Think Tank 2012 Live-Blog: Two-ism and Apologetics (Matt Jenson)

by Chris Poblete on February 9, 2012

Speaker: Matt Jenson (professor, Biola University)

Session: Two-ism and Apologetics

Evangelicals battle against postmodernism and other “cultural enemies”. I wonder if we are neglecting to say what the gospel is. Surely, the gospel is able to survive. The gospel is really, really good news. The gospel, like Jesus, is expansive. It should be explained in constant joy as people who are free. God is for us and with us. So, why do we often live in fear? Why our our apologetic endeavors riddled with anxiety? Boldness is not measured by being able to label the issues but by our willingness to engage them.

Barth once called Christian Apologetics “anxiety concerning the victory of the gospel.” Anxiety is meaningless because the gospel is the victory by which the world is overcome. Not all apologetics are wrong or bad; Barth’s point is that the gospel is the victory we already have over sin, death, and the devil.

For Christians, we will still do our theology in a responsive mode. The true purpose of Apologetics is to proclaim and champion the gospel in its true beauty. We need a literacy campaign in our apologetics and evangelism—teaching the world to speak Christian. In other words, we want the world to understand the language of the gospel. We ought to do the work of helping people understand the gospel, whether they accept it or object it.

When Jesus calls and claims me, he claims my mind, heart, etc. A naked apologetic that refuses the call to discipleship is no apologetic at all. Jesus: “Are you willing to disciple and be the family that other people may never have?”

I want to heartily affirm the ontological distinctions between God and creation. It is a strange mindset that sees difference as alienation. It is not. One-ists cannot speak of the difference between God and creation. They also cannot speak of their reconciliation to God. The One-ist doesn’t truly know God as God, nor does he know the world as the world.

Peter Jones has offered a helpful account and if he is right, it would do well to search models for engagement with One-ism.

Irenaeus guarded the faith but did not reduce the message to the language of the culture. Too often we stretch or shrink the faith to fit the context, distorting the message of the faith in the process.

Irenaeus first laid out the claims of the heresies. Then, he argued that the tasks of the claims of heretics are accomplished more fully by the true God. Third, he argued for a basic ontological argument: God and creation are distinct. Finally, he showed how this disctinction does not remove God from creation but is the presupposition for his redeeming it.

Sometimes there is a threat that has momentum and requires extended treatment. On the one hand, heresy is a manufactured novelty. On the other hand, it is tired and old.

Marcion argued that God was ignorant and immoral, not one with Christ. For Marcion, Christ’s blood was not for expiation, but to cancel this creator’s claim on his creation.  Secondly, the gnostics blasted Christ. They seeked purification from matter, (instead of in matter).

When we engage in apologetics with people, it behooves us to know the Scriptures—the whole counsel of Scripture.

Irenaeus argued for the radically transcendent God: “He was not made by anyone, but everything was made by Him.” God alone is able to make something out of nothing. Early Christian thinkers: It is one thing to speak of God and another to speak of creation. God is entirely sufficient. Creation is only happy when it finds its fulfillment in God.

When Marcion split God, he split God the judge from God the savior. But to do so is to nullify God altogether. Irenaeus spoke of recapitulation (Ephesians 1) – which states that creation and redemption are at peace.

Irenaeus also contended for the unity within the church. The decalogue is increased, not left behind. The law of Moses and the grace of Christ were given by the one and same God. There is only one God who grounds the unity of salvation in history.

God did not need the help of another to create; however, the Son and the Spirit participated in creation. “Let us make man in our image.” Notice the incredible monotheism. He takes everything needed for creation in Himself. The Son and Spirit don’t buffer the Father, but rather are the means by which the Father works in creation.

Gnostics taught a contamination theology that taught that the incarnation changed God and polluted Him when he came down to creation. For God’s condescencion to creation flows from His majesty. He is so great that He can become small. That is a testament to His majesty. Above all, it was not a loneliness that prompted God to create. God uses His hands (Son and Spirit) in creation. The Son makes, the Spirit adorns and arranged. God also uses His hands in our re-creation—in salvation. The work of the Son and Spirit are involved in salvation.

Finally, “that they may be one” is the goal of Two-ism. While never erasing distinctions, Ir’s goal is to contend for God’s reconciliation of creation to Himself. Because He is the only living one, he can suffer and die for the sins of the world.

As we develop a Two-ism that says that the world is not God and God is not the world, let’s remember that the divine goal in the end is a unified reconciliation—enemies become friends.

One-ist are right to seek unity. The problem: they will not find this unity where they are looking. They will only find true unity in the One who holds all things together and will reconcile them unto Himself. The God-creation distinction abides eternally, we see that, in Christ, it abides for the sake of everlasting fellowship.

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