Answering My Conscience; or How I Find Myself Acting Like a Radical Reformer (Even Though I Don’t Know Much About Them) in the Way I Approach Understanding of Scripture

How about that title? I figure since I’m talking about historical orthodox positions, I’d take a historic approach to making titles like Christians of the past were known for doing. 🙂

But seriously, I’ve written in the past about how I believe complementarianism is the biblically faithful way to describe how God has created men and women to relate to one another. Now that’s not really the point of this post, but the fact that I hold that position and actually sat through two systematic theology courses with Bruce Ware help explain why I was rather interesting by the firestorm that erupted over Ware’s (along with Wayne Grudem’s) views on how Jesus relates the Father in the Trinity. I really have very little desire to rehash the whole mess (and it was a mess), but you can go here or here if you really want to read more.

Let me boil down the two basic positions in case you’re normal and don’t care to read the posts I linked to. One side (the “historic” side) is arguing that the councils of the fourth century laid some groundwork on how the persons of the Trinity relate to one another that the other side (Ware/Grudem, a.k.a. the “new” side) are contradicting. (Seriously, I can give you the nuances of the disagreement in the theological minutiae of academia, but it’s not really my point here.) The historic side is calling the new side “heterodox”, which I think is somewhere between orthodoxy and outright heresy (though I’m at a loss to really understand what that means).

Here’s where I care: The historic side is basically saying, “Such and such position was decided on at the council of way-back-when, and so no one can contradict or refine that position.” And now Ware/Grudem have come along, arguing for a position that we all admit somewhat varies from the older position. The shame!

So, what’s the big deal and why am I bothering to write about it? Well, to be honest, I just can’t get myself to side with the historic position dudes because their argument boils down to “it’s older, so it’s better.” And not only that, when they’ve written about it, there’s this condescending tone of “I’d try to explain the nuances of their position, but it’s really complicated and I couldn’t dumb it down enough for you.” So, what they’re defending is a very old position that’s so complicated that only PhDs in historical theology can even understand it.

(Stick with me, I’m really getting there–I promise!)

Well, I’m not one of those PhDs, but I read enough to understand that the historic position is more fundamentally a philosophical position, not a strictly Scriptural position. What I mean is that the position codified at way-back-then council isn’t something that you can point to verses in the actual Bible that defend it, so much as the philosophical and logical necessity of the position in order to make sense of our Trinitarian God.

And now these guys are coming up with a “new” position and–gasp!–it’s based on what they believe the Bible itself actually says. And while they understand that it doesn’t jive well with the historic position, they hold to it because they earnestly believe it’s what the Scriptures teach.

Now, of course, I don’t think either side is claiming that the other side doesn’t care about the actual Bible or logic/philosophy–as the case may be–but in my mind, there’s a fundamental difference in approach. And I fall squarely into the camp of holding the view I can defend from the Bible, even if historical theologians get hives hearing me talk about (though to be fair, I don’t think that’s ever actually happened to me).

As I read the whole thing, I was on the “new” side both in particular and in principle, because I want to base what I believe on what the Word itself says. And while I have great respect for the generations of Christians before me, it doesn’t necessarily hold that just because they lived longer ago than me that they’re right-er than me.

Upon some research, I find myself lining up with a group from the Reformation called the radical reformers. These were the ones who took to heart “Sola Scriptura”, even if what they found contradicted the hallowed councils of the past. And I love them for it. Of course, sometimes they went off into crazy-land. But I so deeply appreciate the desire to follow the Word as faithfully as possible, even if it flew in the face of centuries of church tradition or teaching.

I mean, seriously, look at the 95 Theses and the entire Reformation itself.

At the end of the day, I have to stand or fall on what my conscience and the Holy Spirit in me are convinced is the truth, based on the very Word of God. And it’s simply not good enough for me to find one thing in Scripture and read another thing from some historical council, and let that council trump my heart convictions.

Do I want to be a heretic? No way! Do I want to be informed about and by history? Very much so. But at the end of the day, any historic council was full of people just as sinful and just as redeemed as me. And just as much as I may be wrong,  so may they have been. And I can’t find any part of my heart that can cave my Bible-based convictions because of a council of bishops from centuries past. I’m probably talking in circles at this point. I’m sitting in the room with my family while they watch Pixar Cars, so I’m a tad distracted. I think I feel the weight of the whole conversation, because my church meets in homes, we believe in the full sovereignty of God over salvation, and believe that there is no such thing as a clergy/laity distinction. I hold all of these views from Scripture, but I don’t have much of history on my side.

And the truth is, while it bothers me sometimes, I’m actually fine with that. Because I can defend what I believe from the Bible. And my soul is at peace with it. And the Spirit testifies to my soul that I have to be faithful to what I see, regardless of how much I buck against historical precedent. In that way, I’m very much a descendant of those radical reformers. And this whole controversy I mentioned at the beginning of the post helped me to see this more clearly than I’ve really seen it before.

I’m not ashamed of the heritage I find myself a part of, even if it wasn’t on purpose.

Forsaken by the Father

A brother of mine pointed to this article, where the author challenges that idea that the Father turned his face away from the son on the cross. To state my opinion up front, I disagree with this guy (and the five other blog posts I read that made almost an identical point). Frankly, I feel like he dismantles something that he doesn’t manage to really put back together. He admits he might just nit-picking the term, but I think in nit-picking it he’s unintentionally undermining the theology contained in the whole”Father’s face” short-hand. For instance, I don’t think the statement “the weight of sin caused Him to experience God-forsakenness, yet…the Father’s face wasn’t turned away” makes any sense. What is God-forsakenness if not the absence of the Father’s countenance?

But I’m getting ahead of myself…

Anyhoos, here’s my point by point rebuttal–which honestly, I’m writing pretty quickly and I may find that I’ve made some glaring errors in my critique. So, I’m quite open to being challenged here.

  1. Ben’s first point is that “Jesus never addressed His Father as ‘God’ in all His years of ministry.” First, that’s a pretty narrow way to put that. Both John 20:17 and Rev 3:2,12 contradict the statement at the outset. I daresay that pretty much dismantles the point. But second, I’m unconvinced that using the exact language of Psalm 22 marks this as a different intention of how Jesus addresses the Father. Perhaps he just wants to make the allusion clearer. But does that really mean that “Jesus wanted it to be heard specifically differently from the way He usually spoke about Father”? Nah…
  2. His second point relates to some of the things Jesus says after the “Eloi, Eloi” statement are addressed to the Father and would negate the idea that God’s face was turned away from Jesus. As for his use of the term “Father”, I’ve already addressed that above. As to how it these words negate the forsakenness Jesus is experiencing, it doesn’t further his point at all because it doesn’t solve anything for him either. In his own argument, the forsakenness that Jesus supposedly went through is still a problem because in his own view, Jesus isn’t really forsaken because God still hears him. I would rather suggest that just as Jesus existing as fully God and fully man is a mysterious duality, Jesus existing as God in direct fellowship with, well, himself in the Godhead while also completely forsaken isn’t really any different. It’s a duality that occurs because of who Jesus is and what he did. I mean, seriously–one God in three persons? This kind of paradox is a persistent idea in Scripture.
  3. Ben’s third point is that the “Father went with Jesus all the way to and through the cross”, again refuting that the Father withdrew from Jesus. He uses John 16:32 as his proof, where even after the disciples desert Jesus, the Father will still be with him. To which I say: I agree. That’s exactly what happened. The disciples deserted Jesus, but the Father was still with Jesus. But all the way “to and through the cross”? Again, the verse doesn’t prove that. It allows it as a possibility, but doesn’t definitively prove either his side or mine. Putting that text aside, my second point above, I think, still addresses that tension between Jesus being “one with the Father” but also fully forsaken, too.
  4. The fourth assertion is that 2 Cor 5:19 contradicts the Father deserting Jesus because “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself”, meaning that there “was a wholesale involvement with Christ in the middle”. I read this on a couple of other blogs, too, and really don’t even get how this furthers their point. Of course God was reconciling the world to himself by forsaking his very Son, whom he loved. That’s the core of the gospel. Acts 2:23a says, “This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge.” It was absolutely the Father accomplishing reconciliation in Jesus–or perhaps it could be said it was through Jesus. I mean, just look two verses later in 2 Cor 5: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” God wasn’t making himself sin, but the Son. Jesus was the (one and only) agent through which the Father accomplished this reconciliation. Not by being in Jesus when it occurred, but by making it occur in Jesus. Unless I’m just missing the point he’s trying to make…
  5. Here, Ben is appealing to the OT passages that prophesy about Jesus and how in the midst of them God is still with the author in the midst of the desolation described. Ben’s sixth point is similar, so let me address this here in one way and then wrap it up in the next bullet. Let me just make a broad statement about how the NT uses the OT: they totally jack up context left and right. Here’s an easy example. Matt 2:15 says that Jesus and his parents going to Egypt was to fulfill “what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”” That’s a quotation from Hosea 11. Go check it out. That passage, in context, is about how God delivered his people from slavery in Egypt but then they turned from him to follow idols. So, if we’re going to follow Ben’s approach, that prophecy shows that Jesus was sent to Egypt because he’d been a slave there and he would later chase idols. Say what!?!? Of course not! My point is that the NT regularly ignores the grammatical-historical context of the OT passages–and it’s Spirit-inspired, so we can’t say they got it wrong. This is where typology is a more helpful way to understand it, but even that doesn’t solve all the issues. That’s just to say that appealing to the OT context doesn’t solve anything. And that being the case, the suffering servant passages Ben brings up neither further nor hinder his point. And the same for me.
  6. Now, I think Ben has built up to this as his most important point, so let me also let this be mine as well. Ben’s point is that in Psalm 22, the source of, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” the psalmist also says, “He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; nor has He hidden His face from him; but when he cried to Him for help, He heard.” And thus he claims that the same must be true for Jesus. Again, I reiterate my fifth point that just because it’s in the context of the OT passage, that doesn’t mean it transfers to the NT context. Regardless, let’s ignore that and ask the question, “Why didn’t God turn his face away from David?” It’s not answered in the psalm, but we know it’s because of the mercy of God. We know from Habakkuk that “your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing” and from Isaiah that “your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing.” Is it that David was righteous and that’s why God would listen to him? Check Psalm 51. No way that’s it. So why? Because of the mercy of God. And how could God apply his mercy to David? Because of Jesus.

Let me jump out of the bullets to make this final point: God didn’t turn his face away from David because he did turn his face away from the better David. There was no reason for God to show mercy to David except through his faith in God as redeemer. And who did that redeeming? Jesus did, generations later. Do you see? Psalm 22 shows that David received grace, a gift he didn’t earn. And so the Father didn’t turn his face away as he should have, but regarded David with favor because of the One who did endure God’s wrath and displeasure. Hear it again: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” That’s the great exchange. That’s the reason that God did, in fact, turn his face away: so that all the saints–past, present, and future–could become the righteousness of God, not through their merits, but because the Redeemer Jesus had paid the price for their sins. And what was that price? The punishment due for sin, which is “everlasting destruction and [being] shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.” (2 Thess 1:9) That has been paid, by Jesus, the one who endured being shut out from the presence of the Lord and the glory of his might. And all so we could instead share in the glory of King Jesus.

Lest anyone accuse me of just following the typical evangelical line on this, well, just trust me that I find great joy in rocking the boat. But only when I see it. And despite how much I challenge, I will hold gladly and firmly to those doctrines that root the Gospel for us, those who have been chosen by grace, apart from our works. This issue is core to the gospel, not because I particularly care if you much like the phrase “the Father turns his face away”, but because the truth of that statement is core. And that truth is that Jesus was rejected so we’d be accepted, cast out so we could be brought in, and ultimately forsaken for the sins he never committed to that we could be approved for the perfect record we never held.

That is the gospel, through and through.