Category Archives: Reading

Calvin in the Sun


Calvin held justification in high regard as well. He called it “main hinge on which religion turns.”[1] He essentially agrees with Luther on the idea of justification being legal in nature. He states, “He is said to be justified in Gods sight who is both reckoned righteous in God’s judgment and has been accepted on account of his righteousness.” Furthermore he writes, “we say that it consists in the remission of sins and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.”[2] According to Calvin, our justification is only by Christ’s death that we a have the forgiveness of sins and acceptance by God. Again, Calvin strongly concurs with Luther on this point.

Surprisingly though, the relationship between justification and sanctification is remarkably different for Calvin and Luther. Where Luther sees a logical priority between justification and sanctification, Calvin sees them simultaneously applied to the believer by union with Christ. Where Luther uses the analogy of a doctor or marriage, Calvin uses the analogy of the sun. He notes that the sun sheds its rays upon the earth and these rays give both heat and light. The light does not give heat and the heat does not give light yet they are from an inseparable in source.[3] For him, this is the perfect analogy because in union with Christ believers receive both justification and sanctification but they do not overlap. He beautifully remarks about the “double grace” that we receive by faith, “that being reconciled to God through Christ’s blamelessness, we have in heaven instead of a Judge a gracious Father and secondly, that sanctified by Christ’s spirit we may cultivate blamelessness and purity of life.”[4] Anthony Lane summarizes this concept of Calvin well, calling it “double justification.” By Christ’s death and resurrection God is satisfied but by Christ’s Spirit in the believer God is pleased.[5] For Calvin, our works matter before God; they are pleasing. It also means that there is a correlation between our works and our justification. A true Christian who is justified by the blood of Christ will be bear the fruit of sanctification. As I will discuss in a later post, I think this is a reason why Calvin was more sympathetic towards the contemporary Catholic views.

[1] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.11.1.

[2] Ibid, 3.11.2.

[3] Ibid, 3.11.6

[4] Ibid, 3.11.1

[5] Anthony N.S. Lane, Justification by Faith in Catholic-Protestant Dialogue (London: T&T Clark, 2002), pgs. 33-36.

Athanasius hearts Incarnational Justification

No wonder Athanasius could understand the incarnation.  Look at the size of his cranium.

No wonder Athanasius could understand the incarnation. Look at the size of his cranium.

Athanasius (293-373 A.D.) is one of the most influential theologians in Church History. He has contributed much to the Church, but his most famous work is The Incarnation of the Word of God. The purpose of this book is to answer the question, why did the Eternal Son of God become flesh? Athanasius’ answer to this question involves justification.

In The Incarnation of the Word of God, Athanasius places justification within the context of a creation, fall, and redemption. He argues that it is essential that God’s creation was ex-nihilo because it must be dependant upon God for its very existence. When mankind, who is created in the image of God, turns away from God he in fact turns to a corruptibility, which causes a movement towards non-existence: Their natural end is death and destruction. He writes,

For the transgression of the commandment was making them turn back again according to their nature ; and as they had at the beginning come into being out of non-existence, so were they now on the way to returning, through corruption, to non-existence again. The presence and love of the Word had called them into being; inevitably, therefore, when they lost the knowledge of God, they lost existence with it; for it is God alone Who exists, evil is non-being, the negation and antithesis of good.[1]

To him the primary problem of sin is corruption. To support his theology, he largely cites Paul with verses such as 1 Corinthians 15.53, “This corruptible must put on incorruption and this mortal must put on immortality.” Sin produced death and corruption through the law that Adam was given. Mere repentance is not enough to stave off the effects of sin because the problem is the actual nature of man. The problem for Athanasius is primarily ontological in nature, not forensic.

Athanasius’ solution to this ontological corruption is in Jesus’ Incarnation. Jesus, the Eternal Son of God, took on flesh and fulfilled the law by suffering total corruption on the cross on behalf of all who believe in him. For him, it is not so much about a legal verdict but about legal debts being paid off. Adam (and his seed) contractually owes God death for his sin; Jesus paid off his debt by becoming sin and dying on the cross for humanity. Jesus conquered death through his resurrection; therefore, humanity can be renewed in its very being. [2]

His understanding of imputation is that of corperate association. He likens it to a whole city being honored because of the presence a great king. If we live in his city then we share his glory. How does one enter into His glorious city? We are received into the city through faith.[3]

A good summary of Athanasius’ view on justification is that Christ, the Eternal Son of God, died as a pure and spotless lamb to settle humanities debt by fulfilling the curse of Adam. Through His resurrection, humanity can receive a new nature in which they can live in the world as true humanity was always meant to. Though his view contains forensic elements to it (i.e. legal debt), justification is primarily about the ontological renewal of the image of God.

[1] Athanasius, The Incarnation of the Word of God, 1.4.

[2] This can be seen in 2.9 when he states, “For this reason, therefore, He assumed a body capable of death, in order that it, through belonging to the Word Who is above all, might become in dying a sufficient exchange for all, and, itself remaining incorruptible through His indwelling, might thereafter put an end to corruption for all others as well, by the grace of the resurrection. It was by surrendering to death the body which He had taken, as an offering and sacrifice free from every stain, that He forthwith abolished death for His human brethren by the offering of the equivalent.”

[3] Ibid. 2.9.

Why Having Bad Theology Can Be Good

Hopefully all is well with everybody.  I’m not sure if anybody still checks this blog.  Just in case some people do, I leave this little reflection on life and theology.  I just finished writing this huge paper on Justification.  Part of the paper was from a historical perspective where I tracked the theological development of the doctrine from Origen until Calvin.  One thing I noticed while doing research was how some of these theologians grew in their theology over time.  Luther’s understanding of Justification drastically changes over the five year period of 1515 till 1520.[1] In his original Romans commentary his understanding of justification is a declaration of righteousness based on Christ’s ability to heal the sinner.  Almost five years later it changes into the concept of Alien Righteousness which is completely external and given to us through faith in Christ. Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion was revised multiple times from1536-1559.  Saint Augustine himself wrote a whole treatise called Retractions at the age of 73 where he recants and revises much of his previous thought.

Here are some quick thoughts about what we can learn from these Giants:

It’s humbling. If Augustine can put out a massive list of retractions in the last years of his life then who knows how jacked up my theological frame work is today. Sometimes I catch myself trying to construct a complete and perfect systematic theology. If these men couldn’t do it then, I know I am hopeless. Their track records urge me on to know His Word but more importantly to know Him in true worship.

It’s freeing. It is okay if we don’t have perfect theology. In fact, it is okay if I have bad theology at times. The problem with heretics isn’t that they have bad beliefs but it is because they have bad hearts. It is okay to be wrong when you are open to wise rebuke. Too often do I see people who have theological stances (both good and bad) simply because of pride. Where having this or that belief set makes them superior to all others. I think that’s the great sin of fundamentalism. It can have decent beliefs but a rotten heart behind it. It’s obvious that these theologians were open to change. I’m encouraged to have the same heart.

It’s motivating. The fact that these men produced such great works yet still revised them years later motivates me to further my theological formulations. Sometimes I think people are so scared of making theological errors that they develop doctrinal agoraphobia. People hide in their confessional huts and are scared to venture outside of them. These theologians of old were pioneers. They mapped out previously undeveloped areas for the sake of the Church. Sure they had to back track at times and even ventured into dangerous areas but alas they reaped great rewards for their brothers and sisters in Christ.

In the end, it can be good to have bad theology. If a person doesn’t have bad theology to some extent then it makes me wary. May we all grow in the Grace of Christ.

[1] . Carl Trueman, edited by Bruce L. McCormack, “Simul Peccator et Justus”, Justification in Perspective, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), p. 81.

My thoughts on the New Pauline Perspective

If anybody is interested in the New Perspective, here is a paper I just wrote on it. I put a lot of work into it and I based most of it on primary sources. I would love to hear some of your thoughts about the NPP and on whether or not you agree or disagree with my conclusions.

Click Here for some Crazy NPP Action!

Free, free, free….

audio books.  This is a gold mine of some classic Christian literature.  Check it our here.  The only thing that takes getting used to is the fact that the narrator is female.  I am not diminishing the hard work that she has put into recording these, but it just felt funny imagining Augustine with a feminine voice.

HT:  Phil Sumpter

Piper just did a seminar on  TULIP you can check out the audio HERE.

(HT: B-Lo)

Regulation, Taxation, and Reincarnation

This is a really well written article on how China is interacting with Tibet. The Chinese government has started officially regulating who is allowed to be reincarnated. Funny, but the real point of this article is about how the Chinese government is no better the “elite” western culture. Religion is great as long as it just cultural. It only becomes dangerous when people actually believe what they practice.

How China Got Religion

(HT: Baggy Overalls)