19 May 2011

Hyper-Solafideism Part 4- The Adam problem and conditionality in the contemporary debate

I wish to touch on a few more issues. This series is not very popular. It's not being read by a lot of folks. Either people already decided they don't agree or some may find it unpractical or perhaps too difficult.

At this point this series is being written to those who are familiar with the contemporary debates and have some familiarity with the terms and players. I'm not taking a great deal of time to define some of these things because those interested probably already know and those who don't know the terms probably aren't bothering to read these.

For the handful of folks that aren't familiar and yet are interested, don't hesitate to comment or ask me directly. I'm happy to clarify or suggest resources. If you're interested and want to understand, don't get discouraged.

Someone might say...I don't need to know all this stuff. That's correct. You don't need to know the in's and out's, the little tweaks and nuances, the way the factions have formed up. You don't need to know these things to know God and to trust in Jesus Christ.

That said.....it is important and plays out even if not everyone can see just how. These ideas affect the Church. They have in the past, continue to do so, and will certainly shape the future. And, in my case I want to know and understand. It's not about knowing so we can keep up on the latest thing. Instead as we work through these things, we are driven to Scripture and forced to think it through. Doing this, we come to know our God even better and we can stand in awe as we consider His ways.

Thus far we've talked about the Scriptures indeed teach Justification by Faith and yes we can add 'alone' even though it is not supported in the text.

But we wish to avoid the error of erecting a system which now does not take the totality of Scripture into consideration but instead establishes Justification by Faith as the lens, the foundation, the starting point, upon which all further theological development is subjected to.

Why? Simply because large portions of the New Testament are then rendered either meaningless, hypothetical, addressed to unbelievers, or in some other way explained away...all unacceptable.

The many verses like Colossians 1.23 which qualify salvation with an 'if' become problematic to say the least. Paul's exhortation becomes empty, because if you're Justified by Faith, or if you're Elect, then in no way can your salvation be subject to a qualifier.

But the New Testament employs such qualifications on a pretty regular basis. Hebrews is quite heavy with them, warnings against apostasy, qualifiers that declare without holiness no man shall see the Lord.

And of course there's the famous passage in James 2, which at face value categorically rejects Justification by Faith alone. It says as much in verse 24. Luther was terribly vexed by this and called James 'an epistle of straw' and questioned whether it should be in the canon. It just didn't fit his system. Others have sought to re-define the idea of Justification in James and define it as 'vindication' or something similar in what seems a desperate attempt to divorce the Apostle's language from their formulations of legal or forensic Justification...that is that we are reckoned righteous by the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ.

Roman Catholics have historically embraced an idea that is more aptly described as 'infusion,' that allows us...now righteous...to bring forth faithful works etc...

The Federal Vision, a movement within Reformed circles, and others have sought to emphasize Union....the main focus being that we are 'in' Christ, united with Him.

Though I believe the New Testament clearly teaches Imputation, I will admit Union actually seems to be the more operative concept. This is not to say those who emphasize Imputation don't believe in Union. Not at all. However, it's a matter of emphasis and more importantly for most...(not for me)...systemic priority and logical order.

Unfortunately the Federal Vision not only struggles with Imputation but has embraced other ideas I cannot agree with. There is a large debate over the issue and definition of merit. They think merit is a Medieval concept and should be discarded. They would emphasize Christ was rewarded for obedience, and they remove the whole notion of works from the Two-Adam formulation.

The Vosian-Klinean camp as well as the traditional Reformed formulations emphasize the 1st and 2nd Adam motif. Adam had the law in some form, many mistakenly think it was the Decalogue, and that he failed to keep it and was cast out. Christ comes, keeps the law, earns salvation which is then appropriated to us, removing our sins.

The Federal Vision rejects the works-concept in the Garden, and frames the whole discussion in a different manner. They focus on obedience and in doing so find the doctrine called Christ's Active Obedience (his good works, his sinless life, his miracles etc...) superfluous. Their big emphasis is that no one can or ever was meant to 'earn' anything from God.

A key passage is Galatians 3.21-22:

21 Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.

22 But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.

Some Covenant Theologians would say Paul is arguing the Law never was meant to confer salvation. The Federal Vision would be in this camp. They would focus on the typology of the Mosaic System and argue it was a proto-gospel, the Old Testament was never about keeping the law in order to be saved. So Law for them functions in a different manner.

Their Vosian foes would argue the scenario in the Garden was indeed a works arrangement...in the sense that pre-fall there was no need for Redemptive Grace. At that point...even though all was planned before the foundation of the world...man had not fallen, but was on probation. Obviously Adam failed, and part of the tutelage-imagery in the Mosaic order was what the Puritans used to call a Republication of the Covenant of Works.

The individual was saved by Grace through Faith in Jesus Christ. This has been true since Genesis 3.15 when the Promise of Messiah was given.

But as a nation, the people of Israel were placed in a provisional covenant, a Covenant of Works as it were. If they were obedient they were blessed and kept their land...and expansion of the Abrahamic Promise which itself is two-tiered. One level being typological pointing to the land, and on another level the Land was Zion, the City of God, Heaven, Jesus Christ Himself.

Building on this, it could be said based on the Galatians passage, the Law if it could be kept perfectly, could indeed merit salvation, but now because of sin (v.22) this is an impossibility. What was meant for life, the path to righteousness, becomes death.

But wait...One does come who CAN fulfill the requirements of the law, earns righteous standing with God and is unjustly slain (the penalty of sin). He is raised from the dead, defeating death, and because he acted in the role of the 2nd Adam, a High Priest...He is the Federal or Covenant Head, the Mediator and the Sacrifice all in one.

The Federal Vision rejects the Works notion in the Garden and thus rejects this two-tier construction of the Mosaic Covenant as well. This changes the whole Adam-Law concept and to their harshest critics overthrows the Gospel itself. I think this charge is too harsh. I think they are framing the issue differently and are thus focused somewhat differently. There's plenty to critique in their larger system...other doctrinal issues that to my mind do indeed overthrow the gospel.

The problem is...and admittedly this is something of a systemic problem rather than a textual one...if you have Redemptive Grace in the Garden, with the 1st Adam, what does that do to the fulfillment found in the 2nd Adam? Did Christ pay for our sins, or were they merely forgiven? Growing up I always understood it to be the latter. Later I understood they're not just forgiven, they are indeed paid for. God doesn't just forget about our sins, they must be atoned for, and Christ accomplishes this for us.

Now the Vosian group places great emphasis on the fact that the Law-Covenant as it were, was conditional and it's this aspect, this second tier aspect of the Mosaic Covenant that is sometimes contrasted with the New Covenant. Indeed in the New Covenant we are married to another...divorced from Moses, we are married to Jesus Christ. The works principle, the conditionality factor is not in effect in the New Covenant.

This way of framing the discussion, like the system of Federal Vision profoundly shapes how we interact with many New Testament texts.

Go to part 5


Anonymous said...

I think that what the scripture portrays are two different covenants for two different reasons, and as such , building systemic links between the two is always going to be difficult. I 'll wait for the next post before I comment further.


Anonymous said...

PP: Adam had the law in some form, many mistakenly think it was the Decalogue, and that he failed to keep it and was cast out. Christ comes, keeps the law, earns salvation which is then appropriated to us, removing our sins.

I protest the word "mistakenly"! Adam knew he was to love God and love his neighbor.....that is the law. The decalogue fleshes it out more and tells you how but as we are told repeatedly in the NT. Love God and neighbor IS the law.

Is this not true?? Mrsjimp

Protoprotestant said...

Ray... thanks, we can develop this a bit at some point. We might not agree...at least in part...but this topic is VERY worthwhile.

Don't feel hindered in commenting even if you don't agree. I would imagine we probably agree more than we disagree.

Protoprotestant said...

Mrs. JimP,

He didn't have the Ten Commandments...he had the eternal law that undergirds them.

The Ten Commandments is a form given to OT Israel...so in one sense because it points to the eternal law which you rightly mention...he did have it and it continues.

But the form itself, the Ten Words, chronologically began in Exodus and ended when the veil was rent.

When I say mistakenly....many WCF folks believe he had the literal Ten Commandments in the garden. He had their substance, not that form. But since they believe that particular form IS the Eternal Law...they also think we have it today.

We do...in part...but it's also been if anything expanded.

I don't think we're disagreeing, or am I mistaken?

Anonymous said...

yes indeed we do agree....thanks for the clarification.

Mrs. Jimp

Anonymous said...

If I might comment on the following quote from your post
"Now the Vosian group places great emphasis on the fact that the Law-Covenant as it were, was conditional and it's this aspect, this second tier aspect of the Mosaic Covenant that is sometimes contrasted with the New Covenant. Indeed in the New Covenant we are married to another...divorced from Moses, we are married to Jesus Christ. The works principle, the conditionality factor is not in effect in the New Covenant."

My view on the old covenant [Mosaic] is that no one was ever justified under the law, but as Galatians 3 states , the law was added because of sin. I would tend to look at the law as a means of preserving Israel until the promise of Messiah, who fulfilled the law .I think that in the same way that new wine and old wineskins don't mix , it would be safe to assume that placing one covenant over the other in order to seek some sort of understanding is of equal folly. The law , prophets and the various covenants all pointed to Christ, who was the the fulfilment of all of those, but in Christ , we see the new covenant. So ... I am in full agreement that we are saved by grace through faith.The way i see this John , is that we are saved when we believe, but our day of salvation is when the Lord returns, so , we are both saved , and we are being saved , justification followed by sanctification, grace followed by faith that produces works.


Protoprotestant said...


I don't disagree with anything you said...but I think there's a little more to it.

No one was saved by law, certainly the Mosaic law and you're right it was added because of sin.

The Vosian issue regarding the Covenant of Works is over what Romans 5 and 1 Cor 15 say regarding Christ being the second Adam.

The question is...what did Christ do? and how was that related to what Adam was supposed to do and failed in doing?

So there's an issue there regarding a law-works principle.

There's the issue of OT individuals who were saved just as you said,

but there's also the Corporate aspect where as a nation, if they were obedient they were blessed and got to retain the land...if not, curse and exile.

If we disagree, then it's perhaps over your reticence to acknowledge an overarching unity...but I think you do acknowledge it. It's Christ of course. All the covenants Old and New were about Him. It's just with the Old you get some additional layers.

If Christ is the unity as Paul seems to suggest in Ephesians 2....Covenants (plural) or promise (singular)...then the question is not regarding the overarching unity, but how that manifests itself in the different chronological time periods.

I especially like what you said at the end, which is something the Vosian group as much as I admire them seems to deny. They view it as complete.....which it is, but it's also Not Yet.

I think everybody agrees there should be works, but with the Vosians it's kind of like, you're not supposed to think about it or talk about it...because then you're in danger of messing up the gospel.

So if I understand correctly, you certainly see the shift between Old and New, but you don't see any unity. Is that what you meany by 'one covenant over the other?'

Am I making any sense? (smile)

Anonymous said...

So if I understand correctly, you certainly see the shift between Old and New, but you don't see any unity. Is that what you meany by 'one covenant over the other?'

Perhaps my simplistic view is coming to the fore here. Certainly, the commonality between the covenants is Christ, but in many respects they are very different , one imperfect, the other perfect, one conditional, the other unconditional, one characterised by law , and the other by grace, and to reiterate Pauls words, if by works , then it is not by grace.
Most likely, what I have difficulty with is reconciling similarities , other than that which is Christ , with the two covenants. But this brings to mind another factor which somehow i have omitted to consider thus far, and that is obedience, which together with faithfulness, are two constants that link both covenants, but particuarly , the mention of obedience at Matt 7:21 highlights the importance that this plays in ones salvation.
Correct me if I am wrong here, but i see obedience under the old covenant as a work of the individual, but according to the promise of the new covenant as given in Ezekiel 36:27, the work of obedience in the believer is that of the Holy Spirit and as such does not negate that our salvation is by grace alone.
I trust that this clarifies any misunderstanding.


Protoprotestant said...

Sorry Ray, I didn't mean to ignore you. I've been swamped with work etc...

Regarding your first paragraph....I agree, I'm just saying there's more to it. More layers.

I think your point regarding Ezekiel 36 is right on. A lot of the problem seems to stem from perspective or motivation.

Good works/Fruit is absolutely necessary. The question is...are you doing it out of your own power and motivation, self-focused....

or do you understand that all of us are dung, and the fact that we do anything, read our Bibles, pray, let alone show love to others flows from the Holy Spirit working within us.

And yes, that maintains Justification by Faith alone.

That said, Paul and the others sometimes simply exhort us to do this or that...and we do it understanding what we just mentioned...that it's God working in us. But from my perspective in space and time...I've got to go help that lady change her tire, or I've got to set my alarm so I get up early enough to read and pray. Doesn't mean I'm good or rigteousness, but from my temporal perspective I had to do x,y, and z. But Spiritual maturity teaches me it was the Holy Spirit that helped me do it.

I didn't want to get up. In my flesh, I want to sleep in. In my flesh, I didn't want to help that lady, I'm in a hurry.

Now here's where we may differ. I see the OT as teaching this same Holy Spirit inspired works-principle...even though chronologically speaking the Holy Spirit wasn't given. Ezekiel teaches the New Heart (via the Holy Spirit of course) and Jesus rebuked Nicodemus for not knowing of this....both Ezekiel and the John 3 meeting taking place BEFORE Pentecost.

Neverthless, the Holy Spirit was at work (though not revealed in the same way) in the OT.

So, Spirit-led works are present in both Old and New.

Obedience is a principle at work for People as a whole...Israel under threat of Exile.

The Church (not as an Order) but Congregations? having their candlestick taken away?

Obedience as a work of the individual in the Old....on one level, alongside the Holy Spirit inspired works, even though in one sense it's an anachronism.

Obedience in the NT as well?

Protoprotestant said...

That's what I'm saying...yes and no. It's not a matter of me teaching works (which some would accuse me of)...I'm poorly trying to convey...Salvation was the same at all times, the obedience/grace through faith tangle is a matter of perspective and motivation. Because it's complicated and subject to abuse...I think some tend to want to simplify it.

Admittedly I'm in the minority. The biggest thing for me is....

I want to open up the Scriptures and think about how we read and interpret them. I think we've made some mistakes.

But I certainly do not want to shake anyone's faith or for a second lead someone to think I'm teaching that we need to trust in our works. God Forbid.

I'm guessing at this point, based off what you're saying....you don't agree with me, though I would say your view is closer maybe than some. Your allowing for quite a bit of nuance which is great.

But I would say...it's not a matter of sharp disagreement. At least not from my standpoint. To me it's just...I agree with you, I'm just saying more.

The more is the problem. Some would say...contradiction. I'm saying there's not a contradiction...perhaps just a little mind bending.

Hey, I appreciate your comments and your willingness to discuss this without getting upset. It's fantastic. We disagree...that's okay. On a practical level, if we're sitting in a Church on Sunday morning, we both are after the same thing....we want the Text taught because we believe it's the Word of God.

Keep throwing stuff at me. It helps the both of us and probably some others who are reading as well. I'll just keep rambling. If some people get it...great. If not, maybe they'll find new doors, new realms opened to them, or as I think I said in another comment...they'll understand what happens if you adopt some of the basic principles I advocate.

God Bless.