Biblical Studies

On the many who claim to be prophets today, and dreamers of dreams

Jeremiah in Sistene ChapelFor one who teaches biblical hermeneutics, I am cautious to pull a text like this into our contemporary context, since it is from the end of the pre-exilic context of ancient Judah when Jeremiah wrote dire warnings against them for their idolatries and against the scores of people who then claimed to be prophets sent from God. Nevertheless, can we not ask if there is any similarity with our own generation in regards to the countless claims from people of God revealing, speaking, giving further revelation, visions, and prophecies, so many of which have been widely shown as both false and often misleading? (An example that “there is nothing new under the sun.”)

(left)Jeremiah by Michelangelo (Sistine Chapel) 

Does not the principle stand that for anyone to claim a revelation or prophecy from God, and who did not actually receive such (but only imagined or hoped to have received such), they would most certainly be considered a false prophet. In biblical terms, that is. Even if they prophesied something concrete, in a predictive fashion, that happens to occur, and it did not come directly from God, it still makes them a false prophet. Yet, consider the many thousands of people today claiming prophecies, dreams, visions, etc., who have made themselves a laughing-stock with their oftentimes outrageous and patently false claims. At best they are mostly ignored, but at worst they frequently manage to point people away from the actual canon of revelation in the Old and New Testaments to themselves and their seemingly benign imaginings. Many people have even started movements and organizations on the basis of such spurious revelations, but even if they have many followers it does not make them a prophet from God.

In sum, take heed from Jeremiah to all who claim, “The Lord said to me” or “The Lord gave me this dream  . . . or vision.” And, to all who listen to these many self-proclaimed prophets of our times, take heed lest you too are taken captive by all sorts of vanity and delusions that may appear marvelous, but are nothing more than “the visions of their[the prophets’] own minds.”

Jeremiah 23

16 Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. 17 They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’”

   25 “I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy falsely in My name, saying, ‘I had a dream, I had a dream!’ 26 “How long? Is there anything in the hearts of the prophets who prophesy falsehood, even these prophets of the deception of their own heart, 27 who intend to make My people forget My name by their dreams which they relate to one another, just as their fathers forgot My name because of Baal? 28“The prophet who has a dream may relate his dream, but let him who has My word speak My word in truth. What does straw have in common with grain?” declares the LORD. 29“Is not My word like fire?” declares the LORD, “and like a hammer which shatters a rock? 30“Therefore behold, I am against the prophets,” declares the LORD, “who steal My words from each other. 31“Behold, I am against the prophets,” declares the LORD, “who use their tongues and declare, ‘The Lord declares.’ 32“Behold, I am against those who have prophesied false dreams,” declares the LORD, “and related them and led My people astray by their falsehoods and reckless boasting; yet I did not send them or command them, nor do they furnish this people the slightest benefit,” declares the LORD.

The Wise Fool in Shakespeare and in Life and in Scripture

Historically, plays and entertainment in various cultures have had the figure of a jester, clown, or fool. William Shakespeare’s plays sometimes redesigned this character where he made the fool a central figure of the story, and not just a jester. Influenced by the Bible, Shakespeare played on the biblical notions of the wise man; his fools are often “the wise” who have prophetic revelations for the main characters of the plays that are often themselves shown to be the true proper fools. His fool is often the only one who is not afraid to speak the truth, providing commentary on both the story and the other characters. One of the most fascinating examples is found in King Lear, a play that explores with the ideas of reality, folly, magisterial delusions of kings, and what is wise and what is foolish. He can see through the duplicities and falsehoods before everyone else, and he also stays by Lear’s side and does not abandon him to his madness.
Shakespeare’s fools take some getting used to by the audience, since at first glance they posture as a clown or buffoon, but with closer examination their lines convey some of the wittiest and most logical reasoning in the plays. Besides often giving comic relief in light of tragic circumstances or tragic character flaws in the main characters, the fool often gives us wisdom, playing on the biblical theme of “the wisdom of God is folly/foolishness to the world.
Not all of Shakespeare’s fool follow the same pattern, since some are simpler, and even some darker, than others and give less insight.[1]

One of my favorite fool-dialogues and descriptions is from the Twelfth Night where Viola gives us her definition of the fool, and also the longer selection below where they dialogue wittily and very humorously:

VIOLA

This fellow is wise enough to play the fool;
And to do that well craves a kind of wit:
He must observe their mood on whom he jests,
The quality of persons, and the time,
And, like the haggard, cheque at every feather
That comes before his eye. This is a practise
As full of labour as a wise man’s art
For folly that he wisely shows is fit;
But wise men, folly-fall’n, quite taint their wit.

A dialogue from the Twelfth Night below gives us a good example:

Clown

Wit, an’t be thy will, put me into good fooling!
Those wits, that think they have thee, do very oft
prove fools; and I, that am sure I lack thee, may
pass for a wise man: for what says Quinapalus?[a made-up philosopher][2]
‘Better a witty fool, than a foolish wit.’

The original fuller text alongside a modern rendition from “no-fear shakespeare”[1]  
Original Text 

Enter OLIVIA with MALVOLIO

OLIVIA

Take the fool away.

Modern Text

Enter OLIVIA with MALVOLIO

OLIVIA

Get that fool out of here.

FOOL

Do you not hear, fellows? Take away the lady.

FOOL

Didn’t you hear her, guys? Get the lady out of here.

OLIVIA

Go to, you’re a dry fool. I’ll no more of you. Besides, you grow dishonest.

OLIVIA

Oh, go away, you’re a boring fool. I don’t want to have anything to do with you anymore. Besides, you’ve gotten unreliable.

FOOL

Two faults, madonna, that drink and good counsel will amend. For give the dry fool drink, then is the fool not dry. Bid the dishonest man mend himself. If he mend, he is no longer dishonest. If he cannot, let the botcher mend him. Anything that’s mended is but patched. Virtue that transgresses is but patched with sin, and sin that amends is but patched with virtue. If that this simple syllogism will serve, so. If it will not, what remedy? As there is no true cuckold but calamity, so beauty’s a flower. The lady bade take away the fool. Therefore, I say again, take her away.

FOOL

Madam, those are two character flaws that a little booze and some common sense can fix. If you hand a drink to a sober fool, he won’t be thirsty anymore. If you tell a bad man to mend his wicked ways, and he does, he won’t be bad anymore. If he cannot, let the tailor mend him. Anything that’s mended is only patched up. A good person who does something wrong is only patched up with sin. And a sinner who does something good is only patched up with goodness. If this logic works, that’s great. If not, what can you do about it? Since the only real betrayed husband in the world is the one deserted by Lady Luck—because we’re all married to her—beauty is a flower. The lady gave orders to take away the fool, so I’m telling you again, take her away.

OLIVIA

Sir, I bade them take away you.

OLIVIA

I told them to take you away.

FOOL

Misprision in the highest degree! Lady, Cucullus non facit monachum—that’s as much to say as I wear not motley in my brain. Good madonna, give me leave to prove you a fool.

FOOL

Oh, what a big mistake! Madam, you can’t judge a book by its cover. I mean, I may look like a fool, but my mind’s sharp. Please let me prove you’re a fool.

OLIVIA

Can you do it?

OLIVIA

Can you do that?

FOOL

Dexterously, good madonna.

FOOL

Easily, madam.

OLIVIA

Make your proof.

OLIVIA

Then go ahead and prove it.

FOOL

I must catechise you for it, madonna. Good my mouse of virtue, answer me.

FOOL

I’ll have to ask you some questions, madam. Please answer, my good little student.

OLIVIA

Well, sir, for want of other idleness, I’ll bide your proof.

OLIVIA

I’m listening to you only because I’ve got nothing better to do.

FOOL

Good madonna, why mournest thou?

FOOL

My dear madam, why are you in mourning?

OLIVIA

Good fool, for my brother’s death.

OLIVIA

My dear fool, because my brother died.

FOOL

I think his soul is in hell, madonna.

FOOL

I think his soul’s in hell, my lady.

OLIVIA

I know his soul is in heaven, fool.

OLIVIA

I know his soul’s in heaven, fool.

FOOL

The more fool, madonna, to mourn for your brother’s soul being in heaven. Take away the fool, gentlemen.

FOOL

Then you’re a fool for being sad that your brother’s soul is in heaven. Take away this fool, gentlemen.

OLIVIA

What think you of this fool, Malvolio? Doth he not mend?

OLIVIA

What do you think of this fool, Malvolio? Isn’t he getting funnier?

MALVOLIO

Yes, and shall do till the pangs of death shake him. Infirmity, that decays the wise, doth ever make the better fool.

MALVOLIO

Yes, and he’ll keep getting funnier till he dies. Old age always makes people act funny—even wise people, but fools more than anybody.

FOOL

God send you, sir, a speedy infirmity, for the better increasing your folly! Sir Toby will be sworn that I am no fox, but he will not pass his word for two pence that you are no fool.

FOOL

I hope you go senile soon, sir, so you can become a more foolish fool! Sir Toby would bet a fortune that I’m not smart, but he wouldn’t bet two cents that you’re not a fool.

OLIVIA

How say you to that, Malvolio?

OLIVIA

What do you say to that, Malvolio?

MALVOLIO

I marvel your ladyship takes delight in such a barren rascal.

I saw him put down the other day with an ordinary fool that

MALVOLIO

I’m surprised you enjoy the company of this stupid troublemaker. The other day I saw him defeated in a

has no more brain than a stone. Look you now, he’s out of his guard already. Unless you laugh and minister occasion to him, he is gagged. I protest I take these wise men that crow so at these set kind of fools no better than the fools’ zanies. battle of wits by an ordinary jester with no more brains than a rock. Look at him, he’s at a loss for words already. Unless he’s got somebody laughing at him, he can’t think of anything to say. I swear, anyone smart who laughs at these courts jesters is nothing but a jester’s apprentice.  
OLIVIA

Oh, you are sick of self-love, Malvolio, and taste with a distempered appetite. To be generous, guiltless, and of free disposition is to take those things for bird-bolts that you deem cannon-bullets. There is no slander in an allowed fool, though he do nothing but rail. Nor no railing in a known discreet man, though he do nothing but reprove.

OLIVIA

Malvolio, your vanity is damaging your good taste. If you were generous, innocent, and good-natured, you wouldn’t get so upset by what the fool says. You’d think of his wisecracks as harmless little firecrackers, not hurtful bullets. A court jester isn’t really criticizing people, even if he does nothing but make fun of them all day long. And a wise person doesn’t make fun of people, even if all he does is criticize them.

 
FOOL

Now Mercury endue thee with leasing, for thou speakest well of fools!

FOOL

You speak so highly of fools! I hope the god of deception rewards you by making you a wonderful liar.

 

[1] From http://nfs.sparknotes.com/twelfthnight/page_38.html accesses 8/18/2015.


Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

1 Cor 3 18 Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; 20 and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” 21 So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours,”

1 Cor 1 18 For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

19 For it is written,
“I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE,
AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE.”

20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 22For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; 23but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, 24but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.  26For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, 29so that no man may boast before God. 30But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, 31so that, just as it is written, “LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD.”

[1] There have been many things written on Shakespeare’s fools: one example available for free is See Frederick B. Warde, The Fools of Shakespeare: An Interpretation of Their Wit, Wisdom and Personalities (London: McBride, Nast, and Company), 1915.

[2] Possibly means something in Latin (Opalus is Opal, Quin to negate, “without”).

Don’t Be Naive: or, “judge a righteous judgment”

foolsdance“Thou shalt judge . . . . a righteous judgment”

Rom 16:17-18 Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. 18 For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.

διχοστασίας      divisions
σκάνδαλα          obstacles
χρηστολογίας    smooth talk
εὐλογίας           flattery
ἐξαπατῶσιν       deceive
ἀκάκων             naïve

Warnings against those who use smooth talk (rhetoric) and false logic to bring dissensions and digressions from the truth abound in scripture. For those who claim that we “must not judge” things (what others say, believe, or do), we see in this passage a strong exhortation to “keep your eye” on things contrary to the teaching you have learned. More than that, we are to turn away from them! We often think of this perhaps just in terms of smooth talking salesmen, or some such, but in this case we can understand this as anyone who persuasively in words, print, or other means presents ideas that are not true (true: in accordance with Scripture) so that we might believe in them. Many terrible ideas are being published in beautiful books and beautiful words, and many a hip preacher and teacher can get the crowds shouting on their feet for ideas that will in the end bring down the house (being built on sand). Oftentimes, the ideas will seem a bit novel, but not so apparently diverting from orthodoxy that they are obviously departing from the truth. The seriousness of falling prey to such subtly false rhetoric is a matter of disobedience or obedience to Christ. It is in this sense a matter of life and death, the necessity of having biblical discernment and assessment of people’s logic (thinking/reasonings) and their rhetoric in communicating. This necessity of discerning flattery and deceptions of many kinds requires true wisdom from God, to have skillful discernment and assessment, so that we can clearly distinguish (judge) truth from falsehood, righteousness from unrighteousness, good from evil, etc. Naïve, fools listen to the songs of folly and foolishness, dancing their tune, and this is the epitome of unreason and irrationality. Logic and rhetoric therefore have as their primary concerns the very Truth: what is true to reality not imaginations, what is right, and to what is true to the character of God and all who represent him. We would be wise to listen to the words of wisdom here in Paul, and thus walking with the wise (Prov 13:20) we might become “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt 10:16).

On Jesus Calling by Sarah Young [The New Mystic]

On Jesus Calling by the Sarah Young [The New Mystic][1]

Since the very popular author Sarah Young has now published her own Jesus Calling Devotional Bible, I think it is even more pressing that we address her hugely successful devotional book published some years previously, called Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence. In this earlier devotional publication she claims that its content came to her by direct dictation from Jesus. My concerns with this devotional are not with its content per se; it is her claims of direct communication from Jesus (which seems comparable to the increasingly common New Age channeling practitioners who also claim to receive messages, even sometimes from Jesus). If Young had not put this in the form of direct revelation from Christ to her (and presumably to all believers), but rather as Christian reflections to encourage and teach others, it would not be so problematic. In fact, I would find it a bit more acceptable if she had only claimed that this was a literary and imaginative work for devotional encouragement, but that is not the case. Most seriously, as with all claims of direct messages from God, in Jesus Calling Young’s claim of direct (dictation)[2] revelation would logically necessitate some kind of divine inspiration, and thus infallibility, and thus inerrancy (as the logic goes). Although Young denies inerrancy for these “messages from God,” I do not see how anyone can accept her claims without attributing to her works unwarranted authority.

Young’s mystical orientation puts her in company with many other, similar Christian mystics, “listeners” who have “visualizations” and experiences of losing “all sense of time.” Young’s theology may be otherwise orthodox, as far as I know.  As several reviewers have noted, however, the theology of Young’s devotional is thin. Indeed, the most common theme seems to be simply “Don’t worry, trust me,” in the traditional, pietistic motif of “let go and let God,” or, “cease striving.” Further to that thin theme, there is the central mystical thought of “empty yourself and your mind” that I find very unsatisfying as a model for the Christian life in a fallen world. Indeed, the biblical model is to be filled with the Word, so that his word dwells in us for fullness of life.

The message Young conveys in this devotional of dictations is that scripture was not sufficient for her, and need not be for us. As she writes, “I knew that God communicated with me through the Bible, but I yearned for more” (xii).  And, since God has given her a deeper peace from “personal messages” directly from Jesus, we too are encouraged to get solace and peace with this fresh new word from Christ himself to her. She offers to her readers that “more” she yearned for, but it is a further word, not the scripture. The fundamental doctrines of the Protestant faith include the sufficiency of scripture and the cessation of divine revelation with the closing of the canon.  Any claims of something “more” beyond that have historically been rejected as usurpations, and thus unauthoritative. Also, by adding biblical scriptures to the bottom of her revelations, Young gives further unjustified authority to the words she claims come directly from Christ.

Works such as this one undoubtedly indicate a spiritual hunger for more teaching that “speaks to the heart and soul” in our times, and perhaps particularly in Reformed circles that tend sometimes to especially emphasize the mind and thoroughgoing theology. Yet, in response to that suggestion, I propose that any downplaying of the “heart and soul,” and the human need to be ministered to there, is entirely out of accord with our history of Protestant, Reformation piety. Just consider, for example, Jonathan Edwards, “Religious Affections.” I do think there is a widespread hunger for something more in this area. Indeed, there may be something of a famine in our times, but I think it is the meat of the Word through the Spirit that alone produces a true “experience” of God and his presence (this is not to say we do not read other books to learn, grow, and get encouragement, etc., but that we do not consider them in any way as further revelation).

In sum, since our experiences are such unreliable guides for piety, we must depend on the scripture alone as our authoritative rule and guide for life and faith. Sola scriptura was about both the authority of the Scripture and its sufficiency. Indeed, I believe that we do not need to “yearn” for anything more than sola scriptura. Jesus is calling, but he never calls us to go beyond scripture.

Stephen Hague

[1] Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2004.

[2] On dictation notions of inspiration, ironically, no Evangelical theory that I know of seriously entertains inspiration of biblical revelation in the terms she describes that her messages are received by dictation.

Is the PostModern (PoMo) Emerging and Missional Emergent Movement now passé?

untitledAt the grassroots level, this Postmodern movement was fueled by much dislike of uncool fundamentalism and its “culture” (or lack thereof). This reactionary component, and their seeming lack of positive direction and definition, has been particularly defining of the movement itself. The question still remains, nevertheless, where were we supposed to be emerging from and where to? But now the question is, is the emerging movement itself  actually in retreat today? As a reactionary movement against what was “before,” once it too becomes post, or “before,” does it too then not become passé?

One of “emergings” key spokesmen once suggested that the theologizing of prior centuries was only for prior centuries and was not as deep and profound as what is happening today in the emerging movement (see “some quotes” below). The uninspiring, ho-hum, aspect of this is that the mainline church and its neo-orthodoxy previously had lived long in the universe of the “journey” not the “destination,” seeking “questions,” not “answers,” living in “tension” not “resolution.” They spoke eloquently in paradoxical terms of “concealment as an aspect of revelation,” and in the “affirmation of doubt” and “silence,” of “engaging” not dogmatizing or “getting it all down” (whatever that means). Propositionalism became a pejorative term applied to those who have too much certitude in what they believe. Objectivism was rejected as the idol of those who believe Truth is absolute and absolutely true. Within this, there was a call for hermeneutical agnosticism in regards to the biblical text. While this has the virtue of claiming humility, it just might lead to pride in doubts about what can be known of the text. While emergers rightly emphasized contextual mission as the mission of the church of God, they fail to remind us that mission has always been the mission of the church, despite its many failings, and I can think of no theologian who ever denied that mission. In regards to all of these characteristics, this now aging movement may well be seeing a glimmer of a new emerging from this hermeneutical agnosticism. In what I have observed (my entirely unscientific impression), there seems to be a greater longing for certitude and a theological house built on solid rock, not sand. Being “post” everything may have been found wanting.

Indeed, the “post” nature of the emerging movement was one of its most puzzling features. Emergers have been said to be “post-modern,” “post-liberal,” “post-evangelical,” “post-doctrinal,” “post-Bible-study-piety,” “post-systematic theology,” and “post-conservative.” I think “post-rational,” “post-linear,” and “post-historical” could be added to this list (see Scott Mcknight’s article, “The Future or Fad: A Look at the Emerging Church Movement.”) In fact, even though Mcknight says this “post” is not “better” but “after,” this reactionary characteristic describes at least a drift away from what preceded, regardless of internal assessments of what they are now post. Even if this shift was not intentional or always conscious, it is professedly a drift away from traditional evangelicalism, conservatism, doctrinalism, sytematics, traditional Bible-Study, and personal piety, etc. I would agree that it may also have represented a drift away from the old liberalism (“post liberal”), but only in so far as it is aligned with Neo-orthodoxy. Neo-orthodoxy, though a reaction against the old liberalism, simply refashioned the Modernists’ (Historical-Critical) rejection of scripture itself as the only revealed Word of God, divinely inspired, inerrant, as propositional revelation, and translated this view into a Neo-orthodox version riddled with dialectical tensions. In this regard, I propose that it was always in danger of becoming post-orthodox. Indeed, as with most fads, thankfully, it seems to be coming into a “post-emerging” phase, as already noted, and as a fad that relished being “post” (as in “better than what preceded”), it is now surpassed by a hunger for reality of a truly biblical theology and living.

In reference to the emerger’s (and PoMo’s) original rejection of “Modernism,” I suggest that the traditional use of this term “modern” has been abused in the discussion, since in theology and hermeneutics it referred to the classic formulations of the early Historical-Critical scholars (now often called “liberal”), and in reference to history it would take us back nearly to the Renaissance and not to twentieth century Evangelicalism (the well-bred whipping-boy of Neo-Modern PoMos). Indeed, the early modern period begins in the Middle Ages. Perhaps on this point, the Neo-modernists could do better at informing us illiterate modern masses precisely what part of this vast history they reject and accept, rather than characterizing certain isolated aspects of modern Evangelicalism and pejoratively calling them “Modernist” in order to tar and feather them for future reference in the history books of the post-post-post-modernist era. Which raises another question, do we ever finally arrive at what is “post post”? Are we yet, and forever then, truly prepost? Also, I suggest that it would be vain to suggested that this search for something “post” everything is a continuation of the principle of ecclesia reformata est semper reformando (a reformed church is always reforming), since this principle is about remaining faithful to the orthodox “traditions of the apostles” handed down to us.

Another prevalent aspect of emerging was their proposed dichotomies for framing a new perspective on orthodoxy. I culled the following examples from the emerging-church literature. I have not listed any dichotomy that I have not observed at some point in the literature on “emerging.” These are not my “stereotypes” of this movement, but the explicit assertions made by those either seeking to explain or advocate emerging (my comments are in parenthesis):

  • emerging is about ecclesiology not about epistemology (I suggest that this is patently false, since discussions and assertions about epistemology litter the emerging terrain)
  • emerging is missional in contrast to pre-emerging Christendom (this is historically inaccurate, since the church, when it has been acting biblically, has always been truly missional)
  • emerging is missional not theologically defined (this is a contradiction in terms, since all truly biblical, missional activity must be theologically rooted and motivated)
  • emerging is formational not informational (this is doubly a contradiction in terms, since formation cannot emerge without information, and indeed spiritual formation has always depended upon sound theological “information”)
  • emerging is about God as “being right” not about people being right or wrong (this is naïve, since such disjunctive affirmations remove human, theological responsibility before God)
  • emerging is pro-Jesus not creedal, systematic, or logical (this is semantic mysticism, and the old “no creeds but Jesus” idea is essentially creedal)
  • emerging is relational not rational (ditto)
  • emerging is pro-church not doctrinally unified (this rejects the principle of the purity of the visible church, and to be pro-church necessitates being pro-doctrine, though imperfectly)
  • emerging is a community not denominational or ecclesiastical (this collapses the visible and the invisible church, and diminishes the communities created by denominations and churches)
  • emerging is about micro-narratives not about meta-narratives (this makes true “cross-cultural” communication essentially and practically impossible, since our “micro-narratives” have true significance only in so far as they correspond to the meta-narrative of the gospel of redemption)
  • emerging is more about orthopraxy than orthodoxy (this false disjunction suggests that living is prior to believing. Yet, since our living is motivated by our Lord, how do we practice what we do not doctrinally affirm?)
  • emerging is about being post-everything but it is really post-little. I suggest that the Emergent-Emerging-Village did not equal a revolution or reformation but a fun playing-field in which “traditional” cultural, theological, and philosophical borderlines were understood as in motion. Indeed, some in the emerging movement even tried to push out traditional Christian moral boundaries. Since blogs have been one of the primary mediums for the emerging discussions, it is difficult to identify all of its diverse shifts with confidence(oops!). Ironically, the driving engine of much of the emerging moment seemed to be Neo-Modernism which is strangely akin to Neo-orthodoxy, one of the many versions of twentieth century heterodoxy (even though not all emergers share PoMo denials of “absolute truth”). Neo-modernism presents the other straw-man of the Transcendental Great Other who is a god mostly unknowable. Indeed, this god lives in the great cloud of unknowing, and is the dialectical tension inhering in all of modern life. This transcendent god, or Transcendence as God, is mostly silent. Nevertheless, we sometimes get a glimpse in the Bible, in a sunset, or in human culture and traditions, all of which are somehow, inexplicably, relative to collective interpretation by the PoMo community. This deistic formulation strangles prayer and basic Bible study, in my view, as it did in the Mainline of my lost youth. And, as it has in the West as a whole. And this is why it contained within it the seeds of its own undoing.

In its rejection of pietism, Neo-orthodoxy loathed piety, since its impersonal god makes no distinctions between the warmth and zeal that true knowledge of God in Christ engenders and the excesses of nineteenth century revivalism. Similarly, many in the emerging movement seemed to dislike pietism. Most strangely, the emerging and PoMo movements both seem to simultaneously disdain pietism and also what is pejoratively called “old Princeton” (Scottish Common Sense Realism), or rationalism. Nevertheless, the frequent PoMo denigration of the Princeton theologians for their rationalism has not considered the history of their piety.[1] These Princeton theologians, condemned in PoMo judgment, had heart-religion on fire for God. Their heart-religion was not unbridled, subjective emotionalism. Nor was their academic work intellectual, rationalistic gamesmanship. Rather, their academic labors fueled their passion for the gospel of Christ. Indeed, I think it is unsustainable that the Princeton theologians advanced rationalism, but rather they believed in rationality as a God-given gift. They also understood the significance of the battle for Truth, and they believed that theological formulation, expression, and creeds mattered as a matter of life and death. I do not mean to romanticize these Old-Bygone-Theologizers, but mention them as an example that highlights the many false dichotomies and straw-men the PoMos’ love to burn, leaving nothing but ashes in their historical stead.

The ennui of many people today is the ethos of apathy, and worse. Many are adrift in a world that offers them gods fashioned according to their likes and dislikes, their styles and manner of being cool, their personal preferences and i-pod gods for nameless blog-religion. In this context, I have been concerned that this new emerging “reformation” would not lead to a new orthodoxy and orthopraxy of building community, but to a new religion of Neo-modernist transcendentalism and isolationalism. It is therefore my hope that in the seminary/church world the gospel of Christ is not subsumed by the popular “Totally Other” transcendental god of Barthian Neo-orthodoxy and Neo-modernist mysticism. God revealed himself in the sanctuary of Israel as absolutely immanent and absolutely transcendent (without any contradiction or paradox), and this is his consistent revelation through to the end of the Revelation of John. Indeed, in Christ, these complimentary attributes of God become most evident in the incarnation: God Almighty is personally, knowably, present with us. Thus, we can confidently(oops!) proclaim to this adrift generation, desperate for an answer to their ennui, that God is not Totally Other, but has clearly spoken in His Son. His Son is the incarnate Word of God whose word is the seed of the Kingdom of God now here in our midst. The revealed word of God is scripture now here in our hands, and it is the only final, and absolute authority for the people of the Son of God.

The frequent immodesty of “evangelical” PoMo theology, that often rejects previous theologizing, denies that their emperor wears no clothes. That is, their accusations that Modernists are guilty of “cognitive idolatry” may come home to roost, since their new found pride in “humble theology” invokes a self-loathing of their own Evangelicalism. This self-loathing is pervasive, along with its distaste for “fundamentalism” and its cultural separatism. Ironically, justified fears of cultural accommodation run deep in the Neo-modernist movement, but with a brilliant naiveté that if we just admit our presuppositions then we become neutral and objective. If asserting with certitude that we have received what has been passed on to us from the apostles of Christ is idolatry, then surely confident ranting against confidence in the scripture would qualify as cognitive idolatry. It is time that those who are refashioning orthodoxy admit that their own presuppositions are not just about contextualizing the gospel of Jesus, but rather about neutralizing the power of the gospel unto salvation to all who believe.

If asserting that we must be faithful to the scripture is cognitive idolatry, then it is time the Neo-modernists come clean and confess to their own lack of faith and need for prayer. It is time they own up to their own “cultural conditioning” by modernist, naturalist unbelief, and foreswear calling it recontextualization. As one of the philosophical leaders of the PoMo evangelicals likes to say, “Objectivity has been greatly overrated,” I would like to say that this is an overly objective, modernist assertion within his own framework. There is absolutely nothing new in calls to formulate the gospel clearly to each new generation, but the underlying assertion that our formulations are only social constructs “imbedded in particular cultures” is something new. And, this new thing is a departure from the perspective of the apostles on their gospel, in my view.

These are just some of the reasons why I believe that the Post-Modern Emerging movement has come to its end, and has become passé, since the people of God hunger for much more substance in their relationship with Christ the King, our ever-present Savior, than such philosophies could provide. He has called us out of darkness into his glorious light (1 Peter 2:9), and his people need to be encouraged in that absolute truth to live before the nations in true faith and loving obedience.

[1]For example, in Andrew Hoffecker’s Piety and the Princeton Theologians: Archibald Alexander, Charles Hodge, and Benjamin Warfield (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1981).

Some quotes about “rejecting” prior theologizing below from Scott Mcknight’s blogsite:

http://www.jesuscreed.org/?p=821 “Many of the leaders and thinkers of the emerging movement were nurtured theologically on books like those of Donald Bloesch, Millard Erickson,Wayne Grudem, or even older lights like Berkhof. Emerging leaders know this stuff — and often have moved beyond it or have rejected it.” “What you won’t find in these new discussions is the return to dog-eared discussions like whether or not human nature is tripartite or something else. The issues are bigger, the questions are deeper, and the scope of the discussion wider. When they ask about eschatology, they don’t ask about the rapture, they inquire into what history is, how God relates to history, what the goal of history is. When they ask about Scripture, they don’t begin with inerrancy and inspiration but (like Vanhoozer) how the drama of doctrine is meant to be played out using the script of God as its text.” “Which also means the answers will be bigger and deeper and wider. Perhaps I’ve misstated: this kind of theology might not be pursuing the “answer” but probing the question — theologizing, exploring, pondering, and wondering.”

In contrast to this, read 1 Corinthians 15:3 (NASB95): For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures . .

More thoughts and quotes on Neo-Modernism (a.k.a PoMo)

“The only cure for postmodernism is the incurable illness of romanticism.” (Postmodernism for Beginners by Richard Appignanesi and Chris Garratt)

Post modernism sends the contradictory message that though we are all one community, our individual cultures (“readings” of reality) make true “cross-cultural” communication essentially and practically impossible. That is, if meaning is relative to the individual within his or her community, or that meaning is relative to the community itself, then truly cross-cultural communication is not possible.

LeoPurdue’s comments on postmodernism are worth further reflection (from Reconstructing Old Testament Theology: After the Collapse of History, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005, pp. 278-279):

“The losses to human thinking and understanding, should the post modern agenda be fully implemented, would be enormous. Perhaps the most debilitating one is dispensing with any affirmation as true in any sense of the word. Postmodernists in religion are quick to deny this and reject the claim that they advocate nihilism. But one is hard pressed to see their arguments as anything but nihilistic, similar to the anti-Kantian view expressed by Schopenhauer in his understanding of blind will: there is no meaning whatsoever that may be claimed and attested as objectively and representationally true. For Schopenhauer, the human will seeks to represent the world experienced through the senses in orderly forms through which knowledge may be obtained that is objectively true.(1) Yet we simply construct our world through self-interest with intent to realize immediate goals that inevitably become conflicting and contradictory. Try as they must, humans cannot escape or abolish this will in the attempt to know what is objectively true. Ideas are nothing more than the epiphenomena of a blind and irrational will that expresses itself through self-constructed ideas and actions based on self-interest.”

“If the postmodernists and their intellectual predecessors, including the philosophers of the New Academy, the Romanticists, and possibly even Schopenhauer, are correct, then the interpreter, located in multidimensional contexts, determines meaning. Thus, there is no objective reality, and all assertions are ideological construals of self-interest. Nothing may be affirmed as true whether theological or ethical. There is no basis on which behavior may be judged as ethical or unethical. Yet if we abandon ethics, do we not allow marginals to continue in the squalor of degrading, humanity-denying subsistence or fail to oppose authoritarian regimes in their pillaging, destroying, and controlling, without so much as uttering even a whispered protest?”

“The most significant concern I have with postmodernism is that it is astendentious as the ideologies of texts and interpreters that it strongly criticizes. While no text or interpreter is capable of transcending self-interest, the biased character of much postmodernism is clear. Thus, the criticisms postmodernists raise about texts and interpreters, especially historical critics, are just as partisan, if not more so, since they operate with the deception that their approach transcends ideology. Historical critics may be suffering from self-delusion in attempting to interpret the text as “objectively” as possible, but at least they make the effort. Postmodernists do not. They choose, rather, to reify their own political, social, sexual, and theological affirmations in every text that is interpreted without any accountability to critical scrutiny. They have attempted to construct an approach to biblical interpretation that is ‘beyond criticism.'”

(1)Schopenhauer, Die Welt ale Wille undVorstellung

Revelation from God and the limits of the canon of Scripture (and the question of continuing revelation)

Does revelation communicated from God continue today? If so, is it inspired? And, if it is inspired, should we consider it infallible (since God cannot lie)? And, if it is infallible revelation from God should we not have it written down and included in the canon as inerrant Scripture?

To consider an answer to these questions, see illustration and brief discussion here:

Revelation and the limits of the canon of Scripture

Codex_Sinaiticus_open_full

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Solus Christus – Through Christ Alone

Faith Theological Seminary Christ & Culture Seminary, 2016
in preparation for the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation in 2017

Session 4 – Solus Christus – Through Christ Alone by Stephen Hague

(for pdf file, click here solus-christus-by-stephen-hague)

Contents

  1. Ancient heresies are mostly Christological 2
  2. Prior to, and the catalyst for, the Protestant Reformation we find in Roman Catholicism views that diminished Christ: consider his centrality and sufficiency. 3
  3. Modern heresies are also mostly Christological 4
  4. The diverse Jesuses of our times. 4
  5. Modern views that do the same: see Ligonier survey “Our favorite heresies”. 5
  6. The Biblical Theology of Christ Alone in Scripture. 7
  7. Biblical Texts on Christ. 10
  8. Historic Confessions of Faith. 12

Introduction

The historical problem of religious faith has always been the question, “Will you serve and worship the Baals or will your serve, love, and worship YHWH?” The problem Israel faced in the land of the promise was perpetually that of not just worshipping and trusting in the Canaanitish idols, but so often presuming to add them onto the worship of YHWH, the true and living God. It was a kind of Yahwism plus, or YHWH plus Baal (as trivializing as “Coke plus”). The belief that they could have it both ways reduced the Almighty Lord of all creation to the lowly place of one of the many hundreds of ANE deities. Israel’s consistent failure to accept the all-sufficiency of the one and only true God as their Lord was their well-chronicled, disastrous down-fall and what led to eventual exile from the land, and the loss of the Temple and the Ark of the covenant.

  • This syncretism of faith and works, God plus the Baals, God and other false theological systems has been at the heart of the spiritual battle in all the ages. In the human condition of rebels, all people are prone to reject the purity of biblical faith that trusts in the all-sufficiency of God the Creator-Redeemer, as we see in each of the issues related to the Solas of the Reformation. Is this any less so with regard to Christ in the NT church age?
  • If Christ is our promised salvation, our only righteousness, our only Savior, our only Deliver-Redeemer (Isa 59:20, 21; 27:9; Jer 31:33, 34; Rom 11:26), our friend, our brother, our only true King of all Kings (2 Sam 7:14; 1 Tim 6:15), the Alpha and the Omega (Rev 1:8), the firstborn over all creation (Col 1:15) the Firstborn from the dead (Rev 1:5; Col 1:18), our only true High Priest (Heb 8), our only perfect mediator and reconciler (Heb 9:24-28; Col 1:22), Lamb of God (Jn 1:29; Rev 15:3; 22:3), the true prophet (Mt 10:41), the truly wise man (Mtt 5-7; Rom 16:27), the true Shepherd (Jn 10:11), the divine warrior who conquers death and Satan, the promised branch (Isa 4:2; 11:1; Jer 23:5; 33:15; Zec 3:8; 6:12), the shoot (Is 11:1; 53:2), the Son of David (2 Sam 7), the Son of Man (Daniel 7, 70x in the Synoptics), the Son of God, the Word of God, the Last Adam,  the Suffering Servant (Mk 8:31; Mt 16:21-22; Lu 23:40-43; 24:13-21), and the Anointed One (Ps 2:2; Dan 9:25; Acts 4:26). If Christ is our only mediator between God and humankind, why then do we so frequently seek to add something to him and his works? The big question we need to be clear about is, why only Christ, why is he alone all-sufficient?
  • We have heard from the Reformers how vital it is that we retain Scripture alone as our only rule of faith and practice, from which we plainly learn that grace and faith alone are at the core of the biblical gospel. We understand that we must never add to this: for our authorial revelation from God there is no scripture plus tradition, there is no grace and faith plus works in God’s economy of redemption. Most assuredly, there is no option for Christ plus someone or something else. Especially since the Scripture shows us Christ as the center of all, the all-sufficient Mediator for those redeemed by grace through faith alone (Rom 5:2; Eph 2:8).
  • Why is it then that most all the major heresies ancient and modern (both in the church and beyond) so often are Christological, distorting the Christ of the Bible? Indeed, there have been countless (and blasphemous) efforts to syncretize Christ with many idols of the nations

A.                 Ancient heresies are mostly Christological

  • Christ plus Allah, or Buddah, or Confucious, or Christ plus the Dali Lama, or Christ plus Mary, the Mother of God, the “Mediatrix of all graces” between God and humanity (as in the Roman Catholic theology that the Reformers rejected).
  • An example of syncretism between African animistic religion and Christianity is found in Haitian Voodoo. There are the extreme movements like the Raelian Movement, that believe that members of the Elohim civilization sent different prophets, including Moses, Jesus, Buddha and many others whose role was to guide humanity and to prepare humans for the future, all of whom were created as a result of a sexual union between a human woman and one of the Elohim. To Raëlians, this was possible because the Elohim had advanced DNA synthesis and genetic engineering. Some 100,000 people believe this nonsense. Other syncretisms include movements like Bahai’i that believes through a series of divine messengers, including Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, Krishna, and Buddha religion was created to meet the needs of the time. We have also witnessed the revival of many ancient neopagan religions that draw from Judeo-Christian belief and syncretize it into various pagan belief systems, and this is particularly prevalent in the so-called alternative health movement and its many occultic beliefs and therapies often mixed up with Christian claims.
  • Each of these examples is quite obviously not Biblical Christianity, yet, consider the many aberrations in the history of the Christian church (that are still with us today) that we call Christian heresies, and particularly those concerning Christ Jesus:
  1. Docetists who believe that Jesus was divine, only appearing human
  2. Modalists who reject an orthodox understanding of the Trinity
  3. Arians and Ebionites who believe that Jesus was human but not divine
  4. Gnostics who believe that Jesus becomes a spiritual person, not physical
  5. Nestorians who deny that Jesus is both God and Man in a theanthropic union in his incarnation
  6. Socinians who believe that Jesus was only a man until his exaltation at his ascensionAll of these Christological errors had, of course, serious soteriological consequences (that we cannot explore here), but logically result from wrong premises about the very nature and character of God in Christ.

1.                  Prior to, and the catalyst for, the Protestant Reformation we find in Roman Catholicism views that diminished Christ: consider his centrality and sufficiency

  • There are numerous examples in RC theology that convey a mistaken view of Jesus and his works. Even though Christ is exalted to the highest place in the scheme of God’s purposes, we find a long-standing example of Christ plus something . . . That is, it is not enough to exalt the supremacy of Christ yet not his exclusivity and all-sufficiency.
  • Relics and indulgences
  • Mass
  • Christ + works (grace + works) + veneration of saints and icons, seemingly endless prayers on rosaries to Mary, and the salvific addition of suffering now and in Purgatory
    Christ + Mary: Mariolatry — The church plays a mediatorial role as does Mary through the sacraments in which baptism removes original sin, penance deals with sins after baptism.
  • Jesus plus in RC theology: as my Dictionary of Catholic Theology sates it,

“Our Lord is the one adequate Mediator and Redeemer, but He graciously allows others, and Mary in a special and unique way, to have a subordinate share in union with Him, in the work of redemption” (p. 550).

So God’s graces come via Christ through Mary to us, and so with such reasoning, there must be a corresponding new doctrine of her perpetual virginity and sinlessness (her “immaculate conception”). In any heresy, even though the supremacy of Christ may be extolled, his exclusivity is not, departing from the biblical portrayal of Christ and his gospel. As Stephen Charnock states:

Inconsideration of God, or misrepresentation of his nature, are as agreeable to corrupt nature, as the disowning the being of a God is contrary to common reason.[1]
He that denies any essential attribute may be said to deny the being of God.[2]

  • Some of these RC ideas continue today among the billion RC’s in the world, but there is also a bewildering variety of different Jesus’ believed in today that go way beyond the Christ of the Bible. As in ancient times, modern heresies and misrepresentations of God and Christ are also mostly Christological.

B.                  Modern heresies are also mostly Christological

1.                  The diverse Jesuses of our times

These various versions of Jesus all include a divergent addition that seriously departs from the Scriptural presentation of Jesus in the NT:

  • The unknowable, Totally Other God in Jesus (of Karl Barth’s Neo-orthodoxy, the most influential in the twentieth century)
  • Jesus of the Kerygma (of whatever is preached “word” and existential encounter)
  • Jesus the Liberal (of the new religion of Liberal Historical-Critical reconstructions)
  • The dialectical Jesus (of the Process theologians)
  • Jesus the political revolutionary or social revolutionary (of Marxism and Communism)
  • Jesus the hippie and homosexual (of the 1960’s sexual-political revolution)
  • Jesus my buddy and fellow traveler and psychotherapist (of our self-esteemed, psychologized generation)
  • Jesus the hypothesis (of the critical scholars)
  • Jesus the schemer who faked his death (of the book the Passover Plot)
  • Jesus the liberal Jew (of the secular Jews)
  • Jesus the Process theologian (of the Process Theologians)
  • Jesus the contemplative mystic (of the monks and ascetics)
  • Jesus the ethicist (of the moralizers)
  • Jesus, the Christ of Faith (of the History of Religionists)
  • Jesus of “History” (“historical Jesus” of the historical revisionists)
  • Jesus the existentialist (of Bultmann’s existential encounter)
  • Jesus the failed eschatologist blunderer (death was failure)
  • Jesus the Apocalyptist (of the doomsayers and dooms-dayers)
  • Jesus the secular humanist (the exemplar of right living)
  • Jesus of the mystery cults and religions (of the Gnostics)
  • Jesus of the Gnostic myths (as in the DaVinci Code)
  • Jesus of “myth” (the mythological Jesus)
  • The demythologized Jesus (of the History of Religionists)
  • Jesus the peasant and vegetarian-proletariat (of the Vegans)
  • Jesus the nice (effeminate) middle-class teacher of brotherly love and humanitarian ethics, who wandered about in clean white robes spreading good cheer (of the liberal middle-class Protestants)
  • Jesus of the “upper story” (the leap of faith in Jesus, a Nonrational and contentless encounter with Jesus which is a non-propositional, experience Jesus in your heart of many Evangelicals). As I heard recently, that a well-known pastor is teaching that we do not need the Bible, we just need a relationship with Jesus!

These alternative Jesuses all raise the same question we began with: will you serve God or the Baals? They all assume that the Jesus of the NT is inadequate or insufficient.

2.                  Modern views that do the same: see Ligonier survey “Our favorite heresies”

  • There is quit a controversy, even among Evangelicals, that denies the necessity of a substitutionary atonement. We hear that a mainline denomination has removed the lines we just sang from the hymn, “In Christ Alone”: “Till on that cross as Jesus died, The wrath of God was satisfied”).
  • But the question is, can God simply forgive sin without any atonement for sin? If we trace out the entire story-line biblically, it becomes clear that the human condition of total moral depravity (guilt in Adam) and God’s holy and glorious character require of necessity a Savior who is uniquely qualified to bear God’s wrath out of his loving mercy. According to the recent Lifeway and Ligonier survey (“Heresies We Love,” CT, Oct, 2016), 48% of Evangelicals do not believe that all sin deserves God’s punishment, yet this heresy flies-in-the-face of the entire testimony of the story-line of Scripture. Even though 74% of Evangelicals also believe that individuals must contribute to their own salvation, this contradicts the entire story-line of Scripture, wherein we read in “Rom 3:10-11 (NASB95) as it is written,

“There is none righteous, not even one;

There is no one who understands; no one who seeks God.

  • Since no guilty person can declare themselves righteous, nor make themselves righteous (indeed a serious logical contradiction), only one who is entirely innocent of all guilt is able to provide a satisfactory solution. This is why the only solution is in God Himself, and this is why there can be no other Savior, but One who alone is righteous, who is a human descendent of Eve to whom the promise was given; that Someone in their line of progeny would come and crush the serpent’s head and would reverse the curse of death and bring them to life again.
  • Once again, this is why we must correctly identify the Promised One when he comes, and not misrepresent who he is once he does. The history of the world revolves around this anticipation and supreme question, the question that the Old and New Testaments answer: “Who is this man?” . . . “What kind of man is this? . . . that even the winds and the waves, the devils, and the dead obey his voice! (Mtt 8:27).
  • For the many (majority today) who follow a merely human Jesus [as noted in the many Jesuses I listed], and oftentimes weak and sinful Jesuses (they are all ones made in our image), and for the 71% of Evangelicals who apparently believe that Jesus was the first being created by God, we propose that it would be impossible for the Savior of humankind and creation to be a mere created mortal! Indeed, one who is created could never bring redemption to the creation, since its Redeemer must be able to sovereignly reign over creation and have the omnipotent power to reverse his own curse and supernaturally restore every atom to his glorious and holy purposes; only one who is eternal and sovereign and without sin altogether is able and sufficient in himself alone to provide the solution in his most holy and glorious person. This is expressed in Col 2:

Colossians 2:9–10 (NASB95) For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form,         10 and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority;

Colossians 1:13–29 (NASB95) 13 For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, 14  in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. 15   He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16   For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. 17   He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. 18   He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. 19   For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, 20 and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.

C.                  The Biblical Theology of Christ Alone in Scripture

  • If the central theme of Scripture is redemption, then the central Person of Scripture is Christ Jesus who is The Alpha and the Omega, the beginning of creation, who sustains it now and redeems it. He is the hermeneutical key to all of Scripture and reality; there can be none other, since he is the True Prophet/Priest/King/Wise man and fulfills all the promises and typologies in the OT as the Last Adam who completes both the Creation-covenant and Redemption-covenant as our Mediator.
  • In order to get the bird’s eye view of Jesus in the scope of biblical revelation, and to further answer the question of “Why only Christ? Or, “why Christ alone is the only way”? Why do we believe that Christ alone is all-sufficient for salvation and to fulfill God’s purposes?
  • To address this, we must consider the whole narrative of the story-line of the Bible’s Theology (Biblical Theology). This story begins and ends in the Paradise of God’s glorious and holy presence. This presence is in the fullest sense a covenantal relationship between God and his creation. In Eden, that relationship was a creational one within the moral context of God’s glorious perfections; it involved many wondrous qualities, tasks, and conditions. The conditions were in part probationary – a testing – of sorts, in which our fist parents failed miserably. The consequences of that failure were necessary, since all creation and creational activity were within the context of God’s holiness, glory, and love.
  • It is important to define these vitally important characteristics of God (since they are often collapsed into one another):

holiness: the [holy-separate]sinless perfections (purity) of the attributes of God’s glory (his essential being). This is about WHAT he is like.

glory: the [holy-separate]sinless perfections (magnificence) of God’s essential being. This is about  WHO HE IS.

love: God is love, characterizing all of his perfect motives and the perfect expression and application of his holiness and glory in all circumstances for all people (in judgment and mercy).

  • Tracing the following story, we find a story-line of redemption through the entire Old and New Testaments, and we understand the BT of covenant-realities in which God of necessity must hold his creation accountable for all immoral, unholy choices, SINCE HE IS HOLY. And, since God requires covenant-obedience from humanity as the only proper way to live in relationship to his glory (in his glorious presence), then a human must ultimately satisfy this demand, since it stems directly from God’s identity and the identity of humans created in his moral image. It also quickly becomes plain by logical necessity that only God could provide the remedy for this fall from compliance to God’s holy law and glorious presence: that is, a holy and sufficient reversal through redemption, purchasing back those cast into bondage. As Stephen Wellum states it:

o   “Ultimately, the only hope for Adam’s helpless race is found in another Adam, the last Adam, who unlike the first Adam and the entire human race, obeys, and who accomplishes in his life, death, and resurrection our redemption and justification.”[3]

  • Thus, the consequences of the Edenic failure was both wrath and mercy; God demonstrated both his perfect holiness and glory, as well as his perfect compassion, by immediately bringing a judgment curse on them and the earth, while simultaneously promising mercy in redemption (the “first gospel” Proto Euangelion of Gen 3:15). This promise of death and life is the hermeneutical key to all of following revelation in Scripture. This is the Messianic key to everything, as expounded from this point in the story-line unto the end of the age as described in John’s Revelation.
  • The response of God to Adam and Eve is both a promise of judgment and a new covenant of redemption. God’s glorious and holy character necessitates judgment on rebellion, and yet his holy love is free to show mercy. This is the origin of the only two “races” on earth: those who are under the curse “in Adam” and those who are under grace in “the promised seed.”
  • This also explains why it must be a human to satisfy God’s covenant requirements, since he originally created that context for joyful human obedience and love before the Fall. Only a divine person, a holy and perfect human person can fulfil the holy requirements of God for obedience to his covenant of life. That is why only Christ is all-sufficient to reverse the curse of death, since as divine (God incarnate) he represents humanity as a human person who is God in all of his holiness/glory and divinity. His character and his work he shares with no-one. This is why there can be NO Christ plus something else; not even his wonderful mother can have as the Catholic Dictionary stated, “a subordinate share in union with Him, in the work of redemption.”
  • This is the context for the line-promise of a new humanity of those who will be in grace and experience the mercy of God. This line of the promise would necessarily be a human, a man, a seed in the line of Eve who will be bruised, yet would be a victor over the deceiving Serpent, reversing the curse on the creation and their bodies, securing redemption for both the earth and the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. This profound beauty of love from God for his own is the gospel thread we find in every book of the Bible (Rom 5.14 — 12

“Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned— 13 for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.”)

  • This line-promise can only be realized by One Person who is wholly perfect and sinless. By necessity his works must be holy and perfect to be sufficient to fulfill the original Adamic role of complete compliance to God’s holy and glorious character in the original Covenant of Creation. This logical necessity for a representative, One who is without blemish, is inescapable, since no imperfect, unholy, sinful substitute to stand in the place of sinners could ever satisfy God’s holy requirements. To be perfectly just, God must only allow the One who is without sin to pay the penalty for sin, in order to reverse the curse. That is, there can be no final balancing of the moral books in God’s universe unless One who is not under God’s wrath bears the full weight of that wrath in the place of those who cannot do so themselves. This is the marvel of the love of God demonstrated in Christ incarnate, fully human and divine, and what unites the entire story-line of Scripture.
  • The simple hermeneutical key to all of redemption history is the immediate context of every text, in which everything points both back to the past new-covenant-promise of redemption (Gen 3:5) and forward to its future fulfillment. Every biblical text has its context in this story-line of the redemption-promises of God, as well as the necessary eventuality of judgment.
  • From creation to new creation, God has a purpose and a plan for all creation, and his own way to complete his task. As Creator, he alone can be the Redeemer. This is the context of Jesus coming – as God incarnate, to assume in himself the full weight of his own glory, the penalty for guilt. The logic is irrepressible that God alone is sufficient for this task of redemption, and once Scripture establishes that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah promised to Adam and Eve, we know that there can be no other.
  • If that be the case, then here can be no Christ plus something . . . There can be no grace plus works (or penance, or baptism, or Masses, or indulgences, or relics, or anything) for those he vicariously assumes of their guilt and God’s wrath. Shedd writes, “God is the offended party, and he is the one who reconciles the offended party.”[4] There can be no forgiveness or remission of any penalty without proper propitiation (of the wrath of his holiness). There is no remission or release from penalty without full payment of the penalty. That is, there is no arbitrary remission of the penalty in God’s universe, in Scripture or in life. God would not be just, nor would a human judge be just, if crimes were simply pardoned without reason and just cause!
  • In the death of Christ, holiness and love are equally meted out, when “righteousness and peace, justice and mercy kiss each other” (Ps 85:10). No other humans, no saints, not Mary, no priests, nor sinners can fulfill this vicarious, propitiatory atonement which is efficacious and substitutionary, appeasing God’s wrath through penal, forensic purchase and ransom (or expiation for redemption), making restitution that sufficiently satisfies God’s holy standards and glory. This is why and how only Christ’s perfect righteousness is then imputed to the unrighteous by grace through faith and they are pardoned.
  • Lastly, this is why the atonement is of no value without faith; in itself it has no intrinsic power to save, and also why can be no other person involved in the dispensing of the grace of God in turning away his wrath and freeing us from guilt and the power of sin.
  • In conclusion, justice is necessary because of God’s glory, while mercy is God’s free gift of adoption into his covenant of redemption which flows out of his exceedingly great hesed love. That is why the answer to all our questions is SOLUS CHRISTUS! And, it is why we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block and the Gentiles foolishness” ( 1 Cor 1:23). “And according to Paul’s custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.’” (Acts 17:3).

D.                 Biblical Texts on Christ

Acts 4:12 (NASB95)  “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”

Acts 20:28  “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.

1 Jn 2:2 (NASB95) and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.

1 Jn 4:10 (NASB95) In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

1 Cor 6:20 (NASB95) For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.

Gal 3:13 (NASB95) Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”—

Eph 5:2 and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.

Heb 1:1–3 (NASB95) God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways,2  in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. 3  And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

Heb 9:12 and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.

Col 1:16–17 (NASB95)  For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. 17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.

Col 1:16–17 (NASB95) For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. 17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.

Col 2:13-14 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made youd alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.e

Eph 1:9–10 (NASB95) He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him. 10 with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him

Eph 5:2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Rom 3:24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;

1 Jn 2:2 and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world

1 Jn 4:10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

1 Pet 1:2  according to the foreknowledge of God the Father and set apart by the Spirit for obedience and for sprinkling with the blood of Jesus Christ. May grace and peace be multiplied to you.

1 Pet 1:18-19 knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, 19 but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.

Rom 8:1–4 (NASB95) Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2  For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.3  For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Rom 8:28–39 (NASB95) And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. 29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; 30 and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.31  What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? 33 Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; 34 who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.35       Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 Just as it is written,“For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

1 Pet 2:24 and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.

1 Thess 5:10 who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him.

Heb 9:26 Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.

Heb 10:12 but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD,

Heb 2:17 Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.

Defining the terms of redemption is essential to Biblical and Systematic Theology:

  • Propitiation
  • Vicarious at atonement
  • Efficacious
  • Ransom (Mtt 20:28)
  • Substitutionary
  • Penal
  • Reconciliation
  • Purchase
  • Redeem
  • Restitution
  • Satisfaction

If time allowed, we should consider also the many confessions of faith over the centuries of the church that beautifully summarize these concerns regarding the absolute supremacy of Jesus Christ.

E.                  Historic Confessions of Faith

Westminster Confession of Faith:

Larger Catechism

  1. 9. How many persons are there in the Godhead? A. There be three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost;n and these three are one true, eternal God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory; although distinguished by their personal properties.o
  2. 11. How doth it appear that the Son and the Holy Ghost are God equal with the Father? A. The Scriptures manifest that the Son and the Holy Ghost are God equal with the Father, ascribing unto them such names,s attributes,t works,u and worship,w as are proper to God only.
  3. 36. Who is the Mediator of the covenant of grace? A. The only Mediator of the covenant of grace is the Lord Jesus Christ,x who, being the eternal Son of God, of one substance and equal with the Father,y in the fullness of time became man,z and so was and continues to be God and man, in two entire distinct nature, and one person, forever.a.
  4. 1 Tim. 2:5. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. John 14:6. Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.  Acts 4:12. Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.

Christ alone is Mediator

Westminster Confession of Faith (A.D. 1647),

WCF ch 21.2 Religious worship is to be given to God, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; and to Him alone;1 not to angels, saints, or any other creature:2 and, since the fall, not without a Mediator; nor in the mediation of any other but of Christ alone.3

1Mt 4:10; Jn 5:23; 2 Cor 13:14; 2Col 2:18; Rev 19:10; Rom 1:25; 3Jn 14:6; 1 Tim 2:5; Eph 2:18; Col 3:17.

WCF Ch 8I

  1. The Son of God, the second person in the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance, and equal with the Father, did, when the fulness of time was come, take upon him man’s nature, with all the essential properties and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin: being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost in the womb of the virgin Mary, of her substance. So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion.  Which person is very God and very man, yet one Christ, the only mediator between God and man.

Belgic Confession of Faith:

We believe that Jesus Christ, according to his divine nature, is the only Son of God— eternally begotten, not made or created,for then he would be a creature.He is one in essence with the Father; coeternal; the exact image of the person of the Father and the “reflection of God’s glory,”13 being like the Father in all things. Jesus Christ is the Son of God not only from the time he assumed our nature but from all eternity, as the following testimonies teach us when they are taken together. Moses says that God created the world;14 and John says that all things were created through the Word,15 which he calls God. The apostle says that God created the world through the Son.16 He also says that God created all things through Jesus Christ.17 And so it must follow that the one who is called God, the Word, the Son, and Jesus Christ already existed before creating all things. Therefore the prophet Micah says that Christ’s origin is “from ancient days.”18 And the apostle says that the Son has “neither beginning of days nor end of life.”19 So then, he is the true eternal God, the Almighty, whom we invoke, worship, and serve.

13 Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3 14 Gen. 1:1 15 John 1:3 16 Heb. 1:2 17 Col. 1:16 18 Mic. 5:2 19 Heb. 7:3

London Baptist Confession:

“Christ, and Christ alone, is fitted to be mediator between God and man. He is the prophet, priest and king of the church of God” (8.9). .

[1] Stephen Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996, two volumes in one, vol. 1, p. 90.

[2] Charnock, Existence, p. 89.

[3] Stephen Wellum, “Solus Christus: What the Reformers Taught and Why It Still Matters,” SBJT 19.4 (2015): 98.

[4] Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, Vol 1, p. 399