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Soteriology follows from the doctrine of God. The gospel itself is shaped by the God of the gospel, for it is the good pleasure of his eternal will and the manifestation of his faithful commitment to do his people good. Indeed, it is crucial to maintain vigilantly the two topics in dogmatics: God and the works of God. Both considerations follow biblical imperatives. Creatures are to profess the glory of their creator and savior: ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one’ (Deut. 6:4). Further, his covenant partners are to dwell upon his works: ‘Come and see what God has done: he is awesome in his deeds toward the children of man’ (Psalm 66:5). Such dwelling turns to declaration as a key component of grateful receptivity: ‘I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all your wonderful deeds’ (Ps. 9:1).
Much contemporary theology moves briskly past any reflection on the eternal depth of salvation, fixing its sights much more emphatically upon the earthly career of Jesus, the constitutive practices of the church, or the political repercussions of the kingdom of God's inception. Indeed, in various ways, the immanent and the historical dominate the theological approach of much Protestant and Roman Catholic soteriology. There is a sound impulse present here: the gospel does climax a long history of promise and fulfillment, the church does attain a real visibility in its hearing and feasting upon the Word and the reconciliation wrought by Christ will unsettle the foundations of bourgeois communities. Yet the very force and faithfulness of such movements – the source of their generating power – is derived not from their empirical specification or their pragmatic technique, but from their roots in the perfect life of the eternally triune God. Because God really is the God of the gospel – now and throughout the ages – the earthly career of Jesus can be described as the doing of God's will, and the cross can be the predetermined purpose of God: we do not speak of Pilate's determination when with the prophet we confess that ‘It was the will of the Lord to crush him’ (Isa. 53:10).
In reflecting upon the necessity of the Christ's faith, then, we begin with the doctrine of the Trinity, because all Christian theology begins with the doctrine of God himself. Classic Protestant divinity – like medieval theology before it – honored this principle: first God, then the works of God by extension (sub specie divinitatis). 11 We will reflect upon the triune fellowship, of which the external works of the triune God are but a manifestation. We will then consider the wider economy of God's works, noting the way that the faith of the incarnate Son during his earthly pilgrimage is fitting given the wider canonical and creedal structure of the gospel. As noted above, we affirm that in the eternal life of the perfect God, the divine Son pleases the Father in the Spirit and, therefore, the divine Son trusts the Father by the Spirit's power during his earthly pilgrimage.
First, in the eternal life of the perfect God, the divine Son pleases the Father in the Spirit. The triune life is ordered such that equality does not require sameness. This formal statement can be specified in material fashion by noting that there are true personal distinctions between the Father, the Son and the Spirit. The differences are not merely varieties of capacity or of interest; they are lived differences. If God is pure act – ever and always in motion (whether internally or also externally) – then personal distinctions play out in personal interrelations. 12 Speaking of the faith of the incarnate Son brings us into the heart of the mystery of the Trinity, the wellspring of all Christian doctrine and the center of the gospel kerygma.
The baptism of Jesus manifests the eternal relations of the Trinity in their unified, yet diverse personal forms: ‘And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” ’ (Mt. 3:16–17). The Father speaks. The Son goes into and out of the water. The Spirit descends upon and anoints the Son at the Father's behest. The entire event brings about one action – the public anointing and announcement of the Son in whom the Father is well pleased and upon whom the Spirit remains. The trinitarian principle that the external works of the Trinity are undivided is quite apparent here: Father, Son and Spirit are all participating in this same action. At the same time, however, it is plain that each person has specific ways of involvement in that common action. As the Angelic Doctor says,
just as the entire Trinity was operative in making both the dove and the human nature assumed by Christ, so likewise it was operative in forming the voice; yet by the voice the Father alone is manifested as speaking, just as the Son alone assumed human nature and the Holy Spirit alone is manifested in the dove. 13
By extension, we might address the common question of whether or not any and every member of the Trinity could have become incarnate. 14 Every person in the Trinity is involved in the incarnation – the Father wills this plan, the Son assumes this flesh and the Spirit enables this conception and birth. And yet each person engages in this harmonious action in their own distinct manner. As Thomas will say,
assumption holds two notes, the act itself and its term. The act comes from the divine power, common to the three persons; but the term is a person … Therefore, what belongs to the act of assuming is common to the three persons; what belongs to its meaning as a term belongs to one person in such a way that it does not belong to another. 15
Thomas does not go further to note that there is something character-specific to the Son, such that it will necessarily be the Son to be made flesh and not the Spirit or Father. In fact Thomas rejects this statement outright, based on his concern to uphold the equal divine power of the three persons. Even though Thomas does affirm that ‘their personal properties are distinctive’, he does not relate this to the kind of attributes that would lead one – free from outside coercion and free from any external necessity, yet from internal necessity and freely from one's own character – to become incarnate. 16 A full response and a thorough expansion of a christological approach to the divine perfections and, more specifically, to the personal properties of each triune person is beyond the scope of our study here; suffice it to say that Thomas needs a bit of Karl Barth to help in this regard. 17
The baptism shows the manner in which triune action undergirds the whole incarnational economy. Indeed, it is paired with the transfiguration as a narrative occurrence that peels back the curtain, so that one can see a new layer of agency and metaphysical depth beyond the full recital of the gospel history (Mt. 17:1–8). In the transfiguration, the Son stands atop a mountain with his disciples, the Father declares his pleasure from the heavens, and the Spirit illumines forth the glory of the Lord. The name Immanuel is proclaimed audibly and visibly atop that edifice. Thomas argues that the glorious light represents the luminosity of the Son's divinity pouring through his temporarily porous flesh, even as he says that the ‘bright cloud … signifies the glory of the Holy Spirit or the power of the Father’. 18
Even if we disagree with the particulars, based on our reading of the recalibration of the tabernacle tradition, we can concur with his broader judgement:
Just as at the time of his baptism, … the operation of the entire Trinity was manifested, because the Incarnate Son was present there, the Holy Spirit appeared in the form of a dove, and the Father proclaimed his presence there in a voice; so also at the time of the transfiguration, … the entire Trinity appears – the Father in the voice, the Son in the man, the Holy Spirit in the bright cloud. 19
Both baptism and transfiguration manifest the relations internal to the triune life: the Son delighting the Father by the Holy Spirit – in other words, the Son depending upon the Father by the power of his Spirit. The opera Dei ad extra pour forth real light upon the opera Dei ad intra.
Yet the momentum of so much contemporary theology moves firmly against efforts to speak in this way. Few theologians spend serious time in giving attention to the immanent life of God prior to the external works of the Trinity. Many express great worry that any account of the immanent divine life – the works of God ad intra – will smuggle in alien theological presuppositions and give the store away to a natural theology undisciplined by theology's christological concentration. For example, Robert Jenson construes the divine life as not merely manifested, but constituted by the events of the gospel story. 20 The gospel presents the actuality of our being with God – in spite of hell and all else – even as, for evangelical historicists like Jenson, it also presents the actuality of God's being with us and with himself. The gospel, then, is a recital of God's self-determination, indeed, of the Trinity's self-constitution and eschatological actualization. It avoids deistic portraits of God by not only surveying the gospel story before considering the divine attributes and divine existence, but by constituting the divine attributes and existence upon that very gospel story. The historicist tendency rightly wishes to avoid this rabid speculation. As a corrective, it moves to identify theology and economy. 21
Speculation and historicism are two sides of the same coin, and it must be tossed aside. Theology really is manifest in the economy; theology really does precede the economy. 22 Thus, the historical shape of God's fellowship with creatures speaks not only of creaturely nature, but also of the character of God. As that great nineteenth-century theologian, Isaak Dorner, wrote: ‘The economic Trinity … leads back to immanent distinctions in God himself, all the more so because in the world of revelation we have to do not merely with a teaching of truths, but with the true being of God in the world, with God's actions, indeed with his self-communication’. 23 As has been argued elsewhere, the Christ's faith is the ‘economic echo of eternal filiation which marks the Son in relation to his Father’. 24 So we must briefly consider the eternal relations that are echoed in this aspect of the economy.
‘Obedience is part of his nature’ – so argued Gregory of Nyssa, not about the divine nature, but about the personal nature and properties of the Son. 25 The Son freely wills to repose in his Father's decree. Polanus reflects:
The Son, indeed, is incarnate because he wills voluntarily to be made our sponsor, voluntarily subjecting himself to the Father not according to nature, but according to the voluntary arrangement (oeconomia) or dispensation: a natural subjection is, surely, distinct from an economic or dispensatory subjection: he is made freely obedient to the Father, not according to the divine nature in itself (in se), but according to will: obedience, indeed, is not the natural act of a nature (actus naturalis naturae), but of the will or free accord of the person of Christ (voluntaries personae Christi). 26
Here a theologian distinguishes between that which is consequent upon the divine nature itself (in se), and that which depends fundamentally upon the will of a particular divine person. Obedience is a part of the Son's personal nature, not the common divine nature – to put it in other words, it is a personal property and not a collective property. The distinction is revealed throughout the economy, and it is highlighted by the discourse between Father and Son. The economy of the Son shows not only his praise and glory – as God in himself with the Father and Spirit – but also his trust and obedience – as the person ever flowing forth from the Father's life.
T.F. Torrance has expressed this concern more recently: ‘What Jesus is toward us he is antecedently and eternally in himself, in God.’ Indeed, he expands upon the claim helpfully:
Were that not so, the revelation we are given in Christ would not have eternal validity or ultimate reality. That is why the fourth Gospel begins with the wonderful prologue of the eternity of the Word in God, for it is from the eternal God that the Word proceeded, and all that follows in the Gospel – all that Jesus said and was in his dependence as the incarnate Son upon the Father – goes back to and is grounded in that eternal relation of Word to God within God. Similarly, the epistle to the Hebrews begins its exposition of the high priestly work of Christ by teaching that the Son came forth from the Godhead, the Son by whose word all things were created. It is that Son who came and manifested himself, and now in the incarnation stands forth as the divine servant Son to fulfill his work of atonement in entire solidarity with man, eternal Son of God though he was. But all that Jesus did has reality and validity just because it rests upon that eternal relation of the Son with the Father, and therefore reaches out through and beyond the span of years in his earthly ministry into God. Again, what Christ is in all his life and action, in his love and compassion, he is antecedently and eternally in himself as the eternal Son of the Father. 27
The shape of the earthly economy is suspended from the divine determination of trinitarian life. The assurance enjoyed by those ‘in Christ’ follows from the ontological link between theology and economy. As John Webster puts it: ‘Salvation is secure because the works of the redeemer and the sanctifier can be traced to the inner life of God, behind which there lies nothing.’ 28
The economy is not vacated or vitiated. Indeed, history is exalted rather than expunged of meaning, in as much as history is located in the eternal will of God. Again Webster points to the biblical roots of this link as well as its synthetic shape:
The rescue of lost creatures is secured by the acts and sufferings in time of God's Son and servant, supremely in his passion. His being led away like a lamb to the slaughter, his being taken away by oppression and judgment, his grave made with the wicked – all this does not take place in some time other than that in which Adam's children live out their days under a curse, but precisely in their creaturely, bodily history. But what kind of creaturely, bodily history is this if it is indeed for our salvation. It is history which ‘realizes’ God's ‘eternal purpose’ (Eph. 3:11), history which saves ‘not in virtue of our own works but in virtue of his own purpose and the grace which he gave us in Christ Jesus ages ago’ (2 Tim. 1:9). It is history ‘suspended’ from the divine purpose; and that purpose itself extends from the perfection of God's own life. 29
God did make peace ‘by the blood of the cross’ (Col. 1:20), employing the contingencies and social happenstances of the history of Adam's descendents to enact cosmic reconciliation. Yet that very cross held the ‘lamb slain before the foundations of the world’ (Rev. 13:8).
Two terms have been employed to highlight the filial and dependent character of the Son over against the Father: the idea of procession and the concept of eternal generation. A host of other theological terms and images have been employed along these same lines, for example the Nicene language of ‘God of God, light of light, true God of true God’, but we will focus only upon these two concepts.
First, Western trinitarian theology has spoken of the procession of the Son from the Father. The basic methodological principle behind such reflection is: economic sending points to theological procession; the ontological principle runs in the opposite direction: theological procession eventuates in economic sending. 30
The notion of procession is expanded, even if not entirely clarified, by the idea of eternal generation. The doctrine remains mysterious, in as much as it employs creaturely language of generation in a way that manifests a strong concern to distance it from everyday occurrence. In place of the language of ‘making’, the Son is ‘generated’ or ‘begotten’; whereas most sons begin to exist at a certain point in time, this Son is generated eternally, that is, constantly – yesterday, today and forever (Heb. 13:8). 31 These two modifications to regular language about fathers and sons point, no doubt, to the serious danger that the relationship of Father and Son might be misconstrued. ‘For all its unsuitability, for all the ineffability of its object, generation retains the personal character of the Father–Son relation, and thereby ensures that conceptual articulation of the faith echoes the scriptural economy of revelation in the evangelists.’ 32
It has been suggested by some that eternal generation and eternal subordination are sub-Nicene conceptualities. The typical historical analysis along these lines highlights the term ‘subordinationist’ in anti-Origenist theology and identifies any hint of eternal subordination with this Origenist error. But this is to miss the thrust of Athanasius' distinction between production and procession – the Son is not generated after some interval of solitary existence enjoyed only by the Father; no, the Son proceeds eternally and spontaneously from the Father. 33 Thus Karl Barth wonders:
Does subordination in God necessarily involve an inferiority and therefore a deprivation, a lack? Why not rather a particular being in the glory of the one equal Godhead … Why should not our way of finding a lesser dignity and significance in what takes the second and subordinate place (the wife to her husband) need to be corrected in the light of the shared essence (homoousios) of the modes of divine being? 34
It is to bring a priori judgements about natures and persons to the table of theological reflection if one judges such a scheme implausible simply on principle. But dogmatic theology will think in an a posteriori manner, following hard after the gospel with as much intellectual faithfulness as we can muster. Metaphysical relations between persons and natures can only be offered after depicting or expositing the manner of triune interaction. The biblical materials force us to say that the three are equal, even as they also pressure us to speak of the three as distinct and, further, of the Son and the Spirit as being sent personally by the Father. 35 Anyone reading the patristic evidence will see that it sustains such concern to pattern metaphysical language – persons and nature – around the judgements of Scripture. Furthermore, it is obvious that virtually every character in the patristic debates employed language of ‘subordination’ without thereby teaching what might be called ‘subordinationism’ (of which Arianism would be the most infamous form). It is worth reflecting briefly on why this feature, so easily misleading in face of the Arian controversy, continued to linger in patristic trinitarian theology.
The Son's filiation is not driven primarily by phenomenological analogy, that is, by some account of how sons or children relate to fathers or parents. The analogy is there, to be sure, or else language is entirely arbitrary. But the analogy does not drive the doctrinal analysis. Rather, exegesis of biblical texts forces us to say something about the Son's immanent dependence upon the Father by the Spirit. Our limited reflections along these lines are not motivated by an intellectual concern to give an account of what it means to be a juvenile, but of what it means to listen to Jesus. He repeatedly states that he does the will of another – that he is sent (Jn 3:34; 4:34; 5:23, 30; 36–8; 6:38–9, 44, 57; 7:16, 18; 28–9, 33; 8:16, 18, 26, 29, 42; 9:4; 10:36; 11:42; 12:44–5, 49; 13:16, 20; 14:24; 15:21; 16:5; 17:3, 8, 18, 21, 23, 25; 20:21). Dogmatics is faithless if it fails to honor this biblical – more pointedly, this christological – emphasis regarding the proper way to understand the mission of the Son as one sent by the Father.
‘For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself’ (Jn 5:26). Both Father and Son have life in and of themselves; they are equally divine, sharing the one divine essence and all its properties. But they are equally distinct, existing as particular persons with all their own properties. John 5:26 requires us to speak of each person in both ways. The second person of the Trinity has ‘life in himself’ according to his divine nature, even while this life is ‘granted the Son’, according to his personal properties, by his eternal Father. William Perkins would say that he is ‘not Son in himself, but God in himself’. 36 Thomas Aquinas observes that ‘since life pertains to the nature, if the Son has life in himself as does the Father, it is clear that he has in himself, by his very origin, a nature indivisible from and equal to that of the Father’. 37 The Son is God – fully alive and entirely fulfilled; this would be teased out most fully in Calvin's insistence that the Son is autotheos. 38 Yet the Son receives this ‘life in himself’ from his Father, ‘for they are distinct, because the Father gives, and the Son receives … because in the Son there is nothing that exists prior to reception’. 39 This didactic reflection given by Jesus is narrativally book-ended by events at the beginning and end of his life. He hands himself over to the Father's design in becoming incarnate, and he then delivers himself to the Father's will that he be crushed (Lk. 22:42).
One final note on eternal generation: the eternality of the Son's process or generation is not a statement about its antiquity. Rather, the Son's procession is consistent and ongoing; the Son depends upon the Father for his personal properties at every step of the journey. We may say that this procession of the Son is a continual reality that is personally constitutive (of Son qua Son) and essentially manifesting (of Son qua God); with Turretin, we distinguish as we say that ‘the Son is God from himself although not the Son from himself’.40 The one God is eternal and the triune relations are both primal and immutable. The eternal generation of the Son, then, speaks of the Son's personal dependence upon his eternal Father, an event that is eternal because of the Son's eternal essence as God in himself. This eternal generation – this intra-trinitarian dependence of the Son upon the Father for his personal properties – flows externally in lived dependence in the economy. As Andreas Köstenberger and Scott Swain describe, the Gospel of John presents Jesus as one who ‘depends upon the Father for his life (5:16), power (5:19), knowledge (8:16), message (7:16), mission (7:28), instruction (14:31), authority (17:2), glory (17:24), and love (10:17)’. 41 He is God, Light, and very God – but he is ‘God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten’ of the Father. Even the depths of his humiliation, his willing embrace of the cup of judgement, bodies forth the eternal repose of the Son in the Father. 42
A brief word about the Spirit's relation to the Son can conclude our consideration of the eternal relations of the triune persons. The Spirit is sent on his mission by the Father with the Son; this was the dogmatic concern of the controversial filioque clause, and it must be maintained as a good piece of exegetical reasoning. There is nothing in the economy that suggests that the Spirit resolves an eternal or even economic antinomy between the other two persons, or that the Son proceeds from or in the Spirit in any way; quite to the contrary, the Spirit shows forth the mutual agreement of the other two, in that he is sent by the Father (Jn 14:26) and by the Son (Jn 15:26). 43 The Spirit always goes forth and brings back glory to the Son – in the economy and throughout eternity.
Second, because the eternal fellowship of the Trinity occurs in the manner described, therefore, the divine Son trusts the Father by the Spirit's power during his earthly pilgrimage. Economy follows theology; the external works of the Trinity manifest the internal movement of the triune fellowship. As Gilles Emery has said, the economic works of God are an ‘embassy of the eternal, bringing a part of its home country into our history’. 44 There is an earthly chronicle of the Son's fidelity in the face of oppressive isolation and demonic temptation. The plot of the Son's earthly span manifests a long-growing momentum flowing forth from the centuries of divine promise amidst Israel. The economy of the Son's faith, then, is one of anticipation and actualization, a season of expectation as well as an entrance to consummation. As one surveys the long history of God's works ad extra – how ‘God spoke to our fathers … long ago, at many times and in many ways’ (Heb. 1:1) – it becomes quite obvious that there is a soteriological necessity for the incarnate Son to exercise faith perfectly in his Father's promise.
‘Out of Israel, God in due time raised up Jesus. His faith and obedience were the promise of the perfect child of God.’ 45 The earthly career of this Nazarene, and his filial loyalty, are interpreted within the matrix of Israel's covenant life. Indeed, this confessional text offers a helpful phrasing in as much as it identifies God's righteous action – manifest in Jesus' righteous disposition and acts – ‘out of Israel’. The economy of the Son's redemptive work cannot be severed from the story of Israel, and yet the fulfillment of that story in Jesus is a sign of movement beyond (‘out of’) Israel. This one is ‘the promise’ fulfilled in our very midst.
The identification of Jesus as the true Israelite and the faithful son of Adam suggests that his soteriological work can best be discerned in categories manifest in the law and the prophets. If the Son is the hypothesis of the Old Testament, then the Old Testament lays out the scope and shape of the Son's history. The shape of the covenant with Israel focuses itself upon structures – people, places and practices – that manifest human dependence upon divine help. The Sabbath points to human dependence not just for sustenance that day, but every day. The Levites remind the people that not only this one tribe, but all tribes fundamentally look to God for their provision. The tithe reminds the Israelites that not only a small portion, but the entirety of their material possessions is given by the Father of Lights. So the Psalm says: ‘And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, o Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you’ (Ps. 9:10).
Jesus fulfills the priesthood and the law. Jesus brings real Sabbath rest. Jesus not only wanders without earthly possessions, but he is personally dispossessed and selflessly offers himself a ransom for others. This Jesus declares: ‘I will put my trust in him’ (Heb. 2:13). Indeed Jesus recapitulates the entirety of Psalm 18: calling upon the Lord in his distress (18:6), being entangled in the cords of Sheol and confronted with the snares of death (18:5), hearing the reeling and rocking of the earth and the shaking of the cosmos's very foundations (18:7). This one was bruised and beaten – this one was judged and condemned. He was alone, exalted only in isolation as the accursed one. He drank from the Lord's cup, not the wine of the feast but the full wrath of God to the very dregs of hell. Amidst that passio, he cried out: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Mk 15:34). 46 The descent was real and brutal. Yet he marked his endurance by his final words: ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit’ (Lk. 23:46). Silence had not turned him from his Father – it had focused his vision of God into the sight of faith, the vantage point of hope rising from just beyond the hellish horizon.
There is no Jesus untethered from the cords of the divine will and unsuspended from the determination of eternity. Similarly, there is no Jesus separate from or discernible apart from the shape of Israel's life with God. As Irenaeus noted: ‘There is thus only one God, the Father, as we have shown, and one Jesus Christ our Lord, who came according to the economy and who recapitulated all things in himself.’ 47 The concept of recapitulation stresses the continuity and the progression of the Son's ministry with respect to the Old Testament economy; indeed, the progression only makes sense within the continuous narrative arc.
The Epistle to the Hebrews grants soteriological prestige to the perfection of the priesthood in the person of the incarnate Son. The argument constantly moves from the good to the great – the symbols of the Old Covenant are but touchstones for the trajectory culminating in the New Covenant, dawning with the first advent of the Messiah. This trajectory involves his life as well as his sacrifice – indeed, his life is constitutive of his sacrifice for sin and thanksgiving. He assumes human form in its fullness, ‘for it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering’ (Heb. 2:8–9). The incarnate one shared in our ‘flesh and blood … for surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham’ (Heb. 2:14, 16). The mediator must be human – creaturely, dependent, attuned to the Lord's provision, in fellowship with the eternal Father – if humans are to be redeemed. ‘Therefore he had to be made like his brother in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God’ (Heb. 2:17). 48 And he ‘was faithful to him who appointed him’ – indeed, he was more so than even Moses (Heb. 3:2, 3), because he was ‘faithful over God's house as a son’ and not as a servant (Heb. 3:6).
Faithfulness takes time:
In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. (Heb. 5:7–10)
The Son's journey into the killing fields led him to offer up ‘prayers and supplications’, to plead ‘with loud cries and tears’, to encounter ‘death’ and ‘suffering’. His march into this sinful madness – and his willingness to endure such hostility ‘in the days of his flesh’ – constitutes him ‘perfect’ as a mediator. Note that he prayed ‘to him who was able to save him from death’, even though Jesus very well could have removed the pangs of death with his own power; he trustingly turned his future over to the Father's command. Of this moment he declared: ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book’ (Heb. 10:7, 9).
Eventually, the anonymous writer considers the economy in its breadth, spanning the entirety of the canon from Abel to the Anointed One (Heb. 11:4–12:3). The recurring phrase ‘by faith’ marks the continuity of this long line of witnesses: each hallmark of God's salvation is a life opened up in self-conscious dependence upon divine generosity. Journeys and battles, childbirths and boat rides – all are enacted because of fundamental trust in God's being and God's commitment to bless others: ‘for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists that he rewards those who seek him’ (Heb. 11:6). The pinnacle of this recital of faith is the ‘author and perfector of faith’ – Jesus, ‘who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God’ (Heb. 12:2). 49 Jesus pleases God. This should not be surprising, given that he is the beloved Son in whom the Father takes delight, and, as Hebrews makes plain, ‘without faith it is impossible to please God’ (Heb. 11:6).
The Epistle to the Hebrews does not initiate this emphasis, though it does articulate it more clearly than any other New Testament text. In a provocative monograph, Walter Moberly has considered the typological relationship between the call to obedient faithfulness in suffering as given to Abraham in Genesis 22 and the divine sonship which Matthew's Gospel claims for Jesus. 50 After noting the tie between testing and faith in the akedah account (Genesis 22), Moberly claims that such testing is inherent in the very relationship of divine Father and Son as evidenced during the Son's journey into the wilderness of creaturely life. 51 He then explicitly writes of Jesus as believer: ‘Jesus's sonship means unqualified trust in God’ or ‘faithfulness when tested’. 52 This faith is later given some definition: ‘For Jesus to be Son means living in constant trust and obedience towards God as his Father … Jesus' need to remain receptive to God giving that dominion which it would be natural to strive to take.’ 53 Moberly notes the parallel between Matthew's account of divine sonship as enduring faithfulness and the christological narrative found in Philippians 2:5–11. 54 Moberly finds this to have anthropological importance in that Christ demonstrates what it means to be creaturely – enduring, receptive, faithful, self-emptying. 55 If Jesus does fulfill this economy that runs from the time of Abraham and Abel, then he must be the ‘author and perfector of faith’ – the one who trusts the Father … during his earthly pilgrimage.
The problem throughout the Old Covenant was the one-sided fulfillment of the covenant fellowship between God and his people. ‘I will be your God’ – God showed himself capable and committed to this task. ‘You will be my people’ – in spite of some impressive beginnings and the occasional hiccup of loyalty, Israel faltered in this calling. Indeed, the prophet identifies the flaw identified by God, who is lamenting ‘my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord’ (Jer. 31:32; cf. Heb. 8:9). The one who is called into a fellowship of faith needs life – yet Israel proves to be a valley of dry bones. New hope must be stirred – the Spirit must brood over the depths and bring newness.
Unsurprisingly, then, as in a theology of the internal life of God, so the economy shows forth the relations of Father and Son with Spirit. Indeed, there is a double reference in this respect. The Son sends the Spirit with the Father on his mission; Pentecost represents this moment in the recital of God's works. But there is a reflex: the Spirit is sent by the Son to perfect humans and to conform them to the human image of Christ Jesus. First, though, the Spirit conforms the Son's own humanity to the Word himself. The Spirit empowers the incarnate Son, according to his human nature, throughout his earthly journey. 56 His conception by the virgin (Mt. 1:20), his development as a child before his neighbors and his God (Lk. 2:40, 52), his baptism (Mt. 3:16), his preaching (Lk. 4:17–21; cf. Isa. 61:1), his miracles (Mt. 12:28) and his resurrection (Rom. 8:11) are all attributed to the operative power of the Holy Spirit. From birth to new birth, the grace of the Spirit bookends the life of the Christ. Specific to the concerns of this article, the Spirit sends him out to the wilderness to be tempted and ministers grace upon grace to him, such that he resists the tyrannies of the tempter (Mt. 4:1; Lk. 4:14). 57 The most lavish display of the Spirit's power, however, comes in his sustaining grace to enable the human Jesus to submit to the Father's will and offer himself a willing sacrifice for sin: Christ, ‘who through the eternal Spirit, offered himself without blemish to God’ (Heb. 9:14). The Spirit is not a replacement for the divine nature, as if the Son's divinity were merely an ascription of inspiration or of moral achievement. Against such adoptionistic schemes, the Christian tradition has insisted that the Son is ‘God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God’. But the Son takes human form only as one ‘conceived by the Holy Spirit’. That form is conformed to the shape of the divine life only by the wind of the Spirit. The Spirit is the vitality of the Father and Son's love in the internal life of God; folded over into salvific history, the Spirit is the font of human life: in Christ and for those included within him. 58 So the faithful journey of the Son occurs by the Spirit's power.
‘Jesus steps into the actual situation where we are summoned to have faith in God, to believe and trust in him, and he acts in our place and in our stead … and provides us freely with a faithfulness in which we may share’. 59 The earlier stages of the economy of God's works ad extra have prepared the way for a fitting conclusion, the advent of a Son who manifests perfect faith and enduring trust – a ‘beloved Son’, in whom God might be well pleased. There is a soteriological necessity, then, for the faith of the incarnate Son. The Word has descended to assume flesh: he faithfully must descend and endure hell itself before he may be resurrected and may ascend to glory. 60
In these two ways, we see the necessity of the Son's faith – this is the kind of God and the kind of gospel revealed in the divine works and recounted in the divine Word given to us. It is not something demonstrated by means of a priori speculation, but analytic reflection upon the way in which God reveals himself and his works.
Yet questions likely remain regarding the fittingness of such a claim, particularly with regard to the christological orthodoxy made public by the creedal language of Nicaea and Chalcedon. Elsewhere some analytical questions – regarding the definition of faith, its exercise by the incarnate Son, and the relationship between his person and his two natures in as much as that metaphysical construal relates to the claim that he trusted his Father – would need to be engaged. 61 Thomas Weinandy reminds us that ‘[t]he true goal of theological inquiry is not the resolution of theological problems, but the discernment of what the mystery of faith is’. 62 Theological analysis is not an attempt to remove all mystery, but it is a concerted effort to think through the breadth and coherence of the mysteries of salvation as revealed by God. Questions of fittingness and synthesis, then, are quite appropriate, so long as they are pursued in a posteriori and not a priori fashion.
Surely much more can be said, yet the preceding argument should make plain that the Christ's faith cannot be written off as a theological dead end or an element of belief unbefitting the wider exposition of the gospel. It – like the gospel as a whole – remains baffling and mystifying, indeed incomprehensible, yet it is discernable and reasonable, truly apprehensible.