A scene from The Canterbury Psalter (12th century)

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The Risen One Here and Now

A few remarks I made at a ceremony for the five-year anniversary of the artistic renovation of Biola University’s Calvary Chapel on June 22, 2023: This chapel is named Calvary. The authorized way to enter its sacred space is to pass under the sculptural cross suspended above the doors. But then once you enter, you look around to find yourself actually standing inside of an architecturally cross-shaped space. It is an ancient tradition in Christian architecture to shape our buildings this way. Starting from the old pagan Roman basilica, a kind of rectangular ceremonial hallway terminating in an apse, Christians had the bright idea of adding two transepts. And voila, the arms crossing the basilica produce a diagram of the cross. Of course the form of the cross is most evident not from the inside, but from an aerial view, from a bird’s-eye perspective,…

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Flavel’s Outline of Union with Christ

John Flavel’s Method of Grace (2nd ed., 1699) is a wonderful treatise whose scope is clear from its elaborately long title and subtitle: The Method of Grace in Bringing Home the Eternal Redemption Contrived by the Father and Accomplished by the Son, through the effectual Application of the Spirit unto God’s Elect, being the Second Part of Gospel Redemption, Wherein the Great Mystery of our Union and Communion with Christ is Opened and Applied, Unbelievers Invited, False Pretenders Convicted, Every Man’s Claim to Christ Examined, and the Misery of Christless Persons Discovered and Bewailed: The Second Edition, Very Much Corrected (London: Thomas Parkhurst, 1699) Whew! The book appeared with various long sub-titles (if ‘sub-title’ is even the right word for all the copy that fills a seventeenth-century title page) in various editions. This second edition “very much corrected” has the longest one. I like…

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Sophia Susannah Taylor (1817-1911)

In 2021 I wrote up a report on how William Burt Pope translated over a dozen works of conservative German biblical scholarship in the 1850s (in his 30s, before publishing his own theological work). It was a brilliant strategic move for a conservative Methodist theologian. Pope essentially invested in building up and making available in English the exact kind of biblical scholarship that he wanted to interact with theologically. GENIUS. But Pope’s labors were part of a larger movement to make conservative German biblical scholarship available to English readers. Check out David Lincicum’s 2017 article, “Fighting Germans with Germans: Victorian Theological Translations between Anxiety and Influence” (Journal for the History of Modern Theology / Zeitschrift für Neuere Theologiegeschichte 2017 24(2): 153-201). Lincicum explores how T&T Clark published many volumes from many scholars; Pope was just one of the translators. Another translator worth noting: Sophia…

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Trinitarian Analogies Stir Up the Mind

A trinitarian analogy (“the Trinity is like an egg;” “the Trinity is like a team,” “the Trinity is like the structure of consciousness,” etc.) is a conceptual tool. It’s designed to do something. But what? I suspect most people would say that what a trinitarian analogy does is construct a kind of rough model of what God is like, in some limited way. Most analogy fans will freely admit trinitarian analogies don’t get you very far, but they at least provide some sort of example of something that is three without ceasing to be one. “Don’t push them too far,” and so on, but they do take a step toward satisfying the mind’s desire to reason analogically from more observable things (egg, apple, group, consciousness, triple point, Hegelian dialectic, Riemann zeta function with infinite sets of sets and a fractalized Cantorian half-gainer) to the…

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“The Sense of Every Verse Analytically Unfolded”

David Dickson (1583–1663) wrote a lively commentary on NT epistles, in which he adopted a strongly analytic style. His method was to capture the main idea of a passage in the form of a proposition, and then to show that the proposition was supported by a number of arguments in the following verses. That’s an interesting approach: different from a running grammatical commentary (one that would trace the way the epistle’s own argument unspools), but also different from rearranging the argument into a new sequence (for instance handling the theology under the heading of a doctrinal locus, as an excursus). In practice, Dickson’s approach seems like a hybrid of the two. It’s somehow both a bird’s-eye view and also a verse-by-verse, even phrase-by-phrase, walk-through. Here’s a particularly clear example. Dickson takes up the section of Ephesians 1 in which Paul prays that God would…

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“That the Father of Glory May Give You the Spirit” (Alford)

Henry Alford (1810-1871) wrote a large-scale commentary on the Greek New Testament, and then condensed that into a commentary on the Authorized and Revised edition for English readers. He’s attentive to text-critical and exegetical issues, well equipped in classical scholarship and well informed in the history of exegesis (especially in English, German, and Latin) down to his time. But with all these details at his command, he also kept a remarkably clear eye open for the big, synthetic, theological picture at all times. One example, from Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 1. Alford has much to say about Paul’s report that he is asking for “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, to give his readers “a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him.” I’ve condensed and cleaned it up a lot to bring out his main moves:…

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Christ for Us, and the Holy Spirit in Us (Bonar’s Kelso Tracts)

While pastoring in Kelso, Scotland in the 1840s, Horatius Bonar [1808-1889] occasionally published little pamphlets, between three and twelve pages long, just to reach his local audience. Though he initially intended them only as written “helps to his own pastoral work,” without “any ambitious aim of writing for a wider circle,” they proved popular beyond his own congregation. He gathered 37 of these and published them under the title of Kelso Tracts; in this form they became a minor evangelical masterpiece of spiritual theology. The bound volume runs to about 300 pages, but its original editions didn’t have continuous page numbering: the page count started over with each tract, reinforcing their origin as individual booklets. A few of the tracts are actually republications of older authors (Becon, Baxter, Whitefield1) in a form Bonar could easily distribute. Such an assemblage of tracts is bound to…

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Anima Christi

“Soul of Christ, sanctify me.” The anonymous hymn beginning Anima Christi sanctifica me dates to the fourteenth century (see the entry in John Julian’s Dictionary of Hymnology (London: John Murray, 1892), p. 70). Here’s how Roman Catholic it is: It has been popular among Roman Catholics as a eucharistic hymn and is included in the Roman Missal. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuit Order, makes use of it in his Spiritual Exercises. It sometimes goes by the title “Aspirations of St. Ignatius,” and at the popular level is often thought to be written by Ignatius (though this has long been known to be documentably false). A medieval Pope declared that penitents who recited it at Mass “between the Elevation and the third Agnus Dei” earned a three-thousand-day indulgence. In the nineteenth century the Anima Christi had a surge of popularity and was once…

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“I Cannot Nearer Be”

There are a couple of hymn stanzas that used to show up in a lot of the kind of nineteenth-century evangelical devotional literature that I like to read: authors like R.A. Torrey, A. T. Pierson, Adolph Saphir, Ruth Paxson, and so on all quote exactly these two stanzas. I’ve seen it in Keswick-ish and Methodist sources, but also in more Reformed and Calvinistic texts (Spurgeon alludes to them somewhere). I quote them myself in The Deep Things of God (second edition, chapter 8) as exhibit A for how the experiential Trinitarianism of the evangelical tradition obeys an instinct to “reserve our most astonishing claims about intimacy with God” for contexts in which we can tether them to the Trinity: So near, so very near to God,I cannot nearer be;For in the person of His Son,I am as near as He. So dear, so very…

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Sent, But Perfectly, But Really

Short version: When we say the Son and Spirit are sent, we have to discipline our ideas about sentness in light of God’s perfection. Long version: The way God makes himself present to people in salvation is something the Bible speaks about very carefully. Consider some Old Testament ways of speaking: God comes to his people; he dwells among them; he is with them. When God is announced as having come to the tabernacle or temple, we don’t imagine that he has left some other location at a certain rate of speed, crossed a certain span of space, and come to rest at this location by diminishing his travel speed down to zero. No, we read these biblical statements in light of the exalted and majestic way God is described elsewhere in Scripture. He is somehow specially present in a way appropriate to his…

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Double Consideration (Norton)

John Norton’s 1654 book The Orthodox Evangelist (pdf, html) is mainly about salvation. Its title page describes it as “a treatise wherein many great evangelical truths… are briefly discussed, cleared, and confirmed, as a further help, for the begeting, and establishing of the faith which is in Jesus.” It’s a sign of doctrinal health, in my opinion, that while Norton wants to establish some truths about salvation, he begins with a substantive treatment of God and Christ. Norton is mainly interested in some details about what happens before justification by faith (200 pages), but he spends 125 pages putting in place the theological & Christological background for that soteriology. The great objective truths of Christian doctrine require our attention; those of us who are eager to teach about the subjective experience of salvation need to go out of our way to include that material….

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Coalescing Perfections

In a comprehensive systematic theology, authors usually lay out their exposition of God’s perfections in a sequence, and in a structure, that is by no means absolutely mandatory, but which has a certain logic to it. The logic tends to start with the divine perfections that are the most fundamental to our understanding of God’s existence, of what God is, and of who God is. The perfections most foundational for our apprehension of God tend to come first. Even if these perfections of God are sometimes very abstractly stated, it works best to lay them down first and then to build the structure of understanding onto them: God’s spirituality and simplicity; his immutability, unity, infinity, and greatness. We could go on at length enumerating these foundational perfections, and I want to stress that there’s no such thing as a complete list of the divine…

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Glory

The biblical theology of glory provides an embarrassment of riches. To expound this doctrine, we could proceed simply by concordance-drill, reciting some key passages on divine glory, putting them in a meaningful salvation-historical sequence, and tracing the theme of glory all the way from the doctrine of God through creation to redemption. Let me just do my top 7, to show you how rich and satisfying the whole exercise would be:  Isaiah 42:8 “I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.”   Isaiah 43:7 “Everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” Psalm 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Hebrews 1:3  He is the radiance of the glory of God and the…

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Sermon: Learn a Lesson from a Dirty Scoundrel (Luke16)

[Preached Sunday, February 5 at Grace Evangelical Free Church of La Mirada] Learn A Lesson From A Dirty Scoundrel (Fred Sanders).mov from Grace EV Free on Vimeo. Hi friends. So I entitled this sermon, “Learn a Lesson from a Dirty Scoundrel,” and then it occurred to me that as I’m walking up here, you might be thinking, “Aha, so this must be that dirty scoundrel we’re going to learn the lesson from!” Well, that at least wasn’t the point of the title. The point of the title is this: We’re going to explore this parable this morning, and I just want you to remember very clearly that the main character is a bad dude. He is a rascal. That’s not just my spin on it, or just my interpretation, it’s what Jesus explicitly says in the text: Just glance at Luke 16, verse 8…

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Auto-

In Bavinck’s RD II:151, while talking about divine independence, he gives a wonderful list of Greek terms that develop divine independence by putting the prefix auto- onto a divine attribute: autogennetos, autophues, autousios, autotheos, autophos, and so on. It’s fantastic: a richer catalog than I’ve found in any single Greek patristic source –not even in Pseudo-Dionysius and John of Damascus put together– it seems to be gathered from several. Look for the list in this screencap, down beside the little grabby hand: Notice that the list is in quotation marks. The footnote says “Cf. J.C. Suicerus, Thesaurus ecclesiasticus, s.v. ‘αὐταρκεία.’” So that must be the list maker, the person who trawled through Greek patristic texts and gathered in this wonderful usage. Sounds like a guy I’d like to party with, so let’s look him up! “Suicerus” is Johann Caspar Suicer (that is, Schweitzer: PRDL…

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The Indivisible Person of Christ (W.B. Pope)

The heart of William Burt Pope’s Christology is his effort “to concentrate attention on the unity and the indivisibility of the Saviour’s Incarnate Person.” His Christology, in other words, is rightly entitled The Person of Christ, because for Pope, all the most important things that need to be said about Christ are statements about his person. More technically we could say Pope’s focus is on the single hypostasis of the hypostatic union; more devotionally we could say Pope looks to Jesus, not to the things that support him or surround him or are accomplished by him, but always relentlessly to Him, Him, Him. Pope wrote a great deal, including of course a three-volume systematic theology, but it’s interesting that he only produced one monograph devoted to a single doctrine. That doctrine was Christology, and that Christology was uniquely centered on The Person of Christ….

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Of the Father’s Love Begotten

When you consider the Trinitarian background of the incarnation, you usually summon to mind one of two possible mental frameworks. First is the “one God in three persons” framework, which involves thinking of how each person of the Trinity is fully God, but none are each other. The second option is the “Father begets the Son and spirates the Spirit” option, which involves thinking of how each person of the Trinity is related to each other through irreversible relations of origin. I’ve nicknamed these two styles of trinitarian schemas the Quicunquan and Nicene styles, after the two creeds that best encapsulate them (Quicunquan being an intentionally odd term for the so-called Athanasian Creed, drawing on its first word in Latin). Here are diagrams: The two frameworks do not contradict each other, any more than the creeds they are named for do. You need to…

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W.B. Pope on “Theological Coinage”

William Burt Pope starts his book on The Person of Christ (2nd ed., 1875) with a few observations about terminology. Specifically, he notes a certain “adjustment of our phraseology” which takes place in Christology, but also more broadly in theology. Pope considers the task of formulating doctrines to be strictly subordinate to the task of understanding Scripture’s own formulations. He rather laments our need to come up with new language to speak theologically, and wishes it were possible to simply say exactly what Scripture says. But then again, as long as we are coining theological language, we should make sure it’s well-coined. And when it is, Pope is willing to make startlingly high claims for the power of theology. So it’s hard to say if Pope has a low view or a high view of theological terminology. Here’s how he sets up the discussion:…

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Notes, quotes, thoughts, trial balloons, reviews, Twitter threads that turned out okay, position papers, miscellanies. Lightly edited theology writing from Fred Sanders.

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