Faith, Freedom, and The Spirit

Several years ago Paul Molnar wrote a book on Divine Freedom and the doctrine of the Immanent Trinity – now he adds to his works on the Trinity by offering us a book on Freedom and the economic Trinity (specifically in Barth, Torrance, and contemporary theology).


Molnar’s aim in this book is to explore divine and human relations within the economy of salvation with a major emphasis being placed upon the work of the Holy Spirit. He seeks to demonstrate how our experience of and knowledge of God changes when it is considered in light of the sphere of faith in God’s Word and Spirit as revealed within the economy.

He focuses in on the Holy Spirit as the thing which enables us to have faith in and know God. However his religious epistemology is not merely grounded in our experience of God in the economy. He argues that any articulation of who God is and what our relationship with God is like must begin by articulating who God is in himself (immanent Trinity) in order to even speak clearly about who God is for us what God does in the economy of salvation. Otherwise we allow history and experience dictate the content of our theology. When this happens the result is that God and revelation tend to become indistinguishable from own own experience within the economy. According to Molnar this is a problem that many recent interpreters of Barth (including Bruce McCormack and Ben Myers) run into.

There are several ways Molnar sees this in recent interpretations of Barth. One is the discussion about Trinity and election. Molnar argues that one cannot reverse the direction between election and Trinity without doing damage to our knowledge of Christ’s true deity and humanity. Those who take election to be first are out of line with what Barth thought. (Molnar thinks that Barth did not change his Christology – still believed God would be God without incarnation or even without creation.) To reverse Trinity and election undermines God’s freedom for us and our freedom which is only enabled by God himself. Also rejecting the Logos Asarkos (which some recent Barth interpreters do) undermines Jesus’ deity and makes God dependent upon history.

Human freedom is the freedom to live by the grace of God. If God’s grace is not free (as historicized theology makes it) then we are not truly free. Thus our freedom is based upon God’s own freedom.


Molnar makes a powerful argument for traditional historic positions on the doctrine of God. Whereas many Barth scholars have moved towards a more revisionist reading of our faith Molnar keeps us grounded in the historic doctrines of the church. Specifically he steers us away from historicized versions of the doctrine of the Trinity and Christology. He ensures that God is in no way dependent upon creation or reconciliation for his own identity. This allows us to speak of a Triune God who is truly free. This will be a must read book for anyone interested in the Election/Trinity debate and recent discussions which seek to get rid of the Logos Asarkos. This book deserves to be read by anyone interested in staying faithful to the historic understanding of who God really is.

Note: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an impartial review.

Does Karl Barth Hold to a Version of Penal Substitution?

It’s a sort of tricky question. How does Barth understand Penal Substitution? I was once told that Barth definitely saw PSA in Isaiah, but that he believed that it is not taught in the New Testament. The debate sort of rages on – does Barth have some version of Penal Substitution? And if he does how does it differ from typical evangelical versions of PSA? And if he doesn’t – can Barth be a resource for formulating a version of PSA? These are all important questions.

In his recent book Faith, Freedom, and the Sprit, Paul Molnar addresses a passage which I believe hints at some sort of version of PSA in Barth. But I will let you decide for yourself:

Barth always stresses that Jesus acts both divinely and humanly so that we never have simply a human or divine being in Jesus. Jesus’ sacrifice for us “is of course, a human action –but in and with the human action it is also a divine action, in which… the true and effective sacrifice is made” (IV/1, p.280)

Up until this point there is nothing that would hint at PSA. All that is being explicated is that atonement happens in both directions – it comes from God and Man. Molnar goes on to say:

In Jesus we see the true meaning of suffering and death. While there was suffering and death in Israel, in Jesus these become “the work of God himself” (IV, p.175)

At this point there is nothing surprising here. Atonement is being explained as the death of death. Sin and guilt and death themselves are put to death on the cross. Nothing (yet) about Jesus being punished. All that we know at this point is that the Son exists in solidarity with the humanity of Israel in its suffering.

Now here stuff gets tricky:

“The Son of God in his unity with man exists in solidarity with the humanity of Israel suffering under the mighty hand of God” (IV/1, p.175)

Molnar says that “As such he suffers Israel’s suffering as “children chastised by their Father”; in him God entered the vicious circle of human suffering allowing the divine sentence to fall on himself… “He, the electing eternal God, willed himself to be rejected and therefore perishing man” (IV/1, p.177).

Molnar seems to think that the suffering of Christ is in solidarity (some form of substitution) with humanity under the hand of God. This constitutes the act of sacrifice. If Molnar is right (which I think he might be), then we have an interesting take on Barth’s PSA.

Getting Practical with Paul’s Apocalyptic Gospel

Paul Writing a Letter
To see the practical implications Paul’s apocalyptic gospel in Galatians it is helpful to begin by looking at chapter 1 verse 6 which says that the Galatians are abandoning the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel. We should note that verse 1:3 begins with the “grace” that the Father and Christ offer the Galatians and that in 1:6 Paul says that they are leaving the “grace” of Christ and turning to a different gospel. This inclusio of “grace” might indicate that what is contained between these two graces is what should be contrasted with the “different gospel.” If this is the case then Paul’s gospel is essentially an apocalyptic gospel, one which essentially claims that Christ has freed us from this age by addressing the problem of sin. This notion of being freed from this age is in line with Jesus’ message in the gospels that Israel’s exile has ended. It seems as though Paul is saying that Jesus who somehow addresses our sins is the one who frees us from exile which we were under and that this exile was this present evil age. Thus Paul’s gospel is in line with Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom which is about the end of exile and the reign of YHWH.

Understanding Paul’s thoughts in this passage has various implications for Christian practice. One such implication is that it calls us to question our understanding of our hope as Christians. Many Christians would say that their hope is essentially in heaven, that one day when they die they will go to heaven, not to hell. However Paul’s gospel message is that we have been freed from the present evil age. This message implies that somehow we are no longer living in the evil age but that we have entered a new age. The fact that Christians can now live in the new age should affect the way they see their lives as Christians. If we are to understand that we have hope now, and not merely after we die, then this will radically change how we interact with the world around us. If our hope is now, then our lives as Christians cannot have an escapist mentality. As Christians we must begin to figure out what it looks like to live in light of the truth that because of Christ we are now living in the age to come.

Who are Paul’s Opponents in Galatians?

Paul Writing a Letter

When Paul first came to the churches in Galatia the gospel he preached was received with much enthusiasm. However, after Paul left Galatia other itinerant missionaries arrived and began to advocate a different message. Although it is obvious that this message was not in line with Paul’s message, the nature of this message as well as the identity of these messengers is not very clear.

The Options:

Longenecker believes that the messengers were Christian Jews who came from Jerusalem stressing the fact that Gentiles needed to be circumcised and to keep the cultic calendar, for full acceptance by God and as a proper Christian lifestyle.[2] “These Christian Jews might have been associated with the ‘circumcision party’ of the Jerusalem Church whose activities are illustrated in Acts 15:1, 24.”[3] Other options as to who these messengers were include: Jewish Christians of Gnostic persuasion, Jewish Christians with no specific support from Jewish authorities in Jerusalem, and Gentile Christians.[4]

The Method:

Commentators have attempted to work backwards by trying to piece together their message by reading Paul’s reactions and defenses. By coming to understand Paul’s defense commentators have pieced together Paul’s gospel and this other party’s gospel. However there are several flaws with this approach.

The Flaws in the Method:

Cousar helpfully points out that “the Bible is always interpreted in one set of historical circumstances or another.”[5] Thus in our current interpretation of Galatians we are conditioned to hear Paul’s words in Galatians by our post-reformation understanding of Christianity. Along with this post-reformation understanding of Christianity of Paul’s message is a particular understanding of the gospel. Since we are shaped with a post-reformation understanding of the gospel, it is easy to understand Paul’s opponents as being opposed to this gospel. So we begin with our understanding of the gospel and read these opponents as being opposed to our gospel. Because we do this I believe that it is more helpful to begin with the question “what is Paul’s gospel?” and then try to figure out “who are Paul’s opponents?” rather than the other way around.


[1] Cousar, Galatians: Interpretation Commentary, 3.

[2] Richard Longnecker, Word Biblical Commentary: Galatians, (Waco: Word Books, 1990), xcv.

[3] Ronald Fung, NICNT: The Epistle to the Galatians, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1988), 9.

[4] Cousar, Galatians: Interpretation Commentary, 5.

[5] Cousar, Galatians: Interpretation Commentary, 2.

What is Paul’s Gospel? (Paul’s Apocalyptic Gospel)

The answer to the question of “what is Paul’s gospel?” must have some continuity with Jesus’ proclamation of the gospel. Although some will claim that there is not much, if any, continuity between Paul and Jesus and their messages I believe that there is. The continuity between their message is found at the very beginning of Galatians. In verses 3-4 Paul explains the work of Christ. Paul says that Christ gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father. The phrase “evil age” is a distinctly apocalyptic expression.[1] In speaking of an evil age, Paul implies that there is another age to come. Paul says that it is Jesus Christ who’s death for our sins sets us free from this evil age. Martyn notes that verse four which indicates that Jesus has “snatched us out of the grasp” of this age, is related to the notion of “buying out of enslavement to.” [2] So the question is, “is the fact that we are snatched out of the grasp of this evil age the gospel or is it simply something else that is also accomplished by Christ?”


[1] J. Louis Martyn, The Anchor Bible: Galatians, (New York: Doubleday, 1997), 97.

[2] Martyn, The Anchor Bible: Galatians, 96.

Just What Exactly Is Analytic Theology?

All the time I’m asked, “just what is analytic theology?” And “what makes it different from philosophy of religion?” Or even better, “What makes it different from philosophical theology?” Well in a sense it is a form of philosophical theology but only more theological in nature…. My quick answer to the question “what is analytic theology?” Is that analytic theology is theology performed in an analytic key – that is it takes the form and virtues of analytic philosophy to do theology. Sometimes its hard to tell what is analytic theology and what isn’t but the reality is that analytic theology just “feels” analytic. You just know it when you see it. I realize that is not a very helpful definition and that really doesn’t get to the root of the problem. So to help bring a little more clarity, I want to refer you to a paper titled “Analytic Theology as a Way of Life” by William Wood.

In this paper he helps us distinguish between philosophy of religion, philosophical theology, and analytic theology. I find his remarks to be super helpful.

It is helpful to distinguish analytic theology from other related forms of philosophical and theological inquiry. Consider first analytic philosophy of religion. On my understanding, the specific task of analytic philosophy of religion is to use the tools of philosophy to investigate arguments for and against the existence of God, as well as to investigate the properties or attributes that the major monotheistic traditions would ascribe to God: omnipotence, omniscience, omnibenevolence, and so forth. Philosophy of religion, in short, concerns what might be called (non-pejoratively, at least here) “bare theism.” In distinction from philosophy of religion, we next have philosophical theology. Philosophical theology, as I understand it, uses the tools of philosophy to investigate the theological claims made by a specific religious tradition. Thus, Christian philosophical theology investigates the meaning, coherence, and truth of specifically Christian doctrines like the trinity or the incarnation.

Where does this leave analytic theology? One might worry that analytic theology is just another name for analytic philosophical theology and not anything new or distinctive. In my view, however, this worry is spurious. It is true that there is no sharp distinction between analytic theology and analytic philosophical theology. Nevertheless, the label “analytic theology” functions as a quick and easy way of letting one know the nature of this particular kind of inquiry: it features certain presuppositions and assumptions but not others; it features a certain kind of writing; it appeals to some intellectual influences and interlocutors but not others; it features a certain kind of writing; it appeals to some intellectual influences and interlocutors but not others; it similarly presupposes a certain set of intellectual villains, and so on. The label “analytic theology” is better than the more venerable label of “philosophical theology” as a shorthand description for this kind of inquiry. It is better because it is more specific. There are many different kinds of intellectual work that can justifiably be called philosophical theology—Kant uses the term, Schleiermacher uses the term, and there are many forms of philosophical theology that have nothing to do with analytic philosophy. The label “analytic theology” describes those forms that do.

Kyle Strobel on Jonathan Edwards’ Doctrine of Theosis

A few weeks ago Kyle Strobel (Talbot Seminary) came in to Oliver Crisp’s Jonathan Edwards Seminar to present a paper on Jonathan Edwards’ doctrine of theosis. For those of you who are interested in this topic – here are my rough notes:

Kyle Strobel – assistant professor of spiritual theology and formation at Talbot School of Theology

Is there such a thing as a Reformed Doctrine of theosis?
• Isn’t necessarily an “eastern doctrine.”

Theosis – several options
• Either communication of attributes
• Or participation in divine nature
• Edwards – does both

Theosis, Deification, Divinization are synonymous terms.
Though there is accepted terminology there is no accepted definition across the traditions.

Assumed: The Divine essence is incommunicable. But the divine nature is communicable.
For a doctrine of theosis to be the doctrine of theosis it must order the rest of soteriology.

The protestant tradition appropriated theosis with Protestant particularities:
• Communication of divine attributes
• Participation in relation to the divine persons (through adoption)

Edwards is able to draw together both traditional expositions of theosis.

What Edwards does is provide a thorough going Reformed doctrine of theosis.

1-Doctrine of Trinity → gives us the mechanics for theosis.

• The doctrine of God simply is affection in pure act.
• The Son and the Spirit both have natures intrinsic to their identity. But they are persons only as they exist in perichoretic relation to one another.
• See the psychological analogy
• Edwards distinction b/w divine essence & divine nature protects from radical divinization
o The nature is communicable but the essence is not
o i.e. Holy Spirit is God’s very holiness – which we can receive
• The natures of the persons are communicable. God gives himself to the believers so they can participate in his own life: his self-knowledge and self-love.
• In Edwards account its impossible to pull apart the persons and natures of God. (The son just is his love and the Spirit just is his love.)
• If God is going to give himself to you he just has to give you his Son & Spirit.

Concluding Thoughts

• Theosis – grounded in Trinitarian participation, modeled in incarnation, effected by Spirit.
• What kind of doctrine of theosis is this? One that covers both options.
• God’s own personal attributes of knowledge and love are now known as through a mirror darkly, but in new creation they will be made clear.
• Glory and happiness are words that describe God’s communicable life. This just is what we participate in.
• He offers a qualification though – never lose their personal identity.


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