More Than a Memory

Covenant meals both celebrate and ratify the treaty that has been made between the parties (e.g., Gen. 14:17–20; Exodus 12; 24:9–11). Those who receive by faith the reality the Lord’s Supper communicates—Christ and all his benefits—are sealed in the passage from condemnation and death to justification and life. Those who eat and drink without faith still receive Christ, but as Judge rather than Justifier (1 Cor. 11:29).

In our Western intellectual heritage (aka American Evangelicalism), “remembering” means recalling to mind a no longer present reality. This is worlds away from the biblical, Hebrew conception, which recognizes that “Do this in remembrance of me” denotes participating here and now in certain events that define and confirm both our past and future relationship with our covenant Lord. Like baptism, the Lord’s Supper is an eschatological sign and seal; we not only are nourished by Christ now but are being prepared for the wedding feast of the Lamb when Christ returns and ushers in the new creation (Luke 22:16, 18; 1 Cor. 11:26; Rev. 19:5–9).

Those who tend to separate the creaturely signs from the divine things they signify (e.g., Barth and many contemporary evangelicals) break apart the visible, historical, institutional church and its practices, on one hand, and the relatively unknown and unknowable true spiritual community of believers, on the other. This separation has often been linked to a weak doctrine of the work of the Spirit.

Those who tend to confuse signs and what is signified (e.g., Roman Catholicism and the Radical Orthodoxy movement) transform consecrated creaturely reality into something substantially different and replace the particular, natural body of Jesus Christ with his ecclesial body. The church’s proclamation is no longer the One who died, rose, and will come again but our own present manifestation of Christlikeness. Christ with all his benefits communicates himself to us, creating a church that is united to him but cannot replace him. We do not complete or continue Christ’s person and work but receive it and share it with others.

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Son of God: The Son of the Father in the Spirit

Christological heresy arises through failing to affirm of Christ all that Scripture asserts: by either denying the divine or human nature at the expense of the other, confusing or conflating his natures, or dividing his person. I remember Sinclair Ferguson teaching at PRTS on the importance of knowing Jesus Christ to the ends of the page found in chapter 8 of the Westminster Confession of Faith, but then strongly warning us, anything beyond that page is heresy. Looking back to that lesson from 2010, it still surprises me that I receive more questions regarding Christology than any other loci. Just like the title Son of Man, the scope of Son of God encompasses Jesus’ humanity as well as deity. Jesus Christ is both the eternal Son and the true and faithful human son; he is both the one who speaks the divine law and the one who answers the summons with perfect obedience for us.

Sonship: Ontological and Official

The New Testament claims Adamic and Abrahamic senses of sonship for Christ: he is Son upon condition of obedience, according to the image of God, and he is Son unconditionally and forever—except that in the latter sense, Jesus’ unique divine sonship is not by grace but is his very nature as the one and only Word and Son, eternally begotten of the Father (e.g., Matt. 22:41–46; John 1:1–3, 14, 18). The narratives of Jesus’ baptism and transfiguration, Paul’s consistent witness to the humbled and exalted Lord (e.g., Rom. 1:3–6; 8:3–4; Gal. 4:4–5; Phil. 2:5–11; Col. 1:15–17, 18–23), and many similar passages clearly testify to the character of Jesus’ relationship with the Father and the Spirit, as the fully divine and fully human Son of God.

Preexistent Son

The trajectory of liberal theology since the Enlightenment has been essentially Arian (or Adoptionist, discussed below). In this view, “the Jesus of history” was a pious rabbi who was transformed into “the Christ of faith” through the influence of Greek philosophy on developing Christian orthodoxy. Yet even critical scholarship has found no basis for any sharp distinction between Jewish and Hellenistic Christologies in the early church. Jesus was crucified for claiming equality with God; he claimed to be “Lord” prior to David (Matt. 22:41–45), the “Word” prior to creation, and the “I AM” prior to Abraham (John 8:58). The New Testament authors urge faith in and worship of the man Jesus as God and Lord. The doctrine of the incarnation is the center of Christology, bringing together Scripture’s testimony to the full humanity and full deity of Jesus Christ, as summarized in the Definition of Chalcedon (451).

Exegetical Summary

While the Word “was” God (John 1:1), he “became” flesh (v. 14) by taking to himself our human nature in all its aspects in Mary’s womb, yet he was without sin (Heb. 4:15), by the power of the Spirit. Each nature is entirely preserved in its distinctness, in an incomprehensibly intimate union in and as one integral person, Jesus Christ. Scripture gives no place to a view of Christ that pits his divine nature against his humanity, nor assigns some actions of Christ to one nature and some to the other. Jesus, God and man, does all things from the Father by the Spirit. Likewise, Jesus’ growth and limitations and temptations were real; without surrendering or compromising his divinity, the Son fully assumed our humanity and redeemed us in and through it.

Dogmatic Development

This section concerns the main traditional heretical christological views, rather than specific persons who may be associated with them. As with the doctrine of the Trinity, the formal delineation of Christology arose, not from academic or philosophical speculation, but from the concrete faith and practice of the Christian community. The chief historical heresies regarding denial of the incarnation (defined above) are the Ebionite heresy, Adoptionism, Docetism, Gnosticism, and Arianism. The chief heresies regarding the relation between Christ’s divinity and humanity in one person (also defined above) are Apollinarianism, Monophysitism (or Eutychianism), and Nestorianism. The Monophysite and Nestorian heresies represent the extremes of two tendencies of christological reflection: the Alexandrian and Antiochene, respectively. Alexandrian Christologies tend to emphasize the unity of Christ’s person, sometimes to the extent that his humanity is absorbed into his divinity. Antiochene Christologies, on the other hand, emphasize the distinction of Christ’s natures, sometimes to the point that Christ seems to be two persons acting in tandem, one divine and one human. The Council of Chalcedon condemned both views, affirming the ancient catholic consensus that Christ is one person in two natures. During the Reformation, as a result of controversy over the Lord’s Supper, the Reformed came to suspect Lutherans of Monophysitism (because they affirmed the omnipresence of Christ according to both natures), while the Lutherans suspected the Reformed of Nestorianism (because they affirmed the omnipresence of Christ’s divine nature only). The Lutheran-Reformed debate turns on two key concerns: (1) the communicatio idiomatum and (2) the extra CalvinisticumWith the rise of Socinianism and then Protestant liberalism, Arianism returned to the fore; often by way of either Nestorian or Monophysite trajectories, Jesus’ true and full divinity was rejected.

Barth did much to revive a salutary emphasis on Christology “from above,” stressing that God was at work in Christ for redemption and that the Son is eternally divine and became fully human (but not without problematic elements in his views). Theologians like Karl Rahner and Wolfhart Pannenberg have come from a different direction in line with broader modern trends, emphasizing Christology “from below” by beginning with the character of Jesus’ humanity to illuminate the character of his divinity. The latter approach, however, tends to end up with a divinized man who is quantitatively, rather than qualitatively, distinct from all other persons. Only in the distinctiveness of each nature, united in one person, do we find the complete Savior who can bring total redemption from sin and death.


Christ’s Threefold Office

Christ as Prophet
The prophetic vocation is not only to accurately predict future events, but more fundamentally, to speak God’s actual judgment and deliverance into history. Although Jesus is the “prophet like Moses” promised in Deuteronomy 18:15, he is not simply another Moses. He speaks on his own authority, which is the same as the Father’s; he forgives sins in his own person; he not only has stood in God’s counsel but has eternally and personally come from God. Jesus speaks God’s active word as the prophets did, but wholly unlike them, he is himself the hypostatic Word of God. He is the message as well as the messenger.

Christ as Priest
Christ’s priestly ministry is inseparable from his representation of the elect in the eternal covenant of redemption. Christ was “born under the law”—whether the covenant of creation or its recapitulation at Sinai—“to redeem those who were under the law” (Gal. 4:4–5 ESV).

A. Christ’s Priestly Life

Jesus was appointed everlasting High Priest “after the order of Melchizedek” (Heb. 5:6, 10 ESV)—that is, according to the “better covenant” of God’s unchangeable oath to Abraham rather than the Mosaic covenant’s Levitical priesthood, which depended on the mediation of sinful human beings (Heb. 7:11–22).

Jesus is both the great High Priest and the spotless, once-and-for-all sacrifice for sin. Beginning with the incarnation, he continually accomplished his Father’s will on our behalf as the unsurpassable thank offering. This is his active obedience or law-keeping (Matt. 20:28; John 8:29; Heb. 10:7). Simultaneously, he bore our sins—especially the curse of sin and God’s wrath for sin—as the unrepeatable guilt offering. This is his passive obedience or suffering.

Christ’s Priestly Death: The Meaning of the Cross

While the event of the cross cannot be divorced from the accounts of Christ’s life, teaching, and ministry that precede it in the Gospels, none of the other important aspects of Christ’s saving work can be established unless his death is acknowledged as a vicarious substitution of himself in the place of sinners. Christ’s cross is a sacrifice and satisfaction for sin. Though God’s sinful, covenant-breaking people could do nothing to reconcile themselves to God or avoid his sentence of just condemnation for unfaithfulness, Jesus offered himself on our behalf to usher in the new covenant whose standing is dependent on his steadfastness rather than ours. Blood atonement lies at the heart of both the offense and the wonder of the Christian proclamation. God’s motive is not abstract or arbitrary (much less bloodthirsty); sacrifice for sin and loving gratitude to God are fundamental to the covenantal context of God’s holy and righteous law. The substitutional nature of sacrifice is clearly seen in the Mosaic law’s description of the transference of sin and guilt before God to sacrificial animals (e.g., Lev. 1:4; 4:20, 26, 31; 6:7), vicariously representing the worshipers and their need for atonement. In Christ’s life and death, we have a thank offering that restores what we owe to God and a guilt offering that propitiates God’s wrath.

Christ’s cross is also a military conquest—despite all appearances, Christ was the victorious King even when Satan and the powers of this evil age thought they had won their age-old war with God. The meaning of the cross is multifaceted. All of the following have been proposed as theories of the atonement, and while each by itself has significant problems, several identify something important about Christ’s work—although the truth in any of them hangs together only in light of the cross as a propitiatory sacrifice.

  • Ransom theory—Because of human rebellion, Satan became our rightful lord; Christ triumphed over Satan by luring him into the trap of killing him at the cross (thinking Jesus was a mere man), though he would triumph in resurrection (through his deity).
  • Recapitulation—Christ redeems by becoming the true Adam and representing in himself the true life of humanity before God on our behalf, even unto death.
  • Christus Victor—Through the seeming defeat of the cross, Christ conquered all the demonic and sinful powers arrayed against God.
  • Satisfaction theory—Christ’s crucifixion was his just payment for sin’s affront to God’s dignity and majesty.
  • Moral influence theory—Peter Abelard’s view, taken up by Socinians and many Enlightenment thinkers, that the purpose of Christ’s death was to provide a powerful example of God’s love for sinners that would provoke our repentance and imitation.
  • Governmental theory—Hugo Grotius’s view that Christ’s death is not substitutionary or atoning but rather the basis on which the righteous character of God’s will and his rule are exhibited.

In modern theologies, various versions of the moral influence and governmental theories have dominated, in principle or in practice. These views have gone hand in hand with a denial or downplaying of the doctrine of justification—forgiveness is necessary only in light of real personal transgression. In all of their iterations, they rest on three false premises.

  1. A denial of God’s wrath and the necessity of his justice being satisfied.
  2. A rejection of the possibility of vicarious substitution in the relationship between God and sinners.
  3. An emphasis on the exemplary, at the expense of the expiatory, character of Christ’s death.

We should therefore bear the following points in mind when defending the doctrine of substitutionary atonement. The cause of the atonement lies in God’s own pleasure and love; God’s free expression of his love and mercy, as well as his holiness, justice, and wrath, flow from his own character, and none can be pitted against the others. Sin is not merely a weakness that needs to be reformed but also a guilt that is incurred, invoking covenant sanctions. The atonement is grounded not only in God’s moral character and freedom but in the united determination of the persons of the Trinity; vicarious atonement is misunderstood as a vengeful Father taking out his rage on a passive Son. Christ’s sacrifice is both a guilt offering and a thank offering, a whole life of representative service.

Finally, the question of the extent of the atonement has been answered in three ways in the history of the church: universalism, hypothetical universalism, or definite (limited) atonement (defined above). The following are the two main arguments in favor of definite atonement. It emphasizes the relationship between the Trinity and redemption; those who are actually redeemed in time have been mercifully chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world. It emphasizes the efficacy and objectivity of Christ’s saving work; Christ did not die for the abstract possibility of the redemption of sinners (although his death is sufficient to atone for all sin whatsoever); rather, he died for the concrete accomplishment of the redemption of everyone who belongs to him.


There is No Falling Back

The whole human race is connected onto the belt of Adam, common person for us natural man, and when we are taken from Adam and hung on Christ’s belt, there is no falling back (election). We believe by faith in Christ, rooted in election.

Deny the doctrine of election, you deny the Gospel, you are enabled to believe because you are elected.


Jesus On Every Page

It was spring break 2007 and I was three months into seminary education. Twenty-two years old, working thirty-two hours a week third shift, and attending PRTS as a full time M.A.R. student. That spring semester was rough; Reformation Church History with Dr. Joel Beeke, Ancient Church History with Dr. Michael Haykin, Reformed Theological Research with Drs. Richard Muller & Joel Beeke, and Preaching Christ in the OT with David Murray. Who? That is right, Dr. David P. Murray. I knew who my other profs were, but not this one. Hey, the class was on Christ in the Old Testament, it did not matter who taught the course, and most importantly at the age of twenty-two, fresh out of classical dispensational, Christ-less, Old Testament Hermeneutics, this topic had become my favorite while finishing undergrad. Little did I, nor himself know that within a year, he would come back to PRTS to teach, but as a full time professor.

I still remember it like yesterday, a one week module from 9AM – 5PM offered as an elective for M.A.R., M.Div., & Th.M. students, taught by Dr. Murray in classroom one. I had just got off work at 8AM, and drove down to the seminary to arrive for class. To my surprise the class consisted of about ten thirty to forty year-old, graduated minsters dressed in suites studying in the Th.M. program, one M.Div. student (Nathan Eshelman), and myself dress in dickie work pants and a flannel. I felt a bit out of my league, and had not an idea what I was in-store for.  In walks another forty some year old man, white shirt, black suite and tie, and could not have weighed a pound over 150. Surely this was another HRC or FRC minster taking the course – wait, that is Dr. Murray? Setting up his computer and power point slide show, I begin to read the syllabus, and boy was I excited. The course outline was broken down into nine lectures;

Introduction
1. The Problem, the Plan, and the Purpose
2. The Presuppositions
B. Preaching Christ from…
3. His Prophets
4. His Pictures
5. His Presence
6. His Precepts
7. His Past
8. His People
C. Conclusion
9. The Practice

I am not sure if that is the layout of his newly published book, Jesus on Every Page, (because I somehow managed not to get a copy [unlike the last two books he wrote]), but if it is even close to the course, it would be worth anyone’s time, money, and for pastors, their practice. It was two years later in 2009, I went back to the course lectures, notes, and reviewed them as I graduated. I can easily say that it was one of my favorite courses I took while at PRTS, and personally believe that not only should it be mandatory for pastors to take, but practice as well. For those who have graduated seminary studies without such a course, you should strongly consider reading Jesus on Every Page.

Speaking of Jesus Christ in the Old Testament, one of my Th.M. cohorts, Rev. Batzig posted a great article this morning on the Old Testament Personal Types and Shadows of Christ. It is a bit lengthy (3,506 words), but then again Presbyterians usually only want Presbyterians to read their posts.


Preaching Christ in Every Sermon

Fred Malone has been writing a series on the topic of preaching Christ in every sermon. Today the Founder Ministeries posted the 4th in the series, How Should We Preach Christ in Every Sermon? – Leviticus 18:5. The post starts by saying,

“My last three posts have attempted to answer three questions: (1) “Should We Preach Christ in Every Sermon?”, (2) “Why Should We Preach Christ in Every Sermon?, and (3) “How Should We Preach Christ in Every Sermon?” In this post, I would like to illustrate how we should preach Christ in every sermon from Leviticus 18:5, which says, “So you shall keep My statutes and My judgments, by which a man may live if he does them; I am the LORD.”

Malone early writes, “There have been times, however, when I’ve heard expositional preaching that makes little or no mention of the Lord Jesus Christ,” an unfortunate, but yet commonly made mistake from those that claim that expositional preaching is the only type of preaching. The series over the past two months has reminded me of the works that I read myself that forever changed my understanding of hermeneutics in 2005. Books like; Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture by Goldsworthy, God-Centered Interpretation by Poythress, and Beginning at Moses by Michael Barrett. The series of post is worth your time to read, and more so, to use.


What is With All this Gospel Talk?

“Almost everyone uses the word “gospel” in both a religious and a secular way. In the religious world it is used often without any real consensus as to what is meant by the term. Even when the word “gospel” is proposed as a biblically based term, there are some significant differences among, say, a Christadelphian, an evangelical, and a liberal view of gospel. Among evangelicals there are also differences in the way he word is used. It is a matter for some concern that some books and study courses on evangelism seen to assume that every Christian is absolutely clear about what the gospel is, and that what is needed most is help in the techniques of explaining the gospel to unbelievers. Experience suggests that this assumption is poorly based and that there is a great deal of confusion among believers about what the gospel is. Preachers may have a theoretical gospel and an operative gospel. Theoretically we will get into a theological mode and produce, as far as possible, a biblically based notion focusing on the person and work of Christ. But in pastoral practice it is easy to be pragmatic. Our operative gospel will be the thing that preoccupies us as the focus of our preaching and teaching. It may be a particular hobbyhorse or a denominational distinctive. Baptism, a particular view of the second coming, social action, creationism, spiritual gifts, and the like are all easily raised to the status of gospel by becoming the main focus of our preaching. This is especially deplorable when these spurious gospels are made the basis of our acceptance of other Christians.”

“The gospel is the message about Jesus in his life, death, and resurrection.”

Graeme Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, pp. 81-83.