Faith Working by Love: A Critical Assessment of Dismissing Jesus, Pt. 5

PrintAfter spending two chapters, “The Way of Weakness” and “The Way of Renunciation” tearing down our idols of power, prestige, and possessions, Doug Jones turns in the next two chapters of Dismissing Jesus—“The Way of Deliverance” (ch. 4) and “The Way of Sharing” (ch. 5)—to provide their positive complement, attempting to give some sense of our mission as Christians.  This mission is a glorious one, in which we, like Christ, “preach the good news to the poor, heal the brokenhearted, proclaim liberty to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind,” and in which we do this in real-world here-and-now terms, rather than spiritualizing all this into mere soul-winning.  It is a mission in which we are called to call none of our possessions our own, but to share sacrificially with all those in need.  Although I will press for greater clarity and specificity at certain points, I would agree that this is a central part of what it means to live as a Christian. But the important question is why? How should we understand what it is we are doing when we do this and why we are doing it?  I’m worried that the way Jones answers these questions will actually undermine the practical vision in profound ways.

Let me put this provocatively: I’m not at all sure that the themes of these chapters ought to be described under the heading of “the way of the cross.”  The cross is central to Scripture, yes, but it’s not all there is. It’s not even all there is to Christ’s work.  The cross is God’s “No” to sin, it signifies all of the brokenness and pain that sin involves and the great cost necessary to cast away that sin and bring healing and restoration; the cross is God’s wrenching rejection of everything that has distorted his good creation.  When we take up our cross and follow Christ, this is our sharing in this dying to sin, this is our painful renunciation of everything that stands between us and how we were meant to live.  While no Christian ethic, designed for sinful human beings, can afford to neglect this central moment in redemptive history, without which lives of Christian discipleship would be impossible, it should be clear at the same time that this moment cannot be in itself the ground of a Christian ethic.  To live as a Christian ultimately means to live as a true human, to live as God created us to live, following in the footsteps of our Head, the Second Adam.  It is thus the resurrection, God’s “Yes” to creation, his renewed commitment to a human race that in Christ had died to sin, that we anchor Christian ethics.  Obviously, a resurrection-ethic cannot supersede a cross-ethic; a theology of glory cannot supersede a theologia crucis.  We are simul justus et peccator, which means that we cannot pretend that we have died to sin once for all and need never worry about continuing to do so, we cannot pretend that we have made our vows of renunciation and need not continue renouncing Satan and all his works and all his pomp.  In the experience of the Christian life, the “No” to sin and the “Yes” to God’s renewed creation are rarely separable; to consciously embrace the latter is to consciously forsake the former.  And yet conceptually they are distinct, and this distinction is essential.  Without it, our own ethical action, our own ministry of love, could never have the character of freedom.  Rather than issuing from a heart overflowing with gratitude at the once-for-all deliverance of Christ, our works of love would always be burdened with the burden of guilt, a need to prove by our self-denial that we are following in the footsteps of Christ; rather than issuing from the knowledge that God is pleased with us, they may become ways in which we try to please God.


In fact, this relates also to the hints of Manichaeanism noted in the previous chapter.  For the Manichaean, the righteous way of life is intrinsically in conflict with the world, and hence necessarily, not contingently, an act of renunciation.  The Manichaean ethic must at all points arise from God’s “No” to sin, not his “Yes” to renewed creation; it can never say, “Live like you were created to live.”  But this, I think, is precisely what the New Testament often calls us to.  “The way of sharing,” as I will argue in the next installment, should be understood as God’s call to us to live like Adam and Eve were meant to live, not as part of a special work of self-denial in response to sin.  To be sure, there are many points at which Jones characterizes what he calls “the way of the cross” as the way that God always wanted his people to live, but the very terminology militates against that.  No, the way of the cross must be the way God calls his people to fight the oppression of sin.  In practical pastoral terms, this has a problematic result.  A Christian ethic founded on resistance to sin can only ever get you so far, and it will have a tendency to fall into the trap of using guilt as its main motivator.  If “the way of sharing,” for instance, ultimately means, “Stop being greedy!  Renounce Mammon!” then the obsession may arise to figure out exactly what counts as greed, to feel guilty for every manifestation of it, and, perhaps, to stop worrying about the issue once you think the sin in question has been conquered.  If, however, the way of sharing arises out of a joyous overflow of gratitude at all that God has given us in creation and all that he has given us in Christ, then it will keep on motivating, even as God keeps on giving.

So it is with his fourth chapter, “The Way of Deliverance.”  He begins this chapter with a polemic, which I have mentioned already in Pts. 1 and 2 of this review, against a Christian life built mainly on ideas rather than actions.

“Almost every aspect of modern Christianity,” he begins the chapter,

assumes that the faith is first and foremost a set of ideas to be believed.  That’s it.  Sure, we encourage some marginal action on the side, but that’s not truly important, not central.  Our worship is primarily about explaining and singing ideas, our schools focus on transferring ideas, our evangelism spreads ideas, our apologetic tries to persuade others of ideas, community means chatting with people who share our ideas, our entry into heaven requires holding the right ideas in our heads. . . . (46)

Now, as a critique of American Reformed churches, this hits hard, although I worry that it’s a bit of a straw man if applied more broadly (most modern evangelicalism is thoroughly anti-intellectual, concerned more with “feeling” than “ideas,” and more liberal or Catholic churches are overtly oriented toward social action).  But most folks I know are Reformed, so I won’t nitpick that point.  This is a much-needed wake-up call; however, it is ground on which we must tread carefully.  After all, our Protestant heritage has a lot to say about the relation of doctrine and action—these are not quite the same as faith and works—but they’re close enough to merit careful attention.

Inasmuch as Jones is trying to summon us out of our theological armchairs and urge us to roll up our sleeves and actually get busy saving people, helping people, delivering people—as God does throughout Scripture, and as Jesus does throughout the Gospels—I want to wholeheartedly echo and promote this message.  However, it is important that we describe our work of deliverance appropriately—as a response to what God has already done in Christ, not as an attempt to do the same thing that only God in Christ can do.  The latter can feel like Pelagianism, guilt-driven works-righteousness, in which we try to do the work of redemption ourselves; the former is liberating, an overflow of gratitude for what God has done for us that issues forth in a desire to imitate him, trusting him for the final result.  Indeed, it is precisely because we set forth on the life of doing Christian works already confident of justification by faith alone that we are capable of loving others selflessly, as Christ loved us.  If our own works of deliverance stem from an anxious desire to be one of Christ’s redeemed, rather than a confidence that we have already received that gift, selfishness and introspection will creep back into the picture even as we try to renounce them.

Luther has lots of wonderful things to say about this dynamic in The Freedom of a Christian, culminating in this passage:

For man does not live for himself alone in this mortal body, in order to work on its account, but also for all men on earth; nay, he lives only for others and not for himself. For it is to this end that he brings his own body into subjection, that he may be able to serve others more sincerely and more freely; as Paul says: “None of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord.” (Rom. xiv. 7, 8.) Thus it is impossible that he should take his ease in this life, and not work for the good of his neighbors; since he must needs speak, act, and converse among men; just as Christ was made in the likeness of men, and found in fashion as a man, and had His conversation among men.

Yet a Christian has need of none of these things for justification and salvation, but in all his works he ought to entertain this view, and look only to this object, that he may serve and be useful to others in all that he does; having nothing before his eyes but the necessities and the advantage of his neighbor. Thus the Apostle commands us to work with our own hands, that we may have to give to those that need. He might have said, that we may support ourselves; but he tells us to give to those that need. It is the part of a Christian to take care of his own body for the very purpose that, by its soundness and wellbeing, be may be enabled to labour, and to acquire and preserve property, for the aid of those who are in want; that thus the stronger member may serve the weaker member, and we may be children of God, thoughtful and busy one for another, bearing one another’s burdens, and so fulfilling the law of Christ.

Here is the truly Christian life; here is faith really working by love; when a man applies himself with joy and love to the works of that freest servitude, in which he serves others voluntarily and for nought; himself abundantly satisfied in the fulness and riches of his own faith.

Jones obviously wants to talk like this at many points in this chapter; indeed, he emphasizes how the mission of deliverance that Israel was called to was a response to the definitive deliverance God had already accomplished for them.  And after describing Jesus’s work of deliverance, he says, “Jesus’s death destroyed the power of Mammon and delivered us from the millennia-long domination of Satan’s power. . . so we could be free to create a new kingdom, empowered by the Holy Spirit” (58).  This sounds like the Exodus—you have been delivered, you are in the Promised Land, now share this with others.  But then he equivocates a bit and starts describing the church’s work less in terms of a response to Christ’s work of deliverance and more in terms of a cooperation with it:

Though Christ’s work definitively broke the power of sin and the reign of Satan, Christ still calls on us to absorb evil from the world.  We are imitators of Christ, and just as he suffered and absorbed evil around him, so we, too, are called to take up our crosses and absorb the sin of the world to weaken it, to break it even more, as Christ’s kingdom spreads. . . . Absorbing evil advances the kingdom of Christ.  Jesus came to destroy the works of Mammon, and deliver people out of its kingdom, and so does the church.  The way of the cross is the way of deliverance” (58-59).

Jones will elsewhere return to this theme, for instance in ch. 20:

We’re not called to lay back and let Jesus set up his kingdom from heaven. . . . When someone hands you a kingdom you have a responsibility to bring it to its goal.  Christ’s kingdom is the good news of refuge and deliverance.  It is the solution to the problem of evil and injustice in the world.  That’s not the Trinity’s job.  That’s the church’s job.  He handed over to the church the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18). . . . We’re called to do all the things he did when he was on earth—deliver, renounce, share, love, perceive, and commune.  Like Christ, the church is to feed on evil and absorb it. . . . We are to become sin so that more may have life.  That is the way of the cross.

One can see what Jones is trying to do here; certainly we’re not supposed to simply lay back passively while Jesus redeems the world; through his resurrection and ascension, he makes us his co-workers as he brings his kingdom to fruition.  But there’s also something deeply troubling about this way of speaking.  It’s not the Trinity’s job to solve evil and injustice in the world?  Really?  If there is anything that only God can do, surely it is to vanquish evil.  This is completely out of our power.  We’re called to “do all the things Christ did”?  But we cannot make atonement for sin.  We cannot reconcile sinners to God.  There’s a lot of things that Jesus did that we can imitate, but there’s clearly others that only he could do, because only God can do them.  How do we hold these things together, then?  Well, it seems to me that we have to make a clear distinction between the different offices of Christ, the different works of redemption.  The reconciliation that Christ accomplished on the cross was uniquely his, and there is nothing to add to it.[1]  His rising from the dead, too, was once-for-all and definitive, establishing the foundation of his kingdom on earth.  But now that he is ascended and reigning, we are invited to reign along with him, making this kingdom more and more manifest in the world, inviting more people into its fellowship.   We cannot establish the kingdom, but we have been given the privilege of helping advance it.  Jones, it seems to me, needlessly blurs these points.  To be sure, he will answer that the blurring is intentional; in fact, he specifically rejects the kind of atonement theology I have described here, so as to establish more continuity between Christ’s work of deliverance and our works of deliverance (see ch. 12).  It becomes obvious that the blurring we have seen here is no mere slip of the tongue or lack of clarity, but part of the paradigm shift Jones is trying to call us to.  But why?  It is not clear to me why we need a model in which we help to atone for the world’s sins, in order to reject armchair discipleship and summon believers to energetic, self-sacrificial imitation of Christ.  Luther’s account of why and how it is that we live for others remains, for me, the most compelling, inspiring, and motivating that I have encountered.  Indeed, it is hard to see how Jones’s proposed alternative, which wants to abandon the standard Protestant articulation of justification by faith altogether (see chs. 7 and 11; obviously there will be more on this later on), will not undermine “the way of deliverance”: instead of our works of love and service proceeding from fullness, they will proceed from a sense of lack; instead of proceeding from gratitude, they will proceed from guilt; instead of proceeding from confidence, they will proceed from anxiety.  In each case, the latter won’t get you nearly as far as the former.

With this in mind, we can see more clearly what is going on, and what is going wrong, in Jones’s assertions about “the priority of action over words” that dominate in this chapter.

In place of a preoccupation with words, he says that “The way of the cross . . . involves a reprioritizing of action over words. . . . The way of the cross embraces the primacy of action, of doing over believing” (47).  This is frustratingly vague language—it’s all well and good to talk of reframing our “priorities,” but what would this re-prioritization concretely mean?

The difficulty arises in part from the fact that doing and believing aren’t really separable.  As Oliver O’Donovan points out in his Self, World, and Time, a sort of introduction to Christian ethics, to act is already to do more than simply to do; it is to do something consciously, thoughtfully, for a reason.  After all, to simply do stuff is rather opaque.  Say you see a man hand a woman a $100 bill.  Is this an act of charity to someone in need?  Or an act of justice, in response to some debt he has incurred?  Or perhaps an act of bribery, attempting to secure her goodwill or cooperation in some scheme (probably nefarious, but not necessarily)?  Or perhaps she is a prostitute and it is the prelude to an act of adultery?  We might gain some clarity by filling out our knowledge of the external circumstances, but even a full knowledge of these might leave us with multiple explanations that fit; ultimately determinative, from a moral standpoint, would be what did the man think he was doing when he gave her the $100?  Jones himself has already polemicized against the emptiness of external appearances (see the previous installment), so you would expect him to be alert to this danger.  And yet he writes,

what if we weren’t allowed to talk about ideas?  What if we were only allowed to act without words?  A famous slogan, apparently misattributed to St. Francis, but still very much on target, puts it this way: ‘Preach the gospel, and sometimes use words.’  Imagine going further and living with an actual constraint against words in our ministries.  Imagine we could only evangelize by actions. (46)

Now, I don’t deny that feeding and clothing and housing a homeless person will be more likely to bring them to Christ than just handing them a tract.  But at some point, you will need to use words.  At some point they will ask, “Why are you doing this?” and you will need to give an answer.  If all we have is action, then there will be any number of secular charities doing similar sorts of service, also motivated by concerns of love and justice, from whom we will be indistinguishable.  Now Jones may say he is hyperbolizing, but what is the benefit of the hyperbole?  Why not just say that they’re inseparable, that works without faith is dead, and faith without works is dead?  (Jas. 2)

Instead Jones tries to claim that the Bible justifies putting one over the other:

God’s anointed would be a man of action more than a teacher (56)

Jesus suggests that we will win the world primarily by love, not words. (46-47)

Again, in his zeal to re-orient our emphasis, he stretches Scripture beyond what it can bear.  Was Jesus really more a “man of action” than a “teacher”?  Why then do his disciples and others most commonly call him “Rabbi,” “Teacher”?  The Gospel of Mark, to be sure, is more action-oriented than teaching-oriented; a rough-and-ready verse count reveals almost 50% more verses spent describing Jesus’s actions than teachings (366 to 246), but in Luke, the ratio is reversed (565 to 388), and in Matthew, the preponderance of teaching is even greater (581 to 346).  In John, it isn’t even close.  As for saying that we will win the world primarily by love, not words—what about the Great Commission? “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”  Obviously the making of disciples depends upon teaching and preaching. We see this too in the Book of Acts, where sometimes acts of healing provide occasions for preaching, but it is the preaching that is the point, the preaching with which the apostles seem obsessed.  Of course, that doesn’t mean that they that just impart ideas to people and leave it at that.  The churches in Acts are preeminent pictures of “the way of deliverance,” and of “the way of sharing” Jones will discuss in his next chapter.  But this is always depicted as a response to the reception of the word, the grateful overflow of good works that follows faith, the imitative deliverance of those who have been delivered by Christ (see for instance Acts 2).  See, the connection between doing and thinking is not merely deliberative (that is, that we have to think about how we are going to act before we do it) but reflective; we have to think back on action that has happened in order to understand its implications.  And this, again, is the problem with conflating the church’s work of deliverance with Christ’s.  Rather, our task is to reflect back on what Christ has done for us, and then, on the basis of what Christ has already done, to share the grace we have received with others.  This means that we simply cannot do away with theologizing, however much we may lament the over-emphasis on this among certain churches and traditions.  So it is that, although in Christ’s own work the order was often act first, and then teach about what he had just done, in the epistles the order is reversed—talk about what God has done in Christ, and then turn in the latter part of the epistle to talk about what we must do in response.

With all this ground covered, we are in a position to return to Jones’s problematic citation of 2 Cor. 5:18:

“When someone hands you a kingdom you have a responsibility to bring it to its goal.  Christ’s kingdom is the good news of refuge and deliverance.  It is the solution to the problem of evil and injustice in the world.  That’s not the Trinity’s job.  That’s the church’s job.  He handed over to the church the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18). . . . We’re called to do all the things he did when he was on earth—deliver, renounce, share, love, perceive, and commune. Like Christ, the church is to feed on evil and absorb it. . . . We are to become sin so that more may have life.  That is the way of the cross.”   For Jones, this means that the church is actually accomplishing, through following the way of the cross, the same kind of reconciliation that Christ worked on the cross.  We too are sin-bearers.”

But what does 2 Cor. 5:18 actually say, in context?

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

The old has passed away; the new has come.  Our job is to announce this to the world, as ambassadors.  To have the “ministry of reconciliation,” as Paul understands it, is not to co-reconcile with Christ, but to bear the “message of reconciliation” already accomplished.

Only on this rock—the finished work of Christ—can we build any lasting works of deliverance; only as we are set free in Christ can we be empowered to give ourselves as slaves of others.

(See previous installments of this review here, here, here, and here.)


[1] Or is there?  Jones cites, on p. 58, Paul’s notoriously bewildering remark in Col. 1:24 about “filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ.”  There are several ways of attempting to interpret this passage, but whatever we make of it, we ought to assume that it is in harmony with other clear statements in Scripture about the once-for-all sufficiency of Christ’s atoning work (indeed, Paul himself has just emphasized this in Col. 1:19-23; and see especially Heb. 9-10).  To attempt to use it as a prooftext for a Pelagianizing concept in which we add to the atoning work of Christ is both theologically and exegetically unsafe.

11 thoughts on “Faith Working by Love: A Critical Assessment of Dismissing Jesus, Pt. 5

  1. Matthew N. Petersen

    There’s a lot to like in this post, but I have a couple of concerns, one of which I’m able to articulate:

    It sounds like you’re advocating a non-Sacrificial understanding of Christianity–that is, a Christianity where we make "sacrifices", but not one where Sacrifices are offered. We are called to give what we have to others, as Luther says, but are we called to offer ourselves as a sacrifice for others? And if so, what would that look like, and how is it related to Christ’s offering of Himself as a sacrifice?

    (This may merely be a seeming problem–I’m looking for clarity, not criticizing.)


    • Brad Littlejohn

      Hm…no, I don’t see myself saying that at all. Of course giving ourselves for others may mean not merely giving of our time, resources, and energy, but sometimes our very lives (though ordinarily it won’t mean that for most people). But whatever sacrifice we make for others, it’s not an atoning sacrifice. Christ’s sacrifice restores peace between man and God, gives people new hearts; our sacrifices can’t do that, except indirectly by witnessing to Him and encouraging people to turn to him.

      Or maybe I’m missing the point of your question….


      • Matthew N. Petersen

        Thanks for the quick response.

        We use "sacrifice" a couple different ways. OED definition 1 is "Primarily, the slaughter of an animal (often including the subsequent consumption of it by fire) as an offering to God or a deity." OED definition 4 is "The destruction or surrender of something valued or desired for the sake of something having, or regarded as having, a higher or a more pressing claim; the loss entailed by devotion to some other interest; also, the thing so devoted or surrendered."

        We usually use "sacrifice" in the second (fourth) sense today. We say something like "He sacrificed brevity for the sake of precision", or even "He sacrificed his own comfort for his children." But in in both statements, there really is no resonance to hecatombs, to holocausts and burnt offerings, to Iphigenia sacrificed so the Greeks can sail, to Psyche sacrificed to the god of the mountain, or to Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac.

        We could perhaps differentiate between the two by the verb–we offer sacrifices in the first sense, we make sacrifices in the second sense. Someone who has to sacrifice his own comfort for the sake of his children, is making a sacrifice, but we wouldn’t say that he’s offering his comfort as a sacrifice. On the other hand, the citizens of Glome offered Psyche as a sacrifice, but most of them did not make a sacrifice to do so.

        In light of that distinction, you’re clearly saying that we should make sacrifices. Sometimes even ultimate sacrifices. But I’m having trouble seeing how (or if) we should offer sacrifices.

        You say that the Christian mission is "a mission in which we are called… to share sacrificially with all those in need." But it seems you’re saying Christians should make sacrifices, whereas Jones’ point (which you seem to disagree with) seems to be that Christians should offer sacrifices. (Though, of course, Christians should not offer hecatombs and libations, rather, Christians should imitate Christ who "through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God", and having ascended, gave gifts to man; by "through the eternal Spirit offering ourselves to God" and therefore giving gifts to man.)


      • Brad Littlejohn

        Ok, thanks for the clarification, Matt, I get the distinction that you’re trying to highlight now. I guess my short answer would be that yes, I am arguing for a non-sacrificial concept of Christianity, in this sense. This, it seems to me, is part of what it means to be a Protestant—to insist on the once-for-all character of the sacrifice that Christ offered. To be sure, Romans 12:1-2 speaks of us presenting our bodies as living sacrifices, but the sense here seems to be close to OED 4, in the sense that we are dedicating our lives to God’s service in love; certainly we are not offering ourselves as some way of placating him, as the citizens of Glome did Psyche. Of course, the OT sacrifices were always about more than mere placation—perhaps they weren’t really that much about placation at all—but also about communion. Through offerings we are made one with God. In that sense, we do offer ourselves in the New Covenant, though again, we are enabled to do so only by virtue of the union we already have through Christ.

        It’s hard to say just to what extent Jones is talking about Christians offering sacrifices…because in his chapter on penal atonement theory, he wants to reconfigure our sense of what sacrifices mean, what they are for. They are about "absorbing sin" rather than "turning away wrath for sin." I don’t entirely get this concept yet—it’s a point I’m planning to read more. But inasmuch as I do get it, I’m not sure that it’s any less problematic to say that "We, like Christ, absorb the sins of the world" than it would be to say "We, like Christ, turn away God’s wrath for the sins of the world."

        I’d be interested to hear you elaborate your own perspective, since you seem to have given this angle rather more thought than I have.


      • Matthew Petersen

        Thanks for the response.

        Re: Sacrifice, I think the place to start may be Girard (I believe the essay Mimetische Theorie und Theologie would be the most relevant, but I can’t read German) and Raymund Schwager (who convinced Girard that sacrifice was at the heart of the Christian message); or Wilfgang Palaver’s "summary" of Girard in "Rene Girard’s Mimetic Theory".

        My perspective?

        To start with, it seems that if priesthood of all believers isn’t just a slogan (which it may legitimately be), we need to say that Christians don’t just make sacrifices, but offer sacrifices, since a priesthood that does not offer sacrifices is nonsense.

        The question then is, it seems, what order of priesthood do we have? As far as I can tell, the answer has to be that we are Christ’s body, and share His Melchizedekian priesthood–though in a derivative sense. As far as I can tell, anything else would, in this respect, push Christ to the periphery–we are given a priesthood, but it isn’t to be conformed into the image of Christ, and is not as a result of our being a microcosm of the Church, the Body of Christ.

        That is to say, in the same way, albeit a derivative sense, that Christ, a priest after the order of Melchizedek, offered himself to the Father, and gives gifts of bread and wine, the Christian is called to, in some sense do the same.

        We see this in several passages:

        "For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps…Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness."

        "Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the Church." (This verse has a thousand interpretations. The important point, however, is that St. Paul is viewing his ministry as imitation of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross.)

        "Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who Comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to Comfort them which are in any trouble, by the Comfort wherewith we ourselves are Comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our Comfort also aboundeth by Christ. And whether we be afflicted, it is for your Comfort and Salvation…or whether we be comforted, it is for your Comfort and Salvation." (I’ve made all the Greek "Paraklisis" "Comfort" and capitalized it to emphasize that the "Paraklite wherewith we are Paraklited by God" is the Holy Spirit.) (Again, though ultimately we may need to be precise regarding how this verse can make sense, St. Paul’s is explicitly comparing his suffering to Christ’s suffering, and even claiming to send the Comforter through of his sufferings.)

        But I should be clear, that I am explicitly not treating this as a sacrifice that is external to Christ, or additional to Christ, but it is precisely that we are caught up into Christ’s One Sacrifice, which He makes with His whole Body (totus Christus in Latin).

        And also, I should be clear, we often fail. This isn’t something that Christians just "get to do", at least not in a straightforward sense. This is something that Christians are called to do, but often fail to do.

        (I’m losing Internet connection, so I can’t comment further.)


      • Brad Littlejohn

        Thanks, Matt, this is helpful, and I will reflect further on this.

        It seems, though, that your very strong emphasis on our participation in Christ, the fact that our suffering and sacrifice is not something that we do, independently, but a being-caught-up-in-what-Christ-has-done, is an emphasis that Jones needs to bring out more strongly, in order to avoid the dangers I’ve highlighted here.


  2. Again, thanks for the ongoing interaction with the book (which I plan to read eventually).

    Brad, you mention that the great commission implies preaching and teaching in order to make disciples, but Doug could easily use the great commission to argue his point about the priority of doing over thinking or saying. Afterall, what are we preaching and teaching to the nations but to obey all Christ commanded? We are teaching them to do what Jesus commands. Overall, I think this argues your point, about not being able to separate believing/speaking and doing, without really necessarily refuting Jones’s point, which I take to be more of a thought experiment meant to make us think about the current priority we put on what we think and what we say vs. what we do. I’m with you in that I think it would have been more helpful if Jones were to push us to do what we claim to believe rather than using such strong hyperbole, which could lead some to misunderstand/misapply his emphasis.

    I agree with you that his use of 2 Corinthians 5 is troubling. Paul certainly does say that we have been given the ministry of reconciliation (5:18), but he doesn’t then tell us that we are to do around absorbing the sin of the world around us. Instead, Paul says that the ministry of reconciliation entails being ambassadors, announcers of the reconciliation that God has already accomplished in and through Christ. God announces this reconciliation through us and, in that sense, the reconciling work continues through our own ministry as the message spreads to and is received by those who have never yet heard it (the reception of which is a work of God as well). But we are bearers of a message (5:19b), and our calling is to implore others to be reconciled to God through Christ, for God has chosen to use the church through which to make his appeal (5:20). Paul goes to great lengths in 2 Cor. to point out that, as he brought this message to Corinth, he was very careful not to put any stumbling block in anyone’s way. For example, he never accepted payment for his ministry, so as to avoid any potential purchase of accusations that he preached for selfish gain. However, Paul announced the gospel of Christ and did not see his own actions as in some way atoning for or absorbing sin. Paul did see affliction as part of the lot of an apostle of Christ, just as it was part of Christ’s own life. The world, the flesh and the devil, are none of them happy about seeing their power base shrink and the kingdom of God grow, so naturally they resist the spread of the gospel and God’s servants suffer at their hands. But Paul just points to the fact that God makes the gospel successful anyway, and that the affliction, suffering, hardship and weakness of those who announce the gospel and attempt to live consistently with it, only serves to magnify the power of God.

    As to the way of the cross, it is true that, if anyone is in Christ, he has died with Christ. But it is also true that Christians are raised with him. 2 Cor. 5:14-15 points out that the whole reason why Christians/the Church died in and with Christ is that we would be raised to a new life, one of no longer living in self-Lordship but living for a new Lord and master, Christ (15). So, we died to self, and in some sense we must continue to do so, taking up our cross daily, but we were also raised to new life in and for Christ. It seems that the Christian way is the way of the cross-and-resurrection, of death to self and alive to Christ.


    • Brad Littlejohn

      Dan,Thanks for these thoughts. Amen to your all your comments about cross/resurrection in this comment and the next one.

      Regarding the Great Commission—yes, I wondered if someone might raise that objection. But as you note, really this demonstrates that doctrine and action go together. In order to do all that Christ has commanded, we need to be taught, rather than merely shown. But furthermore, I would argue that we need to look at the way the Apostles clearly understood and applied the Great Commission in the rest of the New Testament. Yes, they do teach Christians to follow Christ’s commands, but this is rarely what they say first. First, they announce the good news of what Christ has done, and explain what it means, and only then, on the basis of this, do they elaborate the commands. Jones seems to want to abandon or at least marginalize this middle step: instead of "Jesus acts—we understand the meaning of his action for us—we respond"; he simply wants "Jesus acts—we act likewise."


  3. Dan Glover

    Thinking a bit more about your contention that the cross isn’t all there is in Scripture, you are right of course, and Doug Jones would no doubt agree to the techinical correctness of this. It would benefit me, however, if Doug would define what he means by "the way of the cross". I sometimes get a bit irked by so many recent reformed writers and speakers who talk constantly of being "cross-centered". If they mean "salvation through Christ-centered", then fine. But often many of their books or talks can sound like the resurrection takes a back seat to the cross; that the cross itself was the "climax of history" or the "climax of God’s redemptive plan" (I am quoting two statements I recently read). I think I get the sentiment of what they are saying, and if pressed I’m pretty sure they would say that they mean the cross and resurrection, but so many of their "cross-centered" statements are, strictly speaking, not true, or at least not totally true. That would be like saying that the climax of the Chronicles of Narnia is the ritual murder of Aslan. That’s not even the climax of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. He rises and, with, in and through his faithful followers, he defeats the White Witch. Surely the saving work of God must be seen as the incarnation, obedient life, sacrificial death, triumphant resurrection, and ascention to God’s right hand of Christ. All of this together should be seen as one salvation event (they can be differentiated, but not separated). Neither can the cross be center without the resurrection, and neither would do us any good if Jesus were not ruling at the right hand of God with the Holy Spirit indwelling the church and actively working in and through it.

    I can think to at least two places where Paul clearly wants us to understand reconciliation as coming through Christ’s resurrection every bit as much as his crucifixion (Rom. 5:10-11; 8:34). In light of all Paul has to say about our reconciliation with God and having the ministry of reconciliation, I take this to mean that the life we now live is one of sharing in Christ’s resurrection life which is ours because, in him, we shared in his death. Sanctification is a life of dying to self and living to Christ. But we live through the resurrection life of Christ, as well as his death, and that is our pattern of life as well. There is a cross at the front of most Protestant churches, not a crucifix, for a reason.

    I think this ties in with your point that the Christian life is not primarily to be one of renunciation of evil but one of positive good.


  4. Brad Littlejohn

    (Sorry this is late) Jones’s response from Facebook:*Thanks to Brad for continuing to wrestle with sections of my book, but I’m afraid this fifth installment doesn’t move the discussion forward much at all. Most of the time Brad simply begs-the-question by re-asserting the reigning paradigms on faith, atonement, etc.

    (1) Brad’s discussion of the cross vs. resurrection begs the question because his understanding of the cross and its inherent “burden of guilt” worries all assume a penal view of the atonement in which God is the accuser constantly fussing at believers, instead of the Prodigal’s father. Without that assumption, the cross is not just a negative place of self-denial and the “burden of guilt” and “anxiety” as Brad insists it is but also a place of triumph and freedom and life because resurrection life had already been living through Jesus throughout his ministry and would not allow him to stay in the grave. Paul spoke more about resurrection than the cross, and yet he wasn’t hesitant to say, “I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). Neither should we.

    (2) Brad’s worries about faith and works, including his Luther quote, all beg the question, too. Way-of-the-cross traditions have long been immune to any form of Pelagianism while the Reformation tradition has always been open to it. By “translating” the Reformation discussion into Exodus categories, as I did in the chapter, we can see how unhelpful most of the Reformation debate was, on both sides. In terms of the Exodus, Protestants and Catholics focused on whether God overthrew Pharaoh because of Israel’s faith or works (with Calvinists insisting that God even planted the acts of faith in Israel’s head!). But that’s just crazy. It misses the whole point. God rescued Israel by himself, without looking at either the work or faith of Israel (both of which were quite deplorable). Israel didn’t have to “prove” anything. It was all God’s work, and they never had a chance to be Pelagians. The same framework operated at the cross. Luther’s quote is much closer to Pelagianism than the way of the cross tradition could ever be. My larger discussion of this point shows up in my final chapter.

    (3) Brad’s criticism of my ideas vs. action discussion simply confuses an argument about priorities and emphasis with one about exclusion. He even quotes me talking about priorities and emphasis. I never argued that we should “never use words” or “do away with theologizing.”

    (4) Brad is shocked: “It’s not the Trinity’s job to solve evil and injustice in the world? Really? If there is anything that only God can do, surely it is to vanquish evil. This is completely out of our power.” But in fact, the apostles, in different ways, repeatedly exhort us to “overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21). It’s not at all out of our power. We have resurrection life in us, after all.


    • Brad Littlejohn

      And my response, on Facebook:

      *First, I have to say that, to accuse your opponent of begging the question by refusing to engage with your paradigm on its own terms, you have to provide a paradigm that can be engaged with on its own terms. If you don’t do so, then your objection is itself a way of begging the question. In fact, I worry that the “You just don’t understand me” complaint can become a way of preemptively silencing all criticism. I will come to your chapters about faith and works, and your chapter about atonement theory, later on, but suffice to say for now that while it was clear that you were rejecting the traditional Protestant understandings, I didn’t think it was very clear what you were trying to put in their place. So, given that I really am trying to be a patient, careful, and understanding reader, it would be helpful if you would seek to elucidate how your paradigm is immune to these concerns, rather than simply asserting that it is.1) It is simply false that I presupposed a penal substitutionary view of the atonement throughout this section. In fact, knowing your concerns about that view, I deliberately tried to couch most of my criticisms in more general terms, terms common to any orthodox understanding of the atonement. First, the danger of “guilt” and “anxiety” is not something manufactured by Luther, but is endemic to the human condition. Whatever view of the atonement we’re working with, human beings naturally experience sin as a burden, and their guilt at this sin often lies behind their faltering attempts to do good. Now, if you want to argue that the Protestant Reformers over-stated this picture, so that this was the whole picture of what sin and atonement were about, then fine (although I might still disagree), but you can’t argue that this isn’t part of the picture at all. Awareness of sin, guilt, and self-righteousness are simply existential facts. Given that this is part of the picture, then my concerns about following Christ with a burden of guilt vs. the liberty of gratitude are valid whether or not one presupposes penal substitution.Second, even if it is the case that your paradigm avoids this danger, the fact remains that many readers were troubled in exactly the ways I describe here; which means that you clearly need to explain better how the “triumph and freedom and life” fit in.Third, the basic point that I was making throughout is that, whatever the atonement means, it must be unique and all-sufficient. (Dan. 9:24-26: “Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy. And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined.” Col. 1:19: “For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.” Eph. 1:11, 14: “In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will. . . . Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.” John 17:2: “As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.” Heb 9:12, 15: “Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. . . . And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.”) Whatever Christ did, it was unique and unrepeatable, and cannot be substantively added to. Sure, it can be applied, and built upon, but it remains a finished work. Our discipleship, therefore, can only be rightly understood as a joyful, liberated response to the reality of what Christ has achieved, through which the Spirit brings it to fruition in our lives and the lives of others. Anything else, in which we are co-workers with Christ in his atoning work, is a form of Pelagianism.And none of this—I repeat, none of this—is dependent on a strict penal substitutionary view of the atonement. It’s just plain vanilla Christianity.

      2) It is simply false that “way of the cross traditions” (and I remain unclear, historically, on what those are) are “immune to Pelagianism.” No one is immune to Pelagianism. It crops up everywhere, and always will. Pelagianism, in its broadest sense (as I am here using it) simply means: Believing that we are not wholly dependent on God’s grace, but have some works of our own to contribute without which he cannot accomplish his redeeming work. You think Anabaptists have been immune to that?

      Your picture of Protestant understandings of faith and works, using the Exodus as an example, is a strange caricature (both here and when it appears later in your book). Translated into Exodus terms, no Protestant reformer’s view would be “God rescued Israel out of Egypt because of their faith”! That would be Pelagianizing (or, “semi-Pelagianism” to be precise). But that’s not what Luther, Calvin, or the Protestant confessions teach. Rather, translated into Exodus terms, “God delivered Israel out of Egypt by his free grace, thus eliciting the gift of faith in them, by which they followed him through the wilderness, and without which they would perish; from this faith issued works of obedience to the way of life he called them to, as a redeemed people.” That’s what Luther’s talking about, that’s what I’m talking about. Is that what you’re talking about? It’s not really clear.

      3) No, I do not “confuse an argument about priorities and emphasis with one about exclusion”—I point out that your argument about priorities and emphasis is inherently confusing, and can sound like exclusion. Of course you don’t mean that we can do entirely without words and ideas, but just saying, “Well, we need to really de-emphasize them” leaves it very unclear what their place is and isn’t.

      4) We can resist and overcome particular evils, yes, but we can’t solve the problem of evil in the world. Perhaps all you meant was the former, but then why talk like you meant more than that?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s