The God Who Does Not Suffer
Based on two different email threads, from my sent folder.
God did not suffer on the cross. A theme in Athanasius’ Oration Against the Arians is that God does not suffer. Jesus in his person suffered and according to his human nature suffered, but Jesus as the divine Word did not suffer. Khaled Anatolois in his work on Athanasius shows that the church father understood suffering in terms of passivity and activity rather than experience. Jesus in his humanity was subjected to suffering but in his divinity was the actor, not the one being acted upon (impassibility).
For example (Arians 3.56),
Wherefore of necessity when He was in a body suffering, and weeping, and toiling, these things which are proper to the flesh, are ascribed to Him together with the body. If then He wept and was troubled, it was not the Word, considered as the Word, who wept and was troubled, but it was proper to the flesh; and if too He besought that the cup might pass away, it was not the Godhead that was in terror, but this affection too was proper to the manhood. And that the words ‘Why have You forsaken Me?’ are His, according to the foregoing explanations (though He suffered nothing, for the Word was impassible), is notwithstanding declared by the Evangelists; since the Lord became man, and these things are done and said as from a man, that He might Himself lighten these very sufferings of the flesh, and free it from them. Whence neither can the Lord be forsaken by the Father, who is ever in the Father, both before He spoke, and when He uttered this cry.
Edward Shillito’s short poem “Jesus of the Scars” concludes with this stanza,
The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak;
They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,
And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.
Jesus is God, so we can speak of God dying on the cross, having scars. This attribute to the person (Jesus is God) what is true according to one of his natures (humanity) since the divine cannot be wounded or killed.
This is what Cyril of Alexandria means when he says, “He suffered impassibly, because he did not humble himself in such a way as to be merely like us, rather, as I have said before, he reserved to his own nature its superiority over all these things.” Since Christ is a unified person we can speak of him suffering. He suffered in his humanity so according to his divinity he might elevate humanity from our suffering. John Behr’s The Nicene Faith deals with this topic in more depth in vol. 1, pages 226-232.
J. Todd Billings in his Rejoicing in Lament shows how this doctrine of impassibility (God doesn’t suffer) related to Jesus on the cross as a foundation for the Christian’s comfort amidst sorrow. Because God cannot suffer, suffering is not the final word. Suffering is not something that God must overcome for himself, but something he conquered on our behalf by virtue of his impassibility according to his divine nature in the person of Christ.
Announcing Traditional Model Seminary; Article up at Ref21
I have an article up at Ref21. It begins,
How I wish seminaries described themselves in press releases (let the reader understand):
Our approach to pastoral preparation is time-tested, rich, and rigorous.
The university has been the handmaiden of the church for over a thousand years. The model of pastoral preparation of devoting years of one’s life to study under specialized masters has produced generations of competent and faithful ministers who have lovingly shepherded Christ’s church. Here at Traditional Model Seminary (TMS), we are committed to continuing this great tradition of pastoral preparation with a successful track record literally millennia long…
This was a fun one to write.
Fundamentalism, Evangelicalism, and Modernity in the EPC
This year marks the 100th anniversary of Henry Fosdick’s “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” The past century, and especially the 93-86 years since the founding of Westminster Seminary and the OPC, has seen an almost cyclical effect.
Beginning with the Portland Deliverance in 1890, the PCUSA no longer regarded the Westminster Standards as a necessary summation of biblical teaching, but instead pushed for a reduced set of 5 “fundamentals of the faith.” Following Fosdick’s sermon of 1922, a number of pastors in 1924 issued the Auburn Affirmation in which they argued that requiring conformity to the fundamentals violated their liberty of conscience. These modernists argued that this was imposing an interpretation of the confessional standards on the church, instead of the standards themselves, which went beyond the power of the church’s courts.
So a doctrinal system was reduced to a smaller set of foundational beliefs, whose authority in turn was rejected as violating liberty of conscience. As Lefferts Loetscher documents in The Broadening Church (1954), his history of the fundamentalist-modernist controversy centered on Princeton, the modernists themselves were a tiny proportion of the PCUSA. It was the moderates, who agreed with the fundamentalists in doctrine but disliked their militancy, who set the course for the church. The argument for conscience made by the modernists was also persuasive to the moderates, but only because the Standards were no longer the standards…
Top 10 Most Influential Protestants
A prompt has been making the rounds asking people who the 10 most influential Protestants were for their lives. This seemed like a self-indulgent, fun exercise. So, with all the usual caveats (my parents & pastors, seminary professors, “What does influential even mean?”, influential as far as I notice, does influential equal most read?, influential vs. favorite, etc.), here they are in chronological order. I’ve also included written works for the different figures that have been particularly instrumental in communicating their influence.
I. Martin Bucer (1491-1551). His Ground and Reason is the best and most practical distillation of the Reformed doctrine of worship. De Regeno Christi and Concerning the True Care of Souls are fantastic applied theologies of the Reformation to pastoral ministry and care for the poor. His Strasbourg liturgies and Letters are also insightful in terms of theological method and Protestant ecumenicism.
II. John Calvin (1509-1564). Calvin is deservedly most famous for his Institutes of the Christian Religion, but I have also found his Commentaries (and sermons) to be most insightful…