Tag Archives: Christology

(Review) Embodied Hope by Kelly Kapic

The problem of evil has been solved. Well, at least the logical problem of evil has been, which for the lived experience of most human beings is radically insufficient. Pain and suffering present a radically real problem for many people. People die, get sick, and deal with chronic pain. For some, these realities pose a major stumbling block to seeing God as good. Kelly Kapic, the author of Embodied Hope has experienced these realities first hand. His wife has dealt with the ravages and emotional toll of physical suffering. In light of this he has chosen to write a book which is both theological and pastoral, exploring the truths about God and ourselves which have bearing upon this problem of pain and 51a5lkxgr8l-_sx331_bo1204203200_suffering.

Naturally, the problem of evil is a really large topic, thus Kapic chooses to limit himself in two ways: First, he chooses to address Christians who suffer. Thus this book isn’t meant as a global defense against the existential problem of evil, or evil in general. It is aimed ad Christians who experience suffering. Second, he chooses to deal with suffering associated specifically with serious illness or physical pain.

The book is roughly divided into three parts. Part one deals with the limitations of easy answers often given to the problem of suffering and he deals with the nature of biblical lament. Here he also explores what it means to be embodied creatures. Part two turns to Christology in order to address some of these issues. Kapic believes that “Only by looking to this man [Christ] can we reorient our experience of suffering in a way that is truly Christian.” (15) In part three Kapic relates ecclesiology to the problem of suffering. He says that in the body of Christ we “discover a pattern for Christian discipleship that allows for genuine struggle, communal support, and transformative affection.” (15)

As someone who would consider myself to be a “pastor-theologian” I can really appreciate the nature of this work. Kapic works hard to make sure that our theological reflections are not separated from our pastoral practice. I found Kapic’s chapter on the Incarnation to be especially strong in maintaining this bond. Here he examines the theology of Athanasius and Warfield and concludes that,

The physicality of the Messiah takes us to the heart of the gospel and God’s promise, not just of sympathy but of rescue. God has come, come near, come to be God with us and God for us!” (75)

This is a powerful truth with major pastoral implications. Much incarnational theology has swung towards saying that the most important part of the incarnation is that Christ now has solidarity with us. This is certainly true, and pastorally significant, but solidarity without rescuing doesn’t offer much hope!

His chapter on confession was also enlightening. I have rarely seen a chapter on confession in a book addressing suffering. If I have, they are often very poorly written, wrongly teaching that our sickness/suffering is always tied to some hidden sin. So what does confession have to do with healing? Confession before others can help us disentangle our pain from the idea of personal punishment, it liberates us from shame and condemnation, it allows us to meet Christ in the other, and allows us to make ourselves truly vulnerable to the healing presence of God. This is truly powerful stuff!

So who should pick up this book? Undoubtedly, pastors! I mentioned above that this is a great example of pastoral theology. Kapic doesn’t present anything “new” here, or anything particularly interesting to academic theologians. However, he does an amazing job of making theology “real” for pastors and laypersons. I often hear that systematic theology is irrelevant or that it’s a nice intellectual pursuit, but here Kapic shows us that is simply untrue. The sort of historical theology  and systematic theology he is engaging in this book is supremely relevant to the life of anyone who calls themselves a Christian.

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

Review of Christological Anthropology in Historical Perspective by Mark Cortez

Cortez, Mark. Christological Anthropology in Historical Perspective: Ancient and Contemporary Approaches to Theological Anthropology. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016, pp. 272, $27.99, paperback.


Marc Cortez is currently associate professor of theology at Wheaton College. His prior works include Theological Anthropology: A Guide for the Perplexed (T&T Clark, 2010) and Embodied Souls, Ensouled Bodies: An Exercise in Christological Anthropology and Its Significance for the Mind/Body Debate (T&T Clark, 2008). As the title of these previous monographs indicate, Cortez has an interest in theological anthropology. The recently published Christological Anthropology in Historical Perspective: Ancient and Contemporary Approaches to Theological Anthropology represents his third full length contribution to this field.

What makes us human? This is a question upon which much ink has been spilled. Most studies attempting to answer this question have tended focus on one of several topics: 1) human origins, 2) ethics, and 3) the imago dei. What Cortez brings to this already oversaturated field is a rethinking of the methodology upon which so many of these studies are founded. Cortez’s approach to theological anthropology is strictly Christological.

You can read the rest of the review at the Journal of Biblical and Theological Studies.

An Invitation to Analytic Christian Theology

Analytic theology is one of the cool, sexy hip things happening. – Michael Bird


What is analytic theology? I’ve written quite a bit about that question on this blog before. And honestly, a lot of people have throw in their two cents regarding this question. But what we have in Thomas McCall’s An Invitation to Analytic Christian Theology is probably the clearest most concise, most accessible introduction to the topic. As Oliver Crisp says in a blurb “until now it [analytic theology] has had no introductory text…McCall provides a stellar volume for this purpose.” 41muf9-ot5l-_sx331_bo1204203200_

McCall begins this introduction with a brief history of analytic theology, chronicling its emergence from analytic philosophy to analytic philosophy of religion to what we have now, analytic theology. He notes that there is no single decisive settled meaning for the term, but we could say that:

Analytic theology signifies a commitment to employ the conceptual tools of analytic philosophy where those tools might be helpful in the work of constructive Christian theology. (16)

He then addresses some of the common objections people have made about the movement including: “analytic theology relies on a univocal account of religious language,” “analytic theology is an exercise in natural theology,” “analytic theology is naïve with respect to the history of doctrine,” “analytic theology is only apologetics for conservative theology,” and “analytic theology isn’t spiritual edifying.”

[It should be noted that the last objection in particular is an objection that hits close to home for me. I’m a part of Fuller Seminary’s Analytic Theology project whose stated purpose is to focus on three Big Questions as case studies to road test the value of analytic theology in a vocational context: prayer, divine love, and the theological implications and engagement of the sciences of human origins…. The project hypothesizes that Analytic Theology (AT) provides a rigorous intellectual framework for the training and formation of church leaders. Our team will approach this in two ways. First, by “thickening up” AT theologically, providing examples of work that showcases the virtues of AT in written outputs and publications on the three Big Questions of the grant. These are prayer, divine love, and theological anthropology in conversation with the sciences. Second, we will bring together theologians and scholars with pastors and church leaders to explore the ways in which theology, and AT specifically, may be of service to the life of the church.” So yeah, I do think it can be spiritually and pastorally edifying.]

The work McCall does in laying down the foundations of Analytic theology will be very helpful for those seeking an introduction to the topic. But for those who are sort of familiar with analytic theology the later 4 chapters will be of greater interest. In these chapters he addresses the relationship between analytic theology, Scripture, the history of doctrine, and culture. The final chapter addresses how analytic theology stands in relation to theology’s proper posture and approach to its ends. McCall ends with some suggestions about how the analytic theologian may relate to modern theology, the theological interpretation of scripture, global Christianity, and pastoral concerns. In McCall’s opinion, the future of analytic theology is quite promising, precisely because it represents a renewal of older ways of doing theology.

Case Studies

One of my favorite things about this book were the “case studies” that McCall did over the course of each chapter. In the chapter on Analytic Theology and Scripture McCall uses Analytic theology to help bring clarity to what we mean when we say X is biblical. The term “biblical” and “unbiblical” often gets thrown around without sufficient precision. This actually makes for some poor arguments when arguing that one’s position is “biblical” and an opponent’s position is “unbiblical.” McCall places the term “biblical” on a spectrum between stating that: The Bible explicitly asserts P –> the Bible includes sentences that assert p and sentences that assert (not)P. This set of distinctions is important and is helpfully brought to the forefront of our theological work with the help of analytic theology which places a large amount of importance on clarity.

Besides the ctommccall-005ase study on the term “biblical,” McCall applies the virtues of analytic theology to put D.A. Carson’s use of the term “compatibilism” under the microscope. This is an excellent example of how analytic theology can help us to do even biblical theology. In his chapter on historical theology he uses analytic theology to address several contentious Christological controversies: 1) the metaphysics of the incarnation and 2) physicalist Christology. In his chapter on culture McCall takes on recent discussions about creation and evolution. This is likely McCall’s least innovative case study. Nevertheless, this is probably one of the most “practical” of the studies. What the creation/evolution debate really needs is clarity, as the debate suffers from proponents on both sides speaking past one another in broad generalities about the opponents supposedly held position. Consider even how some of those involved in the debates tend to make it an all or nothing issue: evolution or creation, with no clear working definition of what exactly these terms mean. If the dialogue is to go forward these sides need nuancing, and McCall helps bring this to the table.

Some Thoughts

As Mike Bird said – Analytic Theology is one of the cool, sexy hip things happening. He is absolutely right. However the future of analytic theology will be determined by how well it can weave its way into the life of the church. If analytic theology is to stay insider game, played by a small group of experts, the movement will likely die. However, if analytic theology is to become something more than a mere fad it will have to do something… it will have to prove that it has something to contribute to the life of the church. McCall’s work in this introductory text shows that Analytic Theology has what it takes to become more than a mere fad – if done well – analytic theology will become a staple part of the church’s task of thinking and speaking about God in a way that honors the Christian faith.

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

Exploring Christology and Atonement with CMT

In Exploring Christology and Atonement: Conversations with John McLeod Campbell, H.R. Mackintosh and T.F. Torrance Andrew Purves unites two often divided aspects of Christology – the person and work of Christ. Through engagement with the work of Campbell, Mackintosh, and Torrance Purves shows how this Scottish “school” of theology can help shape the practice of our faith. Although Purves is clear that he doesn’t want to separate the person and work of Christ he finds it necessary to divide the book into two sections: Christology and Atonement. Under the rubric of Christology he covers the basic questions of Christology, the hypostatic union, and union with Christ all from the perspective of these three Scottish theologians (CMT). He follows the work of CMT and argues for an a posteriori account of Christology, one which beings with the revelation of God in Christ as opposed to a form of theology which attempts to do Christology by following the logic of already-held-to beliefs about God.

Purves devotes one chapter to each of CMT’s theology of atonement. For each of the three theologians he emphasizes the centrality of filial rather than forensic language in atonement, the character of God, God’s opposition to Sin, the importance of including the life of Jesus into ay atonement theory, the bi-directionality of Christ’s work, and that God is not the object of atonement but rather the subject of atonement.

Rather than focus on Purves’s account of McLeod Campbell or Mackintosh, I will focus the majority of my critique on his account of T.F. Torrance. Purves gets Torrance mostly right. He accurately covers his understanding of the atonement as a “mystery,” he notes Torrance’s hesitations about penal substitution, he emphasizes the bidirectionality of Christ’s work, he makes the hypostatic union a key part of his explanation of Torrance’s atonement theory, he even notes the Torrance’s views on the extent of atonement. All of this is great. But there is a major piece left out of Purves’ account – the role of recapitulation in Torrance’s theory of atonement. While Purves does not that “the whole life of Jesus, including his death, consistutes reconciliation” (227) – He fails to devote any significant discussion to the role that Patristic theology has on his theory of atonement. Torrance says that by “living all of life through the whole course of our human existence (enhypostasis), Jesus Christ achieved within our creaturely being that union between God and man that constitutes the heart of atonement. He explains that his whole life was a redemptive operation because throughout his whole life, the forces of evil waged war against him and against the union between God and man. These forces sought to “divide the human life of the Son on earth from the life of the Father above, to divide the divine and human natures in Christ himself.” In order to be “victorious” against these forces, Christ would need to live the whole human life out (enhypostasis) all the way through death and resurrection maintaining the union between human nature and God. Thus we clearly see Patristic influences upon his theology.

In addition to this major gap in Purves’ coverage of Torrance there are two more general critiques that need to be noted. First it is that Purves overemphasizes the filial-relational aspects of atonement to the complete detriment of any forensic elements that are clearly there. Second, Purves fails to critically engage with any of these theologians in a substantive way. Towards the end of each chapter he brings up a few small issues he has with each theologian, but his critiques seem to be more of an afterthought. In summary – his coverage of each theologian is just a summary. There is nothing necessarily wrong with that, but its not what you would expect from a book that claims to be a “conversation” with CMT.

Despite these flaws – the readers of this book will certainly come away with a deeper understanding of CMT’s position. That is something which I applaud, not only because it means that Purves represented them faithfully, but because CMT’s theology is a theology which refuses to separate academic theology from piety. Thus the reader will be thrown in to the beauty of the gospel and will (if they take Purves’s words seriously) come away with a deeper appreciation of who Christ is and what he has done for us.

Why Do Christology?

Why do Christology? Mackintosh suggests that four motives may be found in the New Testament itself:

  1. It was believed that Jesus was the fulfillment of OT prophecy, and that God’s revelation ended with him. If so, who was/is he?
  2. Jesus exaltation and his gift of the Spirit mean that he is Lord, begetting in believers as a transcendent life and a hope in his coming again to be revealed as central and omnipotent. If so, who was/is he?
  3. The apostolic church, extending the mission beyond the Jewish circle, discovered that Jesus was for the whole world. His significance was universal. If so, who was/is he?
  4. The self-witness of Jesus quickened the thought of his awareness of a unique sonship, which raised all manner of questions concerning his relationship to God. If so, who was/is he?
In Andrew Purves - Exploring Christology and Atonement - pg. 76

Thomas F. Torrance and the Problem of Universalism

If you have access to the Scottish Journal of Theology (probably through your school library) and are into T.F. Torrance then I recommend that you take a look at Paul Molnar’s article Thomas F. Torrance and the problem of universalism.

You can find it in the May 2015 issue. Here’s the abstract:

While Karl Barth and Thomas F. Torrance both believed in the possibility of universal salvation, they also rejected the idea that we could make a final determination about this possibility prior to the second coming of Jesus Christ. Hence, both theologians rejected what may be called a doctrine of universal salvation in the interest of respecting God’s freedom to determine the outcome of salvation history in accordance with the love which was revealed in and through the death and resurrection of Jesus himself. This article explores Torrance’s reasons for holding that ‘the voice of the Catholic Church . . . throughout all ages has consistently judged universalism a heresy for faith and a menace to the Gospel’. Torrance expressly believed in the ‘universality of Christ’s saving work’ but rejected ‘universalism’ and any idea of ‘limited atonement’. He considered both of these views to be rationalistic approaches which ignore the need for eschatological reserve when thinking about what happens at the end when Christ comes again and consequently tend to read back logical necessities into the gospel of free grace. Whenever this happens, Torrance held that the true meaning of election as the basis for Christian hope is lost and some version of limited atonement or determinism invariably follows. The ultimate problem with universalism then, from Torrance’s perspective, can be traced to a form of Nestorian thinking with respect to christology and to a theoretical and practical separation of the person of Christ from his atoning work for us. What I hope to show in this article is that those who advance a ‘doctrine of universalism’ as opposed to its possibility also have an inadequate understanding of the Trinity. Interestingly, Torrance objected to the thinking of John A. T. Robinson and Rudolf Bultmann because both theologians, in their own way, separated knowledge of God for us from knowledge of who God is ‘in himself’. Any such thinking transfers our knowledge of God and of salvation from the objective knowledge of God given in revelation to a type of symbolic, mythological or existential knowledge projected from one’s experience of faith and this once again opens the door to both limited atonement and to universalism. Against this Torrance insisted that we cannot speak objectively about what God is doing for us unless we can speak analogically about who God is in himself.


The Johannine Prologue

Jey Kanagaraj says this about the Johannine prologue and how the gospel is encapsulated within it:

The whole Gospel according to the prologue evolves around one theme: the revelation of the one God in his glory and his encounter with all human beings in the life and mission of Jesus, the pre-existent God-become-flesh, to found and nurture a witnessing new covenant community.

John: New Covenant Commentary (9)