Augustine, Lewis Ayres, & 1 Corinthians 15:28

Augustine, Lewis Ayres, & 1 Corinthians 15:28

I would like to thank Josh Tinkham, pastor of Covenant Community Church, for proof reading this article while making helpful suggestions along the way prior to publication.

As the all-too-familiar trinity debate rages on, one vital piece of the “discourse puzzle” is still missing—hermeneutics. It is easy to forget that the pre-, present-, and post-Nicene conclusions concerning the triunity of God did not drop out of thin air. It is also easy, given the now-unfamiliar language and methodology of the Nicene and post-Nicene fathers, to assume they were speculating well beyond the bounds of holy Scripture into a kind of philosophical no-man’s land. As Dr. James White has recently indicated, it has come to be thought that the trinitarian formulations found during the first five centuries of the church are too philosophical in scope, or that they at least should be questioned. First, it was Thomas Aquinas who came under fire for being too Aristotelian. Now, it’s the early church fathers. It seems the most agreed upon doctrine of the first 17 centuries of church history was merely the product of over-speculation and philosophical abuse. As a result, multi-millennial theology proper has been placed in the dock. White writes:

There really seems to be no end to where backwards-engineering based upon temporal creation could take us when it comes to speculation about that which the Scriptures leave in silence. “But early church writers we really benefit from speculated about these things!” Yes, yes they did. But anyone who reads those men filters out a large amount of unprofitable speculation already in many areas, and it might be good to do so in this one, too.

Unfortunately, those questioning and encouraging revision of the church’s nearly 2000-year old confession of the trinity have not yet meaningfully engaged patristic (or medieval for that matter) hermeneutics. I say this as a newbie to the inner-workings of early patristic exegesis myself. I do not want to be taken as an authority in this area. Instead, I will let an actual expert speak in my place, Lewis Ayers. And I will also interact here with Augustine, per Ayers’ commentary, since on this issue Augustine represents the mature thought of the patristic age and serves as a magisterial guiding influence for the subsequent medieval and reformational eras.

Primary Source Material: Augustine

First Corinthians 15:20-28 has become an anchor text for proponents of contemporary subordination models, such as Eternal Relations of Submission and Authority (ERAS). It reads—

But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. For “He has put all things under His feet.” But when He says “all things are put under Him,” it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted. Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all.

The specific area in question is v. 24 in relation to v. 28. The Son appears, in this text, to bear a lesser authority than the Father. In this case, vv. 23-28 may be read in terms of relative, voluntary or functional submission of the Son to the Father. Dr. James Hamilton concludes:

First Corinthians 15:24 and 28 indicate that Christ will hand the kingdom over to the Father, that Christ will be subject to the Father, and that God will be all in all. God’s glory will cover the dry lands as the waters cover the seas, and the best way to talk about Jesus the Son being subjected to God the Father is to affirm that they are ontologically equal as God while the Son takes up a functionally subordinate role (One God in Three Persons, 108).

Kyle Claunch, after discussing the immanent/economic Trinities and how the economic reveals the immanent, namely, that there are relations of authority and submission in the eternal Godhead, he writes:

By arguing for eternal authority and submission in the Godhead, Ware, Grudem, and others are not abandoning all traditional Trinitarian categories. Rather, drawing on the distinction between the one divine essence and the three divine persons (a distinction that is basic to Trinitarian orthodoxy from its earliest mature expressions), they are making a conscious and informed choice to conceive of will as a property of person rather than essence. This model of a three-willed Trinity then provides the basis for the conviction that structures of authority and submission actually serve as one of the means of differentiating the divine persons (One God in Three Persons, 88-89).

Before we look at Augustine, I should note his employment of what might be called partitive exegesis. Partitive exegesis takes into consideration the identity of Christ’s two natures regarding Christological passages found in Scripture. Texts proper to God are applied to Christ’s divine nature; texts proper to creatures are applied to Christ’s human nature. Throughout his exegesis Augustine consciously distinguishes between God (theologia) and God’s works (oikonomia). An example of this distinction in play might be his interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:3, “the head of Christ is God.” In his De Trinitate, book 6, ch. 9, he writes:

But again, if God is only all three together, how can God be the head of Christ, that is, the Trinity the head of Christ, since Christ is in the Trinity in order that it may be the Trinity? Is that which is the Father with the Son, the head of that which is the Son alone? For the Father with the Son is God, but the Son alone in Christ: especially since it is the Word already made flesh that speaks; and according to this His humiliation also, the Father is greater than He, as He says, “for my Father is greater than I;” so that the very being of God, which is one to Him with the Father, is itself the head of the man who is mediator, which He is alone.

Augustine brings the assumption that God really is all God into his exegesis. In other words, he presupposes the absolute co-equality and consubstantiality of the divine Persons. For Augustine, it would be absurd to suggest one Person might retain an eternally supreme authority over another because all three Persons are all God, and since this is the case all three Persons have all authority proper to God. Concerning the “kingdom” in 1 Corinthians 15:24, he says, “in this ‘kingdom’ He means the sight of His own form also to be understood, the whole creature being made subject to God, including that wherein the Son of God was made the Son of man.” Augustine is apparently reading the text partitively, that is, he is assuming a distinction between that which is proper to the divine essence, i.e. God in Himself, and that which is proper to creatures. He goes on:

Because, according to this creature, “The Son also Himself shall be subject unto Him, that put all things under Him, that God may be all in all.” Otherwise if the Son of God, judging in the form in which He is equal to the Father, shall appear when He judges the ungodly also; what becomes of that which He promises, as some great thing, to him who loves Him, saying, “And I will love him, and will manifest myself to him?” Wherefore He will judge as the Son of man, yet not by human power, but by that whereby He is the Son of God; and on the other hand, He will judge as the Son of God, yet not appearing in that [unincarnate] form in which He is God equal to the Father, but in that [incarnate form] in which He is the Son of man.

Notice the way in which Augustine puts Scripture into discourse with itself, and how such a discussion prevents him from drawing any subordinationist conclusions. He brings John 14:21 into conversation with 1 Corinthians 1:15-24, 28. “If,” so his reasoning goes, “the Son promises to manifest His Person to His people at long last, it stands to reason He must be referring to Himself according to His human nature, i.e. as the Son of man.” But if God being all in all, per 1 Corinthians 15:28, means what the subordinationist wants it to mean—that such a return to the Godhead is an indication of Christ’s eternal submission to the Father—then the human nature of Christ either goes away at that point, or it is divinized by being absorbed into the divine essence such that it is no longer distinguishable. But this could not be, since John 14 tells us the Son will manifest His Person to His people. Such a manifestation of His Person must be according to His human nature since if it were not, Jesus would be implying that the divine nature would become directly perceptible to the human senses—an impossibility. One could logically opine such manifestation would be a sort of shekinah glory, as God often manifested Himself in the temple under the Old Covenant. But this would be inferior to an experience of God through the incarnate Person of Christ, and it would represent a regression in the redemptive scheme rather than an eschatological progression and climactic punctuation at the end of time.

Augustine, for good reason, keeps God in Himself distinct from His works. This is not an egg-headed quest for vain philosophical or speculative glory, but is reasoned upon the foundation of the Scriptures themselves by way of a partitive method of exegesis. This method of exegesis, as we’ve hopefully seen, is necessary to maintaining the integrity of theology proper and consistency in our dogmatic reflections upon Scripture.

Secondary Source: Lewis Ayers

Lewis Ayers, a prominent commentator on Augustine, addresses the subordinationist attempts to use 1 Corinthians 15:28 within the framework of Augustine’s approach. He writes:

Augustine reads 1 Corinthians 15:24-8 as an eschatological narrative in conjunction with Matthew 5:8 (‘the pure in heart shall see God’) to show that there is a progress towards vision at the end, when the pure in heart gaze upon the form of a servant, and see ‘through’ that form the form of God in equality with Father and Spirit. Neither the Old Testament theophanies nor the Incarnation itself make God available to sight; they enable faith that knows it will become sight and knowledge only at the end (Augustine and the Trinity, 143-144).

Quoting Michael Barnes, he writes:

Salvation came from faith—this is faith’s ‘utility’. Such a judgment is not merely one about discipline, as though the virtue of faith was primarily the act of obedience. The utility of faith for salvation lies in the fact that it marries an epistemology with a moral anthropology, and then grounds them both in Christology: ‘Everything that has taken place in time… has been designed to elicit the faith we must be purified by in order to contemplate the truth, [and] has either been testimony to this mission or has been the actual mission of the Son of God’ (pg. 144).

In other words, the Person of Christ according to His glorified human nature will be the object of eschatological sight through whom we will experience God at long last. To claim or imply God being all in all, and the surrounding texts in 1 Corinthians 15, argue the point of subordination is to actually obscure the profound relevance of the Person of Christ according to His human nature. Ayers goes on to write:

With this argument Augustine attempts to undermine all Homoian exegesis of passages which apparently suggest the ontological subordination of Christ to the Father. All such exegesis should be seen, according to Augustine, as misunderstanding the role of the Incarnation in the shaping of faith and thus misunderstanding the very nature of the Incarnate Word (pg. 144).

According to , Augustine took on Arianism by relating biblical passages concerning the Son partitively. In other words, Augustine distinguished between Christ’s divine and human natures by consistently appropriating the biblical data proper to either. What is proper to creatures only, Augustine would apply to the human nature of Christ. Conversely, what is proper to God only, Augustine would apply to the divine nature of Christ. Christ’s subjection in 1 Corinthians 15, therefore, should be understood of His Person according to the human nature only.

ERAS, on the other hand, appears to blur the lines between the divine and human natures, often applying what is proper only to the human nature of Christ to the divine nature, e.g. Christ’s submission to the Father’s will. As a result, the Person of the Son is understood to have properties appropriate to a human nature prior to the incarnation which seems to cash out in an ontological difference between Father and Son in eternity past. Most ERAS proponents would deny such ontological gradation in the Godhead, affirming sameness and equality of essence. But an explanation in terms of how affirming the same essence in God yet different qualities (greater and lesser authorities, wills, powers, etc.) is yet to be seen.

Conclusion

Hopefully I have achieved my goal in this article, which was to introduce another way to understand the “subordination passages” in Scripture by looking at Augustine’s approach to 1 Corinthians 15:28 (and other related passages) with the help of Lewis . The doctrine of God and the biblical language requires a theologically robust hermeneutic that doesn’t necessarily try to retool a doctrine of God from the ground up at every turn. Christological passages ought to be understood partitively, that is, consciously reading them in light of Christ’s two natures and what those natures entail. If God does not change, we cannot ascribe change to Christ’s divine nature. If creatures change, then we should ascribe change to Christ’s human nature, but not His divine.

Actus Purus & the Project of Redemption

Actus Purus & the Project of Redemption

“Actus purus is not the God of the Bible.” ~ Jeffrey Johnson, President GBTS

What is it from which God’s elect must be redeemed? Why is the gospel so important? Over the last few weeks, I’ve been harping on the integrity of God’s justice… from the pulpit. Christians should not look for a suspension of justice, which would make for a pretty bad judge. Christians, rather, should look for satisfaction which can finally satiate the justice of God in their stead. God’s people desperately need a substitute.

The need for a substitute evinces a never-changing reality—the holy and righteous God of Israel. God’s holiness and righteousness are never-changing, because if they were, satisfaction would be superfluous. God might simply opt to become a bad judge. Overcome with passion for His people, this mutable God could simply suspend His justice. As it is, however, we must understand satisfaction to be necessary in order to the redemption of God’s chosen. If it’s not necessary, the Father’s Son died in vain.

This satisfaction is provided by God Himself, of course. Just as the LORD provided the ram for Abraham in place of Isaac, so too does the Father provide His own Son in place of, well, us. God at once requires heavy-lifting and provides the heavy-lifting for the redemption of His elect. And the base-line reason this dynamic becomes necessary is to be found in God as actus purus.

Actus Purus & the Justice of God

What is actus purus? Created things may be actual, but they also have the potential to be other than they are. This is why we call creatures contingent. They depend on various things to be what they are, and when these things upon which they depend are decreased, increased, improved, or degraded they change. Christianity has always held that God is not dependent (contingent), but independent (necessary). Theologians have historically grounded God’s independence, immutability, and simplicity in His pure actuality (actus purus). God has no potential in Himself to be other than He is, He is all actual and no wise potential.

If there is any potentiality in God, there is potentiality in God’s perfections. In such a case, God could be other than He is. Following from this, God’s judgment of sin wouldn’t be a necessity in God, it would be an arbitrary determination God could or could not have made. Judgment would not be a perfection in God, but the effect of the divine will. Now, I am not here talking about the accidental timing, means, and/or manner of God’s administration of judgment, but about God’s natural opposition to anything contrary to His nature, i.e. sin. A repugnancy (to sin) which is, no doubt, one and the same with His very essence.

If there is potential in God, there is potential in God’s judgment. If there is potential in God’s judgment, satisfaction is not necessary (since judgment in God could be other than it is). Therefore, on such a model, the Son will have died in vain, a blasphemous suggestion to be sure. To the contrary, however, Thomas Aquinas, speaking of the grace of regeneration and satisfaction, states:

Two things are required for the perfect cleansing from sins, corresponding to the two things comprised in sin–namely, the stain of sin and the debt of punishment. The stain of sin is, indeed, blotted out by grace, by which the sinner’s heart is turned to God: whereas the debt of punishment is entirely removed by the satisfaction that man offers to God. Now the priesthood of Christ produces both these effects. For by its virtue grace is given to us, by which our hearts are turned to God, according to Rom. 3:24, 25: “Being justified freely by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, Whom God hath proposed to be a propitiation, through faith in His blood.” Moreover, He satisfied for us fully, inasmuch as “He hath borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows” (Isa. 53:4). Wherefore it is clear that the priesthood of Christ has full power to expiate sins (Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologica (Complete & Unabridged) (p. 556). Coyote Canyon Press. Kindle Edition. Emphasis added.)

Elsewhere, he speaks of God’s justice as a perfection in God identified with His very essence, which is formally synonymous with truth, “Therefore God’s justice, which establishes things in the order conformable to the rule of His wisdom, which is the law of His justice, is suitably called truth (p. 114).”

All of this, of course, requires we understand God as actus purus—an understanding currently rejected by some who share podiums with the likes of John MacArthur, Voddie Baucham, and Paul Washer. Owen Strachan has come out strong in defense of the very book containing the aforementioned quotation by Johnson. But if God is not actus purus, then nothing is off the table. Actus purus is the very doctrine grounding the Christian’s trust in the certainty of God’s holy and infallible Word.

No. It is the very doctrine grounding the infallibility of the Scriptures themselves.

The Project of Redemption

The need of redemption, in the final analysis, flows from the unchanging justice of God, which must be satisfied. The question is, “How is it satisfied?” According to Q. 12 of The Orthodox Catechism, it is satisfied in one of two ways: through ourselves, or through Another—the Lord Jesus Christ. The point here is that heavy-lifting is not an option, it has to be performed by someone. Thankfully, for Christians, it is performed fully by God Himself through Christ.

The rejection of God as actus purus, however, renders this heavy-lifting superfluous, and therefore makes the gospel itself nothing but overkill. God, and His justice, could be other. And thus, we have a rather straight line drawn from the necessity of actus purus to the necessity of redemption. The former is the causal foundation of the latter. Without it, biblical redemption is simply an alternative in a list of many ways God’s wrath may have potentially been placated.

Conclusion

This year’s G3 conference centered around the supremacy of Christ, and it hosted one of the men whose views have fallen into question along with that of Johnson’s. Owen Strachan has not only defended Johnson’s book, but has served as a long-term disciple of Bruce Ware’s eternal subordination of the Son (ESS). The question in my mind, in light of some of the above, is, “How can we talk about the supremacy of Christ, if the very foundation of His three-fold office—Prophet, Priest, and King—be removed?” That foundation, of course, is the purely actual divine essence which demands satisfaction for our sin.

Apart from God as actus purus, we have a gospel that not only could have been otherwise, but should have been otherwise, since the death of Jesus would have been unnecessary to the project of God’s redemptive plan. As it is, however, the Son’s sacrifice was necessary due to the perfect and unchanging, purely actual justice in God.

The Failure of ‘The Failure of Natural Theology’—A Review (Chs. 7-9)

The Failure of ‘The Failure of Natural Theology’—A Review (Chs. 7-9)

God sees all other things in continual motion under his feet, like water passing away and no more seen; while he remains fixed and immovable… the centre is never moved… it remains immovable in the midst of the circle; “There is no variableness nor shadow of turning with him” (James i. 17).

~ Stephen Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God, vol. 1, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1979), 316-17.

I only wish to observe… that this method of investigating the divine perfections, by tracing the lineaments of his countenance as shadowed forth in the firmament and on the earth, is common both to those within and to those without the pale of the church.

~ John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008), 20.

In the previous two installments, we looked at chs. 1-6, collectively. We have, thus far, seen Johnson reject natural theology. We have seen him claim that God is not actus purus. We have seen him introduce motion to within the Godhead. Along with this, we have seen him misrepresent fellow authors, such as R. C. Sproul and even Thomas Aquinas himself. In this final part, we will see Dr. Johnson continue in all the above; but this time, be on the look-out for specific denials of immutability (though he claims he affirms it), a reaffirmation of Kanitan idealism, in principle, and, most nauseatingly, the location of individual consciousness to within each divine Person (cf. the latter portion of this article). The Father’s consciousness is distinguished from the Son’s, and so on… The book ends in a cataclysmic mingling of analogical and univocal predication, which I will attempt to untangle, at least in part.

By the time I reached the end of this book, I simply didn’t see any God left. All that remained was creature. Such is the end of theistic personalism and/or process theism.

Nevertheless, without any further ado—

The Problems of Divine Immobility

Again, tracing Aquinas’ alleged theological and philosophical errors to Aristotle (the boogeyman), Johnson writes, “because of his commitment to the metaphysics of Aristotle, Aquinas added an attribute to God’s nature that is not revealed in the Scriptures—divine immobility (FNT, 136).” This, of course, is a negative development in the eyes of Johnson. But would Scripture agree? Surely not. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning (Jas. 1:17).” The term for “variation” signifies only mutability, which Johnson claims to deny. How he mutability in God whilst affirming motion in God is yet beyond me, and is never meaningfully explained in his book. However, the second word, “turning,” refers to the revolutions of the heavenly bodies, characterized precisely by motion. There would be no reason to use these terms together unless one were trying to emphasize a particular way in which God does not change, i.e. through movement or motion, as all other contingency does.

Though Johnson wants to argue against the notion of nature giving us any sure knowledge of the transcendent God-realm, James sure seems to think it does when he uses a cosmological term in order to illustrate the nature of God—analogically of course (we’ll get there). Johnson says, “not only is the concept of divine immobility not compatible with apologetics, it is also incompatible with theology (FNT, 136. Emphasis added).” Yet, he never explains this statement in light of some of the most relevant biblical data we have on the subject. So much, it seems, for the centrality of special revelation. If Scripture occupies such an exclusive spot in theological science, one would think a person who’s entire business it is to defend such a notion—whilst tearing down the opposite opinion—would practice what he “preaches.” As it is, all I see in Jeff’s work is philosophical conjecture, the very enemy he set out to destroy in the first place.

He goes on, “The Bible does not teach divine immovability… [God] didn’t come into existence or need any external power to actualize any passive potency within him. God is God (FNT, 137).” Yet, God did need motion, in order to create according to Johnson, “Because he is not stuck in a motionless state, creation does not have to be necessary or eternal. The self-moving God is free to create, govern, and relate without altering his simple essence in the process (FNT, 163).” Either motion and God are one and the same, or motion is a part in God, a part that is not identified with God, yet nevertheless required by God if He is to bring about a new world. Purely and simply, Johnson has just introduced contingency, or dependence into the divine essence. If motion is God, there is no place for immutability. But if it is a part of God, it follows God depends upon it to do what He does.

Quoting from Herman Bavinck, Johnson tries to further bolster his point, “Immutability… should not be confused with monotonous sameness or rigid immobility (FNT, 137).” This, Johnson believes, aligns his position with historical Reformed orthodoxy. But let’s hold Johnson to his own standard and see if he uses Bavinck in context. Bavinck says—

Scripture necessarily speaks of God in anthropomorphic language. Yet, however anthropomorphic its language, it at the same time prohibits us from positing any change in God himself [ad intra]. There is change around, about, and outside of him, and there is change in people’s relations to him, but there is no change in God himself. In fact, God’s incomprehensible greatness and, by implication, the glory of the Christian confession are precisely that God, through immutable in himself, can call mutable creatures into being (Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 2, 158).

The problem, however, is that Johnson doesn’t believe that an unchanging God ad intra can affect change in creatures. God must be able to move in order to create or change His creation. Lest there be any confusion, Bavinck strengthens his claim on the next page—

We should not picture God as putting himself in any relation to any creature of his as though it could even in any way exist without him. Rather, he himself puts all things in those relations to himself, which he eternally and immutably wills—precisely in the way in which and at the time at which these relations occur Dogmatics, vol. 2, 159).

The misrepresentation of Bavinck on this point is monumental, but it does not stop with him. He misrepresents William Perkins, the father of puritanism, as well. He says, “And Puritan William Perkins identified the life of God as that ‘by which the Divine nature is in perpetual action, living, and moving in itself (FNT, 138).’” But here, Perkins only alludes to the emperichoresis spoken of by Turretin and others. It teaches a mutual and eternal indwelling of the divine relations, one into the other. But this is not to be confused with the perichoretic theology of the Celts, for example. Perkins is not alluding to an intra-Trinitarian movement, per se, nor ad intra, but God as actus purus, or pure actuality (which Perkins, no doubt, affirms). And thus, his mention of motion, in light of what he says immediately thereafter, must be seen as an improper allusion to God as life in contrast to death (“movement” poetically indicating life rather than the contradiction thereof).

Perkins, for example, says in an earlier part of the same volume, “The simpleness of His nature is that by which He is void of all logical relation in arguments. He has not in Him subject or adjunct (Works, vol. 6, 12).” This denies real predication in God, something Johnson denies by applying motion to the divine essence. Perkins says in the same place, “Hence it is manifest that to have life and to be life, to be in light and to be light in God are all one. Neither is God subject to generality or speciality, whole or parts, matter or that which is made of matter… Therefore, whatever is in God is His essence; and all that He is, He is by essence.” Quoting Augustine, he says, “In God… to be and to be just or mighty are all one; but in the mind of man, it is not all one to be and to be mighty or just. For the mind may be destitute of these virtues and yet be a mind.” He concludes, “Hence it is manifest that the nature of God is immutable and spiritual (Works, vol. 6, 13).”

Quite to the contrary does Johnson state, “without differentiation within God, there is no real possibility for God to subsist in three differentiated and distinct persons. In other words, if there is no ad intra differentiation in God, there is no Trinity (FNT, 138).” Richard Muller, however, sets the historical and theological picture aright when he says:

Since the existence of God is identical with the divine essence, Keckermann continues, it must be fundamental rule of trinitarian doctrine that the mode or manner (modus) of God’s existence does not differ from the mode of His essence. It is not as if there can be diverse “things” in God—rather the divine modi existential must be God himself (PRRD, vol. 4, 208).

Turretin writes, “the singular numerical essence is communicated to the three persons not as a species to individuals or a second substance to the first (because it is singular and undivided), nor as a whole to its parts (since it is infinite and impartable); but as a singular nature to its own act of being (suppositis) in which it takes on various modes of subsisting (Institutes, vol. 1, 265).” Neither Perkins, Turretin, Keckermann, or Muller permitted what Johnson called “differentiation” in God, ad intra. This is an entirely a-historical and heterodoxical assertion.

Before he closes this chapter, he returns once more to the alleged war between philosophy and revelation, “This means that neither man, by the use of philosophy, nor God, by means of revelation, can penetrate the transcendental wall that separates God from man (FNT, 147).” Aside from the idealism assumed in this statement, which is not Christian by any stretch of the imagination, one could ask, “But, does one’s hermeneutical philosophy determine what one thinks about the Bible?” If so, then it would seem that the hard and fast separation between philosophy and theology is unwarranted. There are, most certainly, hermeneutical principles not taught in the Scripture which must nevertheless be assumed in order to interpret the Scripture aright, e.g. the laws of logic and even the existence of God (Heb. 11:6).

Alluding to what he will say in ch. 9, Johnson critically summarizes Aquinas, “God may be able to communicate, but his communication is restricted to the use of earthly symbols and physical metaphors… Man’s relationship with God cannot be with the real God that remains locked behind the transcendental wall (FNT, 148).” Note, Johnson never defines what the term real means when he speaks of real knowledge or real relationship, even though this realness characterizes what Johnson thinks is a defeater for Thomas’ view.

The Necessity of the Trinity

Aside from Van Til’s doctrine of equal ultimacy, which I will not get into here, and following some neat biographical facts about Thomas, Johnson begins quoting Dr. Craig Carter. In an effort to make Carter appear as if he rejected any inkling of relatability from creature to Creator, Johnson writes, “a God without differentiation is a non-Trinitarian God who cannot create, communicate, or relate. Craig Carter, for instance, denied God’s relatability (FNT, 156).” He then quotes Carter, saying, “The false gods are relational because they are creatures; Yahweh is not relational because he is not a creature. Therefore, to worship a relational god is to worship the creature rather than the Creator, which is Paul’s definition of idolatry in Romans 1:22 (FNT, 156-157).”

Carter, however, explains himself quite thoroughly in the interview from which Johnson quotes—

Nicene Trinitarian theology, however, sees the relationality of God to be wholly internal to the simple, perfect, eternal being of God. The only distinction we can identify between the Father, Son and Spirit are the relations of origin: generation and spiration. These relations of origin are eternal and unchanging, and they are part of God’s own being, not ways by which he relates to creation. The missions of the Son and Spirit into the world must not be confused with the processions, which are internal to God (Credo Magazine, vol. 10, Issue 2).

Carter obviously does not deny all creaturely relation to God, as Johnson intimates. Instead, he denies reciprocal relationality between Creator and creature. The creature, in verbal form, relates to God, though God has not undergone change in order to relate to creature. He says in the same place:

The missions indeed involve a relation between God and the world but not in a two-way fashion such that God is changed by the world. As Augustine put it, when God becomes our refuge (Ps. 90:1), the change is a result of our faith. By placing our faith in God, he becomes our refuge, but not because God has changed but because we have changed.

Johnson, while “critically” interacting with Carter, never actually gives Carter the light of day. No matter the fact Carter is only restating what men such as Stephen Charnock have already said, that God, as “the center is never moved… remains immovable in the midst of the circle (Existence, vol. 2, 317).”

Johnson goes on to misuse Turretin as well. He says, “Francis Turretin said there is a clear distinction between the one essence of God and the three persons of God (FNT, 159).” Johnson is here trying to historically vindicate his doctrine of ad intra differentiation. But he is never transparent about Turretin’s intention. “The former,” he quotes Turretin, “is absolute, the latter are relative.” If he were to have proceeded in his study of Turretin, he would have understood Turretin was not speaking ad intra. Turretin says, “but eminently and analogically, all imperfection being removed. Thus the person may be said to differ from the essence not really (realiter), i.e., essentially (essentialiter) as thing and thing, but modally (modaliter)—as a mode from the thing (modus a re) (Institutes, vol. 1, 278).” Turretin further says:

Here we do not have a thing and a thing, but a thing and the modes of the thing by which it is not compounded but distinguished. Again, composition belongs to those things which are related to each other as power and act (which cannot be granted here). Nor can the term composition be applied to God without implying imperfection.

Peter van Mastricht writes, “A twofold difference occurs. The first difference is that through which a person differs from the essence: certainly not a real difference, in which they differ as one thing and another thing (Theoretical-Practical Theology, vol. 2, 503).” From an historical vantage point, then, Johnson’s ad intra differentiation falls flat. From a philosophical or logical one, it is altogether absurd and even forbidden by a comprehensive meaning of Scripture.

Johnson, within the next couple pages, quips, “A system that prioritizes unity tends to end up with a supreme principle of unity that contains no diversity (FNT, 161).” Interestingly, he doesn’t make the opposite charge, that of placing too high a price on plurality, to any similar extent. The fruit of this has been Johnson’s 200-page book, supposedly intended to refute Thomas’ natural theology, but which actually slices God into too many parts to count. By the end, it leaves one wondering, “Where, exactly, is the unity part (Deut. 6:4)?”

He affirms simplicity, but he goes on to differentiate, realiter, between the essence and Persons. Yet, the Persons are still all God. But, if each Person is fully God, and there are real differentiations in God, where is the unity? The divine essence and the Father, for example, are really different. Where, then, is the unity? It’s been entirely swallowed up in Johnson’s ax-grinding.

Johnson, returning to motion, says, “God is not dependent on anything outside himself (FNT, 163).” But the integrity or consistency of this statement in relation to the whole book is tested by the question, “What, then, is the motion in God?” Is it God Himself, in which immutability would be entirely exiled from the equation (because, principle of identity)? Or, is it a part of God that is not God per se, which nevertheless moves God? If so, then God does indeed need something that is not Himself, i.e. motion. Johnson may want to answer, “Ah, but the motion is in God!” But if something is in God, it must either be God, or it must be something not-God, “outside” of God, geographical imaginations notwithstanding (I can’t believe I even feel the need to say this).

Because God is in motion, so thinks Johnson, He is, “free to create, govern, and relate without altering his simple essence in the process.” This statement is never explained. He further says, “God does not have to take on new properties to create; he simply had everything he needed within his immutable, eternal, and triune nature to freely act in time and space (FNT, 163).” Yet, if God acts in time, He must change since time is but a measurement of alteration, variation, motion, and change in general. Johnson clearly thinks God needs motion in order to create, “For once God creates and relates, he then ceases to be the unmoved mover (FNT, 169).”

As I hope you, the judicious reader, have discerned—Johnson’s rejection of natural theology and accompanying conflation of ontology with epistemology has accounted for his sour doctrine of God. He says, “Science is impossible to carry out without presupposing the existence of logic, mathematics, and ethics. Thus, without the right transcendental conception of God, knowledge (all knowledge) is impossible (FNT, 170).” Our knowledge not only grants an epistemological context for further knowledge, e.g. of first principles, it must be correct if knowledge is to exist (be possible) whatsoever. This has led Johnson to affirm immediate natural revelation. God has to be the first thing known in order for anything else to be known at all. But this raises another problem. How is God really the first thing known if it’s revelation we know and not God Himself? In other words, there is still a medium between God Himself and our knowledge of Him, i.e. revelation. 

Johnson could claim the revelation is God Himself, but that would tend to identify creation with the divine essence, i.e. pantheism. And it would also imply a Cartesian-like doctrine of God, that He is pure thought. Or, Johnson could (rightly) admit revelation is not the divine essence per se, but a created disclosure of the divine essence. But this would, of course, negatively impact his doctrine of immediacy.

Analogical Language

This final chapter helps to explain much of Johnson’s earlier confusion. He either does not understand analogical language, or he is intentionally redefining it. He most certainly revises Thomas without warrant, “when Aquinas said all knowledge of God is analogical, he meant that all knowledge of God is metaphorical… (FNT, 177).” Here he never cites Aquinas in attempting to justify this claim. Metaphor is non-literal predication of something. An example might be, “There is a snake in the grass.” This expression usually refers to foul play afoot, a turncoat or some such. But a turncoat is not a literal snake (unless they’re Satan). This is a figure of speech. The snake is metaphorical. But Thomas affirms literal, and thus non-metaphorical, language about God. He expressly says, “Therefore not all names are applied to God in a metaphorical sense, but there are some which are said of Him in their literal sense (ST, I, Q. 13, Art. 3).” He goes on to write:

According to the preceding article, our knowledge of God is derived from the perfections which flow from Him to creatures, which perfections are in God in a more eminent way than in creatures. Now our intellect apprehends them as they are in creatures, and as it apprehends them it signifies them by names. Therefore as to the names applied to God–viz. the perfections which they signify, such as goodness, life and the like, and their mode of signification. As regards what is signified by these names, they belong properly to God, and more properly than they belong to creatures, and are applied primarily to Him. But as regards their mode of signification, they do not properly and strictly apply to God; for their mode of signification applies to creatures.

Johnson has, therefore, blatantly misrepresented Thomas—as he has with other authors. He doesn’t interact with Thomas at all on this point. There are two reasons Johnson believes Thomas thought all analogical predication concerning God was metaphorical—

Reason one: “Thomas believed an infinite chasm separates us from God. Because there is no probation or gradation between the finite and the infinite, our communication of God, from Aquinas’s perspective, is at best metaphorical, if not altogether mystical (FNT, 177).” Yet, as we’ve seen, Thomas expressly denies all language about God is metaphorical. Moreover, Does it seem as if Johnson implies infinity infinitely surpassing the finite is false? The reader can decide.

Reason two: Johnson thinks Thomas thought, “all knowledge of God is metaphorical… because God has no direct access to us (FNT, 177).” What does it mean for God to have direct access to His creatures? I assume Johnson would say, “It means God reveals Himself immediately to all men.” I would then ask the question I asked earlier, “What is the difference between God on the one hand and revelation on the other?” If revelation is not God, but creature, it continues to be the case that God does not have direct access to creatures in terms of “immediate knowledge,” since knowledge is mediated through revelation and not comprehensive of God ad intra.

He concludes, “for these two reasons, what Aquinas means by analogical language is really metaphorical or symbolical language. But this has its consequence—it not only destroys any real knowledge of God but it destroys any real covenantal relationship with God (FNT, 179).” First, I want to examine what Thomas believed about analogy. Second, I want to connect this language to the incarnation of Christ.

First, for Thomas, analogy is not equivalent to metaphor. Thomas develops his doctrine of analogy beginning with the genus of likeness. He distinguished between three species of likeness: equal likeness, imperfect likeness, and analogical likeness. Equal likeness refers to two things that are, for example, equally white in color. Imperfect likeness refers to two things that are similar, as two white objects, while one is perhaps more vividly white than the other. And analogical likeness refers to two things bearing similarity, not equally noror imperfectly (as if differing on a scale), but generically. For example, existence is common to all. But whereas God has existence of Himself versus creatures participating in existence, Creator and creature share existence, but not according to the formality of a genus. God is not located within a genus, creatures are (ST, I, Q. 4, Art. 3). Thus, there is something like existence in God though it surpasses our mental capacity to define it univocally because, again, God is not in a genus among other genera, distinguished by traits, properties, parts, factors, etc.

In trying to explain his version of analogy, Johnson says that any two analogically related things must have a point of real similarity. He never defines real in this context. I can only guess he meant a “point of identity,” as his comparison shows: “For example,” he says, “oranges and apples are different but similar—they are analogous. They are analogous in that they are different types of fruit, but they are both round pieces of fruit. The real point of similarity is that the word round and the word fruit carry the same meaning for both oranges and apples (FNT, 182).” But what Johnson just described is univocal, not analogical predication. This is because apples and oranges are in the same genus (fruit), and they bear a likeness of equality (roundness). This is definitionally univocal, not analogical. Johnson not only thinks creatures are like God, but also that God is like creatures. I reply, then, with Thomas, “Although it may be admitted that creatures are in some sort like God, it must nowise be admitted that God is like creatures.”

My point is not to write an essay on Thomas’ philosophy of language, but to show to what extent Johnson neglected meaningful interaction with Thomas on this point. It also illustrates Johnson’s implicit assumption that God is just a bigger, better creature, belonging to within a genus like humans.

While much more could be explored and discussed in relation to this chapter, I must end by looking at perhaps one of the most important—and most dangerous—statements in the whole book. Under the heading, “The Trinity Is the Reason God is Immanent and Relational,” Johnson says:

Thomas’s understanding of the Trinity does not allow for the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit to have their own distinct self-awareness. And without each of the three persons being self-aware, there can be no communication or interaction (FNT, 185).

How this does not end Johnson in tritheism, I do not know. What would the ontological difference be between Jeff’s conception of the Trinity on the one hand, and tritheism on the other? But there is yet a further implication, that being upon the incarnation of the Son of God. If self-consciousness is a property of the Person, as Johnson thinks of it, i.e. “their own distinct self-awareness,” then one should ask, “How could Jesus have a human consciousness?”

Remember, the incarnation does not posit two Persons in Christ (Nestorianism), but two natures united in the Person of Christ. Christ’s human traits all accrue to that human nature, such as a human mind or soul, and a human body. This means Christ, in His human nature, has a human intellect, will, consciousness, etc. But when Johnson makes consciousness a property of the Person, it is no longer a property of nature. This means Christ’s human nature would not be furnished with human consciousness. It would need to be personal in order for that to be the case, lending credence to some form of Nestorianism, or two-Person Christology.

This is a sad state of affairs indeed.

Conclusion

This project has essentially been one of reviewing an unreviewable book.

On the one hand, it is unreviewable because it would really require me or someone else to write another book just to correct Johnson’s errors. Yet, on the other hand, since this book is written at a more popular level, I felt the need to address the more serious and obvious issues. From blatant misrepresentation to unorthodox views on theology proper, brother Johnson, I hope, will be encouraged to rethink much of what he has written. I do pray there are people in his life that will respond to this volume with much love and a willingness to clearly address many of these things to him stoma pros stoma (2 Jn. 12).

Moreover, I want my readers to understand that I had no intention of “stirring the pot.” And, had it not been for its more popular appeal, I would not have been so anxious to review this unreviewable book. However, I could only think of my own congregation. Whether they will study these reviews at length is beside the point. I only wanted to have some developed response prepared for when these errors Johnson currently promotes come knocking on the doors of my church. This project, chiefly, aimed at protecting my particular flock. If it can be of use to other pastors and congregations, thanks be to God.

Semper Reformanda.

The Monogamous Marriage of Christ and His Church Defended, from Baptist History

The Monogamous Marriage of Christ and His Church Defended, from Baptist History

The teaching that Christ has one Church is integral to a right understanding of the Person of Christ. Christ must have one Bride only. Moreover, His body must not be divided, fragmented, or depreciated in any way which would imply multiple faiths, Spirits, etc (cf. Eph. 4). It must also be said that this one body and Bride is not an earthly, visible institution, but an invisible, presently inaugurated reality received by faith in the present, to be seen with glorified eyes in the eschaton. Or, to put it positively, the one Bride of Christ presently instantiates, or becomes visible, only in local assemblies or churches.

Yet, the one Church of Christ comprises the whole of the elect people of God at all times and in all places. To deny the one Church of Christ comprised of all the elect, at all times and in all places, without qualification, is to deny Christ a monogamous betrothal to a single Bride, to affirm His body is still broken (Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:5; Mk. 10:8; 1 Cor. 6:16), and to deny the definite or limited atonement, contra Ephesians 5:25-27.

Below, it will be proved that Baptist history testifies to this common conviction. And while we Baptists have historically put much more practical emphasis on the local church, the unquestionable commitment to a single Bride of Christ may be clearly seen in the documentation below. Many of the document titles double as links to digital versions of source documentation. What is not linked is still sourced underneath the quotation. This symbol (*) corresponds to important commentary or clarifying subject-matter also viewable underneath the relevant quotations.

That Baptists Have Always Affirmed One (catholic) Church, Body, and Bride, We Affirm by the Following Proofs— 

Balthasar Hubmaier (1480-1528):

The church is sometimes understood to include all the people who are gathered and united in one God, one Lord, one faith, and one baptism, and have confessed this faith with their mouths, wherever they may be on earth. This, then, is the universal Christian corporeal church and fellowship of the saints, assembled only in the Spirit of God, as we confess in the ninth article of our creed (Nicaea). At other times the church is understood to mean each separate and outward meeting assembly or parish membership that is under one shepherd or bishop and assembles bodily for instruction, for baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Balthasar Hubmaier, Balthasar Hubmaier, (Scottdale: Herald Press, 1989), 351-352.

The Schleitheim Confession (1527): 

The ban shall be employed with all those who have given themselves to the Lord, to walk in His commandments, and with all those who are baptized into the one body of Christ and who are called brethren or sisters… 

In the breaking of bread we are of one mind and are agreed [as follows]; All those who wish to break one bread in remembrance of the broken body of Christ, and all who wish to drink of one drink as a remembrance of the shed blood of Christ, shall be united beforehand by baptism in one body of Christ which is the church of God and whose Head is Christ.

Whoever has not been called by one God to one faith, to one baptism, to one Spirit, to one body, with all the children of God’s church, cannot be made [into] one bread with them, as indeed must be done if one is truly to break bread according to the command of Christ.

Hubmaier, Balthasar; Denk, Hans; Simons, Menno. The Anabaptists: Excerpts from the writings of various authors (Anabaptist Writings Book 2) . Solid Christian Books. Kindle Edition.

The Writings of Menno Simons (1496-1561):

But we teach and maintain by the word of the Lord that all true believers are members of one body, are baptized by one Spirit into one body (I Cor. 10:18) and have one Lord and one God (Eph. 4: 5,6).

All who are born of God, are partakers of the Spirit of the Lord, and are called into one body of love, according to the Scriptures, are ready by such love to serve their neighbors, not only with money and goods, but also, according to the example of their Lord and Head, Jesus Christ, in an evangelical manner, with life and blood.

Hubmaier, Balthasar; Denk, Hans; Simons, Menno. The Anabaptists: Excerpts from the writings of various authors (Anabaptist Writings Book 2) . Solid Christian Books. Kindle Edition. 

The Dordrecht Confession of Faith (1632):

VIII. We believe in, and confess a visible church of God, namely, those who, as has been said before, truly repent and believe, and are rightly baptized;* who are one with God in heaven, and rightly incorporated into the communion of the saints here on earth. These we confess to be the chosen generation, the royal priesthood, the holy nation, who are declared to be the bride and wife of Christ, yea, children and heirs of everlasting life, a tent, tabernacle, and habitation of God in the Spirit, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, of which Jesus Christ Himself is declared to be the cornerstone (upon which His church is built). This church of the living God, which He has acquired, purchased, and redeemed with His own precious blood; with which, according to His promise, He will be and remain always, even unto the end of the world, for consolation and protection, yea, will dwell and walk among them, and preserve them, so that no floods or tempests, nay, not even the gates of hell, shall move or prevail against them-this church, we say, may be known by their Scriptural faith, doctrine, love, and godly conversation, as, also, by the fruitful observance, practice, and maintenance of the true ordinances of Christ, which He so highly enjoined upon His disciples.* I Cor. 12; I Pet. 2.9; John 3.29; Rev. 19.7; Titus 3:6, 7; Eph. 2:19-21; Matt. 16.18; I Pet. 1.18, 19; Matt. 28.20; II Cor. 6:16; Matt. 7:25.

*This represents an error in Anabaptist thought which was rejected by later Baptists in that the one church of Christ is not visible, but invisible, cf. 2LBCF, 26.

*Some may want to argue the local church is assumed throughout the Dordrecht Confession. However, this is unlikely since, in the article above, “the church” under consideration will never be prevailed upon by anything, including the gates of hell—which no doubt occurs from time to time with regard to local churches. Yet, the one Bride of Christ is preserved in all ages.

A True Confession (1596):

XVII. That in the meantime, besides his absolute rule in the world, Christ hath here in earth a spiritual Kingdom and canonical regiment in his Church ouer his servants, which Church he hath purchased and redeemed to himself, as a peculiar inheritance (notwithstanding manie hypocrites do for the tyme lurk emongest the) calling and winning them by the power of his word vnto the faith, separating them from amongst unbelievers, from idolatrie, false worship, superstition, vanitie, dissolute lyfe, & works of darkness, &c; making them a royal Priesthood, an holy Nation, a people set at liberty to shew forth the virtues of him that hath called them out of darkness into his marvelous light, gathering and writing them together as members of one body in his faith, loue and holy order, vnto all general and mutual duties, einstructing & governing them by such officers and lawes as hee hath prescribed in his word; by which Officers and lawes hee governeth his Church, and by none other.

A Short Confession of Faith (1610)

22. Such faithful, righteous people, scattered in several parts of the world, being the true congregations of God, or the Church of Christ, whom he saved, and for whom he gave himself, that he might sanctify them, ye whom he bath cleansed by the washing of water in the word of life: of all such is Jesus the Head, the Shepherd, the Leader, the Lord, the King, and Master. Now although among these there may be mingled a company of seeming holy ones, or hypocrites; yet, nevertheless, they are and remain only the righteous, true members of the body of Christ, according to the spirit and the truth, the heirs of the promises, truly saved from the hypocrites the dissemblers.*

*Here the one Church of Christ is put for “congregations… scattered in several parts of the world.”

Propositions and Conclusions Concerning True Christian Religion (1612-1614):

65. That the visible church is a mystical figure outwardly of the true, spiritual invisible church, which consisteth of the spirits of just and perfect men only, that is of the regenerate (Rev. i. 20, compared with Rev. xxi. 2, 23, 27).*

*This is a document prepared by English Baptists living in Amsterdam. It represents a positive development from some of the Anabaptist documents in that it carefully distinguishes between the visible and invisible church, a distinction made in the Scripture itself, cf. Eph. 5:25-27; Heb. 12 with Rev. 1-3.

John Spilsbury (1593-1668):

And lastly, I do believe that there is an holy and blessed communion of Saints, that God of his grace calls such as belong to life by election, unto the fellowship of his Son by the Gospel, of which matter, God by his word and Spirit joins them together in his Covenant of grace, and so constitutes his Church… 

The First London Baptist Confession (1644/46):

That Christ has here on earth a spiritual Kingdom, which is the Church, which He has purchased and redeemed to Himself, as a particular inheritance: which Church, as it is visible to us, is a company of visible saints, called and separated from the world, by the Word and the Spirit of God, to the visible profession of the faith of the Gospel, being baptized into the faith, and joined to the Lord, and each other, by mutual agreement, in the practical enjoyment of the ordinances, commanded by Christ their head and King.

The Faith and Practice of Thirty Congregations Gathered Together According to the Primitive Pattern (1651):

58. That it is the good pleasure of God, which hath given gifts of his grace to the Saints or Church of God,* that some of the gifted men should be appointed, or set apart to attend upon the preaching of the word, for the further edifying of the Churches, that they may be enabled to stand against all oppositions according as necessity requires, to the glory of God and their comfort. Eph. 4. II, 21.

*The “Church of God” is here put for all the Saints. They then utilize the plural “churches” which strongly implies an invisible church comprised of all saints which instantiates in several local churches.

The True Gospel-Faith (1654):

That all ought to avoid the hearing of any Teachers so as to learn of them, except believers dipped, and making of marriages with any out of the Church lest they be drawn from the truth.  2 Jno.10 v.; I John 4.6; I Cor.7.39; Deut.7.3,4; 2 Cor.6.14,15.*

*The use of “church” in this context must be generally or universally applied since it is extremely unlikely marriages would have been limited only to within local congregations at this time.

Midland Confession of Faith (1655):

9th. That Christ is the only true King, Priest, and Prophet of the Church. Acts ii.22-23; Hebrews iv.14, etc; viii.1, etc.

15th. That persons so baptized ought, by free consent, to walk together, as God shall give opportunity in distinct churches, or assemblies of Zion, continuing in the Apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, breaking of bread and prayers, as fellow-men caring for one another, according to the will of God. All these ordinances of Christ are enjoined in His Church, being to be observed till his Second Coming, which we all ought diligently to wait for.

Somerset Confession of Faith (1656):

THAT this man Christ Jesus suffered death under Pilate, at the request of the Jews (Luke 23:24.), bearing the sins of his people on his own body on the cross (I Pet. 2:24), according to the will of God (Isa. 53:6), being made sin for us, (2 Cor. 5:11) and so was also made a curse for us (Gal. 3:13, 14; I Pet. 3:18.), that we might be made the righteousness of God in him (2 Cor. 5:11), and by his death upon the cross, he hath obtained eternal redemption and deliverance for his church. (Col 1:14; Eph. 1:7; Acts 20:28; Heb. 9:12; I Pet 1:18, 19.).

The Second London Baptist Confession (1677/89):

1. The catholic or universal church, which (with respect to the internal work of the Spirit and truth of grace) may be called invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ, the head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all (Hebrews 12:23; Colossians 1:18; Ephesians 1:10, 22, 23; Ephesians 5:23, 27, 32).

Hercules Collins (1646-1702):

That is, as he is the Head, and the Church the Body; as he is the King, the Church the Kingdom; for Christ, as Man, is God’s Elect; yea the Head of Election and Predestination: he was fore-appointed to be the Head of a Holy Glorious Mystical Body, the King of a Glorious Kingdom, Captain of a Glorious Company, the Bridegroom of a Glorious Bride… *

*Historically, the mystical body is to be distinguished from the visible body.

The Philadelphia Confession (1742):

The catholic or universal church, which, with respect to the internal work of the Spirit and truth of grace, may be called invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ, the head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all.

John Gill on Hebrews 12:23 (1697-1771):

and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven; by the “church”, is not meant any particular, or congregational church, nor any national one; but the church catholic, or universal, which consists only of God’s elect, and of all of them, in all times and places; and reaches even to the saints in heaven: this church is invisible at present, and will never fail; of which Christ is the head, and for which he has given himself: now the persons, that belong to this church, are styled the “firstborn”; who are not the apostles only, who received the first fruits of the Spirit; nor the first converts among the Jews, who first trusted in Christ; but also the chosen of God, who are equally the sons of God, and born of him; are equally loved by him, and equally united to Christ, and interested in him: they have the same privileges, honours, and dignity, and shall enjoy the same inheritance; they are all firstborn, and are so called, with respect to the angels, the sons of God, as Christ is with respect to the saints, the many brethren of his: and these are said to be “written in heaven”; not in the earth…

Gill, John. Exposition on the Entire Bible-Book of Hebrews (John Gill’s Exposition on the Entire Bible 58). Grace Works Multimedia. Kindle Edition.

The New Hampshire Baptist Confession (1833):

Of a Gospel Church We believe that a visible Church of Christ is a congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel; observing the ordinances of Christ; governed by his laws, and exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by his Word ; that its only scriptural officers are Bishops, or Pastors, and Deacons, whose qualifications, claims, and duties are defined in the Epistles to Timothy and Titus.*

*The Sandy Creek statement also implies a distinction between the visible and invisible church.

Treatise of Faith and Practices of the Free Will Baptists (1834):

The Church of God, or members of the body of Christ, is the whole body of Christians throughout the whole world, and none but the regenerate are its members.

Abstract of Principles (1858):

The Lord Jesus is the Head of the Church, which is composed of all his true disciples, and in Him is invested supremely all power for its government. According to his commandment, Christians are to associate themselves into particular societies or churches; and to each of these churches he hath given needful authority for administering that order, discipline and worship which he hath appointed. The regular officers of a Church are Bishops or Elders, and Deacons.

Compend of Christian Doctrines Held by Baptists: In Catechism (1866):

What is the church of Christ? His “calling” or followers taken collectively, or any number of them personally associated for his worship and glory. 1 Cor. 1: 2; Rev. ii: 7; Col. i: 18-24.

B. H. Carroll on Ephesians 5:25 (1843-1914):

“Christ loved the church,” that is, He loved the people who were to be given to Him—all of them. In eternity a joy was set before Him—a future reward.*

B. H. Carroll, Colossians, Ephesians, and Hebrews, (Nashville: The Broadman Press, 1942), 166-167.

*Carroll here admits the general use of the term church has in view all of Christ’s elect people. Unfortunately, he later circumscribes this church to a particular chronology by making it eschatological only. But this of course does not comport with Ephesians 5:26, which assumes the bride, in the here and now, is being sanctified. Carroll later rightly notes that while all the elect is the whole church, the visualisation of it takes place only in particular or local churches (cf. John Gill for sharper, more sensible categories).

More on the Atonement

More on the Atonement

In my previous article on the atonement, I offered the following argument:


PI. The atonement has a final cause.

PII. That final cause is redemption.

PIII. But all people are not redeemed.

C. Therefore, the atonement and the redemption it accomplishes are limited in scope.


No one will object to (P1), since all Christians everywhere agree that God does all things with purpose (1 Cor. 14:33; Ecc. 3:1; Is. 53). Some may take issue with (P2), instead understanding the final cause of the atonement of to be an offer to all people. In other words, the purpose of the atonement is to offer atonement or redemption, but is not redemption itself. If this were the case, then the atonement has achieved its goal even if the number of people atoned for is indefinite, since the atonement, it is thought, is only to be offered yet not definitely applied.

There are a few issues with this conception of the atonement. In Isaiah 53:4 we are told, “Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows…” Who’s sorrows? Who’s griefs? Does Christ’s coming have a purpose? Surely it does, and it is to carry our sorrows. This is not a mere offer, this is a definite action, born or carry (נָשָׂא) being in the perfect tense in v. 4a. In v. 4b, the same is true with the expression, “carried our sorrows.”

If this is something Christ has definitely achieved, has He achieved it for the whole world? If so, is the whole world saved? No. For we are told in Matthew 25:41 and elsewhere (Jn. 5:29) that those who are resurrected unto judgement will be thrown into the everlasting fire. Thus, (PIII) appears to hold true.

In Isaiah 53:5, things become clearer: “But He was wounded for our transgressions…” Was He really wounded for or because of transgressions? If so, who’s transgressions? The transgressions of the whole world? Again, this is not merely an offer of Jesus’ wounds to cover a person’s transgressions. This is a direct statement that tells us Jesus has performed a work for some purpose beyond a mere offer. Verse 5 ends, “And by His stripes we are healed.” Again, healed, as with bore and carried, is in the perfect tense which, in Hebrew, signifies something that has been completed or accomplished.

In Isaiah 53:8b, we learn, “For the transgressions of My people He was stricken.” This ought to be the nail in the coffin. Here is a direct statement, corroborated by others such as Ephesians 5:25, which declares the purpose of Christ’s Sacrificial, priestly work, and that purpose is confined to a people, not people in the abstract. Christ gave Himself for His church. The atonement, while offered to all in evangelism, does not have a final cause of atoning for all people, nor is its final cause to merely serve as an offer. It has achieved something, that is, to “make an offering for sin (Is. 53:10),” or to atone for the people of God (v. 8).

This all amounts to Christ coming for a purpose, that is, to bear our guilt and to bleed for our sins. The question, therefore, becomes, Did He really do this? The Bible declares that He has (Jn. 19:30).

If “Black Theology” Is True, We’re All Still In Our Sins

If “Black Theology” Is True, We’re All Still In Our Sins

If Christ didn’t purchase the human mind, He didn’t purchase you at all.

Individual redemption is an all or nothing kind of thing. Christ didn’t only redeem the soul of man, or the spirit of man, or the body of man; He redeemed it all, the whole man (1 Thess. 5:23). But, how can Christ redeem the whole man? By becoming in every way like us in our nature, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15). Christ redeems everything in us that He Himself possessed according to His human nature; a human body, a human mind, a human spirit. 

If Christ didn’t have a human understanding, the human understanding couldn’t have been redeemed. If He didn’t have a human soul or will, then neither the human soul nor the human will could be redeemed. Christ was Himself under the law to redeem those who were under the law. He has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (Gal. 3:13). If Christ didn’t have a whole human nature according to which He was subjected to the law and the punishment for our transgression thereof, no human person could be redeemed.

This makes standpoint epistemology an all the more frightening redefinition of the gospel.

Standpoint Epistemology

Earlier on Facebook I submitted a post using this term, standpoint epistemology. Another word we might use is perspectivalism. The idea of standpoint epistemology, in short, is that different kinds of men have different kinds/ways of knowing. In the present context, if you’re white, you know according to whiteness. If you’re black, you know according to blackness. So, black Christians and white Christians read the Scriptures according to distinct ways of knowing or rationalizing. I know differently than a black person or an asian person knows and because of this, we bring “unique perspectives” to the text of Scripture.

Usually, this dynamic is described in terms of life experience. On this view, life experiences not only inevitably shape how a person comes to the text, but they should shape how a person comes to the text. A black man should feel perfectly comfortable bringing his black experience to the table while using that experience as a helpful guide or tool in interpreting God’s Word. The same goes for white men, asian men, brown men, etc (well, maybe all except for white men). And, these particular standpoint epistemology advocates may also add that these experiences, when taken together, help to bring the gospel into clearer focus. The plethora of different perspectives help to bring the gospel into clearer focus.

A white person cannot interpret the Bible like a black person because both of these groups have differing sets of variables acting upon them which prevents one from filling the intellectual shoes of another. The implication, of course, is that black people know like black people, white people know like white people and so on. Of course, this is said to be all experience driven. So, the objector might say, “it’s nothing about being black or white per se that gives these groups differing ways of knowing Scripture. It’s the experiences that affect how we know Scripture which inevitably come with growing up in black or white culture, respectively.

If this were true, the problem wouldn’t be so grave. After all, varying life experiences are a given. We all have them. We all come to the Bible with them in hand (like it or not). But the claim to a difference between black/white theology isn’t so superficial. The term experience is used because no one denies we all have differing experiences. But, if it were only life experience that separated blacks from whites in their quest for biblical truth, why not say there’s also an angler interpretation of the Bible, an Australian interpretation of the Bible, a pharmacist interpretation of the Bible, a rocket engineer interpretation of the Bible, a left-hander’s interpretation of the Bible? All of these groups of people have differing life experiences. Why limit life experience only to skin color or ethnicity. It seems so arbitrary.

There has to be something deeper than experience separating blacks and whites when it comes to the task of Christian theology. It can’t be mere experience because experiences can be sorted out into countless, arbitrary categories.

The standpoint epistemology advocate suggests men know according to their respective experiences. However, we should be asking the question, Why narrow those experiences to ethnicity? Why not something else? There has to be a reason behind why these men have chosen to narrow experiences almost exclusively to ethnicity. That reason must be that blacks and whites are different in some way; different beyond skin color or life experiences. It’s really ethnicity that becomes the distinguishing factor. 

If all these life experiences must be categorized according to the ethnic backgrounds, then ethnicity is the controlling variable here. Anglos and African Americans think differently because they’re different ethnicities. They’re strapped to their ethnicity and cannot transcend it, not one iota. Everything they do, say, feel, all of it is according to their ethnicity. It’s not just experiences that shape who we are. Rather, we are, it must be thought, born with ontologically different souls, different minds, different, as it were, ways of knowing.

The Massive Christological Problem for Standpoint Epistemology

What happens when human knowing is not so much human knowing but ethnic knowing? What would happen to Christian theology if we were to suggest that my understanding is different than a black Christian’s understanding, and that that difference exists because of ethnicity or—dare I say—race? Does man know according to his humanity, or does he know according to his ethnicity? Is the nature of man’s knowing defined by his humanity or by his ethnicity?

This particular brand of standpoint epistemology would seem to suggest people know according to their respective ethnicities, making knowing a property of ethnicity, not of human nature. A person can be human, but they don’t have a human mind or understanding. They have either a Jewish mind, a black mind, a white mind, etc.

What’s startling about this prospect is that on this model of standpoint epistemology Jesus would have had a particularly first century Jewish mind. But if Christ had a first century Jewish mind, not a mind essential to all humanity but only essential to Jewishness, would it not follow that only believing Jews can be redeemed? Let me restate it in a more pointed way: Christ’s mind was not part of His human nature, it was part of His Jewish ethnicity—His Jewish nature we might say. Therefore, the human mind is not redeemed. Only the Jewish mind is redeemed. Therefore, we’re all in our sins. We can all just pack up our Bibles and go home, Christianity as we know it is false. This is the logical conclusion here. If there is not one humanity, then Christ cannot redeem one humanity. A human isn’t really a human, they’re Anglo, African American, or something else. But not human. We’re all a bunch of foreigners to one another, aliens—Star Wars style.

But I refuse to believe this is the case. It’s not the case that Jesus came only to redeem the Jewish mind (Rom. 1:16; 3:29). He came to redeem the human mind. Because of this, human minds—those essential to a single, universal human nature—are being redeemed.

Christ had to have a human mind to redeem human minds. Christ’s human mind, His way of knowing, may have existed within a Jewish context, but that didn’t make Christ’s mind an essentially Jewish mind. Jesus’ mind was essentially human. The mind, therefore, must be natural to humanity and not to ethnicity, race, etc. The human mind is transcendent of those things. It exists regardless of ethnicity. It’s not bound to ethnicity or race nor is it necessarily defined by ethnicity or race (although ethnicity may certainly act upon it). Which is just to say everyone must have the same kind of mind. Everyone must know in basically the same human way. So when standpoint epistemology tries to define the mind, or human knowing and how it operates in terms of ethnicity rather than in terms of human nature, it begins to have massive implications upon the doctrine of the incarnation and the atoning work of Christ.

Christ had a human mind. His redemptive jurisdiction was not limited to Jews, but to Gentiles also. Yet, that would only be possible if Jesus had a human mind, a human way of knowing. The question is, “Did Christ redeem our knowing?” The answer is, “Yes.” And the answer is “yes” precisely because Christ redeemed the human mind, not just the mind as it’s defined by a particular culture, ethnicity, or race. Identity politics and things like standpoint epistemology are a cancerous infiltration into the Christian system which undermine the totality of the Christian faith.

As Christians, we do not have a black mind or a white mind, a black way of knowing or a white way of knowing, “we have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16).”