From DGH on Can Humans Merit Before God Submitted (2) on 2015 04 23 at 12:42 pm


We need to stop meeting like this. I am still unsure why you keep pushing the dogmatic boundaries on grace, merit, the covenant of works, and the satisfaction of Christ. Perhaps you’ll recall that Rick Phillips tried to moderate your views a year ago. But you persist in ways that might have even caused Norman Shepherd embarrassment. He was not someone to show off.

Since you and Rick have gone round and around again, I only want to add two cents (same in Canadian dollars).

First, you insist that words need to mean what they mean.

Professor VanDrunen does not define “merit”. He seems to make the argument that because Christ, the true image bearer, merited before God, Adam, as an image-bearer, also could have merited before God. In his quote there appears to be a one-to-one correlation between the merit of Christ and the merit of Adam. This is questionable ground, in my view. He needs to define merit, otherwise we are left guessing, at best, what he means. Is he departing from what the Reformed scholastics meant by merit or agreeing with them?

Great. O lexicographer define thyself’s words:

There are important Christological reasons why Christ could merit, but Adam could not. If our understanding of what constitutes a meritorious work follows the Reformed scholastics, then the answer is quite simple: the dignity of Christ’s person (as theanthropos) explains why he, and he alone, could merit before God.

Sorry, that’s not a definition. So why hold Dave VanDrunen (or the objects of your criticism) to a standard that you don’t meet? Are you special like Jesus? Sorry if that’s a bit snarky, but in previous posts you have compared Jesus to believers, so it’s both fair and snarky.

Second, “voluntary condescension” is not grace. If we are going to insist on the exact meaning of words, then again you can’t pour grace into that phrase from the Confession (though I guess you can because Canada is a free country like the U.S.).

What I particularly don’t understand (howl if you like here) is why you keep stating that the covenant with Adam could not have been meritorious because the reward would have been disproportionate to the work he would have performed:

Finally, the rewards given to Christ are proportionate to the work he performed. Adam’s reward would have been far greater, assuming we say that Adam would have been granted heavenly life, than what he “worked for”.

But following your logic, was Adam’s penalty, his condemnation along with the rest of the human race, proportionate to his merely eating a piece of fruit? Yes, it was an act of disobedience. But one strike and you and your children and your children’s children are out is not an arrangement that brings to mind grace, no matter how much Canadians struggle with baseball. It sounds more like a threat or a curse arrangement. In which case, if Adam could earn everlasting condemnation simply by one act, why not everlasting blessing for the work prescribed by a just and powerful God?

Comments are still open.

P.S. A word of advice — let others decide whether your response is gracious.


Is Grace Everywhere?

So Mark Jones keeps telling us and since we have no way to comment at his blog we will once again adopt the role of servants serving servers by opening up comments here.

First, Jones says that lots of Reformed theologians, backed up by Richard Muller — apparently Jones favorite strategy for finding room to affirm a contested point — said grace existed before the fall and that Adam needed grace to comply with the Covenant of Works:

Most seventeenth-century Reformed theologians understood grace in a more general sense than simply equating it with redemptive favor. But they did make important distinctions on the grace of God before and after the Fall, such as the way Adam possessed the Spirit in contrast to how we possess the Spirit.

Anthony Burgess argues that Adam needed help from God to obey the law and then notes, “Some learned Divines, as [David] Pareus…deny the holiness Adam had, or the help God gave Adam, to be truly and properly called grace.” Pareus believed that grace only comes from Christ to sinners. Burgess shies away from the dispute, but he does insist that Adam could not persevere “without help from God.” . . .

Richard Muller has suggested that not only does the language of “voluntary condescension” rule out human merit, but that the “presence of divine grace prior to the fall was a fundamental assumption of most of the Reformed thinkers of that era.” The evidence cited above sustains Muller’s contention.

“Voluntary condescension” (WCF 7.1) was consistent with the idea, espoused by William (“Exception to WCF 7.1”) Bridge, that “out of free love and grace [God] was pleased to condescend to enter into Covenant with man.”

Great. But if Adam had the Holy Spirit then how did he sin? Did God remove the Holy Spirit and thus make Adam susceptible? If so, is God implicated in the introduction of sin among his creation?

Also, I wonder if Dr. Jones has considered what the Confession of Faith says about Adam in his state of innocency:

After God had made all other creatures, he created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls [e], endued with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, after his own image [f]; having the law of God written in their hearts [g], and power to fulfill it [h]: and yet under a possibility of transgressing, being left to the liberty of their own will, which was subject unto change [i]. Beside this law written in their hearts, they received a command, not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; which while they kept, they were happy in their communion with God, and had dominion over the creatures. (4.2)

If you had to describe this as gracious or natural, I am pressed to understand why someone would choose grace. And why did the divines, some of whom did (I gather from Dr. Jones) talk about Adam being endued with the Holy Spirit, fail to mention that in the Confession? When you look at the proof texts (supplied by the Orthodox Presbyterian Church anyway), you don’t see much that would add support to Dr. Jones’ formulation on grace before the fall:

d. Gen. 1:27. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

e. Gen. 2:7. And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. Eccl. 12:7. Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it. Luke 23:43. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise. Matt. 10:28. And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

f. Gen. 1:26. And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. Col. 3:10. And [ye] have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him. Eph. 4:24. … and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.

g. Rom. 2:14–15. For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another.

h. Gen. 2:17. But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. Eccl. 7:29. Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions.

Yes, I do understand that the references to the Christian putting on the “new man” is a gracious work of the Holy Spirit. But surprise (and beware the valleys and mountains). I am not Adam who was without sin. I need grace and the Holy Spirit to live in a holy manner. If Adam did, what does it say about the inherent goodness of human nature at creation?

Jones’ flattening continues when he likens Christ’s experience to that of the believer:

Jesus was and is the man of the Spirit, par excellence. Christ’s obedience – all of it – was done in the power of the Spirit. Thus, the Holy Spirit is the “immediate operator of all divine acts of the Son himself, even on his own human nature. Whatever the Son of God wrought in, by, or upon the human nature, he did it by the Holy Ghost, who is his Spirit” (Owen). . . . The Second Adam, Jesus Christ, possessed the Spirit in greater measure and was, as far as I am concerned, the greatest believer who ever lived.

For good measure, he adds a quotation from Bavinck (on the virgin birth, mind you, not on Christ’s human nature):

At this point it is important to note that this activity of the Holy Spirit with respect to Christ’s human nature absolutely does not stand by itself. Though it began with the conception, it did not stop there. It continued throughout his entire life, even right into the state of exaltation. Generally speaking, the necessity of this activity can be inferred already from the fact that the Holy Spirit is the author of all creaturely life and specifically of the religious-ethical life in humans. The true human who bears God’s image is inconceivable even for a moment without the indwelling of the Holy Spirit…. If humans in general cannot have communion with God except by the Holy Spirit, then this applies even more powerfully to Christ’s human nature.

Does this mean, as one Old Lifer asked me by email, that the work of the Holy Spirit in Christ’s life is comparable to mine and that we can think of Christ’s life of sanctity like the work of sanctification in the believer? Remember what the Confession says about sanctification:

2. This sanctification is throughout, in the whole man; yet imperfect in this life, there abiding still some remnants of corruption in every part; whence ariseth a continual and irreconcilable war, the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.

3. In which war, although the remaining corruption, for a time, may much prevail; yet, through the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ, the regenerate part doth overcome; and so, the saints grow in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

And is Jones aware that he may be straying into Roman Catholic territory in the way he construes the two Adams and their natures? That may seem like a stretch but if you follow Bavinck on Adam’s original righteousness as the Reformers conceived it, you may want to counsel Dr. Jones back from the ledge. First, Bavinck acknowledges that Adam’s righteousness was a free gift of God and “only possessed . . . by and in the Holy Spirit.” But Bavinck is aware of the danger of flattening:

Granted, between the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in man before sin and in the state of sin, there is a big difference. Now that indwelling, after all, is “above nature” (supra naturam) because the Holy Spirit has to come to humans as it were from without and is diametrically opposed to sinful nature. In the case of Adam that entire contrast did not exist; his nature was holy and did not, as in the case of believers, have to be made holy. . . (Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 2, 558)

It doesn’t take a Ph.D. in systematic theology to think that the same contrast between Adam and us applies to Christ and us, or that Christ’s righteousness was not above nature but natural to the righteousness of an unfallen human nature.

To construe this original righteousness, furthermore, as gracious in the sense of having to right what was defective, is also a mistake of important proportions for Bavinck. He explains the nature of the dispute between Rome and Protestants over Adam’s original nature:

The dispute concerned the question of whether that original righteousness was natural or, at least in part, supernatural. . . . they used this term [natural] to maintain the conviction that the image of God, that is, original righteousness, was inseparable from the idea of man as such and that it referred to the normal state, the harmony, the health of a human being; that without it a human cannot be true, complete, or normal. . . . [Man] is either a son of God, his offspring, his image, or he is a child of wrath, dead in sins and trespasses. When that human being again by faith receives that perfect righteousness in Christ, that benefit is indeed a supernatural gift, but it is supernature “as an accident,” “incidentally”; he regains that which belongs to his being. . . (551)

For good measure, Bavinck adds that if Adam’s original humanity was incapable of obeying God’s commands, you wind up having to do what Roman Catholicism does and add grace to Adam’s original constitution:

From these two ideas, the mystical view of man’s final destiny and the meritoriousness of good works, was born the Catholic doctrine of the “superadded gift” . . . . The heavenly blessedness and the vision of God, which is man’s final destiny — and was so for Adam — can be merited ex condigno only by such good works as are in accord with that final destiny. . . . The righteousness that Adam possessed as a human, earthly being by virtue of creation was not, of course, sufficient to that end. So for Adam to reach his final destiny he too needed to be giving a supernatural grace, that is, the gratia gratum faciens (“the grace that renders one engraced or pleasing to God”), the image of God. (539-40)

Of course, simply quoting Bavinck doesn’t make any of this so. But what is instructive about Bavinck is the danger he sees in talking about grace before the fall or Adam in his original righteousness needing something extra to obey God (or by implication discussing Christ’s holy life as analogous to a believer’s sanctification). Would that Dr. Jones in his historical surveys would be that cautious.

Culture the Basis of Cult?

A frequent claim in conservative intellectual circles is that cult is the basis of culture. T. S. Elliot Eliot may have been the first to assert and Russell Kirk may have picked it up from Elliot Eliot, though Christopher Dawson was also likely responsible for introducing this notion among conservatives in the U.S. The problem with this assertion is that in the Garden before the fall, we see no explicit forms of worship. Adam didn’t preach to Eve. They didn’t sing Psalms in corporate worship. And of course, they did not make sacrifices the way the Israelites would. Why? The introduction of sin.

After the fall, God’s presence is no longer with the human race but is restricted to specific, holy places. Meanwhile, to enter into God’s presence requires fallen saints to take sin into account, either by sacrificing bulls and other barnyard animals, or by confessing sin and observing Christ’s death, the ultimate sacrifice, in the Lord’s Supper.

In other words, you could argue that the fall introduced worship into human history as we (generally) now know it.

This also means that worship before the fall was essentially synonymous with what we now regard as work — specifically, gardening. If the Garden was the place where God was specially present with his people, Eden was also a temple in which Adam’s tending and keeping the land was a kind of priestcraft. According to Zach Keele and Mike Brown (Sacred Bond):

Eden is a place where God dwells . . . . By definition in the ancient Near East, temples were houses of gods, dwellings of the gods. To go to the temple was to draw near the presence of the gods. . . . This holy temple setting, then, means that Adam was a priest. Only priests, along with their guilds of servants, lived and worked in temple precincts in the ancient world. One had to be consecrated as holy to live in a holy place. . . . In fact, the tasks of serving and guarding given to Adam in 2:15 are the most common Hebrew verbs used for what the Aaronic priests and the Levites did in tabernacle and temple (Num. 1:53, 3:7-10) (51-52)

This way of understanding the relationship between worship and work before the fall not only upsets the conservative shibolleth about cult and culture, but it may also resolve the tension that Anthony Bradley noticed about Christians looking for the gospel in the first chapters of Genesis:

There are two prominent schools of thought within conservative Protestant circles that continue to clash over what Christianity is about because their starting points comprise different biblical theological visions. . . . One begins by constructing an understanding of the Christian life orientated around Genesis chapters 1 and 2 and the other begins with Genesis chapter 3. A Gen 1 and 2 starting point views the gospel as means of human beings having a realized experience of what their humanity was meant to be and to do, whereas a Gen. 3 orientation sees the gospel as a means of saving us from our humanity in preparation for the eschaton (heaven). . . .

For example, when one begins with Genesis 1 and 2, as one well-known Protestant pastor opines, we could understand the gospel this way: “Through the person and work of Jesus Christ, God fully accomplishes salvation for us, rescuing us from judgment for sin into fellowship with him, and then restores the creation in which we can enjoy our new life together with him forever.” As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, Theodore G. Stylianopoulos reminds us that the gospel is “the good news of God’s saving work in Christ and the Spirit by which the powers of sin and death are overcome and the life of the new creation is inaugurated, moving towards the eschatological glorification of the whole cosmos.” Because the entire creation has been drawn into the mutiny of the human race, (Rom 8:19-24) redemption must involve the entire creation, as Michael Williams argues. In a Genesis 1 and 2 framework, everything matters in God’s redemptive plan. . . .

On the other hand, when the gospel begins with Genesis 3, as the conceptual starting point, one might articulate the gospel as: “the good news that Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose again, eternally triumphant over all his enemies, so that there is now no condemnation for those who believe, but only permanent rejoicing.” As such, because of Christ’s redemptive work, argues this view, “there is nothing that separates those who believe from their Creator and all the benefits that He promises in him.” What matters for the church and the Christian life is keeping the issues of sin and salvation front and center (John 3:16, Eph 2:8-10).

I myself am much more drawn to the Genesis 3 understanding of Christianity. Christ’s work makes no sense without the fall. I know that is not the point as Bradley explains it. But neo-Calvinists in their cosmological understanding of redemption tend to discount the effects of sin (I believe) to the point that they say silly things about redeeming television by our efforts (of course, blessed by the Holy Spirit) — as if television had sinned or believers could save anything.

But if part of the point of God’s creating man was to fellowship with a creature created in the image of God, and if that fellowship was to involve a real presence in which God resided with his people, the idea of saving the cosmos again doesn’t make much sense. After the fall, God is present is specific and special ways with his people but is absent in the way that he was present in the Garden. At the same time, the new heavens and new earth promise a place where God will again be present with his people in a specific and special way. The only harbingers of that redemptive presence between the fall and consummation are not a great symphony or expert plumbing but when Christians gather in God’s presence in the holy of holies for worship. The cosmological understanding of salvation, in other words, does not do justice to what happens in all of Genesis 1-3.

If culture is the basis of cult, then conservatives and neo-Calvinists need to reboot their understanding of culture.