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Chalcedonian Definition

In 451 A.D. the Council of Chalcedon was convened by Emperor Marcion at the request of Pope Leo the Great. The settlement is considered to be the high-water mark of the early church’s christological speculation. It was formulated against the backdrop of nearly four centuries of controversy regarding the person of Christ. For a statement of the Chalcedonian definition, see below.[1]

I thought I would contribute something that has helped me understand the Chalcedonian definition regarding the Incarnation of the Son of God. Comments made to me of late speak of it being very difficult to understand, and I would beg to dissent. I admit that the antiquated language is difficult. The obscure terms are difficult. Also it is difficult in that it says what it wants to say in a long, drawn-out way – which is often the way of philosophical treatises that desire precision. But the idea itself seems to me be easily grasped.

What it was that helped me was the following. [2]

The settlement is a ringing endorsement of dyophysite [two-nature] Christology. Christ is declared to exist in two natures, whose distinction remains real even in their union with Christ. . . At the same time, however, in agreement with monopysite [one-nature] Christology, the settlement insists on there being only one person, one Son, in Christ. . . . Person and hypostasis are taken as having the same referent, so that the Incarnation becomes a sort of mirror image of the Trinity. Just as in the Trinity there are multiple persons in one nature, so in Christ there are multiple natures in one person. The famous series of the four adjectives asynchytos, atreptos, adiairetos, achoristos (without confusion, without change, without division, without separation) serves as a reminder that the two natures of Christ must be kept distinct and that the the unity of his person must not be compromised. . . . As a result of Chalcedon, it has become an imperative of orthodox Christology that we must “neither confuse the natures nor divide the person” of Christ.

The Chalcedonian formula itself does not tell us how to do this. It does not seek to explain the Incarnation but sets up, as it were, channel markers for legitimate Christological speculation; any theory of Christ’s person must be one in which the distinctness of both natures is preserved and both meet in one person, one Son, in Christ. It admittedly fulfilled the purpose for which it was drawn up; namely, to exclude two possible but unacceptable explanations of the Incarnation and to provide a convenient summary of essential facts that must be borne in mind by all those who attempt to penetrate further into the mystery. [3]

The question that Chalcedon is answering then is not, “How is it that Jesus can be God and human at the same time?” which, I admit, is difficult. Note the illustration of channel markers. In effect this says that there can be a wide variety of how to answer this question, as long as one rows their boat of speculation between the two borders marked out for them. The question that Chalcedon answers then is rather, “What are the boundaries to acceptable speculation regarding the person of Christ?”

Alternatively, one could say the question was, “How is it not a logical contradiction that Jesus can be fully God and fully human at the same time?” And the Chalcedonian definition avoids any logical contradiction in that two natures are attached in some way (perhaps we may never know exactly how) to one person. Not two people in one person, nor two natures in one nature, which would both be logically contradictory, but two natures in one person. And even if you don’t understand what a nature is or a person is, as Roger E. Olson explains, it is two whats and one who. [4] Thus the doctrine of the Incarnation can be rationally affirmed.

Footnotes

1. From C.R.T.A.: The Centre of Reformed Theology and Apologetics.

Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the fathers has handed down to us.

2. The whole chapter called Christian Doctrines (II): The Incarnation is long, but thoroughly worth reading in my opinion. (see footnote 3).

3. J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, IVP, 2003, p. 601.

4. Roger E. Olson, Mosaic of Christian Belief: Twenty Centuries of Unity and Diversity, IVP Apollos, 2002, p. 227.

History's Greatest Communicator

“He was a blue-collar worker with a lower-caste accent, and yet at the age of thirty, he put down his hammer and took to the streets. Speaking to crowds throughout Israel, this carpenter shook the message of traditional Judaism to its core. Where the religious leaders of his day focused on legalism, nationalism, and isolation from the outside world, he preached a message of love, humility, and restoration. Where the textual scholars hid away from the people and exercised a harsh religious code, he preached openness, love, and the need for a salvation that relied not on works but on the grace of God. Where others cast stones, he forgave. Where others passed by the poor, outcast, immoral, and destitute, he fed them, lingered with them, went into their homes, healed them, and spoke with them about their struggles and ideals. Where others saw fishermen, prostitutes, and tax collectors, he saw a group of disciples capable of changing the world.

Jesus never wrote a book, held office, or wielded a sword. He never gained sway with the mighty or influential. He never claimed a political victory. He never took up arms against the governing powers in Rome. Two thousand years after his death, billions of Jews, Muslims, Christians, Hindus, agnostics agree that he never preached a word of hate to gain influence with his followers. He did nothing for which those followers must now be ashamed. He was quiet but firm. He used the spoken word to disseminate a revolutionary message that would eventually spread from a small-town wedding in the deserts of the Middle East to the heights of power in Rome, Western Europe, Africa, and the modern United States.

It’s telling that one of Jesus’ followers, John, described him quite succinctly as “the Word” (John 1:1, 14). A symbol. A promise. An exhaled message of hope. A piece of communication strong enough to bridge the divide between God and man. The fulfillment of a story thousands of years in the making. It was in part through his revolutionary rhetoric that this humble man rose to prominence as the most influential figure in history.”

Joe Carter and John Coleman, How to Argue Like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History’s Greatest Communicator (Crossway 2009), pages 13-14.

Five ways to argue like Jesus

We sometimes have a view of Jesus as a safe and gentle teacher but forget that the pages of Scripture reveal him as person of enormous controversy and debate. And many times it was Jesus himself who sought out that controversy – repudiating religious customs, upturning tables in temple markets, and castigating religious leaders for their moralism and hard-heartedness. For any Christian who thinks that we should always avoid confrontation or argument, Jesus’ life is a powerful reminder of the importance of discourse that embodies both truth and grace, salt and light.

Joe Carter and John Coleman have written a recent post at Relevant Magazine about how we can follow Jesus’ example and debate in a disarming and civil manner. If we want our communication to have the most impact, Carter and Coleman suggest that we should learn to be able to conduct a conversation that doesn’t raise voices or blood pressure.  The  “rules of rhetoric” they offer for effective communication have been distilled from their excellent book; How to Argue Like Jesus.  Joe Carter is the editor of the First Things magazine and an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. John Coleman is a former national public speaking champion pursuing a concurrent MBA/MPA at Harvard University.

You can read the whole post here. Crossway Books have also provided a brief overview on their blog:

  1. Start with examples your audience will understand: Always start with an example or concept your audience knows, understands, or finds interesting, and connect it to your core message.
  2. Speak your audience’s language: When you speak to an audience, to the extent possible, you must speak their language.
  3. Use witness: Consider the use of witnesses essential to the construction of an effective message based on narrative and ethos. Wherever possible, elicit testimonies.
  4. Know when to speak: There are a lot of important topics in the world, and it is not necessary that you have something to say about all of them—particularly if speaking on the topic would hurt your credibility or detract from your primary goal.
  5. And know when to be silent: Silence is one of the most powerful forms of communication. It shows that you are in control and gives the person or people a moment to think for themselves and consider how they will respond to your message

How Pat Robertson was wrong and right

At a time when the world should be focused on the tragedy of the Haiti earthquake and how we can best help the people of the Carribbean nation, Pat Robertson’s insensitive comments are an unwelcome distraction. If he wasn’t so well-known, Pat Robertson could be easily dismissed. Instead, his claim that the Haitian earthquake was a result of a Satanic pact has caused Christians to both cringe and join in the outrage of others. If you haven’t heard, Robertson’s comments came on the Christian Broadcasting Network, where he explained to viewers:

…something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it, they were under the heel of the French, uh, you know, Napoleon the third and whatever, and they got together and swore a pact to the devil, they said, we will serve you, if you get us free from the Prince, true story. And so the devil said, ‘OK, it’s a deal.’ And they kicked the French out, the Haitians revolted and got themselves free, and ever since they have been cursed by one thing after the other, desperately poor. . . the Island of Hispaniola is one island cut down the middle. On the one side is Haiti, on the other side is the Dominican Republic. Dominican Republic is, is, prosperous, healthy, full of resorts, etc. Haiti is in desperate poverty, same Islands, uh, they need to have, and we need to pray for them, a great turning to God. And out of this tragedy, I’m optimistic something good may come, but right now we’re helping the suffering people, and the suffering is unimaginable.

Robertson has made many injudicious statements in the past, but this has to be his most stupid. It is a difficult thing to read into God’s intentions concerning specific disasters and it is never acceptable for us to pronounce why God has done something unless He has actually already told us. While the Bible reveals that God has often judged nations in the past, and has used natural disasters to implement that judgment, it does not follow that every natural disaster is an instance of His judgment. Our understanding of these events should be set in the context of Jesus’ response in Luke 13:

“Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:1-5 ESV).

Suffering should remind us of our own self-centeredness and finitude, and force us to reconsider our theology by the cold light of reality. John Mark Reynolds also makes some good points about the appropriateness of Robertson’s comments:

Robertson has been inhuman in two ways.

First, even if he were right, he has picked a horrid time to pontificate. When my friends is suffering from cancer, even if it is his fault, it is the wrong time to remind him that I told him he should have stopped smoking. It is ugly and useless.

Heal the sick, bury the dead, feed the hungry and then deal with root spiritual causes. Safe to say every nation, and Haiti is surely one, has made philosophical and practical decisions that help cause tragedy. We can talk about that when the people of Haiti have been helped by the Church.

Second, even if his theology were sound, he has stated it in such a way and at such a time that it will be misunderstood and will be mocked. He has pronounced a “truth” that (he must concede) would be hard for our culture to hear in a way and at a time that brings that “truth” into derision.

If Robertson were right in his theology and philosophy, his timing has fed his pearls to swine on a silver platter.

Recently Robertson faced major health problems and rightly asked for our prayers. It would have been wrong to be facile and associate his problems with sin. Robertson should grant the people of Haiti the same treatment that he demanded in the case of his illness. (HT: JT)

Melinda on the Stand to Reason blog also makes the important point that for all the ridicule that Robertson is receiving we should not ignore the fact that he is not wrong to remind us of the real-world consequences to religious beliefs. She writes,  “The consequences not only affect our lives now, but also have eternal consequences.  Religion is real and the choice is serious”. Melinda goes on:

“Pat Robertson had no grounds to claim he knew the earthquake was God’s judgment on the Haitians for voodoo.  He was right to point out that practicing voodoo is evil and results in a curse, as do all false religions.  People are truly lost when they follow a lie, and are truly saved when they follow the truth.  There are consequences to practicing false religion because the spiritual world is real.”

Have we got it right? New DVD on Jesus, history and the NT

Earlier this year, the Tyndale House sponsored a conference at the Westminister Chapel, in London, to both address contemporary objections to the historicity of the New Testament and show why the Bible can be trusted. With the goal in training Christians to be able to share their faith with confidence, the conference brought together some of the foremost evangelical scholars around today. The DVD of the sessions has now become available. You can purchase it online here.

Information about the three lectures included on the DVD, from the Bible and Church website:

Have we got the history right? Dr. Peter J. Williams

A widely held idea is that Christian beliefs arose over a long period of time through a mixture of gullibility and conspiracy. Early Christian records are held to be legend, myth or fabrication.

However, when we consider the earliest accounts of Christianity by non-Christian writers we see that Christians were never in a position to fabricate the accounts of Jesus, and that the core Christian beliefs must have been held very early

Dr Peter (P.J.) Williams is the Warden of Tyndale House. He was educated at Cambridge University, where he received his MA, MPhil and PhD, in the study of ancient languages related to the Bible.

Have we got the text right? Dr. Dirk Jongkind

Another popular idea is that the Bible has been corrupted, either by deliberate falsification or simply lost through passage of time. Such ideas are promoted in the British media.
This session will explain what New Testament manuscripts are and compare the manuscripts we have of the New Testament with what we have for other ancient writings.

It will also show how little evidence there is for deliberate change within New Testament manuscripts. The scribes of the New Testament manuscripts would not have been good conspirators because they were interested in copying not in changing.

Dr Dirk Jongkind is a Dutch biblical scholar who finished his PhD at Cambridge University on Codex Sinaiticus, the oldest complete copy of the New Testament.

Have we got Jesus right? Dr Simon J. Gathercole

Probably the most popular idea in relation to the Bible is that books have been missed out or put in due to political pressure and various media have been full of talk about ‘other gospels’.

Here some of the most famous ‘other gospels’ are considered: the gospels of Thomas, Judas and Mary. But first it is important to establish two facts about the very earliest Christians and their beliefs:

* they believed that Jesus had died as a ransom for our sins.
* they believed that Jesus had fulfilled the Old Testament.

It is found that while Matthew, Mark, Luke and John agree with these two Christian beliefs, the apocryphal gospels generally do not. They do not fit the pattern of earliest Christian belief precisely because they were written later.

They are less reliable than the canonical gospels both in their picture of history and in their picture of Jesus’ message. For real pictures of Jesus, based on eyewitness testimony, you need to read the New Testament.

Dr Simon Gathercole is Editor of the Journal for the Study of the New Testament. Having studied Classics and Theology at Cambridge University.

(Source: Justin Taylor)

Jesus, the Poor Man

In Proverbs and Matt 25, God identifies with the poor symbolically. But in the incarnation and death of Jesus… God identifies with the poor and marginal literally. Jesus was born in a feeding trough. At his circumcision Jesus’ family offered what was required of the poor (Luke 2:24). He said, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Matt 8:20). At the end of his life, he rode into Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey, spent his last evening in a borrowed room, and when he died, he was laid in a borrowed tomb. They cast lots for his only possession, his robe, for there on the cross he was stripped of everything.

All this gives new meaning to the question: “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or naked or in prison?” The answer is—on the cross, where he died amidst the thieves, among the marginalized. No wonder Paul could say that once you see Jesus becoming poor for us, you will never look at the poor the same way again.

Tim Keller in The Gospel and the Poor, Themelios Vol 33, Issue 3, Dec 2008.

The essence of Christianity is Christ

[According to some, the Sermon on the Mount] is the essence of Christianity, and Christ is the best of human teachers and examples. But he is not divine, for his function is only a human one, to teach and exemplify ethics. Christianity is essentially ethics.

What’s missing here? Simply the essence of Christianity, which is not the Sermon on the Mount. When Christianity was proclaimed throughout the world, the proclamation (kerygma) was not “Love your enemies?” but “Christ is risen!” This was not a new ideal but a new event, that God became man, died, and rose for our salvation. Christianity is first of all not ideal but real, an event, news, the gospel, the “good news.” The essence of Christianity is not Christianity; the essence of Christianity is Christ…

The Sermon on the Mount not only comes from Jesus but also leads us to Jesus. It does not divert us from Jesus to a set of abstract ideals, but its ideals lead us to Jesus. who alone can fulfill them in us, if we let him. The sermon is an arrow and Jesus is the bull’s eye, not vice versa.

Peter Kreeft, Back to virtue: traditional moral wisdom for modern moral confusion, Ignatius Press, 1992.

 

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Proclaiming what God has done in space and time

This is why those churches that have banished pulpits or are “getting beyond” the truth question are going beyond Christianity itself. The proclamation of the New Testament is about truth, about the truth that Christ who was with the Father from all eternity entered our own time. As such he lived within it, his life, like ours, marked by days and weeks and years. He lived in virtue of his unity with the Father, living for him, living as the representation of his own people before the Father, his very words becoming the means of divine judgment and of divine grace. But in the cross and resurrection the entire spiritual order was upended, his victory reached into and across the universe, and saving grace is now personalized in him. The world with all its pleasures, power, and comforts is fading away. The pall of divine judgment hangs over it. A new order has arisen in Christ. Only in this new order can be found meaning, hope and acceptance with God.It was truth, not private spirituality, that apostolic Christianity was about. It was Christ, not the self, who offered access into the sacred. It was Christ, with all his painful demands of obedience, not comfortable country clubs, that early Christianity was about. What God had done in space and time when the world was stood on its head was Christianity’s preoccupation, not the multiplication of programs, strobe lights, and slick drama. Images we may way, entertainment we may desire, but it is the proclamation of Christ crucified and risen that is the church’s truth to tell.

David Wells, The Courage to Be Protestant, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008).

Faith and Knowledge

There is no faith relation with Christ free of doctrinal content. The knower must have some knowledge of the known, or no relation exists. That seemingly redundant and self-evident statement should underlie the issue. Jesus Christ and our knowledge of Him are not in any sense coextensive. But one cannot have a relation with Him without knowledge, and that knowledge represents incipient doctrine…

If one does not believe the truths concerning the Christ as revealed in Holy Scripture, one cannot have any authentic relationship with Him. Doctrine, we eagerly concede, does not in itself save . . . But, on the other hand, one cannot truly worship Christ and seek to live as an authentic disciple and deny, denigrate, or neglect in any sense the biblical teachings concerning Him.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr., “Response,” in Beyond the Impass? Scripture, Intrepretation, and Theology in Baptist Life, ed. Robison B. James and David S. Dockery (Nashville: Broadman, 1992), page 249.