the author fears will revert back to Judaism. Owen’s contention that there is a connection between the subjects of Christ’s intercession and atonement does not prove limited atonement, but simply that the intercession of Christ is universal in intent as is his atonement.

The second aspect of Owen’s argument is that there is a unity between the will of the Father and the Son. If the Son desires salvation for a specific group, then the Father must comply with such a request. To argue otherwise is to divide the Trinitarian persons against one another as if the Son desires the salvation of individuals while the Father doesn’t. The underlying assumption of this argument is that the Father’s salvific intent is not universal, but the Son’s is. However, it is my contention that the intent of redemption is universal on behalf of both the Father and the Son. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit all desire the salvation of the human race, but for a reason unknown to us, allow certain individuals to reject such a salvation. Owen’s argument presupposes knowledge of the nature of the Son’s intercession, and inter-Trinitarian relations. Such information is not included in the pages of Scripture, nor is it necessary or helpful to speculate about.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Response to John Owen's "The Death of Death" Book 1, Chapter 4

Expounding upon the unity inherent in the nature and will of the persons of the Trinity, Owen expounds upon the Son’s role in redemption. As the Father sent forth the Son into the world to procure the salvation of his elect, so the Son acted in accord with the Father’s desires for this same end. Christ lived, died, rose, and intercedes for the elect and them alone. One of the primary points Owen makes here is that there is unity between the acts of death and intercession. He argues: “Thirdly, His intercession for all and every one of those for whom he gave himself for an oblation. He did not suffer for them, and then refuse to intercede for them; he did not do the greater, and omit the less.” (I.4) Christ’s actions were means to the same end, namely the salvation of God’s elect. Therefore, all of his actions word in accord with one another. Owen purports,

"His being a propitiatory sacrifice for our sins, is the foundation of his interceding, the ground of it; and, therefore, they both belong to the same persons. Now, by the way, we know that Christ refused to pray for the world, in opposition to his elect. “I pray for them,” saith he: “I pray not for the world, but for them thou hast given me,” John 17:9. And therefore there was no foundation for such an interceding for them, because he was not a propitiation for them." (I.4)

The assumption of Owen that there is an equation between the group of those who Christ died for and the intercession which he offers is correct. There is a connection between intercession and propitiation which will be explored in Owen’s discussion of the book of Hebrews. However, the fact that intercession occurs on behalf of an individual does not necessitate the final salvation of that person. There are two sections of Scripture which demonstrate this fact.

First, there is an instance of Jesus interceding for those who are not finally saved. At his crucifixion, Jesus prays for those who were instrumental in his death crying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:24) Since Owen argues that prayer is an aspect of intercession, as is the case in John 17, it must be admitted that intercession for one who is not elect is possible and even occurs in the Gospels. Here is a direct instance of Christ asking the Father’s forgiveness upon sinners who do not believe, and who in fact even killed the Messiah. Owen responds to this text in a later chapter, and as will be shown in a future post, his arguments are not convincing. Secondly, the book of Hebrews demonstrates that intercession can be unfruitful due to the unbelief of the one for whom intercession is made. Throughout the book of Hebrews, the argument is made that these particular believers should not abandon the faith they had been brought into for Judaism, because to do so is to abandon the greater reality for the lesser, that which is only a type and shadow. In this context, the author of Hebrews discusses the nature of Christ’s intercession. In his argument, he points out the superiority of the intercession of Christ over that of the Levitical priesthood. He writes:

"The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them." (Hebrews 7:23-24)

The argument made is that Christ’s intercession is greater than that of the Levitical priests, because of Christ’s eternal nature, and the fact that “he is able to save to the uttermost.” The author is arguing that those to whom he is writing should not revert back to Judaism, because to do so is to abandon the greater reality for the lesser. The assumption is that Jesus is the mediator for these people, and that there is a real possibility of their abandoning this mediator for the Levitical priesthood. In Owen’s model, this argument becomes nonsensical. Either the author of Hebrews is arguing that they shouldn’t abandon the greater mediator, who isn’t actually their mediator because he only makes intercession for the elect, or he is arguing that those who do have Christ as their mediator shouldn’t abandon him, even though that is an impossibility.

Finally, Owen’s argument once again depends largely on his exegesis of John 17 as a discussion of the elect believers in opposition to the non-elect world. As was demonstrated above, the contrast is not between the elect and non-elect (there is no mention of election or reprobation in this passage), but between the apostles and the rest of the world. The fact that Jesus states that he is not praying for the world is not an indication that he doesn’t pray for non-believers (as is evidenced by the intercession he makes for his persecutors), but simply that the intent of that specific prayer was for the apostles.

Response to John Owen's "The Death of Death" Book 1, Chapters 2-3

Chapter 2: Of the nature of an end in general, and some distinctions about it.

In his second chapter, Owen commences with a discussion about ends and means. He argues that humans have ends, or goals, but don’t always accomplish them due to their failure to meet certain conditions. That is the nature of the human creature. However, God, if he intends to do something, necessarily brings about the intended action. He argues that “God only, whose will and good pleasure is the sole rule of all those works which outwardly are of him, can never deviate in his actions, nor have any end attend or follow his acts not precisely by him intended.” (I.2.III) Thus what God intends to accomplish will always necessarily be accomplished.

The death of Christ is placed within this context. Owen states that “the end which God effected by the death of Christ was the satisfaction of his justice: the end for whose sake he did it was either supreme, or his own glory; or subordinate, ours with him.” (I.2.IV) Thus, that which God intended as the goal of Christ’s death must occur. He argues further that “no means, as a means, is considered as good in themselves.” (I.2.V) If means don’t accomplish their intended ends, they are purposeless and useless.

Chapter 3: Of the agent or chief author of the word of our redemption, and of the first thing distinctly ascribed to the person of the Father

The acts of the Trinity are undivided, though distinct. Thus, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit work in consort with one another when accomplishing any act. Owen argues that “Two particular acts there are in this work of our redemption by the blood of Jesus, which may be and are properly assigned to the person of the FATHER:--first, The sending, of his Son into the world for this employment. Secondly, A laying the punishment due to our sin upon him.” (I.3.II) The Father is an active instrument in redemption by his sending of the Son. This sending was for the purpose of Christ being a savior and mediator for his people. This sending is part of a pactum salutis, an eternal covenantal relationship between the Father and the Son, wherein the Trinitarian actions of redemption were decided and enacted. Owen explains the nature of this covenant:

This, then, our Savior certainly aimed at, as being the promise upon which he undertook the work,-- the gathering of the sons of God together, their bringing unto God, and passing to eternal salvation; which being well considered, it will utterly overthrow the general ransom or universal redemption, as afterward will appear. (I.3.II.3)

Citing Isaiah 53, Owen argues in light of both the unity of ends and means inherent in God’s character, along with the congruence between the Father and the Son, that if the Father sent the Son on behalf of a specific group of humanity, the intended purpose must be accomplished. If God sent Christ into the world to save all, then all would necessarily be saved. However, this is not the case, as the Bible declares otherwise. Therefore, Jesus died only for specific people, and God the Father only intended the cross for these individuals.

Owen defends this assertion by citing the high priestly prayer in John 17. According to his interpretation of this text “God gave [the elect] unto him, and he sanctified himself to be a sacrifice for their sake, praying for their sanctification.” (I.3.II) The Father granted specific individuals for the Son, and decreed that the Son would die only for these individuals. The difficulties with the argument that Owen makes throughout chapters 2 and 3 are twofold.

First, Owen makes the statement that means are only good in relation to the ends which they accomplish. With this in mind, then Christ’s death could not necessarily be “good” in any sense if it was given as a means to an unaccomplished end. In a Lutheran perspective, Christ’s death did achieve the ends that were intended: Jesus took away the sins of the world by his act of self-sacrifice, and justified the human race through his resurrection from the dead. The fact that some reject the act that had been accomplished on their behalf does not negate the goodness or reality of the atonement of Christ. Yes, there are many who reject the cross. However, that does not imply failure on God’s part, or a negation of the efficacy of the cross, but simply demonstrates the nature of the fallen human will. Owen doesn’t allow for paradox here. In his approach, if Jesus truly died for every single human being, desiring their redemption, then all people must necessarily be saved, because God cannot fail in bringing about the intended result of any action. Despite Owen’s argument, though God’s control over the human creature is absolute, and his will cannot be hampered by human decision, God can voluntarily choose not to utilize his absolute power in any given circumstance. Just as Christ limited his use of divine attributes (such as omniscience) in the incarnation, God has the ability to limit his use of divine power and allow a sinner to perish even while desiring that person’s redemption. The nature of God’s universal will and electing grace remains a paradox.

Second, Owen’s utilization of John 17 is unwarranted. Though it is clear that there is an eternal relationship between the Father and the Son implied here, wherein the Father gave his Son the task of redeeming humanity, there are insufficient grounds to argue for a pactum salutis as Owen claims. He cites the beginning of this text:

"Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed." (John 17:1-5)

Though a context-less citation of the above text may warrant an understanding of particular redemption, a reading of the surrounding context proves otherwise. In Owen’s view, this prayer speaks of the elect whom the Father gave the Son, and consequently the Son’s death on behalf of these specific individuals. The following section of the text proves otherwise:

"I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth." (John 17:6-19)

There is a group that Jesus is speaking of in this prayer, but it is not identified with the elect. Rather, those for whom Jesus is praying are the apostles. Jesus prays for “those whom you gave me out of the world,” and even states that “I am not praying for the world” but only for these individuals. This may be read as a distinction between elect and non-elect, but it is apparent that such is not the case. Included in this group is “the son of destruction” who has been lost. All others in this group have been preserved in the faith, but Judas is an exception. Unless Judas is considered one of the elect, which would contradict Calvinistic convictions, it must be admitted that the elect are not being considered specifically in this text. Though one might argue that this text excludes Judas from being of “those whom you have given me,” this would contradict the meaning of an exception clause. If I were to say, “I like all donuts except chocolate frosted” it would imply that chocolate frosted is within the category of “donut.” It would make no sense if I were to make an exception out of something which isn’t included in the group in discussion. For example, if I said “I like all donuts except the color blue” it would be seen as a nonsensical statement.

The contents of the high priestly prayer are primarily ecclesiological rather than soteriological. He is praying for the future of the church which would be founded after his death, rather than for the salvation of elect individuals. This is why his prayer is for their protection from “the evil one” while they remain in the world. He prays, first, for the apostles and their ministry which would found the church. In the second section of his prayer, the referent changes from the apostles to those who are part of the church after its founding. He prays,

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

The primary intent of the prayer in this final section is for the unity of the future church, and a love for one another which reflects the love between the Father and the Son. To argue that the first section of the prayer is about particular redemption is to conflate the two groups being spoken of, and to take the prayer out of its intended ecclesiastical context.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Some Updates on my Book

The book is now available on here. Please consider ordering it if you have appreciated my writings on the blog.

Also, a review has been posted by Charles Wiese at the Lamb on the Altar blog here. The formatting errors and typos mentioned in the review have been corrected, and so if you order the book now they should be fixed.

If you have read the book, please let me know your thoughts and consider posting a review on Amazon.

A Discussion of Theonomy

On today's program I answered two listener questions. The first was about the Reformed movement known as "Theonomy" which seeks to implement Old Testament civil laws in contemporary society. I discussed the problems with this manner of thinking. The second question was about the distinction between predestination and election. I clarified a Lutheran approach to predestination in view of the Calvinistic perspective.

Here is the program.

Response to John Owen's "The Death of Death" Book 1, Chapter 1

I am beginning a series of posts in response to John Owen's book "The Death of Death in the Death of Christ" which is often cited as the most convincing work on the doctrine of limited atonement. Here is part 1.

Chapter 1: In general of the end of the death of Christ, as it is in the Scripture proposed.

In his introductory chapter, Owen outlines what he believes to be the benefits attained by the death of Christ. These benefits, he purports, are only attained for and given to a specific group of people, namely the elect. He utilizes texts such as Matt. 20:28 which speaks of Christ giving “his life a ransom for many” and “He loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25-27) which supposedly speak of a specific group who receive the benefits of the atonement as distinct from the world. These texts lead Owen to the conclusion that,

"Thus clear, then, and apparent, is the intention and design of Christ and his Father in this great work, even what is was, and towards whom—namely, to save us, to deliver us from the evil world, to purge and wash us, to make us holy, zealous, fruitful in good works, to render us acceptable, and to bring us unto God; for through him 'we have access into the grace wherein we stand Rom.5:2.'"

The argument made by Owen in this introductory section is that the death of Christ has a specific intent for a specific people. This would negate a universalist approach to the atonement.

The first part of Owen’s argument, that texts speak of a specific group such as the church or the elect as beneficiaries of the cross, and thus non-Christians are negated from the soteric benefits of the atonement, is unconvincing. First, examine the phrase “many” which is used in Matthew 20:28. It is argued that if Jesus gives his life as a ransom for many, then he does not give his life as a ransom for all. The phrase “many” necessitates that not all are included. Though at first glance, this argument may appear convincing, there are clear evidences that the phrase “many” does not always have a particular intent. Πολλων, the Greek term for “many” used in this text is also used in reference to the effect of Adam’s transgression in Romans 5. Paul writes that “if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many (πολλοί).” (Romans 5:15) The fifth chapter of Romans has historically been used to define the effects of original sin, which states that the entire human race is under the dominion of sin due to the transgression of Adam. If many can never refer to “all” but instead has reference to a particular group, then the spiritual death brought upon the human race as discussed by Paul must also have particular intent. In other words, not all die in Adam. It becomes apparent then that Owen is left with either one of two conclusions. 1. The phrase “many” is not necessarily exclusive in nature, or 2. Original sin does not have a universal effect. Bauer defines the terms “πολύζ, πολλή, πολύ” as “much many… large, great extensive, plentiful.” Thus, the intent of Jesus’ phrase is simply that there is an extensive number of people for whom he lays down his life. Whether this includes or excludes certain individuals is not relevant to the text and is beyond the scope of what Jesus is trying to say.

Texts such as Ephesians 5:25-27 which speak of Christ’s death as given for the church also fail to prove limited atonement. When encouraging the church, Paul is telling them of the benefits of Christ’s work, giving them assurance of their salvation and of the blessings that God has given them. There is no reason in this context to assume that Paul is, by doing this, excluding the “non-elect” from the intent of Christ’s atonement. It certainly is the church who has been given a particular message of Christ’s redemptive act, because it is those in the church who have taken hold of the benefits therein. Owen’s interpretation is also negated by the fact that the Pauline epistles, in other sections, clearly affirm the universal intent of Christ’s redemptive acts, though exegesis of the relevant texts will have to be put off until further in this discussion.

Owen reaches the following conclusion at the end of this section which serves as a thesis statement for the primary argument throughout this book. If universal atonement is true,

"Then one of these two things will necessarily follow:--that either, first, God and Christ failed of their end proposed, and did not accomplish that which they intended, the death of Christ being a not fitly-proportioned means for the attaining of that end (for any cause of failing cannot be assigned); which to assert seems to us blasphemously injurious to the wisdom, power, and perfection of God, as likewise derogatory to the worth and value of the death of Christ;--or else, that all men, all the posterity of Adam must be saved, purged, sanctified, and glorified."

If Christ died for all, then all are necessarily saved, unless one is willing to say that Christ failed in his mission by not saving those for whom he died. This is the essence of Owen’s argument. Though convincing to those who determine their theological conclusions from what they perceive to be the nature and character of God (namely, a Calvinistic conception that God’s sovereignty and glory are his primary attributes), this argument simply fails to take the Biblical evidence into account. There is ample exegetical evidence—as will be demonstrated—that Christ indeed did lay down his life on behalf of the entire human race; this coincides with several texts that purport that not all are saved. The fault, however, for damnation is never the will of God but the sin of the human creature.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Lutheranism and Theosis

The book I am currently working on is an evaluation of the Eastern Orthodox doctrine of theosis from a Lutheran perspective. I make the argument that Lutherans can and should adopt a teaching of theosis, as it is taught in the fathers, Luther's writings, and our Confessions. The language may make us, as Lutherans, somewhat uneasy, but whatever terminology is utilized, the concept is one that is Biblical and catholic.

Theosis is defined by Norman Russel as "our restoration as persons to integrity and wholeness by participation in Christ through the Holy Spirit, in a process which is initiated in this world through our life of ecclesial communion and moral striving and finds ultimate fulfillment in our union with the Father—all within the broad context of the divine economy." (Fellow Workers With God, 21)

For the Eastern Orthodox Church, salvation is primarily viewed as participationist, focusing on Christ in us, rather than Christ for us. The Lutheran tradition has tended to promote a soteriology that is predominantly forensic in light of the legal approach taken to the doctrine of justification and the priority of Christ for us. These two conceptions need not be pitted against one another, as if soteriology needs to be either juridical or participationist. Both motifs are present in the writings of Paul, the early fathers, and Luther.

It is my contention that theosis is a helpful and needed approach to salvation, and should be seen as "Christification." The earliest fathers including Ignatius, Irenaeus, and Athanasius took a Christological approach to the concept of deification. this is apparent in Athanasius' formula that "God became man so that man might become god." God took a human nature upon himself, and consequently gives us various attributes of divinity including immortality, incorruptibility and righteousness. This is to be carefully distinguished from the concept of apotheosis which teaches that humans can actually become divine by nature. Later Eastern writers, stemming from the writings of Dionysius the Areopogite, place deification in philosophical categories rather than the more strictly Biblical and less speculative approach of Athanasius. This latter approach has been adopted by the Eastern Orthodox Church, especially by those in the Neo-Palamite school of thought. It is the earlier approach of Irenaeus and Athanasius which comports with a Christological and Biblically oriented theology, rather than Palamism.

Christification is not a replacement of forensic justification as some in the Finnish approach to Luther have argued, but it's a complimentary reality. The Lutheran scholastic tradition spoke of this concept under the phrase "mystical union." Adolf Hoenecke is particularly insightful on this subject in his Evangelical Lutheran Dogmatics. He writes,

"The mystical union of the believers with God consists in that the triune God through the Holy Spirit essentially is graciously present in believers, through which those thus united with God not only blessedly rejoice and are filled with comfort and peace but are also made constantly more certain in grace, strengthened in sanctification, and preserved for eternal life." ELD III, 385

Along with forensic justification, through the imputed righteousness of Christ, God himself also dwells in his people. This divine indwelling is a real-ontic reality as opposed to the Ritschlian concept that it is a unity of will, rather than an actual ontological union. Through this divine indwelling, God grants grace, eternal life, and growth in holiness. Through this union, the believer is continually conformed to the image of Christ. Hoenecke also writes,

"According to these passages the essence of the mystical union is that God according to his substance in a miraculous way is close to the substance of humans and permeates their substance with his essence (Jn 17:21-23), and dwelling in the believers, he so works in them that they are filled with knowledge and all the fullness of God (Eph 3:17-19). When we describe the mystical union as the presence of the divine substance with the substance of humans, we express its intimacy. Two intimate friends cannot be so closely united. With the substance of their souls they are near each other; but God and the believers are in each other. The substance of both touches each other most closely; indeed the divine permeates the human. But self-evidently, every thought of an essential partaking of the believer in the substance of God, every mixing of God and man, every pantheistic notion of deification is far from this." ELD III, 386

Hoenecke is careful to argue for a real union with God without allowing for a blending of natures, so that the unique character of God is protected. Luther writes similarly in many places, especially in his Galatians commentary. For example:

"But so far as justification is concerned, Christ and I must be so closely attached that He lives in me and I in Him. What a marvelous way of speaking! Because He lives in me, whatever grace, righteousness, life, peace, and salvation there is in me is all Christ’s; nevertheless, it is mine as well, by the cementing and attachment that are through faith, by which we become as one body in the Spirit." LW 26, 127-128

For Luther, there is no separation of God's person from his gifts. When he grants us the righteousness of Christ, he grants us Christ himself. This idea is reflected in the Large Catechism,

"But the Creed brings pure grace and makes us righteous and acceptable to God. Through this knowledge we come to love and delight in all the commandments of God because we see here in the Creed how God gives himself completely to us, with all his gifts and power, to help us keep the Ten Commandments: the Father gives us all creation, Christ all his works, the Holy Spirit all his gifts." (LC II.68)

God grants his gifts including creation, and the work of Christ. Along with such gifts he grants himself, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Through this gift, the Christian is able to delight in God's Law. This union becomes the basis by which Christians grow in their faith, and are daily renewed, killing the old Adam. It is to be noted, however, that the Lutheran approach to this is much less optimistic than the Orthodox, who reach toward a possible goal of sinless perfection prior to one's eschatological glorification. For Luther, the continual forgiveness of sins is still the most essential aspect of the Christian life, though this does not negate the reality of divine indwelling and the actualization of holiness within the Christian.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A Brief History and Critique of the Altar Call

On today's program I discussed the evangelical practice of the Altar Call. I placed it within it's historical context, and then explained why Lutherans cannot and should not adopt such a practice.

Here is the program.

Friday, July 5, 2013

My Book "The Righteousness of One" is Now Available!

An updated version of my Masters Thesis The Righteousness of One: An Evaluation of Early Patristic Soteriology in Light of the New Perspective on Paul is now available to order at the Wipf & Stock site here. It will be available on Amazon in the near future.

In the forward, Peter Leithart writes that this book "should have a dramatic effect on the debate" regarding the New Perspective on Paul. He writes that,

"Cooper does not claim to pass final judgment on the New Perspective. What he offers is the opportunity to renew the debate in a more historically informed fashion. Having cleared the clutter, Cooper leaves us still with the task of grasping what St. Paul really said."

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Effect and Purpose of Baptism: A Final Response to John MacArthur

On today's program I finished my interaction with John MacArthur's lectures on the sacrament of baptism.

Here is the program

Part 1, Part 2