Archive for May, 2008

Here’s a christological motto to live by: Nicea comes before Chalcedon.

What do I mean by this?  I’m glad you asked.

It’s common in christological debates to begin by thinking of the Council of Chalcedon, 451 AD (btw I’m not guaranteeing the quality/accuracy of the wikipedia links).  There a two-nature christology was hammered out in which

We confess that one and the same Christ, Lord, and only-begotten Son, is to be acknowledged in two natures without confusion, change, division, or separation (ἀσυγχύτως, ἀτρέπτως, ἀδιαιρέτως, ἀχωρίστως; inconfuse, immutabiliter, indivise, inseparabilter).

And so, typically, thinking on the Person of Christ begins with a consideration of these two natures, humanity and divinity, which subsist in the one Person without confusion or change (upholding the integrity of Christ’s genuine humanity and divinity) and without division or separation (upholding the unity of His humanity and divinity in one Person).  Yet is this really where our thinking should begin? 

Chalcedon is pretty universally regarded as a good ring-fence – defining the bounds of orthodox christology.  But ring fences do not make good foundations! 

So where should we begin?  Well note that Nicea comes before Chalcedon.  It was in 325 AD that the Council of Nicea considered the identity of Jesus of Nazareth.  And crucially Nicea declared what the Scriptures clearly teach – that Jesus of Nazareth is ‘of one being with the Father’ (homoousios).  Now here’s the crucial thing – Nicea does not simply say ‘the eternal Son’ is ‘of one being with the Father.’  This is of course true, but Nicea says more than this.  It is the Jesus who was born of the virgin Mary, who suffered under Pontius Pilate, who is declared homoousios with the Father.

Let me diagram it.  Nicea does not simply say this:


 Instead Nicea makes the bold but necessary assertion that Jesus of Nazareth is a full participant in the divine nature:

Now why do I say that this was a necessary assertion from Nicea?  Well, starkly put, who cares if the eternal Son is God if we can’t say the same of Jesus of Nazareth!  It’s Jesus of Nazareth who says ‘If you’ve seen me you’ve seen the Father.’ (John 14:9)  It’s Jesus of Nazareth who says ‘Son your sins are forgiven.’ (Mark 2:5)  It’s the Man Jesus who lives our life and dies our death.  If salvation is truly from the LORD then it has to be Jesus ‘born of the virgin Mary and suffered under Pontius Pilate’ who is declared fully God.  Nicea necessarily and clearly does this.

And what does this mean?  It means that before we’ve even gotten to Chalcedon we’ve affirmed that the Person of Jesus who is fully man and fully God exists entirely within the circle of divine fellowship which constitutes the being of God.  Jesus the Man is of one being with the Father.  If we could not affirm this then the revelation of Jesus would not be the revelation of God (contra John 14).  If we could not affirm this then the salvation of Jesus would not be the salvation of God (contra Mark 2).  But no, Jesus and the Father are one – not simply ‘the Son’ and the Father.

Why am I labouring this?  Well I have a sneaking suspicion that the christology story most people have in mind is a little different.  My fear is that people think the order of things goes something like:

1) we all know what divine nature is (some kind of essence probably!)

2) then (at Nicea) we insist that there is a trinity of Persons who we ought to confess as divine (and therefore in equal possession of this God-stuff)

3) then (at Chalcedon) we turn our attention to this pesky issue of how Jesus (who looks very different to our assumed conception of God-stuff ) is made up of God-stuff and man-stuff.  And it’s pretty freaky, and a mystery, but hey orthodoxy demands it so we’d better confess it.

It’s caricature obviously but does that kinda vibe resonate with anyone else?  It’s a theological journey that treads this path:

Being of God (divine nature) => Trinity => Christ (two nature christology). 

Or to put it even more crudely: “We all know God’s essence is a load of ‘omni’s; then (weirdly enough) we affirm that these omnis are parcelled out equally among Three Persons and then (strangeness of all strangenesses) we declare that one of the Three not only has a God-nature (defined by these omnis) but also a man-nature (that’s really very unlike His God-nature as defined by the omnis).”  I confess that I have seen a lot of this kind of thinking in my own theology in the past.  And it’s pretty awful to be honest.

Here’s what Chalcedon looks like when you’ve forgotten the crucial assertion of Nicea:


Here the divine nature of Jesus is thought of as that which is homoousios with the Father.  But on this way of thinking, the human nature (contra Nicea’s insistence) is not.  And of course you’ve then introduced massive problems.  Not only is there a humanity to Jesus that is not considered fully God but this humanity actually gets in the way between us and God.  Jesus in the incarnation has concealed rather than revealed God.  And what we’re left with is a whole set of tricky questions about how this God-nature and man-nature can really co-exist in the one Person without sounding like Jesus is a double-headed monster.

But… Nicea comes before Chalcedon.  This is not just true chronologically, it should also be true in our theological method.  Nicea teaches us that our doctrine of the being of God; the trinity; and christology must be held together.  These three concepts must mutually inform each other or else all three will be misconstrued. The Being of God is the relationship of the Three.  And these Three are One not only as Father, Son and Spirit but equally (and crucially) as Father, Incarnate Son and Spirit.  In this way divinity, trinity and christology are held together.  Go here for another post of mine on Nicea.

The divine nature is precisely the communion of the Three – a communion that is in no way compromised by the incarnation.  Jesus is fully God because He is the Son of the Father and the Anointed One with the Spirit.  It is no wonder that He is so often identified as ‘The Christ, the Son of God.’  Christ’s deity consists in these relationships and is never diminished by taking flesh.  Thus His full humanity in no way contradicts His full deity.  The Man Jesus exists fully and without remainder within the circle of divine life.  Chalcedon upholds the full integrity of Christ’s humanity, the complete perfection of His divinity, the absolute unity of His Person.  What Chalcedon does not say, and what it must never be made to say, is that there is a humanity to Jesus that is beyond the divine homoousios.  Nicea has for all time assured us that the Man Jesus is within the circle of triune fellowship which is the divine nature.



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Revelation 19

Preached on Revelation 19 tonight.  Really enjoyed it.  Jesus is always more than we can grasp…

He has a name written on Him that no-one knows but He Himself (Rev 19:12)

Here’s the sermon (audio now uploaded).


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The Me Monster

My wife has long taught Sunday school children that sin is a power called the ‘Me Me Monster.’  But I’ve never seen it expounded so hilariously…

H/T Justin Taylor

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The End?

Ok time to bring these thoughts to a close (for now).

For links to the 14 posts in this series go here.

For the full text of the 14 posts go here.

Let me finish with a plea from the heart of true doctrine…  Jesus is the Word of God.  He is not the best Word.  He is not the ultimate Word.  He is not the seal of series of improving words.  He is the Word.  There is no knowledge of God that is not mediated through the Son.  Please consider these foundational verses.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made.  (John 1:1-2)

No-one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made Him known. (John 1:18)

He is the Image of the invisible God, the Firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created  (Col 1:15-16)

The context for these verses is not incarnation.  The Word became flesh long after the Word was.  The Son has been the revelation of God from before the creation of the world.  Incarnation does not make Jesus the Word, rather the pre-existing Word became flesh.  At the risk of sledge-hammer repetition: Jesus is the Word and Image of God prior to incarnation.  He has always been the one Way, Truth and Life.  To be ignorant of the Son pre or post-incarnation is to be ignorant of God.

Consider additionally these crucial passages:

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

 “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No-one knows the Son except the Father, and no-one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” (Matt 11:27)

Christ in the OT is not an irritating hobby horse that some people ride and we wish they didn’t and would let us alone ‘cos we all get to Jesus in the end’.  It’s about the identity of Jesus.  Is He the revelation of God or is He something less? 

Is solus Christus true in revelation just as it is in salvation or is it a case of ‘Jesus and…’?  Are there other ways? Other truths?  Or does Jesus retain for Himself all the glory?

Ok so what are your thoughts on this issue?  Boring?  Irrelevant? Untrue?  Are my arguments overstated? Unworkable? Old hat? Garbage?  What?

Over to you…


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Some more sermons

Here are some more Revelation sermons I’ve preached recently.  

Revelation 13-14 (recorded afterwards at home)

Revelation 15-16

Revelation 17-18 

I’m preaching the last four chapters in the next month (So all you pre and post millers have about a week to convince me before I preach chapter 20!)

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Preached on money on Sunday.  Here’s the sermon – Matt 6:19-24 was the text.

 Here are some other sermons on money that have helped me.  Check them out, but be warned:

These sermons could seriously harm your wealth (i.e. your earthly treasure !)


Mark Prentice on Matt 6:19-24 (seriously awesome)

John Piper on Matthew 6:19-34 – part one and part two.

Tim Keller on Radical Generosity (2 Cor 9:6-15), Treasure vs Money (Matt 6:19-34), Grace and Money (Acts 4:32-37), Two Men with Money (2 Kings 5:13-19; Luke 19:5-10)

Anything by KP Yohannan (Update: links now work!).  Why not start with Christ’s Call part one and part two. Or how about Investing Your Life in the Harvest part one and part two

And once convicted – why not give to Gospel for Asia.  I dare you to find a better kingdom investment!


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Baptism strikes me as a good instance of how we all need to have a rich and deep theology.  To answer the question ‘Should I baptize my child?’ will require some pretty serious considerations of the nature of faith and salvation and church and covenant and OT/NT relations etc.  I hazard to suggest that those who say “You have your theology, I just have my bible” simply couldn’t come up with an argument for paedo or credo baptism without some kind of systematic considerations.

You might have guessed (being an Anglican and a covenant theologian) that I believe in baptizing infants in Christian households.  I digress into this issue here in a sermon on Genesis 17.  To put it briefly…

I believe that OT saints were to circumcize all in their households (on the 8th day) as an entrance into the covenant community.

They were meant to grow up from within that covenant community as full members.

But for that very reason they were urged to inwardly own this outward sign. In other words they ought to have also had a circumcized heart (Deut 10:16; 30:6; Jer 4:4).

Without this circumcized heart they forgo all the benefits of the outward sign. In fact, to go against their circumcision renders them not merely ‘as-good-as-uncircumcised’, it makes them covenant-breakers – a fearful position to be in.

In this sense I believe in baptizing infants in Christian households – baptism being a NT version of circumcision.

I do think Colossians 2:11-12 makes the link between circumcision and baptism though not directly but through Christ.

Baptism is the NT sign of belonging to the covenant people.  In this sense it is appropriate to baptise youngsters (just as they circumcised 8-day-olds), to proclaim the gospel promises over them, to treat them as full members of the church and to urge them as they grow up to own the meaning of their baptism inwardly (a baptism of the heart).  That kinda thing.

Anyway, there’s a guy in our congregation who wants to talk through who we should baptize.  Anyone got any suggestions for some good books we could look at?  (From any perspective)

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