Friday, June 28, 2013

Section 25: The Ontological Question of Theological Language

The Self-Donation of God, chapter 8:

"Modern theology (beginning with Schleiermacher, whom we will discuss below) has generally been uncomfortable with these categories of thought. This has been the case for several reasons. One objection comes from the Liberal Protestant historian of dogma Adolf von Harnack. Harnack derided the Church Fathers for their use of philosophical categories taken from Platonism, Stoicism and Aristotelianism. He viewed this as being the essentially downfall of Christianity. The intellectualizing tendency which use of these philosophical traditions represent, degraded Christianity into abstract philosophically belief system from its pristine origin as a religion of the heart. In essence, then, for Harnack, true Christianity is tied up with ethical uprightness ("brotherhood of man" and "fatherhood of God") and the interior experience of the divine that does not need theological abstractions such as the Incarnation or the Trinity.
Regarding Harnack's treatment of the Church Fathers, much research has shown that his thesis is not accurate. The newer scholarship has demonstrated that as a result of theological debates and Church-usage, much of the Greek philosophical terminology that the Church Fathers borrowed was significantly redefined. In fact, sometimes the terminology was modified quite radically in light of the newness present in the biblical teaching. In this vein, Luther in some of his later writings spoke similarly of the "new language" (nova lingua) of faith. In speaking of the nova lingua, the Reformer noted that words take on new meaning through events of revelation. Quiddities like "divinity" and "humanity" are mutually exclusive in normal (or philosophical) language, but when we come to discuss the Incarnation they are not.
Adding to this point historically, the patristic scholar Robert Wilkenson, has also noted that the Church was in fact instrumental in developing its own unique grammar for dealing with Christological and Trinitarian realities. Ultimately, such language (and the ontological presuppositions that came with it) developed in debates because interaction with the biblical texts. Such debates were of course influenced by Greek philosophical presuppositions, but as the discussions progressed many of these presuppositions were greatly changed by interaction with the biblical material or even eliminated."

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Section 24: Christ's Davidic Heritage

The Self-Donation of God, chapter 11:

"Because of the taxis of Christ’s threefold office discussed in the last chapter, we will begin our discussion of the threefold office with the regal (munus regium). Jesus is the true Davidic king (Matt 1:1, 9:27, 15:22, 20:30, 20:31, 21:9, 21:15; Luke 1:32, 1:69; Rom 1:3; Rev 3:7, 5:5, 22:16.) who fulfills Gods' promises to David (2 Sam 7; Ps 2, 89, 110). As the true Davidic king, he is the restorer of humanity's place within the original creation, as well as the fulfiller of the Abrahamic testament and its promise of universal blessing.
The fact that Jesus is a descendent of David, and therefore the true inheritor of the promise of the Davidic testament, is clear from the genealogies provided for us by Matthew and Luke. The question of whether Jesus was a literal descendant of David is in fact not a trivial one, but rather concerns God's faithfulness to his promises. If the Messiah was not David's son, then we cannot understand the God of the New Testament to be a faithful fulfiller of his promises. This would place the promise of the gospel itself into question. Therefore, the issue of Christ’s literal descent from David cannot be papered over with the typical Liberal Protestant shrug and appeal to the post-Enlightenment fact/value split.
Due to the extreme skepticism characteristic of many of the practitioners of the historical-critical method, the genealogies of the New Testament have been under fire since the eighteenth century. Nevertheless, contrary to popular scholarly belief, the Gospel genealogies contain much to recommend themselves on purely historically grounds. This would be true even if they were not guaranteed to us by the fact of their inclusion in the utterly truthful Word of God."

Friday, June 21, 2013

Section 24: Christ as Prophet

The Self-Donation of God, chapter 13:

"Finally, we turn to Christ's prophetic office (munus propheticum). As we have seen earlier, Adam as the protological minister of the Word, failed to trust in and properly apply the Word of God when faced with the challenge of Satan. By this, sin and death entered into the world (Rom 5:12). Jesus Christ reverses Adam's falsehood and introduction of death because he is "the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead . . ." (Rev 1:4). The exercise of all Christ’s offices is ultimately ordered to his prophetic office. By actualizing a new testament in his blood, he establishes the Word of the gospel which destroys sin, death, the law, and the Devil.
Because Jesus is the eternal Word of God and the true prophet, all divine revelation centers on him. According to Deuteronomy 18, truth of prophecy is predicated on whether the prophet speaks in the name of YHWH and whether that prophecy comes true. As the "yes" to all of God's promises (2 Cor 1:19-20) and as the true divine Name, Jesus Christ supremely embodies this criterion. By his Incarnation, all of God's promises spoken by him in his pre-incarnate state through the prophets came true. He is both the source and object of revelation. Similarly, he does not just speak in the divine Name, but is the divine Name in person. Within Jesus' ministry, his own prophecy and that of all those who testify to him was validated by the supreme fulfillment of the resurrection.
In his resurrection, Jesus confirmed his testament which he gave to the Church through apostolic word. As we have seen in our discussion of the book of Revelation, the opening of Christ’s testament unleashes the power of the new creation which undoes the dominion of the Devil. God's war for creation is a war between the word of Christ's testament and Satan's false word (John 8:44). As we saw earlier in texts such as the Genesis commentary and the Smalcald Articles, Luther understood this fact and juxtaposed faithfulness and truth of God's Word with Satan's corruption of the Word. Indeed, as John teaches the ultimate goal of Christ’s work is to undo the falsehood of the Devil: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the Devil’s work” (1 John 3:8)."

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Section 23: The Law and the Nature of Sin

The Self-Donation of God, chapter 12:

"Self-justification and self-deification are an infinite task because God's being and justice are infinite. Those who suffer eschatological judgment will experience God's law and judgment infinitely (Isa 66:24; Dan 12:2; Matt 25:41, v. 46; Rev 20:10). Consequently, they will eternally persist in their self-justification. In the concrete experience of our temporal existence, the infinity of the law is clearly manifested by the fact that the human drive for self-justification is unending. The law never stops demanding and imputing us with guilt. Moreover, the nature of time itself will never allow us to do away with our guilt. No matter how many good works we do, our guilt is never expiated. It eternally stands over and against us, as does the full burden of our past. Even if somehow we were to succeed in being righteous by our own actions (which is of course impossible!), there would still never be an end in sight. We would have to maintain our righteousness by our actions forever and ever. Only in death would the question of our righteousness be settled. Nevertheless, because the "wages of sin is death" (Rom 6:23), the verdict could never be anything but negative.
The infinity of the law and the infinity of our concupiscence are simply two manifestations of our self-deification. Our concupiscence is in fact born of the same desire to master God, which Paul calls "covetousness" (6:1-14). At the root of all sinful desire is the will to master and possess the other. This is ultimately rooted in our unbelief, whose lack of trust manifests itself in the need to control. The ultimate object of this desire for mastery is God and his uncontrollable judgment against us. My self-justification leads me to ultimately covet his divinity: "But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead" (8:7, emphasis added). Bound to sin, we have no other recourse but to try to master God, and his annihilating judgment. God hidden in his majesty and active in his masks of the law cannot be trusted, but only opposed."

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Section 22: The Lamentation of Christ.

The Self-Donation of God, chapter 12:

"As the true human being, Jesus Christ displays perfect faith in God's goodness. Knowing himself to share all things in common with the Father and having this reconfirmed throughout his whole life through God's external Word (in the prophecy of the Scriptures, spoken to his parents, at his baptism and at Tabor, etc.), he trusted with a victorious faith in his own vindication (Heb 12:1-2). Adam and Eve, being surrounded by all good things, doubted God's beneficence at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. By contrast, Jesus on the tree of the cross experienced the most extreme opposition, abandonment, and condemnation in his death. Nevertheless, unlike our first parents, he praised God and did not doubt his word of grace: "you are my Son with whom I am well pleased." It is for this reason that both Luther and Thomasius are correct, that Jesus could only redeem if he experienced the total abandonment and wrath of God. Jesus' active righteousness is rooted in his perfect faith in the face of total abandonment."

Friday, June 14, 2013

Section 21: The Genus Majestaticum

The Self-Donation of God, chapter 9:

"The genus majestaticum posits that Christ's humanity possesses by communication the fullness of divine attributes when considered in the abstract. Chemnitz describes the genus thus: “so that when we speak of these matters in the schools we can be correct not only in calling Christ a man or saying that the Son of Man makes alive, but also we can then rightly speak in the abstract or in abstract language of the assumed nature as being united with the Logos. We can say that the flesh of Christ, which is united with the Logos, makes alive and that the blood of Christ cleanses from sin.” Vainio comments: “[t]he third genus . . . refers to the supernatural gifts and attributes Christ’s human nature receives in the hypostatic union. Since God’s attributes and essence are inseparable, these supernatural gifts and attributes are God’s essence.”
Gerhard observes that there was a difference between Lutheran theologians of the second generation as to whether one should speak of the glory of God communicated to Christ's human nature in the abstract. Some thought it was proper (notably Chemnitz and Johannes Brenz) others did not (notably Tileman Heshusius). Gerhard comments that this was ultimately a logomachy and not based on any substantive disagreement about the genus. Some claimed that considering the human nature in the abstract entailed thinking of only the essential attributes of his humanity. Therefore, since it was improper to say that divine attributes had been communicated to the human essence (this would entail the heresy of Eutyches, condemned by the fourth ecumenical council), it was not permissible to say that such glory had been communicated to the human nature in the abstract. Others disagreed and stated when a person considers the human nature of Christ in the abstract one must always think about it as it exists in the context of the hypostatic union. To be more exact, because the human nature is anhypostasis, it has never existed and never will exist, except in the concrete unity of the person of the Logos. It therefore follows that it must always be thought of as possessing the fullness of divine glory, because even when considered in the abstract the human nature was still the human nature of the Logos. This latter answer seems more satisfactory for of number reasons. First, terminologically speaking, it creates space for a clearer linguistic distinction between the genus majestaticum and the genus idiomaticum. Secondly, as we shall see below, it more closely replicates the Bible’s own manner of speaking about Jesus. This being said, it should be observed that the other position is technically speaking not incorrect, simply less terminologically precise.
In insisting on the full communication of glory to Christ's humanity, it should be observed that Chemnitz is not positing transmuting of humanity into divinity. Throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (as it is at present in many circles) this was a common charge of those among the Reformed communions who rejected this genus. As we noted earlier, both Calvin and Zwingli claimed that there was no communication of glory to Christ’s humanity and therefore his body was confined to heaven. From their perspective, since Lutherans believed that Christ’s possessed the fullness of divine glory and could exercise that glory by being present in many places at once (most notably in the Lord’s Supper) they must logically believe in the transmutation of Christ’s humanity into his divinity. Working from Chemnitz’s definitions, it is easy to observe that this charge is utterly without merit. The Lutheran claim is not the human essence is somehow mixed with the divine nature. Rather, the human possesses divine glory by communication within the personal union brought about by the Incarnation."

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Monday, June 10, 2013

Section 20: Christ as Prophet, Priest, and King

The Self-Donation of God, chapter 10:

"Although some theologians (notably Werner Elert and Wolfhart Pannenberg) have criticized this schema of the threefold office (triplex munus) first introduced into Lutheranism by Johann Gerhard, it is necessary for understanding the work of Christ. First, as we have shown in our extensive exegesis in the preceding chapters (which we will not repeat here), the threefold office of Christ is thoroughly biblical and is not something arbitrarily imposed on the text of Sacred Scripture. In fact, as we have seen, this schema is used repeatedly not in just a few biblical texts, but is pervasive throughout the New Testament and prophetic writing of the Old Testament. Because of its presence in the Old Testament, the Second Temple Jewish expectation of multiple Messiahs to fulfill these multiple offices makes a great deal of sense. Secondly, because Christ fulfilled the threefold office given to Israel and Adam, the threefold office is also useful for emphasizing the unity of God's works within the new and old creations. Just as God established human vocation in the beginning with Adam as the protological prophet, priest, and king, so too he elected prophets, priests, and kings in biblical Israel. Through the prophets he promised a coming Messiah would fulfill all these roles and that creation would be renewed through him. Finally God sent forth his Son to fulfill these vocations and bring about redemption. Recognizing this unity of divine agency in creation and redemption is useful for staving off the ever present threat of latent Marcionism.
Lastly, humanity is redeemed by Christ's fulfillment of the law through his active and passive righteousness. The law is not an abstract standard, but is fulfilled by human moral agents within concrete vocation within the created order. Therefore in order for the law to be fulfilled, Christ had to take up the human vocation as it had been established at the beginning of creation. Since the law is in fact identical with God's desired structure for the created order, fulfillment of the law by Christ as a divine-human agent is identical with the renewal and recreation of the world. Since the old structure of creation was mangled, it was necessary to recreate the world by a re-actualization of its original narrative and structure. If Christ were merely a man, his activity of fulfilling the law could not do this. Humans are not capable of creating anything by their actions, even if performed in obedience to God’s will. Nevertheless, since the activity and presence of the humanity of Jesus are identical with the divine person of the Logos, his human actions in fulfillment of the law were infused divine power and glory. By this human obedience, he did what only God could do and renewed creation. In order to accomplish this, Christ took over and fulfilled the offices of Adam, the protological prophet, priest, and king."

Friday, June 7, 2013

Section 19: Christ's Sacrifice of Praise

The Self-Donation of God, chapter 12:

"In examining Christ’s sacrificial work, we begin first with his fulfillment of the sacrifice of praise. As the possessor of the fullness of divine glory, Christ was utterly free from the law and therefore the archetype of Christian freedom. For this reason, any obedience that he rendered to the Father is not a legal obligation, but rather a sacrifice of praise: “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.” (Jn 17:4). Indeed, Jesus’ own “glorification” (the revelation of his divine power through his death on the cross) is a glorification of the Father. In dying under God’s wrath and the most extreme opposition from sinful humanity, he still confesses God’s goodness and grace and therefore trusts in his vindication and exaltation by the Father: “Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” (Jn 17:1). Therefore Jesus dies glorifying the Father and confessing his faithful goodness.
Even Jesus’ lamentation on the cross (Mark 15:34) is itself a confession of faith in the goodness and grace of God. Jesus' dying words in Mark are, it must be remembered, a quotation from the prophecy of Psalm 22 and therefore cannot be separated from the liturgical function of lamentation. The Psalms were utilized as the liturgy of the Temple and therefore are all concerned in a sense with the praise of God for his goodness. Psalms of lamentation also assume the existence of and trust in divine goodness. One does not lament if they do not consider God to be gracious and good. Lamentation is faith’s response to appearances that contradict its trust in God’s goodness and graciousness. Those who do not believe God is good and gracious do not lament because the world is precisely as a non-existent or malevolent deity would have it. Therefore, Jesus in his lamentation maintains his faith in God’s Word, in spite of divine hiddenness and condemnation.
As the true human being, Jesus Christ displays perfect faith in God's goodness. Knowing himself to share all things in common with the Father and having this reconfirmed throughout his whole life through God's external Word (in the prophecy of the Scriptures, spoken to his parents, at his baptism and at Tabor, etc.), he trusted with a victorious faith in his own vindication (Heb 12:1-2). Adam and Eve, being surrounded by all good things, doubted God's beneficence at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. By contrast, Jesus on the tree of the cross experienced the most extreme opposition, abandonment, and condemnation in his death. Nevertheless, unlike our first parents, he praised God and did not doubt his word of grace: "you are my Son with whom I am well pleased." It is for this reason that both Luther and Thomasius are correct, that Jesus could only redeem if he experienced the total abandonment and wrath of God. Jesus' active righteousness is rooted in his perfect faith in the face of total abandonment."

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Section 18: God inside and Outside the Law

Sorry I haven't posted quotations from the book for a while. Here's today's.

The Self-Donation of God, chapter 6:

"In spite of this condemnation, God also speaks forth a second word, that is, the Word of the gospel. This countermove is possible because the law does not exhaust God's will. Although the law is God's holy will and God cannot deny himself (2 Tim 2:13), it is only one aspect of his will. God's being and will encompass and transcends the law and therefore the law does not exhaust it. God acts within creation, as we have seen, under different masks (larva Dei). Some masks are of law, and others are of the gospel. Although God binds himself to act according to the law and the gospel within these masks, he may "shuffle" them as he chooses in accordance with his hidden electing will. As Luther writes in The Bondage of the Will: "But God hidden in his majesty neither deplores nor takes away death, but works life, death and all in all. For there he has not bound himself by his word, but has kept himself free over all things." Indeed, that God is an electing and free God is shown in that his proper name is "I will be who I will be" (Exod 3:14, alternative translation). God more clearly explains this to Moses when he proclaims his name before him on Sinai: "I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ ["I will be who I will be"] And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy" (33:19, emphasis added).
Therefore, God’s wrathful and gracious activities in creation cannot be reduced to the structure of the law. God does not merely judge non-compliance with the law, but propagates the human species in such a way as to spread original sin to each and every person. Each person, without choosing to be so, is a sinner from their conception (Ps 53:5) and object of divine wrath. Furthermore, despite the universality of original sin, the law of wrath and judgment is not applied evenly. Jacob and Moses were attacked by God for no discernible reason. The generation of Israel that was exiled to Babylon can hardly be thought to be worse than the generation that entered Canaan. In a word, although all are fallen and wicked, and therefore deserving of death and eternal condemnation, some suffer condemnation and others do not. Within Scripture, this mysterious reality of election is particularly emphasized in the books of Job and Jonah.
In that human beings are bound to self-justification, they wish the law to exhaust God's will (opinio legis). They wish to control God with the law and thereby protect themselves from the fact that God is utterly free, unbound, and electing. They therefore invent false images of God wherein he is subordinate to the larger reality of the law. Such images of God seek to domesticate him. According to these ideas, the existence of God still allows for free will. He is not identical the terrible power of fate, but rather the overseer of a vast system of law. Within this clean and neat system, all humans are given the opportunity to pull themselves up by their moral bootstraps.
Nevertheless, this concept of God is a false idol. God hidden in his majesty is utterly free, unbound, and sovereign. Although from the perspective of fallen humans this fact is terrifying beyond comprehension, from the perspective of faith this is the greatest comfort. That God's will transcends the law also means that his choice to elect and save need not be based on the law and human obedience to it. Though in saving humanity he will have to deal with the problem of the law (in that it is his eternal will!), the law does not determine his purpose to save."