WCECS Colloquium: Imagining the Eschatological State

2017 Colloquium

Imagining the Eschatological State

co-sponsored by
The Wheaton Center for Early Christian Studies, Wheaton College
The Center for Scriptural Exegesis, Philosophy, and Doctrine, Mundelein Seminary
and the Chicago Theological Initiative

Friday, March 24th

•Beth Felker Jones (Wheaton): “Shaping the eschatological imagination”
•Bernard McGinn (University of Chicago): “Augustine’s Attack on Apocalypticism”
•Brent Waters (Garrett-Evangelical Seminary): “Ethics as if there was Hell to Pay: Living this Life in Light of the Afterlife”

12:00—2:00 Lunch

•Marcus Plested (Marquette University): “Palamas on the Eschatological State”
•Thomas McCall (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School): “De Regnum Immobile: A Theological Interpretation of Hebrews 12”
•Cyril O’Regan (University of Notre Dame): “Eschatology: Theological Poetics and the Rules of Iconic Extension”

5:00–7:00 Dinner

7:30–9:00 Public Lecture
•“Historical Memory and the Eschatological Vision of God’s Glory in Irenaeus”
Khaled Anatolios (University of Notre Dame)

Saturday, March 25th

•Rita George-Trvtkovic (Benedictine University): “Apologia for Heaven in Medieval Christian Polemics against Islam”
•Paul L. Gavrilyuk (University of St. Thomas): “Universal Salvation in Pavel Florensky and Sergius Bulgakov”
•Keith Starkenburg (Trinity Christian College): “How to Say That the Creation Is Resurrected: God’s Glory between I Corinthians 15 and Revelation 21 and 22


•Jeanne-Nicole Saint-Laurent (Marquette): “Enslaved Saints and the Eschaton”
•Brian Daley SJ (Notre Dame): “The Character of the Risen Body according to Gregory of Nyssa and Augustine”
•Gregory Lee (Wheaton): “’Even Our Thoughts Will Be Made Open to Each Other’: Augustinian Speculations on Eschatological Mediation”

SEATING IS LIMITED! If you are interested in attending, please send an email to jack.bates@my.wheaton.edu

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The Righteousness of God by Charles Lee Irons (review)

Review by Matthew Monkemeier

Irons, Charles Lee. The Righteousness of God: A Lexical Examination of the Covenant-Faithfulness Interpretation. WUNT 2.386. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2015.

Very few word-groups are as consequential for how we understand Paul as the “righteousness” (δικ-) word-group, and very few phrases are as consequential for how we understand Paul as the phrase “righteousness of God” (δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ). Wildly-divergent interpretations of Paul turn on subtle differences in our understanding of that phrase. It is surprising, therefore, that until recently the latest book-length investigation of “righteousness” language in Paul was J. A. Ziesler’s 1972 monograph. There have been some significant developments in scholarship on Paul since then, some significant new questions about Paul’s world and his writings, and some significant new meanings attributed to the phrase “righteousness of God.” In light of this, there has for some time now been a need for a comprehensive survey of this language that would put some of these claims to the test.

Charles Lee Irons’s recently-published revision of his Fuller dissertation, The Righteousness of God: A Lexical Examination of the Covenant-Faithfulness Interpretation, more than fills that need. It is essentially a monograph-length word-study, albeit of a very important word. And its purpose is to subject the “Hebraic, relational” understanding of “righteousness,” which Irons traces back to Hermann Cremer’s 1899 German monograph and argues is one of the three “pillars” of the New Perspective, to critical lexical scrutiny.

In chapter 1, Irons traces the history of interpretation of δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ in Paul, arguing that pre-modern interpreters both before and after the Reformation were in general agreement that the “righteousness of God” in Paul is the righteous status that comes from and counts before God. It was not until the nineteenth century that scholars such as Diestel and Ritschl, who sought to eliminate any notions of God’s punitive or judicial actions, suggested meanings such as God’s “gracious purpose toward his chosen people” for “righteousness of God.” But it was through the work of Cremer, who argued for such a meaning on the basis of the claim that “righteousness” was a Hebrew concept that was distinctly relational, that this view entered the mainstream of biblical scholarship. The remainder of the chapter traces Cremer’s influence through several streams of twentieth-century interpretation. This chapter alone is quite an achievement, and I found myself very grateful for this comprehensive and yet manageable summary of such a long and complex discussion.

In chapter 2, Irons sets out his methodological considerations. He first draws a distinction between a lexical concept (the sense that a word has apart from its use in context) and a discourse concept (the more specific referent of a word used in context), suggesting that to read discourse concepts back into lexical concepts is to commit James Barr’s “illegitimate totality transfer.” Next, he critiques the use of Hebrew parallelism as source of lexical study, drawing on recent work to suggest that words are rarely fully synonymous with their parallels: hyponyms (one word is an example or type of another word) are just as likely to be used in parallel as synonyms. He then engages recent discussion about the potential of the Septuagint to mediate the transfer senses of Hebrew words to Greek words that consistently translate those Hebrew words, suggesting that the test for such a transfer (a calque) is the use of a Greek word with such a “Hebrew” meaning in Jewish literature originally composed in Greek.

Chapters 3–5 are the core of the study, as Irons surveys “righteousness” language in extra-biblical Greek (chapter 3), in the Old Testament (chapter 4), and in Second-Temple Jewish literature (chapter 5). Chapter 3 is particularly helpful, as Irons finds many motifs commonly associated with Old Testament “righteousness” (righteousness as demonstrated through law-observance, as referring to judicial action, as given from the gods, as expressed in relationships, as expressed through fulfillment of contractual or covenantal obligations, etc.) in extra-biblical Greek texts. This decisively undermines any notion of a contrast between “Greek” and “Hebrew” thought; but it also provides warrant for understanding how “discourse concepts” expressed in the Hebrew text would remain comprehensible—and therefore expressible—in Greek. Chapter 4 is remarkable for its comprehensiveness: every use of “righteousness” is catalogued, and a representative sample are discussed. Irons argues that “righteousness of God” in the Old Testament is always God’s distributive justice (meaning his fairness in rewarding good and punishing evil), even in those instances where this “righteousness” results in salvation for God’s people: in those instances God is exercising his distributive justice against Israel’s oppressors or saving / justifying Israel in a “righteous” way by making atonement for sins. Chapter 5 then surveys “righteousness” language in post-biblical Jewish writings, whether written in Hebrew (the Dead Sea Scrolls and Apocrypha and OT Pseudepigrapha composed in Hebrew) or Greek (Apocrypha, OT Pseudepigrapha, and Other Hellenistic Jewish Writings, as well as the New Testament other than Paul). He finds that the Dead Sea Scrolls have the greatest degree of continuity with OT usage, but that most other Jewish writings use “righteousness” to mean ordinary ethical righteousness that counts before God. He does find limited use of “God’s righteousness” to refer to God’s saving justice, but he argues that here (as in the OT) it is nevertheless a subset of God’s distributive justice.

Chapter 6 turns to “righteousness” language in Paul. Irons first critiques the “covenant faithfulness” view and then the “saving activity or power” view before positively arguing that all occurrences of “righteousness of God” in Paul that do not refer to God’s distributive justice (Rom 3:5, 25, 26) refer to the gift of righteousness from God. He suggests that the lexeme δικαιοσύνη has the sense of “righteousness before God” on its own, and that the genitive θεοῦ therefore indicates the source of that righteousness. This means that the “righteousness from God” is also the “righteousness from faith,” as the consistent use of “faith” language indicates (Rom 1:17; 3:21, 22; 10:3–4; 2 Cor 5:21 [implied]; Phil 3:9—see p. 321). In other words, for Paul God’s own righteousness is always his justice that punishes sin and rewards righteousness. But he also freely gives the status of “righteous” to those who put their faith in Jesus (as he understands πίστις Χριστοῦ). Finally, the parallels between Phil 3:9 (where “righteousness” is clearly from God, ἐκ θεοῦ) and Rom 10:3 indicate that the same referent is in view, and therefore this is the referent for that language in Rom 3:21 and 1:17.

Chapter 7 summarizes the argument and its conclusions: Cremer is “decisively disproven” (339); the OT saving righteousness is “judicial activity with saving results” (340); Paul’s teaching on justification is therefore a polemic against “the nomistic theology of Judaism” (340); the relationship between God and humans is established by and therefore follows God’s judicial act of justification (341–42); and justification itself is how humans get “righteous before the divine tribunal” (342–43). Recent currents in Pauline studies are therefore misguided, and we may return to the traditional Protestant interpretation of Paul.

This is an essential study that all subsequent work on “righteousness” in Paul will have to take into account. At the very least, Irons takes to task many who have argued for an “Old Testament” or “Biblical” or “Jewish” meaning for “righteousness” without explaining how such a transfer of meaning could occur. Even more than that, he succeeds in adding considerable lexical support to the traditional Protestant interpretation of “righteousness” in Paul. This work is a strong challenge to those who continue to see “God’s righteousness” as God’s faithfulness or God’s salvation-creating power.

It is a challenge that could be answered, though, since I do not think that Irons disproves Cremer and those who followed in his wake as “decisively” as he claims.

First, I think Irons overstates the importance of the “lexical sense” of this word for understanding its use. It is true that many arguments for understanding Paul’s use of “righteousness” language in light of its use in the OT do not adequately distinguish between sense and referent, between lexical concepts and discourse concepts. But, if they had made this distinction, are we sure they would have argued for a modification of the lexical sense of the word? Is a calque the only way for OT “meaning” to transfer to NT usage? Is it possible for words to retain their lexical senses and yet refer to discourse concepts from other texts? This is especially the case once we talk about the righteousness of God, since this is not merely a lexeme with a particular sense but a phrase that refers to a particular attribute of a particular being. Put another way, if the OT seems to say something unique about God’s righteousness, is it altering the lexical sense of “righteousness” or saying something unique about Israel’s God? If the latter, why would later texts need words with altered lexical senses in order to refer to that unique attribute of God?

Second, Irons’s claim that all occurrences of “God’s righteousness” in the OT must refer to God’s distributive-judicial righteousness results in some implausible interpretations of key OT texts. For example, Irons claims that the revelation of God’s righteousness in Ps 98:2 must refer to the fact that “God will reveal his righteousness and his salvation by judging the Babylonians who took his people into exile” (187). But then it is odd that this aspect of God’s saving action is never elsewhere mentioned in Psalm 98: the psalm focuses exclusively on the salvation of Israel and does not mention Israel’s enemies at all. Moreover, insisting that these judgments that result in Israel’s salvation are a subset of God’s distributive justice suggests that Israel as a whole is somehow deserving of such a verdict. If that is the case, what do we do with appeals to God’s righteousness that explicitly deny such prior human righteousness? Irons sees the cry of Ps 143:1 that God would answer the psalmist “in your righteousness” even though “no one living is righteous before you” (v. 2) as a cry for God “to deliver him from his foes by a judicial act of righteousness, that is, by vindicating him against his enemies” (188, cf. 307). But what exactly is being vindicated? The psalmist’s own righteousness? He has just denied that he (or anyone) is righteous. Or is it his identity as God’s servant who trusts in the God who is committed to him? This is more likely (hence the appeal for God to act “on behalf of your name” in v. 11), but then we are deep into the “covenantal” territory that Irons insists is foreign to God’s righteousness. Ultimately, Irons succeeds in showing that many instances of “righteousness” language in the OT can be understood in a judicial or ethical sense without appealing to a “relational” or “covenantal” meaning (even many, such as Gen 38:26, that have often been cited as evidence to the contrary). But the handful of instances in which such an understanding of “God’s righteousness” results in a rather implausible interpretation of the text call into question the claim that “God’s righteousness” always refers to some aspect of God’s distributive justice.

Finally, we should point out that Irons’s methodology does not leave much room for the possibility of OT texts influencing the meaning of Paul’s writings. Reacting against a possible over-estimation of such influence among those (such as Hays and Wagner) who find OT allusions exerting strong hermeneutic pressure on Paul (301–306), Irons suggests rather that this influence goes the other way, that we should interpret “righteousness of God” in the OT in light of its usage in Paul (308). Paul must be interpreted independently, and only then can we move to the question of how this agrees with or does not agree with the OT (311). But, while we agree that Paul re-reads the OT in light of the Christ-event and therefore must be allowed his own hermeneutic creativity and originality, he nevertheless claims that the OT is where this same gospel is “promised beforehand” (1:2) and where the “righteousness of God” receives its witness (3:21). The OT is thus to some extent partially constitutive of the Christ-event, and therefore to some extent constitutive of Paul’s gospel. Does it determine the meaning of “righteousness of God” in Paul? Certainly not lexically, as many have seemingly claimed and as Irons has decisively disproven. But conceptually? That possibility should at least remain open.

Thanks to Mohr Siebeck for providing a review copy of this book.

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CFP: The Nature and Norms of Hope

Sage School of Philosophy, Cornell University
Ithaca, United States


Call for Papers

The Hope and Optimism Initiative (Cornell/Notre Dame) invites submissions for a 3-day workshop on the theme ‘The Nature and Norms of Hope’ to be held on April 27-29, 2017 at Cornell University.

Papers should be on hope, despair, and related themes, including how they bear on social/political philosophy, moral philosophy, psychology and philosophy of religion. Submissions should be anonymized and take the form of a 500-750 word abstract. Accepted papers should be suitable for approximately 40 minute presentations. Authors selected will be offered travel and housing for the workshop.

Invited speakers include:

  1. Vincent Lloyd (Villanova University)
  2. Miriam McCormick (University of Richmond)
  3. Michael Milona (Cornell University)
  4. Kathryn Norlock (Trent University)
  5. Nancy Snow (University of Oklahoma)
  6. Margaret Urban Walker (Marquette University)

Deadline for submission: January 27th, 2017

Email abstracts to:  hopeoptimism17@gmail.com. In the body of the e-mail, please include the following information:

1.     Paper title
2.     Author’s name
3.     Institutional affiliation
4.     Contact e-mail address and phone number


Click here for more details.

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Call for Submissions: Graduate Student Cross-Training (GSCT) Fellowship Program

Kevin Timpe (Calvin College) and Christian B. Miller (Wake Forest U.) are directing the Graduate Student Cross-Training Fellowship Program in which the successful applicant will receive a year’s stipend of $30,000 intended to equip graduate student members of the Society of Christian Philosophers with an opportunity to take up to one academic year to develop competency in an empirical science connected with their research.

Details can be found here.

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Review: An Invitation to Analytic Christian Theology, by Thomas McCall

Thomas H. McCall, An Invitation to Analytic Christian Theology (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2015. 192 pp. $22.00 (paperback)


Kevin W. Wong, Wheaton College



             Too often earnest theological inquiry cannot even begin since participants are deadlocked over methodological matters, prompting many to simply skip over it. Yet, we must, from time to time, take a step back and re-examine our methods and approaches to ensure we have not deceived ourselves into begging the question on important matters, especially if that method and approach is complex.

Thomas McCall takes on such a challenge with his new book, An Invitation to Analytic Christian Theology. Although analytic theology (hereafter: AT) has enjoyed technical and sophisticated defenses—most notably the contributions in Rea and Crisp’s edited collection, McCall supplies what they are lacking in two respects: simplification of technical prose for the non-specialist (i.e. translation for the non-analytics) and making explicit what was only implied (i.e. how does analytic theology relate to historical theology and tradition?). So, while McCall’s book has great overlap with said collection, it also provides a new angle and new material for a new audience.



            The book’s structure is simple and clear. The first chapter clarifies what AT is by providing an initial portrait. That portrait is subsequently filled out in the next three chapters by describing AT’s relationship with other aspects of the Christian religion. The final chapter clarifies what the motivation is for scholars to engage in AT.

In chapter one, McCall characterizes what AT is and is not. After a brief historical sketch, McCall describes AT as conducting constructive theological inquiry by employing the style, ambition, and conceptual tools of analytic philosophy. Though clearly sharing the same tools as analytic philosophy, McCall insists that it is a different craft with a different product: It is theology, not philosophy thinly disguised as theology. Such a fusion could, however, lend to a faulty understanding which McCall tries to quell. Some of those misunderstandings include AT relying upon an univocity of religious language, being only natural theology, being done in ignorance of historical theology, and being merely apologetics.

Chapters two and three share similar structures where McCall briefly surveys AT’s relationship with that other aspect of the Christian religion and then explore a case study or two for how that relationship is enacted. Chapter two focuses on AT’s relationship with Christian scripture, correcting the misconception that AT is strictly philosophical theology stemming from a minimalist monotheism, the sort of intellectual exercise that can be done equally by a Muslim or a Jew as it is by a Christian. And while there is a place for such an endeavor, Christian AT is not that, relying instead upon the set of books that set us apart from our Muslim and Jewish counterparts. More than just relying upon the Bible as though it was a poor delivery vehicle to be discarded after siphoning out the theological core, AT intends to be faithful to the Bible in multiple ways, from analyzing biblically derived concepts to being consistent with the deliverances of the Bible. The case study for this chapter is D. A. Carson’s argument for compatibilism as a case study where biblical data may appear to imply one view, when further analysis may yield an opposite but equally compelling interpretation of the very same texts.

Relatedly, McCall characterizes AT as in dialogue with Christian history and tradition in chapter three, distinguishing AT from a bare monotheistic philosophical theology still further. This is a much-needed chapter since, as mentioned above, it was only implied in the Rea and Crisp reader. When looking through Rea and Crisp’s table of contents, one may notice tradition being conspicuously absent in the section concerning data for theology. Here, McCall shows that AT can be a form of retrieval theology—that is, a theology constructed from the ideas and concepts of our forebears. Retrieval theology is not regurgitation, but rather appropriation, translation, and application (and perhaps even updating) of the thoughts of Christian thinkers before us. The case studies that McCall provides are several instances of analytic Christology meant to explicate the Chalcedonian Formulation, including two of my favorite—the Two-Minds view by Thomas Morris and the physicalist Incarnation by Trenton Merricks.

In a surprising reversal, chapter four inverts the structure of the previous two chapters, beginning with a case study and then exploring its implications on AT’s relationship with the Church and the rest of the world. With the historical Adam controversy serving as the case study, McCall looks into options for how AT might assist constructive theology that navigates the delicate balance between faithfulness to Christian tradition and still informed by and engaged with other means of human knowledge, specifically science for this case. McCall then concludes the book in general and this chapter in particular with an observation that AT could grow by engaging in a wider range of topics than it has been and by engaging with global theology.

In the fifth and final chapter, McCall reminds his reader that a true theology, analytic or otherwise, is one prompted by love for God and in service to the world. To that end, McCall makes several suggestions of how AT could interface with other notable movements and aspects of the theological endeavor.


            As is to be expected by any book by McCall, its virtues are many and its vices are few. First, it lives up to its name: It is an invitation! Other works have not done as well in trying to appeal to non-analytics. If the Rea and Crisp reader can be thought of as a supercar like a Bugatti Veyron, then McCall’s book is surely a muscle car like a Chevy Camaro: Although it does not perform at such a high caliber that is demanding even upon skilled veteran drivers, it is a worthy entry-level vehicle that can get those interested in speed and performance quickly addicted and still requires skill to operate.

Second, McCall gracefully navigates the interdisciplinary and multicultural dialogues. Earlier iterations of philosophical theology did not seem particularly welcoming of biblical studies or historical theology. If McCall’s book is any indication of where the movement is going, especially in the case studies, then I think that awkward phase is coming to an end, if not already at a close. If one is still unconvinced of how AT can robustly interact with other disciplines, then I invite that one to read McCall’s other works (one of my favorite being Forsaken). Further, AT is sometimes seen as a peculiarly Anglophone phenomenon, and thus has limited utility for cross-cultural purposes. A colleague of mine (who shall remain safely anonymous) captured this impression well when he bemoaned that AT sounded culturally imperialistic. So I am glad that McCall directly addressed that worry, wishing for dialogue rather than domination. Just as the Western philosophical guild is dialoguing more with Chinese and Indian philosophy, so too do I think that AT will do more cross-cultural engagement, especially with the likes of McCall encouraging and prompting us to do so.

Third, McCall’s take on AT is an especially helpful contrast (perhaps corrective?) to other characterizations. His final chapter arguing for any theology being worthy of its name must prompt the practitioner toward love of God and service to others. This is important since one may have the impression that the analytic tradition is rather cold and clinical. This is not an unjustified impression given the history of analytic philosophy. Even some among contemporary analytic theologians seem hesitant for AT to produce wise living (e.g. pages 18–19 in Rea’s introductory essay in his reader with Crisp). McCall wants

The shortcomings of McCall’s book are not in the least fatal to the overall quality of the book, but they still ought to be considered. First, I had mixed feelings about the case studies. It is not my goal to assess whether McCall’s summaries and evaluations of positions in the case studies are accurate or insightful (though I think they mostly are), but rather how he uses them to further his book’s thesis. Although McCall only meant for readers to get their feet wet with the case studies, readers can potentially find themselves alternating between frolicking and thrashing. That is, on the one hand, some of the issues McCall raises are tantalizing, drawing the reader in and inspiring them for further research, but on the other the use of analytic apparatus might be alienating. For example, McCall’s analysis of D. A. Carson’s argument for a biblical compatibilism is definitely something many Christians are interested in. Who hasn’t wondered about how divine sovereignty and human free will work? The section was clear and careful. Yet, McCall also employs some formalized logic on page 114 with little explanation of what these hieroglyphics mean. It is not entirely clear what work those formalized propositions are actually doing over his regular prose. Should the non-analytic be aware of what an upside-down ‘A’ is?  In speaking of Leibniz’s law of indiscernibility of identicals, one does not need to resort to the formalization if one gives a very good example. For example, if Thomas McCall and the author of this book are really one and the same person, then whatever is true of the one must be true of another—It would make no sense to say that Thomas McCall stands 5 feet 2 inches and the author of this book stands at a whopping 7 feet. So, invitations must be accepted with some discretion by the invited. Although I am flattered by anyone inviting me to rock climb, my acrophobia prompts me toward recoiling rather than accepting. Likewise, AT might not be for everyone on the same score.

Second, and relatedly, McCall could have offered some suggested bibliography. It is typically poor form to critique a book for what it does not include, as that complaint is usually more indicative of the reviewer’s personal preferences than any real deficiency in the book being reviewed. So at the risk of seeming uncouth, let me cautiously say that I think a book of this nature could have been better served had a suggested works of varying levels of difficulty been included. If someone has become interested in AT through this book, I would not recommend the works of Brian Leftow or Hud Hudson to start with as one would easily be dismayed by their complexity and sophistication. That would undermine the invitation.

Still, this is a worthy book to consider—so worthy, in fact, that a colleague and I are requiring it for an upcoming seminar that we are co-teaching. I commend this book, especially as an alternative or supplement to the Rea and Crisp collection.

    My thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy.

Posted in Analytic Theology, Book reviews | Leave a comment

Review: The Earliest Christologies, by James Papandrea

James L. Papandrea, The Earliest Christologies: Five Images of Christ in the Postapostolic Age (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2016. 144 pp. $18.00 (paperback)

Kevin W. Wong, Wheaton College


            A student attending seminary or Bible college, with their incredibly condensed historical theology courses, might get the impression that Christology did not see much development until after Arianism: Forced to respond to this heresy, the Church had to then refine and test their theological definitions. However, in his book The Earliest Christologies: Five Images of Christ in the Postapostolic Age, James Papandrea challenges that impression by giving a survey of five different views of Christology in the postapostolic age. And while the reader is justifiably suspicious of an easy rubric with categories exhibiting firm, clearly discernable borders, Papandrea insists that these five views are rather points on a spectrum as emphases that grant us an interpretive matrix to judge family resemblances.


            Neither the book as a whole or its chapters are long, making this a convenient read. The introductory chapter outlines the need for this book: Most other studies focus upon the speculative cosmologies of the postapostolic age to the neglect of explicit treatment of Christology. Papandrea argues that an investigation focusing on Christology not only elucidates the rise of later heresies, such as Arianism, but it also clarifies our understanding of Gnosticism. For example, responding to Michael Williams and Karen King’s contention that scholars ought to rid of the term ‘Gnosticism’ since there was not a unified intellectual movement, Papandrea argues that shared Christological views unify this wide array of disparate beliefs into two major camps (20). Papandrea then offers several insightful principles by which the reader can better understand the five views he will describe. First, each view struggles with the dilemma between Christ’s apparent humanity and apparent divinity: To emphasize one nature is to challenge the other. All five views agree that we, humanity, needs a mediator for reconciliation, but disagree on what is meant exactly that Christ is the mediator and how he would obtain reconciliation. And finally, the five views are generated by different metaphysical assumptions about divinity: Must divinity be uncreated? Is divinity a categorical or degreed phenomenon? Does divinity entail immutability and impassibility?

The body of the book is dedicated to the five different views laid out in a spectrum: First, the two forms of Adoptionism on one extreme, then the two forms of Gnosticism on the other extreme, and finally the orthodox view in the middle of the spectrum. Each of these explanatory chapters share the same format of an introduction, a description of the view, a section on their major historical proponents and documents, then concluding with a summary and implications.

To preserve the immutability and impassibility of divinity, the two forms of Adoptionism maintain Jesus’ humanity and deny his divinity. The first view is what Papandrea calls Angel Adoptionism, the view that the human Jesus is adopted to be a son of God by being indwelt by the spiritual Christ, a created spiritual being—either an angel or something like it. The second view, Spirit Adoptionism, is similar except that the human Jesus is anointed by the Christ who is identical with the Holy Spirit. In this respect, the human Jesus is not unique at all among the OT prophets who were likewise empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Conversely, the two forms of Gnosticism preserve the immutability and impassibility of divinity by denying Jesus’ humanity. The first view under this school of thought is Docetism and Docetic Gnosticism. This group is unified by one of two beliefs: It is possible that Jesus had a body but that he was not really human or both Jesus’ humanity and corporeality were illusory. Docetism proper preceded Docetic Gnosticism and continued in its pure form after the emergence of the latter. Docetic Gnosticism is a syncretism that incorporated the Gnostic emphasis on secret knowledge and elaborate cosmologies with their complicated pantheon of deities. These two are put together in this chapter because of their shared Christology. The second view is Hybrid Gnosticism. This is also more of a collection of beliefs than a singular school of thought. Here, many doubted that Christ could suffer and die, but if he could it is only because he “puts on” or “bears” Jesus as a temporary garment shielding him, the cosmic mind, from the passion. Both versions of Gnosticism viewed the human body as something to be discarded rather than valuable. That then has implications upon ethics, leading to asceticism and neglect for the poor or outright hedonism.

The above four views are similar to one another in that they all distinguish between Jesus and the Christ in some way. Even the Docetism and Docetic Gnosticism view, for the reality is the Christ and the human Jesus is illusory. Salvation and resurrection are also skewed along with this dichotomy. For example, Papandrea argues that the salvation of humans is impossible on the Docetic views since it was not a human enacting atonement. Or for the adoptionist views, if one human being could by sheer effort gain favor with God, then so can all others, leading to a form of legalism. Further, an actual bodily resurrection may make no sense to these schools of thought

Thus the orthodox view, the Logos Christology, is unique in that it not only preserves the immutability and impassibility of divinity while insisting upon the authentic humanity of Jesus, but it also identifies Jesus and the Christ as one and the same person. This view is unique among all others for its acceptance of all Scripture and asking how it is all true rather than which ones are true. Historically a common objection from the orthodox to these other views is that the latter distorts Scripture by picking and choosing select texts. Additionally, this is the only view that has a true Incarnation since the union between the divine and human natures are permanent: The resurrection means Jesus comes back to life in a physical, human body. All other views are mere indwellings or inhabitations, and temporary ones at that. Further, salvation is secured for humans since it does not promote Jesus as a merely moral or spiritual exemplar nor is humanity something to be discarded by enlightenment.

Papandrea’s concluding chapter draws out several implications. First, why did the orthodox Christology win? The answer: Apostolic succession. One could easily discern which is the more faithful teaching by seeing whom the apostles favored as being faithful. Logos Christology also won out for being the middle way, of being capable of preserving both the divinity and humanity of Christ. It accepted all Scripture and asked how they can be true rather than which passages are true, embracing mystery in that regard. Further, he ties Christology with anthropology together: How one views Christ will ultimately affect how one views humanity. And finally, he traces the legacy of these views, showing them to be the precursors for later heresies, including those unwittingly accepted by the contemporary Church.


            As I am not a historian, I am not qualified to judge whether Papandrea’s research is accurate or not. I leave that for specialists. However, I do think I am qualified to comment on the conceptualization and communication.

First, Papandrea is fairly clear and thorough in his descriptions of the five views. The rubric that presents the features that distinguish one view from another along a spectrum is understandable and informative. He avoids using more traditional terms, such as ‘Ebionite’ or ‘Marcionite’ since these labels on their own are not informative of the exact nature of the problem and are often used as a catchall that blurs the distinctions between the groups (23), and instead uses his own, far more descriptive labels.

Further, the book is resoundingly thought-provoking, for the depictions of these various views confront the contemporary Christian and her various misconceptions, and even inadequacies. For example, depending on how it is parsed out, a Spirit Christology of the sort that we find in New Testament studies is a helpful corrective to the systematic theological tendency to abstract Jesus from both his humanity and Jewishness. He was a human empowered by the Spirit to do mighty works to fulfill the office of prophet. Yet, the views surveyed in this book is a warning against too much of an emphasis on such a view lest we deplete the divinity of Jesus.

Additionally, Papandrea’s analysis that the underlying Christological commitments informed the theological anthropology of the various proponents is to be praised. Too often theological anthropology is conducted without Christological consideration, as though Christ was not an important source of information for this doctrine. So Papandrea’s analysis that all five views bearing anthropological implications was insightful, if not also terribly uncomfortable. For example, if it is the case that Christ was not truly human and discarded the physical shell that was Jesus, then what is the chief end of humans like you and I? If it is merely to shed the mortal coil, what motivation do we have for supplying for poor, hungry bodies? Suddenly, certain contemporary eschatological views are not so attractive any more.

However, I have potentially two complaints concerning the rhetoric of Papandrea’s book, both relatively minor. The first complaint that might emerge among readers is the repetition of this book. It can be tedious to read and then re-read the descriptions of the views. Yet, as Papandrea is comparing views against one another to clarify and analyze, this may be unavoidable, especially for when the views are so similar as to be distinct only by a hair (compare the Gnostic versions portrayed above and you will find their conceptual distinctions to be only slightly different, even if their ethics were widely divergent).

The more substantial of my minor complaints is Papandrea’s occasion ambiguity of language. No author is perfect, least of all myself. But several examples come to mind where Papandrea could have been clearer for the sake of theological implications.

The first example is a conflation between indwelling and possession in the second chapter. In describing Angel Adoptionism, the view that the Christ is a spiritual being that comes upon the human Jesus of Nazareth, Papandrea rightly describes that “This is not an incarnation,” but curiously qualifies with the following: “but rather a possession—different from demon possession only because of the benevolence of the indwelling spiritual presence” (31). This seems confused, for possession seems to take a very specific connotation wholly unlike indwelling. The former has this sense that the possessor overrides the causal relations of the owner of a body. So if Legion were to possess poor Bob, Legion raises Bob’s arms in superhuman strength to overcome restraints—both human hands and chains. Legion may also thrust Bob’s body, against Bob’s will, into fire and water. Contrast that with our concept of indwelling. This seems to be empowerment, the shaping of character and the actualization of dormant or damaged capacities. It is the alignment of the human will with the divine will, a willing submission. Maybe such fine conceptual distinctions can be borne by Papandrea’s rubric of the one being malicious and the other being benevolent (a benevolent relationship would not override another’s causal relationships with her body, right?), but it would have been more conceptually satisfactory to not put these two in the same category and made distinct only by their underlying moral properties.

The second example is that Papandrea describes the Spirit Adoptionism—the view that Jesus is adopted as a son of God by being anointed with the Holy Spirit at his baptism only to have the Spirit depart at his crucifixion—as being neither an indwelling or incarnation, but rather only merely an inspiration or empowerment (35–36). Fair enough. But later, he describes a variation of this view by one Beryllus of Bostra who taught that it was the Father who indwelt Jesus. How much modification is there with Beryllus’ view? Is it merely that he swapped out the person of the Holy Spirit and inserted the Father instead? Or is it both that he swapped out the person of the Holy Spirit and inserted the Father instead and the relationship the Father has with Jesus is one of indwelling rather than inspiration/empowerment? No further description is given to clarify. Later on he returns to the language of anointing, inspiration, and empowerment (41) and concludes the chapter by highlighting that the Angel Adoptionism emphasized indwelling whereas Spirit Adoptionism emphasized anointing (42). This raises questions of whether someone’s (Papandrea’s or an editor’s) pen slipped in describing Beryllus’s view or if Beryllus made significant modifications.

The third example is where Papandrea contrasts the Logos Christology against the other four views concerning the unity of the person of Christ. Papandrea describes Logos Christology as “maintaining that the human nature of Jesus Christ suffered while the divine nature did not” (90). Such a minimalist description, however, invites questions: if the human nature suffers, does the person possessing the human nature suffer as well? Later, Papandrea explicitly states: “However, his divine nature participated in the incarnation to such an extent that it is legitimate to say that the whole person of Jesus Christ, divine and human, was born into the world through the womb of Mary and was made visible and tangible through his human body” (103), but it would have been useful if he likewise explicitly stated that the entire person is specifically involved in the passion as well. As it is for the virgin, so too is it for the cross.

The fourth example of ambiguity is when Papandrea traces the line from Gnosticism to modalism, he claims, “However, the modalist understanding of the Trinity claimed that the Father and the Son were one and the same, which effectively left no room for any real humanity in the Son” (121–22, and something similar on 123). I confess, I’m not entirely clear on this. How exactly is it the case that if the Father and the Son lack all distinctions and are completely numerically identical does that jeopardize the human nature that God assumes? I even returned to chapter four to see if he had made the conceptual maneuvers clearer there, but I did not see anything there.

Still, these examples are not fatal to Papandrea’s overall project. Still, I found reading this book to be quite enjoyable, surprising, thought-provoking, and educational. I recommend this book for any Christology course, as an assigned text for undergraduates or required background reading for graduates. I would even recommend it for adult Sunday School since many Evangelical churches I have participating in are good with presenting and exegeting individual biblical passages, but are not as adept at overall theological reasoning. Papandrea has done both the academy and the Church a service with this conveniently sized book.

My thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy.

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St Andrews Fellows in Science & Theology

From their website:

The St Andrews Fellows in Science & Theology is a multi-million-dollar project generously funded by the John Templeton Foundation. Its goal is to build on the past generation of work at the intersection of theology, religion, and the human and natural sciences by fostering a network of young scholars to create a new generation of research. The vision for this new generation aspires to innovate by:

  • Creating space for empirical study within departments of theology/religion, where science and religion are sometimes viewed as a sideline. This includes seeking to publish in mainstream theology journals, where work at the intersection of theology and science may so far be overlooked, as well as expanding the course catalogs of theology degree programs to include the topic.
  • Moving beyond the methodological questions that have sometimes delayed or even hindered genuine interdisciplinary work. Sometimes these worries have come from scientists, supposing cooperation with religious studies violates the norms of rationality; other times it has come from religious believers, supposing empirical science threatens orthodoxy or the Bible. Rather than focusing on methodological questions, we are interested in research that brings these disciplines together in productive and creative ways. To be credible, theology cannot ignore the products of empirical enquiry.

For more information about the Fellowship and how to apply, visit http://theologyscience.wp.st-andrews.ac.uk/

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