The PostBarthian

Bruce McCormack on the Misuse of the Imago Dei (Image of God)

imago-dei-bruce-mccormackIn a panel discussion at the LA Theology 2015 conference, Bruce McCormack provides this provocative explanation on how the imago dei has been misused in the history of Christian theology. I've transcribed his response in the video link as follows.

Bruce McCormack on the imago dei:

"The doctrine of the Image of God has been badly misused throughout the history of Christian Theology. It's been made to answer the wrong questions. It's been made to answer the question of what gives human beings significance which quickly turns into what makes us different from animals. Now that's a very dangerous game to play, because those who study the higher forms of primate life are eroding those differences left, right and center. And I think, one of the things we may learn from that, is that the Imago Dei is a doctrine about what makes us like god, not what makes us different from the rest of Creation. And because that's the case, you are not going to be able to describe it phenomenological or metaphysically, I think you have to describe it Christologically. You're not describing it in terms of some set of properties, intellect, memory, will, whatever, you're not doing it that way. What I think that the Imago Dei is, at the end of the day, is holiness. It is holiness rooted in kenotic, self-giving, love. Leviticus 19:2 says, 'I the Lord your God, am a holy God, you shall be a holy people.' To be in a relationship with this God, is to be holy. What does this look like? It has to be in conformity of our lived existence in this world to Jesus' own; to his life of perfect obedience; it's about correspondence to him; it's about holiness. And as I say, its a holiness that arises out of kenotic, self-giving love. That's the image, but that's how Christ is."

McCormack, Bruce. "LA Theology Conference Panel Discussion."
YouTube. YouTube, 3 Feb. 2015. Web. 25 Feb. 2015.


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John Calvin’s The Wondrous Exchange (The Great Exchange)

wondrous-exchange-calvin"The Wondrous Exchange" is John Calvin's version of Martin Luther's "The Great Exchange". I mentioned the Wondrous Exchange (or Wonderful Exchange) in my previous post on Martin Luther's The Great Exchange. Calvin's Wondrous Exchange surprisingly does not appear in a loci on atonement in The Institutes of the Christian Religion but is found near the fountain head of Calvin's Doctrine of the Lord's Supper! The event and act of atonement occurs in the real participation of the body and blood of Christ in the bread and wine of the Lord's Supper: "For he in some measure renews, or rather continues, the covenant which he once and for all ratified with his blood (as far as it pertains to the strengthening of our faith) whenever he proffers that sacred blood for us to taste." Martin Luther discovered The Great Exchange but John Calvin has found the location of this Wondrous Exchange!

The following quotation containing Calvin's Wondrous Exchange, forms point number two in Calvin's famous chapter on the Eucharist (Institutes, IV.xvii.2), and sets Calvin's concept of atonement in the cornerstone of his Doctrine of the Eucharist. Immediately preceding section 2 is a discussion on how we are nourished bodily by The Lord's Supper by the "taste of this sacred food" that "we receive from the flesh and blood of Christ" (Institutes, IV.xvii.1). In the following section, Calvin says, "as bread nourishes, sustains, and keeps the life of our body, so Christ's body is the only food to invigorate and enliven our soul." (Institutes, IV.xvii.3)

"Godly souls can gather great assurance and delight from this Sacrament; in it they have a witness of our growth into one body with Christ such that whatever is his may be called ours. As a consequence, we may dare assure ourselves that eternal life, of which he is the heir, is ours; and that the Kingdom of Heaven, into which he has already entered, can no more be cut off from us than from him; again, that we cannot be condemned for our sins, from whose guilt he has absolved us, since he willed to take them upon himself as if they were his own. This is the wonderful exchange (mirifica commutati) which, out of his measureless benevolence, he has made with us; that, becoming Son of man with us, he has made us sons of God with him; that, by his descent to earth, he has prepared an ascent to heaven for us; that, by taking on our mortality, he has conferred his immortality upon us; that, accepting our weakness, he has strengthened us by his power; that, receiving our poverty unto himself, he has transferred his wealth to us; that, taking the weight of our iniquity upon himself (which oppressed us), he has clothed us with his righteousness." (Institutes of the Christian Religion, IV.xvii.2)

Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Ed. John T. McNeill. Trans. Ford Lewis. Battles. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1960. 1360-3. Print.

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Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification

jddjThe Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ or JD) was an ecumenical agreement on the Doctrine of Justification between the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church. The Joint Declaration was completed in February 1997, it was then approved by a supermajority of the Lutheran World Federation churches (89 of the 124 members signed), and then it was signed by the Lutheran World Federation and Catholic Church in Augsburg, Germany in October of 1999 in commemoration of the Augsburg Confession. The Joint Declaration was endorsed by an Official Common Statement by the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church and then the Annex to the Official Common Statement was published, mutatis mutandis. In 2009, the ten year anniversary of this landmark document was celebrated in Chicago.

The Joint Declaration is an amazing incarnation of the Legacy of Hans Küng's Doctrine of Justification published forty years prior where he Küng proves that the Catholic Doctrine of Justification is not synergism. The Joint Declaration addresses Lutheranism, but I hope to see in my lifetime a similar ecumenical agreement between Reformed Churches and the Catholic Church that addresses specifically Reformed objections of Catholic Justification, such as those objections raised by Eberhard Jüngel's JustificationFor instance, Reformed theologians have claimed that the Lutheran doctrine of Justification in the Joint Declaration is Osianderian, and that issue raised by the debate between John Calvin and Andreas Osiander (c.f. The Institutes of the Christian Religion, III.11) will need to be resolved before we see a joint declaration incarnate between the Reformed Churches and Roman Catholic Church. Many Reformed works have been published as foreshadows of such ecumenical unity, such as George Hunsinger's Eucharist and Ecumenism. Despite the work that must be done, this is a remarkable document that gives us hope that one day we may confess the Creed as never before: "we believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic church".

A summary statement explaining the Joint Declaration's objective:

"By appropriating insights of recent biblical studies and drawing on modern investigations of the history of theology and dogma, the post-Vatican II ecumenical dialogue has led to a notable convergence concerning justification, with the result that this Joint Declaration is able to formulate a consensus on basic truths concerning the doctrine of justification. In light of this consensus, the corresponding doctrinal condemnations of the sixteenth century do not apply to today's partner." (JD 2.13)

The Joint Declaration unifies the Doctrine of Justification between Catholics and Lutherans by understanding each parties as opposing sides of the same coin. Sanctification and Justification are two dogmas that are neither unified or separated, such that the Catholics emphasize sanctification and Lutherans emphasize Justification, but Catholics do not exclude Justification in their formulations on Sanctification, and the Lutherans do not exclude Sanctification in their formulations on Justification, such that the differences are a matter of emphasis. Each difference between the Catholic and Lutheran teaching on the Doctrine of Justification is addressed following this program.

Joint Declaration on the question of human "cooperation":

"We confess together that all persons depend completely on the saving grace of God for their salvation. The freedom they possess in relation to persons and the things of this world is no freedom in relation to salvation, for as sinners they stand under God's judgment and are incapable of turning by themselves to God to seek deliverance, of meriting their justification before God, or of attaining salvation by their own abilities. Justification takes place solely by God's grace. Because Catholics and Lutherans confess this together, it is true to say:" (JD 4.1.19)

Catholic: "When Catholics say that persons "cooperate" in preparing for and accepting justification by consenting to God's justifying action, they see such personal consent as itself an effect of grace, not as an action arising from innate human abilities." (JD 4.1.20)

Lutheran: "According to Lutheran teaching, human beings are incapable of cooperating in their salvation, because as sinners they actively oppose God and his saving action. Lutherans do not deny that a person can reject the working of grace. When they emphasize that a person can only receive (mere passive) justification, they mean thereby to exclude any possibility of contributing to one's own justification, but do not deny that believers are fully involved personally in their faith, which is effected by God's Word." (JD 4.1.21)

Joint Declaration on Catholic 'washing away of original sin' verse Lutheran 'simul iustus et peccator (at the same time righteous and sinner)':

"Lutherans understand this condition of the Christian as a being 'at the same time righteous and sinner.' Believers are totally righteous, in that God forgives their sins through Word and Sacrament and grants the righteousness of Christ which they appropriate in faith. In Christ, they are made just before God. Looking at themselves through the law, however, they recognize that they remain also totally sinners. Sin still lives in them (1 Jn 1:8; Rom 7:17,20), for they repeatedly turn to false gods and do not love God with that undivided love which God requires as their Creator (Deut 6:5; Mt 22:36-40 pr.). This contradiction to God is as such truly sin. Nevertheless, the enslaving power of sin is broken on the basis of the merit of Christ. It no longer is a sin that 'rules' the Christian for it is itself 'ruled' by Christ with whom the justified are bound in faith. In this life, then, Christians can in part lead a just life. Despite sin, the Christian is no longer separated from God, because in the daily return to baptism, the person who has been born anew by baptism and the Holy Spirit has this sin forgiven. Thus this sin no longer brings damnation and eternal death. Thus, when Lutherans say that justified persons are also sinners and that their opposition to God is truly sin, they do not deny that, despite this sin, they are not separated from God and that this sin is a 'ruled' sin. In these affirmations, they are in agreement with Roman Catholics, despite the difference in understanding sin in the justified." (JD 4.4.29)

"Catholics hold that the grace of Jesus Christ imparted in baptism takes away all that is sin 'in the proper sense' and that is 'worthy of damnation' (Rom 8:1). There does, however, remain in the person an inclination (concupiscence) which comes from sin and presses toward sin. Since, according to Catholic conviction, human sins always involve a personal element and since this element is lacking in this inclination, Catholics do not see this inclination as sin in an authentic sense. They do not thereby deny that this inclination does not correspond to God's original design for humanity and that it is objectively in contradiction to God and remains one's enemy in lifelong struggle. Grateful for deliverance by Christ, they underscore that this inclination in contradiction to God does not merit the punishment of eternal death and does not separate the justified person from God. But when individuals voluntarily separate themselves from God, it is not enough to return to observing the commandments, for they must receive pardon and peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation through the word of forgiveness imparted to them in virtue of God's reconciling work in Christ." (JD 4.4.30)

A controversial conclusion of the Joint Declaration is not to repeal the mutual anathemas by the Lutherans symbolic literature or the Counter-Reformation literature (especially the Council of Trent) from the 16th century, but to say that those anathemas no longer have potency today. Catholics retain the Council of Trent in their magisterium, and this became a barrier for a group of conservative Lutherans who is unwilling to dialog unless the council is removed.

"Thus the doctrinal condemnations of the 16th century, in so far as they relate to the doctrine of justification, appear in a new light: The teaching of the Lutheran churches presented in this Declaration does not fall under the condemnations from the Council of Trent. The condemnations in the Lutheran Confessions do not apply to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church presented in this Declaration." (JD 5.41)

"Nothing is thereby taken away from the seriousness of the condemnations related to the doctrine of justification. Some were not simply pointless. They remain for us "salutary warnings" to which we must attend in our teaching and practice" (JD 5.42)

The reality is that this is a first step in reconciliation after five hundred years of bad blood since the Reformation.

"The understanding of the doctrine of justification set forth in this Declaration shows that a consensus in basic truths of the doctrine of justification exists between Lutherans and Catholics. In light of this consensus the remaining differences of language, theological elaboration, and emphasis in the understanding of justification described in paras. [JD] 18 to 39 are acceptable. Therefore the Lutheran and the Catholic explications of justification are in their difference open to one another and do not destroy the consensus regarding the basic truths." (JD 5.40)

"Our consensus in basic truths of the doctrine of justification must come to influence the life and teachings of our churches. Here it must prove itself. In this respect, there are still questions of varying importance which need further clarification. These include, among other topics, the relationship between the Word of God and church doctrine, as well as ecclesiology, ecclesial authority, church unity, ministry, the sacraments, and the relation between justification and social ethics. We are convinced that the consensus we have reached offers a solid basis for this clarification. The Lutheran churches and the Roman Catholic Church will continue to strive together to deepen this common understanding of justification and to make it bear fruit in the life and teaching of the churches." (JD 5.43)

The Joint Declaration is a remarkable document and a hope for unity in our One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, and there will always be those who prefer schism, such as those vocal minority of Luther Churches, like the  LCMS Churches that refused to sign the Joint Declaration We may always hope against hope for the infallibility of the Church, so that we may be one, as Jesus prayed, in the way that he and the Father are one.

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John Calvin’s Definition of Sacrament

calvin-sacramentJohn Calvin provides the following definition of sacrament in the Institutes of the Christian Religion (IV.xiv.1-2) using the vernacular of "sign and seal" that is a staple of conservative Reformed sacramentology, and appears in the Westminster Confession of Faith and the other Reformed confessions.

Calvin's definition is ecumenical, as he desires the unity between the Lutheran Church (Luther-Melanchthon) and the Swiss Reformed (Zwingli-Bullinger), with the Lutherans emphasizing the impression of the seal on the Christian and the Swiss Reformed emphasizing the sign of the Christian, and Calvin stands in the midst and has it both ways with his twofold talk of "sign and seal".

The following quotation provides two definitions of 'sacrament' by John Calvin, and a briefly explanation on how his definition aligns with that of Augustine of Hippo. And lastly, it has a clarification on the term 'sacrament' vs 'mystery' being a different of the Western Roman Church verse the Eastern Greek Church respectively.

First, we must consider what a sacrament is. It seems to me that a simple and proper definition would be to say that it is:

An outward sign by which the Lord seals on our consciences the promises of his good will toward us in order to sustain the weakness of our faith; and we in turn attest our piety toward him in the presence of the Lord and of his angels and before men.

Here is another briefer definition:

One may call it a testimony of divine grace toward us, confirmed by an outward sign, with mutual attestation of our piety toward him.

Whichever of these definitions you may choose, it does not differ in meaning from that of Augustine, who teaches that a sacrament is "a visible sign of a sacred thing," or "a visible form of an invisible grace," but it better and more clearly explains the thing itself. For since there is something obscure in his brevity, in which many of the less educated are deceived, I have decided to give a fuller statement, using more words to dispel all doubt.

2. The word "sacrament" 

The reason why the ancients used this word in this sense is clear enough. For wherever the old translator wished to render into Latin the Greek word μυστήριον, especially where it refers to divine things, he translated it "sacrament."

Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Ed. John T. McNeill. Trans. Ford Lewis. Battles. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1960. 1277-8. Print.

(Image source:wikipedia)

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John Calvin on the Origin of the Rainbow

calvin-rainbowI discovered two quotations by John Calvin, one in his Institutes of the Christian Religion and the other in his Commentary on Genesis where Calvin argues that the rainbow existed before the Noahic Covenant was established. The False Dilemma between the Bible and Science has been a reoccuring theme I've featured, as well has reviewing quotations from great theologians that demonstrate that it is a false dilemma, with special emphasis on quotations by the great Reformers who are the theological grandfathers of those who assert this false either/or between the Bible and Science. (Maybe this theme is my wrestling with the flannel graph of my Sunday School of long ago.) Calvin's example of this false dilemma is the rainbow, and the false dilemma is presented as, the Bible reveals that the rainbow as specially created as a sign and seal of peace to mankind at the establishment of the Noahic Covenant and yet Science tells a different story concerning the ontology of rainbow prior to the Deluge.

rainbowIn the following two quotations, Calvin discusses the origin of the rainbow in a non-concordant interpretation of Genesis 9:13. The existence of trees, rainbows, and stars is no problem for Calvin's sacramentology, because any existing creature may become a sacramental sign and seal in the same way as any existing nugget of silver may have the sign and seal of Caesar pressed upon it to give it official value. Calvin does not claim that the rainbow came into existence at the time of Noah, but that God has chosen the rainbow from all his created entities to be his special and sacramental sign of peace. So it makes no difference whether the rainbow had existed since the beginning of Creation.

John Calvin's Institutes IV.xiv.18

[...] he gave Adam and Eve the tree of life as a guarantee of immortality, that they might assure themselves of it as long as they should eat of its fruit [Gen. 2:9; 3:22]. Another, when he set the rainbow for Noah and his descendants, as a token that he would not destroy the earth with a flood [Gen. 9:13-16]. These, Adam and Noah regarded as sacraments. Not that the tree provided them with an immortality which it could not give to itself; nor that the rainbow (which is but a reflection of the sun's rays upon the clouds opposite) could be effective in holding back the waters; but because they had a mark engraved upon them by God's Word, so that they were proofs and seals of his covenants. And indeed the tree was previously a tree, the rainbow a rainbow. When they were inscribed by God's Word a new form was put upon them, so that they began to be what previously they were not. That no one may think these things said in vain, the rainbow even today is a witness to us of that covenant which the Lord made with Noah. As often as we look upon it, we read this promise of God in it, that the earth will never be destroyed by a flood. Therefore, if any philosophizer, to mock the simplicity of our faith, contends that such a variety of colors naturally arises from rays reflected upon a cloud opposite, let us admit it, but laugh at his stupidity in failing to recognize God grace, what is gained from these visible sacraments?" as the lord and governor of nature, who according to his will uses all the elements to serve his glory. If he had imprinted such reminders upon the sun, stars, earth, stones, they would all be sacraments for us. Why are crude and coined silver not of the same value, though they are absolutely the same metal? The one is merely in the natural state; stamped with an official mark, it becomes a coin and receives a new valuation. And cannot God mark with his Word the things he has created, that what were previously bare elements may become sacraments?

Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Ed. John T. McNeill. Trans. Ford Lewis. Battles. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1960. 1294-5. Print.

John Calvin's Commentary on Genesis 9:13

13. I do set my bow in the cloud. From these words certain eminent theologians have been induced to deny, that there was any rainbow before the deluge: which is frivolous. For the words of Moses do not signify, that a bow was then formed which did not previously exist; but that a mark was engraven upon it, which should give a sign of the divine favor towards men. That this may the more evidently appear, it will be well to recall to memory what we have elsewhere said, that some signs are natural, and some preternatural. And although there are many examples of this second class of signs in the Scriptures; yet they are peculiar, and do not belong to the common and perpetual use of the Church. For, as it pleases the Lord to employ earthly elements, as vehicles for raising the minds of men on high, so I think the celestial arch which had before existed naturally, is here consecrated into a sign and pledge; and thus a new office is assigned to it; whereas, from the nature of the thing itself, it might rather be a sign of the contrary; for it threatens continued rain. Let this therefore he the meaning, of the words, ‘As often as the rain shall alarm you, look upon the bow. For although it may seem to cause the rain to overflow the earth, it shall nevertheless be to you a pledge of returning dryness, and thus it will then become you to stand with greater confidence, than under a clear and serene sky.’ Hence it is not for us to contend with philosophers respecting the rainbow; for although its colors are the effect of natural causes, yet they act profanely who attempt to deprive God of the right and authority which he has over his creatures.

Calvin, John. Commentaries on The Book of Genesis Vol. I. Trans. John King. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 2003. 299. Print.

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Charles Hodge’s Famous Footnote on Friedrich Schleiermacher

Charles Hodge and Friedrich Schleiermacher (source:wikipedia)

I had believed that Charles Hodge (1787—1878) would have spit on the grave of Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768—1834) upon visiting him, but I have been proven wrong. To my surprise, I recently learned from W. Travis McMaken at Die Evangelischen Theologen about a famous footnote in Charles Hodge's Systematic Theology (II.iii.9) that shows Charles Hodge had great admiration of Schleiermacher. In this footnote, Hodge has said to have fondness for Schleiermacher's family hymns and devotion to Christ.

When in Berlin the writer often attended Schleiermacher’s church. The hymns to be sung were printed on slips of paper and distributed at the doors. They were always evangelical and spiritual in an eminent degree, filled with praise and gratitude to our Redeemer. Tholuck said that Schleiermacher, when sitting in the evening with his family, would often say, “Hush, children: let us sing a hymn of praise to Christ.” Can we doubt that he is singing those praises now? To whomsoever Christ is God, St. John assures us Christ is a Savior.

Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology. Vol. II. Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 1989. 440. Print.

In Hodge's Systematic Theology II.iii.9, there is an extended section on Schleiermacher's Christology that contains an appreciative introduction to Schleiermacher's life, that praises Schleiermacher's piety and life long devotion to Christ. Although Hodge is an opponent in modern Reformed Theology, I appreciate him for the way he admire Schleiermacher, and how he did not demonize his opponent but recognized his greatness despite the differences of methods between these two famous contemporary Reformed Theologians.

The prevalent Christology among a numerous and distinguished class of modern theologians, though not professedly pantheistic, is nevertheless founded on the assumption of the essential oneness of God and man. This class includes the school of Schleiermacher in all its modifications not only in Germany, but also in England and America. Schleiermacher is regarded as the most interesting as well as the most influential theologian of modern times. He was not and could not be self-consistent, as he attempted the reconciliation of contradictory doctrines. There are three things in his antecedents and circumstances necessary to be considered, in order to any just appreciation of the man or of his system. First, he passed the early part of his life among the Moravians, and imbibed something of their spirit, and especially of their reverence for Christ, who to the Moravians is almost the exclusive object of worship. This reverence for Christ, Schleiermacher retained all his life. In one of the discourses pronounced on the occasion of his death, it was said, “He gave up everything that he might save Christ.” His philosophy, his historical criticism, everything, he was willing to make bend to the great aim of preserving to himself that cherished object of reverence and love. [^372] Secondly, his academic culture led him to adopt a philosophical system whose principles and tendencies were decidedly pantheistic. And, thirdly, he succumbed to the attacks which rationalistic criticism had made against faith in the Bible. He could not receive it as a supernatural revelation from God. He did not regard it as containing doctrines which we are bound to believe on the authority of the sacred writers. Deprived, therefore, of the historical Christ, or at least deprived of the ordinary historical basis for faith in Christ, he determined to construct a Christology and a whole system of Christian theology from within; to weave it out of the materials furnished by his own religious consciousness. He said to the Rationalists that they might expunge what they pleased from the evangelical records; they might demolish the whole edifice of Church theology, he had a Christ and a Christianity in his own bosom. In the prosecution of the novel and difficult task of constructing a system of Christian theology out of the facts of Christian experience, he designed to secure for it a position unassailable by philosophy. Philosophy being a matter of knowledge, and religion a matter of feeling, the two belonged to distinct spheres, and therefore there need be no collision between them.

Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology. Vol. II. Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 1989. 440-1. Print.


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John Calvin did not affirm Verbal Inerrancy but the Authoritative Message of Scripture

JohnCalvinInerrancyJohn Calvin is often asserted to be a proponent of the literal and mechanical (and docetic?) doctrine of Inspiration of Scripture known as "Inerrancy". There is one passage in the Institutes of the Christian Religion in particular (IV.vii.9) that is often quoted a prooftext that Calvin held to Inerrancy. However, all theologians say things at times that prima facie oppose what they truly believe and teach, especially when not quoted in location. D.A. Carson once said, "A text without a context is a pretext for a proof text" and this is especially true of this quotation! John Calvin's opinion matters, because he is the Church Father of the Reformed Church and the Augustine of the Protestant Church, and the scholastic debate's front line for every dogma, including Inerrancy) is John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion.

The disputed quotation regarding Inerrancy appears in the Institutes IV.vii.9. The chapter it appears in is a polemic against the Papacy and is claims to absolute authority, and it is Calvin's agenda to prove that the successors of the apostles (i.e. the Apostolic Succession of Bishops) did not have the same authority as the Apostles. The text read quickly and carelessly would seemingly conclude that the Apostles were the hands of God, and that they wrote in flawless and inhuman precision that no other man has ever known. I've included the footnote #9 by John T. McNeill, the editor of the Ford Lewis Battle's translation that is helpful in demonstrating that this statement regarding them as "sure and genuine scribes of the Holy Spirit" applied to "any new doctrine", and not to the precise literals of the text. This prooftext for Inerrancy, in fact, did not and does not affirm Inerrancy! I've included this quotation, and then following it a second quotation from the very same chapter in the proceeding paragraphs.

Yet this, as I have said, is the difference between the apostles and their successors: the former were sure and genuine scribes of the Holy Spirit,

[^Note: John T. McNeill] "Certi et authentici Spiritus sancti amanuenses." This passage has been held to support the view that Calvin's doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture was one of verbal inerrancy. Yet he has no explicit support of such a view anywhere else, and here he immediately makes it clear that his interest is in the teaching rather than in the form of expression. The statement is prelude to the warning against "any new dogma." [..]

and their writings are therefore to be considered oracles of God; but the sole office of others is to teach what is provided and sealed in the Holy Scriptures. We therefore teach that faithful ministers are now not permitted to coin any new doctrine, but that they are simply to cleave to that doctrine to which God has subjected all men without exception. When I say this, I mean to show what is permitted not only to individual men but to the whole church as well. As far as individual men are concerned, by the Lord, Paul was surely ordained apostle to the Corinthians, but he denies that he has dominion over their faith [II Cor. 1:24]. Now who would dare claim a dominion that Paul attests does not belong even to him? But if he had recognized such license to teach that a shepherd could by right require men to subscribe with unquestioning faith to all that he might teach—he would never have communicated to these same Corinthians the regulation that when two or three prophets speak "let the others discriminate. But if a revelation is made to another sitting by, let the first be silent" [I Cor. 14:29-30 p.]. For he thus spared no one, and subjected the authority of all to the judgment of God's Word.

Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Ed. John T. McNeill. Trans. Ford Lewis. Battles. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1960. 1156-7. Print.

The following quotation, that appears paragraphs before the previous quotation, explains Calvin's reasoning. There is one source of revelation, and that is the God-man Jesus Christ. The Apostles were not the source of revelation, but they were witness of the revelation of Jesus Christ, and they have faithfully communicated the teaching in the Holy Spirit that has been revealed to us. The Apostles stand in a unique position, in that they directly witnessed the revelation of Jesus Christ, and they truly heard, touched, and saw Jesus in a ways that none of their successors have or could, because Jesus has ascended to the Father in Heaven. The way that the Apostles have communicated the revelation of Jesus Christ is not, as Calvin says, in dictating the words in "exact verbal inspiration" but to the authority of their teaching in the Holy Spirit. Remember that Calvin is asserting the Authority of the Apostles over and against that of the Papacy, and is saying that the Apostles spoke in authority in a way that the succession of bishops of Rome were never able to do. It was the authority of their teaching, not the literals of their pens that was guaranteed.

Let this be a firm principle: No other word is to be held as the Word of God, and given place as such in the church, than what is contained first in the Law and the Prophets, then in the writings of the apostles; and the only authorized way of teaching in the church is by the prescription and standard of his Word. From this also we infer that the only thing granted to the apostles was that which the prophets had had of old. They were to expound the ancient Scripture and to show that what is taught there has been fulfilled in Christ. Yet they were not to do this except from the Lord, that is, with Christ's Spirit as precursor in a certain measure dictating the words. 

[^Note: John T. McNeil] "Verba quodammodo dictante Christi Spiritu." The adverb is, however, a deliberate qualification, discounting any doctrine of exact verbal inspiration. The context has reference to teaching, not words merely, showing that Calvin's point is not verbal inerrancy, but the authoritative message of Scripture.

For by this condition Christ limited their embassy when he ordered them to go and teach not what they had thoughtlessly fabricated, but all that he had commanded them [Matt. 28:19-20]. And nothing could be said more clearly than what he says in another place: "But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, . . . the Christ" [Matt. 23:8, 10]. Then, to fix this more deeply upon their minds, he repeats it twice in the same place [Matt. 23:9-10]. And because, on account of their ignorance, they could not grasp what they had heard and learned from the Master's lips, the Spirit of truth is promised to them, to guide them into a true understanding of all things [John 16:13]. For that restriction must be carefully noted in which he assigns to the Holy Spirit the task of bringing to mind all that he has previously taught by mouth [John 14:26].

Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Ed. John T. McNeill. Trans. Ford Lewis. Battles. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1960. 1155. Print.


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John Calvin on Biblical Genocide (Slaughter of the Innocents)

"Matteo di Giovanni 002" by Matteo di Giovanni (source:wikipedia)The Slaughter of the Innocents (Matthew 2:16-18) is a difficult theodicy problem in the Bible.  The Nativities in Matthew and Luke have their own problems, as Raymond E. Brown has demonstrated in his book Birth of the Messiah. Without falling into the blind faith of inerrancy or complete disregard for the inspiration of the Scriptures, how does one understand ordained genocide in the Bible? The Ethnic Cleansing of the Canaanites in Joshua's Conquest is hard to understand as anything but a barbaric massacre, and how is it possible to harmonize this horrific Divine Imperative with the same Gospel of Jesus Christ that went out to these very same people group that were exterminated in a holocaust centuries prior to the Death of the Messiah? Some have proposed that the Conquest of Canaan never happened, or that it was some how an isolated error of long ago. However, with the Slaughter of the Innocents, this is in the New Testament and bound up with Jesus Christ's birth.

I will summarize some of the problems with the Slaughter of the Innocents in Matthew 2:16-18. The Birth of Jesus results in Herod murdering all the children under two years old in an attempt to murder Jesus. The historicity of the Slaughter of the Innocents is contested, because there is no known record of the event outside the biblical text. So it's possible that the event is not historical, or other scholars proposed that the number of children killed were at most thirty, a number small enough to escape record. Regardless of the historical event, biblical it is not only presumed to have happened, but it is said to have been prophesied to happen centuries before in the book of Jeremiah. Is it the will of God to kill innocent children? The conclusion appears to be that God had ordained that these innocent children would die, and that they were preordained to die directly due to God's will, such that God is the author of this evil. Therefore God's intention is directly evil in the death of these children, if the argument is pressed, creating this difficult theodicy problem. However, this is the wrong approach!

In John Calvin's commentary on Matthew 2:18 in his Harmony of the Gospel Vol.1, I found a pleasant and helpful explanation of the problem by the most famous proponent of Double Predestination that doesn't fall into the either/or of inerrancy or disregarding inspiration. Calvin explains that the prophecy by Rachel was a literary device of Jeremiah, such that the words were put into her mouth based on a past event to explain the circumstances that would accompany the appearance of the messiah in a way that was comparable to the world crisis that occurred to Israel in the Exhilic period that Jeremiah addresses. The intention of Matthew (as was Jeremiah and the authors of other Biblical genocide narratives) is to communicate that Jesus would appear despite the world of crisis. It's an apocalyptic tale, demonstrating that despite the defeat and persecution of the Israelite people, the Messiah would overcome even the worst situations. That Jesus would know our experience of suffering, and that he would save us inspite of it and in the midst of it. And this prevents us from wrongly understanding God's intention to harm infants, but his true intention was to save his people. His name is Jesus, God saves. He is Immanuel, God with us. He is the Crucified God.

In conclusion, when reading the Divine Imperatives regarding Biblical Genocide, remember John Calvin words from the Institutes, "God is not the author of evil."

Matthew 2:18. A voice was heard in Ramah

It is certain that the prophet describes (Jeremiah 31:15) the destruction of the tribe of Benjamin, which took place in his time: for he had foretold that the tribe of Judah would be cut off, to which was added the half of the tribe of Benjamin. He puts the mourning into the mouth of Rachel, who had been long dead. This is a personification, (προσωποποιϊα) which has a powerful influence in moving the affections. It was not for the mere purpose of ornamenting his style, that Jeremiah employed rhetorical embellishments. There was no other way of correcting the hardness and stupidity of the living, than by arousing the dead, as it were, from their graves, to bewail those divine chastisements, which were commonly treated with derision. The prediction of Jeremiah having been accomplished at that time, Matthew does not mean that it foretold what Herod would do, but that the coming of Christ occasioned a renewal of that mourning, which had been experienced, many centuries before, by the tribe of Benjamin. He intended thus to meet a prejudice which might disturb and shake pious minds. It might be supposed, that no salvation could be expected from him, on whose account, as soon as he was born, infants were murdered; nay more, that it was an unfavorable and disastrous omen, that the birth of Christ kindled a stronger flame of cruelty than usually burns amidst the most inveterate wars. But as Jeremiah promises a restoration, where a nation has been cut off, down to their little children, so Matthew reminds his readers, that this massacre would not prevent Christ from appearing shortly afterwards as the Redeemer of the whole nation: for we know that the whole chapter in Jeremiah, in which those words occur, is filled with the most delightful consolations. Immediately after the mournful complaint, he adds,

“Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears: for thy work shall be rewarded, saith the Lord, and they shall come again from the land of the enemy. And there is hope in thine end, saith the Lord, that thy children shall come again to thine own border,” (Jeremiah 31:16, 17.)

Such was the resemblance between the former calamity which the tribe of Benjamin had sustained, and the second calamity, which is here recorded. Both were a prelude of the salvation which was shortly to arrive.

Calvin, John. "Commentary on the Harmony of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark and Luke." Trans. William Pringle. Grand Rapids: Baker. 2003. 160-1. Print.

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George Hunsinger on Ordination of Homosexuals (The Eucharist and Ecumenism)

George Hunsinger's The Eucharist and Ecumenism: Let Us Keep The Feast (Current Issues in Theology) is among the best theology books published in recent years. George Hunsinger is the "Hazel Thompson McCord Professor of Systematic Theology" at Princeton Theological Seminary and an expert on Karl Barth. Eucharist and Ecumentism is a proposal for unifying the universal church, and how to overcome the dogmas that have divided Christendom. The book focuses on two particular points of division: the Lord's Supper and Ecclesiology.

Unity in the Eucharist is proposed through the doctrine of transelementation, which teaches that the bread and wine of the Lord's Supper are the real body and blood of Christ Jesus by the way of analogy to Christology: fully bread and wine, and fully body and blood. The Eastern Orthodox doctrine of transelementation, in Hunsinger's opinion, is the best proposal of a doctrine of the Eucharist that all branches of the universal Church to embrace. Unity in Ecumenism is proposed through a flattened episcopacy. Hunsinger admits that he does not have a solution for unifying some branches of the Church, such as the Pentecostal Churches, and that some unification of Churches such as with the Eastern Orthodox may have to be done by Roman Catholics or other specific groups.

The Eucharist and Ecumenism addresses many difficult and controversial questions, including women as presbyters and bishops, and ordination of homosexuals. I've selected the following quotation that provides Hunsinger's Chastity Argument for the Ordination of Homosexuals that is an example of how Hunsinger addresses various points of division. Hunsinger has written longer essays that treat the topics briefly addressed in the following quotation. For more information, here is a series of five essays on this topic: There is a Third Way, Thinking Outside the Box: (Part 1/4), (Part 2/4), (Part 3/4), and (Part 4/4).

The Eucharist and Ecumenism
by George Hunsinger

Who is qualified to be ordained?

The Reformed and the Catholic churches both recognize formal training as a prerequisite to ordination. Without formal training, presbyters responsible for evangelical teaching and for presiding at sacramental celebrations are not qualified. (The matter of deacons and of presbyters assigned with different duties will be touched upon later.) At the time of the Reformation, the question arose in the West about whether ordinands must take a vow of celibacy. (With certain restrictions Eastern Orthodoxy allows for married clergy.) More recently, the question has arisen about whether ordination must be restricted to males. And most recently still, some Protestant churches have struggled with whether ordination can be extended to practicing gays and lesbians.

The Roman Catholic position on these questions is well known. Ordination is restricted to males who have taken a vow of celibacy. [16] Along with other Protestant churches, the Reformed hold that a vow of celibacy is not required, and that, for ministers of Word and Sacrament, marriage is appropriate. Moreover, while some Reformed churches still restrict ordination to males, many have now changed so that in their presbyteries and congregations, female ministers of Word and Sacrament have become common. Extending ordination to non-celibate gays and lesbians is a vexing question that is passionately contested today in the Reformed churches and elsewhere, but one that has yet to be resolved.

If the ordained ministry of the church is always a participation in the one ministry of Jesus Christ, then as Christ alone is qualified to ordain, so also he alone is qualified to be ordained. His ordination, so to speak, was his being sent into the world by the Father. This sending was determined in eternity, actualized in his birth, manifested in his baptism, and fulfilled in his cross. It was then validated in his glorious resurrection. His being sent marked him out as a friend of sinners and social outcasts. He included all in his mission by including the least, and precisely by including the least he included all. Having overcome all vertical separation between God and humankind in himself for the sake of the world, he also overcame in himself all horizontal or social divisions as well. “For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith . . . There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:26, 28).

When viewed in this light, participatio Christi would seem to point in the direction of inclusiveness when considering who can be admitted to ordination. If all who participate in Christ participate in his mission, they must all have a share in his one ordination, each in a particular and appropriate way. It would seem difficult to exclude any of the faithful from service through ecclesial ordination merely on the basis of categories like ethnicity, social status, gender or sexual orientation.

These matters of course are not simple, and they can hardly be resolved here. Certainly the Reformed and the Catholics would agree, however, that holiness of life is required for all Christians, and especially for those who would be ordained to the offices of presbyter or bishop. Holiness of life is rightly central to current disputes in the Protestant churches about gay and lesbian ordination. Let me comment on this latter question briefly from a Reformed perspective. In another place I have argued that the standard which all Christians must meet in their sexuality is chastity. This standard, which rules out every form of casual, promiscuous, and abusive sexuality, applies across the board. Chastity, I have argued, applies to all Christians whether they are single or married, male or female, straight or gay. It applies especially to ordained ministers: bishops, presbyters, and deacons. I have further proposed that gays and lesbians who have committed themselves to fidelity within a lifelong partnership should be regarded as meeting the chastity standard. Therefore they should not automatically be excluded from eligibility for ordained ministry.[17]

This is of course a very Protestant argument that not even all Protestants would accept. At a minimum many would object that my proposal flies in the face of Holy Scripture in its sensus literalis. Here I would only note that this kind of scriptural objection, while it might also be made by Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics, is not only broadly Protestant but also distinctively Reformed. An appeal to Scripture is the kind of warrant that the Reformed typically bring to the question of ministry. Catholics, however, operate with another kind of warrant that the Reformed do not share. Not only is ordination seen by Catholics as a sacrament, but the bishop, the presbyter, and the deacon are also, as it were, profoundly sacramental in their official persons. “Representation” plays a key role in Catholic conceptions of who is qualified to be ordained, a role it has not played for the Reformed. Because especially the presbyter and the bishop are seen in their consecrated persons as sacramental representations of Christ, ordination cannot easily be extended by the Catholic church to include those who are non-celibate and non-male. Only celibate males are qualified to serve as representations of Christ. We have here an initial indication of how eucharistic ministry is determined for Roman Catholics by a distinctively sacramental imagination.

  • [16] More precisely, a vow of celibacy is required for Latin Rite Catholic priests, but not for those of the Eastern Rite. eucharistic ministry: controversies
  • [17] See George Hunsinger, “There is a Third Way,” Presbyterian Outlook (November 26, 2001); “Thinking Outside the Box,” parts 1–4, Presbyterian Outlook (March 4, 11, 18, 25, 2002); “On Chastity,” Presbyterian Outlook (June 3, 2002). In these articles I chart a course that avoids the polarized extremes of celebration and prohibition. Seeking to defuse this highly charged issue (and so disappointing nearly everyone), I argue for non-approval, sober discretion, and principled accommodation. the eucharist and ecumenism

Hunsinger, George. The Eucharist and Ecumenism: Let Us Keep the Feast (Current Issues in Theology). New York: Cambridge UP, 2008. 200-03. Print.

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Jürgen Moltmann on Who Will Be the Next Karl Barth?

TheologyOfTheSpiritWho will be the next Karl Barth? This person may be out there among us now, or we may have to wait more than a millennium. Barth saw this person from afar, a man who would not merely repeat Barthianism, but would say something incredibly new! A New Creation in Theology! Barth thought that Jürgen Moltmann may have been this person? But ultimately, he said nein to Moltmann. However, it may very well be the nature of the next Doctor Angelicus to receive a nein from the incumbent.

Even if Moltmann is not the next Karl Barth, he has stood on Barth's shoulders and had a look at the world around us in a way that only Karl Barth may have provided us. We are not looking for another Barthian, but a PostBarthian! Moltmann proves himself to be a PostBarthian, most clearly in his criticisms of Karl Barth's christocentricisms.

The Holy Spirit depicted as a dove descending on the Holy Family, with God the Father and angels shown atop, by Murillo, c. 1677. (source:wikipedia)

The Holy Spirit depicted as a dove descending on the Holy Family, with God the Father and angels shown atop, by Murillo, c. 1677. (source: wikipedia)

Moltmann has developed a Social Doctrine of the Trinity, following the Eastern Church in their rejection of the filioque, that emphasized the Holy Spirit in community with the Father and the Son. The Western Churches of Roman Catholicism and Protestantism have reduced the Holy Spirit in subordination of the filioque in the worst examples into an animal (e.g. a dove). Moltmann believes that Karl Barth has fallen into this 'forgetfulness of the Spirit' as well. The solution, Moltmann proposes, is the Social Trinity, where the three personas of the Godhead are in a community of love, and that the Holy Spirit is not merely a relationship between the Father and the Son.

Moltmann's Social Doctrine of the Trintiy first appeared in his book, Trinity and the Kingdom, and then was further developed in his book, God in Creation, and then received its fullest treatment, especially in regard to the experience of the Holy Spirit, in his later book, The Spirit of Life: A Universal Affirmation. At the opening of the Spirit of Life, there is a fascination quotation that poignantly shows that Schleiermacher, Barth's arch-nemesis, had ironically done what Barth desired, that being beginning his work in the Holy Spirit, and achieved, in a way,  what Karl Barth longed that someone would! Moltmann says that Barth desired for a great theologian to begin his theology with the third article of the creed, 'I believe in the Holy Spirit...", when Friedrich Schleiermacher had done this very thing in his Christian Faith (Doctrine of Faith). The Christian Faith contains a famous introduction with an intersection of Knowing and Doing that yields the solution of Feeling, such that since we neither have Knowing or Feeling, then all we have is a 'feeling of absolute ddependence' and this is a foundation for Schleiermacher in the Third Article of the Creed (e.g Feeling as the experience of the Holy Spirit). But then again, maybe Karl Barth is right, because, if Schleiermacher understood his work as starting with this Third Article, then why did he place his doctrine of the Trinity in the appendix to his Christian Faith?

The following quotation is from Moltmann's The Spirit of Life: An Universal Affirmation discusses this question of who will be the next Church Father after Karl Barth, and who will provide us with a Holy Spirit Dogmatics! If it is not Moltmann, then Moltmann has sure move the ball down the field.

About twenty years ago it was usual to introduce studies on the Holy Spirit with a complaint about 'forgetfulness of the Spirit' at the present day generally, and in Protestant theology in particular. The Holy Spirit was said to be the Cinderella of Western theology. So it had to be specially cherished and coaxed into a growth of its own. This was undoubtedly a reaction against a particular kind of 'neo-orthodoxy' in the Protestant churches, as well as a counterweight to the christocentricism of Karl Barth's theology, and the theology of the 1934 Barmen Declaration of the Confessing Church. So one of Barth's own last words was always quoted: he dreamed, he said, of a new theology which would begin with the third article of the creed and would realize in a new way the real concern of his old opponent, Schleiermacher.

Moltmann, Jürgen. The Spirit of Life: A Universal Affirmation. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992. 1. Print.

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