I hear that some in the Reformed world think that the White Horse Inn host Michael Horton is a little bit too influenced by Lutheran theology. That said, judging from Lutheran theologian David Scaer’s book review* of Horton’s new (2011) 1052 page systematic theology, Horton certainly is holding firm to the traditional Reformed Christology (The Christian Faith: a Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way, pp. 476-479)
Now, I will admit that I have not done much reading in modern Christological thought. Quite honestly, I do not have much desire to talk about these matters any more than is absolutely necessary – if such reflection is done for any other reason than to fight heresies and errors it seems too much like the practice of dissection to me. In my view, it should simply be enough to say that Jesus Christ is 100% God and 100% man, but historically, this death of theology like a child began because the early 16th c. Reformed theologian Ulrich Zwingli denied the real presence of Christ’s true body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. Zwingli insisted that the human nature of Christ could only be in one place and therefore could not be in the bread and wine. Those who came after him, it seems to me, never looked back.
I have heard the classical Lutheran characterizations of the basic Reformed position described as unfair, but I really have never heard convincing explanations for why they are (I have listened to this recent podcast on Christology by the Reformed Forum folks, and just recently left a detailed comment there**). For the Lutherans, their doctrine of the Lord’s Supper was based not on some doctrine of the ubiquity of Christ’s human body and soul throughout the whole creation, but simply on the direct words of Christ regarding it. On the other hand, it seems clear to me that the Reformed have a “real absence” in the Lord’s Supper because while they say that in Christ God became man and man became God, we, when we go deeper, must understand the truth that lies behind these words. Describing the Reformed position, the Lutheran Formula of Concord (1580) claims that, in deed and truth, the Son of God is not a human being and the human being is not God.***
As I understand the Reformed position in a more technical way, they would say, for example, that if the omnipresence of the God-man Jesus Christ were be possible, as the Lutherans insisted was the case (Luther, for the sake of argument, met Zwingli on his own terms), it must be because the human nature of Christ, like His divine nature, possesses the quality/property/attribute of omnipresence. Therefore, since the human nature cannot itself possess the attribute of omnipresence, we must say that the person of Jesus Christ cannot be omnipresent. In truth, the Lutheran position is that these natural qualities are shared, or communicated, in the one Person, but not possessed by either nature.
For their part, the Reformed would only say that we must ascribe to the entire person of Jesus Christ what is the property of each nature. So for in Acts 20 where it talks about the “blood of God”, this would be attributing a divine quality to the person of the incarnate son of God and not the human nature. Here, Lutherans sense a denial of the true personal union – please let me explain why. ****
Looking at this a bit more, Zwingli would say that it is something akin to a figure of speech, or an “alloeosis”, to say that Jesus Christ suffered, since the Son of God could not possess the property of being able to suffer – or especially die! But again, here is where Lutherans would say that the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ, can indeed suffer and die (and even be omnipresent), because the divine and human natures share, or communicate, attributes in the one person without either nature possessing them. As Luther pointed out, in the passion narratives we see that all the doing and suffering here are ascribed not to the natures but to the concrete person – and there are not two persons but one! Therefore, the God-Man Jesus Christ – the very Son of God in human flesh – really and truly suffers, bleeds and dies! As the Epitome of the Formula of Concord, Article VIII, sums it up: “Christ is, and remains to all eternity, God and man in one indivisible person… this is… the sole foundation of our comfort, life and salvation” (paragraph 18).
That last quote should give us a hint regarding what some of us might be thinking: Why is this all necessary? What does this mean practically speaking? Well, first, if all of this seems a bit much to you (stupid hair-splitting theologians!) I totally understand. Yet again, I think much of this arose questioning what should not be difficult for those with faith like a child, but simple (see here, for example). In any case, let’s look at three practical implications:
First, I call as my witness a man named Larry, who on Gene Veith’s blog, makes the negative effects of this theology very concrete:
“…when we were at PCA… the teaching elders emphatically denied that Christ suffered and died at all in the diety [sic] and only in His humanity. The laity reaction was stunning, it literally shocked them and despaired them. But it is consistent with Calvin’s concept of the two natures and thus the sacrament (i.e. its logically consistent in the logic of the reformed system).” *****
Second, on the other side, we hear Luther speak of the positives:
“We Christians must know that unless God is in the balance and throws in weight as a counterbalance we shall sink to the bottom with our scale. I mean that this way: If it is not true that God died for us, but only a man died, we are lost. But if God’s death and God dead lie in the opposite scale, then his side goes down and we go upward like a light and empty pan.” (WA, 50:590).
Also this from Article VIII of the Formula of Concord:
“it is a pernicious error to deprive Christ according to his humanity of this majesty. To do so robs Christians of their highest comfort, afforded them in the cited promises of the presence and indwelling of their head, king, and high priest, who has promised that not only his unveiled deity, which to us poor sinners is like a consuming fire on dry stubble, will be with them, but that he, he the man who has spoken with them, who has tasted every tribulation in his assumed human nature, and who can therefore sympathize with us as with men and his brethren, he wills to be with us in all our troubles also according to that nature by which he is our brother and we are of his flesh.” (paragraph 87).
Third, note that for the Reformed, it seems that the meaning we speak of regarding the concrete person of Jesus Christ – that He is God become man and man become God (the God-man) for the sake of sinners – is not actually something intrinsic to Him, but is rather something that is attributed to Him by name only. Connecting this back to the previous posts in this series then, something similar happens in baptism and the Lord’s Supper – and perhaps even the Scriptures. Incidently, this can be seen as that which distinguishes the modern West from that which came before it, and has largely been lost to us: namely, a culture where meaning is found first and foremost in a powerful and life-shaping Real Presence – as opposed to a mindset which finds meaning primarily in the appraisal or interpretation of a man, culture, institution, etc.******
Clearly, today the West in particular needs to hear that life is about much more than such kinds of “interpretive sovereignty”. Just because we walk into a room of tools and do not know what they are for does not mean that each one of them does not have a specific meaning. Of course some intrinsic meanings can be discovered, and other things must, it seems, remain a mystery.
In other words, the wider implications of all this for a “sacramental worldview” – which it seems most Christians recognize the value of – are immense! The Lutheran theologian Oswald Bayer has argued that “Luther’s hermeneutic of the Scriptures, and even of reality as such, is determined by Christ’s incarnation and by his real presence in the Eucharist”.******* This is why Luther fiercely resisted Zwingli on this issue at the Marburg Colloquy. As the Council of Ephesus decreed, the flesh of Christ has the power to give life – even as the power to give life is not in the flesh of Christ, or His human nature, in the same way it is in his divine nature, that is, as an essential property. Rather it is communicated to the human nature in a real exchange without blending the natures in their essence and in their essential properties. Again, there are things attributed to the human nature of Jesus Christ, that, according to its nature and essence outside of the person union, it could not intrinsically be or have (see John 5:21, 27; 6:39, 40; Matt. 18:18; Dan. 7:14; John 3:31, 35; 13:3; Matt. 11:27 ; Eph. 1:22; Heb. 2:8; I Cor. 15:27; John 1:3, 10). We need to be able to continue to use this language of the real flesh of Christ – of the Son of God – being able to give us true spiritual life – in and outside of the Lord’s Supper.
My desire in this series has to simply put forward the truth of the differences between Reformed (and Reformed Baptist) and Lutheran Christology – and to point out how this explains why there are no “Lutheran Baptists”. If I am in error over any of these points, I humbly ask for your gracious correction.
*In a 2012 Concordia Theological Quarterly issue.
**If you are of the Reformed persuasion, I encourage you to listen to that podcast and then read the questions I had for the host to see if my questions resonate with you.
***Regarding more specifics about how Lutherans understand the incarnation, note this: “Following Luther, the ‘Catalog of Testimonies’, intended as an appendix to the Formula of Concord, explicitly recognizes this when it states: ‘concrete terms are words which designate the entire person in Christ, such as “God,” “human being.” But abstract terms are words by which the natures in the person of Christ are understood and expressed, such as “deity,” “humanity.” According to this distinction, it is correctly said in concrete terms that “God is a human being,” “a human being is God.” On the other hand, it is incorrect to say in abstract terms: “deity is humanity,” “humanity is deity.” ’ Robert Kolb and James A. Nestingen, eds., Sources and Contexts of the Book of Concord (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001), p. 223.
So we say a particular person of God became a particular man, a particular person of humanity. The human nature of Christ is not taken up into the whole Godhead, but one person of God. In like fashion, the divine nature of the Logos is not taken up into the whole lump of man (all of humanity), but in one man, although, this of course, is meant to unite all men to God by grace (not nature) – through the conviction of the Holy Spirit (John 16) using the faithful word that brings life (Rom. 10:17).
****Would it not be more accurate to say that that the quality of bleeding – something human – is being attributed to God? In other words, the attribute of being a blood-filled creature which can bleed is really being communicated to the divine nature…. God really is bleeding for us. Regarding death, I suppose one might object saying that, in one sense, no human being really dies. While this is true, because of the infection of sin in human nature it is, in this sense “natural” to die on earth. The concrete person of Christ really did die on earth, and we are doing theology with this in mind. Theology is life and is grounded in real life.
***** John Calvin on Mathew 24:46: “For we know that in Christ the two natures were united into one person in such a manner that each retained its own properties; and more especially the Divine nature was in a state of repose, and did not at all exert itself, whenever it was necessary that the human nature should act separately, according to what was peculiar to itself, in discharging the office of Mediator.” (see also yesterday’s post, where Calvin explains John 20 in a surprising way).
******Ideas from Armin Wenz, “Biblical Hermeneutics in a Postmodern World: Sacramental Hermeneutics versus Spiritualistic Constructivism”, LOGIA, v. XXII, no. 3, Easter 2013) I would add that this does not necessarily mean that we can never, a la Kant a la Plato, talk about “Instantiations (creating concrete representations of abstract things or ideas) of noumena (a “thing in itself”) for phenomena (a “thing as it appears to be”, i.e. through one’s sensory experience and construction by the mind)”, but this should be the exception, not the rule – especially in theology! Aristotle, for all his imperfections, is more in line with biblical thinking here.
*******Quoted in Wenz, above.
Hot iron image from: http://buddhiyogi.blogspot.com/2009/04/body-in-krsna-consciousness-and-iron-in.html
Horton and Rosenbladt pic: http://vimeo.com/43627052
Marlburg Colloquy pic: http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/marburg_colloquy.htm