The message of Holy Week and Easter: In Christ we are healed

Holy Week and Easter Sunday are powerful reminders that our humanity is healed in the person of Christ who, through the Incarnation, is fully God and fully human. Note James B. (J.B.) Torrance's comment in Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace: 
We are not just healed through Christ, because of the work of Christ, but in and through Christ. Person and work must not be separated. That is why [the church] Fathers did not hesitate to say, as Edward Irving, the Scottish theologian in the early nineteenth century and Karl Barth in our own times have said, that Christ assumed "fallen humanity" (i.e., our humanity) that it might be turned back to God, in him by his sinless life in the Spirit, and through him in us. (p. 53)

 What is at work in all of Jesus' life (including his death and resurrection) is a two-fold movement (relationship): God-humanward and human-Godward, which constitutes the atonement (the "at-one-ment", or reconciliation) of God and humanity.

On Good Friday, Jesus was crucified on the cross as both God and man. In Christ, God tasted death, suffering with us and for us. In Christ, humanity died to sin. Then on Easter Sunday, Jesus rose from death to new, glorified life. In Christ, God shares with us bodily his resurrection life. In Christ, humanity is recreated. Through the life, death, resurrection and ascension of the Jesus Christ the God-man, God gives himself in holy love to humanity, and responds, as man, to God. He does so by coming to us as man; and as man doing for us what we could never do for ourselves. J.B. comments:

It is this thought of an all-inclusive vicarious humanity [of Jesus] which was developed by Irenaeus in his doctrine of anakephalaiosis or recapitulation... The Christ by whom all things were made is the same Christ who, for us and our salvation, assumed our humanity. In other words, the  Son of God who created Adam for sonship and communion and immortality does not abandon his loving purposes for humanity, for every single human person. But in order to redeem humanity and to bring to fulfillment his purpose (his telos) for humanity, for everyone, he himself becomes a man that he might fulfill for us in his own person God's purposes of love and obedience and worship. Thus what is lost in the one man ("in Adam") - communion with God - is restored and fulfilled for each one of us in Christ ("the last Adam"), and held out for us by the Spirit in the Lord's Supper. This, of course, is the Pauline doctrine of Romans 5 and Ephesians 1 - that God's great purpose is that "he might gather together in one all things in Christ" (Eph 1:10). (p52)
May we remember these stunning, life-transforming truths as we once again celebrate Holy Week and Easter.

Artwork: Grace Communion International


Bford said…
“God himself enters into our death . . . in such a way as to undo the past and undo our sin and guilt. . . . God crucified dies our death . . . God incarnate penetrates into our death annulling its power, manifesting his lordship over life and death, and thereby demonstrates his omnipotent power over all being and non-being” (T. F. Torrance, “The Christian Doctrine of God”, 215).

His divinity in “repose”? I think not!
Ted Johnston said…
I'm not sure of your point in your final sentence: "His divinty in 'repose'? I think not!" Care to elaborate?
Bford said…
Well, I was just making a contrast with the Calvinist doctrine of the death of Christ, although, perhaps, it is a bit of a distraction.
Anonymous said…
Karl Barth was considered a liberal theologian and universalist. A quote from the late, great Walter Martin: "Today [circa 1985], in the Christian world, we see a spectre rising in the greatest of all the [non-Christian] cults; it is the doctrine of universalism. Karl Barth taught it; neo-orthodoxy teaches it, it is the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees—and it reaches out—and Dr. Norman Vincent Peale [mentor to Robert Schuller] has become a convert to it. Dr. Peale no longer believes in the existence of hell; he no longer believes in a personal devil, he no longer believes in everlasting punishment."

I'm concerned that he's emphasized in both these last two blogs.
Ted Johnston said…
Yes. I understand. What a marvelous truth it is that God has "tasted" death on our behalf. We struggle, of course, to understand how God, who cannot die, has "died for us." But that is the mystery of the incarnation, and the grandeur of a God who loves us so much that he would unite himself to us.
Ted Johnston said…
While it is true that Barth is labeled by some a "liberal" and a "universalist," neither of these labels is warranted - both are inaccurate.

Barth's theology was developed in rejection of the theological liberalism of the late 19th/early 20th centuries. His theology is fully biblical, Christ-centered and in accord with the historic, orthodox Christian faith. Morever, he makes it clear in his writings and interviews that he did not accept the doctrine of universal salvation, and thus he was not a "universalist" in the classic understanding of that term.

Those who embrace a Trinitarian, incarnational theology are often accused of being universalists. But this accusation typically comes from those who do not understand this theology well. In my own case, when I first encountered the theology several years ago, I had a similar reaction ("sounds like universalism to me", I said). But as further study showed, I was wrong.
Anonymous said…
Hi there!

If God does end up saving everyone, as His promise to Abraham implies, is that somehow a problem?

All the best!

J. Richard Parker
Anonymous said…
The more research I've done on Barth, the more information I find that he is classified as a neo-orthodox universalist. I won't overwhelm you with links, but here are two from respected discernment ministry sites:

These are recent articles and I have found many more on Barth.

I will attempt to find out more about Trinitarian, incarnation theology - but I really don't find a definitive exposition on the topic except through GCI. I have noticed that many of the authors that you have resourced are proponents of the Emergent church philosophy. Does GCI consider itself a part of this movement? Or is GCI gleaning information from this movement to further it's own understanding of Trinitarianism?
Ted Johnston said…
I would encourage you to read Barth yourself, rather than accepting what others (who often have not read him themselves) say about him. You might want to read what he says in denying the accusations that he was a universalist.

The "emergent church" movement is very broad and diverse. Some in that movement might embrace a Trinitarian theology, and others would not. GCI's embrace of this theology does not come as part of an embrace of or alignment with the emergent church movement, and we do not look to its leaders as primary sources for our study of theology . Having said that, there certainly is a movement afoot in Western Christian circles that is calling for a theological reformation - but proponents thereof are going all sorts of direction.

We find a Trinitarian, incarnational understanding of theology to be helpful because we see its basic concepts as faithful first of all to Christ - to who he is declared to be in Scripture. Moreover, we see it as the theology taught by many of the early church fathers who God used to establish the New Testament canon, and codify some of the most foundational Christian doctrines, the doctrine of the Trinity being chief among them.
Ted Johnston said…
You might say that God is a "hopeful universalist" - and following his lead, may we be as well. However, what we cannot say (because God does not) is that, in the end, all will embrace the salvation that is their in Christ. And on that basis we would not agree with the basic formulations extant in Christian teaching of a doctrine of universal salvation.
Anonymous said…
Thank you for your continued replies Ted.

The last few days I've tried to acquaint myself with Trinitarian, incarnation theology. I have read your articles on the subject as well. I agree with all of it if the terms "believer" and "unbeliever" are defined. I believe your points are considered valid in "What is Trinitarian, incarnational theology? article, if you are speaking of believers in general. However, not all the points would apply regarding unbelievers - John 3:18. So the terms must be defined so that scripture is rightly divided.

Unfortunately, I would take issue with GCI's interpretation of scripture after reading the article on hell (to the right of the blog) and also with the "God is a hopeful universalist..." comment above. Nowhere in scripture are these ideas expressed if scripture is interpreted in context. Again, like Barth, these articles and responses reveal the concept of universalism while you take pains to say that GCI does not hold to that doctrine. The Bible makes clear that the unbelievers will be in everlasting punishment - Matthew 25:46 (please don't omit the word "everlasting" from your interpretation). Likewise, Revelation 20:14-15 clearly says that EVERYONE not found written in the book of life will be thrown into the lake of fire with Satan, the demons, death, and hades. It is a sorrowful and sobering realization that the majority of humanity will find themselves in that predicament as well - Matthew 7:13-14, 21-23. All this stands in stark contrast to the fact that believers will receive eternal rewards and NOT judgment or condemnation because of their faith in Christ - 2 Corinthians 5:10.

Though I don't dispute the validity of Trinitarian, incarnation theology (as it applies to believers), I would not accept GCI's perceived interpretation that ALL, or almost all of humanity will be saved - whether they know it at the point of death or not. Nor do I find scriptural support that any will be redeemed out of hell or after death. I would categorically deny this as sound biblical doctrine and more in line with liberal theology and the emerging philosophy of men like Rob Bell, Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, and Rick Warren [moreover, I would add this universal idea is grounded in the Counter Reformation, the doctrine of purgatory, and the current "Christian" mystical movement] - Hebrews 9:27.

In light of the "God is a hopeful universalist" comment, to accept your perspective of this type of theology would deny that God lives outside of the dimension of time, cannot see the past, present, and future simultaneously, and is subject to the free will of man rather than affirming that His love is displayed in perfect justice toward those that reject Him - 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10. Furthermore, Colossians 1:20 intensifies the term "reconcile" to refer to the total and complete reconciliation of believers and ultimately "all things" in the created universe. This verse is not teaching that all will ultimately be saved - but that all will ultimately submit.
Anonymous said…

My last point of contention in your article on hell is that Revelation 21:22-27 has nothing to do with people being redeemed out of hell. It is clearly affirming that the gates won't be shut because there will be no night or fear that anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie shall enter therein (ie, God's glory will fill the entire new heaven and new earth and all the redeemed people, whose names were found written in the book of life, shall bring the glory and honor of the nations into it). The scripture is all the more clear in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus...if the rich man would have been repentant, had a change of heart, and forgiven, then it would have been consistent with the Lord's nature and example to have declared him saved as Jesus did with so many of the sick that put their trust in Him before they were healed. The rich man obviously felt sorry for himself because he found himself in such a state of wrath. Amazingly, he responded with the realization and hopelessness of his condition -- which is a consistent theme of all those who love the darkness and stand condemned already throughout scripture. Hell is going to be a horrible place, but men have chosen to receive their reward in this life rather than the life to come and thus have chosen hell out of the hardness of their hearts.

This dialogue has prompted me to continue to diligently search the scriptures as I hope it has for you too. We must contend for the faith once delivered as fellow believers and faithful children of God. Maybe you can address my concerns and critiques, maybe you can’t, but I recognize that grace covers us both. This statement doesn’t eliminate the need to discern and rightly divide the Word, but I want you to know that I write these things in peace and love.

Sola sciptura, sola fide, sola gratia, solo Christo, soli Deo gloria
Ted Johnston said…
Dear anonymous. I'm replying to your last two replies. I very much appreciate your willingness to wrestle a bit with these issues. Clearly we disagree on some points about your characterization of Trinitarian, incarnational theology as Universalism. Certainly there are Trinitarians that are universalists, but many (including those we in GCI tend to agree with) are not.

Perhaps my reference to God as a "hopeful universalist" is not helpful. However, what I have in mind in saying that is Paul's comment about God that "wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth" (1Tim 2.4). That is God's desire for all.

You then wrestle with the concept of God's foreknowledge of the decisions people will make and posit that God can't actually want what Paul asserts, for God already knows that some will reject his salvation. This idea leads to the doctrine of double predestination.

As a denomination, GCI does not ascribe to this doctrine because it unnecessarily diminishes God's freedom to grant to humankind real/meaningful freedom. This is a very large topic that cannot be addressed by quoting a few proof-texts (either for or against predestination). Rather, one must carefully study and seek to understand the full scope of the testimony of Scripture which declares to us the nature of God and the nature of Jesus as the incarnation of God for our salvation.

And so, my brother, I encourage you to continue thinking and studying. Some of your questions about particular passages of Scripture are addressed in the blog Q&A pages.
Anonymous said…
I appreciate your honest response and candor in addressing my "proof-texts." In my defense, I would have given many more scriptures, in context of the entirety of the Bible, that supported my position, but for the sake of time and space I refrained. You will find in your studies that my "proof-texts" are consistent with conservative, evangelical, orthodox doctrine with regard to hermeneutics, apologetics, exegesis, eschatology, and the epistemology of the evangelical church (big words for such a simple bloke as myself). I realize that a large portion of the former evangelical church is moving away from evangelicalism. Possibly GCI is a part of that movement, which is why I am trying to wrap my head around it's teachings. My family attends a GCI church, but didn't realize the extent of it's core and peripheral teachings until recently (ie, old earth, amillenialism, second chances after death - some apparent form of universalism - though agreeing that some will choose rebellion after given a second chance, new age/Catholic mysticism in the form of spiritual formation and contemplative prayer, and ultimately interpretation of various scripture). All of these teachings I would staunchly stand in complete disagreement.

I look forward to more research into the writings and source materials on the GCI website to continue to familiarize myself with it's core doctrines and beliefs. Thank you for your time and discourse.
Ted Johnston said…
If you'd like to look further into both our core doctrines and our theology, I'd recommend that you read our Statement of Beliefs (posted at and our booklet on Trinitarian, Christ-centered theology posted online at

I would take exception to your characterization of evangelicalism as limited to the "conservative" wing of that movement. Indeed, in the National Association of Evangelicals (of which GCI is a member) there are various "stripes" of evangelicals. It is true that some of them are changing in their theological perspectives, but doing so is not the same as ceasing to be evangelical. Indeed, the theology we embrace has its roots in the very beginning of orthodox Christianity in the work of such church father's as Athanasius and the Cappadocian fathers.