Today Christians all over the world celebrate an event that shook the entire course of humanity. This event is Resurrection or Easter Sunday. Because Christ has risen from the grave everything has changed. But first and foremost, Christ’s atonement for our sin has been made effective. This Easter Sunday take in and meditate on what T.F. Torrance has to say about resurrection and atonement.

Since Jesus Christ is himself the resurrection and the Life, he is himself as lot reconciliation and salvation of men. The risen Jesus Christ is the living Atonement, atonement in its glorious achievement not only in overcoming the separation of sin, guilt, and death, but in consummating union and communion with God in such a way that the divine life overflows freely through him into mankind. Of course, if Christ had not risen from the dead, that would have indicated that the atonement hand not been achieved, that he had not actually been able to sand in for us and take our place; and then his sacrifice on the Cross could have been seen only as a terrible act of final injustice…However, now that he has risen from the dead, the atonement is shown to have been carried through to its final end. (Space Time and Resurrection, 55)

In other words, while the crucifixion was God the Son’s “it is finished” – the resurrection is God the Father’s declaration – “It is finished!” Atonement has been accomplished and completed through the resurrection of our buried king. It is God’s “Yes, I accept” to Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf! Because it is God the Father’s “yes” we can rejoice in the fact that our sins are fully covered, that sin and Satan are defeated, and most importantly that we can forever experience union with

Good Friday – The Mystery of the Cross

The cross is a mystery. In some sense we know what the Cross is all about, but in another sense T.F. Torrance is right when says that “the innermost mystery of atonement remains mystery: it cannot be spelled out, and it cannot be spied out.”

What God has done for us on the cross cannot be fully captured in mere human words.

We must never evacuate the cross of its mystery and incomprehensibility. However, that is not to say that we can’t apprehend the cross. I once heard a metaphor about atonement being like a basketball. The analogy was that the atonement was like the full size of the basketball and our understanding the atonement was like trying to grip the entire ball in our hands – its impossible. However, it is possible to get some sort of grip on it. That grip is good enough to allow us to use it (the atonement or the ball) for various sorts of things – in the case of the atonement, for relating to God, for preaching, for encouraging one another, etc.

So in a very real sense – we can (and do) know the significance of the cross.

On this, Good Friday, I want to share some reflections that T.F. Torrance makes on the significance of the cross:

This is what we believe to be the significance of the cross of Christ – in him we believe that God himself has come into the midst of our human agony and our abominable wickedness and violence in order to take all our gilt and its just judgment on himself. That is for us the meaning of the cross. If I did not believe in the cross, I could not believe in God. The cross means that while there is no explanation of evil, God himself has come into the midst of it in order to take it upon himself, to triumph over it and deliver us from it. (Preaching Christ Today, 28)

That is the significance of the cross. May we come to understand that truth in a deeper way on this Good Friday.

Giotto, “The Crucifixion”

The Cross and the Problem of Evil

Its Holy Week. On Tuesday I shared some reflections on the role that Gethsemane plays in our religious epistemology. Today is Maunday Thursday – the day we commemorate Jesus’ last supper with the Apostles.  On this Maunday Thursday I want to share what James S. Stewart has to say about the Cross and the problem of evil. I hope its encouraging.

The Cross was the problem of evil at its worst… the most terrifying triumph of sheer, naked evil. And yet it was that… very stuff of sin which God has chosen to be the vehicle of his mightiest act of love. It is there, where sin has confidently proclaimed its supreme and final victory, that God has achieved sin’s uttermost defeat. That is why Christian faith takes it stand at the Cross, and will triumph there…

When you have seen the Cross you have seen God taking the worst that earth could do, and out of it fashioning the best that Heaven could bestow. You have seen Him taking “the hour and power of darkness” and making it victoriously the hour and power of light. After that there can be no situation too difficult for God to handle, no irreparable disaster, no crown of thorns that He can’t twist into a crown of glory. (Faith and the Strain of Life, 1969)

Paul Moser’s Gethsemane Epistemology

Lately I have been reading Paul Moser’s The Severity of God: Religion and Philosophy Reconceived. The main argument of the book seems to be that: If there is a God then 1) we could expect that God to act in severe or strict ways and 2) we could expect life to be severe.

As he develops this argument Moser unfolds his religious epistemology, what he calls a “volitional epistemology.”

Here is what Moser says:

Before a God worthy of worship, however, our epistemology must be inherently volitional and not merely intellectual. It must be an epistemology of Gethsemane that can accommodate divine corrective reciprocity inwardly at the level of the human will. Arguably, humans should expect to need God’s direct and specific evidential help, via divine self-revelation, in their coming to know God. This fits with the position of traditional monotheism that God is sui generis in perfect moral character and thus without true substitutes regarding a source for firsthand evidence.

He calls it “volitional epistemology.” I want to call it “Gethsemane Epistemology.” It is the religious epistemology based off of entering into a volitional struggle with God. In other words one can only know God as one struggles to carry out God’s will. This sort of epistemology is best exemplified in the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus struggles to say “your will be done.”

All of this sort of seems strange right? Can’t we come to know about God through proofs, through nature, through reading scripture? In one sense yes, we can come to know about a being called God in this way; but ultimately we cannot know God apart from being in a relationship with him, and that entails doing God’s will.

We cannot know God apart from doing God’s will. (John 7:7 & 8:31-32)

Moser makes an argument for this claim, its not found in any one spot in this book, but its weaved throughout it. Roughly here is what I take the argument to be:

Definition: “God refers” to a being, that if it existed, would be maximally worthy of worship.

  1. If God exists, then God would be personal.
  2. If x is personal, one can only know x through personal modes of knowing.
  3. God exists.

Therefore: One can only know God through personal modes of knowing.

Everything in his argument hinges on the second premise. If you don’t believer that premise, the the argument falls apart.

So what is the upshot of this “Gethsemane Epistemology?” Its that we shouldn’t expect to know God simply through non-personal modes of knowing i.e. naturalistic or quasi-scientific premises. In other words you can’t know God simply through a bunch of premises in a propositional argument. One cannot simply think or reason one’s way into God’s presence. What would be required to know God is some sort of personal experience with him – this would include something like the Gethsemane experience, where one is forced to decide whether or not one will cooperate with God’s will. After all, what is more relational than cooperation towards a shared purpose? (In this case, atonement for all of humanity.)

House of Hartt

I don’t normally blog about this kind of stuff (decorating, weddings, etc.) – but I’m just so thankful to Corinne from House of Hartt that I couldn’t help share my appreciation for her and her team’s work at our wedding!

Amelia and I got married in January and Corinne from House of Hartt was our decorator. As you know from reading this blog – I’m really into books and I write a lot – my wife loves the vintage feel – so Corinne provided everything that we needed to pull of a vintage library/book themed reception. Let’s just say that it was amazing! She absolutely went above and beyond what we expected.

We got so many comments from our guests talking about how amazing everything looked. People especially liked the background she made (from scratch) behind our dinner table.

Wedding Decoration 6

Corinne used high quality materials, which included some vintage furniture and props – like a tons and tons of books which matched our theme (titles) and even our wedding colors, she brought some antique type writers, even a library card catalog. The highlight was the furniture that she brought. It all looked so elegant!

We loved how it looked and our guests loved how it looked!


Wedding Decoration 5

Wedding Decoration 1

Wedding Decoration 3

“Only Two Things are Needed” – The Dogmatic Theology of Karl Barth

How does one go about doing theology? What sort of tools are needed? A bible, some books, a library, maybe a good search engine like google or Wikipedia (just joking there). Karl Barth gives us an answer to this question –

What do you need to do theology?

According to Barth, dogmatic theology is a part of the work of human knowledge. Because it is a part of the work of human knowledge it demands some things that all fields of human knowledge demand:

1-“It naturally demands the intellectual faculties of attentiveness and concentration, of understanding and appraisal.” (CD 1.1 Section 1.3)

Yes it demands, intellectual rigor, with all the things involved in that. The dogmatic theologian must utilize his intellectual faculties and give himself entirely to this serious task. However this work of human knowledge is quite unlike other ways of acquiring and outlining human knowledge, e.g. physics, biology, history. Here is what makes dogmatic theology unique:

2-“Over and above this (i.e. intellectual rigor), however, it demands Christian faith.” (CD 1.1 Section 1.3)

This is because Christian theology is the work for the Christian church. As Barth says, there is no possibility for Christian theology outside of the Church. Ultimately Christian theology boils down to our talk about God as mediated through our knowledge of him in Christ. How can one talk about God without knowing Christ? To do so would be, as Barth says, “irrelevant and meaningless…. Even in the case of the most exact technical imitation of what the Church does (or says)… it would be idle speculation without any content of knowledge.”

Patcum Salutis and Social Contract Theory

Yesterday I went to ETS Far West 2014 and heard several really good papers. Unlike ETS the last few times, there were some really good post discussion conversations. One of my favorite conversations happened after a paper on the Pactum Salutis (covenant of redemption) and subordinationism.

A student from Westminster Seminary (California) presented a paper with the thesis that, the pactum saulutis provides a solution for verses which might be taken to imply subordination within the Trinity.

Covenant of Redemption: The pre-temporal covenant between the Father and the Son in which the son agrees to suffer and die in exchange for a reward – namely, the Church.

Subordinationism: The idea that the Son is inferior to the Father. All agree that saying that the Son is ontologically subordinate to the Father is heretical. Some want to argue that the Son can be (and is) subordinate to the Father in role or function. i.e. Grudem and Ware.

The paper the student presented was a pretty good explanation of the Pactum Salutis within reformed thought. However as we discussed after the paper presentation, Kelly Kapic pointed out the fact that the student overlooked and failed to engage with those who deny the Pactum Salutis – among those, Karl Barth.

Barth rejects the Pactum Salutis because it is too “scholastic” and unbiblical – the covenant is mythological. Barth, being a good reformed theologian, wants to reject this sort of speculative theology. Rightly so.

As we discussed objections to the Pactum Salutis Kelly Kapic pointed out that the Covenant of Redemption makes law a part of inner-Trinitarian Life. He also pointed out the fact that this covenant has been portrayed, especially among Puritans as a covenant between an Angry Father and a Merciful Son. In which the Son has to rescue his brothers and sisters from his Father’s wrath. In other words, the Pactum Salutis can be explained in a violent way, bringing violence into the heart of God.

I brought to the presenter’s attention some work that Amy Plantinga Pauw has done on Jonathan Edwards and the Pactum Salutis. Pauw points out that this covenant is highly speculative, and more importantly that the covenant is guilty of anthropomorphizing the life of the immanent trinity. This covenant portrays God as an human being engaged in discussion of which contracts he should or should not engage in. Its an interesting historical fact that the Covenant of Redemption flourished during the early modern period – right when social contract theories were all the buzz. In my opinion the Covenant of Redemption (Pactum Salutis) resembles social contract theory a little too much. That isn’t to say that the Pactum Salutis isn’t true. After all, I don’t want to be guilty of committing the genetic fallacy. However, it is curious to me that the development of this supposedly timeless doctrine is so embedded in its cultural context.

Scattered Thoughts on Theology and Culture…


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