Theology: January 2005 Archives

The nature of Grace

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As Jeremy has already noted, Rebecca and I have been continuing the conversation on atonement.

Currently, Rebecca is stating that the same action cannot be both Justice and Grace to the same person. This is because Justice is getting exactly what you deserve, and Grace is getting better than what you deserve. For the sake of the conversation on that thread, I am accepting those definitions of Justice and Grace (mostly because I think our disagreement will end up not being over these terms).

Wink and Rebecca on Atonement


For those who followed Wink's series on the penal union view of the atonement, the discussion is actually still going on. I hadn't realized it until I read Rebecca's reference to it in a post from yesterday, but the discussion between her and Wink in the comments on this post from three weeks ago are still continuing, so those interested should stop by and have a look and perhaps a contribution.

Catholic TULIP

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This was interesting. I was browsing Ales Rarus, and he made the claim that Catholics must deny the five points of Calvinism. I think that's false for all five points, so I was intrigued when a commenter on this post linked to this Catholic defense of the Reformed TULIP doctrines.

I knew Reformed thinkers had always found support in Augustine, Aquinas, and other thinkers whom Catholics tend to respect greatly (I'd mention the Jansenists such as Antoine Arnauld and Nicolas Malebranche, but they were unfortunately officially declared heretics posthumously, though I believe Augustine was temporarily a heretic himself). Also, commentaries by Catholic scholars Joseph Fitzmyer and Luke Timothy Johnson sound more like Luther than like the Roman Catholics of Luther's day. Still, I'd never seen a Catholic defend TULIP explicitly before in the terms Calvinists use.

Evolution Stickers

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I was toying whether to say something about the evolution stickers fiasco. I didn't get around to completing my decision on whether I would. Sam has now beaten me to it, and I think she says everything I wanted to say (and a little more).

I know it's bad blogging practice not to link to the background to what I've just mentioned. I'm too burned out dealing with someone who turns out to be a semi-troll and a lot more people than I expected who have completely misinterpreted my words and actions with regard to the World post.

Therefore, I'm not going to comment further on the evolution stuff or seek out the links to the background on that or link to the posts I've just referenced on my own blog (which won't take too much work to locate if you really care and don't already know). Sam links to the background on the evolution stuff, anyway, so when you read her post, which was the point of all this, you can get the background from there.

Theodicy and Irrationality

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Stuart Buck says it's irrational to bring out the problem of evil after the tsunami as if this somehow changes anything. I think he's absolutely right.

If people were already prepared to maintain religious faith in the face of a 100% death rate (and all the lesser evils that already exist in the world), it is irrational to act as if the problem of evil has suddenly arisen simply because a minute percentage of the world's population faced death in one incident.

Not to minimize how bad it is for those involved, this is really only .000025% of the world's current population who have died all at once. Compare that to the history of the world, and it's not a huge change. People die in much worse ways than this. They just don't often do it in such large numbers at once. This isn't really any more of a problem for theodicists than any other natural deaths that are more spread out.

Jesus' Reasoning in Mark 7:1-23


Here is another entry in Joe Carter's collaborative project of what's being called Jesus the Logician (though I oppose that name).

Mark 7:1-23 has a lot in it that I could talk about, and I hope to get around to it at some point in my Mark Tidbits series, which I have not abandoned. I have a partially-written fourth post in that series that I keep moving forward because I haven't had the time to finish it when I haven't had something else higher on my priority list at the time.

Jesus' Reasoning in John 9:1-3


I've been putting off contributing to Joe Carter's collaborative project of what's being misnamed Jesus the Logician, but here we go finally. Here's an instance of Jesus' reasoning strategy with his disciples that I think fits what Joe is looking for. John 9:1-3 contains a good example of a false dilemma. Jesus' disciples give him this dilemma, and he responds with the common philosophical practice of going through the horns of the dilemma by denying either of the options presented to him and saying they simply haven't listed all the options. A more exhaustive dilemma would have contained at least a third option, and that third option isn't as problematic as the two they mention.

Logic Puzzle 4

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Jeremy's 4D "gappy person" solution to logic puzzle 3 is very attractive to me except that it runs into problems with my next logic puzzle:

(1) It is by Jesus that all things cohere.
(2) Jesus died for a measurable period of time.
(3) How could that measuarble period of time even exist if Jesus (being dead) was not there to hold the universe together?

This is typically answered by saying that Jesus died in one sense, but not in another. But Jeremy's "gappy person" solution doesn't allow for that.

As it is, I'm not a big fan of the "died in one sense but not another" solution. It seems a big cop-out. The "he died in His humanity, but not in His divinity" solution is again rather Nestorian. Plus, it is not natures that die, but persons. The "he died physically but not spiritually" solution has problems too. Aren't the wrath of God and the forsakenness of the cross usually considered spiritual death (separation from God)? Then didn't Jesus die both physically and spiritually?

I think I know the right way to preserve the "gappy person" solution, but I want to see if Jeremy comes up with the same one.

Logic Puzzle 3

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So, on to a new topic...

I've got a question that's been troubling me for some time. I have no opinion or answer for this one yet and I'd love to hear what you guys have come up with.

Basically, every conception of the Trinity that I've see falls apart on the cross. Consider the following:

(1) The Father and Son are distinct yet inseparably related.
(2) The Son was forsaken by the Father on the Cross
(3) Since "forsake" denotes separation, then the Father and Son have been (at least temporarily) separated.

The first statement is a fairly uncontroversial way of restating parts of the Creeds regarding the Trinity. The second is part of Jesus' last words. Neither seems denyable. Yet (3) contradicts (1).

I don't think it is a good move to say that Jesus' words were untrue in any way. And I can't come up with a definition of "forsake" that doesn't demand separation. I certainly don't want to say that the creeds are wrong.

Approaches like "God forsook the humanity of Christ, but not the divinity of Christ" sound awfully Nestorian to me. And approaches like "the unity of God is that they ultimately be united, even if they are temproarily apart" sounds downright heretical.

What have you guys got?

Done with Atonement (for now)

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Well, I think I'm done with posting about Penal Substitution/Union for the time being. This is not because I've run out of things to say (c'mon, I'm writing a thesis about it...I have tons to say), but because I'm starting to sound tedious and repetative even to myself. (You have no idea how many posts and comments I've refrained from posting because I sounded like a blowhard even to myself.) And if I sound that way to me, then I can't imagine how annoying I must sound to you. I'll continue to respond to comments in the already existing threads, but don't expect any new threads on this subject for a while. Now if you actually want to hear more from me on this subject, I'll be happy to oblige; just leave comments in this thread to that effect, and I'll post more. But I suspect that people are getting weary of hearing me on this topic and I don't want to be obnoxious. So I'll quit while I can (I'd say "while I'm ahead", but I think I'm actually behind at this point).

It amazes me that journalists have such a hard time picking people who carefully read their Bible and have thought about it well enough not to be stupid about how they go on TV and talk about the problem of evil. I'm not saying they should find the best Christian philosophers and theologians, but they should at least find someone who isn't a total extremist or a heretic. [See A Physicist's Perspective for an excellent example of what I'm talking about, and he's got links to a number of other people doing the same thing.] Two nights in a row now, I've seen Joe Scarborough deal with this issue, and each time he's picked a strange selection. Sam complained about this after the first night, when his main responder was extremist Pat Robertson who had said 9-11 was entirely due to the people who commit sins he's not tempted to commit (homosexuality and abortion). I wasn't impressed with the others he had on. The only one who said mostly good things was quite rude. Night 2 was a little better, but there was another rude person saying decent things in an inflammatory way. Then there was Max Lucado, who is technically a heretic (his church believes baptism is necessary for salvation, which even Roman Catholics don't believe). Anyone who's read his books should expect only very rough sketches of anything of substance, but given that what he said was pretty good.

The consensus around here seems to be that we are not punished in Christ. So I'd like to post my reasons for thinking that we actually are punished in Christ.

First of all, I'd like to point out that the particular punishment for sin is death, and the particular death that Christ suffered was crucifixion. So when Paul talks of us being crucified with Christ (Gal 2:20), or that our flesh or our self has been crucified (Gal 5:24, 6:14; Rom 6:6), or that we have died with Christ (Rom 6:8; Col 2:20), he is saying that we have been punished in Christ since death/crucifixion = punishment. (I should here point out that if we have died, then our death can only have served one purpose--the payment of sins/satisfaction of wrath. We have no ability to ransom, nor to act as a sacrifice for another.)

What Substitution do I Deny?

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Jeremy notes that whenever we see the penal element, we immediately think "substitution". He makes a great observation there. What we should also note, is that due to the predominance of Penal Substitution in our teaching, whenever we see substitution, we assume that it is penal.

This has come up a couple of times in the comments and I'd like to address it more publically here. Maybe I didn't make myself clear in my original posts, so let me clarify now: I deny Penal Substitution, but I don't deny Substitution in all forms. I only deny that any biblical substitution is Penal.

Sorry for the delay

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Please forgive my silence on the atonement threads. I'm busy trying to get readjusted to non-vacation routine again. This routine, of course, contains considerably lees free time to blog. Plus, I helped a friend move tonight. (My only recommendation about what he should have done differently: He shouldn't have moved in the middle of winter. It was cold and the bulky jackets didn't make maneuvering large items any easier.)

I've got lots to say in response to the very good points being brougt up by people. I must confess that I do not have answers to all of them. Thank you to all who have engaged with me on this. You are challenging me on this issue beyond what others have done in the past. I really appreciate that.

I hope to post something tomorrow, but no promises.

Jollyblogger has at long last finished his series on the five points of Calvinism with point five: Perseverance of the Saints. He explains that it has two components:

1. Someone who is genuinely saved cannot lose that salvation.
2. Only those who persevere in faith until the end will be saved.

Some Arminians deny the first point because they think the second requires denying it. The result is legalism. Some dispensationalists, such as Zane Hodges (and to a lesser degree Charles Ryrie) deny the second because they believe the first requires doing so. The result is antinomianism. Both deny plain statements in the Bible, which Jollyblogger lists. I've argued for exactly the same thing here.

Update: He's now got a post up linking to all the entries in the series.

This started as an email to Wink, and he encouraged me to post it. I don't really have the patience at the moment to edit it too carefully, so if something seems out of place or not fully explained, remember how it started. I'm not convinced by Wink that there's no substitutionary element to the atonement, but I'm convinced that his view is orthodox, evangelical, and not obviously in conflict with scripture. I still haven't commented on his last post, but I have things to say and will start with them shortly. I did want to say some positive things about what he's doing and make some suggestions to him about further places I'd like to look on this issue besides what I've had access to, and that's what the email was about. Here it is, slightly modified to be for public consumption (and no longer directed to him in the second person).

I really think Wink has hit on something no one's clarified before with separating the penal element and the substitution element. Most of the defenses of substitution seem to be responding to people who reject the penal element entirely, so there's very little I can find that even deals with the substitution element at length. They'll maybe have a paragraph on it and then spend lots of time arguing that Paul's terminology really is forensic, which Wink agrees with, so it doesn't refute anything he's saying. Then at the end they'll say it must be substitution with no further argument.

Penal Union

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[Note: Contrary to the Creative Commons license listed on this site, I, Wink, the author of this particular post am reserving all rights for this particular post. I don't mean to be a killjoy, but this topic is the basis for my as-yet-incomplete thesis. I'm tackling a controversial subject. As a result, I need to polish my ideas more fully before I can let it out into the wild under a CC license. Please respect my copyright on this post. Thanks.]

[Thanks for being patient everyone. This is the post many of you have been waiting for as it is the follow-up to my Critique of Penal Substitution. Enjoy!]



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