Revival Theology: a book review

Revival has always played a significant role in American evangelicalism. The First and Second Great Awakenings (in the period roughly 1740-1840), transformed the religious landscape of our country and provided our communities with inspiring conversion stories (and hope for similar acts of God). But what were the theologies that underpinned these revivals? What was it that the revivalists actually believed?  Robert Caldwell III (Ph.D., Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is associate professor of church history at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. In Theologies of American Revivals, he provides a comprehensive overview of the major theologians that shaped the First and Second Great Awakenings.

5164Caldwell describes these revivalists in chronological order. His first three chapters discuss the first Great Awakening. In chapter 1, Caldwell describes the early revivalists (George Whitefield and others) and explores the theological features of the Moderate Calvinist theology (New Light) that inspired the first Awakening. There were three features of moderate evangelical revivalism: (i) Conviction of sin—the preparation of the heart to receive Christ (brought about by various means and a protracted conversion process) (ii) Conversion—the Spirit’s implanting illumination and regenerating the soul, and (iii) Consoltation—the experience of assurance of salvation through self-examination and sanctification.

In chapter 2, Caldwell describes two ‘Great Awakening alternatives’ to this moderate evangelicalism. First, he describes the free grace revivalism of Andrew Croswell, which emphasized passivity,  and criticized moderate evangelicals for confusing the message of grace by emphasizing ‘spiritual works and religious experiences, and for their lengthy conversion process (46) Creswell posited instead that salvation was available immediately, ‘in right and grant’ to all who believe (48), and that assurance of God’s love was what drew sinners to repentance (54).

The other alternative was found in the theology of Jonathan Edwards, himself a moderate evangelical. While Edwards  was similar to other New Lights, his theological innovation was ‘a voluntarist accent to his theology’ which impacted his understanding of original sin (all men are complicit in Adam’s sin)( 58-62) and free will (humans have a moral inability to choose Christ apart from the Spirit’s work, but a natural, inherent ability to repent and believe) (63-68). He also promoted a ‘disinterested spirituality’ which redescribed conversion as coming to behold the objective, moral beauty of God (68-72).  In chapter 3, Caldwell describes how the New Divinity School, (John Bellamy, Samuel Hopkins, John Edwards, Jr., etc), built on Edward’s theological innovations and brought them to mature expression.

Chapters four through six describe, generally, the theologies of the Second Great Awakening. Chapter four describes the Congregationalists (who promoted an Edwardsean style revival) and the ‘New School Presbyterian Revivalism’ of  Nathaniel William Taylor, which was more optimistic than Edwards on the freedom of the will. Chapter five explores the Arminian revivalism of Methodists in the Second Great Awakening and chapter six explores the diversity of theology among early American Baptists.

Chapter seven provides an analysis of the theology of Charles Finney. Caldwell shows that Finney was deeply influenced by the New Divinity School and had an Edswardsean superstructure under-girding his revival theology.  Finney followed Edwards and the New Divinity school’s emphasis on  ‘disinterested spirituality’ and their atonement theology (174-75); nevertheless, his theological anthropology was indebted to Taylorism (sinner has moral ability  to repent and believe),  and he employed ‘new measures’ (e.g. prayers, protracted meetings, and ‘the anxious bench’) to effect revival.

Chapter 8 describes two skeptical responses to revivalism. The first was the Old Light Calvinism of Princeton (Archibald Alexander and Charles Hodge), which critiqued, especially, the New School Revivalism of Taylor and Finney. The second critical response came from Restorationists like Alexander Campbell and Walter Scott, which offered a biblicist response to revivalism.

Caldwell describes common threads running through both Awakenings and distinctives of important figures. I learned quite a bit from this book, especially from his articulation of Edwardsean theology and the theology of Charles Finney.  Having not read deeply of either thinker (I’ve read more Edwards than Finney), I found that Caldwell helpful articulated their theology. I was always taught to cast a critical eye to Finney for the ways he turned revival into a ‘set of techniques’ instead of a work of the Spirit. While it is true that Finney did employ ‘new measures’ and style of preaching to effect revival, Caldwell points out that he saw the Holy Spirit as the necessary agent:

Finney is often characterized as a mechanizer of revival, one who has so thoroughly overthought the human side of the revival process that there seems to be no place for the Holy Spirit in a genuine revival of religion. This caricture is inaccurate, however. When we peer into his writings we find him repeatedly noting the necessity of the Holy Spirit’s efficacy in the conversion process and the vast importance of remaining utterly dependent on him for grace (184).

Caldwell offers a more balanced, evenhanded treatment of Finney, even if he remains critical of aspects of his theology.

Because this book focuses solely on the ‘theology of revivalists,’ and ‘the theology of revival,’ it treats the practices of the Great Awakenings in less detail and doesn’t describe every feature of the revivals. For example, The Great Awakenings both had impacts on African American communities (Albert Raboteau, Slave Religion, OUP, 1978, pp 128-31). Caldwell doesn’t make any mention of race, or the abolitionist movement, though he does mention temperance (123). The emphasis throughout is on sin, redemption, the means and meaning of conversion. He focuses on the theological systems of major tenets of revival.

Caldwell notes in his conclusion, ” After the Second Great Awakening there were no major developments in the History of American revival similar to the changes that took place between 1740 and 1840″ (227).  This seems like a major assertion, especially when you consider the impact of Pentecostalism and the Charismatic movement in the 20th Century; however, Caldwell again is limiting his discussion of revival to issues surrounding the nature and meaning of conversion. Pentecostalism builds on the Holiness theology of Methodism, which is discussed in this text.

Evangelicals in America are still impacted by the religious thought of these revivalists. Caldwell has produced a substantive volume that explores conversion, conviction of sin, the bondage and freedom of the will, sanctification. This book will be of interest to anyone interested in theology or church history and will be a helpful aid in thinking through these issues. I give this four stars.

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from IVP Academic in exchange for my honest review .

A Constitution for the People of God: a ★★★★★ book review

What do you think of The Ten Commandments? Nope, I am not talking about Charlton Heston in Technicolor, but the words God spoke to Moses on Mt. Sinai. The Decalogue has been revered for the way it has provided a basis for law in Western culture, but more recently it has been a point of controversy. People have wondered if  the Ten Commandments—a religious words— on a courthouse wall are a violation of the separation of church and state. Sadly, many of us don’t think of the Ten Commandments much at all, or when we do we feel good about the two or three commandments we’ve managed not to break. In The Decalogue: Living as the People of GodDavid L Baker helps see the way these ten commandments are God’s “Ten Word” guide for how now we ought to live.

5169Baker is a lecturer in biblical studies at All Nations Christian College and former senior lecturer in Old Testament at Trinity Theological College in Perth, and the deputy warden of Tyndale House, Cambridge. He has also taught in Indonesia and is theauthor of several books and articles. His research interests include the Decalogue, Deuteronomy and wealth and poverty in the Old Testament.

The Decalogue itself provides the basic outline for this book. However an introductory section discusses the Shape, Form, Origin and Purpose of the Ten Commandments. This is followed by sections on the two tables. First a section on Loving God (commandments 1-5, all the Godward commands and the commandment about Honoring Parents), then a section on Loving Neighbor (commandments 6-10). A final section entitled The Decalogue Today serves as the conclusion and discusses the ongoing relevance of the ten commandments.

Baker’s introduction and concluding essays are developed from articles he has previously published. In his introduction he discusses the arrangement and numbering of the commandments in Judeo-Christian history, and the organization of the command into two tables. He describes the canonical forms (Exodus 20 and Deut. 5) and cultural parallels. He discusses the origins of the commandments as Divine speech—ten words direct from God, unlike the book of the Covenant, the Holiness Code or the Deutrenomic Law (29).  Finally Baker delineates the purpose of these commands as setting ground rules of how the covenant people ought now to live (having been liberated from slavery in Egypt).

Baker begins his discussion of each  of the commandments with a look at similar commands throughout the Ancient Near East, noting continuity and discontinuity with the surrounding cultures (i.e. He references the Hammurabi and other ancient legal codes, documents and literature from Canaanite, Ugaritic, Akkadian, Egyptian, Persian, Babylonian and other Mesopotamian cultures). For the most part there are ancient parallels, but there is no parallel in the ancient world for the concept of Sabbath rest. This is unique to the covenant community of Israel (though, Baker does note a special significance of seven in Ugartic and Canaanite literature)(72-73). Next, he examines each command with the frame of the ten commandments and the cannon, and draws out reflections as to their meaning for us. Baker’s focus on the historical  and canonical context enriches our understanding of the significance of these commands for the covenant community of Israel.

The concluding essay describes the ongoing significance of the Ten Commandments for providing an ethical frame and basis of life for the people of God—for the Jews first but also for Christians:

The Decalogue is the constitution of the People of God, written in stone by the supreme Lawgiver. In Old and New Testament times it provided the basis for life in the covenant community and has continued to do so for many Jews ever since. Christians too, grafted into the people of God by faith (Romans 11:11-24). recognize the Decalogue as God’s gift to them. Indeed for all who have ears to here, whatever their creed, this unique and fascinating set of laws still has a great deal to say about relationships with God and other people. It contains essential principles for living as the people of God that are as relevant in the twenty-first century as when they were first given (158-159).

Baker’s approach is  commendable, it is both historically and canonically sensitive.  My reading of the Decalogue was enriched by the way Baker presented them alongside other Ancient Near East literature, showcasing the idiom by which God spoke to and connected to Israel in its historical context. I could tell you this is the best book I’ve read on the ten commandments, but that doesn’t tell you much (I’ve only read a couple). More significantly, I will use this book if I am ever called upon to teach or preach the Decalogue. This book is a model of good biblical exegesis, sensitive to the thought world of the original audience and connected to life today.

I give this book an enthusiastic five stars and recommend it for preacher, bible teachers, students, and conscientious Bible readers who want to understand the Old Testament better (and its significance for us).

– ★★★★★

Notice of Material Connection: I was provided a copy of this book from IVP Academic in exchange for my honest review.

Word, Sacrament & Spirit: a book review

Gordon Smith’s Evangelical, Sacramental & Pentecostal begins with a couple of anecdotes. Smith tells about being on a bus heading to a theological conference in Lima, Peru, where he was to speak. He struck up a conversation with Chilean Anglicans and asked them what was distinctive about the Anglican church in their context. They responded,”The Anglican church in Chile is evangelical but not sacramental.” Smith silently mused, “but why do you have to choose.”(1) Later that year he was visiting a Baptist theological college in Romania before heading to a Pentecostal college. His Baptist host made clear the difference, “we are evangelical, they are pentecostal” (1-2).
5160Smith asserts that the Christian faith shouldn’t be forced into false dichotomies which place Word against sacrament or Word against Spirit. The fullness of Christian experience includes all three dimensions—it is evangelical, sacramental AND pentecostal.  Smith helps enlarge our vision and deepen our ecclesial and spiritual lives. If we are to know the grace of God fully, we need Word, sacrament, and Spirit.

Smith begins by exploring how evangelicals, sacramentalists, and pentecostals each have different approaches to Scripture.  In chapter 1, he examines John 15:4, “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.” Smith points out, evangelicals  understand the abiding life as involving time in the Word—reading, studying, preaching and meditating on it (14), sacramentalists describe how abiding in Christ involves participating in the Eucharist with a community of the baptized (14-18), pentecostals emphasize the connection between God and humanity which comes through the outpouring of the Spirit’s presence (19-20).  Smith observes, “All three, taken together are the means by which the benefits of the cross are known and experienced. The three—the Spirit, along with Word and sacrament—are then the means by which the intent of the cross is fulfilled in the life of the church, the means by which we abide in Christ, as Christ abides in us” (21).

In chapter two, Smith walks through Luke-Acts, highlighting the immediacy of the Spirit, the devotion to the Word and the sacramental fellowship. Chapter three fleshes out how these three components belong together in a full-orbed Christian spirituality. The remaining three chapters consider in turn the evangelical, sacramental and pentecostal streams. Smith explores the insights, contributions, and practices of each stream and the ways in which they augment and inform one another.

Capital “P” Pentecostals will not be happy with everything Smith says here. He does emphasize dynamic spiritual experience—immediacy, and intimacy with God(98) and root this in Pentecost (the Spirit sent in Acts 2, and earlier in John 20:22); however, he looks to the insights of the broader Christian tradition and history in expounding on the pneumatological character of the Christian life, citing John of the Cross and Ignatius of Loyola, but no Pentecostals like Charles Parham, William Seymour, and Azuza street, or other contemporary Pentecostal voices. Pentecostalism and the charismatic movement are spoken of by Smith in broad, general terms. What Smith is attempting to do is hold up the charismatic/pentecostal nature of the Christian life, for Christians of all stripes and theological persuasions. Without the giving of the Spirit, there is no conversion, no Word of God, no sacramental efficacy and no intimacy with God. But if you expect to hear a commendation to charismatic revivalism, tongues speaking, and the ongoing place of prophetic utterance, you won’t find it here.

Smith doesn’t just dislike hard theological/denominational categories, he himself defies such categorization. He is ordained in the Christian Missionary Alliance and is president and professor of one of their institutions (Ambrose University, Calgary), but his Ph.D. is from Loyola. He is an Evangelical in the holiness tradition who upholds the sacraments. He is a spiritual director and lover of Jesuit spirituality committed to the evangelical mission, ecumenism, and global theological education for the church. This book draws together the various strands.

I was lucky enough to audit a couple of classes with Smith while I attended Regent College. I took a course on Conversion and Transformation and a class on the sacraments, highlighting, in turn, the evangelical and sacramental streams (though in both instances he expounded the pneumatological character of each).  He has become one of my favorite authors of Christian Spirituality and he never fails to make me see things in new ways. I recommend Evangelical, Sacramental, and Pentecostal for anyone who feels like their faith has become one dimensional and wants to deepen their understanding of the Christian life. —★★★★½.

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from IVP Academic in exchange for my honest review.

Introduction to World Christian History: a book review

My grad school prided itself on its global Christian impact; yet the church history I learned there was a largely Western story. Certainly there was an acknowledgement  that Christendom’s origins weren’t in the West, and the church in Africa and Asia; yet more time and energy was spent unearthing the European story as the dominant narrative running through Christian history. This made a certain amount of sense. It was a school in the West and the West has pride of place in medieval and modern Christianity; however there was a richer story than the one I was, in large part, told.

4088In Introduction to World Christian History, Derek Cooper explores the global development ‘across time and continents.’ Cooper is the associate professor of world Christian history at Biblical Theological Seminary in Hatfield, Pennsylvania. As such, he is used to introducing  students to the diversity of the world Christian movement. For this book, he utilizes the United Nations Geo-scheme for Nations as a template for exploring Christian history in three periods: the first to the seventh , the eighth to the fourteenth, and the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries.  These division departs between the seventh and eighth centuries in his periods, de-centers the European story. Traditional church history treats the conversion of Constantine and the first Council (both fourth century) as a “watershed moment” in the Christian story (16). However Cooper observes these events may be overstated in global importance, particularly when you consider that the church was never coterminous with the Roman empire and the “councils never represented the whole church” (16-17).

In part one, Cooper explores Christianity in the first to seventh centuries. He begins, in chapter one, with Asia as the birthplace and cradle of the Christian faith, describing the growth of the Christian movement in western Asia (i.e. president day Saudi Arabia and Turkey), central Asia (India and China) and Southern Asia (Iran).  Chapter two describes the deep roots of the African church (Northern Africa like Alexandria, Algeria and Tunisia, and the Eastern African church of Ethiopia. Chapter three examines the European story (in Eastern, Southern, Northern and Western Europe). In the early part of the Christian story Asian and African Christianity loom large.

Part two examines again the regions of Asia, Africa and Europe, this time from the eighth to the fourteenth centuries. While Asian and African Christians were dominant in earlier times, this was a difficult period for both of them (i.e. the spread of Islam and other faiths, the Crusades, isolation of Asian Christian communities). Cooper writes, “Although it is not accurate to state that Christianity died in Asia at this time, it certainly diminished—and fairly rapidly and extensively so” (87). This is true of Africa as well. African Christians suffered severe persecution with the spread of Islam. In some areas the Christian faith was stamped out though a Christian witness remained in both Asia and Africa, though a chastened one.  It is in this era the European story becomes the dominant narrative of Christian history (chapter six).

Part three describes Christianity from the Fifteenth to the Twenty-First Centuries. In this period global diversity explodes in the Christian movement. Cooper lays aside his tripartite division of Asia, Africa and Europe, adding region and scope. He begins with Europe (chapter seven) and traces the growth of  global Christianity through evangelization. He devotes a chapter each to Christianity in Latin America, Northern America, Oceania (Australia and New Zealand, Micronesia, Melanesia, and Polynesia), Africa and Asia.

This is a short book. about 250 pages for all of Christian history. As the title suggests this is an introduction to World Christian history, not the definitive word. By necessity Cooper gives us a bird’s-eye-view of Christianity than a detailed analysis of every region; nevertheless he does give us a more robust sense of the global Christian movement through the ages. Theologians like Thomas Oden and historians like Phillip Jenkins have noted that the center of Christianity has shifted, in recent history, east and south. This is true, and Cooper would concur. However his ‘at-a-glance’ romp through church history reveals that the global character of Christianity is not a recent phenomenon, but one of its persistent features.

This would be a good supplementary text for a Church history class, though it is an accessible read for anyone interested in Christian history. As a student, I would have used this book as a jumping-off-point for deeper research. Cooper uses contemporary names for regions and countries throughout makes this approachable for the non-scholar and ordinary reader. I give this four stars.

Note I received this book from IVP Academic in exchange for my honest review.

Recovering the Priesthood of All Believers: a book review

Protestants champion the priesthood of all believers. But what does this mean? What are the implications and obligations of such a  priesthood? How is that ordinary Christian re-present Christ to one another and the world? In Representing Christ: A Vision of the Priesthood of All Believers, Uche Anizor and Hank Voss explore the meaning of the priestthood of all believers through the Bible, by engaging  Martin Luther (the historic Protestant who championed this doctrine), Trinitarian theology and discussing the practical role and function of the priesthood.

9780830851287Anizor is associate professor of biblical and theological studies at Talbot. Voss is the national church planting director for World Impact. Anizor writes the first three chapters. Chapter one forms an introduction, chapter two examines the biblical case for the priesthood of all believer, chapter three looks at historical theology, with an eye trained on Martin Luther. Voss writes the next three chapters. In chapter four he explores how Trinitarian theology gives shape to the way we live out the priesthood of all believers. Chapter five explores seven central practices of the Priesthood (drawn from Martin Luther). Chapter six forms a conclusion for this study.

Anichor and Voss bring their particular strengths to their sections. Anizor roots the concept of the ‘Royal Priesthood’ in more than just sparse references to the priesthood from 1 Peter and Revelation (1 Peter 2:4-9, Rev. 1:6;5:10). Instead he sketches a robust biblical case for the priesthood of all believers rooted in the priestly function of human image bearing (Genesis 1-2), the role of Israel’s priesthood (cf. Exodus), Christ’s priesthood foretold (i.e. Psalms, and prophetic literature)  and enacted (the gospels) and the church’s participation in the priesthood (1 Peter, Paul’s epistles, Hebrews, Revelation). His chapter on Luther shows the centrality of the concept in Luther’s works (especially in a piece called Concerning the Ministry) Anizor identifies seven priestly practices: (1) Preaching and teaching the Word, (2) Baptizing; (3) Administering the Lord’s Supper; (4) Binding and Loosing Sin; (5) Prayer; (6) Sacrifice; (7) Judging Doctrine (76). Anizor is critical of scholars who would see the ‘priesthood of all believers’ as the invention as an ‘imaginary’ or ‘mythical’ doctrine invented by the likes of Jakob Spener, the founder of Pietism (58). So he focuses his historical exploration on explicating Martin Luther, though he does identify several antecedents to Luther.

Voss’s chapters have a more practical focus. He aims to show what this priesthood looks like in how we live it out. His chapter on Trinitarian theology opens with this assertion, “The most important thing about us is the God we worship, and the God we worship will determine the kind of royal priesthood we become” (85). Voss distinguishes a Christocentric-Trinitarian priesthood of all believers from other approaches to the priesthood of all believers (i.e. Mormonism, Islam) which exhibit a different character. Our worship as priests is” directed to the Father”, “performed as service in Christ,” and “joins in the Spirit’s witness in the world” (91). Voss also identifies ways the priesthood has gone awry because of an over emphasis on one member of the Trinity to the exclusion of other Trinitarian persons (103). Monopolizing ministry to the Father might result in clericalism(103-105). An exclusive emphasis on being ‘in Christ’ may cause believers to become atomistic individualists in living out the priesthood or collectivists that deny the unique contributions of each person in the body of Christ (105-107). An over emphasis on the blessings of the Spirit may give way to egotism (08-109).  A mature priesthood will keep the persons of the Trinity in balance as they seek to worship God and mediate His presence to the world.

Chapter five revisits Luther’s seven ministry practices and shows how each is an important part of the priesthood of all believers ministry and witness (drawing on Dallas Willard’s language of vision, intention and means). Luther’s seven practices are described here as: (1) Baptism, (2) Prayer, (3) Lectio Divina, (4) Church Discipline, (5) Ministry, (6) Proclamation,  and (7) the Lord’s Supper (118). Voss demonstrates how these practices share in the Trinitarian life and explores their implication for the priesthood of all believers: baptism is our commissioning in the priesthood,  prayer and lectio divina direct us towards the Father, church discipline and ministry show us how to be in Christ in community, proclamation is our participation in the Spirit’s witness, the Eucharist is the culmination of our priestly practice, causing us to rember, forgive, give thanks, be in covenant, experience nourishment, and anticipate the fullness of the kingdom (122-44).

This is a short, meaty book on what the priesthood of believers is. My small critique is that I wish the look at the priesthood of believers did more than pay homage to Luther. Pietists, Baptists, Anabaptists,  Methodists have each contributed to our contemporary understanding of the doctrine and I would like to see their contributions explored more. Of course a book cannot do everything and showing that Luther (the protyptical Protestant) held this priesthood of believers goes along way towards their aim of recovering a robust theology and practice for today’s Protestant evangelical. I recommend this book for students, pastors and lay leaders who wish to recover a fulsome vision of what it means to be the priesthood of believers. I give this four stars.

Note: I received this book from IVP Academic in exchange for my honest review

 

 

The Fullness of Christ in the Early Church: a book review

One of the theology profs at my grad school used to say something like, “All the new heresies are the old heresies with fresh make up and a mini skirt.” Leaving aside his troubling gendered association of apostasy, his point is a good one: there is nothing new under the sun, there are simply variations of an old theme.

9780830851270This is demonstrated in The Earliest Christologies: Five images of Christ in the Postapostolic Age James Papandrea, associate professor of church history at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary,  explores the various views of Christ in the second and third centuries (before Constantine and councils). Some thinkers in the area were Adoptionists, denying the divinity of Jesus; Others were Docetists, denying  Christ’s humanity. The middle position was Logos Christology—affirming Jesus Christ’s full  divinity and humanity and paving the way for Nicea and Chalcedon.

Papandrea explores five images of Christ in the early church. He distinguishes two different types of adoptionists: Angel Adoptionists and Spirit Adoptionists. The Angel Adoptionists held that the human Jesus was rewarded by God for his perfect obedience and given an indwelling angel. This happened proactively at the moment of his conception because of God’s foreknowledge (25-26).  Thus they accepted the Virgin Birth but neither the man (Jesus) or the indwelling angel (the Christ) were considered divine (27). They accepted the gospel of Matthew as canon and prominent teachers include the author of The Shepherd of Hermas and Lucian of Antioch (Arius’ teacher) (29-30). With this Christology, salvation is based on merit and human effort (31). Little is known about the actual lifestyle of the Angel Adoptionists (31).

Most adoptionists were Spirit Adoptionists, believing that Jesus became the Christ through the anointing of the Spirit at his Baptism (35). This gave Jesus power to perform miracles in his ministry; however the Spirit withdrew at Jesus’ passion (35). Thus the union of human to God was temporary, focused on the concept of anointing rather than indwelling (35-36). They likely used an edited form of Matthew’s gospel, excising the birth narratives (39)  The Spirit Adoptionists affirmed the preexistence of the Spirit, safegarding Jewish monotheism by removing Jesus from the realm of divinity (42). Jesus was just a man filled by the Spirit, and as such not unique (36).  Adherents of Spirit Adoptionism included Theodutus the Elder, Theodutus the Younger and Paul of Samasota (36-37). As with the Angel Adoptionists, Spirit Adoptionists were ‘optimistic about human nature’ advocating strict  adherence to the Jewish law (41). This manifested itself as a strict asceticism among adherents, vegetarianism and the use of water at the Eucharist (43).

The Docetists were also (broadly) of two types: those that denied that Jesus had a body at all (Docetism and Docetic Gnosticism),  and those that thought Jesus had a “ethereal” body which appeared human (Hybrid Gnosticsm. Hybrid Gnosticism (or quasi-docetism)  developed somewhat later, possibly in conversation with the mainstream church and a concession that Jesus did seem to actually have a body (70)  Both forms of gGnosticism demeaned matter in favor of the ‘spiritual,’ though in practice it manifested itself differently. Those who thought that Jesus’ body was an illusion, denigrated their bodies as evil and practiced asceticism (64). The Hybrids were more hedonistic, though possibly no-more than Roman society at large (82-83).  Neither type of docetist believe in Jesus humanity. Thus he has no birth,  or resurrection. Jesus was simply the offspring of gods in a polytheistic pantheon.

Papandrea presents Logos Christology as ‘the middle way’ between adoptionism and docetism:

Logos Christology, as the middle way between these alternatives, refused to allow either of Jesus Christ’s two natures to be diminished. Logos Christology embraces a full divinity that is preexistant and a true humanity with a real human body. This is a hristology of descent because the divine Logos starts out in the dine realm as equal to the Father and descends to humanity to take on our human condition (Phil 2:6-8). Furthermore Logos Christology refuses to separate Jesus from “the Christ” as though they were two separate entities, but rather consider the whole incarnate Jesus Christ as one person. (88-89).

Thus Logos Christology affirms Jesus humanity and that he is the divine Son of God, his bodily resurrection, his virgin birth, his incarnation. The practical payoff of this view is a belief in the doctrine of grace, and Christ’s atoning sacrifice, resurrection and the dignity of creation. Rather than legalism or a strict asceticism, Christians could have a more balanced approach to their bodies and matter (104).

Papandrea’s final chapter explores why Logos Christianity won, instead of these other alternatives. But he also show how these early heresies had a legacy. Adoptionism evolved into Arianism in the forth century (119). Docetic Gnosticism paved the way for modalism (120). In his final pages he observes the modern forms of Adoptionism and Doceticism (125-127). Modern day modalists and practical docetists in the church, continue to deny the dignity of embodied life. Adoptionism is seen in contemporary scholarship that draws a strong distinction between “the historical Jesus” and the “Christ of faith” (125). Old heresies remade for today.

Papandrea has produced an accessible guide to these early Christologies. It is an introductory overview, so could certainly be more detailed at points; yet Papandrea does give a good analysis of the controversies and the implications for sotierology and anthropology. This would be a good supplementary text for a systematic or historical theology course. It also has the advantage of describing the significance of these histories for today. As a pastoral leader, this book clarified my understanding of the roots of contemporary issues facing Christology in the church.  I give this four-and-a-half stars.

Note: I received this book from IVP Academic in exchange for my honest review.

 

 

Union with Our Atoning Christ: a book review

Many recent treatments of the atonement questions the dominance of forensic model in evangelicalism. There are few cranky Reformed folks that are piping out the centrality of penal substitution, but many are hunting for other models (i.e. Christus Victor, or Moral Influence, non-violent models, etc) or proposing a multi-metaphor, mosaic approach (see, for example, Scot Mcknight’s A Community Called Atonement).  Andrew Purves also questions the dominance of legal models, but he does so through a sustained engagement with three major theological voices from the Scottish Reformed tradition: John McLeod Campbell, Hugh Ross Mackintosh and T.F. Torrance.In Exploring Christology & Atonement, Purves examines each thinker’s contribution to atonement theology and Christology. While these theologians are not exactly the same in approach (Torrance and Mackintosh had their criticisms of Campbell, and Mackintosh had been Torrance’s teacher), they represent a common trajectory. Each theologian sets the atonement within the context of the relations between Jesus, the incarnate Son, with the Father. The result is that union with Christ becomes the guiding idea for properly understanding God’s purpose for the Cross and its result.

9780830840779Purves is  one of my favorite pastoral theologians. His Reconstructing Pastoral Theology: A Christological Foundation and the shorter, more accessible The Crucifixion of Ministry explored ministry in the image of Christ, allowing the cruciform nature of ministry and what it means to minister in his name. Purves teaches Historical Theology at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary [Edit: Purves is now Emeritus Faculty at Pittsburgh]. In his earlier volumes he showed the practical fruit of engaging biblical, historical and patristic theology. That goal is not far off in this volume either. Campbell, MacKintosh and Torrance were first-rate theologians (Campbell was not a professional theologian but a pastor). They were also men-of-faith mindful of the implications of their theology for ordinary believers.

In seven chapters, Purves walks through the thought of these theologians. His first three chapters explore Christology, setting the atonement within the context of Christ’s Union with God and his representative union with humanity, “The Magnificent exchange is to be thought of as Jesus Christ as he unfolds himself out in saving ministry by which he joins us to himself in his human nature and us to him. Union with Christ is embedded as one work within the magnificent exchange as by the Holy Spirit he binds us to himself in his human nature to share his benefits” (124).

In the next three chapters, Purves examines Campbell, MacKintosh and Torrance in turn, exploring how each move away from Jesus being merely a satisfaction for God’s wrath but the cross being the way in which God in his love unites us with Himself.  These chapters are sympathetic-critical. Purves acknowledges aspects of their theology that are underdeveloped (such as, for example, Campbell’s pneumatology) but also gives them the benefit of the doubt, following the trajectory of where their theology leads.

Campbell’s emphasis is on how the incarnation in the atonement affects our union with God, “The atonement is not punishment for sin but rather a spiritual and moral access to the Father through Christ’s confession our sin and through union with Christ, having adopted us as ‘sons’ of God” (145).  While Christ’s atonement is vicarious, and in some sense substitutionary (in our stead), this is not conceived as a primarily legal exchange but ‘morally’ or ‘spiritually’ (152-53).  MacKintosh also moves us beyond the legal metaphors as he explores the nature of divine forgiveness. For MacKintosh, “The death of Jesus has significance for reconciliation only when considered in the light, and as expression, of His life” (183). The cross is the culmination of how he lived, Jesus already made our sins his own in his baptism and bore our transgressions throughout his earthly ministry. Jesus death reveals both God’s condemnation of sin and “God’s absolute revelation of love toward sinful people” (183-184).

Torrance’s chapter shows how clearly he stands in the tradition  of Campbell and MacKintosh and reveals that he is more than simply Barth’s acolyte. Torrance explores the interconnection of Christology and atonement, expoloring the kingly, priestly and prophetic nature of Christ’s redemption (208). He grounds Jesus’ priestly ministry in the ontological relationship between Father and Son and Christ’s hypostatic union (216).  In  Christ’s atonement, God is the primarily actor in the atonement, both in the human and Divine dimensions of his person, (220-221). “The divine Logos united himself with our human nature, revealing himself within our humanity, but also within our humanity enabled us to receive his revelation personally in love and faith and understanding” (230).

The last chapter serves as a postscript exploring how each of these theologians were concerned with how their theology worked out practically and pastorally.

My awareness of each these theologians and their work  is minimal. I have read a little Torrance, had MacKintosh’s book unread on my shelf, and had not heard of Campbell before picking this book up. As such, I probably didn’t get as much out of this book as I could have, but appreciate the window that Purves provided into the theologies of these three churchmen. I also appreciate their joint emphasis (and Purves’s) on union with Christ in the atonement and how the cross is more than just a satisfaction of God’s wrath but his means to make both his Love visible and accessible to us. I give this four stars

Note: I received this from IVP Academic in exchange for my honest review.