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Untangling “Predestination” — Part 4 (Appendix)



compiled by Ron Roper


In the beginning was the Explanation….All came to be through it….In it was life, and the life was the light of mankind.” (John 1:1, 3, 4)

For the Explanation of God is living and operative and keen above any two-edged sword.” (Heb. 4:12)

Having been regenerated, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, through the Explanation of God, living and permanentthe Declaration of the Lord is remaining for the age. Now this is the Declaration which is being proclaimed to you.” (I Peter, 1:23, 25)

Receive with meekness the implanted Explanation which is able to save your souls.” (James 1:21)

For the Explanation of the crossto us who are getting savedis the power of God.” (I Cor. 1:18) “We are heralding Christthe power of God.” (I Cor. 1:23, 24) If Christ has not been raised, vain is your faith—you are still in your sins.” (I Cor. 15:17)

No one can come to Me if ever the Father who sends me should not be drawing him“; “and I, if I should be exalted out of the earth, shall be drawing all to myself.” (John 6:44, 12:32)

If ever you should be confessing with your mouth the Declaration that Jesus is Lord, and should be believing in your heart that God raises him from among the dead, you shall be saved. For with the heart it is believed unto justness, yet with the mouth it is confessed for salvation.” (Rom. 10:9)

The Proclamationis God’s power for salvation to everyone who is believingfor a justice of God is being revealed in it, out of faithfulness for faith, according as it is written: ‘Now the just one out of faithfulness shall be living.” (Rom. 1:16, 17)

Consequently, faith is out of tidings, yet the tidings through a Declaration of Christ.” (Rom. 10:17)

The sacred Scripturesare able to make you wise for salvation through faithfulness which is in Christ Jesus.” (II Tim. 3:15)

Now I am committing you to God and to the Explanation of His graciousness, which is able to edify and give the inheritance among all who have gotten hallowed [by that Explanation of Truth they believe, John 17:17-20].” (Acts 20:32)

November 2007; revised July 30, 2009, April 3-4, 2015, May 10, 2017.


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Untangling “Predestination” — Part 3

Summary Reflections

The foregoing survey is now complete. As we have seen, nowhere in the New Testament do we read of anyone being “predestined” to “reprobation” or “destruction,” nor for that matter to “salvation,” or even “to believe.” Even more surprising, perhaps, designate beforehanddoes not meanpredestine” at all, but simply “destine,” whose meaning already denotes the idea of previous determination of a future scenario, i.e., prior to its projected realization, naturally! However, this kind of destiny is conditional and may potentially be forfeited prior to its fulfillment if a condition is not met. Happily, the condition affixed by Scripture is quite in concert with God’s graciousness as historically displayed in His saving justice, that is, His restorative or “premial” justice of raising our Lord from the dead (among whom he was wrongly, undeservedly plunged, yet with such cosmically liberating results!). That singular condition is, of course, durable faith. In a real sense, then, this announced destiny of sonship and the wonderful inheritance of everlasting life, a share in God’s Kingdom on the New Earth, blessings galore, etc.—that manifold destiny is held out as an attainable prize to motivate us to keep trusting Christ and obeying what the Father wants us to achieve as he revealed it in the directions Jesus conveyed to his disciples. As such, these verses do not compel us to hold that only certain arbitrarily chosen individuals are “predestined to salvation” while all the rest are “predestined to destruction,” whether by design or default. Much rather, all who believe and keep on believing are chosen because of their faith in the “stupidity of the heralding” (1 Cor. 1:18-26) of Christ’s resurrection-from-death-by-crucifixion, i.e., his compound “exaltation,” in John’s mode of explaining the matter (John 12:32, 6:44)—which the Father chose in his wisdom as the narrative dynamo for “placing” us in Christ” that we might become sons. This is the way we get “destined” to sonhood, which includes inheriting allotments, portions, or shares in the future Kingdom of God (equivalent to attaining salvation).

Consequently, Jesus’ unique status as Firstborn Son of God, designated beforehand in principle before the ages, in the secret depths of God’s heart of wisdom, thereafter designated in writing within Old Testament prophecy, and ultimately specified in actuality by a veritable historic resurrection, effectively confers sonship on everybody else who believes the Explanation about his resurrection from the dead. All who believe it at heart and declare it verbally before others at their baptism in water are immediately immersed in his Spirit and thereby get incorporated into his now immortal body, destined for inheriting God’s Kingdom on the New Earth…that is, if we stay in the Explanation and don’t defect. Only that Explanation, accepted as Good Seed into our hearts, possesses the power to nurture faith and keep us progressing through the obstacle course of this present wicked age along the sole way of access that Christ blazed to the Father. Christ’s own already historically achieved and forever inalienable destiny is thus our shared and assured destiny if we remain in him, the true Vine, by faith.

John 15:1-14

1I am the true Grapevine, and my Father is the Farmer. 2Every branch in me bringing forth no fruit, He is taking it away, and every one bringing forth fruit, He is pruning [literally, “cleansing”] it, that it may be bringing forth more fruit. 3Already you are pruned [“clean”] because of the Explanation which I have spoken to you. 4Remain in me, I also am in you. Just as the branch can not be bringing forth fruit from itself, if it should not be remaining in the grapevine, thus neither you, if you should not be remaining in me. 5I am the Grapevine. You are the branches. He who is remaining in me, and I in him, this one is bringing forth much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6If anyone should not be remaining in me, he was cast out as a branch and it withered. And they are gathering them, and into the fire are they casting them, and he is getting burned. 7If ever you should be remaining in me and my Declarations should be remaining in you, whatever you should be desiring, request, and it will be occurring to you. 8In this is my Father glorifyied/accredited, that you may be bringing forth much fruit, and you shall become my disciples. 9Just as the Father loves me, I, also, love you. Remain in my love. 10If ever you should be keeping my directives, you will be remaining in my love, just as I have kept the directives of my Father and am remaining in His love. 11These things have I spoken to you, that my joy should be remaining in you, and your joy may be filled. 12This is my directive, that you be loving one another, just as I love you. 13Greater love than this has no one, that anyone may be laying down his soul for his friends. 14You are my friends if you should be doing whatever I am directing you.”

God’s plan, then, according to which he is administrating the remainder of history to the end of the age, is to “head up the universe in Christ—both that in the heavens and that on the earth” (Ephesians 1:10), reconciling warring factions into one peaceful New Humanity by the blood of the Cross. That’s his wonderfully worthy cosmic objective! It even looks for all the world like we get to participate in that adventurous future, somehow, in modes we are not yet prepared to imagine or verbally capable of articulating. We need to leave room for happy surprises, which “eye perceived not and ear heard not and to which human heart ascended not—whatever God makes ready for those who are loving Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9)! Hence the emphasis in 1 Corinthians 1-2 on heralding the Resurrection Explanation of the Cross of Christ—which was mere “stupidity” to the ancient Greeks and a “stumbling-block” to the Jews—“to the entire creation” (Mark 16:15). God wants everybody to hear this Proclamation, which has the attention-getting wisdom and persuasive power to evoke initially and to nurture progressively the quality of trust in God, plus the consequent following of Christ’s directions that will shepherd us along to reach the destined status of perfect sonhood as peaceful “brethren” of our big Brother, the Lord Jesus, long ago perfected through tough, arduous disciplines.

This whole scenario, far from giving undue credit (“glory”) to human beings for figuring out how to get saved or how to gut it out to perfection independent of God’s power—recalling the famous controversy between Pelagius and Augustine—rather gives due credit to the power of God’s Proclamation of his Kingdom and Explanation about Christ’s cruel cross plus God’s ultra-compensating resurrection, which in tandem are calculated to turn the hearts of enemies back to himself in conciliation and peace by nullifying our hostile feelings against him. The Gospel of the Kingdom itself contains the inherent credit/glory, abundant diverse testimony, and prima facie proof to win our confidence and create love, loyalty, and devotion.

Note well: the Holy Spirit is not ushered in to perform the special duty of creating faith; the Holy Spirit wrote the Bible for Heaven’s sake! The Holy Spirit corroborates the Gospel Truth, not seldom with extraordinary evidences of God’s coming Kingdom, yet it’s Proclamation itself is always honored in Holy Scripture (inSpired by Holy Spirit evidently for this very function!) as the divine means for inducing faith. (See Appendix: “The Gospel Story—God’s Living Power to Evoke Faith for Salvation.) Clearly, God, by his appointed mechanism, means to make room for very human faith, but built on very solid ground…if we will amenably accept what is so kindly proffered. Hebrews 11, the longest New Testament passage on a single sustained topic, is all about glorifying/accrediting faith! Reestablishing the unique role of the Gospel message itself to regenerate sinners will go far to disestablish the errant teaching concerning a “graciously arbitrary” “predestination to faith and salvation” of sinners by a prior and unpredictable “regeneration” by the Holy Spirit via an “effectual [irresistable] calling” in the interests of “particularly elect” sinners without regard to their own human wills and divine likeness! Yet does a denial of this common wayward teaching thereby jeopardize our hopeful attainment of our destinies as daughters and sons of God? God forbid! Yet we may be surprised by the verses by which the apostle Paul wished to encourage our willful perseverence!:

Philippians 1:2-11

2Graciousness to you and peace from God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3I am thanking my God at every remembrance of you, 4always, in every petition of mine for you all, making the petition with joy, 5for your contribution to the Gospel from the first day until now, 6having this same confidence, that he who undertakes a good work among you will be completing it until the day of Jesus Christ, 7just as it is right for me to be disposed in this way over you all, because you, having me in heart, both in my bonds and in the defense and confirmation of the Gospel, you all are joint participants with me of graciousness, 8for God is my witness how I am longing for you all in the compassions of Christ Jesus. 9And this I am praying, that your love may be superabounding still more and more in realization and all sensibility, 10for you to be testing what things are of consequence, that you may be sincere and no stumbling block for the day of Christ, 11having gotten filled with the fruit of righteousness that is through Jesus Christ for the glory/credit and laud of God.”

In case you missed it, Paul has just commended the Philippian congregation for their splendid contribution of undertaking the good work of defending and confirming the Gospel along with him, as fellow-participants in God’s graciousness through the Lord Jesus Christ, and, moreover, with joy and great expectations that they will continue to perform such good works sincerely and without stumbling until the Day of Christ’s Judgment of human works. Are you disappointed that nothing here teaches that God “sovereignly” keeps the saints persevering in faith regardless of such considerations as Paul has generously ladled out in this passage? Then you may have gotten bulldozed by human traditions that actually provide less comfort than they are usually touted to have. But I quite understand. You still need a clincher:

2 Corinthians 8:6-12

6So that we entreat Titus that, just as he undertakes before, thus also should he be completing in you this graciousness also. 7But, even as you are superabounding in everything—in faith and word and knowledge and all diligence and the love that flows out of you into us—that you may be superabounding in this graciousness also. 8I am not saying this as an injunction, but, through the diligence of others, testing also the genuineness of this love of yours. 9For you know the graciousness of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, being rich, because of you he became poor, that you, by his poverty, should be rich. 10And in this I am giving an opinion, for this is expedient for you, who, for a year past, undertake before, not only the doing but the willing also. 11Yet now complete the doing also, so that, even as the eagerness to will, thus also may be the completion, out of what you have. 12For if eagerness lies before, it is most acceptable according to whatever one may have, not according to what he has not.

A host of other Scriptures reinforce this same doctrine in similar language and in spades: Romans 15:13-14, Galatians 5:10, Philippians 2:12-13, 1 Thessalonians 1:2-10, 2 Thessalonians 3:4-5, Hebrews 6:7-10, Revelation 2:2-6.

This survey of the usage and fuller contexts of horizo and prohorizo hopefully makes clear that these terms cannot validly contribute to some speculatively spun “doctrine of predestination.” The first of these terms was a common household word in ancient Greek. And although the second of these is almost exclusively attested from the New Testament, neither can be commandeered systematically or woodenly to establish some arcane doctrine concerning “the sovereignty of God” (an expression, incidentally, that never occurs in Scripture!). They simply convey that the Creator likewise (“like” human beings!) can make long-term plans to act in history—in this case redemptively and with intimate knowledge of how his creatures tend to react. This is far different from some full-scale elaboration of a “doctrine” about a “divine sovereignty” that pre-determines every motion in the universe (as the Westminster Confession of Faith would have us believe)—which is not only contrary to the plain meaning of Biblical Scripture taken as a whole, but also contrary to the universal (“catholic”) teaching of the orthodox early church on the subject. The ante-Nicene churches quite uniformly emphasized what has somewhat confusingly been translated “free-will,” but literally means “self-authorization” (autexousiotes), in other words, authority over our selves and our personal faculties—quite plausibly a subcategory of the sovereignty, authority, and dominion over our earthly habitat bequeathed to our fore-parents. This is an ineradicable characteristic of all who have been created in God’s image. God evidently is no iconoclast when it concerns his own image!

Much more might be said concerning the historical theology of this contentious topic, especially the gnostic roots of “predestination,” traceable from John Calvin and Martin Luther, et al, back to Augustine’s early influence from Manichaeism, as well as via his mentor Ambrose, an ardent devotee of the Jewish philosopher/theologian Philo of Alexandria, among whose formative contemporaries was the Jewish Essene sect, which was predestinarian as well. When push came to shove in his famous pitched battle with Pelagius and his associates, Augustine seems to have reverted to such prevalent pre-Christian influences (not entirely abandoned) of his theologizing—not a happy turn in Western theology, and exceedingly auspicious of further corruptions. Nor did Augustine ultimately repent of his view of predestination so as to include it among his end-of-life Retractations. However, enlarging on such considerations must be left for another time.

God’s overwhelming favor to Christ at his resurrection and ascension came as his public answer to the egregious abuse done him at his cross. We might even say (with qualifications) that his cross was the chief cause of his resurrection and that without it God’s lavish favor to Christ—and through him to us—could never have flowed! Among other factors we need to grasp that without a public injustice of that magnitude, Christ’s resurrection would have been relegated to a merely private, virtually non-attested episode that could easily have gotten ‘buried’ amid the onrush of more mundane public events. (In sad fact, the atoning significance of Christ’s Resurrection has gotten buried anyway, and Paul’s Gospel was indeed largely forgotten already quite early in church history.) This event had to be a ‘big deal’…but not so big that it could not be denied or ridiculed or reviled by those who prefer the darkness to the light. For God does not desire coerced obedience but filial obedience. He wants legitimate daughters and sons after the pattern of Jesus. Volunteers, not draftees! This means that personal choice/preference (a reflex of our being pressed in God’s own mold) is essential in the execution even of God’s own more original, transcendent, and universal authority. Thus God generously allowed a measure of “plausible deniability” as a release valve from the potential charge of naked coercion. God decided to run a handicap race and give mortals (after all!) fair wiggle-room for authentic volition during their ephemeral tenure under the sun. Whatever advantage he may have lost as a “despot,” he more than regained as an ingenuous, independent, and impartial character witness. And as could be expected, given a fair amount of mortal freedom, sinful humans always fail to achieve the credit/glory of God’s desire, nevertheless, Jesus did stick to the Script and won the gold for his entire team regardless! Three cheers for God!!! Yaaay team!

Concluding Thoughts

It has doubtless dawned on many a gentle reader at a number of points in this biblical review—for some gradually, for others more swiftly—that “predestination” is not only not an authentic New Testament doctrine, but it is superfluous and worse: vicious in its very tendency. It may seem to rank as one of those further “points” of Calvinism that saint Arminius was not permitted to live to articulate separately. In truth, it was the very first of his controversies and led to the unraveling of all the others. Some scholars may simply range it under the rubric of “Unconditional Election,” and leave it at that. However, it seems to me it deserves a categorical “Point” of its own. But that shuffling may be of little consequence. It is of more importance that we keep in mind that although God alone is the judge of John Calvin and his successors, God gives us the job of judging Calvin’s theology. Let us undertake our task with as much clarity and charity as we can muster, confessing that Scripture alone must be our ultimate norm, let the chips fall where they may.

(For the stimulus to write this paper, I wish to acknowledge discussions with my daughter Marie, who was drawn into the perennial issue by a theology course in the fall semester of 2008 at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan.)

Nov. 24-26, 29-Dec. 10, 26-27, 2008; revised Aug. 9, 2009, May 26, 2014, April 31, May 4-5, 8, 14, 16-19, 21-23, 25-31, June 1, 3, 11, 2017

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Untangling “Predestination” — Part 2

PROHORIZO—Specify beforehand/Designate beforehand

Peter’s healing of the lame man at the door of the temple triggered a succession of events leading to the only use of this word in the book of Acts. The healing brought the crowds, which occasioned Peter’s second public proclamation. This oration, in turn, moved the Jewish authorities to apprehend Peter and John and hail them before the leaders on the next day. That led to yet a third speech:

Acts 4:5-12

5Now it occurred on the morrow that their chiefs and the elders and the scribes gathered in Jerusalem, 6and Hannas, the chief priest, and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and whoever were from the chief priestly race. 7And, standing them in the midst, they got ascertained, ‘In what power or in what name do you do this?’ 8Then Peter, being filled with Holy Spirit, said to them, 9‘Chiefs of the people and elders! If we today are being examined as to the benefaction to the infirm person, in what [power or name] he has been saved, 10let it be known to you all and to the entire people of Israel, that in the name of Jesus Christ, the Nazarene, whom you crucify, whom God roused from among the dead, in this [name], this person stands by before you sound. 11This is the Stone that is being scorned by you builders, which is becoming the head of the corner. 12And there is no salvation in any other one, for neither is there any other name, given under heaven among humans, in which we must be saved’.”

After they were released without punishment, they returned and reported to the believers what the chief priests and the elders had said. Then comes the response of their listeners:

Acts 4:24-28

24Now, those who hear, with one accord lift up their voice to God and say, ‘O Owner, You Who make heaven and earth and the sea and all that is in them, 25Who through Holy Spirit, by the mouth of our father, Your boy David, are saying,

What perturbs the nations?

And why do the peoples mumble empty phrases?

26Standing by are the kings of the land,

And the chancellors gathered at the same place,

Against the Lord and against His Christ. [Psalm 2:1-2]

27For of a truth, in this city were gathered against Your holy Boy Jesus, whom You anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, together with the nations and the peoples of Israel, 28to do whatever Your hand and Your plan designate beforehand to occur.”

And what was that? It was their crucifying of Jesus, plus God’s raising him from the dead climactically and conclusively, as Peter had just alleged in his preceding speech. This accords perfectly with the three relevant usages of horizo in Luke and Acts that we looked at above. And, as in Acts 2:23, this “plan” [boule] or strategy of allowing Jesus to get surrendered, abused, executed, but then raised to immortal Life is what was pre-designated or specific within Hebrew Scripture. Whatever details this “plan designate[d] beforehand” seem to be identical to the contents of the “specific plan” of Acts 2. This integral, inseparable, indissoluble event (a ‘Crossurrection’ as it were) by which God’s Son, Messiah, Lord, and Judge was historically designated is also pinpointed by John’s Gospel in rather unique words. John 6 teaches us most revealingly that no one can (has any power) to come to the Father except by his decreed drawing power. And what, pray tell, conveys that drawing influence to sinners who would otherwise die in their sins? We learn the answer from chapter 12: glorification/accreditation (i.e., the attracting radiance) of the crucifixion/ resurrection’ episodes. I cover these two passages at greater length below.

I shall treat the next two occurrences of prohorizo in reverse order, for reasons that will become clear.

1 Corinthians 2:6-10

6Yet wisdom are we speaking among the mature, yet a wisdom not of this age, neither of the chiefs of this age, who are getting discarded, 7but we are speaking God’s wisdom in a secret, which has gotten concealed, which God designates beforehand, before the ages, for our glory/credit, 8which not one of the chiefs of this age knows, for if they know, they would not crucify the Lord of glory [i.e., who accredits us with glory]. 9But, just as it is written, which eye did not perceive, and ear did not hear, and to which the human heart did not ascend—whatever God makes ready for those who are loving Him. 10Yet to us God reveals them through His Spirit, for the Spirit is searching all, even the depths of God.”

Paul had declared only a few verses earlier (2:2), “I decide not to perceive anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” For, as we saw in the horizo passages, this crucifixion was understood to be inextricable from the nexus of decisive events indicated “beforehand,” i.e., in prophetic Scripture. But here the horizon shifts from the intermediate written form which announced the designated event/person, and instead focuses all the way back on its conception “before the ages,” in the secret plan of transcendent wisdom and sustainable fruitfulness. This crucial (!) event, through which salvation could exclusively be secured, is here declared to have gotten strategically concealed so as to prevent its becoming known—the implication being that it might otherwise have been scuttled if Satan (along with his pawns in power) had caught on to that wisdom and stopped short of his characteristically foolish attempted murder of his arch rival for possession of Earth. Yet what “not one of the chiefs of this age knows” during “the times of ignorance” (Acts 17:30), God, happily, specifically “foreknew”:

Romans 8:28-30

28Now we are aware that God is working all together for the good of those who are loving God, who are called according to the purpose [prothesispre-placement’] 29that, whom He foreknew [proginoskopre-knew’], He designates beforehand, also to be conformed to the image of His Son, for him to be Firstborn among many brethren. 30Now whom He designates beforehand, these He calls also, and whom He calls, these He justifies also; now whom He justifies, these He glorifies [i.e., accredits as true sons] also.”

Here, finally, as in the following passage from Ephesians 1, the designation refers to something other than Jesus or the plan itself. Notice that the beneficiaries are “those who are loving God.” This fits nicely with the final words of the above 1 Corinthians passage. Moreover, both within this immediate context and elsewhere God “calls” people sons, “justifies” them as being legitimate sons and glorifies [“accredits”] them accordingly, via their own future resurrections, with the status of sons. It’s all about sonship, sonhood, or, to use the traditional term, adoption. And adoption, in turn, is closely associated with the idea and practice of inheriting property. The foregoing leads us naturally to the final and culminating passage containing prohorizo.

Ephesians 1:2-14

3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who blesses us with every spiritual blessing among the celestials, in Christ, 4just as He chooses us in him before the disruption of the world, us to be holy and flawless in His sight, 5in love designating us beforehand for sonship [huiothesia—‘son-placement’] for Him through Christ Jesus; in accord with the delight of His desire, 6for the praise of the glory/credit of His graciousness, which graces us in the Beloved; 7 in whom we are having the liberation through his blood, the forgiveness of offenses in accord with the wealth of His graciousness, 8which He lavishes on us; in all wisdom and prudence 9making known to us the secret of His desire (in accord with the delight, which He purposed [protithemi—‘pre-placed’] in him) 10to have an administration of the remainder of the eras, to head up all in Christ—both that in the heavens and that on the earth—11in him in whom we have gotten allotted also, being designated beforehand according to the purpose [prothesis—‘preplacement’] of the One Who is operating all in accord with the plan of His desire, 12that we should be for the praise of His glory/credit, who are pre-expectant [proelpizo] in Christ. 13In whom you also—on hearing the explanation of truth, the proclamation of your salvation—in whom on believing also, you are sealed [at baptism] with the Holy Spirit of promise 14(which is a surety of the inheritance of our allotment) to the liberation of that which has been procured, for the praise of His glory/credit!”

For good reason this chapter is regarded as a pinnacle of Paul’s revelation about the dimensions and contours of our salvation, waxing lofty about the splendor of God’s graciousness toward us in Christ. Therefore I have quoted at greater length. Paul starts by calling God “Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” obviously because his fatherhood is the premise of our Lord’s sonhood, and, in turn, also of our own, since we are one in the Son. Here God’s own love for us is brought into the picture yet again, which as we know from 1 John is what prompts our reciprocating love for Him (significantly mentioned also in the 1 Corinthians and Romans passages, as we noted):

1 John 4:19

We are loving God, for He first loves us.”

Hence the initiative is God’s, not ours. Such love, thus demonstrated, has credibility and therefore creates trust. John enlarges on this theme in the most celebrated verse in the New Testament:

John 3:16-18

16For thus God loves the world, so that He gives His only-begotten Son, that everyone who is believing in him should not be getting destroyed but may be having life everlasting. 17For God does not commission His Son into the world that he should be judging the world, but that the world may be saved through him. 18He who is believing in him is not being judged; yet he who is not believing has gotten judged already, for he has not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God.”

This passage raises the issue about Jesus being a Judge, as we saw above in Acts 10 and 17. This passage does not deny him that role, it only clarifies how the timing plays out: Jesus was commissioned, the first time he appeared, with the objective of saving people, but if they decide to refuse the invitation and rebuff God’s love, they simply stay under God’s indignation and eventual destruction (i.e., death) that resulted from Adam’s sin—the divine ban from the Tree of Life. At the future Judgment, after the general resurrection of everyone, that sentence is sealed and delivered with finality. During the merciful interim, people have the God-given right/authority either to choose the destiny of sonship by believing in the wrath-proof Jesus or to resist the drawing power of the Story—which the Holy Spirit, let us remember, exhaled into Writing—about his exaltation by Cross and Resurrection. Simple options: life or death. Easy choice: choose life, for Heaven’s sake! Elsewhere, John gets more detailed about the inner workings of this intriguing process.

Paul’s Ephesians passage additionally brings up the theme of secrecy again, but clearly not as a factor intended to keep mankind in the dark under a permanent shroud of “mystery.” Much rather, as Paul clarifies in 1 Corinthians 2:7 above, only to prevent the chief powers of this age from sabotaging the ultimate strategy for their downfall before it could take effect. This wisdom entailed the utter nullification of Christ’s death at their hands by means of his powerful but unanticipated resurrection from among the dead, making possible at last the supreme historic demonstration on planet earth of God’s justness that rewarded with lavish graciousness the Faithful One who endured in obedience, and that in turn likewise “graces us in the Beloved,” Which is all to say that whoever stay in Jesus Christ (so leveraged by faith and baptism) receive a share in the reward he received by his obedience even through the hard discipline of an excruciating and wrongful death

John develops it in his first epistle:

1 John 5:9-12

9If we are obtaining the testimony of humans, the testimony of God is greater; for this is the testimony of God, that He has testified concerning His Son. 10He who is believing in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; he who is not believing God has made Him a liar, for he has not believed in the testimony which God has testified concerning His Son. 11And this is the testimony, that God gives us life everlasting and this life is in His Son. 12He who has the Son has the life; he who has not the Son of God has not the life.”

To this logic Paul would add his own imprimatur:

1 Corinthians 1:21b, 27-31

21bGod delights, through the stupidity of heralding, to save those who are believing.” “27but the stupidity of the world God chooses that He may be disgracing the wise, and the weakness of the world God chooses, that He may be disgracing the strong, 28and the ignoble and contemptible things of the world God chooses, and that which is not, that He should be disgracing that which is, 29so that no flesh at all should be boasting in God’s sight. 30Yet you, from [ek] Him, are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, besides justness and holiness and deliverance, 31that just as it is written, ‘He who is boasting, in the Lord let him be boasting’.”

Yet someone might appropriately ask how exactly a person can be “from” [ek] God. The beloved disciple started explaining right up front, on the threshold of his Gospel:

John 1:12-13

12Yet whoever got [the Explanation], to them [the Explanation] gives the right to become children of God—to those who are believing in [the Explanation’s] name, 13who were begotten not from [ek] bloods, neither from [ek] desire of flesh, neither from [ek] desire of a man, but from [ek] [desire of] God.”

Notice how John ties together such vocabulary choices, highlighted by strategic repetition, into a strong multi-fold cord of explanation:

John 6:40, 44

40For this is the desire of my Father, that everyone who is beholding the Son and believing in him may have life everlasting, and I shall be raising him in the last day.”

44No one can come to me if ever the Father who sends me should not be drawing him.”

John 12:32

32And I, if I should be exalted out of the earth, shall be drawing all to myself.”

John 3:14-15

14And just as Moses exalts the serpent in the wilderness, thus must the Son of Mankind be exalted, 15that everyone believing on him should not be getting destroyed, but may be having life everlasting.”

Peter unloads more of the same at Pentecost:

Acts 2:29-36

29Men! Brethren! Allow me to say to you with boldness concerning the patriarch David that he deceases also and was entombed, and his tomb is among us until this day. 30Being, then, inherently a prophet, and having perceived that God swears to him with an oath, out of the fruit of his loin to seat One on his throne, 31perceiving this before, he speaks concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that he was neither forsaken in the unseen, nor was his flesh acquainted with decay. 32This Jesus God raises, of whom we all are witnesses. 33Being, then, to the right hand of God exalted, besides obtaining the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father, he pours out this which you are observing and hearing.

34For David did not ascend into the heavens, yet he is saying,

Said the Lord to my Lord,

Sit at My right

35Till I should be placing your enemies for a footstool for your feet’.”

36Let all the house of Israel know certainly, then, that God makes him Lord as well as Christ—this Jesus whom you crucify!”

Then later, before the Sanhedrin:

Acts 5:29-32

29Yet answering, Peter and the apostles say, ‘One must yield to God rather than to humans. 30Now the God of our fathers raises Jesus, on whom you lay hands, hanging him on a pole. 31This Inaugurator and Savior, God exalts to His right hand to give repentance to Israel and the pardon of sins. 32We are witnesses to these declarations, as well as the Holy Spirit, which God gives to those yielding to Him’.”

But now notice, parenthetically, the grim consequences, according to Paul, if the Savior had not gotten exalted by God raising him from having gotten hung on a pole until dead:

1 Corinthians 15:17

17Now if Christ has not gotten raised, vain is your faith—you are still in your sins!”

Here, two apostles have forged the crucial links between resurrection, exaltation, and atonement. Peter conveniently elaborates further in his first epistle:

1 Peter 1:18-25

“…18being aware that not with corruptible things, with silver or gold, were you ransomed from your vain behavior, handed down by tradition from the fathers, 19but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a flawless and unspotted lamb, 20having gotten foreknown, indeed, before the disruption of the world, yet manifested in the last times because of you, 21who through him are believing in God, Who raises him from among the dead and is giving him glory/credit, so that your faith and expectation is to be in God. 22Having purified your souls by the obedience of truth, for unfeigned fondness for the brethren, love one another out of a true heart earnestly, 23having gotten regenerated not from corruptible seed, but incorruptible, through the Explanation of God, living and permanent, 24because

All flesh is grass,

And all its glory/credit is as the flower of grass.

Withered is the grass,

and the flower falls off...

25Yet the Declaration of the Lord is remaining for ever.

Now this is the Declaration which is being brought to you in the Gospel.

Observe further in the previous Ephesians passage that God “chooses” us “inChrist (v. 4), who was exclusively and uniquely designated Son and Judge (Acts 10, 17, Rom. 1), so that Christ could “be Firstborn among many brethren” (Rom. 8:29). God wanted lots of kids! And what was the rationale for his choice? Why, simply that after he announced his love so eloquently at the Cross (where he forebore from destroying his Son’s killers) and at the Resurrection (which proved that he obviously had the right and power and sufficient angelic troops to have pulled it off, but instead, in a grand cosmic surprise, instead lavished everlasting life on Jesus, plus gloryofficial or royal accreditationas his own Son, thus reversing his capital sentence after it was already an accomplished fact), some listeners actually took the hint and responded to such pre-emptive love by believing and falling in love with such a Being, naturally!

Launching from Peter’s reference to God’s foreknowledge concerning Christ in the above passage, which we first noticed at the outset in his speech at Pentecost in Acts 2:23, let’s now fold in two of Paul’s own remarks concerning objects of the divine knowledge:

1 Corinthians 8:3

3Now if anyone is loving God, this one gets known by Him.”

2 Timothy 2:19

19Howbeit, the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: The Lord knew those who are His, and, Let everyone who is naming the name of the Lord withdraw from injustice.”

Hmmm. So it would appear that both our getting known and getting designatedbeforehand”—i.e., our destiny as sons of God—is inextricably linked to Christ’s own having gotten foreknown and getting designatedbeforehand” as God’s Son. Evidently this title, although specified in previous prophetic Scripture, was only made evident and real in history by God’s unleashing the power of justice that raised him from the dead. What stupendous wisdom this demonstrated before the eyes of the watching universe! The vicious deed of the Cross uniquely allowed God to unload a vast wealth of graciousness on Jesus to pay him back for his losses, and some! Moreover, this blessing overflows to us “in Him” (v. 4), “in the Beloved” (v. 6). This is why God’s graciousness gets so much press and praise in the New Testament. Our enjoyment of it is purely a function of our being “inChrist and staying there! It takes effect by our believing the proclamation about his Cross/Resurrection and continuing to believe to the very end of the ordeals of our life. Our success is never presumptuously to be taken for granted. God granted us Jesus, yes; he even granted us the sin of killing him (!); but far more, he granted us the Holy Spirit which he repaid Jesus in abundance for bearing those very sins of abuse and execution. These are all gifts, to be sure. But our starting and continuing to accept these gifts is not automatically granted, for that would override the authority of will or ‘willpower’ or personal choice that God granted us constitutionally as creatures made in his own image—a trait he evidently honors as necessary not merely for our humanness, but equally for our maturation as sons of God, even at the risk of its painful and even prematurely fatal misuses. However, once we do believe his powerfully inSpired Story, he does grant additional power from his Spirit. Those who accept the inherently powerful Explanation of his historic graciousness in the Gospel are granted further graciousness via his Spirit! “Graciousness in exchange for graciousness” (John 1:16). So all who accept God’s Written Invitation by faith and get immersed, simultaneously get regenerated and born above in the New Jerusalem, where our new citizenship gets established. Notice how Peter draws these themes together in a mighty flourish of exuberance at the very start of the same chapter of his epistle that I cited above:

1 Peter 1:1-6

1Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the expatriates of the dispersion of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, the province of Asia, and Bithynia, 2chosen according to the foreknowledge of God, the Father, in holiness of Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ [i.e., the objective for choosing them]:

May graciousness and peace be multiplied to you!

3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, according to His vast mercy, regenerates us into a living expectation, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from among the dead, 4for the enjoyment of an allotment incorruptible and undefiled and unfading, kept in the heavens for you 5who are garrisoned by the power of God, through faith [in the powerful Gospel!], for salvation ready to be revealed in the last era, in which you are exulting…”

In passing, we observe that only Peter writes about God’s foreknowledge concerning Christ (and that to kick off Pentecost!). Both Peter and Paul write about God’s foreknowledge of believers, the chosen, as well as about His designating beforehand both Christ and those whom God graciously chooses in Christ because of their foreknown faith. Bear in mind that such faith is not manufactured by any human effort but is generated solely by learning the Proclamation about God exalting his only-born Son by justly raising him from unjust death and, through his ascension, to the pinnacle of royal glory/credit at God’s right hand. There was no lack of eye-witnesses and corroborating testimony of different sorts, including miraculous, prophetic, visionary, and angelic. This Report is uniquely invested with the power to draw and conciliate sinners to God by evoking staunch faith that can endure the storms of life, whether temptations, afflictions, persecutions, what have you. Hence, what God is in fact “foreknowing” is the natural regenerative effects of his own incorruptible, living, and permanent Seed—the Declaration of the Gospel as originally inspired by the Holy Spirit and now inscripturated for candid human review and global circulation.

That Story is the invariable factor in the formula; the ground condition is the variable factor. Here we can be reminded of Jesus’ parable of the soils/grounds in Matthew 13:3-23. The Seed is one and unvarying (although it is only fair to factor in the troublesome element of diverse and conflicting traditions of translation and interpretation which invariably seem to get dragged alongside like a ball and chain), yet receptivity of the Good Seed is dependent on the prior quality and condition of the ground—symbolic of human hearts. A good farmer knows her soils. Even so, she also knows that some excellent seed will be lost in various ways and not bring its expected fruit, no matter how diligent she may be to practice proper cultivation and conservation. So also, God certainly knows his soils. Therefore he also foreknows those that will not resist, devalue, get deprived of, or suffer destruction of his quality Seed, but will respond positively, appropriately, to his powerful (but not too overwhelming) Gospel by falling in love with him. God foreknows those that love him.

Meanwhile, back in Ephesians 1:11 Paul writes about the “purpose” (prothesis—‘pre-placement’) which God “purposed” (protithemi‘pre-placed’, v. 9) in Christ, according to which we were “designated beforehand” (v. 11). The very form of the Greek word strongly hints that it refers to nothing other than this very “sonship” (huiothesia‘son-placement’)!

The “plan” (v. 11) of God’s desire also makes its appearance in this passage as it did in Acts 2 and 4. And although it necessitated the shame of his own Son, it issued in “many sons” who eventually would be “for the praise of His glory/credit” (Eph. 1:6, 12, 14)—the diametric opposite of that humiliation!—and therefore would make it all worthwhile. From his toil of soul he shall see descendents and be satisfied by such knowledge (Isaiah 53:10-12).

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Untangling “Predestination” — Part 1

for Marie

(For the stimulus to write this paper, I wish to acknowledge discussions with my daughter Marie, who was drawn into the perennial issue by a theology course in the fall semester of 2008 at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan.)

The Greek word translated “predestination” (prohorizo) in many English versions of the New Testament is built on the root word, horizo, from which the English word ‘horizon’ comes, i.e., the distant “termination” point of sight. Hence the common translation, “determine.” A. E. Knoch renders it “specify” or “designate” in the Concordant Literal New Testament (CLNT). I will begin my analysis with the eight occurrences of horizo in the New Testament. After that I will treat the six N.T. uses of prohorizo. All theologically relevant passages containing these two words are in red type. However, the remaining passages containing these words are still linguistically relevant since they display common usages from daily life that throw light on its normal range of meaning. I have highlighted in variously colored typefaces other recurring elements of the relevant contexts that throw further light on interpretation. For convenient reference, I will use these bold and color features throughout. I quote the CLNT version, but with some of my own alterations of vocabulary and grammar. (For example: rendering the Greek ‘middle voice’ by adding forms of the English helping verb ‘get’—a generally unrecognized yet common way of forming the English equivalent of the ‘middle voice’. This serves quite well in translating the New Testament, and, though occasionally awkward, is usually illuminating.).


Luke 22:22

“…22the Son of Mankind is indeed going, just as it has been specified. However, woe to that person through whom he is getting surrendered!”

Notice the term that Matthew and Mark use in their parallel passages:

Matthew 26:24

24The Son of Mankind is indeed going away just as it is written concerning him, yet woe to that person through whom the Son of Mankind is getting surrendered! Ideal were it for him if that person were not born!”

Mark 14:21

“…21the Son of Mankind is indeed going away just as it is written concerning him, yet woe to that person through whom the Son of Mankind is getting surrendered! Ideal were it for him if that person were not born!”

This comparison suggests that Luke has in mind what was specified in writing, i.e., in Old Testament Scripture. The event prophesied (in blue) refers, of course, to his departure by crucifixion. Yet that’s only part of the complete scope of what was pre-specified in Scripture. Now let’s look at Luke’s other usages of the word in the book of Acts. (In each case, if the text indicates, I have underlined both the thing or person specified or designated as well as the agent responsible.)

Acts 2:23 (Peter speaking on the Day of Pentecost)

22This One, given up in the specific plan and foreknowledge [proginosko—‘pre-knowledge’] of God, you, gibbeting by the hand of the lawless, assassinate, whom God raises, loosing the pangs of death, forasmuch as it was not possible for him to be held by it.”

This message of Peter’s emphasizes the evils of Christ’s surrender, gibbeting, and assassination—mainly as poignant backdrop for an honest and credible resurrection.

Acts 10:40-43 (Peter speaking in the house of Cornelius, the Roman centurion)

40This One God raises the third day, and gives him to become disclosed, 41not to the entire people, but to witnesses who have been selected before [proteneo—‘pre-selected’] by God, to us who ate and drank together with him after his rising from among the dead. 42And he charges us to herald to the people and to get certified that this One is he who has gotten specified by God to be Judge of the living and the dead. 43To this One are all the prophets [prophetespreasserters’] testifying: Everyone who is believing in him is to obtain the pardon of sins through his name.”

Here the “horizon” of what was “pre-horizoned” stretches out before us to embrace the Son’s Judgeship (in which the adopted sons also participate, according to 2 Corinthians 6)!

Acts 11:29-30

29Now just as any of the disciples thrived, each of them designate something to send to the brethren dwelling in Judea, for dispensing, which they do also, 30dispensing to the elders through the hand of Barnabas and Saul.”

Acts 17:26-27 (Paul speaking to Greeks in the Areopagus on Mars Hill)

26Besides, He makes out of one every nation of mankind, to be dwelling on all the surface of the earth, specifying the setting of the seasons and the bounds of their dwelling, 27for them to be seeking God, if, consequently, they may surely grope for Him and may be finding Him, though to be sure, not far from each one of us is He inherent…”

Acts 17:30-31 (Paul continues)

30Indeed, then, condoning the times of ignorance, God is now charging mankind that all everywhere are to repent, 31forasmuch as He assigns a day in which He is about to be judging the inhabited earth in righteousness by the Man whom He specifies, tendering faith to all, raising him from among the dead

The usage in Acts 2, in light of Luke 22, clarifies that Scripture is where the plan was specified in writing. The Acts 17 passages are from Paul’s famous speech on Mars Hill in Athens where, because his audience comprised educated Greeks, he never quotes the Hebrew Scriptures at all, but only Greek philosophers (notably, Epimenides of Crete, Cleanthes the Stoic and Aratus of Cilicia) to make his points. This probably explains why he does not outright declare Jesus as “the Man” to Whom “all the prophets are testifying,” as Peter does in his speech in the house of Cornelius in Acts 10, above, because Jewish prophets would carry no weight with these sophisticated Greeks. (Cornelius, though a Roman, was said to be “devout and fearing God with his entire household, doing many alms to the people and beseeching God continually…” Acts 10:2. Therefore he would obviously be familiar with and respectful toward the Jewish Scriptures.) Notice how this message of Paul’s in Acts 17 reinforces Peter’s message in Acts 10 about Christ being specified by virtue of his being raised from among the dead to be judging the earth.

Romans 1:1-5

1Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, a called apostle, severed for the proclamation of God 2(which He promises before [proepangello—pre-promises’] through His prophets [prophetes—pre-asserters’] in the holy Scriptures), 3concerning His Son (Who comes from [ek] the seed of David according to the flesh, 4Who is designated Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by [ek] resurrection of the dead), Jesus Christ, our Lord, 5through whom we obtained graciousness…”

There is a lot going on here. Notice the “pre” words, whose primary references go no farther back than the Old Testament. Notice also the interesting use of “ek” to distinguish the respective means by which he was born “according to the flesh” and “according to the Spirit”. The resurrection was the Spirit’s means of “birthing” Jesus as Son of God! Thus Paul forges a link between Christ’s being “designated Son of God” and his “resurrection”. Here we get “the rest of the Story” that unfolded under the thrust of God’s pre-designated plan. In fact, all three relevant passages in Acts include this element of Jesus’ “raising” or “resurrection” (unrelated Greek synonyms). Then in Peter’s speech he is designatedJudge.” As we have already observed, this nicely parallels Paul’s statement in Acts 17 that “the Man” was assigned a “judging” role, i.e., to be a Judge. These observations imply that the designation foretold in ancient prophecy testified to future events that would somehow pinpoint the identity or role of the designated person. This function also holds for Acts 2, although since this is an extended speech the assigned titles are delayed until verse 36, which says:

Acts 2:36 (Peter speaking)

36Let all the house of Israel know certainly, then, that God makes him Lord as well as Christ [Messiah]this Jesus whom you crucify!

The role of the Lord as Judge is mentioned in other Scriptures, too, so here we have an illuminating convergence of testimony. Even the titles Paul uses in Romans 1:4 may possibly be intended for inclusion in this designation. It will be helpful to recall these titles later in order to more satisfactorily re-interpret ‘predestination’.

Hebrews 4:7

“…7He is again specifying a certain day, ‘Today’—saying in David [in Psalm 95:7-8] after so much time, just as has been declared before:

‘Today, if ever His voice you should be hearing,

You should not be hardening your hearts’.” [that is, against the evidence/testimony of the voice]

Notice again that the specification was stated in a written Scripture from the Old Testament that could be referred to by later generations. Moreover, “a certain day” refers, as is common biblical shorthand, to a day of Judgment, as in Acts 17:31. This throws linguistic light on the usage of our word in the more elaborative passages, where it refers diversely to either: 1) the planned and foreknown events surrounding the Cross and Resurrection or 2) the Person who underwent this Satanic human abuse and divine vindication. Nothing else or more is either stated or further implied by these Scriptures in connection with horizo. But more particularly with reference to the notion of “predestination,” neither this passage nor Acts 11:29-30 and Acts 17:26-27, which contain the other two common uses of horizo, will easily allow for its translation as “destine.” Yet we should have been able to expect a comfortable fit if “prohorizo” really does mean “predestine.” Thus these common usages lend valuable linguistic testimony against the translation (and, as we shall see, even against the very idea of) ‘predestination’.

With the above as background, we may now turn to the term of pivotal interest for the alleged “doctrine of predestination.”

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Reconsidering Martin Luther’s “Theology of the Cross” on Reformation Day

October 31, 2016

Today is the 499th Anniversary of “Reformation Day”–when Martin Luther posted his rumbling “Ninety-Five Theses” concerning indulgences.  This marked an historic turning point in Western Christianity, one fraught with untold opportunities to “get the Story right this time.”  It was only a partial restoration of apostolic truth at best, and a sad caricature at worst.  Consequences follow.

By this time in the career of this blog site, I had hoped to publish more on the historic missteps of the Reformation with respect to the doctrine of the Atonement and its ramifications concerning the Protestant doctrines of Justification, Reconciliation, and Sanctification.  But other opportunities emerged that I felt I couldn’t pass up.  I needed to address the Governmental or Rectoral theory of Hugo Grotius for the sake of a young and able campus evangelist, Jesse Morrell.  A controversial interaction with a local Orthodox Presbyterian church also absorbed much time and energy.

With one year left until the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, I feel the need to return to the historic issues and assumptions of that era in order to account for the nearly wholesale declension into the penal-obsessed and death-focused dogmas of Atonement which befell that auspicious movement for human liberation from spiritual bondage.

Accordingly, I have decided to re-post my essay of three years ago that deals with Luther’s so-called “theologia crucis.”  This was by no means the authentic theology of Luther’s mature period.  To be sure, it actually predates even the indulgence controversy that catapulted the Augustinian monk into the limelight forever.  Nevertheless, some problematics of the theologia crucis attended all of Luther’s later thinking, and continually get replayed and rehashed along with  his final position.  I hope to explore these matters periodically over the next twelve months.

But in the meantime, I would encourage you to chew over the following essay in order to bone up on some irresolvable tensions that carry through both periods of the Reformer’s development.

                    *                    *                    *                    *                    *

Since today is Reformation Day, October 31st, when Martin Luther posted his historic “Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences,” I have decided to post the results of my study concerning the theologia crucis (theology of the Cross) that Martin Luther inaugurated. He coined the expression and launched the project on its problematic career. Over the years, I have come across the expression countless times, and with growing doubts about the validity of its varying contents and intended objectives. In August I finally decided to immerse myself in one of the best treatments of the subject to appear in recent decades, Alister McGrath’s well-regarded Luther’s Theology of the Cross: Martin Luther’s Theological Breakthrough (Oxford, UK; Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1985). I was not disappointed by his splendid treatment. However, as one who had arrived at vigorous certainty concerning the long-neglected centrality of Christ’s Resurrection in theology (although never doubting its importance for so-called apologetics), I sensed in the theologia crucis at least a partial explanation for the historic eclipse of the Resurrection. Nor was I disappointed by my own findings, in a sad irony. What follows is not so much a review of McGrath’s treatise, much less a summary, as a response by way of counterpoint. McGrath proceeds via mounting delight and approbation for Luther’s “progress” in his agenda. To the contrary, I advance in terms of growing concern and critical opposition at every new twist and turn of the fated program. What began as a strong hunch has matured into a settled conviction that the virtual neglect of the decisive role of Christ’s Resurrection from the dead for every aspect of salvation was an unintended consequence of the systematic pursuit of the theologia crucis. As we approach the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, isn’t it high time to reconsider its career as possibly harboring an error of serious and ramifying consequences? You decide.

                   *                    *                    *                    *                    *

Martin Luther’s epoch-making breakthrough concerning the meaning of the phrase “the righteousness of God” is commonly thought to have properly culminated in his “theologia crucis” (theology of the Cross). This is hardly surprising considering the circuitous route his thought traveled from the mortal fear of “God’s righteousness” that “punished sinners” by His wrath to a “righteousness of God” as “that by which the righteous lives by the gift of God, namely by faith, and this sentence, ‘the righteousness of God is revealed’, to refer to a passive righteousness, by which the merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous lives by faith’.” He “found the same analogy in other phrases such as the ‘work of God’ (that which God works within us), the‘power of God’ (by which he makes us strong), the‘wisdom of God’ (by which he makes us wise), the ‘strength of God’, the ‘salvation of God’ and the ‘glory of God’” (McGrath, p. 97, quoting from Luther’s 1545 Preface to the first volume of the new edition of his works, published at Wittenberg).

Even so, at that watershed moment, only a slight impulse might have deflected the nascent insights toward a destiny of full-blown “theologia resurrectis” contours. Instead, the Protestant movement chose the fateful alternative of a “theologia crucis,” which in view of the intransigent structure of the New Testament Gospel, then only dimly descried as Greek and Hebrew Scripture were just coming to light in print and in vernacular translation, could never quite fulfill its weighty promise.

According to Alister McGrath, “Luther interprets iustitia Christologically: God’s righteousness, understood as faithfulness to his promises, is demonstrated in the incarnation and death of the Son of God” (Luther’s Theology of the Cross, 107, emphasis added). The words “and death” reveal vestigial assumptions of Luther’s early theological education. As he himself recounts:

I had certainly been overcome with a great desire to understand St. Paul in his letter to the Romans, but what had hindered me thus far was not any ‘coldness of the blood’ so much as that one phrase in the first chapter: ‘The righteousness of God is revealed in it’. For I had hated that phrase ‘the righteousness of God’ which, according to the use and custom of all the doctors, I had been taught to understand philosophically, in the sense of THE FORMAL OR ACTIVE RIGHTEOUSNESS (as they termed it), BY WHICH GOD IS RIGHTEOUS, AND PUNISHES UNRIGHTEOUS SINNERS.  [McGrath, 95-96; all emphases added, R.L.R.]

Luther would draw a connection, then forge a link, between God’s righteousness as punitive and that death of God’s Son—a fateful error, as it turns out. The initial misstep that primed this errant interpretation was Luther’s misapprehension of Galatians 2:16. His above recollection disparages the generally accepted Aristotelian and Ciceronian legal maxim that righteousness/ justice “renders to each his due.” Recurring to the text of Paul, he exults:

A wonderful new definition of righteousness! This is usually described thus: ‘Righteousness is a virtue which renders to each man according to his due’ (iustitia est virtus reddens unicuique quod suum est). But here it says: ‘Righteousness is faith in Jesus Christ’ (fides Jhesu Christi)!  [McGrath, 112; emphases added, R.L.R.]

However, it is increasingly accepted by scholars that the Greek is here better rendered “faith[fulness] of Jesus Christ.” This translation allows for a very different unfolding of God’s justice than the course Luther, Melanchthon, and Calvin were to pursue—a course that led inevitably to a theologia crucis as a substitute for the theologia resurrectis of the Apostle Paul and, indeed, of all the New Testament writers who treat the death of Christ.

Because Luther did not perceive that the faithfulness of Jesus Christ required God to render to him his due, i.e., true justice, by raising him from the dead and giving him gloryfrom whence he commissioned his Holy Spirit to all who would merely believe so as to cleanse away their sins, justify them accordingly, and give them the rich down payment of agelong life, including extraordinary power for healing and testifying boldly concerning God’s impending Kingdom, plus the offer of a gratuitous inheritance in it—Luther had to fetch around for some alternative, some substitute for this resurrectionary, restorative, or “premial” (rewarding, from the Latin for the opposite of penal) solution to the justification of sinners.

This premial solution implies that there was actually no need for Luther to jettison distributive justice (iustitia distributiva) in order to find a gracious God. He had only to observe the real nature of God’s avenging (ekdik) via repayment ([ant]apodo) to His abused Son for his spilled blood, the just award or just due of which spilled over generously, in turn, according to God’s super-compensatory premial justice, to all sinners who exercise faith in response to the abundant testimony of the Gospel story.

Almost needless to say, Luther’s theological rejection of distributive justice (which is properly conceived as encompassing both penal and premial judgments) was a fateful move, not only because of its potential to spawn antinomianism (a disposition toward insubordination even to Christ’s law) which has followed Protestantism like a dark shadow, but for its direct ramifications for criminal justice and peacemaking, not to mention a host of other spheres of life.

Another misstep by Luther was his equating or identifying righteousness (as a “gift of God”) with faith in Christ.” He did not see that the actual “faithfulness of Christ” was the worthiness of Christ before God (coram deo) that called forth the righteousness/justice of God to avenge his cross by raising him from the dead through the power of the Holy Spirit poured out superabundantly, then shared with all mankind as the Gift of God par excellence, with signs and wonders following.

According to this reading, the “Gift of God” is simply the Holy Spirit of promise, not “faith in Christ” (fides Christi) per se. And, in fact, the biblical vocabulary overwhelmingly conforms to this expectation. But Luther was being shoved and tugged by multiple forces of his legal and monastic education, steeped as they were in the so-called via moderna of the late medieval period (the “modern way” of philosophical discourse that was becoming popular).

Luther had originally put great stock in humility (humilitas) as the contents of a person’s doing “that which in himself lies” (quod in se est) in preparation forgrace.” But he slowly changed his opinion because of the uncertainty of knowing whether one possessed enough humility for God to “give grace without fail,” in fulfillment of His covenant (pacta or testamentum), even though the “merit” of that humility was affirmed to be “de congruo on account of this promise of God and the covenant of mercy (pactum misericordiae)” (Weimar edition of Luther’s Works, 4.262.2-7; in McGrath, 89), and not de condigno (i.e., deserved, suitable, or adequate in itself). He eventually refused to concede that even this was sufficient to bring God’s grace in the absence of God’s prior “special grace.”

This new turn of thought necessarily evoked a change of opinion also about the power of unaided “free will” (so-called). And here we see the origin of Luther’s full-blown diatribe, On the Bondage of the Will (1525), against Erasmus. However, we must carefully observe that his solution for this “sickness” of the will was “prevenient grace” rather than the inherent power of the Gospel story of God’s raising Jesus from a death of the Cross. So here Luther makes yet another misstep and slips off the Gospel path of the New Testament. Even though he sees correctly that sinners are incapable of the true humility that the medieval tradition of the via moderna (of Gabriel Biel, et al) had specified for “the certain bestowal of God’s grace” as the “sine qua non” (lit., “without which not”—an essential condition or absolute prerequisite) of the human side of the covenant (pactum), yet his counter thrust was framed in the same faulty terms of “receiving grace,” only now preveniently (coming before) rather than following faith (as the apostles had taught). It implies that faith itself was entailed in that prevenient grace, so was necessarily also a “gift,” all contrary to the “pattern of sound explanations” found in Scripture alone (sola scriptura), ironically.

So although Luther came to displace humility as the way to enter God’s favor, he did so by replacing it with graceitself instead of with a faith generated by the “power of God unto salvation,” namely, the Gospel proclamation. This led to impossible logical conundrums in theology and, indeed, to a long and very persistent tradition of rationalizing the impossibilities as “mysteries” that “faith” must “humbly” accept. And we have come full circle to another version of insupportable, unsustainable, anxiety-producing humilitas.

The above confusions were further complicated at this stage by Luther’s assumption that faith in Christ (fides Christi), initially understood as the sine qua non of the human side of the covenant—the quod in se est required of human beings—was a human act, achieved by natural ability, without the additional help of “grace.” On the contrary, in Scripture faith is never even categorized under the rubric “act” or “work.” There, the capacity to believe is an in-created faculty of all human beings, ineffaceable even by the fall into sin. The book of Hebrews neatly clarifies faith as a non-work—a sabbath rest from work. The issue therefore is not its structure, but its direction, its object, its focus. The Gospel is worthy of our faith because it has the proof of sufficient, indeed, abundant testimony to back it up.

At the time of Luther’s exposition of Psalms 71 and 72 (70 and 71, respectively, in the Latin text of the Vulgate) in early 1514, he was identifying “the righteousness of God” (iustitia Dei) with faith in Christ (fides Christi), interpreted as humility. This means that God’s righteousness was still a radically subjective intra-human act (although by the end of 1515 one not originating within human beings, i.e., an act of the will, which was in “bondage,” but an act of God), namely, faith in Christ. This construction obscured in a single fell swoop both the faithfulness of the Son to all his Father’s will, as well as the justice of the Father in reciprocating by raising him from the dead—the inextricably tandem epicenters of apostolic covenantal objectivity.

Luther’s authentic Protestant switch from seeing this fides Christi as an act of man to seeing it as an act of God did not alter the fundamental structure of his erroneous framework, which all turns on the oddly and ironically termed “objective genitive” (the grammatical case of the Greek preposition) interpretation of pistis Christou (most decisively in Galatians 2-3, Romans 3, and Philippians 3) to mean human faith ‘inChrist” (who, accordingly, gets duly “objectified” as the “object of faith”), thus ipso facto sabotaging the correct teaching of Paul concerning the objective faithfulness of Jesus, which turns on the so-called “subjective genitive” interpretation of the case. Yet only this subjective genitive places the weight of salvific virtue where it belongs—inside of the Lord Jesus Christ. In turn, only this placement accords the “righteousness of God” its proper significance as the Father’s doing justice to His faithful Son by “objectively,” historically resurrecting him from the dead. Everything else begins to sort itself out and fall into line when we accord these most central truths their just due.

Luther’s Protestant proposal in effect “subjectivized” the righteousness of God, reducing it from a grand execution of due justice on behalf of His abused Son on the third day, to a virtue deposited into human beings as a “direct gift” from God in a “sovereignly” arbitrary manner (a theme Calvin was to take up with a vengeance before long), thereby overriding their enslaved wills by the benign bulldozer of “grace.”

Viewed from another standpoint: The “subjective genitive” demands a resurrectionary atonement; the “objective genitive” can settle for a substitutionary atonement. It is at this crossroads that several novel adjustments are invented by Luther out of sheer necessity in order to avert the vertigo that attends such a falling away from the solid ground of God’s resurrectionary solution to the injustice of the Cross. Not only “bondage of the will” (servum arbitrium), but also “the alien righteousness of Christ” (iustitia Christi aliena) now make their stage debut, followed by the necessity of repeating emphatically and often that believers in Christ are “simultaneously righteous and sinful” (simul iustus et peccator). Other makeshifts will follow concerning “imputation.” These all stem from the tension or dialectic now emergent by having to see the entire man (totus homo) at one and the same time as “before God” (coram Deo) and “before man” (coram hominibus) now that the righteousness of God has been “cast to earth,” subjectivized in “man.” Luther must now do some mighty fancy footwork to account for the “invisibility” of this subjectivized righteousness, “hidden,” “visible only to God,” etc.

Now talk of “hypocrisy” comes to the surface with fresh vigor to lend an explanatory hand or, rather, a heavy rationalizing hand. For if this newly bestowed righteousness is perfect before God, yet barely evident to oneself or others, then it must somehow, paradoxically, be extrinsic or “alien.” Thus Luther parted ways with his former mentor, Johann von Staupitz (vicar of the Augustinian monastery in Wittenberg), who still saw righteousness as inherent in “man” (although of course originating “ultimately” in God, as Augustine had rationalized)—“iustitia in nobis,” in us. For Luther it is now viewed as outside of us, “iustitia extra nos.” And the dicing grows apace… interminably. We can only sympathize as he agonizes.

Luther passed his new baton to his celebrated colleague at Wittenberg, Philip Melanthchon, who ran with it to the finish line: “forensicjustification. This, as we can now see in retrospect, was simply code for “penal,” thus effectively stripping justice of its integral bi-polarity and one-sidedly reducing any saving virtue to an exclusively punitive necessity. Hence, Luther’s early choice of paths dictated an ever-widening divergence from earlier traditions and a logarithmic expansion of opportunity for others to elaborate and complicate his errors beyond measure, not to say beyond recognition as apostolic. This set the stage for a Pietistic reaction away from the emerging neo-scholasticism of the Post-Reformation.  Alas!  What a tangled web we weave!

From here we can see the looming specter of a full-blown theologia crucis. Luther first poses a radical dichotomy between human and divine concepts of righteousness, demolishing in principle any continuum between them. Out of this feat are spawned further mysteries and paradoxes and, at length, the dubious promise of existential and dialectical theologies. Essences and qualities and substances are played off against imputations and reckonings and eschatons, reminiscent of the grand old gnostic fabrications of yore. There was indeed a certain air of desperation around the new effusions surfacing on account of the inherent instability of this new subjectivism. It was fraught with inner tensions and polar extremes.

The “eye for an eye” or quid pro quo Code of Justinian was found to be objectionable now that an alternative to the via moderna had presumably been discovered to have more power to give assurance of salvation and grace. But this was an alternative that did not contain the element of resurrection as an intrinsic, integral component of justification to serve as an objective ballast against the storms of life’s temptations and trials.

As a corollary, “reason” was eventually jettisoned since Luther concluded that because God justifies sinners, the process of justification must be completely at odds with reason. And if reason is dispensable to justification, it must be dispensable to theology as well. From that vantage point one could almost smell the rotten fruits that were to follow. The reasonableness of the Resurrection to bring deserved justice to Jesus and gratuitous justification to the rest of us had been sadly obscured, and a measure of darkness fell on Christendom…again.

To pursue Luther’s declension a step further, his famous notion of Deus crucifixus et absconditus (“the crucified and hidden God”) is simply a predictable knee-jerk reflex of absenting Christ’s resurrection from soteriological relevance. Since he held that the Cross was the center of God’s revelation of “righteousness” (dikaiosune), whereas we see only a tortured and allegedly sinless victim of extraordinary injustice there, then something vital is clearly missing. Luther docks that up to its being “hidden” (absconditus). Instead, what has happened is that the Resurrection has been absconded with. For the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus was the actual bona fide revelation (Rom. 1:17), manifestation (Rom. 3:21), and display (Rom. 3:26) of God’s justice (dikaiosune). This is the Gospel. Luther only missed it by a garden tomb. Yet without the integral component of resurrection, the Cross becomes a “mystery,” a “paradox,” and God retreats into an unseemly silence precisely when His rescuing services are most desperately needed. Luther’s well-meant but seriously distorted representations stand as a de facto mockery of the apostolic Gospel and should not go unchallenged.

Naturally, Luther’s chain of reasoning would continue to wind around other theological commonplaces to result in a yet more entrenched bondage of theology. Since the resurrectionary answer of God to the Cross was not loud and clear to him, the alleged “revelation” of God in the Cross was said to be visible “only to the eyes of faith.” (See, by contrast, the only place in the New Testament where any similar metaphor is to be found—Ephesians 1:15-22, “the eyes of your heart having been enlightened”—amid Paul’s stirring resurrectionary riff!) This notion only further reinforced the irrationality of the “gospel” of Luther, building as it did on his imported dualism of “faith vs. reason.” The whole of future Lutheran theology lies here in seed form. Naturally, scriptures would be sought and found (and decontextualized) to shore up such disproportionate developments, e.g., Isaiah 45:15, “Truly you are a hidden God!” “The concept of a hidden God (absconditus Deus) lies at the centre of the theology of the cross…” (McGrath, 150).

Link by steady link, Luther is shackling theology to a dead albatross when it should be soaring aloft to exalted, resurrectionary heights. He represents every impulse to escape this corpse of doctrine as an errant “theology of glory” (theologia gloriae). We retort by way of query: is an “escape” from the Cross into the joy of Resurrection a move to “seek for God apart from Christ” (McGrath, 150)? Didn’t Jesus himself “escape” the fatal cross by this precise route? Doesn’t he—don’t all the New Testament writers—teach us to expect this for ourselves?

Thus alienated from the power of Christ’s resurrection, theologically speaking, Luther must fetch around for a replacement for its evangelically indispensable role. His desperate play meant that the immense value of the resurrection of Christ for providing comfort and assurance in our own sufferings and persecutions was to a significant degree lost, and the resulting churches would limp, spiritually crippled. (See McGrath’s explanation of Luther’s opus proprium Dei vs. opus alienum Dei, 151.) However the alleged “revelation in the Cross” that human “Reason cannot penetrate is unveiled with ease by divine “Raising of the Crucified One to glory, which in turn raises human sights to God’s throne above.

Luther taught that human wisdom takes offense at the Cross. Very well, yet was the Resurrection not wise, or at least was it not perfectly designed to neutralize such offense? Indeed, CHRIST’S RESURRECTION REHABILITATES “REASON” AND REVEALS THAT THE GOSPEL IS ACTUALLY HYPER-REASONABLE. The Gospel of the Cross-cum-Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ is only an “offense” (snare—skandalon) or “stupidity” (moria) to those who choose other paths to God or to the summum bonum, etc., as Jews and Greeks, respectively, were culturally disposed to do.

Luther is correct enough that Anfechtung (temptation) drives us to Christ…but in truth, it drives us beyond dalliance at his cross to the solid comfort of his resurrection. Yet in asserting, “The cross alone is our theology” (CRUX sola est nostra theologia), Luther inaugurated a tragic course of departure from the repeated testimonies of apostolic Scripture, and a retarding of real theological progress. By becoming a “theologian of the Cross” he effected a Cross-wiring of the Gospel that, in the long run of elapsed history, has proved to be a dud in significant respects. He declared, “living, or rather dying and being damned make a theologian, not understanding, reading or speculating” (vivendo immo morienda et damnando fit theologus, not intelligendo, legendo aut speculando) (McGrath, 152). Not altogether so for the apostles. They had to know themselves dead and raised with Christ before they really grasped what their Master and Teacher had been talking about all along. The Cross would have been reduced to less than a grave marker for them unless Christ had exploded from the tomb, alive forevermore!

Luther’s neglect or oversight concerning the soteriological role of Christ’s resurrection embroiled him in all the tortured impossibilities of his theologia crucis. Hence McGrath too sanguinarily invites:

For example, consider the wrath of God revealed at the cross. To reason, God thus appears wrathful; to faith, God’s mercy is revealed in this wrath. There is no question of God’s mercy being revealed independently of his wrath, or of an additional and subsequent revelation of God’s mercy which contradicts that of his wrath. In the one unitary event of revelation in the cross, God’s wrath and mercy are revealed simultaneously—but only faith is able to recognize the opus proprium [His own proper work] as it lies hidden under the opus alienum [His “strange” work of wrath]; only faith discerns the merciful intention which underlies the revealed wrath; only faith perceives the real situation which underlies the apparent situation.  [p. 165]

Huh? Still no word of resurrection! God is still silent, still absconditus! Poor, poor Luther! Poor, poor Protestantism! Poor, poor theology! We can barely start to unpack all the errors laminated in this paragraph. The authentic opus proprium is Christ’s Resurrection; the opus alienum is, on the other hand, but a strange figment, an imaginary fabrication, a phantom.

Obscurantism became the fashion in theology and, worse, in preaching. It became a duty to believe in God’s hiddenness, and that soon became a hideout for dark suspicions about His real, His underlying, His ultimate, intentions toward sinful human beings. The specter of “predestination” was conjured into existence, rearing its frightful head as an occulta (concealed) will of God. The shuddering thought that Something monstrous was actually concealed behind the now strange act of God in the Cross (because now severed from the Resurrection that alone gave it authentic, evangelical, user-friendly meaning by revealing God’s conciliatory intentions, thereby dispelling the strange notion that God’s wrath was present there at all) haunted every close inquiry into the Crucifixion, and the church became alienated from a heavenly Father revealed to be merciful and gracious PRECISELY BY HIS RAISING JESUS FROM THE DEAD AFTER THREE DAYS!

Faith itself gets contorted and pressed into involuntary service to probe mysteries; it gets “eyes” that can somehow “see” what theologians conjecture must be there, and all because the theologians cannot see what apostolic testimony has vouchsafed as actually happeningChrist’s victorious resurrection from the cross’s boastful, grisly finality. Indeed, apart from Christ’s resurrection, his cross is transmuted into mystery and deep darkness. We force the cross to bear too much weight—not only sins, but also speculations, suspicions, secrets. THE CROSS IN SUCH GRIM ISOLATION RENDERS GOD INSCRUTABLE. Such invoking of God’s “hiddenness” is a deadly bane to the gracious knowledge of God so realistically offered in the premial, resurrectionary Gospel.

Thus Luther’s treacherous theologia crucis leads not upward to the progressive knowledge of the gracious Father (whom Luther craved so poignantly), but downward through many a thorny dilemma to a new uncertainty, rivaling that which afflicted his youth (and all Western Christendom). However, his new Angst is not so much the fruit of overreaction into a polar opposite as it is the consequence of exploiting a half-truth for more than it is worth. The Cross without the Resurrection is but a half truth, and not the better half. A cross might have happened without a resurrection (usually did), but the Resurrection would have been impossible without the Cross. The Cross is always at least implicit in the proclamation of the Resurrection from the dead of the Lord Jesus Christ; not so the inverse. Thus if there were ever a need to make a choice between them, there can hardly be a debate which to choose.

All talk of “the eye of faith discerning the invisible situation” is a bow to mysticism, which has little in common with “the faith once given over to the saints” (Jude 3), substantiated by “so vast a cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) to those empirical, public events. McGrath curiously represents Luther’s perspective to be quite otherwise than apostolically lucid.

In a sermon delivered on 24 February 1517, Luther remarked: “Man hides his own things, in order to conceal them; God hides his own things, in order to reveal them.” [If Luther had the briefly delayed Resurrection in mind by this revelation, we might agree with him; yet if he had meant that, then his theologia crucis would all but dissolve, and this present critique would be pointless. R.L.R.] This is an excellent summary of Luther’s early understanding of the significance of the hiddenness of God’s revelation. God works in a paradoxical way sub contrariis: his strength lies hidden under apparent weakness; his wisdom under apparent folly; his opus proprium under his opus alienum; the future glory of the Christian under his present sufferings. It will therefore be clear that there is a radical discontinuity between the empirically perceived situation and the situation as discerned by faith. To the eye of reason, all that can be seen in the cross is a man dying in apparent weakness and folly, under the wrath of God [rather, “under the wrath of Jewish leaders and Roman authorities,” for only Protestant “reason” can see the wrath of God here; that, too, is merely “apparent”—R.L.R.]. If God is revealed in the cross, he is not recognizable as God. Empirically, all that can be discerned are the posteriora Dei. Reason therefore, basing itself upon [w]hat is empirically discernible, deduces that God cannot be present in the cross of Christ, as the perceived situation in no way corresponds to the preconceived situation. The ‘theologian of glory’ expects God to be revealed in strength, glory and majesty, and is simply unable to accept the scene of dereliction on the cross as the self-revelation of God.  [McGrath, 167]

All these paradoxical words would melt and evaporate in the light and heat of Christ’s Resurrection as the manifestation, revelation, and display of God’s glory, power, and justice, which does not require a so-called “discernment of faith” but only a simple faith in corroborating eyewitness testimonies.  To find Luther emphasizing in the Dictata Super Psalterium (August 16, 1513-October 20. 1515) that

faith stands in total contradiction to the perception of the senses, characterized by its ability to see past visibilia and recognize the invisibilia which lie behind them (basing it on Heb. 11:1), and that empirical verification of the conclusions reached by faith is utterly impossible; in that sense perception necessarily contradicts it [McGrath, 167-68]

is, in spirit, more a reflex of his total lack of integrating the Resurrection into his soteriology than of the prima facie meaning of Hebrews 11:1.  Biblical faith is mounted on solid testimonies about past divine behavior, which handily supply the foundation for action going forward into the otherwise unknown future, with sturdy expectancy. Luther’s construct is a Halloween house of mirrors, unintentionally distorting God’s image into a monstrosity.

Alister McGrath continues his glowing epitome of Luther’s thought: “Whereas worldly wisdom deals with visible things—and hence can call upon the evidence of sense-perception in support of its conclusions—faith is denied this possibility” (p. 168). It is surely no wonder that “an earlier generation of theologians detected a hidden neo-Platonism behind Luther’s statements on faith” (p. 168), for although this opinion “is no longer taken seriously,” the ill effects of such an easily detected similarity played themselves out regardless. Luther was moving toward the shoals of a Platonic-like cosmic, or at least experiential, dualism of perennially vicious tendency. All these dangers can be traced back to Luther’s hyper-cross-centered purblindness concerning the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. For indeed, God’s justice and power and glory were invisible at the Cross, and for a very good reason: they were not there, nor were they “hidden” behind it; they were simply in strategic abeyance for a couple of days…for Heaven’s sake! For how could God the Father reveal His redemptive, liberating, rescuing, saving power and glory unless He had a sufficiently provocative occasion—a worthy victim of Satan’s supreme injustice? But this set-up clearly (?) had nothing to do with a God negligent of His covenanted duties to save the upright, instead hiding from public view in order to make His ultimate intentions (“secret will”) mysterious and arouse phobic awe. No. He was merely waiting—a delay that Psalmists often reported, and usually with frustration, yet with evident faith, which, after all, is the pedagogic function of such divine temporizing. God was certainly taking His own precious time…yet what a worthwhile outcome! Luther need not have acquiesced in any sentiment even vaguely resembling Platonic dualism had he further probed Paul’s Gospel…or John’s, who brought Mary, Martha, and Lazarus to the witness stand.

It must strike us ironic that it was Martin Luther’s own “reason” which, to be sure, did confuse his comprehension of the Gospel so as to spin out a radically wayward theologia crucis, step by treacherous step. This must stand as one of the most tragic mistakes of the Protestant Reformation since it lies at the very heart and soul of the movement and was so needless. Everything else turns on one’s doctrine of God, especially why and how He saves human beings from Satan and sin and evil and death. So, indeed, as McGrath observes, Luther’s Christology is the focal point of his early doctrine of faith, but a cross-centered dualism of visible vs. invisible realms is a dualism nonetheless, and a pernicious one at that. A better integrated comprehension of Christ’s resurrection would have ironed out his bumpy, wrinkled doctrine nice and smooth and straight. (At last, on p. 169, McGrath mentions Christ’s resurrection for the first time!)

Not surprisingly, Luther started resorting to the language of mysticism to help explain his experience. The Anfechtung that afflicted him in the wake of the absconding (!) of the resurrectionary explanation for the Cross (that is, Paul’s authentic “Word of the Cross,” finally elaborated at length, in full view, in I Corinthians 15) compelled and prodded him toward the obscurity of medieval mystics. (To be fair, John Tauler, Luther’s favorite, was arguably the most edifying of these; at the very dawn of the Reformation, Luther republished the Theologia Germanica, a mystical devotional treatise usually attributed to Tauler.)

The descent did not halt there. The further uncertainties of predestination invaded his mind like a pack of demons storming a clean, empty house (see p. 172). Luther invoked this Pandora’s box in his treatise against Erasmus, Of the Bondage of the Will. All these dark forces began to pile up on him in the absence of apostolic, resurrectionary certainty and were aggravated by his general disdain for early Christian authors, who showed so little acquaintance with his gospel.

The attempt at a “theologia crucis” is a grim, five-centuries-long exhibit of the decline that must ensue when the theological centrality of Christ’s resurrection—the vibrant, pulsing, vitalizing, joy-filled heartbeat of the apostolic Gospel and ante-Nicene Christian authors—is neglected and de facto negated. Christ’s resurrection, triggered from on high by the wrongful shedding of his sinless blood, must again be honored, as in apostolic days of old, if a worthier restoration of the New Testament faith and ethos is to be achieved. May the God who raised Jesus from the dead grant us to grasp again in a profound and pervasive way “the grace of the Resurrection.” May this become the pulse, the heartbeat, the drumbeat of a New Reformation to come.

August 19-23, 25-26, November 10-11, 22-25, 27-29, December 1, 6-9, 2013, February 2, August 1, 2014

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Calvin’s “Predestination” flows from his “Limited Atonement” and both, in turn, from his “Penal Satisfaction”

For Calvinists to run down the Scofield Reference Bible for “imposing” Dispensationalism on its unsuspecting readers (which it most certainly does!) is the pot calling the kettle black, since Calvinists were the very first Protestants to perpetrate such a mind-twisting imposture in the Geneva Bible. [8/15/09]

Those who posit an eternal degree in God by which He has ordained some to life and the rest to death make of Him a tyrant, and in fact an idol, as the pagans made of Jupiter.” — Jerome Bolsec, M.D. “Arrested and banished from Geneva with the warning that if he ever returned he would be flogged” for declaring the above words. Dave Hunt, What Love Is This? Calvinism’s Misrepresentation of God (Sisters, OR: Loyal Publishing, 2002), p. 85. [8/15/09]

The actual logic of the matter (which Arminius, alas, did not yet quite see) is that the erroneous “predestination” of Calvin followed from limited atonement,” not the other way around. This fact was not clearly visible due to the powerful, invisible undercurrent of penal satisfaction upon which all sides unquestionably, uncritically agreed. But it was only this penal “payment that placed a “limit” on the graciousness released by the Atonement. For all sides concurred with the notion that Jesus’ suffering on the cross was the soteric commodity needing to be “economized” for its “exchange value” in ransoming/redeeming sinners by “paying for their sins.” If it was not to be improvidently “wasted” on ungrateful reprobates, it would have to be calculated, parceled out, and rationed with a thrifty eye to a productive investment and profitable payoff in dividends for the “Sovereign” Investor.

IT WAS TO INSURE THIS POSTULATED INVESTMENT THAT AUGUSTINE’S WAYWARD BRAINCHILD OF ‘ABSOLUTE DOUBLE PREDESTINATION’ WAS, AT LAST, COMPLETELY EXHUMED AND PLACED ON PUBLIC DISPLAY IN CALVIN’S INSTITUTES, etc. Thus did Augustine’s toxic dogmas come to re-infect the world and more thoroughly overturn the apostle Paul, arguably, than perhaps any other single factor in history. [8/15/09]

A gospel that does not exult and boast in the restorative, rewarding, i.e., premial justice or righteousness of God is a grossly deficientgospel”—Paul would not recognize it as good news at all! A gospel that dares to boast and pride itself in merely penal justice—no matter what the proposed mechanism (e.g., “substitution” and “imputation”) he would anathematize as “a different gospel, which is NOT [truly] ANOTHER” but rather a distortion that disturbs the saints! (Galatians 1:6-9)



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The Weakest Link in Calvinism’s ‘Five Points’ of Penal Satisfaction

The extent of the Atonement was the weakest link in Calvinism’s system of penal satisfaction [as I explain in the paper, “Anselm, Calvin, and Arminius:  Reconciliation by Resurrection?” at the top of this blog site]. When Theodore Beza closed that link securely in the next generation in order to be more consistent with penal payment (and his devotee, William Perkins, to be more “reasonable” than John Calvin himself!), Jacob Arminius pried it back open—in fact all the way open to embrace potentially the whole fallen race.

However, all unintentionally Arminius’s passion for consistency with Scripture started to burst the whole chain of penal bondage, especially from that weak link. He was not finished by the time he died, but a proper, solid start had been made. Hugo Grotius attempted to go further when he saw the implications of “relaxing” the severe restraints of Calvin’s logic. But his incipient beginning faltered by not reinstating premial justice in the essential role and so brought some disrepute on the basically correct direction in which Arminius had worthily launched. [8/06/09]

Arminius held (in full agreement with the ante-Nicene authors, I might add) that there is no present assurance of final salvation. This means we have to be ever wary lest the Adversary snatch away the Good Seed of God’s Explanation, which is the power for salvation. If this proviso is “bad news” to you, then you have not quite firmly grasped the Good News, which is our only abiding assurance of salvation! GET A GRIP!  Then enjoy the trip. [8/06/09]

Yes, believers can (sadly) become unbelievers; those who stand in faith may fall away from the faith; those who stand in graciousness may fall from graciousness; those who have tasted of the Holy Spirit may so grieve, resist, and quench (not to mention slander) the Spirit so that it departs; those having gotten regenerated by the powerful Seed of the Explanation may find it languishes, gets choked by the cares of this world, or gets snatched from their hearts; the saved may become no longer safe; indeed, the elect (only due to their faith!) may become the tragically unchosen if they do not remain in the faith-nourishing Word and keep walking in the Spirit of faith

Oh, I had almost forgotten, those destined to sonhood so long as they remained in the Word, stayed in the True Vine, grew and persisted in the faith, stood in God’s graciousness, and walked in the Spirit, if they should be “shrinking back into destruction” (Hebrews 10:38-39), never finally arrive at that destiny of sonship, but become “children of darkness” and “of wrath” instead. It would have been “better for them not to have recognized the way of righteousness/justice, than recognizing it, to go back to what was behind, from the wholesome precept given over to them. Now that in the true proverb has befallen them: ‘A cur turning to its own vomit’ and ‘A bathed sow to her wallowing in the mire’” (2 Peter 2:21-22).


This is not novel doctrine; the entire early church before Augustine is virtually unanimous (i.e., ‘catholic’!) on the matter, precisely because the entire apostolic corpus is in solidarity on the issue.

But under the terrorizing regime of penal satisfaction, the character and motivation of the Father is so twisted and caricatured that the contingency takes on a sinister, malign ambience that is not at all natural to the joyful Proclamation of the Father’s graciousness as rooted in His premial justice toward the appointed Savior, Jesus Christ. The Father desires children whom He may nurture and shepherd toward a destiny of mature sonship to inherit allotments of a many-sided salvation.  IS IT AT ALL LIKELY THAT HE WOULD NOT BE SOLICITOUS FOR THEIR STAYING WITHIN HIS GRACIOUS AND LOVING EMBRACE?! Yet if they insist on somehow wriggling out to go play in the street…on the freeway…in the fast lane of the world, He will not, after due warning and repeated loving admonitions, hold them against their will. He treats them as children so long as they are willing to remain His offspring, and He promises to take them back if they should change their minds, turn about, and return to their Father’s house (provided they do so in time…).

But what shall we say about ‘elder brothers’ who take offense at such non-Calvinistic (that is to say, non-penal) generosity, indeed, at such fatherly “sovereign” graciousness to the diselect? Tragically, they may turn themselves out of the Father’s graciousness, indeed, out of His house altogether. For, after all is said and done, “many are called [by the intrinsically powerful Gospel], but few are chosen.” God chooses all who “remain in [Christ’s] Explanation” (John 8:31-47) to become His children permanently. But others are ‘free’ to come…and go, since they are human beings, for God’s sake! [8/06/09]

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