Christology


While Wright is pegged as the “ecclesiological” version of justification, it strikes me that this is a red-herring. While justification as covenant status addresses the division of Jews and Gentiles, the problem is more basic. Wright sees justification has addressing the human problems of sin, condemnation, and death, and Paul’s discussion of a creational, anthropological, covenantal, and forensic eschatology is described in terms of justification (see the progressive discussion of these framing terms in Paul and the Faithfulness of God, 925-37). Ultimately this is all captured in his discussion of final eschatology:

Paul’s vision in Romans 1-8, then, has as its framework the all-important narrative about a future judgment according to the fullness of the life that has been led, emphasizing the fact that those ‘in Christ’ will face ‘no condemnation’ on that final day (2.1-16; 8.1-11, 31-39). The reason Paul gives for this is, as so often, the cross and the spirit (8.3-4): in the Messiah, and by the spirit, the life in question will have been the life of spirit-led obedience, adoption, suffering, prayer, and ultimately glory (8.5-8, 12-17, 18-27, 28-30). This is not something other than ‘Paul’s doctrine of justification‘. It is its outer, eschatological framework.   …   And, to repeat a vital point about the character of Paul’s theology, that integration [of present and final justification] makes nonsense of all schemes that depend on regarding Romans 1-4 and 5-8 as representing two types of thought or systems of soteriology. That division results from failing to notice Paul’s larger controlling category, namely, the covenant promises made by God to Abraham to deal with the problem of the world’s sin and its consequences. Those, Paul insists, are the promises to which the covenant God has been true in the Messiah. The faithfulness of this God is the underlying theme of Romans 1-8… [sic] as it is also the problem, and then the solution, throughout Romans 9-11. (Paul and the Faithfulness of God, 941-42)

He later uses the terminology of ‘inaugurated forensic and covenantal eschatology’. “The future verdict … is thus brought forward into the present, because of the utter grace of the one God seen in the ‘faithful’ death of the Messiah … and then at work, as we shall now see, through the spirit in the gospel” (944-45).

Restoring the community, setting it to rights, is important, but in Christ and the Spirit God is setting the whole world to rights, and so to limit justification, for Wright at least, to ecclesiology is to miss his larger picture. That said, he frames it this way:

Once we have worked through the first five preliminary points, we ought to realize that this sixth one is where it has all been going. Those who are declared or accounted ‘righteous’ on the basis of Messiah-faith constitute the single covenant family which the one God has faithfully given to Abraham. (Paul and the Faithfulness of God, 961)

 

Ben, Jason, and I are excited to announce the release of our most recent edited volume Paul and the Apocalyptic Imagination (Fortress Press). This book has been several years in the making, the main contents of which were initially presented and discussed at an SBL event of the same name in November 2014. The volume contains 17 excellent chapters at 488 pages. The retail price is a reasonable $39.00, though Amazon and other online book sellers are currently offering it as cheaply as $24. Below I’ve pasted the book description and table of contents. We’d be delighted if you and/or your library would obtain a copy!

Since the mid-twentieth century, apocalyptic thought has been championed as a central category for understanding the New Testament writings and the lePaul and the Apocalyptic Imaginationtters of Paul above all. But “apocalyptic” has meant different things to different scholars. Even the assertion of an “apocalyptic Paul” has been contested: does it mean the invasive power of God that breaks with the present age (Ernst Käsemann), or the broader scope of revealed heavenly mysteries, including the working out of a “many-staged plan of salvation” (N. T. Wright), or something else altogether? Paul and the Apocalyptic Imagination brings together eminent Pauline scholars from diverse perspectives, along with experts of Second Temple Judaism, Hellenistic philosophy, patristics, and modern theology, to explore the contours of the current debate. Contributors discuss the history of what apocalypticism, and an “apocalyptic Paul,” have meant at different times and for different interpreters; examine different aspects of Paul’s thought and practice to test the usefulness of the category; and show how different implicit understandings of apocalypticism shape different contemporary presentations of Paul’s significance.

Part I.
1. Paul and the Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction—Ben C. Blackwell, John K. Goodrich, and Jason Maston
2. “Then I Proceeded to Where Things Were Chaotic” (1 Enoch 21:1): Mapping the Apocalyptic Landscape—David A. Shaw

Part II.
3. Apocalyptic as God’s Eschatological Activity in Paul’s Theology—Martinus C. de Boer
4. Apocalyptic Epistemology: The Sine Qua Non of Valid Pauline Interpretation—Douglas A. Campbell
5. Apocalyptic as Theoria in the Letters of St. Paul: A New Perspective on Apocalyptic as the Mother of Theology—Edith M. Humphrey
6. Apocalyptic and the Sudden Fulfillment of Divine Promise—N. T. Wright

Part III.
7. Some Reflections on Apocalyptic Thought and Time in Literature from the Second Temple Period—Loren T. Stuckenbruck
8. The Transcendence of Death and Heavenly Ascent in the Apocalyptic Paul and the Stoics—Joseph R. Dodson
9. Second-Century Perspectives on the Apocalyptic Paul: Reading the Apocalypse of Paul and the Acts of PaulBen C. Blackwell
10. Some Remarks on Apocalyptic in Modern Christian Theology—Philip G. Ziegler

Part IV.
11. Righteousness Revealed: Righteousness of God in Romans 3:21-26—Jonathan A. Linebaugh
12. Thinking from Christ to Israel: Romans 9-11 in Apocalyptic Context—Beverly Roberts Gaventa
13. Apocalyptic Allegiance and Disinvestment in the World: A Reading of 1 Corinthians 7:25-35—John M. G. Barclay
14. After Destroying Every Rule, Authority, and Power: Paul, Apocalyptic, and Politics in 1 Corinthians—John K. Goodrich
15. Plight and Solution in Paul’s Apocalyptic Perspective: A Study of 2 Corinthians 5:18-21—Jason Maston
16. The Apocalyptic New Covenant and the Shape of Life in the Spirit according to Galatians—Michael J. Gorman
17. The Two Ages and Salvation History in Paul’s Apocalyptic Imagination: A Comparison of 4 Ezra and Galatians—J. P. Davies

Index of Names
Index of Ancient Writings

A few days ago I quoted a great summary passage from Irenaeus, and the last part of the paragraph was especially striking:

He [God] it is whom the law proclaims, whom the prophets preach, whom Christ reveals, whom the apostles make known s to us, and in whom the Church believes. He is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: through His Word, who is His Son, through Him He is revealed and manifested to all to whom He is revealed; for those [only] know Him to whom the Son has revealed Him. But the Son, eternally co-existing with the Father, from of old, yea, from the beginning, always reveals the Father to Angels, Archangels, Powers, Virtues, and all to whom He wills that God should be revealed. (Against Heresies 2.30.9 [ANF])

Irenaeus is very clear on the deity of Christ. He is not a creation; he is “eternally co-existing with the Father”. Thus, the Council of Nicea did not invent the idea of the Trinity as some like to affirm. Irenaeus is very clear about the topic some 150 years before Nicea. As God himself he is able to reveal God to others, not just to humans but other cosmic beings. Of course, scripture is revelation from God, but Irenaeus gives us a good word that we should look first to Christ as the true revelation of God. Barth would be proud.

N.T. Wright’s volume Paul and the Faithfulness of God was eagerly anticipated by many and broke the back of many mail carriers. For those looking for some help through the massive two-volumes, Larry Hurtado is posting on some key issues. After an introductory post, in which he comments on the length of the work, Hurtado focuses on Wright’s Christology. In the second post, he questions Wright’s claim that in Paul’s view Jesus is the personal return of YHWH. In the third post, he challenges Wright’s understanding of how Jesus’ messiahship functioned in Paul’s thought and its significance for Pauline theology. All three posts are very helpful for seeing the differences between these two leading scholars. Also, in the comments Richard Bauckham and Crispin Fletcher-Louis have weighed in.

The posts can be found here: “Paul and the Faithfulness of God”: Wright’s big Opus; “Paul and the Faithfulness of God”: 2nd Posting; and Messiah and Worship.

A vision for theosis:

Almighty God,
who wonderfully created us in your own image
and yet more wonderfully restored us
through your Son Jesus Christ:
grant that, as he came to share in our humanity,
so we may share the life of his divinity;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen

The following is an extended quote from Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 30.5 (one of his Five Theological Orations), written near the time of the Council of Constantinople (AD 381).  The work is a refutation of the Eunomians/Anomeans/Neo-Arians, who thought that the Son did not eternally share the same nature as the Father.  As part of his argument he discusses the relationship of the Father to the Son when he is hanging on the cross.

If the Father and Son share the same essence/nature, how can they be separated at the cross? What could Jesus have meant when he exclaimed (quoting Ps 22.1), “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Gregory answers:

Why? You will say.  Is [the Son] not subordinate now?  If he is God, does he need at all to be made subordinate to God?  You are talking as if he were a bandit or an opponent of God!

No–look at this fact: the one who releases me from the curse was called “curse” because of me; “the one who takes away the sin of the world” was called “sin” and is made a new Adam to replace the old.  In just this way too, as head of the whole body, he appropriates my want of submission.  So long as I am an insubordinate rebel with passions which deny God, my lack of submission will be referred to Christ.  But when all things are put in submission under him, when transformed they obediently acknowledge him, then will Christ bring me forward, me who have been saved, and makes his subjection complete.  In my view Christ’s submission is the fulfillment of the Father’s will.  As we said before, the Son actively produces submission to the Father, while the Father wills and approves submission to the Son.  Thus it is that he effects our submission, makes it his own and presents it to God. “My God, my God, look upon me, why have you forsaken me?” seems to me to have been the same kind of meaning.  He is not forsaken either by the Father or, as some think, by his own Godhead, which shrank in fear from suffering, abandoning the suffer.  Who applies that argument either to his birth in this world in the first place or to his ascent of the cross? No in himself, as I have said, he expresses our condition.  We had once been forsaken and disregarded; then we are accepted and now are saved by the sufferings of the impassible.  He made our thoughtlessness and waywardness his own, just as the psalm, in its subsequent course says–since the Twenty-First Psalm [LXX, English = 22nd], clearly refers to Christ.

When representing humanity on the cross, Christ does not cease to be divine.  He subordinates himself on our behalf, but he can only humble himself if he were exalted in the first place.  The Father and the Son did not have separate intentions because sharing the same nature entails sharing the same will.  Miroslav Volf captures this idea when he recently tweeted: “Christ is not a third party inserted between an angry God and sinful humanity; he is the God who was wronged embracing humanity on the cross.”

The Bible as a whole, and the NT in particular, is Christocentric.  That is, the gospel as the center of the Bible is a story of how Jesus as Israel’s Messiah has come to restore the world through is death and resurrection.  Other attempts as bringing in other “center” language has brought about quick corrections, e.g., Richard Hays rightly corrected his original framing of Paul’s reading of scripture as “ecclesiocentric” to be described later as “ecclesiotelic” in a “Christocentric” framework.  I heartily agree that the Christ-event is at the heart of the biblical story and of the Christian faith, but there is a consistent problem that I have noted among scholars and students: this Christocentrism has become a Christomonism, or we might also say the Trinitarianism of the Christianity is regularly becoming binitarian because we have lost sight of the Spirit in our theology.

Though this problem is not limited to Evangelicals, we often experience this because as a “Word” centered movement, Jesus and the Bible are are the heart of our spirituality and practice.  A robust Trinitarianism, which entails a strong view of the Spirit’s work, is often missing.  If any aspect of the Trinity is missing, it will be the Spirit, as the Father and Son are regularly represented.  When is the last time your church mentioned the Trinity, much less had sermon or a sermon series on the Trinity?

Let me offer for some examples for my case.

  • At the heart of my evangelical up-bringing was a heavy emphasis on reading and (properly) interpreting the Bible, an inheritance that I happily try to pass along to my students.  However, when I was learning my hermeneutical method, the Spirit played a minor role in the process.  Evangelicals have bought into the Enlightenment presupposition that one who employs the right method can get to the right meaning in the text.  I was taught the “historical-grammatical” method in distinction to the “historical-critical” method, but in either case the method entails the search for objective meaning.  Where is the Spirit in the method?  We were regularly encouraged to pray for the Spirit’s guidance, but I couldn’t tell you how a 1 Corinthians 2-3 epistemology was incorporated into the method.  There is much talk of the Bible as Spirit-inspired, but little training or emphasis on interpretation as Spirit-enlightened.  In the end, we relied/rely on a new holy Trinity: Father, Son, Holy Bible.  The Word is central, but where is the Spirit in our hermeneutics?
  • About a year or two ago I heard someone describe (folk) evangelical preaching and theology as “deistic therapeutic moralism”, that is, a focus on self-help practices focused on right living.  While evangelicalism has a more robust theology than this, I think it is an apt description of the average Christian mindset.  Many things over the past century have fed into this folk theology, but one of the main influences is again the Enlightenment deistic presuppositions.  People hear messages about repentance and holy living, but without a robust Trinitarian framework with the Spirit working in and transforming people, they are left with a call to morality without divine empowerment.  There is little place for a focus on New Covenant theology where God is restoring people’s hearts and not just giving them a right status.
  • The lack of a place for the Spirit was brought home to me clearly when I taught a class on Paul and His Letters this fall.  One of the textbooks I require is Gordon Fee’s Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God.  He has an excellent section on the trinitarian nature of Paul’s theology, and as we were discussing this an able student asked if I was worried about people thinking there are three gods since we are talking about the Spirit so much.  We talk about Jesus and the Father constantly, but are we worried about people thinking we believe in two gods?  No, but since we have no place for the Spirit in our theology of God, we work from a functional binitarianism rather than a Trinitarianism.
  • My last piece of evidence comes from a series of Biblical Theology lectures that I listened to.  I won’t mention the name because these otherwise helpful lectures were marred by a Christomonist portrayal of God’s work in the world.  In distinction to the Trinity as central or the Father working through Christ and the Spirit to establish his kingdom, or any other model of Biblical Theology, this speaker only mentioned Christ as the center of the biblical story.  Yes, Christ is central to God’s action in the world, but where is the biblical view of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit acting in conjunction.  The Spirit didn’t come into these lectures until the very end, almost as a side-note.  However, if God has revealed himself as Father, Son, and Spirit shouldn’t we begin with a Trinitarian framework for understanding his work, at least in discussing canonical theology?

As a mentioned above, I agree that the Bible is Christocentric: the gospel as the center of the Bible is a story of how Jesus as Israel’s Messiah has come to restore the world through is death and resurrection.  However, how can we understand the New Covenant work of the God-sent Messiah without understanding his Spirit-anointing which brings about a transformation of believers’ hearts as a fulfillment of the New Covenant?

In contemporary theology there has been a return to a focus on the Trinity as the center of the Christian faith, as affirmed in the Nicene Creed.  I think this is a healthy move, but if we are going to pursue a robust Trinitarian theology, the area that will need much refinement and focus is that of the third article of the Creed–the Holy Spirit.  With pentecostalism as the dominant growth force in the church globally, the importance of the Spirit will no doubt bring rise in prominence.  However, you don’t have to be a charismatic to be a Trinitarian.  If you think about your theology, do you have a robust Trinitarianism?  If not, I doubt it is because your view of the Father working through the Son is lacking.  Rather, do you have a place for the Spirit as essential to your view of God’s work in the world?  If not, I encourage you to seek out balanced voices like Gordon Fee and (re)discover the Spirit in the Trinity’s work in the world.

This post is a fruit of a review I’m doing on Najeeb Awad’s God Without a Face?: On the Personal Individuation of the Holy Spirit (Dogmatik in Der Moderne).

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