Tag Archives | Christology

Jesus the Christ | Thomas G. Weinandy

The cover of Weinandy's Jesus the ChristAnalogies, when the subject is God, always fall short.

One of the most common analogies for the Trinity is H20. Just as H20 can be a solid (ice), liquid (water), or gas (steam), God is Father, Son and Spirit. The analogy seems like an apt way to throw light on the inconceivable theological arithmetic where 1+1+1=1 (another analogy)! Weinandy, having thought through the details of the H20 analogy, simply states that “[i]t perfectly illustrates Modalism” (60)! This example demonstrates Weinandy’s clear-sightedness when it comes to the Christology and Soteriology.

Jesus the Christ is a refreshingly straightforward look at who Jesus is and what he accomplished. Weinandy begins with scripture before tracing the thought of the church through the patristic and medieval eras, and into the present. His chronological method is particularly helpful in explaining the multitude of heresies that confronted the church in its formative years.

In approaching this book from a pentecostal perspective, I was struck by the way in which the Spirit preserved and revealed truth throughout the centuries. The Spirit inspired people like Ignatius, Origen, and Athanasius to write, using their limited amount of light, to bring about a more complete picture of the truth.

In a field of systematic theology notorious for its difficulty, Weinandy’s book is a breath of fresh air suitable for a new theological students or thoughtful laity.

Weinandy, Thomas G. Jesus the Christ. Middletown, DE: Ex Fontibus Company, 2017.

An Evangelical Christology | Bernard L. Ramm

The cover of Ramm's An Evangelical ChristologyNineteen eighty-three was a frightening time to be an evangelical theologian. Liberal, existential, process, and liberation theologies (to name a few) put pressure on conservatives to respond, but many felt untrained for the specialized tasks of redaction, form, and textual criticism. Evangelicals had two choices: ignore or engage. Ramm chose to fight.

An Evangelical Christology is two books rolled into one. On the one hand, Ramm states with clarity the various elements of Christology. The further into the book you read, however, the larger the second purpose looms: this book is a manual for war. It is never enough for Ramm to state what he believes—he defines his views as opposed to liberal theology, especially that of Rudolf Bultmann.

The overall method Ramm uses to fight back is revealed in the subtitle: “Ecumenic and Historic”. Ramm begins with the classic creeds—Apostolic, Nicene, Chalcedon, etc.—and shows how evangelical christology stands in line with church history (and how his liberal opponents have forsaken their birthright).

The strength of this volume lies in Ramm’s clear exposition of the classic elements of Christology (although I am always frustrated at how most Christologies, this one included, virtually ignore Jesus’ three years of earthly ministry). The weaknesses are twofold:

  1. The battlelines have been redrawn. As culture has shifted from a modern to a post-modern worldview, the war between conservative and liberal theologies seems almost quaint. Ramm’s 1983 battle against the forces of liberalism now reads more like a history of theology.
  2. Ramm ignores his own situatedness. This comes to the surface (ironically? hypocritically?) when he discusses why John’s gospel is different from the synoptics. Ramm wisely asks, “What kind of gospel would John write if he lived in Ephesus about thirty years and carried on a Christian dialogue at a high level in its most sophisticated community? He would write a gospel . . . that would reflect his effort to reframe the original Christian message to make it most effective to his audience in Ephesus” (145). Ramm understands that the writing of John’s gospel was situated in the cultural river (a John H. Walton phrase) of his day yet understands himself as somehow transcendent to the culture of modernism which led him to war in the first place.

The apostle John once brought Jesus a concern: a person outside Jesus’ group of disciples was going around exorcising demons. Jesus replied, “Do not stop him; for whoever is not against you is for you” (Luke 9:50 NRSV). An Evangelical Christology would have been a much stronger book had Ramm laid down his weapons and sought to learn from the strengths of his theological interlocutors.

Ramm, Bernard L. An Evangelical Christology: Ecumenic & Historic. Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 1999.

Torrance’s Incarnation 4.3: The Life and Faithfulness of the Son Toward Man

The cover of Torrance's IncarnationJesus’ relationship toward man is identical to the Father’s relationship toward man. Here we’ll explore how Jesus’ human life served his mission of “revelation and reconciliation,” (129) as shepherd and king.

a) Jesus the shepherd of the sheep

Many texts in the gospels refer to Jesus as a Shepherd. This is primarily seen when he had compassion on the shepherdless people (Mark 6:34) and fed them. Jesus’ actions as shepherd echo Yahweh’s role as shepherd (e.g. Ezekiel 34). Jesus found the lost and outcast and returned them to the house of Israel.

Jesus’ shepherding role is seen clearly in his deep profound compassion for the shepherdless. In Hebrews, the metaphor of shepherd is replaced with high priest, but the compassion (Hebrews 4:15) is the same. It cost Jesus “infinite anguish” (134) to become one body with us, taking our sins and diseases. He took this with “strong crying and tears” (Hebrews 5:7 KJV).

We must remember that the Spirit is involved with and echoes the compassionate ministry of Jesus. In Romans 8:34, similar words are used of the Spirit that are used also of Jesus. “The Spirit is said to bear our weakness or infirmity …, taking it upon himself, and to intercede or intervene … with unspeakable groans …, in language that reminds us of Mark [7:34]” (136).

b) Jesus the king of the kingdom

Wherever Jesus went, the kingdom of God was present. His lordship was not demonstrated in extravagant power, but in perfect freedom and authority to do his Father’s will.

This authority and freedom frightened people. The true king had arrived, which thereby challenged every other authority. No one could escape. The chaos of his birth—prophetic words about bringing swords and Herod’s infanticidic onslaught—were just the beginning of what would culminate in the cross. Mary prophesied the divine upending, and Jesus taught it (many that are first will be last, and the last first).

Simeon prophesied that Jesus would be “spoken against.” This verb is in the continuous present tense, which demonstrates the unending attack of sin on Jesus. This attack came because Jesus’ light penetrated everyone’s hearts. Remember how Jesus disbursed the crowd who caught the woman in adultery! This revealing light is explained in Romans 1:16-3:20. It shines on both Jew and Gentile, either leading to repentance or further darkness.

Hebrews 4:12-16 reminds us of this in another way. God’s Word is sharp enough to divide soul and spirit, before whom no one can hide. In Jesus’ ministry you saw people responding to this searching light, this piercing sword, by throwing themselves on his mercy. Some were desperate just to touch the fringe of his robe.

Jesus’ lordly freedom and authority led straight to his death. He directed his life and, when the time was right, endured the cross. The kingdom of God suffered violence (Matthew 121:12), the violence of the cross. In the cross, Jesus showed that his weakness is stronger than man’s strength. He defeated violence not by attacking it violently, but by entering it and suffering. This, of course, was supremely a painful thing for Love Himself to suffer.

Jesus operated in kindness and humility so he would not crush the weak, but as he resolutely approached the cross he challenged people to make a decision. Jesus “deliberately forced” (155) the cross, yet he refused to die until the moment was perfect. He died only after the motives of people’s hearts were laid bare.

Before he died, Jesus created a messianic community of disciples and followers who, through the ceremony of the Lord’s Supper and the power of the Spirit, continued to follow their Messiah.

Some Reflections

He has made himself one body with sinners and feels for them as a mother toward her unborn baby, and he pours himself out in love for them; his whole inner self is poured out for men and women in their weakness and need and sin. (132)

Here Torrance reflects on how the Hebrew word for mercy/compassion is rahamim, the plural of “womb.” This is a powerful reminder of how much Jesus loves us, and what that love cost him. We often recognize the pain of Golgotha, but neglect the emotional pain of his lost sheep.

The critical word … who pierces into us like an incredible sharp sword is none other than the one ‘touched with the feeling of our infirmities’, who is full of compassion and sympathy – therefore we may come boldly to the throne of grace, even to be exposed, to be turned inside out, because it is his grace and mercy which does it, and that is his healing revelation and reconciliation. (146)

This sentence reminds me of George MacDonald’s sermon, “The Consuming Fire,” where his posits that the fires of hell and heaven are one in the same. They are the same fire of God, which burns anything that is not love. In Torrance’s words, God’s sharp piercing sword (which is the sort of thing you would usually fear) is the sword that brings healing and enables us to approach our Father. Beautiful.

God does not execute his judgment on evil simply by smiting it violently away by a stroke of his hand, but by entering into it from within, into the very heart of the blackest evil, and making its sorrow and guilt and suffering his own. (150)

This point needs to be brought to bear on our world today. God didn’t resort to violence to destroy violence—neither can his children.

← 4.2: The Life and Faithfulness of the Son Towards the Father
5: The Mystery of Christ →

Torrance’s Incarnation 1.4: The biblical witness to Jesus Christ

The cover of Torrance's Incarnation

Encounter with Christ in the witness of the New Testament

When we read the Bible we not only hear people’s thoughts about Jesus but are confronted by Jesus himself. Therefore, what is revealed about Jesus and how it is revealed are inseparable. When we start to look at what the scripture tells us of Jesus, we therefore also have to ask how this information is revealed.

Knowing Christ through knowing his salvation: the works of Melanchthon

Melanchthon wrote in 1521, “This is to know Christ, to know his benefits” (Loci Communes). This is true, but needs to be understood properly. He means that we know Jesus through his saving action on us as we hear his witnesses.

One danger is evident here: we must never interpret Christ as a human subject or we will wind up with a christology which is “essentially anthropocentric” (34). Ritschl, Schleiermacher, and Herrman have followed this path. Humans have no appropriate scale with which to evaluate Christ: He evaluates us.

Christ can only be understood in the light which his own person creates for himself

Knowledge of Christ is a supernatural act since “no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matthew 11:27 ESV). Melanchthon meant that because Jesus is the Son of God, he brings us benefits.

Obedient acknowledgement of the whole Christ as true God and true man

God’s voice can never be subjugated to our ideas. He is the Lord of those who would approach him and requires surrender. As we approach in this manner, he forms in us the proper way to perceive him. This requires us to “yield to [his word] the obedience of our mind” (36). This knowledge requires denial and crucifixion which is always a painful experience.

Some Reflections

Now what God reveals to us in Jesus Christ and the manner of his revealing, the content and the mode of revelation, are inseparable. (33)

Marshall McLuhan’s famous dictum came to mind when I read the above quote: “The medium is the message.” While Torrance doesn’t go as far as McLuhan (at least in Christology), he does make it plain that we can’t know information about Jesus without accepting the mode by which he reveals that information. That is, we cannot know Christ without accepting his salvation.

[An anthropocentric knowledge of Christ] requires a prior store of human principles or tenets, categories or values, with which to measure out, in this or that coin, the market value of Christ. (34)

Torrance emphasizes the need for Jesus to define for us the way by which we learn about him. The more I reflect on this, the more the truth of it jumps out. Still, I have one question: Is it possible to understand anything wholly apart from human presuppositions? I don’t think it is. Torrance goes on to state that as we approach Jesus rightly, he forms those opinions in us. Still, does Jesus not work with the presuppositions and ideas that we already have? (A read through the Old Testament makes this plain pretty quickly.)

Maybe Torrance was overemphasizing this point to contrast those who recast Jesus in anthropological terms. (Or, maybe I just need to think this through a little more.)

← 1.3: Procedure in Christology
2.1: The incarnation and the old Israel →

Torrance’s Incarnation 1.3: Procedure in christology

The cover of Torrance's Incarnation

a) Knowledge of Christ by revelation through the Spirit (pp. 28-29)

In Christology, we seek knowledge of Christ as he has disclosed himself—not simply as he is found on the “mere plane of profane history” (29). This is what Paul said when he speaks of Jesus “according to the Spirit” (Romans 1:4). A merely historical presentation of Jesus is a false presentation. Jesus is a “complex of historical fact and spiritual event” (29). In order to truely know the mystery of the kingdom, we must respond to Jesus after the spirit, not only after the flesh.

b) Knowledge of the historical Jesus according to the Spirit (pp. 30-31)

Mere historians are faced with a problem. Faced with a plethora of reports about Jesus, they must try to slot him into and understand him with historical categories. The resurrection, incomprehensible by any historical standard, is a good example of this problem. The historian can either ignore it as fiction or seek to discover the proper criteria by which to understand the event, which in turn will lead them to the criteria which the object demands—faith.

c) The relation of dogma to kērygma (pp. 31-32)

Dogma and kērygma are inextricably related. When we understand Jesus according to the Spirit, we’re concerned with the words and acts of the historical Jesus along with the authorized and authoritative preached Christ. When these two things are viewed in their interrelatedness, they’re called didagma. When didagma is “carefully and authoritatively articulated in the church” (32) it becomes dogma: The corporate authorized transmission of kērygma and didachē in obedience to Christ.

This is a good time to remember that our human language is inadequate to express divine truth. Still, the Word has communicated himself to us in a way we can understand—as true God and true man.

Some Reflections

A Jesus who is known only in a carnal manner, as by the mere historian, the reporter of historical events, can be of no interest to us. That Jesus, observed and reported according to ordinary historical criteria, was a rabbi, a carpenter, an exorcist who apparently failed in his mission and was executed for alleged blasphemy and treason. That is all that the mere historian can see, and that is not worth reporting. (29)

Coincidentally, I’m reading J. D. Crossan’s Who Killed Jesus? this week. Crossan’s methodology is precisely what Torrance would describe here as a search by “ordinary historical criteria.” I wouldn’t go as far as Torrance by saying that this Jesus “is not worth reporting” (29), though. I’ve learned much about Jesus through the scholarship of historians. I would concede that these historians never go far enough (due to their explicit methodology) and thereby misinterpret much of the theological significance of Jesus life.

While christology is concerned with the kērygma of Christ in the power of the Spirit, it is concerned with that only in its essential relation to the transmission of teaching or didachē from the historical Jesus. (31)

I like the way Torrance ties the life and teaching of Jesus to the authoritative witness of the apostles. There is no room in his theology for a wedge to be inserted between Jesus and Paul. The Word of God chose not only how he would teach and act, but also (according to the Spirit) how he would be interpreted and remembered. This is some high-level Sovereignty!

← 1.2: Jesus Christ and the New Testament Kērygma
1.4: The biblical witness to Jesus Christ →

Torrance’s Incarnation 1.0: Preliminary Matters

The cover of Torrance's Incarnation

The task of christology (pp. 1-2)

Jesus Christ has given himself to us to be apprehended. Our task is to “yield the obedience of our mind” to (1) him. This self-revelation of God in Jesus Christ is is not a fact on par with other facts—his revelation is an “utterly distinctive and unique fact” (1). This knowledge is not something we can earn or achieve, but something we submit to. When we know Jesus as our Lord, we recognize that he has chosen us before we had any power to know him. Indeed, knowing Christ is evidence of the power of God working within us to enable us to apprehend him.

The starting point of christology (pp. 2-4)

When we try to understand Christ, we hit a mystery. This mystery is the “duality in unity” (3)—the truth that Jesus is God and man. The minute we try to explain away this mystery, with presuppositions that ignore certain facts to bolster pet theories, we have gone astray. We need to be faithful to this fact: Jesus is “God without reserve, man without reserve, the eternal truth in time, the Word of God made flesh” (3).

The nature of ‘scientific dogmatics’ (pp. 4-6)

Let’s define scientific dogmatics. Scientific knowledge is what we seek when we try to know something “in accordance with its own nature and activity” (4). Knowledge is bound to the object it’s knowing. Scientific dogmatics, then, is knowing God according to how he has chosen to be known.

Some Reflections

We cannot compare the fact of Christ with other facts, nor can we deduce the fact of Christ from our knowledge of other facts. (1)

This sentence led me to consider the whole field of apologetics. As a child of C. S. Lewis I used to love the idea of logically reasoning someone straight to Christ. As I continued in ministry, people like Lee Strobel with his The Case for Christ (and all the spin-off books) left me underwhelmed. The arguments sounded compelling but never seemed to deliver. The skeptic in me always played devil’s advocate—and won! (Now, I know there are more intellectual compelling arguments than Lee Strobel delivers—he’s just one of the most popular forms of the apologetic movement.)

We need to take seriously the truth that Christ is not a fact on par with other facts. The minute we try to work our way to him through human logic, we’ve reduced him. Jesus can only be apprehended through his self-revelation. No amount of reasoning can get you there.

In the very act of our knowing Christ he is the master, we are the mastered. (2)

This is important. Torrance’s Christology begins with a strong note of humility. We don’t impose our logic on the Christ—he masters us. This sentence would be a particularly apt disclaimer to print on the bottom of all MDiv certificates!

That is the starting point for a true christology … Christ in his wholeness as God and man. (3)

This is a bold statement. At first I was hesitant to accept it—why would a sophisticated theological mystery be the starting point for christology? It sounds more like the place where you finish! The more I wrestled with this, however, the more I came to recognize its truth. All the gospel writers present Jesus as this God-man. If we were to start with either side of that hyphenation, we would skew our christology.

Theological statements do not carry their truth in themselves, but are true only in so far as they direct us away from ourselves to the one truth of God. (258)

This sentence (from the endnotes to p. 6) is an important epistemological point. When we do scientific dogmatics we’re not trying to formulate systematic statements that are true in themselves—they only point to the truth. This is another way of emphasizing the fact that knowledge is bound to the object it’s knowing. God has chosen to reveal himself to us in his Son, Jesus Christ.

Anything we say is only true insofar as it points toward the Truth incarnate.

← Introduction
1.1: The Relation of Christ to History→

Incarnation by Thomas F. Torrance (Introduction)

The cover of Torrance's Incarnation

I did a little math the other day.

The average Canadian life-span is sitting just shy of 80 years. I’m 38. If I keep reading at my current pace of a book or so per week, I’ll be able to consume just over 2,000 books this side of the great divide.

With that thought in mind, I try to choose the books I read more carefully than I used to. Instead of raiding second hand book shops to fill the shelves of my library with interesting spines, I want to know that a book is substantial enough to spend my time on. Incarnation is one of those substantial books.

Thomas F. Torrance

In case you don’t know much about Thomas F. Torrance (1913-2007), here are some of the reasons I’m drawn to him:

  1. Deep Thinker. Torrance studied with Karl Barth at Basel and translated Barth’s Church Dogmatics into English.
  2. Biblical Knowledge. I like to know that a systematic theologian is first a Biblical theologian. Torrance translated Calvin’s entire Commentaries into English.
  3. Trinitarian. Torrance is known as a “Theologian of the Trinity,” yet it has been said that his Christology volumes contain his developed doctrine of God. I’m intrigued.
  4. Service. Torrance served the church as the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland where he worked towards church unity.
  5. Science. One of Torrance’s major fields of study was the dialogue between science and theology.
  6. Academic. Torrance had ample time to refine his Christological understanding as a professor of Christian Dogmatics at New College, Edinburgh for 27 years.

Incarnation: The Book

Incarnation is the first of a two-volume set which comprises Torrance’s Christology lectures to his students at Edinburgh. The lectures were then edited by Robert T. Walker, an Edinburgh trained philosopher and theologian. Walker has unique insight into T. F. Torrance’s thought since he heard the lectures in person and happens to be T. F. Torrance’s nephew.

As you would expect from a systematic theologian, the chapter structure highly detailed, which makes the overall logic of his argument easy to follow. This is good, since the subject matter is quite dense.

As this series of posts continue I’ll be carefully reading, summarizing and interacting with Torrance’s theology. In doing so I hope not only to remember the material, but to integrate it into my own life and ministry.

I welcome any dialogue the online theologs have to offer. Comments are open!

1.0. Preliminary Matters →

Jesus Christ Our Lord | John F. Walvoord

Have you ever walked into someone else’s fight? That’s how I felt reading Walvoord’s Christology.

The fight was the Southern Baptist’s war against all forms of liberal theology. Walvoord’s Jesus Christ our Lord is a thorough conservative doctrinal stance on who Jesus is. It’s a polemic aimed at everyone who deviates from orthodoxy, as defined by Walvoord.

The first chapter on the history of Christology was the most interesting and set the tone for the book. Walvoord described many positions before labeling them unorthodox. One of the ironies of this stance is the modernist method by which Walvoord criticized his liberal opponents. Walvoord showed little respect for the human authors of scripture as he pulled various scriptural references together across centuries to argue his point. Here’s an example:

By the process of elimination, it can be demonstrated that the Angel of Jehovah could not be either the first Person or the third Person. According to John 1:18 … (46)

The scriptures are not a puzzle to be pieced together by “process of elimination!”

Another frustrating element of this book was his lack of interest in Jesus’ earthly life. After spending 74 pages describing the pre-incarnite Christ, Walvoord takes 30 pages to review his life on earth, with little attention given to the substance of his teaching. Surely with four gospels worth of material that is our best source for developing a robust Christology!

Despite many concerns with Walvoord’s method and tone, I will keep the book on my self for its encyclopedic value. Everything from messianic prophecies to atonement theories are listed neatly and described concisely.

Over 40 years have passed since Walvoord penned his polemic. Battle lines have changed. More accurately, what was once a fierce battle is now little more than an historical curiosity (in most parts of the world). An incarnational model of scripture—one that respects the fully human and fully divine nature of the written Word—excises the persuasive power from Walvoord’s systematic deductions.

—John Walvoord, Jesus Christ Our Lord (Chicago: Moody, 1969).

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