Issue No 66
It is a pleasure to present to you the May 2014 issue of Foundations – an issue which particularly focuses on gospel partnerships. The past decade has seen a proliferation of gospel partnerships on both sides of the Atlantic. These partnerships have developed in different ways on either side of “the pond”. In the United States, Bible-believing Evangelicals have rallied around national initiatives such as The Gospel Coalition and Together for the Gospel conferences, and out of these (The Gospel Coalition at least) more local partnerships have emerged. In the United Kingdom, the movement began in a different place. The UK has a long history of inter-denominational Evangelical partnerships such as the Evangelical Alliance (formed in 1846) and Affinity (founded in 1953 as the British Evangelical Council), but in more recent times regional gospel partnerships have emerged independent of these national groupings. The purpose of these partnerships has been to facilitate training, church apprentice schemes, mission and church planting at a local level. In the past five years the partnerships have come together to launch a resources website (http://thegospelpartnerships.org.uk) and two national outreach initiatives (Passion for Life).
These developments have generally been warmly welcomed; gospel partnership is, after all, a biblical principle (Philippians 1:5) and there is a pressing need to address the fragmentation of Bible-believing churches. Nevertheless, disquiet has been expressed in some quarters about the lack of accountability of these organisations and the marginalisation of important ecclesiological principles that sometimes results from uniting around gospel essentials. This issue of Foundations features three articles seeking to contribute to the debate.
Before we consider those articles, I’d like to return to the three words we looked at in the previous editorial: “Distinct but inseparable.” As we saw, this maxim provides the crucial roadmap for navigating Trinitarian orthodoxy: the three persons of the Trinity are distinct but inseparable. Yet it was in the Christological debates of the fourth century that the maxim really came to the fore. What did it mean for God the Son to take on human flesh – to become in carne? And how does the Son’s human nature relate to his divine nature?
The Church Fathers had to address two contrasting heresies in the fourth century. On the one hand was the teaching of Apollinarius of Laodicea who taught that God the Son assumed a human body in the incarnation but not a rational human spirit. He emphasised the inseparable union of the two natures but failed to maintain their distinction. Nestorius of Constantinople, on the other hand, fell into the opposite error by denying a true union of Christ’s natures. He spoke of a “conjunction of natures” rather than union – Christ was both the Son eternally begotten of the Father and the human son born of Mary. These two natures were stuck together rather than united in a single being.
It may sound like these differences were trivial. Why do we need to be so fastidious about how we describe Jesus? Shouldn’t we simply celebrate what he came into the world to do? No. The Church Fathers were right to insist on precision because the question of who Jesus is cannot be separated from the question of what he came into the world to do. Take the teaching of Apollinarius, for instance. As we’ve seen, Apollinarius maintained that the Son simply assumed a human body but not a human soul (inseparability without distinction). Why was this such a problem? Gregory of Nazianzus explains: our salvation rests on the fact that the Son took on the entirety of human nature because “what has not been assumed has not been healed”.
The effectiveness of Jesus’ work (his life, death and resurrection) is entirely dependent upon the nature of who he is. Anselm, the eleventh century Archbishop of Canterbury, put it really well: “Since no one save God can make satisfaction for sins, and no one save man ought to make it, it is necessary for a God-man to make it”. Only a God-man – one person with two distinct yet inseparable natures (human and divine) was capable of saving sinful humanity. Therefore, God the Son (who has forever been God in perfect triune relationship) assumed a human nature at the incarnation. He now lives as one person with two distinct natures, divine and human, inseparably joined together, but not combined or mixed in any way. Only such a saviour could save and therefore we were given such a saviour.
The Church Fathers understood the importance of the distinct yet inseparable natures of Christ. They expressed it in the Definition they formulated at the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451:
We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach people to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable soul and body [against Apollinarianism]… one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union [against Nestorianism].
Christ has two natures – human and divine: distinct but inseparable. This has significance for anthropology as well as soteriology. Philosophers, theologians and ethicists have debated for millennia the question of when human life begins. Orthodox Christology actually goes some way to providing the answer because if we locate the beginning of life at any point other than conception we end up with a Christology that is either Apollinarian or Nestorian. Either we conclude that the Son united himself to some form of sub-human nature at conception – perhaps a soulless body – which is to fall into Apollinarianism (inseparability without distinction). Or we conclude that the Son only assumed his human nature once it had reached the necessary stage of development to be considered a human being. This not only contradicts the “Formula of Union” (AD 433 – accepted by the Council of Chalcedon) which stated that “God the Word was made flesh… and from the very moment of conception united to himself the temple he had taken”; it also falls into the Nestorian heresy of claiming that Christ’s human nature had an existence separate from him. Of course, this is an immensely complex debate (one which we plan to address in a future issue of Foundations) but I hope that, from what we have seen, it is clear how important the “distinct but inseparable” maxim is when applied to Christology and related doctrines.
Turning to the current issue of the journal, we begin with three articles (by Ryan Kelly & Kevin DeYoung, Carl Trueman and John Stevens) examining the growth and development of gospel partnerships. Needless to say, the views expressed are those of the authors rather than Affinity or the organisations they represent. Each article was written independently of the others and so they do not interact with each other directly. The authors were given permission to state their views freely and robustly . This is not because Foundations or the authors relish confrontation but because we believe that iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17). There is much for inter-denominational organisations such as Affinity to learn from each of the articles. As John Stevens rightly notes, parachurch organisations present both great opportunities and real dangers. Those involved in leading parachurch organisations need to be aware of these, as do the many of us who interact with inter-denominational gospel partnerships on a regular basis. From a personal perspective, the church I pastor is associated with no less than three inter-denominational partnerships: Affinity (through our membership if FIEC), City to City Europe Network and the North West Gospel Partnership. We joined those networks because we were concerned for gospel unity and had a desire to work together with other like-minded churches for mission, training and church planting. Those are still our convictions but our involvement in those partnerships will only be enhanced by reading the contributions to this issue.
The fourth article is a revised version of a paper delivered by Paul Helm at last year’s Affinity Theological Study Conference. The article addresses a number of difficult issues relating to war (particularly torture) from the perspective of a “Two Kingdoms” approach to Christian ethics. Helm interacts with Wayne Grudem and Al Mohler and presents a perceptive way forward in the debate based upon the prominence of virtues of the Spirit in the New Testament. The journal concludes with three reviews of books dealing with the origins debate, gathered worship and popular culture.
This issue is packed with stimulating debate and reflection. I trust it will be useful to you, your churches and your ministry. As ever we welcome correspondence concerning the topics addressed and contributions to future issues.
Pastor for Preaching, Desert Springs Church, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Senior Pastor, University Reformed Church, East Lansing, Michigan
Carl R. Trueman
Professor of Church History, Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia
National Director, Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches
Teaching Fellow at Regent College, Vancouver
Pastor of Helier Chapel, Northfield, Birmingham
Lecturer in cultural and religious studies at Anglo-American University and Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic
Pastor, Christchurch Market Harborough
Foundations is an international journal of evangelical theology published by Affinity.
Its aim is to cover contemporary theological issues by articles and reviews, taking in exegesis, biblical theology, church history and apologetics, and to indicate their relevance to pastoral ministry. Its particular focus is the theology of evangelical churches which are committed to biblical truth and evangelical ecumenism. It has been published by Affinity (formerly The British Evangelical Council) from its inception as a print journal. It became a digital journal in May 2011.
It is published twice each year online.
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Iain D Campbell
Free Church of Scotland, Point, and Westminster Seminary
Cornhill Training Course (Scotland)
Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland
Oak Hill College, London
Anglo-American University, Prague & Wales Evangelical School of Theology
The John Owen Centre, London Theological Seminary
Tyndale House, Cambridge
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