In the final panel discussion at the LA Theological Conference, Alan Torrance offered this arresting interpretation of Peter’s confession in Matthew 16: Peter rightly confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, and Jesus responds by telling him “flesh and blood did not reveal this to you but My Father” and then changes Peter’s name. Peter’s identity is changed in his recognition of Jesus’ identity. But when Jesus tells the disciples that He goes to Jerusalem to die, Peter rebukes him. A Messiah who dies in Jerusalem doesn’t fit Peter’s preconceptions of Messianic action or behavior.

Peter is, Torrance said, a type of the Procrustean theology who tries to fit the Messiah into a prior system, metaphysical, religious, or other. This reverses the direction of theological method: Jesus is the standard, and what we mean by “Messiah” or “Savior” or “king” or “priest” is found in Jesus. He’s reference point and measure of everything; he is measured by none, but measures all.

When Peter rebukes Jesus, Jesus turns to rebuke Peter: “Get behind me Satan.” Any theology that attempts to determine Jesus rather than letting Jesus determine it, is demonic.

The discussion immediately went to Marcionism:

Is Jesus determined by the “constraints” of Israel’s prior institutions and categories? I’ve had similar questions about Barth’s Christocentrism, but I think the charge can be rebutted. If the institutions of Israel are God’s own prefigurations of Christ, if Christ is, as Reformed theologians have often insisted, Himself the center of those institutions (the Rock that followed Israel, the glory in the temple), then saying that Jesus conforms to the institutions of Israel is simply to say that He is self-consistent.

With that qualification, I think that Torrance is exactly right. Whatever use we make of other resources (and all things are ours), any theology that does not take God’s self-revelation in Jesus and His Word as the measure of everything it asserts about everything, any theology that attempts to fit Jesus and His Word into an alien framework, earns Jesus’ stinging rebuke: “Get behind me Satan.”

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

Loading...