The Endurance of the Electing God

“A man who is asleep…hears the voice of someone who loves him trying to rouse him gently from his sleep, because it is time for him to awake…”

-David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God (pp. 11-12)

“The smile of the cherishing mother that evokes the smile of the infant is a microcosm of a cosmic truth: that God’s gracious initiative in the incarnation—“ he first loved us”— is the provoking smile of a Creator who meets us in the flesh, granting even the grace that allows us to love him in return.”

-James K. A. Smith, You Are What You Love

worldengine

In the movie ‘Man of Steel’, General Zod and his crew have found their way to earth because of a signal Kal-El (Superman) had sent out while turning on an ancient Kryptonian ship that had crashed on earth some thousands of years ago. They begin to “terraform” the earth, which means they are modifying the earth’s atmosphere to resemble Krypton’s atmosphere. They use what is called a “world engine” that works in tandem with Zod’s ship bouncing gravitational waves through the earth back and forth. Superman has to go to the Indian ocean to destroy the machine or the human race will cease to exist. Since this machine is turning the earth into Krypton, Superman will be seriously weakened, and could possibly be killed by it.

In what I would argue is the most beautiful and emotional sequence in any comic book movie, we find some members of the Daily Planet in the city as it is continuing to be destroyed by the terraforming of the ship. Jenny, a reporter for the Daily Planet, fleeing the destruction becomes trapped in a prison of cement. She realizes her predicament and becomes terrified of the circumstances. The crushing weight of the gravity machine is going to bring her and the two others to their end, and there is nothing that they can do about it. We cut to the indian ocean, where Superman has been thrown by the defense mechanism on the machine underneath the crushing gravity pulsating into the earth. As the music begins to swell upward, we see his hand come into frame in a fist, he begins to press back against the pulse. Back to the city, the men are trying their hardest to get Jenny out of her cement prison, the crushing weight of death approaches them without any hesitancy. The music continues to permeate the scene with hope, as Superman with all his determination presses upward into the ray and destroys the machine. You can watch the final two minutes of that sequence here.

The Beauty of the Incarnation

This scene strikes me in various ways. When we see Jenny trapped, I cannot think of anything other than our natural condition as human beings. We are trapped in our sinfulness, we are utterly incapable of saving ourselves. Even when we are aware of our sin and our despair, it does nothing to free us from our condition. It is solely rooted in the work of Christ through the Holy Spirit are we freed from this state of being. It is the unconditional love of the triune God which comes to set us free. It is not anything we have done or ever could do to earn or deserve it. He endures the violence of the cross to free us from our bondage. The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. (John 1:14)

The aesthetic beauty of this scene is unrivaled for me. The lights of the pulse that washes over Superman, his hand clenching into a fist in his will to fight back, and Hans Zimmer’s score which penetrates the most hardened of hearts. What is more beautiful is how God actually became man. Jesus Christ is both fully God and fully man, the hypostatic union. This mystery is of the most terrifying and wonderful depth. Athanasius speaks of the Word and the filling of all dimensions;

“The Self-revealing of the Word is in every dimension – above, in creation; below, in the Incarnation; in the depth, in Hades; in the breadth, throughout the world. All things have been filled with the knowledge of God.” (On the Incarnation)

T.F. Torrance speaks of the incarnation in this way;

“…the incarnation is to be understood as the coming of God to take upon himself our fallen human nature, our actual human existence laden with sin and guilt, our humanity diseased in mind and soul in its estrangement or alienation from the Creator…what God has not taken up in Christ is not saved.” (The Mediation of Christ, p. 48-49)

The Electing God Who Endures

In this action towards us God reveals His love for us in no uncertain terms. The story witnessed in the Scriptures is one of humanity abandoning God and God coming down into the wilderness seeking and saving us. First Israel then the world. God is the electing God. Karl Barth speaks of election as the “sum of the Gospel”. (CD II.2.1) To quote Barth at some length;

“In the midst of time it happened that God became man for our good. While underlining the uniqueness of this event, we have to reflect that this was not an accident, not one historical event among others. But it is the event which God willed from eternity.” (Dogmatics in Outline)

John Webster makes this point clear;

“God elects to be this God, God in this man, God known in and as Jesus Christ.” (Webster, p. 91)

Jesus Christ is both the electing God and the elected man. Election ‘is grounded in the knowledge of Jesus Christ because He is both the electing God and elected man in One.’ (CD II.2.3) He fleshes this out even further in talking about the person of Christ:

“Thus in this oneness Jesus Christ is the Mediator, the Reconciler, between God and man. Thus He comes forward to MAN on behalf of GOD calling for and awakening faith, love and hope, and to GOD on behalf of MAN, representing man, making satisfaction and interceding. Thus He attests and guarantees to God’s free GRACE and at the same time attests and guarantees to God man’s free GRATITUDE.” (The Humanity of God)

In Jesus Christ God has said Yes to all of His promises, no matter how many. (2 Corinthians 1:19-20)

“In His free grace, God is for man in every respect; He surrounds man from all sides. He is man’s Lord who is before him, above him, after him, and thence also with him in history, the locus of man’s existence. Despite man’s insignificance, God is with him as his Creator who intended and made mankind to be very good. Despite man’s sin, God is with him, the One who was in Jesus Christ reconciling the world, drawing man unto Himself in merciful judgment. Man’s evil past is not merely crossed out because of its irrelevancy. Rather, it is in the good care of God. Despite man’s life in the flesh, corrupt and ephemeral, God is with him. The victor in Christ is here and now present through His Spirit, man’s strength, companion, and comfort. Despite man’s death God is with him, meeting him as redeemer and perfecter at the threshold of the future to show him the totality of existence in the true light in which the eyes of God beheld it from the beginning and will behold it evermore. In what He is for man and does for man, God ushers in the history leading to the ultimate salvation of man.” (Barth, The Humanity of God)

All of this we see God’s endurance for us. The history of salvation bears this out.

Conclusion

When we go back to view that scene in which Superman endures and overcomes the horrific weight of the world engine, let us view it as a pointer. Superman is not God, nor does he actually represent Christ no matter how much the movie attempted to portray him as such. But what we can look to is how much this reflects and points us towards God’s endurance for us. He took on our sin and our flesh to heal it. He unconditionally binds Himself to us at the incarnation, suffers on the cross and puts an end to death in His resurrection. He is with us in our most difficult times, and is healing and transforming the world that was headed for certain eternal death. He speaks ‘Yes’ to His creation through the Word, who is Jesus Christ. From eternity God has elected us in Christ to share and participate in His triune being and work. When we encounter such beauty as the incarnation, or even a scene in a comic book movie, God is gently waking us from our despairing slumber. He has been gracious towards us from eternity. It is in Jesus Christ we have assurance of His promises towards us.

“For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” (2 Corinthians 1:19-22, ESV)

References:

Athanasius, On the Incarnation

Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II.2 & Dogmatics in Outline

T.F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ

John Webster, Karl Barth, Outstanding Christian Thinkers

Man of Steel

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‘Theological Theology’: Reflections on the work of John Webster

News has been circling around social media that my favorite living theologian, John Webster, has passed away (1955-2016). I was deeply saddened by this news, and thought to reflect on his work that has meant so much in my life as a Christian and training to be a theologian. It will probably end up being mostly quotes from Webster.

“…dogmatics is that delightful activity in which the Church praises God by ordering its thinking towards the gospel of Christ.” -John Webster, Holiness

Revelation and Scripture

One of the most influential books for me in my time doing theology is Webster’s ‘Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch‘. This book alone has shaped a major part of my views on the way Scripture functions in God’s economy of salvation. The first chapter and the third are by far my favorites in the book, in them you find a deeply rich Trinitarian exposition of revelation and Scripture’s place in the economy of salvation.

The problem for the Christian doctrine of revelation for Webster is that it “suffers from the distortions of its shape introduced by attempts to formulate and expound it in relation to and, in some measure, in dependence upon, dominant modern intellectual and spiritual conventions”. (p. 11) Even more troubling, the language of revelation became “a way of talking, not about the life giving presence of God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Spirit’s power among the worshipping and witnessing assembly, but instead of an arcane process of causality whereby persons acquire knowledge through opaque, non-natural operations.” (p. 12) This is an important point, theology (doctrine especially) abstracted from the context of worship and participation within the Church, it becomes something else entirely.

Revelation is an act of sovereign mercy:

“Revelation is the self-presentation of the triune God, the free work of sovereign mercy in which God wills, establishes and perfects saving fellowship with himself in which humankind comes to know, love and fear him above all things.” (p. 13)

Revelation must be seen in this light, not mere propositions, but the life giving presence of the Lord. Here Webster gives a trinitarian account:

“Revelation, therefore is identical with God’s triune being in it’s active self-presence. As Father, God is the personal will or origin of this self presence; as Son, God actualizes his self-presence, upholding it and establishing it against all opposition; as Holy Spirit, God perfects that self-presence by making it real and effective to and in the history of humankind. To speak of ‘revelation’ is to say that God is one whose being is directed towards his creatures, and the goal of whose free self-movement presence with us.” (pg. 14)

Holiness and Theology

In the first chapter of his book ‘Holiness‘, Webster offers a proposition to shape the thinking of his account of the holiness of theology:

“A Christian theology of holiness is an exercise of holy reason; it has its context and its content in the revelatory presence of the Holy Trinity which is set forth in Holy Scripture; it is a venture undertaken in prayerful dependence upon the Holy Spirit; it is an exercise in the fellowship of the saints; serving the confession of the holy people of God; it is a work in which holiness is perfected in the fear of God; and its end is the sanctifying of God’s holy name.” (p. 10)

From there he works out through the various points made, and shows how the gospel may (and should) order our thinking.

There is much more to be said on the work of John Webster, and those of us doing theology should take pause and reflect on not only his work but his character, and the way he pursued theological work. He really cared about doing a ‘theological’ theology; that is a theology that dares to say something about God. Let us dare to let God speak for Himself, and let us order our thinking around the Gospel.

Trinitarianism and Gospel Narrative

Today is Trinity Sunday and I decided to read some passages from David Bentley Hart’s massive ‘The Beauty of the Infinite‘ which has some wonderful reflections on the infinite beauty of God, who is in His Triune being infinitely peace and beauty. In part 2.1 of the book, Hart discusses Karl Rahner’s simple formula, which Hart claims should be regarded as “axiomatic for all meditation upon the Christian doctrine of God: The ‘economic’ trinity is the ‘immanent’ trinity and the ‘immanent’ trinity is the ‘economic’ trinity.” (p.155) He goes on to lament that liberal Protestant theology’s “dogmatic wasting disease” of abstraction, spiritualization and moralization of the doctrine of the Trinity and in turn made Christ the unique ‘bearer’ (as opposed to unique content) of the Christian kerygma (dogma). (p. 156)

I’ve began to notice this myself, especially in the more analytically driven parts of Protestant theology (even the most conservative). Doctrine has been abstracted from the historical narrative of the Gospel, and in turn becomes improperly understood. I thought some of what Hart has to say here is of extreme importance, and is fitting for the day:

“Trinitarian thought uninformed by the Gospel narratives results, inevitably, in an impoverishment of both that thought and that narrative; hence the importance of the affirmation is that the Trinity as economic or immanent is the one God as he truly is, whose every action is proper to and expressive of His divinity.” (p. 156)

“God does not require creation to ‘fecundate’ his being, nor does he require the pathos of creation to determine his ‘personality’ as though he were some finite subjectivity writ large, whose transcendental Ego were in need of delimitation in an empirical ego; God and creation do not belong to an interdependent history of necessity, because the Trinity is already infinitely sufficient, infinitely diverse, infinitely at peace; God is good and sovereign and wholly beautiful, and creation is gift, loveliness, pleasure, dignity, and freedom, which is to say that God is possessed by the loveliest “attribute”.” (p. 157)

“…as the infinitely perfect reflection of the divine essence that flows forth from the Father, fully enjoyed in the light of the Spirit.. Thus God indeed loved us when we were not, and that he then called us to be (Rom. 4:17) and to participate in the being he pours into us is an act of generosity wholly fitting to, but in no way determinative of, his goodness.” (p. 158)

Finally,

“The maxim stands then as a guard against any kind of nominalism on the one hand, and on the other, any tendency to forget that the dogma of the Trinity is required and defined-and permitted-by the narrative of Christ.” (p. 159)

On a previous post, I made the claim:

“Theology is done from the ground up, and is the language of the church. It is not merely some lofty, dry academic pursuit done in abstraction but is done within the context of participation in the community of believer’s where the Spirit of the Lord is.”

This goes right in line with what Hart is getting at. Theology cannot be done by abstracting and spiritualizing out of the context of Church worship and communal participation in God’s being.

Counterformational Apologetics

Last year I did a three part series for the Solid Reasons blog on working towards a new type of apologetic approach.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

I’m hoping to devote some time to this subject again, and have some posts on Reformed Epistemology soon.

Oneness: Reflections on God’s Being and the Church

“We all believe in our hearts
and confess with our mouths
that there is a single
and simple
spiritual being,
whom we call God…the overflowing source of all good.”

-Article 1 of the Belgic Confession

“We believe and confess
one single catholic or universal church—”

-Article 27 of the Belgic Confession

“Question: What idea of the Essence and essential attributes of God may be derived from Divine Revelation?

Answer: That God is a Spirit, eternal, all-good, omniscient, righteous, almighty, omnipresent, unchangeable, all-sufficing to Himself, all blessed.”

-The Catechism of the Orthodox Church

Theology is an act of worship, and through participation in worship we are (or should be) doing theology. The early councils (Nicaea, Constantinople) got together not to form doctrine, but to clarify what was already there. They were concerned with the language used in describing God’s being and other doctrines the church had been teaching. Theology is done from the ground up, and is the language of the church. It is not merely some lofty, dry academic pursuit done in abstraction but is done within the context of participation in the community of believer’s where the Spirit of the Lord is. The importance of attending church cannot be a matter of choice like what to eat or what movie to watch. It is of the utmost importance for a Christian, to be in the community of other believers in which we are formed and shaped into the image of Christ through worship, communion, baptism and other rituals practiced by a church.

For years I attended non-denominational churches, and I would ask myself the question, “What is the point of going to church?”, year in and year out. This lead me to wonder about the nature of faith in relation to church. If I was growing deeper in my relationship with Christ outside of Sunday morning services, and when I came to Sunday morning service and at the end felt that I hadn’t learned anything or felt a movement of the Spirit, what purpose did it serve to come to this building? This became very tiresome over time, and lead me to not attend services nearly all together, outside of the ones I had been playing on the worship team. This lead me to return to the ancient tradition of the Church (both Eastern Orthodox, Patristics and Reformed), and what it has to offer those of us who have grown weary of an individualized, atomized Christianity void of any enchanted elements in worship and life.

I meet with a group of men from my church I currently attend (a Reformed Confessional church) every Thursday morning, and as we were discussing the 27th article of the Belgic confession, it occurred to me that there is something worth reflecting on the connection between the Oneness of God’s Being and the oneness of the holy catholic Church. When one begins doing and thinking about theology, the doctrine of God and Creation are where you begin. These shape, clarify and help to form the rest of your doctrines. In the Belgic Confession you can see this outlined; it starts with the doctrine of God and it is not until the 27th article that you begin talking about the doctrine of the Church.

 Reflecting on God’s Oneness; Divine Simplicity

The Belgic begins with the doctrine of divine simplicity that God is a single and simple spiritual being “eternal, incomprehensible, invisible, unchangeable, infinite…”, who is the overflowing source of all good. God is not a metaphysically complex being. God is not divisible into parts, He is eternally One. David Bentley Hart has strong words for those denying divine simplicity:

“If God is to be understood as the unconditioned source of all things, rather than merely some very powerful but still ontologically dependent being, then any denial of divine simplicity is equivalent to a denial of God’s reality.” (Hart, 2013, p. 134)

Tertullian as well cautions:

“If God is not one, there is no God.”

God does not have goodness, but simply is goodness. He is the ground from which all being subsists, ‘And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.’ (Colossians 1:17) Irenaeus on the simplicity of God:

“God is simple and incomplex; He is entirely feeling, entirely spirit, entirely thought, entirely mind, entirely the source of all good things.”

Herman Bavinck concludes that if simplicity is not held to, God is made up of parts and is therefore divided within Himself:

“If God is composed of parts, like a body, or composed of genus (class) and differentiae (attributes of differing species belonging to the same genus), substance and accidents, matter and form, potentiality and actuality, essence and existence, then his perfection, oneness, independence and immutability cannot be maintained. On that basis he is not the highest love, for then there is in him a subject who loves-which is one thing-as well as a love by which he loves-which is another.” (Bavinck, 2003, p. 176)

Creatures on the other hand are finite, and cannot be completely simple. Bavinck continues discussing God’s simplicity:

“God, however, is infinite and all that is in him is infinite. For that reason he is and can only be all-sufficient, fully blessed, and glorious within himself.” (ibid, p. 176)

His simplicity informs His unity, and His unity informs His immutability. This is a distinguishing mark between the Creator and the creation:

“The world is not like God in its essence, and therefore it has to be changeable and is not without a beginning; but these attributes of the world do not contradict the fact that its Creator is unchangeable and without beginning.” (St. John Damascene)

God is himself the source of all life and of every good thing; from Him all creatures derive their sufficiency. (Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, p. 73) His simplicity informs His sufficiency, for He needs nothing. He is not contingent upon anything, He himself to quote the answer in the Orthodox Catechism: “all-sufficing to Himself, all blessed.” The apostle Paul is explicit in God as one:

Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” -(1 Corinthians 8:4-6)

God is the unbounded ocean of being. ‘In Him we live and move and have our being’. (Acts 17:28)

Only from a doctrine of divine simplicity can we move into a proper doctrine of God’s Triunity. Prior to dealing with divine simplicity, Bavinck deals with the anthropomorphisms (human qualities describing God) we see in Scripture. I’ll summarize it quickly since it relates to God’s essence and attributes:

“It is God himself who deliberately and freely, both in nature and in grace, reveals himself, who gives us the right to name him on the basis of his self-revelation, and who in his Word has made his own names known to us on that same basis… Not a single one of them describe God’s being as such.” (Bavinck, 2003, p. 99)

The Church in relation to God’s Oneness

How is God’s simplicity, unity and oneness related to the oneness of the Church? It’s a question I’ve thought a lot about recently, and have a few quick thoughts.

The Reformed tradition historically has held to the idea of the church as both ‘visible and invisible’. The Westminster Catechism says this about the church:

“The . . . Church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect . . . The visible Church, which is . . . (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion and of their children” (Westminster Confession of Faith, XXV.VI.I-II)

I’m not sure this is a helpful distinction to make. In Protestantism, the idea of the ‘invisible church’ has a dangerous influence for the Christian to go inward and neglect the important of Church attendance and membership. In the context of American individualism, one can rest assured that one is part of an ‘invisible church’ because after all, Christianity is about YOUR relationship with Christ. This becomes especially clear when a church does not hold to some sort of confession or catechism, attending church isn’t much about learning or formation with creeds and liturgy, it becomes a place of emotional self-expression and being entertained for an hour or so. I’m inclined to agree with Karl Barth’s approach to the ‘visible/invisible’ church, Wyatt over at PostBarthian.com has a wonderful post on Barth’s position here. I think Barth’s approach is helpful to understand, at least begin to understand, God’s Oneness and its relation to the Church. There is no salvation outside of God’s action of redemption and reconciliation towards us, the Belgic confession also makes it clear:

“We believe that since this holy assembly and congregation is the gathering of those who are saved and there is no salvation apart from it, people ought not to withdraw from it, content to be by themselves, regardless of their status or condition.” (Article 28)

Christians cannot be atomized and doing Christianity alone. There is no salvation apart from the church, and the church is a visible place. It is a tangible reality of God’s kingdom in which His grace is tangibly felt through participation in the community. As we draw closer together as a church, we become like Christ and in turn reflect God’s unity and Oneness within His eternal Triune life. I’ll close with a quote from Barth:

But yet are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light: which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.” We may immediately add to this saying the exposition and application of the threefold office of Jesus Christ given under Qu. 32 of the Heidelberg Catechism: “Why art thou called a Christian? Because through faith I am a member of Christ and partake of His anointing, that I may confess His name, offer myself to Him as a living sacrifice, and with a clear conscience wrestle in this life against sin and the devil, hereafter to reign with Him in eternity over all creatures.” If only the Protestant conception of the Church had been worked out and practiced along these lines!” (CD III.4, 161)

References:

Bavinck, H. (2003). Reformed Dogmatics (3rd ed., Vol. 2). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

Hart, David Bentley (2013-09-24). The Experience of God. Yale University Press.

Blessed Ascension Day! (A Meditation on the catholic Tradition)

“He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.”

-Ephesians 4:10, ESV

“Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

-Hebrews 4:14-16, ESV

“He ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.”

-The Apostles Creed

Today the Collect in the morning prayers for the Church of England reads:

“Grant, we pray, almighty God,
that as we believe your only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ
to have ascended into the heavens,
so we in heart and mind may also ascend
and with him continually dwell;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen”

We raise our hearts and minds toward the ascended King, Christ our Lord. Our days our filled with an endless cycle of spectacles and liturgies that seek to capture and shape our imaginations and devotions towards endless other kingdoms. As we move through this day, let us think about the implications of the Ascension of our Lord, how this effects our not only our individual circumstances, but also the holy catholic Church.

When we think of the work of Christ, we have the tendency to limit His work to the cross. He is but a moral example, and His death atones for our sins. There is a gap in our understanding of how His work actually matters for us here and now. We must not limit His work solely to the cross. The whole sum of His life (Incarnation, life, death, resurrection and ascension) are inextricably linked. Without the Incarnation, God cannot truly save us. To borrow the latin phrase “The Unassumed is the Unhealed”. Without living His perfect life as the Incarnate Word (both God and man), our humanity could not be healed and we could not be rescued and set free ‘from the tyranny of the devil’ (Heidelberg Catechism, 1:5). Without His death our sins would not be atoned for, and our chains would still be bound. Without His resurrection we are not assured of our resurrection. Without His ascension, He could not be head over the Church, we could not be assured of our redemption: past, present and future, we would not be given the Holy Spirit and Christ could not be our intercessor between us and God. When we recite the Apostles Creed, we are reminded of the importance of His entire life as the work of our redemption.

I have been going through the Belgic confession over the past few months, arguably my favorite confession, and it offers so many beautiful phrases that point to how wonderful the work of Christ is on our behalf:

“For since the soul had been lost as well as the body, Christ had to assume them both
to save them both together.” -Article 18 (Incarnation)

“These are the reasons why we confess him to be true God and truly human—true God in order to conquer death by his power, and truly human that he might die for us in the weakness of his flesh.” -Article 19 (Two Natures of Christ)

“We find all comforts in his wounds and have no need to seek or invent any other means
to reconcile ourselves with God than this one and only sacrifice, once made, which renders believers perfect forever.” -Article 21 (Atonement)

“However, we do not mean, properly speaking, that it is faith itself that justifies us— for faith is only the instrument by which we embrace Christ, our righteousness. But Jesus Christ is our righteousness in making available to us all his merits and all the holy works he has done for us and in our place. And faith is the instrument that keeps us in communion with him and with all his benefits. When those benefits are made ours, they are more than enough to absolve us of our sins.” -Article 22 (Faith)

“We believe that this true faith, produced in us by the hearing of God’s Word
and by the work of the Holy Spirit, regenerates us and makes us new creatures, causing us to live a new life and freeing us from the slavery of sin.” -Article 24 (Sanctification)

“For Christ himself declares: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Why should we seek another intercessor? Since it has pleased God to give us the Son as our Intercessor. let us not leave him for another—or rather seek, without ever finding.” -Article 26 (Christ’s Intercession)

After the confession deals with the doctrine of Christ, or a basic overlay of Reformed Christology, it moves onto the doctrine of the Church. Here I find the most beautiful picture of how God is the One who determines, establishes and defends the Church:

“This church has existed from the beginning of the world and will last until the end, as appears from the fact that Christ is eternal King who cannot be without subjects. And this holy church is preserved by God against the rage of the whole world, even though for a time it may appear very small to human eyes—as though it were snuffed out.” Article 27

Karl Barth gives us a wonderful picture of what the Christian believes in light of the Ascension:

“We believe that we are redeemed, set free, children of God, i.e., we accept as such the promise given us in the Word of God in Jesus Christ even as and although we do not understand it in the very least, or see it fulfilled and consummated in the very least, in relation to our present. We accept it because it speaks to us of an act of God on us even as and although we see only our own empty hands which we stretch out to God in the process. We believe our future being. We believe in an eternal life even in the midst of the valley of death. In this way, in this futurity, we have it. The assurance with which we know this having is the assurance of faith, and the assurance of faith means concretely the assurance of hope.” (CD 1.1 p. 463)

In His ascension we are assured of all the promises of God. This means for the Church our King is not one that reigns in this world. Our ultimate allegiance is to Christ. In His ascension our eyes and hearts are lifted to His heavenly throne from which He rules over all things. Christ Ganski (my pastor) offers what he believes the ascension means for the Church:

“Ascension means the church possesses an institutional otherworldliness that allows it to be a counter-cultural presence in the world. Its institutional centre is located in heaven. Christ the “head,” the founder and foundation of the church, does not occupy physical space on earth. As an institution, the church is ordered to an alternative economy. This economy, the kingdom of God, takes its direction from Jesus’s heavenly location where all things have been rearranged around him.” (The Church Upward and Outward)

Let us hold fast to our tradition, the Holy catholic Faith. Rest easy pray:

“so we in heart and mind may also ascend and with him continually dwell”

“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and awe” (Heb. 12:28)

Death, Suffering, Identity & The Will to Power; A Philosophical, Theological look at Batman V Superman (SPOILERS)

“Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster… for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.”

-Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

In the previous post we looked at this newest version of Superman, in which he has become a product of our modern secular age. We are haunted by transcendence. Our world has been flattened, disenchanted. He is conflicted, as are we, about what the right thing to do is because we ourselves have thrown off the transcendent grounds to which “the good” is grounded. The “good” is a conversation, not transcendental truths in which we are aimed. It should come as no surprise this is how Superman would be portrayed in the modern age. No identity and conflicted about what is “good” and whether or not its worth it to do good.

Towards a New Batman

As we move to look at this newest inception of Batman, I want to say how much I enjoy this version Ben Affleck is portraying. He is as close to a comic book adaptation as we have ever seen, and he is far and away the best part of the film. I wish the studio would have opted to do a solo Batman film prior to this one. They could have explored the depth and complexity of this Batman, this would have given Batman V Superman much more grip emotionally for the critics and audiences.

What is obvious is the source material for this Dark Knight is essentially right off the pages of Frank Miller’s ‘The Dark Knight Returns’. Even Jeremy Iron’s ‘Alfred’ had some lines that were word for word from a panel in DKR.

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The differences are the worlds in which these Batmen, so to speak, are placed and exist in. Affleck’s Batman is essentially thrown into the world started by Man of Steel, and he is blinded by his rage and is going to kill Superman because of the possible future threat he could pose to the world. Miller’s Batman is even older than Snyder’s version, and is very close with Superman since they worked together for years. Superman, in the Dark Knight Returns, is essentially a government pawn who does the bidding of politicians who have outlawed superheroes all together outside of Superman. Gotham is getting worse and worse with crime getting more violent, Batman returns to bring justice back to the city against the will of the Gotham City police and United States government. Their are significant similarities between the two versions of Batman, but also significant differences remain since they are telling different stories.

An Identity Rooted in Death & Suffering

In Batman V Superman, we meet a Bruce Wayne who is broken. He has lost nearly every one he has gotten close to and loved, and is weary from his time wearing the cowl. The introduction of Batman in this movie is a frightening one. You get the sense that people are terrified of the Dark Knight, as the women who he rescued from sex trafficking refuse to leave their cell because of how scared they are of “it”. The opening scene of the movie is the funeral of Wayne’s parents, and subsequently a scene of his parents death. We get the sense that Bruce still finds himself trapped at the scene of his parents death. He has, whether intentionally or unintentionally, rooted his identity in death. His identity as Batman is grounded in the death of his parents, every time he stops a crime or fights a criminal, he is essentially chasing an echo which emanates from the moment his identity was formed.

It is not only his parents death Bruce seems to be haunted by, but the death and corruption of the good guys around him. He remarks to Alfred “20 years in Gotham, how many good guys are left? How many stayed that way?” He is beaten down, cynical and is in constant agony over what has happened to him and those around him. All of this pushes him towards his complete lack of trust in Superman (not to mention the destruction that happened because of the events in Man of Steel), and why he feels the need to kill Superman before its too late and Superman turns on the world.  He has rooted his whole identity in suffering and death, this is what defines not only Bruce Wayne, but Batman as well.

The Will to Power

Toward the latter portion of the movie when we find our heroes duking it out, Batman remarks to Superman:

“I bet your parents taught you that you mean something, that you’re here for a reason, my parents taught me different lesson: dying in the gutter for no reason at all. They taught me the world only makes sense if you force it to.”

Here we see what Bruce has come to believe about the world and existence. We find the post-modern understanding of the existence of being as “primordial and inevitable violence” (Hart, 2003, p. 5). Suffering is random, and life only makes sense if you force it to. Life for Nietzsche:

“Here we must beware of superficiality and get to the bottom of the matter, resisting all sentimental weakness: life itself is essentially appropriation, injury, overpowering of what is alien and weaker; suppression, hardness, imposition of one’s own forms, incorporation and at least, at its mildest, exploitation…not from any morality or immorality but because it is living and because life simply is will to power.” (Nietzsche, 1886, p 203)

We find this narrative to be exemplified by this inception of Batman.

Moving from this view of life, we also see this Batman participating in gruesome violence. We view him actually killing criminals, how many is not certain. While this is not a big departure from the character since other inceptions of the Dark Knight have killed (yes even Bale’s Batman killed), it is startling and really sets the tone for this version. They attempted to show the change Batman incurs from (SPOILERS) the death of Superman, and he seems to be turning back towards the character we have known historically who is principled and does everything in his abilities not to kill senselessly.

Some Final Thoughts

What interests me with superhero/comic book movies is how much these heroes represent our cultural times. Whether that’s our confusion about moral truth, and if its binding on all humanity, or if life is essentially the will to power;

While Superman can be seen as the exemplar of the modern societies moral and spiritual dilemma, Batman represents the post-modern rejection of even the confusion about these things. Life is appropriation and at the bottom primordial and inevitable violence. Life only makes sense if you force it to, you are not here for a purpose. Life is summed up by dying in a gutter for no reason at all. Batman has gotten to this place from his identity being shaped and rooted in the death of his parents and those close to him; participating in liturgies of violence which only further form and shape the kind of “hero” he has become.

Works Cited:

Hart, David Bentley; 2003, The Beauty of the Infinite

Nietzsche, Fredrich; 1886, Beyond Good and Evil