Sunday, February 21, 2021

Letham and Theosis

7. It is union with Christ, with his person. This goes beyond the indwelling of the Spirit in the church and its members, … (Robert Letham, Systematic Theology, p. 787)

This goes beyond communion. It entails union. It is more than participation in the communicable attributes of God. It is not to be restricted to union with righteousness, goodness, holiness, or truth, neither is it union with the benefits of Crist, as if it were union with the doctrine of sanctification. It is union with Christ. Moreover, the humanity of Christ were not simply united to some of God’s attributes; if it were, we would be left with an extreme form of Nestorianism. (p. 788)

Athanasius’s main term for expressing this is μέτοχοι (partakers). (p. 771)

The Eastern Orthodox teaching of theosis teaches that the godly will become partakers of the divine energies in what the western churches call glorification. Utilizing the essence/ energies distinction, theosis, while speaking of partaking of the divine, is not like fusing into the divine like a drop of water returns to the sea. Rather, it deals only with the "energies" of God. In Eastern Orthodoxy, that is basically stating that Man will become as close to the divine as creaturely possible.

The problem with theosis is that it remains an ontological category. This is compounded by Robert Letham who seems to embrace some version of theosis, which he insists is more than what the Reformed teaches about union with Christ. This is disturbing especially when he quotes Athanasius in his use of μέτοχοι (metachoi), as opposed to 2 Peter 1:4 where the term is κοινωνοι (koinōnoi). As seen in 2 Peter 1:4 therefore which deals with the divine, the use of koinōnoi rather than metachoi seems to indicate that the partaking is more of a perfect communion between two people, rather than any form of ontological unity.

It is for such reasons that Letham's embrace of some type of theosis is to be rejected. While not the same as ontological fusion, the ontological focus of theosis should make it unpalatable to all who hold to the Creator-creature distinction.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

On the Ravi Zacharias scandal

In light of the Ravi Zacharias scandal, I have written my thoughts on the issue here. An excerpt:

Ravi Zacharias was a prominent Evangelical apologist and founder of the ministry that bore his name (Ravi Zacharias International Ministries – RZIM). His global reach means that his ministry was known worldwide, regardless of the merits or demerits of Zacharias’ apologetics. Zacharias passed away last year in 2020, seemingly a godly man who has reached many people for Christ. However, shocking revelations of sexual abuse have surfaced, and an investigation that has just been completed by Miller — Martin was shocking in its validation of the credible nature of many of these accusations. RZIM has in turn wrote an open letter apologizing for the misconduct of its founder, promising restitution and reform. These revelations have troubled many Evangelicals. With Zacharias’ reach being global in nature, the revelations of his immorality have resonated around the world.


Monday, February 08, 2021

Letham and Romans 5:12-21

Moreoever, Hodge misread [sic] Romans 5. Paul is not making an exact parallel between Adam and Christ. There are two reasons for this. First, there is a clear antithesis between the two. "The free gift is not like the trepass" (v. 15); "the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin" (v. 16). Second, the effect of what Christ has done far outweighs what Adam did. The argument is from the lesser to the greater. (Robert Letham, Systematic Theology, p. 392)

It is not a parallel; it is a wildly uneven contrast, the only common factors being the respective heads of the solidaric groups and the far-reaching outcomes of what they did. Shedd points to the different kinds of union that Hodge missed: Adam's sin was grounded on a natural union, in contrast to the union with Christ. All people were in Adam when he disobeyed; not all were in Christ when he obeyed. All are propagated from Adam; no one is propagated from Christ. Union in Adam is substantial and physical; in Christ, it is spiritual and mystical. In Adam, it is by creation; in Christ, by regeneration. (p. 393)

Romans 5:12-21 is an important text showing the contrast between the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace. More specifically, it contrasts the heads of the two respective covenants, showing that Christ succeeded where Adam failed. It stands to reason therefore that there should be some discussion of the passage when one deals with the Covenant of Works. Unfortunately, Robert Letham as a monocovenantalist sees the passage as only pertinent to the sinfulness of man, and not the Covenant of Works.

In his interpretation of the text of Romans 5:112-21, Letham disagreed with the strong parallelism theologians like Charles Hodge make between Adam and Christ. According to Letham, there is no exact parallel because (1) "there is a clear antithesis between the two"; and (2) "what Christ has done outweighs what Adam did." Thus, Romans 5:12-21 shows a contrast, not a parallel, between Adam and Christ.

In response, it must be asked what the point of the parallel between Adam and Christ is in Covenant Theology. The parallel drawn between Adam and Christ, which we see in the text, is between Adam and Christ as federal heads. We see this representative nature in Romans 5:12 where "death came into the world through one man" and in verse 15 where "the grace of God and the free gift" came through the one man Jesus Christ. Thus, the representative natures of Adam and Christ are plainly established in the text itself.

How however do these representatives work? In the dispute between those who hold to mediate and immediate imputation of sin, the dispute is between those who believe that sin is imputed to man because of natural generation (mediate), or directly by God through covenant (immediate). Translated to the notion of representation, the realist interpretation holds that Adam is representative of humanity because we are all descendents of Adam. In other words, it is not primarily because of covenant that all of humanity is considered sinful. Adam is representative of humanity because he is literally our father (this view goes well with traducianism). Letham holds to some version of this view, basing representation upon "the natural, seminal relationship Adam sustained to the race" (p. 396).

It must be said in response that the seminal representation view has a problem with the person of Jesus Christ. Although he was born of the virgin Mary, Mary did contribute biologically to his body and thus His human nature. No matter how one cuts it, Christ is at least partially the biological descendent of Adam, so how can Christ be considered sinlesss according to this realist view? One can of course assert that it is through the paternal line that imputation of sin proceeds, but are not men and women equally descendents of their parents, since we are talking about biology? An assertion of patriachial descent of sin in a biological manner seems absolutely arbitrary, and misogynistic. Men and women are equally human, thus this view of the transmission of sin does not make sense.

With regards to Letham's two points, it should be pointed out that a "clear antithesis" does not disprove a strong parallel betweeen Adam and Christ. After all, if a contrast disproves parallelism, then how can Scripture be correct in saying of Jesus "Out of Egypt I called my son" (Mt. 2:15), citing Hosea 11:1, when Hosea 11:2 speaks of the disobedience of Israel after the Exodus while Jesus always obeyed? Can we point out the parallelism between Jesus' temptation in the wilderness with Israel's temptation in the same wilderness, noting that Israel failed in the wilderness while Jesus succeeded? Can Jesus be said to be the true Israel since he is so unlike Israel on the matter of obeying God?

It is of course true that there is a "how much more" element to Jesus' reward. However, that itself does not disprove a strong parallel, in the same way as the reward of the New Jerusalem with the Tree of Life (Rev. 22:2) does not disprove its parallelism with the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden. After all, parallelism shows only how one correlates or corresponds in some manner to the other, without all elements being the same.

Letham's rejection of covenant parallelism here is therefore untenable. The parallels between the two representatives are of the parallels between the two covenants of which they are their heads. As opposed to (WGT) Shedd, it must be pointed out that Adam's sin is not grounded on a natural union, since Christ is sinless. All people were not in Adam when he disobeyed. But rather, all men are represented in Adam our federal head in Adam's disobedience. Thus, all believers are represented in Christ our federal head as Christ obeyed. Union in Adam is not substantial and physical, since the ground of union with Adam is being under his federal headship which is patrilinal and thus Jesus is not under Adam's headship. Union in Christ is likewise being under his federal headship, which is through adoption as sons of God.

Sunday, February 07, 2021

Letham, the Pactum Salutis, and ESS

Martin writes of "the will of the Father" and "the will of the Son." However, the Trinity is simple, with one indivisible will. (Robert Letham, Systematic Theology, p. 435)

There are two kinds of covenant in the Bible. The first kind is a one-sided imposition. Applied to the relations of the Father and the Son (leaving the Holy Spirit aside!), this would mean subordination. The other covenant type is a quid pro quo, a voluntary contract between two or more persons. This requires the parties to be autonomous agents. Applied to the Trinity, this type of covenant implies that each person has his own will, entailing something approaching Tritheism. Both of these elements are present in the pactum salutis. In short, in constructions like this its compatibility with classic Trinitarian theology is questionable. It veers towards subordinationism or tritheism. (pp. 435-6)

The focus of the pactum salutis on contractual agreement misses the heart of what God's covenant is about. (p. 437)

In his Systematic Theology, Robert Letham rejects the concept of the pactum salutis. Letham does not reject the idea that God planned salvation from eternity. But what he rejects is that there is any covenant involved betweeen the Father and the Son. According to Letham, holding to the covenant concept implies either subordination or tritheism - the former if one party unilaterally sets the covenant, and the latter if both parties are involved in the covenant. Key to this assertion is the idea that the parties to the covenant need to act to ratify the covenant, but can a God who is simple and with one will acts separably in the persons?

It is evident that this is the precise problem facing Reformed theologians who claim to both hold to the Pactum and yet reject ESS (Eternal submission of the Son). Letham sees clearly that the two are in conflict. If one holds to a simple God with a single will without differentiation, there is no way to hold to the Pactum. Yet the Pactum is clearly taught in Scripture in places such as Psalms 110. Using the theory that God has a single will without differentiation (a theological concept) to reject what is clearly taught in Scripture is allowing external philosophical concepts to influence how one interprets the text of Scripture, or in other words eisegesis. Letham is consistent in his rejection of the Pactum, albeit consistently wrong. But those who continue to hold to a single will without differentiation yet reject ESS are more biblical, yet inconsistent. For if there is a single will, how can the Father covenants with the Son? The Father cannot covenant with the Son since the one will cannot covenant with itself, for a covenant requires at least two wills in the two parties!

If we believe God is truly the God of Truth, then we must be consistent. That is why we must reject the philosophical notion of a single divine will without differentiation. Just as we cannot claim that God being one means a rejection of the doctrine of the Trinity, so likewise we cannot claim that God being one and simple means a rejection of ESS. It is up to the theologian to formulate a philosophy and theology that can incorporate all biblical truths, not use one to embrace some and reject others.