Monday, February 24, 2014

Biblical Dogmatics by A. G. Voigt – Book Review

Biblical Dogmatics by A. G. Voigt is the third volume in the American Lutheran Classics series edited by Jordan Cooper.  As the title states, this is a dogmatic theology text focusing on the presentation of what is confessed about God and His work by a Church body—in this case the Lutheran church—as opposed to a systematic theology which examines the major theological themes of the Bible, each building upon the preceding.

Voigt’s overriding thesis is the communion of man with God.  Beginning with the environment created in order for this communion to be established, the authors moves through the Fall (broken communion), execution of the redemption plan (restored, imperfect communion), and ending with the consummation (full communion).   I like this format for two reasons.  First, it follows the revelation of scripture from Creation to Revelation giving the reader the general flow of redemptive history.

Second, the chapters can be easily grouped into sections on the working of God, Son, and Holy Spirit.  This grouping establishes a Trinitarian view of redemption as each part may be explained by emphasizing the primary work of the different persons of the Godhead, while demonstrating their interconnectedness in every part.  I do not remember a theology work intentionally using this format since reading Thomas Oden’s Systematic Theology.

I am always pleased when learning something new, and this did not disappoint.  While discussing Christ’s two natures, the author posits the question: Was Christ a human person,  Or was His humanity impersonal? (p. 111)  John of Damascus determined that Christ assumed an impersonal humanity thereby avoiding the possible conflict from the idea of Him being a double person. (ibid.)

Other new information came in the discussion of the communication of human and divine properties, specifically the communication of divine attributes to the human nature.  Because the divine attributes in question are infinite and eternal, he explains this way:
Here the attributes of the divine nature are communicated to the human nature.  It is not a transfusion, by which the divine essence parts with something in it, or the essence of the humanity is changed.  The humanity always remains in itself finite.  The communication of the divine attributes is not such as to produce an infinite expansion of the human nature.  It only imparts to it the ability to concur and participate in the divine works of Christ. (p. 127)
As the author states immediately afterward, this affects the basis of the Lutheran understanding of Christ’s real presence in the bread and cup of the Lord’s Supper.  The Lutheran Confessions argued for this position, and Martin Chemnitz individually* noted that anything accomplished by Christ must be done so be the whole person and not just one nature.  John Calvin’s teaching (and those following him) subsequently focused on the finiteness of the human nature—basically a natural law argument—to say that the human nature could not be present.  Based on the arguments presented, the Lutheran Christology has better ground, thus making the real presence possible.  Whether or not it is actually present seems to more depend upon the text and context of what happened in the Upper Room.

This book gives the reader a solid understanding of God’s redemptive plan in a format accessible for the average reader.  There are a few Greek and Latin terms tossed around, but that helps the reader understand what their pastors are writing in blog posts. 

*  Chemnitz states his case in both The Two Natures in Christ and The Lord’s Supper, but I cannot put my finger on the exact references.

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