Notes and Thoughts on the Pactum Salutis

A while ago Peter Leithart blogged on the Pactum Salutis, and I’ve been mulling jit over ever since. The Pactum Salutis (PS) doctrine turns on the idea of negotiated agreement or settlement or whatever term you prefer. The extent to which this is flattened and weakened is the extent to which the PS really stops being an actual doctrine of PS. Turretin and Owen (among others) try to turn the PS into a super duper trinitarian thing but also keep it super duper undivided by limiting the PS to the economy. Of course it pretty much isn’t ad intra at this point, and also at this point there really ceases to be any kind of ‘agreement’ between ‘legal parties’ as the PS posits. There isn’t much of a way to have your cake and eat it too here. Continue reading


‘Authority Under the Word’: or, a Brief Thought on Why a Critical Attitude Ought to be Maintained Toward Tradition

In and of itself, tradition has zero normative force. Take the term ‘tradition’ to encompass things such as the ecumenical councils, received dogmas, things of that nature. These things have normative force only to the extent that they are correct and not in virtue of their status as tradition. Because the normative force derives from the correctness of tradition, it has to be shown that the tradition is in fact correct, and there cannot be a presumption of this correct-ness. This doesn’t mean an attitude of skepticism or suspicion towards tradition; it is helpful to think of tradition as our theological older brother/sister . We listen to them and to their wisdom before we say they are wrong, but we nonetheless validate what they say. In the case of tradition, this validation comes through exegesis and submission to the Word. One should not thumb their nose at the collective wisdom of the tradition: if one takes it to be the case that the tradition is wrong then it must be proved. However, to reiterate a point above, this does not mean that the presumption of correctness is on the side of tradition. Tradition can and has been wrong; there is no a priori reason to think that tradition ought to be given the benefit of the doubt simply because its status as tradition. Continue reading

Assorted Thoughts on Whether or Not Chalcedon is Doing Metaphysics or Commits Us to Classsical Metaphysics (it probably isn’t/doesn’t)

It seems that the the idea that the metaphysical language of Chalcedon itself gives us a normative description of reality, or commits us to a specific metaphysic, is mistaken. While the creeds language is highly metaphysical, are all these terms, substance, person, nature, essence, about the person of Christ to be taken in the strictest metaphysical terms? Are we committed to a broadly classical metaphysic by Chalcedon?


Upon closer inspection, however, Chalcedon itself doesn’t appear to commit us to any such thing (the assertion that it does would probably only have any force if it was assumed that such a metaphysic was already the case) nor is it required to remain within the bounds of orthodoxy. It is absolutely possible, for example to construct a fully orthodox christology without metaphysics on the ‘basis of the narrated history of Jesus’ ( such as that of Bruce McCormack). But there’s a few significant things about Chalcedon that, to me, put a few nails in the overtly classical  concept of Chalcedon (a lot of this comes from Sarah Coakley’s essay on Chalcedon ‘What Does Chalcedon Solve’ in ‘The Incarnation’) Continue reading

A Dialectic of Crisis: The Protestant Identity in Light of the Protestant Principle

Paul Tillich, in The Protestant Era, took the Reformation insight of justification by faith and embedded it, as a principle of criticism, into the sociological fabric of the universe: ‘Protestantism as a principle is eternal and a permanent criterion of everything temporal’, (The Essential Tillich, ed. F. Forrester Church, p. 69). Put another way, this means that nothing has a claim on the absolute, and anything that claims to have such a claim ought to be protested against and resisted – this may be one way of expressing the rallying cry of ‘Semper Reformanda’. The classic example of this was the Protestant critique of the office of the Papacy, who could claim to speak truth; in fact, it was Truth with a capital T. This Truth can’t ever be reached by man: it can only come to man: Continue reading

The Necessarily Trinitarian Shape of Divine Freedom: or, How It is Impossible to Preserve Freedom in a Doctrine of God Unless Trinity is Priority

Towards the back end of her Systematic Theology, Katherine Sonderegger attempts to work out a coherent doctrine of divine freedom within her doctrine of God. Her account of God is to a large degree set over against what she takes to be overly-trinitarian accounts: as should be well known at this point, her fundamental starting point is God’s oneness, as opposed to God’s triunity. Much to modern theology’s chagrin, she also enthusiastically embraces substance as a legitimate category for describing God, and she also enthusiastically positions herself against Barth on a number of matters. What I want to do here is draw out what I think are some serious shortcomings over her view here and then see where Barth, something of a bête noire for Sonderegger, can offer a better way forward. Continue reading

A Life Most Divine: Karl Barth and Divine Simplicity

At a crucial point in his discussion of the perfections of God, Barth says something which struck me as odd. After tracing what he takes to be nominalistic understandings of God’s essence and attributes – where God’s attributes are really only distinctions in our knowledge of God as opposed to things that God actually has – Barth gives three propositions in which he explains how he understands God’s attributes over against nominalism. While all three of these are important in understanding just how Barth thinks of God’s attributes, the second proposition gave me pause (or, to be more precise the ending of the second proposition):

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A Life Lived for Us: The Righteousness of God and the Vicarious Humanity of Christ in Wright, Torrance and the Reformation

Deep within his Big Paul Book, N.T. Wright (foot)notes his disagreement with the classic Reformed doctrine of the active and passive obedience of Christ. More precisely: it’s not so much that he disagrees with the fact that Christ was both actively and passively obedient – this is to my mind beyond dispute – but rather that he disagrees with Christ’s active obedience as something which merits righteousness which is then reckoned, credited or imputed to believers. Actually, even more precision is called for here, because Wright doesn’t especially really disagree with the idea that believers are reckoned to be righteous (this is, again, not really disputable). What he disagrees with is how that conclusion is reached, which, for the classic Reformed, is the imputation of Christ’s active obedience.

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