Tag Archives: death

Dying with Christ & Justification

In recent years a number of scholars have increasingly pointed out the relationship between participating in Christ’s death and changing sinners’ status before God. Two passages that are especially relevant to this conversation are Galatians 2:15-21 and Romans 6-7. What’s unique about both of these passages is their use of the term, “systauroo” or “co-crucify.” Gorman explains, “the restoration to right covenant relations is therefore an experience of death and resurrection, or resurrection via death.” (Inhabiting, 63) According to Gorman we are co-crucified and co-resurrected with Christ. In Romans 6, one gets “into Christ” by baptism. Justification requires death to the law, there is co-crucifixion, and resurrection to new life. All of this is participatory. And it results in our justification.

Cranfield makes a similar point. In writing of Romans 6:1-14, He argues that there are four different senses in which we may speak of dying with Christ and being raised with him. These four senses are: juridicial, baptismal, moral, eschatological. Regarding the first point Cranfield says that “God willed to see them as having died in Christ’s death and having been raised in his resurrection.” Constantine Campbell explains,

By speaking of dying and rising with Christ, Paul appears to be delving into the mechanics of how the gift of God in Jesus Christ has overturned the juridical implications of sin and death. The logic appears as follows. The consequence of sin is death, judgement, and condemnation. By dying a representative death for sinful humanity, Christ fulfilled the legal requirement for sin. Once this legal requirement had been satisfied by death, the new life of Chris is no longer bound by sin or the juridical consequences it entail. The way in which the benefits of Christ’s representative death are apprehended is by identification with him in his death. This is where participation and representation come together: Believers spiritually partake in the death and resurrection of Christ, who has represented them in these acts…. The reason that believes have been set free from the condemnation of the law and death is that the righteous requirements of the law have been met through their dying and rising with Christ. (Campbell, 337)

Tannehill, however, makes a stronger point. He says that the death and resurrection of Christ are events in which the believer herself participates. New life “is based upon personal participation in these saving events.” (Tannehill, 1) The person is actually included in Christ. This is no mere legal representation. Believers somehow actually die with Christ and are raised with Christ.

That sounds right to me…


Joy in the Journey

I probably would have never picked up Steve Hayner’s Joy in the Journey on my own – but I’m really glad that IVP sent me a copy of it.

Joy in the Journey is a collection of entries from the CaringBridge website, written by Steve (president of Columbia Theological Seminary) and his wife Sharol, as they underwent the journey of losing Steve to cancer. Easter weekend of 2014 Steve was diagnosed with a malignant tumor. His battle with cancer lasted through the end of January of 2014.

Conversations about death and dying are often awkward in our culture. We want to think more positively, or more optimistically. We want to be encouraging. For people of faith there is often the feeling that to talk about death is the opposite of talking about hope, and we want to be people who offer hope. Our awkwardness around the subject of death keeps us from considering our own deaths, or planning our funerals, or even making sure we have written a will. – Steve (94)

The fact that conversations about death and dying are awkward is precisely the reason why you should pick up this book. Its hard to find someone who is very open about their process of passing away, but for someone in ministry like me (or likely you if you are reading this blog) seeing someone make the journey through sickness to death, all the while being faithful to Christ and seeing the hope of Christ even through death is an invaluable resource. Besides the fact that you will be encouraged by Steve and Sharol’s faith throughout it all, there is much to learn from here, especially if you are ministering to people who are sick or terminally ill.

Don’t shy away from this book, even though its about death. We rarely confront death in our culture, we avoid the topic, and this harms our ability to minister to those who are dying. For the sake of your ministry, take the time to read through this book, and see how death impacts a family, before you begin to deal with death in your own ministry.

To sum things up, I leave you with something John Ortberg said to Steve about his journey, it expresses my sentiments about this book so well:

God is shining and speaking so deeply in your words that I don’t know how to express it. Thank you for taking the time and the energy in this journey to all us to be a part of it, and to gain something of the gift of wisdom that is flowing through you with so much power in the midst of physical challenge. I will try to welcome this day. (55)

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

Death… But Life!

Remember, this was the outcome of the Easter story, the history of Jesus Christ, just as death as the wages of sin was its beginning. With Christ’s resurrection from the dead God’s free gift, eternal life, entered the world. He, the dear son, he, the faithful and obedient servant, he who was willing to make our sin his own and to die our death in replacement of us, he Jesus Christ, was raised from the dead and recalled from the tomb by the Father. He was robed in eternal life. But now remember also, dear brothers and sisters, that God so acted in Jesus Christ in order that we, truly all of us, without exception, may share in this free gift of life eternal. His story now becomes ours, just as before ours became his. This was accomplished when the Easter story reached its climax. This was the great “but” and “onward” wherby our sin and with it our death was relegated to the past. This was and this is the light mentioned already in the story of creation. “God said, let there be light! and there was light.” There was light for us all in the story of Easter, in the event of Jesus Christ. There all of us, mankind itself, were made free for eternal life. The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed! In him and with him, we too are risen indeed.

-Karl Barth (from the Easter sermon “Death – But Life!”)

Jesus Must Taste Death

In the words of Donald Macleod:

But above all, Jesus must “taste” death” not simply die, but taste it (Heb 2:9). This is why he took a long time dying, and this is why he had to die unanesthetized. He had to walk, as his people do, through the valley of the shadow of death, tasting the fear of it and the encroachments of it and the power of it, and then yielding himself to it consciously and deliberately. His life did not ebb away, slowly and peacefully, ending with a pathetic death-rattle. Instead he shouts in triumph, “It is finished!”, and then dismisses his spirit into the loving hands of God his Father (Luke 23:46) [Christ Crucified, 35]

Today, on good Friday we remember that Jesus “tasted death” on our behalf and by doing that allowed us to participate in his triumph.

Two Concepts of Freedom in Galatians

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. – Paul in his Letter to the Galatians

At Soma (the college group I lead) we are currently in a series on Relationships – Where’s Your Heart. It’s a relationship series based upon the conviction that where your treasure is there your heart will also be. This series has led us to examine the purity of our hearts and the motives of our hearts in relationships. This weekend we turn to Paul’s thoughts on freedom.

The passage above is pretty straightforward – we have been called to be free. We are not under the law – we really are free! But what does that mean? What is freedom? I won’t get into this in this upcoming weekend’s sermon, however having some philosophical background for the concept of freedom really helps us understand this passage.

Two Concepts of Freedom

In 1958, Isaiah Berlin, delivered what is now considered a classic paper on the philosophy of freedom. The paper, titled: “Two Concepts of Freedom” lays out (quite obviously) two different concepts of freedom. The first is what he calls “negative freedom.” This type of freedom is concerned with the question “What is the area within which the subject- a person or group of persons – is or should be left to do or be what he is able to do or be, without interference by other persons?” The second, which he calls positive freedom is concerned with the question “Who or who is the source of control or interference that can determine someone to do or be this rather than that.” He says that these two versions of freedom are clearly different, yet at times they certainly overlap. Berlin is absolutely right – at times it is hard to determine which sort of freedom we are talking about.

So there you have it – at the most basic level there are two types of freedom: Negative and Positive. Just to reiterate – Negative freedom has to do with freedom from coercion – it could be considered “freedom from.” Positive freedom has to with powers and abilities – it could be considered “freedom too.” As an analytic political philosopher Berlin is actually concerned with issues revolving around citizens freedom in regards to governmental structures. He wants to know whether when we talk about citizens being free and the government encouraging freedom whether we are talking about negative or positive freedom. Should the government merely not interfere with citizens (negative freedom) or should the government enable citizens to express and live out their desires (positive freedom). I have thoughts about that – but this isn’t the place or time to address those issues – I want to turn my attention to Paul and his view on freedom in this Galatians passage.

Freedom in Galatians

Paul says

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.

It seems to me that Paul has two versions of freedom that he is working with – yet its sort of tricky because he moves with ease between these two versions of freedom even within one verse! Paul certainly has negative freedom in mind when he talks about Christians being called to be free – we are free from the coercive powers of sin, death, and the law. But he also seems to imply that freedom is more than just being free from these things – freedom is being free to do other things as well: freedom to serve, freedom to love, freedom not to indulge in the flesh. In this other sense freedom is not simply the lack of coercion, its the power or ability to do what one actually wants. Freedom is a positive power – which is to be used in service and love. I believe that this is the primary mode of freedom within Paul’s thought. Paul (almost) always talks about freedom in a positive sense. Freedom in Christ isn’t primarily a freedom from other sorts of things which bind us (though it is that at times) – Freedom in Christ is the power to be what Christ has created us to be. It is a positive freedom which says that our new natures given to us by Christ actually determine our actions. This version of freedom takes seriously the fact of new creation and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Or to put things more simply and in the type of language Paul is using here:

As a believer you aren’t simply free from the obligations of law – you are free to actually carry the law to its fulfillment.

Atonement & the Image of God: The Patristic Atonement Model – Notes on Ben Myers – LATC15 Presentation

Ben Myers – well known for his Faith-Theology blog – lecturer in Systematic Theology at Charles Sturt Univsersity’s School of Theology presented a paper at LATC tonight titled – Atonement and the Image of God: The Patristic Model of Atonement.

Ben Myers – Author of Christ the Stranger, Salvation in my Pocket, and Milton’s Theology of Freedom.

Here are my notes (sort of incomplete notes) on his lecture and the Q & A time after the lecture

Atonement and the Image of God

Ben Myers

The Patristic Atonement Model

No Explanation?

  • The how of the operation remains a mystery – or so say most modern theologians. Most are content to settle for a restatement rather than an explanation.
  • Gustaf Aulen – the Patristic Model has no mechanism; it defies systematization
    • The teaching is internally contradictory
    • The Anselmian model is disreputable b/c its structure is too rational
    • Christus Victor is not a model at all….
    • Anti-Mechanism

Thesis: Christian antiquity did indeed develop a model of atonement – and it does indeed have a mechanism behind it.

The Model – 12 Steps

  1. Humanity, created in the image of God is loved by God.
    1. Assumption 1: There is one human nature. All individual human beings participate in this universal (realism).
  2. But human nature has succumbed to the power of death.
    1. Assumption 2: Death is and a positive quality but a privation of being (privation).
  3. Divine impassibility.
  4. ???
  5. What is God to do?
  6. In Christ, God becomes incarnate: the divine nature is united with human nature.
    1. Assumption 4: Exactly how this union occurs is unknowable. (Hypostatic Union)
  7. In this union each nature retains its own distinctiveness while participating in the properties of the other.
  8. In Christ’s death – death dies (the mechanism).
  9. Christ resurrection is the inevitable consequence of his death.
  10. What happens to human nature in Christ happens to humanity as a whole (because of m1) (The universal effect)
  11. Human nature is now freed from the power of death and is restored to its created position. This is a good thing. (The solution)
  12. Human nature is now united to God and receives far surpassing its created position. This is a very good thing. (The surplus)

Divine Impassability

  • Divine impassibility is the reason for the incarnation (see Athanasius)
    • For this reason he takes on a body capable of death – to snatch humanity out of the grip of death.
    • Communication of properties makes it so that God can be capable of tasting death…It was God’s body that suffered and no one elses.
    • The problem that the incarnation solves is the problem of impassibility
      • God is “touched” by suffering without being changed by it.
    • The Son’s human nature is the doorway into death – but who “steps through the word is the eternal logos.”

Death and the Devil

  • Assumption: Death is a privation of being.
    • Non-being is defeated when it comes into contact with the Divine Being.
      • e. light darkness disappears when light comes on
    • That evil & death is a privation is axiomatic w/in Patristics & early theologians
    • The atonement is not a struggle b/w God and Satan
      • The struggle w/ demons is strictly b/w us and Satan/Demons
    • The point of these metaphors is not to show that Christ defeats the devil
      • The mechanism behind these metaphors is about the possibility of the impassible nature going into death and defeating it from within.
    • Gregory of Nyssa – The Fishook Passage
      • The real problem is not Satan but Death
      • Death is not a positive power, but a privation of life
    • The Mechanism – Divinity touches death and death is no more (i.e. putting being into non-being)
      • Death is an absence that Christ fills

Realism and Human Nature

  • The view that humanity is essentially one – universal human nature that all humans participate in –
    • Use metaphors and analogies to depict this
      • Ireneaus – Single book Metaphor
      • Athanasius – A Town that a King lives in
      • Gregory – Kitchen and yeast in the dough or a curdling agent for milk
    • They assert this view – and don’t give much of an explanation for this assumption
    • See Athansius – On Incarnation, pg 9, sacrifice language is “one and the many” language.
      • Not a depiction of the mechanism but a depiction of the universal effects
      • This answers the question – not how it works – but for whom it works.
    • The Language of sacrifice is used to depict how Jesus death counts for us.

The Solution and the Surplus

  • Christ wraps himself in our falling human nature – takes us higher than we started.
  • Dying human nature is infused with Divine life.
  • The surplus factor belongs to the atonement model proper.
    • It communicates human qualities to divine nature
    • It communicates divine qualities to human nature – thus elevating it.
  • We rise up to an honor that is above our nature (when we were created).



Q1- I’m interested in this assumption that there is one human nature that all individual human beings participate in. Could you elaborate a little bit upon what you think forms the background for this philosophical assumption…

  • OT Models (Adam & Humanity, Sacrifice & One Representing Many)
  • NT Pauline Descriptions of Adam & 2nd Adam
  • Ireneus sees human nature as being instantiated throughout history, beginning with Adam, Israel, and Finally Christ. Human nature is a thing that unfolds through time.
  • Some others see human nature as a more abstract universal. (Almost in a Platonic way.)

Q2- Where does Sin fit into this Patristic Model?

  • I’m not persuaded that there is an integration with Anselmian models.
  • In Patristic theology the emphasis is on the problem brought about by Sin i.e. Death – not on sin itself.

Q3-What are the implications of the realism assumption. How can the son assume sinful human nature? Assuming that he can – why isn’t incarnation in itself enough for atonement?

  • Because there was a fall with death – there must be a death in the life of Christ or else Christ cannot lift us up from it.

Q4- Given modern discussions about anthropology – the idea that there is no one thing which we man by “human nature” i.e. the plurality of the human species – how does this idea that there is a universal nature affect your view?

  • I don’t quite see how you can hold to the gospel without having some way of talking about humanity as a whole. The NT itself has ways about talking about the whole of humanity.

The Direction of Atonement in Luther’s Theology

When it comes to atonement theologies people often break them up into classic, satisfaction, and subjective categories. However it might be better to classify atonement theories according to whom the atonement is directed towards. For instance, Patristic atonement theories tend to say that Christ’s work aims at achieving something in regard to the “powers.” Anselmian theories tend to have a God-ward orientation. God is the one who is “satisfied” or whose justice is met. Finally, Abelardian theories tend to (primarily) argue that atonement does something primarily to us human beings. So we might want to ask of Luther – where is atonement directed?

The following passage gives us some insight:

For, by Himself to overcome the world’s sin, death, and the curse, and God’s wrath, this is not the work of any created being, but of almighty God. Therefore He who of Himself overcame these must actually in his nature be God. For against these so mighty powers, sin, death, and the curse, which of themselves have dominion in the world and in all creation, another and a higher power must appear, which can be none other than God. To destroy sin, to smite death, to take away the curse by Himself, to bestow righteousness, bring life to light, and give the blessing: to annihilate the former and to create the latter: this is the work of God’s omnipotence alone. But when the Scripture ascribes to Christ all this, then is he Himself the Life, and Righteousness, and Blessing – that is in his nature and His essence He is God…. When therefore we teach that men are justified through Christ, and Christ is the conqueror of sin, death, and the everlasting curse, then at the same time we testify that He is in his nature God. – Commentary on Galatians 3:13

Christ Defeats Death

There are a couple things to note from this passage:

  • The Presence of “Powers” – For Luther these powers are sin, death, and the curse. Much like classic theories, the problem is our bondage to these powers.
  • The Importance of Incarnation for Atonement – Most Patristic theologians believed that atonement started the moment Christ became incarnate. (See Irenaeus and T.F. Torrance’s appropriation of his theology.) Its interesting to note that for Luther atonement depends quite simply upon the battle waged by the divine nature against the powers. This is expressed very clearly when Luther says that “a higher power must appear, which can be none other than God….” i.e. for Christ to accomplish the victory he must be in his very nature God.
  • Victory not Payment – Again this is very clear, the powers have to be defeated. We are under bondage to the powers. However quite unlike the classical theories, the powers aren’t demonic, they are sin, death, and the curse (and elsewhere the Law).

From this passage alone it seems as though Luther doesn’t favor a “God-ward” atonement, rather it is a version of atonement aimed at achieving something in regard to the powers.