Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Book Review: Yarhouse, "Homosexuality and the Christian"

By Eko Ong

Foreword: As a conservative Reformed Christian, my view on homosexuality is quite predictable: the Bible unequivocally teaches that homosexuality is against God's will and there is no indication whatsoever that such a value is culturally-dependent. Yet I also believe that we -the church- fail to minister to those who struggle with same-sex attraction. In the midst of the fierce propaganda from the activists, we may over-react and end up falling into the trap of self-righteousness or judgmentalism - forgetting that Paul also warned that all of us are "without excuse" (Rm 2:1, right after 1:18-32!!). I often listen to a group of Christians discussing this issue as if it were an abstract theological enigma that awaits a simple and definite solution, i.e. a mere "truth" matter. Yet many of us encounter this issue in the context of pastoral or relational setups. It involves real people with real (not abstract) problems/struggles. I once hear someone say in a discussion about this, "Well, we should stick to the "truth" and not let personal feelings get in the way ..." as if biblical truth were only propositional and could be abstracted from people. The dichotomy between truth and love is, in my opinion, unhelpful, and a negative by-product of rationalism of the Enlightenment which still infects the church until today.
Then how should we treat this issue in the context of counseling and relationship with those who struggle with homosexuality?  Is sexual "straightness" the only indicator of restoration in Christ for gays? How should the church (meaning all Christians) handle this issue? While this question does not allow an easy answer, I find Yarhouse's book a helpful tool to equip the church. Here is my take on it.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

William and Mary International Student Christmas Fellowship

Christmas is celebrated by Christians to commemorate the incarnation of the Word of God as described in the New Testament. During this time of Christmas International Student Fellowship at the College of William and Mary celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Holding fast onto Scripture - Learning from Kierkegaard PART 3/3

I wrote this article sometime ago before I came across Peter Enns' "Inspiration and Incarnation". So what do I think of that? While Dr. Enns focuses on different issues (showing how "incarnate" can Scripture be), he indeed draws and works from the Old Amsterdam as well. I do think that the book could have been written better to deliver a more positive message and cause less turmoil among the evangelical community. Despite my disagreement with him -especially on his later work- I personally think that Dr. Enns attempts to share a similar struggle that many of us -children of God in Jesus Christ- have.

So yes, accepting the authority of Scripture is indeed an article of faith. It is a presupposition and such faith grows with familiarity. Yet we may gain some insight into the genesis of the presupposition. Am I saying something new here? In some sense, not really. Who doesn't know about the faith part? Yet I am saying more. If you can accept the mystery (and the irony) of the incarnation - the Word becoming flesh, the eternal impinging time, the necessary meeting contingency, and glory in shame - you should be able to accept the mystery of inscripturation. So if you happen to have faith in Christ but struggle with accepting the authority and infallibility of Scripture, I hope this reflection may help you. In one short sentence, the answer is "Look at the cross! The utmost glory in such an accursed state!". Often times, that's the case with Scripture - that is, if you study it long enough and are honest to yourselves ...

SDG, Eko Ong

PART 3/3
Having established the analogy between the incarnation of Christ and the inscripturation as well as recognizing the inherent absolute paradox in both, we are now ready to apply the Kierkegaardian notion of faith to the authority of Scripture. Such authority ought to be personally appropriated through a divine gift of faith upon one’s encounter with the paradox of the existence of the eternal Word of God in such an earthly form. The faith, having acknowledged the limitation of reason and the available evidence, is subjective, passionate, a leap from one category to another. Note that we do not argue that such appropriation must come instantaneously. It often takes place through a process of investigation which involves reason and evidence. However, such process may be viewed as a preparatory stage for the subjective “leap of faith”, a total commitment to the authority of the canon despite the limitation of (neither in light of nor in the absence of) reason and evidence. Once such leap of faith occurs, one may study Scripture with a proper presupposition. Here is when we may apply the aforementioned presuppositional argument. Such presupposition is not merely an intellectual axiom for the task of hermeneutics. Instead, we subjectively embrace its infallibility and “take every thought captive onto the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:5) as we embark on such an exciting enterprise. A total commitment to the paradoxical truth is possible without intellectual certainty since our faith is subjective. The infallibility (hence authority) of Scripture is an article of faith. Now we may apply the insight from the externalist epistemology. As we keep appropriating truth from the canon with the aid of our reason and interpretation of evidence, our intimate knowledge of and experience with God (Gal 4:9) grows as he consistently reveals himself in Scripture and witnesses how scriptural truth plays out in our lives. Consequently, our faith upon Scripture is strengthened in quantity and quality. Indeed, having presupposed its infallibility and authority, our faith in Scripture increases as we experience its reliability. Having said this, we reiterate that such faith is a gift from God as Kierkegaard maintained. While Scripture is self-authenticating, we are able to accept its infallibility and authority only through the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit. Hence, the authority of Scripture rests not upon us, but upon God.  

Finally, it is fitting to address the notion of infallibility. The infallibility of the canon means that Scripture does not err and cannot err in its purposes, that is, in the matters of faith and life. Moving beyond the issue of modernistic inerrancy of the non-existent autographa, we argue that if our faith in the infallibility of Scripture is as previously described, such faith will not be tossed up and down by the waves of modern biblical criticism. Since we reckon that our faith entails a subjective leap, we passionately appropriate and are totally committed to the truth despite the limitation of our reason and the available evidence. The contingent and worldly cannot prove the necessity and eternal. The evidence that supports the infallibility of Scripture cannot offer any absolute certainty. Likewise, the evidence for the contrary is incapable of disproving the infallibility of Scripture. Any assessment of high-degree of certainty is indeed subjective and based upon a certain passionate pre-commitment, be it pro- or anti-infallibility. Related to such notion is as follows. First, we ought to responsibly define infallibility. While reason and evidence have their limits, there are certain matters that can be demonstrated reasonably and evidently. For example, to dodge historical criticism, one insists that to be historically accurate, the gospel narratives must be written chronologically. Hence, the difference between the Synoptic Gospels and the Johannine Gospel in the account of “Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple” is taken to imply that Jesus cleansed the Temple twice. Does infallibility demand historical accuracy in the sense of chronology? While subjectivity plays a role once one recognizes the limitation of reason and evidence, an overtly selective application of reason and evidence simply demonstrates a subjective pre-commitment to foundationalism. Second, armed with unwavering faith in the infallibility of Scripture, we may have the courage to engage the discipline of biblical criticism with God-honoring presupposition. Unlike those who assign an a priori “guilty-before-proven-innocent” verdict to the Bible, we approach the Bible with reverence and awe, with fear and trembling, reckoning that the Bible is the Word of God, yet it is decreed to live in such a humble earthly existence. It is given to us in the form of a canon, full of profound wisdom yet largely written in the language of commoners, univocal in theme yet microscopically multi-vocal in many places. Such paradox is supra-rational and to be appropriated with God-given subjective faith. Therefore, we may gain additional insights from the discipline, yet with an utmost discernment, and engage over-critical scholars with gentleness and respect.

So what have we accomplished? We wrestled with the doctrine of infallibility and authority of Scripture. We found that many persisting biblical difficulties, be it “inerrancy” or the history of canonization, may shake our faith in the Bible if we insist on a foundationalistic notion of faith which has its basis in reason and evidence. However, the 19th century Protestant philosopher Søren Kierkegaard argued that reason ultimately fails us since rational uncertainty is a part of our finite and contingent human existence. Furthermore, evidence, being contingent and temporary, cannot be used as a proof as proof deals with necessity and eternity. Faith is by nature subjective and a “leap”, a cross-over from one category to another. For Christianity, this is evident in the absolute paradox –or better termed ‘the absolute mystery’– of incarnation. Utilizing the analogy between incarnation and inscripturation –the mystery of glory in weakness, eternity in history, and treasure in the jars of clay– we arrived at a description of faith in the authority of Scripture and its relation to the saving faith. As students of Scripture, we often ask why God, in his sovereign good pleasure, did not give us an ‘ironclad Bible’. Instead, we are left with a modest Bible, majestic in its content yet full of apparent weaknesses. The more we study the Bible, the more we behold its genius yet at the same time we discover more unaddressed problems. Here, Kierkegaard helps us reflect what it means to have faith in the infallible, and hence authoritative, Scripture. We have a choice: to approach the Bible with a suspicious Nietzschian attitude or with an utmost reverence of a child longing to passionately listen to the voice of his Father. Regardless of the attitude we choose, it is subjective in nature. For us who are in Christ, the Holy Spirit testifies in our hearts so that we may hear the voice of our Father as we flip through the pages of the Bible. Furthermore, the Spirit enables us not only to know the truth but also to submissively live in it. As we keep in step with the Spirit, his Word lights our path (Gal 5:25, Ps 119:105). If we stumble upon the weaknesses of Scripture, we may do well by looking toward Christ. As he hung upon the cross to bear the punishment of our sins, he “had no form of majesty that we should look at him”, “was despised and rejected by men” (Isa 53:2-3). But at that very moment, he was glorified and drew all people to himself (John 12:23, 31-33). The climax of the mystery of incarnation, the most magnificent glory and victory (John 16:33) in such an accursed weakness (Gal 3:13), happened on the cross through which God executed his divine plan of salvation. Likewise, God gave us his Word in the form which is foolish to the world to “shame the wise” (1 Cor 1:27-28). If we are able to accept the mystery of the incarnation –God in the weakness of human flesh– how shall we escape if we neglect the mystery of Scripture –the Word of God in the frailty of human language?   

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Holding fast onto Scripture - Learning from Kierkegaard PART 2/3

[From part 1/3] So for Kierkegaard, the incarnation is the Absolute Paradox where the eternal meets the temporal, the divine meets human. This is indeed a mystery - how can Christ be fully divine yet fully human? Kierkegaard claims that this can only be accepted by faith. And indeed, true faith is a subjective acceptance of this Absolute Paradox. This flies in the face of the foundationalists. This is, Kierkegaard says, the true religion. 

For those of us who were raised in Christian family - who know about the incarnation of Christ as long as we can remember ourselves - we often treat the hypostatic union of Christ for granted. It is as if we had that doctrine in the palm of our hand. It ceases to be mysterious for us. Although there could be many reasons for this, I suspect it is partly due to our upbringing in a post-Enlightenment scientific era which has little tolerance for mystery or paradox. Any uncertainty must be eradicated. While science has brought us far and is indeed a priestly duty for every Christian, we often embrace scientism. And this affects our theology as well. Every tension shall and can be harmonized, and our theology has to "make sense" philosophically. Moreover, systematization is often preferred over a more "nebulous" category like narrative (which is unfortunately the main category in the Bible!!). Why? As someone says, "... because our God is a rational God." While I sympathize with such a sentiment, I find that an extreme adherence to this principle ends up choking the grandeur and beauty of the Bible, and often, irreverently forcing the Bible to answer questions it does not address.     

In this second part, we can see how Kierkegaard's category of the Absolute Paradox can help us cope with many problems we encounter with the Bible. Rather than fitting every "phenomenon of Scripture" (borrowing the term from Warfield) into a rationalistic straightjacket (i.e. every tension can be solved via logical argument), I personally believe that we may learn and be sanctified more if we accept tensions and problems we face in our study of the Bible. This is true as long as we hold fast onto the truthfulness of the Bible since God who utters his words is faithful. But how can Kierkegaard's category help us in fostering faith in the Bible? Here is an inadequate yet sincere reflection of someone who loves the Bible yet admits many apparent problems as he gets deeper and deeper into his study. Is it possible to face those problems as a source of strength rather than an ammunition of unfaith without subscribing to rationalism?        


PART 2/3
Despite Kierkegaard’s extensive use of Scripture in his writings, he did not attempt to establish the authority of Scripture which was threatened by the rise of modern biblical criticism. Lacking such insight from his writings, can we answer the following questions from Kierkegaardian perspective: 1. Does saving faith include personal acceptance of the infallibility (hence authority) of Scripture by faith? 2. What is the relationship between the two categories of faith of a believer?

The first question can be answered simply by appealing to the gospel content. The incarnation of Christ is an historical reality which is witnessed only in the canon of Scripture. Hence, saving faith – characterized in part by a total submission – certainly includes appropriation of and submission to the gospel truth. However, the canon includes not only the basic gospel message of redemption in and through the God-man, but also other doctrines that are important for faith and life. Most believers came to Christ by appropriating the gospel message without presupposing the authority of the entire canon. While some, upon their conversion, may reckon that the Bible is the Word of God, they may not apprehend its sense of authority and infallibility. Therefore, saving faith indeed includes personal acceptance of the authority of the basic message of salvation in the gospel of Christ which permeates throughout Scripture just as salt in the sea water. However, stating that saving faith includes personal acceptance of the authority of Scripture as a whole is unwarranted. Yet the same faith is the “receiving organ” of (possibly) later acceptance of the authority of Scripture. Having said that, we do not intend to argue that appropriation of the authority of Scripture in its totality is a necessary fruit of saving faith. Instead, we argue that such an authority may be appropriated through the same means.

To address the second question, one solution is to employ a presuppositional argument. The authority of the canon must be presupposed as an article of faith. A presupposition demands neither proof nor evidence. It stands as a subjective starting point of a quest for further knowledge of Scripture. While this solution is valid, it fails to address how such article of faith is related to saving faith. Another solution is to apply the so-called “externalist epistemology” which assumes that our perceptions are reliable and defines knowledge as how we are rightly related to the world outside us. Here, knowledge does not imply absolute certainty but resorts to qualitative reliability. From such perspective, one may claim that our appropriation of the authority of Scripture is simply a “reliable belief” based on the facts we know about Scripture through our experience. Such belief gradually evolves, either stronger or weaker, depending on the reliability of Scripture as our senses perceive it. It is comparable to other practical beliefs such as the reliability of our friends and cars. While such solution accounts for the subjectivity of faith and allows us to understand how faith grows, it fails to highlight the presupposed uniqueness of our faith in the authority of Scripture.

Alternatively, we may simply state that accepting the authority of the canon by faith is analogous to saving faith. However, such analogy is not obvious. A strong analogy can be established, however, if there is an analogy between the objects of faith. Therefore, it is sufficient to demonstrate an analogy between the incarnation of Christ and Scripture. Indeed, such analogy has been recognized by several Reformed theologians. Kuyper taught that “there is a necessary, intrinsic parallel between incarnation and inscripturation of the Logos which further necessitates for each the form of a servant”. Other theologians such as Warfield and Bavinck recognized likewise. Just as the Logos who is eternal, divine, and glorious, entered the temporary, contingent, and lowly world, the eternal Word of God entered the world, impinging upon the history of humankind. Just as the Logos became flesh and dwelt among us, the Word of God took a form of human language and was given to us. Just as Christ is fully divine and fully human in nature, Scripture is fully divine and fully human in its authorship. Fallible human authors were inspired by the Holy Spirit to put Verbum Dei in an infallible written form. Christ became an obedient servant upon his mission on earth, suffered as a human, and subjected himself to rejection and contempt. Likewise, Scripture, taking a servant form, is subjected to rejection, severely and often unfairly criticized. Christ, being a human, was weak and “without form or comeliness”. Likewise, the canon did not visibly drop from heaven with trumpet sounds yet came in a humble process of inscripturation over two millenia. One may be easily captivated by the majesty of the cosmos –starry skies, the Alps, and the Niagara Fall– regardless of his belief in God. Yet it is much easier for him to ignore or simply not notice a book entitled “Holy Bible”, let alone for him to treat it as divinely inspired, infallible, and authoritative. While well-preserved through duplications and translations, the non-existent autographa has become a subject of criticism and an excuse when one stumbles in faith. Added to such weakness is the uncertainty of canonization as the Church is fallible. However, just as Christ is sinless and perfect, the canon is infallible and perfect in its purposes. Therefore, the absolute paradox that is inherent in the incarnation of Christ is also present and demonstrable in the inscripturation of the Word of God. Note that employing such an analogy does not negate but rather establishes the uniqueness of Christ through appropriating the infallible Christological testimony in Scripture.


Friday, September 20, 2013

Holding Fast Onto Scripture - Learning from Kierkegaard PART 1/3

Those who enjoy learning more and more about our faith will soon encounter difficult issues. If your "thing" is biblical study (like me), you will start noticing the rough terrain of the Bible. Questions such as historical and scientific accuracies, tensions, paradoxes will appear. Is the Bible infallible? Is it inerrant? If yes, in what sense? What about the commonalities between the Bible and the pagan cultures, e.g. in the creation and flood story? What about inconsistencies in historical accounts in the Chronicles, Gospels, and even Acts? Is Christianity simply one of the many Greco-Roman cults that evolved via a Hegelian synthesis?

While one may simply choose to ignore those difficulties and adopt the so-called "theological reading" and at the same time holding onto an abstract notion of inerrancy, I believe that a responsible believer must confront his or her own unbelief. Just as the father of the demon-possessed boy who said to Jesus, "I believe! Help me with my unbelief!" (Mk 9:24), so we shall come to Scripture by presupposing its truthfulness, yet with a prayerful heart that admits the feebleness of our faith. In fact, I'd argue that those who avoid difficulties for the sake of "faith" show their unbelief - that the Word of God cannot vindicate itself.

Although we may learn from many champions of faith, I choose Kierkegaard (with the help of the Old Amsterdam and Princeton theologians) for a reason. First, Kierkegaard is often misrepresented in our conservative circle. He is often blamed for existentialism, blind fideism, and subjectivism. Often times, we conservatives are quick to criticize shortcomings of others and fail to learn from them. Such an attitude must cease lest we be sectarian. Second, many of us are obsessed with objectivity and ignore that Christianity is both personal (hence subjective) and corporate. How easy it is for us to fall on the extremes! Kierkegaard reminds us that subjectivity (to be differentiated from subjectivismper se is not a bad thing.

So how can "S.K." help us here? Is it possible to synthesize his insight with that of Kuyper, Bavinck, and Warfield? Let's find out!

SDG - Eko Ong

PART 1/3
One of the major tenets of the Reformation is Sola Scriptura, that is, Scripture is the only source of authority for faith and life. We trust Scripture as the infallible Word of God. But biblical criticisms gave rise to skepticism toward the infallibility of Scripture as liberal critics declared the Bible to be full of errors. Furthermore, Protestantism holds that infallibility does not extend to the canonization, which is defined as the process in which the Church –a fallible vessel– recognized the 66 books in our Bible as divinely inspired. So the Church might have failed to recognize some divinely inspired books and/or misrecognized some uninspired books as inspired. Although credible historical and theological arguments may be given in defense of canonization, ambiguity remains in various aspects such as the late formation of the Old Testament canon and the late acceptance of certain New Testament books. Then, how should we accept the authority of Scripture? John Calvin, having recognized the limit of reason, taught that while there is ample historical evidence, the authority of the Bible can only be personally accepted by faith through the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit. Yes, indeed we are saved by grace through faith in Christ. Saving faith by the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit through the proclamation of the gospel is sufficient and normatively necessary (e.g. John 6:44, Rm 10:17). Through the testimony of the Spirit, we may call God our Father (Rm 8:15, Gal 4:6) and we hear the voice of our Shepherd (John 10:27). Yet, does saving faith include personal acceptance of the infallibility (hence authority) of Scripture by faith? What is the relationship between the two categories of faith of a believer? To address such questions without ignoring the associated difficulties, let us look at the insight of Søren Kierkegaard, the enigmatic 19th century Danish Protestant philosopher.

Just like us, Kierkegaard lived in a complex era. Cartesian foundationalism was a prevalent epistemology. Here, true knowledge must possess a foundation of truth which must be demonstrated with certainty. To obtain such certainty, one shall become entirely “objective”. At the time, Christianity was a dry state religion. Later, the rise of biblical criticism undermined the epistemic foundation of Christianity. In such era, Kierkegaard attempted to articulate Christianity in a way that is relevant to lives and faithful to Scripture. He first defined that to exist as a human self is to undergo a process of becoming which requires one to be relational, both internally and externally. Such relations with itself and other selves facilitate synthesis as part of the ‘becoming’ process. As a consequence, a self is not autonomous. Our self-existence is ultimately grounded in the autonomous Self who possesses infinite qualitative difference compared to any human self, namely God. To become a true self, one shall attempt to realize the potentially in relation with itself, other selves, and the Self. From there, Kierkegaard identified three spheres of existence: aesthetical, ethical, and religious. The transition from aesthetical to ethical is facilitated by moral consciousness. A self that realizes the futility of pleasure-driven life without any ethical commitment transitions to the ethical sphere. The kernel of Kierkegaard’s works, however, lies within the transition from the ethical to religious sphere. What facilitates and characterizes such transition?

First, Kierkegaard rejected the pursuit of objectivity in foundationalism on the basis of his anthropology. A human self never attains absolute certainty. To have such certainty means to be complete and hence stop ‘becoming’ which contradicts the notion of human existence. Such certainty is only feasible in God. Although epistemic uncertainty is a part of human existence and the limit of reason, we find a way of resolving it in our daily decisions. This demonstrates that subjectivity plays a big role in our actions. That is, our actions are never purely objective. Rather than being defeated by skepticism due to the hopelessness of absolute certainty, Kierkegaard argued that we should embrace such subjectivity. One may argue that rather than pursuing absolute certainty, we simply strive for high degree of certainty in practice. But such degree of certainty itself is a measure which varies from person to person and hence subjective. Here, Kierkegaard defined subjectivity as that which is outside reason and includes emotion and passion. In relation to Christianity, subjectivity is essential in attaining true knowledge for a limited human self.  A purely foundationalistic approach to Christianity will eventually lead to skepticism. In other words, subjectivity allows oneself to “live the truth” without requiring absolute certainty.  

Second, Kierkegaard criticized foundationalism in its usage of historical evidence as the rational basis of faith. While Kierkegaard accepted the historical root of Christianity, he argued that historical evidence is neither sufficient nor necessary to produce faith in an individual. Historical evidence deals with contingent and temporal matters whereas the realm of reason or logic is characterized by necessity and eternity since a logical proposition is a perennial truth. What is contingent and temporal belongs to a different category from the necessary and eternal.

Third, Kierkegaard contrasted two religions. The immanent religion A, manifested within the ethical sphere, is a religion which searches for the truth inside oneself. Sound familiar? Such person strives for the “highest good” according to one’s conscience. While some God-consciousness may be present, religion A emphasizes immanence without relating to God himself. Moreover, the true pursuit of goodness should not be for the sake of reward other than the happiness caused by the goodness itself. If such principle abides, the person will eventually realize that he is “guilty” (recognition of his shortcoming and sinfulness) and the solution exists outside human powers. That is, one can achieve nothing apart from the Self. This facilitates one’s transition to the eminent religion B of Christianity–the true religion. Religion B must be based on a revealed truth from God. Such revealed truth, consistent with the infinite gap between human existence and God, must be paradoxical and hence supra-rational (not irrational). In other words, the revelation is a fresh and new knowledge which consequently creates a tension and results in a paradox. While a paradox can be made up, Kierkegaard maintained the uniqueness of Christianity as the “Absolute Paradox” is embodied in the incarnation of Christ since the eternal and necessary meets with the temporal and contingent within a single being, God who entered the human history and became flesh. Rather than simply a metaphysical paradox, incarnation is an ethical paradox as well. God, the necessary who has no need for us, chose to enter the realm of contingency and demonstrated the ultimate act of “selfless love” which surpasses, yet does not contradict reason. Such absolute paradox can only be appropriated by faith when a “mutual understanding” between reason and the paradox happens, that is, when reason admits its limitation and the paradox gives itself. Such faith originates neither from one’s inner-self nor from other human selves, but is a divine gift upon his encounter with God as he realizes that his reason reaches its limit and his moral quest fails. Kierkegaard characterized this faith as a subjective and qualitative leap, a change of category. It involves emotion, passion, tension between fear and blessedness, and total submission as the absolute paradox challenges the limitation of reason and evidence. Hence, just as evidence is neither sufficient nor necessary for faith, a lack of evidence is not the reason for the absence of faith. The Kierkegaardian notion of faith differs from blind fideism –with which Kierkegaard is often falsely associated– as the faith subjectively embraces a propositional truth and a historical reality of incarnation of Christ. Yet the interpretation of such historical reality must be subjectively appropriated since further evidential or rationalistic attempts on establishing its credibility, while edifying and educational, cannot be the basis of faith. It also differs from Pascal’s fideism where the “wager” appeals to risk and reason. In our view, Pascal’s wager tends to result in one’s ‘hedging his bets’. It is far from the biblical faith of total submission to Christ, which is well articulated by Kierkegaard.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Richard Bauckham, "Jesus and the God of Israel"

Book Review - Richard Bauckham, "Jesus and the God of Israel"
by Eko Ong

In the conclusion of “The Person of Christ”, MacLeod pondered how we may translate homoousios and perichoresis in today’s language. Such desire for fresh perspective –especially in light of the “growing abandonment of the axiom of divine apatheia”– surfaced due to the perceived influence of Greek metaphysics in the Chalcedonian Christology. While Christology in today’s language may prove beneficial, a Christology rooted in the 2nd-temple Jewish monotheism may be more faithful at least to the authorial intent of the New Testament writers in conjunction to the 3rd quest of historical Jewish Jesus. Some perceive the deity of Christ to be a violation of Jewish monotheism. Others, such as Dunn, postulate that the early church worshipped Jesus as an exalted intermediate figure but not God himself. They argue that the incorporation of Jesus into the Godhead was a later development. Unlike those 2 approaches, Bauckham proposes an alternative hypothesis: “early Christians included Jesus, precisely and unambiguously, within the unique identity of the one God of Israel” which includes the totality of Jesus as the pre-existent, incarnate, suffering, crucified, and exalted Son of God [Intro]. Expounding his entire thesis in chapter I while providing additional details in the remaining 7 chapters, Bauckham believes that the category of divine identity (who God is) represents the teaching of Scripture compared to the “inappropriate” ontological and functional categories (what God is, what his attributes are) from the Patristic tradition. He argues that the created intermediary figures are servants and do not share the divine identity. Yet Jesus personifies aspects that share the divine identity such as the Spirit, Wisdom, and Word [I.1.6-I.1.7, VI]. Hence, including –as opposed to adding– Jesus into the divine identity does not violate Jewish monotheism. This is evident, for instance, in the inclusion of Jesus into the Jewish Shema (Deut 6:4) in 1 Cor 8:6, predicating κύριος and ὕψιστος to Jesus (used for YHWH in LXX), and the parallel between Carmen Christi (Phil 2:6-11) and the Servant Song (Isa 40-55) [I.2.3-I.2.8, I.3, VI]. Throughout the NT, the pre-existent Son of God takes the identity of YHWH: the Creator and Sovereign Lord who is the God of Israel, the author of exodus (from Egypt and the one to come), and demands exclusive worship [I.1.3-I.1.5, II-V]. Yet the climax of the revelation of divine identity in Christ occurred in the crucifixion when God in Christ identified himself with God-forsakenness which is, according to Bauckham, the heart of all suffering [I.3.7, VIII].

Overall, such Christology-from-above is unique since it demonstrates not only the deity of Christ but also their consistency with Jewish monotheism. This is done from the standard NT christological passages in relation with the corresponding OT passages. The sharing of divine identity also provides us a category to overcome subordination issues within the Trinitarian formulation. However, as Bauckham focuses on demonstrating the deity of Christ in relation to the OT, he tends to advocate a single reading from passages which carry other christological nuances. For instance, upon comparing Phil 2:9-11 and Isa 45:23, he claimed that the passage “cannot be understood as an expression of an Adam Christology” which entails the restoration of human dominion over the cosmos (contra Dunn and McCartney’s Ecce Homo) [VI.6]. Although we agree with Bauckham’s emphasis on eschatological monotheism in the passages, we do not see the need for excluding other sound christological readings as well.

Fundamental in Bauckham’s thesis is his critique of the Greek’s metaphysics of substance (ontology) and attributes (functional). Within the rubric of the classic Trinitarian, Christ is homoousios with the Father and hence divine (e.g. WCF II.3). He is revealed to us in terms of his personality and works within Scripture. Bauckham argues that Christology of the divine identity is consistent with the Jewishness of our Scripture. Here, Christ is understood in terms of ‘who he is’, not ‘what he is’. While such category may be parsimonious and minimizes the tendency of separating God’s being from God’s attributes, we wonder if such Greek categories are as “improper” as what is claimed. First, although ontological and functional categories are not inherent in Scripture, the same may be said regarding the category of divine identity as Scripture is not given in particular categories. Yet categories are inherent in the finiteness of human communications even in narratives. Second, perichoresis is used to counteract the static description of divine substance. That is, the three persons of the Godhead are homoousios by remaining. Third, Bauckham himself defines the identity of God in terms of his personality and works (Creator, Ruler, the author of exodus who is merciful and gracious, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness) yet correctly maintains that the two are inseparable. The same can be done with the ontological and functional categories so long as we affirm that God is exhaustively absolute, personal, and revealed to us in Christ. Even Bauckham himself recognizes that the Jewish divine identity coincides with the “Hellenistic God-talk” which allows the author of Hebrews to use Hellenistic philosophical language of divine eternity [VII.1]. This is hardly surprising since LXX was the predominant OT Scripture of the NT writers and the early church. Hence, the same may be said with the Neo-Platonic terms such as σκιά and εἰκών. In addition, when Bauckham describes Christ as fully human and fully divine –in line with the Chalcedonian Christology– [VII] he employs the Greek category of nature. Since “the finite cannot contain the infinite”, we acknowledge that no theological category is perfect. Divine identity is simpler yet the Greek metaphysical categories –if used properly– may shed further light onto what divine identity means. What should be avoided is the improper use of Greek categories rather than abolishing their use altogether along with the associated church creeds throughout the ages.

For Bauckham, ‘God crucified’ is the climactic revelation of God’s identity. In what sense was God crucified? While it is the God-man who died on the cross, may we assign the suffering and death of Christ to his human nature alone? An affirmative answer seems to safeguard the impassability and immutability of God (e.g. WCF II.1) yet is difficult to reconcile with the inseparability of the dual nature of Christ. Alternatively, we may affirm with Bauckham that the God-man died, in what sense is God immutable (which Bauckham also affirms [VII.5, VII.10])? How should we redefine (or abandon) the immutability or impassability of God? Bauckham leaves these issues open-ended and concludes with theological reflections. While we are far from answering these questions, the following may be said. First, so far Reformed theology sees no problem in distinguishing Christ’s human and divine natures thereby attributing the suffering and death of Christ to his human nature alone while still affirming that it is the God-man who was crucified. Second, as God-man was crucified, God the Father was not (contra Patripassianism). While homoousios/perichoresis seems to be limited in this respect, how does the category of divine identity demonstrate the eternal unity between the Son and the Father in the cross? Third, while divine apatheia is a Stoic import and sub-biblical, it should be maintained that, in his pathos, God is not a victim of any external entity. Rather, such pathos is internal to the divine identity and revealed in the cross. Hence, God indeed suffers when the God-man was on the cross. But such suffering does not compromise divine immutability as process theology claims. Fourth, divine identification with suffering should not be the telos as Jürgen Moltmann and liberation theologians tend to portray. Bauckham correctly points out that the heart of suffering is the absence of God. Yet it should be stressed that such dereliction is ultimately the wages of sin whose power is conquered in the cross and resurrection [VIII.2]. Hence, sin is the root issue, not suffering. Fifth, just as the incarnation is a mystery, so is the event of God crucified. How incomprehensible his love and untraceable his ways are! There is no single category that can explain such mystery. Multiple categories may indeed be complementary to one another.

Despite its open-endedness, this book challenges our classical formulation of the hypostatic union of Christ. We hope that Bauckham will write a sequel on the ramifications of ‘God crucified’ to the classical Christology. Such dialogue will prove useful. We recommend this book to students of the Bible with ample knowledge on theology proper and Christology. It affirms the fact that Christology has not yet arrived until we “see him face-to-face”.  

Sunday, March 31, 2013

William and Mary International Student Fellowship Easter Testimony

Easter Sunday is celebrated by Christians to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus as described in the New Testament. During this time of Easter some of our members in International Student Fellowship at the College of William and Mary give their testimony on Jesus' question, 'Who do you say I am?' Matthew 16.15

William and Mary International Student Fellowship is not affiliated with any denominations, and welcome any international students from all belief and backgrounds. We come together in the fellowship to learn the Gospel together and supporting each other in prayer and worship.

Rejoice for He has risen, Happy Easter Sunday.

Saturday, March 30, 2013


I've been coming to RUF since 2009. There are so many things that had happened since then. Thank you for being such a good friend, brother, pastor, and hopefully later a partner in the ministry. You have sacrificed your life to teach, to support, to shepherd, and to educate me and the rest of us in WM RUF. May the Lord keep blessing your ministry and your family (also for your future study plan).

Happy birthday Rev. Ben Robertson :D

Friday, March 29, 2013

耶稣复活节快乐,Mi Amigo!


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Happy Easter, Mi Amigo!

The majority of people think that the most important thing in life is money. Why money? Because money can always be used to buy almost every physical thing. This way, as people have various wills to own various things they can use their money. However, people can never satisfy their wills, no matter how hard they try. Why this is true?

Sunday, February 24, 2013

A Valentine's Day Story

Well, it is now half past twelve here. It's passing the midnight half an hour ago and, yes, Valentine's Day was over. It is, however, still fresh in my mind how I learned to love the one I've been loving these years. Who else? That special person is no other than my own solo girlfriend. :) So, what is so special this time?

Saturday, December 29, 2012

"Evidence that the Pill causes abortions" OR "An abridged set of quotes from Randy Alcorn's book on the Pill"

(Download the whole book as a PDF for free here: http://www.epm.org/store/product/birth-control-pill-book/)

I wanted, and still want, the answer to this question to be “No.” I came to this issue as a skeptic. Though I heard people here and there make an occasional claim that the Pill caused abortions, I learned long ago not to trust everything said by sincere Christians, who are sometimes long on zeal but short on careful research. While I’m certainly fallible, I have taken pains to be as certain as possible that the information I am presenting here is accurate. I’ve examined medical journals and other scientifically oriented sources—everything from popular medical reference books to highly technical professional periodicals. I’ve checked and double-checked, submitted this research to physicians, and asked clarifying questions of pharmacists and other experts. Few of my citations are from prolife advocates. Most are physicians, scientists, researchers, pill-manufacturers and other secular sources.