Musings On Harnack & Barth

Adolph Harnack gave the Church a immanent and historical Jesus without a transcendent and ascended Christ. Karl Barth responded by giving the Church a transcendent and supra-historical Christ without a immanent historical Jesus. Harnack was all history and no kerygma. Barth was all kerygma and no history. The result of each was a skewed christology that resulted in each school, though at severe odds with one another, embracing a subjective Jesus.

Form Of Subscription Debate

“The first task of any fascist reformation is to discredit the authority of the past, and this was the top priority of the New Left….Received wisdom, dogma, and ‘ritualistic language,’ Tom Hayden wrote in his 1961 ‘Letter to the New (Young)Left,’ would be swept aside by a revolutionary spirit that ‘finds no rest in conclusions (and in which)answers are seen as provisional, to be discarded in the face of new evidence or changed conditions.

J. Goldberg
Liberal Fascism — pg. 172

In the Christian Reformed Church there is currently discussion swirling on the 2005 proposal to substantially alter (some would contend functionally eliminate) the Form of Subscription. For those who are unaware of what the Form of Subscription is, you should know that it is a document that office bearers in the CRC sign, communicating their intent to be loyal to and to defend the three forms of unity. The intent of the Form of subscription is to preserve doctrinal unity in the denomination. In 2005 an adventurous committee was assigned to give the form of subscription language a update, but instead what transpired was a proposal to reinvent the wheel. The committee was assigned a wax and polish job and returned instead with a completely different vehicle.

The reason that I provide that Goldberg quote in connection with this is that when one reads the draft proposal on the table in has a good bit of the kind of smell in it that reflects what Goldberg is getting at in the quote. I do see in the committees work a (perhaps unintentional) discrediting of the authority of the past.

For example the committee can write,

Our committee believes that from 1976 on, the history of the FOS indicates that the first assumption remains true (that a church’s identity and mission arise out of a specific heritage) while the second (that a regulatory instrument is needed to keep us orthodox) is increasingly being called into question. Increased cultural and ethnic diversity, the increase in new church plants, and the cultural moment often described as postmodernism are among the factors raising these questions.

Notice that ‘changed conditions’ are convincing the committee that the Form of subscription and the authority of the past it represents must be severely altered. One wonders if this is the first time since 1619 that our conditions have so changed that it requires largely gutting what amounts to a simple promissory note to be faithful to the Gospel as expressed in the three forms of unity. What has changed so much in our conditions that promising to be faithful to the Gospel is now some kind of barrier? Further, what is the present Form of Subscription a barrier to? I wonder how it is that the requirement for office bearers to sign the present Form of Subscription gets in the way of ministering the Gospel?

Well, having re-read the committee report I have decided to tackle this issue in a different, and more thorough fashion. Stay tuned for a return to this subject.

Also, quickly, please note I am not trying to accuse anybody of being self-consciously fascist. I am just noting the similarities of approaches between what Goldberg sees in the political realm and what I am seeing in a theological realm. Perhaps those similarities will become more clear as I continue to deal with this.

Christ Died For God

“Indeed, if one reflects even for a moment on the sinful condition of the race vis-a-vis the holy character of God, it will become clear that its Godward reference was the cross’s primary reference. The Bible plainly teaches the doctrine of the wrath of God. It teaches that God is angry with the sinner, and that His holy outrage against the sinner must be assuaged if the sinner is to escape his due punishment. It is for this reason that a death occurred at Calvary. When we look at Calvary and behold the Savior dying for us, we should see in his death not first our salvation but our damnation being borne and carried away by Him!”

Dr. Robert L. Reymond
A New Systematic Theology Of The Christian Faith — pg. 639

There is a bit of a contradiction in this otherwise fine quote from Dr. Reymond. Early on in the quote he says that, ‘it will become clear that its Godward reference was the cross’s primary reference.’ Yet later Dr. Reymond can say of the cross work, ‘we should see in his death not first our salvation but our damnation being borne and carried by him.’

Because Dr. Reymond was correct the first time Dr. Reymond should have said in the later quote something to the effect that, we should see in his death, not first our salvation, nor even first our damnation being borne and carried by him, though those are both fundamentally true, rather what we should recognize in his death first, precisely because Christ’s cross work was Godward in its primary reference, is that Christ was clearing any doubt about the Character of the Father being both just and merciful. In the death of Christ the Father’s justice is upheld regarding His opposition to sin thus showing that He does not leave guilt unpunished. In the death of Christ the Father’s mercy is revealed in the reality that God, in the incarnate second person of the Trinity, would rather take upon Himself His own just wrath then visit that Wrath upon His own people. At the cross we should see in Christ’s death first the vindication of God’s name and then and only then should we see that in the vindication of God’s name the Father showers the Son by giving Him a people (Isaiah 53:11).

In short the cross is not primarily about us. Christ died for God before He died for us. To be sure our fate was tied up in His but the blessing that we receive from Christ’s death is a blessing because the Father was the Son’s primary consideration.

Now this reality blows holes in most evangelistic efforts which often tend to communicate that people were at the center of Christ’s death. Christ died for people, or so we often say, and that is true in a secondary sense. But if Christ died first and foremost for people then it seems what we are saying is that the chief end of Christ was to glorify people so that He might fully enjoy them forever. Yet we know that even in the death of Christ the chief end of Christ as 100% man was to glorify God.

The reason that this idea needs to be trumpeted is that we have tended to make the good the enemy of the best in our evangelism. Because we tend to think that the death of Christ was first and foremost about us and forget how God’s glorious name was first and foremost we tend also to diminish God’s glorious name in how we craft the message. Because we tend to think that the death of Christ was first and foremost about us we tend to craft a Gospel message that is more sensitive to fallen sinners and their feelings then a Gospel message that is reflective of the work of Christ who prioritized the Father’s desires. I sometimes wonder if it is the case that because we think the Son’s death was first and foremost about us that we end up communicating a Gospel that has God prioritizing sinners repenting over the character of His name being upheld. (Yes, Yes, I know …. there shouldn’t be that kind of dichotomy in our thinking since the only way sinners will genuinely repent is if God’s name is upheld, but such are the times that such dichotomies seem to exist in people’s thinking.)

Another thing we should interject here before we finish is the idea that it is not the case that in the Christ’s atonement the Father was changed from being mean to being nice. We must remember that it was the love of Father that sent the Son. The atonement did not cause God to be gracious but rather was indicative of the already existing character of our eternally gracious God. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. The love of God for His glory required His Holy opposition to sin. The love of God for His justice visited His punishment for sin upon Christ. The Love of God for a company to publish His glorious character sent Christ to be our propitiation. Herein is Love indeed!

The atonement was the revelation of a Father’s love who loved His glory so much that He would rather win a people by bearing His own punishment in the incarnate second person of the Trinity then have the character of His mercy come into question. His love for His own glory became the overflow for our rescue.

Galatians 4:27 and Eschatology

“For it is written:

Rejoice O barren one, you who do not bear;
Break forth and shout, you who have no birth pangs;
For more are the children of the desolate than of her who has a husband.”

This text is taken from Isaiah 54 where the prophet, by prophetic vision, sees the consequences of Zion’s Babylonian captivity. The captivity is tantamount to a barrenness where Zion is bereft of all her children. In the midst of this misery, Isaiah brings a message of promise and cheer. Captive Zion, though barren, will yet be magnificently fruitful.

The Apostle Paul quotes this passage and finds its fulfillment in the book of Galatians to the growing Church (Jerusalem that is above). The Apostle cites the passage in connection with his ongoing dispute with the Judiazers who are pushing the Galatian church to return to the captivity and bondage of the Law. The Apostle sees that this return would likewise be a return to sterility and barrenness. The barrenness that is the law is removed and in the Church there are children galore. It is in the Church where the vision of Isaiah is fulfilled.

There is one more fact I want to look at here. I wonder how it is that this passage isn’t appealed to as a Post-millennial passage? Here the prophecy is that ‘the desolate has many more children than she who has a husband.’ In the context of the passage there is a clear and ongoing anti-thesis going on between the children of the promise and the children of the flesh. That same antithesis is relevant to the just quoted snippet. What the Apostle is saying is that the children of the promise (desolate Sarah — see context) are more than the children of the she who has a husband and who produces children according to the flesh. The prophecy suggests that numerically speaking the number who are called of God are greater than the number who are not. This promise should give us great hope in our evangelism. God’s word has spoken that the Church is such a fecund wife that she will have more children then those who oppose her.

The Gospel will go forward. Great will be the number of the children of the Jerusalem from above and the size of the tent in which the children of the promise will inhabit will need be extended so that there is room for all the children. Indeed, that tent will be expanded so it covers the whole earth.

No Longer A Center To Hold

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

Wm. Butler Yeats

Over at the Bayly Brothers blog they are arguing against egalitarianism. In the recent past they have argued, along with J. P. Moreland, that the Church is over-committed to the Bible. At Greenbaggins it is always Federal Vision and its errors that have the Church in grave peril. At Heidleblog people who hold to post-millenialism are said to have the same eschatological doctrine of the Pharisees. Post-millenialists talk about the lack of testosterone in the diet of a-millenialists. At Mablog Wilson repeatedly has his spin-cycle in full gear against the ‘TR’s’. Federo Schism is always happy to tell us the evil machinations of Christ Church in Moscow Idaho while many people root him on. Westminster East is in danger of going ‘fundamentalistic’ according to the ‘Save Our Seminary’ website, while those who like Westminster East just the way it is insists that those who oppose it are closet liberals. Natural theology tries to make a comeback while MARS Seminary seeks to shoot it out of the air before it can take wing.

Wilkins has fled the PCA. Horne calls his enemies everything but ‘white men.’ In the Pacific Northwest Presbytery of the PCA it sounds like they are beginning to investigate Peter Leithart for doctrinal inaccuracies (Can Robert Rayburn be far behind?). James Jordan’s vitriol is so acidic that Terrorists are trying to figure out how to bottle it so they can wipe out a few cities. Westminster West hates Theonomy and Theonomists don’t think to highly of Westminster West. Reformed people are now beginning earnest arguments over whether union with Christ is logically prior to justification or justification is prior to union with Christ (yes, there are real implications). The Enlightenment Theologians (Rationalists) in Reformedom can’t live with the Romantic Theologians (Romanticists) and the Romanticists swear that Ichabod is written over the Rationalist denominations.

Examples could be repeated ad nauseam reciting the conflict that is currently taking place in the Reformed World. Maybe it has always been this way, but my instincts tell me that this seems to be time where the center cannot hold. Maybe all of this is the legacy of the Postmodern virus which has the capability of eating away at meta-narratives, leaving in its wake division among people who used to be able to live with their differences. People don’t typically know this but it used to be the case that if you were attached to a Reformed denomination you could walk into one of those congregations anywhere in these United States and you would find little difference in the liturgy and service of that worship. Post-modernism has made it so every Church’s liturgy and service are as different as the different warring parties in every denomination. Maybe it is more benign then that. Maybe it is as simply a case where we are living in a time that is calling for the Reformed faith to be re-interpreted, and re-applied. There are always people who prefer the status quo to any perceived innovation. Maybe it is as simple as our ability to instantly communicate has caused us to realize just how many differences we have — differences we otherwise wouldn’t have known that we had if it weren’t for the ability to instantly communicate.

People often don’t realize the kinds of times they are living in until they are already on the other side of those times. I would have to say, like it or not, that our times are times for fighting. It is quickly getting to the point where there is no broad consensus that can be appealed to in order to find compromise on a host of different issues. This is a time where a new consensus must be created and not when consensus is returned to. Inevitably that means conflict.

I have to believe that once all this washes out the Reformed World in America is going to look very differently than it currently does.

By way of postscript, I can’t help but note that in the 19th century the warfare and division of denominations in America served as harbinger for the coming warfare and division in the Nation as a whole. Sometimes I wonder if we are on the edge of that kind of cultural division.

Not a prediction… just an observation.