Tag Archives: Gospel Theology

Theology as Discipleship

Theology is irrelevant to our life as Christians.

At least that’s what many evangelicals tend to believe. There is this thought that runs through much of evangelicalism that theology is either irrelevant because we should be focusing on practical things. There is also another line of thought that seems to believe that theology is dangerous because it is divisive, and has the potential to confuse people about God. Keith Johnson in Theology as Discipleship argues that neither of these are the case. In fact, theology is vitally relevant to our lives as Christians and it actually has the ability to help us grow in Christ. Or as he himself puts it:

The traditional goal of Christian theology is to develop a better understanding of God so that we can think and speak rightly about God within the context of a life governed by our faith in Christ and our discipleship to him in community with other Christians. (34)

Keith Johnson writes theology in a truly “gospel-centered” manner. By Gospel centered I don’t mean what people typically mean by “gospel centered,” I mean a fully rounded out gospel which places union with Christ at the center.

Johnson begins by explaining where theology went “wrong” (i.e. anti-intellectualized & over-academia-ized). He then explains what it means to do theology from the standpoint of our union with Christ. Part of theology’s purpose is to help us to know Christ and grow in our understanding of our union with Him. The way this happens is through the use of Scripture and the hearing of God’s word. As we listen to scripture and hear God speak our mind, our thoughts, and out theology becomes conformed to the mind of Christ.

This short book is super helpful and I would encourage anyone that is interested in studying theology to pick it up. I would especially encourage anyone who is going to bible college or seminary to read it before they dive into the study of theology. The fact that he includes explicit sections of exegesis in each chapter is a breath of fresh air, and it’s a great way of modeling how to do theology. His final chapter, “Theology in Christ” is another highlight of his book. In it he lays out 9 thesis for what it means to do theology as discipleship.

Overall this is a great little book which reorients theology around its true purpose, growing in Christ and serving the church.

 Note: I received this book courtesy of IVP in exchange for an impartial review.
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Vanhoozer on the 6 Marks of Evangelical Theology

Vanhoozer says that there are six marks of Evangelical theology. Personally I think there should be seven or maybe forty. Those are better numbers because they are “Biblical” but whatever, six works I guess….

All kidding aside what marks evangelical theology off as “evangelical.” Is it simply that it is done by people who call themselves evangelicals? Is there something distinctive about it that makes it “evangelical” i.e. subject matter, emphasis, the way its written, goals, Etc.? Is it that it fits

latc-treier

If you will be in L.A. in January make sure to come to LATC. Daniel Treier will be presenting a plenary titled “Scripture’s Textual Voices: A Dogmatic Account.

 

well within Bebbington’s quadrilateral (word, cross, activism, conversion)?

The answer to that question, “What marks theology off as evangelical?” is a complex question with a complex answer but Vanhoozer and Treier seek to answer it – or at least give some direction in how we might go about answering it – in their new book Theology and the Mirror of Scripture: A Mere Evangelical Account.

In a helpful section on “The Gospel of God and the God of the Gospel” Vanhoozer and Treir give us 6 characteristics (3 substantive and 3 stylistic) that mark theology as “evangelical.”

Mere evangelical theology, as an anchored set, can initially be characterized in terms of two principles, one material (substantive), one formal (stylistic), each with three entailments. As to substance, mere evangelical theology is (1) orthodox, conforming to the early creeds; (2) catholic, spanning all the times and places where there has been a local church; and (3) Protestant, affirming of the Reformation solas. As to style, it is (1) radical, first because it is anchored in the root (radix) of the gospel – the triune God – and second because this rootedness leads it to confront the world with the claims of the gospel; (2) irenic, acknowledging that we need many perspectives and people groups fully to appreciate the gospel’s wealth of meaning; and (3) joyful, first because it take it bearing from the best of all words that can be heard and, second, because it takes its energy from the Spirit, the minister of God’s word and the giver of God’s life. (52)

Do you find these six marks helpful? Would you change any? Add any?

Gospel Theology (Pt. 4) – Dyothelitism

Today we continue our discussion of “Gospel Centered” theology by looking at the doctrine of dyothelitism. This is a doctrine that you have probably never heard of, so let me give you a little bit of background.

In A.D. 680, the Council of Constantinople convened. This was one of the 7 ecumenical councils of the church, that is, the 7 councils that all orthodox branches of the church (Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Protestants) recognize as authoritative and binding in some sense.  This council debated two distinct positions concerning the will of Jesus.  The Monothelities (mono = one, thelo = I will) argued that in Jesus Christ there was only one single will. The Dyothelitites (duo = two, thelo = I will) argued that Jesus Christ possessed a divine will as well as a human will. After much discussion and debate the council settled on Dyothelitism as the orthodox doctrine. This seems like a trivial discussion, but really it isn’t.

The gospel hinges upon this doctrine!

This doctrine provides us with a perfect illustration of the fact that the gospel can help to settle debates over doctrine. To understand why this is so we need to remember two key pieces of the gospel: 1) Humans owe God perfect obedience, 2) Humans are sinful and hence are incapable of offering God that which God deserves. Enter Jesus, fully God, fully man. Jesus lives the perfect life on humanity’s as humanity’s representative and substitute. He can only live that perfect life because he is God.  In order to be humanity’s representative and substitute, Jesus must offer up perfect obedience as a human. He must offer up perfect obedience flowing out of the human will, or else he has no right stand in our place. If Jesus’ perfect obedience didn’t flow out of the human will, then his perfect obedience could not count as our own obedience. Jesus also had to act out of his divine will, or else it would have been impossible for him to live out that life perfectly.

(Let me get technical for a second, skip this section if you so feel led: T.F. Torrance says that justification is twofold. On God’s side it means to judge or condemn in order to put right and it means to deem right. On humanity’s side there are also two actions that must be performed, there must be confession of God’s righteousness and there must be obedience to it. Torrance suggests that these four things are all fulfilled in Christ. In Christ humanity (in virtue of anhypostais) acknowledges its sinfulness. In Christ, God judges humanity as sinful and puts it in the right therefore revealing his own righteousness. At the same time, in Christ, humanity (enhypostasis) offers up perfect obedience and faithfulness to God. Finally in Christ, God deems humanity as being in the right. Thus Jesus is the judge and the judged in one person.)

So far we have said that in order for atonement to be made Jesus must carry out action from his humanity and from his divinity. This simple fact is why we choose dyothelitism over monothelitism. To choose monothelitism is to make Christ’s atonement ineffective. The divine will must be at work in Jesus, the human will must be at work in Jesus; to have only one will at work is to remove a part of this important gospel equation. Hence dyothelitism.

Gospel Theology (Pt. 3) – Original Sin

Today we continue our series on “Gospel” or “Evangelical” theology, that is theology that flows out of the truths of the gospel. Last time I said that there certain key doctrines that are decided by or settled on or strengthened by the gospel. Some doctrines are the logical consequence of the gospel, one such doctrine is the doctrine of original sin.

What is Original Sin?

Briefly, what is the doctrine of Original Sin. Well in church history the term has been used in a pretty muddy and sloppy way. First off it has been used to refer to the original sin, that is the sin that Adam and Eve committed in the garden (Augustine calls this peccatum originale originans). It has also been used to refer to the condition of sin in humankind caused (somehow) by the transmission of Adam and Eve’s sin to all (this is to be distinguished from original guilt). The Augustine calls this latter “original sin” peccatum originale originatum. Its this second understanding of Original Sin that we are concerned with, the sin that is inherent by all of us sons and daughters of Adam.

Original Sin and the Gospel

Now what I am about say about orignial sin  will certainly be controversial but I am going to say it anyway.  I believe that the doctrine of original is found in the Bible. (That is not controversial) Here is the controversial part,

I believe that the strongest case for the doctrine of original sin is that it is a logical consequence of the gospel.

In our day people are quick to dismiss the doctrine of original sin as something that is archaic or too pessimistic. Yet the doctrine of original sin is a doctrine that we can’t easily throw away or dismiss. Without this doctrine, the gospel become nonsense. What happens to the gospel when the doctrine of original sin is discarded? Well the gospel loses all meaning and purpose.

Tatha Wiley, a theology professor who teaches in Minnesota sheds some light as to why this doctrine flows out of the gospel:

The idea of original sin first arose as an answer to the very question of redemption. For the early church theologians, the burning question was not about the character of evil but of the need of Christ. What they asked, makes Christ’s redemption universal? Why do all persons need Christ’s grace and forgiveness? The emergence and development of a theology of original sin are one response. Because of Adam and Eve’s sin, humankind is sinful. All then, are in need of Christ’s redemption. (OS)

She explains that Original Sin is necessitated by the gospel. The gospel is our starting point for theologizing about sin. Its pretty clear from the gospel that Christ died for the redemption of humanity. Those humans cannot redeem themselves, all humans are incapable of doing that, hence all humans need Christ’s atoning death. Now the question is, why do all humans need to Christ’s death to rescue them? Why are all humans incapable of saving themselves? The answer is that there is something fundamentally wrong with us humans, we call that original sin.

The Logic of Original Sin and the Gospel

Here is the “logic” behind the doctrine:

  • Claim: All humans need to appropriate Christ’s atoning death
  • Question: Why do all need Christ’s death?
  • Answer: All have original sin

Hence the doctrine of original sin flows out of the gospel.

Next time we will take a look at the rather obscure doctrine of dyothelitism.

Gospel Theology (Pt. 2) – Incarnation

In my last post I mentioned the fact that certain key doctrines are decided or settled on or strengthened by the gospel. Some doctrines are the logical consequence of the gospel, a great example of this sort of doctrine is the doctrine of the Hypostatic Union: In Christ the fullness of deity and the fullness of human nature are united as one without mixing, without confusion, without one superseding the other. Christ is the union of divine and human nature.

This union forms the basis for the doctrine of the incarnation:

The doctrine of the incarnation holds that, at a time roughly two thousand years in the past, the second person of the trinity took on himself a distinct, fully human nature. As a result, he was a single person in full possession of two distinct natures, one human and one divine. (SEP)

So how exactly does this doctrine logically flow from the gospel? In Cur Deus Homo Anselm shows us how.

So what is the Gospel for Anselm? The Gospel for Anselm begins with an explanation of the end of man. Anselm believes that “human nature was created in order that hereafter the whole man, body and soul, should enjoy a blessed immortality” (112). He does not elaborate much on what this blessedness is supposed to be like, nevertheless, this is the sort of state for which God created humans, and this is the goal they were supposed to achieve.

However, something went wrong. Something prevented human beings from attaining this blessedness. What happened was that human beings sinned. Human beings have failed to render God his due. What God is due is all honor, glory, and praise, but human beings have turned in on themselves and have robbed God of these things. In order to attain blessedness for which they were created humans must not simply return what was taken away, they “must give back more than he (they) took away.” So it could be said that humans owe God a debt of honor… In order to be made right, humans must repay this debt of honor. However the satisfaction must be proportionate to the offense. The offence was infinite, so the repayment must be infinite. Humans are incapable of making this sort of payment, only God can make this sort of payment. On the flip side, only God is capable of making this payment, but only humans have the duty to make this payment. So the only solution would be that a God-Man makes satisfaction.

This is the gospel according to Anselm, that humans have dishonored God and owe him a debt which is impossible to repay by anyone besides someone who is fully God and fully human, thankfully the God-man repays the debt and acquires honor that is due to him but is given to the elect. So for Anselm his gospel hangs upon the incarnation, that there is someone who is a God-man.

Here is where the doctrine of the incarnation gets gospel centered:

In order for our atonement to count, the incarnation is necessary.

Without the incarnation, without the union of divine and human nature in the man Jesus Christ, there would be no gospel. So we can say that the gospel necessitates a doctrine of the incarnation.

Gospel Theology (Pt. 1) – Introduction

A few days ago I wrote a short blog about Michael Bird’s forthcoming systematic/biblical theology, Evangelical Theology. I am honestly excited to read it, because from the looks of it, it is truly going to be a “Gospel-Centered” Theology.

Here is what Bird has to say about this:

What we need, as a matter of pastoral and missional importance, is an authentically evangelical theology — that is, a theology that makes the evangel the beginning, center, boundary, and interpretive theme of its theological project.

He says that a truly evangelical theology

Should be a working out of the gospel in the various loci of Christian theology (i.e., the topics in theology like the nature of God, the person and work of Christ, the church, last things, etc.) and then be applied to the sphere of daily Christian life and the offices of Christian leaders. The gospel is the fulcrum of Christian doctrine. The gospel is where God meets us and where we introduce the world to God.

He says that his task is to lay out what a theology driven and defined by the gospel looks like. In the past, others have attempted this task. I think of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics which sought to do dogmatic theology fully in light of God’s revelation of himself in Jesus Christ. The Church Dogmatics are a Christocentric attempt at dogmatic theology, it centers theology around the work and person of Jesus Christ. I think of T.F. Torrance’s dogmatic theology which is also centered around the person-work of Jesus Christ. For Torrance every doctrine springs forth from the reality which is the hypostatic union. All this to say, Bird finds himself in good company in his attempt to formulate a truly evangelical theology.

Over the next few days I will post a few blog posts showing how “Evangelical” or “Gospel-Centered” theology ought to be done (maybe “ought” is too strong of a word, maybe we could use “could.”) I will illustrate how certain key doctrines are decided or settled or strengthened by the gospel. I will show that some of the doctrines we take for granted are in fact the logical consequences of the gospel.

Over the next few days I will cover the following doctrines:

  1. Incarnation
  2. Original Sin
  3. Dyothelitism